Clayton Christensen’s New York Times article yesterday is an inspiration of clarity and the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we’ve come to expect from him but have found so absent in this political season.
I’m taking a momentary departure from our familiar topics of digital marketing, brand and web design because his insight about why our economy is broken and most importantly how to think about it differently, struck me as fresh and particularly timely, so I wanted to share the highlights.
The premise of his article is that there are three categories of innovation — empowering innovations, sustaining innovations, and efficiency innovations — that when in balance produce a healthy economy. If investors invest disproportionately in one category, it has material impact on our economy. Recovery from the last three of nine recessions in the last century have been progressively slower as this investment imbalance has grown, professor Christensen notes.
Empowering innovations are those that transform expensive products and services available to the few into cheaper, more accessible products for the many. Examples include everything from the Model T to personal computers and now Cloud computing. Empowering innovations create jobs.
A sustaining innovation replaces products and services, and keeps things moving forward, but doesn’t translate into more jobs He cites the Toyota Prius as a current example. Sustaining innovations are, however, where the greatest amount of innovation dollars are spent.
Efficiency innovations are what you’d expect: innovations that cut the costs of making and distributing products. Geico online insurance is an example he cites. As a result of efficiency innovations, businesses save money by reducing jobs due to streamlined processes created by the efficiency.
Professor Christensen believes that these forms of innovation must maintain a balance for a healthy economy. If investments in efficiency innovations, which reduce jobs and save capital, are not proportionately reinvested in empowering innovations that create jobs, that is a way in which recessions happen.
Today, he continues, we have savings from efficiency innovations being reinvesting in more efficiency innovations, thus stockpiling more cash for other efficiency investment, and jobs continue to disappear. He believes we need to return the balance and start reinvesting some of that money in the kind of empowering innovations that grow jobs.
Finally, he addresses one of the most charged issues of this election: the idea of redistributing the wealth of the top 1% to the other 99%, which he thinks will not have the desired effect on the economy. He thinks that the habit of the wealthy of investing purely for short-term ROI is based on antiquated thinking and that they must adjust their strategies for changing times, but that redistributing their wealth will be spent by people on sustaining innovations, which will not spur the growth in jobs or the economy we need.
Instead, the wealthy need incentives to invest in the long-term. His conclusion caveats this assertion by recognizing that the purpose of this article is not to be prescriptive, but to give our national discourse a new context to solve our huge problems and as he puts it, “seed discussion.”
It is the freshest, clearest, unencumbered discussion on the economy I’ve read in the last 4 years. Imagine if we could get that kind of thoughtfulness and clarity from our leaders and politicians!
(Clayton Christensen, for those who are unfamiliar, is a Harvard Business School professor, one of the world’s leading management thinkers, author of 8 books and countless articles, and is a RainCastle client).
With the display of websites and mobile devices requiring businesses to be brief and to the point — or lose online traffic, the value of pictures and especially icons has grown and will continue to gain in importance.
In our popular Copywriting for the Web eBook, we discuss the importance of brevity and conciseness in web writing, but the power of concise visual designs that speak the proverbial thousand words cannot be underestimated. As any writer knows, it is a greater challenge to be brief than verbose. “If I had more time, I’d write a short letter,” Mark Twain once said.
It is an equal challenge for designers to distill concepts into their most core element and still communicate. As we are in the age of responsive design and the mobile user interface, the value of simple, clean and informative imagery is only going to grow.
At RainCastle, we have been creating compelling visual icons that enhance our client’s user experiences for years. Below is a small collection.
Law firm Lando & Anastasi Service Area Icons
Thermo Fisher Scientific Process Icons
Unica (Now IBM) Expertise Icons
What happens when the self-service digital ethos in which we are living is applied to a website design and development process?
Before answering the question, a brief look at the digital landscape. Websites have been around for a long time, 17 years to be specific, which also corresponds to when we started doing them.
Fast forward to 2012, everyone knows that creating a website these days is a highly automated process and that you can throw a fairly decent one together, pretty fast and cheap, right?
