Tuesday, 5 July 2016

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How to Get Started With Digital Marketing

Sometimes I get caught up talking about all the technical aspects of search engine rankings and website design that I forget to cover the basics: how to get started with digital marketing. Early adapters are already well on their way and can digest the somewhat-technical information shared about the topic. However, business owners or marketers who have yet to take the online plunge probably have limited knowledge (not a bad thing at all, not all of us can be experts in everything).

Having recently met with a client who has high law/financial technical knowledge, he reminded me that sometimes we forget to talk in terms that anyone can understand. We immediately resort to technical jargon, industry specific abbreviations and concepts because we spend countless hours in our industries and professions. It is important to keep certain information understandable by anyone - not because they are not capable of understanding, but because they are most likely specialized in other professions and haven't been involved in what services you may offer (just like I myself would not be able to give you sound legal advice).

Hopefully this post will provide a high-level overview of the digital world and how it can be used to help your small business carve out a niche of its own.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing in short is the ability to make yourself visible to the right audience at the right time. Keep in mind that I used to word visible: because what everyone is trying to do is grab someone's attention. Every time you want to run a paid ad, come up on the first page of Google or have people interact with your social media post you are trying to captured a little bit of that attention. Hopefully it leads to an action being taken - but before that can happen you need to present. As you can see by the breakdown  below, the least amount of time is spent shopping online. The other 95% is what digital marketing is meant for: being active within the right community and interacting with users on their own terms:
Source: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/how-people-spend-their-time-online-infographic
The other part of digital marketing is context. Getting attention is good, getting attention at the right time is awesome. Imagine you are running a sponsored ad to sell a high-end camera to photographers but the target you are trying to reach is new & upcoming photographers. Perhaps it would be more effective to promote a blog post or ebook on how new photographers can get their business off the ground instead of trying to sell the camera immediately. Much easier said than done of course!

The different areas of digital marketing

Keep in mind that each of these areas can have an in-depth post of their own with detail specifics. This is just a brief overview - feel free to browse the blog for more information on each.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Marketing (SEM)

Usually the most confusing or hard to understand concepts for many small businesses. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) refers to the "organic" or non-paid efforts that aim to get your web page(s) to the top of Google (or other major search engines) pages. These are the search results you see underneath the ads. Keep in mind that SEO professionals don't rank your entire website for key terms but individual pages.

Search Engine Marketing (or SEM) on the other hand refers to paid efforts that get your communications on search engines. These would be paid ads or display banners that you come across in search engines. To get this positioning you have to usually pay per click (charged every time someone clicks on the ad) or pay per impression (paid based on the amount of times the ad is seen). Positioning of your ad compared to competitors is dependent on bid amount (how much you're willing to pay for a click or impression) and the quality of the ad (if the search terms match, landing page relevancy, etc.).

Email Marketing

One of the earliest forms of digital communication, email is still regarded as the most effective tool to drive results with digital efforts. And that should not be a surprise to anyone - people can customize the amount of emails they receive and marketers can customize the messaging on a personal level. 
According to emailisnotdead.com article61% of consumers like to receive weekly promotional emails and 28% want them even more frequently.
By following recently introduced CASL regulations, small businesses can communicate on a personal level with the customer. As you can see by the statistic above - majority of people prefer to receive email. When you have a customer who is willingly receiving communications it increases the possibility of an action being taken.

Social Media

Probably the most recognized marketing tactic - social media has grown into a huge tool for small businesses. With the introduction of sponsored ads, analytics tools and company pages majority of today's popular social media networks are developing their networks with companies in mind. Not just users.

There are two things to keep in mind with social media as it relates to business purposes:

  1. Your business does not need to have a presence on every single social media network. Do some research, evaluate your resources and target the networks that make most sense.
  2. Don't just post promotions or sales. It's called a social network for a reason. Post helpful, useful or interactive content that users will find engaging. Also, don't just post all the time - put in the effort to interact and respond to comments to show that you are truly an active member of the online community.

Content Marketing

The hottest topic of late has to be content marketing. It has been used as a buzzword far too often that majority, if not all, small business owners have heard of it. Content marketing plays a big role in the other areas as well: it can be shared using email or social media, it plays a big role in search engine rankings as it is more likely to get shared than corporate web pages, etc.

Hardest part about content marketing is making it relevant. You want to create a blog post, ebook, video - whatever that piece of content may be - that is going to engage users in a way that evokes an action. That action can be for them to share it with their own network/community, to fill out a form, download a report, etc.

The best content usually evokes emotion in users, making them feel a deeper connection with your brand: bring out a happy feeling, helping resolve a task faster, solving a difficult problem, connecting them closer with others, etc.


The main difference between traditional and digital marketing efforts is the ability to track and evaluate campaigns. Big data is big business now; there numerous companies dedicated to providing analytics solutions that can track anything from your paid advertisement clicks to website interactions.

