6 LinkedIn Tools for Small Business

Ever since social networks became popular several years ago, small businesses have been told to spend their limited time and money there in order to remain competitive and relevant. Yet, while the number of active social networks have multiplied, the real ROI of spending that time and money maintaining a presence on these platforms remains fuzzy at best.

There is, however, one robust platform that presents a more convincing case for small business involvement: LinkedIn. While LinkedIn may not be perfect, it offers a powerful set of tools to help small businesses network, build their brand, close sales, and even recruit talented professionals. Plus, it claims to have the biggest network of professionals and business owners on the Internet. So, this platform is great if targeting these people or businesses they work for, and it is certainly a place where you should be directing your resources.

That said, here are 6 of the most powerful and useful tools for small businesses that LinkedIn has to offer:

1. Showcase Pages

As the name suggests, Showcase Pages are used to highlight the various products and services your business offers. They are extensions of your many company page on LinkedIn. Why is this so important or unique? When done right, your company page and showcase pages work together to create a dynamic mini website. Instead of listing all of your company’s products and services on one profile page, LinkedIn is the only major social media platform that gives you the ability to richly convey what your company does and offers

2. LinkedIn Pulse

Content marketing certainly isn’t new. But, with LinkedIn’s native publishing platform, Linkedin Pulse,  you can potentially get your content in front of a massive professional audience. Moreover, as your content gets more popular, anyone who looks at your LinkedIn profile will have greater reason to believe that you are an authority on those topics. They don’t need to head offsite to your website or personal blog.

3. LinkedIn Recruiter

If you are looking for top talent in your industry, then LinkedIn Recruiter is definitely a tool to consider. Recruiter allows you to search through a vast pool of candidates by location, industry, profile key words, and more. Plus, you can include people in your search who will entertain job offers even though they aren’t actively searching. Once you have located potential candidates, you can reach out to them via LinkedIn’s InMail messaging feature.

4. Targeted Updates

Like every other social network out there, we are being bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information, and the worst part of it is that , most of this noise is not even relevant to us. With targeted status updates you are able to deliver relevant content to your contacts rather than bombarding your entire network. You can sort your list of contacts and connections into groups of 100 people or more.

5. Paid Advertisements

The last few years has seen a shift to paid advertising among social networks looking to capitalize on the user traffic they are generating. Most of this is due to a number of high-profile public offerings from Facebook, Twitter, and, you guessed it, LinkedIn. What makes LinkedIn’s paid advertisement platform unique, however, is that it supports the world’s largest online community of professionals. If your customer base involves college-educated professionals, or if you are a B2B business, then you almost cannot afford to overlook LinkedIn’s robust paid advertisement feature that allows you to micro-target media-rich ads to groups of people based on job title, industry, age, location, etc.

6. Sponsored Updates

The last important LinkedIn tool to make the list is also part of the advertising features. With sponsored updates, you can easily get your brand in front of current and potential customers in a way that is less distracting and annoying. Another benefit to this method is that you can let your content do the marketing for you without having to set up and tweak a formal advertising campaign that involves banner and text ads.

While the previous 6 tools can be extremely useful for a large population of small businesses, this really doesn’t even scratch the surface. There are countless Linkedin tools and third party apps and services that can enhance the user experience on LinkedIn. It just takes a little research coupled with a bit of experimentation to find the most useful and profitable combination for your business.

5 Social Commerce Trends to Watch Out For in 2016

While social media may currently be driving only a small percentage of online retail sales, all indications suggest that these channels will continue to expand in the future. In fact, social-driven retail sales and referral traffic are rising at a faster pace than all other forms of eCommerce.

According to the Business Insider Internet Retailer’s Social Media 500 report, the top 500 retailers earned a total of $3.3 billion from social commerce in 2014. That represents a 26% increase from 2013. The overall growth rate for eCommerce in the US, however, only rose by about 16%. Moreover, between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, social platforms increased the number of eCommerce referrals by almost 200%.  Analysts are predicting an even greater surge in social commerce in 2016.

As I mentioned in my previous post, a number of major social networks including, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, have all recently introduced “buy” or “shop now” buttons to their platforms. The goal behind this move has been to significantly simplify and streamline the purchasing process from these networks.

