blogging

helping small businesses with digital marketing

What Small Business Can Learn from Big Brands in Digital Marketing

1920 600 Shout Out Studio

Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Grant Smith & Kristian Jennes

With the release of new technologies such as augmented reality over the years (or months) and the proven business usability of social networking platforms, the landscape of marketing strategies has evolved from cold selling to the use of digital channels. This new method provides a new experience for the customer, while contributing meaningful insights for organizations to utilize. A study done by Adobe interviewed a large group of marketing professionals from all facets to gain an understanding on best practices. One finding: Sixty-six percent of all marketers think companies won’t succeed unless they have a digital marketing approach. While larger organizations have multi million dollar budgets to invest in a digital strategy, small businesses feel left behind. There are many lessons that small businesses can learn from larger brands that can be implemented on a smaller scale to generate compelling content for consumers.

Although virtual reality is the more mainstream of the two, augmented reality has been embraced by the masses this past year with Pokémon Go, a mobile application which let’s users see characters in their own reality through their phone. This comeback of the 1990’s cartoon game shows businesses consumers are ready for the AR experience. In fact, over the past year, make up, furniture, and drug store organizations have heavily invested in AR to provide their customers with a new channel to view products. Walgreens has a mobile app called ‘Aisle411’ which immerses customers in new promotions and usually unseen products/deals while walking around the store. IKEA introduced an application that allows buyers to see what a certain piece of furniture would look like in their home. Sephora (cosmetics) now allows customers to see how a certain style of make-up would look on their faces simply by using their front facing camera. Within 8 weeks of the launch, Sephora’s application was bought over 1.6 million times.

Of course, larger brands like Walgreens have the resources to fund augmented reality style marketing strategies. But what about the small town brick and mortar shops- how can AR be utilized without breaking the bank? What they can learn from this craze is this: consumers are ready for a shopping experience that incorporates exploration through different channels other than walk in’s. Simple changes to websites such as including products that are not on the shelves or at a particular location can spark more time on your website and increased awareness of your brand. Augmented reality use by larger brands will also bring a vast amount of insights of consumer trends. Although actual augmented reality applications for organizations require heavy investments, the results and teachings that can be captured online are always free for small businesses to utilize.

Implementing a strong digital marketing strategy is crucial to any successful business, but in today’s cluttered online marketplace, providing consumers with an unforgettable experience can vault a company to the top of its industry. WestJet took the experience a step further, by blending a digital sharing element that guaranteed a large scope and huge awareness for years to come. By posting a video of employees granting passenger wishes, WestJet created a viral sensation that has racked up 41+ million views to date. The combination of an experience shared on a digital platform maximized reach while resonating emotionally with viewers, showing the value of taking a mixed approach to marketing.

Small businesses have not missed this trend and have already begun to take advantage of experiential marketing. One of the biggest ways that small businesses are capitalizing on this trend is by partnering with other small, local companies to provide consumers with a joint event that promotes both businesses and gives consumers a destination that will help the brand resonate with them. A common pairing is often micro breweries with local restaurants, both huge startup trends in large cities that a young demographic will flock to for live music, drink specials, or other events. Companies are utilizing their social media platforms as well as websites to help promote these experiences and gain brand awareness in the community.

One of the biggest hurdles faced in digital marketing is finding a way to resonate with consumers, while reaching the widest range of consumers as possible. When used effectively, contests can be a great way to address this challenge. Dove held an extremely successful contest that instructed users to post a picture of their friend with why their friend “represents real beauty” by filling in two reasons why they find them beautiful alongside their name.  This user generated content not only built the brand’s goodwill, but was free marketing material posted on millions of Facebook walls for viewers to see.

While larger brands often use Facebook as the host for their contests, small business often don’t have the name recognition or following to get these types of promotions to go viral. However, one good way for small business to take advantage of this tactic is to sponsor contests for local sports teams or at large local events. This demonstrates community involvement, spreads brand awareness, and allows consumers to connect on a more personal level. While this takes a much more experiential approach, it can be promoted and marketed using social media and web platforms, blending the two marketing plans into one actionable strategy.
Adobe’s research on digital marketing presented another eye opening result: ‘less than half (48%) of professionals who consider themselves primarily digital marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing.’ Although the digital strategy has shown success, it is a task that consists of significant resources, time, and constant change. Small businesses cannot be intimidated by this fact, with a clear direction for obtainable goals,consistent strategy, and the desire to constantly learn about consumers trends, one can implement a meaningful marketing campaign that models those of big businesses. While a new technology such as augmented reality can add value to an organization, it is unrealistic for smaller firms to have the ability to research and develop something this expensive and time consuming. Instead, small businesses can position themselves to learn. By gaining insight, one can change the layout of their store, add trending products to their shelves, and provide features on the their website catered to consumer needs while being cost effective. One of the most important aspects of digital marketing is sending a consistent message to consumers, regardless of how they are viewing content.  This means that a small company needs to ensure that mobile applications, web pages, and social media accounts are offering the same features, same information, and same usability. To grow a small organization into one with resources to fund large scale digital marketing strategies, owners/managers must stay up to date on trends and take advantage of the strong customer relationships that a small organization can establish. By truly understanding the target market one can decide which digital strategy to model.

