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I've been in the recruiting business for almost two decades and the question always arises: "How can we hire better and more efficiently?" I would venture to say that most of my clients believe that they have a strategic hiring process in place; however, when asked "why" they are looking to hire, their answers are typically based on their immediate needs, instead of the future of the organization. Basically it's usually a reaction to new or lost business and/or retention issues, rather than planning for growth.

There are three key types of hiring in business: strategic, opportunistic and reactive. Knowing when and how to differentiate between them can mean the difference between high performance and underwhelming ROI.

Strategic hiring

Strategic hiring is part of your vision. It's not what you have today, but where you need to be tomorrow, and who is going to be on your proverbial bus. Strategic hiring needs to be an integral part of your business planning process. In a recent conversation with Chris Powell, CEO of Blackbook HR, he said that he believes that "strategic hiring is being intentional."

As you carefully look at the markets you intend to enter, expand, or exit, you should define the pivotal strategies required to enhance your market share, and the key resources (talent) available within the firm. If they are not available in-house, then you need to define the strategic hires necessary to support you. Powell believes that you must "know what skills, knowledge, and attribute you need to achieve what types of outcomes." Adding on to this, Powell wants to understand "what's the performance expectation; what do you need a person to do; what you want them to achieve, and how they should do it?"

When you have clear intent and purpose around these things, that is strategic hiring. When you're ready to explore the market, don't leave it up to an inexperienced manager, who doesn't understand your strategic business needs and goals, never mind understanding the intricacies of today's demanding skill sets. Hiring talent is usually your most costly investment and if you're going to rely on your junior staffers, at least help them prepare a list of qualifications, including position responsibilities, education, years of experience, technical or business strength requirements, and salary range.

Investing in today's uncertain world of economic ups and downs, leaders need to pay attention to their growth strategy. When hiring your top performers, it's also equally important to invest in their success. Bruce Budkofsky, vice president of dales at Vindico, a video ad serving platform for agencies, said that he implements a number of things that he personally believes in to make the most of his talent investment. "I recognize that I'm paying someone for their skills and their past performance regarding accomplishments; however, the more I can invest in them through training, and helping them build their own relationships in the market place by sending them to conferences or having them join different associations and important boards, the better their chances of success."

Strategic hiring is especially important when your company is experiencing an economic down turn. We all hear about massive lay-offs and cost cutting, but often I fear that trimming the bottom-line doesn't always take into account the top line.  Powell states that "some talent trimming is reactionary (e.g., "Hey, we've hit a blip in productivity or performance in the business and we have to shrink down´┐Ż") and then they do it without really being strategic about it." Powell believes that while you are "trimming down, there's still an opportunity to be strategic. There are business and market cycles, and two years from now things could change, so how are you going to calibrate and modify your business practices to be able to retain and grow talent?"

Opportunistic hiring

I make it a point to meet these stars, the outstanding candidates, "achievers," "rock stars." Often these stellar candidates are passed over, because he or she doesn't fit the open job spec or the person recruiting has a narrow understanding of the profile and is unable to see the value. However, many of these rainmakers can bring clients with them, find opportunities where most never know they exist, and keep other peoples' plates full by bringing value. If you're not thinking strategically and/or opportunistically, you're at a disadvantage. And as I always tell people, when opportunity knocks, open the door.

When market leaders thoughtfully plan and execute strategic hiring plans, it transforms the company. When your team's bench has key players, a list of multi-talented future stars, your current state of business and future will grow. Your employee brand will be laid out and you will be able to attract the best people to your door. Before you embark on a human resources strategy, you must have a consistent philosophy about how you will manage your people. Although many leaders try to keep costs down, don't cut corners on new hire screening and selection tools.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Keenan Beasley, cofounder and managing director of The Strategy Collective, a boutique agency. I asked Keenan if he ever hired opportunistically: "Absolutely. A producer I met was a rock star, I had seen his work with other agencies. We were having a conversation and I didn't have a role available, but when he said he was interested in joining, I just jumped on it and brought him in. I knew from a strategic standpoint the value of production for our group, so that's an investment we are willing to make on an individual because we know that returns will be there."

Keenan is a rare breed of entrepreneurial leaders who "don't hire just positions, we hire people who are poly-disciplined." And Keenan can't afford to hire narrow-minded, one-trick pony individuals -- he doesn't just hire "a copywriter or just a designer, you are a creator´┐Żeveryone in our company creates."

