Think marketing first, not marketing last – Critical questions to ask


I had a call the other day from someone who’d done a lot of hard work to securing an international speaker she was bringing out here from the US. And after they’d negotiated it all and had dates and had committed herself to the significant costs…that’s when she called me. That’s when she really started to think about actually ‘marketing’ the speaker and thus doing what I like to call ‘the making money part’.

This isn’t unusual. I can’t actually count the number of times a client has come to me late in the process – in fact, when it feels like it’s a last resort. They’ve done all the work to set up a business – often a huge about of work – and then they discover the bad news: customers don’t magically appear or keep appearing.

That’s not to say you need a marketing expert to run a business – you just need to think marketing first, not marketing last. Trust me, it will save you a whole lot of pain later on.

Business don’t just fail to budget for marketing – they fail to even think about marketing until they ‘need’ it. Which is usually when it’s too late. Every business must ‘do’ marketing.

If you START with a marketing mindset, you’re 100% more likely to be successful in any business. Seriously.

Why? Because it means you will have considered and planned for critical elements to your business success like:

  • Who is my customer going to be?
  • What does my prospective customer want – in their life, their shopping, their work? What motivates them?
  • How do I want my business to appear visually? What tone of voice is right for my audience?
  • What problem can I (my business/product/service) solve for my customer?
  • What is it about my product or service that is special or different or worth choosing?
  • What is the best way to price my product or service?
  • Who are the important influencers I should get involved?
  • Who could I partner with to help spread the word about my business or event or promotion?
  • What should I budget to promote my business? (Because it is possible to marketing without money but it’s much smarter to allocate some budget if you can.)
  • Where does social media fit in (if at all)?
  • Is advertising going to be worthwhile? And if so, where and what deal can you negotiate?
  • Where does online fit in my business? What should be on my website? How will I get people to my website?
  • What about a referral marketing strategy? Is there a role for affiliate marketing?
  • How do I start building a marketing list?
  • How will I keep people buying from me? What will motivate repeat purchase?

I hope you see the value in thinking about these questions. It helps you put marketing first, not marketing last.

These questions help you plan for the success of your business or event. They help you create a marketing mindset, which in turn will help you have a successful business that’s built around your customer and market, not just around you.

Unpaid engagement is still possible on Facebook…just

Facebook is a tough master for marketers. Once the land of zero budget marketing opportunity, these days when you don’t want to pay for advertising, it’s hard to be seen, let alone get people to engage with your posts. And of course, thanks to Facebook’s Edgerank, the less they engage, the less they see….the proverbial viscous circle.

So how do you get people to engage with your posts? Well, the short answer is: Post engaging stuff!

The problem is…truly engaging stuff can be extremely difficult and immensely time consuming to create all the time. (Or expensive if you need to pay someone to do it for you). Plus, sometimes what you think will be engaging really isn’t.

There is a bit of a shortcut for the zero budget marketer, though. You can share other people’s engaging stuff, in between your own, which has the added bonus of making your page more like an entertaining dinner party and less like attending a one-woman show. This should then help your less engaging posts show up a little more and get some interaction – not a lot, but at least some. And it’s keeping your brand on their radar.

I recently put this to the test with a series of posts on Facebook around a marketing theme for July – a ‘productivity’ month. I’ve included some shots below of three posts- two were shared articles and one was a ‘straight’ product post. You can see the engagement is huge on “the 6 hour work day” because, let’s face it, who among us doesn’t want to work a little less?! But the Midori Traveler’s Notebook post – a ‘straight’ post – got more likes that it would usually. And when you look at the reach, it’s over a thousand people, compared to the post below which had more likes but still only hit seventeen hundred people. So the marketing post isn’t setting the world on fire, but it’s also not a waste of time with a reach over a thousand.