Beyond the Blog: Benefits of a White Paper

1920 700 Gretchen Ardizzone

There’s no denying the power of a blog, in fact it’s one of our most valuable communication tools and one that we recommend for our clients for a multitude of reasons. But the reality is that just about everyone has a blog these days, and the criteria for content creation and who’s creating is sometimes loose. Beyond the blog though there are other content formats that can provide additional value and have higher levels of expectation like the white paper.

A white paper is intended to be an authoritative, in-depth piece that educates the reader on your unique point of view. Some might tell you it’s an old-school technique that has lost its luster. Don’t be quick to judge. If crafted properly the return on investment can be valuable in terms of generating new leads, creating brand awareness, and establishing an expert reputation.

Where Do You Start?

Start by creating a creative brief. This will help outline all the necessary details you need to establish from the beginning, as well as provide a great resource to share with internal stakeholders to get everyone on the same page, and make sure it fits within the company’s overall positioning. Here’s a quick look at what the creative brief should include:

  • Describe the initiative
  • Outline what is the focus or big idea of the piece
  • Highlight what are the supporting themes
  • Identify the primary audience
  • Establish what is the benefit for the reader
  • Identify what you want to gain
  • Determine what action you want the reader to take
  • And lastly establish a timeline

Content Quick Tips

Capture attention. Much like a blog post you’ve got to create a captivating title that’ll attract readers. Make it powerful and intrigue them to give a little whether it’s their contact information or just the time it takes them to read. Consider an active verb suggesting the need to take action.

Tell them something they don’t already know. Share some secret sauce or exclusive insight that they might not have otherwise known unless they read your white paper. Make it thought provoking.

Build credibility. Consider co-writing with other industry experts or simply including a relevant quote from an influential individual that supports your content.

Do your research. White papers shouldn’t just be an opinion piece. Do your homework to compile supporting information and stats or interview subject matter experts.

Make it visual. Yes, the primary focus here is the content, but a bunch of words on a blank white page is going to be a total snooze to the reader. Use compelling photography and embrace colors and fonts as a way to highlight or call out key points within the piece.

Don’t focus on length. White papers vary in length from several to double-digit page numbers. What’s important to remember in the ideal length of the piece is that it should be long enough to convey your point effectively—period. Don’t make it too short that the reader feels disappointed that they didn’t get much out of it, but don’t add fluff to reach an arbitrary page length.

To gate or not to gate, that is the question. There are benefits on both ends of the spectrum. By gating the white paper you gain valuable contact information and can help you build email lists and provide an opportunity for follow up. On the flip side there’s also hesitancy amongst most individuals to want to provide that information. Consider not gating the information with the belief that the content will be powerful enough to ignite the reader to need to contact you. You can also try gating the white paper for a period of time, and then opening up after it’s been out in the public for a bit.

Plan for Promotion

There’s no sense in creating a great piece of content if you only intend to put it up on the website in hopes that someone will come find it. That’s like publishing a book and putting it in the library with the hope that it gets discovered one day. Establish a promotion plan the beginning.

  • Consider creating a few blog posts on the subject in advance to further position credibility around the point of view.
  • Develop a tiered approach to distribution. Establish a segment of customers that you can provide exclusive access to before you officially make public to everyone else.
  • After that, utilize social media channels for additional distribution, and consider both organic and paid promotion.
  • Add calls-to-action in other logical places of the website where visitors might see it, or add a link in the bottom of your email to help spread the word in day-to-day communications.
  • Share with online resources and publications that might be interested to feature the piece.

While it may take days or weeks to produce a long-form piece of content like a white paper the benefits can outweigh only focusing on short-form content pieces like a blog post as a part of your overall content marketing strategy.

Photo Credit: Dan Taylr

5 Simple Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Blogging

1920 700 Gretchen Ardizzone

Blogs are the most valuable type of content, according to more than one-third of today’s marketers (Source: ContentPlus). I could go on and on about the benefits of blogging from establishing authority to building trust to educating your audience, but the key though is effectively blogging. And let’s be honest though, while it may be the most valuable type of content, we know it takes a good amount of work to do it well. Here are 5 simple tips to get the most out of your blogging efforts.

Write for Your Audience Not For You

Creating great content always starts with focus, and that comes from understanding the audience you’re writing to attract. It’s easy to get excited about a topic and see something new and be tempted to write a post about it. I’ll be honest I’ve done it on occasion too. But the content that will provide the greatest value is a piece that is written for the intended reader and not you. Remember, you are not the target.

Having a content strategy in place will help you benchmark the audience you’re writing for and be a guide. For example, this post is geared to helping businesses improve their blog writing skills with a few simple tips and tools.

It’s never too late to implement a content strategy supported by an editorial calendar. Having an editorial calendar will keep you organized of course, but also help to monitor your keyword use and topic balance to ensure that you’re reaching your defined target with a variety of post topics. There’s a ton of free tools out there for editorial calendars from HubSpot and Content Marketing Institute, it just depends on your personal preference. Find one that works for you and get your content ideas documented. If all else fails you can even create one yourself with a simple excel sheet making sure to track authors and due dates, titles and content details, keywords and target personas, and lastly, your call-to-action.

Be Creative With Titles

Creating a great blog post may not matter if you don’t put as much consideration into creating a great title. By creating a title that will grab the attention of your audience you can help improve your click through-rate.  When thinking about using common vs. unique adjectives in your title, go for unique. Adjectives that aren’t used as frequently in other posts will help make your title stand out more. By adding more emotional words to your post title you can also increase interest. Positive emotional words promote a better chance of being shared as well. Use social promotion as a way of testing your headlines. Tweet the content using different headlines to test which preforms better.