The most common tools that small businesses use are the ones that are free: Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, etc. Majority of online networks come with some sort of reporting ability. Be sure to set goals before you start and associate those goals with tangible performance indicators (or stats). This will help you measure how well something is work (or not). That way you can be ready to tweak your efforts to make sure you are getting the most out of your marketing.

This is just a brief list of online marketing areas that are most common - there are plenty of other ways to engage an audience online. We've put together a list of emerging concepts for 2016 & beyond that you can take a look at here.

Where to Begin

This depends on where your small business currently stands with its online presence.

On Your Own

If you've got the time and a can-do attitude; there are plenty of resources, tools and solutions to help you automate digital marketing and do it all on your own. Keep in mind that certain things might be easier than others: sharing a Facebook post on a company page is much easier than researching a good key term to rank every single page of your website. As is editing all the different elements of those pages requires technical knowledge.

Doing things yourself may be more cost effective but remember that efforts, when done incorrectly, can have a negative effect on your business. If you're unsure of how to do something always do research, find step-by-step guides or consult someone who can steer you in the right direction.

Hiring or Outsourcing

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things to learn you can always find someone (whether hiring or outsourcing) to do it on your behalf. Sometimes it might be better for business owners to focus on what their expertise are and let professionals handle the marketing side. After all, many business utilize outside accountants, graphic designers and other service providers. In the same way a digital marketing professional or company can be utilized to help build an online presence.

Not all freelancers or companies will be right for you. Digital marketing services can be pricey, and majority of small businesses don't have the budget to outsource ALL digital efforts. At the same time, be wary of any company or professional guaranteeing you instant success. Much like other functions, digital marketing takes time and on-going work in order to yield positive results.

Helpful Resources

Regardless of where you stand, below are some of the posts we've put together that can help make your efforts a little bit easier:

Hope that was helpful! If I've missed something or you'd like to add more, the comment section is a good place to do so.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

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The Rise of Mobile in SEO Rankings

We get to toot our own horn (so to speak) about "predicting" that mobile search will have a huge impact on search engine optimization. If you take a quick peek at our SEO predictions for 2015, mobile dominance was one of the things that was highlighted. Although not a bold claim, it definitely now is one of the major factors of ranking influence for Google (and other search engines).

Mobile Influence on SEO Rankings
The rise in mobile however, is no accident. Here is how mobile grew to become a major ranking factor:

Rise of Mobile Devices & Functionality

Obvious right? Well, it is and it isn't. While most of us expected mobile devices to expand in features, not many of us predicted them to invade nearly every aspect of our lives:

  • Directions/GPS (Google Maps)
  • Dating (Tinder)
  • Taxi service (Uber)
  • Travel service (Airbnb)
  • Restaurant reservations (OpenTable)
  • Music (iTunes, Google Music)
  • Shows/Movies (Netflix)
  • Work (email, mobile office, etc.)
  • Photography/Videography
These are just some of the apps or services offered directly via mobile or tablet apps. 
As a matter of fact Canadians have spent over 46% more time on their mobile devices in 2015 than they have in 2011 according to eMarketer.
Mobile SEO stats from eMarketer

And guess what users do when they're in an argument with a friend? Trying to find a local place to eat? Shop? They Google it. Whether it be voice search or actually searching Google/Maps, the searches were shifting to mobile.

Shift to Location-Based & Mobile Search

Mobile search seems to be the most common starting point for mobile research, particularly commerce oriented:
Mobile commerce statistics

As mentioned above, due to the increased functionalities smartphone/tablet have been gaining traction in usage of not only the internet overall, but local searches and exploration.
According to Mediative research, about 53% of mobile searches have local intent. 

Actually, that intent usually results in searches leading to offline purchases according to Google's research below. Connecting the mobile (online) and offline channel together:

With such a quick ability to find information and locate nearby places, actions are being taken much faster as well.
Mediative indicates that 70% of mobile searches result in action being taken within an hour as opposed to a week for desktop.

This is shifting businesses to not only become mobile-friendly in their digital presence but also consider contextual approach to buyers. Be ready with BOTH, the right message and at the right time. Decisions are made almost immediately nowadays and being readily present on mobile devices is critical!

Introduction of Google Mobile Tools & Ranking Algorithm Updates

Having fully embraced this mobile shift, Google put the pedal to the metal and started rolling out new tools and search algorithms to accommodate the shifting trends in how users perform searches. Early-mid 2015, Google rolled out the mobile ranking algorithm which was dubbed "Mobilegeddon" because majority of sites that were not responsive or mobile-friendly were to take a ranking hit.

In addition to rolling out these search updates, Google wanted webmasters to remain competitive in search by offering guidelines and tools to keep  up with the changing times. They have a free mobile-friendly test tool that anyone can use to evaluate the mobile friendliness of their webpage (and to see which areas are in need of improvement).

