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Anticipate the Summer Slow Down

August 15th, 2017

Acknowledging headwinds is the first step to overcoming them.  Most trainers, consultants and professional coaches experience a slowdown in their digital marketing over the summer months. Anticipating and preparing for that three month lull is critical to ensure that you meet your marketing targets.

Hope is not a strategy.  Almost every training and consulting market will be less available in the summer months. Unless your business is growing rapidly, chances are you have fewer visitors or a percent slow down compared to previous months due to traditional summer slowdowns.

You shouldn’t panic because of digital marketing performance drops during vacation season. Instead prepare for it in one of two ways:

  1. Pad Performance
    If you’ve experienced a summer slowdown in the past, you’re probably going to again next summer. Plan for the slowdown in your annual marketing goals.  The other seasons need to produce enough leads or sales to overcome the anticipated summer deficiency.Rather than setting a standard monthly target, compare year over year statistics to identify what a typical summer slowdown has been for your digital marketing campaigns. Then build a lower summer conversion into your plan and set benchmarks to pad performance. If summer happens to stay consistent then it’s a great opportunity to outperform annual goals.
  2. Increase Activity
    If you have the time or resources, you can increase your digital marketing activity. Essentially this is casting a wider net or increasing marketing frequency to improve your odds of connecting with those prospects that are available in the summer.  Make sure that the increased activity isn’t overbearing. There’s no benefit to alienating good prospects in an effort to keep summer numbers consistent.

Don’t panic when the summer slowdown hits. As long as you maintain your processes and activity, it won’t be depressed for long.

Consistency Counts for a Lot in Digital Marketing

August 1st, 2017

If content is king in digital marketing, then consistency is queen. It’s the power behind the throne that ensures the message is heard.  Don’t disregard the true value of consistency because even a short lapse in consistency can have disastrous consequences.

Stephen Hawking said, “Half the battle is just showing up.” That’s as true to digital marketing success as it is to personal success.  If your digital marketing takes an unexcused absence, your audience is likely to terminate their attention for it.

A while ago we started working with a career consultant that had halted her weekly email marketing campaign to do some “updating”.  The two primary focuses of making a change were to migrate to a different marketing platform and bring in help to administer the campaign.  It took a total of six weeks to get the new platform in place, bring us onboard, agree to a new campaign strategy, and have the first communication queued for a send. During that six week period all the other channels (SEO, Social Media, PPC, and offline promotions) all continued to run as they had in the past.

Once the campaign was ready for launch, we pulled up the most recent tracking data from the website to serve as a baseline for performance. Our new client was shocked to see that her total traffic had decreased by roughly seventy-five percent!

After re-establishing her email campaign, we made strides to recover that traffic but a full recovery was just over two years away.  Meaning a six week lapse in consistency took about eighteen times as long to bounce back.

Why was the drop so steep?  It’s not that her audience forgot about her but rather that they had grown accustomed to her emails and the schedule at which they arrived.  When that schedule was disrupted without warning the email traffic obviously ceased but to compound the problem, she was no longer top of mind, so her audience paid less attention to her other channels as well.

If you have established consistency in your digital marketing, be very cautious about disrupting it. If you intend to make a technical or strategic transition, make sure there is an interim way of continuing your campaign until the new process is ready to go live.  If that’s impossible because of technical or resource constraints, then it’s advisable to alert your audience to a pending upgrade.  That at least puts a positive spin on the lapse in consistency, can provide alternate channels to fill the void, and can serve as a teaser to keep the value in your communications fresh in their mind.

More commonly trainers, consultants, and professional coaches struggle to establish digital marketing consistency. If you find that your digital marketing struggles to get traction with your audience, a lack of consistency could very well be the problem. After all if you aren’t showing up regularly, you are forfeiting half the battle.

Frankensteined Digital Marketing

July 18th, 2017

Our last post explored how overusing or poorly deploying tools can limit options and complicates customization.   This same concept can be expanded into, what I call, Frankensteining your digital marketing components.  Piecing together too many disparate elements is a common cause of technical problems and bad user experiences.

Frankensteining happens when you introduce new elements onto a digital marketing channel and there is either a technical breakdown or unintended bad user experience.  Plugins and APIs are the chief culprits when a site goes from well-developed to monstrosity.

