Posts Tagged "Strategy"

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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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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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What’s Social Currency Worth?

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It seems Marc Jacobs and his marketers are going to find out. His new pop-up store in New York for his Daisy fragrance doesn’t taking folding money, only social currency. In order to get something like perfume or a necklace you have to send a Tweet or an Instagram photo, or post something on Facebook. Visitors that “pay” with social activity win prizes and the best Instagram pic of the day even gets a purse.

Somehow I don’t think you’re going to be buying a car with a Tweet anytime soon, but this story does point up the value of social currency. Getting customers and prospects to “talk” your brand up in social media is worth a lot. The average person using Facebook and Twitter has hundreds of connections and their connections have connections and so on. It’s the cheapest marketing that money can’t buy.

That’s right, you can’t buy it, the only way to get it is to inspire it and that takes ideas. Marc Jacobs and his crew clearly have some ideas.

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5 Secrets of the Super-Service Economy

5 Secrets of the Super-Service Economy

The Super-Service economy is here and brands need to adjust their thinking to the realities of consumer expectations.

1. Don’t rely on relationship

In a recent study published in the magazine “Marketing Week,” consumers thought the whole idea of having a conversation with a brand was silly. That caught my eye because so many of us in the marketing world talk about having discussions, conversations, dialogue and relationships with consumers.   Are we kidding ourselves?

According to a recent Deloitte survey of 4,047 respondents in 28 product categories and more than 350 brands, brand loyalty is declining. That’s the 3rd straight year that brand loyalty has gone down. On the surface that would seem to tell us that the relationship approach to marketing isn’t working very well.

2. Conditional Love or none at all

The shift in power from brands to consumers has meant brands have had to come up with a new way to woo buyers. In this 1:1 vs. one to many age, it seemed only logical that the approach should be to make consumers our friends. The thinking went that we could use email, social media, and the rest of the digital toolbox, to simulate a personal, real time relationship. In the end our brand would become a trusted friend and knowledge source, and loyalty would lead to easier and cheaper sales.

Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Consumers have really taken their empowerment to heart and like a pretty girl surrounded by admirers, are enjoying all the attention. Consequently, their minimum expectations of brand performance have only risen as they have experienced brands with the Super-Service approach.

Now with many brands delivering the valuable content, great user experiences and terrific customer service that characterize Super-Service, consumer loyalty has surprisingly become even more flighty and conditional.

3. The table stakes just got higher

The Super-Service model, which until recently set only a few brands apart, is now quickly becoming table-stakes.

So how do brands differentiate themselves in a Super-Service world? How do they win when everyone is delivering a consistent, top-notch experience?

That depends on what kind of brand you have. For many the answer is product innovation, for others creative differentiation, even data can be a route to differentiation and loyalty.

For example, Hyundai already had great prices and a terrific consumer experience in every part of the customer cycle, but it wasn’t enough. So they focused on developing a product that would set them apart, in their case unexpectedly in the higher end segment.  This not only delighted customers, but also redefined the brand.

Amazon built its business on low prices and service, but as its model and competition has matured, it has turned to building loyalty based on data ownership and insights, from Amazon Prime to product recommendations. Banks and financial companies have also started to see data as a route to loyalty, because customers are averse to leaving organizations that hold data that they need.

4. Reciprocity buys less

Wins with the fickle consumer can be very short lived in a “what have you done for me lately” world. The reciprocity that brands used to rely on in building loyalty now has a much shorter echo, with the result that consumers want something new more often. That’s why Hyundai went on to develop innovative, integrated mobile technology and Amazon seems to have a new innovation every day drone delivery It’s also why the blush is fading slightly on Apple, as its products age, its competition strengthens and its customers grow impatient. Unfortunately resting on your laurels today, for even a moment, is risky.

Many brands, however, don’t lend themselves to product innovation like an Apple and Hyundai, or data innovation like Amazon. While a beer can that tells me when it’s cold is cool, it doesn’t change the essential experience of the brand in the same way as introducing the iPhone can.

So instead of trying to create new product attributes, those categories need to focus on attaching new emotional attributes to the brand. Old Spice has famously committed itself to this kind of creative differentiation.

The product doesn’t change, the value doesn’t change, but the story, however, is always changing (the latest: Old Spice). But this takes a really a big commitment to feeding the beast, because, like Chinese food, the fickle audience is hungry again twenty minutes later.

