Develop Toward Best-in-Class Digital Marketing

The winter Olympics are full of inspiring stories about people discovering an exceptional talent and developing their skills to be world class. For people like me who aren’t familiar with these less covered sports and struggle to comprehend the finer details of their performance, it’s often the most exhilarating part of the games to see someone become the best at their chosen discipline. It’s also insightful to hear about their preparation and sacrifice to be the best because it’s a good illustration of the mindset necessary to be best-in-class. Digital marketing skill and results require the same type of development to reach superior performance.

I always try to provide clients with some benchmarks for their industry or market segment.  Part of that review is showing what top tier results are. It’s not uncommon to find a trainer, consultant, or professional coach that insists they want to be “the best”. Many can even site competitors or colleagues that they’ve envied and would like to emulate their digital marketing.

However, when the steps to achieve best-in-class are laid out, many people find that it’s unrealistic for them to reach that best-in-class level they desire in the short term.

Don’t be frustrated if you are unable to hit the best-in-class numbers that you desire right away.  Like any professional discipline, amateurs don’t start out as professionals. There is a development process to reach your peak performance.

Best-in-class results require best-in-class effort and execution.  If that level of investment in time, money, or resources is outside your means, focus on being best-in-class for your market segment and then progress to more sophisticated marketing.

Image Courtesy of flickr.com

Digital Marketing Content Inspiration

We received a response on our last post that plagiarism is often a result of writer’s block.   That can certainly be the case especially for longer running marketing campaigns.  We are fortunate at eMarketing Innovation in that digital marketing strategy and technology evolves quickly, so even old topics become new after a period of time.  But even with that advantage we are not immune from feeling like we are repeating ourselves or struggling to create compelling content.

So what should a trainer, consultant, or professional coach do if the deadline for their content calendar is looming and they are grasping for ideas?  Here are a few tactics on how you can generate legitimate content, even when you’re not inspired to do so:

Reuse a Topic but with a Different Media

Did you have an article or report that was well received and has been gathering dust for at least six months?  Update the content a bit and shoot a video that visually or verbally illustrates some of the points you made in the written version. This allows you to highlight things like tonality and body language that might be lost in the written format.

It can work in reverse too.  Maybe a series of videos can be compiled into a whitepaper or checklist.

Just be sure that you are offering something new from the original content.  Otherwise, you run the risk of getting into a cycle of regurgitating what you’ve already released.

Newsjacking

Newsjacking is the process of using a breaking news story to make your own commentary or inject your ideas to generate audience engagement. Trainers, consultants, and professional coaches have to educate themselves to stay at the forefront of their field.  Leverage that learning process to inspire new content.  You can do this by making direct commentary on new studies or illustrating a point with current events.

As an example, a client has done a series of articles about negotiating tactic using recent political maneuvering as an example of victories and missteps.

Leverage Frustration

Everyone runs into frustrations with their work.  That energy is often diffused by venting to others, exercising it off, or letting it simmer into a multitude of unhealthy behaviors. Redirect your frustration into inspiration.  Some of the most passionate and insightful content comes from a trainer, consultant, or professional coach that sees a missed opportunity or can’t get best practices to stick.

Write or record what it is that’s frustrating to you and then mold that into an article, video, report, or whitepaper that illustrates how others can avoid or overcome that frustration.

It’s important to do editing on these pieces and helpful to get a third party to review it.  You don’t want to release a rant or something that comes off as threatening. It’s also important not to identify, let alone attack, an individual.  If your content refers to a person, change or omit the name to maintain anonymity.

Inspiration is often the hardest part of content creation.  If you are struggling to come up with compelling content, let the stimuli in the world around you, either past content, current events, or professional frustrations, inspire you to make something unique and valuable.

Is Your Digital Marketing Content ‘Spin’ Plagiarism?

Content is critical to a successful digital marketing campaign.  It’s also challenging and time consuming to generate the type of quality content that will attract your target market and inspire them to engage with you.  Unfortunately, many marketers look for shortcuts for generating content which leads to disjointed messaging that struggles to establish credibility with target markets.