Reactive hiring

Most of us are guilty of reactive hiring, and most of the hiring that we see is reactive. Reactive hiring is when hiring managers react to needs rather than plan for them. Senior executives often find themselves in desperate straits because, while their key people are overworked or behind schedule, your client nevertheless expects the schedule to be maintained. Only when we are in the crisis do we alert the human resource team, and the recruiting process begins.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it takes time to hire key talent. While in the reactive mode, we have the tendency to hire someone to fill a specific need and often rush the process or potentially ignore someone who may bring more value to the firm in the long run. There will always be reactive recruiting, and sometimes being able to react quickly is essential -- however, I would venture to say that strategic and opportunistic hiring are much better approaches.

What are leaders doing to ensure that they hire only essential talent? And the question really is about essential people.  If they are not adding, then why are they working at your company? A hiring manager's number one job is to increase the number of market leaders, client leaders, and top-notch doers in order to attract new clients and secure more of your existing clients' business.

The future´┐Ż

Since hiring is an essential part of your vision, I recommend that you bring in your most respected leaders at your company and have them be part of your plan. Define a vision and communicate that vision to your human resources. Evolving a high-performance organization is difficult, but the payoff is huge. By focusing on the quality of people, rather than body count, you not only increase your company's profits, but you will develop a corporate culture that reflects your business vision.

Recruiting, recruiting, and repeat´┐Ż

  • Be personable. Relate to the candidates within their world and not just within yours.
  • Be cultural. Let them know what sets your firm apart culturally, as a collection of unique and talented individuals.
  • Be a listener. Engage them by letting them interview you as part of the conversation.
  • Be open. Discuss how they can be contributing members in accomplishing the bigger picture, the firm's vision.
  • Be visionary. Let them see your passion for pursuing the firm's vision. People are looking for more than a job or even projects.

Successful companies recruit through their most visionary leader(s). Your clients are attracted to them, and potential staff will be, too. It's not something to be taken lightly, and it's definitely not something to be delegated. Filling your company with quality people requires a streamlined process for identifying, interviewing, and signing top candidates. Believe it or not, hiring should start with your strategic business plan.

Erika Weinstein is CEO and founder of eTeam Executive Search

On Twitter? Follow Erika Weinstein at @eTeamSearch. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 

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A long time ago, travel was a fairly sleepy industry. Then came the digital and the massive social and cultural changes of the last three decades, which disrupted the business in astounding ways, and gave users more choices and control over their experiences. Here are five of the big forces that are reshaping travel marketing in 2016, and how they continue to transform that massive and expansive travel industry.

The collaborative economy

Suffice it to say, AirBnB and companies like it are radically changing the travel landscape. One of the big ways that peer to peer stays are filling a unique need is that, according to Airbnb, 72 percent of their available venues are outside of central urban zip codes, versus 26 percent for hotel chains. They also tend to offer lower price points, enabling people to stay, on average, for longer periods of time and in locations that are more suited to their individual needs.

But there's a lot more to the collaborative economy than home stays, and it's definitely changing both the core offerings and available amenities at travel providers. Uber, Lyft, Olacab, and Grab are reshaping the transportation industry. Ditto hourly car and bike rental services like Zipcar, GetAround, and Enterprise Car Share. Vayable and Viator enable people to offer individualized activities to travelers, reshaping the tour business. Upaji, FeastWith, and Vizeat empower travelers to share meals with locals instead of only going to restaurants.

And travel companies are also offering on-premise services related to the collaborative economy. Virgin Hotels and Gap, for example, have a deal that enables hotel guests to order and receive "emergency" clothes in their rooms, without visiting a retail store.

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The shiny age of "ad tech" has slowly faded into a deep abyss as the growth of digital advertising calls for more transparent practices and scale than ever before, with a need for solutions that offer more than just general technology for advertising's sake. This need couldn't come at a better time, as in Q3 of 2015 alone, the U.S. reached its highest spend ever with $15 billion in ad revenue, according to IAB

While it may seem evident that we're on the brink of a digital advertising spend boom, there are still a number of challenges that must be addressed from ad fraud to ad waste, ad blocking to relevancy, in order to maximize this upward trend. Despite the fact that the list of problems seems never ending, we find ourselves in a good position to tackle the ultimate question head on: what can really be done?