Some would answer, “sure,” yet my experience indicates that while creating the “good enough site”— by cutting corners or taking a template approach — is attractive on a pure economics level, it carries some risks.
I’ll put these risks in the context that anyone considering RainCastle, while looking for the best value, is also expecting some combination of creativity, technical expertise and client service to be delivered within a specific time frame.
The areas in which we’ve seen a few clients economize are:
- Content creation – generally copywriting and in a few cases providing an image library
- Content integration – the implementation of content into the various template styles we’ve designed
- QA – the detailed site review prior to site launch
Clients and Content Creation
While having a client share in some or all of these responsibilities does in fact reduce budget, we have found that no amount of detailed coaching on our part can add hours to a client’s day that will enable them to do the job for which they are being paid, such as vice president or director of marketing, and be the website copywriter who will deliver concise, search engine optimized copy in a pre-defined schedule.
What we find is that our clients, like ourselves, are doing more for less and in less time, and when their clients need them, it is not a moment of truth deciding which gets put on the back burner: the client or the website.
While we discuss the potential for this during the project kickoff, I see the pressure this responsibility places on our clients and have seen project schedules elongate, sometimes dramatically. This brings up additional issues of continuity and change management, which over time defeat the budget attenuating process. And this does not address the other issue of the real difference between being a decent writer and being a good writer for the web.
Virtually all websites we create are built on a content management system, which enables clients to edit their sites in the future. WordPress is an example of a popular CMS we often use. The common practice in website creation is to deliver a website and follow up by training the client how to do basic maintenance.
Recently, there have been a couple of instances of clients taking on the content integration of the website, essentially learning on the job, before the site has been launched. While content integration is not technical in the way of programming, it requires a meticulous attention to detail and a comfort-level with things digital.
Again, without being able to devote large chunks of time over several weeks, or not yet having gained the necessary facility with the CMS, or simply not being detail-oriented, the project schedule may suffer and we may need to do some quantity of “cleanup” work, both of which can negate to some degree the budget attenuation process.
There are two parts to the QA process: reviewing site content and functionality with a fine-toothed comb and testing the site against current browsers.
We will always do the latter and we’ve had one experience with a client doing the former. The twin dangers of economizing by reducing our role in this area are that the client may miss important details we are trained to find and that the client will take this opportunity to qualitatively review content again, a job that must be completed before we begin programming. The result of rethinking content after programming is expensive rework, again defeating the budget attenuation process.
These are times when every dollar spent must demonstrate value and we support that. It is also a time when time can be even shorter than dollars, which is why great client service, attention to detail and a battle-tested process enable us to provide the support our clients need and minimize the extra costs they don’t expect to pay. Every relationship is collaborative, and we’ve had great successes sharing responsibilities, but it must be approached intelligently and with reasonable expectations.
Inbound marketing is often passed over in favor of traditional marketing because it seems too complex or involving too much time. But in most cases, inbound marketing is more cost-effective, measurable, and successful… when done correctly.
As with any marketing effort, these campaigns must be based on a larger company marketing goals and planned with the right resources. In essence, they must be strategic in order to be successful; we’ve outlined five things needed to create those programs.
1. Clear sales and marketing goals
A bit of brutal honesty: your marketing goal cannot be “to generate more leads.” It cannot be “to gain more customers.” When a waiter asks what you want at a restaurant, you do not say, “Yes, I would like some food.”
Specific goals are the foundation of successful inbound marketing campaigns: “I want to generate 100 new qualified leads through our free trial program in September” will make for a stronger program because of its definability. This definition grows not just from revenue goals, but also from a larger marketing strategy. As a company, what are your goals for growth, culture, and brand awareness?
Similarly, this marketing goal has to align with sales efforts: what is the minimum number of leads your sales team can and should be following up on? What does each department need to bring to the table in order to combine efforts seamlessly? Internal alignment of goals and strategy is integral first step in producing a great campaign.
