Month: June 2015

What NPR Can Teach Businesses About Marketing, Media and Evolving with the Times



NPR brand marketing

It may feel a little counter-intuitive to take marketing advice from a non-profit, but hear me out. National Public Radio is an institution, as traditional as apple pie and ice cream. But they’re not aging out or falling by the wayside – an impressive feat when you consider that younger generations hardly even tune in to traditional radio anymore.


Businesses large and small can learn a lot from the steps NPR has taken in the last decade or so. They’ve wisely reworked many logistical aspects and embraced new channels, but their iconic content and rock-solid brand remain relatively unchanged. Which is as it should be, since businesses looking to grow shouldn’t need to change everything to fit a new market – and will probably fail if they do.

Explore New Media and Channels

I’ve been an NPR news addict since 2010, when I first started listening regularly. The ironic thing is that this was when I was living in a foreign country that didn’t even have an NPR station on the dial. I found that NPR’s methods of digital distribution – for me, this was online streaming, the NPR News app, and podcasts – made it easy to listen whenever I had time, not just when the programs were being broadcast. For my generation, on demand media is really all we’re interested in, and NPR was certainly quick to catch on to that.

Related Class: Social Visual Storytelling on Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr

Businesses so often stick to their traditional means of pushing content and placing ads, whether it’s the monthly email newsletter or the local newspaper. Exploring new channels can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. Trying out your content on a new social media platform like Snapchat or Vine might seem scary at first, but you won’t be reinventing the wheel. Stick with what you do, tailor it to fit new channels and mediums, and then keep a close eye on your analytics to determine if your experiment was a success that should be continued. Consider developing an app if your content or business fits the model.

Try Podcasting to Reach New Audiences

Another low-cost option for expanding your reach is podcasting, which won’t require much more than time and effort if you produce it in-house. And here is a place where NPR most certainly gets the bragging rights – their podcasts of radio shows continue to grow new audiences, and are consistently some of the most downloaded podcasts available. And then there’s “Serial,” indisputably the most popular podcast of all time, which shattered records while introducing millions of new listeners to that NPR style of storytelling, in a fresh format. Revenue from podcast sponsorships is up 200% since 2013, according to NPR CEO Jarl Mohn.

NPR podcast marketing

You don’t have to create the next record-breaker to find success with podcasting these days – thanks to great podcasts like “Serial,” Americans spend more and more time listening to podcasts and are ready and willing to get their content this way. At the end of last year, Edison Research confirmed that 15% of the population said they had listened to a podcast within the last month. That’s nearly 39 million people you could have access to with the right podcast.

Trust Your Audience for Feedback, Troubleshooting and Development

NPR is lucky to have a very loyal, active and vocal base of supporters, avid fans who are constantly driving social media engagement, advocating for the brand, and even donating to the cause. Obviously an enthusiastic fan base is something that every business should work to encourage and build, if just for the word-of-mouth bonus. But the exciting thing that NPR does, and that I’d love to see more brands doing, is really relying on their fans and customer base for feedback that helps drive direction and decision-making. When was the last time you asked your customers or clients what you can do to better serve them – or what they love best about your business?

The last decades haven’t always seen positive numbers for NPR – listener rates have gone down, popular shows have trailed off, and listeners have more audio content options than ever before. But instead of totally freaking out about their aging listener base, NPR has thoughtfully leveraged their fans to find out what’s missing, what could be done to draw in new listeners, and what their brand and style of content means to people.

social marketing

NPR recently ran a weekend-long forum for a selection of Morning Edition listeners, asking about their habits, why they choose Morning Edition, what they like about the content they hear on that show as opposed to other news sources, and what other things they choose to listen to. With a gradual decline in Morning Edition listeners in the last few years, this is a smart and effective way to find out what’s working, what’s not, and what the competition is. Ideally, they’ll be able to tweak the program to boost numbers – instead of scrapping it altogether or sticking to the status quo.

NPR has often relied on user feedback to ensure that a new platform or media works as it should. Their website overhaul and redesign in 2009 played out on Twitter, where users could chime in with bugs they found, dead pages, etc. and thus help with the process. The benefits of asking for this type of fan feedback are really twofold for any business, since you get helpful information, and users get to feel engaged and invested in your brand.

NPR twitter marketing

This is really just the beginning of all the things I love about how NPR handles their branding, marketing, content management and more. Poke around their social media platforms for some lessons in how to effectively push content, let users peek behind the scenes, and of course, elicit amazing engagement. NPR may not be a new brand, but they’re leading the charge into new development, and evolving with the fast pace of change in today’s market.

Want to learn more about great content that will boost your brand? Check out this helpful class: Creating and Curating Content People Love.


