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Consistency Counts for a Lot in Digital Marketing

Tuesday, 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

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.

Inline Formatting For Unique Instances

Wednesday, 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.

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

Is It Time for a Redesign?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

color-paint-paletteA redesign of a website or email campaign is often considered when the aesthetic of the layout has become dated or unsuitable. By all means, if you find yourself repulsed by the look of it, then it’s time to make an update.  But what if you’re just indifferent toward the layout?  Is it worth the time, money, and effort to do a redesign? To answer the question, analyze what problems the redesign can solve and whether there is a likely return on that investment.

The most prevalent mistake in doing a redesign is starting from scratch.  A new look doesn’t need to completely remove all previous elements. This is counterintuitive because the point of a redesign is to get something updated and fresh and the assumption is that the previous layout is neither of those things.

If you are running continually improving campaigns then there should be plenty of data on what elements improve performance, which elements hurt performance, and what elements have no tangible impact on conversion.  Your redesign should incorporate all the elements that improve conversion and shun those that do not.  That becomes the design constraint and any redesign needs to fall within those boundaries.

The second overlooked aspect of a redesign is whether it presents an opportunity to improve the technical competency of your website or email.  Technology changes quickly so almost every redesign should incorporate updated technology that brings the items up to speed.  In this way the redesign has the added benefit of keeping the infrastructure current.

If you are considering a redesign of a website or an email that is performing well and has no technology shortcomings, it’s often not worth the effort. If your redesign becomes a technology upgrade coupled with an evolution of your tested design elements, then it will almost always generate a tangible business impact.

Website Content and Social Media Content Offer Unique User Experiences

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

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.”

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

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: “A website is no longer necessary.” or “A website does everything a social media page can do.”

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

person-apple-laptop-notebookThe role of the website has become a lot more convoluted over the last several years as social media platforms build in more and more functionality for business and user pages. This complexity has led to two simplistic and opposing views of the landscape which boiled down is “Social Media platforms can handle my entire online presence.” or “My website can do everything social media can.” Neither view is the most advantageous but let’s look at them individually.

Social Media platforms can handle my entire online presence.

This is most often stated from someone who does not want to invest the time, energy, and/or money into a site build or rebuild. And to be honest, if your website is a brochure site with an intro message, a few photos, and a contact page then social media can do all those things. But to say that social media can do everything a website can because it’s able to mimic a half-assed website is flawed logic.

There are a few things to think through on a website that social media pages can’t or won’t do well:

  • Dynamic functions or apps – social media platforms won’t be able to support any dynamic web builds. If you plan to use the site for anything outside of the pre-set social posting framework or API builds, a website is necessary.
  • You own it – Content you place on social media pages isn’t really yours. It becomes part of the platform. The reverse is also true. Associated content and ads are becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated in correlating to similar subjects. You are giving up a level of control on what content is associated with your pages as these automated feeds are placed.
  • User Experience – Social media pages are template driven. While those templates can be customized, you can’t break out of the framework. The framework is often much more convoluted than a focused website and can result in a much poorer user experience.

A website does everything a social media page can do.

This view is typically stated by those that don’t like or don’t understand social media. It’s often an excuse to stay off the platform because it’s not “me”. Many people don’t like using social media personally, and that’s fine, but eliminating your business from this valuable channel is foolish.

Here are a few things that your site will not do as well as social media platforms:

  • Generate an Audience – No matter how good your blog or content is, you’ll be able to generate an audience for it more effectively by including it on social platforms. It’s impractical to build the amount of exposure social media offers independently.
  • Information Exchange – Social media is designed for intercommunication. Furthermore users have embraced the platforms and are comfortable with interacting through it. Even if you built a sophisticated posting and communication application on your site, you would never achieve the same mass acceptance and sheer volume of users that can be accessed through social media.

As with all biases, a balanced view is likely the most advisable. Set your website up for a comfortable user experience and for any advanced functions you aim to build. Use social media to drive target audiences to that content and interact with them on a ready built platform. In this way both channels support and improve the other for maximum effectiveness.

Digital Marketing Biases

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Trainers, consultants, and professional coaches should take that quote to heart when analyzing their digital marketing campaigns. Our biases about digital marketing are often what prevent us from objectively considering new marketing channels or techniques that would produce superior results.

The most common biases on a particular subject often have a counter-bias with a polar opposite viewpoint of the same topic. The most productive outlook tends to fall somewhere in the middle. While a list of biases can go on and on, we’ll focus on 5 high level biases that we encounter fairly regularly:

Watch for our coming posts that deal with each of these biases and how a balanced outlook between the two biases can result in gathering the benefits and eliminating the downside of either extreme viewpoint.