Why Next-Gen Displays Might Be Your Next Point-of-Sale Marketing Tool

Samsung Transparent Window Display

Next-generation screen technologies such as transparent displays, or those that render 3-D images without glasses, are becoming practical tools for small businesses. While they haven’t caught on with consumers just yet, they can be used by businesses as interactive digital signage, an eye-catching presentation tool at a sales kiosk or simply as something compelling for your customers to watch while they’re waiting in line.

To be sure, cutting-edge displays tend to be pricey — as much as $10,000 or more for higher-end models. Sticker shock aside, considering that $400 can buy a high-quality traditional LCD TV, prices on these devices should drop quickly.

Here are three emerging display technologies to keep an eye on for your business:

Transparent Displays
Displays such as Samsung’s just-announced, 46-inch LCD translucent panel display can display text, images or other content on an otherwise transparent glass pane, giving it a more organic look. The price has not yet been announced.

These transparent displays can be used as part of a storefront window or retail product showcases. And they can be programmed to show just about anything: advertising, prices, menus, kiosk presentations, store announcements and more.

Glasses-Free 3-D Displays
Get 3-D without the glasses with Sony’s latest. The Japanese company unveiled a number of these displays this year at the Consumer Electronics Show. Philadelphia-based Stream TV Networks also showed off some of its glasses-free 3-D displays at CES. Prices have not been announced yet.

Glasses-free 3-D displays can be effective as point-of-sale tools on a floor or waiting area, providing customers with engaging interactive media in a checkout line, when waiting for orders or filling out forms.

Keep in mind that there are still limits to this technology. Viewers must stand in a specific spot relative to the display and can’t move around much to get the 3-D effect. Small businesses should plan on working with an experienced professional display integrator to manage the deployment of these displays.

Customizable Tickers
Not all next-generation displays are high-tech or cost thousands of dollars. A basic content-streaming device can help liven up retail space, draw in customers and offer basic information including promotions or Twitter handles.

Feedair, which is due to be released in March and cost about $50 for one-time fee, is a basic text-streaming screen that looks like a pocket-sized stock market ticker. It can attach to a cash register, cubicle or waiting room to wirelessly deliver reminders, messages, tweets or other text to customers.


10 Powerful Management Insights from Apple, P&G, Yum Brands and Gilt Groupe

Tips to Keep Your Online Social Network Safe

My book pile has begun to bulge with new “how we did it” books by managers from established, brand-name corporations — and one newer disruptive startup, the luxury-fashion, flash-sale ecommerce hit Gilt Groupe. So often these tomes are overflowing with self-aggrandizing blather, but, to my surprise, this crop has some useful tips on how to start and grow a successful business.

Here’s a rundown on the management traits these solid-gold brands used to get their startups off the ground, and to keep driving their companies forward.

From When Core Values Are Strategic: How the Business Values of Procter & Gamble Transformed Leadership at Fortune 500 Companies, by Rick Tocquigny, who chairs the P&G Alumni Network, a high-powered former P&G execs who went on to lead other top companies:

  • Instead of hiring people with fancy resumes, hire people who fit your culture and are teachable.
  • Build a strong brand and don’t change it.
  • Focus all your products on the consumer by studying and listening to customers and innovating accordingly.

From Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired — And Secretive — Company Really Works by longtime Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky:

  • Appoint a DRI, or Directly Responsible Individual, for every task.
  • Create a confrontational workplace culture where workers feel free to challenge others’ opinions.
  • Have a system of secrecy that builds excitement and a sense of ownership — from launching projects in an outbuilding that flies a pirate flag to erecting walls around off-limits “lockdown rooms.”

From Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make BIG Things Happen by David Novak, chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut:

  • Create a recognition culture. Novak was once horrified to find a 30-year company executive who only heard how great people thought his contributions were a few weeks before his retirement. Now, Yum! managers all over the world give out unique recognition awards, from miniature Taj Mahal statues to rubber chickens.
  • To lead people and achieve big goals, ask three questions: What’s the single biggest thing you can imagine that will grow your business or change your life? Who do you need to affect, influence or take with you to be successful? What prescriptions, habits or beliefs of this target audience do you need to build, change or reinforce to reach your goal?

From By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed How Millions of People Shop by two of the co-founders, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson:

  • When you build strong relationships with your management team before you launch, it makes it easier to execute on your vision.
  • Execution is more important than the idea.


