Author Archives: nick

Catch Engine: Assessment Marketing and Building Brand Power

Assessment Marketing

Survey marketing has proven a very popular and effective brand building tool online for decades. Systems like Survey Monkey and Google Forms provide very polished and easy-to-use platforms by which anyone can create surveys to capture information. Typically, survey marketing focuses on data trends, gathering large numbers of responses for macro analysis and determining “big data” points of interest that occur when viewing large numbers of responses all in comparison with one another. This can be a very effective approach for brands to review these big data trends based on the questions they ask and then direct their operations, marketing, sales and other brand development efforts accordingly. Sure, a brand using survey marketing potentially captures some way to continue re-marketing to their survey takers, but there tends to be a massive, missed opportunity to assess and respond accordingly and immediately to every person who takes a survey. So, enter assessment marketing.

The Value Exchange

Every day more people are being more selective about how they spend their time online and what value they receive by not only giving their contact information but also their responses to specific questions. Assessment marketing, also referred to as quiz marketing, maintains the survey marketing element but takes things a step further by creating targeted responses to people on how they took the survey. Providing these targeted responses can be achieved by treating surveys more like quizzes, where every answer has a score and those scores then dictate the best response to send to the end user, all based on their participation.

In order for an assessment to provide something of value tailored to the end user, the end user has to provide an accurate input of information. For example, they answer a series of questions about their communication preferences and in return, the assessment provides them a response page gauging what kind of communicator they are. Both sides of the exchange are getting something from this engagement. The brand gets valuable information from an engaged end user along with their valid contact information (since that is the only way the end user gets their results.) The end user finds out something about themselves that they were not necessarily able to gauge readily or accurately on their own.

The Call to Action

You have heard us talk about calls to action before on this blog. Some calls to action are necessarily plain and simple (like “Call Us”). But that may not be the best approach when building brand awareness or vetting possible leads. An assessment, although a call to action in and of itself, can drive incredibly focused and appropriately targeted calls to action to those who participate in taking it. For example, a satisfaction assessment can determine whether someone is happy or not with a brand’s service—driving happy customers to Yelp or Google and unhappy customers to continuing the conversation until the brand makes things right. An assessment may also drive a budding author to consider a webinar series created by a particular writing coach based on their focuses and interests. All the while, the brand is being provided valuable demographic and feedback information about current customer satisfaction, potential leads, market segments, etc.

Furthermore, as a call to action, an assessment can also become a magnet for others to visit a brand’s website. People who take the assessment will likely share their results with their spheres of influence if the information is tailored enough to describe them and/or help them. A great example is the Narcissism Test by Dr. Craig Malkin. The assessment does more than tell you whether or not you are a narcissist. It determines how much of a narcissist you are and whether your narcissism is the healthy type or the extreme type or if you are not enough of a narcissist for your own health. This assessment has been taken hundreds of thousands of times because people share the test and it has built a very powerful brand for Dr. Malkin.

The System To Get It Done

Historically, creating assessment or quiz systems like this have always been expensive, temperamental and cumbersome. Most brands can’t afford to spend $30K or more (plus monthly management costs) for a system that cannot be easily manipulated on the fly. So, to build these assessments quickly, efficiently and cheaply, the principal over here at Alter Endeavors, Nick Alter, designed and developed a platform called Catch Engine.

Catch Engine allows for brands to effectively build out assessments (or quizzes, whatever you want to call them) with an intuitive system to build out the questions, answers, response pages, logic system and additional actions (like alerts and MailChimp or Infusionsoft integration). By creating assessments with Catch Engine, building brand power becomes a much more focused and tailored experience for both the brand and the end user. The end user benefits while the brand’s power builds exponentially.

A Marketing DON’T: Contact Form Spam

contact form spam is not a good idea

Contact Form Spam Makes Puppy Sad

Hey guys, Nick here to remind you that it is not okay to market to businesses randomly through their contact forms. The cost of contact form spam far outweighs the benefits. Oftentimes the people abusing these forms for marketing purposes are scammers or bots set up by hackers looking for a way into your site. However, there is a disturbing trend amongst marketing consultants and B2B groups in the U.S. who are employing this tactic. Stop it. I recently ran across a guy who actually sells this service to other businesses. We had words, none of them nice. Here are a few reasons why you should never pursue this as a marketing tactic:

1. Wrong Expectation

The expectation for most contact forms is either for support or leads. The people reading these forms typically involve either a sales team or a support staff. In smaller businesses, owners might be reading these, but the expectation for this space is not to be sold to.