2. An understanding of key metrics
Like establishing well-defined marketing goals, outlining the right success metrics allows for clearer tracking and measurement. In other words, these metrics should quickly and easily track positive campaign results.
What are the 5-10 key metrics that would best highlight these results: number of leads, cost per lead, total customer conversions, content downloads, blog subscribers, website visits? Identify these prior to launch so that you can implement all of the necessary tracking analytics and create a benchmark report for your current site performance.
3. Resources and responsibility
We hear again and again that the biggest roadblock in launching successful inbound marketing campaigns is a lack of company resources. There are simply not enough people to create content, actively monitor analytics and create reports, and tweak campaigns during the length of the program.
Thankfully, this is why you have a partner.
Chief tasks, including content creation and measurement, can be delegated to members of your marketing team, company services specialists, your partner marketing agency, or outside copywriters and brand journalists. It’s not just a matter of responsibility, but also one of curating new ideas on content topic, formatting (eBook, webinar, blog post), and marketing channels. Use your team’s best assets to delegate appropriately and maximize output.
4. Supporting data and measurement
Another factor in resources is ensuring the ability to monitor measurement and maintain a set standard of data. Think of data as part of the flow, not an end point: data is used to show concrete results; results are used to determine goal completion; goal completion is used to measure campaign effectiveness; campaign effectiveness is used to evaluate current and future marketing strategy.
Data should not sit stagnant in your Google Analytics account; it should be your most powerful tool in ensuring a successful campaign. Did it meet expectations? Where were there surprises, weaknesses? Do the numbers reflect your initial goals and expectations? Active measurement ensures that your campaign is performing to the best of its ability, or, if not, leads to point #5.
5. Continuous improvement
Content and campaigns need to be improved, using key analytics, to keep you on track with your goal. The most effective way is to look for lagging points in the data and make tweaks to the content, offer, requirements, and channel distribution accordingly. This is a surprisingly easy way to progress your inbound marketing programs in a timely fashion.
But those aren’t the only aspects of improvement; those are just the tactical ones.
Improvement is also based on analyzing the completion and results of your campaigns and evaluating leads and customers. Where is the quality? Is this the right audience? Was the sales process longer than anticipated? Analytics from hard data are a great way to measure a campaign’s effectiveness; but as a company, you must look holistically at how these inform your marketing goals to the point where they reflect the bigger picture of your brand and clients or customers.
What have you found are indicators of success in your marketing campaigns?
Leading technology companies today face one undeniable marketing fact that many other industries can conveniently ignore for the time being: in order to highlight your technology as the best in the field, you must have a substantial online marketing presence.
And I’m not just saying that because I’m a strong believer in internet marketing for all businesses.
I’m saying it because as an avid consumer of modern technology, apps, marketing analytics and platforms, and contemporary gadgets, I expect a higher lever of online culture and communication from companies that I identify as savvy tech leaders.
So, how do you approach marketing your tech product online? We've outlined four intial strategies to get you started.
Market Ahead of Time
Building anticipation can be an often-overlooked tactic in successfully promoting a tech product or app. During development, identify where your target audience spends time online and what they are looking for in terms of a tech solution. Create introductions through forums, news sites, and with clever banner ads and online announcements.
Maintaining mystery and creating intrigue will create a demand for your product before it’s available to the public.
If it fits properly with your overarching launch goals, you can also introduce the product or service initially by invitation only. Google+, Pinterest, and flash sales sites like Gilt and Rue La La have garnered an incredible amount of clout and a clamoring of customers by launching initially exclusively by invite.
Invest Heavily in Social Media and Online Communities
If your audience is consistently using an app, purchasing high-quality tablets, smartphones, and laptops, and integrating technology into their online and offline lives fluently, you can bet they are simultaneously: following their favorite brands and products on Twitter, expecting exclusive content on Facebook, and looking for the most up-to-date industry information on your blog.
As a tech leader, your audience is expecting you to be accessible and active through all popular social media platforms. Similarly, they are expecting immediate answers to questions and posed problems. This can be done successfully through social media sites, but also through online communities like Quora, which serve as discussion platforms.
