Month: April 2014

What is your brand really saying about you?

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Do you have a clear brand strategy that your audience understands? This is one big and very important question to consider when you are trying to translate what you do to the rest of the world.

In short, to achieve a greater return on investment (ROI) necessitates successful brand management. This fact becomes ever truer as technology advances, and businesses that are prepared to utilise the digital environment increase their chances of success.

Alternatively, these companies will be the ones that discredit themselves in one fleeting tweet if they are careless. It can take years to build up your brand’s reputation, and seconds to lose the faith of thousands of followers in your business, simply by using incorrect spelling, grammar or an old logo. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are blessings if used correctly, and curses in equal measure. It is important to consider the voice you use in the digital environment, getting a seemingly simple thing such as how to talk to customers on Twitter and Facebook wrong, can be detrimental to your brand. Decide early on whether your tone will be formal or chatty, and ensure it is consistent.

Related class: Best Digital Branding Practices for Small Businesses 

Investing in Your Own Brand

Of course, using social media and other digital forums is not the only way to create a successful brand. However, whether you have an established brand or you are in the process of re-branding, start by answering the following questions:

  • Who is your customer – consider age, gender, whether they will appreciate a creative touch or would they respond better to something formal?
  • Are you engaging with customers?
  • Does your brand reflect what you do?
  • Is your brand representative of your company’s values?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is no, or ‘I don’t know’, invest the time and the money in finding out the answers. Finding out who you are hoping to attract with your brand will provide you with a guide as to what it should look like, and your brand’s voice.

For some companies this is all fairly obvious, for instance if you are a legal firm you will have a formal tone and an attractive, no-frills logo. Yet, if you are a business that offers a range of services, you may find it difficult to pin point what exactly your brand’s look and voice should be. Seeking the services of a professional marketing agency can give you the guidance you need in this area, to think strategically and creatively about identifying your brand.

Making Your Brand Work For You

Once you have assessed who your target audience is, it will become easier to plan your brand around how to best engage with potential customers using both online and offline media. Justine Wright, managing director at Manchester based design, branding and digital agency Cuckoo Design, said:

“We work closely with each of our clients to develop a brand that will achieve the best possible results for them. There’s no one size fits all formula when it comes to creating branding strategies, there are too many aspects of each individual business and their target audience to consider that must be entirely unique to them.

“Using innovative and creative thinking for offline and online strategies, this enables us to provide clients with a branding strategy that echoes what they do as well as who they are as a company; which means taking into account their values and long term objectives. We then work to incorporate all of this into a digital or brochure & poster lead campaign. This not only gives us the advantage of having a relationship with the client and therefore an understanding of their business, but it gives them the opportunity to have a real impact on the finished product.”

Creating a successful brand requires an effective all round campaign, and achieving this necessitates investment in what your brand is intended to say about you. Once your brand starts to work for itself, you will notice the difference in relevant customers approaching your business – and the time and money you have spent will begin to pay off.

Want to understand the fundamentals of developing a memorable brand, and branding's role in a successful marketing program? Watch Online Marketing Institute's class, Best Digital Branding Practices for Small Businesses, and learn how branding is important to a small business’ success, and how careful evaluation and research is critical before implementing.

 


5 Approaches for Making Sense of the Data Kaleidoscope

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Today’s marketers have a nearly infinite amount of data at our disposal, and to be successful we must have the ability to analyze the millions or billions of bits and pieces of raw data and produce patterns. While reflecting on how to collect and analyze this immense amount of data, I recall fond memories of using my mother’s heirloom kaleidoscope as a young child. As she made small turns of the tube, we'd peer inside and marvel at the amazingly intricate patterns produced by the bits and pieces of colored glass at each turn.

Conducting data is required in order to understand data and identify patterns that will affect your business. However, unlike my mother's kaleidoscope, in which every pattern was beautiful, we need to apply a more discerning eye on the patterns produced from the massive amount of data we can now collect.

Today we can gather far more data than we can easily digest—because nearly every transaction or interaction creates a data element we can capture and store. How do you know which patterns are meaningful and worth action? The sheer scale of data can make for extremely complex data relationships and subtle patterns.

Related class: Measuring What Happens Through Attribution

That is why data mining has become an essential part of pattern detection. Data mining is used to simplify and summarize data. The next step is to apply various techniques to tease out the meaningful patterns.

There are five common types of pattern detection every marketer should be familiar with:

  1. Anomaly detection
  2. Association learning
  3. Classification
  4. Cluster detection
  5. Regression

Anomaly detection is useful when you are trying to determine whether something is significantly different from the expected picture. You might use this approach to monitor customers at risk.