You can even try using a tool like CoSchedule’s Blog Post Headline Analyzer. Once you plug in your post title the tool will analyze the overall quality and rate its ability to result in social shares and SEO value. I even used it creating this post title (feel free to check out how I score).

Make it Easily Shareble

If your reader is challenged to find a way to easily share your article you can bet they won’t spend long trying to figure out how. Make it easy for them. Hopefully you’ve already incorporated social sharing buttons on your blog, but beyond that you can utilize “Click to Tweet” to highlight key points or powerful stats in your post.

Create a custom post graphic. You’ve heard it probably a million times a picture is worth a thousand words. Well it may not be worth a thousand words but, it may just make the difference between a post getting read or shared. Posts with images get 94% more total views than those without (source: Jeff Bulas).

Custom graphics resonate even more with readers than stock photography. If you’re like me and you read a lot of blogs, you’ve maybe even started to notice the same stock photo trending over other posts. Be unique and utilize imagery, fonts, and colors that relate to your brand.

Spelling, Grammar or Language Misstakes

We’re all human, and occasionally make typos or you might find yourself using the wrong tense of a verb. Heck you might even find one in this post (hopefully not). But a post that is poorly written or laden with grammatical errors is going to lose your reader real fast. There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening though.

Start by having someone else read your post. Chances are you’ve read your post over and over and aren’t likely to catch simple errors because you know what you’re trying to convey. If you’re using a CMS system like WordPress, you can also consider starting your blog post in a word document. Typical spelling errors and awkward sentence structures are bound to be identified.

If you really want to get technical though, try a web app like Hemingway. Paste your text into Hemmingway and it’ll identify hard to read sentences, complex phrases, adverbs and passive voice. Each one is highlighted with a different color to help you identify what you might need to change. Beyond just sentence structure and analyzing the types of words used in the post, Hemmingway evaluates the readability of the post and identifies what grade level is needed to understand the text. The best content is written at a middle school level, so take that into your readability consideration.

Track Your Post Performance

If you write it, they will come. Not exactly. There are a lot of variables that go into getting your content discovered— content promotion for example—but if you’re not monitoring your blog traffic at all, you can’t begin to understand what’s working and what’s not. And of course you want to understand the results of your efforts.

This takes me back to the beginning of the importance of having a content strategy plan. In order to track the performance of your content, you need to understand the goals. Is it to increase sales, generate leads, create brand awareness, or establish expertise in a specific category? Depending on what you’ve identified as your goal, you can then start to look at some areas for measurement of success. If your goal is brand awareness, you might look at an increase in social media following and engagement, page views, website traffic and specifically the amount of time spent reading your posts. If your goal is to generate leads, you’ll want to measure email subscription or sign-ups and content form submissions. Evaluating your blog performance will only help make certain that the content you create is getting the recognition it deserves.

Now get out there and go write something!

person typing on a keyboard

How To Find Your Blog Writing Confidence – Part 2

880 461 Shout Out Studio

Part one of this post I wrote last year, and I discussed finding your blog writing swagger. After over year of contributing to our blog I’d like to add build upon finding that swagger. When I first started writing for Shout Out Studio I struggled to find the confidence to sit down and write down my thoughts. Now, I find my confidence in other ways:

1) Read. Write. Plan. Repeat.

These steps, in this order, might not work for everyone but if you haven’t tried it – now is your time. It’s important for me to do these three things on a regular basis to stay inspired to share my opinions in the digital marketing world. How can you write if you aren’t inspired? Pick up that book that everyone has been telling you to read and take an afternoon to get started – it will be beneficial in the long run for you, and your blog.

2) Climb out of that suffocating, inspiration trap, that you call your office. White and beige don’t rev-up my inspiration. I’m writing this blog from my back porch for a couple of reasons: First, because its 52 degrees outside and I think that means summer is close. Second, because it’s new, fresh, and my mindset is inspired by it.

3) You should never let yourself get to the point where you feel pushed to write a blog post (in a bad way). Be pushed by inspiration, motivation, and maybe too much caffeine. However, don’t be pushed by time, pressure, and the need to keep up. Reading, writing, then planning throughout your week will allow you to stay ahead of that time crunch, which can also crunch your writing. Keep in mind there is a difference between time and goals when it comes to blogging. You can control goals, you can’t control time.

4) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…keep your voice genuine. You’ve heard that when you communicate via online mediums it’s important to keep your voice – funny, informative, cool, classy, trendy – whatever it is, keep it. Don’t be afraid to add some sarcasm in your posts, if that’s who you are. More often than not, being true to who you are will gain more real listeners than a large mass of followers. Quality over quantity.

Have other tips for finding your blog writing confidence? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Image via klepas

person walking down street

Social Media Changes: What We’re Looking Forward To

880 461 Shout Out Studio

In the competitive world of social media platforms it seems like the only thing that is constant is change. Over the last couple weeks Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all made major announcements for change. While some of these updates have rolled out in a phased integration, others (including us) wait in anticipation. While we wait though, we’re not shy to share our perspective on what this means:

Nathaniel Seevers

Word on the street is a new Twitter layout is on it’s way to a profile near you and including you. I haven’t received mine as of this publish. I’m not one of the cool kids I suppose but based on some early reviews and screenshots I can already make some educated guesses about parts of the new design I anticipate and parts I dread.

