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At IQ #weloveATL

IQ #weloveatl

Atlanta is moving on up! We’ve got television shows like The Walking Dead, movies like The Hunger Games and musical legends like Outkast. Aside from this, we’re also home to countless neighborhoods of unique cuisine and street art that paints the city. It’s no secret that Atlanta is becoming a major cultural hub, and not just in the south but across the nation.

So with all this thriving culture, it’s no wonder our city inspires us to make great work with a talented group driven by creative intelligence. That’s why this month, we’re focusing on the city IQ is proud to call home.

We’ll be sharing some of the things we love about Atlanta with the #weloveATL tag on the blog and in our social media channels, and we encourage you to share yours too.

Here’s to you, Atlanta. Let’s keep it awesome.

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The New Brass Ring: Trusted Knowledge Source

Brass Ring

In this digitally enabled world consumers have been trained by search and the internet to think they can make the best, most balanced choice for every purchase every time. However, as all of us know, it is not so easy and there lies the opportunity for brands.

The problem with selling stuff is getting people to buy on your schedule vs. theirs. As a business you need sales sooner, not later, so the solution has always been discounts and promotions to motivate people to act now.  Discounts and promotions, however, assume the consumer is already sold. They pre-suppose that the only thing standing in the way of the sale is timing and cost. But what if the prospect is actually in tire-kicking mode? I’ve heard that the rule of thumb is that only 1-2% of prospects are ready-to-buy at any particular moment. If true, and it seems reasonable, that would mean that 98-99% of the target audience you are going after, are not actively interested in buying.

I am amazed how many times brands are still hunting for that 1-2% of ready-to-buy people and hoping that the sales they get make up for the inefficiency of wasted exposure to the rest.  It used to be that the sales generated justified the cost, and the silent majority didn’t matter.  But the silent majority of consumers today, while perhaps not ready to buy, are far from idle. They are doing their due diligence, digital style, and ads, as we have learned, may not be the best way to approach them.

Trusted Knowledge Sources

Search has trained us to presume we can gather all the knowledge we need to always make the best buying decisions online. And according to the Nielsen Trust in Advertising Report, people get a lot of that knowledge from brand websites because they trust them second only to recommendations from friends. This underscores the importance of a good website at the heart of a smart marketing ecosystem. But what it really reveals is that consumers are looking for trusted knowledge sources that will help make the process of getting to that perfect decision easier, faster and more reliable.

If you think about your own online research, invariably it’s hard to find a credible, apparently objective source of information. In most categories there are sites that purport to offer objective reviews, but are really just shills for paid sponsors.  Then there is a plethora of articles and opinions, social and otherwise, that pop up in a general search. Poring through them all on a quest for fast and easy truth can be frustrating and time-consuming. The result is a wide divergence between what the web actually delivers and consumer expectations of being able to make the perfect choice every time. As Barry Schwartz described in “the Paradox of Choice” lots of choices overwhelm people quickly, and since we all want to make the best, most informed choice, it’s never as easy as we want it to be.  This lays bare the opportunity for brands to leverage the goodwill that consumers already feel for them even further, by becoming the go-to trusted knowledge source in their category.

Driven by the two consumer objectives of “making the best choice” and “making it easy”, the true battle is to be among the handful of brands that get a trusted source spot on the consumer’s mental shelf, which is the modern version of Reis & Trout’s Positioning. These are brands that can be relied upon to not only deliver content that is relevant and valuable, but also to operate with perceived transparency and objectivity. This is not something that brands can fake, and has to be a commitment to actually deliver on consumer expectations.

Simplify the Process

Most consumers don’t know much about many of the product categories they explore, like buying light bulbs or a digital camera, and in their quest to make quick, informed decisions, they jump to search. This usually starts with wading through the body of knowledge associated with the category that has built up over time, across many companies, and is sitting in the archives of lots of brand websites. Invariably it’s an overwhelming, complex mountain of knowledge, hard to sift through and often impossible to find what you are looking for.  Making this process easy is clearly the first opportunity that brands should be looking for in their category. The objective is to simplify the process of evaluating and buying, by doing the heavy lifting for the consumer. That means developing tools and systems to make the buying process easy and intuitive, delivering exactly the right information at the right time, and answering questions. For those consumers who have an interest in the category beyond just getting a purchase made, it also means developing content to feed those interests.

