To Make More Money Online, You Must Diversify From Google AdWords and Facebook Ads (or Pay the Price)

Your customers aren’t all on one platform, so neither should your digital ads.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you rely on one client for all of your business? Every business worth its salt knows the value of diversification when it comes to making money. It’s a lesson that’s drummed in early and often, often by hard experience.

But diversification doesn’t just apply to variety in your clients. It also applies to your marketing. Being too reliant on one channel will kill your business if that company decides to make a change.

Don’t believe it? Just ask online publisher LittleThings, which sank after riding out several Facebook algorithm changes. Seventy-five percent of their organic reach dried up, per their comments to Business Insider. and their business model died.

Your ad platforms are the same. If you’ve invested all your money and resources into AdWords, for example, and your CPCs begin to get unsustainably high, it takes time to pivot from one platform to another. Why lock yourself in?

The advertising world is changing.

No matter what business you’re in, your audience isn’t just going to be in one place. You might have a higher proportion of customers that you can reach with one ad network or one social network, but you never want to limit yourself.

Social media ad spend was predicted to catch up with newspaper ad revenue in 2019, per a Zenith report — and that was all the way back in 2016. Digital advertising crosses multiple channels, and though social media advertising is important, the more traditional networks haven’t disappeared.

Native advertising is also seeing a significant boost — native simply meaning it looks like part of the publisher’s site instead of loading separately like traditional banners and other advertising that have been hammered by ad blockers.

One report from Business Insider Intelligence notes that native advertising revenue is expected to grow past $36 billion by 2021. From in-line display ads to sponsored posts to boosted tweets, native is one format that’s already growing.

Meanwhile, traditional ad platforms are starting to slow down. TV ads are still strong and still growing slightly, but compared to the growth rates of social platforms they’re not the same. Ad revenues for the world are only expected to grow slightly over the course of the next few years, per a Statista report — less than $20 billion in growth by 2022.

Related: Use This Google AdWords Hack to Lower Costs and Increase Leads

The Outlook report from PwC Global notes that internet advertising is now a $30 billion larger market in the United States than TV, with a growth rate that far outpaces it. Consumer magazine advertising and newspaper advertising are not just flat — they’re in decline.

If you put all your eggs in the basket of traditional channels, you’re probably already having trouble. Digital advertising is the wave of the future — but which channel?

Surviving and making more money online involves trying different things.

John Crestani of Pendragon Labs Marketing does a ton of work with different ad platforms and affiliate marketing. According to him, you don’t necessarily know what’s going to work or which platform is going to be best, though you might have some idea.

As he noted in one of his blog posts, “Here’s an example of one of my [Facebook] ads, which was for a bedbug product … I showed a picture of bedbug bites and I simply wrote ‘Massive Bedbug Epidemic. See how to avoid being attacked.’ I immediately got 4,000 shares on it. This ad went viral; it made me a ton of money.”

That’s one of the biggest takeaways from digital advertising these days: doing studies and focus groups and figuring out where your audience is are important, but at the end of the day sometimes you’re just going to get surprised.

Related: How Bots Steal Your Online Advertising Budget

Not just in terms of ad copy either. Marketers and advertisers get things wrong all the time. Back in the day, some people thought Google+ was going to be huge, and some people thought Instagram was overvalued. Smart people — very smart, well-informed people — screw up predictions all the time on which channels are going to matter five or ten years from now, or what campaigns are going to be the best or most important. That’s why the smartest marketers don’t put all their eggs in one basket.

The 80/20 rule always wins out.

“I’m honestly more worried about those who are starting to win on platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram because that’s when they start to get complacent,” says entrepreneur and social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk on his blog.

“They start to put ‘what’s working’ on a pedestal and start romanticizing it — just like bigger businesses put channels like billboards or television commercials on a pedestal even though they don’t work nearly as well anymore.”

Vaynerchuk has consistently had a large audience across multiple platforms, and his secret is simple: he devotes 80 percent of his attention to the most effective platform right now and 20 percent to the other platforms.

Related: The Secret to Making Facebook Ads Work for Your Business

You’re constantly going to see the most effective avenue switching between platforms. What works now isn’t necessarily going to work in the future. But if you’re keeping a finger in multiple pies, you’re ready to move when one of them pops and your current best platform starts to tail off.

Just like in any other avenue of your business, if you’re relying too much on one advertising channel, you’re opening yourself up to far more risk than you should. Diversify your online ad platforms. If you don’t, the market may do it for you. Better to be prepared.

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3 Ways Artificial Intelligence Has Sparked Marketing and Sales Transformation

A virtual assistant named ‘Angie’ has done amazing things for cloud security company CenturyLink.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Artificial intelligence, or AI as it’s called, has been a buzzword for nearly a decade already, yet sometimes it still feels as though we’re just in the early stages of discovering what predictive analytics and machine learning can do for enterprises.

Related: What Every Entrepreneur Must Know About Artificial Intelligence

Nowhere is this truer than in marketing and sales functions. According to Forrester, as of 2017 marketing and sales accounted for more than 50 percent of all AI investments.

But when you look at investors who have already sunk serious money into AI projects, only 45 percent have seen any results at all. And among those who are seeing results, 25 percent agree that they’ve become more effective in their business processes. These discouraging numbers paint a vivid picture: Most marketing and sales teams simply aren’t properly equipped to implement AI.

As a marketing leader who has helped companies like Salesforce and Deloitte with digital marketing transformations, I’ve seen many “use cases” of how AI is being employed by today’s leading marketers and sales forces. And I’ve learned that often, the best way to kick off an AI initiative and make sure everyone is on board is to show them where others have succeeded.

Here are three ways in which AI has completely transformed enterprise sales and marketing in the 21st century for at least some companies:

1. Predicting outcomes to increase lead generation

Marketing is by nature a very competitive and data-driven endeavor, especially at the enterprise level. Every facet of global, cross-channel marketing relies heavily on a competent knowledge economy comprised of data inputs (and proactive recommendations) gathered at every touchpoint with visitors, leads, and customers.

A great example of an effective AI-powered marketing engine was put together by CenturyLink, which provides cloud and security solutions to digital businesses. Before implementing AI, CenturyLink already had a sales team of about 1,600 people to handle all its incoming leads, and even that number was barely enough to meet the demand, according to Harvard Business Review.

“Angie,” a Conversica AI virtual assistant, was hired to do a simple job: comb through thousands of leads, send them emails, and determine which leads were “hot” and which were not. If she found a quality lead, she would entrust it to a human salesperson.

So, Angie set to work right away and started sending out 30,000 emails per month.

Related: Using Artificial Intelligence in Sales Saves Time and Reveals New Opportunities

As it turned out, Angie has been extremely good at her job. Not only does she consistently find about 40 new hot leads per week, but she is also able to understand 99 percent of the email replies she receives from customers. The 1 percent she doesn’t understand are forwarded to her human manager. Turns out Angie is also good at routing the right leads to the right reps.

All in all, CenturyLink has earned $20  for every $1 it’s spent on Angie: That’s an impressive 1,900 percent ROI.

2. Recommending next steps and resolving issues

Another major way AI has helped enterprise marketing and sales teams is with the customer journey and customer support — integral parts of the marketing and sales life cycle.

As an example, the printing giant Epson America was drowning in leads and didn’t know how to handle them anymore. Where CenturyLink was using its AI assistant to find and qualify leads (i.e., marketing), Epson had no problem with marketing or outreach — if anything, the company was too good at this. It receives, on average, 50,000 leads per year.