Excited to see more: tweets via a new mosaic, less straight line vertical format. The new design takes a queue from the Facebook timeline’s not so side-by-side content “tiles” to provide more information in a single view and even multi-column layout (pictured here) for photos and videos.

Not so excited to see more: arbitrary cover images. I’m confused as to how it’s useful or relevant to a micro-blogging/information resource/celebrity stalker platform like Twitter. I’m all for a little more visual tweet, the summary cards are cool and useful, but a 1500px X 500px cover image?

The bigger design question becomes, how does it all translate to mobile? Does the mobile side change at all? According to a report on TechCrunch back in October Twitter said, “75 percent of its 218.3 million+ monthly active users are accessing the site from mobile devices — or 161.25 million users. And mobile accounts for 65 percent of all its ad revenues.”

They’re a savvy bunch so maybe that’s what I’m anticipating the most; how it all ties into a larger overall strategy for my favorite social platform.

Gretchen Ardizzone

My first instinct when I heard about LinkedIn rolling out its publishing platform to all users was why would I want to blog on LinkedIn when we have a well-built, beautifully designed blog platform on our company website? So as I evaluated the functionality of this new feature, I had a few questions and considerations:

Will people be duplicating content they’ve published on their blog or will it be unique? I’ve already noticed some of the influencers I follow on Twitter linking to their LinkedIn posts, but I’ve also noticed some of it to be repetitive to the content I’m seeing published on their blog. That’s a big best practice no-no for me because you’re training me to stop following one of your channels of communication. It’s going to have to be original.

What kind of metrics can I measure? LinkedIn has some metrics around company pages, but there’s little around individual users to track who’s really reading the content (from what I can tell). We utilize several analytical tools to track our website traffic and can even identify posts that are most read. I’m all about generating the right content to the right audience, but part of being able to do that is having the analytics to support.

Does this shorten the time-span of content? Whatever post is published last will appear to any visitors of their LinkedIn profile. The only issue with that is the next post trumps the prior content. There’s no search feature to allow people to find the content they want based on relative topics. Some of our blog posts, while published maybe a couple months ago, still have application to business today and are not necessarily time-sensitive.

What can we expect from the quality of content we might start to see published? Most blog platforms are relatively easy to use anyhow, but from what it appears the simplicity of the LinkedIn posts take things to a new level. Will everyone adopt a blogger mentality? Yes, folks you still need a beginning, middle and end, and spell check is still required.

Will I start to see an increase in individuals who want to join my network that I don’t know? It’s one thing to follow me on Twitter, but I’m more selective of who I give access to in my network of connections. Just because my content resonates with you may not mean I’m ready to invite you into my inner circle…we may need to have coffee first.

With that said, we’re a digital marketing company and we’ll test it for ourselves before we close the book on this one. It does offer another platform for content to be published that our network might not otherwise reach. And honestly, I’m excited to see LinkedIn’s continued evolution. It’s not my favorite (or first-priority) platform, but I’m pulling for the continued changes because I see potential. The further blending of business and social is an opportunistic position for platforms.

Luke Pierce

If you read the news, are ever on the Internet, or simply converse with people on a regular basis you have probably heard of the staggering 19 billion (yes with a B) dollar acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook this week. This is one of the biggest acquisitions in the tech industry for over a decade and is the biggest news in social media in 2014. What I am struggling with is how to feel about it. I needed to take a closer look at the deal and answer some basic questions.

Why did Facebook want WhatsApp?

Given Facebook’s goal of trying to connect everyone on the planet, WhatsApp and its growing 450m users was a good way to take another step in that direction. But it wasn’t just the fact WhatsApp has 450m users, it was how it got there. WhatsApp reached 450m users faster than any other social network to date, including Facebook. In addition, they are adding users at a rate of 1m a day. Another staggering statistic is how active it’s users are with over 70% of WhatsApp users interacting with the app more than once a day. To put it in perspective, WhatsApp users generate the same volume of SMS messages as every carrier in the world combined.

What does it mean?

For now, not much. The CEO of WhatsApp has been brought on to the board of directors at Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg has said that WhatsApp will continue to operate as its own company. Mostly the acquisition just means that Facebook bought 450m users for its overall network, what they will do with them is to be determined.

Is it good or bad?

At this point, it’s hard to say. My hunch is that it is a good thing that WhatsApp went to Facebook and not Google, who were rumored as willing to pay more than the 19 billion Facebook paid for the app. The rumors said that Google was willing to pay more solely to keep WhatsApp out of the hands of Facebook, which sounds to me like they might have smothered the app if they acquired it. Anything with a user base growing as fast as WhatsApp, I want to see what it evolves into. However, with an acquisition this big there are bound to be some changes. The CEO of WhatsApp is very anti-advertising, but I would be surprised if that continued through the life of the app. If you are currently a user of WhatsApp it would be safe to assume you’ll see some changes in the future.

I’m excited.

When I read more about the acquisition and gathered my thoughts, I decided that I am excited. WhatsApp was, and is, growing at an incredible rate. Faster than anything we have seen before. With it’s mere 55 employees and relatively low yearly revenue, it’s hard to say if WhatsApp would be able to accomplish the same things that it can now with Facebook’s resources backing them. Overall, I’m just excited to see what WhatsApp might grow into.

Are you using one of these platforms in their new form or have an opinion on the updates? Drop us a line, we’d love to hear.

