KEVIN CARLOW

Paid Media Consultant for Growth-Focused Business

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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

Quantifiable Proof: TV Advertising Still Works

In the TV sales business we get asked a lot by prospective advertisers, “How am I going to measure whether or not my TV ads were successful?” This is the $64,000 question. No one, I repeat, no one has this formula down to a perfected science (otherwise they’d be running an ad agency boasting all 100 of the top 100 ad spenders in the world).

The Video Advertising Bureau, however, has just released a study which posed the question, “How is TV advertising spend correlated to company revenue growth?” They reviewed 100 big ad spenders from 2011-2014 (post-recession and a span of four years – a solid data set), and the results might surprise you.

  • 60 of the 100 companies increased TV spend from 2011 to 2014, while 40 companies decreased TV spend
  • The companies that decreased TV spend saw a 7% increase in revenue.
  • The companies that increased TV spend saw a 26% increase in revenue.

In an advertising world of “could-have-influenced” and “might-have-attributed-to,” this data is about as black and white as it gets.

 

Source: http://www.adweek.com/news/television/want-improve-your-business-revenue-buy-more-tv-ads-166041

One could argue a “correlation is not causation” argument here, which would go something like this, “the successful companies experienced growth, generating higher profits, which gave them a bigger budget to advertise.” While this may have proven true in some cases, the observation that 58 out 60 major corporations saw a positive correlation between revenue growth and TV ad spend growth is undeniable proof that TV advertising is an integral success ingredient in a large company’s marketing strategy.

Even a digital company like Zillow admits “TV advertising still works” to reach today’s consumer, and that advertising on TV “is a great way to grow the Zillow brand.” See Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff elaborate on the subject in this CNBC interview.

TV Habits Have Changed, Especially With Millennials

Have you ever “binge watched” a TV show? I know I have – as soon as the latest season of House of Cards drops, my wife and I have a date with our Netflix account and a bowl of popcorn for the week. This trend started with the advent of TiVO and DVRs, and now with Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon producing their own shows and releasing them all at once, binge watching is becoming mainstream. Especially for, you guessed it, millennials.

Why is this important to you as a marketer? This article, http://bit.ly/1MlnlSY, extracts some key findings from a recent study done by Deloitte, and there are a couple of important marketing lessons to take away whether television is a part of your media plan or not. (Full article copied below my signature and highlights in yellow).

  1. Pairing your ads with the right content is more important than ever. Whether you’re advertising during a particular program, running pre-roll ads on YouTube or news sites, or targeting a digital display campaign… the millennials are going to consume this content when they feel like it. Make sure your message is paired appropriately with content aligning with your target audience.
  2. Conversely, if your target audience skews older than millennials (30+), relying on day of week and time of day is still important in delivering an effective message.
  3. Multi-tasking during TV viewing is a reality. If your marketing campaigns are not fluid across platforms, such as including a hashtag in your video ad that can be accessed and shared across social media, then you aren’t tapping the full power of media.

Insert appropriate comic here – http://bit.ly/1ICaPRc.

To Blog, or Not to Blog?

Just for a second, forget everything you know about the word “blog.” Seriously, wipe your mind clean and pretend that until this very moment, the word “blog” is foreign to you and, for all you know, could be defined as “a weapon used by extra-terrestrials to conquer planet Earth.” (Don’t worry, blogs aren’t that scary.)

Blogs have changed a lot since the first major blogging tool, Blogger, was launched back in 1999 (purchased by Google in 2003). Blogs used to be a place for writers to share opinions and experiences with their audience, plain and simple. While the core of this concept hasn’t changed, the advent of Twitter, WordPress, and countless other platforms have morphed what the blogosphere’s purpose is and how it impacts readers and businesses. I just came across an interesting article about where the world of blogging is today in The Atlantic, http://theatln.tc/1DHZ7Nc, and it’s a long, interesting read if you’re a technology geek like yours truly.

