- Tony Quin
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We’ve all heard of the experiment that was done in the 60’s where kids were promised big treats, but only if they didn’t eat the yummy marshmallow sitting in front of them. The researchers were testing the degree to which kids could delay gratification in order to receive a greater reward in the future.
The kids didn’t do very well, and since then our increasingly instant gratification world has left many with the impression that perhaps our culture suffers from a lack of self-control.
An article in the New York Times last Sunday outlined recent studies that seem to point to a different reason why people opt for short-term rewards vs. the promise in the future. The research points to our uncertainty of the future as a key influence in decision-making.
The basic idea is a bird in the hand is real, but who knows what could happen if you go for the two in the bush. This reflects our universal experience of the unpredictability and uncertainty of the future.
For example, if you arrive at a train platform and it is packed with people, do you assume that the train is likely to arrive soon or that it has been delayed? Without more data, many would be influenced by the unpredictability of life and some might opt for a cab rather than an undefined wait. On the other hand, a simple clock showing when the next train was due would take all the uncertainty out of the situation.
In another version of the marshmallow experiment, two groups of kids were promised a reward from a researcher for not eating the marshmallow. In one group, before the experiment started the researcher demonstrated behavior that showed he was unreliable, in the other group the researcher showed to be completely reliable. The kids with the unreliable researcher waited 3 minutes before eating the marshmallow, the kids with the reliable researcher waited 12 minutes.
All of this got me thinking about behaviors brands ask of consumers such as filling out forms, watching videos and so on. In so many instances we require a consumer to do something based on the promise of something that will (or more likely may) happen in the future.
All too often, consumers do not know when it will happen, how long they will have to wait, or what will happen while they are waiting. I can easily see this feeding that fundamental sense of future uncertainty that the researchers talk about.
So, how as marketers can we bring a sense of certainty to these interactions?
One answer is to tell people how long things are going to take. We can also tell them exactly what is going to happen while they are waiting.
It’s clear that before consumers invest time in an action or an activity they go through a risk or reward calculation. If the uncertainty of the future is a part of their calculation, it’s up to us to come up with ways to minimize its effect.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment section below!
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If you’re a marketer, you hear the term customer experience a lot. It’s a convenient catch phrase for all the experiences that a consumer has with a brand from awareness to advocacy and it’s the product of user experience design (UX) work, which focuses on creating superior customer experiences.
While many people intuitively understand that customer experience is pretty important, however, they don’t always see the value of user experience design. Value is the keyword here because at some point you are probably going to have to justify an investment in UX.
For example, the ROI (return on investment) of the user experience for a website has been a comparatively easy to figure out in the digital world. You can value and compare the conversion rate before you redesign a website using UX and also afterwards. Improvements in simplicity and relevance invariably deliver better results, which can be easily measured. The calculation gets harder when a brand has to consider investing in a unified customer experience strategy and execution, however.
Since people hop from channel to channel so quickly and frequently today, a brand can’t have a good experience in one place and a lousy experience in another, especially when all it takes is one difficult, inconsistent experience to damage all your good work.
A friend recently went into Home Depot looking for a sawhorse. After looking in vain and not finding anyone to help him, he went to Lowe’s and used a prominently displayed Product Finder to quickly find it. He then posted to Facebook that he was done with Home Depot and Lowes was his company. He has over 200 friends, so what’s the cost of that customer experience faux pas?
As Forrester says:
“A good user experience builds brand equity with every interaction, but a bad one can completely erode that equity on all levels. Worse, it can cause a customer to leave you for a competitor, never to return again.”
What brands clearly need is a unified experience that reflects an in-depth understanding of what the consumer is trying to accomplish while clearly differentiating the brand. The good news is that consumers still want relationships with brands; the bad news is that their standards are so much higher than ever before, and they do not have patience for brands that don’t do their homework.
The work of user experience results in the design of all the interactions that a brand has with consumers. That includes interactions on websites, mobile apps, social channels, the telephone or in the store. Its purpose is to design experiences that not only succeed in their purpose, but reinforce the brand promise and identity. UX design must therefore be based on a comprehensive understanding of the consumer, the context and the category. That means starting with research, journey mapping, competitive analysis, content strategy and all the other foundational work that informs UX design.
It’s not cheap and it’s tempting to skip it, but according to numerous studies it costs 50-100 times the original investment to fix an experience that’s not working, to say nothing of the cost of repairing a broken brand perception.