Many people may have an active interest or passion in a category long before, they become ready-to-buy or even start their digital due diligence. Figuring out what the associated interests and passions of a category are, however, can be tricky. If you are lucky enough to be in a category like pet food, for example, the passions are easy to see. But what if you sell generators?  A brand might assume there are no passions and give up on staying connected to prospects through content. But that’s when you have to dig, talk to consumers and maybe get a little creative. We actually went through the generator exercise and came up with intense interest in the relationship of weather patterns to power outages, which led to an idea for a service to help predict outages. If we could keep an open, regular line of communication to cultivate qualified prospects, the thinking went, we would be top of mind when they became ready-to-buy, without the cost of finding them again through advertising.

The digitally empowered consumer has made the cultivation part of the sales cycle more important than it ever was. As a result figuring out what content it’s going to take to keep them connected has become critical. But even with the right content strategy and compelling content, the challenge is how to keep your brand front and center until prospects become ready-to-buy.  Of course you could go old school and just buy non-stop paid advertising, but the better way is to let your content work for you with SEO, SEM and social, with a little email thrown in for good measure. There is still nothing better than having a qualified prospect in an email database.

Good old-fashioned email is still a golden goose that’s worth its weight. Despite the ever-growing volume of spam, permission email has lost none of its luster. It’s the perfect channel when done right; cheap, personal and two-way. The problem comes in what brands tend to do with it. All too often people sign up to get something that’s important to them, and end up being given something that’s important to the brand. Unfortunately because it’s so cheap and misunderstood, brands often end up spamming their best prospects, sending too many offers too frequently, and not investing in content.  As a result the people they worked so hard to get to sign up in the first place, stop opening their emails, and the cost of acquiring them, and the opportunity to cultivate them, goes down the drain.

How to win hearts and minds varies in each category, but it takes a commitment to the unfamiliar and very different business of creating engaging, valuable content and using it to carefully cultivate consumers, while resisting the urge to badger them for sales. Most companies, by now, are at least paying lip service to this idea, but few really get it. The result is a lot of noise that neither differentiates nor positions brands.  Becoming a trusted knowledge source doesn’t just happen, and consumers armed with their digital devices and high expectations will anoint only the few that genuinely serve them.

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How Facebook’s New Algorithm Impacts Brands

Brand impacts of new fb algorithm

On Tuesday, Facebook announced changes to their News Feed algorithm. We’ll overview how these changes affect marketers and brands and what they can do to be successful, but first: the changes from Facebook.

“Previously, we had rules in place to prevent you from seeing multiple posts from the same source in a row. With this update, we are relaxing this rule.”

“The second update tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about…will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it.”

“Lastly, many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all…”

How will these changes affect brand page reach?

More posts from friends and more posts from the same source mean less room for brands. Additionally, brand pages will see less activity generated from users engaging with brands because that content will be served up less often to users.

Facebook tries to keep brands from freaking out by saying:

“If you like to read news or interact with posts from pages you care about, you will still see that content in News Feed.”

But we know what this really means.

The window of opportunity for brand content to be served in the News Feed just got more competitive and more expensive.

“The impact of these changes on your page’s distribution will vary considerably depending on the composition of your audience and your posting activity. In some cases, post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline.”

If that sounds vague, it’s because it is.

Will your reach go up, down, or sideways? For the reasons we outlined above, you can go ahead and bet the farm on declined brand reach.

So, what should we do? Two things:

1) Only publish truly engaging content. 

Does it create an emotional response? Meaning, is the post relevant, funny, clever, beautiful, interesting, or create desire or action? Facebook even reminds us in their announcement to post “things that people find meaningful.” Commercialized content has no place in the News Feed.

2) Increase your Facebook budget.

Facebook’s CPM in Q2 of 2014 was $1.08. By the end of 2014 it was a staggering $4.40 and will only rise. Impressions will continue to decline with these algorithm changes and with more brands entering the space.

Facebook was never intended to be a free advertising channel. The glory days of free and bountiful organic reach are long gone. If you want your brand content to be seen you have to pay to play; just like display. Don’t get discouraged by Facebook’s changes. Instead embrace the idea of delivering meaningful content to a highly targeted audience supported with a smart budget. The results will be better than ever!

Let us know how IQ can help you deliver better content to highly targeted social audiences.

 

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  • 04.09.15

4 Keys of a Go-2-Market Plan

In today’s complex marketplace what a brand does is as important as how it does it. Without the right plan, the best creative is worthless.

