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This Website is Not JUST About Driving Business

  
  
  

Most of the time, making a difference for our clients means moving the needle in terms of how they present their company, product or service; how they feel about their new brand, website and approach to marketing and ultimately, what the work we’ve created will do for their business.

describe the imageThis week, we launched a site for Urban Achievers (UA), an organization whose ultimate goal is not just to be a hub for driving business, but to support a community of educators, parents, students and professionals working together 10+ hours per day, six days per week, 11 months per year to improve the learning and overall development of students in underserved communities.

Based in Dorchester, MA, in the Epiphany School, UA offers after-school, weekend and summer programs to students starting in the fifth grade and continues to work with them through high school to provide educational and life-skills experiences that prepare them for future responsibilities and success.

Over the years, we spent a great deal of time at UA: meeting and interviewing the teachers, students, volunteers, Board and Founder. We watched as the first class of students graduated last spring; heard the names of every single child and the list of extraordinary high schools they’re now attending; met the many mentors around the community in various fields who continue to work with UA students and their families to inspire and motivate them to continue to succeed.

Launching the site and video this Thanksgiving is a way of expressing gratitude to all our clients and partners; you’ve made it possible for us to donate our services to UA. We’re grateful to all of you and we’re especially proud to be associated with Urban Achievers.

The Power of Video and Images in Content Marketing

  
  
  

videoiconWhile marketers have come to recognize the power of content marketing and the need for it to be strategic, web visitors and social media users have begun to wonder what to do with so much content. So how can marketers get the attention of people who are becoming saturated with so much relevant content?

We’ve been researching this question, reading analytics and attending numerous seminars and events. Here’s what we think works best and is not going to require a big budget or more staff.

HubSpot, one of the most vibrant marketing software B2B’s around, analyzed whether using visuals increased click-through rate. They found that, “Marketers who are using interesting images to their advantage can increase traffic to their websites -- just as long as they remember to include links!

Another powerful tool for boosting website traffic is video. Marketers may think production cost is too expensive but videos don’t need to be television-quality. In fact, a video shot with a pocket video camera that looks less commercial will feel more personal.

In a recent Marketing Sherpa article, “Content Marketing: Videos attract 300% more traffic and nurture leads,” a case study of a B2B company that posted videos regularly demonstrated:

  • site traffic spiked;
  • average time-on-site per visitor increased;
  • time spent on pages with video was about twice as long as without video.
So, how can marketers best use images and video to engage users?
  1. Use an image, or even better, a video at the start of your blog posts. According to an Oracle/Eloqua newsletter, “Videos tagged with metadata about a specific topic within a post can help your SEO efforts. Google recognizes pages where a click leads to longer time spent on a page, so a video capturing viewers’ attention on your blog for even two minutes longer can make your content more sticky and more likely to show up in Google search results for a particular topic.”
  2. Use video in email campaigns. Email campaigns can serve as tremendous opportunities to leverage your video marketing for lead nurturing. In a GetResponse study of nearly a billion emails, those containing video had a 96% higher click-through rate when compared to non-video emails. 
  3. Use video (and interesting images) in social media channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Hubspot found that compared to text-only posts, Facebook posts that included interesting images received 84% more link clicks.

For help on how to include video in your email campaigns, here’s a useful link:

http://www.vidyard.com/blog/how-to-use-video-in-email-marketing/

At a recent Boston Business Journal event we attended that featured a discussion about winning practices for social media, panelists concurred on this point:

The best marketing is marketing that does not "sell," but instead promotes the experience that the business has to offer.

By showing photos and/or video of customers enjoying a particular brand, marketers can combine best practices for offering up strategic content marketing that gets readers’ attention.

I was so captivated by a photo a friend posted on facebook of museum goers experiencing a recent installation at the Guggenheim, that I went to the museum website, clicked on a link to the video, and proceeded to buy tickets to for the exhibit.

