KEVIN CARLOW

Paid Media Consultant for Growth-Focused Business

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Google Goes from Gold to Green

In September of 2013, Google AdWords made a leap toward transparency by including a yellow “Ad” indicator in the search engine results that were paid ads.

Since that time, we have all grown accustomed to this new look on Google as we scroll down past the ads (most times) in our latest search for schools, stools, and shoes.

In April of 2016, Google began testing a modification to this look by changing the Ad indicator to green instead of gold.

DESKTOP

MOBILE

 

Yesterday, June 15, 2016, it became an official change. Ads are now green, not gold.

As a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land, “We regularly test ways to improve the look and feel of our search results page. We’ve been experimenting with a green search ad label and have decided to roll it out based on positive feedback from users and advertisers. Our goal is to make our results page easy to use, and our labeling clear and prominent.”

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Some key words in that quote from Google: test, feedback, easy.

If any business knows how to execute an A/B test, it’s Google. And this is a perfect example of what an A/B test is. Seem trivial? Google doesn’t think so. We’ll never get to see that data, but rest assured Google Ads will get more clicks and advertisers will be getting more results with this enhancement. They vigorously capture and analyze feedback from customers to continue to make their product, Search (which is free), easier to use.

This approach goes in contract to the trend in native advertising, which attempts to conceal an ad by passing it off as written or video content. And it’s even in contrast to Bing and Yahoo! search engine results pages which use gray text to tell the user the results which are ads.

It’s fascinating and inspiring to watch the search engine powerhouse continue to innovate and to defy what all others are doing. They believe in their product and know that customers crave transparency. Case studies on Google will be taught in universities for decades to come.

Side note: Green Bay Packers fans will continue to click at normal click-thru rates after the change from gold to green. It’s all the same to them!

green and gold packers.png

Sources:

Platitudes Won’t Change Their Attitude

Platitudes are words or phrases that have become so commonplace they lack any significance, meaning, or power. These are some of the trending platitudes in today’s marketplace.

  • Robust – unless you are discussing the blend of coffee you just purchased from Caribou, no one knows what you mean by your “robust idea to gain market share.”
  • Holistic – are we talking about a well-rounded business plan or about acupuncture and herbal remedies?
  • Granular – this is how to describe the grains of sand on your favorite beach, not to explain how the level of detail in your proposal.
  • Optimize – it can be hard to get away from this term if you work in digital marketing, since it’s part of the phrase “search engine optimization.” Consider some alternatives like enhance, sharpen, and refine to liven up your lingo.
  • Leverage – we get it, you want to sound smart by using big words. Just say “use” and make everyone’s life easier by getting to the point.
    • If you’ve never heard George Carlin’s bit on “shell shock” and how our language is devolving over time, watch this: https://youtu.be/vuEQixrBKCc.
george carlin

“In the first World War, that condition was called… Shell Shock.”

Whether you are working on a new website post, putting together a direct mail piece, or scripting your next advertisement, avoid these overused terms and use plain language to most effectively get your message across.

Sources

Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Company Blog

Most businesses today understand the need for content marketing. Running a company blog is one of the easiest ways to get your message out to the world and boost your SEO. Many companies outsource this function to a third party in order to focus on their core competencies. Whether you have outside help for your company blog, or you have an internal employee managing here, there are five major pitfalls many bloggers fall in to which hinder the impact of the effort.

This article is so on-point and well-cited with perfect examples, I am just going to share it with you verbatim. Credit to Jodi Harris of the Content Marketing Institute.

Full article here: http://bit.ly/1pF55iM

Problem 1: You aren’t publishing on a consistent schedule

Great blog content should be like an eagerly anticipated gift you offer to your readers – they look forward to every new delivery and are happy to visit your site to retrieve your content as soon as it is available. But what happens when they arrive and the gift they were expecting hasn’t shown up? If you can’t keep the content engines churning or fail to deliver on the expectations you set with your blog, those readers will walk away disappointed – and may think twice about returning.

Warning signs: Consistency issues typically result from one of these two underlying problems:

  • Lack of editorial infrastructure: You haven’t set a workable schedule for creating and publishing your content or established the necessary workflow that would govern your process.
  • Lack of resources: You need more writers or more creative ideas; or you are running into productivity problems that are keeping your team from being able to bring your ideas to fruition.

Potential solutions:

  • Develop an editorial calendar: Establishing a schedule of topics you will cover and the timeline for doing so can help you set realistic expectations and keep your content creation in line with your marketing goals. These editorial calendar essentials will help get you started.
  • Brainstorm ideas to fill your content calendar: Brainstorming techniques, like this super-simple sticky-note approach, can help you break out of any creative slumps that might be derailing your content production,
  • Enlist the help of your team members for content creation: Your executives, team members, and even colleagues outside of the marketing department can be motivated to help increase your content coffers. Use these tips to make content creation a benefit – not a burden – for your fellow employees.

