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  • 05.28.14

Connecting, Cultivating, & Converting Modern Consumers

This deck presents a simple to consume and communicate vision for how to approach the complex new marketing environment. Of course many experienced marketers will know much of what is contained here, but they may not have a simple way to connect the pieces and think about it holistically, or more importantly to communicate to those less sophisticated than themselves. With that in mind our Connect, Cultivate and Convert method outlines a new model for marketing.

 

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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The Great Social Media Bait & Switch

The social media free ride is over.

Free Social Ride is Over.

Brands are either hip-deep in social media or in the process of getting there. At the center of it all, of course, has been the astonishing rise of the big social platforms. With millions of users at the ready, brands have jumped into this candy store with both feet.

But now their addiction to the free sugar threatens to backfire: It appears that it’s time to pay the piper.

What’s happening is that Facebook is ratcheting down the number of people who can see a post within a brand’s Facebook community. At the moment, only 2.1 percent to 6.2 percent of a brand’s community will see a brand’s post (see chart, below); according to research conducted in February, the amount may go to zero before too long.

That means those huge communities of “likes,” which brands have spent millions to build, will be worthless unless they buy Facebook ads to reach their fans.

FB Marketing Statistics

Of course, the big social networks need to make money. I suppose they could ask consumers to pay for the privilege of using their platforms, but that wouldn’t go very far.

As Jason Loehr, director of global media and digital marketing at Brown-Forman, which has millions of likes on its Facebook pages, described to Digiday: “This is business, after all. It was more of a wake-up call for the marketer that platforms are a ‘leased’ channel. And there are downsides to renting, not owning.”

Loehr went on to say,“It’s not just them, it’s going to be Instagram, it’s going to be Pinterest, it’s going to be Twitter, it’s going to be all of those guys. At the end of the day, they have shareholders to answer to.”

To add insult to injury, research from Forrester shows that social engagement is much more effective than ads. So what’s a brand to do?

 

The New Social Marketing

Just because brands might not be able to leverage all of those likes on Facebook for nothing anymore doesn’t mean the social marketing party is over. It also doesn’t mean that brands will be forced to pay for notoriously ineffective Facebook ads. Instead, it signals that brands need to refocus on their own digital ecosystems–all of the pieces of their digital marketing infrastructure that they can control without paying someone else.

The good news is that within a its own ecosystem, brands can still take advantage of the power of social posting to attract new prospects and cultivate rich relationships–all without paying a dime for access.

It also means that “owned” media properties are more important than ever for brands. That includes brand Web sites, mobile sites, apps, content, blogs, CRM, and email. If they haven’t done so yet, the time has come for brands to create their own communities built around the content and functionality they offer on their own properties.

With the social networks devolving into just advertising networks, brands have to first maximize the most effective and efficient media opportunities open to them–their own communities.

The brand Web site lies at the heart of the owned brand ecosystem. It has three missions: It should be where prospects get the most persuasive, comprehensive, personalized pitch; where customers can easily accomplish account tasks, and get social community and knowledge; and it should filter other constituencies, such as investors, employee candidates, and press, and get them to the right place.

The brand Web site is also where a brand should build its CRM database, enable brand ambassadors in social media, and attract natural search with content. It should be the hub of everything a brand does not only because it can be controlled, but because it’s where consumers go anyway. According to the 2013 Nielson “Trust in Advertising” study, brand Web sites have become the most trusted form of advertising.

The idea is to build a system. You start with your Web site, which you populate with content designed to attract search. Search and advertising deliver prospects, who you convert into your sales pipeline or your CRM program. Your CRM program uses email and content to cultivate them over time, and you enable social sharing of that content. The result is a self-sustaining marketing system that you own.

 

Content Deja Vu

The hardest part about building this system is creating the right content. That includes not just articles, pictures, and videos, but also tools, apps, and functionality. Most marketers have already figured out that content is critical–so much so that the amount of all kinds of content being created is enormous.