Many would argue that the field of battle between brands now is customer experience. But seeing the relationship between a better customer experience and the UX work required getting there isn’t always clear.
A few of the numerous benefits great UX delivers includes more consumer engagement through increased conversion rates, ease of use, higher satisfaction and higher comprehension, better ROI from larger transactions, more lead identification, improved brand equity, higher customer retention, reduced costs from fewer redesigns, fewer errors, less maintenance and support.
Of course it would be terrific to have an easy ROI calculation that makes the business case for investments in UX. Some organizations claim that every dollar invested in UX delivers a return of 2-100 times, but in the end it is a very difficult calculation.
It’s akin to asking the value of a great advertising campaign versus one that’s just OK. We all know intuitively it can be huge, but how do you measure its value in advance?
The bottom line is that in a world where consumers rule, great customer experience is table stakes for any serious player. That means taking a serious, systematic, scientific approach to getting there, which requires great UX.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment section below!
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Just like your stock portfolio needs to be rebalanced when market conditions change, you need to take a hard look at your media and channel mix in your 2014 marketing plan.
Discussions of mix have usually been about how to distribute media dollars among channels, but you need to look at channels holistically and include all costs, not just purchased media. With the continuous behavioral and attitudinal shifts of consumers, seeing your go to market plan as an integrated ecosystem is more important than ever.
1. If your channel mix does not reflect target audience behavior
Hopefully you know how your target audience uses media channels and when and where they are most receptive to brand interactions. You would be surprised how many marketers start by picking a channel without that knowledge.
Suffice it to say that the way consumers of all ages and types discover, explore, and evaluate products and services today is completely different to the way it used to be. You must therefore use a data driven, evidence based approach to determining your channel mix.
2. Because channels need to be weighted to reflect the dynamics of the Consumer Decision Journey
The difficult, but essential, challenge for a brand is to insert itself into the Consumer Decision Journey*. Your channel mix should reflect a comprehensive understanding of when and where people can and should be influenced. These are the inflection points where you should concentrate your resources. (*McKinsey & Co.)
3. The budget in a particular channel is insufficient to rise above competitive noise
A common mistake is not having an appropriate budget to achieve the mission. TV is a typical example of where budgets are often insufficient to accomplish minimum reach and frequency goals.
To use a war analogy, don’t split your army unless it is larger than your opponent, and concentrate your force on a narrow front for maximum impact.
4. You’re trying to win everything
You probably have short-term goals, but building a brand is a marathon not a sprint. So look at all the channels where your target audience is congregating and start with the areas that are uncontested by your competition. Then only select those that you can afford to do effectively (see previous point).
5. Because too much of your budget only has short-term equity
So much of marketing spend is ephemeral. So look for marketing investments that have long term value for the brand. For example, instead of buying banner ads, invest in evergreen content that can be used for search and syndication.
Over time these marketing investments will become the fabric of your brand’s marketing ecosystem.
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In the recent annual “Trust in Advertising” report for 2013 from Nielsen, we learned:
“Brand websites are now the second most trusted form of advertising, second only to recommendations from people I know”.
This is a clarion call to all marketers to get their website up to scratch or risk becoming irrelevant to the modern consumer. To that end, here is a list of the 10 most important elements of a good brand website today.
A website only works if it’s built on comprehensive strategy. Your strategy is the iceberg under the surface that keeps the whole thing afloat. If you don’t do this work you will not get a site that cultivates and converts prospects, you will get a brochure.
Consumers come to your site in order to accomplish something. Identify what those things are and then execute the most important ones better than anyone else. Whether someone is there to explore your offerings or accomplish a task, your job is to make the experience easy and worthwhile. This is where modern user experience (UX) techniques are invaluable. They help you craft a site that unfolds effortlessly in a compelling, personalized experience. That’s what it takes today to convert prospects and strengthen bonds with your existing community.
Social interactions and content bring your brand credibility, activate your community and amplify your brand. They attract search through SEO and include everything social from simple integration to ratings and reviews. While companies used to shy away from the associated risks, the lack of social not only sends a negative perceptual message, but means you have less influence over the conversation.
Search Engine Optimization makes your website, and more importantly the content within it, findable. It’s an art and a science. Every page and every piece of content needs to be optimized to your maximum advantage. That means keeping up with the latest search engine developments like Google Hummingbird, which recently changed the game again. SEO is cheaper marketing when compared to just about everything else you do. So remember every time someone discovers your content through search, it is one cost-per-click you don’t have to buy with AdWords.