The #1 Reason Why Small Businesses Must Utilize Social Media


Despite the overwhelming move toward social marketing and social businesses, there are still many small businesses that fail to understand the importance of social media, and even refuse to use it as part of their marketing strategy. Plenty of business owners continue to treat social media as if it were a thing just for kids, or at best a waste of time. Perhaps the truth behind those attitudes is really just that they are overwhelmed by the idea of starting a social media presence. But really, the reason why business owners decide to ignore social media is irrelevant. The fact that they choose to avoid it means that they are doing nothing but hurting themselves.

social strategy

More traditional methods of marketing still have their place in the marketing mix, like television and radio ads, print ads, and even pay per click ads. However, what customers and clients are looking for in every business, big or small, is a strong online presence. They want to see the type of content a business shares on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. They want to see how well a business interacts with others. In some cases, they want to see how influential a business owner is within their niche (depending on the niche, of course – this is less of a concern for local businesses).

Building Reputation Through Social

Why do potential clients and customers care about these things? Because that is how trust is built today. If someone notices that a company has a warm online presence, and a great reputation, that individual will be a lot more inclined to do business with that company, over one that only uses PPC ads or traditional methods of marketing.

I will provide a short case study to illustrate this. A local Japanese restaurant invested in print ads, as well as online PPC ads. They did see a moderate ROI, but not as much as they had hoped. The owner of the restaurant wanted to find a way to drive in more business, and sought advice from a marketing consultant. The consultant strongly suggested that the restaurant incorporate social media into its marketing plan. The restaurant owner listened, and hired a social media manager.

Related Class: Demand Generation: Social Media for the Small Business

Once the platforms were set up and ready to go for the restaurant, interactive content was then sent out on a daily basis. Local fans and followers were attracted by the top-shelf content that the restaurant shared. Whenever a fan commented on a post, the owner always made sure to write a public reply. In a very short time, the Japanese restaurant had tripled its sales and developed a great online reputation.

Handling Social Complaints

Negative comments did pop up occasionally, but the restaurant owner immediately replied in a professional and helpful manner. He even offered to give free appetizers. Most social media users will not be turned off if they see an occasional negative comment – what they care about is how these comments are handled. That is a big part of establishing trust between potential customers or clients and the business.

social media for business

Print, radio, television and PPC ads will not create the online presence that a business needs in this day and age. Social media is that crucial piece to the marketing puzzle, providing a place to build reputation, branding and interaction. If businesses continue to neglect social media in 2015 and beyond, they’re choosing to leave a lot of money on the table for their competitors.

Want to learn more about establishing a strong social media presence for your business? Check out OMI's Social Media Marketing Fast Track for a crash course in getting started, and developing the engagement and branding that users want to see from your business.


4 Ways to Crush Digital Marketing Like Zipcar


Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Zipcar – the car-sharing service that allows members to book and borrow a car in their local area. It grew up from a small Boston startup into the poster child for the new ‘sharing economy,’ and mostly without inciting the negative backlash of other sharing companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Zipcar digital marketing

That’s not to say that it’s been an entirely smooth road for Zipcar; there have been speed bumps, but the young company has built up a brand and a digital marketing mix that is strong enough to smooth over road blocks (okay, I’ll stop now). The real test of this came in 2013, when Zipcar was acquired by Avis.

For fans who saw Zipcar as a new, forward-thinking, independent company, the purchase was a disaster. Giant corporation Avis is the second-largest car rental company in the world, a dinosaur by comparison – huge and out-of-date. Social media followers made it pretty clear how they felt about the purchase. And yet Zipcar has managed to emerge relatively unscathed. It’s an amazing feat if you think about it: maintaining the brand image of a green, sharing economy startup after a $500 million buyout.

How did they do it? Zipcar has their branding down to a T, and they market it effectively with every possible digital medium: great social, great content, great video, great word of mouth, and great interactions. This multi-channel approach drives both a loyal fandom and brand new lead traffic. If that sounds good to you, watch and learn what your business can do to rock digital marketing like Zipcar:

1.  Create Killer Video Content with Real Value

When I joined Zipcar, I was super-impressed with their clever and amusing, but also informational, video content. Their website hosts how-to videos (fueling up your Zipcar, unlocking it, returning it, extending your reservation, etc.) and they are seriously funny, but of course they also serve as a fun FAQ resource. So while I’m getting to know how to use the service, I’m also getting to know their brand and noticing how well it fits my personality and values.

These videos led me to their YouTube channel, where I discovered a video campaign that ran online and on TV at the end of 2014, which we’ll call “I’d Tap That.” The campaign plays on the, um, colloquial meaning of that phrase which we all know, since you also ‘tap’ your Zipcard on the windshield to unlock it and start your journey. It’s crude, but hey, it’s also really funny:

Your video content doesn’t have to be hilarious, but it does have to hold some value for your target audience, whether it’s offering entertainment, information, news on new features or products, or tips for use.