Time to address the hype

With most of the "hype" around ad fraud and intrusive ad placements, there is a bit of opacity in the industry, as advertisers tend to turn a blind eye when certain problems and issues are brought up. However, we are starting to notice that these problems could be capping even greater industry growth, due to the sheer fact alone that brands and advertisers today are begging for a better experience when it comes to engaging consumers. On a constant mission for better relevancy and less intrusiveness, advertisers are increasingly raising questions about the transparency of decisions and the costs involved across the entire ecosystem. This is where hype turns into reality.
 
As of late, neither the publisher nor the advertiser has had a complete view of the whole buying and selling process. With little insight into where their ad spend is actually going, the advertiser has a poor experience because they are unable to get a clear and accurate view of their return on investment.  At the same time, publishers often see only a proportion of the total revenue and not the full fee paid by the advertiser. In this environment, many different tech providers are competing to try to bring an additional benefit to the process.

The irony is that there are so many of these point solutions that it's hard for them to create any real value, for the publisher or the advertiser. Until now, no single party has had a complete view of the whole buying and selling process. When all is said and done, despite these problems, one thing will remain certain; advertising is not going anywhere -- people need it. So this is just the beginning of the rally cry to the industry. The time has come for the advertising industry to face a reality check and get its act together.

Time to fix what's broken

With so much fraud and waste in the industry, there needs to be a stable "fix" that benefits everyone -- publishers, advertisers, and consumers alike. And while the industry is optimistic that the current problems stirring up will be the best thing that has happened to the space in a long time, more people need to make this a priority in order to ramp up the timeline for change.

One of the biggest problems is that we live in a quarterly business world. Getting rid of waste and fraud at once will hurt businesses for some time, but it's the only way to "cure" the problem and create a long-term solution.

Until this happens everywhere, we must continue to push for solutions where the right message is delivered to the right person, in the right format, at the right time -- basic principles of marketing. Only then can we provide total transparency to create a more streamlined, understandable, and positive experience for everyone involved. By becoming more transparent, advertisers will have better-performing ads, which in turn makes publishers more money with less ads. This will help allow for a better user experience and a better balance between the value exchange between ads and free content, a problem that has led to the rapid growth in popularity of ad blockers. Consumers are being turned off by intrusive, irrelevant advertising content, and advertisers are having to go after cost, meaning it's a race to the bottom. A strengthening between these groups needs to happen´┐Żand fast.

The only way for publishers to win back user loyalty and trust is to provide a better, cleaner content-consumption experience. We can clearly see from the latest IAB revenue figures that digital advertising is going to continue to post massive growth figures, despite the issues addressed. For consumers to get access to free, high-quality content and have a more pleasant experience that is informative and relevant, consumers need to actually start to value the ads -- in the same way readers who buy "Vogue" or "GQ" value the ads from high-end luxury brands, where the ads are as much a part of the content as the editorial. 

With all of this change taking place, the time is now to say goodbye to the ways of old ad tech, and usher in new solutions that offer a win-win-win for publishers, advertisers, and consumers alike. Only time will separate the problems from the solutions, the opaque from the transparent, and the old ad tech from the new.

Antti Pasila is founder and CCO at Kiosked.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet. 

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In 1995, YouTube launched as the first video-sharing website where users could upload, share, and view videos with a simple click of a mouse. In the beginning, marketers failed to recognize the potential of video as a marketing asset and they did not utilize the platform in a meaningful way. Slowly though, industry ears perked up when they realized popular videos could be monetized through overlay and display ads. This was just the beginning. Fast-forward 20 years, and the rise of video marketing has skyrocketed.

The use of video in marketing has evolved over time from personal marketing campaigns, to viral marketing, to the current age of social video marketing. Even from its humble beginnings, video has dramatically defined how brands communicate with the outside world and how marketing professionals tell their stories. Throughout 2016 and beyond, video will continue to be one of the most crucial tools for a brand's success. By 2017, it's projected that 74 percent of all internet traffic will be in the form of video -- a staggering majority. And a recent Nielsen survey reported that 64 percent of marketers believe video will continue to reign supreme.

The demand for video is driven by consumers' dwindling attention spans, a backlash against traditional advertising, and an increasing appetite for visually-stimulating content. Five years from now, one could safely assume consumers might not read articles like this at all -- they might be watching them instead.

