Shout Out Studio - Brand Forward Marketing

Brand Marketing Strategy and Execution
what's your brand

What’s Your Brand?

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“Describe your brand.” It’s a simple request and one that we ask of every client.

Let’s start with one data point. Brand is more than a logo or a name; it’s the full representation of your company (tone, voice, look, values) and how it’s perceived out in the world.

So as companies grow how do they make sure everyone one understands and buys into the brand? Where is the stake in the ground against which you can measure any communication? Do you have one?

We work with companies of all sizes and stages; the first thing we want to know is what is the brand. We’re engaged to act and communicate on their behalf as part of their team so emulating their voice and tone is critical to the role they have asked us to fulfill. Being in lockstep with what the brand is and what it stands for drives everything. For companies that have a brand guide, that stake in the ground, it’s pretty easy. For those that don’t we lead them through an exercise we call Brand Clarity. It’s not a rebranding by any means, but it’s a useful way to gather the information to create the document a business can use as north on the compass and we can use to create more effective marketing communications.

Clarifying Questions

We start the process with some key questions. It’s always interesting because even though everyone generally has the same idea of their company’s brand, there are still nuances which need to be captured and discussed. These discussions are a great way to build understanding and consensus within the organization about the brand.

You don’t need us to do this you can do it yourself. Using Google forms or something similar create a simple online form and ask the primary stakeholders in the organization to respond; make it anonymous. Then compile the answers, share them with everyone and discuss the differences. Document the outcome and share it with everyone in the organization. Of course, a full brand book contains more than this, but that exercise a good starting point even for mature organizations.

Begin with these four fundamental questions and add others you deem valuable:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Name two or three brands that share a similar audience
  3. Why does your company exist?
  4. What makes your company unique?

We’ve never been through the brand clarity process without it precipitating excellent discussions about the value, voice, and tone of an organization. It’s a reliable process for getting everyone on the same page, and when done correctly the output can be an excellent onboarding tool for new staff at any level. The brand book says this is who we are; this is what we believe, this is how we treat everyone with whom we come in contact.

Moreover, if you want to take it to the next level, add information about your visual standards; colors, logos and proper use, fonts etc. There’s your stake in the ground. Something against which you can measure every communication to make sure is on point and consistent across the organization no matter who is telling the story.

You are What You Tweet - Social Media for Restaurants

You are What You Tweet

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Today, social media’s impact on restaurants is more significant than ever. Whether that impact is positive or negative depends on how a restaurant executes a social media strategy. If done right, social media can have massive marketing power at a minimal cost.

But just creating social media accounts and aimlessly pushing out self-promoting content is not enough. These basic social media marketing tips will help increase your restaurant’s reach and engagement and get more people in your door.

Know Your Audience

Before creating a social plan, you first have to define your restaurant’s audience. Age, gender, location, and interests are just a few of many qualities you may want to consider. Once you establish the audience, the next thing to do is determine on which platforms that audience is active. These platforms are where you’ll start.

Taco Bell, whose target market is 18-34 year-olds, knows that 71% of Snapchat users are between 18-34 years old. So, naturally, that’s where their social media efforts are focused. They post daily on Snapchat, and only about one or twice a week on Facebook and Twitter.

Once you know your audience and what platforms they’re on, the next step is speaking their language. Taco Bell does this by using phrases made popular by millennials and Generation Z like “it’s lit” and “extra.” But this can backfire if you’re not careful. Being genuine is key on social media. Avoid posting anything that seems unnatural to you because if it seems forced to you, it probably seems forced to your audience too.

Word of Mouth Marketing 

The restaurant industry has always relied heavily on word-of-mouth marketing. Organic word-of-mouth is when a friend goes to a restaurant and raves to you about how amazing their experience at that restaurant was. Next time you’re looking for a place to eat, you may consider this restaurant based on your friends’ recommendation.

Social media word-of-mouth is the same idea. Except instead of personal recommendations, people may look to tweets or Facebook reviews. In fact, 84% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

You can’t afford to ignore feedback on social media. If your restaurant receives a negative review, it’s crucial to respond as soon as possible by acknowledging the problem, apologizing, and offering an incentive to get them back in your door. This builds credibility and trust with that specific reviewer, and with everyone else who visits your review page.

Addressing positive feedback is also helpful. A customer that goes out of the way to share a good review is a customer you want to keep. Responding to their feedback is the cherry on top of their experience that can turn a one time reviewer into a lifetime brand advocate.

Share Valuable Content

Valuable content, whether it’s informative, engaging, or entertaining, gives customers an incentive to follow your restaurant and keeps them continually coming back for more.

You should share anything that may affect your audience’s ability to visit your restaurant, such as construction in the area, holiday hours, special events, and more. This kind of communication helps customers feel involved and ultimately can establish customer loyalty.

“Behind-the-scenes” content is also a valuable tool. This could include employee spotlights, a “sneak peek” at new menu items, and other back-of-house happenings. When you pull back the curtain, you’re creating a sense of inclusivity and developing an emotional connection with your customers. Having this kind of relationship with customers is invaluable to a restaurants success.

Encourage User-Generated Content (UGC)

With more than 260 million posts tagged #food on Instagram, food pictures are undoubtedly one of the most popular types of content on Instagram. There’s a good chance your customers are posting about your restaurant with or without your interaction.

To capitalize on these posts, many restaurants implement campaigns encouraging customers to use a hashtag unique to their restaurant. To further incentivize customers to share, restaurants often make it a competition, offering SWAG or gift cards to the most creative post.

Not only can user-generated posts take some content building responsibilities off your shoulders, but it also acts as a valuable endorsement, since consumers value peer opinions more so than a brand’s cleverly written sales pitch.

helping small businesses with digital marketing

What Small Business Can Learn from Big Brands in Digital Marketing

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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.

marketing qualified leads

Marketing Qualified Leads: What You Need to Know to be Successful

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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: Ben Clodgo & Taylor Bleedorn

WHAT IS A MARKETING QUALIFIED LEAD?

Defining MQLs

In the ultra-competitive business world today, companies are looking for any way to gain an edge. Marketing Qualified Leads are quickly becoming a popular and cost-effective way to do so. Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs, point companies to those customers that are most likely to purchase their product or service. Finding these valuable leads will allow a company to be more successful in converting them to customers.