Association learning can be used to reveal customer-purchasing patterns. For example, you might learn that customers who purchased Product A and Product B also purchased Service X. Then you can create offers to target those specific customers.

Classification allows us to use data mining to classify new data into pre-determined categories, allowing marketers to create and apply rules. You might use this approach for opportunity scoring and qualification. Once the opportunity scoring model and categories are established, new opportunities can be appropriately classified and actions planned.

Cluster detection is a good approach when you have a primary category and need to create subcategories. Let's say we have a particular group of power users of a product. It's possible that there are actually relevant and distinct subgroups of power users. Cluster detection reveals the subgroup patterns.

Regression is a type of data mining that helps with constructing predictive models. For example, being able to predict the future engagement of a customer based on past behavior requires regression. By understanding regression, marketers can use the models to determine which content elements, channel, and touch points lead to increased conversion for a particular set of prospects.

Hopefully you've come to an important conclusion—knowing which approach to use starts with asking the right question. The power of patterns begins with knowing what you want to know. And here is where the randomness of the kaleidoscope parts ways from the purpose of data mining.

As marketers, it is our responsibility to frame the question. Questions such as these (and many more) fall within our domain:

  • What data sets match with which customer segments, and how can these distinctions be used to create customer buying and usage personas?
  • What products are most preferred by a particular customer segment?
  • Which opportunities convert faster and under what conditions? And the flipside of this question: Which opportunities remain "stuck" and what do these "stuck" opportunities have in common with those that convert and, more importantly, how are they different from the opportunities that convert?
  • What product segments have the fastest traction and adoption, and what is unique about those segments compared with where the traction and adoption is lagging?
  • How can the "usage" rates, renewal rates, and upsell/cross-sell opportunities be categorized by customer segment?
  • Which touch points and channels resonate with that customer segment or persona?

Marketers need to proactively frame the question, gather and analyze the data, decipher the patterns, and—most importantly—come to the table with a recommended plan of action.

The marketers who are able to distill patterns into something meaningful and actionable are the ones who will succeed in today's data-driven business environment.

Ready to learn how to better understand how much data you have access to and how to make that data actionable? Watch Online Marketing Institute's Class, Measuring What Matters Through Attribution, and understand how much you have, what you can source, how to make it actionable and who else is making a profit from it.

 


The Perfect Small Business Social Media Game Plan

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If there is truth in one thing, it’s that social media is on the rise. In fact, it’s more like blowing the roof off digital marketing as we know it today. Did you know that, according to SmallBizTrends, over 85 percent of marketers view social media as a foundation for Internet marketing, but at the same time only 36 percent of marketers think their current Facebook marketing efforts are producing results. Why such a low percentage? I believe it is due to the fact that many businesses don’t have a solid small business social media marketing strategy in place.

A vast amount of small business owners blindly post content about their business with no particular strategy. Utilizing your social media channels without a plan is like throwing darts in the dark and expecting to hit a bulls-eye. If you execute the following tips into your social media marketing plan, you will convert visitors to prospects, help drive traffic back to your site, and realize your potential for nurturing client relationships.

Start With Goals and Measurement

To begin with, get clarity on why you’d spend time on social media for your business. Are you using your social media channels to increase engagement, as a customer service tool, to increase revenue, for branding, to increase referral traffic to your site, or all of the above? Once you have defined your goals, the next step is to list them by priority.

Related class: Introduction to Campaign-Based Content Marketing

After you prioritize your goals, the next step is to identify your target audience(s). This is where knowing your demographic and interests of your target market will come in handy. If you are unsure of these key factors, Google Analytics is a great and easy way to get started. Click on “Audience” and you’ll get access to a wealth of information on who’s already visiting your website.

Another great way to digitally pull accurate data about your potential customers is to create a survey asking your customers about their buying habits, age, location, gender, and other key factors. You can easily create a survey using free tools like SurveyMonkey or KwikSurveys to send via email or by adding it to your website. An important thing to think about is that each social media channel caters to different audience demographics.

Rally the Troops; Social Media Team Management

Running successful small business social media business channels is no solo operation. You will need a team of dedicated individuals to handle a variety of aspects.

Reputation management. The great thing about social media for business is the ability to address your customers directly. Due to the fact that anyone can post any comment at any given time, it is very important to have a member of your team dedicated to addressing customer issues as well as negative comments (yes, it will happen occasionally). If a follower or friend posts content that’s inappropriate, you want to catch it right away to prevent the tarnishing of your brand. Timeliness to these customer service responses is also very important. According to Social Media Today, 71 percent of customers who experience a quick and effective brand response are more likely to recommend that brand to a new customer. This compares to 19 percent of customers who did not receive a response.