If you have the funds, invest in creating your own online community were customers can come for immediate and expert service, and where they can share their experiences and stories about your product or service.
Evernote, the leader in organizational apps for businesses on the go, has a solid, branded Twitter presence with an abundance of followers that is posted to regularly and is a source of news and information.
In addition, the company has an interactive blog with a number of sections, including one called “Our Notes,” which serves to update customers on updates, down times, and product use suggestions.
Prioritize Dynamic Content
Videos, Infographics, Quizzes; these are some of the highest lead-generating content tools at your disposal today.
To illustrate this, here’s an infographic from Smart Insights.
Think of PR, Reviews, and Link Building as One
Garnering online reviews from tech journals, articles from news sites (like Mashable and TechCrunch), and blog posts from industry leaders may have all fallen under the umbrella of public relations in the past, but now, are part of a larger strategy of gaining PR online whilst simultaneously working on gathering strong referral links back to your website to drive traffic and qualified leads to becoming customers.
Referral links not only funnel visitors back to your site who are interesting in your product and content, but give your website strength, and validate it as a strong source of related information in the eyes of Google.
TechCrunch reviewed app giant Instagram back in 2010 before it officially launched (double whammy: early promotion for interest generation + high-profile online review).
So, have you been successful in employing these tactics? Are there any you would recommend?
We do a lot of work for clients in the technology and sciences fields and are continually amazed by the endless acronyms that seem so routine in these fields, but for a relative outsider can sometimes feel daunting. Working with such a client recently on a branding project, I was reminded that the branding work we do is just as full of industry insider terms that can be confusing or seem arcane. This is especially true because even branding experts sometimes play fast and loose with the terminology.
Following are some of the most salient branding terms, their descriptions and a few examples. As your brand is at the core of your marketing and sales, a basic understanding of these concepts will provide some useful structure to how you look at your business, and may even provide an Aha! moment.
The two most important terms you should understand are: Brand Positioning and Messaging. There are others, but we’ll cover those in another post.
Using the word “positioning” as a verb is peculiar to branding. Essentially, it means to establish — or position — your brand in relation to other brands in your market. When you hear terms like “competitive differentiator,” think “positioning.” The complete statement of your differentiation in the marketplace is your brand positioning statement. Below is a sample positioning statement we created for a technology firm.
A good positioning statement yields a set of market “messages” expanding on specific attributes of the positioning or targeting specific audiences. Messaging is a subset of positioning and serves as the intermediary step between the positioning and content creation for marketing vehicles such as the website, collateral and marketing programs. So, brand positioning enables brand messaging, which in turns makes content creation easier, faster and more on target. Below are some examples of brand messaging.
COMPANY NAME's automated operation of marketing campaigns provides up to a 500 percent lift on marketing programs, an enterprise-wide view of customer contact and detailed closed-loop offer, and campaign performance analysis.
COMPANY NAME's cross-channel campaign management capabilities can help you target thousands — or millions — of individuals, with the right message at the right time through the right channel.
COMPANY NAME brings digital and customer relationship marketing together into a comprehensive suite.
Can you articulate your company’s brand positioning and messaging?
As a service business, there is no avoiding the infamous “Request for Proposal (RFP).” The RFP process is widely considered to be adversarial by service firms receiving them and as a necessary evil by the companies of submit them.
In general, the RFP’s we receive create more questions than answers and leave significant areas open for interpretation, which makes the task of evaluating them more subjective than the issuing company might have imagined.
One of our great partners, Lois Paul & Partners has actually, with the input of their clients, created their own sample RFP as a tool for their prospective PR clients. I admire their effort.
There is another and arguably more important aspect of the RFP process, which has to do with what one might term the “softer side” of tone, personality, attitude or simply wanting the answering firm to be successful.