Let’s again use a website as an example.  Frankensteined websites are not that uncommon but are often referred to as “cluttered”.  I was recently on a site trying to read an article and I was hit with three calls-to-action as soon as I landed on the page.  The first was a pop up box that ghosted out the background.  As I closed that, I saw a footer bar advertising another offer.  After I scrolled down the page, a pop up appeared from the lower right corner asking if I’d like to start a chat with the sales team.

Any one of these would have been a perfectly acceptable way of introducing a call-to-action.  But having all three pile on me right away was downright annoying. If they had squeezed something into the header the offers literally would have come at me from all angles. It was annoying enough that I dug through the code a bit to see how the page was executing.

It turned out that all three offers were from separate plugins for the site.  I’m certain the admin for the site did not intend for me to have this user experience but frankensteining the components together resulted in this unintended consequence.

It’s not difficult to fall prey to Frankensteined digital marketing.  In the above example, the chat window appeared on every page so I’m certain it was an API driving that component sitewide.  The footer bar appeared on every blog post and is likely an API defined for content pages only.  The pop up window looked to be what the company was featuring at that time and was likely added as the call to action for that page via a plugin.

Frankensteining happens in all marketing channels, not just websites.  Apps and plugins can change a simple social media page into a cluttered nightmare of links and automated “features”.  Even email can get cobbled together with external components that often cause technical incompatibilities.

Be diligent in how you are piecing components together.  If you find that you are cobbling together a lot of components to achieve new objectives, it might be time to redesign how you are delivering your digital marketing.  Often times the redesign will provide a fresh start that results in a cleaner and simpler solution. Piecing too many components together runs the risk of creating a monstrous problem in technical glitches and bad user experiences.

Image Courtesy of dullhunk | flicker.com

Are Your Digital Marketing Tools Limiting Options?

July 5th, 2017

There is a digital marketing tool to help you through almost any task.  Some of these tools are robust in trying to tackle multiple functions where other are specifically designed to do one specific function.  This multitude of tools gives the impression that anything is possible if they can be combined into a cohesive experience.  Unfortunately, there is usually a hidden problem with implementing sets of tools because it limits options and complicates customization.

Content Management Systems (CMS) are a good example of a robust tool.  Most CMS systems allow for tool, template, and administrative customization.

We recently worked with a client who had a CMS set up for their website that offered a pre-set header, navigation, body layout, and installed plugins set.  It was set up so that a site admin could create or edit pages by simply adding text, images, or selecting plugins. The primary focus for the layout was on a responsive design. Additional page elements had been removed to keep the format simple and ensure that the site displayed well on mobile devices.

The client needed a sub-site landing page created for a program they were offering and wanted the sub-site to mimic materials they had already designed.  The design specifically designated:

  • A six column layout in the body of the page.
  • A navigation element specific to the landing pages that would not appear on other pages of the site.

Neither requirement sounds unreasonable, right?

Sometimes tools make simple sounding tasks into complex ones.  The template had been built to meet a maximum of four columns in the body.  Inserting additional columns caused significant layout problems and was not responsive when viewed on a smaller screen.  Since the navigation was pre-defined, there was no way to insert navigation elsewhere on the page or exclusively to the sub-site pages.

The result was a customized development project to not only create these elements but to also integrate them into the CMS. In this case, rather than solving a problem, the tool made the problem significantly more complex.

Carefully select the tools that you plan to use in your digital marketing and be wary of trying to piece too many together.  Think of your tools like a craftsman.  A plumber doesn’t show up with a full set of carpenter’s tools and vice versa.  They have a tool box specifically designed to do the job they need to complete.

Some digital marketing tools appear robust but either offer poorly crafted functionality or offer functions that aren’t useful.  If you limit your tools to a core set it often makes adding options and customizations simpler because the changes don’t have to be compatible with a complex suite of settings.

Digital Marketing Campaign Examples: Inspiration or Exaggeration

June 21st, 2017

There is no shortage of great ideas for improving your digital marketing.  Looking to other campaigns is often a valuable resource to see how others are leveraging tactics and technology to optimize their efforts.  However, it’s important for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to weight the source of the information and think critically about whether a digital marketing strategy makes sense for their firm.

Beware “get rich quick” digital marketing ideas.  These tend to be simplistic suggestions with promises of unbelievable returns.  Digital marketing can be rewarding but it takes focus and consistency to see results.  Any promises that circumvent the need for dedicated work are unlikely to see reliable returns.