Photo Credit: SomeDriftwood

HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge: Lessons Learned

880 461 Shout Out Studio

When we first heard about the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge, there was no doubt in our minds that we planned to participate. After all, we’re already actively blogging anyhow and this meant just stepping it up a notch. Little did we know we’d learn a little along the way too! Here’s a look at the lessons we learned:

Luke Pierce: Strike when the iron is hot.

The most important thing I learned this month is to start writing as soon as you have an idea. I found that if I started writing as soon as I was inspired by something, I would be finished writing the article in no time at all. Not hesitating not only made the writing easier, but it took the pressure off of deadlines. Once I started writing as soon as I was inspired, I found I would be a week ahead of my deadline. Pretty soon I was two weeks ahead. And now, coming out of our 30-day challenge I already have two blog articles waiting to put the finishing touches on to publish. If you can’t start writing as soon as you have the idea, at the very least, just write that idea down so you can come back to it later.

Colin Smith: Write what you know.

When it comes to writing, in any genre, it can be a challenge to come up with content. Something to help get over this initial panic is to write about what you know. This will allow you to produce content that starts a conversation, as well as the opportunity to continue it. Once you get the ball rolling, tackling subjects that seemed intimidating at first will be more manageable.

 Shannon Blair: Content betters our online presence.

Having more content to provide on a daily basis allows for us to have a better presence online. This means that we can share our content on social media and our blog, and by doing so we have a greater advantage when it comes to connecting with others online and sharing our knowledge with others. We aim to meet the needs of our audience and in providing knowledge this past month in our 30-day blog challenge we have met those needs and wants.

Gretchen Ardizzone: Keep it organized.

When it comes to our normal blog strategy we try to evenly spread the responsibility throughout the team. We feel our readers get the most out of our content hearing from different expertise and points of view. With that said, we knew with increased blog activity we’d need to stay organized with our content so our topics weren’t overlapping and we didn’t cover too much of one subject. Luckily we found a super handy WordPress plugin, CoSchedule, to plan our editorial calendar. We scheduled out the whole month of posts and proposed topics, assigned tasks to team members and had the flexibility to easily move around as needed for individual schedules.

Marsh Williams:

When we first started the 30-Day Blog Challenge I was excited, but also concerned it might become a pain in the rear. Well on the last day of the challenge I can tell you that I was absolutely wrong.

Not only was it not a pain, it was fun and everybody pitched in to help; the entire team. The challenge taught us a few more things that will turn out to be very valuable lessons.

  • It’s not as hard as we thought.
  • Planning things out including topics is a tremendous help.
  • Be flexible, if someone’s creative muse didn’t show up on the assigned day then let another person step up.
  • Writing in your “own” voice is a lot easier than trying to sound like an expert at a conference podium.
  • It was a solid team-building exercise.

We’re here, the last day of the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge and we did it. It was worth the challenge and we’d do it again tomorrow.

We will be analyzing the data results over the next week and report what we found in the next week or two. Stay tuned.

Photo Credit: Mark Brannan

How To Be A Better Business Blogger

880 461 Shout Out Studio

In previous posts, we’ve broken down the anatomy of an effective blog post and established why blogging matters for business, but how can YOU be a better business blogger? Here are a few best practices you might try:

Collaborate With The Team

There’s no “I” in team right? Well, there’s no “I” in blog either. The most refreshing blogs online these days are the ones that have different viewpoints – why? Because it’s different! Working together as a team allows different to be created with little to no effort. How does that happen? In 3 ways:

  • When you collaborate with a team you feed off of each other’s ideas. If I’m stuck and my creative juices aren’t flowing I can look to my team to support me through that. They offer ideas or things they would want to hear about.
  • Your team isn’t afraid to say no. Or yes really. Often as individuals, we sit around and question our ideas, yet when we present them to the team we more often than not get a positive response or ways to make our posts even better.
  • Think in broader terms of a team. Everyone has a perspective and sometimes it’s those with the softest voice that end up having a ton to contribute, it just takes asking and they’re excited to be involved.

Understand Your Audience:

You know how everyone and their brother tells you that in order to be a successful company you have to understand your audience? Well, they’re right. It’s Business 101. You have to be able to understand your audience’s wants and needs – and more importantly, provide for those wants and needs. The same goes for your blog. We could sit around all day blogging about why cupcakes are so delicious, but that’s not what our audience wants to hear because that’s not the information or the business we provide to benefit them.

Sometimes it’s as simple as just going straight to the source and asking what they want to hear more (and less) about. Survey your readers directly on the blog or poll your audience via social media. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Network With Your Peers:

Don’t blog with blinders. Get out of your office and go talk to the world. It’s easy to get into a rhythm of developing content, but an outsider who’s not on the front lines with you all day long can help provide a fresh perspective. Sometimes ideas are spurred by just having conversations with your peers. Ask them about issues they’re challenged with, and turn it into an opportunity to use your expertise to help educate others who might be dealing with a similar issue. Don’t just focus on challenges though, we all love to hear a good success story and share ways we can be more efficient and effective in business. Consider even doing a monthly roundtable with other business leaders to discuss hot topics for blog fodder.