The challenge is, therefore, to stand out and create content so compelling, relevant, informative, and entertaining that people will want to share it. To begin, every brand needs to develop a first-class content strategy. This guides what to say to each persona at every touch point, and how to say it. Guessing is not an option.

So perhaps the free ride on social media is almost over. Now we all have to work a little harder for our supper. The good news is brands are all a lot smarter and have the tools and experience to build brand ecosystems that can do the job better than ever before.

Sweet.

 

 

 

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Tips for Writing in Agile

Tips for Writing in Agile

Agile process was made for developers. Born out of software engineering and responsive to client needs throughout a site build — it makes total sense to everyone. Except for right-brained, creative, easily distracted people like me.

At first, anyway.

I’m a copywriter. While I am all for agile process, it’s taken time, trial, more trial and error for me to understand how to work in this process. And while I’m still perfecting how I write within an agile process, I’m on the same page as this guy — the process itself really is more efficient.

And while it’s definitely a smart process for ad groups to adopt right now, I still think seeing an agency team flawlessly execute this process is about as rare as winning the lottery. It happens to some very lucky people, but you still have a greater chance of being killed by a vending machine.

Bottom line, agile process is challenging for content creators like myself. Breaking things out in small iterations might work for developers or strategists, but I breathe page chronology. People still read English from left to right.

Working in an agile project, here is the biggest challenge: You can’t write copy for different parts of a project and still convey a consistent brand voice through the entire space. Whether it’s a webpage or a print ad, voice and messaging must stay consistent from top to bottom.

But that’s what agile asks us to do — to write copy for story points instead of pages. And when you write copy in small story-point-sized chunks, you risk creating subtle breaks in readability that can distract site visitors, causing them to disengage.

And that’s been our challenge with my most recent agile projects. How can copy creation work in parallel to development, UX and design? It’s been a continual process that we’re not finished with yet, but here’s what I’ve learned:

 

1. Give content its own epic. Agile process is broken down into subtasks based on what different people want to do. Okay, okay, I mean “stories” that fit into a big-picture “epic.”  A story is like, “As a shopper, I want to be able to find specs for product X on the specific product page.” This fits into a greater overarching epic. Instead of writing small amounts of copy for a specific story, like writing a single paragraph on specs, I can write copy for an entire product page and still stay aligned with the process.

2. Write to the wireframes. There’s always the ‘chicken or the egg’ debate with which comes first, writing or design. And while the lazy part of me loves to be given a comp or ad to write for — it’s like being given a coloring book page and told to color in the lines — that’s not always the best way to create truly innovative pages that serve customer needs. So if design isn’t ready, write to wires. Work closely with your UX-er or designer to figure out field length, work with a content strategist if needed to discuss content prioritization, then take a stab at writing for the page in conjunction with the design process.

3. Collaborate closely. I love the daily stand-ups on agile projects. Even though sometimes the only thing I have to contribute to these meetings is a bad joke, it’s wonderful to be in touch with what’s going on with my teammates. This is a great chance to discover issues or sit down with team members after the stand-up to hash things out when needed. Get together, work together, get things done.

4. Keep your documents filed for each page.  For any size project, identify a shared file-space for your team. It can be in a project folder on a server, shared through a file sharing service or through a solid organization tool like Gather Content. (*I’m just starting to use Gather and am still learning, but it’s pretty spectacular.) Wherever you share your work, keep your copy decks updated and organized every day. With agile team members working simultaneously, rigid organization of content is the easiest way to make sure copy is accessible to the whole team, whenever people need it.

 

Have your own thoughts about how to work as a copywriter on an agile process project? Wonderful. Comment here or tweet at me. Always excited to learn more helpful hints.

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  • 05.02.14

Quick-Step Style Launch

Quick-Step Style Launch

As part of a strategy to re-invigorate the Quick-Step brand, IQ re-imagined the Quick-Step Style blog from the ground up, starting with a fully responsive, mobile-ready design. You can see more details here.

