Ditch the Pitch: Education and interaction key to digital marketing

REGION – By the end of the year a predicted 2 billion people will be online, making the Internet an essential place to promote products and services, regardless of geography. As technology becomes more advanced, savvy business owners are embracing new ways to educate and interact with current and prospective customers. The most popular and promising: webinars and training videos. Both enable service companies to provide basic informational content that demonstrates the company's expertise and engage target customers all over the world – no travel expense incurred. The results: According to the local businesses we interviewed that are employing their own digital communication strategies – better exposure and bigger revenue.

TEAM KROUPA JUICE PLUS+

One Saturday each month Nancy Kroupa used to wake early, dress in business clothes, gas up the car and drive to Grand Rapids or Detroit to meet with her Team Kroupa Juice-Plus sales team. As the national marketing director for the home-based whole food-supplement franchise, Kroupa now eschews Saturday suits in favor of pajamas while communicating with salespeople all over the world from the comfort of her home, thanks to webinars.

Kroupa relies heavily on medical experts to help educate her sales team and their prospective customers on new research or medical benefits of wellness products via the GoToMeeting webinar platforms 9gotomeeting.com). She invites participants and coordinates the presentations with busy doctors and trainers who, for one hour, present graphic-rich Power Point slides, and field written questions submitted live by attendees from all over the world.

"They work so well and have done wonders for us. Living here in Traverse City, we are not in a major metropolitan area where we can access the health care professionals or top trainers we are working with. I can train a team of thousands from my beautiful office overlooking Grand Traverse Bay," says Kroupa.

ONEUPWEB

After returning to their Traverse City headquarters in August 2009 from a week-long road trip in a motor home, providing Michigan businesses free digital marketing advice, a group of seven Oneupweb employees realized that, although they connected well with various companies, weekly treks across the state simply weren't feasible. The solution: the company's Digital Road Show webinar series, developed only a few months later, which selects topics based on company leaders' areas of expertise, and then solicits questions from registrants to form the content. Conducted almost every month since, the goal of each hour-long presentation is not to simply drive new business, but to give Oneupweb insight into the participants' most pressing issues.

"We have generated business proposals as a direct result of the series, but it's really based on the questions people have about marketing their business online, which doesn't allow for a 60-minute sales pitch. You have to deliver valuable content that is educational and compelling enough that your prospects are then going to want to get on the phone with you or you're not going to have anyone tuning in," says Carly Wujcik, Oneupweb's director of marketing.

Of the more than 400 people who register, approximately 250 attend the live events. Those who can't make it can view the recorded presentations on the company's microsite.

In Your Own Words

As a public speaking expert who offers personalized communication training for business professionals, Onlee Bowden has helped others engage with their audiences effectively since the 1980s. Looking to expand her client base by driving traffic to her website, Bowden tapped Oneupweb for advice on optimizing her website with her own webinars, hoping their expertise in marketing would produce something she could be proud of.

"I had never done one and when I looked online I found a lot (of webinars) seemed to be done on the cheap and looked unprofessional," she says. Rather than organizing all of the back-end details – creating the presentation, promoting the event, setting up the live aspect and conducting follow-up – Bowden hired Oneupweb to help.

With more than 150 attendees, she now communicates with people as far away as Japan via Skype's video service. Face-to-face interaction is crucial to her being able to train effectively, and Bowden says webinars are great for basic information introductions but she's looking forward to future advances. "The technology as it exists right now is limited. What would make it more valuable is if I could see them and they could see me," she says.

Bowden will be able to do just that as a sponsor of Oneupweb's upcoming virtual tradeshow, ONline 2011. Via live video, she'll make presentations and interact with attendees. She'll be available to chat with people who visit her virtual expo booth and answer questions they ask about public speaking. "The webinar is good, but this idea of a virtual expo has so many more levels of interaction, more touch points," Bowden says.

WIRT-RIVETTE GROUP

Early this year, the Wirt-Rivette Group decided to share some of the company's experiences with the professionals looking to grow their businesses. The company has been providing equipment leasing, commercial and residential property programs, consulting services and more in the Traversearea for 24 years. From its new Saginaw headquarters, Jason Case manages vendor programs and coordinates the company's monthly ten minute "Take 10" training webinars to educate and train different groups of individuals who are targeted based on specific business areas.

"We ask business leaders to just take ten minutes. Everybody gets caught up in the day, and we feel we have been able to get enough of the content needed in order to spark an interest in somethin, and then a follow-up discussion can occur after that," says Case, who uses the Adobe Connect Pro webinar platform.

"People have given us great reviews – it's really taken off for us. Webinars allow us to be a little more social with clients and are value-added marketing strategies that open new doors for discussion rather than the typical sales strategies of forcing sales down throats. Not all advertising needs to be direct sales. It can be sharing some business experiences," says Case.

DAN BRADY PAINTING

Dan Brady has found another way to share business experiences through digital marketing. Since posting his hour-and-a-half "Tricks of the Trade" instructional videos on his danbradypaintingtricks.com website earlier this year, he has received DVD orders and Web subscriptions across the country. Brady, owner of Dan Brady Painting and Wood Restoration in Traverse City, spent a year of evenings and weekends filming 17 different steps of painting with a videographer. He initially thought he would create and market instructions for do-it-yourself painters as a way to bring in additional revenue, but he soon found that many painting companies also bought the DVD to train apprentices.

"It shows, 'This guy knows what he's doing,' and sets me apart from others in the field," says Brady, who rejects the notion that his videos detract from getting painting jobs. "Local people buy it [to help themselves paint small rooms], but still hire us. Our business is doing the bigger jobs; the video is for the millions of people out there who aren't going to hire us. And the world is our market," he says.

Brady advises those considering producing videos to "plan it out … script it exactly how you're going to do it. As you're doing a job, document the steps so when you hire a production company, you're ready to go. Once the camera is rolling there is a whole different scope to it, like lighting and shooting from different angles," he says.

Brady promotes the video during his regular guest appearances on a local real estate radio show, awarding DVDs to callers who answer trivia questions correctly. Press releases and blog posts, along with Google keyword strategies, also have helped promote the video online, boosting DVD sales from one per week to one per day.

And, with the website infrastructure already built, creating Brady's next four videos will be a lot less expensive than his initial $10,000 investment.

Brady would be the first to tell you that investment has more than paid off. One unexpected result of Brady's "Tricks of the Trade" production led him to his new role as spokesman for Grip-N-Guard, a new self-adhering masking film developed by Petoskey Plastics. BN

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