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

Are Your Digital Marketing Tools Limiting Options?

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

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

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!

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

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

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

Over or Under Qualifying Leads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inline Formatting For Unique Instances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Your Digital Marketing be AGILE?

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

The Copying and Pasting Checklist

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.

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