Analytics are not the same as metrics. Metrics tell you how you’ve already done, but analytics tell you what to do next. The many analytics packages you can buy will actually feed you metrics, albeit in an easy to consume form. What they don’t do is tell you what those metrics mean, and what you should do as a result of them. This is the work of the analyst and where the rubber meets the road.
These software platforms provide the missing link between your marketing and sales. There are many options now, and as a result these technologies have become inexpensive and much easier to integrate. They allow you to track the activity of individual customers, and in many cases prospects, not only on your website, but also across the digital spectrum, including email, blogs, search and social media. They are especially important if you have a large database of customers and prospects with email addresses. They enable personalized, automated email marketing and integrate with many CRM systems.
If you have an integrated marketing strategy, then most people coming to your website probably enter at a landing page. This is because landing pages allow you to tailor a visitor’s first impression based on their point of origin. Personal relevance is one of the key elements of persuasion and tailored landing pages are how you begin a compelling personalized experience.
Soon, most people will view your site on a mobile device of some kind. Your site should be designed to work optimally on every mobile device. This means you have to navigate whether to use Responsive web design, which creates a web experience that adapts to the device it is being viewed on, or to create native apps for different device platforms, which unlike responsive sites allow you to use the built-in capabilities of the phone. Either way you need to offer a flawless mobile experience that fits what the user will be doing.
The experience of your website should reflect your brand’s attitude towards customer service, which is a key consideration for consumers. You are either an easy brand to work with or not. Your customer service capabilities should therefore be built into your site from instant chat to intuitive search.
Last but not least comes content. Content is the lynchpin of modern marketing in digital channels, and your website is just a vehicle for organizing and presenting it. Consumers have figured out that they are no longer a captive audience for advertising.
So instead they are looking for content that makes them smarter and/or entertains them. That content can be a video, an article, or even an interactive tool. In the end, however, it is how you are being judged. Therefore, it’s not good enough to just tick the box.
If your content is not compelling, engaging, valuable and original, people will ignore it. If you do everything else right, content will still be the difference between success and failure. It is what search engines will value and will activate your social networks. It will be the basis of a relationship started and the trust that is cultivated. Once you have the infrastructure of your marketing ecosystem in place, of which your website is a key piece, an ongoing flow of content will become the fuel that ignites the brand engine and keeps it running.
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Google has done it again.
You might remember a blog post I wrote titled “The 4 SEO Trends Every Marketer Needs to Know.” That list isn’t outdated, but there are some important new updates you should know about since Google just released its Hummingbird update — and it’s a big deal.
It’s so big in fact, that Google reports that it has affected 90% of all searches worldwide. To put that in perspective, Panda affected less than 10%.
Basically, the purpose of Hummingbird is to evolve how Google understands the context around a query and how it serves information based on that query. Google is banking on the fact that in the near future most searches will be done on mobile devices, and a lot of those will be done by voice instead of by text.
A user “asking” Google a question will look different than typing it. You might search for a location by voice asking Google, “Where is the White House.” The result isn’t a link to a website with that information. Google now tells you the address and provides a map without having to click once.
This is a great experience for the user. Information is easy to get and easy to consume. For website owners, however, there is potential for this update to decrease referral rates because users won’t always need to click through to a website providing that information.
Google is scraping information and displaying it on their website. An example is found in Google displaying sports data. Instead of having to click over to mlb.com, I can see the Atlanta Braves 2013 record right in the search results:
Hummingbird is an investment in what Google calls the Knowledge Graph, the ability to map the relationships between words and even previous searches to understand the context of a query. It helps Google understand pronouns and articles in searches.
For example, if you searched “Who is Chipper Jones” you would receive basic information about him in the results. And eventually, although it isn’t working for me now, you’ll be able to search “when did he retire” and Google will understand that “he” refers to Chipper Jones.
For marketers, the knowledge graph is probably the update’s biggest change. Since the Penguin and Panda updates, Google has been slowly evolving its algorithm to prioritize the user over the search bot. Rather than stuffing a webpage full of keywords or a website full of random content, Google wants content creators to publish content that benefits the user.
With Hummingbird, keyword stuffing is dead. Now that the algorithm understands context, content producers have to focus on providing valuable content.
With Panda, the emphasis was put on creating unique content. With Hummingbird, it’s all about creating unique, useful, and authoritative content.
Answer questions with your content (provide value) and find a way to position your authors as authorities on your topic.