James Turell's "Light" exhibit

 

People experiencing James Turrell's "Light" exhibit
James Turrell's "Light" exhbit at the Guggenheim and people "experiencing" the exhibit

Featuring video and photos on your website and periodically providing links to videos on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can increase site traffic. And the image or video needn’t be as arresting as the Guggenheim clip. Videos of product demos, customer testimonials, introductory explanations and interviews offered on a straightforward b2b site, can be used to draw in and develop leads. And repurposing video across marketing tactics can make them an even more successful means of content marketing. For more tips on how to use video:

http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2013/11007/four-tips-to-improve-your-video-content

http://goo.gl/qmUspn

http://moz.com/blog/building-a-video-seo-strategy

http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article/how-to/videos-attract-300-more-traffic

To YouTube and Beyond! 5 Places Where Including a Video Will Boost Results

http://www.vidyard.com/blog/how-to-use-video-in-email-marketing/

 

 

 

 

Do B2B Brands Need to be "Ideals-Driven?"

  
  
  

L to R: Selina Yoon, John Canestraro, Jim Stengel, Paul RegensburgRainCastle is pleased to be working with Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble, and an industry leader in the fields of Marketing, Brand and Business. 

While everyone has come to recognize the power of brands, it can still be challenging to quantify the value one's brand adds to the bottom line. Jim Stengel, through extensive research, identified the connection between financial performance and customer engagement, loyalty and advocacy. Essentially, he found that the companies with the best financial performance are what he calls "ideals-driven companies," i.e., ones in which the mantra of "improving people's lives" is indigenous to their vision, values and culture.

When I asked how the idea of an ideals-driven brand plays to B2B, Jim said many of his clients are B2B companies and the notion of improving people's lives just takes a different form than with a consumer company, such as Nike or Apple. His contention is that people are people and will always feel empowered when feeling that their product or service has a deeper purpose than its immediate function. IBM's "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" is one example of a B2B that has embodied their brand ideal. And at the end of their TV commercials, the voice over proclaims, "I'm an IBMer," giving the ideals-driven brand a personal touch and making us feel that everyone at IBM is united in the mission to build that smarter planet. 

HubSpot for blog"Creating Marketing People Love," is marketing software vendor, HubSpot's tagline. HubSpot is one of the most vibrant B2B's around and it is plain to see that they are an ideal-driven brand whose financials have grown at an enviable clip. Their tools help businesses increase leads and convert those leads into happy customers — a sure way to improve people's lives. HubSpot puts an enormous amount of passion and energy on educating their partners and customers, providing white papers, eBooks and webinars, so their customers will be successful.

describe the imageBrands are often described as needing to satisfy a balance of rational and emotional needs. One might sound the familiar refrain that B2B markets and their decision making process are necessarily more rational than in consumer markets, because they are often selling higher value products or services, which require many decision-makers. But it still comes down to people selling to people. And people are moved by emotional ideas. This means that a strong B2B brand is expected to posess all of the rational attributes, but will truly rise above by offering an emotional benefit found in authentic brand ideals.

In the B2B world, How important do you think ideals-driven brands are?

5 Reasons Why You Need a Website Content Editor

  
  
  

I've seen many clients, who with the best of intentions fall into the same rut year after year. There are certain universal truths about successful websites; one of them is that on website projects that include a quality content editor as part of the dedicated team, the process is smoother, stays on schedule and client satisfaction is high.

Here's a common scenario. Insanely busy client initiates website project and can't wait to get the new site up — the current one is five years old (give or take a couple), which is three technology generations ago, and the company is looking tired.

The writing and other content development is divided among topic leaders around the company and a schedule is distributed. We provide guidance on writing and desired word count and counsel brevity. One of the company's writers gets called out of town. Another goes on vacation. Copy trickles in from others, some of which seems novel length long. Other copy switches from third person to second person in the same paragraph. An engineer writes in the passive voice with all the details of a product spec, and so forth. 

So, how can a content editor help?