Aside from direct commerce, social networks are also being used to engage consumers in the beginning stages of the purchasing process. In this case, strategies are designed to bring highly targeted traffic from social media to retailers’ websites and mobile apps.

In this eCommerce landscape, here are five of the most significant social commerce trends to watch out for in 2016:

1. Increased spending in mobile advertising. Now that the biggest social networks have all jumped into the mobile commerce fray, and the media has been generating plenty of hype around it, we can expect more businesses to pump money and other resources into their social commerce efforts. Jumping in feet first is not necessarily a good thing, though. If you are running a small business with limited marketing dollars, then it definitely pays to research the most effective platforms and strategies before committing to any one promotion.

2. More integration between online and off-line, in-store experience. Perhaps one of the coolest things about social commerce, is that it allows retailers to merge the online and off-line shopping experience. Some examples of this in action include:

  • Offering product-specific, in-store discounts to customers while they are standing in the store and researching these products via their mobile phones.
  • Allowing customers to create a “favorite product” list of items they may want to purchase in the future
  • Offering customers recommendations for products that compliment what they are purchasing

3. Re-aligning the business around omni-channel experiences. This is not just about revamping marketing, but restructuring the business to have the flexibility to respond to changes in consumer behavior and preferences. This means a few things. First, you may have to re-organize your operational teams internally to maximize your business’ ability to recognize and respond to customer buying habits. Then, you should take advantage of the fact that people are often researching products on their mobile devices before they come into a store. This means your mobile and social presence are essentially the digital entrances to your physical store.

4. Greater reliance on local targeting. Social and mobile commerce often revolves around instant, real-time impressions and decisions. You want to make sure your business and its products are properly positioned at the time when your potential customers need them the most. So, locally-based mobile searches for the products you carry, for example, could trigger a targeted ad offering a promotion on those products.

5. Making intimate, data driven decisions. While big data has been a buzz word for some time now, the goal for business owners is to understand in a more “intimate” way what makes their customers tick. How do customers make decisions, where are they going for answers, and what are they feeling as they are doing it? As consumer attention is increasingly drawn to mobile devices and social media platforms, the vast amounts of audience data and information available can be used to give businesses a leg up on their competitors.

In short, social commerce, like mobile commerce, is set for explosive growth over the next few years, and businesses need to make sure that they are ready for it. Their customers already are.

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Why a Social Media Graveyard Can Hurt Your Business

Are you are Instagram? Pinterest? Snapchat? How about Meerket, Periscope, or Blab.im…

It seems that with every new social media platform that comes out, there is the ever increasing expectation that small business owners should maintain a presence there. Sometimes, business owners will have a compelling reason for setting up an account and giving it a go. But even with the best of intentions, chances are that most of a business’ social media profiles will eventually lay dormant, collecting a whole lot of Internet dust.

The reality of running a small business is that your time, energy, and money are limited. Yet, each new social media platform comes with its own learning curve; it’s own draw on resources, and it’s own ability to offer an ROI on those resouces.

Many business owners will try out a new social media platform because everyone else is on there or because they are looking for a magic short-cut to good marketing and customer engagement. But, they then eventually abandon that platform when it doesn’t deliver what they were hoping for. They are hurting their business in a few of ways:

  1. They take a loss on all the resources they put into maintaining a presence on the platform
  2. If potential customers see these abandoned profiles it makes the business look unprofessional.
  3. They continue to miss the whole point of social media marketing

Case in point: there has been a lot of discussion lately about the use of live streaming video apps, such as Merkeet and Periscope. Many successful Merkeet users “defected” to Periscope when it first came out- eventhough the two platforms do essentially the same thing.

What happened? These users understand that their audience of fans and buyers relate to the spontaneity and engagement that live video streaming offers. It almost doesn’t matter which platform this happens on.

This applies to any business with any form of social media. First seek to understand your target market or audience. What is important to them? How do they would want to engage with you? Where are they already hanging out online, what are they doing when they are there, and what does that tell you about them?

Once you know these answers, then it’s just a matter of finding the platforms that allow you to best connect with your audience today. If you go in with this attitude, then even if a new, shiny platform appears, you will know ahead of time whether or not you should be there.