Another way to utilize both your expertise and your peers is to swap your knowledge. Be a guest blogger and pay it forward. Provide insight on a subject matter that might be relevant to their audience, and in return give them a platform to share their knowledge with your audience. Sometimes it a nice little break on both ends.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Content That Adds Real Value

1920 700 Shout Out Studio

As marketers and bloggers, we try to keep up on all of the marketing articles floating out there for consumption. For a while it was really good, it was the golden age of marketing materials. But in our opinion, that time has passed. And lately, we just feel like the same crap is being circulated around the circles we follow. There are a hundred “10 Things You Need To Know About X” articles out there for everyone with honestly curated content with real-world experience examples. Trust us, were guilty of it sometimes too (see Top 5 Small Business Marketing Tools) but we want to take a little time to step back, breathe deep, and think about the things we really want to read from here on out.

Marsh Williams

If you’ve followed us at all you know how passionate we are about helping small business people take advantage of the Internet to grow their businesses, and usually, the first thing we have to do in a client situation is debunk the myth that there is some silver-bullet software solution that will fix everything. Despite what the various marketing and sales teams will tell you, there isn’t.

Although tools are sold based on capabilities, it’s the everyday understanding and uses that makes them valuable. Small business owners seldom have time to deal with theory, they want results and that means actionable direction. A step-by-step guide to an outcome is always going to be more valuable than a statement about theoretical marketing or sales strategies.

As an example, marketing automation solutions are often sold by touting their capabilities; generating more customers, delivering focused content, lead nurturing, etc. But, the real question for many organizations is how do I do that. How do I use these tools on a day-to-day basis to grow my business and delivery revenue to the bottom line? The answer is show me, lead me, give me step-by-step directions based on desired outcomes, not high-level theory. That’s adding value where it is needed in the small business world. Give me something to do that will actually help grow my business, not something that I have to figure out before I can even begin to apply it.

In providing content that leads to the desired outcome value is delivered…that’s where the real focus of content creation can come through.

Shannon Blair

We all know that content with Top Tens and 3 “How To’s” are informative and straight to the point but they often lack inspiration. I often sit down to seek out great content that I can share in the social media world… I mean great things gotta be passed on, right? But I have to tell you it can become tiresome when the content to be found every day is a repeat of last weeks old content about how great Twitter is for small businesses (we get it, people, Twitter rocks our socks too). The content I want to see more of is content based on inspiration. When I say content based on inspiration I mean an article that is perfectly written with not only a clearly defined purpose but with clarity that the author was motivated and moved by something, the really good stuff. This is the content that the marketing and digital world could use more of. There is nothing worse than a day chalked full of boring unoriginal content – come on people, get inspired!

Luke Pierce

I have been trying to grow my Twitter presence lately, and in doing so I have started to follow a lot of well known digital marketers out there. And now I have started to unfollow them. I was so sick of constantly having my twitter feed polluted with links to the same articles on the same subjects written the same way. All day every day. I liked to read that stuff when I first got into the digital marketing business, but frankly, I’m sick of it now. The problem I see now is that there is so much information on theory out there, but minimal amounts of information on the practice.

The marketing articles I really want to see now are the ones chronicling practice, not theory. Give me some transparency. I want to see exactly what people are doing, what worked, what didn’t work and how they are going to try and correct it. Tell me your failures, brag about your successes, and be innovative, not repetitive. Let me see the way others grow. In the future, I want to see way more well-documented case studies, analytics on specific campaigns, and crazy ideas put into practice. Digital marketing is not my religion, I don’t have to take things on faith. Give me cold hard facts.

Gretchen Ardizzone

I read a lot of content that is written from an authoritative, expert point of view, but what resonates with me most, and what I’d like to see more of, is content written from personal experience. It’s one of the guiding principles in many of our own posts. We’ve written about exercises in finding your company voice, why blogging matters, and how to conduct a blogger outreach program, just to name a few. Each of these we wrote from a personal perspective with total transparency.

It’s about positioning content so you’re not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Writing from a personal experience perspective makes the content more relatable to the audience, and can be a great way to be able to express potential pitfalls that can be avoided based on your experience—what to do and what not to do.

Nathaniel Seevers

It’d be great to see less of all of it actually. Not just fewer sales pitch paragraphs at the end of blog posts, though that one is way, way up there, but less in general. Less focus on quantity and more focus on quality. From that; more stories. More background. More details.

2014 will usher in stronger movements toward reducing the noise and disconnecting. So when you, me, any of us put out content it better be damn worth the precious time someone spends to read it. Readers won’t be asking for more they’ll be purging blogs from their feeds so content has to stick.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says you need to put out a blog post every day to be relevant. We’re in the midst of a blog writing challenge right now as a company – all through January. But quality comes first and we planned our actions accordingly. We’d rather lose than not be useful to our readers.

 Tell us about the content you want to see in 2014.

 Note: This post was written in one hour as part of the HubSpot 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Why is blogging important?

776 415 Marsh Williams

One of the questions we get asked most often is “Why is blogging important?”

Here’s our experience…

Our culture at Shout Out Studio is fairly open. As a result, one of the things we love to do is share our knowledge and learn from others; blogging seemed to be a great way to approach this for us. So, in January of 2013, we made a commitment to start blogging in earnest.

It took a while to get everything going but there were three important lessons we learned:

So we took off on a new road without being sure where it would lead us.

Within a month we saw the traffic building for our site and within two months our average traffic increased by 42% over our baseline month of February 2013. In three months it increased by 68%. Honestly, we were surprised.