In addition to the knowledge graph, Hummingbird puts a lot of emphasis on the author. Author Rank is a way for Google to identify experts according to the volume of content produced by that person and how widely it is shared. Most importantly here is its direct tie to Google+. Although Google denies the correlation of +1s on Google+ and page rank, a strong presence on Google+ has been shown to dramatically increase the discoverability of your content.
To start building expertise in your category, there are a couple things you should do immediately:
When Hummingbird was released there was a lot of fear in the marketing community that it would undercut content marketing efforts, especially in regards to keyword research. Google is encrypting individual keywords so that site owners will no longer be able to see what keywords are referring traffic to their sites. That isn’t a big deal because keywords are less important now than they were a year ago.
With that said, keyword research to understand how people search in a category and who is competing for those same users is still very important. We just won’t have access to individual data going forward.
Now more than ever, it’s time to invest in understanding the needs and behaviors of the consumers you are trying to reach if you want your content to be discoverable in search. If you understand what consumers need, how they talk, and how they find information, your content will continue to rank well.
What do you think? Let me know in the comment section.
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“The design of your product is only as good as its smallest part.” –Dan Saffer, Microinteractions: Designing with Details
The other night I was browsing the Zappos iPhone app for a new pair of boots. I found a pair I liked and added it to my favorites…and that’s when a kitty cat surrounded by hearts flew across my screen.
Yes, that’s a kitty dropping a pair of boots into my favorites list, slowing her descent with a heart-be-speckled umbrella. (Don’t you want to download the Zappos app and try it now?)
What’s the connection between a cat and boots? Maybe Puss in Boots, maybe not.
But really, who cares? The interaction clearly told me the item had been added to my favorites, and it made me laugh. Now that’s delighting your users!
In his book Microinteractions, Saffer provides the example that if a feature is a video player, a microinteraction is the volume control. These interactions are often a single task: a setting, an on/off switch, or similar. They’re tiny and often go unnoticed…until they fail or delight.
Zappos’ cat is fairly whimsical, but consider the slightly more serious profile editor for Myspace. After you’ve set up your account the first time and you return to your profile, only the content you filled in displays. When you hover over this content, the borders of a field show up so you know you can edit it.
In-line editing is not that new of an idea, but Myspace takes it a step further. When you click to edit the content, the rest of the profile fields (the ones you didn’t complete last time) display so you can see the entire form. Clever!
Several microinteractions work together to make up this feature (the editor). The user’s content is given highest priority, while the other potential content (i.e. the blank fields) is only provided when the user requests to change their profile content.
The design doesn’t outshine the content. It enhances the experience of filling in that content. It’s only a profile editor, and a standard form design would work just as well. But would it seem as cool or fun?
Microinteractions are tiny, but they can create a big impact on the overall user experience. So don’t forget to spend time on them even if they aren’t the shiny feature every digital agency or UX’er wants to work on.
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About a year and a half ago, I came home to an unexpected package on my doorstep. Inside the box were a free container of infant formula and some coupons for baby stuff.
There was one problem, I didn’t have any children and my wife wasn’t pregnant. I checked the package to make sure it was supposed to be for me and after I confirmed that it was, I just wrote it off as a poorly targeted marketing effort.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized how brilliant it was. My wife and I had just started talking about having a baby when we received the package, but how could any company know that? I’m not exactly sure how, but Target does.
In fact, the company is famously able to predict major life changes (especially pregnancy) earlier than anyone else because they have invested so heavily in predictive modeling through big data. The theory is that consumers loyalty resets around major life changes, so if it can get a family to start purchasing baby products at Target, they will move their grocery shopping there too.
This experience spawned an interest in what large companies are doing with big data, and because I work in marketing, how they do it.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was standing in line at Target listening to a sales pitch from a cashier to the customer in line in front of me. She was pushing a loyalty card that promised a 5% discount on every purchase. The catch? Use the card as a debit card, linking it to your bank account.
Immediately I realized what Target was doing. Their new REDcard gives consumers a small savings in exchange for massive amounts of data that it would otherwise have to purchase from third-party data collectors. Now, Target can see each of your purchases, even those outside of the store, and plot trends in your spending in order to predict major life changes.
I’m undecided whether or not I think this level of data collection is creepy or cool. As a consumer, I’m skeptical about any entity having this much of my personal information. But as a marketer, I think it will ultimately benefit consumers. It will create personalized shopping experiences that generate loyalty leading to fiercer competition among companies.
