5 Ways Online Team Training is More Effective Than In-Person Training

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Online team training is vital to your team’s effectiveness. The digital era has ushered in a compelling focus on online team training, offering more value on the whole than  traditional training methods. Benjamin Franklin said it best when it comes to investing in your team:“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

In a 2015 survey with more than 200 participants, one-third of employees said that their companies’ training strategies were not productive. Another third of those participants said that company training is not interesting or engaging.

But marketing strategies continue to change, and employees that stay up-to-date on those changes will certainly be more effective. To stay up-to-date requires training. The equation is actually quite simple: effective and engaging training methods equate to a more effective team.

Your team may be lacking the training necessary to make moves in your unique industry. According to HR Professionals Magazine, “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employers with fewer than 100 employees provided only 0.8 hour – that’s only 12 minutes of manager training per six month period.”

Online team training is all-encompassing. In addition to gaining skills, your employees can brush up on product knowledge and access important resources via online training as well. This puts your workforce ahead of the competition, ultimately enhancing your company’s bottom line.

From startups to industry leaders, online team training is essential. Last year, L’Oreal, the leading cosmetic company in the world, took online team learning to the next level: they utilized the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) model to train 160 of their employees.

Your workforce has become mobile, and your team training program needs to follow. Let’s take a closer look at how online team training is more effective than traditional hands-on methods.

  1. Online Team Training is Cost-Effective and Employee Compatible

Online team training is more cost-effective than traditional training. When you keep your employees engaged, they are more likely to stick around. Your team is an investment, and your team training strategy should reflect and protect that investment.

A 2014 survey by Gallup found that, “The bulk of employees worldwide -- 63% -- are ‘not engaged,’ meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.”

A mandatory training course that takes your employees away from projects they need to get done will only decrease morale. And when morale is low, employees tend to move on. The value of training your team effectively will subsequently help your retention efforts, according to USA Today Money.

People’s attention spans are also decreasing, according to Learning Solutions Magazine. The publication notes that, “Current researchers argue that the average attention span of American adults has dropped and it is limited to 20, 10, or even five minutes.”

Finally, online team training is easier to swallow for many employees. Many effective online training modules run for a maximum of 15 minutes. This helps employees stay focused; two hour long in-person training sessions just won’t cut it anymore.

  1. Online Team Training Bridges Gap with Mobile Apps and Gamification

Online team training has introduced exciting new ways for employees to learn, such as gamification. The PowerPoint training days may very well be dead - your team wants their training to be fun and engaging, similar to their online lives. Online team training essentially bridges that gap, by using what employees already love and are familiar with.

Treating online training like traditional methods will therefore yield the same ineffective results, according to Training magazine.  Virginia state performance support coordinator and instructional designer Sherri Dosher,  says, “If an organization simply puts PowerPoint bullets online, the end result will still be death by PowerPoint. It’ll just be DOA at the computer versus the classroom.”

In an effort to combine what employees already know and love with online team training, companies are using mobile apps and gamification as tech resources. Integrating gamification is making online team training more engaging than ever.

Jiffy Lube learning and development manager Ken Barber,  says, “More graphics, more videos, more voiceover, more knowledge checks, and fewer word slides will make the course engaging and fun for the students.”

Combining mobile apps with online team training will also increase effectiveness for your employees and business. A 2015 study by Global Workplace Analytics found that 25 percent of U.S. employees work remotely in some form. With so many of your employees connected and on-the-go,  keeping them plugged-in to online training via apps will only increase effectiveness.

  1. Many Company Topics are Simply Geared for Online Team Training

Online team training offers simplicity when it comes to many business topics that  are simply geared towards an online platform. Compliance-based courses such as software technical skill building on Office, Java, etc., and HR required training like sexual harassment courses can be easily tailored for online access.

Online team training can also be implemented for new hires. A series of courses can help new employees get up to speed faster, allowing assimilation into the team dynamic more effectively, according to employment solutions platform TrainingToday.

“Repetitive content, especially for new employees in a high turnover environment, is ideal for e-learning,” says Ken Barber. “While these could be taught in an ILT class, the information is easily communicated in an interactive e-learning course.”

Verizon is another company that effectively  uses online team training to its advantage. Via VerizonTech IT, the communications company offers knowledge-based courses online to deliver information consistently. And they do it across multiple channels, focusing on the end-user’s pace.

  1. Online Team Training at the Micro-Level Keeps it Simple

One major pitfall of hands-on training is the risk of over-training. A Sales Performance International report warns about the ineffectiveness over-training has. The study finds that multiple day training sessions could cause  50 percent of information to be forgotten within five weeks.

Massive amounts of information via marathon in-person training sessions are simply no longer effective. Overtraining leads to more employee stress, poor cost-benefit ratio, and a loss of interest, according to Houston Chronicle. Online team training, however, has picked up where traditional methods  have failed.

TED Talks are an excellent example of effective micro-level online team training. Through TED, you can access industry leaders and learn a variety of topics in short 15 to 20 minute increments. This allows information to be processed in a more meaningful way, keeping you and your team engaged.

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  1. Online Team Training Offers Freedom and Flexibility

Research suggests that 47 percent of employees want freedom and flexibility in their company training. Online team training serves those in need of just that. With the mobile workforce on the rise, companies are taking a hard look at how they implement training programs.

A 2014 survey by the Association for Talent Development found that 16 percent of the 340 companies surveyed use “at your own pace” online training. Not allowing employees to learn at their own pace can be counterintuitive. Employees who do not learn at their own pace often rush through training and simply brain dump what they’ve learned in a short period of time.