This short deck outlines the 4 keys of a validated, actionable go-2-market plan.

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#GoGreen with IQ this April!

#GoGreen April

This month at IQ we’re thinking about Spring and our environment and how we can make our office greener. Whether it’s starting an office recycling program or even bringing in some fresh green plants into your office, there are so many ways you can make your workplace sustainable. A lot of tips to go green can even boost employee productivity, too! So this month we’re sharing some ways we #GoGreen in the IQ office!

We will be sharing original articles here and in our other social media channels (TwitterFacebookTumblr, and LinkedIn). We’ll also be sharing other articles and links that inspire us in making our workplace more green.

So keep an eye out for the #GoGreen hashtag as we join in the conversation on going green!

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6 Ways Financial Institutions Can Simplify Copy

Simplify Financial Copy

Finance isn’t simple. Unless you’re armed with a handy jargon cheat sheet, ‘Compound Interest’ and ‘The Rule of 72’ just sound like bad action movies. So for those of us who can’t leave a tip without a calculator, pinpointing something like the appropriate amount for a home equity line of credit can be overwhelming. What does this mean for financial institutions in our digital world? Consumers are searching for straightforward content, and whoever has easy-to-understand copy wins.

How can financial institutions simplify their copy? 

1.  Jargon-proof your copy.

Nothing scares a consumer more than confusion. Believe it or not, not everyone knows the difference between APY and APR, especially millennials as they age into the market for mortgages, car loans and other financial products. Spelling out acronyms and offering short definitions can be the difference between closing the tab and clicking “open account.” Vanguard spells out exchange-traded funds on first mention, rather than simply saying ETFs. Then, they give an overview of what this means as well as how to choose which is right for you. By skipping the technical language, brands can build trust.

2. Show real-life examples.

Consumers want to know, “What exactly is in this for me?” Often, financial services can seem abstract or uniform compared to services offered by other institutions. By helping the consumer see real-life use, it’s easier to establish need. For example, Simple doesn’t say, “We track spending in your checking account.” They say, “Goals and Safe-to-Spend go hand in hand to help you control and understand spending while making sure you have enough to pay the bills-and maybe even save up for something special.” That way, the reader doesn’t just see a digital service — they see secure rent and a fridge full of groceries.

3. Keep it short and sweet.

Big chunks of text can make simple copy seem complex. Be sure to cut empty copy and see what can be said in fewer words. Break up copy with more paragraphs and punctuation. Splitting sentences doesn’t always save space, but it does improve readability. That’s why Mint’s website reads, “Bills? Paid. Don’t miss a bill again. See and pay your bills on one place.” That’s much better than “With the ability to view bills and make payments on the same website, you’ll be less likely to incur late payment fees,” right?

4. Just come out and say it.

Honesty is the fastest route to credibility. If consumers feel like they need a microscope to spot the difference between services, the choice won’t be made with confidence. After all, value can’t be built if consumers aren’t sure what a service is. While Gateway Bank offers multiple checking accounts, each is identifiable through simple headlines and copy that explains which account best suits different life stages and needs. Because “people who just want the basics” have different needs than teachers or retirees.

5. Get personal.

In 2013, Pew Research Center reported that 51 percent of Americans chose online banking over in-store. This means less representatives sharing brand values and walking customers through financial processes. And you know what? A human touch brings simplicity to difficult or new processes. Incorporate personality reflective of a brand’s voice and tone, and offer additional help through straightforward calls to action. GoBank adds personality to copy with short lines like “Psst… you can also find free nearby ATMs with our mobile app.” Personality can lighten financial copy, as well as encourage consumers to follow along to the next step.

6. Speak the customers’ language.

Not only does speaking the customers’ language help readers understand copy, it boosts search optimization. By using phrases customers are already searching for, you can better drive traffic to your online content. Google Hummingbird picks up on conversational queries, like “How do I open a bank account?” So think about how customers speak and ask questions, then provide copy to match. To give users the most accurate search results, pinpoint which pages should use which keywords and phrases. Don’t overuse them — over-optimizing your content does more damage than it does good.

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Every Brand Needs a Playbook

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Brands have been planning since the dawn of marketing, but with the advent of the digital consumer it has become a great deal more complex. This post lays out the steps that lead to a marketing execution plan that is based on data and insights.