 

Problem 2: Your blog content isn’t unique or distinct

For your content to stand out among the competition, it needs to offer distinctive value – providing information your readers can’t get anywhere else, serving a segment of your audience no one else is addressing, or delivering on promises your brand is uniquely qualified to make.

Warning signs: If you aren’t giving your audience a compelling reason to choose your content over everything else they could be spending time with, your blog will never reach its full marketing potential. Here are some sure signs your content is going to fade into the background:

  • You don’t know what makes your brand special: You need to identify the specific ways your business is different than everyone else’s before you can create content that communicates with a signature tone, voice, or style.
  • You are targeting too broad an audience: As CMI founder Joe Pulizzi often says, if your content is meant for everybody, it won’t benefit anybody.

Potential solutions:

  • Craft your editorial mission statement: This sets the tone for all your content creation efforts by defining your unique perspective on your industry and outlining the value proposition your blog content will offer.
  • Find a new niche: If you don’t believe you can be the leading information provider in your chosen content niche, you haven’t drilled down deeply enough to find the right angle – for your blog or any other content your business offers. Struggling to find your footing? Try following Joe’s advice for creating a content tilt.
  • Get creative with your approach: Sometimes the power of a blog isn’t rooted in what you say but rather in how you say it. Look for opportunities to take your blog readers down an unexpected path, approach topics from a unique angle, or explore special interests that your brand and its fans may have in common. Check out these75 examples for a little inspiration on taking content in a novel direction.

Best practice example: Saddleback Leather

saddleback-leather-blog-story

Problem 3: Your blog is all about you – not your audience and their needs

Warning signs: Ever meet someone at a party who goes on and on about himself, without showing any interest in the people he’s talking to? If your brand is “that guy,” your readers will eventually grow tired of not being heard and look for any excuse to leave the conversation – for good.

Potential solutions:

  • Highlight ways readers can get involved in your brand, and recognize them for their efforts: Don’t just say you are interested in your readers – prove that you value their participation and feedback by responding to their comments, creating opportunities for them to contribute their ideas, and rewarding them for helping you spread the word about your business.
  • Demonstrate your understanding of their needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief: Create content with tangible value such as tips, templates, and toolkits; answer your customers’ questions; or give your audience access to other real-world solutions that will enable them to accomplish their tasks more quickly and more effectively, with your brand at the top of their minds.

Best practice example: Clean My Space

clean my space blog

Problem 4: Your content has a short shelf life or limited reach

Content can be the gift that keeps on giving – for your brand, as well as for the consumers who love it. But for this to happen, you need to know how to squeeze as much value as you can from every piece of content you create and get it into the hands of as many interested readers as possible.

Warning signs: There are a few key reasons why your blog content might be withering on the vine instead of spreading its seeds far and wide:

  • Your aren’t producing evergreen content: Trend- or news-focused content is great for illustrating your brand’s insights; but this type of content typically comes with a built-in expiration date, cutting off your potential for long-tail engagement.
  • You aren’t making it clear you want readers to speak on your brand’s behalf: If you aren’t making it as easy as possible for readers to share your content, you are making it harder for your influence to spread.
  • You publish, then move on: Content marketing isn’t for those lazy, “set-it-and-forget-it” types of businesses. It takes hard work before, during, and after you publish to make sure your content works hard to bring you success.

Potential solutions:

  • Use content curation techniques to refresh older posts: In addition to creating content on evergreen topics that have long-lasting relevance, you can also give your aging content a new lease on life through content curation. Try updating popular posts with more contemporary advice, linking to newer sources of information, including outside perspectives on the topic, or adding fresh visuals – like infographics or videos – to liven up the discussion. Then, republish the post, making sure to acknowledge – and link to – the original.
  • Enable the sharing behaviors you seek: Featuring sharing buttons, requests for comments, and calls to action in your blog posts signal to readers that you would like them to share their brand love, while helping you channel their assistance in the specific directions you desire.
  • Promote your content: Social media and email marketing are both must-have techniques for spreading the word about the content you’ve published. But if you want to extend your blog’s life span and expand its reach beyond your circle of influence, consider supporting your posts with paid promotional techniques like native advertising, promoted posts, and search ads.

Best practice example: The Buffer Blog

buffer social curation experiment

In late 2015, Buffer decided to eschew creating new blog posts for one month in favor of repurposing and refreshing content from its archives. Though some of its efforts were more successful than others, the experiment provided some invaluable insights on how to increase the payoff of every blog post.

Problem 5: You aren’t using your blog to build subscribers

Let’s face it: For your blog to be effective, it needs to help you achieve your business goals, not just boost your brand’s ego and pad your writers’ personal portfolios. Increasing subscriptions is a solid, measurable step in that direction given that the awareness and interest the blog generates now can be nurtured into long-term brand engagement and loyalty over time.