Twitter Makes Room for Your Ad Dollars

Twitter Makes Room for Your Ad Dollars

It used to be that advertising on Twitter was limited to large companies and brands that could afford it and with whom the microblogging platform chose to work. But come late March, any business or brand — regardless of its size — can promote their product or service on Twitter by using a new self-service tool similar to the ones offered by Facebook and Google AdWords.

To kick things off, Twitter announced a partnership with American Express late last week to give the first 10,000 eligible Amex merchants and cardholders who sign up online initial access to the advertising program. Amex reports that the program is still open to interested businesses. All other businesses are expected to be able to advertise on Twitter by late spring or early summer.

Before you sign up, however, it might help to know how your message might get across on Twitter. Advertising on the mircoblog falls into one of three distinct offerings:

  1. Promoted Tweets — messages that businesses have paid to promote at the top of search results on Twitter.
  2. Promoted Trends — paid placement of a topic in Twitter’s Trending Topics list.
  3. Promoted Accounts — paid placement of an advertiser’s Twitter handle in users’ “Who to Follow” widget and page.

So, is Twitter a good place to spend your advertising dollars? Investors and businesses seem to think so. With an investment of about $1 billion, Twitter generated about $150 million in revenues last year and could amass $260 million this year — with 90 percent of those totals coming from advertising.

One reason why Twitter has been so successful in attracting ad dollars may be due to the “broadcast” nature of the platform. Unlike Facebook, where users have a reasonable expectation that dialogue will occur between one another, Twitter users are accustomed to one-way communication. In fact, less than 10 percent of Twitter’s registered users create about 75 percent of its content. In essence, Twitter is the world’s largest opt-in, permission-based messaging platform, and, if I tweet about my cat being sick, I’m likely to appreciate a local veterinarian’s Promoted Tweet or Account, which may miraculously show up a few minutes later.

Still, small businesses and brands should proceed with caution. Approximately 20 percent of the site’s registered accounts aren’t even active, so visions of tens of millions of tweeters seeing your ad may likely turn out to be a mirage. Also, Twitter users might react negatively to an onslaught of ads.

Unlike Facebook, which has featured display advertising since 2007 — and has attracted 500 million new users since that time — Twitter has remained relatively free of such distractions. Promoted Tweets, Trends and Accounts show up on occasion, but nothing like what might occur when every corner business or merchant is invited to advertise on the platform. Generally speaking, while there’s nothing necessarily new about annoying ads, Twitter users aren’t one bit shy about broadcasting their feelings — often with a vengeance.

The best way to proceed may be to carefully test Twitter’s new self-service advertising platform when it becomes available in a few months. Run a few ads ad up the tweetpole and see if anyone salutes.


Why Watching the Super Bowl May Inspire You to Start a Business

Why Watching the Super Bowl May Inspire You to Start a Business

As you huddle around your TV this Sunday watching the Super Bowl — and some really choice commercials — you may also be thinking about starting a business. At least that’s what the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation hopes.

For the first time, the Kansas City, Mo.-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship is airing a commercial during the Super Bowl. The goal of the 30-second spot is inspire those thinking about entrepreneurship to take action.

“It is more important than ever to bring more people into the fold — to get more people to try and start businesses,” says Wendy Guillies, Kauffman’s vice president of communications. The reason is simple, she says, hinting at the popular factoid: All the net new jobs created in the U.S. in the last 30 years were generated by companies that were less than five years old.


The ad will direct business owners and would-be entrepreneurs to a newly launched microsite called WillItBeYou.com. That site will then point people to start-up resources, which are organized under categories like “inspiration,” “mentoring” and “networking.” Those resources are all housed on about 17 other sites like the Angel Resource Institute and the Startup America Partnership.

“It’s our way of trying to make learning about starting up easy and a one-stop-shop that people can find what they need,” says Guillies.

It may come as a surprise that a nonprofit would choose to broadcast its services during the most expensive ad event of the year. Comcast’s NBC Universal — the network that’s broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl — reportedly collected as much as $4 million, or $3.5 million on average, per 30-second ad spot, which have already sold out. But Guillies says Kauffman’s spot cost less than 10 percent of the going rate, and is running in only four markets: New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Kansas City.

Kauffman also saved money on the production of the ad, which is an animated illustration that depicts a person having a light-bulb moment and then going through the steps of starting up. The nonprofit developed the spot in-house rather than asking a high-priced agency to produce it.

But advertising during the Super Bowl isn’t about saving money, it’s about eyeballs. If this year’s sporting extravaganza is anything like last year’s, more than 100 million people will tune in — and you’d better believe they’ll be watching the commercials.