2. Conversion Goals Through Analytics

More often than not, contact forms are linked to conversion goals on systems like Google Analytics. The folks analyzing those conversion goals and the analytics that support those goals have a tendency to gnash their teeth every time they have to manually extract the information they need to assess from the noise created by contact form spammers (I’m talking to YOU Jeff, stop it!)

3. Terrible, Lazy First Impression

Because of the first two reasons, now you face every sales person’s worst nightmare. Contact form spam comes across as lazy and annoying before the conversation has even begun. You didn’t take the time to research who in the company you should have reached out to talk about your service or product. Instead, you are blindly hammering on the door and trying to force a company or organization to respond to your summons. It’s like trying to pitch your service through Facebook Messages, nobody is going to take you seriously.

There Are Better Outbound Sales Tactics To Pursue

Cold calling can and does work, if done appropriately. Lead Forensics provides a great example. We actually signed up for their service. Don’t get me wrong, they have a really interesting (read as useful and unique) product. However, to get to the decision maker (me), they did their homework. They asked for me by name. The sales guy referenced something that I had tagged in social media to align himself with me. He stroked my ego by complimenting my work, citing specific examples of some of our recent projects. That took all of 20 seconds. He then jumped right into how his product could help Alter Endeavors track other businesses visiting our site and a way to connect with those folks. He had me hooked in less than 45 seconds. I was impressed and intrigued in under a minute. That’s how you cold call. It won’t always be that way, but with an approach like Lead Forensics’, your rate of success will definitely increase significantly.

• LinkedIn targeting. It’s another research tactic that, if treated properly, can lead to successful connections and conversations with decision makers.

• Setting up seminars and speaking engagements to give away valuable information in exchange for trust and conversation.

• Networking groups are still effective. We participate in BNI (Business Networking International) over here at Alter Endeavors.

These are a few ways you build trust through outbound sales and all are better than contact form spam. Even if someone doesn’t sign up for what you are selling, they are much more likely to speak of you, and maybe even speak well of your brand to others.

That’s all I’ve got for now folks. Go get it done!

Avoid Negative Online Reviews With Good Communication

avoid negative online reviews

Hey folks, Nick here to continue our talk about the “Trust Puzzle” as well as briefly talk about negative online reviews and good customer service. Here’s the deal: build out your private lines of communication with your customers as quickly as possible, and then spend the next year refining the (insert expletive here) out of them. One of the most important lessons we have learned with our service-based clients and dealing with their customers online stems from the level of accessibility our clients have available for their customers, especially via digital means. From our own data we have found that more than 65% of dissatisfied customers will reach out to your brand privately to resolve an issue before taking it public. The “Yelp Elite” aside, many folks do not want to speak ill of a brand in a public manner if they can avoid it. However, if a brand does not have readily apparent avenues for dissatisfied customers to pursue (with near-immediate response times from said brand), then social media and review sites like Google Places become the only recourse. This is dangerous for any brand, no matter how big it is. 

Get Proactive, Send a Survey… AND PAY ATTENTION!

The best way to see how your customers feel is by sending a survey. When building out an online strategy with our clients, especially those with high-dollar, infrequent services that folks only use once in a great while (like moving or painting or roofing), we harp on getting a survey system in place immediately. We actually built a system called Catch Engine to help with individual communications with each customers’ experience, a service we now implement for all of our clients. With Catch Engine, you can actually grade customers based on their answers. The system will then respond to the customer with the appropriate response page based on the customer’s responses. More importantly, you can set up alerts using the Catch Engine system to immediately notify you when someone is likely to post a negative online review, simultaneously letting the client know that someone will be in touch with them shortly about their issue. 

With a system like this in place, more often than not you can head customers off at the pass before they go announce their displeasure with your brand to the rest of the world. What’s more, you now have redemption—the opportunity to make it right with said customer and possibly even win them over as a brand ambassador in the future. 

A Teachable Moment – What Not To Do

On the other hand, if you have a survey in place, but do not have a rock-solid system for responding to negative online reviews in a near-immediate manner, you might actually make an annoyed client into a furious client. For example, I thought about writing this blog because of a recent experience I had with the Austin branch of a high-end furniture company who shall remain nameless. Although the sales experience was pleasant enough, their follow-through and delivery was lackluster at best. For buying such expensive furniture, their level of communication during delivery was practically non-existent.