Our original goal was to write about things we share with our clients. The idea being that not everyone would read everything, but that once-in-a-while someone would find a “nugget;” that one piece of information that meant something to them and they could use to improve their company’s marketing efforts. What we found is that certain topics we wrote about began to get traction and based on the way SEO works, the more traction an article gets, the more it gets preference in the search rankings. What this taught us was that we can only make information available, the users decide what’s important. This realization took off a lot of the pressure we had been putting on ourselves and transformed blogging from a chore to something we actually enjoyed. No longer did we have to worry about what would resonate with our readers, they took that task on and it was great to learn from them.

But as usual, I digress…

The real lesson we learned came in June and July of last year when we found ourselves extraordinarily busy. Our blogging habits fell by the wayside and we found ourselves too busy to deal with it.

Pay attention, because here’s the moral of the story…

When we looked at our site traffic for June and July we were again very surprised. Our traffic immediately dropped 9% in June and another 2.5% in July. Here’s the graph from that period.

June July 2013

So in August we made blogging an absolute priority and restarted our efforts with the goal of at least one good article per week. By the end of November, our monthly site traffic had increased 265% over our February base-line.

Jan-Dec 2013

Lesson learned. keep it simple, keep it fun, keep it good, but keep it going.

Have you had any experiences with blogging and increases, or not, to your site traffic? We’d love to hear about them.

Photo Credit: margaretkilljoy

Blogger Outreach: Building Brand Buzz

1920 700 Gretchen Ardizzone

If you’re a young brand looking to grow, but don’t have the capital to pay big bucks to get your product out there, word of mouth marketing in today’s terms might just be the right thing for you. What am I talking about? A blogger outreach campaign.

According to Nielsen Media, there are somewhere over 181 million blogs on the Internet with 6.7 million people publishing content on blog sites. That’s a whole lot of blogging going on, and a whole lot of opportunity to create some buzz. Using a blogger outreach campaign as a part of your marketing strategy can be beneficial to create brand awareness and exposure to relevant, targeted consumers.

Why does a message coming from a blogger sometimes have better reach than your marketing message? Trust. 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs, and 61% of online consumers have made a purchase based on a blog’s recommendations (Source: BlogHer). One of the ways that you can utilize this influence is by getting your product in the hands of these bloggers to conduct a product review and post content around their experience with the product. Here a few recommended steps for a successful approach:

Establish your goals: First things first with any marketing initiative it’s important to understand what the goals are for your outreach campaign. Do you want to increase foot traffic to your website, gain a following on social media, build brand awareness, introduce a new product, etc? Understanding this upfront will give you something to benchmark and determine if your strategy was a success.

Find the influencers: Next, establish your criteria for qualified bloggers. You can use Technorati, Alltop or even Google’s blog search to help you locate them. Use tools like Pagerank and Alexa to determine what kind of traffic the identified blogger is getting. This will help you save time in the long run. Why waste energy pitching to someone who isn’t relevant or the end result won’t get your reach.

Establish rapport: You don’t ask someone out on a date before you get to know them. Establish rapport first before you approach. This means following them, engaging with them on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+), commenting on and promoting content that you like (honestly).

Outreach: After you’ve had some time to “get to know” them, you’re now ready to reach out. This is a big step though. Depending on how well known the blogger is they might receive thousands of emails just like yours. Your message needs to be genuine, personal to them, and creative. Something has to make them want to read it. If it sounds like a blanketed message, then chances are you’re just wasting your time. This part of the process does take time, but it’s worth it to put in the extra effort to connect with someone. That’s what will get you noticed. The key is not to be long-winded. Yes, what you’re sharing is great, fabulous and awesome I’m sure, but anything too long might get ignored. Be concise and to the point as far as what you’re asking for them to do.

Provide incentive: Be prepared to offer them something in return. What are you going to do for them that gives them a reason to even respond? Are you offering a complimentary product, are you willing to sponsor/fund a post? Sometimes bloggers (especially with greater reach) will only participate if you’re willing to provide a financial investment. It’s important to know upfront if that’s something you’re willing to consider. And if not, it’s good information to know and could be useful in the future.

Follow up: So you’ve sent your message. Next requires follow up, but make sure you’ve given the appropriate time to respond. Pay attention to automatic messages. If you get something stating, “Due to a high volume of emails,” you have to take into consideration that if might take them some time to even see your email. Wait a week. A lot of bloggers won’t engage until the follow up response. Planning your blogger outreach campaign well in advance will help allow for the turn around time it sometimes takes to get a response.

Support content creation: Once someone has agreed to participate, make it as easy for the blogger to develop his or her content. Provide them with information about the product. Is there a unique backstory about how it was created? If so, make sure to share, consumers care not only about the product, but a good brand story can help capture someone’s attention. Are there specific product features or benefits they need to know? The blogger may not know these intimate details so make sure you include. Many times bloggers will take their own photos of the product, but sometimes supplying additional imagery helps to support content. They may be featuring one product style, but if you want to show the breadth of a product line, that can be communicated through an additional photo.

Track your results: So your product has been featured, it’s time to track your results based on what you established as your goals. Monitor your website traffic, social media following and engagement. Make sure to thank the blogger for their efforts, you could be establishing an ongoing relationship with a blogger that may be interested in featuring your product more than once as you introduce new styles, limited edition collections, etc.

Be prepared for the negative: Something to keep in mind with this type of program though is you don’t have complete control in the process. You have to be prepared to hear the negative. There’s always a possibility your product won’t be a hit with everyone. It may mean the product isn’t right for them or it could be an opportunity for improvement based on some honest feedback.