Mobile Friendly Tool - Google Search Console

Most recently, for any users of Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) there is now a tool directly available in the console to see if Google's search recognizes your webpages as mobile friendly.

What Do Website Owners Need to Do?

If your website is not responsive by now, it should be your #1 priority. Not only will your rankings take a hit but any mobile users having difficulty on your website are more than likely to abandon their efforts and check out a competitor. Invest in your mobile users and become part of the shift!

Ideally anything that you do will be mobile-first oriented from here on. Also, keep in mind that wearable technology and the Internet of Things (or IoT) are the next "big thing". Keeping these developments in mind, it will be interesting to see if and how search results are influenced by smartwatches (and other wearable tech).

Monday, 2 May 2016

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Does Your Small Business Need a Blog?

As a small business owner or marketer you've probably heard the term "content is king" many times by now. And one of the best ways to create and share all sorts of visual, textual, and animated content where visitors can be engaged is via blogging. As a matter of fact many industry-leading marketing brands constantly highlight why blogging is important for business.

But with the huge surge in corporate blogging and content generation, does your small business really need a blog? Is it going to make a big difference? The answer is still overwhelmingly YES.

Here is why:

It Is Cost Effective

Creating a blog is fairly cost effective. Using blogging platforms such as the premium service from Wordpress would cost you $99 USD (there is a free version as well) on a yearly basis and that service basically allows for an integration of multitude of features:
  • custom domain name
  • combined blog and website in one place
  • various plug-ins to help optimize for SEO, writing and editing
  • easy to use interface
  • responsive template designs so you don't have to start from scratch
With that being said, to produce engaging content you will still need to include visuals, videos and other features which may require time or financial investment. Luckily we put together a list of free online marketing tools to help keep things on budget!

Doing the actual writing or content creation itself will take some of your time, but once you get into the groove it becomes much smoother (and much more fun). Biggest investments will be learning and time.

Long-Term Lead Generation Tool

Blogging is not just a means of connecting to your audience on a more personal level, it is a fantastic lead generation tool. While timeliness (context is just as important as content) is a key component of capturing leads, according to HubSpot research 70% of traffic to their blogs each month come from posts that were published in the previous months and about 90% of the leads generated on their blog came from blog posts published in previous months.

If you put in a thorough effort to do proper research, create engaging visuals and reach your audience in the right way, previously published blog posts can be a fantastic lead generation tool.

Creates Storytelling & Networking Opportunities

If by now you are not aware of storytelling, take a look at our recent post covering the improtance of creating a brand personality. Basically, storytelling does not fall under marketing or ads, it is simply a way to evoke imagination within your audience. They should not be focused on your brand, they should be focused on your reader. Done right blog can be a huge storytelling venue where the reader engages with your content on a deeper level beyond just becoming a customer.

Such storytelling capabilities and/or useful blog posts can usually lead to networking opportunities. Readers can engage you directly in the comment section, become brand ambassadors (sharing your content on the regular) or even connect for potential guest blogging possibilities. A great example of this would be this exact blog post. I have made a reference to the HubSpot blog and stats numerous times because I regularly consume their content that I frequently share. They publish useful information all the time!

Increases PR Outreach Possibilities

Some posts can spread like wildfire. Unexpected company announcements, emotion provoking videos or very helpful, in-depth guides quickly spread all over social media. Similarly to the networking point above, imagine one of your blog posts getting shared by an industry thought leader or a major news outlet?

While this is the ideal scenario it is much harder to achieve. Content within the blog post usually has to be very informative, ground breaking or engage the intended audience in a way that no one has yet done. No easy task, but not impossible either.

Contributes to SEO Efforts

Blogs are a fantastic way to improve your Google rankings. Why? Well, your corporate website (you know the one with the about us, history, products, etc.) probably does not have many pages. On top of that they probably aren't updated too often. This is where a blog comes in handy: you can research topics that are of interest to your audience (who would of thought there would be something more interesting than reading an "about us" page?) and create a visual, interactive story that they will WANT to engage with and most likely share.

What do you think is more likely to get shared? Your website home-page or a kick-ass blog they read on their phone while waiting for dinner? If you take a look at your own personal social media feeds they are more likely to be filled with videos and blog posts than corporate web pages.

Create buyer personas, research content and get creative! Blogs allow for more indexed pages and a broader search ranking. Imagine how many different terms you can focus on with blogs compared to just your website.

Uncovers Audience Insights

Not only does each blog post have some sort of call to action feature, but a blog usually consists of multiple topics and themes. Tracking, measuring and analyzing user behaviour and content consumption of your visitors can help shed light on future content focus. Perhaps your audience members prefer long articles full of how-to steps as opposed to listicles (listed points, such as 10 Ways to Do Such and Such).

Using this data to drive better content will help increase engagement, performance and even lead generation. Set clear goals you want to achieve with your blog and evaluate as you keep publishing content.