Moreover, when really important platforms make important notices or changes to the way they operate, small business owners will know when and how to respond. For example, a couple of weeks ago Google has issued a notice for small business owners with a Google My Business account. The notice states that business owners who have not logged into their Google My Business accounts in over a year may receive an email asking them to sign in and confirm their business information. If no action is taken then Google could turn a business’s account into an unverified one, and even more dangerous, Google could also remove a business from Google Maps which could seriously affect both a business’ online search traffic and off-line foot traffic.

Bottom line: you don’t want to litter the Internet with a social media graveyard of inactive or outdated accounts. Get to know your audience and spend your time and resources where it matters the most.

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Why Small Businesses Should Pay Attention to Google’s Product Listing Ads

Have you’ve been noticing anything different in the search results lately? If you’re in the U.S. and you’ve been doing any online searches for products, you may have seen some Amazon-like product listings popping up within and along side the search results. Below is an example of what they look like:

cocnut flour

This is Google’s new paid shopping ads program, which poses a direct challenge to other online ecommerce platforms, particularly Amazon.com. The program as a whole has three main components: the Google Merchant Center dashboard, the Product Listing Ads campaign section of Google Adwords, and finally the Google Shopping data feed, which is basically a file provided by an advertiser made up of a list of products and their unique attributes, such as “color” and “condition.” Google’s Product Listing Ads are cost per click (CPC) ads which online merchants can purchase through their AdWords accounts. These ads appear on Google Search pages to the left, and top of the search results page. Product Listing Ads are most distinguishable in that they feature a product image, and they cater to products and product categories instead of keywords.

Though Google has yet to roll out it Product Listing program on a full scale, there are a couple of really compelling reasons why you should be paying attention to it whether you run an ecommerce site or sell numerous physical products from a brick and mortar location:

  • You’ll get more visibility in Google searches than if your product was listed on Amazon. Unless shoppers are searching Amazon directly, they’re pretty likely going to do a search on Google first. And, even though Amazon has highly ranked searches in Google, Google has been pushing down those natural search results in favor of its own product listing ads. As further proof that Google Product Listings are the way to go, other big ecommerce sites, such as eBay, are quickly buying up advertising space.
  • You’ll tap into Google’s repository of search data. Another less talked about, yet potentially powerful part of using Google’s Product Listing program, is that every time a user conducts an online search it gives Google data, and if that user hasn’t turned off personalized search, then Google can retarget the user later on with relevant ads and promotions. For example, say someone does a search for “almond butter.” Even if no purchase was made or it was made through a non-Google vendor, when that person walks by a health foods shop two weeks later, he or she could receive a text message like, “Big sale on Almond Butter up the road!”

In short, Google Product Listing Ads, is definitely something to consider if your business involves the sale of products- whether online or off. For more information on Google’s Paid Shopping Ads program and how you can use it successfully in your business, take a look at this great ebook over at CPC Strategy.

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How to Use the Internet to Promote Your Business Without Getting Distracted

Remember a few years ago when social media marketing was being touted as a cheap promotional strategy that would level the playing field for small business? How times have changed! Today, using the Internet and social media to promote your business has become a necessity that typically turns into a costly draw on your time, energy, and money. Countless businesses are involved in Internet marketing in some way, and the sheer amount of competing noise can be overwhelming.

targetThough there is nothing cheap or easy about online marketing if you want to be effective, you can still get some real results without draining your budget and without compromising too much of your time. The key is going in with the right approach, recognizing what online marketing allows you to do (as well as what it can’t do), and knowing how to keep yourself from getting distracted.

These days, the majority of small businesses that conduct successful online marketing campaigns typically share a few common qualities:

They have a plan with measurable goals. Before you create even one online profile, send out one tweet or status update, or write a blog post, you need to be very clear about what you are trying to accomplish with your online marketing as well as if your goals are realistic. Are you trying to build relationships, sell products, or generate leads? All of the above? Once you’ve answered that question, you then need to create a detailed plan of action that describes how you will use Internet marketing to go about accomplishing those goals.

They are clear about their available resources. As mentioned above, successful online marketing takes a significant amount of resources. So, you need to be very clear at the beginning about what you can afford to dedicate to your online marketing efforts. What is your available time? What is your budget? What skills or qualities do you and your employees have that can be used in your online marketing? Do you have any good writers? Is anyone good at making connections? Creating engaging images? Conducting a webinar or hangout? Take stock of these resources and give some thought about how you can best use them.