Facebook organic marketing is tough – and engagement is so much higher these days on a platform like Instagram. But if you’ve put the effort into building an established audience on Facebook, and you’re still trying to reach them without paying to talk to them (via Facebook advertising), little tactics like this piggybacking on relevant and engaging third party content can help.

facebook post example 1

facebook post example

facebook post

When SEO isn’t about Google and is about people – The marketing value of meta descriptions

Digital marketing can’t really be called digital marketing any longer. For anyone marketing a business, digital is now so core to our work that it’s really just “marketing”.  Which means we need to constantly learn new skills because technology doesn’t stand still (as much as we’d sometimes like it to). And along the way, we also need to be reminded of some older skills and activities – things we know but sometimes forget about. One of these is the marketing value of meta descriptions.

Meta description is a rather ugly and technical sounding name for “the little bit of copy Google displays when showing a search result for your business”.  Which still doesn’t sound that interesting and exciting…until you remember that this little bit of copy can be hugely important on whether people choose to click on your search result, thus visiting your site and spending money with you. Your SEO work often focuses on APPEARING in the search results – your meta descriptions are what help complete that last step of a personal clicking on your search result.

Yet all too often, businesses have default meta descriptions appear, or worse still, have messy code or blocked results show up. Which makes people far less likely to click on your business in a search results page. And this is a missed opportunity: a true ‘zero budget marketing’ opportunity as all it takes to improve your opportunity for clicks – and so visitors – is a little bit of time in copywriting.

How meta descriptions can appear

An example of the marketing value of meta descriptions can be seen in the examples below. This is a search on Google for “little black dress”. The first result for The Iconic isn’t too bad, although it’s largely a default meta description. However, the next three – for the-lbd, asos and Hello Molly – are custom written. And they are persuasive and let people know what they’ll find when they click. The final result, for boohoo, is what happens when you let Google grab something random from your site for a meta description.

search results for little black dress

Using webmaster tools to identify missed opportunities

I recently found myself looking at Google webmaster tools (aka Google search console) for a retail site I work with. If you don’t use Google Search Console, you should. It is an awesome (free) tool that shows what search terms customers are finding you through and for those terms, your clicks, impressions, click through rate (CTR) and position you appear in for various search terms.

So I was checking the search terms we rank for. It struck me that for some of the terms we were not getting the CTR we should be. That is, we were showing up for the right term, on page one of Google, but not enough people were clicking on us.

And this is where meta descriptions and pages titles suddenly become really important.  Because almost the only thing that affects what people click on is what shows up for your search result: your page title and meta description. Now, I say ‘almost only’ because other factors do come into play – they suddenly remember they’ve done business with a competitor that appears, or get enticed by a Google advert instead – but meta description and title the only real factor you can actually control.

A copywriting test & resubmitting your URL.

I decided to test whether changing the meta descriptions, and tweaking page titles, would make enough of a difference to make the effort worthwhile. It does require some effort because there ARE default meta descriptions for the site that weren’t too bad. And manually changing them – particular for a retail site with lots of SKUs – is time consuming. But it’s something that’s free to try, so I

I focused on the keywords that were getting the most impressions first. So I picked fifteen keywords, put them into Google to see what the search results showed. Then I rewrote these meta descriptions (inside my CMS), keeping the old copy on file and adding the new copy or page title.

The final step is re-submitting the page to Google to crawl (which you also do in the search console under the CRAWL site menu and then “fetch as Google”. I found it only took a day or so for Google to recrawl the site and have the new meta descriptions appear.

Of 15 rewritten meta descriptions, 12 resulted in significantly more clicks

When I say significantly more clicks, some of the CTRs moved up several percentage points, most at least one percentage point. Extrapolate that out to your top 50 search terms and that can mean a whole more clicks – and a lot more potential business.

So what sort of thing did I change? Ultimately, I focused on putting more about what the customer would find when they clicked. I conveyed breadth of range. I also added location information, so that people would know that this was an Australian site. I tried to make it more compelling and persuasive and clear.

I’ll share one example. The search term was “washi tape” – changing the copy took the CTR from 6.5% to 7.9% – which translates to 91 new prospective customers in a month for this term alone.

Old copy
Notemaker has a wide range of washi tapes, available in different sizes, patterns & colours. Shop online with Australia’s leading stationery store!