If you're on the fence about starting a small business blog, do it! Blogs are still a very useful tool to connect with your audience. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

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Outsourcing vs. In-House Digital Marketing

Small businesses often face a tough choice: try to do all of their digital marketing in house or find a suitable external resource to outsource work to. While digital marketing service providers have exploded over the last few years, it can be hard to find a company or a freelancer that is the right fit for your brand. Not just financially, but understanding of customers, industry knowledge, services/product familiarity, etc.

On the other hand, doing things in-house seems to be more cost effective, but if you do not have the right technical or marketing knowledge, you risk of doing more harm than good in the long-run. Plus time used on building your brand is time that would have been allocated elsewhere.
Outsource vs. In-House Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

So, how do you know which route is best?

Like many areas of running a small business, it depends. I have previously put together an infographic covering the differences of hiring an employee vs. a freelancer. Further to that infographic; below are key factors you should consider before making a decision.


Most often the first concern of any small business owner: how much will it cost me?

Outsource Option

Depending on the amount of work required, costs can vary. Generally digital marketing consultants and freelancers charge anywhere from $50-$200/hour depending on experience levels, technicality, etc. Projects can also be agreed upon for a one-time fee, or a regular monthly fee. These two options vary greatly depending on how demanding the work is.

Example: if you're looking to build a responsive website with common contact forms, email sign ups, graphics and such the cost may range from $2,000-$6,000. Price will go up with the amount of copy-writing and design necessary to finalize the website. However, a more complex website that includes a CMS (content management system), e-commerce functionalities or databases can cost anywhere from $6,000-$25,000 depending on the features.

In-house Option

Fortunately for the do-it-yourself small businesses, there are numerous website builder services that can help create entire websites from scratch. Popular service providers like Wix offer free (basic feature) website builders and premium services ranging from $12-$25/month (US dollars) on an annual subscription, or $23-$40 US dollars on a monthly plan. While they provide pre-set templates that can be customized, there are hidden costs with these services: your employees time spent on customizing the template, ongoing maintenance, creating updates, imagery and copy creation, training materials/courses, etc.

For someone who may not be familiar with web or graphic design these tasks can be quite time consuming and take away focus from other functions. Unless your small business has a designated web and/or marketing role, it may be beneficial to outsource work. The above example covers only web design, similar cost comparisons can be made for social media management, graphic design, etc.

Skills & Experience

Scheduling social media posts is easy, we do it on our personal profiles. But utilizing social media as a branding or lead generating tool takes someone with a trained skill set in social media marketing.

Quote for professional outsourcing vs. inexperienced in-house work Looking at the cost numbers mentioned above, most small businesses would opt to do in-house work as the initial numbers favour the do it yourself approach. While this may be true for certain things, other may better left be outsourced. Why?

Certain aspects of digital marketing require proper training or knowledge in order to yield results. One such marketing function, which is constantly evolving, is search engine optimization. SEO requires ongoing training and knowledge in order to properly climb the ranking ladder AND not to get penalized by major search engines. Google regularly penalizes websites which purposely use unfavourable tactics to raise their rankings.

Services such as SEO, graphic design, any complex coding which are usually crucial elements of marketing efforts, should not be left up to chance. Having an already trained employee in these efforts is hard to find, usually employees narrow their focus to their strengths: visual designers, coders, etc.

As an example: if you're looking to initiate an email marketing program but do not have an in-house colleague who is familiar with CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation) or best practices, it could result in tarnished relationships with customers and potential legal troubles. You do not want to leave your company's brand perception in the hands of inexperience because it could be detrimental in the long run. If costs seem high initially, nothing could be more costly than a dwindling customer base and lack of business!

Timeliness & Knowledge

This is where, in my opinion, the in-house approach may have an advantage over outsourcing. No one is familiar with the products and services as the people who are working with them each day. Certain industries don't require specialized knowledge but if your small business provides software solutions or high-tech products, a freelancer or external agency may have to take the time to get familiar with you and your industry before being able to produce content on your behalf.

Secondly, depending on the type of freelancer, consultant or company you're working with - timeliness may not be their strong suit. Freelancers often work with multiple clients and have simultaneous projects happening which can sometimes lead to prolonged of response times and small projects not receiving the attention they need.
Timeliness of outsourcing vs. in-house marketing

If you have ideas or projects that require time-sensitive work, you should do some research before working with an external organization or individual. Try to get in touch with current or past clients, talk to them about deadlines, etc.

While there are more factors to consider, I find these to be the most common and crucial ones. If you've come across something yourself feel free to share in the comment section!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

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Ad Blocking Hysteria in Digital Advertising

Ad Blocking concern in digital advertising

Publishers are frustrated and taking action. Readers with ad blockers are increasing in number. Advertisers are questioning paid ads. The online advertising industry is going bonkers over ad blockers.