I reached out to their support department about my frustration without ever receiving a response. After my furniture was finally delivered, I then received a survey; which, again, I let them know how frustrating their fulfillment process was for me. Weeks later, still no response. This is normally where review sites would come into play, and not in a good way. I appreciate the company providing me with a teachable moment, but do NOT be like them! Don’t get me wrong, I love my furniture. It’s awesome, but we are not very likely to order from these folks again or recommend anyone else do so either. At least, not until they fix their fulfillment and delivery issue. 

A Teachable Moment – Be Like These Guys

On the flip side we have a number of companies I have no reservations about naming. Square Cow Movers, Patriot Pools and Spas, Austin’s Paint Guys and Soleil Floors actively seek their clients’ feedback. All of these folks use the Catch Engine System to better understand and react to their customers’ feedback. The secret here? Respond within 1 business day to negative feedback. 

The other trick is to have a system in place for those who respond positively. Even if someone is happy with your service, take 2 minutes to follow up with them a week or two after they take your survey to let them know how much you appreciated their patronage, and how you look forward to serving them again. If you are in desperate need of reviews for your brand, cross check the positive responses to your survey with your review sites. Consider incentivizing your past clients who responded favorably to leave honest reviews of your service. But also, do NOT forget about your unhappy clients. They should be responded to immediately. 

It doesn’t matter what system you use, as long as you take the time to respond and act to every client, then it’s well worth the effort. 

How to Write Content that Builds Trust in Your Brand

how to write content that builds trust

Hey guys, Nick here. Do you wonder how to write content that builds trust?  This will kick off our series about what we call the Trust Puzzle, a challenge every brand faces when building a presence online. Content is a subset of the Trust Puzzle. Types of content include text, images/graphics and video. Why do we care about good content? Why does it matter? The simple answer—content drives conversion. This article focuses on writing content for the static pages of your site.

As your brand’s primary hub, your website has to speak authentically, eloquently and concisely. Long gone are the days when Google favored awkward, bulging, keyword–stuffed paragraphs of non-sensical vitriol written for the sole purpose of trying to “dominate the front page of Google…” Bleh, good riddance. This does NOT mean keywords are no longer a requirement when building out content for your website, quite the contrary; however, Google’s algorithms now allow for a much more authentic, realistic approach to written content.

What works? Regardless of what kind of content you are writing for your site, whether a services page, a mini biography or a blog article, there are tactics that will always help. Let’s break it down by the numbers:

  1. Get Past the Blank Canvas
    I call it blank canvas syndrome. I tell you to write the content for a page, a week goes by and you tell me, “I’ve got nothing to say!” Yeah you do, it’s just overwhelming to figure out where to begin. If you are anything like me, you tend to overthink both your writing capabilities and your standards. I’m a better editor than writer, something I hate admitting. So, I had to come up with strategies to actually get something written out that I could then edit. The next few points are some of those strategies.
  2. Let Your Sitemap Be Your Guide
    Determine the purpose of the page you are writing. Typically we never start with the home page when writing content for a website. Every subpage on a site has a purpose, lending itself to the overall goal(s) of the site (whatever your site’s conversion goals are) and the home page serves as the nexus for that overall goal. This is where keywords can come in handy. If you know the 2-3 relatable keywords to a page, they can help drive the written conversation you are about to have on that page.
  3. Does Your Writing Support Your Mission Statement?
    Write down your brand’s intent or mission statement. If your brand doesn’t have an intent or mission statement, spend your time figuring that out first. For Square Cow Movers, we came up with “Movers with Manners.” Let your brand’s statement become the lens through which all other content has to pass through. If you start writing something that does not support this statement, delete it and try again.
  4. Write for a bit
    If you are anything like you me, you would now start writing for a little while, then stop after about 30 minutes, look at the jumbled mess you just vomited out of your fingertips, and then start editing. I start teasing out the structure of what I want to convey on a page or a section from the heap I just created, creating headers and/or lists for each section. If you are not like me, you might start by planning out the sections you are going to make on a page before you write. Whatever works, just start writing. After that timer goes off, start organizing and editing. Keep paragraphs 2 – 5 sentences in length and break up sections with headers. It makes reading for the end user so, so much easier.
  5. Record Yourself (optional endeavor from point number 4)
    Maybe talking is more your thing than writing. You can talk about your services and solutions  and brand history, etc. If so, then compose a series of questions to ask yourself for each page that needs to be written. Get something you can record yourself with, hit the button and start talking. The transcribed text from that recording is the equivalent of the strategy laid out in the previous point.
  6. Talk Out Loud To Find Your Writing Voice
    Literally, I talk out loud sometimes when I write. In order to imitate another brand, I will come up with a different voice from my own when I speak. If it’s appropriate, sometimes I’ll allow my colloquialisms to come through, or those of my client. For example, the owner of ABC Blind & Drapery, Ken McWilliams, has a wonderful speaking voice. Ken sounds a little like cross between Johnny Cash and Jimmy Stewart in their later years. Still very much the heart and soul of ABC Blind, I speak in Ken’s voice whenever I write for his brand—a Texas gentleman with a kind heart and a passion for the historic brand he has helped cultivate for the past 40 years.
  7. Know Your Audience
    If you are writing in a language other than your native tongue, you may want to consider either hiring a native speaker to help you, or sending your writing to a native speaker who would bluntly tell you if it sounds genuine. Always consider the voice of your intended audience when writing marketing content. Unless I have some gimmick in mind, if I am writing for a New England or Canadian crowd, I will leave the words “y’all” and “folks” out of my vocabulary. If I need to relate to a national audience, I would downplay my southern twang, if not do away with it completely. I’m proud to be a native Texan, but I need to relate to my audience first before they will listen to me.
  8. No Fluff, No Bull If you sound like this, stop it: “Our service results will shock you! You will be amazed by how incredible our product will save your wallet! Learn how you can make billions by not working at all with our revolutionary whatever! Trust us, you will be amazed!”
    It’s okay to be fun or funny, but always be sincere. Telling someone what their reaction will be (ex: This will shock you!) is an immediate turn off. Also, avoid saying things like, “Surely you will find this helpful.” People can make their own decisions and surely you will agree with that.
  9. Learn Some Grammar Stuff There are lots of great tools online for grammar. Typically, I’ll write first before going back and editing, but oftentimes I’ll refer back to tools like:
  1. The Comma Queen – Great quick videos, easy to search
  2. EduFind – An English Grammar Guide
  3. The Elements of Style – An awesome book to help you write better

Time to start writing content for your website, and if you need help, contact us!

With Our Powers Combined: The Benefits of a Joint Venture

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In a city (Austin) regarded as boom town and incubator for technology, industry and business, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the competition.  We prefer a different approach, a collaborative approach.  Nick Alter, the Principal of Alter Endeavors, explains.

What is a Joint Venture?

NA: Joint Ventureship happens when two or more companies realize that they run along congruent lines, but do different things, things that their clients regularly ask them to do. But, they don’t do that thing, and they would rather know and trust the company that does do that thing. So, a referral relationship is born. For example, Alter Endeavors does not provide PR services. Most likely, we will never provide PR services, but a ton of our clients ask us about this service. Instead, we pass all PR referrals over to our friends at Shelton Interactive. Inversely, Shelton Interactive only handles a certain kind of website project at a certain price point in house. If a website job falls out of scope for Shelton Interactive, then they pass it over to us to see what we can do. 

Who does Alter Endeavors have a Joint Venture with?

NA: Right now I can talk about The Think Engine, Ampersand Agency, Square Bear Studios, Field Trip Creative, Overflow Communications, Shelton Interactive and Searchography. We have a few other PR firms, printing companies, SaaS providers, marketing consultants and SEO consultants that white label Alter Endeavors for their needs. Each Joint Venture partner has to meet our standards for quality of service before we allow them to white label us.

Why would someone, an entity, another company, etc. want to enter into a Joint Venture?

NA: The short answer is control. A slightly longer answer is control and opportunity. For example, look at one of our PR partners. Many PR agencies do not have an in-house team who can build websites at the level we do, as quickly as we do. Also, websites do require a certain modicum of ongoing support to keep everything running smoothly, and our in-house team does a stellar job of just that. Rather than changing their entire business model and building out an entire staff to try and compete with us, our agency partners choose to work alongside us instead. By doing this, our JV partners get to maintain control in the relationship. Sure, Alter Endeavors performs a vital role in these situations, but our mission is to make our JV partners look incredible. This also opens up new avenues of business our JV partners can pursue with their clients. By enabling our JV partners and plugging in where they need us the most, they can focus on making everyone involved more money and not worrying about losing their client to an agency who would rather be a competitor than a collaborator. 