Interestingly, a 2015 Harvard Business School study found that those who reflected on learning tasks performed at higher rates with higher material retention. Online team training that emphasizes freedom and flexibility will certainly be more effective. Employees will not be as inclined to rush through training if they know they can do it in parts.

Online team training clearly offers more value to your employees than traditional in-person training. From marketing to the art of negotiation, your team can gain invaluable business assets such as planning, strategizing, tactics, techniques, and software development, among other skills needed in an effective workforce. Implementing a cost-effective and flexible online team training program is powerful strategy to increase employee output and expand your bottom line.

Want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in this article? Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here. 

How to Create a Blog That Converts

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If you are like most bloggers, you aren’t blogging as a hobby: you want to make some money. Making money boils down to converting traffic into sales. The first step is to figure out what you want to write about. It should relate to your business, and be valuable to your readers. Next, you need traffic, and various ways of getting visitors to buy your product or service. That's the short of it. Let's dive in a little deeper with 9 tips to help you on your way to a successful blog.

1. Speed Up

You need to have a fast website. Otherwise, your visitors are going to move on to one that is faster. According to Google, speed is one of the main things looked at in search ranking algorithms. Make sure that your site is as fast as possible, and don’t use a lot of high resolution videos that will slow things down. Videos are important, but to prevent long loading times,  it’s best to sparingly use shorter videos that will retain the attention of your visitors.

2. Make Sure Copy is Scannable

Many users will not give your page their full attention, so you need to make sure that it’s scannable. Keep paragraphs short so readers can easily discern the structure of your content. Use bullet points, dashes, arrows, etc. to get your points across, and readers will be more apt to pay attention to what you have to say. This will let you effectively lead them to the CTA.

3. Build a Subscriber List

It’s important to have an email marketing list if you want to grow your blog. Use your list to make connections and market your products or services. You will need to find the right email marketing tool, and you need a platform for storing subscribers. Once you have your list, you can send out regular newsletters, announcements, personalized notes, etc. to keep your business fresh in the minds of your customers. Be sure that your email content offers something of value to your customers, and draws them back to your website.

4. Use Visuals

Our brains process visuals a lot faster than text: 60,000 times faster, in fact. So, it goes without saying that content containing  a lot of visuals are going to be viewed more often than content with no visuals. Having awesome visuals engages visitors, and show readers what your business has to offer. Visuals include both photos and videos; the better they are,  the better your sales are ultimately going to be.

5. Use Your Call-to-Action

In order for you to get sales, customers have to act. That is why you need a call-to-action (CTA). You must ask your customers to do something. Use a CTA that is going to grab their attention, but make it simple: think titles like “Buy it Now” or “Download Now”. Make sure that the offer is tempting enough that they will want to take advantage and click on the CTA. If your CTA is persuasive and the customer finds your product valuable, chances are that they will go to the next step.

6. Make the Design Stand Out

Your landing page should be attractive and eye catching, and never cluttered. Take advantage of color psychology; soft blues create a calming sense, and red stimulates. Leave a bit of white space so that the page is easier to read. Use images and videos to grab attention, but don’t go overboard and bombard the senses of your readers with too much flash and bang. This often comes off as pushy and inauthentic.

7. Conduct Regular User Surveys

In order to know what your customers really want, you have to come right out and ask them. This is why it is so important to do customer surveys on a regular basis - for instance, users who create CoSchedule accounts are asked to take part in surveys at the point of registration, which allows CoSchedule to see what users are looking for.  You will need to use the right tool, such as Survey.io, which lets you create user surveys regularly. Use this feedback to make sure that you are giving customers what they need.

8. Offer Validation from the Big Guys

When you are able to do affiliate marketing, you can use name brands to draw readers to your own brand. It may take a bit of time and effort, but try to get brands that are well known, and avoid the lesser known brands. When people see brands they recognize on your site, they are going to associate you with the brands that they already know and trust.

9. Start a Podcast

Podcasts are a great way to build your personal brand and credibility. Through podcasts, you can inspire other bloggers and help them by offering guidance and support, using various online marketing tools. This is a great way of adding personal touch to your blog. Seize every opportunity to connect with your audience and deepen the relationship between your brand, and your readers.

Want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in this article? Visit the Online Marketing Institute to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here. 

7 Things to Consider When Launching an E-commerce Site

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If you’re considering the launch of an e-commerce website, you are poised to cash in on a continually growing trend. UPS’s 2016 Pulse of the Online Shopper study reported that 51 percent of shopper purchases are made online.

However, there’s more to launching an e-commerce site than simply launching your business in cyberspace. There are technical, legal and fulfillment challenges, to name a few.

First, you must choose a domain name. If your business has a unique name like Wally’s Wowza Widgets, you’re in luck. Otherwise, you may have a hard time finding a URL that’s not already taken. Cyber squatters have found it quite lucrative to buy up popular domain names and sell them for profit. Keep in mind that .com is no longer your only option, and not necessarily your best. Newer choices include .shop, .store, .buy and dozens more. One site you can use to check domain availability is WHOis.net. While you’re there, you also can register your domain, which is the next step on the road to a successful e-commerce site.

Next, you’ll need to decide whether you want to build the site from the ground up, so to speak, or use a prepackaged option such as  Shopify’s E-commerce Website Builder. The latter is a good option for smaller companies or those with a tight launch time frame.

Let’s assume you want to go it on your own. Here are the basics you must consider before “going live.”