It’s often easy to spot exaggerated claims when the motivations for making them are obvious.  If someone is promoting or selling a tool, we often tend to be skeptical of that information.  But what about times when the motivation for exaggerating digital marketing results is less clear?  It’s easier to get caught up in claims of wild success if the source seems unbiased.

Years ago, I encountered this situation with a sales training firm that I work with.  The owner of the firm had attended a conference where the owner of another firm claimed to be running events twice a month, would fill the room each time, and would close eighty percent of attendees right there.  The success of this program was attributed to a digital marketing promotional campaign and a registration process that pre-screened applicants.

My client was blown away by the results he was hearing and wanted to emulate the campaign exactly.  He proposed scrapping an event schedule that we had been running with consistent success and going to the twice a month plan.  Based on the numbers shared at the conference, we could effectively double the amount of leads from events that we were generating from the current event schedule. I set up a digital marketing campaign modeled after the examples we were provided. After three months we found that we started strong but attendance dwindled after the first couple events.  Worse yet we had half as much closed business as we had averaged doing an event every six months.

As you’d expect, we returned to the original examples to see what mistakes we had made.  I was concerned about list exhaustion offering events so rapidly so reviewed the materials and contacted the owner that claimed to have stellar results. He agreed that our campaign seemed to have all the same critical elements that his did and was at a loss to explain why we would experience such significantly different results. So I asked for some metrics on the other owner’s digital marketing campaigns to compare individual elements to see where we might be off base.  The other owner’s helpfulness ended there and he was unwilling to provide anything other than high-level general information.

My client and I tried to work backwards through the analytics to see if there was an obvious deficiency and in the process we started adding up numbers.  Based on the high level metrics that the other owner had delivered, we estimated his firm would be bringing in over $20 million a year just on this one digital marketing campaign.  The problem with that was that the conference was for small/mid-size businesses and capped attending firms at $5 million in revenue.

That caused us to look into the other firm and their digital marketing which reveled additional discrepencies with what had been shared. In short, the other owner was unaware or directly lying about his level of success. I never followed up after we found the discrepancies so I don’t know for sure what motivated him to exaggerate the results.  I doubt it was malicious. I suspect it was simply looking like an expert at the conference and the accolades that brought.

The point was that my client and I had wasted a lot of time and effort migrating to a model that appeared to be more productive but actually cost conversions.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.  Other organizations digital marketing can be a great source of inspiration but think critically about any claims of wild success.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You can waste a lot of time, money and effort chasing those exaggerations.

Image Courtesy of maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com

Data, Not Preference, Is What Drives Digital Marketing Improvement

June 6th, 2017

It’s said that stats can be used to prove anything.  That is a true statement when we allow our preferences to bias how we conduct digital marketing campaigns.  Digital marketing should be data-driven and changes should be honestly tested to see what is most effective. Dictating changes based on preferences will suit your tastes and make you feel like your gut feel is spot on, but data will drive real performance improvement.

The trouble with preference bias is it’s something people often aren’t self-aware of.  Trainers, consultants and professional coaches unknowingly craft experiments that make their preferences shine through as the best way of doing things.

We had an obvious case of this happening recently with a client. The client attributed his email marketing campaigns success to putting questions in the subject line. The problem was that the open rate had been in a noticeable decline over the last twelve months. Our client was resistant to testing other types of subjects because he was certain that wasn’t the problem.  He had used questions in the subject consistently and had several best-practice articles that sited questions as the best converting subjects. In fact, he said, “I tested subject lines that weren’t questions seven months ago and the open rate was worse.”

After experimenting with some other potential causes, including changing email marketing platforms to make sure that delivery was not a problem, we reviewed the test he had run.  It turned out that he had used the subject right after adding a new list from a trade show.  Many of those first time subscribers were lured into signing up for his email list but weren’t motivated to read his campaign, at least not right away. The bounce rate data confirmed that the new contacts were the catalyst for the open rate drop, not the subject line. Upon this realization he agreed to trying subjects without questions.

While the other tests produced small or moderate changes, the updated subject lines produced the most notable improvements.  Of course this is not to say that questions make for bad subject lines.  But it definitely does mean that exclusively using them in this client’s case was negatively impacting his email marketing performance.

