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Stories From the Trenches

blezoo

Small Business Profile: Blezoo

by: | May 8, 2012

B2B utilizes LinkedIn, among other social networks for growth

A small business that delivers promotional products and branding strategies to other businesses better have some effective marketing techniques of its own. And Orlando-based Blezoo does, all at little cost to itself.

When you open your business, as owner and Chief Marketing Officer Dean Caravelis says, “at the height of the great recession in the beginning of 2008, arguably the worst possible time to get into the business,” low-cost, effective marketing is imperative.

The obvious first choice, then, is setting up a home for yourself online. So you get yourself a website, of course. But then, what’s next? Search Engine Optimization, right?

Wrong.

“Most of our business is through networking and customer referrals,” Caravelis says. “Beginning a relationship via referral has a much better foundation than being something someone clicked on. [It’s] quality over quantity. That being said, we make our content keyword rich, but SEO hasn’t necessarily been a big piece of our strategy.”

Networking is the key word, one of the many things the Internet has made easier for young businesses. So first things first: focus on the hottest form of social networking—Twitter, right?

Well, no, not exactly.

“I tweet some, but I’m not too fanatical about it,” Caravelis says. “I think it is a great tool for keeping up with the world, hearing tips from insightful experts in various industries and engaging clients on a more personal level. [But] Twitter also has a big downside. As a platform, it’s so easy to put something emotional and flippant out there, which can damage your reputation. You really need to think before you tweet.”

The solution must be Facebook, then, right? Well, yes, but no. Getting warmer.

“We use Facebook as another way to stay top-of-mind with our clients who are avid Facebook users,” Caravelis says. “A lot of our competitors have abandoned social media because they don’t see a direct value in a return on time, but I understand the residual effect of brand awareness and will continue to develop our Facebook page.”

Give up? The social networking site Caravelis uses most for his Blezoo’s growth is: LinkedIn.

LinkedIn, also known as a ‘professional Facebook’ to some, is a social networking tool for business people. You can set up a profile picture and list your current job(s), past job(s), and educational history. You can provide status updates, too, just like Facebook.  But instead of a ‘wall’ for friends to write on, LinkedIn has the recommendation function.  Other business people in your network can write blurbs about their experiences with you.  LinkedIn, in a sense, is an online, interactive resume.

So, if LinkedIn serves individual people, not businesses themselves, how does it contribute to company marketing?

“Your LinkedIn page serves as a primary resource to develop your personal brand in the business world,” Caravelis says.

A personal brand is an often-overlooked detail for small business owners. But developing one brightens the face of your company. When customers buy your products, they’re also buying into you. LinkedIn shows other businesses who you are in a professional sense. The recommendations you’ve received become testimonials, which are then extended to your products.

“LinkedIn is a very non-invasive way to connect and bring new people into your network,” Caravelis says. “It allows you to learn about someone quickly and also gives you a tool to keep track of any job changes that occur.”

Job changes, when it’s a client who moves to a new company, means another business for Caravelis to offer his products and services. That’s two clients for the price of one.

Wait a minute. Now we’re talking about market research, aren’t we?

At his new office and showroom in Orlando, Caravelis showed me exactly how LinkedIn helps with market research in real time.

First, he clicks on a new contact, employee X at X Enterprises. From there, he targets the shared connections between him and X. Caravelis then scans down that list and notes each name he recognizes as a friend, a former or current client, or anyone, more importantly, who bridges the gap between him and his new connection. He may even locate his competitors on that list. In that case, he’s able to learn more about who is, what he calls, “in play.”

“Connections are the key to business development,” Caravelis says, “and LinkedIn offers a treasure trove of data for any marketer who understands how to mine it.”

LinkedIn has another distinct advantage. Business people can feed their company blogs directly into the network and drive traffic to their websites.

But that doesn’t mean you do all your work from behind a computer screen.

“LinkedIn isn’t a place where you just randomly search and add people,” Caravelis says.  “The culture of the site is adding people to your network that you already know, not adding people that you want to know. You can certainly use it as a tool to figure out who the decision makers are, but you need to take the necessary steps offline in order to bring them into the fold online.”