Do you think Kauffman’s Super Bowl commercial will inspire would-be entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments section.


How One Entrepreneur Used the Law of Publicity to Get Investors

Chef Big Shake - Shawn Davis

Sometimes, a business owner gets a great opportunity. There’s a lot of excitement, but then, it doesn’t pan out. The difference between successful companies and flops is in what happens next.

That’s what Nashville chef Shawn Davis learned recently. He was lucky enough to score a slot on the ABC reality-TV show Shark Tank last May. He asked the show’s hard-nosed investors for a $200,000 investment in exchange for a 40 percent stake in his company, CBS Foods.

He was hoping to use the money to market a shrimp burger he had created. The burger was a local hit, but sales to that point were just $30,000. Davis, or “Chef Big Shake,” needed money to market the burger more widely.

The Sharks weren’t biting. Davis walked away empty-handed.

On tomorrow night’s Shark Tank episode, the show updates viewers on what’s happened since Davis got stiffed on the show. I had a chance to talk to Davis about how his quest to find investors turned out.

Davis says he knew the real opportunity wasn’t necessarily in getting money from the Sharks, but in just appearing on the show. He understood the law of publicity: All publicity is good publicity.

His wife and daughter were crushed when he didn’t get funding from the Sharks, but Davis kept a positive attitude. Even though the Sharks were thumbs-down on his four-year-old business, appearing on the show was like “a three-minute commercial for me,” Davis says. “You can’t pay for that type of exposure.”

Sure enough, other investors thought the Sharks had missed an opportunity. They may have a lot of swagger and high profiles, but apparently viewers don’t necessarily think the Sharks are oracles of all knowledge.

Davis says he got more than a dozen phone calls after the show from other interested parties. The best part: He ended up hammering out a deal for more money and giving up less equity from the investor he chose off-screen. Company valuations are apparently better when you’re not on camera.

“I went with [an investor] who understood our vision of where we want to be five or ten years down the line,” he says.

Now, Davis is marketing his shrimp burger up and down the east coast — landing his frozen patties in major grocery chains along the way. In 2012, Chef Big Shake is projecting $6 million in sales.


10 Reasons Your Small Business Shouldn’t Start a Blog

10 Reasons Your Small Business Shouldnt Start a Blog

If it wasn’t before, blogging is certainly the “it” marketing vehicle of the moment.

A study of more than 3,000 marketers done by Social Media Examiner last year showed 68 percent of small businesses use blog posts already as part of their social-media strategy. After all, if you’re going to be tweeting and updating your status on LinkedIn and all, it’s helpful if you can link back to some tasty piece of content on your site. Blogging makes that easy to do.

But that doesn’t mean blogging is right for your small business, as the blog Reputation Capital pointed out earlier this week. Here are a few reasons you might want to hold off on blogging at your business:

  1. No one has time. Be honest with yourself about whether you could spare at least two or three hours a week to write. If no one at the business can do it, consider hiring a professional writer — the study found 10 percent of small business owners hired this task out. Without somebody committed to posting, you’ll end up with a dusty blog that hasn’t been updated in six months, which makes a worse impression than if you never blogged at all.
  2. You don’t know what to say. Develop a calendar of at least four post ideas each month, month after month — and they shouldn’t be product releases.
  3. You don’t have a realistic goal. What are you hoping the blog will do? You likely won’t boost sales, as less than half of business bloggers said their blog achieved that goal. By contrast, 88 percent said it generated great exposure for their brand.
  4. You’re not careful. Nothing erodes a company’s credibility faster than a sloppy, typo-filled blog post.
  5. You haven’t established your tone. Successful blogging businesses have an online writing style that’s consistent and makes visitors feel comfortable. Another benefit: if you can establish a company-wide writing style, more than one person can post.
  6. You don’t use social media. Many people think you write a blog post and — presto — thousands of people will stampede to your site. But blogging doesn’t work like that. After you write it, someone has to promote that post online. This is where social-media skills come in.
  7. You think it’s about you. Blogs are a powerful tool for getting to know your customers and building relationships with them.
  8. You don’t trust your bloggers. If you’re delegating blogging, you need to give that person the authority to represent your brand online. Otherwise, it’ll be rounds of editing by committee, resulting in junk posts.
  9. You want to close the comments. Many businesses are afraid of what their customers might say on their blog. But blogs are all about engagement, so you need to be willing to take reader feedback.
  10. You’re not willing to invest in design. Your company blog needs to look clean and inviting, so that readers want to stick around and it’s clear what you want them to do next (usually, subscribe).


