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A Tinker Toy Kind of a World

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I loved these things in my single digits. Heck, I would still love playing with them now if I had any because I truly enjoy building things. That is one part of my childhood I'm happy to say I've always carried with me into my (gulp) late thirties. Give me a bunch of sticks and I'll build something fun or useful out of them. And the name is perfect for these little guys, isn't it? Tinker Toys. Toys meant for tinkering. 

And that's what made them so great. The tinkering part. Try this, then try that, then combine them. Forget about long term goals, planning, or any of that other boring, time-sucking gibberish.

Yeah, that was then. This is now.

We are marketers utilizing a medium we can see but can't touch and one that doesn't take its real shape until we start receiving data. So, tinkering takes on a whole new meaning. It's easy to tinker when you can see the immediate results, but a lot more difficult to tinker when it takes days, weeks, months, or even years to see results. In our world of instant gratification this bites big time. And we're adults now, most of the time. We know that good things come to those who wait. Right?

Wrong! That philosophy is BS and better suited for a 1920's catalog campaign. Today, we have the keys to the BMW and we're wearing our dancing shoes. So don't get caught sitting around watching the cockroaches race (true story from my dad, seriously). We have the tools in hand, or easily available, to make an immediate impact and all it takes is a little old-fashioned tinkering.

Whether you're adjusting your on-page SEO, posting a racy blog, adjusting your PPC keywords and spend, remarketing to abandoned cart visitors, improving site speed, or any number of other maneuvers, you should be tinkering. I'm not talking about changing your most successful call to action for all of your visitors or sending a politically charged email newsletter to your entire prospect base. No, you can tinker with just a small segment of your site visitors or your subscriber list or those who abandoned carts to find out what does and doesn't work. 

There are a number of tools that offer A/B testing and your subscriber list can probably be segmented or sampled to your hearts desire. But there are so many options available for us to tinker these days that it's probably a bit overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to get you moving. 

  1. Take a few more tutorials for your current CMS or schedule a brainstorming session with your vendor. You can probably do 90% of what you want but you just don't know it. Don't have a CMS? You should get one.
  2. Work with a company who can help you segment and target with current data. Right on Interactive (http://www.rightoninteractive.com/) here in Indianapolis is a fantastic company who can help you do all sorts of great things with your data. They love to tinker and explore data.
  3. Remarketing with another great Indy company - Smarter Remarketer (http://www.smarterremarketer.com/
  4. Dive into Google Analytics more than you ever have. Here's a great list of resources from kissMetrics - http://blog.kissmetrics.com/50-resources-for-getting-the-most-out-of-google-analytics/.
  5. If you're not using a good email marketing toolset, start now: ExactTarget, MailChimp, Constant Contact
  6. Tame the social media frontier by using Hootsuite to manage all your accounts in one place

I'm sure you have your favorites too, so please leave your highly recommended tools in the comments for others to see.

Bottom line is that we are paid to tinker, even when our marketing tactics are working. Not enough to kill the golden goose but enough to prove we can do even better or prove that we can't.

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Happy New Year - Content Marketing 101 Refresher

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It's 2013, you've survived the zombie apocalypse, and with the new year comes an opportunity to inject fresh energy and ideas into your content marketing. So let's get back to the basics a bit and walk through the fundamental elements of a good content marketing initiative. I think it's a good idea to occasionally review the basics in any project, especially as the project evolves into a bigger, more complex animal. This ensures you don't fall off course and that you stick to the general guidelines.

Content marketing is the essential ingredient for Marketpath's three pillars of effective website marketing - Visibility, Engagement, and Conversion. It is creating high quality content to be read and shared by others in order to get them to do something. Content creates the foundation for all website marketing efforts.

Without good content you only have a framework. Not having good content in your marketing mix is like having a football stadium without the football games. So, how do you get started or back on track? You answer the questions below to formulate a plan and then you write, or hire a writer to do it for you.

What do you want your visitors to do?