Caravelis finds contacts the old fashioned way: meeting new people, engaging in conversation, and trading business cards. When he transfers that contact online, the potential to engage them is limitless, and the possibilities to do so are endless.

“The future of marketing hinges on the new tools that become available online,” Caravelis says.  “It is exciting to see what the future will hold. Once we have the resources, I think we will develop a niche mobile app to market our products as well.”

Social networking is a wide and expanding platform, and it’s certainly not a new concept in the online marketing world. Indeed, it can be the most useful free marketing tool for small businesses. But not as a thing-in-itself. Each company must uniquely deduce how social networks can benefit them, do the offline work to get people interested, and then maintain, maintain, maintain.

“Most people know what to do or have heard about what to do in order to be successful with marketing strategies, but they only put about 50 percent of their blood and sweat into it,” Caravelis reminds us. “The most important part of marketing is understanding to measure what is effective and why it is effective and then having the tenacity to achieve 150 percent of what you thought was possible.”

The extra effort has paid off for Blezoo. The business has thrived throughout the continuing recession, the same recession advisors and friends urged the company to wait out before opening. Their methods have led them to clients as large and prestigious as Habitat for Humanity Orlando, Full Sail University, AAA, and the Orlando Magic.Marketing Zeus

Question:

Pinterest is now driving web traffic to websites more than any other social media site. Will it end up being a fad or a mainstay tool?
-Dean Caravelis, owner and Chief Marketing Officer of Blezoo

Answer:

Although the Pinterest juggernaut shows signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t call the site a “fad.” The “virtual pinboard” is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. How best to use it, though, (or even whether to use it) depends on the nature of your business and your specific goals.

With more than 10 million active users, Pinterest recently overtook LinkedIn as the third most popular social network in the United States, so in terms of user base, it’s clearly a contender for your social media marketing efforts.

Pinterest is also a top traffic driver for retail sites and drives more blog traffic than Twitter, Google+ or YouTube. If you want eyeballs on your website, this makes this particular social network highly valuable for you.

On the downside, Pinterest links are nofollow, so if you’re interested in “link juice” for SEO, Pinterest won’t help you. That isn’t to say there aren’t ways to glean some SEO benefit from a Pinterest presence, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

Do bear in mind that the site demographics currently skew to a female audience, aged 25 to 54, which should inform your decision to work Pinterest into your company’s marketing mix. If you currently target this audience (or plan to), this social network could be highly effective in helping you to reach your marketing goals.

Currently, the site is invitation-only, which constitutes a minor obstacle to its adoption by new users, but this is easily overcome as nearly everyone knows someone who can invite them. In the event they don’t, people can request an invitation and ordinarily receive one within a day or two. Eventually, Pinterest will come out of beta and be open to everyone, at which point we’ll likely see a surge of new users.

Significantly, once users are on the site, they spend more time there than they do on any other social network, except Facebook. This level of engagement bodes well for marketers using the social network over the long term.

There has been an ongoing conversation about the site’s terms of use and the potential copyright and trademark liability that may arise from pinning other people’s material. It seems unlikely that this would cause users to abandon the site, unless actual lawsuits ensue.
-Kerry Gorgone, Full Sail University Internet Marketing Course Director

Related Stories:

Leveraging Pinterest for Your Business
[Infograph] The Purchasing Power of Women

Posted in: B2B, Branding, E-Commerce, Facebook, Mobile Development, Professional Services, Social Networks, Stories From the Trenches, Twitter

About the Writer:

Michael Wheaton is a fiction writer who also works in more useful trades, such as tutoring, filling in for sick teachers, and penning articles about subjects that really matter to people. Most recently, he was brought on as a copywriter for Laughing Samurai, an innovative creative agency in Orlando, Fla. He grew up in the northwestern garden part of the Garden State. For his BA, he turned to the University of Central Florida. For his MFA, Pacific University. Once, he picked a fight with a tulip just to see what would happen. Thankfully, the flower was a pacifist. Michael Wheaton won the fight.

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