Surprisingly, ad blockers have just started to take off in the last couple of months. Personally, I've been using one for a couple of years now. Yes, I am part of that group that chooses which ads I see and which I block. However, recent publishers have been blocking readers with ad blockers. You may have seen a message similar to the ones below:

Telegraph (British News Website)

Telegraph Newspaper blocks users with ad blocker


Narcity Toronto blocks users with ad blocker
Funny text and emoticon to encourage turning the ad blocker off, but if you notice in the right hand side...they already have a pop up active before the user even had a chance to access the article!
I, myself am not a big fan of invasive pop-ups. While I understand that they can drive results, they can also annoy certain users. If the goal of your landing page is to have someone subscribe to the content via email, a form or field in the right column another area of the page suffices. In the end, it is the quality of the content that will determine the best subscribers.

So, why the recent rise in the use of ad blockers?

My gut feeling tells me two reasons for the recent rise. The growth of mobile and free downloadable apps has shown a HUGE increase in invasive ads. I recall downloading a couple of productivity and exercise apps that were free, and every part of the app had some sort of advertisement. Not only that, but I would have to wait for a while to get from one part of the app to the other due to load time of the ads.

As you have probably experienced, accidentally clicking on the app ads happens all the time with touch devices (maybe it's just my lack of accuracy). This drove me crazy and I eventually uninstalled all the apps that were extremely heavy with their in-app advertisements.

Second reason would be that some advertisers and platforms are just far too invasive or overloaded with ads. Have you ever gone on a "reasons to do so and so to get better so and so" article only to find that its bombarded with ads? Ads are usually found:
  • between paragraphs
  • in left and/or right columns
  • before and after comment section
  • pops ups come after a certain level of scrolling
This usually results in long load times (on mobiles devices specifically), data consumption, overloading of information which results in lost attention from reader, and most importantly..some of the ads are far too click-bait oriented or in some cases, not even relevant to the actual topic.

Let's look at an online sports blog, Hypun and one of their recent blog posts overloaded with ads:

Top (just loaded) part of blog post

Example of too many ads at the top of the page
Far too many ads at the initial loading screen of the post.

Middle of page (article content):

Example of too many ads in the middle of the page
As if the first loaded ads were not enough, another three are loaded while reading body of post.

Bottom of page (usually comment section):

Example of too many ads at the bottom of the page
Some ads are repeated from the top while others are not even basketball related at all.

Publishers rely on ads to provide free content

And always have, you don't have to look for to find commonalities. Especially in traditional media that we consume in our daily lives: radio, television, newspapers, magazines, etc. I fully agree with this concept and support free articles and music if they are supplemented with advertising messages.

Now, with that being said both sides (viewer and publisher) have to find a common ground as to what is an acceptable amount of advertising. But what about publishers such as Hypun mentioned above, who don't earn as much money as say Telegraph (newspaper mentioned above as well) and therefore try to run an excessive amount of ads to make money? Well, to be frank with you I am not a 100% sold that displaying a higher volume of irrelevant ads is the way to increase ad revenue. Regardless of publisher size, popularity or topic. Why?

This blog post is the reason why, the huge rise of ad block users is why; people get fed up waiting for ads to load and looking at click-bait articles that eventually leads to getting distracted. Users will either resort to ad blockers or not go back to the website, both of which will result in loss of ad revenue.

Example of repetitive YouTube ad
Click on image to view Google Play Music ad.
On a personal note - I have started using ad blocker on YouTube a long time ago. And I was recently reminded of why I did so. I do not have an ad blocker on my phone. While I was listening to some music on the device during common household chores, I think every-single-song in the YouTube playlist was preceded by the exact same ad: the Google Play Music service. Sorry Google, but I have to voice the concern of the amount of times that ad was aired during the playlist. I believe the words "sunburn synths" will forever be embedded in my brain! Either tone down the volume or have better targeting.

What can publishers do to make things better?

Web publisher role with ad blocker

Create better content of course. If you provide unmatched value that will result in valued users, then there won't virtually be any issues when it comes to ads. The use of "virtually" there is also dependent on the type of, and volume of ads. Obviously ads are needed to make things run as they do - but overloading the page with irrelevant messages and making it difficult to actually read what the article is about will deter users. Carefully reviewing proposed ads and advertisers can also eliminate any irrelevancy issues or click-bait material.

Secondly, if the advertising model isn't able to meet publisher's revenue goals perhaps they should consider having a subscription based service. Whereas interested users can pay to access ad-free, well created content while the free articles or previews are only limited overviews of a topic. Ads aren't the only way to attain revenue, and instead of increasing ad volume to meet those goals perhaps other means of revenue generation should be considered.

What can advertisers do to make things better?

Advertiser role with ad blocker

Create better ads. Do not fall into the click-bait trap of creating over-the-top article headlines, poor blog posts or offers. If you genuinely put effort into your ads, they will yield better results compared to trying to find the quickest shortcut to making a quick buck.

Secondly, and just as important is where you place your ads. Targeting not only helps generate better results and return on your investment, but it simultaneously helps eliminate the problem of seeing an ad that is completely irrelevant to that publisher's content. 

