August 16, 2012 at 11:22 PMBusiness that serve violinists are an important part of the global violin community, too. Today, I'd like to offer some advice to the shops, luthiers, string makers and other retailers who sell to violinists, based on my experience working with the many generous sponsors who support Violinist.com.
Laurie and I want to see all honest, hard-working violin-related businesses succeed and grow, so we offer these advertising tips for business owners who might be struggling with tough choices about how best to invest in finding new customers.
Know the difference between short-term sales vs. long-term branding
It's the difference between advertising to people who want to buy something today, and advertising to people who don't need anything right now, but surely will at some time in the future.
As a business, you need both. You need immediate income from people who are going online to search for the best place to find the products you sell. But you'd probably also like to build up some "brand loyalty" to your business, so future customers will skip that step of searching around online, and just come first to your shop or website, instead.
The best places to target short-term sales are keyword-targeted ads on search engine results pages and listings in commercial directories. Those target people who are looking to buy today, and have taken the initiate to start a search for a place to buy. Your ads ought to mention specific products, services, and deals you are offering - details that will motivate a prospective customer to click over to you.
Keyword search ads won't help you much with building your brand, though. To do that, you need to reach people when they're not in the market to buy. Banner ads and sponsorships on websites that appeal to the type of people you're trying to reach as customers are a good way to go here. So is sponsoring offline events, such as industry conventions, concerts, and summer instructional camps.
With brand-based ads, you're trying to establish your name and a positive mental association with your brand, so people instantly think of it when they are ready to buy. That's why it's important to target publications, events and organizations that have good reputations, as well.
Test your campaigns and creatives
Ultimately, though, you're running a business - not a charity. Your advertising needs to deliver a return on investment [ROI]. I'm a big fan of what's called A/B testing. That means you run two campaigns at once - an "A" campaign and a "B" campaign - changing only one element between the two. Look at the results and you can see which of those two elements performed better.
Perhaps you run the same ad, the same number of times, on two different websites to see which site produced more sales for your business. Or you test two versions of an ad on the same site over a month, to see which creative delivered better results. However you do an A/B test, you want to make sure that you keep everything the same between the two campaigns, save for that single difference you are testing.
I wouldn't rely on any website's word for how many clicks it delivers to your website, either. Use a distinct tracking URL for every campaign you place. (goo.gl is a good source to make those links, or any other URL shortener.) That way, you can track how many clicks you are getting from a single source. (While we're on the topic of trust, I wouldn't trust any print publication's word on the number of extra readers who see each copy of the publication. Unless a publication is distributed through doctors' waiting rooms, assume that the number of copies sold is the number of readers.)
If you've got the technical skills to do it, go ahead track what the people who come to your website using a specific URL end up buying. Some unscrupulous publishers use "click bots" and other tricks to inflate the number of clicks on the ads they run. But those clicks never convert to sales. If you can track actual sales from specific sources, you'll have great data to help you make smart decisions about the short-term cost-effectiveness of specific ads.
Yet don't forget that difference between short-term sales and long-term branding. You might find that certain sources do a great job of delivering short-term sales, but that others work better in helping you build your brand. So don't consider one month's worth of click or sales data the final word on what's the best way to spend your marketing budget.
Wondering about best practices for ad creatives?
Start by thinking about the types of ads you click when you're reading online. What draws your attention? In our experience here on Violinist.com,
a well-lighted photo of attractive person, holding a violin, who looks like that violin's made her or him the happiest person on Earth, draws more attention than any other type of image. Couple that image with text copy that offers a specific product or service deal with real value to the reader. (And don't forget to make your logo the biggest text item in the ad - banner ads are best for branding, after all.)
Change your ads frequently (at least once a month), or rotate multiple ad creatives, too, since people grow "blind" to the same old ad after time. Mix up your selection of images and copy to sustain interest among frequent readers.
On directory ads, get specific in your ad copy. Talk about specific products or services you offer - and the unique value they provide to your customers. Sell them on why you're their best choice.
Here on Violinist.com, we've found that our readers don't respond that much to ads that offer something free - perhaps we've all just grown too skeptical of such offers. So focus on value for the dollar instead of low (or no) price in your ad copy, to best elicit a click and a look.
Activate to connect better with your customers
Finally, never rely on just ads or sponsorships to connect with your potential customers. Activate your sponsorships by getting engaged with the communities you support. Post blogs or responses on the websites where you advertise. Go to the events and conventions you sponsor.
Activating your sponsorships in this way allows potential customers to see you as a knowledgable individual, someone who knows what he or she is doing and can help them get the best value in a purchase, as well as answer their questions in a forum or a convention hall.
When you're activating relationships in this way, though, always leave the sales pitch to the ads (or to your booth on the show floor). When you're connecting with people through online forums, blogs, or events, keep the sales pitches out of that. Focus only on providing service to your fellow community members, by answering questions or sharing expertise. You can mention that you own/work for/represent "[So-and-so], which is a proud sponsor of [Whatever]," but don't go further. Use activation to build non-commercial relationships with your community, and leave the ads and sponsorships to generate the sales.
Activating a sponsorship through community participation also helps you to see, first-hand, which publications and events are really helping to build up the global violin community, and which ones are, well, places you might not want to be associated. Let your experience as a community member inform you as to which publications, organizations and events are most worthy of your advertising support.
We hope that this advice helps you, especially if you're running a smaller or start-up violin-related business without professional marketing support. If you have any questions, feel free to jump into the comments, or contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be wary of sites that try to sell you on the "domain authority" or "PageRank" that your site will get from buying a link on their site. Google says that it is against its policies to buy or sell links for the purpose of improving the target site's position in search engine results. In fact, if Google or other search engines catch you buying such links, they can kick you out of their results altogether.
We use the "rel=nofollow" attribute on our sponsor links to conform with Google's rules on paid advertising. And we urge you to support publishers who do the same. It's the best way to protect your business' visibility online. If someone's trying to sell you links to help you game the system with search engines, that's definitely a site you should not want to sponsor.