I'm amazed that the humble website can still surprise me sometimes. We've had decades to establish tried-and-true best practices for the medium. And we have. But even within those parameters, the variety and imagination on display is boundless.
To some extent, websites are like fashion. Designs evolve, features go in and out of fashion -- and then come back. Online, however, the trends are understandably driven by technology -- new possibilities enabled by faster internet connections and savvier users, and then reimagined for a mobile age.
The sites in this article have caught my attention not only because of their designs, but also because of the content strategies behind them. Add your own favorites in the comments!
The online manifestation of the partnership between the movie "Interstellar" and Google Play is immersive and interactive. It enables you to navigate the depths of outer space and make movie-related discoveries on your journey. That's been done before, of course. But what is particularly well-executed on the site is the presentation of the "Interstellar"-Google Play collaboration on the short film "EMIC." Available for free on Google Play, the film builds off the themes of "Interstellar." It weaves submissions from people around the world into a story celebrating the human experience on Earth. The film is intended to serve as a time capsule of what life on Earth was like, should we leave this planet.
Smartly, the site also provides a section for educators, with lesson plans -- by age -- for teachers looking to watch and explore the film with their students.
Whatever sales manager said it's "a numbers game" is responsible for why customers don't get back to sales people. Buying a list of names and sending a generic or semi-customized email -- the old spray and pray sales philosophy -- is the equivalent of throwing a handful of spaghetti against the wall, hoping one noodle will stick. While one may stick, all the other noodles will be on the floor and ruined. Those ruined noodles are the future of your business. Don't throw them on the floor. Instead, throw the ones that are ready to cook in the boiling water and save the rest for later. You may be hungry.
Competition to generate revenue is fiercer than ever, as emerging technologies rise to compete for dollars across multiple industries and traditional players fight to maintain their positions. The rise of the internet and big data has made depth of product and pricing information available to anyone -- and seemingly commoditized products, threatening to eliminate the need for sales people. However, hidden within this challenging marketplace are opportunities for elite sales people to disrupt industry norms, increase revenue, and differentiate themselves from competitors in 2016.
So how do you cut through the information overload to increase your revenue? These five elite secrets will help your sales pitch stick and allow you to exceed your sales targets.
You need to pinpoint the customers that are absolutely perfect for your business. Less is truly more. Start with the following questions and keep filtering your list until you have a small group of "A" prospects.
Which customers want the precise product you deliver?
Of those, which customers are open to change -- whether trying something new or increasing investment levels?
Then, of those, which will have trigger events next year? This is different for every industry. For advertising, if a brand is launching a new product or re-positioning themselves, it's a trigger event. Getting married is a trigger event for the insurance industry. Find ways to identify trigger events and reach out to your customers as they happen.
Business is built on relationships. Your immediate and future success depend upon establishing trust and becoming someone that customers turn to for solutions.
Never eat alone
I first read the book "Never Eat Alone" by myself in a Chinese restaurant. Read that sentence again. I was asked on a recent interview what is the best thing you can buy for under $100. Without hesitation, my answer was a meal with a potential client. Over a meal, I get to know them and learn what excites and challenges them. That gives me the opportunity to be helpful -- whether it is with my product or introducing them to someone else who might add value. Worst case scenario -- you make a new friend.
Connect without selling
Please slow down before you begin a PowerPoint presentation. (Don't get me wrong -- I love PowerPoint -- I send PowerPoint recaps of family vacations.) But you need to establish a connection, trust, and prove you are focused on providing them with solutions -- not trying to preach to them or line your pockets with their money.
Just because you see an opportunity for revenue does not mean it is the right fit for the customer. See the world through their eyes. If they just got married, they want to protect their new family. That's what you can help them with -- not pitch your new insurance product. Walk a mile in their shoes and deeply understand their vantage point.
During every meeting you should begin by asking in-depth questions about their objectives, challenges, fears and aspirations.