What can users do to make things better?

User role with ad blocker

Understand that the advertising model allows everyone access to free and unlimited content on the web (and some of that content is very, very good). While one website may abuse their advertising placement does not mean that every digital space will do so. I willingly turn off my ad blocker on certain websites, as a matter of fact I actually clicked on some of the ads that drew my interest. There is nothing wrong with ads when they are done right.

Another option is if you truly are bothered by ads; don't visit the website or look for a subscription-based model that is ad-free. Both you as the user and the publisher/advertiser would be better off. We as consumers of all this information have the ability to channel our attention to the right areas, much like our hard earned dollars are channeled to the brands that we trust. Attention is the digital currency.

So where do we go from here?

As you can see from the above points, each party can do a little more to improve the other's experience or goals. Taking these steps will help rid the web of inefficient web pages, ads and everything that has led to users relying on ad blockers. Obviously we can't eliminate every single spam site, and that is the same reason we can never eliminate the use of ad blockers. We can just encourage where they are used.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

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Emerging Marketing Concepts You Should Know About

Marketing (particularly digital) is constantly evolving. It can be hard to keep up with ongoing changes. That is why I thought that putting a list of the latest chatter in what is happening would be helpful for the start of the new year. Some of these trends have been around for a couple of years, while others are just breaking into the spotlight. Take a look below:

Adaptive Content

It is no secret that personalized content and messaging drives most results. It is also no secret that we are beyond Dear [Insert name here] point of email (among other mediums) personalization. That is where the concept of adaptive content comes in: provide the right messaging, catered to the person, in the right format to the right device.

If that sounds challenging, well...to be honest, it is. Most small businesses struggle with producing regular, engaging content. Now they have to make it personalized for each individual?

Yes and no. Writing a blog post for EVERY single person would mean that you have an entire editorial and publishing team. Which, as you already know is far too big of an investment. However, there is a way for a small business to cater to individuals based on personas. Personas are basically profiles of your target audience (not demographic, but audience) based on how they consume media, your product, their personalities, etc. Creating the right personas takes research, time and careful consideration. If done right, it can be the critical point of guiding adaptive content so that it is personalized for exactly who your targeted audience members are, as opposed to the "general" online community that encompasses everyone.
Sample persona from http://fakecrow.com/
A great guide to personas (and free persona template) can be found on HubSpot's resource blog.

Influencer Marketing

This might be a HUGE part of reaching out to audiences in the future. What is it? Basically using a person (or collaborating with them) who is respected within the target market (can be a buyer themselves) and having them write a blog post, review a product or any other means of having them connect with the customers by using your brand in some way, shape or form.
While this sounds fairly simple, not every influencer will want to work with every brand. And your brand has to have worth-while content that the influencer would consider using under their own influence. Lots of examples of this can be found on Instagram as it seems to be a great place for influencer marketing. Particularly in the fashion or fitness industry where profiles (or people) with a lot of followers use company products in their photos and increase the reach of the brand in question to the thousands, if not millions, of followers.

Internet of Things

I did a more detailed cover of Internet of Things for small business (or IoT) last year so I will go over the high-level summary here. IoT basically automates certain tasks or experiences in life and combines that automation with technology for contextual messaging, improvements or maintenance.
Imagine having a "smart fridge" that knows when you've run out of milk; it automatically sends a reminder to your smart watch while you're doing your daily 5KM run so that you can grab some on your way back. Connected, timely and integrated. It will demand business to be present into those micro-moments where a certain brand can be suggested while the person is on their way to make a purchase.

Native Advertising

Example of a BuzzFeed native advertising article featuring Captain Morgan.
Native advertising may be hard to distinguish from regular articles or news stories (most common, but applies to videos or any other medium), but it has been prevalent recently. And consumers are gaining more awareness regarding it. As an example similar to influencer marketing above, you can see how Captain Morgan has put together a fun article on BuzzFeed focusing on non-dancers showing off their club moves. Why is this relevant? Captain Morgan is a great mix for rum & coke at parties or clubs, and it seems that the article is about a fun dancing experience as opposed to Captain Morgan itself.

Native ads usually have an objective feel: meaning that its really hard to tell its an advertisement or sponsored content, but a genuine piece of content from the author. In the example above, there may be nothing wrong with Captain Morgan putting a sponsored article together on  BuzzFeed since it does show a "Brand Publisher" as the author, and the article is generic to dancing. Alternatively, if a brand pushes a narrative just for promotion-sake, say an alternate title such as "Why Captain Morgan is the Best Spiced Rum for a Rum & Coke to Get you Moving" the effort could backfire and cause negative engagement with audiences.

As a matter of fact, South Park recently created a series of episodes mocking native advertising, ad blockers and digital journalism that has been picked up by many news outlets, including Business Insider. Audiences are getting smarter, and any overly promotional native advertising could backfire.
South Park mocks native advertising and digital journalism.