  1. The Home Page & Beyond

Think of the home page as your storefront. It’s where you’ll promote seasonal specials, new items, and more. This is the most valuable “real estate” on your entire site, so don’t waste it. While product images will attract potential customers, it’s content that will attract the search engines.

That’s why search engine optimization (SEO) is so important. Not only should you have quality, relevant content on your entire site, you must include common keywords and phrases to boost your position in search results. Learning how to use SEO effectively is important for the success of your business.

The home page is the gateway to all of your products, so you must make it easy for visitors to navigate your website. Just because you categorize products in a certain way doesn’t mean your customers do. If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, take note of how departments are arranged and how products are displayed.  

Categories in your navigation menu do not have to be listed alphabetically. If it makes more sense (and results in more sales) to list top-selling categories first, then go for it.

Amazon does a great job of making it easy for customers to find what they want. As illustrated below, it guides first-time visitors and welcomes return customers. It features seasonal content in a clean, uncluttered layout.

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  1. Products, Hierarchy & Descriptions

As with an offline store, you must determine the inventory for your e-commerce site. You don’t have to offer everything you sell in your brick-and-mortar store. In fact, you shouldn’t. Think about it: if you have very large items, shipping costs can be exorbitant, and the hassle is rarely worth it. If you do decide to offer oversized items, arrange for in-store pickup only. This is especially true if you offer free shipping, as you’re likely to take a big loss here.

Once you determine your product assortment, you need to create a visual presentation. This is often referred to as the product gallery. A few things to think about:

  • How many rows and columns per page?
  • How big should each product image be?
  • Will customers have the option to zoom in on an image? Pick color swatches?
  • How many clicks will it take to purchase?

Uncommon Goods offers visitors two ways of finding products. First, more traditional categories appear in the navigation bar on the home page. As shown below, because it is a gift-oriented site, products are  grouped by occasion and other attributes.

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Just as you don’t need to offer the exact same items that are in your offline store, your pricing structure may differ, too. Many customers expect to find better bargains online, so you’ll have to manage those expectations. Some companies, such as Lenox, do not traditionally offer discounts on individual products. To make up for this, they offer a percentage off the entire purchase, free gift wrap, a bonus gift or similar promotions.

How you describe your products is equally important, but when it comes to this point, don’t think you are restricted to a single style or standard.  Fans of “Seinfeld” will remember Elaine, who worked as a copywriter for the J. Peterman catalog, hailed by those in the industry for its eloquent copy. Its real life site, like its catalog, uses product descriptions much longer than industry standards. However, it’s actually effective, as evidenced below. You’ve got to figure out what works best for your products and your audience and run with it. Whatever you do, though, you can’t ignore SEO.

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  1. User Experience (UX)

Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Sometimes you are too close to your products to understand how they are perceived by others. You need to walk through the online shopping experience from beginning to end, uncovering any roadblocks along the way. Best practice is to ensure that no more than three clicks are needed for a user to reach his/her destination.

Web features that you may think are great might actually annoy your customers. Take dropdown menus, for instance: menus that automatically expand when your cursor hovers over them may obscure other elements on the page, making for a frustrating experience.

Give your customers the option to continue shopping once they are in the checkout area. The inability to return to the exact point where they left off can be irritating.

You also can't ignore mobile design. It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyways) that your site must be optimized for mobile devices. That means you might have to rethink your desktop navigation to make it mobile-friendly. Make sure to test your website on many devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets to ensure that the experience maintains a consistent quality across platforms that your customers are likely to use.

  1. The Checkout Process

If you’ve ever been stuck with a careless cashier or behind a clueless customer in the checkout line, you know how frustrating a slow or disorganized checkout process can be. The same goes for the online shopping experience. You want to create a streamlined checkout process. Failure to do so can easily result in the dreaded shopping cart abandonment.

Any time you obtain customer information, you run into privacy issues. This is extremely important for e-commerce sites which obtain credit card data. You not only need to have a privacy policy posted on your site, you must also be in compliance with legal regulations. In addition, your site must have advanced levels of security to protect confidential information.

Many customers prefer to pay by PayPal, so that is something you may want to consider. PayPal will even take care of managing credit card information for you, so this can be a good option for security and convenience.

Consider too, if you have a brick-and-mortar store, whether you will arrange procedures to allow for in-store pickup, and how to seamlessly integrate this option into the checkout process. These are just a few of the issues you'll need to address before setting up shop.

  1. Fulfillment

If you have offline stores, you already have order and fulfillment operations. If not, you must determine how you'll get orders from Point A to Point B. Will you house products in one main warehouse? Will you drop ship orders? Will everything be done manually, or will you use automation? Will you ship to Canada? International? U.S. only?

Before opening your store, decide on these issues, and plan your business around them. Getting an order from China can be expensive if your system was only organized with domestic shipping in mind.

  1. After the Sale

Your job is not over once a sale is made. Indeed, it's only beginning. You'll want to set up automated emails (called "triggered emails," because they are triggered by a user's action) to send order and shipping confirmations, and other order-related notifications. Note that these types of emails do not fall under the same CAN-SPAM guidelines as other emails.

You will need dedicated customer service staff for your e-commerce site. The site will be available 24/7, but will your customer service reps be? Will you offer live chat? Be sure to have a robust FAQ section to cut down on the number of inquiries to customer service.

You will also need to establish a return policy. Zappos is known for its customer-friendly policies:

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Take a look at the return policies of other companies, especially those in your market, since these will determine your customers’ expectations, and decide what’s right for you.