New copy
Australia’s widest range of washi tapes. So many sizes, patterns & colours in popular Japanese washi tape. Hundreds available! Many on sale. Buy online today.

So the difference weren’t huge. But it did make a noticeable (positive) difference within a month. A positive test and one that I’ll be continuing to roll out for top keywords.

The reason it’s worth treating this like “a test” is not only to track your successes: it’s to find what didn’t work.  Two terms did noticeably worse when I changed them, even though I thought the copy was better. So I’ll be changing those back!

A work in progress

Gaining real marketing value from meta descriptions isn’t a once off activity. It’s something you’d ideally look at monthly, or every few months, to see where there are gains to be made. It’s something you can do yourself if you don’t have the resources to pay someone too. And it can provide more visitors – and so more potential sales – without a big investment.

So what is the marketing value of meta descriptions? It’s a zero budget marketing tool that’s potentially hugely powerful in bringing you prospective customers, yet one all too easy to forget about! Good luck with your own testing!


To pop up, or not pop up, that is the question

The challenge with most marketing is that you’re dealing with clients or bosses who say to you “I don’t like that” or “That annoys me” when you recommend a tactic. The “pop up box” encouraging sign ups on a website is one of these tactics that can be hard to convince people of. Because they are a bit annoying. They also work.

I’ve successfully implemented a pop up box now several times. Each time, it has immediately driven increased list sign up – and increased conversions. Despite sharing these experiences, it can still be hard to convince people. So I was pleased to see this new research report of 400 online retailers that pretty definitively shuts down the argument.

According to a recent study by email marketing firm Listrack, pop-ups can help retailers nearly double the rate at which they sign up consumers to receive marketing email. A pop up that includes an incentive, like a percentage off offer, results in an average list increase over a year of a whopping 47.8%!

I haven’t ever gotten a 50% bump. But I have achieved a 20-30% bump. It works best when you have an incentive – both in the box and on the thank you page (and ideally the follow up email with the chance to offer something like an upsell). It’s the ideal zero budget marketing tactic – beyond a little bit of form design, you’re spending nothing at all to increase your marketing effectiveness!

So if you don’t have a pop up box on your website to capture visitors that don’t buy, you’re wasting an opportunity. That opportunity is building your database so that you have a chance to convert visitors later. A sad fact of eCommerce and other websites is that we only convert a small fraction of visitors to buyers. So why not try and capture information of engaged visitors to try and convince them later.

And if you’re left wondering still what a pop up box is…here’s a few examples I’ve come across recently that might help with increasing sign ups to your own website.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 3.01.07 pm Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 2.51.10 pm Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 2.52.37 pm Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 2.58.39 pm

Being clear is more important than being clever

Good copywriting is hard work – but it’s worth the effort. It’s one of your most critical marketing tools.

What do I mean by ‘good’? Words that convey meaning succinctly, persuasively and, in many cases, entertainingly. Words that make your business stand out from the crowd.

And it’s not about using big words – often it’s about avoiding them, for maximum clarity.

When we’re learning to writing in primary school we’re given sentence examples where we have to replace a ‘plain’ or boring word with a more interesting alternative. But sometimes the plain words still work the best in copywriting.

Take the example below – from the homepage of, a subscription based service that allows you to store your files online and access them from anywhere if you’re online.

copywriting example

This the key message on their home page, the main selling message ‘above the fold’. It’s a big risk, in a way, using just two copy lines to try and convince you to invest in what is a simple to use but pretty technically oriented service.

Yet it works. It does its job really well. It conveys, in non-technical language, both what the service is, how it works and why you’d want to use it. And it does this job using plain words, like “good” and “stuff”.

Based on experience, I suspect it would have taken a long time, and lots of ‘discussion’ with various ‘stakeholders’, to reach agreement on these simple copy lines. Just because they are so simple.

I’m glad the writer behind them stuck it out, because these copy lines do their marketing job extremely well. It’s a great reminder to keep working at your copy until it’s a clear and persuasive as this example.