There are only two authentic ways of generating content:

  • Creating original and accurate content that engages your target market.
  • Compiling credible information for your audience and making meaningful commentary on that content (while crediting the content’s creator).

There is varied media for delivering content from video, to blogging, to published articles, to graphic representations; but every type of media boils down to one of these two content strategies for generating content.

Unfortunately, there are two common inauthentic ways to generate content, plagiarism and regurgitation.

Regurgitation is often repeating oneself or others without expanding on or digging deeper into the topic.  Rethinking how you create your content will often shift repetition into clearly communicating your valuable knowledge into compelling content marketing.

Plagiarism is a tougher habit to break. Marketers often view their own plagiarism in a lens of self-delusion, referring to it as their ‘spin’ rather than a copy.  In fact, I rarely find an instance where plagiarism is executed with malicious intent, but rather it’s rooted in fear that the marketer is incapable of making compelling content.

To cleanse plagiarism, the first step is identifying if you are guilty of it.  Most plagiarism in digital marketing is either assembled or restructured.

Assembled plagiarism is seeking out content and then assembling it into something new.  For example, a blogger might select a topic they want to cover and then do a web search for that topic.  They then copy sections of others’ articles and assemble those into their own post.  They then ‘complete’ their content by making bridges between the disjointed copy to make it somewhat more cohesive. If you find that the majority of a piece of content you create is taken from another source and you’re attempting to glue it together, it’s likely that you’re guilty of plagiarism.

Restructured plagiarism is taking something that already exists and modifying copyrighted material or specific elements to make it ‘their own’.  There are even tools that originated in academia making their way into digital marketing like Spinbot, Essay Rewriter, Free Article Spinner, and Auto Rewriter.  These tools restructure sentences and liberally apply the thesaurus to written content. If you are lifting and shifting content, especially if you are doing it in an automated way, you have fallen into a process of plagiarism.

Do any of these content creation processes sound similar to how you develop content?  Hopefully not, but if so, awareness is the first step to eliminating the problem.  But is it really a problem?  After all there are many in depth articles about exactly how much of an article, image, layout, intellectual property, etc. needs changed to avoid copyright infringement.  If your content doesn’t risk a law suit, should it concern you?

Ethics aside, plagiarism will erode credibility in digital marketing.  Most notably because it:

  • Makes for disjointed communications that struggle to find a stable voice to your target market.
  • Results in poorly constructed messages that lack the appropriate level of professionalism (try running your article through one of the rewrite tools above to see an example of how mangled the text can get and how the initial meaning can be completely misconstrued).
  • Often takes the same amount of time as creating your own content. Piecing together disparate information or restructuring something in a different but understandable way is often not a fast process.
  • Ensures you won’t provide original insight because by definition you are simply repackaging what others have already communicated. This ensured you won’t be a market leader but rather flying under the radar hoping your target audience doesn’t discover the authentic voice and insights that you are pulling from.

Plagiarism is often falsely conveyed as inspiration. There’s a difference between inspiration and theft.  Trainers, consultants, and professional coaches should be actively learning about their field of specialty.  Sometimes the information that we encounter can be incorporated into our digital marketing but needs to be done in an authentic way by making new insights into the topic and crediting the original content creator when referencing their insights. When done appropriately, it builds credibility as a market leader, rather than assembling or restructuring what others have created.

 

Image courtesy of Kippelboy | commons.wikimedia.org

Anticipate the New Year Rebound

How do your December metrics look?  If you are like most trainers, consultants, and professional coaches, you experience a holiday slump in the last couple weeks of December.  This slump typically runs across all channels and is directly related to a significant decline in activity as prospects and clients take time off for the holidays. While it’s not advisable to give up on December, it’s important to recognize that dip when you analyze performance at the beginning of the new year.

