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.

Frankensteined Digital Marketing

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

Should Your Digital Marketing be AGILE?

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.

 

 

 

LinkedIn’s New Company Page Gets Even Better

Have you accessed the new LinkedIn company page?  The new design started deployment several months ago and most of the company pages I administer have now been converted.  LinkedIn has been kind enough to retain access to the old administration page but states that once all company pages have been migrated, the old admin experience will be retired.  So if you’ve been avoiding the upgrade, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the new admin dashboard. To make it easier LinkedIn has made updates in the last week  to eliminate two primary frustrations.

The new layout is cleaner and offers some useful administrative tools.  That said whenever I hear that an interface is going to be “cleaner”, I immediately try to identify what they’ve removed and how that might affect me.

The better news is that the two frustrations I had with the new admin dashboard have just been updated to improve the experience.

Embedded Images

Clearly LinkedIn is trying to make the new company pages more scanable and is relying on images to keep the content from getting cluttered.  To do that it pulls the featured image from a page.  As long as you’ve set that image, LinkedIn seamlessly embeds it into the post.

But what if the page you are linking to does not have a defined image or has misassigned one? Before the update I found it frustrating because LinkedIn used that wrong image or created a basic title text post which doesn’t exactly draw attention when placed in a sea of graphics.

The most recent update corrected the deficiency by reinstating the simple add image icon and making the title editable.  It’s still most efficient to have a defined image but if you are linking to a page that you don’t have administrative access to or need to make customized changes within LinkedIn, it’s an option again.

Sharing from Your Profile

LinkedIn does not currently let you sort your feed. The content defaults to “featured content” so finding a particular post can be a frustrating experience.  LinkedIn says that sorting your feed by date posted will be returning soon but, for now, sharing company news to personal accounts can be a headache.

While I’ve not seen research to prove this, the new update seems to share news from a particular company. That company’s posts then become more prevalent in my feed for additional sharing. A good workaround is to alert anyone that might want to share your company news that they should do so when it’s featured on their feed and not delay.  This typically happens soon after the content is posted on the company page. After a few shares it becomes easier for individuals to find the company posts.

The added benefit to a group sharing company news as soon as it’s available is that once one user shares the content, other users can locate that share in the first users profile and share the share.  This prevents multiple people from having to hunt down a post to share it.  Once one user shares it, the other users can navigate directly to the content via that share.

 

Avoiding these couple frustrations has let me appreciate the scanability of the new company pages and the addition of several useful tools.

 

Photo credit: Flickr, Nan Palmero

Responsibly Re-use Content

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

Digital Marketing’s Value is Disrupted without Gauging Your Target Market’s Perception

contentIf you are searching for a new, and critical, perspective on digital marketing then Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble is a good option. The book came to my attention after hearing other digital marketers’ mixed reviews. The book is an account of author Dan Lyons’ time with HubSpot, a popular digital marketing platform.  It was described to me as funny but lacking an understanding of tech companies in general, but digital marketing specifically. While Lyons’ criticisms can be harsh at times, they often had merit. I think the sentiment that the book is a disgruntled employee whining about a past employer is an unfair review and overlooks one of the biggest lessons learned that can be taken from the book.  Your target market’s perception of your digital marketing campaigns is what assigns value to it.

Lyons largely covers the culture clash he experienced at HubSpot but also touches on some of the contradictions he saw with their digital marketing tactics.  Specifically when reviewing HubSpot’s digital marketing strategy he states that they claimed to hate SPAM and showed their disdain by flooding their customers and their customers’ customers with SPAM. He also writes about predrafted content that HubSpot employees were strongly encouraged to mass share to social media feeds to flood those channels with repetitive content.

Most digital marketers would counter the SPAM claim by citing opt-in processes or content engagement. They’d probably also suggest that the social content would be organically posted so that it was not a content or link blitz.

Lyons has a point in these examples. There are a lot of digital marketers that skirt a fine line, or blatantly cross it, with list building. To suggest that a digital marketing platform will reliably enforce CAN-SPAM practices is unrealistic.  Flooding social media with duplicate content is an obvious abuse.

It’s important not to get so caught up in our own digital marketing campaigns that we start disregarding outsider analysis. After all, our perception of our digital marketing is secondary to how our target audience perceives it.

Digital marketing data analysis, if done consistently and credibly, is designed to supply an objective view of how our content is being received which dictates its effectiveness. But even that will still contain some subjective judgment calls. That’s where outside perspectives can provide poignant insight on how your digital marketing can provide more value to your target audience and you in return.

Checklist Mindset in Digital Marketing

I am a checklist junkie.  I create monthly task calendars that I break down into weekly checklists and then create daily journal entries for what needs accomplished. For me it’s natural to want to do a task, complete it, and then check it off the list.  While valuable in task completion, a checklist mindset can be detrimental when misapplied to digital marketing efforts that require ongoing and consistent execution.