Warning signs: Why aren’t your blog readers signing up for more? Perhaps your content is getting caught up in one of these likely traps:

  • You aren’t directing readers down the path you want them to follow: It took your hard work to bring guests to your door – why would you just let them wander around aimlessly once they’ve arrived?
  • You aren’t making a compelling case for subscription: Sometimes readers need a little convincing to help them decide that your content is worth raising their hand for.
  • Your offerings are all-or-nothing: While a one-size-fits-all subscription might satisfy some enthusiastic brand fans, it could be a big turn-off to casual readers, or those who are already inundated with unread emails in their inboxes.

Potential solutions:

  • Include a call to action that directs site visitors to take the next step: Be clear as to what you want them to do and highlight the benefits they’ll receive in return. But remember, your ask doesn’t need to follow the same format every time. Considerthese alternatives to the traditional text-based end-of-post callout.
  • Offer an incentive to sweeten the deal: Give subscribers access to exclusive content, insider discounts, or other members-only benefits in exchange for their permission to connect with them more directly. You’ll be surprised at how much more willing readers may be to share their personal info when they feel they are getting something tangible in return.
  • Enable subscribers to customize the communications they receive: Just because a reader doesn’t want to hear from you every day, doesn’t mean she might not appreciate the opportunity to receive a monthly message, or hear about specific types of offers. By making your terms of engagement flexible and giving readers the power of choice, you’ll make the experience more comfortable, satisfying, and mutually beneficial.

Best practice example: Copyblogger

copyblogger-member-offers

In Joe’s most recent post on subscription goals, he mentions how Copyblogger Media founder Brian Clark leveraged a strong and loyal base of more than 200,000 targeted email subscribers to transform his humble blog into one of the fastest SaaS companies on the planet. Today, Copyblogger continues to grow that fan base by offering exclusive content resources to members who sign up via email.

Conclusion

Blogging may have low barriers to entry, but that doesn’t mean it’s an effortless path to content marketing effectiveness. Fortunately, a few small blogging hacks and helpers like the ones above can make a big difference in your brand’s potential for attracting, impacting, and activating your audience more successfully.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Google’s Biggest Update in 2016

Google rolled out a global update today removing the right-side paid search ads for most search queries. The update:

  • Removes ads from the right side of the Search Engine Result Page (SERP)
  • Adds a 4th ad to the top of the SERP for “highly commercial queries.”
  • Effects searches on desktop only. Mobile searches have never had ads on the right side as the screen real estate is much smaller.
  • Allows a maximum of 7 ads on the page.
  • Has one exception, Product Listing Ads (PLAs), which will continue to show at the top-right of the page.

minnetonka body shop

Much speculation is percolating as to why Google made this update, and what the downstream effects will be for advertisers. Some initial thoughts:

  • With less ads on the first page, it’s more important than ever to be at the top of Search Ads. What is your average ad position?
  • Not running a Search Advertising campaign? You should be. With 3-4 ads at the top and 3 Google Maps listings below that, your first chance at showing up organically is in the 7-8th position on Google (way “below the fold” on a mobile device). Positions 7 and 8 are earning 3-5% of clicks from the page. Is that an acceptable market share for your business?
  • Mobile is clearly the future as desktop search pages are now mimicking mobile.

 

Are You Jabbing Enough?

As we are all running about like crazy during this “season of giving,” one important piece of your marketing plan next year should be exactly that – giving.

Gary Vaynerchuk is the founder of Wine Library and VaynerMedia, both multi-million dollar businesses. He is also a best-selling author. This interview with him is super fun and ridiculously insightful: http://bit.ly/1Ppa9lB.

give pic

CLIFFS NOTES

  • His book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook uses boxing as a metaphor for how businesses should be marketing today. It’s another way of saying, “Give, give give. Then ask.”
  • Too many businesses focus on their “right hook” – their sale/offer/call-to-action. This constant noise makes the consumer duck out of the way.
  • Not enough companies focus on their “jab” – giving something small away for free. An instructional video. A useful tip. A piece of thought leadership. For every right hook you toss out there, you should be offering three jabs.
  • All social media platforms are different. And the reason an individual joins a particular social platform is different. So why are you posting the same things on Facebook that you are on Twitter and Pinterest?
  • “The DJing of content”: http://bit.ly/1Sv1ITz. These tips are LEGIT shortcuts on how to make your content creation efforts go the extra mile on Facebook (quote cards), Pinterest (infographics), Twitter (wait for alignment with trending topic), and Tumblr (animated GIFs).

Want to learn more about digital trends going into 2016? This is a short and article with seven strategies you should be thinking about, including storytelling, micro targeting, and humanization: http://bit.ly/21pLuRH.