Engage with content marketing. Have you “liked” or retweeted a company’s message on your personal social media page before? If so, chances are you found the content to be engaging, fun, useful, etc. for your social network and, in turn, you wanted to help spread the word.

Having a dedicated team member in charge of content marketing will help you in the quest for social media success. The content marketing team member can leverage engaging material such as running Facebook contests, creating thought-provoking posts, or posting images and videos to get people talking about your brand. How do you rate engagement? Below are two formulas for engaging your fans, provided by SocialBakers.

Conclusion

If you don’t have a solid social media marketing strategy in place, you’re missing out. Even small and micro businesses are able to implement and execute successful online marketing strategies; it just takes a bit of time and the right knowledge. A great place to get started is right here. The Online Marketing Institute features a wealth of online classes that will help you get started. Don’t delay; your competition won’t wait for you to make the first move.

Want to learn  how to deliver information that makes the buyer more intelligent, rather than taking a sales-y approach? Watch this Online Marketing Institute class By Chris Raulf, Introduction to Campaign-Based Content Marketing, and you will understand how your company can provide valuable content, so that you may grow a loyal customer base. 

 


Facebook Drop in Organic Reach: What This Means for Facebook Marketers

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By now it should be no secret that Facebook’s organic reach is falling. As of February 2014, it is only around the 6 percent mark. And Facebook isn’t shying away from this news either. In fact, Zuckerberg and his team are encouraging us to move toward ad spend if we want to boost our content.

It can be said, in all fairness, that this is unfair. It is unfair because, according to Facebook, business marketers now have to spend more money to get the same results they could have gotten years ago. But is this the end of the free-earned-media-value world for marketers? Far from it. Take, for example, the scare of banner advertising.

The “Death” of Banner Ads

Banner ads have been around since the ‘90s, but due to the influx of annoying pop-ups and possible virus infections, Internet users have gradually grown to distrust banner ads and what they’re promoting.

Why are they still here, then? Because they still work.

Studies have shown that most people don’t like to click on banner ads because they’re distracted by them. But research shows that people click banner ads more than they consume TV or outdoor ads. The CTR for banner ads is at 0.07 percent, while TV ads weigh in at 0.05 percent and outdoor ads are at 0.03 percent.

Related class: How to Launch a Successful Facebook Campaign

What Can Marketers Do?

Like the story of the banner ad, Facebook will stay on as a relevant marketing platform for businesses despite its falling organic reach. There are solutions to tackle this problem, and none of these involve money. Of course, ad spend can still be used to maximize your reach and increase your target audience, but here are some other ways you can improve your Facebook presence:

1. Visual bullet points. Visual bullet points gain a lot of engagement, and EdgeRank, Facebook’s algorithm, determines what

articles show up on a user's newsfeed. If your content gains traction, EdgeRank can help to boost your content even without the help of ad spend.

2. Opt-in emails. Another method to get around the fall in Facebook’s organic reach is to use opt-in emails. This is useful because your conversion rate from opt-in emails will be high. If your audience is willing to give you their email, chances are they’ll be interested in what you have to offer. Don’t let that go to waste.

3. Offers. Everyone’s a sucker for a great deal. Like what marketing consultant Jon Loomer says in his article about Facebook offers, an irresistible offer will get your fans to follow your page more closely. You can then use this as your first step to introduce your brand to them and slowly build up your base from there.

4. Retargeting. Since the number of people you’re able to reach on Facebook will fall, you have to ensure that your audience is made up of highly targeted fans who have a higher chance of conversion. Closely evaluate your page’s fans to see if your audienceis made up of “fake” fans or fans who are genuinely interested in your product or service.

Here’s the hard truth: there’s nothing you can do to prevent Facebook’s drop in organic reach. But that certainly doesn’t mean the end of Facebook as a viable marketing platform. In fact, if you cleverly plan your campaign and social media strategy, you may even see an improvement in your current Facebook marketing tactics.

Want to understand how to properly run and manage a social media campaign on Facebook? Watch Online Marketing Institute's Class, How to Launch a Successful Facebook Campaign and learn how small businesses can manage Facebook campaigns to maximize ROI. 

 


Why Images and Photos Rule Social Media

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Social media is a marketing monster. It provides the most powerful platform to share your message with the world. But, how do marketers break through all the “noise” on social? With so many companies sharing so much stuff, what tactics do the savviest marketers use for social media optimization across their social networks?