If, however, you aren’t a techno-nerd and you want to cut to the chase to know exactly if and how your company can benefit from running a blog, then this article is a must-read: http://selnd.com/1B5Bu2N. Whether your business currently has a blog being managed internally, has a blog being managed by a third party, or sees no benefit whatsoever from having a blog, this article is concisely written with concrete advice and examples of how to make a blog generate real traffic for a local business. I’ve copied the article below my signature and highlighted the important parts in yellow.

Kevin’s Key Insights:

  1. As Google’s algorithm stands today, your website’s content is the most important factor in gaining visibility online.
  2. Content planning is the key to not letting this project slip through the cracks. Taking a little time now to make next month’s content plan makes it far easier to keep up consistent posting.
  3. Your blog is not just a marketing channel for you to advertise your company; use it to be useful and interesting to your local audience and watch the traffic roll in!

Here is the article.

Make Your Blog A Local Destination & Win At Local Search

Wondering what to do on your blog to help your Local SEO efforts? Columnist Greg Gifford lays out a game plan for local blogging success.

Greg Gifford on March 2, 2015 at 9:28 am

Now that 2015 is in full swing, many business owners are trying to dive into the trenches and do whatever they can to boost their local visibility. So far, the leading question of the year has centered on site content.

Since the Pigeon Update‘s shift toward more “traditional web ranking factors” in determining local search rankings, website content has become more important than ever for local businesses trying to gain visibility in search. In fact, according to Moz’s 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors, it’s currently the most important piece of the Local SEO puzzle.

Business owners know that content is important, but they keep asking for specifics. So, I figured this month would be a perfect opportunity to share the same strategy we share with our own clients.

You Can’t Just Post For Posting’s Sake

You’ve got a blog, you know you need to post content, you know you need to be unique, and you know you have to be relevant in your local area. That seems to be about as far as most business owners get. Blogging seems to be some insurmountable, time-sucking colossal task — so business owners often shy away.

Blogging isn’t hard! Does it take some time? Yes. But you don’t have to be an expert writer to have an awesome blog. Blogs lend themselves to conversational writing, anyway.

You’ve got to put a plan in place and stick to it. If you’re just randomly posting because you know you need content, you’re doing it wrong. Even if you’re posting several times a week, if you’re only doing it because you know you need content, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re writing a generic post and just shoving your city name in there a few times, you’re doing it wrong.

If you take the time to make a plan, your posts will make sense and have a purpose. Your potential customers and local users will start reading your content because it’s actually useful content. Your traffic will increase, and you’ll get more leads.

Before we talk about post ideas, here’s the blogging plan we share with our clients:

  1. Define Your Audience.It’s important to remember that your audience doesn’t have to be in-market buyers. For auto dealers, the sales cycle is very long, since people typically only buy a car every 4 or 5 years. You have to tailor your posts to your audience if you want to get traction. Think about potential customers, previous customers, local residents, out-of-town visitors – then break up your potential audience into personas that you can target with different posts.
  2. Decide Who’s Writing.Sometimes it’s the business owners, sometimes it’s a manager, and sometimes its employees. Figure out what works with your company’s staff structure, then choose your writers. If you pick specific people, you can hold them accountable, which helps you stick to your schedule. You’re the expert, and you know your company’s voice – so whenever possible, you should write your own posts. In some cases, time constraints might make that impossible (if you’re a one-person show, for example). If you have to outsource your blog posts, make sure you’re using a reputable copywriting company that’s providing original, well-written content.
  3. Decide What You’re Going To Share.Remember that “content” doesn’t have to be text. Now that you know who your audience is and who’ll be creating the content, decide what types of content you want to share. Besides standard written posts, you can share photos, videos, infographics, slide presentations, or surveys. Play to your strengths and the interests of your audience.
  4. Set A Calendar & Stick To It.This is the step that most people stumble on. You’ve got to post on a regular basis if you want to be successful. You don’t have to know exact subjects to plan your posting calendar out far in advance – as long as you know a post is due on a certain date, it helps keep everyone accountable and on schedule. At a minimum, you should plan your posts a month ahead of time, but going 6 months or even a year ahead will make your life easier and increase your chances of success.