Email Strategies That Get People to Respond

Email marketing continues to be one of the most effective marketing channels. Think about it – how many times have you checked your email today? Probably more than once. And between personal emails, work emails, and advertising, you probably get over 100 emails per day. With data aggregation companies, CRM systems, and email marketing service providers galore, getting into someone’s inbox in 2015 is the easy part. How you get them to open and respond to your email… that part needs careful attention to make your message stand out from the clutter.

if you could

Whether you’re in sales and prospect with email, you’re a marketer managing mass email campaigns, a worker in Corporate America sending intra-company emails, a non-profit enthusiast raising funds or awareness for your cause, an expecting parent inquiring with prospective daycare, or a consumer looking to buy something off Craigslist: we all send emails from which we want a response.

In order to get someone to reply to your message, they first have to:

  • Receive your email in the Inbox (not Junk or Spam)
  • See the email (with a clear and poignant subject line)
  • Open the email
  • Read the email
  • AND Decide the contents of the email are interesting, important, or relevant enough to take the time to send a reply.

Each of these stages in the process gives you an opportunity to lose the recipient’s attention. Let’s look at some ways to help get more of your emails received, seen, opened, read, and returned.

SUBJECT LINE

Consider your subject line an advertisement. It’s the elevator pitch of elevator pitches. How can you be enticing enough to earn a few more valuable seconds of your recipient’s time, but not too vague or verbose, while also ensuring deliverability and avoiding spam filters? Follow these guidelines:

  • Less is more. Keep the subject line under seven words or 40 characters. It gets the reader straight to the point and prevents your message from being cut off on preview tools and mobile devices.
  • Avoid overused sales terms like “lowest price,” “free,” and “discount.”
  • Personalize it. Use the recipient’s name or personal identifier.
  • Use minimal punctuation. Any symbols like $, %, !, and set of spam triggers.
  • Evoke emotion with humor, mystery, or scarcity. These can be powerful emotional tools to stand out from email clutter.

Humor

uber

Mystery

open table

Scarcity & Personalization

sport photo

TIMING

This can vary based on the purpose of the email, but in general the best time to send email is mid-week, mid-day. More specifically, Tuesday-Thursday between the hours of 9-11am and 1-3pm. In general, this is when most people are likely to be active on email.

If you’re doing prospecting or running a recurring email campaign, create a Send Schedule and stick to it. Consistency with your send times allows you to be scientific with your email strategy and measure the effectiveness of certain days and times. Consider splitting your audience into two groups and running an A/B test.

CUSTOMIZATION

Most email marketing services like MailChimp and CRM systems like Salesforce.com have easy functionality to send a customized message to a database.

If you don’t have access to an email marketing service or CRM system, you can use mail merges to personalize your message to each individual recipient without the need to manually type each email. Get more information on creating mail merges here.

DON’T “CONSIDER” MOBILE – EMAIL IS MOBILE

Mobile opens now account for over half of all email opens. Depending on the industry mobile opens can account for up to 2/3 of the views of your email. Test all important emails by sending them to yourself and opening them on your mobile device. Text formatting, embedded images or video, and your signature can all render wonky on a smartphone, so this test is critical as more than half of your recipients will view your email on their phone or tablet. Consider shortening your subject line and email body for easier readability on a small device.

Transparency: People Reward Companies for Pulling Back the Curtain

Take a moment to think of your absolute favorite brand. OK, now quickly think… why are they your favorite brand? Did it take you a moment to put your attraction toward that brand into words?

We are naturally, subconsciously drawn to brands and products which share openly about themselves without even knowing it. Human behavior follows this trend in our one-to-one interactions, too. Even though we don’t like to think of ourselves as being judgmental, we’re making judgments all the time, every day.

Consumers Gravitate Toward Transparent Companies

Picture these three different scenarios. A friend has brought you to a party in which you know nobody else except your one friend. You immediately go up to the punch bowl (because your friend just ditched you at the front door to go talk to the cutie they’d planned on seeing at the party, so what else would you do?) and encounter another party-goer ready to fill his or her cup.

punch-bowl-party

You say hello to the person, they say hello back, and you ask, “So, what do you do?”…

  • Scenario 1: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate.”
  • Scenario 2: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate. How about you?”
  • Scenario 3: Party-goer replies, “I work in real estate; I’m a realtor that specializes in helping first-time home buyers move into their first new home, mostly in the Uptown and North Loop neighborhoods. What do you do?”

Clearly response three is going to illicit the most engaging conversation between the two of you. Why? Because the party-goer opened up and shared a little more about themselves, which not only gives you some conversation fodder to work with, but it allows you to quickly assess whether you may have something in common with this person.

Companies and brands are no different. Letting people see behind the proverbial curtain, perhaps even sharing the ingredients to the company’s “secret sauce,” is not only trending in today’s marketplace, it can offer big rewards. Let’s look at some of the best examples of companies embracing the transparency movement.