They know where their target market hangs out. Stop spending your time on platforms that don’t convert! You need to find out where your target audience hangs out online and determine the best ways to reach them there. What kind of content will attract their attention and get them interested in your business?

They maintain an online marketing schedule. Another great way to help you stay focused on the things that matter is to create and maintain an Internet marketing schedule. This schedule will include any content marketing initiatives as well as social media marketing tasks, such as posting content, commenting, and connecting with other users. Make an effort to keep to the allotted times, and look for ways to automate the activities that don’t necessarily need direct input, such as scheduling status updates.

They keep their online marketing efforts fresh, yet focused. The online world changes very quickly. Techniques that were once working can suddenly stop being effective, while new openings and opportunities are being created. That’s why you need to be making the effort to monitor the effectiveness of each strategy and create some space to try out different techniques and platforms. Your goal with this is to be keeping and tweaking the strategies that are working, while putting a stop to the ones that aren’t. But, keep in mind that these efforts should be in moderation. If you remember the overall online marketing goals that you set for your business mentioned above, then you’ll keep yourself from taking on much more than you can chew and chasing every new and shiny strategy under the sun.

In short, successful online marketing is a process that is unique to your business and your target audience. There is no magic bullet; there’s no one guaranteed successful technique or platform. You need to just roll up your sleeves and figure it out. Don’t let this put you off, though. If you get it right, you can significantly improve your brand awareness, boost your sales, and create loyal customers, and these results will be exponentially greater than the resources you put in.

What Gmail’s New Unsubscribe Feature Means for Your Email Marketing

It seems that Google is extending its well-known crusade against spam to its popular email platform, Gmail. It all started a little under a year ago with Google’s introduction of the tabbed inbox. One of the most notable (and controversial) aspects of the new setup is that it automatically decides what your most important email is and sends it to the “Primary” tab in your inbox, while simultaneously shunting lower-priority messages (ie those from businesses and marketers) into the “Promotions” tab.

gmailAt the time, many email marketers expressed their dismay at the changes, since it seems the new setup lowers email open rates for those who manage a subscriber list.

Now that acceptance has set in, Google is once again shaking the email marketing world with the introduction of a new Gmail unsubscribe tool. Up until this point, Gmail users had to hunt for an unsubscribe link typically found at the bottom of promotional messages. Now, a new button will appear alongside the subject line of these messages. This means that users don’t have to leave Gmail (or even open the message) in order to unsubscribe from the list.

While it’s easy to see how all of these changes can improve the user experience, does it mean the death knell is being sounded for email marketers?

Far from it.

What it means is that any businesses looking to use email marketing to reach their customers must now consider how valuable and desireable their content and messages really are. Because the truth is if your content is interesting to the people you are trying to target, then they will actively wait and look for your emails. But, it means you need to be putting in the necessary time and the effort to connect with these people and understand their wants and needs. In other words, the relationship part of the customer experience is all the more important now- not just in your email marketing, but in all your promotional efforts.

So, in a way, the changes to Gmail represent a great opportunity for email marketers and the businesses behind them, because it practically forces businesses to look at their customers as people and not just email open rates, click throughs, sales conversions, and other such numbers. And, that is a very profitable proposition.

Offering Personalized Content on Your Business Website May be a Trend to Watch Out For

As the web continues to evolve and expand, it’s hard to ignore that users are getting pretty used to the idea that their web experience should be tailored to their unique tastes, interests, and even the devices that they are using. After all, ads and search results are based on search history, responsive website designs serve up the best format based on the device of the visitor, and online consumers are offered personalized buying recommendations based on what they and their connections have purchased before. The next logical step is that a website’s content itself should be tailored to the individual.

laptop-workThe truth is this is far from a new concept.

Sites like Amazon.com nail it when it comes to personalizing the customer experience and providing content and product recommendations to match the person’s history and profile. But, Amazon is well, Amazon. They’ve got more than enough money to spend on developing and implementing such a system. What about the average small business with a website?

Enter: dynamic website personalization. Dynamic website personalization (DWP) is the ability to dynamically change the content, messaging and offers displayed to a select visitor based on a set of criteria, such as website behavior, actions, the stage of the buying process, and the person’s interests.