Why MQLs Matter

Companies don’t have the time or resources to sift through tons of potential buyers. Narrowing down the pool of customers allows you to spend more quality time and resources on those high-probability buyers. This translates into more revenue per lead and higher overall productivity.

HOW TO GET MARKETING QUALIFIED LEADS?

Techniques Employed

Knowing the general concept of what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead will only take your company so far. An in depth understanding of how to obtain and implement MQLs is imperative both to the success of a company and to yielding positive results. There are four variables that are foundational to recognizing the leads: Profile, Channels, Actions, and Undesirables. Every company is unique, which means profiles of their MQLs will differentiate as well. For a profile to be completed, the basics and needs of what is being sought out must be outlined. Along with the profile of what the MQLs should look like, the channels must be agreed upon. Channels can range from direct forms to forming one-on-one interactions to even hosting events. Overall, choose the channel you believe the leads will respond best to. Which leads into actions, the third variable in obtaining Marketing Qualified Leads. The actions an individual takes can be some of the most vital information to your business, since it is what allows you to figure out how an individual becomes an MQL, and the development it took for that change. Throughout the whole process of employing techniques to achieve more Marketing Qualified Leads, keep the last variable in mind: undesirables. Undesirables are exactly that, the ones who are unsuited to become an MQL for your company. This does not mean that that consumer is inferior, but they are simply not likely to purchase what you are selling. For every positive profile, channel, and action that emerges, a focus must also stay on the opposite of those. This will guide your company away from the undesirables, and towards the desirables, thus leading to more MQLs.

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is taking the four variables of your MQL and having the ability to score any lead that presents itself. Your business must be able to determine whether or not the lead is qualified enough to fit the company’s needs. Every business already knows that one of the most vital parts of staying successful is converting investments into revenue. Think of lead scoring MQLs as your company’s newest investment –  it must be worth spending the money and resources to see a valuable outcome.  The measurements used can be split by your business into two main categories: Explicit and Implicit. The explicit scores are the ones that can be defined through the MQLs profile such as demographics, budget, timeline, or firmographics. Whereas implicit caters more towards the online actions taken by MQLs through site browsing, clicks, shares, and engagements online.

This measurement tool can dramatically shape your company’s outcome with revenue and conversion rate. You may think that having a myriad of MQLs is the goal, however, those leads will accomplish nothing for your business unless they are refined to the best quality. Hence the purpose of lead scoring, which funnels the leads that have both the intent to buy, and a profile that lines up with your company’s overall target market.

Implementation

In all of the focus on obtaining marketing qualified leads, don’t forget the end goals of your business. When used successfully, MQLs will streamline your company and let you begin to churn out customers. It is important to remember that every company will look different and will target different consumers. By remembering a few key steps, you will be well on your way to gaining the competitive edge.

Research who you want to target.

Score potential leads.

Act upon the information.

 

brands and politics

Brands & Politics: A Conversation Worth Having?

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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: Daniel Kuperman & Sean Hynes

When an increasingly complex business environment collides with a decidedly unconventional political landscape, the only certainty is disruption. Although, to many, this bizarre interplay became most visible during Britain’s exit from the Eurozone and the ascendancy of Donald Trump, keen observers noted signs of change well in advance. The prevalence of social media helps facilitate the adoption of oxymorons like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ somehow becoming mainstays in today’s vernacular. These developments point to a deep uncertainty that pervades social interactions, political conversations, and the markets alike. For some brands, this new standard presents a unique opportunity to connect with a targeted audience.

As exemplified by the immigrant-centered Anheuser Busch ad featured during Super Bowl 50, the growing impact of increasing political divisiveness can be clearly seen. It is also no coincidence this commercial — and others like it — were aired during the single most-viewed television event of the 21st century.

Officially, Anheuser Busch played off the immigrant focus as a coincidence. Amidst the contentious debates that followed Mr. Trump’s proposals for deportation, it was quite the timely opportunity for this ad to air. Delving deeper into the elements of this industry leader’s client base and competition lends useful context to this marketing effort. It is no secret that behemoths like Anheuser Busch have been seeing market share erosion for years due to increasingly popular craft beer brands. A common criticism is that such a massive firm adapts too slowly to diverging consumer preferences, whereas its more nimble competitors were founded upon these new tastes. Perhaps this political gesture intended to rebuy the support of millennial consumers using an unapologetically current ad, costing AB as much as $15 million.

Not all companies choose to align with any specific political ideology or movement, but rather embrace a broader theme such as unity seeking widespread appeal. Coca Cola’s #AmericaIsBeautiful campaign aims to evoke a powerful, albeit safer, reaction among their customer base. The ad seems to make the case that despite our differences, we can bond together and enjoy the ubiquitous experience of a Coke. Compared to AB’s commercial, what Coke lacks in boldness it makes up for in mass appeal. For a country appearing to be growing apart on political and social fronts, this may be a wise approach.

The less audacious brands are perhaps in the best company, opting for a neutral stance instead of venturing into potentially hostile social arenas. Well-recognized (and more often than not, publicly traded) companies chose to respond in ways that would not commit them firmly to either support or opposition of Mr. Trump’s actions. A longer-term outlook reveals a danger of staying out of the conversation, however. While this more guarded course of action makes sense from a shareholder-centered perspective, if social tides turn and increase pressure on corporations to take a stand, those who stayed neutral will be first in the line of fire.

As the powers of social media continue to grow at a seemingly exponential rate, this pressure will continue to creep up on corporations. Public relations nightmares have gone from a minor inconvenience to becoming a major catastrophe overnight, with recent occurrences involving Pepsi and United Airlines coming to mind. Whether it was a company releasing the wrong politically charged ad or having employees’ actions reflect poorly on their employers as a whole, companies must be wary of the powers behind making the wrong move, especially with growing pressure to step out of the neutral zone and take a stand. For United, a single failure in PR crisis management resulted in a $250 million net loss in market value.

Individually, these examples are anecdotal at best; extrapolating on any single situation would be ill-advised. Deciphering a best practice may be impossible for industries as a whole, but by engaging with one’s unique audience, companies can aspire to connect on a more profound level with end users.