  1. If You Build It, Will They Come?

Just because you purchase a URL, build an e-commerce site and launch it, doesn't mean items will be flying off your virtual shelves overnight. In order for your venture to be a success, you'll need to promote it. You'll want to plaster your new URL on everything — collateral, packaging, point-of-purchase displays (if you have an offline store), advertising, etc. You will also want to invest in search engine marketing (SEM).

Establish a customer email database so that you can market regularly. For this, you will need an email signup on your homepage and be sure to comply with CAN-SPAM regulations.

You'll also want to track traffic, interactions and purchases on your site. That means you will need to set up tracking codes to use when directing traffic from emails, banner ads, etc.

In short, to run a successful e-commerce site, you need a plan. Think both short- and long-term. Rely on the guidance of experts — supply chain, legal, marketing, accounting, UX, creative — whether they are consultants, or full-time employees. Remember: you don't have to launch everything at once. It's best to launch your e-commerce site in phases. Start with the basics and add the bells and whistles once you've worked out the kinks.

Let the online shopping begin!

Darcy Grabenstein is a freelance copywriter with more than 20 years of experience in print and digital advertising. In the digital world, she has worked extensively with e-commerce and email campaigns. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about any of the subjects mentioned above? Here are some relevant classes: SEO For Business OwnersTurn Website Visitors into Customers via Conversion Optimization, Fundamentals of Online Marketing

Visit the Online Marketing Institute  to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here here.

How to Develop a Crushing Video Marketing Strategy

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Video was bound to become the new go-to marketing tool sooner or later. Good videos can communicate as effectively as text and image based content, and often more powerfully. With new video sharing technologies and a myriad of formats to choose from, video should become an integral part of any marketing campaign. Since this is still a relatively new medium, marketers are still in the process of understanding what works best and what goes into making a crushing video marketing campaign. To help you along the way, here’s a list of points to consider when developing your video marketing strategy.

Choosing the Right Type of Video

There are so many video formats and techniques you can choose from, it can be overwhelming. Each can accomplish a different set of goals, so when it comes to choosing the right one, you should consult the broader plan for promoting your business. One of the first things you need to consider is video length - a conventional TV commercial lasts for about 30-45 seconds. On the internet, video ads can last even longer than that, since they are not constrained by the rules that apply to TV ads.

When it comes to choice of style or format, there are a number of valid choices. Animation tends to be the preferred format when it comes to explainer videos, since it can easily represent abstract concepts. Animations are also much easier to make than live action videos, and offer a broader range of stylistic choices and storytelling options.

Live-action videos with actors, props and sets can be more expensive, but they also lend a certain credibility to your brand. This format is especially suited for testimonial videos, which are also fairly easy to produce. Unfortunately, effective live-action videos can be more expensive and less permissive than animation. Both of these styles have a place, so take some time to consider what will work best for your individual needs.

Hire a Team of Professionals

When it comes to the production of your videos, there is a lot of free video-making software you can use. These may suffice for some organizations, but tend to offer only basic customization options. It’s also likely that many other companies use these free programs, so your video may end up looking like those produced by many other companies. That runs counter to the whole point of crafting a video strategy: to generate brand awareness, and create a memorable look for your business. With generic tools and software, it’s unlikely you will be able to create a memorable video. And failure to differentiate can mean the failure of your entire strategy.

If you’re looking to develop an amazing video marketing strategy, there’s no better option than to hire a professional team. Trust these video professionals to handle the creative side of things, and you can focus on strengthening the rest of your campaign.

Know Your Audience

Obviously you should enjoy the final cut of your video, but remember, you are not the target audience; your customers are. 

So, when you are planning the strategy, it is them you should be thinking about. Consider the age group you are addressing, but also the context in which these videos are likely to be seen. Are customers going to view them at work? In that case, you should invest in videos with a focus on descriptive imagery, so the story is easy to understand even with the sound turned off. Is your audience more likely to view the videos on mobile devices? In this case, animations with simple shapes and bright colors can work better for the relatively small screens of smartphones or tablets.

You don’t need to do special research to understand what kinds of videos your audience will appreciate. You can target your audience using the same metrics you’ve used for other marketing strategies. You can certainly ask more specific questions as the campaign evolves, but to begin, you can segment your audience in much the same way you have for other purposes.

Don’t Neglect Entertainment Value

When creating video campaigns, many companies focus on providing their customers with information about their business, offers and promotions. And that’s definitely what the ultimate goal of a video campaign should be. 

But that agenda is only relevant  to you and your company. Audiences certainly want to learn something by watching a video, but they also expect videos to be entertaining. Ignoring entertainment value will make your videos dry and uninteresting, and in the end, your audience may tune out your humorless infodump.

That is why, no matter what information you want to share, you must consider how you’re going to package it. The best way to get your audience’s attention and keep it is crafting  a story around the information you want to deliver. Envision a situation in which that information could become relevant to your customer and say something meaningful about it. Entertaining stories can bridge the gap between your business offers and solutions, and your customers’ needs and preferences.  

Consider Each Part of the Video

Creating a compelling story for your video might seem like a daunting task. But you don’t have to be an award-winning scriptwriter or director to understand how to craft a video that delivers a message effectively. The key is timing the different segments of the video so they form a coherent narrative. In a sense, it’s not much different than writing good text, which is why videos always begin as a written script.

You will have an introduction. This is where you establish your character/characters and the context in which the story happens. Next, you’ll want to establish some sort of conflict or issue that needs to be resolved. The middle of the story is the climax: how the issue escalates, and the implications of that escalation.