Chipotle

The food industry is probably the category in which transparency is most desired by the public. What do you care more about: where the iron ore in your steel bed frame came from, or what was in the cow’s diet that is now inches away from your mouth? I can think of no better gold standard for transparency in the food industry than Chipotle. Chipotle is a fast casual restaurant serving Mexican food. Their slogan or tagline could have been: The Fresh Taste of West-Mex (not horrible Taco John’s), Un-Freshing Believable (trying way too hard Del Taco), or What Are You Going to Love at Qdoba (really Qdoba, that’s the best you could do?).

Instead, Chipotle management decided the company’s mission, not just a slogan, should be “Food With Integrity.” With a bold mission statement like that, they’d better live up to it, right? They do. Of the mere six tabs in the navigation bar of Chipotle.com, one of them is dedicated to the Food With Integrity mission.

Chipotle-food-with-integrity

Within this page you see their philosophy on food in the kitchen, on the farm, and beyond with additional links for deeper information if the customer desires it. Of the three other Mexican food chains mentioned in the above paragraph, not one mentions anything about the origins of their food on their home page.

Where will you be buying your next burrito?

Wendy’s

By now we’ve all seen how incredibly awesome GoPro footage can be. If you haven’t, please watch this GoPro compilation on YouTube by Washington Post right now.

In GoPro-like fashion, Wendy’s produced a fun 1:20 spot in which we get to take a journey alongside their romaine lettuce, from farm to table. And you thought their salads just magically appeared out of the in-store refrigerators.

wendys

McDonald’s

Does this image look familiar to you?

mcdonalds-pink-slime

In August of 2013, McDonald’s was the object of a lot of public scrutiny as this picture went viral on the internet, alongside headlines like “pink slime in school lunches” and “McDonald’s hamburgers made with 15% beef, 85% meat filler cleansed with ammonia.” It was also the inspiration for memes such as:

mcnuggets

It’s fashionable to diss on the big dog; unless you’re from the northeast, no one cheers for the Yankees or the Patriots come playoff time. In fast food, McDonald’s is the global big dog. And admit it, at some point you have asked yourself, “How the heck do they get the supplies for all those Big Macs to every store, from downtown New York City to nowheres-ville-North Dakota, and get them tasting exactly the same?” So it’s no surprise it only took one image of questionable contents to ignite a rampant viral backlash against the fast food monolith. This thing went so viral so fast that the public didn’t even know if the alleged “pink slime” was supposed to be a beef or a chicken ingredient!

What did McDonald’s do? It responded. If you’ve ever wondered how Chicken McNuggets really get made, this video bares all.
mcdonalds

McDonald’s also has an entire set of web pages dedicated to letting their customers “See What We’re Made Of,” with information on their suppliers and common questions about their food ingredients, recipes, and processes answered.

Gone are the days of keeping a little mystery in advertising. “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun,” just isn’t cutting it anymore. People want to know what’s in the special sauce. So instead of being afraid that a competitor could replicate their recipe, McDonald’s embraced the trend and made the ingredients available for anyone who cares to see them. I’m just guessing here, but I’d venture to say McDonald’s isn’t feeling the hit from previously loyal Big Mac eaters who are now making their own Big Mac sauce.

Restaurants and food companies aren’t the only ones hopping on the transparency bandwagon.

How It’s Made

Science Channel has an entire TV show dedicated to diving behind the scenes of everyday items and showing the audience How It’s Made. The show is in its 25th season and still going strong! To put that in perspective alongside other wildly successful television series:

  • Seinfeld (9 seasons)
  • Friends (10 seasons)
  • Cheers (11 seasons)
  • M*A*S*H (11 seasons)
  • Family Guy (14 seasons)
  • South Park (17 seasons)
  • Law & Order (20 seasons)
  • Late Show with David Letterman (22 seasons)
  • How It’s Made (25 seasons)

There is more public demand for transparency than there is for foul-mouthed cartoons, legal drama, or Cosmo Kramer. Who knew?

Stuff You Should Know

In a similar concept to How It’s Made, HowStuffWorks.com’s Stuff You Should Know Podcast has over 100 million downloads and almost 10,000 ratings, 4,000 reviews on iTunes. Ever wanted to know what really goes on at the FDA or all the secrets inside a can of SPAM? This podcast provides answers to satisfy your curiosities.

Transparency Isn’t Only For Your Image – Transparent Corporate Culture Matters Too

We also are seeing transparency in the form of flattening organizational structures. Take the online retailer Zappos, for instance.

zappos

This is a picture of the Zappos corporate office, courtesy of designleveraged.org. What’s interesting here is not the Hello Kitty balloon dangling from the exposed air ducts, nor is it the built-in whiteboard paneling on each worker’s cube, nor is it the Superman costume mounted on the wall. Every employee in this office has equal rank; no manager above nor below them.