Three Social-Media-Fueled Contests for Small Businesses

3 Social-Media Fueled Contests that Offer Small Businesses a Boost

These days, it’s easier to win the lottery than to score venture capital financing. So it’s nice to see a few major corporations stepping up with contests for small businesses. Contests are emerging as a popular, fairly low-cost way for big companies to get people to connect with their brand in social media — and entrepreneurs come out the winners.

Three contests with substantial prizes are running right now. The main thing to know: Those with video storytelling skills have a definite leg-up here.

Here’s a look at the competitions:

Wal-Mart’s “Get on the Shelf.” I know so many small manufacturers and solopreneur inventors who dream of getting their product into Wal-Mart. Well, here’s your chance. The winner of this contest will be featured on Walmart.com and in Wal-Mart stores, as well as receive marketing help and assistance in scaling up production to meet the retail behemoth’s needs.

Related: 10 Lessons in Marketing Brilliance

You enter by submitting a video about your business — looks like they’d prefer them served up via YouTube. Submission cutoff is Feb. 22, and voting begins March 7. Two rounds of voting conclude April 24.

Staples’ “Give Your Small Business the Push it Needs.” In this contest, the office-supply giant is offering the winning five businesses up to $50,000 in free television advertising in the form of inclusion in a Staples ad or $40,000 in free advertising and $10,000 in cash each. Winners also get $500 in Staples merchandise and services. To enter, you submit a 15-second video about your business on Staples’ Facebook page.

Looks like winners will be the businesses that get the most votes for their video. (Note that you’ll need to “like” Staples on Facebook to learn the contest rules. The press release doesn’t spell them out.) The submission cutoff is March 14.

Facebook Small Business Boost. Speaking of Facebook… The social-media network has its own contest going on. It is offering $100,000 in prizes — or, more specifically, up to $10,000 in free advertising to the 10 U.S.-based businesses that can drive the most “likes” to their business Facebook page by April 1.

Related: Is Facebook Advertising for You?

There are also smaller prizes. For instance, if you can attract 50 likes to your page before the deadline, you’ll get $50 in free Facebook advertising. One hundred likes gets you a $100 ad credit.


McDonald’s Social-Media Lesson: Critics Tweet Back

Critics Tweet Back

McDonald’s is tapping social media to help introduce the human faces behind its vendors, notably farmers who supply the beef, lettuce and potatoes for those Big Macs and fries.

But social media being a two-way street, consumers have been talking back loudly — and in some cases obscenely — via the Twitterverse.

As part of its “Supplier Stories” campaign this month, the fast-food icon promoted the #meetthefarmers hashtag on Twitter, linking to YouTube videos that feature folks like cattle rancher Steve Foglesong of Black Gold Cattle Co. in Astoria, Ill.

In “Raising Cattle and a Family,” a guitar plays softly as picturesque images of Foglesong are shown, such as the rancher on horseback, in cowboy hat, rounding up cows and later enjoying a McDonald’s takeout lunch on the tailgate of a truck.

Similar videos feature fourth-generation farmer Dirk Giannini, who grows lettuce in California’s Salinas Valley, and potato supplier Frank Martinez, owner of Saddle View Farms in Washington, who grew up the child of migrant farm workers. “If you make something with pride, people will taste it,” he says.

Folks minced no words in response to the campaign.

“I AM SO ANGRY. Here’s another [expletive] YOU to Mcdonalds for #greenwashing with the #MeetTheFarmers tag. Arg!” tweeted @eatLocalGrown, a website that promotes locally grown food.

“CHUTZPAH ALERT: McDonald’s farmwashing campaign. Their food is hyper-processed and full of chemicals,” said a tweet from Nancy Huehnergarth (@nyshepa), executive director of New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance.

“I’m a farmer, but don’t and won’t grow anything for @McDonald’s,” Greg Massa, an organic farmer in Hamilton City, Calif., tweeted under the handle @massaorganics.

Despite the testy tweets, McDonald’s says the campaign has yielded mostly positive feedback. Although the franchise acknowledges some missteps.

For instance, the chain last week also promoted a #McDStories tag but withdrew it after a firestorm of ticked-off, embarrassing tweets, such as this one from Skip Sullivan, a contestant from NBC’s “Love in the Wild” dating show: “One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up.”

In a statement, Rick Wion, McDonald’s USA social media director, said: “While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories and it was promoted for less than two hours.”