I came across the Social Media Content Optimization Survey, administered by Software Advice in partnership with Adobe, and I wanted to share its findings with you. Revealed in the early stages of the survey were the answers to the important questions I asked above, and more. Looks like if you aren't using images and photos in your social media distribution, you may be missing the mark.

Here is a Q&A with Ashley Verrill, Social CRM Researcher at Software Advice about the survey's findings and the most effective tactics marketers are incorporating into their social sharing strategy and execution.

The results of your survey show that using images and photos is the most important tactic to marketers on social media. Why do you think that is?

People don’t like to read--especially on social media. Also, images are easier to process and draw meaning from immediately. When I think about how I scan my Facebook newsfeed, I pretty much just quickly scroll, stopping only when I see someone’s posted a new photo; or, if they’ve posted a news article that happens to have a really eye-catching image. I think part of the reason this has happened to me, and others on social media, is that I’m now checking updates for five or more platforms a day, and my number of friends, followers, connections etc. is always growing. I don’t have the time or patience to go through every feed and read every single update. So, I just scan and look for those that “jump out at me”--usually because of an image or photo. That’s essentially what you want: photos and images that stop the social media user in their tracks.

Related Class: How To Optimize Social Media For Search

With the popularity of video apps like Vine and Instagram, are you surprised to see marketers rank video so low in your study? As video technology continues to improve and become more widely available, do you think this number will change?

No, I’m not surprised; and yes, I do expect this trend to change. As you hinted at in your question, I think the low ranking in the survey is not because videos are drastically less successful than images and photos. I think it’s because videos are so much more labor intensive. Images and photos can be just as effective as videos at “stopping social media users in their tracks,” but more often than not are significantly less expensive. However, as it becomes easier and easier to produce high-quality videos, I expect to see the ratio of images-to-video use become more even. Particularly when you consider that videos are 12 times more shared than links and text posts combined, compared with photos, which are just two times more likely to be shared than text updates.

Marketers reported that one of their top goals for using social media is to build brand recognition. What tactics do you think marketers are using to achieve this?

First and foremost, you need to focus on building your following. The more people you have interacting with your content (sharing and engaging with it) the wider net you can cast. Just having your brand seen across the web can increase recognition (seen ideally by way of others sharing your content with their friends and social circles). So, really the question is what tactics can you use to build your following. I’d say one of the biggest misconceptions is that posting engaging content routinely will get you there. It won’t. It might drum up some followers, but they aren’t likely to stay engaged. To create that stickiness, you, as a brand, must return the favor. Reply to customers that comment on your updates. Re-share their updates, or reply to their mentions. Share a healthy mix of user-generated content with brand content. Finally, make sure it is highly-relevant to your audience. Just because the latest news about Justin Bieber is the hottest thing on the Internet right now doesn’t mean you should share that with your audience.

As your study shows, driving website traffic is one of the lowest social media goals for marketers. Are you surprised by that outcome?

Yes and no. Yes, because content marketing as a whole is becoming more popular and social is one of the most-effective means for getting someone into your content marketing funnel: they read an article or eBook you shared on social, sign up for your newsletter, are marketed to over time, and eventually (ideally) convert. For that reason, I’m surprised that more marketers didn’t say yes, thinking traffic to their website would give them the chance to add them to their email marketing program. I say no because people who didn’t read that possibility in the question, might have instead been thinking traffic for the purposes of immediate conversion. That is more challenging and often less effective on social media (I wasn’t surprised that “drive direct-response sales” was the goal marketers are least effective at achieving).

To read more about the Social Media Optimization Survey, visit The B2B Marketing Mentor blog by Software Advice. And, follow me on Twitter @madisonrjacobs.

Looking for a framework on how to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) for social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube to increase visibility in search results and enhance brand awareness? Check out Online Marketing Institute’s class, How To Optimize Social Media For Search. Sign up today and learn how your social media networks can benefit from search optimization. 

 


Marketing Automation’s Digital Body Language Optimizes Lead Engagement

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Modern marketing is all about using technology to more efficiently and effectively produce revenue.  Tapping into the “digital body language” of a lead interacting with a company’s content (websites, outbound emails, forms, etc.) provides a reservoir of opportunity for optimizing many marketing efforts.

Digital body language is the compilation of the digital activity produced by an individual as he or she interacts with your content. At a fundamental level, it is transactional data that is captured by marketing automation software. The data – which many times is referred to as an implicit profile – is captured by tracking scripts that are placed on a company’s owned websites and transmitted emails. Email opens, clicks, or forwards, website and blog visits, and Google searches are examples of activity that produce quantifiable digital body language.