IQ created a blog with greater design flexibility, a fresh look, social integration, and updated content. A more simple layout with pops of color in the images and videos for posts make the new blog easier to navigate for users. There are now five categories of posts to choose from for consumers to tailor their experience. The blog features Quick-Steps products designer, Erinn Valencich, and was relaunched in conjunction with the first episode of NBC’s “American Dream Builders,” a design reality competition show Erinn is a contestant on.

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The SoDA Report (Volume 1, 2014)

As one of the foundering agencies of SoDA, the Society of Digital Agencies, we are delighted, as always, to present the latest SoDA Report.  This issue, the first of two this year, clocks in at a meaty 236 pages, and is chock full of great insights from the some of the smartest digital minds in the world.

The SoDA Report is one of the most widely read digital trend reports in the world with our last issue getting over 250,000 views. So we hope you join the many readers who make this one of their regular and most valuable reads.

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  • 04.01.14

How Smart Brands Tackle Video Content


Content is the currency of the digital age and video is increasingly what consumers want.  The problem is that brands and their agencies are more familiar with making TV commercials than creating an inexpensive on-going stream of fresh video content, which digital channels require. This deck outlines solutions to how to approach making this video content for brands with examples and step by step best practices.

 

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How to Become a Knowledge Source and Win the SEO Game

Win the SEO Game

If you can’t figure out how your competitors manage to get to the top of the Google rankings while your brand lurks on page 3, or how to attract more visitors to your blog or website, or even what content to create, don’t worry you’re not alone.

The constant tweaks by search engines in the last 3 years have left many marketers wondering if their next SEO tactic will get them traffic or a penalty from Google. The search engines have always wrestled with how to present consumers with results that actually meet their needs.

But it’s been a game of cat and mouse as marketers create cleverly optimized sales pages and users never know if they are going to land on real, valuable content or a pitch. Over time the game got very complicated and Google’s algorithm evolved to the point where it evaluated over 200 factors about each webpage in order to decide whether that page actually met a searchers’ needs.

The Turning Point

In the last three years, however, there’s been a turning point. With Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates there has been a new focus on the quality of content versus the quantity. Instead of relying merely on the attributes of the content on the page, or using links from webpages to judge the quality of a webpage’s content, the search engines are now finally able to incorporate social media signals.

Using social media likes and shares, Google finally developed a way for people to in essence vote on which pages had the best quality information. Today search engine rankings are essentially being heavily influenced by the actual preferences of real people.

Unfortunately this makes your job as a marketer more difficult, because these search engine changes require you to really get into the customer’s head and create content that genuinely meets their needs. This has caused some old hands to throw their hands in the air and declare SEO to be dead. But the reality is that the game is just more demanding.

High-Quality Content

It would, therefore, appear that now the only reliable way to increase search rankings is with high-quality content that people will like and share with others. Creating a continuous stream of relevant and useful content that meets customer needs is the most effective way to dramatically grow your traffic from both social sharing and from search engines.

Value First

Looking back on my experience with online content building, I’ve seen many cases where this approach to quality content has paid off dramatically. For example a financial services client focused on creating articles, blog content and videos that answered actual user questions and met customer needs for financial education. This value first approach built trust and triggered social sharing. As a result search optimization started to increase web traffic dramatically within the first three months of the content building process.

The Right Content at the Right Time

Guiding this process is our understanding of the Consumer Decision Journey, which helps brands map what content they will need at various points on the path to purchase and beyond. This approach allows brands to prepare exactly the right content for each step along the way, and is equally important in search and social visibility when the consumer is searching for answers.

For example a company in the housing vertical combined social media sharing and search optimization to promote content on their website that was useful to apartment seekers. Research revealed that the two main target segments had different needs. The Young Singles were concerned with sports and activities near their potential apartment location. The Young Family group on the other hand, was more concerned with nearby schools and the neighborhood quality for their children.

Surprisingly, further research uncovered that the Young Singles group, frequently owned pets and that they would actually change their choice of apartments if offered nearby pet parks. With these insights in hand, the content team set about building hundreds of pages of neighborhood-specific content, covering schools, sports, activities and, yes, pet parks. The payoff for meeting consumer needs was dramatic. The peak search and social traffic grew from 1.1 million visits per month to 2.1 million visits per month.