In a recent review of an SEO report with a small business owner, we outlined a number of updates that could be made to improve his site’s ranking.  One of those aspects was review links to his site.  The business owner assured us that he had plenty of reviews and pointed to his 5 Yelp reviews as evidence.  He felt that reviews had already been done and should not be part of the action plan for further improving his search engine ranking. While having the review in place was certainly a positive thing, there were two misconceptions.

The first was the apparent suggestion that 5 reviews was the end of the road.  Marketing is a consistent and ongoing process.  Five is a good start, six would be better, twenty-five would make significant impact on his site rank.  The method of soliciting reviews can evolve, an individual review can be completed, but there should not be pre-defined finish line on the activity itself.

The second issue was that all five reviews happened within a couple weeks of one another.  So the listing showed that they had been in business for three years but only one month contained reviews.  Either that was a stellar month or it’s an obvious and short-sighted attempt to drum up reviews. This has two negative consequences.  The first is that search engines will identify and marginalize such an isolated spurt of activity.  The second is that people that use the review site are likely to notice an anomaly like this which will call the credibility of the reviews into question.

Rather than having a mindset that reviews are finished, the business owner needs to break the category into replicable tasks.  As an example, he might have a thank you email or satisfaction survey that gets delivered to clients that features a link to leave a review in Yelp.  In this way the individual task can be thought of as complete but the overarching activity of acquiring reviews is ongoing.

Checklists and project completion mindsets are invaluable in executing the individual tasks of a digital marketing campaign but should be consistently applied in cycles. The activity itself doesn’t end when a particular instance is complete, but rather should be reapplied to a future instance. Set a goal and then build an execution plan into your daily operations. Quick fixes lead to short term results that can often do more harm than good for your long-term objectives.

Website Content and Social Media Content Offer Unique User Experiences

It’s common for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches to think of social media and their website as the same thing.  This false assertion often leads to mirroring navigation and content that rarely suits either channel. While social media content and website content are related they are two very different channels that will result in very different user experiences.

Social media content is like a festival market shop where your website is like a store in the mall.  Both have a certain product offering surrounded by a larger market but the environments are much different.

The primary difference in the social media environment is that it is constantly changing and competition for attention is immediately prevalent.  Like a festival, it’s difficult for a user to define exactly what they want to buy because the environment is not well suited for a targeted search. You rarely see a festival market with a map of shops because the vendors, products, and availability are too fluid to map out. Likewise, social media does not provide that structure, so the experience needs to draw people in.

Users are guided by what is current and interesting to them. What makes festival markets compelling is the excitement in discovering unique items that aren’t widely available elsewhere.  In that way your social media channels need to provide timely, relevant, and unique information to your target audience.  Like a festival, the next shop is right next door so if your content is dated or irrelevant then the next more compelling shop is immediately available.

Alternatively, your website is like a store in the mall.  There are other stores available in the mall but there is a barrier that makes the store your own defined place. A store at the mall is typically calmer with less outside distraction.  Well organized stores help shoppers find a particular item that they have already defined.  Websites should function in the same way.  There should be an orderly flow for visitors to find what they want or get assistance. Search engines serve as the mall map, so once people arrive in at the site it should be obvious how to find what they are seeking.

A word of caution not to use the analogy to celebrate one channel over the other.  Reactions like “social media is a flea market of crap,” or “websites are stuffy stores with no excitement,” miss the point.  Unlike physical stores, digital channels have an opportunity to leverage the strengths that each channel offers.  Crossing these channels so that users can get distinctive content and then switch to a structured environment to gain specific content allows you to appeal to a larger user base.

Digital Marketing Bias: “Digital marketing tools should always be free.” or “Free tools are ineffective.”

The amount of tools available for digital marketing is growing exponentially. The quality and prevalence of these tools varies greatly. This often makes it difficult to identify and effectively implement the tool that’s best suited to your marketing campaign’s needs. One common factor that drives a decision to adopt a tool is whether it’s free or fee based. This factor seems to have two opposing viewpoints that either requires a free version or fosters mistrust in the tool if it’s not a paid service.

Digital marketing tools should always be free.

There is often an expectation that digital marketing tools are free. There are useful free tools but each should be carefully analyzed. The old saying, “you get what you pay for” can often be applied to no cost options.