Top brands like Lego, Nike, and Dove have pioneered video to engage consumers and potential buyers. Video enables brands to transcend through targeted, personalized, and engaging content. For example, Dove used video to defy traditional beauty standards and inspire self-esteem through the powerful #choosebeautiful video series. Lego, an original pioneer of content marketing, uses video to create small universes on branded microsites, enabling fans to watch their plastic characters come to life. And Nike, along with its #BetterForIt initiative, used video to promote fitness and inner-confidence through original short films. Professional sports teams like the NFL have also pioneered the use of video by using it to offer exclusive content, behind the scenes footage, and branded entertainment experiences. Recognizing the current landscape, one thing is for certain: a brand is no longer bound by the product it sells but instead defined by the ecosystem it creates around it. And video will be the primary tool helping brands broaden their horizons.

To accommodate the demand for video as a content marketing asset and for multimedia campaigns, many top advertising and marketing firms like 72andSunny and BBDO have equipped themselves with large in-house video production studios -- adding a whole new layer to the creative workforce.

Armed with in-house tech-savvy employees, modern marketing and advertising firms are now digital, agile, and looking for new ways to leverage the overwhelming number of information platforms available today to share video content with their audiences. This ranges from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; to legacy sites like YouTube and digital news sites like the New York Times. And, let's not forget the treasure trove of owned brand content in the form of microsites, apps, and blogs.

Video has changed the game, and the ability to think beyond the page and onto the screen is critical to marketers' success. As a bonus, marketers now have the ability to unlock treasure chests of insight about consumers, dramatically freeing up the creativity of companies and brands alike to adopt personalized and tailored strategies that resonate more deeply. Now and in the future, video will be the vehicle to deliver this new creative explosion to the masses.

In the coming years, we'll see more native video ads, greater use of live-streaming, more channel-specific content, and a rise in micro video content. For marketers, the key to survival rests in the ability to pioneer new ways to leverage the medium.

Video will remain an industry darling, and marketing and advertising firms will have to adapt their in-house capacity and business models to survive. From top to bottom, marketing and advertising firms will have to think strategically about how to overcome the challenges of working with video. They will need to overcome the hurdles of producing refreshing and creative content, utilizing appropriate distribution, and achieving positive conversion rates. Marketing and ad firms will also have to keep building robust workforces beyond a traditional scope. This means hiring sophisticated IT departments, production-pros, social media experts, and videographers to effectively exploit video to tell unique stories, reach new audiences, and ultimately boost sales. 

Though the ways in which it will evolve remain to be seen, video is here to stay. For all marketers, the key is recognizing the power that comes from a visual, moving image to say ahead of the curve.

Katie Staveley is VP of marketing at Signiant

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet. 

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It's no secret that marketing, as an industry, loves its acronyms. For better or worse (often worse), we'll try to shorten just about any common phrase over a single syllable.

Over-acronyming (totally a word) can cause confusion when the same acronyms come to mean several things or are incorrectly applied. But there's also another danger: acronyms that are so commonly used that we either forget or never knew what they actually stand for. Sure, we might know enough about their usage to get by in conversation. But not knowing the underlying components of an acronym (or, an initialism, if you want to be a grammar nazi about it) can water down your true understanding of a concept and, worse, leave you open to embarrassment should you fail to recognize the complete phrase when used.

Below is a list of acronyms that, on more than one occasion, I've found to be incompletely understood by the people throwing them around. A simple understanding of the words behind the acronym would have gone a long way in our conversations. What would you add to the list?

CAN-SPAM

Wrong: Cuddly Antelope Necks, Suspiciously Positioned Against Morlocks
Right: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing

Let's start with one that everyone is forgiven for perhaps not knowing. CAN-SPAM, as in The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, changed email marketing forever with its restrictions on when, how, and to whom companies send email. While most marketers at some point have wondered aloud if their tactics are "CAN-SPAM compliant," few recall the massive acronym behind what is now generally regarded as an annoying yet necessary set of restrictions.

But it's worth remembering: More than a decade ago, "pornography" and "marketing" were legislatively lumped together as pervasive societal evils.

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In today's world of digital innovation, advanced tools and targeted campaigns are driving marketers and advertisers to interact with consumers in more tailored, engaging, and pertinent ways. These progressions are being adapted across the spectrum -- from entertainment to political campaigns -- and are shaping consumer experience. Curious to hear from those at the forefront of digital trends, IAB asked industry executives where they saw the biggest opportunities in digital at their 2016 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Desert, California.
 
