Posts Tagged "digital"

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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.

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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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4 Reasons to Kiss Your Agency this Valentine’s Day

4 reasons to kiss your agency

If you don’t love your agency, you should. Life’s too short to have an agency that makes you miserable.

The fastest way to marketing bliss, however, is not just a likable agency, but also an agency that has the ability to help your brand win the digitally centric consumer.

It’s amazing to me that digital is still an after-thought for so many, even though it has clearly become the center of the marketing universe. I think it’s just because many agencies and their clients don’t know how to comprehensively go about planning for it, and instead seem to lurch from tactic to tactic.

For example, does your agency exhaust the possibilities of Owned media (websites/mobile/CRM/SEO) and Earned media (social media/content syndication) before they dive into the pricey waters of Paid media (broadcast/print/banners)? Of course, they should.  But before anyone starts worrying about tactics, you first need a strategy that will work.

Today digital is so central that any agency that isn’t developing a digitally centric strategy is living in the past. Whether it’s B2C or B2B, consumers discover, explore, evaluate and decide on brands in digital channels. So even though TV, print and outdoor ads are still important, their role in the orchestrated process of influencing a buying decision has changed.

The reality today for marketers is simple: creative and execution today are worthless unless led by the right strategy; almost invariably now a digitally centric strategy.

So as you consider your Valentine’s list make sure your agency has done the following:

1.     Develop segments and personas for your buyers

The consumer is king and needs to be super-served. So you need to identify your target segments and turn them into personas, which allow you to understand what makes them tick.

2.     Map the Consumer Decision Journey for each persona

The path to purchase and beyond is where brands are made or broken, and it’s packed with influences. The only way to know how to connect with consumers at every step along the way is to understand what is important to them at each juncture; and you have to do it for every major persona because they are all different.

3.     Develop a content strategy

Being in the right place at the right time is the first challenge. Then you have to know exactly what to say in order to be relevant and compelling at that particular moment. Content strategy is the bible for your agency, and tells them what to say and how to say it at every point in the consumer decision journey.

4.     Make a Roadmap and Playbook

When you have personas, a map of their decision journey and have a content strategy in hand, you then need to turn it into a plan. This lays out what you should do and when you should do it in detail. For each tactic it shows the rationale for its inclusion, how it ladders up to the strategy, what specific results and ROI are expected, what it will cost, how performance will be measured, what resources are needed and the dates for development and launch.

Most importantly it prioritizes tactics and initiatives over time recognizing that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It not only covers the campaigns and promotions you need to activate the audience, but also the infrastructure you need to make it all work, from websites to mobile apps and POS.

I couldn’t imagine any client moving forward except in the context of these four steps. I suppose every now and then a brand might bet everything on a spot on the Super Bowl and hit it out of the park, but usually the Hail Mary pass fails.

That’s why there is no substitute for a rigorous, digitally centric strategic process. Nothing delivers a reliable stream of prospects like smart strategy, so if you’ve got one, remember to give your agency a big kiss this Valentine’s Day.

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How to Clone Your Best Salesperson

How to Clone Your Best Salesperson

Imagine this: sales people that never get tired, never need vacations and happily work 24/7; they don’t need commissions and you always know where they are and what they’re doing. Best of all, every one of them is as good as your best salesperson.

Believe it or not, that is exactly what your company website can and should be.

Too often, brand or company websites are just glorified brochures or worse, repositories for tens of thousands of documents. Enormous amounts of time and money go into expensive content management systems and complex technology that make these sites function, but nobody really seems to answer the most important question: how is our website going to drive sales?

First, you should recognize that your website has become pretty important to your prospects. As the 2013 “Trust in Advertising” study from Nielsen revealed, brand websites are now the second most trusted form of advertising, second only to personal recommendations. This is important because it means that brand sites have become the preferred way that prospects explore a purchase. It’s where they form opinions about your company and about the only place (short of a face-to-face pitch) where you can completely control the story that you tell.

That’s why your website is where your one-on-one sales process should start. The idea is not for the website to replace your salespeople, but rather for it to qualify the opportunities and lay the groundwork for the close.

Today’s technology allows a modern website to simulate a great deal of what a salesperson does. As in a face-to-face pitch, the ideas is to quickly find out what’s important to the prospect and adapt the pitch to be as personally relevant as possible.