2.  Shape Your Social Strategy Around Your Target Buyer Personas

Too often businesses limit their social posts to obviously relevant material – i.e. self-promotional posts or topics. Your social media fans are likely to be interested in your business and your field, but that’s not the extent of their interests. Think broadly; your followers and fans are fully-fledged human beings and they have more than one dimension. If you haven’t crafted buyer personas that reflect this, this blog is a good jumping-off point.

Related Class: Demand Generation: Defining Your Target Market

If you’re a technology company, for example, you’re probably posting about technology news, new gadgets, etc., in addition to your own company news. But what else interests your target audience? If they’re mostly young people, their interests might also include green technology. If they’re older, posts about scientific advances in health, and health monitoring through technology might grab their attention – go beyond the obvious. So how does Zipcar do this?

It’s clear that Zipcar knows their customer persona is young, since car-sharing is really a product of the Gen X and Y generations. On their many social channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn), Zipcar posts news, original content and images, on topics like green living, green technology, and travel. They recognize that their young audience supports LGBTQ equality and the issues surrounding that, so over time that has featured in their social media content as well – though it’s not directly related to car-sharing at all.

Zipcar digital marketing

3.  Create a Super-Personal Social Media Engagement Experience

We’re all looking for engagement on social media, but Zipcar is really going above and beyond here. Their carefully curated social content generates a lot of comments, and they get a ton of replies from Zipcar employees. This is true for customer service issues and general discussion:

Zipcar digital marketing

If you comment on a Zipcar post with a problem or question, you’re likely to get an answer soon. If you comment with a personal anecdote or praise, you’ll often see a reply thanking you for the input. If you comment on an interesting post that has nothing to do with Zipcar, you’re still likely to get a response. We hear a lot about using social media for customer service, but Zipcar is really, really working it in this respect.

Also, did you notice? Zipcar representatives who reply have Facebook names that make the interaction feel more personal: Tim at Zipcar, Alessandra at Zipcar, etc. Since each one is actually it’s own Facebook account, these customer service reps also have faces, locations, alma maters, and other personal details. If that seems like too much for your business, you can start slow by having your customer service staff sign their comment replies or tweets with their first names or initials.

4.  Work Word of Mouth For All It’s Worth

It’s actually a pet peeve of mine when businesses don’t leverage WOM and referrals; it’s such a valuable lead gen strategy, and as millennials increase, it will only become more central. It’s proven (and only logical) that consumers value recommendations from their friends and family over ads or celebrity endorsements, so anything you can do to increase the likelihood that they’ll mention you, share your business, or refer someone is going to be worth the effort.

For Zipcar, this is a simple and effective strategy: refer a friend and you both get driving credit (money towards renting). They make it super easy by facilitating email referrals, and Twitter and Facebook sharing.

Zipcar digital marketing

The logistics of this might be specific to a subscription model like Zipcar, but your business can certainly find something similar to offer, whether it’s credit toward the next purchase, free shipping, or a discount voucher. There’s literally no downside – if no one decides to spread the word, you aren’t losing any profit, but if they do, you have the chance to impress a brand new customer and maybe even turn them into a loyal returning customer.

Zipcar is doing a lot, and they’re doing it right and in smart, creative ways. The strength of their brand image and voice, along with the uniqueness of their service, makes for great content, which is what all these suggestions essentially boil down to. High quality, wisely targeted content will connect, whether it’s video, blogs or social posts, and connecting personally with fans and followers will lead to happy customers who tell their friends.

Want to learn more about how great content can make for great social engagement? Check out this class: Best Practices for Integrated Content Marketing and Social Media.


Creating Consistency in a Converged Society: The New Digital Marketing Focus


Digital marketing is constantly evolving – new social platforms emerge, algorithmic updates restructure how we think about SEO best practices, new buzzwords materialize that dictate trends. However, in 2015, consistency is the priority above all other things.

digital marketing

Content is Still King, But…

We all know that content is king. Content content content! It has been drilled into our heads for years – create great content! Write better content; tell better stories! Distribute great content! The “if you build it, they will come” mentality from Field of Dreams has rubbed off on marketers, so there’s an expectation that if you just create great content people will automatically find it. We know that isn’t 100% true, but it doesn’t negate the importance of great content.

Consistency Across the Board

However, 2015 is really the year of consistency. Consistency in social media posting. Consistency in blogging and updating websites. Consistency in implementing white hat SEO, organic link building, and viable content marketing efforts that seek to inform rather than sell. Consistency in branding and messaging across channels and platforms.

We’ve seen companies try to focus on creating a mobile experience, which is good, but we now run into inconsistent mobile experiences that don’t feel authentic to the business. In a society driven by converged media – when the customer changes platform and interacts differently with businesses in different ways, the quest for consistency should be paramount in the digital experiences you create. SEO, blogging, social media posting, PPC optimization – they all work most effectively when you do it consistently and coherently.


The secret to marketing success going forward will be written in the journey of discovering truth and effectiveness, by building on consistent movement, a steady stream of data, and an unfailing commitment to analyzing the results. Consistency is the new king.