5 Benefits of a Content Editor

1. Understanding the Web Reader

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." This quote attributed to Mark Twain, holds true in the Internet Age and even more so as we morph into the Mobile Age. The most prevalent mistake people make when writing for the web is to tell a story in microscopic detail.

f reading pattern eyetracking

The Jakob Neilsen Eye Tracking Study tracks web readers' viewing habits, which can take a distinctive "F-shape" pattern indicating that people read the header, skim the first few lines of a web page, skip down to the next subhead and skim some more. The implications of this are for the writer to craft copy that one can skim in this way and still glean key concepts.

Keeping the reader’s viewing habits top of mind effectively and consistently requires expertise, training and the ability to pare back detail --- skills the Web Content Editor has honed through experience.


2. Objective Perspective  

A content editor will begin by asking about website objectives, key audiences, messaging and tone. S/he will come to the assignment with a fresh perspective, without preconceived notions, or the inherent need of an insider to spell out every last detail for fear that something is missed. S/he will assume of the audience either too much knowledge or not enough.

The content editor will objectively evaluate the internally created content, based on stated site objectives. A good copy editor will continually challenge the inside team to focus on the value the company provides rather than the details of how something works or that it is great.

Providing consistent reminders that a website is about the audience and not the company is arguably the greatest value of having an objective resource.
 

3. Messaging Expertise

Bringing a consistent "clarity of purpose" to the content is something a good editor keeps top-of-mind. From the inception of a web project, s/he will glean key messages and brand attributes that are necessary to convey in the content. With each piece of content, s/he will ask, is the key message coming through? Are the details overwhelming the main point? Is it clear to the reader?

Content editors understand the power of cohesive messaging, consistently executed, and will cut through the clutter to simplify and promote the right ideas.
 

4. Single Voice

With the number of participants and various backgrounds of team members writing for the web, it's no surprise that copy is widely uneven in quality and consistency of message. The website is not only an educational and marketing tool, it is a representation of a company's culture, which is a reflection of the brand.

Reading the work of a single, objective, professional content editor is not unlike using an app to create a playlist of one of your favorite artists, versus listening to an uneven conglomeration of songs grouped into one “radio station” that ostensibly delivers the same sound as your chosen artist.  
 

5. Maintaining Schedule

When a client has a new product launch, various events to prepare for, client management and website writing on his/her plate, guess which one tends to fall lowest on the list of priorities?

While writing for the web may be something a company executive feels the team should do, the reality is that the website falls to a "when I can get to it" status. I can't think of a website project where a missed schedule wasn't the result of client produced content not being ready.

In our experience, there is no question that having a dedicated content editor is most important for keeping the web project on schedule. Building it into the initial project from the start removes the greatest impediment to launching on schedule.

What are your thoughts on having a dedicated content editor?

"Designed by Apple in California," Is it New Coke?

  
  
  

Designed by Apple in California AdI've purposefully not consulted the blogosphere or Twittersphere to give myself the space to consider Apple's new brand campaign, titled "Designed by Apple in California." 

It is an interesting conundrum, because some aspects of the ad are solid, but after giving it a little time to sink in, I still hew to my initial visceral dislike and disappointment upon seeing it. 

First, there is the "Designed by Apple in California," headline — or more accurately the "bottom line," as it is always located at the bottom of a long, poetic string of new agey blurbs, and is meant to encapsulate all that Apple represents. And in the TV ads, the voiceover issues the treacly words, "This is our signature, and it means everything." The choice of " in California" in "Designed by Apple in California," I find particularly affected. California has pretty well lost its lustre as the golden land and this just seems a little bit precious to me. If this notion is meant to be political, suggesting more jobs for California, it just further dilutes the impact by being oblique.

My levels of disappointment begin with the fact that the most famous disruptive innovation company in the world needs the focus of their first post-Steve Jobs corporate advertising campaign to revolve around a tagline that takes a defensive posture about making products in the U.S.Apple's "Think Different" campaign

That the company that brought us "Think Different," is now presenting themselves as a soft touch lifestyle company featuring an asexual person whose face you can't see, accompanied by a lot of whispery, overly sincere language is to say the least, a wet blanket.

