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16 affordable marketing tools to use right now

(Business Marketing) Marketing tools can cost an arm and a leg, but spend some time in the next few days exploring some of these tools for expanding your brand without breaking the bank.

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affordable marketing tools

Affordable marketing tools

You’re a new or small business, and you’re looking to save as much money as possible – you’re not alone. Hundreds of companies have popped up to help entrepreneurs or companies on a budget to expand their marketing efforts without breaking the bank. Some of these tools require time and money, others are quick and free, all are worth checking out:

3 new inexpensive smartphone photography tools to drool over – give your smartphone a kickstart and market better through simple photography, whether on instagram or your blog.

How to add animated gifs to your site without overdoing it – Speaking of your blog, there are free ways to add subtly moving images to your site to make it more memorable and less cheesy (seriously, nix the cheesy). Go play around with some of these animated gif creators and check out the examples to find inspiration.

Send gorgeous cards by mail from your phone – Sincerely is an app that lets you pick amazing cards on the fly and send them right away – they add the postage, your note, and all, without any lame stock photography or old designs. Try sending a card a day to your top clients and prospects and see what kind of return your thoughtfulness gets you.

Use Canva to create presentations, blog images – if you suck at design or aren’t a professional, we insist that you go check out Canva to spice up your marketing, be it digital or physical.

Spend $20 on creating a simple, customized YouTube video – if you’re just getting started on video or are embarrassed to show your face on film, Vidspoke hires a spokesperson and gets you started right away. This tool is best for beginners.

Affordable explainer video creation for small businesses – Wdysd.com offers explainer videos, tailored for new or small businesses to better express what your brand does. You can then use these videos on your site, on social networks, on YouTube, and so much more. Take a complex offering and summarize it in a way any passerby can understand. Ca ching!

YouEye analyzes videos of real people using any website – go pay a few tiny dollars to see how people interact with your website – this is much deeper than A/B testing, it is a test of where actual eyeballs land, and then you can watch video of it to verify. Cool!

Piktochart is a simple online infographic creator – it’s no secret that creating original content for Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and so forth, is a win, but how do you come up with content? Offer your most commonly asked questions of clients as an infographic and share it across the web, or create an infographic with data you’ve collected and sat on over the years (milestones, sales, etc.).

Seeker is an affordable alternative to traditional market research – you can get to know your potential clients and reach new markets without breaking the bank. Go poke around this site and see if it’s a fit for you. UPDATE: Seeker is apparently no more, so we’ll add another new tool at the end of this story.

Kanga Room Systems are affordable pre-fab studios, cabins, and sheds – if you don’t want open a new office, or you just need a home office but you don’t have the space, look into an affordable pre-fab space. There’s a lot you can do with a small space, just check out the photos and you’ll be inspired.

Share office space, save rent with PivotDesk – maybe a loner space isn’t your style, but you don’t have a huge team to open up grandiose offices. Go halvsies with another company that also has a small team but needs to save on overhead. Genius!

Hit up the SBA for free business advice – your taxpayer dollars are going toward the Small Business Administration, and you should know that they offer a ton of counseling, classes, and other resources that are free. This is a no-brainer.

Google offers free tools and opportunities to entrepreneurs – you can get a mentor, AdWords credit matching, and networking online and offline. They are always adding free opportunities for budding entrepreneurs and small businesses, and you should not pass these chances up.

Square launched a full point-of-sale system – if you take credit card payments for anything, you should check out what Square’s up to. This payment system doesn’t require that you buy a ton of fancy equipment, yet it functions as effectively as many advanced sales systems. On the cheap. Seriously, go look.

Offer your team benefits on a small budget – benefits are the name of the game these days, especially if you want to attract younger talent, and keep your existing talent on board. Find out how to offer them without breaking the bank.

This Photoshop template for Facebook cover photos – the layout changed on Facebook late last year and many brands are still not taking advantage of the unique marketing experience, be it on your personal or professional Page. Get creative, dig into the inspiration gallery, and try on a new cover photo for free.

This free repository of email designs can give you insight into what your competitors or other industries are doing in their email marketing without your having to subscribe to each one. Use it for inspiration not only visually, but pay close attention to their calls to action to improve your own.

The American Genius (AG) is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. AmyVernon

    July 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    I love that this list of tools includes things like the SBA – not because of the SBA in and of itself, but because that shows this list really is looking holistically at marketing, and not just “Use Pinterest!”

  2. Kevin Strasser

    July 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

    I love the idea of this list. There are some great value propositions out there.

    Wish you could have found a way to include TribeBoost on this list. At only $119 per month we create tons of value for our clients every day.