Finding Out What Content to Make

It starts with listening to target consumers. Find the forums, social media networks and blogs where your potential customers are asking questions and talking about their problems. There are lots of ways to do this, but at IQ we find the fastest way is to use a social listening platform.

For many, just making a list of customer questions about problems and challenges that customers care about can be a powerful starting point. If you can generate a list of 50 to 100 questions that consumers routinely ask, you can start to hone in on a content strategy.

When consumers begin to look for a product that meets their needs or that solves a problem they usually start with very little information. So the opportunity is to intersect that process and become a knowledge source for their journey.

How do you create this type of content?

  1. Find the relevant forums, social networks and blogs where customers complain about their problems and ask each other for advice.
  2. Catalog all the consumer questions that your brand can solve.
  3. Identify solutions to common questions that you uncovered in your list of the most common 50 to 100 questions.
  4. Create useful content that answers questions in multiple ways, such as infographics, presentation slides, articles, blog posts, videos and images.
  5. Make sure the content is useful and actionable so that it helps users to understand the most important parts of solving their problem.
  6. Distribute your content to your owned media and get it shared using social media to expand your reach.
  7. Build links from social sites and forum sites that are authoritative sources on this topic.
  8. As you answer these questions, target long-tail phrases rather than single keywords in your SEO.
  9. Structure your website content to clearly and concisely answer all the key questions that you uncovered in the earlier steps.

Search engines reward content that answers customer questions and meets customer needs with a higher search engine rank. The key is content that is relevant to the searcher at that particular moment in their journey.

If a brand maps the journey correctly, makes engaging, valuable content for every key step on the way, and makes it easy to find, it will become the trusted knowledge source for the entire journey and for consumers throughout the category.

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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The Benefits of the Agile Process

Clients love Agile agencies

In my last post I discussed what Agile and Scrum are, how they can work at an agency, and the 4 top reasons our clients tell us they value working in an Agile way.  Today I want to dive a little deeper into an example of how Agile is flexible, and saves clients time and money.

Many agencies that have moved to Agile claim productivity increases. I’ve seen everything from 25% to 600%!  Of course, a lot depends on how dysfunctional the delivery method was in the first place.

What we do know (and have good data for) is the consistent failure of the traditional waterfall or spiral methods to achieve success, especially with complex engagements.  Since this describes practically all projects that a modern agency is called on to deliver, you can see the problem. We believe the answer is Agile.

At IQ, we had the opportunity to compare the performance of traditional and Agile methods in creating a website for a client. The first version we built using traditional methods and then sometime later we redesigned it using Agile. The results were astonishing.

Agile saved the client over 25% in cost and launched the project 2 months quicker than the previous site. Compared side by side, there was an amazing 75% improvement in both the cost and time to implement.  Equally important the client enjoyed the process and felt they were actually a true partner instead of an adversary.

Let’s take a look at a few specific elements of what happened:

1. Can you get me something earlier for my conference?

There is always something around the corner like a big dealer conference, or a meeting with your CEO.  In both instances we got the question: “Can you get me something quickly to show our progress?”

With the traditional delivery method, all we had was a series of wireframes with arrows and descriptions, plus a static image of what the home page might look like.  That was because the project team wasn’t at the design phase yet. It wasn’t very inspiring and was tough for those with little imagination.

Contrast that with Agile’s iterative method where we get a working prototype every two weeks.  We didn’t have to make anything special, because we already had something ready to go.  The presentation of the working home page drew “oohs” and “ahhs,” our client was a hero and no one questioned our progress.

Strangely, with both methods we were actually at about the same percent complete, but by changing from the assembly line method to Agile, reality really shifted.

2. I just saw this new thing and we gotta have it.

Change is inevitable in any project. At some point you want to make a change because you see something that was hard to know at the beginning.

I used to consider this dreaded “scope creep,” which always resulted in requirements meetings, reviews of the SOW, days of arguing over the scope, more meetings, lost time, hard feelings, and often three steps back to rework previous phases.

