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Anticipate the Summer Slow Down

Tuesday, 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.

Frankensteined Digital Marketing

Tuesday, 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?

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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!

Wednesday, 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.

Should Your Digital Marketing be AGILE?

Wednesday, 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.

 

 

 

The Copying and Pasting Checklist

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Copying and pasting is probably my favorite command on a computer. What’s not to love? It saves so much time when you can use a past communication, setting, or tool on a new project.

I didn’t realize my dependence on copying and pasting ran so deep until doing a demo on a web platform with the vendor. As I explored the functionality I asked, “How do I make a copy of this page?” The vendor told me that they eliminated the copy function because they found that administrators were overusing it and repetitive data and tags were creeping into sites.  As a “best practice” they required admins to start pages from scratch.  While my impression of the platform was not great to that point, that remark ensured I was not going to implement it.

How can a function that saves so much time be a bad habit? While I don’t agree that eliminating copying and pasting from a platform or marketing processes is appropriate, I have to admit that there is a grain of truth in what the vendor was saying. Duplicating content does require diligence to ensure that all the appropriate settings are updated to prevent outdated or inaccurate information being placed in updated communications.

Let’s use an event webpage as an example. When copying and pasting an old event, obvious changes like updating the graphics and text are rarely missed but the entire user experience should be reviewed to make sure that all the information they receive is correct.

Graphics – Have the promotional or speaker images been updated?
Text – Has all the appropriate text been changed? Pay attention to minor text mentions for things like specials or length of the event.
Meta Tags – Has the page’s header information been refreshed so that the people searching for the event are able to find it and land on the right page?
Form – If you are not using an automated app, is the form saving to the right database? Do the data fields need updated?
Landing Page – Does the confirmation for the event’s landing page need updated with logistic info or other instructions?
Email Confirmation – Has the automated email been updated with logistic info or other instructions?
Event Surveys – If you survey attendees before the event, has the content and/or the link been updated so that they are surveyed on the appropriate topic?

This checklist shows that something as simple as duplicating a page requires verification on many aspects of the user experience. This checklist might only be a starting point for more complex digital marketing activities. Use this example to customize your own copying and pasting processes. These checklists will ensure that you get all the benefits from copying and pasting without it becoming a bad habit.

Responsibly Re-use Content

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Online marketing has become a voracious beast that devours content. Keeping quality content flowing at a pace that can feed your email, social media, and/or blog can be a daunting task. If a trainer, consultant, or professional coach responsibly re-uses their content it can help fill gaps in their online marketing campaigns and still provide value to their target audience.

There are a few ways of re-using content:

  • Refresh Old Article/Video/Podcast Etc. – Reusing older content that has not seen the light of day in a while is often a simple way of getting more out of the effort you spent in creating it. However, it’s important not to get lazy by publishing it without a review. Be certain that you haven’t used the content lately (a year is often a safe time line). The world changes quickly and even an article or video from only a year ago might need updates on technical points or current events. The theme from Articles or videos that are several years old might be retained but frequently need a significant rewrite. For example, we just updated an article that referenced “replying to a pager” and “receiving a fax”.
  • New Spin On A Repeated Topic – This article is a partial re-use. Read the previous version about the pitfalls when you chronically re-use content. Previous content will often focus on one specific aspect of a topic. It’s possible to re-use that content by covering a different aspect. In this case the previous article speaks to the problems that can arise when you chronically re-use content. This article is on the same topic but is designed to suggest responsible and effective ways to re-use content.
  • Repackage Content – If you have newer content that resonates well or a series of articles or videos, it might be repackaged into a new offering. For instance, if you have an email marketing series on a particular topic or theme, that might be edited into a whitepaper or eBook.
  • Use Others Content As Commentary – It’s possible to re-use other people’s content but it takes diligence. The best way to do this is as commentary. This is often achieved by making a short comment on social media or by doing a lengthier review/analysis on what someone else has provided. In either case it’s important to make it clear who created the original content so that you are not taking credit for other people’s work.

Content creation is a significant effort in most digital marketing campaigns. While it’s important to provide unique content to your audience that highlights your unique expertise or offering, content re-use can be a valuable tactic in meeting a burdensome content creation schedule.

Photo credit: Flickr, Steven Snodgrass

Calls-to-Action Dilution

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Every digital marketing campaign should drive toward a call-to-action.  Even communications that are primarily educational or informational should have some method of pointing people to a next step.  There’s often a fear that a call to action will get stale. That can be a valid fear if your audience no longer values what is being offered. However, that fear can drive digital marketers to over-produce and under-promote their calls-to-action. Focus on making a quality call-to-action and promoting it thoroughly so that your target audience is given a sufficient opportunity to take advantage of the offer.

Technology keeps accelerating the pace of digital marketing.  This rapid pace often shifts focus to what’s new rather than what’s good.   Something new will often get attention but something good will get a conversion. Effective digital marketing is built on quality calls-to-action not just something new.

We work with a client that has had success offering whitepapers.  Their conversion rates were so good in fact that it encouraged them to create more whitepapers.  After all if one whitepaper can create dozens of leads, then two whitepapers can produce hundreds, right?

When conversion rates started to slip on subsequent whitepapers they sped up production.  Producing the whitepapers strained their ability to research and analyze data on the featured topic so the depth of the content within the whitepaper eroded.  To combat that they started producing short reports based on presentations or articles they had previously released.

The reports were not well received so they started creating them more frequently hoping to cover specific topics that would appeal to their different target audiences.  But since the content was not robust and the segments within their list found little value in them. This led to the middle of last year when they were releasing a report every 2 to 4 weeks, doing a blitz promotion of it for several weeks, and then moving on to the next one.

Trying to keep that breakneck pace was exhausting their resources and killing conversion rates. It was a lot more work to offer something new with very few extra leads to show for it.

So why weren’t leads increasing as they offered more calls-to-action? Unfortunately direct scaling doesn’t often happen on calls-to-action unless the call to action is as strong as the first and appeals to an equal number of non-duplicated people. Instead of scaling there is a dilution effect where the same people convert repetitively, poorer quality offerings drop the overall conversion rate, or both. This is further compounded when the call-to-action is not given sufficient time for promotion.

If you find that you’re rapidly releasing calls-to-action but are not getting sufficient leads or sales to justify the effort, then you have either misidentified what has value to your audience or you are suffering from over-production and the call-to-action dilution effect.