Conversion is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingBefore you write anything, you need to understand and define what you want your website visitors to do. Do you want them to call a phone number, fill out a form for more information, download a case study or white paper, purchase a product, make a reservation, join a group, attend an event? This is your conversion - when an anonymous visitor becomes a known visitor or a customer. This is the beginning of your relationship with that individual.

The first conversion, however, may not be the only conversion. It might be a series of small conversions that lead up to the conversion that actually affects your bottom line - a purchase or new project. Compare this to a man courting a woman. He didn't jump out of a cake and make a marriage proposal upon first sighting. There were a series of efforts involved in getting to that point. The same may go for your visitors.

Are you a professional services firm? Then you probably need to establish expertise and rapport with your future clients. This happens over many interactions. Are you a retailer of low-cost furnace filters? Then your initial conversions are probably a purchase by new customers. Whatever your business, you need to understand the series of events involved with how new customers engage and convert.

Equally important, you should evaluate how existing customers continue to make purchases, kick off new projects, or simply maintain their current level of business with you. This may involve ongoing content that keeps their interest and maintains your prominence and expertise in the industry. This takes me to our next big question....

How will you persuade visitors to convert?

This is the engagement portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website effectiveness. What sort of content should you provide to initially engage or maintain the interest of your constituents? Great content leads to great conversions. If you cannot capture the attention of your website's visitors then you're not going to convert them. It's that simple.

Engagement is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYou can maintain a blog about best practices, put together quarterly white papers, create a video series, or write how-to's that demonstrate your products. Content comes in many forms and you need to understand (and experiment) with what motivates your audience to read, watch, or listen to the content you provide. This will be an evolution and probably not something you'll get right the first time.

Your content can be educational, entertaining, inspiring, etc. Again, this depends on your audience and knowing what will motivate them to engage.

Once you begin pushing content you should check your website analytics and measure visitor counts (new vs. returning), time on site (narrowed down to individual pages), referrers (where visitors come from), and bounce rate (visitors who land somewhere in your website and then quickly leave). These are the basics that will lead you in the direction of providing better stuff. You'll want increasing visitor counts, increasing time on site, increasing referrers, and a low bounce rate. 

How will you get visitors to your site?

Oculus Rift is awesome and visibility is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYour content may be well written, highly engaging, and exude your expertise. But without people reading or watching it, who cares? This is where the visibility portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website marketing comes in. You must promote your content before you get followers. Eventually, if it is good enough, people will help spread it for you. But you should always include some content promotion in your plans.

If you haven't established a presence within social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc), then you'll want to do this as part of your content marketing efforts. I won't get into specifics regarding social media here but with established social media connections your content will reach the eyes of current and prospective customers. If interested, they may read your blog post, and even more important, if your content engaged them and provided some benefit (learning a new skill, laughing, etc) they may even share it within their network.

Other ways to promote your content may include adding it to a regular email newsletter, submitting to local news agencies, presenting it during seminars or webinars, or asking others in your industry to read it and share it. Regardless of the channels you use you will always need to promote.

Who creates the content?

You. Or Sam from sales. Or the CEO. Or everyone. Whoever you choose make sure they want to. A couple years ago I ordered everyone in our office to blog. Some were required to write a post only once per month, some twice a month, and others once a week. Most of my staff complied, some grudgingly, others never contributed a thing. I don't think it was because they were intentionally ignoring me but likely because they just aren't writers and couldn't tackle the job.

The point is, you need to have serious buy-in from whomever provides content. If they are on staff, volunteers will outperform those mandated. Some people just don't want to be public. They enjoy being behind the scenes. Others want that publicity, to be recognized, and to be a more visible piece of the company.

Don't cast aside the possibility of outsourcing your content creation. There are numerous online copywriting services and you probably have a slew of agencies in town happy to assist. Video writers, producers, and actors are also more and more available. These should be an option to individuals with little time. Just make sure the resulting content is representative of your organization.

When to start?

Now. Building visibility, engagement, and conversions takes time and consistency. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to build and maintain your audience. And the longer it will take to see results, if any.

Good luck and remember, you survived the zombie apocalypse so you can conquer just about anything now, especially a non-threatening content marketing effort.

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