Why should businesses / companies consider a Joint Venture?

NA: Besides what I said earlier about not being built to handle certain things in-house and needing trusted agency partners answers this question, there is also the matter of accountability. We do not do video or animation work in-house at Alter Endeavors. If someone comes to us to do animation work then we are going to pass that to our JV partner and friend Erik Niells rather than trying to farm this work to an animation group in the Philippines. If someone needs a political speech writer, then we are going to pass that along to Overflow Communications and Andrew Barlow. We find solutions for these types of services because our clients need them, ask for them and we want to have resources on-hand that we can trust to do an incredible job in a timely and cost-appropriate manner. It’s all about accountability. 

What type of company would make a great Joint Venture partner?

NA: For Alter Endeavors, we are looking for companies that offer print services, PR services, video services, photography services, application development services, animation services, unique web services that cater to niche needs, and so on. Good Joint Venture partners to us are organizations that look to serve specific needs with specific skill sets and they are really good at it. For us, the approach is collaborative, but also respectful. Just like we try to be flexible for our Joint Venture Partners, we ask the same in return. We will never micromanage our JV partners, and expect no less in return, but we will take guidance, advice and suggestions, always. Pricing should be competitive, but fair to everyone involved. We have no problem providing our JV partners a reduced rate for our services so they can build in a margin for their time and expertise as well. 

Why is AE a good Joint Venture partner?

NA: Because we want to be. We want to collaborate. We want to be involved. For us, it’s not about crushing the competition unless the competition is only out to crush us. 

How do you keep everything straight? Whose client is whose? Who takes the lead on a project, etc.?

NA: When one of our partners brings us one of their clients in need of a website, that client still ultimately belongs to our JV partner and we go out of our way to respect and honor that relationship. Although we always expect to be in charge during a web design/development engagement, we make it very clear to the client that we are involved purely in an auxiliary capacity. In this respect, if a client asks us for another service, we first pass that request to our JV partner to respond however they deem necessary. That being said, we never make it confusing for the client. If they ask us a question that would be better answered by our JV partner, their primary vendor, then we tell them “We don’t have an answer right this second, but let us get back to you about it today.” In this case, we pass the question over to our JV partner, and they then respond to the client in a timely and appropriate manner.

What advice would you give to two companies considering a Joint Venture?

NA: Try starting with smaller level engagements first in order to work out kinks in your combined process. Be sure to work out communication between your two firms. Who is whose primary point of contact in each possible engagement scenario? Also, have a system in place so that shows both sides what engagements are currently being worked on, how much each side gets from these engagements, what the deadlines are and who is responsible for delivering what when. There is more to it than this, but this is a really good place to start. Also, don’t get offended if a JV partner doesn’t bring you in on every project, just ask why and be respectful. 

Control Your Brand, Own a Website

Social Media and other borrowed spaces continue to prove to us that they are both extremely valuable and extremely fickle. A little over a year ago, the Facebook algorithm made a dramatic shift, immediately shutting down businesses’ ability to reach even their engaged audiences in a “free” kind of way. And since then, their algorithms continue to shift all the time to accommodate new advertising methods, new mobile initiatives, etc. Brands have learned to adapt and rebuild but any brand that thinks its royalty status on Facebook or any other social media platform is safe lives in a dangerous fantasy.

It’s not just Facebook. Twitter completely changed the way their API works over a year ago, actually killing entire businesses that once used to be built on that API. With everything going on over at Twitter right now, a company floundering to stay relevant while finding profitability, more dramatic changes are inevitable.

Instagram implemented a much stricter API system back in late 2015 in order to fight malicious apps, but in doing so they managed to kill a ton of other apps, companies and add-ons.

The list keeps going. Social media platforms, powerful though they might be, are not permanent, especially as they are now. Controlling your own branded space matters to the longevity and stability of your brand online. And social media should be a reflection of the spaces you control online. It’s not to say that social media or other borrowed spaces (like Reddit) are not necessary. They absolutely are. But spaces like your newsletter or your blog or your website only change when you want them to, and how you want them to change.