One of the biggest advancements in digital is the potential to be even more relevant to consumers through the integrated use of mobile and local, says John Costello, president, global marketing and innovation, Dunkin' Brands. This coupling power gives marketers the ability to have 1:1 communication with consumers which can build brand and drive profitable sales, he says.
 
These big changes in digital could be shifting how we shop, proposes Lindsey Slaby, founder, Sunday Dinner. Retail environments are no longer going to be a place just where you shop but where you go to experience and have community, she says, whether it be on your phone or through store displays.
 
Emily Bazelon, staff writer, The New York Times Magazine, sees big potential in the rise of podcasting. As a host of Slate's "Political Gabfest," Bazelon realizes there's a real intimacy to the medium that builds strong a loyalty between the listener and host which can translate into exciting possibilities for hosts, listeners, and advertisers alike.
 
Another big opportunity has to do with tailored packaging and services specifically geared for the consumer. As with all things digital, the power has gone to the consumer, says Jeffrey Cole, director, center of the digital future, University of Southern California.
 
Watch the video to hear more.
 

 
You can see more off-stage interviews and speaker video highlights from the 2016 IAB Annual Leadership Meeting on IABtv. IAB members can see the full videos from ALM by logging into their Member Portal at portal.iab.com

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A hotel manager would never delegate its front-desk service to the building's architect. So why, then, do so many companies task their IT teams with designing customer self-service portals?

As a user-experience designer, I have observed this pattern among service-based companies in industries as far ranging as insurance, healthcare, financial services, and more. Too often, companies treat portals like an afterthought, reducing their value to a tool that cuts costs or lowers call center volume. As a result, these companies either fail to involve UX designers, strategists, service managers, marketers, or data scientists in the process of developing their portals, or they simply purchase portal software from a vendor without considering its implications for the overall service experience or brand.

This is more than just a missed opportunity. If the design of your portal doesn't take stock of your customers' wants and needs, then the end product will likely deliver a sub-par experience that alienates customers and tarnishes your reputation. Moreover, misalignment between your portal, call center, sales force, website, and other external-facing functions can create inconsistencies that negatively impact everything from operations to customer retention. Left unchecked, these problems will cannibalize your brand, albeit slowly and quietly.

The good news is, investing in UX design can change all that. A portal whose design is based on customer insights can provide several competitive advantages for your company. Here are five big ways that your business can benefit, highlighted using familiar digital services and apps.

Improve operational efficiency

A well-designed portal can dramatically improve the efficiency of your customer-service operations while lowering its costs. Companies receive the greatest benefit when their portals are built to automate simple tasks, such as addressing requests for documents or making basic changes to customers' policies. Consider, for instance, how Southwest Airlines' portal allows flyers to easily check in to flights, pull up boarding passes, and change flights. This reduces strain on Southwest's customer-service representatives, improves satisfaction among customers and makes the entire operation run more smoothly.

Capture more data about your customers

The better your portal is designed, the more your customers will use it; and the more that your customers use it, the more data you can gather about them. It's no secret that this kind of data can have huge benefits for your company. For example, it can deliver key insights into how your customers think, act and respond to your services. It can inform the development of new products or help you uncover business opportunities. And it can help you figure out how to tailor your offerings to individual customers. This is one of the reasons why Amazon is such a dominant force in the tech space. It leverages data to develop a rich understanding of individuals' behavior and preferences while keeping tabs on the marketplace at large. That information allows the company to know how, when and where to iterate its offerings to remain relevant. 

Create, test, and deploy services faster

Portals make it easier, faster, and cheaper to add new service offerings to your repertoire. They're also great vehicles for testing prototyped versions of services before you invest time or money into a full-scale launch. Another bonus: The adoption of these services happens faster if they're delivered through a portal that your customers are already using, such as an app. The various loyalty and payment apps of Starbucks (a former client of Blast Radius) have allowed it to innovate and pivot at a blistering pace, contributing in a very real way to its continued dominance of the hyper-competitive world of coffee. This was only possible once the company saw their digital service as a key component of the overall service journey for their customers.

Connect and centralize your offerings

Portals enable you to connect your company's offerings and park them all under one umbrella. This can lead to a superior service experience for your customers and build their loyalty to your brand. Consider the example of Google Now, which functions as a personalized service hub for users. By pulling data from the Google products that individuals already use (e.g., Gmail, Calendar, Google Maps), Google Now is able to provide fast and easy access to everything from traffic information and weather reports to email and texts -- all in one place.