 

marketing on snapchat

5 Basics for Marketing on Snapchat

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100 million. That’s just shy of the number of people that watch the Super Bowl every year. That’s also about one third of the total United States population. 100 million is approximately how many people use Snapchat every single day. Think that sounds like a lot? Now think about seven billion. That’s how many views videos get on Snapchat on a daily basis, with 76 percent of Snapchat’s users are in the Millennial age group.

Visualizing these numbers isn’t what’s important; tapping into them is what matters. With this kind of potential, Snapchat has transformed from simply being valuable for personal use to being a huge opportunity for small and large businesses targeting Millennials.

The Snapchat conversation shouldn’t make you feel out of date. Take a walk through the basics and learn a few strategies your company can utilize through the app.

So you want to try it out. But how does it really work?

To strip it down to the fundamentals, Snapchat allows users to share pictures and videos instantly. The videos and pictures can only be taken through the app and not imported. Once you’ve taken the picture or video you have a couple choices: Post it to your “snap story” where it will remain for 24 hours as a part of a temporary album, or send it to one of your friends. Snap stories can be viewed multiple times by any of your contacts over the course of those 24 hours. The snap story is the more useful feature for brands. If you do choose to send a photo to someone in your contacts, they can view it once before it is gone.

Before posting or sending a picture, feel free to enhance it. It’s encouraged. Swipe right to select a color filter or geofilter. Your geofilter options appear based on where you are and what’s going on around you, but I’ll elaborate on those later on. There’s also the option to include the time, date and details like the current temp. Tap the screen and a text bar will pop up, and if you press the “T” in the top right corner, you can change the style of the text. There’s also a crayon button in the top corner that allows you to get artistic with your picture or video. Just slide your finger along the color spectrum that pops up to choose your paint.

Now that you know the basics, let’s get down to business. Here are five strategies for marketing through the app.

1. Show Transparency 

The rise of social media has fueled the demand for instant information and transparency, and Snapchat is the perfect synergy of those two desires. On Snapchat, you can post more frequently without overwhelming your audience in comparison to an app like Instagram. The pictures aren’t supposed to be premium quality because the concept relies on unscripted and authentic content since the only way to take photos or videos is through the app. People’s desire for raw information paired with the nature of the app makes Snapchat a great way to publish behind the scenes content.

Sports teams are some of the best examples of this concept in action. They use Snapchat to show footage on the bench in practice, on the bus before a game or in the locker room after a game. It relays the personality of the team and its athletes on a more personal level than a formal, produced interview. It makes sense why fans are interested; they feel involved, and the lower-quality handheld video feels intimate. This concept can work the same way for your business. Use Snapchat to tease products or services that are coming soon, and show followers the quirks of your company. Is a product finished but there are a few days before the launch? Fun, team-building day planned? Why not show it off on Snapchat? People are curious about the brands they support, and Snapchat feels like honest communication.

This personal relationship can be developed with more than just behind the scenes content. Snapchat is prime for live event streaming as well. For example, Victoria’s Secret used it before, during and after their fashion show to not only further inform people watching the show, but also to remind their followers to tune in.

Do you have a yearly corporate dinner or host an annual event? Show people where you are and what you’re doing. It gives a firsthand perspective and, if the event is open to the public, people are encouraged to join (virtually) because you will be posting live. Think of your Snapchat story as a digital way to replace live tweeting and target Millennials.

2. Provide Easy Engagement

Just like the social media apps you might be more familiar with like Twitter and Facebook, Snapchat is great because it’s easy for users to engage with your company. If you post a video or picture, followers can view, screenshot or reply directly to you. This is advantageous when it comes to things like contests. For one of our clients, we utilized Snapchat to encourage their audience to add and reply in order to win prizes. These efforts received more engagement than both of our Instagram and Twitter contests. If email campaigns aren’t stimulating the type of engagement you’re looking for, then offering a promo code on your snap story might be an ideal alternative to test.

3. Reveal Tutorials

Showing people how to use your product not only reveals its potential benefits, but also helps prevent any confusion. Snapchat offers businesses the ability to showcase their products and services with a much more casual explanation method. Facebook has been bombarded with how-to cooking videos as of late, and people are big on the simple, quick explanations.

Millennials aren’t as in love with Facebook as they used to be, so if you want an avenue to give them a tutorial, try using Snapchat instead. This can be valuable for all types of products – show people how to put together an outfit with your spring styles, how to make the perfect presentation using your software, style their hair using your extra-hold gel, etc.

4. Connect Through Influencer Outreach

Referral from a friend is a good way to start a new relationship. Utilizing popular and trusted people in your field to gain the interest and eventually trust of potential customers can be a great way to generate business. On Twitter, a retweet from an influencer is nice, but Snapchat takes this relationship to a whole new level. Try a “Snapchat takeover.” This means someone significant to your brand or target demographic runs your account for a period of time. Sour Patch Kids saw a huge growth through utilizing social media influencer Logan Paul for a five-day takeover.

They were able to generate an identity for themselves and wedge into a new niche in a short amount of time because of the instantaneous nature of the app. When you dive into your influencer outreach, it’s worth it to think about someone you can utilize for a Snapchat takeover to create a connection and help grow your audience. The organic nature of the app allows users to really get to know the personality of your company in a short period of time.

5. Advertise Through Geofilters

After taking a photo or video through the app, you can swipe right to add a color filter or a geofilter. Right now at the Shout Out office near downtown in Columbus, Ohio, my options are three different Columbus filters that show a small graphic that adds ‘Columbus’ written in different styles and colors at the top or bottom of the picture. These filters aren’t limited to stating the name of the area though. Companies like JPMorgan are putting their brand name on these geofilters and making them available to people in a specific area.

This allows you to associate your company with an area or an event, and everyone who posts a picture with your filter is organically promoting your brand. Snapchat also provides analytics for your filter, so you can see how many times it was viewed and used.

All of these campaign methods on Snapchat have similar goals: increasing engagement, recognition and interest. With so many Millennials using Snapchat and a very real need for brands to be transparent, this is a natural way to connect with your audience. Not only will the app give your followers the ability see what your up to, but Snapchat’s newest update pushes users to watch all of their friend’s snap stories. In fact, it’s harder to not watch a friend’s snap story than it is to watch it.