According to Salesforce, it takes six to eight touches for a lead to become a customer. Normally, all these touches are the responsibility of a human sales rep, whose time and availability constraints aren’t required when the company uses an AI sales rep. Epson knew this, of course, and hired the same AI that CenturyLink had used to follow up at the right time, without fail, until it got a response — for all of those 50,000 leads.

In no time at all, Epson realized the force-multiplier potential of AI. It also realized that the AI virtual assistant could help its human sales teams with cross-selling, upselling and recurring orders, as well. It could also discover and report unresolved customer issues to the right customer support reps immediately.

Before it implemented its AI sales assistant, Epson had been accustomed to seeing around 20 responses for every 100 leads. But since implementing the Conversica AI, it now receives a staggering 51 responses —  a 240 percent increase — as well as a 75 percent increase in qualified leads.

This led to an additional $2 million in revenue in the first 90 days of using that AI.

3. Creating disposable content, even advertising

Perhaps the most surprising AI implementation I’ve seen at the enterprise level is the ability of AI to replicate human-like writing and content creation. Researchers have spent decades trying to make computers write the way humans do, but only in recent years have they been successful. For certain types of disposable content, AI has already shown itself to be more effective than a content team would be.

The examples of AI writers emerging in the worlds of publishing are numerous: Forbes writers are planning on using an AI to help them pen their drafts; a slew of newspapers, including the New York Times, and the wire service Reuters, use AI to write real-time financial reports and sports recaps (called “robot reporters“); and OpenAI claims to have developed an AI writer so good that it is too dangerous for public release.

Even more incredible, Toyota recently used IBM Watson’s machine-learning capabilities to design a new kind of advertising campaign for the Rav4: one that generates entire ad scripts. They’ve even given it a catchy label: creative programmatic.

According to Ad Age, Toyota gave IBM Watson a list of the top 1,000 recreational activities that you might use a car to get to and tasked Watson with pairing the activities together in unexpected and intriguing ways. Watson’s video script outputs were then fed to another AI tool, a video generator that stitches together stock and original footage, called Imposium. The final results: 300 unique, targeted video advertisements that were used as Facebook and Instagram.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

In the 21st century, AI is starting to look less and less like science fiction and more like the times we’re living in. For enterprises that actually have the budgets to implement and experiment with AI pilot programs for marketing and sales — as we’ve seen, the sky’s the limit.

If I’ve learned one thing from running various digital marketing transformations that also better align sales and marketing, it’s that AI is making its way into every part of the enterprise technology stack. The ROI is there. Its short- and long-term impact can be tremendous.

Related: Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Banking and Wall Street. Here’s What to Expect in 2019.

But don’t underestimate the time and effort required. Take inspiration from other brands that have hit the ball out of the park with AI initiatives. Keep things simple for a pilot, stay agile during implementation, and make sure to hire the right team for the job. You will see results.

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If You’re Not Attending Cultural Tentpole Events, You’re Missing a Major Source of Buzz

Coachella wasn’t just a media stunt in the desert — it was a gold mine for marketers seeking experiential marketing ideas. Jump-start your event planning by exploring the many ways companies got Coachella right.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This spring, Coachella snagged its fair share of marketing attention. Call it “the world’s coolest music festival” or just another massive cultural tentpole event; either way, the two-weekend-long California music festival offers abundant opportunities for making brand-consumer connections. Of course, this grand desert party isn’t the only chance for brands to steal the show.

Consider Bonnaroo, the Tennessee music and arts festival, which takes place in June. Or Governors Ball, New York City’s big-tent music festival, which wrapped up a couple weeks earlier on Randall’s Island. These and other national headliner events offer marketers the chance to grab some buzz beforehand, in real time and after the fact.

And then there’s Lollapalooza, Chicago’s biggest jam fest, slated for the first four days of August. During an average festival weekend, about 400,000 fans pack Grant Park and more than 150 acts fill the festival schedule. Marketers planning for up-close-and-personal customer engagement at Lolla and beyond will do well to take a few lessons from Coachella’s brand marketing gurus.

Making a mark with tentpole marketing

Over its 20-year lifespan, Coachella has grown into far more than a desert venue with five stages. It’s a land of its own, inhabited by iconic stars, social media influencers, fashion fanatics and novelty seekers. Long before festivalgoers hit the scene, brands ask themselves the burning question: “How can we leverage Coachella to win hearts and boost sales?”

The answer lies in examining the psychological makeup of Coachella’s celeb, sort-of celeb and people-like-you-and-me patrons. Every person heads to these types of mega occasions to feel part of a larger whole. At the same time, guests desire customized interactions that befit their respective status. From Lady Gaga to the average Jane, Coachella attendees want to be seen, heard, valued and wooed. Brands that understand and deliver this basic human craving for acknowledgment tend to stand out.

Of course, companies must remain true to their core mission. Millennials and Gen Zers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile way. A stunt with no purpose is patronizing, whereas a relevant marketing tactic can bring about incredible loyalty and revenue-propelling momentum.

Related: How Coachella and an Old Postal Truck Helped Launch Ice Cream Brand Coolhaus

If your business has just begun exploring the idea of marketing at cultural tentpoles, adopt the philosophies of Coachella’s marketing standouts to knock your experiences out of the park.

1. Choose events that offer snug brand fit.

The first rule of owning the tentpole marketing world? Picking the cultural tentpole that fits your brand’s presence. Otherwise, you could make an expensive, forgettable noise. According to Brett Hyman, president of NVE Experience Agency, vetting each event includes studying more than just the venue. “Without a deep understanding of the cultural conversations and undertones around the tentpole, you run the risk of coming across as insincere or passé,” he warns.

Don’t feel bad if Coachella isn’t your bag. In recent years, H&M, Sephora and Urban Decay also decided to skip the California glam gala. Your job is to pick a setting that makes sense for your messaging. Consider the long-term conversation you want to start so you don’t invest too much in a one-week sponsorship that doesn’t resonate year-round. Bud Light, for instance, used Governors Ball to launch its rainbow bottles just as New York City Pride began. In collaborating with LGBTQ acceptance nonprofit GLAAD, Bud Light used the New York festival as a springboard for its ongoing inclusivity messaging.

2. Treat VIPs to exclusive benefits.

American Express set up its bunny-themed Platinum House as a Coachella tie-in not far from the main event. Not surprisingly, only those with Platinum cards and invites could activate entry. Those who weren’t Amex Platinum members were left in FOMO limbo. Perhaps this will lead them to consider upgrading so they can move up the pecking order next year for whatever excitement the financial company has in store.

Scarcity marketing of this kind might not work in every situation, but it’s perfectly suited to cultural tentpole events. It’s natural for people to want what they think they can’t have. Notes Jacob Baadsgaard, founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising, “We care a lot more about things that are hard to get or replace, and that makes those things more valuable to us.” Consequently, think about playing a little hard to get.

Related: How to Disrupt Live Entertainment: Lessons From Music Festivals Doing It Right

3. Sponsor off-site experiences.

Can’t get any presence inside a Coachella or Bonnaroo? Take your show on the road. Lucky Brand sponsors an annual off-grounds mini festival called Desert Jam in conjunction with Coachella dates. Not only do satellite events like this add to the amplitude of the festival, but they also give guests a reason to explore and discover.