Analyzing the digital body language data within the marketing automation tool accelerates leads through the buying cycle by giving you the opportunities to engage the leads. When leads see value in the information they are interacting with, their needs are being met and their questions are being addressed. Marketing automation software facilitates the alignment of leads’ needs by automatically routing leads to receive optimal messages – content – based on digital body language.

As leads interact with categorized content, their activity is analyzed and their digital body language is observed. Content (including whitepapers, web pages, and blog posts) can be categorized on factors like need, persona, and buying cycle and then tagged within the marketing automation software. As leads engage with the tagged content, the marketing automation software watches the interaction, “showing” various implicit perspectives of the leads (e.g., needs, persona, and buying cycle).

Related Class: Marketing Automation Fundamentals for Customer Engagement

Once interest is “shown,” leads can be segmented. Segmenting on this implicit profile, as well as explicit data points like company size and job role, significantly optimizes lead flow and conversion. Segmented leads can be engaged through a variety of marketing programs that have been set up previously. Examples of programs could include nurture campaigns, webinars, email updates, and website ads powered by tools like AdFocus and Bizo.

The more finite the segmenting, the better the lead engagement. Conversely: the more finite the segmentation, the more effort involved in the setup. Starting at a macro level and moving to a more granular level produces immediate results that can be improved on over time.

As leads engage with content, their digital body language provides insights into how they are moving along the buying cycle, when they are ready to be turned over to the sales organization, and even where they are “stuck” in the buying cycle. Through the marketing automation software’s logic and monitoring capabilities, modern marketers can systemically watch what leads are interested in and can continue the conversation based on those specific interests.

Looking to implementing an effective lead scoring program can help you see which leads are most active and, more importantly, which of them are ready for a sale? Tune in to Mary Wallace's Online Marketing Institute's class, Lead Scoring Program Fundamentals. Enroll today to learn how to adopting a lead scoring program results in a faster and more effective sales process and ultimately, open up more revenue opportunities for your business.

 

 


Tips to Enhance Your Events via Social Media

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This past February, I had the honor of participating in a panel at an industry event where the topic was how to host a successful event, and I was the panelist representing digital marketing. I focused on best practices in social media for promoting and hosting an event. Based on my experience and audience feedback, I felt it would be helpful for those who missed the panel to benefit from our insights.

Although I do not consider myself an expert on event marketing, I have hosted or supported a variety of events and related marketing activities over the years that have informed my perspective. Since 1999, I’ve hosted a monthly business networking event in Portland, which has given me the opportunity to refine social media promotion of recurring industry events. I’ve also co-founded or concepted annual search engine marketing events like SearchFest. My experience has informed the following best practices for hosting a successful real-world event.

Pre-Event Preparation

A successful event requires a good deal of planning. Social media is no exception. Throughout the event planning process, marketing must be a key consideration. I’ve developed the 3 Ps of pre-event preparation to simplify the process, outlined below:

  • Planning. Any successful social media campaign requires an objective and an audience. Once you’ve defined both, conduct research to identify where your target audience lives on social media. Understand which platforms they prefer, how they use them, content they value, and attention-grabbing calls-to-action that generate attendance.
  • Profile/account creation. Once you’ve identified the relevant platforms, immediately create accounts as appropriate (whether they be under your dealer name or the name of your recurring event). As a default, I recommend creating profiles on the following social platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Google+. Be sure to “optimize” your profiles with your dealer/event name, description, logo/name, and associated imagery. Cross-reference the various profiles to ensure optimum visibility by potential attendees and search engines.
  • Preliminary promotion. It is never too early to promote an event, so start creating “teaser” content immediately for the new (or existing) social profiles. Ideally, content will be 80 percent unique to each platform, although it is not uncommon for 80 percent of your posts or updates to be identical initially. The objective is to put a stake in the ground and get the word out. With months to go until the event, take your time to create compelling content, and identify and engage “players” in your community who are also active online in order to generate early buzz for your event. Contests can generate immediate and sustained awareness for your event (especially if the winner must be present at the event to win).

Related Class: Fundamentals of the Tier 1 Social Media Platforms

At-Event Communication

A successful event has to be well planned. That said, the rubber hits the road at the event itself, and you need a game plan that will get the crowd fired up. There are 3 Cs of effective at-event communication:

  • Content creation. With a bit of planning, you can develop a content calendar framework so your team knows what they should be producing and when. While staff might focus on complex content like interviews and videos, ambassadors or volunteers can handle pictures and general status updates. Create and promote a dedicated hashtag for your event (the shorter, the better) that others will associate with their updates on Twitter or Facebook to allow for more effective engagement and curation post-event.
  • Collaboration. A core component of your event planning should be to develop a core team of social media marketers, including employees, volunteers, and ambassadors from your community. Provide them incentives (sometimes as little as a free t-shirt) and basic training that will allow them to post real-time updates, pictures, and videos from the event.
  • Conversation. The primary goal of your social media team should be to engage event attendees during the event. Actively promote your Twitter handle and hashtag to attendees and ask them to share their experiences in real time. Monitor your Twitter account and mentions of the hashtag to look for opportunities to engage in conversations that enhance the value and impact of the event. For example, attendees often provide helpful commentary about the event (the speakers are too loud or too quiet, beer is low, or the toilet is clogged). To further foster conversation, post questions or surveys during the event.