Programmatic Advertising

Much like everything else, programmatic advertising is the rise of automation in online ad buying. Not only buying, but programmatic ads allow for better segmentation and target of audiences. This is huge because advertising dollars can now be funneled into more precise targeting and (hopefully) better results for the advertiser. Below you will find a great video explaining the concept:

Virtual Reality

Probably the hottest thing for 2016 even outside of marketing, virtual reality has been dubbed to reshape the experience aspect of interacting with brands, services and products. While this may look like something out a "futuristic, technology rules over humankind" science fiction flick, it could lead to better experiences for customers that prefer more hands on interaction.

How you ask? Well what if you could test drive a vehicle that has yet to hit the market? This would be a huge step in helping customers get the full research experience prior to making a big investment. As a matter of fact Audi and Samsung have already partnered to create these experiences:

If you read my piece on my small business branding is like a rock concert, it won't come as a surprise that I am a fan of rock and metal music. Hence why I wanted to share another example with you, particularly music lovers. This is legendary band Megadeth promoting their new album and improving user experience using virtual reality (you can read more about it on LinkedIn Business):

Wearable Technology

More than likely you, or someone you know, has received a Fitbit or similar sort of wearable fitness tracker as a Christmas present. The rise of wearable technology into our daily lives has exploded in 2015 and looks to continue for 2016 and beyond. Similarly to the IoT point above: having location-based information and contextual preferences could help increase results as marketing moves to a "real-time" messaging period. Meaning - when someone indicates a need on wearable technology, an organization should be able to provide that in real time. Hitting both the need and timeliness of the messaging.
Image source: http://vistablog.co.uk/
Example? I have booked a flight recently using my gmail account. Google sends me direct updates via "Google Now Cards" as to the flight status, when I should leave to arrive at the airport on time, duration of flight, etc. While this may be on my mobile device, if I had a smart-watch or any other wearable associated with messaging it would be sending the updates there.

Another feature, which was introduced by Twitter a while ago, will be the conciseness of messages. With Smart watches inability to present long-winded messages, content creators will be forced to be even more concise and the point.

These are just some of the ways in which marketing will evolve for 2016 and beyond. As always we are interested in hearing about your experience with any of these efforts. Do you plan to use them? If you already do, do they provide positive results?

Monday, 4 January 2016

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What is Your Small Business Story? Learn How to Establish Brand Personality

Brand Personality, What Is It?

We often hear the phrase "Brand Personality" thrown around by marketing gurus - but what really is it? Is it meant for big brands using agencies? How can small business create one? All great questions.

Simply put, brand personality is how your business and the associated products or services, are perceived, consumed and engaged with by the general public. Notice that I did not just say "customers"? Because your brand personality spans beyond customers and becomes a reality of all audience members aware of it, whether they use it or not.

The way you build your brand personality can influence the type of customers your small business attracts. With the advancement of technology for business purposes, brand personalities have shifted more towards emotional connections, personal interactions and deep engagement between the brand (business) and user (customer).
PC vs. Mac Brand Personality
Remember the PC vs. Mac personality commercials?

According to one of the biggest "rockstars" of branding in our day and age, Seth Godin, every brand is a story. It cues emotions, expectations, social situations and induces our own inner memories with the brand/product in question. Below is a great two sentence summary which illustrates brand personality:
More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy and how we use what we buy. Extensions of our personality, totems of our selves, reminders of who we are or would like to be. - Seth Godin


Our Own Brand Personality Prelude

I will share with you a brief background story on NR Digital Branding itself - somewhat of an intro (not meant to be self boasting) into this blog post. If you've browsed around our social media profiles and links you may have noticed the term "nemki" come up quite a bit. As a matter of fact my Twitter handle is @nemki, one of my more recognizable nicknames to those that do know me (interestingly, nemki also refers to a mythological thunder-bird creature in the Anishinaabe native language). It was the first ever email I used for gaming, forums, chat services, Yahoo GeoCities website builder (first ever web design dabbling!), and it marks the spark of my "digital" life from the late 90s/early 2000s.

But why is it being used for business purposes?
Well I believe this to be the start of my digital passion and everything that has happened since, including the inception of NR Digital Branding. It is the personality that has developed over years that led to this career path and personal/professional involvement in the digital landscape. Additionally the story associates the level of commitment NRDB has to always providing the best digital experience for all customers, local audience and online community due to that passion. The same way that many Canadian small business have a story of their own; stories of passion, dedication and branding. What makes your business unique and how that uniqueness weaves into the service and/or product you provide as well as the customers that make it all worth-while.
Brand personality is a way for the customer to resonate with your business, to make a full emotional connection.


Why Tell Your Story?

Canada (more-so than other countries) is strongly established by small businesses. Imagine that within your local area you have a pizza store, down the street from the store is another local pizzeria store. Both of you sell gourmet pizzas, wings, bread-sticks, dipping sauces, provide a delivery service, etc.