With 10,000 Facebook followers, you can only engage them with the Facebook wall (only a fraction will see) and Facebook ads (which is limited to the amount of money you spend). With 10,000 email subscribers, you can engage them with a newsletter built however you want, to suit whatever need you might have. If you are a clothing company, sending out an email about your latest and greatest pieces to people who care is worth its weight. Have a controlled space to direct subscribers to is worth its weight in gold.

If you are a plumbing company, start a plumbing blog with plumbing videos. Most of the content you create and post on your site will always be relevant, it will always matter. If indexed properly with the right keywords, that content will rank well with Google and drive folks back to your site, your blog. And don’t just have a shingle hanging when they get there. Give people direction on your site. Show them where to go next, what to do next. Because what matters to you as a plumbing company (or any other service company) at the end of the day? Leads.

Websites are not dead. They are not obsolete. It is necessary to rebuild them every 3-5 years, but that should be because of the changing,growing nature of your business as well as to accommodate the changing nature of how people view the internet (hello, mobile.)

And it’s not to say that we discredit social media. Quite the contrary. Social media can prove indispensable to the building of an email list or when driving new prospects to your site. But that’s just it. These spaces are there for the assist. They are the pathways that lead to those controlled, authoritative spaces.

The AgroAmerica Example Scam With Google Emails

agro

AgroAmerica most likely has nothing to do with this scam, but since the scam artists are using it as their primary form of legitimacy, this is why we call it the AgroAmerica Example Scam. The primary target appears to be small to medium-sized web agencies and freelancers building/designing sites.


 

The scam starts either with an email or with a text message that looks like this:

THE EMAIL:

From: James McGrew <mcgrewj1967@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 12:07 PM
Subject: Re: New contact submission from Alter Endeavors
To: Nicholas Alter<nick@alterendeavors.com>

​Hi-

I have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in KY and the company is based on importing and exporting of Agriculture products such as Kola Nut, Gacillia Nut and Cocoa so I need a best of the best layout design for it. I hope you can handle that for me. Check out this site: http://www.agroamerica.com, I will be happy if you can give me something better than this if its possible. The site would only be informational, so I need you to give me an estimate based on the site I gave you to check out. The estimate should include hosting and I want the same page as the site I gave you to check out. I have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.

Note:

1. I want the same number of pages with the example site I gave you to check excluding videos and blogs.
2. I want only English language
3. I don’t have a domain yet but I want the domain name as McGrewFarmproducts.com
4. you will be updating the site for me.
5. I will be proving the images, logos and content for the site.
6. I want the site up and running before ending of next month.
7. My budget is $4000 to $5000

Kindly get back to me with:

I. An Estimate
II. Cell-Phone Number

Regards,
James McGrew

THE TEXT MESSAGE:

Hi-

I’m hearing impaired. I would love to know if you can handle website design for a new company and also if you  do you accept credit cards? Kindly contact me at: trmillerglobal@gmail.com, so I can send you the job details if you are interested.

Regards

Tracy Miller

Sent from iPhone


When we received the first one of these things, the “hearing impaired” thing was not a tipoff for us. Neither was the request if we accepted credit cards. It wasn’t until we got about 3 emails into it with the first scam attempt that we realized this was not legit. Once we started to get suspicious, we tried to get a bit more information out of them to see if we could uncover who was doing this, or at least be able to provide a lead to authorities when we submitted this to them. Typically we just ignore crap like this, but this particular approach proves a little more put together, a little more crafty than your typical scam.

We didn’t go through the process accepting their “payment”. They want you to send money immediately to their “marketing consultant” after they have paid you. This could either be a money laundering scheme or it could be that they force a charge back to your credit card AFTER you have paid the consultant, which would result in a direct loss to either you, your merchant services provider or both.

We have submitted reports to Google that Gmail accounts are being used for this scam operation. Per Google’s policy, they did not contact us immediately about our report. However, we do encourage anyone else who has experienced one of these emails or text messages to speak up, submit a report, contact your local authorities, etc.

More importantly, be sure you have very strict policies in place about how you process credit cards and pay monies out from your company. Be sure you have a signed contract along with a payment processing page where credit card information can be filled out and a signature provided. Yes, many of us have e-commerce solutions in place, but for sums of money larger than $500, we strongly recommend getting a signed agreement before processing any credit cards. Check with your merchant services provider about chargebacks. We use CynergyData Texas specifically for this reason. They help protect us against situations like this.