Post-Event Continuity

One of the most common mistakes event managers and marketers make is not following through. Your event plan should include post-event activities for continuity. I’ve outlined a methodology below that will allow you to “LINC” your events and maximize impact:

  • Leverage momentum. It’s never too early to think about your next event. Best practice is to set the date, time, and location of your next event so that you can promote it at the current event. Close the deal by offering special incentives for attendees to register for the next event (discounts are most common).
  • Inspire dialogue. Assuming you throw an event people will be talking about for days if not months, engage with attendees immediately after the event with highlights, a formal recap, a thank you to sponsors and special guests, insights, interviews, and special offers.
  • Nurture relationships. While generating Facebook likes and Twitter followers is great, nothing is better than building your house (email) list. Encourage your attendees and social media fans to provide their email so you can continue the conversation over a platform you “own” and can control. Build on previous content mentioned above with in-depth content best suited for a newsletter. You’ll have greater control and improved tracking.
  • Curate content. Your social media team and event attendees will create a good deal of content in the form of updates/posts, pictures, and videos. Unfortunately, a good deal with be distributed across platforms. It is your obligation and opportunity to compile the information into one thorough recap (I recommend a blog post) that links to the various platforms and profiles containing the content. If you can get permission, move all the images to Facebook or Pinterest where they can be easily viewed and shared. Move your videos to YouTube and updates to Facebook or your blog. Google will appreciate your efforts as much as past and future attendees.

Armed with these best practices, I guarantee your event will be a smashing success! For more tips on social media marketing, visit Anvil Media’s Resources section.

To continue to build a blend of curation and creation to find ways to share content that matters to audiences, offer utility and build long term relationships, watch this Online Marketing Class, How to Create a B2B Content Strategy. Enroll today to learn the tools and overall framework to build out a content strategy that works.

 


How to Build a Strong Brand Foundation

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Branding is critical and has the power to determine the success of your business. Good branding can turn any business from blah to “brandtastic” in a matter of seconds. A brand is defined as an identifying mark, and as David Ogilvy said, “a brand is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” This means that a brand is not just one aspect of a business; it is how your customers perceive you at every touch point. For example, a brand is not just a name or a logo; it is your service, your social engagement, your sales process, the marketing, and everything in between.

Think of your brand as a person. Who is this person? What would he be like? What values would he share? How does this person make you feel? What kind of personality does he have? Is he young and cocky? Maybe middle-aged and professional? This is how you should be thinking of your business. It is this personality that should be radiated at all times.

Related Class: Branding 101: Defining Who You Are

If asked to name a couple of brands that you like, what would you say? Everyone has a brand that pops right into his or her mind. For me, Virgin is my personal favorite. The company’s branding is so prevailing it resonates. Virgin’s branding is not only powerful because it has such a strong presence, but its customer experience is superior to most. From the moment you buy a ticket to the first step you take off a Virgin Airlines plane, the experience is fun, new, clean, quick, and, most of all, enjoyable. I fly Virgin America anytime I can. Why? Because I think it is the best.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, has established a very specific company culture. He is a “Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality.” He is full of life, ideas, and believes in doing whatever it takes to get the job done, and to do it right. All of his companies exude this sort of personality. So, how does Richard Branson ensure that this “way of thinking” is radiated at all levels? Richard Branson “doesn't hire people for their skills and qualifications. He hires them for cultural fit with one of his 400 companies.” By hiring the right people, Branson can make sure that the brand he has established and the personality he has created for his companies remains consistent at every touch point and at every point in the chain.

A great brand knows exactly where it stands in the marketplace. To start determining where your brand sits, you must first conduct a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis helps you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Strengths: Determine what your strengths are and where you are excelling as a company. Do you have exceptional customer service? Are your sales outstanding?

Weaknesses: Which parts of your company do not resonate with your branding? What can be improved upon?

Opportunities: How can you grow? What opportunities exist in your market/industry for you and how can you take advantage of them?