Differentiate your brand

Every notice how, when you're shopping for car insurance, all of the companies look about the same? It can be hard to distinguish between these companies because their offerings are so complex.  Often, it's not until you need to use their services -- most notably, when you need to file a claim -- that you can make a value judgment. That's one of the motivators behind State Farm's Pocket Agent Mobile App, which allows customers to easily submit claims for car accidents through mobile devices. By offering this unique self-service experience, State Farm has differentiated its brand and addressed many of the pain points associated with filing insurance claims.

If those reasons aren't enough to convince you to invest in UX, consider this: Consumers are now demanding more from portals than ever before, while fears about managing sensitive information online are at an all-time low. In this day and age, investing in the user experience of your self-service portal is essential to the health of your brand.

Vince Cancasci is associate director of user experience at Blast Radius

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

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One truism I've learned in assessing and developing people in the workplace is that people's greatest strengths are almost always their greatest weaknesses. Perfectionists, debaters, influencers, analyzers, you name it. People's greatest strengths are almost always too strong. Digital marketers are no different. Rather than continuing to be plagued by these weaknesses masquerading as strengths, let's establish nine rules in digital marketing to save us from ourselves.

We will not accept last click/touch attribution

We come in contact with a number of marketers and agencies who want to use last touch to measure conversions. We know this isn't right, so we ran research internally across billions of impressions to determine if last touch had any merit. What we found is that for every 100 signals provided by last touch, two -- yes, two -- are directionally accurate in actually driving a better outcome for the marketer. This isn't to say that optimizing to last touch won't make the campaign appear better, but it won't improve your ROAS much, if at all.

Because every ad server and site analytics platform is built on last touch or click, it's what marketers use. To drive real performance using online media, though, a multi-dimensional attribution model is required. But this doesn't mean a multi-six-figure study. Much simpler models can be built in-house or through your vendors and partners. However, it takes a commitment and more effort than just believing what the ad server says. With a bar of "2 out of 100," raising it is rather easy.

We will not freak out at every sensationalist headline

If we do one thing well as an industry, it's write sensationalist headlines that send every marketer (and, in turn, agency and vendor) into scramble mode. "56 percent of all ads are never seen by a human!" "$7.2 billion will be lost to fraud in 2016!" Of course companies use these headlines the way a teenage boy uses a horror movie on a date: to get marketers to jump into their arms for safety.

There are two reasons this is such a problem. The first is that these fire drills almost always cause the marketer and agency to stop the work they're doing on something important to address this perceived urgent matter. The second is that a quick look at the calculations or data behind the stories always show why the story is more hype than substance. As smart marketers we should not seek to be first to address every potential problem, but instead to understand the full scope of new information and prioritize it appropriately.

We will expect digital to be measurable, not magical

Each channel within a media plan should be measured to its fullest, but none should be expected to have super powers. Let's take a local business that uses TV advertising. When considering digital media these local businesses often ask, "Will I know exactly how many sales I make from digital?" It depends on what the business sells and the digital media tracking available. That said, there is absolutely no way the TV can measure this. While it's easy to think this is a local/small business problem, that's unfortunately not the case. There are many Fortune 500 marketers who still want more provable metrics from digital despite plenty of proof consumers spend as much or more time with digital than they do broadcast media.

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We love brands. Throughout his 13 albums, Jay Z name-drops 62 brand names. "The Lego Movie" -- 101 minutes of unabashed product placement -- was a runaway success. In 2015, a French couple would have named their daughter Nutella if their government hadn't intervened. What is it about a brand that induces people to tattoo the golden arches on their forearms?    

Is this a corporate takeover of our lives? Should we resent the control that corporations seem to have over us? Or, do we embrace the ability to express our identities through their creations?

For answers, we can start at the beginning of brand --- long before the first limited liability company. At the dawn of mankind, nature's visual language, like the black and yellow stripes of a wasp, helped us make sense of a complicated world. Early tribes, religions, and nations became the first true brands, representing powerful, emotional ideas. They simplified complex surroundings, created a sense of belonging, and built beliefs that were strong enough to die for.

For most of the industrial period, commerce didn't address these needs. Brands seduced us with functional distinctions, like quality and price. Ivory was touted as "soap that floats" and Campbell's was "the most delicious tomato soup you ever tasted." While a rise of competitors slowly unlocked the power of choice, they failed to connect emotionally.