Stop regurgitating your generic pitch. Show your customers how you can scratch their very specific itch. Your product doesn't change, but its value is different from client to client. Your product/service is a chameleon -- still the same lizard at its core -- but your colors change based on your surroundings and you should highlight attributes that solve the customer's challenges.
My mother convinced me that if I didn't write a thank you note for every gift I received, I may never receive another one. If someone is willing to invest their time meeting with you, that is a gift and should be treated as such. Additionally, a thank you note is a powerful sales tool that can exponentially reward the time, creativity and thoughtfulness you pour into it. Be concise. Be personal. And set forth a course of action -- the action that will bridge the process from meeting to a partnership.
You can spend in the high six-figures "investing" in sales tools, contact lists, subscriptions, etc. It's easy to feel that you "need" them in order to succeed. Spending heavily is a premature exercise and giant slurp of your most valuable resource -- time. Do not overcomplicate it. Spending hours doing data entry are hours not spent reaching out to customers to drive revenue. Keep it simple. When you are generating more than $50 million, you can invest in the fancy tools to make your data look pretty. Look for simple, intuitive tools that can scale with your business like Pipedrive CRM and LinkedIn Premium to find leads. Remember to spend your time and money on your customers not on fancy tools.
If you can stop wasting noodles and focus your efforts on being a true resource for the right prospects -- you will see your revenue skyrocket in 2016.
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The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) featured key marketing and advertising executives who shared strategies on how the growing media industry is to achieve the next $50 billion at their 2016 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting at Palm Desert, California. One of many of the industry's thought leaders to take the stage was Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer at Taco Bell, who addressed the need to embrace Pandora's box of marketing and how it can lead to effective storytelling.
There is now more content in more places due to the evolution of digital and social media, and yet the industry is marketing in a box of paradoxes. In our digitally driven world, the burden and opportunity for marketers is to embrace both sides of the equation or they will get stuck and paralyzed on ways to drive their brand forward, observes. She calls for today's marketer to recognize, embrace, and then integrate these ironies in order to win at effective storytelling. Thalberg reinforces that ultimately we need to tell more stories in the right ways and the right places.
Here are the seven paradoxes marketers need to embrace in today's connected world:
1) Content is expected to be available everywhere, but consumers feel exposed to too much advertising and marketing.
2) Brands are publishers and also advertisers.
3) In a connected world, brand stories are global and still need to be told locally.
4) Marketers need to communicate through individual campaigns and continuous content.
5) Marketing is both art and science.
6) Great content creation can be elite and also democratic.
7) There is a need to drive sales overnight and drive brand overtime.
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
"Particularly in a fast-changing field like digital marketing, look for an agency that has a large proportion of clients who continuously seek their guidance. Agency fit comes down to two factors: helping to create something new based on current conditions, and when specialization is needed to make a project come to life."
"Who will your point of contact be after the deal is closed? Will the 'salesman' disappear and leave you with an intern as a point of contact? Make sure you know who you will be dealing with at all times and request the best account managers so you don't get brushed off to a bad one."
"The key to the game, once you have decided to co-work some parts of your digital strategy, is to have someone help you with the right credentials. You need a digital agency that can prove results -- both hard, fact-based and number-oriented results. Beautiful colors and slides cannot replace cold number results. If your agency is not able to show you numbers, look for another agency."
"You want to ask them about their process. A good agency should be able to create a 6-month plan for you where they can describe the approach for on-page optimization, content marketing, social marketing, blogging, backlinking, etc. The plan should show the cost, all activities to be performed, and the expected result. The plan will allow you to know their strengths and decide."
"There's an old saying in the ad business. It's not what you can do -- it's what you've done. Get proof they've done this before. Any digital agency worth their salt will give you direct access to speak with two of their key clients. Ask them about performance, problems, and their opinion on whether they think the agency can help your business or not."
"I would ask them for two or three different examples of campaigns that they have done in the past (with analytics proof) of the return on investment to the customer. This should give you a good feel on if they are an agency that even cares about these metrics. I find that when an agency has this ready, it's something they've thought about in the past and care about. If they don't have it ready, I find it means they don't care enough."