Instagram, meanwhile, only just this year decided it should have its own branded presence at — or rather, 26 miles away from — one of the most Instagrammable events there is. Instagram’s color-infused Desert Chill pop-up house merged celebrity VIPs with influencers brilliantly, giving everyone a place to enjoy everything that makes the social media site a force. The off-site experience wasn’t designed to make direct sales; rather, it was intended to celebrate what the platform does best: bring like-minded folks together in a hip place with a unique vibe.

Related: How Brands Can Work With Festival Sponsorship

4. Become the tentpole’s oasis.

Every event has downsides, especially when you factor in weather elements. For example, at Coachella, the heat can be as extreme as the costumes. Peet’s Cold Brew offered a solution to this crisis with an air-conditioned #BetterEnergy bus, complete with beverages and plenty of shade (the good kind).

Become eventgoers’ savior by figuring out what they need and filling the gaps. Get clever to encourage participation, as Bose did by offering AR functional sunglasses for purchase ahead of or at Coachella. The sunglasses helped wearers navigate the enormous grounds while scoring Bose big tech points. At Governors Ball this year, Asics offered shoe-shining services for mud-caked gear — an idea that hit close to home, considering that severe thunderstorms stopped the show early.

Forget about starting your experiential cultural tentpole marketing from scratch. Scour through other brands’ innovations to jump-start a brainstorm. Then, get out there and activate — engagement is just a festival away.

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What McDonald’s Latest Acquisition Means for Marketers

Personalization has long been viewed as the purview of digitally native companies. Now McDonald’s will use it to upsell at the counter.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

McDonald’s recently announced that it is acquiring personalization software vendor Dynamic Yield, for a reported $300 million or more. This “supersized” deal took many of us who pay attention to the personalization space by surprise. But the underlying message behind the deal shouldn’t surprise anyone: personalization matters. It’s undoubtedly worth investing in.

Ultimately, I think this move is a wake-up call for businesses across industries. “Lettuce” now explore what this means for marketers in this article (and I promise, no more puns).

Related: Customers Flee for a Reason. You Need to Give Them Reasons to Stay.

A good customer experience puts personalization at the center.

The customer experience (CX) is essential for every business in any industry. None of us have a business without customers. If they are not happy with the experience they receive, it is easier than ever for them to take their business elsewhere. And focusing on the customer experience pays off. According to a study by Watermark Consulting, companies that lead in CX outperformed the S&P Index by 45 points, while outperforming companies that lag in CX by 76 points.

McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield to improve its customer experience. This was a somewhat unusual move, as a cheaper option would certainly have been to license the software rather than purchase the whole company. Nevertheless, McDonald’s plans to use the new technology to transform its drive-thru experience, as well as improve its in-store kiosks and mobile app. The idea is that the technology will recommend menu items in the moment to pair with a person’s order, part of which McDonald’s says it has already tested over the last year. In other words, it plans to use Dynamic Yield to personalize the way it communicates with customers across channels — to interact with them in a more relevant way.

For years, personalization was seen as something only large, digitally native companies could do. It became synonymous with companies like Amazon and Spotify. Personalization could be seen primarily on websites or in simple ways across emails and digital ads.

But McDonald’s is not a digital native. The first McDonald’s restaurant opened in the 1940s. Since then, most consumers have interacted with McDonald’s in person at one of its physical restaurants. And yet, McDonald’s still finds personalization technology so important that it decided to spend $300 million to acquire it.

The implications of this are clear. Personalization is integral to any customer experience, no matter where that experience takes place.

Related: Chick-fil-A Makes More Per Restaurant Than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway Combined … and It’s Closed on Sundays

What a good personalized experience looks like.

A good personalized experience occurs when a company, in each moment, understands you as a person, decides what the best experience for you would be, and responds with relevance. Let’s break this down.

First, understanding is critical. You can’t respond with a relevant, personalized experience if you don’t know anything about the person you’re interacting with. That understanding can come from a variety of places: a person’s location, his demographics (for B2C) or firmographics (for B2B), his behavior and actions across different channels, the products he has purchased or articles he has read, his loyalty program status, and much more depending on the business and its customers. The more data you can bring together into a single customer profile, the better. All of it comes together to create a clear and complete picture of his attributes, preferences and intentions.

That understanding can be used to help you decide what experience is relevant to him. “Experience” can refer to any interaction across channels: websites, mobile apps, email campaigns, digital advertising, even person-to-person communication such as in call centers, through online chat, or in a store or a branch location, and, in McDonald’s case, at the drive-thru. You can decide which products to recommend, messages to display, emails to send, promotions to offer, etc.

Finally, you have to actually respond with that selected experience in a specific channel in the very moment the person is interacting with you.

This is what McDonald’s is planning to do with its latest acquisition. It is planning to understand what each person is interested in ordering based on a number of factors such as the weather or what he has started to order, decide in the moment what menu options are relevant to that person, and respond with those options in a seamless way.

And with such a large price tag, McDonald’s is making it clear that this type of experience is essential to its customer experience. It is placing personalization at the center of its CX strategy.

Related: 5 Mistakes That Mess up Your Customer Experience Strategy

Final thoughts

It’s time to ask: To what lengths is your organization going to understand your customers and respond to them with individual relevance? McDonald’s acquisition shows us that forward-looking companies are prioritizing personalization and putting it at the very center of their CX strategy — even those you might not expect. It shows us that personalization is not just about a single digital channel like a company’s website or email campaigns. It can truly be integrated anywhere.

Use McDonald’s as your inspiration to improve your customer experience and think bigger about personalization.

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5 Creative Ways to Get Exposure for Your TEDx Talk

The big day has come: You’ve been selected to give a TEDx talk. You’ve worked on it for weeks. Now, how do you ensure someone actually views it?

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I recently gave my first TEDx talk, titled “Big Enough,” about my efforts to support international literacy for girls, and the talk is now live on YouTube.

I had worked on my remarks day in and day out for a month and couldn’t wait to share them with the world. Why? Because giving a TEDx talk is an unprecedented opportunity to share your findings,  life’s work and fundamental beliefs publicly.

Related: 4 Easy Steps to Get You on TEDx Talks

And, if it’s a good talk, it deserves to be seen, and often. But, in an age defined by quick tidbits of information and goldfish-equivalent attention spans, it’s hard to rack up views on a talk that’s nearly 18 minutes long. 

So I had to get creative. Here then are a few of those ways I ran up my viewer count to more than 500 in the first week alone of my TEDx talk’s existence on the internet. 

1. Don’t be shy on your social channels.

It’s all too easy to think that — post-TEDx talk — sharing one post on your channels is sufficient, but chances are, more than half of your followers or friends saw that your TEDx talk was live while they were at work, stuck in traffic or walking into a workout class, so they couldn’t take the time to watch it. Simply put, you’re going to have to post that talk more than once. 

On an episode of the RISE podcast by Rachel Hollis, titled “How You Can Use Instagram to Sell a Product,” Hollis noted that, “You have to give your audience a chance to buy your product,” or as in my case, engage with your content. To do that, you have to post multiple times, not only to reach all of your followers, but also to make sure that each of them sees the reminder multiple times.

The way in which you share something multiple times does matter, however. Take a different angle each time. Perhaps the second post will be about your process of writing the TEDx talk, and your third, a general “thank you” to everyone who has watched it. Get creative, but keep that content coming.