Yes please, I’d like $15 of free money

15 dollar credit example

There’s a LOT of bad marketing out there – money wasted, missing calls to action, ho-hum offers abound. So when you see good marketing, it’s worth noticing and taking a little inspiration from.

Red Balloon have been a “business to watch” for many years. Founder Naomi Simpson is a regular speaker at business events, flying the flag for her business in a one-woman PR campaign!

As a successful but purely online business, they’ve honed what works in terms of online promotion – which is why I was interested in this “account credit” promotion I was sent from them.

I was recently the recipient of TWO Red Balloon gift vouchers, so created an account and spent the vouchers on a weekend away.

A month later, I received this offer: A $15 credit in my account to spend, with 6 weeks available to spend it.

This is an immediately enticing offer. Let’s face it: I feel that I have been given FREE MONEY.

And I am highly likely to use this “free money”…and likely end up spending a whole lot more with them! They’re on the road to making me a repeat customer, something I hadn’t even really considered before receiving this offer.

It’s a clever zero budget marketing tactic that is not used enough in the online sphere.

Why is this ‘zero budget’ marketing. There’s no cost to Red Balloon if I don’t use this offer. It’s a zero budget marketing tactic because the business really isn’t spending money unless it’s MAKING money. And if someone spends a “voucher” like this, the spend is usually 5-8 times a voucher’s value. They’re also moving me from a ‘gift recipient’ to a ‘customer’ with this type of offer – rather clever in itself.

So if you’re in any sort of retail or B2C marketing, consider how you could use this type of offer in your marketing.



Most of my work I pitched for



It was so refreshing to hear Julia Green speak at a recent City of Stonnington business breakfast. She opened by saying she hadn’t spoken at a public event before about her business journey, and that she planned to be ‘real’ and ‘honest’.

She certainly lived up to this, sharing both the elements of talent, serendipity – but largely hard work and business creativity – that has seen her business (Greenhouse Interiors) become so successful in just five years.

The key statement from her presentation that stuck with me was this:

“Most of my work – the majority of it – I’ve pitched for.”

I have advised MANY small businesses on their marketing over the years and, honestly, most don’t get this: that being good at what they do isn’t enough. Work will not materialise. You will need to look for it, work for it, pitch for it, sometimes even come up with it yourself. There is almost never a marketing magic wand or marketing silver bullet. Every business must “do” marketing.

One anecdote shared by Julia was about watching her favourite show at the time, Offspring, and suddenly thinking she should pitch to STYLE the Offspring house. And include in it one (or more) artworks from one of the 14 artists she also represents. After all, she said, what better way to get huge exposure, on no budget, than by putting a picture above Nina and Patrick’s bed?

So she called to pitch it. And it took time. And multipe calls. And multiple contacts.

But she made it happen.

Julia pronounced “I’m not the best stylist. I’m an opportunist.”. In my opinion, she’s also extremely business-savvy. She is prepared to ‘put herself out there’ and come up with projects, or new elements to her business, that have helped drive her success in a relatively short period (after a career in pharmaceuticals before this). After all, she says, “I can’t just be a stylist. There will always be someone on your heels. So you need to thinking – what’s next? What can I evolve this into?”

It’s a marketing – and indeed, a zero budget marketing – lesson we all need to learn (or be reminded of if we’ve forgotten).

Work and clients don’t fall from the sky. And business constantly needs to evolve.

In a small business, especially in professional services, the best jobs will almost always come through your network, or through you pitching. Even after you’re established and well known. You will still need to always be selling. As long as you believe in what you’re selling, this doesn’t need to be daunting. But if you retain this focus on driving business, it will mean you’re far more likely to be successful than a competitor who’s largely waiting for their phone to ring.


Images sourced from Greenhouse Interiors website.


A great example of Partnership Marketing

ING direct promo

I love a good partner promotion. It’s a zero budget marketer’s dream – find someone with a comparable size database and work out a promotion together.