It’s not about being hip anymore – Snapchat is the best way to move from brand awareness to building a connection with Millennials.

10 Most Important Parts of a Homepage

The 10 Most Important Parts Of a Homepage

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Your homepage: the front window of your business where you get to put what you do on display. The perfect setting to put your best foot forward. The first, and possibly only, impression on a potential customer or client. With so much at stake, you want to be as prepared as possible by leaving no detail unattended to. That’s what makes these the 10 most important parts of a homepage.

1) Headline

Have a single sentence clearly stating what your site has to offer. Get your viewers attention with something that has a little personality to it and leaves a unique impression. People are more likely to read this than your actual copy, so make it count.

2) Sub-Headline

This is your chance to further describe whatever it was that you previously stated in your headline. Elaborate a little more to maintain your viewer’s interest and prompt them to continue exploring.

3) Primary CTA’s

Guide your audience with a well positioned Calls-to-Action above the fold. These CTA’s should take the user to your main objective. If you’re an E-Commerce site take them to your ‘Shop’ page. If you’re selling a service, take them to the page with your differentiating factor.

4) Visual Support

Most people are visual learners, meaning seeing truly is believing. Beautiful, professional photography will be the best way to show off your products, service, or team. Try to restrict stock photography, though there is some worth using, and be sure to show your personality.

5) Benefits

What sets your company or product apart? A few key points highlighted on the homepage make for quick associations the viewer will hold with them as they peruse the rest of your beautiful site.

6) Navigation

Speaking of perusing, make sure your visitors have a clear navigation to guide them. Nobody likes hanging out somewhere where they keep getting lost with no clear way home. Keep it simple, easy to find, and readily available. If possible, include a search bar so if they want to find something specific, they can.

7) Logo

Like we said earlier, most people are visual. A logo gives people something unique they can instantly associate with your company, and the pleasant experience they (hopefully) had while visiting your site. Even if it was brief. Be sure to keep your branding consistent as well to further encourage association.

8) Contact Information

Make it easy for people to get in touch with your company. If you have a brick and mortar location, be sure to include that.

9) Social Media Logos

Give the visitor a way to connect with the company and see it’s personality a little more. Only feature buttons for social platforms that you’re active on, there’s nothing less engaging than a dead social media outlet.

10) Actionable Elements

Videos, downloads, blog posts, animations and other visual elements that involve user engagement will encourage a longer stay and more exploration.

A good homepage won’t look the same for every company in every field, and that’s a great thing. Just be sure you get you point across and give people an ample opportunity to know what you’re about, how to engage with you, and how to buy your product or service if they so choose. If you’re able to do all of that without someone leaving your homepage than I’d say you’ve done a good job.

Trends in Video Content Marketing

4 Emerging Trends in Video Content Marketing

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There’s no question that video content over the years has become a huge phenomenon and marketing tactic for businesses. 78% of people watch videos online every week and 55% of people watch videos online every day.* Those are some compelling stats when it comes to creating awareness and online engagement for brands, but what type of video will capture the attention of today’s consumers? Here’s a look at four emerging trends in video content marketing that will set a precedent for video marketing.

An Extended Script

Whether it’s the brand you love or the ambassador who represents, as a fan you often follow the stories they tell. Instead of micro moments, we can expect for longer scripted plots to carry out over the seasons, with unique pieces of content dispersed to various platforms. One brand that has put this approach on the map is Kate Spade. In the winter of last year they began with their missadventures campaign following around the ever adorable, super fashionable Anna Kendrick.

The trendy, upbeat womenswear and accessory brand is now in their third series of short films. The first series “The Waiting Game” showcased the stylish celebrity locked out of her Soho pad with shopping bags filled with Kate Spade goodies. And with time to kill what else is there to do but revel in the purchase. Anna turned an unfortunate situation (aka #missadventure) into a brand marketer’s dream as she then spent her time stooped on the stairs casually playing dress up. The video was not only entertaining but also interactive; viewers could shop the product featured in the video, a truly innovative add-on to the experience. The following series “The Great Escape” and “The Best Company” continue to showcase the quirky antics of Anna and cleverly highlight the brand’s product.

Supporting Roles

So often commercial advertisements are overbearing in their approach, trying to sell you on the product that you otherwise can’t live without. Meanwhile, Kimberly Clarke has been subtly focusing on the moments—those that bring tears of joy and tears of sadness—and remind you that Kleenex will always be there when you need them. In their “Someone Needs One” campaign, a dog gets a second chance at life after being paired up with someone who similarly fights the challenges of physical disabilities. The tear jerking video is uplifting and gives hope.

Another campaign series looks at a young girl’s first day back to school as she sits on the bus filled with anxiety letting out a quiet little sob. Before stepping off the bus a young boy takes notice to approach her to debunk what she might think about boys not caring about feelings. He hands her a tissue and tells her it’s not true, and your heart melts with his sweetness. It’s not about how soft that tissue is or how many years its been around, Kimberly Clarke has focused on the moments in life when Kleenex are there, because “Someone Needs One.” The future of successful video content will take a secondary role to selling product and instead focus on sharing related stories.

Raw Footage

Transparency is an important brand attribute for today’s consumers. A few years ago, during a brand overhaul, Domino’s debuted a commercial that gave us an exclusive look at what consumers were saying about their pizza. They took an honest look at themselves, heard what customers were saying, and communicated it was time for change. It was one of the first times that a brand said, “We hear you.” Since then, consumers have begun to expect a more genuine approach. As a result, you can expect that we’re going to see more of an honest video dialogue, where scenes that might have otherwise got left on the cutting room floor end up being the raw moment that makes it all real.

Most recently, Mattel launched a campaign “You Can Be Anything” with the support of San Francisco agency BBDO. And while the creative powerhouse is known for their exceptional abilities to create compelling campaigns, the beauty in this one came through in the raw moments that they managed to capture. Sans script, BBDO used hidden cameras to capture little girls playing professionals (positions of their choice) in a real life setting. Not only are you captivated by the cuteness of the little girls, but also you get to see the real reaction to those witnesses of these little girls acting out their dream jobs.