Reviewing analytics on a monthly basis is a common practice because it’s easy to maintain consistency and ensures regular analysis on a sufficient data set.  Unfortunately, carelessly using the comparison to the previous month to identify trends can become a tendency that leads to false analysis.

A new year often means new digital marketing initiatives that are inaccurately compared to a holiday slump rather than a true benchmark. It’s tempting to see a rebound in January and February and commend ourselves on the genius of our new ideas.  But rather than jumping to conclusions that our revised initiatives or updated plan is responsible, maintain due diligence.  More than any other time of year, it’s important to compare January and February results to the previous year or to the fall before the holidays (if campaigns have changed significantly from the previous year).

Changing nothing at all in January and February often leads to improved month to month performance simply through a new year rebound after the holiday slump.  Take the time to do a multi-faceted review of past performance to make sure your new initiatives are responsible for the improvement rather than simply getting back to speed after decreased holiday activity.

Review This Year’s Digital Marketing Results to Motivate You for 2018 Goal Setting

It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and lose sight of the progress made from the start of the year to the end. As 2017 winds down, review your digital marketing metrics from the past year to illustrate the improvements that you have accomplished.

This serves two purposes:

  • To benchmark what initiatives were effective and which efforts had little impact. Organizing these lessons learned will assist you in being more successful in the new year.
  • To serve as a motivator for setting a plan to meet next year’s goals. After all, if you’ve made significant accomplishments this year, why not do it again next year too?

Most trainers, consultants, and professional coaches slow down at year’s end.  Use some of that time to reflect and then use that reflection to propel you to greater achievements.

Putting a Face to Your Firm in Digital Marketing

Who’s the face of your firm?  There’s not necessarily a correct answer to this question but it is important to define your intended face for the firm so that it can be consistently relayed to your audience.

There are three options for selecting the face of your firm.

An Individual

Are you a sole practitioner?  Congratulations, you are the face of your firm as long as you are including personal information in your branded messages.

But that’s not the only instance where an individual is the face of the firm. Sometimes either by design or organically, one person becomes the personification of the business.  This is common for:

  • An owner that expands the firm but does not include other individuals in marketing material.
  • A firm that has one person that primarily interacts with prospects and clients and delivers services.

A group of people

When a firm includes many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches, the group might be leveraged as a collective face of the firm. This is typically accomplished by rotating individuals into marketing materials or releasing content by category and assigning it to individuals according to their specialty.

Anonymous

The last option is to present the firm’s brand but leave the individuals anonymous.  This is often a personal decision by professionals that prefer to work “behind the scenes” or a result of a firm growing too large to narrow down the face to a manageable group of individuals.  However, make sure that anonymity is not keeping you from making a personal connection with your target audience. It should be possible to find contact information like an address or phone number so that your firm can be verified as legitimate and approachable.

Common problems that signify there is a problem with how the face of the firm is presented is:

  • An individual face of the organization is perceived to be hogging the limelight and creating resentment with other members of the firm who feel like they are not being given their due.
  • A group of people are selected as the face of the organization but as people come and go, the group expands and contracts organically, and makes a personal connection with your audience difficult.
  • An anonymous face becomes “faceless” and the communications are viewed as contrived or without personality.

Make a deliberate decision on the face of your firm and consistently leverage it in your digital marketing.  When done well, it supports the firm’s brand but enhances it with the people that make up that brand.

Personalized Triggers in Email Marketing

Our last post covered how simple personalization can register as SPAM to recipients. Should personalization be abandoned all together even though it is often cited as a major boost to email marketing success?  Obviously not, but the focus of the personalization needs to be selective and identifiable.  Setting up email marketing campaigns by triggered activities rather than general information or demographic data registers as a one-to-one communication which is more impactful to the recipient because it’s clear why they are receiving the email.

Triggered emails are often used in ecommerce.  For instance, if you buy something at an online store, you’ll get sale offers for similar items a few days or weeks later.  Another example is if you fill a cart and then abandon it.  That often triggers an email asking if you need assistance or highlighting coupons for something that was in the cart.