Down deep, we needed more. Unfulfilled by commercial brands, we found emotional enrichment in Lennon-inspired haircuts, peace signs, and raised fists. These movements streamlined our choices and provided something to believe in and belong to.

Soon, commercial brands started catching on. In 1961, Pepsi moved its advertising from "refreshes without filling" to "for those who think young." Nike first uttered the phrase "Just Do It" in 1988, igniting not a campaign, but a lifestyle. Around the same time, Starbucks was developing the "third place" -- a gathering place and multisensory experience. Companies were learning, first through products, then with experiences and services, to embrace brand as a vehicle to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives; not just to sell more product.

This has led to an obvious shift in the balance of influence. Today's brands respond directly to our needs by satisfying us as strongly as other cultural, social, or political groups do. Service-focused brands like Airbnb sell neighbors and community, so it's understandable that we've let them into our lives and welcomed them as part of our identities. "Google" was officially added to the dictionary as a verb. Apple actually excites a neurological reaction in the brain similar to that of religious devotees. Babies are named Facebook, Ikea, and (almost) Nutella.

But just as we've let brands in, we can also shut them out. The 2010 Gap logo was recalled in a week. The 2013 Tropicana packaging update caused a 20 percent decline in sales and an almost immediate return to the original. When was the last time you thought about Blockbuster (defunct only five years ago)?

When brands connect with us, we give them power. And when they don't, we take it away. In this new era of heightened brand reciprocity, what is your bond with brands -- and who's branding who?

Lauren Cascio is senior manager, brand and marketing at Lippincott, whose exhibit "Like Me: Our bond with brands" will be coming to New York from September 26-October 7. 

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet. 

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With 2015 in the rearview mirror, online retailers have the opportunity to take a breather and reflect on what worked from a marketing perspective in 2015, and what changes they can make for a more successful 2016. Over the past year, consumer behavior continued to evolve, with shoppers spending more time researching and purchasing online and across multiple devices than they had in years past. In fact, 67 percent of consumers moved across smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers when shopping online. To keep on top of this shifting buyer behavior, retail marketers should pull out all the stops to ensure their customers are experiencing a truly connected retail experience. Here are three things retail marketers should keep in mind for a successful 2016:

Embrace mobile

With the explosion in mobile usage, having a unified, cross-device view is more important than ever, as a consumer is more often than not viewing content or ads on multiple devices before making a conversion. For example, a consumer may see a retailer's display ad on their iPhone one day, read an email promotion from that same retailer on their tablet the next day, and click on a paid search ad on their desktop computer the day after that, before finally going to the retailer's website and converting. A unified view of the customer journey across devices provides marketers with insight into how content and/or ads seen on one screen impacts action taken on the other. Additionally, a responsible cross-device view enables marketers to measure the contribution of each of these disparate touchpoints to an ultimate conversion so they can better understand the effectiveness of their campaigns, as well as how to best allocate budget by device type.

Connect SKUs with marketing touchpoints

Since retailers typically sell a number of different brands and products, it's critical for marketers to understand which marketing channels and tactics contribute to which products being sold. Advanced marketing attribution provides this insight by assigning fractional credit to all of the touchpoints that contributed to an eventual conversion, and then analyzing that data side-by-side with vital customer order information such as product Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) purchased, order value, the time of purchase, customer geography, and more. As a result, retailers receive a holistic view of what marketing tactics contributed to which products sold, at what time-lag from various stages in the marketing funnel, from which location, and the amount of revenue generated. For example, if a retailer wanted to increase sales of a particular product (let's say winter coats), marketers at the company could deliver more ads for that product using the promotional tactics that performed best at producing conversions, or even bundle relevant products (e.g., winter coat with matching gloves) together to increase sales volume.

Optimize promotions and offers

When it comes to promotions, marketers must identify which offers will drive the highest number of conversions and revenue. But when using antiquated last click or rules-based approaches to measurement, determining which offers will generate the highest return on advertising spend is a constant game of hit or miss. Advanced attribution techniques that incorporate predictive analytics, on the other hand, enable marketers to look at different combinations of offers based on budget, duration, and location to identify the offer(s) that will generate the greatest response. Given that the retail sector thrives on running promotions, this insight is not only critical for trumping the competition with the most unique and compelling offers, but also for ensuring those offers deliver the best return for their business.

By keeping these trends in mind, online retailers will set themselves up for a fruitful and cost-effective year.

Anto Chittilappilly is president, founder, and CTO at Visual IQ

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet. 

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