I think that the focus on values in and of itself is a good thing, but these values, like "Every idea we touch, enhances each life it touches" or "Who will this help, Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist? If you are busy making everything, then you are not perfecting anything," are more like a designer's stream of consciousness or an entreaty to the impatient consumer to be patient because perfection is an art that takes time. It borders on feeling apologetic, if not self-aggrandizing. 

What happened to visionary, iconoclastic values — of pushing hard to break barriers and change our world for the better — which still spoke to a higher purpose? What happend to creativity that showed rather than telled? This is the ad campaign I'd expect from a "mature" company. Maybe it is the new, mature Apple moving out from the long, Jobsian shadow. While I can understand that and the "need" for that, I can't help but being let down.

What do you think?

Branding is Now a Google Ranking Factor

  
  
  

This is kind of a mini-post. I'd like to reference an important post  I saw on HubSpot's blog indicating the rise in importance of branding to SEO, in the aftermath of Google's Penguin 2.0 release. While we have always stressed the relevance of branding to user experience, it is good to know that Google is recognizing the validity of branding in the realm of Search. I recommend you read the post but here is what I see as the key takeaway:

Content Variety and distribution: Google places a premium on authenticity. Search engine crawlers are evaluating everything they can find about your brand, i.e., press releases, website content, pdfs, blogs, videos, articles, etc. The more variety the crawlers see of your content and the more they verify it as relevant to your target market, thus the more authentic and established they deem your brand to be. And defining your brand as an industry leader will result in better rankings.

So, rather than focusing too much on creating tons of back links to your site, your time is more wisely spent building your online brand, by producing and widely distributing relevant content on a regular basis.

Creating Websites People Love

  
  
  
We create websites people love. Of course I can't say that officially — although it's true — as HubSpot has already created a great campaign around "love."
describe the image I admire HubSpot's website because it says in big bold letters, "Create Marketing People Love." Then it qualifies that brand statement with a "here's how we help you do it" statement: "Use HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing software to consistently generate more visits, leads, and customers." HubSpot has not only managed to create a product people find useful, they've created a brand and a culture associated with a powerful human emotion, love.
As we've been designing a new website for ourselves, we've been giving thought to what makes a website people love. The obvious answers are that it generates leads, is easy to use and maintain, performs well, contains relevant content and looks good. Marketers might add that it needs to be interactive, have calls-to-action buttons and enable users to interact. While we focus intently on all of that, we have found that what makes a website people love is to bring emotion and a sense of purpose to the web experience, which is derived from a supporting brand that embodies these deeper attributes.
describe the imageIBM's "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" is another example of a B2B company that has created a culture not around technology or services, but a collaborative goal of building a better planet, something everyone can feel good about.
Our recent work for AirStrip, a mobile healthcare company is an example in the HubSpot/IBM mold. AirStrip is filled with passionate physicians, technologists and other healthcare professionals who have a sweeping vision for improving the American healthcare system through mobile technology. We harnessesd that passion into a powerful tagline, "HealthCare Transformation is in the Air," which distilled their passion and goals and tied back to their name and to mobility. What makes the AirStrip website "loveable," aside from the increased traffic they've seen, is that the brand tagline spawned a whole language, i.e.,RainCastle website for AirStrip
  • Healthcare mobility is in the Air
  • Better Quality Care is in the Air
  • Clinical Efficiency is in the Air
  • Improved Performance is in the Air
As web designers, we see our job as "bringing company brands to life... on the web." More often than not, we are provided copy, which is written by engineers or others steeped in the one hundred percent buzzword compatible terminology dictated by financial goals, product details, perceived customer expectations, loss of objectivity or leadership that hasn't articulated a higher purpose. Even great graphic or interactive design can't transform mundane language or undifferentiated notions. People see right through that. Our most successful website projects are collaborations with organizations that have articulated, or are open to doing the work to articulate, a brand that in some way can be associated with improving people's lives, and carries both emotional as well as business weight.
Send quote to a friend
images 2"All our words from loose using have lost their edge." So said Ernest Hemingway, probably at a Spanish bar one night in the company of other inebriated literary elite. I imagine if he could see the current state of B2B marketing content, he would have the smug smile of the prescient. In 2013, there is still no more powerful communication tool than your website. It is also true in 2013, as the cliche goes, that "content is king." But it's not just the quantity of content, it's the quality. The best way to create websites that people love is to start with content that rises above and touches people on a human level, conjoining them with your mission.
Want people to love your website? Give us a call!