Now Hubspot, the popular inbound marketing platform, is one of the first services to offer DWP functionality for the small business market. Users are able to create what Hubspot calls, “SMART Content” and “SMART Call-to-Actions,” which would further work to dynamically change the content based on a set of criteria.

We’re probably looking at a few years before this becomes the mainstream user experience across the web. “Static” web pages will become a thing of the past as users get more comfortable with the idea that various parties and entities are watching their online behavior and deciding what content and messages they see. Chances are pretty good that users will even come to expect the personalization and customized recommendations.

Whether this is good or bad, this is where the web is heading, and business owners would do well to pay attention to it as it happens.

How to Run a Successful Adwords Campaign for Your Small Business

Anyone who is experienced with Internet marketing knows that with the right approach running a Google AdWords campaign can be an excellent way to drive traffic to a website. But, many advertisers make the mistake of thinking that Google will do all the work for them; they also underestimate the level of ad blindness that Internet users have these days. You see, Google Adwords is not as effective as it used to be.

logoSo, how can you avoid the common mistakes and maximize your Adwords campaigns? Here are 7 key points to keep in mind:

Choose and manage your keywords wisely. This is where a lot of advertisers get off track, and there are several things to consider. First, make sure your keywords are targeted to users who are in a place to conduct the desired action you are looking for, whether you are looking for people ready to buy a product or service you sell, or they are looking for the information you are offering and will sign up with their email addresses to get it. You should also pay attention to negative keywords. AdWords lets advertisers choose those keywords they do not want their ads showing up for. When choosing the keywords you want make sure you also consider broad match, phrase match, or exact match keywords. For example, if you run a small business selling handmade soaps, you probably aren’t interested in showing up for searched like “laundry bar soap” or any soap-related queries that don’t directly relate to what you sell. Finally, make sure the ad copy ad copy matches the keyword you are targeting. The more the text matches the keyword, the more likely people will click on it.

Write ad text that is compelling. Bland or boring ad copy simply won’t do it these days. But this doesn’t mean it has to be sensational, either. Work on crafting simple, relevant, calls-to-action, that are closely connected to the keywords being targeted as well as the desired action you want users to make.

Measure and track conversions. One of the keys to success in online marketing is staying on top of your campaign’s effectiveness. This includes things like reach, click-throughs, and conversions. You need to be constantly collecting data, analyzing it, and using that information to determine where you are making mistakes as well as what you are doing right so you can direct your resources to the strategies that are paying off.

Think about the landing page. Another big mistake that advertisers make with AdWords is not directing customers to a well-crafted and tested product or category page. Instead, they direct anyone who clicks on a ad to their main homepage. This is especially important if you are directing people to an ecommerce site with many products and categories.

Don’t overlook the power of remarketing. If you are already getting a significant amount of targeted traffic to your site, then remarketing is definitely something you should be looking into. Remarketing lets you tag the users who visit your site and then gives you the ability to show relevant follow-up adds as they visit other sites, the goal being to get those people to re-visit your site.

Pay attention to what the competition is doing. Another mistake a lot of advertisers make is not paying attention to the ads their competitors are using. You need to know who is competing with you, what keywords they are using and how, what the ad copy is like, and how they have set up their landing pages. In order to get some of this information, you should check out a site called iSpionage, which will give a lot of useful information about the way your competitors are carrying out their Adwords campaigns.

Have reasonable expectations. As I mentioned at the start of this post, an Adwords campaign will only be successful with an investment of a significant amount of time, effort, and money. You have to do your research, test things out, and have a big enough ad budget to tweak things until you get it right.

Running a successful Adwords campaign is a process, but if you are willing to dedicate enough effort and resources into this process, chances are pretty good you’ll come out winning.

The Tale of the Cheap iPhone and Why It’s So Important to Stick to Your Brand

Ever since the passing of Steve Jobs, two years ago, all eyes have been on Apple waiting to see how the tech company will do without it’s iconic leader. If Apple’s latest product release is any indication, then things don’t bode so well, and it may stand as a shining example of why it is so important to stick consistently to your brand.

iphoneFirst there is the release of the iPhone 5C, or the “cheap” iPhone as some are calling it. (Though, even at $100, it’s still pretty expensive.) The new plasticy-covered phones come in a range of bright (borderline-tacky) colors- which by itself is already a departure from the norm. Apple products are known for their sleek colors and look. It adds to the “cool factor” that have made their products so popular in the first place.