Arguably, the most important part is the ending, or resolution. Here you will weave your solutions into the plot. This is the message you want to communicate: that your solution solved a problem for the characters. How you end your video determines the meaning of the content, and the effect it will have on your viewers.

Don’t Give it All Away in One Go

Depending on how long you want your campaign to last, you should also consider the broader story your videos will construct. In order to make your whole strategy effective, you need to spread out information, and deliver it bit by bit.

That way, audiences will keep coming back for more. Curiosity is a very powerful force, and if you’ve hit the mark with your first couple of videos, your viewers will be hooked. Resist the temptation to give it all away in the first try, or your viewers won’t have any reason to tune in later.

If you do want to extend a campaign that’s been going well to maximize its potential, you can switch up the format you’ve established. Perhaps change styles in a radical way. But always try to maintain the same basic tone and principle. Serialized videos need to have some consistency in order for your audience to see the bigger picture that is fundamentally about your company, and how it is relevant to them.

Want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in this article? Visit the Online Marketing Institute  to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.

Author bio: Cristopher Tuckerman is a digital marketing strategist and a zealous writer who's interested in all things SEO and design-oriented. He believes that since almost 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing and 70% percent of our sensory receptors are eyesight related, it’s reckless not to be interested in design principles. Do yourself a favor and follow Cris’ advice: make your business more visually striking!

5 Alternative Marketing Strategies for Niches

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Find your niche

Find your niche

Creating marketing strategies for niches is a daunting task for any marketer. Niche businesses can only cater to a small audience and address very specific issues. Unlike commodities or retail, which cater to a broad audience, niche markets have a harder time getting people interested. Here are a few key strategies for getting your niche business off the ground.

Build a Community that Generates Content

Communities, whether online or offline, are built around the specific interests and traits of their members. These groups are bound by the things that set them apart. You’ll probably never see a group of people who get together to discuss a very generic topic like eating. Everyone eats. On the other hand, a community might spring up when several people who are interested in a specific aspect of eating come together, like people who enjoy cooking and meet to swap recipes, or those who enjoy exotic foods and want to share their experiences.

Your niche can be just the thing to plant the seeds of such a community. With readily available social media tools, all potential customers need is a small incentive: a rally point. From there on, your clients and potential clients can do a lot of the marketing work for you. But it’s absolutely vital that you create a solid, customer-centric culture. Your customers should be your top priority, and they should know your business is geared towards them, not selling as many products as you can.

That’s why you should encourage debates and even constructive criticism in your community. On the one hand, this is going to give you some valuable feedback and insights that will help to improve your business. On the other hand, you’re going to encourage a conversation that has the potential to raise brand awareness and promote customer loyalty. When each customer feels like their opinion is valued, they are more likely to promote your business and generate useful content.

You can also engage with influencers to help consolidate this community. Influencers already have a group of loyal followers with common interests. If the influencers you choose to engage with are a good fit for your brand, raising awareness will be a piece of cake.

Focus on Client Needs, Not Product Specifications

There are certain products that tend to sell themselves. Marketers often focus on highlighting all of their product’s assets to make it stand out, but neglect to tell customers how exactly this is going to help them. For certain products or services, this approach works just fine. All customers know why they should buy clothes; all they need to know is what makes one brand superior to another.

When it comes to marketing for niches, however, you can’t just focus on how good a product is (although that can be important, especially when you have competition). Many times  - especially when it comes to cutting edge technology and recent developments -  customers won’t understand what a product even does, and won’t have incentive to buy unless you specify its practical functions. If you find it difficult to promote a niche product or service, try to focus on your client’s needs and how the product is tailored to address those needs, instead of trying to constantly prove it’s better than the competition. Although potential customers  may not know what your product does or how it can help them, they certainly know what their problems are.

Highlight What Makes Your Niche Business Special

Many products that are now wildly popular had a very limited appeal in the beginning, and didn’t catch on at first. But they knew how to make the most out of their uniqueness, and they are now household brands: they offered something no other product did, and that’s what made them so popular.

When you operate in a niche market, there are two situations you can find yourself in when it comes to competition: either you are faced with a small number of powerful competitors , or you are the only company providing the specific products or services that you offer.

In both cases, there is always something that sets your company apart. In the first case, you are already providing a service few other companies are. From a marketing perspective, you should use that as an asset rather than a downside.

If you do have competitors, it’s worth  analyzing how they do business. Maybe your products are similar, but your brand’s personality can make the difference. Combine this with an in-depth analysis of your target audience to figure out how you could approach your customers differently, or diversify your client base.

If your niche tends to focus on senior professionals, for example, maybe it’s time to reach out to the growing millennial market, even if it may seem like that won’t work. When it comes to marketing strategies for niches, there is no beaten path: whatever makes a brand special - whether it’s reaching a new audience or just finding solutions to unique problems -  is worth investing in.

Marketing Strategies for Niches Are Like Stage Performances

Though it may not seem like it, marketing and entertainment have a lot in common: they both imply an audience, and they both imply a space in which to meet this audience. The context of this space determines who will come to a performance, what they expect to see, and what shape the performance should take.

When it comes to marketing, there are many different stages you can use to reach out to your audience. Social media platforms are fast becoming the go-to place where brands and customers interact. And while we tend to discuss these social media networks as a group, just by using them you’ll quickly come to realize that each has its own unique perks and disadvantages when it comes to crafting marketing strategies for niches.

For example, most Twitter users claim they use this platform to stay updated on current events, traffic and weather reports. But the site is less popular when it comes to entertainment. And even though it has far more users than Instagram, teens believe Instagram is the second most important social media platform, which proves Twitter has a more mature audience.