Well, which one should a newcomer chose? Why would a customer come back?
Small Business Storytelling
Sure special promotions, deals and holiday specials can help you meet short-term goals, but they can do the same for the pizza shop down the road. What about the loyal customer who wants to keep coming back?

This is where your story or small business uniqueness (the personality) can play a crucial role.

What makes a pizzeria gourmet? Usually some sort of "secret" or "home-made" sauce. Maybe your pizzeria bakes using a stone oven, or uses an old family recipe from Italy. Perhaps it has an unmatched dinning experience in the pizzeria itself which draws a regular nightly crowd. It is something that differentiates you from ALL other pizzerias (regardless of location). While they too can have a specialty sauce or unique toppings, it does not taste quite the same as yours. The same would apply to their loyal customers: they would prefer that sauce over yours and that is what allows your business to differentiate itself.

Think of grandma's home-made pie; you can buy a pre-cooked one and bake it until its ready but it just doesn't have the same aroma, taste and goodness to it. Why can't your home-made gourmet pizzeria live up to that name? Especially if it has a special secret sauce that makes it delicious! Maybe even elicit a similar response to the one in the image below (we do not recommend you try this at home!):
Funny pizza eating GIF

I reference a pizzeria as an example but this applies to all industries and types of small business organizations. If your small business has a great story to tell and can make the customer a part of that story, it will create a foundation for long-term relationship between brand, perception and customer.

How To Tell Your Story

There was an article published on Forbes a couple of years ago, right at the "rise" of content marketing that brought a point which is very important to this practice to this day:
Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can. - Susan Gunelius, Forbes
The first thing that comes to mind of storytelling is the traditional list of sequential milestones. For example:
  • established in 1977
  • incorporated 1980
  • introduced new menu 1989
Not that there is anything wrong with a historical timeline of the company but there has to be a little more oomph to it than that. Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind:

1. Make it Customer-Centric

Stories always involve characters, and what better way to resonate with your customers than to make them the main character of your story? While this sounds hard, it is not impossible. Think about some of the most recent "big brand" campaigns that were centered around the customer:

  • Lays chips flavour challenge where users submit flavour ideas and the company sells the most popular selections for a limited time
  • Coca-Cola putting names on soda cans/bottles to make coke buying about the person, not necessarily the drink itself
Does your business have to go as far as that? Of course not, it would be great if it did or could but there are plenty of other ways to incorporate customers into the brand. Do you have customer testimonials framed all over the store space? Challenges that result in publicly celebrated certificates or rewards for customers if they accomplish such feats (who can handle the pizzeria's legendary slice challenge)? Is part of the menu a result of customer suggestions? How did it solve a problem for the customer (solving plan-less dinner nights for a long, long time)? Is the topping selection fully based on customer input? Etc.

2. Participate Locally

Majority of small businesses are tied to a location (or more than one). Whether you have a storefront or work from an office (or from home), all businesses have somewhere they belong. It is imperative to be involved in your community to some extent.

Local Small Business Brand Personality

Having collaborated with dozens of small business thus far, it is evident that majority of them are involved in their community. From local hockey team sponsorships, food drives to having a group of team members run a charity marathon. In all instances the organization and it's employees were doing this to help those in need or support their community.

However, few had actually mentioned their involvement anywhere. This type of local engagement can have a huge part in building up your brand's DNA both internally (employees) and externally (customers). You do not need to have fancy press releases or news stories written in the local newspaper (although it wouldn't hurt) each and every time. You simply need to snap a photo, share it with others, include it in your messaging and get your employees to participate in the share culture. You will be amazed at how engaged your brand will become.

Interestingly, according to a blog published on American Express small business blog the more local small business prosper the more they give back:
It’s not just about the economy: Research shows that vibrant local business communities lead to more charitable giving in a community and more walkable neighborhoods with unique character, according to Michael H. Shuman, an economist and author who specializes in community economics. - Kelly Spors

3. Be Genuine

"Corporate speak" as I refer to it is better left off the web and anything facing the customer really. In order to establish any sort of personality your brand has to establish a voice of it's own. Some brands have experimented with using slang terminology to resonate with their community, others simply tell it as is. Other use fun, interactive storyboards to guide the reader on a journey. Remember us mentioning the corporate timeline above? We'll take a look at Moz's timeline and how they made it fun, interactive and personal (use of their mascot and employee photos - see screenshot below).
Moz's Brand Personality on About page

One of my personal favourites is a local brewery here in Ontario: Steam Whistle Brewing. They cover everything about the brand: from the founder's original dreams long before the brewery became what it is today to the reason they chose that specific name, check it out here. Nothing fancy, but it gives meaning to the beer for all lovers of local brews.

So, now that we've covered the basics of brand storytelling do you know what is your business' brand personality? If you're not sure, are you going to work on one?