What Makes a Good infographic?

  
  
  

Infographics are taking over the earth! At least it seems that way. There has been an explosion of infographics on the web — in both B2C and B2B — literally illustrating that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. But before we get into what makes a good one, let's define what an infographic is and why they have reached the tipping point.

Infographics are graphical representations of content that would alternatively require a lot of words or that would be difficult to glean without previous knowledge of the subject. So, it is essentially visual shorthand for weaving a qualitative story, often from quantitative content.

The facility for rendering complex data in simpler terms is a coveted skill. The way in which people absorb content on the web these days is like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. Attention spans are short and getting shorter as is time to focus and reflect. If content creators can distill complex narratives into compelling, easy-to-comprehend visuals, visitors to their websites are more likely to engage with them.

Infographics can be a part of any digital marketing campaign. With Javascript animations, strong use of color and fonts, intuitive icons and illustrations all optimized for Search, infographics can build your backlinks, improve organic traffic, wow your audience and strengthen your brand.

The key ingredients of a good infographic are:

  • A cohesive and coherent story line
  • A series of concise, clearly worded headlines from which one can "get the gist"
  • Simple storytelling graphic style, Icons can work very well
  • Simple, clean font style, avoid lots of flourishes
  • Not trying to do "too much"
  • Test out the graphic among lay people before releasing to a wider audience

Here are a few infographics I've come upon lately, which do a particularly good job making a lot of content easy to digest.

describe the imagehttp://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/32700/The-10-Best-Marketing-Infographics-of-2012-So-Far.aspx 

Not surprisingly, HubSpot has created and compiled a top ten collection of cool infographics related to the field of marketing. Each represents a different concept and is rendered in a different visual format. The configuration of text, graphics, fonts, icons and colors is chosen specifically to solve the visual problem. The great thing about Infographics is that they grow organically from the data so developing one is a unique creative experience yielding a unique result. Because of their custom nature, most infographics are not template based, although I've seen a few starter infographic toolkits mostly directed toward non-designers. These may be helpful for people not comfortable visualizing, but tend to yield more cookie cutter solutions.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672218/tidemarks-infographics-could-change-how-your-business-is-run?utm_source=twitter#1 describe the image

This Fast Company interactive infographics depicts the multiple ways a business can rank its profits, such as by project, by state, by customer and so forth. This one is actually a collection of single infographics representing one view of company profits at a time, which can be accessed by simply clicking an arrow.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672218/tidemarks-infographics-could-change-how-your-business-is-run?utm_source=twitter#1 

For sports fans, this infographic provides 10 years of data on whether spring training improves batting averages.

infographic Bball 50213You can see that whatever the quantitative problem, there is a unique and compelling way to simplify and visualize it in an infographic. Have you seen any cool infographics lateley? Please share.

 

5 Reasons Why B2B Businesses Need to Go Mobile Now

  
  
  

describe the imageIt’s a well-worn fact that B2C marketers set the trends that B2B businesses subsequently adopt. Between them there are usually several years of lag time. The case for B2B companies to adopt mobile marketing practices and a mobile-friendly web presence warrants an acceleration of that schedule in direct correlation to the speed at which mobility is reshaping the world. Here are some compelling arguments pointing towards the value of mobile to B2B businesses.