Consider alternative outreach opportunities. Blogs are not the only platform brands have an opportunity to conduct outreach. Each social media platform (Google+, Twitter, Instagram) has influencers that create a potential for you to connect your brand with consumers. An interesting Instagram example was one carried out by shoe brand Puma. With a goal to increase their followers, the brand reached out to influential Instagrammers and sent to events (even some overseas) equipped with a camera to document “awesome places that shoes take you.”

Another unique example is how Audi utilized Twitter. After a raving Audi fan created a hashtag, #WantAnR8, around her desire to acquire an Audi R8, the brand made notice and gave her an Audi for the day to experience, document and share with her Twitter community. Audi promoted the event via twitter and encouraged others to do the same, resulting in a giveaway of eight more R8s. What’s interesting about that example is that the consumer created the opportunity, Audi was just smart enough to be listening.

The more unique the approach, the greater opportunity your outreach will standout in the crowd and gain a following. Start by considering what platform for outreach might be appropriate based on where your customers are spending their time online.

photo credit: Mylla
modified by Shout Out Studio

Content Marketing

Content Marketing Matters of the Moment

880 461 Gretchen Ardizzone

When you spend your days working as a marketing consultant and content creator, you can only imagine the number of articles, tweets, blog posts, white papers, newsletters, email communications… (need I go on) read on a daily basis. For some, it could be overwhelming, but for me, it’s what I live for and love… scouring for good content, thought-provoking ideas, and inspiring marketing. So with that said here’s my list of Top 5 Content Marketing Matters of the Moment. This is what’s been on my mind…

1. How Much Personalization is Too Much?

A little while back I read a HubSpot article addressing the question, “How much personalization do you want as a marketer and a consumer?” The subject still lingers with me as I watch the industry continue down a path of personalized content. Through advances in technology and with the use of analytics, online experiences are more customized than ever. My music lists are curated based on previous listening sessions, news content is tailored to what I was reading last, ads are targeted at the products I’ve browsed, but the devil’s advocate in me can’t help but wonder when does it all remove the fun of discovery? Will I ever get back to being a blank slate consumer where I freely decide what is for me?

2. Content Marketing Applies to You Too

Many brands get confused and think, “Oh content marketing is for someone else. What stories do we have to tell?” Sometimes that takes a little bit of an effort to discover for some brands more so than others. We often spend time with our partners talking about what their buyers and consumers want to know in order to determine what type of content is relevant. And other times we just simply ask! One category that hasn’t fully embraced content marketing opportunities is the restaurant category. The whole aspect of food is social and shared. Granted for some brands it may not be appropriate, but without a doubt some of the best content marketers out there are food service brands like Chipotle, and my personal favorites Sweetgreen and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. What makes them so successful with content marketing? A compelling brand story at the heart of it all. Spend time crafting that and you’ve got something to share.

read more

Content Creation…Go with What You Know

1920 700 Marsh Williams

Companies have become obsessed with content creation and many firms are completely flummoxed (yeah I love that word) by this concept, but go with what you know and you’ll do great.

Every company in the world has a level of expertise in its core business. Think about it. How many times has someone shared a client story about how you were able to help on a first project. Ask your customer service people about conversations with current or prospective clients. What kind of questions do they get and what type of answers do they give?

The trick is to create a simple system to capture and retell these stories for the other people who want to know the same things but haven’t asked yet.

We have a new client in the printing industry (more to come about that) and during our initial conversations about content creation for their website, we went through this “capture” process with them. One of the stories they shared is how they advise clients during their design process to wind up with some really great images. This is gold. They know the story and they are experts in sharing it one-on-one every day. The only difference is that they now have to capture it and share it with a larger audience.

This is where a lot of companies freeze in their tracks. read more

Anatomy of An Effective Blog Post

1920 700 Nathaniel Seevers

The why and how of an effective blog post – for beginners

It’s no secret that a great blog keeps your site fresh and can provide a nice search engine bump. Not only that, it can also act as a strong voice for your brand and a means by which you establish a thought leadership position in your industry. More and more companies are taking on the task of writing content and maintaining a blog. We see excited and reluctant writers jump into the blogging pool every day.

For those of you out there new to blogging game here are some tips for making sure your blog posts are effective and the time spent is good for you and your readers.

Be clear about why you’re blogging

First things first; if you’re starting a blog so you can talk about how awesome you are don’t waste your time because readers won’t waste their time reading your content. That is unless you’re a celebrity and strangers are just dying to know how cool your life is.

A business blog is an opportunity to share insights, knowledge, a peek behind the curtain and overall be a productive member of internet society. read more

Photo of Weight Lifting Action Figure

How to Find Your Blog Writing Confidence

880 461 Shout Out Studio

Maintaining a blog on your business website can have some super cool benefits but getting started can be scary for some people. When you blog you are vulnerable, you are putting your thoughts out there for the WWW to see. Of course, you are going to get stuck in the middle of a great thought, critique it and lose confidence. It happens. Here are some thoughts to help you build your blog writing swagger. read more

photo by Barbara Willi used under Creative Commons 2.0

25 Simple Methods to Get Inbound Links For Your Website

842 452 Shout Out Studio

One of the truths about SEO is that inbound links are absolutely critical to increase your search ranking.

When I explain how Google sees inbound links as votes of confidence, I always see folks nod their head. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Then I ask them how they think we should go about link-building.

Blank stare.

I thought I’d try to help the folks out there who need some help. Here’s a list of 25 ways to get inbound links to your website: read more

© 2013-2018 Shout Out Studio, LLC