Need evidence that this approach works? Check out the results below, from my own company’s blog.

I put my money where my mouth is back in 2011 and committed to posting at least one blog post a week about automotive digital marketing.

Within a year, traffic to our blog doubled — and today, we’re consistently in the 7,000 to 8,000 visitor range. That’s more than ten times our original traffic!

Okay, So What The Heck Do We Actually Post?

Here’s where most business owners get hung up. They know they need to plan, and they know they need to post regularly, but they struggle with ideas for potential posts. The “my business is boring” excuse usually comes into play at this point.

Luckily, we’re blogging to build local relevance, so that means there are tons of options for post ideas regardless of business vertical. At the recent LocalUp conference in Seattle, Mike Ramsey said it best: “Local content is not about being unique, it’s about being local and useful.”

You don’t have to fill your blog with unique posts about plumbing… or being a locksmith… or handling bankruptcy cases. If your blog is all about yourself, it’s boring, and you’ll run out of things to say. Make your blog a local destination, and you’ll have an endless supply of content ideas that also help build local relevancy.

Instead of thinking of your blog as another marketing channel that needs to be all about your business, try to create a really awesome locally-oriented blog that people in your area will keep reading because it’s useful and truly interesting.

Here’s the list of 10 local blog post ideas we share with our clients:

  1. Community News/Local News. Every city has news. Share the news, or share your opinions on local news. Did your high school put in a $60 million football stadium? Write about it — I promise people will read….
  2. Local Events.Every city has events. Whether it’s a local parade, or a celebration downtown, or a concert at the city park, there’s an endless supply of local events you can write about.
  3. Sponsorships Or Charities.Most businesses sponsor events (would golf tournaments exist otherwise?). Share information about the events you’re sponsoring. If you support a charity, especially a local one, let your readers know about it.
  4. Event Guides.Share useful information about big local events. For example, is there a 5k race, or even a yearly marathon? Put together a list of restaurants to head to after the race, places to stand on the race route, hotels to stay in over the weekend and so on. Create a PDF and share it.
  5. Local Resource Directory. Supporting local businesses is a huge movement, and you can gain a lot of traction by sharing your own list of locally owned businesses that you support. You’re not creating a link exchange, you’re simply sharing a list of the other businesses that you recommend to local residents.
  6. Review Local Businesses.Along those same lines, write up reviews about the local businesses you support, or even the ones you frequent. Local residents will appreciate your insights, and as a bonus, it’s likely that the business will return the favor and write a review about your business.
  7. Interview Local Figures.Do you know the mayor? Someone on city council? The high school football coach? Take advantage of your friendships and professional connections and interview figures of local interest. Not only is it useful, interesting local content, it’s “ego bait” – the person you interview will very likely share your post with all of your connections, helping to broaden your reach.
  8. Top 5 Lists.Talk about your favorite burger joints, your favorite steak restaurants, your favorite stores. People love to read top 5 and top 10 lists, and you can use any of the above suggestions to help come up with ideas for your lists. They’re incredibly easy to write and the built-in popularity of list posts helps broaden your reach.
  9. If local customers are asking questions, you have a built in guide for local blog content. If it’s a lengthy answer, you can turn it into an entire post. If you have multiple locations or serve multiple areas, you can even compare questions from different locations. If you’re writing about what your customers are asking about, you already know it’s something they’ll want to read.
  10. Aggregated Content.Many times, aggregating and sharing local content can be incredibly successful. Share the content that local news sites or other businesses are creating, and you’ll be sharing information that your users will find useful too.

Piggyback off of this list and come up with your own ideas that work for your audience. Follow a set plan and share useful local content on a regular basis, and you’ll build your site’s local relevancy and boost your site’s visibility.

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