There are many potential biases in digital marketing and none of them should be universally adopted without testing.  If you are not implementing changes that are counter to your preference on a semi-regular basis then there’s a fair chance that your preferences are driving your decisions rather than the data.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Atlasowa

Stop Checking Those Digital Marketing Reports!

May 24th, 2017

Attention to detail is a valuable asset in digital marketing campaign analysis. Obsessively reviewing those details is not.

Data-driven digital marketing is an ideal path to improving your digital marketing performance but you have to allow time for that data to illuminate trends, opportunities, and inefficiencies. If you are reviewing the same data more than once a week (monthly is appropriate for most trainers, consultants, and professional coaches) then you need to stop checking on the data so frequently.

A surplus of time and resources is rarely a problem for digital marketers.  Instead of constantly fixating on the data, invest your time and effort into other digital marketing activities.  Scaling back on how often you run reports allow for meaningful analysis and frees up time to take action on that analysis.

Over or Under Qualifying Leads

May 9th, 2017

Ease of conversion is a common goal in digital marketing but is it at odds with your sales process?  There is a balancing act in allowing users to easily access offers while not overburdening the sales or delivery team with a lot of qualification requirements.

Years ago I was confronted by a sales person after leads came back from a direct mail campaign.  After making calls from his lead list he grew frustrated from lackluster results and said, “Why do I get all of the goofy ass leads!?” While I think that the leads were only one part of the problem, he brought up a fair point.  If a lead is not a viable prospect, does it have any value?

It’s frustrating for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to be fed “leads” that are poorly suited to their services.  However, the entire purpose of marketing is eroded if attempts to qualify leads drastically reduce marketing conversions.

To get the balancing act right, it’s important to first verify that you are working on the right side of the problem.  Lead qualification is often unduly blamed for a poor sales system or lacking an effective approach call process.

If you analyze your leads and find that there is a consistent problem with the quality then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your marketing communications going to the right group of people?
    After all if you haven’t evaluated your audience and it’s made up of people that would be bad leads, it’s a sure bet that lead quality will be poor.
  • Is critical qualification data being omitted from the conversion process?
    If you need critical information for an offer’s conversion then it’s advisable to add it. For example, if you have an event that’s only for a particular industry then collecting industry information on the registration is a god screen to make sure the lead is viable. If there is any opportunity to populate that data from other sources (rather than requiring data entry from users) it’s a good option to keep conversion friction down.
  • Can ancillary qualification steps be added after conversion?
    Rather than trying to place all of the qualification on the user during conversion, it is often possible to do additional qualification after conversion. Using the industry specific event as an example, a survey might be triggered after registration asking people that registered to check off common problems that they would like to hear addressed at the event.  This ensures that attendees have compelling reasons to attend and provides you with some hot button issues that the group is dealing with. If you find that attendees are struggling to identify problems then they might be directed to a more suitable offer or perhaps the event is not a well targeted.

Digital marketing drip campaigns allow for even poor leads to be nurtured into good leads.  Over qualification deprives you of the opportunity of staying engaged with those people that don’t currently make a good client, even though they might become a good client in the future. Doing too much qualification on the front end can severely hinder a digital marketing campaign because the flow of leads into the ongoing marketing campaign is constricted and restrictive conversions limit your ability to analyze whether offers are broadly resonating with your audience.

Inline Formatting For Unique Instances

April 26th, 2017

Almost every current website is built on a pre-existing platform that facilitates content management and site maintenance.  These tools are pre-set with formatting that applies throughout the site.  So what happens if you have a unique situation where you need to deviate from the pre-established format?  Inline formatting can often be leveraged on an isolated case to update website layouts to fit a unique need.

Typically site formatting is all driven from centralized Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).  Then each webpage references that CSS to apply formatting.  This has a technical benefit (cleaner and leaner code) and a visual benefit (consistent design throughout the site).  However, no matter how thorough a developer is, there will always be a unique situation where the user wants to use some non-standard formatting.

It’s important to use discretion when using inline formatting. Inline formatting goes against web standard and can therefore produce unexpected results.  In addition, you are intentionally undermining the layout that a designer/developer put in place, presumably for a good reason.  That means you should have an equally good reason for undoing it, preferably one that is data-driven.

