Which brings me back to email. I can’t predict what’s going to happen 5 years from now, but I’m pretty sure that in the next five years email will have an important place in the business world. The reason for this is that businesses rely on email for many things:
That’s not to say that newer, more casual forms of digital communication don’t play a role in these things as well – but email creates a digital trail that can be followed, and if need be, verified. There is a clear chronology with email, which is important when dealing with business issues – who said what first, and why.
With email, there is also the aspect of taking the time to think about what you should write. This is funny because I can remember a few years back people bemoaning how email had killed the art of letter writing, since with email writing you were less concerned about content, grammar and style. And now emailers of the world are complaining how texting and tweeting is killing the email. Ha!
The only problem I see for companies who use email for marketing is that it’s going to be harder to reach their prospects. For B2B companies, it will be less so because emails are preferably directed to a business email address. If people in companies use their emails for business, then they will continue to see the marketing pitches in their email boxes. For B2C companies, it will become more of a concern, because if the public turns away from using email to communicate with friends, then they will be less likely to look at their email inboxes.
So what’s going to happen? Or, should I ask, do we have the patience to wait until it does? Have we evolved to the point where we only want instant resolution to the future?
One of the perks of marketing in the natural products industry is that you get to feature photos of beautiful plants, succulent foods, happy harvests and healthy looking people. The whole idea is to present and position products that are created by nature, support sustainable practices and provide wellness. And photos are a great way to back up these claims.
Websites for natural products feature countless photos of their natural ingredients. It’s an essential way to show their customers their natural origins.
But here’s the rub: if you’re searching for those photos on the web, you can’t find them unless they have alt tags assigned to them. Google, Yahoo! and Bing are not yet able to identify images by themselves. There needs to be writing attached to them so they can find them: Thus the alt tag.
Web designers and SEO experts know this, but go on many natural products sites and you’ll be surprised how many of their pictures don’t have alt tags or have alt tags that have limited search value.
If you don’t think that’s important, then you’re not optimizing your website for the search engines.
Some key points to consider:
The Alt Tag is NOT a caption. The sole purpose of an alt tag is to help the search engines find you. Think about your keywords and think about how you’d like your photo to attract people. A caption that reads, “Joe and Cindy at the Echinacea harvest” makes sense on the website, but are those critical keywords that your prospects search for? An alt tag for the same photo could be “organically grown Echinacea harvest – Name of company” since more people are likely to search for those keywords than the words “Joe and Cindy.”
Don’t abuse keywords. There is a temptation to stuff as many keywords into an alt tag as possible. After all, you don’t read the alt tags – only the search engines do. Wrong. Too many keywords – otherwise known as high keyword density – can trigger spam filters and that might result in a penalty for your sites ranking.
Alt Tags are more important than ever. Everyone talks about the importance of title tags and H1 tags for search value, but recent research from SEOMoz shows that keywords in the alt attribute (alt tag) are given more weight than title tags and H1 tags, and almost equal with keywords in the body of text. Bing even gives alt tags more juice than keywords in the URL.
Natural Products consumers like photos of natural things. I don’t have stats for this, but with almost 20 years of marketing natural products I’ve noticed that people interested in organics, sustainability and the environment love beautiful photographs of all things natural. A beautiful shot will create an emotional attachment to a food, product or ingredient. When searching, these same people not only look at Google Search – Web but also at Google Search –Images. Having trouble getting on the first pages of the search engines? If you alt tag correctly, you have a much better shot of getting into the first pages of Images (and, if you go onto Images, you’ll note that 10 pages fit on one).
Want more convincing? I suggest you go into your back end analytics and try to figure out how visitors are being directed to your site. See how many come from an image search. If there aren't any or very few, check your alt tags to see if they are keyword optimized. If there are a lot, then chances are you’re doing a great job with your alt tags.
Have any of you out there had organic search success with your alt tags?
Everyone in the natural products industry seems to be on the social marketing bandwagon. They have their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos. But what seems to be missing are their blogs.
I did a preliminary scanning of 20 fairly prominent natural products companies (products that I have in my home) who all had Facebook pages, looking for their blogs. I won’t mention the 18 that didn’t have any blog. The two that did were Tom’s of Maine and Stonyfield Farms. Tom’s posted periodically (3 times in one month, once in another etc.), while Stonyfield posted regularly, at least once a week.
So I ask all the other 18 natural products companies – what is a social media program without a blog? Haven’t you heard about the hub approach to social marketing, where it all begins with the website and a blog and feeds out from there to the social networks?
I realize that these companies do direct their social postings back to their websites, but to where? Probably to their home page, which rarely changes, or to their product pages, which pretty much ends the social dialogue.