We shouldn’t forget offline marketing either. While the digital world has become one of the most popular marketing playgrounds, there is still very much we can gain from traditional marketing strategies. This is especially useful when it comes to physical products. An image and good copy can do a lot to promote your brand, but nothing compares to sampling the products in real life or getting a behind-the-scenes look at your business.

Concentrate Your Efforts

Obviously, it’s a good idea to test out new and untapped markets. The more people you can reach, the better your chances of converting leads and raising brand awareness. But ultimately, you cannot turn every potential lead into a loyal customer. You need to focus on the audiences that work best, lest you end up angering your current customers while chasing leads that won’t work out.

Testing out how your product is received in different markets can show that some audiences are just not a good match. You can try to adapt your products and your brand to match the preferences of these groups, but if after months of trying it’s still not working out, perhaps it’s time to cut your losses.

In order to encourage customer loyalty, your current customers need to feel like they are important for your business. If you are constantly rebranding in order to reach out to increasingly diverse groups of people, your loyal customers might feel like they are no longer respected.

Sometimes, the best way to create brand awareness and maximize revenues is simply to consolidate a consistent brand image. Especially when you are operating in a niche market, it’s important to maintain coherence when it comes to the tone and personality of your business.

Conclusion

Marketing strategies for niches must be extra careful when it comes to tailoring campaigns to the requirements of the business. The uniqueness of the products, services or field in which the business operates can be the greatest asset a marketer can depend on. If you’re having trouble developing a marketing strategy for your niche, try one of these tips today, and embrace the strengths of your brand while building it.

Dustin Ford became interested in technology at an early age. He read as much as he could and now he enjoys writing about gadgets, online trends, and apps for TechExploring. He wants to share his knowledge with others and help everyone who has technology-related questions.

Want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in this article? Visit the Online Marketing Institute  to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.

7 Best Productivity Tools for Digital Marketers

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Multitasking and productivity

Multitasking and productivity

As a digital marketer, you know that you must utilize tools like social media, analytics, data visualization, technical skills, teamwork, and others. But all this complexity can take up a lot of time, and time is money! For your digital marketing to actually be efficient and productive, it’s important to use everything at your disposal.  Unfortunately, there are so many productivity tools available that it can be difficult to choose the best ones that will work for all your digital marketing campaigns. That is why we have put together the following list of the top seven productivity tools for digital marketers to help keep teams on track and get work done more efficiently.

  1. Coschedule – Coschedule is a marketing calendar that will help you to plan, promote, execute, and automate your digital marketing by eliminating miscommunication, complex spreadsheets, and disconnected workflows, creating  total visibility among projects. Coschedule brings together content marketing, social media marketing, marketing projects, and blog management, making it the central location for all of your inbound marketing. There is one calendar for everything that your team is involved with, which you can use to plan, publish, promote, and automate all of your content.
  2. Time Doctor – This slick time management tool will give you the insights you need to know what is truly going on with your business at any time.  Time Doctor helps users to see how they are really spending their time, so they can make changes to dramatically increase productivity. Features include time tracking with screenshot monitoring, time spent in meetings, track time to clients and projects, see websites and apps used when working, a payroll module, login portal to see work done for clients, and dozens of other features  to keep your team on track.
  3. Skimlinks – Use this tool to monetize your content and get the most out of your digital marketing efforts. Skimlinks gives marketers the power  to create much more compelling content by leveraging insights about content that performs best, and determins what your readers want to see more of. This tool comes with busloads of features  that can  increase your earnings exponentially, and the data generated will help you to earn more from premium ad sales. The more you learn about what your readers want , the better your content is going to be. The better your content, the more your customers will make purchases!
  4. Infusionsoft – This  sales and marketing automation software is created specifically to help small businesses succeed. Using Infusionsoft, you can amp up your digital marketing efforts to capture more fresh leads, improve your conversion rates, become a master at e-commerce, manage every step of the sales process, and save a lot of time so you get even more done. You will learn about the tactics that others are using to achieve their digital marketing goals, and you can use these tactics to do the same for your business. And if this sounds like a tool you’d like to try, there are currently three sales promotions going on, so be sure to check out Infusionsoft’s website to learn more!
  5. Crowdfire – This is a Twitter and Instagram friend management app that makes gaining new followers easier than ever, especially when you apply your amazing digital marketing skills to your campaigns. Crowdfire  lets you clean and grow your Twitter accounts with automated DMs to send customizable messages, Instagram post scheduling, the ability to copy followers of competitors’ accounts, and to see who is not following you after you follow them. There are a number of pricing plans, from a free basic account to a high-usage Jupiter account, which is specifically for social media and communications agencies at $199 per month. This is a no-nonsense SaaS solution for increasing your Twitter audience.
  6. Hightail – No matter what type of marketing campaign your team is working on, you need tools  for sharing files, getting feedback, and bringing all your marketing projects from conception to completion. Hightail is a tool that allows creative digital marketing teams to collaborate on  the best marketing campaigns for your business, enabling them to work faster, and storing projects files in a single location that all team members can access. The feedback feature is especially useful, saving collaborators from the headache of organizing responses, and freeing up more time for creativity. You can sign up for free right now to try this tool, and see how it can improve every aspect of your digital marketing workflow.
  7. Basecamp – It’s  pretty easy to get off track while you are working on any type of digital marketing campaign, unless you are using the right tools for communication and organization. Basecamp allows you to run  digital marketing campaigns without resorting to email, texts, and meetings. This tool is a much better way to stay organized and get all of your marketing projects completed, by keeping your whole team on board and involved every step of the way. With everyone on the same page, potential problems can be mitigated and taken care of as soon as they arise.  Basecamp can improve every element of your digital marketing by keeping the most important priorities in view at all times.