An Evidence Based Approach

Marketing has become a very complicated game. On every play there are thousands of possible permutations and like chess you have to not only win the moment, but also make it part of the bigger strategy. It’s not easy because there are so many things to consider, from the sheer number of channels and influences, to the behavior of the independent minded, digitally savvy consumer. Trying to do it by gut, or even experience, alone is just not possible anymore. That’s why brands need an evidence-based approach to marketing planning.

First Things First

There a number of steps to developing a plan, each building on the other, but to begin you need to gather all the intelligence you can find. This includes data and insights on barriers and opportunities inside your company, the category, the competition and the target consumer. It also includes doing a health check on the brand position, reviewing the lead process, if any, the conversion process and the role of technology; internal and external. Then with, hopefully, target audience segmentation and personas in hand, you should conduct a competitive analysis, use social listening to see what your targets are talking about, and analyze search patterns to glimpse what they are actually doing.

Mind the Gaps

Normally companies already have lots of this information, as well as Attitude & Usage research, sales and geographical data and so on. The idea is to synthesize all this data into insights and direction. But first you should determine the gaps in your knowledge, where you need additional understanding, and decide how critical it is to fill those gaps. Often stakeholder interviews, across the organization, from sales to the executive suite, are a fast way to fill in knowledge gaps, identify what is important internally and as an important bonus, get buy-in for the planning process.

Journey Mapping

All this data and knowledge becomes inputs for the next phase; Journey Mapping. This critically important step is based on the Mckinsey Consumer Decision Journey model introduced in 2009. Its job is to map consumer behavior at the key steps of awareness, evaluation, conversion, post purchase and loyalty. It tells us what each segment of consumers is thinking, doing and feeling at each juncture; it also identifies barriers, distribution requirements, brand role and more. Usually conducted as a collaborative workshop, Journey Mapping brings marketers together with key stakeholders and subject matter experts, to answer the key questions of “When” and “Where” to connect with consumers, and the role and purpose of channels at the different stages of the journey. Of course it is invaluable to talk to consumers too if time and budget allow.

Mighty Messaging

Building on Journey Mapping is Content Strategy, which is focused on answering the other two key questions “What to say” and “How to say it” at each touch point. The objective is to determine the most relevant and impactful messaging that can be presented to each consumer at each interaction.  That messaging needs to be relevant to the persona and their stage of the journey, while also being designed to contribute to a cumulative brand impression. At the same time messaging must be delivered in a way that is right for the context of the interaction; a video on a phone, for example, might be perfect or completely wrong depending on where someone is likely to view it and what he or she might be doing at the time.

Making the Cut

By this stage of the process you will have identified many potential tactics that address “where, when, what and how”.  But since budgets and time are always limited, you need to make choices based on each tactic’s ability to achieve business goals. Tactics are therefore reviewed for how they are projected to deliver on business objectives within time, resource, difficulty and ROI requirements and those that make the cut go into The Playbook. This is a prioritized action plan, typically covering 12-18 months, made up of the most effective and efficient tactics that you have determined will together achieve your business goals for the period. With it you know what marketing tactics need to be executed when, what performance they are projected to deliver, over what period of time, at what cost and at what difficulty level.

Less Guesswork

The Playbook is the culmination of a comprehensive evidence-based strategic process that takes the guesswork out of this complex process and gives senior management and the marketing team the confidence they need that their marketing plans will accomplish their business goals. While experience alone might have worked in simpler times, it’s just too risky today, which is why the Playbook will give a brand a much higher chance of success vs. reacting, improvising or just going on gut.

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The Time is Now: Google’s Mobile Deadline

Google's Mobile Deadline

It’s here — Google has pulled out the guillotine for mobile organic search. This time, they’re not messing around.

For many years, marketers have pondered the implication of mobile site access and mobile search ranking results. Google is generally quick to respond to advancements in mobile technology that enhance the consumer’s online experience, and this is a clear-cut example of just that.

Content, content, content.

Google has always harped on the need for quality content versus quantities of “optimized” content. Whether its the Hummingbird update, Panda, Penguin, or whatever the next animal-named-algorithm they choose is, the goal is to identify higher quality content and eliminate what they deem low quality.

The delivery of quality content through search is not defined solely by Google itself, but through over a decade of research and consumer usage data to define what happens next. This time, what happens next is critical for all marketers.

According to ComScore’s January 2015 report, we’re far past the mobile versus desktop tipping point. This should be a wake up call for all brands and marketers.

