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.

Roll Out Schedule: Single Launch or Phased Releases

Our site update is getting closer to completion and you may have noticed in the last several posts that we’ve released updates in phases.  Four to be exact: blog update, website update, content revision, and SEO element revision.  Hopefully those last two were less obvious or invisible to our visitors but this phased rollout raises the question, why not get all the updates set up and then do a single launch? Neither a single launch nor a phased rollout is appropriate for all situations but each offer unique advantages that trainers, consultants, and professional coaches should consider when rolling out an update.

  • Phased Release 

    Phased releases have the advantage of evaluating elements of your update without the whole project going live. It’s an important aspect of the AGILE process and allows for intermittent testing and analysis. It also allows for individual elements to launch faster rather than waiting for the whole update to be go-live ready.

  • Single Launch 

    Launching an update all at one time is a more traditional method but still offers advantages. Cohesion is the biggest benefit.  For example, if you are updating a layout for an email campaign, it’s best to have the design fully fleshed out rather than launching with a half-developed concept. A single launch can also be used as a promotional tool if the update is significant enough that it might draw attention from your audience.

 

In our case, launching the blog update gave a badly needed refresh to our posts while allowing us to test the template before deploying it to the rest of the site.  While the interim period lacked cohesion between the site and the blog, we were sure to have a post explaining the process. Once the template was deployed site wide, it was an obvious choice to make content and SEO element updates live as they were ready because they were unlikely to be visible to our visitors.

Phased launches are often most beneficial due to their expedited go-live process and ability to test the results. However, a solid production schedule must be defined and followed.  If your digital marketing often gets postponed or you’ve struggled to adhere to deadlines, then a single launch might be a better fit.  A perpetual “under construction” notice or half-baked appearance gives your audience the impression that your marketing, and therefore your product or service, is not your primary focus. A phased rollout that gets stuck mid-change causes confusion, often looks unprofessional, and might negatively impact your processes.

If you can logically break up your project into multiple releases, do a phased launch.  If you can’t see any natural breaks or are uncertain of your ability to consistently move through those releases, do a single launch.

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?

Have You Gotten Lazy with Digital Marketing Technology?Step one of updating our blog (and the site) is complete with a new theme.  The next step is to finish our theme customization and launch the layout site wide.  We don’t update our site layout as often as we should so it provides a clear illustration in how technology has evolved over the last few years.  The options, sophistication, and ease of an upgrade makes significant advances in such a relatively short amount of time.  But do these advances make us spoiled and lazy?  If you aren’t putting in the effort to meet your desired result, then yes. It’s your responsibility to provide the resources necessary to professionally deliver your digital marketing.

As we weighed themes and what base layout we’d like to establish for our upgrade, I browsed reviews for user feedback.  I happened across this review with some very specific requests for a “boring” theme. I happen to agree with the poster that many themes are over-designed and create additional work hiding elements that aren’t necessary.  I thought the rest of the post suggesting that developers should strive for the specific set of features that the poster desired was absurd.

I’m a home improvement DIY person. Most projects go fine . . . some don’t.  Recently, I falsely believed that replacing my gas dryer was going to be a simple process.  I knew the steps involved and had all the materials, however I wasn’t prepared for the gas hose to be corroded onto the gas line.  Since I was already a bit wary of working on gas, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and called a plumber.  It was a simple job for the plumber who had a giant wrench and a particular technique to unscrew the hose from the pipe.

Sometimes an easy job for a professional is an impossible job for a less experienced person.  Imagine if I had asked the plumber to bring his giant wrench to my house and walk me through separating the hose from the pipe.  Most people would agree that’s ridiculous yet here’s a post asking for almost the same thing from a theme developer.

WordPress themes are typically built on a series of CSS and PHP files.  All the code that drives that theme is accessible which means with some work it can be customized to whatever layout you want.  Furthermore, many themes will document those files to make it simpler to make the edits for customization.  It’s not the theme developers responsibility to spoon feed it to you.

As technology becomes all pervasive there seems to be a feeling of entitlement that users should be able to do anything without putting in the effort or resources to achieve it.  Just because some things offer simple point and click or drag and drop, doesn’t mean that all things can or should.

Let’s be grateful to the theme developers that typically provide a solid foundation for site builds. If you need functional or layout customization beyond that, it’s your responsibility to seek out the resources or professionals to do so.  Don’t be lazy about how you implement the technology because it’s extremely unlikely that the perfect solution will fall into your lap.  Take responsibility for implementing your own perfect solution.

Keep Your Digital Marketing Up to Date with Technology

Digital marketing is a unique blend of communication and technology.  Both aspects need to work in tandem for effective campaigns.  While communication platforms change, the basics for communication, video, text, interaction, and design remain fairly static.  Technology on the other hand . . . changes rapidly. Don’t allow your digital marketing to be undermined by falling behind on technology.

This post is a self-criticism.  Our site, especially the blog, is in dire need of a technology update.  Obviously client projects come first but we’ve allowed this to fall so far behind that it’s impacting our SEO (because we aren’t meeting some of the responsive layout requirements that Google looks for).  It’s a good example of how falling behind in one channel can cascade down to others.

It often takes a concerted effort to get your digital marketing technology up to date.  Our blog for instance has the latest plugins and updates; unfortunately the layout itself has fallen behind the times which limits the entire site’s performance.

Don’t repeat the error we have made here.  Review the technology that your digital marketing is based on at least every other year.  That ensures that you won’t fall far behind current technology and allows you to identify elements that are out of date and map a strategy to update them.

Image courtesy of Joel Penner on Flickr.

Anticipate the Summer Slow Down

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

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.

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