This approach is called “holacracy,” and it allows an employee to focus on tasks or projects as opposed to being placed in a silo and assigned to a manager. It eliminates a lot of bureaucratic red tape, allowing employees to focus on their work and have more of a stake in the direction of the company. Plus, no one wastes their time wondering/worrying “what the bosses are discussing in the conference room” because – there are no bosses! The Washington Post dives into the strategy in this article.

The Open Source Movement

Transparency can be an efficient operational strategy, too. Of course companies like Microsoft and Adobe profit from using their teams of engineers to develop robust proprietary software programs for which they can charge a premium. This is what they do. This method, however, is not the only way to develop a large-scale software program.

open source

On January 22, 1998, Netscape, the pioneering internet browser of its time, announced it would make the source code for its next release available to license for free. While this wasn’t the first instance of open source coding (where anyone can contribute to improving the code to make the program better or add functionality), this single event was the launchpad for large software companies to consider open source development as a legitimate method to build important programs. This event led to the eventual development of Mozilla’s Firefox browser, which you may be using to read this post. Heck, this entire blog is written on WordPress, which allows 3rd party coders to develop widgets and enhance the software.

Five Steps Your Company Can Take to Embrace Transparency

Neil Patel (founder of CrazyEgg.com) wrote a great post on the topic for FastCompany. Here are some of his points along with some of my own.

  1. Be transparent about both successes and mistakes. Give credit where credit is due; if you teamed up with a partner or vendor on a success, don’t hog all the credit. Own up to blunders, and explain how the company has learned from them. The public gets it – everyone makes mistakes. What the public hates (and the media loves) is when companies have been hiding their mistake until it gets leaked.
  2. Create a brand personality. Decide on voice and stick to it in your advertising, email marketing, and social posts. This can be as literal as using a celebrity endorsement to as simple as writing down a few bullet points (e.g. our brand is sarcastic, funny, and relatable) for your marketing department to use. A consistent voice gives your brand a tangible personality to which people can relate.
  3. Be transparent about less-than-satisfied customers. Have you ever been scoping out a product on Amazon, researching a car dealership, or searching for a restaurant that has 5.0 out of 5 stars with 100+ reviews? Isn’t that a little bit suspicious? Don’t delete bad reviews. Consumers can tell the difference from a legitimate complaint to an overly-hostile customer who has some ulterior agenda to get a freebie from the company if they bark loud enough. Instead, engage consumers who leave bad reviews to show them you care, which in turn shows the rest of the internet you care too.
  4. Tell Your Secrets. Your company has customers, stakeholders, fans. They do business with you and want to follow your progress. Let them in on what’s going on behind the scenes! Think about how excited a music fan is when they get to meet the artist after the show, and the artist tells them some personal nugget about “how they just wrote a new riff on the bus ride into town” or “how cool it was hanging out with Rihanna in-studio in L.A. last week.” This transparent sharing turns your followers into loyalists. 
  5. Link Transparency With Sales. Cleveland Clinic is an excellent example of a healthcare company that has achieved bottom-line benefit from bearing all. Forbes’ contributing writer David Whelan covers the case study here. Essentially, Cleveland Clinic compiles all its Cardiology data into a report showing the overall outcomes of all procedures: successes, deaths, complications, etc. with various segments including physicians, times of day, and so on. They then share this report with cardiologists across the region, whose job it is to refer patients to a specialty clinic when their hospital can not meet the needs of the patient. Even though Cleveland Clinic doesn’t necessarily have the best results (some of their patients do indeed die), they have won large contracts from companies like Boeing specifically because they are open and willing to share their statistics. If your company can find a way to take a transparency campaign and link it driving sales, you have just stumbled upon a gold mine.

Instant Gratification, Multi-Tasking, and the Devolution of Society

Have you ever sat around a dinner table and had a conversation that goes something like this?

  • “Hey, what’s that actress’ name? That really famous one?”
  • “Aren’t all actresses famous?”
  • “Ugh, OK, smartypants. She was in that movie with Ben Stiller.”
  • “What movie, Zoolander?”
  • “No.”
  • “Starsky & Hutch?”
  • “No, no.”
  • The Royal Tenenbaums?”
  • “Argh, no! The one with Robert de Niro.”
  • “Oh, uhhh… Meet the Fockers?”
  • “Yeah, what is the name of that actress that plays the mom?”
  • “I’m not sure how I know this, but Blythe Danner?”
  • “No, no… the famous one that plays what’s-his-name, from Rainman, she plays his wife?”
  • “Tom Cruise wasn’t in Meet The Fockers.”
  • “Not Tom Cruise, the Rainman guy!”
  • “Oh right, that guy. From Outbreak. Ummm… errr… Dustin Hoffman?”
  • “Yeah, Dustin Hoffman! His wife. What’s her name?”
  • “I think her name was Rozalin Focker.”
  • “Ugh, no, are you kidding me? The actress’ name.”
  • “Barbra Streisand.”
  • “BARBRA STREISAND, that’s it. Hey, how old do you think Barbra Streisand is?”
  • “How should I know? Let’s Google it.”
  • “Why didn’t we just Google it in the first place?”