2. Make a quiz based on your talk, and award the winners prizes!

One of the ideas I’m most proud of is a quiz I created for my Instagram story, with questions about my talk. Each question had two answers on the “poll” setting, and I looked through the responses to see who got all of them right. The purpose of this was twofold: The first was to spark intrigue around my talk for followers who maybe had no intention of ever watching it. So, here, I asked questions like, “What main symbolism did I use?” with the two-answer options being “moon phases” and “chairs.”

Related: 6 Things Successful TEDx Speakers Do to Crush Any Speaking Gig

That was designed to pique interest.

My second purpose was to encourage those who hadn’t watched the talk to do so in order to take the quiz. If they wanted the “prize” (which for you might be anything from a free consultation call to a feature on your social page), they’d take the time to watch the talk. 

Hello Fresh has similarly used quizzes on its company Instagram story to drive engagement, asking cute, food-related questions such as, “True / False: The peel of a kiwi is inedible.” To see the answer or continue the quiz, the user must “swipe up,” leading to the Hello Fresh website. Genius!

3. Take advantage of mailing lists.

Of course, I also put the talk into my weekly newsletter. Newsletters reach readers who are of an entirely different mindset. Someone who is taking the time to read through a long email likely has the time to watch a video — and it’s easily linked to right there! If you don’t have a mailing list, ask friends to include a link in their own lists.

Tyler Lessard, vice president of marketing at Vidyard, shared on that company’s blog that, “Emails with video content as the primary CTA generate higher click-through rates on average, and even using the word ‘video’ in the subject can boost open rates.” So, yes, you can use that tidbit of knowledge when asking your friends for a piece of their newsletter real estate.

4. Host a contest awarding the winner of the “nth” view.

Right around the 495 view mark, I had an idea: What if I awarded a cup of coffee to the 500th viewer? This person would send a screenshot of the video count confirming 500 views and win the prize. Well, not only did my plan work, but it worked too well — I got six messages with screenshots! So, I chose the person who sent the screenshot first. And then I repeated the same contest for the 600th view.

Gamifying social media engagement with contests like this has been all the rage, and can be done in a number of different ways, such as asking followers to tag three people for a chance to win, or having them post their own content with a hashtag you created. 

5. Add the link to your email signature.

Finally, don’t discount the power of your email signature! I added a simple line: “Watch my TEDx talk, ‘Big Enough,’ here.” That also gave me a little boost in views. I chose to keep my signature line subtle, but you can highlight your new signature addition to make sure email recipients see it. And yes, it works. Richard Hanna is a marketing professor at Babson College, who said of the power of emails: “We’re actively engaged in reading material related to what we’re doing, and we pay more attention to the signature.”

Related: The Top TED Talks of 2018 So Far — and What You Can Learn From Them

So, when your big TEDx day arrives, be sure to follow up with some or all of these ideas. Using my five creative tips, your YouTube videos will start attracting views in no time. And, that’s the point, right? Here’s to your TEDx talk!

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How You Can Still Reach Customers Even as the Backlash Builds Against Robocalls

As the consumer robocall-avoidance backlash continues, legitimate businesses are being caught in the crosshairs. Here are three strategies they can take.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) adoption of a new policy to give wireless carriers more authority to block robocalls and unknown callers is expected to further impact legitimate businesses already affected by consumer reactions to robocalls.

Related: Stop Annoying Robocalls During Work With This Well-Reviewed App

According to industry research, Americans have already received about 25 billion robocalls this year — which works out to about 76 calls per person. The new policy, aimed at providing consumers some relief, allows phone companies to block suspected illegal and unwanted calls “by default,” which means they don’t need a customer’s permission — as long as customers have the ability to opt out. The policy will also allow consumers to block unknown numbers themselves.

Some companies had asked the FCC to delay the move because they are worried about phone companies blocking legitimate automatic calls, such as those from banks and credit unions calling to confirm a suspicious credit-card transaction. The new FCC policy, however, gives more freedom to wireless carriers to offer call-blocking features and implement call-blocking at the carrier level, even going as far as offering a “white list” feature that could block calls from numbers that are not stored in a consumer’s phone.

Consider consumers’ frustration.

The FCC’s policy is too new to accurately assess the full impact it will have on businesses, but it is clear that consumers and regulators are ready to hang up on robocalls.

Related: Nearly Half of All Cell Phone Calls Will Be Scam Calls in 2019, Report Says

According to Consumer Reports, 70 percent of people of those surveyed said they no longer answer calls they don’t recognize, in order to dodge spam calls. Consumer and policymaker reactions to robocalls have implications for businesses of all sizes, making it challenging for them to develop relationships with prospects.

What can business owners and entrepreneurs do in an environment where cold-calling prospects is losing its effectiveness as a way to fill sales pipelines? The answer is a personalized, multichannel approach that includes email, texting and social channels like LinkedIn; all are key to helping businesses navigate the challenges of establishing relationships with new customers and maintaining relationships with existing ones in this era of call blocking.

Personalize Your email outreach.

Email is one channel businesses can use to connect with customers they don’t have success reaching by phone. Email, after all, is a proven communication channel in sales. However, considering that the average person receives 125 business emails a day, businesses must find a way to rise above the noise. According to Salesforce, “the batch-and-blast method doesn’t work on connected customers.”

Instead, the company’s research found, when evaluating purchases, customers weigh a company’s level of personalization equally compared to how they weigh its reputation.

Those emails that are most effective in starting a conversation offer timely, personalized content. Potential customers respond best to emails that deliver relevant content addressing their specific pain points and offering solutions for overcoming those challenges. Personalized emails generate a median ROI of 122 percent according to the Data & Marketing Association and Demand Metric.

Tip: Depending on how much information you have on a prospective client, personalize everything from the subject line to the content of the email. Make the content specific to recipients — whether it’s based on birthdate,location or something else — to deliver content that catches their attention and engages them.

Send a text that doesn’t feel invasive.

Text-messaging is another strategy businesses can use to develop and maintain relationships with prospects and customers. Once exclusively reserved for personal communications, this digital channel provides a more direct way to reach customers; it also meets customer expectations for a convenient, frictionless way to interact with companies. According to a sales communication survey from my company Lunar, texting is now a widely accepted and expected form of business communication.

Texting also offers the advantages of being instant and mobile — two attributes that make it easier for businesses to reach and engage prospects. With an open rate of 98 percent, text messages are one of the most powerful strategies businesses can use to drive customer engagement.

Texting’s personal roots, however, make it easy to commit a business texting mistake: Specifically, texts should be short and easy to understand. So, if you’re texting about complex topics or need more than a yes or no response, you might want to use text messaging to schedule a call.

Tip: You also shouldn’t send a text message without an introduction or attempt to use another means of communication. The first communication a potential customer gets from you should never be a text, as that can feel invasive. Instead, texting is a great follow-up tool.

Use LinkedIn messages as your new cold-outreach tool.

The challenge for businesses using cold-calling — made significantly more challenging in an environment of robocall blocking — is being able to connect with the right person. Companies can use LinkedIn as another strategy to successfully reach prospects. With more than 630 million members, including 90 million members who are senior-level influencers, LinkedIn can be a go-to-resource for cold outreach, building relationships with potential customers, and establishing expertise to convert leads into buyers.

Companies can become active on relevant LinkedIn groups as one strategy for connecting with prospects. This activity not only helps businesses identify prospects, but can help companies establish expertise on a topic and pave the way to building a relationship with group members as a trusted expert. Businesses can realize the most success from this tactic by consistently posting in these groups and generating discussions on new issues and innovations in an industry.

