Business Promotion Outside the Box

Promoting your business, to my way of thinking, involves several factors. Perhaps the biggest is being in the right place at the right time with exactly what your potential customer wants. Does that sound a lot like selling? Of course. And like selling, you need to be prepared to do it in different ways depending on when and where you approach it.

So what does this have to do with SEO? After all, you’ve probably come here expecting to read an article on how to optimize your site to get a high ranking in the search engines. You’re no doubt familiar with the equation: a high position on the search engine results page leads to more visitors, which leads to more conversions, which leads to more profits. At least, that’s how it usually works; if you’ve been doing this for a while, you know there are a number of ways in which this math can go awry.

Considering that point, it’s a good thing, then, that this equation is not the only one that can lead to profit for an online business. You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the rise of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Let’s not forget blogs and podcasts, or how easy it is for the average person to give their cat videos a worldwide distribution on Youtube. Like a high ranking in the search engines, these are all ways to get the message out about your business. They’re a lot cheaper than making a 30-second commercial and buying air time on national TV.

But in many ways, they’re also a lot touchier in actual use. Because social media sites often have a wider range than you might expect, any use of them in a campaign can have a huge impact – for good or ill. For this reason, generally speaking, you shouldn’t represent yourself as something you aren’t…unless you find a way to do it that won’t leave your customers expecting one thing and getting something else. Humor helps; the current Old Spice Guy commercials, both on the air and on Youtube, are the most recent example, but there are lots of others.

I can’t tell you specifically how to promote your own online business, but I can point to some examples of businesses and people that seem to have done it right. As you read my examples, keep in mind that you still need to run a good SEO campaign. Using social media and other novel means to promote your website and your business is not something you do INSTEAD of SEO; it’s something you do in ADDITION to SEO. If you want to consider the big picture, it’s all marketing; whether it’s SEO or SMO (social media optimization), you’re trying to get people interested in your site and what you have to offer. You just need to change your approach to suit the media and how people use it. 

I’m going to focus mainly on web-based cartoonist Bill Holbrook. I do not know this man personally, but he’s been in the business a long time; he was syndicated in newspapers before he took to the web. He draws a number of comic strips. My personal favorite is “Kevin and Kell,” which is the one I’ll focus on in this section.

Let’s touch on the “normal” things he’s doing. If you visit his website for this strip (http://www.kevinandkell.com/), you’ll see the daily cartoon in full color. You’ll also see what appears to be a flapping corner at the top right. Hover your mouse over it, and it slides down, revealing a special deal for book compilations of his strips. It’s usually Kevin and Kell, but he’s started promoting his other strips this way here as well (checking it at the time of writing, I found an ad for Safe Havens). The lesson here is, once you get them to your site, if you give visitors a reason to be intrigued, yes, they will view your ads – especially if they’re connected with why they’re there.

The site is set up to let you view earlier and later strips easily. Scroll down past today’s strip and you’ll see a normal banner ad, along with…what’s this? Just below the banner ad, there’s a message from a sponsor. This is not a big, fancy sponsorship from a business; it’s a personal message. Anyone can sponsor a Kevin and Kell strip for a day. For the measly sum of $5, your name or nickname, plus a short message if you wish, will appear in that space for an entire day, to be seen by regular Kevin and Kell readers. For sponsors, it’s a way to be seen; for Holbrook, it’s income.

Scroll further down and you’ll see the “Latest News.” Holbrook updates this section regularly with information that would be of interest to his readers. He talks about conventions he will be attending, projects completed, interviews (with links), and so forth. When he mentions a collaboration in this section, he links back to the collaborator’s site, as is only fair with a blog. This is a way to let people know what’s happening in the real world with him…which turns out to be an important distinction, as he’s learned to make the fantasy world work for him a bit as well.

Holbrook offers web hosting. What does web hosting have to do with a comic strip? Well, as it turns out, one of the title characters in the strip runs a small ISP named HareLink. So there’s an ad for HareLink on the site. This is a real web hosting provider, with a long list of services for reasonable prices. It adds a little verisimilitude to the Kevin and Kell universe. Remember, he’s catering to fans of his strip, who would certainly think it cool to have their blog hosted by “Kevin’s ISP”! HareLink serves a dual purpose for Holbrook: it’s another way to get the word out about his strip, and it’s another source of income.

You may have heard about fictional characters having their own blogs; when it’s done correctly, it’s delightful. It gives diehard fans another perspective on what’s happening, and lets them “interact” with their favorite character. Two of Holbrook’s characters have blogs of sorts, and they’re different enough to be worth discussing separately.

One point worth noting: before each of the major developments relating to these blogs, Holbrook mentioned them in the “Latest News” section of his web site. And he continues to mention the blogs and what they’re currently covering there.

The first character to blog supposedly didn’t realize that her entries were “leaking” to the outside world. That changed later. What this meant is that people could not only post comments (as they had from the very start, which Holbrook moderated); they could now get replies from the character. Well, from Holbrook of course.

But the cartoonist took it one step further. Not only did he not object to people posting comments as if they were from the same universe as the blogger, but he made it CANON. This meant, to some small extent, that fans were actually writing bits and pieces that could become real in one of their favorite “virtual worlds” (with the blogger acting as a moderator of sorts).

The second character to blog supposedly still doesn’t know that it’s “leaking.” She’s on Twitter, and has her own separate storyline. While she was a very significant character in the strip earlier, her tweets are now the only way the fans know what is going on with the particular plot…which may or may not have an effect on the main strip. As I mentioned earlier, it provides another perspective. And Holbrook has honed his comic strip skills well; he can present some wonderful plot twists and information in an ongoing arc even when constrained by Twitter’s 140-character limit. That’s not easy.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Holbrook’s promotion is that he’s still exploring new ways to get the word out about his offerings – and new ways to make money from them. For various reasons, the strip character who is “on Twitter” just realized that she’s going to have to do something to maintain the appearance of being employed. She’s decided that the best way to do this would be to set up an online business.

Holbrook’s humor comes to the fore with one of her tweets: “This online business should be legit, without involving much in the way of actual profits. (Coming up with that shouldn’t be too hard).” Ouch. That would hurt more if it wasn’t likely that he was speaking from his own personal experience!

But you can guess what’s going to happen now. Holbrook will probably tease his fans via this character’s tweets for some time as to what this online business will actually be. Once he settles on something, he will probably set it up in the real world…and given his past record, his fans will be able to purchase its goods and/or services. Meanwhile, those same fans will speculate. Will it be an eBay store? An Etsy shop? A standalone website? Or will the online business offer services, like website design…or even online marketing for small businesses?

Okay, so I wasn’t serious about that last comment. The point is, if you want to grow your online business, you want to expand in directions that intrigue your customers while giving them what they want. It goes without saying that you need to know your customers pretty well to do this, but that’s something I hope you’re making the effort to do already.

Knowing your customers becomes very important when you want to change your audience. I don’t have the space to go into it here, but as a hint I’ll point to the Old Spice Guy. Think about the image of Old Spice before he came along. It was something you gave your dad on Father’s Day. Now, with its sassy and over-the-top series of commercials and Youtube videos, Old Spice is actually hip, funny, fun-loving, and yes, sexy. If there’s interest, I’ll expand on this in another article. In the meantime, keep using your imagination to reach your audience; it’s probably less expensive than TV ads. Good luck!  

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