Threats: Who are your competitors? What changes in the industry could threaten your company, and how can your brand survive? A threat could include marketing your brand to the wrong audience. You must know who your audience is and market to them appropriately.

The SWOT analysis allows you to differentiate yourself and determines where you best fit in the marketplace. Of course, your branding should reflect your findings.

Once you really hone in on what your company is, what it represents, and its place in the market, you can then start developing your vision and mission statements.

Vision Statement: Your vision statement should express what you want to become as a company. This is more of a guiding light, and conveys what your high-level goals are. Your vision statement should come from the founder and set the tone for what he or she envisions for growth, employees, values, contributions to the community, and more.

Tips:

-       A vision statement should be the motivator for why your company does what it does everyday.

-       Make it aspirational, not only inspirational.

-       Express what your end goal is as a company.

Mission Statement: Your mission statement is your formal summary of the values and objectives of your company. It summarizes what you do, how you do it, and what you offer to your customers and clients.

It is important to develop these statements, as they will help organize and focus your strategies in the way you brand and market your company.

Tips:

-       Keep it short and sweet.

-       Convey value and inspiration.

-       Be specific with what your company does.

-       Answer the question: Why does your company exist?

-       Answer the question: How will your company achieve its goals?

-       Your mission statement is not set in stone, so revisit it often.

Now that you have your vision and mission statements down, it is time to start building your brand. That means that your branding must be consistent at every touch point with your customer. From your product/service to your customer support and follow-up, everything must reflect the values and ideals that you outlined.

Remember, a brand can always evolve, however, building a strong foundation is the key to developing a brand that lasts, not just a company that is here today and gone tomorrow!

In this Online Marketing Institute class, Best Digital Branding Best Practice for Small Businesses, you will learn more about how branding is important to a small business’ success, and how careful evaluation and research is critical before implementing. Enroll today!

 


Three Steps to an ‘Unbound’ Content Marketing Strategy

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Inbound or outbound marketing? It comes up in almost every campaign kick-off or strategy brainstorm. But it's the wrong question at the wrong time. The lines between inbound and outbound marketing are increasingly blurred - it's not an either/or decision. And to reach your audience in a meaningful way, you have to step back from the tactical questions and get the strategy locked down first.

So forget inbound vs. outbound marketing. Instead, think unbound.

In today’s fragmented, multi-screen world, you need to unlock the substance of your story from the structure of your campaigns - and set your content free. “Unbound marketing” takes a holistic, integrated approach, where inbound and outbound work together for a better result. Unbound marketing incorporates the entire spectrum of touch points, with content at the center.

 

Marketing strategist Ardath Albee says inbound needs outbound to succeed: "Inbound is definitely critical for marketing in today's overwhelming informational environments," she says. "But I'd argue that inbound doesn't actually work without outbound. It's all in how you incorporate the two disciplines."

For example, outbound tactics in paid and owned channels seed your content, which drives social sharing and inbound traffic via social. This drives increased discussion and backlinks, as well as referral traffic and an improved SEO profile.

With that in mind, here are three steps to take before you start drawing boxes and arrows on your campaign whiteboard.

Step 1: Start with a story.

“You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.”

 — F. Scott Fitzgerald

We have to move beyond a campaign mindset and focus on the essence of our stories. What is it that we have to say? What is the human truth that is useful, helpful, functional, or entertaining? Make your customer (or prospective customer) the hero of your story. And build your narrative around her interests, needs, and ultimate success.

Tools:

  • Buyer personas
  • Buyer journeys
  • Messaging framework

Related Class: Demand Generation: Personas

Step 2: Explore the ecosystem.

It may sound obvious, but consider your audience and the world they live in. What do they care about? Who do they hang out with? Where do they go for information? Think about all the possible connection points where people could be exposed to your content. And remember that they, not you, are choosing the adventure.

Now you can create a multi-faceted engagement plan that puts the customer at the center of your story and encompasses both inbound and outbound channels.

Tools:

  • Social media monitoring (e.g., Radian6, Sysomos, Viralheat)
  • Influencer and content discovery (e.g., Alltop, Little Bird, Traackr)
  • Web analytics (e.g., Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture, Webtrends)

Step 3: Create flexible content, unfettered by format.

Audience preferences should also inform the types of content you create and the way you publish it. Do they download (or even print) in-depth articles from their desktop? Or do they prefer to watch short videos on their tablet or phone? Your content strategy needs to account for all the different ways people will access and view your content (Karen McGrane’s book Content Strategy for Mobile is a fabulous guide).