Tip: InMail, a paid feature on LinkedIn, is another effective way enterprises can reach prospects without resorting to the phone. As is the case with email, personalizing these communications is key to developing an ongoing dialogue with a prospect. Response rates are highest when these messages are crafted to start a conversation and provide a target prospect with valued, relevant content.

As policymakers work to curb robocalls and the consumer robocall-avoidance backlash continues, legitimate businesses are being caught in the cross hairs. What can they do?

Related: Dish Fined $280 Million for Illegal Robocalls

Clearly, those operating in this environment must reduce their reliance on cold calls and find new ways to connect with prospects by taking a personalized, multichannel approach to drive customer engagement. Email, texting, and LinkedIn should all be part of any company’s engagement strategies to effectively establish relationships with prospects and maintain relationships with existing customers.

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How to Start a Bed and Breakfast

how to start a bed and breakfast

This article is part of our Bed and Breakfast Business Startup Guide—a curated list of articles to help you plan, start, and grow your bed and breakfast business!

It’s an image that puts you in an instant state of relaxation—a roaring fireplace in a cozy rural bed and breakfast, sharing stories with fellow travelers while enjoying a glass of brandy or your favorite red wine.

The romantic notions so closely associated with a bed and breakfast have made owning one a popular dream for many people. This is one of the reasons the bed and breakfast (B&B) industry has grown so significantly in recent years.

Do you sometimes drive by a historic property and find yourself fantasizing about turning it into a bed and breakfast? Do you imagine spending your mornings preparing a hearty meal for tourists from around the globe and your afternoons filling the place with the intoxicating aroma of fresh-baked cookies and muffins for when they return?

If this is something you have given serious thought to, starting your own bed and breakfast can be a rewarding and profitable venture. But be sure to go in with both eyes open, as it also requires constant hard work and attention to detail, which might not be a keen interest for everyone.

This article offers step-by-step information on what goes into prepping for and launching your very own bed and breakfast business. To provide an inside perspective on what it takes to run and maintain a successful B&B, I interviewed Kathleen Karamanos, owner and operator of Fundy Heights Bed and Breakfast in Saint John, New Brunswick, on Canada’s scenic East Coast.


What is a bed and breakfast?

If you’ve never had the unique pleasure of staying in a bed and breakfast, you may easily confuse it with other small, privately run inns and motels.

A bed and breakfast is a hybrid which blends the luxury and comfort of an upscale hotel with the atmosphere and décor of a beautiful private residence. Often they are older historic properties which people seek out for the experience of centuries-old hospitality. In fact, 36 percent of American B&Bs have received some kind of historical designation by a preservation society.

Whether the property is historic or not, what makes the experience different from hotels and motels or vacation rentals is the personal attention guests receive from the owner. Playing the role of host, chef, and meal companion, the B&B owner is fully immersed in the guest’s experience. As the name would suggest, the nightly fee includes a hearty, home-cooked meal the next morning.

It’s worth noting that the lines between vacation rentals and traditional bed and breakfasts are ever more blurry, thanks to Airbnb. Prior to 2017, Airbnb was much more focused on the vacation rental experience—meaning your guests check in and it’s likely that you might not ever seem them, and even more likely that breakfast isn’t part of the deal. But these days, you’re more likely to find B&Bs listed alongside regular rentals on Airbnb. 


The state of the B&B industry:

In the United States alone, the B&B industry is expected to top $5 billion in 2020, with more than 19,000 establishments across the country. Unlike major hotel and motel chains, bed and breakfasts are typically not owned by corporations.

According to the latest figures, B&B ownership in the United States breaks down as follows:

  • 72 percent of owners are couples
  • 18 percent of owners are individual females
  • 5 percent of owners are individual males
  • 5 percent of owners are non-couple partnerships
  • 79 percent of owners live on the premises

The average American bed and breakfast has an occupancy rate of 43.7 percent and an average daily rate of $150. One way to stay on top of B&B and lodging trends is to connect with industry associations like AIHP, the association of independent hospitality professionals.  Bed_and_Breakfast_Divider

Step 1: Questions to consider before committing:

Are you a people person?

This more than anything can be a deciding factor in whether your bed and breakfast venture is a pleasant dream-come-true experience or a daily grind which will wear you down in no time.

According to Kathleen Karamanos, being able to interact with your guests is a key aspect of the job. “You have to make sure you enjoy being in the service industry,” she says. “If you don’t genuinely enjoy meeting new people and finding out where they’re from and learning all about them, this is not the business for you.”

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of bed and breakfast owners who mistakenly thought they could simply check their guests in and then not interact with them again until they checked out, as though they were running a conventional hotel or vacation rental. This approach is a recipe for failure in an industry that relies on word of mouth and social media recommendations.

Do you have a sufficient business background?

The bed and breakfast industry is a common haven for those looking to get out of the high-stress, corporate lifestyle. While there is no question that great relaxation and satisfaction can be found in the decorating, baking, and cooking that will fill your day, there is still a business element that cannot be neglected.

A successful bed and breakfast owner will need to know how to:

It is probably no coincidence that nearly three-quarters of all bed and breakfast establishments in the U.S. are owned by couples. Not only is the workload demanding for only one person, but often it requires two people with very different dominant skill sets. It is very common to see one person handle all the hospitality duties while the other focuses on the business responsibilities.

Are you looking to get rich quick?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a huge amount of money quickly, but you will likely want to look for alternative business opportunities if this is the case. That said, running a bed and breakfast can be a profitable and sustainable business. Many couples use it as a way to provide steady income while maintaining a lifestyle they enjoy. However, it is not the type of business that will provide a huge cash infusion over a short period of time.

There may be special events (conventions, festivals, and so on) which will keep your bed and breakfast booked solid for a stretch of time, but in the long term, occupancy rates will ebb and flow depending on the season. It is practically unheard of for a B&B to be at maximum occupancy all year round. So while you can make a steady profit, you will not “get rich quick.”

Are you prepared to give up weekends and holidays to run your business?

If getting away during holidays and long weekends is important to you, it should not come as a surprise that running a B&B might not be the best business venture for your lifestyle. Your busiest times will be all those occasions when you would normally be enjoying a relaxing get-away yourself. Committing to running a B&B means making peace with the fact that you will be working when the rest of us are traveling and playing.
Free bed and breakfast business plans

Step 2: Create a bed and breakfast business plan

Every new business can benefit from writing a business plan. You’ll definitely need one if you’re planning to seek funding in the form of a bank loan or investment (more on that in the next step). 

If you’ve never written a business plan before, check out our free library of hotel and bed and breakfast sample business plans. You can also download our free business plan template to help you get started. 

Don’t get bogged down in the process. If you don’t need to seek funding, write a Lean Business Plan instead, and use it as a tool to strategically manage your business as it gets up and running and starts to grow. 

Using a tool like LivePlan that has business dashboards that connect to your accounting solution built right in can help you stay on top of your finances and even model scenarios for growth. 

Like, what if you were able to exceed the industry average of less than 50% occupancy? What if you added a second location? What if you increased prices by 10% or hired someone to cook breakfast? Reviewing your financials regularly and especially understanding your cash flow can really help you when it’s time to make a major financial decision. 