Two of our recent RFP experiences stand in stark contrast. In one, we and five other firms were presented with a document that had both granular and open-ended components. It was written in the third person and occasionally lapsed into the passive voice and concluded with the specific due date, down to the hour. It included the provision for one global response to online questions, which needed to be submitted on another specific date, to the hour.
The other RFP made little effort to be specific, instead outlining key aspirations, objectives and desired outcomes. The language and tone invited us into their world and presented the desire to find the right partner to unlock the potential of their brand and online properties. The contact promised to make herself available for calls or emails, leaving the frequency to us. Part of this company’s process was to actively engage with potential partners, see what sorts of questions they ask and gain a feel for how it would be to work with them.
Both approaches left many things open to interpretation but the latter experience required of us a much deeper thought and engendered more substantive and strategic conversations, which no doubt informed the company not only of our past work and credentials but how we think. It also gave all of us, a sense that this company was seeking the best we had to offer, and that they actually wanted us to succeed.
Granted, in these crazy busy times, it is understandable that few executives carve out the time to field numerous questions and emails from a collection of vendors, but this company did not just consider the end result of choosing a vendor to do a job, they viewed the RFP process as a strategic team effort and worthy of making the time. That’s smart business.
Catvertising is the future, and we're on board.
John St., an advertising and creative agency based in Toronto, is looking to the next big thing in marketing by introducing their catvertising innovation: "By 2015, cat videos are going to represent 90% of the content on the worldwide web." That, my friends, is a cash cow waiting to moo. Or a cash cat waiting to purr? You see my point.
Connecting themes and trends in viral content to the overhaul of a company is a brilliant twist in highlighting what is so great and at the same time can be so misleading to clients about modern marketing firms: yes, we're able to look to trends and get creative in using them to promote a business, but we also don't spend all day watching cat videos online. John St., impressively, has been able to address both.
Many times a company can capitalize on the popularity of a trend and its brand identity will benefit. People like to be entertained, and brand loyalty can be built through laughter, not just for businesses in creative fields. When Old Spice produced The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, it created a viral sensation that crowned it one of the most modern men's care companies in the US.
The lesson here is don't afraid to be funny. When done right, it will do you more good than bad. Also, invest in cats. They're gold mines.
Back in January, I wrote a post on getting started with responsive design, including basic design factors and aspects, current examples, and questions to consider. Responsive design is the process of developing your website so that the site can re-format and re-size itself according to the user’s screen resolution. For example, this allows you to design your website in a four-column layout for desktop resolution that will, once it senses a change in screen resolution, change its layout to accommodate the user.
W3C has released its official recommendation of an element necessary to responsive design: CSS media queries. And with that, we say, what’s next?
An official recommendation from W3C means that web browsers now must support these CSS media queries: code that consists of a media type and at least one expression that limits cope, using width, height, or color. This opens the door for companies and organizations considering responsive design – now a visitor’s browser should not hinder his or her ability to view a responsive website.
But the integration of responsive design as a new norm brings certain challenges: specifically, looking at coding, which has become increasingly more complex throughout the years to allow for custom styling enhanced features, and dialing down the size.
For anyone visiting from a desktop, this poses no problem. However, for mobile and tablet visitors, the amount of data their devices need to process can take away from site speed, increasing your bounce rate and driving potential clients to competitors.
In a great article from Search Engine Land that addresses slimming down your website for responsive design, Sherwood Stranieri focuses on a few elements to concentrate on:
Resizing images the right way
Image files require a large amount of data, no matter the size to which they can shrink or enlarge. Style sheets need to be customized to select different image files for mobile and tablet users; ones that are pre-compressed. This means two sets of images pre-prepared.
Consolidating external files
The article gets it exactly right in that “webpages have become very sophisticated graphic design documents, with rules dictating every font, margin, and border.” The information used in coding these additions, custom design specifications, and constantly changing templating create an onslaught of information that would need to be consolidated in responsive design. Creating clean styles is key.
These are some of the ways to approach a cleaner, tighter website built responsively. But it’s important to remember, when embarking on a website redesign using responsive design, that the customization options can be limited. Using this technology means creating simpler sites with a smaller library of files and fewer style options.