As of April 1, 2015, 64% of all adults in the United States own a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center, and that includes all adults below the poverty line. With nearly everyone walking around with the world’s information in his or her pocket, our society is evolving (or should I say “devolving?”) into a need-it-now, multi-tasking, instant-gratification-based culture.

This new culture we’ve created can make for pretty sad dinner outings, as depicted above. It’s also dangerous.

Texting While Walking is Hazardous to Your Health

We all know texting while driving is bad. It’s against the law. But do you consider texting while walking a problem? Our increasing “need” to multi-task, to cram more and more activity into each day only to be accomplished by partially focusing on multiple activities at a time, is causing some problems.

National Geographic published a fun, interesting study on texting while walking in late 2014. They positioned “Joe,” a man in a gorilla costume, on a busy sidewalk to see how many people noticed him. The results – you have to watch to see!

national geo texting2

Sure, a man in a gorilla costume is harmless. How is it even relevant to everyday life? What if Joe had been a thief? Or an ax murderer? Would you want to walk passed someone with a knife pointed at you just because you were letting one of The Best Vines of 2015 loop for the 14th time in a row?

If you think that was bad (and if you are a sucker for funny blooper compilations like I am), watch this.

texting walking 1

Multi-tasking is Slowing You Down and Might Just Get You Banged Up 

Now the business professional is reading this and saying to his- or herself, “That’s great and all, but I have S@#% to do!” If so, you should read this recent study published by Business Insider, because it turns out you’re actually making yourself less productive than you think you are. Step size shrinks, walking pace slows… our brains are not wired to manage multiple tasks at the same time. If you really want to do yourself, and those around you, a productive favor – focus on one thing at a time. You’ll get to your destination faster, and when you do sit down to respond to an email or check your calendar, you can do it faster and with less risk.

Still don’t believe this is an actual problem? This epidemic is influencing big business, too. Consider Major League Baseball. The league has been sued countless times on all types of counts over the years: collective bargaining, blackouts, gender discrimination. Recently, though, MLB and its many stadiums across North America have recently seen an uptick in lawsuits regarding stadium safety. One particular lawsuit just filed last month is an effort to extend the netting from behind home plate to stretch all the way down the first and third base lines, protecting fans from foul balls and splintered bats.

In ESPN’s coverage of the story, one of the main complaints in the suit is the danger fans are put in by distractions caused by mascots, video boards, and wireless internet access. Hold it right there, Gail Payne. I’m not even a big fan of baseball, but you just got me fired up.

Do I acknowledge that since Major League Baseball first began in  1869, the game has changed and rules should be updated accordingly? Yes. Do I believe that bats made of maple wood are more prone to shatter than those of ash, and this is contributing to more splintered bats? Maybe. (I’m not an arborist, how should I know?) Do I agree that Major League Baseball is at fault for people watching T.C. Bear romp around Target Field instead of paying attention to the game?

tc bear

OK, maybe he is a little bit distracting.

But isn’t it just the slightest bit curious, just the teeniest smidgen coincidental, this claim of baseball fans being too distracted at games comes at a time of all-time high smartphone ownership? I have no empirical evidence to back up this claim, but of the “1,750 preventable injuries per year caused by foul balls and broken bats,” I’d be willing to bet that in 2014, at least half of those were smartphone related injuries.

WAKE UP PEOPLE! You paid good money to go to that game. You are probably there with people you love, enjoy, or at the very least, can moderately tolerate. WHY do you need to be scrolling through your News Feed right now? Is creating your brand new hashtag #baseballfriends4everwithmybestie and broadcasting it your social network really that important?

Part of the appeal of baseball, part of why it holds the esteemed nickname of “America’s pastime,” is the experience a fan gets at the stadium. The perfectly manicured grass, the puff of dust that plumes out of the pitcher’s rosin bag – being in the stadium makes you feel closer to the game. A part of the game, even. Dozens of children eagerly wait in their seats, baseball gloves on, waiting, hoping at their chance for one, just one foul ball to veer their way. Putting up a giant net across the entire stadium would be a major eye sore and ruin this part of the experience for the younger generation; which, by the way, happens to be the most important generation for MLB to entice for long term success.

If we all just slowed down a bit, took our noses out of the glass screens we carry around, and instead looked up at those around us and engaged with each other – not only would the world be a better place, but we’d all have much better chances of avoiding street lamps, unintentional fountain swims, and baseballs in the face.