"Nobody knows a business like your own people. This is the Achilles' heel of the agency business. If digital marketing is something so important to your company that you can't exist without it as a startup, grow digital marketing expertise from within. When you're ready to make the agency hire, maybe start with a freelance engineer first to see the scope of what you really need."
"Most startups fail because they don't have a clear understanding of goals. Cost per lead doesn't matter if you don't know what a lead is worth. Agencies that ask the right questions and challenge the goals and assumptions of startups are the best partners. Look for an agency that challenges your assumptions with a detailed understanding of business metrics, not just marketing lingo."
"One key metric to ask a digital marketing agency before hiring them is what their ROI (return on investment) range is among their customers. Ask them for the lowest and highest ROIs as well as the average, especially for comparable companies in your industry. They might even have case studies you can read. This will give you a sense of the expected impact they can have on your business."
"A great digital agency isn't going to disclose clients' performance numbers, so don't rely on that as an indicator of their skill. However, you can glean a lot by paying attention to what they ask you. If they only ask you about your web traffic, keep looking. That's a vanity metric. You want an agency that probes you about meaningful marketing metrics, such as customer acquisition costs."
"What I really like to see is experience with clients who are in my field. I prefer people who have done marketing for people in my industry long enough to understand my unique needs. Working with someone who has never marketed for construction means a lot of extra work explaining my motivations."
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Networking in the digital world seems to take more time and effort than ever. Emails, LinkedIn, and networking events are just the tip of the iceberg for today's marketers. On top of the time investment and all of the different platforms to keep track of, there's also the matter of knowing how to network. For a lot of people, it doesn't come easily. Maybe your networking skills are a little rusty or you're afraid you'll clam up in a crowded room of desirable contacts. Regardless of the challenge ahead, the following tips from successful marketers are sure to help you out when it comes time to make that great connection.
Kent Lewis, president, Anvil Media
My networking secret is to leverage LinkedIn Pulse to increase awareness within and outside my network. I'm able to demonstrate my knowledge and experience regarding my subject matter expertise as a digital marketer and to stay top-of-mind by automatically entering the status updates of my LinkedIn connections. LinkedIn Pulse is free, easy and highly visible. Not only am I able to tap my LinkedIn network, but I use Pulse as my personal blog platform and promote the posts across my social profiles and electronic collateral. Unlike a personal blog where you have to build a following from scratch, Pulse has a built-in readership via your personal network (which is notified every time you post a new article). Of course I recommend sharing the post to your network through the LinkedIn share icon, as well as through your other social profiles including Twitter and Google+. If your article gets the attention of a Pulse editor and gets featured in the feed, you can expect a significant boost in readership, although this is rare if you are not already a high-profile subject matter expert. Bottom line, Pulse gives me the added visibility and credibility I need to grow my network.
Tom Edwards, chief digital officer, agency, Epsilon
There is a give and take to networking. There are times when you are creating value and others when you need to leverage the network. The key is to ensure that you are creating more value vs. constantly burdening your network. I focus on creating value for my network when possible through insights, content, connections, and advice. It is important to understand that every interaction leaves an impression. The key is to be consistent and deliberate about the value you are creating.
What do you see in the cloud?
Everyone in digital marketing has their heads in the cloud -- the marketing cloud, to be precise. The marketing cloud might very possibly be the most-discussed and at the same time, least-defined term digital marketing has ever seen (and we've seen a lot of new terminology and neologisms).
What is the marketing cloud? What's its promise, and what's its future? Let's unpack how marketing technology is evolving into that elusive cloud and the role it plays, and will play, in marketing's future. (Credit is due to CIO.com's Matt Kapko for sparking these thoughts in a recent interview.)
The marketing cloud promises to make all marketing operations faster, easier, more streamlined, efficient and optimized -- to deliver measureable results and actionable data that's integrated not only across marketing, but across the entire enterprise as well as the scope of customer experience with the brand, product and/or service.