Trainers, consultants, and professional coaches can lift these same concepts for calls-to-action (and that’s often a valuable tool for improving lead conversion) but recipients are savvy enough that most will not register it as a personal one-to-one communication.

For B-to-B email marketing campaigns it’s best to take the concept but modify for individual actions.

Here’s an example. Suppose a group of consultants regularly attend events with trade associations.  At those events they offer a specific report that is pertinent to that particular trade and collect contact information for those that want to receive it. Those two pieces of information can be used to trigger an email.

The email campaign can be sent to the contacts with a short message like,

<First Name>,

I met you at the ________ event.  The _____________ report we discussed is available here.  After you read it, would it make sense to set time aside to discuss any of the common challenges that you might be struggling with?

Regards,

<Consultant Name>

This is not a terribly complex set of data to work with.  There’s four variables to set into a campaign: the person’s name, the event they attended, the report that they would have been introduced to with a link, and the consultant that attended the event.

The complexity is not in the data but rather in the execution.  There are a few prerequisites necessary to make this campaign successful and worthwhile.

  • Good Data Management – Both frontline employees and marketing professionals need to work in unison to make sure the necessary data is collected and organized. Sending emails with the wrong personalized data will make it obvious that the emails are a bulk effort and, worse yet, make it appear as if you don’t care about the recipients.
  • Large Group – If you don’t have a large enough sample size then it’s simpler to send each email directly to each person. Make sure there’s enough scale to make the campaign’s setup worth the effort.
  • Recurrence – Recurring events or offers are ideal because the same process can be used over and over to engage a target group. A high level of recurrence can actually overcome limits on scale if the frequency will make the number of recipients large enough.

Lacking any of these pre-requisites often calls the amount of effort into question.  However, if these pre-requisites are met, triggered emails often convert exponentially higher than general personalization because they genuinely provide a one-to-one personalized offer.

 

Avoid Personalized Email Marketing From Being Mistaken as SPAM

Personalization in email communications is always a valuable goal.  In fact, the level of personalization continues to get more and more sophisticated.  Marketers can segment by trigger events, demographic information, or gathered personal data.  Unfortunately spammers and scammers are leveraging the same tools to deceive recipients. The escalation in marketing tool sophistication is creating skepticism with recipients who are becoming savvier at identifying automated messages and screening them out.

Many email marketers are using a simple email format that appears to be a one-to-one communication with the recipient rather than a bulk communication.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with the approach but some of the tools that made these emails so effective in the past have been adopted in unscrupulous emails and can cause suspicion.

I personally learned this lesson when I received an email requesting a feature review from a marketing tool provider I used in the past.  The email appeared to be sent to me personally but when I scanned the text and saw a generic salutation with my name, my company in the body, a reference to an association I belong to, and a lengthy explanation of the new feature, I assumed it was a bulk email and deleted it.

It’s only when I got a call from a person in their support team that I had worked with that I realized they actually only sent the request to a small number of previous clients for feedback. So if I mistakenly assumed an actual one-to-one email was SPAM, what chance does a personalized bulk email have?

There are some lessons to pull from my red flags in this email.

  • Salutation – make it appropriate to the email. If it’s meant to be informal have it written that way like Hi <First Name>.  Avoid general salutations like Dear <person>, it reads as a merged bulk email.
  • Company – Unless there is really a reason to reference a particular piece of personal data, don’t use it. Any information dropped into a non-specific sentence will appear like a merged field.
  • Association – I assumed the sender had gotten access to the association’s member list and emailed all of us. Same lesson, if the data isn’t pertinent, don’t include it.
  • Lengthy – Make sure your email gets to the point. It should be as short as possible, clear on the request, and simple for the recipient to take the next step.

Not coincidentally these same lessons can be applied to effective one-to-one professional emails you send but those emails typically include enough specific information to not be perceived as a bulk communication. Placing a few personalized fields in a bulk email will not make it personal to the individual.