Step 3: Consider your startup financing

Many older couples sell their home or business in order to invest in a bed and breakfast which will serve as both their residence and primary source of income. If this is not an option for you, there are several funding options, including finding private investors, getting a small business loan from a bank, or finding other business support programs. How much money needed to get the project off the ground will depend on whether you are inheriting a ready-made B&B or converting a property into one.

If you are converting a residence into a bed and breakfast, a suggested rule of thumb is $20,000-$40,000 per guest room for a small property and $35,000 to $50,000 for a larger one. This factors in costs for remodeling to meet regulations as well as brand new bedding, towels, appliances, fixtures, and decorative effects for the room.

Always factor in maintenance costs, both preventative, and emergency. Even in the best-case scenario, you are still going to pay for regular upgrades and maintenance to the exterior, plumbing, and electrical. You’ll also have to be prepared for the worst-case risks when a plumbing pipe bursts or an entire section of the building needs rewiring. If these costs are not factored into the startup financing, you can find yourself in an operational bind before you know it.

Additional resources to help you fund your business:


Step 4: Choose your location

While it is true that almost any private residence can be converted into a bed and breakfast, not every residence is well suited to being a B&B. To be successful and stand out amongst the competition, there should be something unique and attractive to the building you plan to use. Spend some time on choosing the best location before you buy your property

Many bed and breakfasts use a historic angle to draw guests. Often a Victorian home can give travelers a sense of what it would be like living in the area in the late 1800s. Others may use proximity to the waterfront or other notable features as a way to entice guests to stay there.

Kathleen Karamanos believes the convenient location of her bed and breakfast is a big selling point for her business. The Fundy Heights B&B is close to downtown as well as to the major highway, which brings travelers north from the New England States, Southeast to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and West to Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Other key factors to consider when choosing a location include:

Zoning and regulations:

You’ll want to study up on all local and state or provincial zoning by-laws. You may have the most beautiful, well-maintained vintage property that seems perfectly suited for bed and breakfast conversion, but if it is in a strictly residentially zoned neighborhood, it may be over before you begin.

Check to see if a business license can be granted for the property at your preferred location. Because a B&B is not an industrial operation, it should not be too difficult to get the necessary clearances, but you cannot take it for granted. Without the green light from the zoning commission, you will not be able to move forward.

Then, be sure to find out what other specific bed and breakfast regulations are in place in your jurisdiction. There was a time when it was common for multiple guest rooms to share a common bathroom. 

If this is the plan for your bed and breakfast, you would not be able to operate in the Province of New Brunswick, for example. Kathleen Karamanos is required to have a separate bathroom for each family unit who stays there. Half of the rooms have a private bathroom while the other half have stand-alone bathrooms assigned to each room. Make sure you are aware of all local regulations for running a bed and breakfast as they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

The right local economy:

Like any other part of the hospitality industry, staying at a bed and breakfast is really a luxury which is not available to everyone. It is crucially important that your B&B is located within a community that has a proven tourism track record and a local economy that can support it.

Don’t give yourself an unnecessarily tough row to hoe by opening up a bed and breakfast in an area that doesn’t have the tourist draw to support it.

Additional resources to help you choose a location:


Step 5: Take care of permits, licenses, and certifications

You’ll need to make sure you have all of your business license and certifications in place. This goes well beyond simple zoning clearance and covers all the regulatory requirements in running this type of hospitality service.

One comprehensive checklist for all the business licensing and support requirements is as follows:

  • Conditional use and sign permits (if required)
  • Business license
  • Business name and/or DBA registration
  • Certificate of occupancy
  • Account for transient/lodging taxes
  • Sales tax account (seller’s permit)
  • Federal and State Tax ID
  • Business checking credit accounts
  • Merchant account (to process credit cards)
  • ServSafe food certification (if required)
  • Health Department inspection
  • Fire Department inspection
  • Liquor license, if applicable
  • Insurance (business, liability, property, and liquor liability if applicable)
  • Property management/reservation and accounting software

Step 6: Develop your marketing strategy

Very few industries are more reliant on word of mouth to attract new customers than a bed and breakfast.

It would seem the best way to get new guests through the door is to keep your current guests more than satisfied with their stay. Especially since the modern day “word of mouth” is a travel site review, where a bad review can be a permanent stain on the operation’s reputation.

Use email templates to help streamline your communications with guests and your staff to save you time and increase guest satisfaction. Keep your website up to date, and consider whether it makes sense to use listing platforms like Airbnb. And always follow up and ask for reviews 

Kathleen Karamanos launched a specific strategy to establish strong ties to the travel sites and local tourism boards. That strategy has since proven to be very successful.

“We received a certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor in 2015 and since I took over in 2014, I was able to raise our Canada Select (National accommodations rating program) score from a 4 to a 4.5,” she explains.

Kathleen believes you cannot overestimate the importance of travel advisory ratings in attracting guests. Despite being in a demographic known for their comparatively sparse use of technology, most of her guests find her bed and breakfast and make their first assessment online. But don’t panic if you get a bad review. It’s an opportunity to improve going forward. 

She also strongly recommends getting involved with local travel boards and groups, as indirect marketing of your establishment can be very effective in increasing your occupancy rate.

Typically, a B&Bs target market consists of the following:

  • Tourists
  • Business travelers
  • Couples on a romantic getaway
  • Locals in need of extra bedrooms

Start thinking of special promotions and offers that would appeal to each of the above segments.

For example, partnering with a local spa to offer a reduced rate on a couple’s massage to guests who stay at your bed and breakfast is a great way to attract more business and it is benefiting more than one local business. Find other win-win partnerships and it will go a long way to strengthening your B&B’s long-term prospects for success.

Additional resources to help you with your marketing:

Step 7: Hire your staff

Perhaps you are part of a couple looking to open up a bed and breakfast and you plan to divide the chores and responsibilities among yourselves. This is not at all uncommon. But before you decide to join their ranks, you should have a complete picture of precisely how labor intensive running a B&B can be.

Susan Poole is the owner of the award-winning 40 Bay Street Bed and Breakfast in Parry Sound, Ontario, and serves as a bed and breakfast coach for new and prospective owners.

She outlines the daily and hourly commitment to keep the place up and running this way:

  • Breakfast takes three hours from starting preparation to finishing the clean-up
  • Each bedroom and bathroom plus laundry take an hour
  • Ensuring that rooms are booked takes up a lot of time as well

All of this is on top of the other weekly chores that must be done, such as grocery and supply shopping. If you are not fully prepared to take on this workload yourself and be fresh to interact with your guests, you will want to bring in hired help.

Each owner will have to decide which responsibilities they want to take on themselves and which ones they want to delegate to employees. Kathleen Karamanos decided to take a culinary course in New York prior to taking over her B&B and believes it has made a huge difference in the quality of service she is able to provide to her guests.

Additional resources to help you with hiring:


Below you’ll find a list of resources that can help you find out more about what you’ll need to do to start your successful bed and breakfast business venture.


Free Bed and Breakfast Business Plans: The Bplans library of free sample business plans includes a section of four sample business plans exclusively for those interest in starting a bed and breakfast. Provides information for aspiring and experienced innkeepers, educational resources, and everything you need to create the best listing for your inn.

The American Bed and Breakfast Association: The American Bed and Breakfast Association is an organization dedicated to the promotion of bed breakfast inns nationwide. An active forum with some very experienced innkeepers and aspiring innkeepers who aren’t afraid to ask questions to help themselves get where they want to be. This site also contains recipes, resources, and articles.