The marketing cloud is not yet ready for prime time. We're still in an era of hyper-growth, development, and refinement of not only marketing technologies, but also of marketing channels and media. The promise is that everything will somehow pan out, streamline, integrate and just plain work. The reality is that we're still very much in the cycle of building, invention, disruption, and innovating. There's little in marketing technology that's static or standardized. This shouldn't be confused with failure, but it's hard to adjust and refine during a period of hyper-growth.
Integration is a huge issue. As an analyst, I've surveyed marketers on what enterprise software they want and need marketing technology to play nice with. Responses stray far from just marketing -- I've heard everything from financial software to telephony. But we're still at a stage where, for example, content software, social media software, and advertising technology exist in very separate silos. So, too, does digital asset management. And that's to say nothing of the need to integrate with outside vendor and technology partners. Other issues include marketers investing in one solution to solve a problem, then acquiring another software package with duplicative functionality. There's such quick evolution that basic education and understanding of the space is problematic.
Consumers complicate the marketing cloud landscape even more. CRM, for example, is a function that exists outside of marketing, replete with its own tech solutions. Mobile, too, is often in a corporate silo -- enterprise organization certainly plays into this to reach the right consumer with the right message at the right time not only requires technological integrations, but also an orchestrated waltz between the CMO, CIO, and CTO. Throw in customer service, HR, and various and sundry other departments and you've got geometrically multiplying layers of complexity.
That's to say nothing, of course, about not creeping consumers out by acting snoopy or Big Brotherish. (And please, no data breaches!)
Consumer expectations are high when it comes to marketing. It's incumbent on brands to deliver the experiences they expect -- and even to exceed those expectations. Consumers have the power to go elsewhere now more than ever. That's exactly what they will do with ever-increasing levels of transparency, trust, service, experience, and pricing.
The marketing cloud can go a long way in helping to unify and connect the dots between marketing and advertising, between paid, owned, and earned media, as well as data and other functions. But we're far from resolution and standardization.
The perception of programmatic ad buying has undergone a dramatic shift in about half a decade, traveling from skepticism, to widespread adoption, to its current increased level of scrutiny. With the rise in ad blocking, following concerns about viewability and bot traffic, online advertising today feels like an industry under siege. Advertisers and agencies that have invested in technology stacks for buying display and video should rightfully be second-guessing themselves.
While all of this transpired, the social channel, and especially Facebook, experienced a narrative shift of its own. While social came under fire in the early days for not fitting into the extant online advertising model, it's now emerged as one of the most viable alternative to a problem-riddled "open" web of exchanges and buying platforms. Rather than fit in, it appears that social has rewritten the rules, and could potentially mark a new way to buy digital campaigns, but only if advertisers make a philosophical shift in what they value.
Facebook has very publicly tried to address some of the problems plaguing the open web, the most recent effort being guaranteed 100 percent viewable ad impressions supported by measurement from Moat. This is huge, because by some estimates as much as one third of all paid impressions across the web originate from Facebook, and agencies have pushed for some form of third-party verification on the network.
For the other two-thirds of available impressions on the open web, viewability rates are less than encouraging. Google reported that the average publisher viewability at 50.2 percent a year ago, while Xaxis finds that only 40 percent of impressions are viewable, according to AdExchanger. So advertisers have a choice -- use Facebook's third to deliver in-view impressions, or take their chances on the open web, where as little as half of the impressions are viewable.
That fact alone should make Facebook incredibly appealing to those dissatisfied with programmatic, but there's another philosophical change required of advertisers. One of the biggest drivers of open-web programmatic ad buying has been that once advertisers identify and target an audience, they can control the frequency of their messages. This frequency capping has been one of the major tenants of online advertising, as brands and agencies have come to fear the negative effects of overexposure.
Yet Facebook's scale is so large that frequency capping is almost irrelevant, unless the advertiser leverages the most detailed targeting possible. This is one of the network's strengths, and they are extending this massive reach through acquisitions like LiveRail, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Once the network fully deploys Atlas, it will be able to help advertisers determine where it's best to serve each ad within this growing ecosystem.