I’ve just received a great offer via my bank (ING Direct) for 20% off at clothing retailer THE ICONIC.

It ticks all the boxes – a decent discount, a stylish looking marketing piece, a brand I recognise.

I don’t know the details of what these particular partners worked out, but I know I regularly negotiate similar arrangements for clients and NO MONEY changes hands. The extra benefit of these sorts of promotions is that they are always more successful than promotions to rented lists – that is, when you DO spend money. That’s because your promotion has an implicit tick of approval from the organisation sending it, who has a great relationships with it’s own database.

So whether you’re a small or large business, someone is talking to the sort of customers you want to access. And someone will want to talk to the sort of customers on your database. So get in touch and work out a partnership promotion today!

Remember the value of a competition when it comes to database building


I’m a direct marketer at heart. It’s how I started my career (so long again it was in mail order shopping, well before the dawn of online shopping!). It’s still what I most trust. I feel safer making an investment (of time or money) where I’m able to say with reasonable confidence “if I spend X, I’ll get Y in return”. It’s the same reason CPC online marketing has become so popular. You get an immediate cost per lead.

Now to be a successful direct marketer, you need your own list – preferably an email list, because email is still the killer app. And one of the best (and cheapest) ways to build a list is a competition. I’ve run MANY of these over the years and it constantly surprises me how much information people will share about themselves on the promise of winning something, even something comparatively small. We all love the thought of something for nothing.

So if you’re struggling to work out how to build your email list, run a competition.

The example I’ve included in today’s post is a perfect zero budget marketing example. The cost of the promotion is negligible – they’re giving away five copies of an ebook, so at most the ‘value’ is probably $25 – but I guarantee you they’ll get hundreds of entries. And they’ll be valuable entries because the sort of people who want to win a book are obviously ‘readers’ and ‘readers’ are pretty likely to buy books too.

The beauty of those people who join your email list is that they become the path to even more people.

I’m in the midst of a ‘refer a friend’ promotion with another client, with a total prize pool of only $750 (five spa gift vouchers – both the referrer and the referee go into the draw when the new person joins). The response has been huge – 25% of the new sign ups we’ve had for the offer have come from the refer a friend promotion, despite it being about only 5% of the campaign budget.

Now of course once you have people on your email list, you’ve got to treat them with respect – entertain them, educate them, keep them involved. But before I veer off onto a whole other post, for now let me sum up by saying:

Building a prospect and customer email list will be THE MOST COST EFFECTIVE form of marketing you’ll ever do.

And an extremely cheap way to get people onto your list is to run a competition. And then run another one. And then run another one…

Can you avoid an email unsubscribe?

subscription options

It is such hard work getting someone to subscribe to your email list, but it’s worth it because email is still the killer app of online marketing.

To be a good email marketer, you always need to include an opt-out, a chance for people to unsubscribe. But what if you gave someone another option? Perhaps they are annoyed by the volume of your emails (or all their emails, more likely). But if you could offer them the chance to reduce this volume, might they take it? I know recently I did.

I’m now living in the land of aggressive and constant marketing (aka the USA) and with a few household purchases have been a little inundated with daily marketing emails. I wanted to unsubscribe to some of them and came across the scenario pictured above with kitchenware retailer Chefs. I could unsubscribe but I could also drop emails to weekly or a couple of times a month. It gave me pause- and I chose twice a month instead of unsubscribing. Like most consumers, I was teased with the fact I might ‘miss out’ if I unsubscribed completely.

So clever, because it’s saved them a subscriber – someone who’s purchased from them and really is quite likely to do so again if reminded or appropriately tempted.

Why is this zero budget marketing at it’s best? It’s protecting an investment: work already done and money already spent.

Could you offer this on your unsubscribe page? Or if you don’t have that level of customisation, perhaps on your unsubscribe page you can give people the option to engage with you on social media by liking your page or following you on Twitter. These can be less ‘intrusive’ and if someone wanted to hear from you once, maybe they still do, just a little less often.

Here’s to holding on to those subscribers in some way, shape or form!