  3. Pingback: Marketing templates that don't suck. Really. - AGBeat

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Business Articles

Your brand is vulnerable just like Cracker Barrel’s recent troll spotlight #BradsWifeMatters

(BUSINESS) Brad’s wife got fired from Cracker Barrel which has sparked internet outrage and has presented us all with a few lessons.

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Crack in the barrel

It’s been an eventful week for Cracker Barrel so far. The Tennessee-based chain of family/country-style restaurants has found itself in the midst of not one, but two, trending hashtags on Twitter, #Justiceforbradswife and #Bradswifematters, and have seen their Wikipedia page altered multiple times over the past three days as well.

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So, what’s behind all of the free—if unwanted—publicity?

They fired Brad’s wife.

Wait, what?

The TL;DR of it is this: Bradley Byrd of Milltown, Indiana, thrust the company into the trolling spotlight on March 4th by posting a simple question to the Cracker Barrel corporate Facebook page:

“Why did you fire my wife?”

Brad’s wife, Nanette, had apparently worked for the local Cracker Barrel for the past 11 years as a server, and was, to the best of Brad’s knowledge, terminated for lack of cause.

Rubbing salt into the wound

That she was fired on Brad’s birthday, and fired two weeks before earning vacation pay for this year.

What was posed as a question from an upset spouse has since taken a life of its own.

It gained a much wider audience when shared by comedian Amri King on Facebook this week.

Note from the Editor: if you want to spend a few hours digging into the many hilarious forms the topic took, click around here (warning: most of it is totally unsafe for work or around children).

People want answers

Not only do more people know about Brad’s wife being fired, but they’ve taken to trolling the Cracker Barrel Facebook page and Twitter feed, with thousands of comments being linked back to Brad’s wife, no matter the tenuousness of the thread connecting their comment to the original post.

There’s also been a petition started at Change.org to get Nanette justice, with nearly 9,000 signatures to date.

The range of feedback that Cracker Barrel is receiving spans the gamut from nearly nonsensical to rather witty and droll. But driving the continuation of the onslaught is their reticence; as of the time of writing, Cracker Barrel hadn’t yet responded to either the flood of negative public opinion or to Brad’s original question.

And that’s the smartest move that they’ll make.

The Sound of Silence

It’s so very tempting when your company, brand, or person is being dragged through the public arena, (for right or wrong) to comment back and defend yourself with the same vigor that you’re being attacked by.

That temptation, however, has real consequences if given in to.

In a termination case, you may find yourself in a similar situation.

Pay attention

A beloved employee has done a “VBBT”: a very big, bad thing, and has to be let go. Or, perhaps, it was an employee popular with both internal and external customers, but, while they were nice and good for morale, their job performance had been lacking over time, and you’d worked with them to try to correct it, unbeknownst to the public.

Either way, you should steel yourself for impact.

In the world of digital presence, it’s going to be relentless. And personal. And, usually, mostly wrong on all of the details. It may certainly hurt, and your bottom line may take a brief hit, but remember: you don’t get to comment back on things like this.

Your role is to stay above the fray and remain professional

You made the decision to terminate, and before you did, you did your research as to why it was the right time to terminate the employee (Shame on you if you didn’t—in that case, your problems with an Internet backlash are both deserved and the least of things you ought to be worrying about).

Now it’s time to keep the course and focus on moving forward.

By responding to these comments, you don’t appear to be in control. Making no statement is more useful at times that making a statement that compromises you, be that legally in an employment context, or in the marketplace by mis-stepping and giving the trolls something real to write about.

Issue a statement

If a response to media inquiry or public opinion does become unavoidable, a well-scripted response that is vetted by counsel in advance of releasing it to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently given rise to a defamation or unlawful termination suit, is your best friend.

Make it once in outlets that are responsive, and then let it stay.

No further comment is necessary, nor useful.

An Audience of One

The only person that Cracker Barrel owes an answer to about why Nanette was fired is Nanette. The world at large certainly doesn’t need to know, and, neither does Brad, frankly.

If the employee doesn’t know why they’re being terminated, and provided something in writing to that effect, then that’s an area to address.

Everyone deserves to have clarity in the workplace, especially about something so critical as employee performance feedback leading to termination. Having the cause of termination in writing will also help you to defend against any “re-telling” of the termination story by the employee after the fact.

Also, remember that you have an audience of just one when it comes to discussing the details about those who have been fired: the terminated employee.

Just because it’s a spouse asking the question of why their partner was terminated, that doesn’t give them any additional standing to have that information shared with them by the company.

You Signed Up For This

You’re looking to the long view for your company and brand.

Making a hard decision that is the right thing to do and is evidence-supported isn’t always easy and it certainly isn’t always popular. But it’s the job that you’ve got to do.