“I’ve Always Wanted to Run a Bed & Breakfast”: The Secrets to Starting and Running a Successful B&B by Chris Bengivengo and Michelle Bengivengo

Starting & Running A B&B: A Practical Guide to Setting Up and Managing a Successful Bed & Breakfast Business by Stewart Whyte

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Tony SekulichTony Sekulich

Tony is a freelance writer and editor based out of Toronto, Canada. After writing for newspapers and magazines, Tony wrote for film and television where he was recognized with a Leo Award nomination for Best Screenwriting in an Animated Series for his work on the APTN animated series Animism: The Gods Lake. You can follow Tony on Twitter here: @TonySekulich

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5 Amazon Ad Settings You Shouldn’t Ignore

You can’t just set up your ad campaign and expect them to bring in customers day after day. Here are the five settings you should review and tweak as necessary to improve your sales.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following excerpt is from Timothy P. Seward’s book Ultimate Guide to Amazon Advertising. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Apple Books

Auditing your advertising campaigns (in other words, conducting a critical examination of your campaign structures and settings) can help determine if they’re aligned with your business strategies and your goals for advertising on Amazon. It may seem daunting at first, but having a proper campaign structure in place will prove invaluable to your success in advertising on Amazon. Here are the most common issues to look for when performing a self-audit on your account.

1. Create a balanced automatic and manual campaign mix 

First, ask yourself if you’re employing a mix of both automatic and manual Sponsored Products campaigns. While it’s a popular belief that manual campaigns are more important (because of the clarity and control these campaigns give advertisers), each campaign type serves a different purpose, and it’s best to use both automatic and manual campaigns to have full advertising coverage.

Automatic campaigns provide broad coverage, and manual campaigns are more targeted and typically produce a higher return. It’s ideal to include all products you’d like to advertise in an automatic campaign — with similar products in the same ad groups — to ensure at least some advertising coverage for them. Since manual campaigns are more targeted, most of your spend should be flowing through them, but employing both ad formats in unison will maximize the amount of traffic to your products.

2. Check for structure around the three traffic types 

Ask yourself if your campaign is structured in a way that separates the three traffic types: brand, category and competitor. Creating campaigns that feature keywords specific to one traffic type is essential for clearly understanding the performance of your account. Because brand keywords usually produce a better return, if they’re grouped in a campaign with category or competitor keywords, they could artificially drive up the overall revenue of the campaign. Meanwhile, the category keywords may not receive nearly as many impressions. Separating these traffic types is imperative for allocating your ad spend correctly. It also allows you to more easily see how each traffic type is performing.

3. Use all three keyword match types 

Using all three keyword match types (broad, phrase, and exact) for each keyword in your account is another opportunity to maximize your advertising reach. By implementing broad and phrase match keywords, you could potentially uncover top-converting search queries as keyword opportunities. Most of your spend should ideally flow through exact match keywords since these should be the most relevant keywords with a higher conversion rate. You can achieve this through a tiered bidding structure for each term, with the exact match keyword having the highest bid, followed by phrase match and then broad match.

Related: 5 Higher-Level Optimizations You Can Make to Drive Better Amazon Ad Performance

4. Use ad formats that make sense for your advertising strategy

The number of ad formats available to you will depend on whether you’re a seller or a vendor. It’s important to take advantage of all the ad formats that align with your overall goal for advertising on Amazon.

Sponsored products for traffic and flexibility

Sponsored Products ads typically produce the most traffic, given the number of placements they receive and the fact that they have the highest sales per click compared with the other ad formats. I recommend always running Sponsored Products ads, as they can be tailored to any of these strategies: brand promotion, rapid growth, and achieving a target ad cost of sale.

Sponsored brands campaigns for “top of funnel” growth or branding

Sponsored Brands campaigns can be a great “top of funnel” or branding opportunity if you’re focused on promoting your brand or even growing incremental sales by extending brand reach to new consumers. The prominent banner placement, in addition to having the option of driving traffic to your Amazon Store, is a great brand-awareness opportunity to tell shoppers more about your brand or products. However, since CPC is typically higher than that of Sponsored Products campaigns, due to the limited (but prominent) placements, and since there is a much higher clickthrough rate, Sponsored Brands ads aren’t as beneficial for achieving a low ACoS metric.

Related: The 4 Most Helpful Reports You Can Run Using Amazon Ad Data

Product display ads for targeting interests and product pages

Similarly, Product Display ads can be another opportunity to inform shoppers about your brand by targeting interests and product pages, including those of your competitors. However, Product Display campaigns should be reserved for strong brand promoters since these are generally the most expensive ad format and typically produce lower attributed sales.

5. Limit keyword duplication

Duplicate keywords throughout the same ad format can lead to inefficiencies in account management and make it difficult to know which products are receiving traffic for a specific keyword. Since keywords across the account will have varying bids, duplicate keywords compete for the same placements, and it’s likely that one instance of the keyword will receive more traffic than the others.

Analyze Amazon’s Targeting Report for duplicate keywords and consider eliminating the lower-performing ones. In the ideal Sponsored Products campaign structure, a keyword is only featured in one ad group within one campaign. A select group of high-priority products that are closely related to the keyword would then be featured in this ad group.

The same is true for Sponsored Brands campaigns. A specific keyword with the same match type should only be included in one campaign. The top related products can then be featured in the banner and on the landing page.

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Ask Yourself These 5 Things Before You Seek Angel Investment

angel investment

Are you thinking about seeking angel investment for your small business or startup? The first step should always be looking at whether or not your business is a good candidate. Many really good businesses are not attractive to angel investors. It’s not as simple as growth or profits. 

The truth is that the vast majority of potentially successful small businesses and startups are not going to get angel investment no matter how good their pitch or plan. Simply having a good business that can grow and prosper isn’t enough.

So what is? How do you catch an angel’s eye? 

Here are five questions that will help you figure out whether your business is likely to be interesting to angel investors. 

1. Does your business have major growth potential?

Angel investors look for businesses that can increase sales tenfold or more over the next three years. They don’t want to share in your profits; they want your company to go public or sell to a larger company. It’s how they make their money. 

That takes major growth. So you need a big market. That means not just numbers in spreadsheets, but a market that the investors themselves will believe in. Angel investors want businesses that solve real problems for lots of people.

2. Is your company scalable?

Scalable means the business can sustain major growth without the need for too many more services or employees. Can you easily handle growth without losing quality? Does it take doubling headcount to double sales? This might hamper the bottom line. 

Be sure to keep the future in mind. Angel investors like product businesses, or productized services, not service businesses. They want businesses that can increase sales overnight without increasing fixed costs

A classic example of productized services is Intuit’s Quickbooks, which decades ago replaced bookkeeping services with software. Bookkeeping is a service that requires more hours or work in direct proportion to sales revenue; software scales up because it can be used by many people at the same time, without requiring personal attention. More recently, Moz took a search engine optimization consulting business and built from that to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. The search engine consulting was people intensive, but the SaaS platform scales. 

3. Is your business defensible?

Angel investors want businesses that can’t be easily duplicated by competitors. They look for something proprietary, like trade secrets, copyright, trademarks, and patents.

Even specific market knowledge can be important. First-mover advantage helps, but it is rarely enough on its own. You have to be able to maintain the advantage into the future.  Is there a secret sauce? Are there barriers to entry? All this makes a business defensible.
View our Angel Investment Guide today!