VIP Access

Nowadays you can access video content on a variety of devices from TV to desktop to mobile phone, and brands put it out there for you to seek out. Times are changing though and one brand has adopted an innovative way to not only release their content, but also make it feel exclusive. With the launch of their bold new 3D tortilla chips, Doritos wanted to give consumers a 3D video in every bite. Instead of just making the content available anywhere online, the brand made it exclusive to those that purchased. Unique to each flavor, consumers scanned the 3D chip to unlock and access unique mobile-only content. It not only encouraged the purchase but also made you want to see what the other flavors had to offer. Moving forward, expect to see more brands create exclusive content that is unique. Think about product lines; people want information that is specific not broad in general terms.

It’s time to think outside of the box, throw away scripts, be authentic, and think about personalized content. In order to engage your audience you can’t just do what you’ve always done in the past. When it comes to video content it IS time to recreate the wheel.

*Source: Groupon Works

 

How to Keep Your Email Content Fresh

Keeping Your Email Content Fresh

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Email marketing is an effective way to engage with your customers, drive traffic, and increase sales. In a previous blog we talked about the benefits of making your emails visually appealing, but what about the meat of it? It’s not easy keeping your emails full of fresh and creative content, but your audience sure will appreciate the effort. Here are some new ways to add content to your email.

Video

It probably seems like videos are everywhere you look, and that’s because they get people’s attention. They are visually stimulating, interesting, and they provide a great opportunity for your company to try something new. Whether you make a fun video about the history of your company, find a creative new way to announce a new product’s release, a useful tutorial, or a personal way to meet the team, videos give you a lot of options to branch out. Plus there’s no better format for your company’s personality to shine.

Reminders

A friendly reminder is always acceptable because your intention is clear. Have an upcoming event or a sale? Keeping your customers up-to-date is a genuine and thoughtful way to reach out. The key here is to not flood their inbox. Certain reminders won’t pertain to your entire mailing list, but for the most part your customers want to know what’s going on.

Progress Updates

Non-profits, small start-ups, and large businesses can all benefit by keeping customers in the loop. It can make for a fun way to roll out a product, or just so customers can see how well your company is coming along. People like being a part of success, so share yours with them.

Get Social

An email campaign dedicated to building your social following is clearly self-promotional, but if you are effectively using your social accounts then there’s a good chance your customers will be interested. Share examples of what they’ll see if they decide to follow you, and include some buttons to make it easy for them.

Collaborate

Use your mailing list as a place to get exclusive email content. Collaborate with another company to come up with creative, fresh, and interesting content that aligns with your audience while exposing them to something unique. No two collaborations will be the same, so your content is guaranteed to be original. Plus, the added exposure will be mutually beneficial.

The main takeaway is to keep things interesting. If your email marketing is becoming redundant, then it will become forgettable. You’ll lose the interest of your most loyal customers, and risk diminishing a valuable avenue for engagement. Before you click send, ask yourself “Would I want to open this?”

Understand How You Work Best

Understanding How You Work Best

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Leadership doesn’t always mean leading others or directing or delegating. Leadership starts with leading yourself; things like time management, being honest about your responsibilities, putting in the extra time to refine your skills. Part of that is understanding how you work best. What is the optimal situation for you to create your best work most efficiently on a regular basis?

The book, Strength Finders, is built around the premise that your days are better spent amplifying your strengths and gifts versus toiling over your weaknesses. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule at a much more detailed level. If a tennis player’s backhand is a weakness it’s still going to need some work for that player to see success. That can’t be ignored. But if tennis is the athletes weakness and she’s naturally gifted at soccer, maybe her time is better spent there honing that craft.

As it goes with WHAT you work on, so it goes with HOW you work on it. Being in tune with the ideal situation required for you to produce your best work most efficiently will not only help you at that moment but could also help you to:

  • Improve energy and focus over a period of time (days/week)
  • Better communicate with your team and show empathy to how they best work
  • Make decisions on project timelines and assign personnel to tackle the right tasks at the right time

Outlining your best moments: create a Productivity Inventory.

Identifying certain high-level productivity traits comes naturally. It’s easy for most of us to say confidently, “I do my best writing in the mornings” or “my best creative work happens in the evenings when no one is around.” But how do we dig a little deeper? Like an elite athlete, how do we track and improve on specific areas impacting the quality of work we produce?

Self-Awareness is key. First create a checklist of your typical tasks and responsibilities. Now think back on two specific types of moments; one where you “felt in the zone,” felt productive, creative, firing on all cylinders and one where despite knowing exactly what needed done you struggled to stay focus and complete the necessary tasks.

Ask the following for each scenario:

  • What time of day was it?
  • Was there music playing, was it quiet or was there simply a mixture of background noises?
  • Were there people around or were you alone?
  • Were you at a desk or in an easy chair? At the office, at home or offsite someplace like a coffee shop?
  • Were you working under a tight deadline or working ahead of the game?
  • How much sleep did you get the night before?
  • Is there a connection to your diet / are you eating foods the promote brain energy?

Being honest (not feeling guilty) about how we work best can lead to improved individual and overall company efficiency. Things like understanding when you and your team need to walk away and take a break or what distractions you can schedule or avoid altogether gets you to better processes and better project management which in the end provides for a happier work environment and better work for your clients.

How User Experience Can Affect Pagerank

How User Experience Affects Page Rank

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This year marks a shift for what factors in on-page optimization are most affective for search engine rank. Some of the items have been closing in from a distance for a few years now, but 2015 has allowed them to take shape. Google (and Bing and Yahoo) are taking a more holistic approach to how your pages and sites are ranked. Investing in their user experience has become increasingly important, if not the most important factor, for making sure your potential clients, customers, and audiences can find you.

What factors indicate a user’s experience?