You likely have crisis plans in place about what will happen if you have a challenge to critical infrastructure, supply chain, or safety issues.Click To Tweet

In a hyper-present media environment, in which the next meme is lurking around the corner, it’s a good idea to extend that planning to include a media crisis so that when the spotlight is turned onto you, you’ve prepared for it and made certain that you’re putting your best foot forward, by not getting it stuck in your mouth.

#BradsWife

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Business Articles

Uber’s tipping policy is janky, also potentially illegal

(BUSINESS) The tipping policy that Uber has in place is not much of a policy, nor is it 100% legal everywhere.

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Tipping your Uber

Uber has an interesting policy on tipping, On the Uber website, in the Help section, this is what Uber tells passengers:

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“As independent contractors, drivers may request tips at their discretion.”

The current pseudo-policy

Drivers care about rider ratings and do their best to create an ideal trip experience.

While Uber does not require riders to offer drivers a cash tip, you are welcome to do so.

Should you choose to tip, your driver is welcome to accept or decline.

Tipping is illegal in some places

Uber’s app has no place to add a tip for the driver, unlike Lyft, which does allow tipping through the app.

Uber drivers still hope for tips, but Uber’s policy of allowing cash tips might be illegal in some of the states and cities where Uber operates.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are just two of the 13 states which ban cash payments for ride-hailing services.

Paper monies

New York and Texas states are both considering legislation that would ban cash payments to drivers.

Some states simply ban drivers from accepting cash while others ban drivers from soliciting cash payments.

Uber has not updated its website to reflect the different laws in different states where it does operate.

Do you tip Uber?

Proponents of tipping say that Uber serves in the role of a taxi, although it is a private vehicle.

It is nice to tip your Uber driver the same 15 to 20 percent you would tip a taxi driver.

At the very least, you should leave a 5-star rating, unless something was really wrong with the ride.

The point of tension

Critics of tipping your Uber driver worry about whether Uber driver will serve lower-income areas, hoping to go into wealthier neighborhoods where they are assured of bigger tips.

Then there is concern about passenger ratings. Uber drivers would know if a passenger tipped or not before leaving a rating. Is it fair to rate passengers on the amount of a tip or not?

Uber drivers want the app to allow tipping, but Uber wants to keep things, “hassle-free.”

#TippingTension

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Business Articles

Sephora is using AR to help all the Barbie girls in the Barbie world

(BUSINESS) Sephora make-up chain is diving into the world AR to help customers shop before purchasing.

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Augmented reality taking over reality

Along with virtual reality and artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR) is one of the most talked about topics at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive.

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Companies are starting to make some serious investments in AR technology, creating innovative new ways of interacting with customers.

New face of AR

While AR has famously been used for interactive marketing and for gaming apps like Pokémon Go, other companies have incorporated AR into their apps and stores in ways that genuinely help make customers make better purchasing decisions.

A need in cosmetics

If you’ve ever tried to buy makeup from a drugstore or the Internet, you know that there’s a high risk that you’ll end up with a truly tragic shade of lipstick, or a foundation that doesn’t match your skin.

The beauty industry has always faced the challenge of selling products that are difficult to sample before purchase.

At a department store, cosmetic counters allow customers to try on makeup before buying, but with more and more people shopping online, it’s time for a high-tech solution.

Sephora’s dive into AR

By investing in AR, cosmetics company Sephora has given customers an excellent way to learn more about products, and even to try them out, virtually, before purchasing.

Their mobile app uses facial recognition technology to provide a fairly accurate estimation of how different products will look on your face.

The app also provides step-by-step makeup tutorials customized for your face shape and skin tone.

Making the choice easier

For Bridget Dolan, vice president of Sephora’s San Francisco-based Innovation Lab, AR provides an opportunity to educate and engage with customers who might otherwise have a hard time choosing which products to buy online.

“Our time, money, effort and energy goes into teaching clients. To achieve new looks, you need to try new products, and if we can make you feel confident, you’ll be more engaged overall,” says Dolan.

Banking on potential

The app is made possible through a collaboration with AR platform Modiface. According to CEO Parham Aarabi, in the early phases of developing their technology, Sephora saw Modiface’s “preliminary vision and its potential, and ran with it.”

By collaborating with a strong brand, Modiface was able to advance the technology further and faster.

“Brands need a champion who has the vision and who sees the long-term possibility – that’s Bridget and her team. They’re really invested in getting the augmented reality right.”

The versatility of AR

The Sephora – Modiface collaboration makes it clear that, as Dolan explains, applications of AR can be more than “just fun.” They can provide interactive experiences that educate customers and pave the way for sales.

#MakeupAR

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