Tuesday, January 31, 2006

If online marketing is so powerful, why is it so difficult?

I feel your pain.

This whole Internet thing is supposedto make everything easier. Communication, commerce, information -- it's all supposed to be more relevant, easy to grasp and take advantage of, right?

Then there's the whole idea of getting business done faster and better. In one specific case, I think I can totally understand the frustration of merchants at finding cost-effective solutions. Let me tell you my story.

I'm trying to get the word out there on MerchantCircle, to make it easier for merchants like you to find us and take advantage of our great services. I'm doing what a lot of you guys are doing -- buying keywords on Google and Yahoo. But there's this huge start-up cost.

I have to set up one, sometimes several, accounts. I need to figure out what all these codewords mean for advertising. I have to bid crazy amounts, and anticipate what my competitors will do. I have to come up with great marketing copy that will help people click. I have to analyze the results and measure against my effort. Oh yeah, and I have to pay. In some cases, I have to PAY A LOT before I even get a single customer. I think on Yahoo I spent $1,000 in start-up costs, and I still haven't seen a customer show up. (if you want to read more about my trials and tribulations, check out my recent blog posts)

Where's the power in that? How is that helpful to local merchants trying to run a profitable business?

I might not be able to fix the complexity of those big media companies, but at least I can take out some of the pain for you.

MerchantCircle offers FREE advertising on Google. Let me make this clear. FREE.

Here's how it works:

STEP ONE: Earn some of our virtual currency that we call AdDollars, simply by inviting other merchants in your neighborhood to join. Or post some content in your blog. Either way, it's easy to earn AdDollars.

STEP TWO: Create an ad using our ad wizard. It's simple to do. Then start your campaign, and we'll do the rest. MerchantCircle will navigate through all the complexity to get your advertising up on Google. (again, FOR FREE). We'll make it painless so you won't have to worry about it at all.

In our focus groups, many of you said you wanted to advertise on Google and Yahoo but found the costs and time daunting. Some folks were spending thousands of dollars per month, and not seeing a single result.

Give MerchantCircle's Google advertising a shot. For no cost, you can try it out yourself, and see your name show up prominently in the search results. Then you can decide whether it's worth wading in deeper...

Keep us posted on how things work for you.



Latest MerchantCircle release!

Huzzah! The new MerchantCircle release has just gone live. Here's what we're serving up this month:

1) Newsletters

Tired of paying $1,000/month to big companies to publish a simple newsletter to your customers? Well, we've released the first phase of our newsletter service. This month, you can quickly and easily create a web-based newsletter. In it, you can place your ads and coupons. No time? Then you can easily import blog articles you already wrote into your newsletter. Additionally, your fellow merchants can also place their ads in the newsletter to help drive shared customer referrals (you can always turn this off).

But wait, there's more.

Every time you publish a newsletter, we'll automatically update your blog, listing and RSS feed with links to your newsletter. That means that all your customers who are staying connected to your business via Yahoo and Google will AUTOMATICALLY get updated when you publish your new content. Check out the MerchantCircle Newsletter to get an idea of how this can work for you!

What's that you say? You like the web newsletters, but wish you had an email version, too? Stay tuned, truebelievers...

2) Categories

Now it's easier for customers to browse through our directory and find your business. We've imported all of the keywords associated with your business and done the best we could to match it up with the appropriate category. Very very soon, we'll let you customize this a bit further, to help make it even more relevant when people search or browse for your business.

3) Improved Email Templates

OK, we heard you. Our emails left something to be desired. We've updated almost all of our emails now with a nice template that's very clean, and inviting. It should make it even easier for you to invite all the merchants you'd like to join the service (so you can share customer leads). By the way, why don't you invite some more merchants right now to join your community?

Even more cool things coming up in the following month, so stay tuned. By the way, we're starting a beta program to give our most valued merchants an opportunity to help directly shape the future of your MerchantCircle. Interested in joining? Drop me an email and let me know....

Btw, want to learn more about the team that brings you MerchantCircle? You can get some interesting insights by clicking on our staff blogs...those links over there on the right-hand side of our corporate blog page. Pay us a visit. :)

Talk with you soon.

Mark Hull
Get Visible. Get Connected. Get Customers.

Wayne, cofounder and chief cheerleader

Wayne's always smiling at work about how hard the team works to deliver better services for our customers. Somehow, he keeps everyone moving in the right direction....

The High Price of Low Cost

I watched this movie last night: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. The viewpoint is clear. However, if everyone is shopping at Wal-Mart, what do consumers really think of Wal-Mart? (Reminds me of a joke about a popular bar: "It's so crowded no one goes there anymore.") Regardless, we are here to help local merchants thrive -- whether they compete or cooperate!


I spent part of this morning in Willow Glen at a place that clearly knows how to build a community marketing program. Elva's Coffee is a great place and is kicking Starbucks ass in a less trafficked area. I want to see how we get 1M small merchants doing the same thing and kicking Walmart, Starbucks, and Home Depot’s butt.

Ben Smith

Hard at work

Hard at work
Originally uploaded by merchantcircle2005.
The MerchantCircle team never stops working for you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Our neighbors open their doors

It's always exciting to see a new business open its doors.  Satura Cakes celebrated its grand opening today in Los Altos, and the mayor was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon (with really big scissors) and get their business on their way.

It's been interesting to watch the shop take form. From the complete overhaul of its interior to the sample cakes we were able to taste, Satura Cakes has really done everything to create a first-rate experience. The cakes are lighter and have less sugar which is good news when you  have a sweet tooth like I do.

Btw, one of the guys in the office set up a webcam that overlooks Satura Cakes. Check it out to see all the buzz!

I liked seeing the community turn out for this grand opening. The community certainly has been curious, watching with great anticipation as things came together.  Congratulations to Satura Cakes. May its future days be filled with sales and cake batter. :)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Farmer's market

Now here is something I have to try. Any small downtown area should try putting one of these in place. It brings people down town at a time when alot of people would normally end up at shopping malls and gets them comfortable with what the downtown has to offer. I have been to one of these in Manhattan before and that was truly a unique experience.