  • Site speed – Users want a snappy site. The top ranked sites load in 2 seconds or less, and most users will leave after 3 seconds. Tools like GTMetrix can help you analyze how quick your site is loading, and what factors may be slowing it down. Upgrading server technology, using a CDN, and optimizing images are just a few of the ways to increase response time.
  • Security –  If you have an e-commerce site, or are exchanging sensitive information, installing an SSL certificate is a necessity. Adding encryption will help gain your clients and customers trust and confidence.
  • Responsive – No surprise, but mobile usage is on the rise. Search engines not only rank pages optimized for mobile higher, but decreases the rank for any page that is not responsive.
  • Topics – Users are no longer just searching for keywords. Were they ever? They want answers and solutions. Providing that information to your audience is a great way to see your rank increased. Things like proof and relevant terms have becoming increasingly evident on top ranked sites.
  • Images and Videos – Content that includes original images and video is more dynamic and more likely to be shared via social media. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an impact.
  • Readability – Font size matters. Sites that used consistent font size across their pages were ranked higher. Information structured using bullet and number lists also help users digest information.
  • Interactive elements – Top ranked sites also use buttons, graphics, and streamlined navigation to help guide their audience and structure their content.
  • Contact – Including a Contact and About page signals to search engines that you are authentic and interested in engaging your audience, clients, and customers.
  • Time – Bounce rates and time spent on a site are indicative to search engines to the relevance and usefulness of your content. Longer visits mean higher ranking. High Bounce rates can lower rank.
  • Social signals – Social signals continue to be important. Facebook being the biggest indicator followed by Google+. Backlinks from social media are considered trusted links and highly prioritized by search engines.
  • Ads – Including too many ads, or having ads above the fold of your site can now hurt your rank.

Thoughts on these new trends? It seems a departure from SEO strategies of the past. Keywords and URLS continue to lose their punch while qualified content and social media continue to gain steam. I appreciate the twist. I like it because it allows sites who take care of their audience and users to rank higher than companies who have just learned how to play the page rank game.

 

Page rank data from search metrics

Facebook Ads: What’s Your Relevance?

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A while back, Facebook ads added a little thing called a Relevance Score to their reporting dashboard. Facebook ads are typically a game between what you’re trying to communicate to your audience, and what your audience wants to see. How do you know if you’re playing that game right? Your relevance score is a tool to help balance the game of what works and what doesn’t.

How it works:

Your relevance score is in a scale of 1-10, one being the least relevant to your audience, and ten being the most. The score is updated in real time, meaning that as your ad is live and people are interacting with it, Facebook is updating that relevance score with how people are reacting to it, positively or negatively.

Why you should focus on it:

It can save you time and money. Time because the game of guess and check is reduced to looking at one section of your reporting tool. You can easily assess why one ad within an ad set is performing better or worse than another. You’re therefore spending less money because you are spending less time. You can pause or cancel the ad that isn’t performing as well, or begin a new one, continuing to compare until you get a relevance score that you (and your audience) is happy with. Pretty simple, right?

User experience:

What do I think of the relevance score? I think it’s pretty damn amazing. It tells me what I want to know – whether or not my audience is reacting positively or negatively to my ad. We could run as many ads as we want, but unless our ad is relevant to what our audience wants to see, it’s a moot point.

Another reason I dig the relevance score is because we can run two ads back to back, test the same image and different copy, or different images and the same copy, whichever holds the best relevance score indicated then holds a higher relevance with our audience.

Benefits of Outsourcing Your Social Media

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Social media is beyond mainstream, and many businesses today realize the benefits the various communication platforms can provide to reaching their business goals. The reality though is that as social media becomes larger landscape and more sophisticated over time, succeeding in the social realm can be tough…and it might require some additional expertise. So, if you find yourself in this place, here’s a look at a few reasons why it might benefit you to outsource your social media.

Communicating Your Brand Message

Sure, you know your brand best, but do you know how to effectively communicate it? Whether you’re a brand new startup just getting your feet wet or you’ve been in the industry for decades, believe it or not, it can be a challenge to communicate who you are as a brand and identify what’s your tone-of-voice. If you expect your audience to connect with you, this is an extremely important point of communication. Every update, post, or image should be something that represents the attributes of your brand, and should feel authentic as if you were talking to someone in person. If you haven’t established a voice, having a team to help you identify this voice and keep it consistent can be extremely valuable. Some of the best brands (small and large) are seamlessly managed by outside resources because they’ve been able to embrace the brand’s unique style of communication and flawlessly engage with their audience.

Socially Active Experts

Social media is an ever-evolving form of online communication, and there’s no reason to expect it to slow down anytime soon. Marketers managing social media have to stay on top of new trends and platform innovations. Whether it’s a new algorithm update, click to buy feature, advertising enhancements, etc., … it’s difficult to stay abreast of the social media environment unless you’re living it every day. Having a team of individuals, who can assess the environment, test new platforms, understand the opportunities and debunk the fleeting pop-up of platforms ultimately can save you a whole lot of time and provide focus.

Scaling as You Grow

As you grow, so should your audience, and with that comes more activity and the need for more engagement. And while you may be able to get things off the ground initially, as you continue to grow and see success, tending to social media may not be feasible. Let’s be honest, you still have a day job. Having dedicated individuals, who are there when your customers ask questions, have a customer complaint, or just want to sing the praise of your brand, could establish a new customer relationship, strengthen an existing, or renew a fading one.

Putting Money Where It Matters

Some platforms require a little extra power to get off the ground, to expose your brand to new audiences, or frankly just to stay visible, and sometimes it costs a little to get your voice heard. The unfortunate part is if you’re not familiar with the platform, you could be tossing money in the wind with no return on investment or your time. Those who manage social media day-to-day actively should understand where your time and dollars are best spent, be able to establish ideal budgets, and project anticipated results based on your desired goals.

Analysis of Activity

If you haven’t benchmarked social media goals (followers, reach, engagement, impressions, etc), how do you know if you’re succeeding or failing? Yes, every platform has available analytics, but if you don’t understand what the data is telling you, then how can you be sure that you’re getting the most out of your efforts. If you see engagement declining or impressions increasing, a social media team should be able to pinpoint what has resulted in a decrease or increase, and determine the appropriate actions to respond accordingly.

 

Bottom line don’t be afraid to ask for (outside) help. If you’re not sure how to approach social media or keep on top of it, consider asking a team with social media expertise to evaluate your current performance. You might just find that outsourcing your social media could be a real benefit to your brand and your customers.

Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

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A few weeks ago one of our clients asked us to comment on why they had not been able to cross the marketing/digital marketing divide on their own. Certainly a provocative question and one that really required some thought on our part.