Inline formatting should also be used in isolated situations only.  If you find that you have a widespread need to use inline formatting or are repetitively using the same code, it’s probably best to reexamine your template layout and make site wide updates.

All that said, if the web platform allows for direct code formatting then a user can leverage inline code to update the layout.  Inline formatting is basically CSS code placed within a HTML page.  It’s most often used in the following tags:

  • <div>
  • <span>
  • <p>
  • <font> – Careful with this one as it is an old tag that will not be supported in some browsers. However, it can be used on platforms that strictly remove other types of inline formatting

Web platforms will often omit or ignore certain inline formatting tags from deploying so trial and error is essential.  Experimenting involves two questions:

  • What – The code that will render your page/element in the way you want.
  • Where – Putting that code in the appropriate location that your site will accept.

For the times where you have an individual need for one-off formatting on your site, inline formatting can allow you to modify the typical layout to meet the unique need.

Should Your Digital Marketing be AGILE?

April 12th, 2017

It’s no secret that technology greatly influences how we work.  In recent years those influences have been bleeding outside of the realm of technology and becoming general principles for project management.

Sometimes these principles are skillfully applied outside their original intended purpose but in many cases they serve as an inefficient construct.  The most prevalent technology concept that has bled into digital marketing conversations is applying the Agile Methodology to digital marketing campaigns.

To apply Agile Methodology to your digital marketing you first need an explanation of what Agile Methodology is.  As a high level description, Agile is a process for software and system development where developers create a piece of software, review it, get feedback, then refine it.  Other pieces of the software are likely being developed for the same project and using the same process.  These bursts of development are called “sprints”  and allow multiple people or groups to review and provide feedback so that all the elements create a cohesive whole throughout the project.

The benefit of the agile methodology in software development is that it lets developers focus on a single element of the software, get immediate feedback, and refine it before moving further into development.  It also prevents any element from being set in  stone so that improvements can be made later in the project. In this way, elements of the software don’t become siloed by function and it ensures that the software is evolving into something users want, rather than what the developers think users want.

The agile methodology has been widely converted into a project management philosophy. While elements of it can be used effectively, it is also easy for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to misapply the methodology.

The basic structure for any good digital marketing campaign is:

  • Set a strategy
  • Develop the content
  • Launch an element of the campaign
  • Review the results
  • Refine the campaign using the metrics

This process can be adapted into an Agile framework:

  • Project backlog (list of all projects)
  • Sprint backlog (individual elements of the project)
  • Burn chart (Visual tool of what is complete)
  • Task board (Visual tool of what needs done)
  • Sprint (Do the work)
  • Sprint review (Gather feedback)
  • Retrospective (Set plans for correction/improvement)

The real risk of misapplying Agile is over complicating what should be simple.  Here are some common misapplications that makes Agile slow your marketing progress to a crawl:

Not really understanding the Agile Methodology – Agile is widely used as a management fad or for its buzzwords.  It’s not uncommon for someone to state that they want their marketing to follow the Agile process when what they really mean is that they want rapid deployment of marketing communications.

Unnecessary meetings –  SCRUMS are daily meeting to focus a software development project.  That’s very useful to a large group of developers trying to build a single cohesive software offering.  For a small group of people where only a few are actually executing the marketing, it’s a waste of time.

Sprints are too fast – Sprints in the Agile methodology almost never go over a month.  Many digital marketing campaigns require at least a month’s data to effectively analyze it.  Speeding up the analysis often means taking action on incomplete data.

Retrospective on what you already know – Software developers rely on user tests to verify what works and what doesn’t.  An advantage that digital marketing has over software development is an actual data set on what was effective and what isn’t.  In an effort to follow Agile some people feel compelled to survey their audience on what they like/dislike about the marketing campaign. If you diligently analyze the data then you can see what your audience prefers rather than what they think they prefer.

Using complicated software tools – There are a lot of project management tools that offer the agile methodology.  For large groups this can be a valuable tool for keeping everyone on the same page.  For a small group it takes a long time to do what a simple flowchart or summarized email string could accomplish.

 

Agile methodology was designed so that software development was flexible in what it delivered rather than developing an entire software offering only to find out its not what people really want.  That flexibility and constant evolution process is what digital marketing should take from the Agile Methodology.  If you’re taking more than those core principles from the methodology make sure it’s increasing your efficiency rather than hindering it.