ComScore January 2015 data

SEO is fun. It’s an always evolving, never stagnant, almost “game”-like adventure for copywriters, analytics professionals, digital marketers, and data geeks in general (like me).

But for too long, marketers have been focused on keywords with little attention paid to User Experience’s impact on SEO. Google doesn’t view them as totally exclusive — in fact in most cases, SEO and UX are complementary.

The magic is where UX and SEO meet in the middle.

Yes, you want to get users to the right web page or landing page through search, but if the page is not mobile-friendly or doesn’t meet the expectation of the user, then what’s point of optimizing for search?

At IQ, we utilize the “hub and spoke” marketing model. The brand website acts as the “hub” while the “spokes” are the content and channels driving to the website. If the hub is insufficient, the spoke suffers as well. If you throw in the rise of mobile use by consumers, you’ve got another wrench in the equation.

What if your customers can’t find what they need to because you’re not there in mobile search?

In the case of Google’s update on April 21st, many brand websites will suffer greatly in mobile organic search. And we can’t blame Google.

As technology has advanced, so have consumer expectations for mobile web experiences. With that advancement in consumer expectation, marketers are expected to meet them. Designing a responsive website can solve for that need easily.

Google’s made their decision on behalf of consumers — will your website live up to expectation or will it fall off the map on mobile?

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Your Facebook Page Likes Are Shrinking!

Shrinking Page Likes

There is actually zero cause for alarm; your Facebook fans are completely safe.  But Facebook is updating how they calculate the number of likes a page receives. In the near future Facebook will be removing the “like” of any person marked as deceased or originated from a deactivated account.

As Facebook points out; ”Removing inactive Facebook accounts from Page audience data gives businesses up-to-date insights on the people who actively follow their Page and makes it easier for businesses to find people like their followers through tools like lookalike audiences.”  This is a welcome change and one that will benefit your page in the long term. Additionally, you’ll save budget and time knowing you are only targeting correct audiences.  But with an improvement comes a little bit of short term pain. Due to this shift you will see a slight dip in the overall number of page likes.

Not that you should be focusing too much on page likes anyway. After all, the page like is likely dead. With organic reach being slashed to typically 1%; the page like has been reduced to a vanity metric. What matters is the content you are producing and the audiences you are targeting in your boosted posts.

Let us know how IQ can help you deliver better content to highly targeted social audiences.

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The End of Words?

End of Words -TQ

While the essence of a brand still involves a logo, a look, hopefully a differentiated position, and maybe even an enduring idea, it has become so much more thanks to technology and the new consumer. But while so much has changed, the fundamentals of the way people emotionally connect to other people, ideas, products and solutions are unchanged as they have been for eons. This is important to remember as we fight to stay connected to an always fast-evolving consumer. People haven’t changed. Our behavior may be new, but our motivations are ancient.

Simon Sinek talks about how brands need to answer the overarching question of why they do what they do. As he eloquently explains, money as an answer is not good enough. While “what” a brands does and “how” it does it is very important, according to Sinek, it is the brands that have a defining mission of some sort that have lasting resonance.

In the past much of this brand focus has been translated into the words a brand used in its adverting and communications. Words were the keys to a brand finding its place in the word. That’s why a positioning statement that could define a brand’s relative position in the consumer’s mind was considered so important for so long.  This focus on words was a reflection of the way companies distilled their ideas into communications and translated that in advertising. Of course sound and imagery was important too, but with fewer, simpler channels, words most often led the charge.

Fast forward to today and the electronic age in all its digital glory has ushered in a visual experience that has overwhelmed words. Screens surround the modern consumer, and screens scream out for images. Unlike words, and similar to music, images don’t need to be translated into meaning in the same way language does. We can look at an image or see a video and without any words feel the meaning. This direct consumption uses parts of our brain that are far older and more elemental than our higher thinking capabilities. Our immediate responses to imagery are, as a friend recently described, “reptilian,” appealing to elemental motivations of fear, desire, love and so on.

Now as I see more and more brands resort to imagery vs. words to communicate, the imagery being used naturally leans towards those that evoke emotional triggers. At the same time the digital camera has flooded the world with our own images of every second of our lives from cradle to grave. The result is a visual tsunami is already immersing us in a more sensory world. How it changes the marketers mission to influence consumers remains to be seen. Man has not led with images since the middle ages, before the advent of the printing press, and it will be one of the more important new dynamics for marketers to understand as we move beyond these early days of the new age of pictures.

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