Our next post will cover including personalized triggers to make the email more engaging by specifically identifying why an individual is receiving the message.

Split Testing Through Campaign Evolution

In our last post we covered why A/B testing can be difficult for some companies to effectively implement. But that doesn’t mean the principles of testing should be abandoned completely.  An evolutionary process of consistent improvement is a more gradual way of implementing split tests.

Many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches set up a template for a marketing campaign, run it for a period of time until they get sick of it, and then do a redesign which starts the process over again.  While this keeps them up to date on new trends in marketing and technology, it’s not introducing improvements as the campaign runs like A/B testing will.

A/B testing at its best is a duplicate communication with one specific difference.  That difference can then be tested for effectiveness and the better performing treatment is then adopted. Digital marketing campaigns should have some level of repetitiveness especially in layout and design.  These repeating elements can be leveraged as a control and updated one at a time and compared for effectiveness over time in the same way that A/B tests are.

Making gradual split tests while running a digital marketing campaign avoids the common limiting factors of A/B testing but still allows for ongoing testing for gradual improvement.  However, there are a few restrictions to keep in mind.

Time

Time is the primary limiting factor in doing gradual split tests. Because the sends are more spread out, changes cannot be implemented as quickly.  Make sure you allow enough time on a single change to gather sufficient information.  For example, if you have a monthly newsletter you’ll need to run the change twice to validate a changes effectiveness which means each change will take three months to validate.

One Change at a Time

This is really another limiting factor of time but subtly different.  Split testing relies on testing a single element to know that particular change is responsible for an improvement or decline. Having more than one thing changed to speed up the process only serves to invalidate your test.

Same Audience

Since there is a gap of time between treatments you need to keep consistency with the audience. Too many changes into who receives the communication will serve to invalidate the test.

Content

While many elements are repetitive in digital marketing, content often is not.  If you have small elements of recurring content, like an email subject line with repeating title or commonly used social media tags, then by all means test it.  But most of the content variables will not repeat consistently enough to be tested in a gradual ongoing method.

 

If you plan for these restrictions and formulate gradual split test changes around them, you can gather many of the same insights that A/B tests will provide without dedicating nearly as much time or as many resources.

Why Companies Struggle to Implement A/B Testing in Their Digital Marketing

A/B (split) testing is the most popular and often most effective way of testing multiple versions of an app, email, or webpage to see which version produces better results. However only 27% – 38% of companies actively do split testing. Of the companies that actively do split testing, almost half claim they do it infrequently or inaccurately. So if A/B tests offer the best opportunity to objectively improve digital marketing conversions, why do so many companies skip it entirely?  Split testing often presents technical or resource challenges that smaller companies struggle to overcome.

There are three common limiting factors that prevent trainers, consultants, and professional coaches from successfully implementing and executing A/B tests:

Time

Marketing is often done at a frenzied pace for many smaller firms.  If a marketing campaign is being done rapidly, or worse yet as a fire drill, it’s difficult to consistently produce communications and meet deadlines.  Making time to take on an additional burden of creating a separate version of a communication and reviewing the analytics to glean valuable insight is simply unrealistic.

A/B Testing Tools

There are valuable tools available to facilitate A/B testing.  Some are built in to digital marketing platforms where others can be added on to your existing platform.  However, inclusive platforms or add on components can be technically challenging to implement and incur additional cost.  Increasing the marketing budget or meeting the requirements to leverage the testing tool is often an unsurmountable barrier for smaller firms.

Sample Size

Accurate A/B testing relies on a sufficient sample size.  If a smaller firm’s website traffic or email recipients don’t generate enough raw data then the A/B test will be flawed and runs the risk of providing inaccurate results.

If you are in the majority of companies that don’t do split testing, is it because of a legitimate limitation to execute them?  If so, it doesn’t mean that you can’t objectively assess your digital marketing but it likely does mean that you will need to go about it in a more gradual way. In our next post, we will cover a less robust form of split testing that relies on an evolving digital marketing campaign.

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