5. Customer experience is the foundation

The foundation for success in the Super-Service economy is the customer experience. Even more so since social media has connected all the parts of the customer cycle, from pre-sale to post-sale, with the result that the customer experience has also become very influential on the acquisition process.  Being a customer and being a prospect used to be two fairly separate states. Of course there was a bit of word of mouth between the two, but nothing like the organized deluge today.

Now, other than the performance of the product or service itself, the experience of being a customer of your brand has become your most important marketing asset or liability.  Which is why it’s amazing to me how so many companies still treat their customers so poorly, putting at risk not only customer loyalty, but also their reputation.

Cable providers and Direct-TV, for example, are notorious. How often do they do anything for their customers except jack up the rates? But for prospects, there’s always a new deal, a new benefit, a new offer, virtually every day.

The good news is that this marketplace is navigable despite its complexity and demanding consumers. With the right modeling and process (3Cs) it can be broken down, understood and managed. This starts with carefully mapping all the connections that make up the consumer journey, and the surrounding influence eco-system. Then the game becomes to decide where you want your brand to sit on the continuum, between product innovation on one end and creative innovation on the other.

However, no matter where you end up, in the Super-Service economy you have to start by making sure that customer expectations, online and offline, are always met and exceeded.

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9 Ways to Win at Warp Speed

Winning at Warp Speed

I just read an article in the New York Times in which an engineer talks about how technology now allows us to embrace complexity instead of run from it, and how the process from having an idea to testing it can now happen in hours or days versus the years it took in the past. This allows companies to test many more ideas, measure their potential and quickly weed the good ones from the bad.

The result is more good ideas found much faster. Of course, this is how all innovation happens. The difference today is the velocity.

This concept of the velocity of ideas makes me think of two conversations that are very active in my agency and the industry. The first is about data. Everywhere I read about “big data” but I have begun to just think of it as just data, and more specifically as analytics.

Our ability to measure everything we do in real-time is not only holding marketing accountable, but more importantly allows us to really understand what’s working and what’s not.

The second is the conversation about agile marketing, an evolution from the agile development approach used in technology. The essential idea of agile is to move faster with less developed work in order to discover problems and opportunities sooner. Some have called it being in a perpetual state of beta.

Both analytics and agile marketing support this concept of increasing velocity. At its core is the fundamental notion that we just don’t know if our ideas will work until we try them, and the more ideas we try the more likely we are to hit something really big.

The number of industries that use this approach is remarkable; financial services, movie studios, toy manufacturers, big food companies, all take a portfolio approach. In essence, they are admitting, that despite their knowledge and experience, they just don’t know what’s going to work, so they are hoping that probabilities will do the trick (and the truth is most times they do).

Movie studios, for example, produce a slate of movies knowing that some will be disasters, most will barely break-even and one or two will become hits. Those last two pay for all the others and then some.

Faced with a much more complex marketplace thanks to digital channels, it’s time for brands and their agencies to take up this velocity approach. With nearly real-time analytics at our side, we should produce and test many more ideas, evaluate them quickly, dump the dogs and move on with the winners.

This approach requires, however, a change in how we do business.

It means we need to rethink how we develop ideas. Instead of working toward the launch of a single idea, we need to develop and test many ideas simultaneously. And not just test them with research, but put them out in the real world where we can see the real consumer dynamics.

With this data in hand, either real winners will reveal themselves, or we will discover clear insights that tell us how to craft a winner. Then imagine doing it over and over again.

As I think about many of the brand and agency organizations I have worked with over the years trying this, the challenges are many, but not insurmountable.

First, you need a culture that from the top encourages risk-taking and embraces the value of appropriate failure. It’s why Google wants to hire entrepreneurs who have a history of trying and failing. They want people who are comfortable with tactical failure and don’t give up. It’s the way of science where famously inventors and scientists are encouraged to try and fail hundreds of times only then to find the prize.

I believe we are rapidly moving back to a marketplace where ideas instead of technology and process will drive success. That’s why I think it’s time for our marketing world to embrace the velocity of ideas approach. It will take changing old cultures, but for the brands that pull it off the results will be spectacular.

9 Ways to Win at Warp Speed:

  1. Ideas drive success, not technology or process.
  2. Rethink how you develop ideas.
  3. More ideas means more chances for the big win.
  4. Don’t launch a single idea. Develop and test many ideas simultaneously.
  5. Move faster with less developed work in order to discover problems and opportunities sooner.
  6. Measuring performance in real-time allows you to know what’s working
  7. Try many ideas, measure and quickly weed the good from bad.
  8. Publish in the real world with real consumer dynamics.
  9. Rinse and repeat

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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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