  • Free . . . Sort Of – Many marketing tools offer a base level service at no cost. Sometimes that base level is sufficient, but many times it is not. Survey Monkey is a tool I’m regularly told by trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that they want to use because it’s free. I’ve yet to complete a digital marketing campaign with the free version. The purchased version always becomes necessary due to the setup and data limitations of the free service. The free services will restrict how you deliver your message and often times will hold your data hostage without an upgrade to the paid service. Nothing will eat up time and money like false starts with tools that end up not meeting your needs or requiring unexpected fees.
  • Support – Tools are worthless without someone that is proficient in using them. Proficiency is often gained from self-teaching through user guides and FAQs, which most free tools offer. However, sometimes the tool doesn’t work as expected or some additional guidance is needed to use it effectively. Most free tools offer no support, either user error or system error. So if there is a problem, users are on their own to figure it out or work around it.
  • Extra Services – Steadfastly sticking to no cost options can blind digital marketers to additional services that might benefit them. For instance, almost every social media platform offers a paid ad service but it’s often ignored due to the cost. These services obviously need to be leveraged intelligently so that unnecessary expenses aren’t created, but it should be an option on the table if it’s likely to benefit a campaign.

Free tools are ineffective

Some trainers, consultants, and professional coaches have a general mistrust of free tools. The thought is generally that no cost equals no quality. Neglecting valuable free tools hurts effectiveness and the marketing budget.

  • Bait and Switch – This is the opposite view of those that jump at “free” services without getting the details. The thought is that every free service is a useless dumbed down version that will force users into getting the paid version. While some healthy skepticism is valuable, too much will have you miss out on valuable services. A good example of this is Google Analytics. Google Analytics can be set up for free and provides valuable tracking data consistently and accurately without a need to upgrade.
  • Neglect Options – Many tools are offered only on a no cost basis. Disregarding them outright eliminates an option that could very well meet your needs. A common example of this is plugins for website content management platforms. Many developers create a solution for the platform and provide it to the platforms store for those that might have similar need. Many of these are free and do an admirable job at a certain function. If you steadfastly need to pay for any tool you use, you might be able to make a donation to the developer but don’t disregard it outright because the developer made it publically available at no cost.
  • Too Much Work – There is often a complaint that free tools require too much work to be implemented. This can be true in some cases but is true just as often for many paid tools. All tools require time and effort to get setup and utilized in your digital marketing campaign. When seeking a tool for a particular function know that it will take work to implement and base your analysis on functionality and feasibility rather than if it’s free or not.

Digital Marketing Bias: “Social media is a waste of time.” or “Social media is the only thing that matters.”

media-998990_1920Social media is the newer channel in digital marketing but one that is growing fast. In fact it’s growing so fast that it’s becoming difficult to lump all social media platforms together. The most frequent social media argument is over which platform is most effective. But to avoid too much granularity, we’ll go with its overall effectiveness. Because of social media’s rapid evolution it tends to be the most polarizing topic for biases.

Social media is a waste of time

Seasoned marketers tend to be the hold outs on social media. A scoffing or general derision is directed at social platforms as an “unauthentic” way of marketing. There tend to be three versions of this bias:

  • Just socializing – The claim is that no “real” marketing can be accomplished on social media because it’s a tool for casual socializing. That’s like saying networking events aren’t good to generate business because it’s a social setting. Just because most social networks are conversational does not mean that you can’t engage meaningfully in a way that builds your brand and drives conversions.
  • Doesn’t convert – The suggestion is that social media audiences never buy or become identifiable leads. What this view often means is that the trainer, consultant, or professional coach struggles to track social media leads. It is true that social media is an intermediary step in generating a conversion (a like, follow, or connection is rarely a lead without a follow up action) but that doesn’t mean social contacts don’t take that next step. Dive into the metrics via your website (linked to your social networks) or via a social network’s tracking to see how people might be taking advantage of offers.
  • It’s a fad – This claim is getting more confusing day-by-day but it still comes up. “Everyone thought Myspace was critical a few years back too. Look where that is now.” That’s a quote I heard this year, in 2016. Social media is not going to fail as a whole. It’s certainly possible that a single platform might erode but some of the tried and true networks are more than safe to craft a campaign around.

Social media is the only thing that matters.

Then there are the people that think social media is the end all and be all. Their marketing campaign’s calendar is littered with social media posts and initiatives that fail to leverage any other channels. This viewpoint is often driven by:

  • Cutting Edge – The thought is that social media is the wave of the future and “everyone” is there. The fact is that everyone isn’t there. While adoption keeps growing and tools within the platform keep expanding, it’s unlikely that social channels will assimilate every aspect of digital marketing.
  • Social media is the only way I’ll be noticed – I overheard a digital marketer tell a trainer, “If you aren’t on Facebook, you don’t exist.” The irony of the statement is that the trainer had been running a successful marketing campaign for years. The argument could have been made that the campaign could benefit from a Facebook presence but to say the marketing was non-existent is ridiculous. Those that adore social media tend to think it’s the only platform for being noticed. The fact is that the social media realm is very crowded and establishing a voice that can drive marketing effectiveness is a difficult task. Don’t count on social media to be your only exposure to your target market because you’ll be missing out on many other channels for being noticed.
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