What puzzles me is that if there ever was an industry that could create useful, meaningful, emotional, and interesting blog information, it’s the natural products industry. Most of what they create is for the wellness of people and the environment – topics that are of great interest to their constituency.
I realize blogging takes time, and coming up with content copywriting ideas can be hard, but the loyalty it could engender could be huge and long lasting. It would also give more meat to their social networking efforts. And it would help their organic search immeasurably (and anything organic to this group is usually highly appealing).
I spent two days at this year’s Natural Products Expo East, asking marketers of all different size companies to participate in a benchmark study. The study will hopefully reveal marketing practices for the natural products industry, how marketers divide their budgets, and what works for them and what doesn’t in the world of marketing communications.
Almost all of them agreed to participate (we’ll see how many actually do when they get the email link). Many of them saw the benefit of having such a report, while others shrugged. Even though the information gathered will be completely anonymous (those taking the survey will not be asked for their company’s name), several sited their privacy as the reason for not participating. All of this was to be expected.
There were several marketers who volunteered information – none of which was particularly promising: Information like “We only advertise with the distributors,” or “We don’t do hardly any marketing.” Only a select few mentioned social media (tended to be the bigger companies) and hardly anyone mentioned SEO.
The natural products industry, which has more feel good stories to tell than almost any industry I know, which has the potential to create devoted online communities, still is stuck in point-of-sale and trade-oriented marketing. For so many of the small companies I visited, they still believe that the power of their product will be enough to break through the clutter and find its loyal following.
While that was the case 15 or even 10 years ago, just having a good product that’s new to the market is not going to cut it. There are a few companies that have burst onto the market in the last couple years, and they did it with the combo of new and a concerted marketing effort.
But those little guys in the single booths, I worry about them. Many of them have this mindset that they can’t afford marketing. That’s because they think of it in terms of spending ad dollars. And if they don’t get an immediate bang for their dollars, they stop – and all that precious money they spent is wasted.
If only they put the ingenuity that helped make their products into some creative marketing, they might have a chance. I’m talking about creating an organic web presence, one that combines best practices SEO and social media. I’m talking about using the internet cleverly to get to those all important store buyers. They are right about the fact that they need to get onto the shelves. But it takes marketing to bring their products to the attention of those buyers, and it takes marketing to keep their attention as well. Yes, it will cost money, but unlike advertising it will have a lasting effect. It’s the difference between owning and renting: Advertising is like renting and SEO plus social is like owning. One is a place holder and the other is an investment.
What these small companies have that really differentiates them is their unique story and their honest desire to do good things for people and their health. If their product is all they say it is and if they start building a small community, then they will see steady growth in awareness and loyalty, and that will translate into increased sales.
I can’t wait to see the results for the 2011 Marketing in the Natural Product Industry Benchmark Study when it comes out in January. I’m hoping that it will encourage the smaller companies to commit to smarter and creative marketing. What do you think?
Natural Products Expo East is happening this week, October 14-16. It's another chance for this marketing consultant to meet up with old friends and colleagues, press the flesh with some future clients (always hopeful), hear what other marketing consultants are doing and find out some new facts about the industry and products.
The last time I was at the Natural Products Expo, I noticed someone who I had not seen in ten years. I said, “Hi” but it took her a few seconds to say “Peter?” Pause. “I didn’t recognize you.” Now I’m no Pollyanna. I know I’ve aged. A lot less hair. But I also don’t wear glasses anymore, and I’ve been working out. Not all bad. And fundamentally, I’m the same good guy I was when I first met her.
Over the year’s I’ve grown accustomed to my changes, so it’s always a little shock when someone says they did not recognize me, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. Basically my packaging has changed, and even though to me it’s subtle, that’s not the case for others. They had an image of me, and now I don’t fit it, or more accurately, it takes work for them to find me.
The same can be said for companies that change their packaging. Too often, the change is so dramatic that even though the label shouts out the name of the company and product, it’s not registering for me on the shelves. If I am a loyal customer, I’ll eventually find it, and pretty soon I’ll recognize the new packaging as easily as I did the old one.
So what’s the takeaway here? If you change your packaging too dramatically without taking into account your brand equity, loyal customers will find you, new customers who have never heard of you will find you, and everyone else will find your competition.
So does that mean don’t change your packaging and if you do, do it only slightly? Nope. The answer is far more complicated, and will probably cost you the services of a good branding expert. The only free advice I can give you is change, like aging, happens whether you like it or not. It’s all about how you deal with it. For example, the person I met at Expo who didn’t recognize me – I told her how great she looked, and pretty soon she remembered what a cool guy I am. Next time I bumped into her, she waved. Now if only I could remember her name.
Wish me luck this year. Hopefully everyone will recognize me.