But there’s more… the very idea of a cheap iPhone just sounds off, as much as a cheap Armani watch. The problem is that by offering such a product in the first place, by even allowing the word iPhone to be in the same sentence as Walmart, Radio Shack and just $45, it shows that Apple leadership is willing to move far from their brand in order to satisfy the whims of key analysts and investors.

I don’t know if Apple has been able to achieve its goals of penetrating the lower end of the mobile market. But, according to some recent reports, there’s pretty good indication that demand for the devices may be weaker than expected. Not a good sign.

Then there’s the gold iPhone and iPad. While I can at least hear the argument that this product may uphold the theme of exclusivity and trend-setting that fans of Apple have grown accustomed to, by choosing to deck out their device in gold, they’ve left the realm of hip and are walking dangerously close to flashy and cheesy. That’s my opinion, anyway.

At any rate, this recent product release just doesn’t look like Apple, and that’s a problem. It seems as though Apple’s lost it’s mojo. If the company continues to step away from the carefully crafted identity that has been built over the past decade, if it divests itself of its brand, then it won’t be long before it will start to fade away into tech oblivion.

As a small business owner, don’t ever forget that your brand has a very real value. It’s an asset, even if it may be hard to put a number on it. When you work long and hard to build a certain image, don’t just go and change it, unless you’ve got some really compelling reasons for doing so. The more you stay true to your key competencies instead of trying to be something you’re not, the more you will invest in your business some real staying power, and that’s no tall tale.

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Words That Sell…The Weasel Hears the Hawk

What we say is often less important than the words we use to express what we want to communicate. Saying the wrong thing is easy – we’ve all been there – but how do we say the right thing? Are there words with universal appeal that will help you grow your business? Yes! These are affectionately referred to as weasel words.

 

According to Psychology Today, “Words cannot change reality, but they can change how people perceive reality”. Every astute business owner knows that perception is everything and can make or break a sale. Weasel words are designed to give the appearance of truth without boasting or claiming something you might later cause a lawsuit. They are common in advertising and marketing, where the goal is to attract people (without asking them to think too deeply). A great example is, “leaves dishes virtually spotless.” They don’t promise it will leave your dishes spotless but you are left with the perception that they will be. So what are the words that will convince a customer to put down their hard-earned cash for our service or product?

 

The number one word of all = YOU

Yes, it really is all about you (meaning them – your customers). By personalizing your content with the word, you are creating a relationship with your customer. There is then a certain aura of trust a client gives when they believe that you have their individual interest at heart.

 

Get Excited

You’re introducing/announcing your breakthrough/surprising product and the client is welcome to take advantage of this unique opportunity. It’s recommended by experts and astounding! Not only that, but for a limited time your customer can get this special offer exclusively from your business.

 

Timing is Everything

Discover an amazing opportunity for a new product or service now. Ordering is fast and easy. It’s urgent your clients take advantage and act now before this opportunity passes by.

 

Reassure & Care

You can use these easy words, that are proven and guaranteed to give your clients the reassurance they need. It’s simple. Show them you care about their family, children and health. Studies show/indicate/reveal…

 

It’s All About Saving

Make sure your customers know they will save with the reduced prices, bonus and discounts you offer. You want to help them save their money and offer free samples and gifts for repeat customers. Up to 50%…more than 50%…

 

Now that you’re armed with a basic weasel word vocabulary, act now! As much as we may laugh and mock the ads we see everyday, they do have an influence on us whether we realize it or not. This is especially true as we are exposed to the material more than once. If everywhere you go you see and hear how important it is to have fresh breath it’s only natural to ask yourself if you do. Even if you don’t, chewing gum is recommended by dentists after meals for oral health and to help fight cavities. AND the new breath freshening flavor is sugar free, so why now grab that pack while you’re in line now?

 

By the way, if you have been wondering why they are called weasel words we won’t leave you guessing. Weasels have a rep for being sneaky, clever little creatures. That’s because they eat bird eggs by making a small hole and sucking out the contents, leaving the egg appearing intact. They also excel at getting in and out of a tight spot. All of that is all fine and well until they are spotted by a hawk. If you want your marketing campaigns to succeed, be a weasel.