Also, it’s our policy that we have a face-to-face with every client before signing a contract, even if they are hearing impaired. IM and video-conferencing equipment make it very easy to have a face-to-face meeting with someone even if they live far away and/or are hearing impaired. Stay vigilant people! Let’s build a better internet, and let’s please do away with crappy scams.

An Open Letter to Blue Bell Ice Cream

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Blue Bell, you are in trouble, and you know it. I feel for you. I am desperately worried for you. You are one of Texas’s most beloved brands and you treat your employees with respect and love. But with reports of Listeria, you are facing tens of millions in short term damages to your brand – lost products, lost sales, a closed factory (temporary), pending (inevitable) litigation, etc. I hate that this is happening to you, but it is happening and there is one thing I don’t understand. Where is your digital marketing platform?

What has happened is truly awful, but what can you do now? You need to control your messaging, your response.

But wait, what tools do you have at your disposal that you control? Twitter? No. Facebook? No. Any social media platform? No. Your website? Yeah, okay, not the best platform for what you need to do, but it’s a start.

But have you developed any messaging there? A press release. What do you rely on? The news? I hate to tell you this, but they are NOT your friends or your allies. They have an opportunity to string you up in front of the world (and they will) and you will be voiceless, powerless.

Grocery stores are pulling all of your products. Thankfully H-E-B is restocking you this week. Long-time advocates are tossing your frozen brand in the trash without a second glance. How are you reaching them Blue Bell? How are you letting them know you care, that you are doing something about this? People are NOT actively looking for your apologies or response. They’ve heard the terrible stories, and unless those news stations relay your messaging, you are hosed.

Your brand will pull you through some of this tragedy Blue Bell, I hope, but you will be diminished. Tens of thousands of your loyal fan base will never return. And the frustrating part there is that you may have been able to recover at least some of those lost. You have been a staple for Central Texas for years. You were either too arrogant or too afraid to tackle social media and build out an audience in that space. For years, you were able to get away with it, until now. So, the question is, what will you do now Blue Bell? How are you going to add your voice to this debacle so everyone hears you? Or, is it too late?

I’m not writing this because I hate you, Bluebell. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite for me. I’ve grown up on your brand. My first taste of ice cream was Bluebell. What’s in my freezer (until recently) has been Bluebell. But I am upset with you. I love you, and yet now I feel like you are desperately out of touch with me, your loyal fan. Please adapt. Please build your digital platform.

And for everyone else out there? Let this be a lesson to you. Blue Bell Ice Cream has been a beloved Texas brand for decades. Even with cases of Listeria, I still love their products. Unless you think your brand is untouchable, because your product is simply gold to the consumer, then you better be building a digital platform you can control.

Digital Marketing Tips for BNI Members #1

Dear BNI members,

Here at Alter Endeavors we are huge believers in “boots on the ground”, offline networking, especially in a structured setting like BNI. As a matter of fact, I (Nick Alter – Principal of Alter Endeavors) am the President of one of Austin’s oldest and very first chapters—Steiner Ranch Referrals.

Having been in this group for the past few years, there are a few things I’d like to mention, as a digital marketing consultant, that will help your business, the businesses of your fellow Chapter Members, and your Chapter as a whole WITHOUT BEING ANNOYING TO YOUR FRIENDS AND CONTACTS OUTSIDE OF YOUR CHAPTER. Posting week in and week out that you have the greatest Chapter, and here’s another picture of our group, is the fast track to getting blocked or de-friended. Nobody cares.

Instead, here is what we recommend as powerful, effective, engaging, and (most importantly) acceptable ways to bring exposure to your BNI chapter and fellow members.

1) ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Share fellow BNI members’ personal and business accomplishments on social media platforms.

  • Be sure to tag them and their business properly on each platform you facilitate.
  • Ex: Jason Crabtree and his company Premier Partners just won Parade of Homes 2013! Very proud of my friend and fellow Steiner Ranch BNIer! See you on Tuesday buddy.

2) EVENTS: Share fellow BNI members’ events on social media, especially if said events are useful (and better yet, free…)

If these events are relevant to your business, you might even want to post them to your Facebook business page and throw $20 at it to boost it. It’s something of value you can offer to your community, it drives traffic to your Facebook page, and it makes you a hero to your fellow BNIer. (Do this ONLY IF YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE with the event and the fellow BNIer.)