This particular client has a very productive marketing department delivering traditional marketing activity: conferences, press releases, pr placement; however, they just felt they had never been able to capitalize on the power and promise of digital marketing.

Here’s how we responded to our client’s question…

It’s easy to look at marketing and digital marketing and assume they are the same. Most companies with a marketing department treat social media and other digital communications efforts as just another distribution outlet for the content they are already producing.

This is the genesis of the problem.

Traditional marketing is about creating a presence in the marketplace, establishing knowledge of an organization within the market, building awareness of products and services as well as the company’s value proposition. All great efforts that are absolutely required as part of an overall marketing equation.

Digital marketing is about creating an engaged audience and there are significant differences between the two.

First, mindset. Engaging an audience means thinking about information that has value for them. What questions do they have that you can address? What are they already talking about and how can you make a contribution to the conversation? In simple terms it means putting aside what you want to tell them and giving priority to what they want to know or how you can help.

When you go to a party or event, who is the person everyone wants to speak with? It’s the person who engages in conversation, who listens before sharing information, and who is as interested in your point of view as you are in his. That approach to digital marketing works. Every single time you add content to your website, post on social media or send out an email marketing piece ask: does anyone care about this? Will people see this as valuable and be more informed as a result of taking their time to read it?

The second difference of digital marketing is the ability to target an audience with precision heretofore unavailable. For example when posting an article on LinkedIn, you can target individuals by industry, job title, seniority level, and geography. On Facebook, you can target people down to the level of who they follow, their demographic information and even a zip code.

A third differentiating factor is the ability to measure your success with a high level of precision. Once you’ve established systems and set up the right tools you will know — down to an individual respondent — how many people are following you, how many people actually read or respond to your message and the types of success your efforts lead to over time. We developed a standard digital marketing dashboard that allows us to track all digital marketing efforts on a month-over-month basis to see our results.

Certainly we do not advocate abandoning traditional marketing, but we do recommend that digital marketing, with its additional capabilities and benefits, be treated as a separate discipline requiring dedicated staff, tools, and processes to generate the maximum benefit for your organization.

WordPress + WooCommerce: What does it mean?!

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If you run a WordPress site, and you use it to sell stuff, there is a pretty good chance you’ve opted for WooCommerce as your e-commerce solution. With over 7.5 million downloads, 600,000 using the paid version, you aren’t the only one who made the same match. According to WooThemes (the parent company of WooCommerce), WooCommerce powers over 24% of all online retail sites. A top 10 WordPress plugin, it only made sense for Automattic (the owners of WordPress) to scoop it, and the whole WooThemes team, up. Automattic paid more for WooCommerce than any other acquisition they’ve previously been a part of, for a reported $30 Million. They feel e-commerce is a profitable market, and have proved they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. While this won’t mean much for WordPress.com users, the rest of us who use WordPress.org will likely see plenty of changes in the near future. With the acquisition due to be complete in the next month, there has been a lot of speculation about what’s to come.

For those unfamiliar with WooCommerce, here is a brief explanation: it turns your WP site into an online store. You can add, adjust prices, organize, and edit products as needed without much hassle. It’s also great from a payment standpoint, coming fresh out of the box PayPal ready and offering extensions to increase it’s payment method capabilities. WooThemes has also stuffed it with other goodies including inventory management, coupon codes, shipping management, analytics, and other facets necessary for a user to easily run a store. Woo has also included a variety of extensions and themes to make customizing your shop easy.

So what does the Automattic acquisition mean for users in the future? The WordPress + WooCommerce combination should lead for more open source development, flexibility, and integration. A major hope is that this union will bring stability to the connection between WordPress and e-commerce, carrying over into the rest of the plugin offerings as well. The more the two can be integrated, the better they will be as a platform for online sales and growth. As a small online company grows, the hope is they can just expand their sites capabilities rather then look to custom coding to cater to their growing demand. There has also been a lot of user speculation (read: hope) that this means lowered prices for extensions, bundles, and plans. That or a beefed up free version offering things like the shipping extension and styling elements, both of which are currently reserved for pricier plugins.

Aside from the anticipated improvements, WooThemes has promised to continue business as usual for their themes and plugins (including WooCommerce.) The biggest difference  is they will now have the support and access to Automattic’s resources, including their manpower and technology. Feel free to watch Matt’s announcement video below.

Image Source

A First Step to Find Your Advertising Audience in Social Media

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Finding the right audience in social media advertising can be a challenge – especially when you’re trying to get to find the ideal mix that gets you the most clicks, impressions, ROI and any other goals you and your digital marketing team are working toward. However, one of the easiest places to find your audience is already provided for you.

Your social media channels.

When was the last time you checked out your Pinterest or Twitter audience insights? In the depths of those often-overlooked tabs you just might find your answer. Anything from what their interests are, to who else they are following. Then what should you do? Create audiences within Facebook advertising for each platform and test it. They all might be a little similar, but each provides different insights into your audience’s interest.

Twitter has a “followers” tab you can check out that contains information from most unique interests, top interests to even who your followers are following. Use this information to fill out a custom audience. Are they interested in fashion, technology, music? Use their interest!

Pinterest audience interests are a little harder to find. You have to go to the analytics tab, then hit ‘interest’ (close to the top). Here you will see what boards/interests your Pinterest audience is interested in. Design, healthy eating? You can create a new audience in Facebook to send ads out to. Compare and contrast Twitter and Pinterest by running the same campaign back-to-back and seeing which works best.

Don’t forget Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is a fantastic tool to use to see where your audience is coming from to your site. The best part is you can use that information to your advantage when targeting audiences to advertising using Facebook (or other platforms).

When all of the Facebook audiences have been tested you can take that same strategy to other platforms. Try doing the same test on Pinterest or Twitter! It’s all about working with what you already have in front of you, and then testing other audiences as you go!

Google Makes Mobile Site Mandatory

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Well it’s now official. If you don’t have a website that is mobile friendly you’ll be harder to find on Google.

After months of proclaiming the importance of having a mobile website, Google has finally implemented their changes that make a mobile site mandatory as part of a company’s SEO strategy. Up until last week, Google operated on the honor system allowing companies to just say their site was mobile friendly, but no more. Now Google is the sole arbiter of this issue and no longer will just take a company’s word for it.

So what’s the impact?