But don’t get too hung up on format. The same core piece of content may take different forms, depending on context. So create structured microelements that can adapt to multiple channels, formats, and devices. These elements might include:

  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • Open graph copy (for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+)
  • Social sharing copy (for tweets and status updates)
  • Headline
  • Subheads
  • Body copy
  • Images (with sizing/cropping for different display resolutions)
  • Captions
  • Alt text
  • Embedded assets (video, slide decks)
  • Call to action
  • Links

Fortunately, there are some helpful technology platforms to make all this easier, including your CMS, as well as more comprehensive solutions such as Kapost or Compendium. If a paid platform is beyond your reach, an Excel spreadsheet can do the trick.

Tools:

  • Content matrix: Capture all the relevant elements such as those listed above.
  • Editorial calendar: Map out the content you will publish, including who, what, when, where, etc.
  • Content management and/or workflow systems: Plan, manage, and report on your content production and publication process.

Once you've taken these critical strategic steps, you can put on your campaign hat and start connecting the dots. And when someone asks whether you're doing inbound or outbound, you can simply say, "Yes."

Shifting your content marketing strategy to include more humanized content will give you a better chance of generating traffic and getting leads. In the Online Marketing Class, Crafting Genuine Content Marketing Strategies that Get Results, you will learn why genuine content marketing is important, and explore new content ideas that can work for almost any business. 

 


Twitter and Your Business Reputation

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So your company is just starting to get noticed on Twitter and other social media platforms! That’s awesome. It’s a great avenue to reach the toughest demographic of consumers. Maybe you haven’t noticed yet but it’s kind of hard to develop a real reputation on Twitter, especially if you aren’t a big brand. Getting the status of a social influencer doesn’t happen overnight, so now is the perfect time to start. Think of it like planting a seed that will eventually bloom into a beautiful, social flower. All of the steps that I’m going to suggest today are really easy to do and will help you get the results you’re looking for over the course of a few months. So let’s dive into a few tips that will help grow your Twitter following as a business.

Interact

It’s not called social media just because it sounds cool. This might be a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s absolutely staggering to see the number of businesses that simply post advertisements about themselves and their products. While it can be a great way to give people information about sales and other things that pertain to your business, no one wants to just get spammed with things they have no interest in. Showing that there is a real person behind a Twitter account can go a long way to growing your social media presence.

Share, Don’t Spam

As mentioned before, a little bit of sharing is completely fine. Keep in mind that the things you share should be relevant to your company. It doesn’t have to just be advertisements and coupon offers. Go through and find some stories or articles that you find interesting and share them. Chances are your followers will, too. Don’t forget to interact with people who ask your company questions based on what you share. That’s going to be the main thing that sets you apart from a spambot.

Be Helpful

One thing you’ll notice is that some people use Twitter and other social media platforms as a way of voicing their problems with your company. If someone posts a complaint, the most important thing you can do is respond to him or her. One of the main reasons people use social media to complain to companies is because it’s a very public medium. Other people will be able to see their complaints as well as your response to them.  Some of the best things that you can do when it comes to dealing with complaints are:

  • Respond right away or quickly after the complaint
  • Try to stay away from generic “we appreciate your feedback…” lines
  • Be polite and respectful

Remember that these are people who have tried your business, and helping them fix their problem is not only a way to help ensure that they will return to you, but is also a great way to help develop a reputation as a reliable and helpful company. That’s something that money can’t buy.

Related Class: Twitter PR and Crisis Management

Giveaways

Everyone loves free stuff! Having a giveaway is a great way to gain a large number of followers quickly. The biggest thing that you have to keep in mind is that your giveaway should be something that pertains to your business and is fair. A poorly designed giveaway will do much more harm than good. Make sure that the rules to your contest are easy to find and read in order to reduce the chance of something going wrong with the winner.

Know Your Hashtags

Hashtags are a way to get your posts noticed by people who are looking for specific keywords. They are an amazing tool when used properly. Some people have gone so far as to say that every tweet without a hashtag is a waste. I don’t really subscribe to that school belief; I think that there can be a healthy balance between tweets with and without hashtags. Some things to keep in mind when using hashtags:

  • Don’t overdo it! Keep it to one, maybe two hashtags per post
  • Make sure that the hashtags you’re using are relevant to what your post is about
  • Try to use hashtags that are getting a fair amount of use and attention

There you have it. Keep these tips in mind as you continue to grow your business and spread out across more social media platforms. Remember that nothing is going to happen overnight and that the best time to start is now, and you’ll be in a great place! Patience is a virtue that pays.

To learn how to develop Twitter marketing strategies that generate a high quality Twitter following and get users to promote your brand, enroll today in the Online Marketing Institute class, Twitter Tactics for Higher Engagement and ROI.