Searches For “Businesses Near Me” Are on the Rise

Have you ever used your smartphone…

  • In line while waiting to check out at the grocery store?
  • On the couch while watching TV with a significant other?
  • Under the table at a meeting for a quick glance at a text or an email?

You have. Admit it. These moments, when we turn to our smartphones because we need something now, are called “micro-moments,” and they are a part of the new reality of consumer behavior. Google is studying these micro-moments. Closely.

This article from Google, http://bit.ly/1awkCsD, focuses on the “I-Want-To-Go Moments” we all experience. Have you ever done a search for “restaurants near me” or “closest salon?” These types of local searches are on the rise. Check out some snippets from the study.

  • “Near me” searches have increased 34x since 2011!
  • 80% of “near me” searches come from mobile (Q4 2014)
  • 50% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day
  • Most of these “near me” searches are generic terms like “hotels near me” rather than “Hiltons near me”

These types of searches aren’t limited to retail, either. It’s a growing trend for people to search for “jobs near me” or “remodelers near me.” These tiny moments are happening right out of consumers’ pockets every day, and some businesses are winning in these moments. Is yours?

Infomercials are to 1984 what Long Form Advertising is to 2015

In the 80’s and 90’s, infomercials were the king of long-form advertising. The ThighMaster, the George Foreman Grill, Bowflex, and the unforgettable Richard Simmons all leveraged this novel (at the time) TV advertising strategy to stand out from the traditional :30 commercial. And it worked! Did you know the Total Gym exercise machine has achieved over $1 billion in sales!? See more of the most successful products advertised by infomercial here.

What is it about infomercials that worked? Rohit Bhargava, CEO of Influential Marketing Group, boils it down to five key points:

  1. They provide a backstory for the product and the company behind it.
  2. They demonstrate how to use the product and how it performs while being used.
  3. They incorporate long testimonials from users of the product.
  4. They include a specific offer. This offer typically includes a product bundle, increasing the perceived value of the offer.
  5. They give a strong reason to act now. “Call within the next fifteen minutes and we’ll double your discount. AND we’ll throw in a shiny add-on accessory for FREE!”

Now ask yourself, “When was the last time I sat and watched an entire infomercial?” Odds are you don’t remember the last time, if you ever have at all.

Now ask yourself, “When was the last time I let a video auto-play in my Facebook News Feed?” Odds are you’ve watched one in the last week, if not today! (This study by Business Insider is an incredibly insightful look at the data behind native Facebook video and how it is taking over YouTube for branded videos. I’ll be diving deeper into this in a later post.)

Long-form advertising has overtaken the outdated infomercial as a new way to reach consumers. The definition of long-form advertising varies greatly, but generally speaking we’re talking about a video ad that exceeds the :30 spot, or written content expanding beyond a 1,000 word count. It’s a way to differentiate your brand by breaking out of the confines of traditional media to deliver a powerful message, even if that message isn’t “call now” or “buy this.”

These are three examples of long-form video advertising I find to be incredibly compelling and visually striking:

Not only do these ads add a layer of depth to their respective brands beyond what any :30 commercial could do, the AT&T and the Nature Valley videos practically double as public service announcements!

In a society with increasingly short attention spans, it seems counter-intuitive that a longer ad will resonate with consumers. How can these mini-movies be effective advertisements when most of us spend less than 15 seconds on every website we visit?

Josh Steimle, a contributing writer for Forbes.com, takes an in-depth look into how long-form advertising is effective in his article, “Why long form content marketing works, and why it doesn’t.” There are some great case studies in here, looking at real life examples of long-form campaigns and how they outperformed previous traditional strategies.

Tips for crafting your next long-form content piece:

  • As tempting as it is, don’t sell! Tell a story, something you genuinely find interesting. You’d be surprised how many of your prospects have similar interests to you.
  • Take time on the imagery and aesthetics of the piece. It’s going to take longer to make a longer-form piece of marketing. Don’t let that scare you – it will pay off in the long run.
  • Don’t be afraid to give a “secret” away for free. Consumers crave transparency, and offering tips or advice today (even if they may be part of your “secret sauce”) will be remembered by your audience and they will come back to you in the end. I’ve shared before about Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, where an SEO company is literally giving way their fundamental best practices for free. While this may help a few small businesses get started with SEO on their own, it much more importantly positions Moz as the thought leader in SEO. Over 1,000,000 hits to this page proves it.

Here is one last long-form piece that stuck with me from the first time I saw it shared on Facebook in 2012: Nike’s #MakeItCount video made by independent filmmaker Casey Neistat. He was hired by Nike with this simple mission: make a film about what it means to “make it count.” 14,773,800 views and counting. I think Nike got its money’s worth.

make it count

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