These are just a few of the tools you can use to increase the effectiveness of all of your digital marketing. From being able to track time spent on projects, to maintaining open communication across the board and keeping project resources and tasks organized, these are practices that all digital marketing teams can benefit from. 

Want to learn more about any of the topics discussed in this article? Visit the Online Marketing Institute  to browse over 400 classes in the digital and social media marketing space. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.

How to Set the Stage for Highly Engaging Content

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Five years ago, I was not a writer. I liked reading books. I would devour them all day long if I had the chance. But somehow, with a pen in my hand, I was unable to create engaging content. Everything seemed synthetic, robotic and my efforts seemed fruitless. So, one day, I decided to stop forcing the issue. Instead, I started to analyze any interesting article that came my way. I took them apart, and the things that I discovered helped me blossom  from a wannabe writer into a professional content creator.

Today, we’ll go through the key elements that create highly engaging content. Even if you feel like you are neither a designer nor a writer, the following formula will give you the ingredients to make text interesting and effective. Once you understand these ingredients, you’ll be well on your way to creating thought provoking, engaging, relevant, educational content that supports your business goals. Let’s begin! 

1. What is Engaging Content?

Before starting this great journey of creation, let’s understand what we’re in for. First, the reason we’re creating content:  the attention, eyeballs, and time of readers.

Content has become a form of marketing that enjoys the greatest popularity today. This happened when billboard advertising or TV commercials began to take a back seat. How? The public has gained access to an almost infinite source of information: the Internet. Now, it is in their power to research, read, and educate themselves on any product or purchase.

In response, marketers started creating and delivering content to help customers learn about their products. This means your content must be informative, original, valuable, and add something new to the conversation.  Other elements that are secondary, but also very important are inspiration, entertainment, and the desire to receive more.

In short, readers need to love your content.

2. Start with a Boom

We all know that titles are important, but the first sentence is as valuable if not more so. The ultimate purpose of this introductory phrase is to let the readers know what to expect from the content and peak  their curiosity.

Your title  must create the same disruptive experience that an ad does. You don’t need to do that through overly long  words or exclamation points. This is best achieved through simple words that pack a powerful punch. 

In Google results, an article will show users the title and first sentence. Consequently, the first impression should be clear and poignant so that readers will be intrigued and want to know more. This is how you win more click-through rates.

However, once on your page, the writer shouldn’t disappoint readers. The text should continue to immerses the readers even deeper in the topic.

It is important to start strong since most people have an unconscious intention to skip the introduction and dive right in the subject they are passionate about. When this happens, readers lose context, and your article becomes much less effective.

3. Use Conversational Vocabulary

Consumers are not in for the ultimate metaphor. They want facts, examples, jokes, and lists. If they were looking for prose, they’d be reading Shakespeare. Content should be written as if the writers are talking to their friends. It’s a conversation, not a statement. The reader should receive a new angle on an old topic, a new solution to their problems, or an unexpected laugh. This can be accomplished with the simplest words. The difficulty here is how to combine these small words to deliver big messages.

4. Create Minimalism

The best-looking content is one with a short title, simple sentences, on point subheadings, and natural images. And the reason for this is that you are writing for the web, not a book.

Both of them have the intent to inform or entertain the reader, but they offer two different reading experiences. When you open a book, there are only the pages in front of you. Once you start it, you don’t have the urge to start others at the same time. When you are finished for the day, you simply bookmark the last page and resume reading another time.

However, reading an online article is a completely different experience. First of all, readers know there are a million other similar articles to read. So, while they are reading, they are simultaneously weighing the benefits they’re getting from your article over the cost of their precious time. If you lose them anywhere in their reading, they’ll likely move on without finishing. Secondly, it’s a distracting environment, where banners, ads, and columns on a web page can distract a reader.

Moreover, studies that observed the eye movement of web users noticed that people employ an F-shaped pattern for reading a website. So the process follows a vertical approach and moves away from the horizontal tradition. This means that while on the web, people prefer to scan an article rather than read it entirely.

A text that nurtures the attention of the online reader will follow the F-shaped formula. This means that the first two paragraphs should be good enough to create curiosity for the entire article or offer enough useful information to entice readers to read on.

Furthermore, the information found on the left side of the webpage should be highlighted and well built. These include subheadings and bullet points.

5. Use Power Words

Not all decisions are logical. One trigger that can spur someone to read an article all the way is emotion. Often, people choose a new product that resonates with their value system or past experiences and feelings. Highly engaging content should summon powerful feelings from within the reader. This process doesn’t imply a shaman or voodoo practices. It is all about simple words otherwise known as power words.

These tiny weapons are used by content creators to influence web users to perform an action, whether it is purchasing or writing a review. The power words will attach a certain feeling to your content. If you write about the last 24 hours left for your special offer, you can choose the simple words that inspire concern, fear of losing something, or the pressure of wasting time. In this case, you can use worry, risky, beware, caution, mistake, blinded or several other options.

On the other hand, a few types of engaging content want to build a connection between brand and consumer. This process requires winning over readers’ trust so you can use words such as safe, authentic, protected, secure, privacy, official, verify, lifetime, money-back, refund, research, and others.