Don’t let the Trend Pass You By
Gartner predicts that by 2014, there will be a 90% mobile penetration rate and 6.5 billion mobile connections. Think about it, that’s about the number of people in the entire world! They go on to say that in 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. If that alone is not reason to maximize one’s mobile presence, here are some other things to consider.

Protecting and Enhancing Your Brand
“Many companies are still behind and are not optimizing the web experience for mobile, which is incredibly damaging for their brands," said Steve Woods, CTO of Eloqua in an article titled, “Ready or Not, Lead Gen is Going Mobile for B2B Marketers.

"There have been countless studies that show a consumer will abandon a website in less than five seconds if the experience is unsatisfactory,” said Woods. “Now that we know potential buyers are reading our emails and visiting our websites from their mobile devices, marketers need to make the appropriate adjustments.”

Take a look at your website on a smartphone. Is it hard to navigate, slow performing, or requiring a lot of pinch and zoom just to get from one page to the next? Now imagine your customers, prospects and prospective employees experiencing this. Does the experience support your brand image as a tech-savvy, customer-focused organization?

Business executives search using their mobile phones seven times a day, much of which is for business, according to a Forbes survey. At RainCastle, we have noticed the beginning of a “hockey stick” increase of mobile users accessing our website and as a result are currently redesigning our own site using “Responsive Design” to make the mobile experience as easy and compelling as the desktop. Our clients who follow their website analytics are experiencing the same trend.

Rethink Your Content
When your B2B audiences are working remotely they are seeking information that is easy-to-access and fits on their phones or tablets, whether it is text, imagery or video. As a B2B, you now need to make sure that relevant content is manageable and accessible not only on the desktop, but on mobile devices as well.

Respond Quickly to The New Normal for User Behavior
In the new normal, customers’ patience has plummeted while expectations for speed, accessibility and personalization of content have skyrocketed. When was the last time you had a meeting with a business executive who wasn't checking their mobile device multiple times? Whether or not that offends you, can you afford not to be reaching these people through their chosen medium?

Establishing The Personalized User Experience
Mobile devices present a more personal, one to one medium than marketers have ever had. People wear them, carry them and keep them next to their beds at night. Why wouldn’t you want to create a relationship through a medium that provides that kind of access? Mobility is changing us, driving new habits, altering the way we live, connect and market. 

So, don’t miss the (mobile) boat lest you want to live the “Life of Pi,” trying to tame the (mobile) Tiger.

6 Steps for Getting People to Read Your E-mail

  
  
  

6 steps for having your emails readIf you've ever struggled to convey a lot of information in an email — knowing the recipient or recipient type (hint: client) doesn't read, but skims content — and did not receive any response, then the article I just read in Fast Company is for you.

Titled, "How to Write a Convincing E-mail," the article highlights 6 key points that when followed, result in effective emails that will actually get read. My own perspective is that your emails are an extension of your brand and if they are concise, clear and action-oriented, your prospects, clients and colleagues will respond more frequently and hold you in higher esteem. I encourage you to read the full article as it provides great examples of poorly crafted emails and then the same messages written effectively. Following are article highlights. When composing an email:

1. Have a specific decision in mind.
What is the outcome you desire?

2. Start by writing your conclusion.
As opposed to the way in which you compose an essay with and Introduction, supporting text and a conclusion, go for the conclusion and work backwards to support it.

3. Structure your supporting argument into digestable chunks.
Use bulleted copy where possible or two sentence paragraphs if content is not listable.

4. Bolster each argument with evidence.
Opinions hold little sway. You're seeking action. Make it easy to respond by using facts.

5. Repeat your conclusion as a "call-to-action."
At the end, repeat the conclusion you began with and invite a next step.

6. Stick a benefit in the subject line
Self-explanatory.

I found myself analyzing my own emails and certain points immediately resonated. Point #6, I put in the "last but not least" category. Composing a subject line is analagous to crafting a great tagline in that it successfully distills a theme down to just a few words, which can express facts and intention with clarity of purpose.

Which points do you find most helpful?

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