What is your experience with responsive design? Is it an option your company or organization is considering?
There’s still concern in the B2B community about just how important social media is in creating and sustaining relationships with partners and clients. But when it comes to building brand loyalty online, social media is the most beneficial tool available.
Your audience is most likely already using social media on a personal level and willingly participating in an online community. Connecting your brand identity with their online lives integrates your brand into their day-to-day activities, and cultivates brand loyalty through personal communication. In connecting this way, you are becoming more than a company or organization they follow. You have the opportunity to create lasting relationships, and lasting brand loyalty.
Research shows that online audiences are only becoming more active in involving brands in their lives through social media:
- 59% of adult Facebook users had "liked" a brand as of spring 2011, up from 47% the previous September. Uptake among the oldest users appears to have been a major factor in this rise – eMarketer Tweet This!
- From 2010 to 2012 the percentage of Americans following any brand on a social network has increased 106%, from 16% to 33% – Socialnomics Tweet This!
- 41% of B2B companies are acquiring customers through Facebook – Social Media Today, HubSpot Tweet This!
- 78.6% of consumers have joined a company’s community to get more information on the company – Universal McCann Tweet This!
- 66% of online company community members note that the community has made them more loyal to a brand – Universal McCann Tweet This!
However, creating a social media presence can backfire if you’re using it in the wrong way to cultivate brand loyalty. One big misstep brands can make is to transfer traditional direct marketing notions to online communities and correspondence:
Social media marketing is based largely in communicating with your online community –using pull vs. push marketing. Your followers are showing you voluntary brand loyalty, and it’s your responsibility to facilitate it further by being accessible to your community.
1. Becoming Accessible
Roughly 38-60% of US buyers expect their online complaints about brands to be answered via social media. It’s more convenient for a consumer active on social media to express a thought, question, or review of your brand through that channel than for him or her to pick up a phone and call a company contact to discuss an issue.
If there’s an online community you’re not tapping into, and your brand reputation is suffering as a result, social media can help rectify this by providing accessibility for those complaints and questions.
Technology research company Gartner sees webinars and conferences as a key form of B2B marketing. Because of this, they are constantly conducting outreach on Twitter to answer logistics questions, pinpoint additional resources, and engage ongoing conversations.
2. Rewarding Fans
Rewarding fans that regularly engage with you also enhances brand loyalty.
Cisco Systems conducts a regular Facebook contest called the SuperFan Spotlight that awards a Cisco fan by featuring him or her in the company’s cover photo.
Not only is Cisco paying attention to its active community members, but also it continues to interact with each highlighted fan after his or her win, as shown in the above comments. Cisco uses Facebook to contact its SuperFan, to send along complimentary gear, and to start a personal message between the fan and a specific Cisco employee. As a company, Cisco continues to be accessible before, during, and after rewarding fans.
This is an important indication that they are not interested in one-time contests or campaigns to generate brand awareness, but in keeping constant contact and communication with fans by continuing to be accessible to their needs and wants.
Rewards including fan recognition, special offers, and exclusive content, are only enhanced when utilized in a friendly and personable online environment.
3. Gaining Trust
Trust and loyalty go hand in hand in securing a consumer’s commitment to your brand. Once your brand is:
- Answering questions
- Engaging in conversations
- Providing immediate solutions and great client service
- Rewarding fan interaction
- Creating and providing exclusive content and offers,
Your online consumer base is going to have a much more positive impression of and endorsement for your brand. Trust breeds loyalty, which in turn breeds willingness on the part of your consumer to take the time to spread positive reviews online and through word of mouth.
Respecting client endorsements and maintaining your responsibility to listen to your fans creates an ongoing cycle of recharged brand loyalty. Social media allows for continued conversations instead of one-time, stale recommendations. You have the ability to continually revive brand loyalty by consistently listening and responding – by keeping the conversation flowing and always providing an answer or a solution.
How do you use social media to grow brand loyalty?