4. Does your team have management and startup experience?

Risk is always a big concern with startups, especially for investors. In fact, if you haven’t been involved in a startup or had some form of management experience, it could be close to impossible to find someone to take a chance on you. When you have people on board with startup and management experience, you are creating a team of strong leaders likely to build a healthy, marketable company. 

Don’t hesitate to reveal a failed attempt at a startup because it demonstrates that you have experience and perhaps have gained some important insight.

It’s frustrating for first-timers in startups that they need investment to get experience, but they can’t get experience without investment—it’s sad but true. Angel investors are extremely wary of people without actual startup experience. 

5. Do you have a believable exit strategy?

Angel investors may be willing to help you start your business, but what they get for their money is a share in your company. The only way they make money with that is when they can sell that share of ownership for money; which is what they call the exit. They don’t want to invest in the ordinary healthy company that pays its founders and grows but never sells out. You’ll need a good exit strategy

Don’t kid yourself: If you can’t answer “yes” to these five essential questions, you should not waste your time thinking about angel investment.

If your business doesn’t have what angel investors want, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good business. It just means you need to change your funding strategy. Look to friends and family investors instead of angels, or commercial business lending, or scale your plan down so you need less startup funding.

Here’s some good follow-up reading:

This article is part of our Business Funding Guide: Fund your business today, with Bplans. 

Editor’s note: This article originally published in 2014. It was updated in 2019. 

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7 Brands Killing It With Humor on Twitter

It’s remarkable how brands connect with people when they stop taking themselves so seriously.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone loves it when brands mix it up on Twitter. For some brands, Twitter is the perfect place to let your hair down and rebel against corporate culture. It’s where you can really define your brand voice and personality.

But humor isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Some brands do it well. Others bomb when they try it. The ones that get it right usually know their audience very well, and they know how to come across as funny, quirky, strange or cute rather than weird, inauthentic or gimmicky.

The best brands use humor to develop strong followings with shareable tweets that go viral. If you want to know what it takes, here are 7 of the funniest brands that are killing it daily on Twitter.

1. Oreo

If Oreo is the king of agile marketing, then Twitter is its crowning gem. The brand’s interaction on Twitter shows that it not only has a finger on the pulse of its audience, but it can react with whip-smart efficiency.

Remember when the power went out during the Super Bowl in 2013? Within minutes, @Oreo posted an ad on Twitter that showed a single Oreo in a shadowy backdrop with the title: “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark.” The caption below read: “Power out? No problem.” Viewers loved Oreo’s funny take on the power outage and retweeted the meme more than 10,000 times in one hour.

The quick-witted tweet likely had an even greater payoff than Oreo’s actual Super Bowl ad, which cost millions to create.

Related: How Oreo, Other Brands Dominated Twitter During the Super Bowl

2. Old Spice

Old Spice is best known for its surreal viral commercials featuring former NFL athlete Isaiah Mustafa. The company has managed to insert the same kind of outlandish and fun branding into all its social media accounts. Old Spice has developed its unique voice through its hilarious and sometimes ridiculous posts featured on both its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Although the company has been diligently focused on being the loudest and quirkiest voice in preventing male stink, it’s not content to stay in its social media lane. For example, at one point @OldSpice decided to tweet at Taco Bell, taking umbrage at Taco Bell’s fire sauce because it didn’t contain actual fire, and claiming it was false advertisement. This apparently incited a Twitter “war” between the two brands. The witty and funny exchange piqued user interest and is a great example of how to stand out in an otherwise mundane Twitter feed.

Old Spice is an example of a brand that is at its best the further it allows itself to venture from routine and embrace its entertaining and just plain weird brand of humor.

3. Taco Bell

It makes sense that the fast food chain known for feeding many a midnight munchie would embrace playful banter and silly wisecracks on its social media accounts. Where @tacobell truly shines on Twitter is with the company’s witty one-liners, clever photo updates and hilarious comebacks that are sure to make you crack a smile.

One of the reasons their brand of humor works so well is that their hilarious tweets show that they’re human. They use their exchanges on social media to showcase their unique personality. That, and the fact that they react almost instantly if they’re called out, so you know they’re engaging with people in real time, give their Tweets a feeling of being relevant and authentic.

Related: 20 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Taco Bell

4. Charmin

Charmin is a great example of a brand that uses humor to align with the products it sells. Who would have thought that discussing toilet paper would result in one of the most engaged social media communities on the planet? But that’s exactly what Charmin has done, and has done quite successfully. Its presence on Twitter (@Charmin) is a must-follow.

In fact, the company was named among the top “Sassiest brands on Twitter” for its hilarious banter with its audience and #tweetfromtheseat posts, which it uses to incorporate bathroom humor puns and to sometimes chime in on current news or pop culture.

Charmin’s feed aspires to a simple motto: “We believe that life is full of little pleasures.” It works because they keep a playful “mischief-maker” tone to break through all the noise on social media and they often say something unexpected, relevant and funny. The company’s Twitter minders know they aren’t going to please everyone, but those who do “get” the company’s humor love it.

Related: 3 High-Risk Marketing Campaigns That Amazed Everybody by Working

5. Moosejaw

Outdoor retailer Moosejaw has truly nailed its brand voice and mastered the art of using Twitter by letting its personality shine through. The outdoor retailer makes a point of not taking itself too seriously, and even calls itself “the most fun outdoor retailer on the planet.”

@MoosejawMadness is all about being original and finding the humor in life’s absurd details. They’re also careful to stay completely non-gimmicky.

Take, for example, this random Moosejaw tweet: “My will contains only one request: I want a motion detector on my tombstone with a speaker that plays Thriller whenever anybody is around.” That’s the kind of thing that would make you chuckle no matter who it came from.

The takeaway from their success is that always being professional will only put you in the category of “boring.” You have to give your audience something unexpected that will stick with them. Food humor is often thought-provoking and tongue-in-cheek. You also need to nurture your brand’s unique personality and come up with what works for you and what doesn’t.

6. Casper

In the battle to decide how America sleeps, Casper is aiming to be the Goldilocks of mattress brands — the one everyone likes and wants to own. It’s also become the internet’s favorite mattress store because of its humorous one-liners and the riddles it asks Twitterdom to solve. The “Tweeting Mattress” won the Shorty Award for Best Overall Twitter Presence thanks to its laugh-out-loud tweets and culturally on-point humor.

Its main objective is to raise awareness of the brand, and Casper does this by focusing on its personality. Whether it’s something as simple as “Today’s forecast: cloudy with a chance of naps” or “Go big or go to bed” meme, @Casper has perfected its cute and appropriate humor and tone, resulting in widespread marketing success.

In short, the mattress company uses social fodder to help it gain comic notoriety, not to mention a sizeable following on Twitter.

7. Denny’s

Denny’s is like that funny friend you like to have around because you know they’ll always say something to make you laugh. And on Twitter, their 140-characters-or-less wisecracks seem to tap into that surreal and sometimes nonsensical atmosphere its restaurants have around 4 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Usually bizarre, and always funny, @DennysDiner is an irreverent page devoted to pancakes, syrup and amusing (and strangely thought-provoking) memes. In true Denny’s fashion, it serves a dollop of humor with whatever current melee is taking place on Twitter.

The chain’s Twitter presence has also helped establish the brand with Millennials and Generation Z. Denny’s understands the importance of staying culturally relevant and continuing to feed its audience something other than (boring) business as usual.

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