Unlike any other marketing medium, a website is uniquely able to become relevant by adapting instantly to a viewer’s choices, responses to questions or behavior, all while keeping them engaged. The result can be a site that tells a story that is personally relevant to each viewer, keeps a dialogue going, and then identifies people ready and qualified to talk to a real salesperson at the right moment.

It’s time to see your website not only as a valuable marketing tool, but equally important as a valuable sales tool. When prospects arrive at your site, they should discover an experience that is as persuasive as your best salesperson.

This experience should be exciting and engaging, presenting your story step-by step, and adapting it to fit the interests and needs of each prospect just as you would if you could have a salesperson there every time. Then when prospects are clearly ready and qualified, it should deliver them to sales for the close.

Today’s technology and design make websites capable of this kind of smart, personalized selling experience. It doesn’t replace sales, but instead leverages technology to let you scale your story and maximize your sales potential.

When a website becomes part of an integrated digital selling system, it enables you to connect, cultivate and convert consumers with more predictability than ever before. This new model replaces the old, simple funnel model and recognizes that today’s journey to buy anything is really complex. It’s a journey that needs a new model.

For a more comprehensive look at the “Connect, Cultivate, Convert” model, view the 3C’s presentation.

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A Level Playing Field: How Small Brands Can Win with Digital

david and goliath malcolm gladwell

The marketing playing field is a lot more level than it ever used to be thanks to how digital has changed things. As a result, small brands now have the chance to fight and sometimes even beat big brands.

The David & Goliath legend would have us believe that beating powerful opponents is about luck or divine providence.

The true story of David and Goliath, as told by Malcolm Gladwell in his new book, tells us that Goliath, despite his size and apparent power, was actually slow, and suffered from double vision as a result of the medical condition that had turned him into a giant. David, on the other hand, also contrary to appearances, was not just some shepherd boy.

He was actually a highly trained slinger, the marksman of his age, who could let fly a projectile traveling as fast as a .45 caliber bullet, with sufficient accuracy to bring down a bird in flight.

So what appeared on the surface to be one situation was in fact something else entirely. David used intelligence, insight, strategy and speed to beat the unbeatable giant. He used his advantages while turning his opponents disadvantages against him.

Digital channels offer similar opportunities for smaller brands.

In the pre-digital days, brands had little choice but a head to head battle. Usually the brand that could put up more media money, usually in broadcast and print, won. While the originality of creative could have a multiplier effect, as it always does, the key was always the weight of paid media a brand could bring to bear.

Jump to today and a marketing environment in which paid media has become much less influential as owned and earned media have gained power. Now brands have the opportunity to use intelligence, insight, strategy and speed, just like David, to run rings around the giants. Of course many of the giants have figured out their weaknesses and are not quite as lumbering as they used to be. But at the very least the battle is now one of wits, not just about size.

This presents smaller brands with the opportunity to punch way above their weight if they take advantage of the digital opportunities in front of them. These mostly revolve around smart search optimization, content creation, social media, brand websites and mobile experiences.

If a brand’s digital ecosystem is imagined and managed with insight and creativity, David can hold his own against Goliath – and sometimes even beat him.

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Presentation: 10 Key Ingredients of a Modern Brand Website

At the center of an integrated marketing ecosystem (I hate that word too, but it works) is the brand website. But it still amazes me how many brands don’t get what it has to do. This deck tells the story.










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Delayed Gratification and the Fear of the Future

Delayed Gratification and the Fear of the Future

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 himself 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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How to Calculate ROI for Customer Experience

How to Calculate ROI for Customer Experience

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, however, when a brand has to consider investing in a unified customer experience strategy and execution.

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 now his vendor of choice. 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 at the same time differentiating the brand. The good news is that consumers still want relationships with brands; the bad news is that consumer standards are so much higher than ever before, and they no longer 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 ensure that interactions 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 not technology or even creative, but customer experience. However for many seeing the connection between a better customer experience and the UX work required to get 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 less 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 the value of originality in advance? Some might also point to the cultural orientation of a company as an indicator as to whether UX will be recognized as a value or not. Companies that have internalized a marketing culture, which are few, are more likely to see value vs. manufacturing and distribution oriented companies that often have a deep mistrust of marketing.

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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5 Reasons to Rebalance Your 2014 Marketing Plan

Marketing Plan

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.

Click here to read part 1 of this series

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