  • Ex: The BEST counselor in Steiner, Jan More, is offering a seminar tonight about “How to Survive Your Teenager” at the Steiner Ranch Community Center. I know I need all the help I can get. Anyone want to join me?
  • If posting on your personal page, be sure to tag some folks you might think would benefit from this event. Just remember to tag RELEVANT folks who would appreciate the shoutout.

teenageyears

3) GROUPS: Look on local community groups to see if anyone is asking for a service one of your BNI member’s provides.

In the past year, hyper-local community groups have started to sprout on Facebook. These groups are using locale to make it easy for community members to advertise goods and services for sale (or vice versa, posting their need for a service or good.) One such group is called Lakeway Swap. With over 10,000 members and growing rapidly, there are requests every day for services like plumbers, electricians, movers, you name it.

swap

There are also sites like nextdoor.com that are strictly for community members to communicate only with their neighbors.

  • When someone asks for a service, take a second to respond and suggest your fellow BNIer. Even if the people go with someone else, potentially hundreds of folks are referring to that post because they had the exact same question.
  • Ex: Square Cow Movers – Best moving company in Austin, hands down. These guys changed my entire perspective on the pain of moving. 512-401-6683 – Tell them Nick sent you.
  • I provided contact info because folks in this space are looking for that contact info already, and they are much more likely to choose to call a number readily available.
  • It may seem silly to have to say this, but did you notice that I didn’t mention BNI in this case? Why? Because that does nothing to help your fellow BNIer in this situation, or your group. Don’t distract the referral.

Of course, it’s going to come up. Does this count as a referral? And honestly, that’s up for debate. Here’s what I do. I post the recommendation, tell folks to mention me, tag the business I’m referring in my post, email them, and then ASK them to let me know if they hear from that person. (And hopefully they followed up with that person as well via social media after I tagged/emailed them.) If they get the lead, then I count it as a referral. This may not strictly be BNI policy, but, hey—a win’s a win.

4) OTHER EVENTS: Share and tag when you and other members of your group are at other events out side of BNI. LinkedIn, Instragram, Facebook, Twitter again.

Pretty straightforward here – attend other networking events (that don’t conflict with BNI policy of course…) with other folks in your BNI group. Be sure to get some pictures, tag them appropriately and maybe tag your BNI chapter if y’all have a Twitter handle or Facebook page or some such. Don’t go overboard. Something like:

  • Tom Robinson, Elicia Michaud, Ben Hendrix, Kara Hand and I representing at SXSW this year! #SteinerRanchBNI #thecuttingedge

It’s not about blasting how amazing your chapter is, or inviting everyone on Facebook to join your BNI Chapter’s page. (You can invite folks to your page, just make sure it’s relevant and appropriate to them, and you don’t keep doing it over and over again.) Just remember, the great and terrible thing about social media is that lots of folks are watching, regardless of whether or not they interact with you in that space.

Alright, that’s it for this post. More to come. Go forth, bring value to those around you.

A quick update for the beginning of 2014

Lots and lots and lots of updates to talk about for this company. So much as happened and continues to happen. We have launched a myriad of new websites for a bunch of really interesting people – including Bill White, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, Nick Smith, EB Lewis, Clint Young, etc. But that’s just the beginning of what I have to tell y’all.

Since my blog post of nearly a year ago, Alter Endeavors has restructured perhaps three times. Our focuses have not changed, but they do shift and are constantly being added to. Currently Alter Endeavors focuses primarily on websites – the strategizing, building and branding thereof. Erik, our multi-talented and brilliant developer serves as an amazing animator and illustrator. Because of our channel partnership with Shelton Interactive, we can offer seriously serious PR and social media campaigns in case you need to hit a national audience and appear on platforms like Good Morning America, etc. And of course, Jamie (my beautiful, creative and very talented wife) handles our local digital marketing accounts, excelling at engagement for brands like Square Cow Movers, Austin’s Paint Guys, and All Star Burger.

I am very proud of my team. It’s already March, and Alter Endeavors has already exceeded our goals for the first quarter of 2014. Right now, we are very excited about the new updates to CustomerROI+, our proprietary survey tool that collects and reacts to “warm data”. Currently we are looking for a few good, young sales folks wanting experience with digital marketing and sales – this is a great intro product for them to learn with.

And that’s my quick update y’all. Let’s keep 2014 going strong!