6. Speak the Language of Your Audience

Every generation speaks a different language. So, to avoid speaking the wrong language, you need to identify your audience. To do that, you can create a persona. By gathering all the information you have about your existing customers, you will most surely identify a pattern regarding age, demographics, preferences, hobbies or career. This pattern will represent the character profile of your target audience and enable you to adopt a personality they will relate to.

Before starting to write your text, visualize this person that represents all your readers. Write for him or her only, and not just with the purpose of selling something. Write for this person's enjoyment and education. Your vocabulary will likely adjust to the type of language your audience uses. 

Conclusion

After going through all these steps for creating highly engaging content, you will realize that it is not about finding your inner Shakespeare. Professional content creators use simplicity as the secret to success. So, turn on a new blank page, and use meaningful and simple words to create an impactful conversation with your readers.

Interested in digital classes on the topics discussed above? OMI recommends the below classes to get started:

Content Marketing Strategy for Social MediaCreating and Curating Content People Love

Browse over 400 classes in the digital library at OMI. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.

Amanda Wilks knows digital marketing and the online milieu better than most marketing professionals – if she can say so herself. She’s been passionately contributing to Customer Survey Report for a while now with the purpose of helping entrepreneurs throw the ball out of the field. If you want to learn more about Amanda, you are kindly invited to follow her on Twitter @AmandaWilks01.   

Know Thy Customer

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Colorful crowd of shopping people. Happy people holding shopping bags

Retail seems to be taking a beating. For many companies foot traffic – and earnings – are in decline. The health of the US department stores and malls are “wavering between merely unwell to terminally ill,” depending on who you ask. Revenue from e-commerce is steadily increasing but can’t yet fill the gap created by weak in-store sales. (In Q2 of 2016, e-commerce sales accounted for only 7.5% of total retail sales).

The problem is consumers are shopping differently today, with a focus on online shopping and buying ‘experiences’ over ‘stuff.’ Smartphones and fast Wi-Fi / LTE are accelerating the change.

Industries that have been slow to respond are hurting. Department and discount stores like Macy’s and Sears have been forced to close brick-and-mortar stores. Even Wal-Mart decided to close more than 150 stores in 2016, in order to focus on improving their position in e-commerce with its $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com.

It’s yet another internet-age saga of change happens, adapt or die and all of that. But it’s true, the status quo keeps failing us lately.

Gary Vaynerchuck recently summed up the times very bluntly but honestly: “If you are running [TV] commercials for a brand that targets consumers 22 and under, you’re a *&^%face.”

It’s hard to know why we systematically resist change, but what we do know about the market today is this — know your customers. Really. Do it.

Do You Know Your Customers And Prospects?

The American retail industry was once facilitated by face-to-face transactions and dominated by predictable consumer shopping patterns. That’s gone. Today, retail is in the hands of the consumer – and the consumer wants one-touch purchasing and free overnight home delivery.

Retailers have reacted to changing consumer behavior in a wide variety of ways, including closing down physical stores, creating made-to-order products, offering in-store pickup, coordinating multi-channel offers, creating differentiated products, conducting brand collaborations and partnerships, and focusing on e-commerce.

All of these strategies are important and should be based in one critical piece of the puzzle—accurate, true customer profiling. Marketers are still relying solely on either old-school fictitious personas from creatives, based on anecdotal evidence. Or they use some data and do predictive modeling, but do it all manually, relying on human power instead of computing power.

Creative development, messaging and customer acquisition (prospecting) are lagging far behind, even as many other aspects of marketing today have become rigorous, highly automated and data-driven.

Cloud-Based Technology

Improving these specific marketing disciplines is certainly the job of predictive marketing—which is essentially the practice of customer profiling and prospect discovery. Yet, predictive marketing is a large hurdle for brands and agencies today.

This is because, when it comes to predicting which consumers will love and buy your brand—and how to best message and reach those prospective consumers—even the most advanced retailers and their agencies still rely on large physical data science teams and predictive methods that are decades old.

“74% of marketers using dynamic content powered by predictive intelligence, rated it as absolutely critical or very important in helping them create cohesive customer journeys.”
— Salesforce Research

Brands and agencies have yet to automate predictive marketing and move it to the cloud.

Fortunately, there’s a marketing platform that does just that.

If retailers commit to building better, data-driven profiles of their customers and the same for finding net-new customers, they’ll improve their ability to draw and retain more valuable customers. By learning to love automation, retailers might be able to – not just keep up with changing consumer behavior – but even get in front of it.

OMI will be launching exciting new Facebook and Content marketing classes in the New Year. Stay tuned. In the meantime, browse over 400 classes in the digital library at OMI. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.

Effective Event Management with Social Media, an Infographic

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If you are an event manager, your favorite superheroes are probably not the cape-wearing, shield-wielding kind. Any successful event marketing professional knows that planning a successful event requires a great deal of organization and communication, not to mention heaps of positivity. You know that the success of your event depends to a very large extent on the way you use social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for marketing and reaching your targeted audience, which makes them the coolest and most powerful social superheroes the industry has ever seen. Check out this infographic from Maximillion which takes a close look at some of the coolest social superheroes of event management!

This article was originally published on www.maximillion.co.uk

Interested in digital classes on the topics discussed above? OMI recommends the below classes to get started:

Social Media Strategy for BusinessCreating and Curating Content People Love, 7 Elements of Highly Effective Facebook MarketingContent Marketing Strategy for Social MediaPinterest Promotions 101

Browse over 400 classes in the digital library at OMI. Ready to start learning? Sign up here.