Advertisers focused on the open web are likely looking at frequency and viewability and feeling that they are being forced to make a choice between the two. Facebook makes it so that brands don't have to choose -- they can have viewability, and they can employ frequency capping if needed. Social platforms have become so effective that it may be time for advertisers to trust the delivery mechanism and simply measure the effectiveness of the ads themselves, rather than fret about viewability metrics or frequency caps.
What we're seeing, after years of building ad products, is that Facebook hasn't built something to exist within a fundamentally flawed advertising system, but to replace it. That may be an audacious claim, but it gets more believable each day. The internet is increasingly becoming Facebook-addressable, and as audiences shift to mobile, Facebook is one of the few players that can realistically tie consumers to desktop activity. While the rest of the world preps for the end of cookies, Facebook and its social network peers are already dominating on mobile.
Furthermore, Facebook, consumers can't block ads. So while blocking is becoming the scourge of the open web and the programmatic technology used to buy ads, it's not a problem on social. The open web is clunky, and Facebook is hanging its hat on the fact that is has better data, a more interesting user experience, and a customizable advertising experience -- while previous faults, like a lack of measurability and attribution, are being addressed.
Marketers may still want control of how frequently consumers see their ads, but what happens if half of the inventory they'd like to buy is suddenly unavailable, either via ad blocking, viewability issues, or because it's fraudulent? The prognosis that Facebook will completely reinvent advertising may or may not turn out to be true, but it's impossible to deny the appeal of a platform that avoids all those issues. Social grants advertisers the safety they want -- the question is if they're willing to bend their philosophies to get the results they want.
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UX design is big business these days. Major brands have important high paying positions dedicated to professionals who can ensure that users will have a good time while browsing their websites. Problematically, these professionals are often undermining another industry essential: the SEO.
SEOs are used to having their say, and this new supplanting of their position isn't sitting well. What's more, it's counterproductive overall. Good UX should add to SEO and vice versa. In an ideal world, the two are never at odds. Unfortunately, this isn't an ideal world and there remains plenty of conflict between these two interests.
So the question becomes one of balance. How can both needs be met without sacrificing the integrity of either the user experience or the organic search rankings? Let's unravel these so-called conflicts and see if we can't engineer some solutions.
The main conflict that often divides professionals of either the UX or SEO ilk is of an aesthetic nature. To sum it up: too much text just isn't very pretty.
Unfortunately, in competitive markets, ranking keywords often requires a lot of text. The issue is, from a UX standpoint, that text-heavy homepages aren't super attractive. Neither are they good for facilitating the overall flow of a user path. Immediately being presented with an abundance of reading as soon as you land on a page is often off-putting to many users. It requires a significant investment of time and attention that many users just aren't prepared to make upon arrival.
This ranking requirement isn't as necessary when a site has a significant number of referring domains and links already in its pocket, but that's not often the case. UX has its own ranking factors to offset the need for a lot of text. Engagement and time spent on the site are powerful ranking factors that have been included in Google's Panda algorithm -- however, neither supplants the need for targeted keywords completely.
The real problem is that to actually rank for competitive keywords, you need a lot of text. Repeating keywords too many times in a small space is called keyword stuffing, and it sounds bad to both humans and search spiders alike. It can alienate users, which results in a bounce back to the search results and can negatively impact SEO efforts. Spacing out keywords in longer content blocks, on the other hand, will increase the likelihood of a higher ranking and prevent your text from sounding redundant and offensive to visitors. So what can be done to serve both ends?
One method of balancing the needs of both UX and local SEO is to carefully decide where your text-heavy sections are going to go. Longer text blocks don't need to be at the top of the page. Above the fold text should be sparing and succinct, used to introduce big ideas rather than explain details.
Keep your minimalist aesthetics and fancy design elements in place but farther down the page, explain specific product offerings, describe services, provide text blurbs about recent events, and otherwise take the opportunity to expound upon the branding while including those pesky competitive keywords.