What a waste of time and money, and aggravating for a client, who just wanted to make the final product better.

Now, as an Agile agency, we look at ideas as a blessing and even encourage them. In fact, often the most difficult thing is to get our client to understand that they can come up with ideas and get them realized whenever they want.

The client in this case, for example, had the good idea, late in the game, to add some localization.  With Agile it was easy. We moved it into the very next sprint and two weeks later — there it was.   No push back, no forms, no negotiation, just delivering what the client wanted, when they wanted it.

These are just two examples from one project, and there were many more on this project alone. They demonstrate that Agile is flexible, and saves time and money as a result.

Interestingly, however, I have found that it’s the removal of stress, and the shift from an adversarial client/agency relationship, to one of true partnership, that clients notice and value most.

For more insights into how Agile can work for your brand feel free to email with your questions at steve.bevilacqua@iqagency.com.

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4 Reasons Brands Need Agile Agencies

Is your agency Agile? IQ is.

Agile is the latest buzzword in the agency world. It was created as a software development method to solve huge failures in the way people were working.

For example, a study by McKinsey came to this staggering conclusion: “On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted”

Agile was designed to stop the bleeding in software creation, but quickly people began to see that it would work on more than just big IT projects. That’s why forward thinking agencies, especially those that do digital, began to replace their old waterfall methodologies with agile across the spectrum of their work.

The advantages for brands of working with agile agencies are many, but can be boiled down to the four benefits outlined below. They sum up how agile works and why it makes sense to have a partner which knows how to do it.

The 4 biggest benefits that agencies using Agile bring to brands:

1. Saves time

All agile projects finish on time.  No hype here, this is absolutely true.  At IQ for example, we use the popular agile methodology called Scrum, which uses time blocks called sprints.  Say each sprint is two weeks. Within each of these two-week sprints, you and your team decide what is going to be completed.  At the end of each sprint you have a working prototype.  It has only a subset of your requirements, but it is a true working model or draft of the end product — not just wires or comps.

This process reduces a lot of time-consuming processes that traditional methods require. Change orders are also completely eliminated, as change control becomes part of the overall process.

2. Saves money

The agile process gives a client a clear and accurate understanding of cost. The team knows how many “stories,” as agile Scrum requirements are called, can be completed in each sprint, and since each sprint is time boxed, you know what each sprint costs.   The team then puts all your stories into sprints, which results in a complete cost and timeline. Gone are cost over-runs and being nickel and dime’d to death with change orders.  Estimation is part of the agile process — not something extra and apart from it. Eliminating all that process and overhead also often allows the agile agency to cost less.

3. No more surprises

At the end of each sprint, you get to see a working model— called a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). The magic here is that you are no longer forced to imagine the final product from a treatment or wireframes. By being able to see a tangible deliverable at regular intervals, you can easily identify problems and enhancements you want to make early on. Gone are the days of waiting eight weeks to finally get your first look, and then having to fight with your agency about what was or wasn’t “in scope”.

4. Greater flexibility

How many times have you had a great idea, or come up with the perfect addition after your project was finished or far along? Try bringing ideas late in the process to a traditional non-agile agency, and get ready to be bombarded with change orders, fees, delays or the inevitable “Let’s do that in phase two” response.  With the agile method, however, your last-minute ideas are welcome. The team simply adds another story, gets you to prioritize it and includes it in the next sprint.

First, agile revolutionized the way software is created, now it’s revolutionizing the way work is delivered in the agency world. For both digital and traditional projects (from websites to print ads), the savings in time and dollars, the flexibility, and the continuous insight you get into a project’s progress have made Agile a game changer for how brands and their agencies work.

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  • 02.25.14

YouTube: The Next Big Thing Is Already Here

Originally presented at the social media conference SoCon14, this deck from IQ’s Assoc. Director of Strategy Noah Echols and Assoc. Director of UX Rachel Peters will show you how to prioritize YouTube in an effective way to leverage active communities to get serious results — something your competition probably isn’t doing.









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