Wion added that the franchise always includes contingency plans in it social-media campaigns.

“The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger,” he said. “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.”


How ‘Small Business’ and ‘Entrepreneur’ Fare in State of the Union Addresses

“Small business” and “entrepreneur” weren’t the most popular terms in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been a priority during his three — going on four — years in the White House.

Though largely ceremonial, State of the Union addresses are meant to serve as a guidepost of the administration’s agenda during the year ahead — or the next four years, depending on when the address is delivered. So if certain issues get highlighted, there’s a good chance that the President will push Congress to act on them.

In his third State of the Union address last night, Obama called on Congress to offer legislation on everything from immigration and tax reform to rooting out financial fraud and continuing tuition-assistance programs. Specifically, for small business, he requested new legislation that would extend for a full year the payroll-tax holiday that gives consumers a tax break of $40 per paycheck on average. He also called for a reduction of regulations that prevent would-be entrepreneurs from landing the financing they need to startup and grow, as well as tax relief for businesses that raise wages and create jobs.

And though Obama didn’t mention the terms “small business” and “entrepreneur” as much as in the past, relative to other modern-era presidents he may well be remembered as one of small business’s biggest cheerleaders.

In his three State of the Union addresses to date, President Obama has mentioned the terms “small business” and “entrepreneur” a total of 22 and six times, respectively. That’s the same number of mentions that both his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton offered combined — and they had 14 addresses between the two of them.

State of the Union

Here, we look at how other more popular terms have performed in State of the Union addresses from 1934 to present. While “government” and “taxes” are among the more popular words used, “god” also ranks up there — higher than “small business” and “entrepreneur” combined.

Perhaps more striking is that the word “entrepreneur” didn’t even get a nod in a president’s State of the Union address until 1984, after Ronald Reagan had been in office for three years. And since then, America’s fast-growth companies have only been mentioned in those addresses just 13 times.

The shift may have to do with recent focus on entrepreneurs as job creators, says Barbara Perry, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Entrepreneurship is new terminology; it’s a 21st century concept,” she says. “Entrepreneurship goes beyond the person with the small shop on the corner… It’s the dot com boom and bust. It’s Facebook and pharmaceutical companies. It’s a classier term for capitalist.”

Gerhard Peters, co-director of the American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara adds that the idea of entrepreneurship is as old as the Republic. “The notion of entrepreneurship is engrained in our collective psyche,” he says. “The notion of risk taking is broader. These aren’t rich people, they are risk takers… We all like to think we all have an opportunity to take risks to borrow money and build something ourselves to become successful.”

But perhaps these terms would be popular no matter who was in the White House. With an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent and millions of Americans underemployed, that’s certainly a message any president might be looking to encourage.


Online Sellers Brace for a New Tax Filing Requirement

Online Sellers Brace for a New Tax Filing Requirement

Have you had a nice side income selling stuff on eBay or through PayPal? Sales you maybe conveniently forgot to declare at tax time?

Well, that party is officially over.

Thanks to our revenue-hungry, debt-strapped government, the IRS is now keeping tabs on what you’ve been selling on eBay, Amazon or your own company’s website. If you’ve used PayPal or other popular payment-collection tools to sell products or services, you may see a crisp new 1099-K form from your payment provider. This change is a biggie.

Over the years, an industry sprang up around small, online sellers and resellers who neglected to include their Etsy or eBay income at tax time. It was like running a lemonade stand, or the equivalent of a cash business.

That’s no longer the case. If you conducted 200 transactions totaling $20,000 or more, you’ll be getting a tax form from your payment provider declaring the amount of that income. If you’re thinking about losing that form, don’t — the IRS gets a copy, too.

I personally cannot wait to find out the total figure in previously hidden income this 1099-K form will reveal. I think it will be huge.

We may see some changes in the marketplace, too. Smaller sellers may keep a sharp eye on that $20,000 figure and just shut their stores down for the year if they get close to that threshold.

Other, more serious sellers may even lift their prices to cover the tax bite. Otherwise, they’re looking at a pretty radical change to their profit margins, especially for sellers of physical goods.

Still more sellers will ramp up their business to try to reel in added sales. If more than 30 percent of an entrepreneur’s gross income just vaporized thanks to the 1099-K form, they may be looking to drive more sales volume to keep their income stable.

If you have questions about your obligations with the new 1099-K form, the IRS’s website is a treasure trove of information, so start there. If you have more questions, ask a tax pro.