Effective last week searches from a smartphone will include the term—mobile friendly—in the results. By including this tag Google is betting that companies will work to make sure their site is verified as mobile friendly: that’s the carrot. There is also a stick, as the new algorithm rolls out over the next several weeks, sites that are not defined as mobile friendly will be dropped down in the search engine results list. While this is not stated specifically it is pretty much guaranteed it will happen.

However there is a silver lining here. The days of having to have a separate website done in mobile format are behind us. Many content management systems, like WordPress offer a 2-for-1 capability. Any site constructed with these tools should be set up to be “responsive.” This means that you can have one website which automatically reformats for the device being used to view it, meaning there is no longer a need to have separate desktop and mobile websites.

If you’d like to know how your site ranks use this link and enter your domain name.

https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/

If you need other reasons to value a mobile website consider the following:

  • Mobile traffic leads the Internet
  • Companies with responsive design websites reduce their bounce rate by 11% on average
  • 66% of all email is opened on a mobile device, think what it means for a client to open an email on their smartphone and not be able to read your website when they click there.
  • In a 2013 survey Google reported that 90% of executives used their mobile devices for research and 34% said they abandoned sites that were not responsive

Beyond the Blog: Benefits of a White Paper

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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

knowing versus believing

Knowing versus Believing

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Our job as marketers, communicators, brand builders isn’t so much helping people to understand as it is helping people to believe.

Facts are good. They can be tough to digest at times, but all in all facts help us to make informed decisions. Facts are the basis for logic and reasoning. They are things we can be definitive about – data that helps to remove internal debate. And yet still, facts won’t always win out over gut reaction.

Need doesn’t always supersede want.

If you put the facts sheets together for the latest iPhone and latest Samsung smartphone it’s quite possible that the Samsung phone has longer battery life, runs apps faster, more storage, better price, better this and that. And yet still, people will buy the phone they want more often than they will buy the one that’s the most logical to purchase.

Why is this?

Logic doesn’t always win in the battle with intuition. Even when all the facts are on the table our minds work to justify our gut reaction; to make it feel okay to want what we want. Psychologists call this Confirmation Bias.

According to a recent BBC report:

“…your logical, slow mind is a master at inventing a cover story. Most of the beliefs or opinions you have come from an automatic response. But then your logical mind invents a reason why you think or believe something.”

Our beliefs put our logical mind to work confirming our want.

How does this impact consumer communication?

Facts are important. We as consumers use facts to validate. But we don’t instinctively use facts as a path to desire. We use facts to justify desire.

If you’re marketing a product that is factually backed as being superior and you’ve spent time educating your audience with those facts but still few people are buying, you could be missing the mark when it comes to creating belief.

How to foster belief

Be genuine and speak authentically – this is where being in touch with your brand is crucial. Speak from a voice that is confident and reflective of your brand values. Understand the persona that represents your company and how you need to carry those traits through website copy, packaging and social media in a way that allows your audience to connect and relate.

Put your benefit foot forward –how does your product or service work to better aspects of the consumer’s lifestyle? Someone buys a drill to create a hole, sure, but the decision to purchase is not always that cut and dry. A need to feel prepared could be the driver or a need to complete a collection or an emotional thread of tradition (my granddad used that same drill) could be the underlying reasons that ultimately complete the purchase. What’s the emotional connection behind the stats?

Create Brand Ambassadors – get the community involved. 77% of people say they are more likely buy a product that comes recommended by a friend or colleague. Brand ambassadors help spread belief.

 

photo credit: Ben Rea

Podcasts and the Art of Storytelling

842 452 Colin Smith

Storytelling is the oldest and most effective method humans have to pass along knowledge. It’s how we’ve developed cultural values and passed history from generation to generation. We are wired to remember it.

This is why learning how to tell your story is just as important as what it is you have to say. If your delivery is boring, cluttered, or disorganized people start to lose interest. Think of it as a dinner party. The people who take control of the conversation and demand the most attention are those who are the best at telling stories. They may not have the best stories at the table, but their ability to make what they’re saying interesting and entertaining is what wins over the crowd.

While there are endless outlets for your brand to tell it’s story, only one format has brought back the classic type of storytelling. Oral storytelling is an intimate and traditional relationship between the storyteller and audience. It’s been around for as long as we’ve used language to communicate. Although it is unlikely you will be speaking to your audience in close quarters, huddled tightly, it still offers an important lesson. The best way to experience the oral tradition of storytelling without interrupting your daily life is by listening to podcasts.

Podcasts have been around for a good while now, but as of recently there have emerged clear victors when it comes to storytelling. They offer lessons in effectively finding your voice, style, and feel to best reach your audience. They’re also great ways to spend long roadtrips or long days at the good ol’ 9-5. Here are some great podcasts to get you started:

Serial: If you managed to make it the past 6 months without hearing about Serial, then I’m genuinely impressed. After its release last October, Serial set a new presidence of what radio-journalism could be. It follows a reporter’s investigation of a murder from 1999. Without giving too much away, it’s a gripping series that reached the top of the charts.

Longform: A Q&A format podcast that focuses on the creative process of writers and journalists. It’s an in-depth and intimate look at a professional storyteller’s processes–both grounding and relieving (hint: everyone struggles sometimes). That being said, it’s always inspiring to hear people in love with their craft and career.

Radiolab: Taking a complex and philosophical subject matter and creating an interesting and understandable radio show is no easy task, but Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich do just that. Their series of podcasts use storytelling to explain or examine broad and sweeping subjects, such as time. Another great part of the show is the production value, which adds to their stories without being distracting.

The Truth: You can’t handle the truth! The Truth is an entertaining Fiction podcast utilizing the tagline “Movie for your ears.” Between improvised dialogue, interesting production, and captivating story lines, The Truth is definitely worth a listen. Also, I don’t apologize for the A Few Good Men reference. Worth it.

99% Invisible: One of my favorites, 99% Invisible hosted by Roman Mars focuses on art, design and architecture. Each episode examines a specific example of design, dicussing it in depth with professionals, experts, or those directly influenced by the matter at hand.

While this is just a short list, there are tons of great podcasts. Each has it’s own story, and they all tell it in an incredibly unique way. It might come in handy when telling your own story someday.

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