What will be interesting to watch over the next few years is where consumers draw the line.
How much is too much data? Is there even a line to draw?
Publishing branded content in traditional spaces — better known as native advertising — has been a popular topic buzzing around lately.
From the Native Advertising Summit that stopped by Atlanta this summer to this absolutely awesome (though slightly inconclusive) eMarketer study that popped up on my Twitter feed last week, native advertising is without a doubt shaping the content that brands are creating right now. And according to that eMarketer study, 73% of U.S. publishers are offering some form native advertising on their websites.
The growth of native advertising means more opportunities for brand produced content to be integrated in the design of a publisher’s site. As brands are taking advantage of this opportunity, they’ve become responsible for vastly more content the public sees and interacts with.
But keeping that content on track is easier said than done. From social posts to blog entries and targeted ads, it’s a challenge for businesses to manage all the content they create all the time. The solution is a holistic content strategy including SEO keyword analysis, which prioritizes content and details guidelines for consistent voice and tone.
From a small ‘mom and pop’ shop to a Fortune 500 companies, a defined “voice and tone” keeps the people (and agencies) working on a brand’s behalf on the same page when it comes to how a brand should sound and act in different situations.
A fantastic example is MailChimp’s voice and tone microsite guide that sorts the company’s V+T best practices based on situation, then color codes the tone needed for each situation from green to red.
Green is for situations that call for humor and positivity, red for content that is serious and informative. All entries feature examples and as an added bonus, the site is responsive and remarkably pleasant to use on a smartphone.
But not all voice and tone guidelines need to be as expansive as a color-coded microsite.
Creating or updating your voice and tone is as simple as following a few key steps:
1. Understand the difference between voice and tone
Voice doesn’t change, but tone does. Your brand voice should always be consistent, but tone will vary depending on the situation and emotion you’re trying to communicate to a consumer.
2. Set your boundaries
Decide if your voice and tone is a guide for all of your business communications or just a certain part. Narrow your focus by deciding if you need a voice and tone specifically for something like your company’s digital spaces or for a smaller initiative like social networks. You can easily make a separate voice and tone guide, if needed, for different parts of your business.
3. Interview stakeholders
This is key because your employees are already speaking your brand’s voice and tone. Interview key stakeholders and employees and ask them to share why they’re passionate about the company. Also ask what kind of content they think would be compelling coming from the brand. Their language will give you insight into what your brand voice and tone should sound like.
4. Determine voice with keywords
Start by creating a massive list of words that define the brand — we’re not talking about product names, but instead how a product or service makes the customer feel. Use these important adjectives to shape a mission statement paragraph that defines overall how your brand should sound. Follow up with a list of keywords.
5. Define tone based on situation
Think of the different situations where you will use voice and tone guidelines to structure copy or content for your brand. Define these situations one by one — from social copy to company blog entries — then decide what tone is needed to communicate with a reader during these situations. With its list of uses, MailChimp’s V+T is a fantastic examples of this.
6. List your “watch outs”
Define words, phrases or messages that absolutely cannot be used in content produced by your company. Additionally, define customer service protocol for dealing with negative feedback — like finding a way to direct a customer complaining on your blog post to customer service quickly.
7. Share and get feedback from key stakeholders
Once you’ve created a preliminary document, come back to the stakeholders you interviewed to get feedback. Constructive feedback will help you continue to improve your voice and tone — rinse and repeat until you have the guidelines you need.
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Everyone’s talking about big data, but why should it be part of your brand marketing and how do you use it?
Is it that “big data is a pointless marketing term” as some marketers believe, or is there real value if you know how to extract it?
According to this latest piece from Econsultancy, the value comes if you know how to incorporate big data into your team process. They cite five ways to do this:
Sure all the data streams coming in to marketers can deliver a more fleshed out picture of consumer behavior, but the trick is what you do with it.
Some say all you need is cool new marketing software that sifts through all that data and magically business will sky rocket. But while good software may be important, the key is having a marketing organization that is focused on using the data to get actionable insights. Those insights then tell us how to create winning engagements at each step in the consumer journey.
At IQ, we map the consumer journey for each persona and then develop a plan to Connect, Cultivate, and Convert consumers along the way. Data is important, but it’s only part of the success formula you need in today’s super complex marketplace.
For a 50,000 foot look at how the journey and data fits into the new marketing model, view The 3Cs – Connect, Cultivate, Convert