Moreover, don't feel pressured to include long form content in any particular element. You can target two or three keywords in multiple areas on the homepage:
Any anchors linking to other parts of the site can include keywords as long as they make sense, contextually. And adding keywords to headings or taglines is a time-honored SEO tradition. You aren't limited to stuffing the same phrase into different positions either.
Repeat your targeted phrases sparingly and intelligently, but not in such a way that would sound funny when read aloud. The real trick is not to get so focused on your keywords that you compromise the quality of the content as a whole. Use common sense and creative action to serve both the on-page SEO and the overall UX.
Another consideration to make is whether or not it's necessary to have these text-heavy elements on the home page specifically. If the purpose of the website necessitates that a lot be explained up front, that's one thing. However, if multiple child pages with longer text explains points that the homepage merely alludes to, then that could be a valid solution as well.
The worst thing you can do is overdesign to fit an abundance of text where it doesn't belong.
Animations and other interesting new UI elements have made the web a wacky and visually engrossing place to travel about in 2015. Unfortunately, overdesigning a website in order to provide a more engaging UX can end up doing just the opposite.
Websites with too many design elements can be just as unattractive as bland sites with nothing but text -- and worse, they're more difficult to navigate. The addition of too many design elements makes an interface:
Thus a well-intentioned overabundance of design elements (no doubt included to provide for the user's every eventual need) ends up negatively effecting the UX, and as a direct consequence, the SEO as well.
UX is a significant ranking factor in a website's SEO because it's interpreted by the search engines as signifying higher quality of content based on user engagement. People clicked through to find content concerning a specific subject and stayed on a page because they were engaged by what they found. Thus the positive impact on SEO.
However, when there's too much work invested in UX design, the website can often look plain ridiculous. This is nothing more than shoddy UX design. Effective and well thought out UX design puts the user front and center, giving their needs primary weight.
That doesn't mean bombarding them with a volley of slick elements. It means giving them what they came for in a balanced and attractive manner. It's easy to do this without assaulting the senses as well. Moreover, doing so will prove that any organic traffic your site gets is well-warranted, and only add to its authority.
With this in mind, remember these three maxims when designing to meet both SEO and UX benchmarks:
Clarity over confusion
Positive UX requires clarity, provides users with explanatory text where needed, and allows them freedom of movement to explore content which goes into more detail, either below the fold or elsewhere on the site.
Necessity determines placement
When prototyping your designs, ask yourself which elements are necessary to the goals of both the user and the website itself (among which SEO has to be counted). If an element doesn't meet both sets of needs, then it isn't necessary and must be removed.
Collaboration is key
The relationship between UX and SEO doesn't have to be contentious. Reach out to SEOs on your team, gather their input, and see if you can't work together to brainstorm a more effective design in both respects.
What other ways can you think of to bridge the gap between UX and SEO? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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Marketers know when a video is played, the amount of time it runs, and engagement metrics pretty well. However, video marketing blindness (whether a person is actually watching or ignoring it), placement of video (viewability), and how much they are engaged are important pain points the industry can't ignore. Abbey Thomas, head of entertainment and auto at Tremor Video, elaborates on this difficult challenge at the thinkLA Entertainment Breakfast.
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Article written by media production manager David Zaleski and video edited by associate media producer Brian Waters.
"laptop and financial chart with glowing points on abstract background." image via iStock.
WARNING! There are spoilers in this story.
There are spoilers because it's been way more than a month since Disney released "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." In that time, the movie has done nearly $2 billion in global box office. "The Force Awakens" is a force to be reckoned with, but it's also an epic cultural phenomenon. So if this article somehow spoils the film for you -- well, at this point, that's on you.
Seriously, if you haven't seen the movie by now (and you still really want to), you should just close your browser, step away from your screen, and go. Just go. We'll be here when you get back.
It's not that this article is about the movie, per se. It's actually about the marketing juggernaut that George Lucas built, that Disney supercharged as only Disney can, and that we all embraced. It's an article about hot chocolate, fruit, laptop computers, and breakfast cereal.
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