Is your website forcing too much content on your users?

Meatballs!

Figuratively speaking.

Before you get too excited, these meatballs are metaphorical. Imagine for a moment, you and your plus one spot a quaint little restaurant as you stroll down the block. Curious, you pause to learn more about it. “Meatballs”, someone shouts at you! “Caesar salad, vegetable soup, branzino!” You haven’t even gotten through the door and looked around before the host is shouting menu items at you. What’s the likely response you’d give? You might be confused, mildly amused or suspicious. If you were really hungry you might ask for details, such as a table for two or if the meatballs come on a plate. Probably, you weren’t going to reach for your wallet and hold out your hand for a meatball.

This scenario is exactly what we’re seeing on a lot of websites. We arrive on the page and wonder what it is the company actually does. As we look for some simple and direct explanation of their primary purpose, we see lists of problems to solve, icons of services provided and menus filled with industry-specific needs. Strange as this may sound to website owners (and developers), these services don’t necessarily tell visitors what the company is about.

We’ve all heard the term User Experience or seen the shorthand (UX). I think there’s even a college degree in UX now. However, what does this really mean? For most, this is customer service. In essence, it is a little more than that. Much more, if you consider customer service as merely fixing problems, answering questions and taking sales orders. Experience with a capital X is the key element here. Walking away from that little restaurant, purchase or no purchase, what would you remember about the brand? The little Italian-style plaque beside the door or the smell of freshly baked bread? The checkered tablecloth or the waiter’s flour-stained apron, maybe? I’d wager you’d remember the screaming host yelling in your face about meatballs and how surprised and awkward you felt. Given enough time, you may forget about the actual behavior, and simply associate the restaurant with that awkward feeling. This is probably not the most conducive to being re-engaged, even if you find yourself nearby and hungry once more.

Keeping up with consistency.

Perception is another thing entirely, and shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to cohesion. For this, you should strive to understand and embrace your customer’s perception of your brand. If you sell swimwear, for example, your brand perception is likely to include warm weather, beaches, sun tans and sexiness. A dark blue background split by a white-hot lightning bolt over the words, electric swimwear, might be executed with beautiful artwork – but its design is noticeably lacking. Your product, packaging, brand and overall message should be consistent with brand perception as well.

If your brand is spread out over many products, concepts or services, it might be hard to establish a cohesive message. Consider creating individual brands or collections that each carry a cohesive messaging related to their product, appearance and perception. Creating a style guide is a great way to help organize your branding and brand assets and provides a good visual representation of your umbrella brand. A style guide also formalizes how those assets can be used to provide consistency. With or without a style guide, before designing a large offering, consider how each segment might or might not fit into any existing brands or if any new brands are needed. Of course, you can always outsource such an assignment ;-)The user’s experience is important for a few reasons, not just to get them to make a purchase or call your salesman. This interaction with your brand might mean a lasting impression and the difference between someone who’ll tell others about you and someone who might avoid your business in the future. A memorable and positive experience can yield repeat business, larger orders, brand ambassadors and quicker sales. Visitors to your site might be checking out your brand before they stop by in person or after they met your salesman. Maybe they’re comparing you to a competitor. Even if these visitors aren’t looking to make a purchase right now, their experience will directly affect your success.

Take a look at your own website, or as you think about having one built for you, consider what a potential customer might think of it. It might go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. You, your employees, your friends or your family may not be your target audience. Even if they are, they may not represent your average audience member. Consider what a potential customer might think when they first arrive on your website. Perhaps they aren’t experts in the industry (maybe they should be, or they only work for someone who is). The first thing a visitor expects to see is some indication of what the website owner does. Not lists of services you provide, they want to know how you can help them, even if they don’t understand how you do what you do. A bold elevator pitch, mission statement or straightforward claim is the website version of a welcoming handshake and introduction. If your industry is technical, but your clients aren’t necessarily experts, this concept is even more important. Perhaps your target client is a business that might purchase your technical service. Are you designing the experience for the decision maker who might agree to hire your company or the technician who will be working with your product or service? Remember to include them both in your design, at the appropriate page. Industry experts might skip over your homepage looking for those service lists, while other types of customers might want to read the very first words on your website to get a sense of who you are. All the clever service names, reassuring icons and industry jargon can wait till later. First, tell them they are in the right place. Tell them you have a nice table for two by the window and when they settle in and have a moment to look around, you can offer to read them the specials and tell them about your meatballs.


What can the medical industry from the twentieth century teach us about social media

What can the medical industry from the twentieth century teach us about social media

If I told you that social media marketing is taking the same direction as the medical industry did during the early 1900s, would you believe me? Before we dive deep into this analogy, I’d like to give you a brief history of the medical practice and education industry.

During the turn of the twentieth century, the medical industry in America was pretty much unregulated. People were preaching untested and unproven cures, with financial success being their main motivation.

"Here, have a glass of radium water; it will cure your arthritis and impotence."

Source: Oak Ridge Associated Universities

It is crazy to imagine that people actually paid for this product, but people believed that it helped. Clearly, today we have natural and proven prescription drugs to help.

Of course there were lots of outstanding doctors and scientists, but they were more focused on their research and building the foundations of modern medicine. However, there were lots of “doctors” diagnosing people to drink radium water, because there was no license required.

So, what made the industry shift away from these radical practices? In 1910, Abraham Flexner—who was notably a teacher, not a doctor—surveyed the American medical education landscape and published his report. This resulted in the closing of at least one-third of the existing medical schools—mostly for-profit schools. This helped bring about formal licensing for doctors, and lay the scientific foundations for the medical industry.

Fast forward to today and digital marketing

Let’s relate this to today’s digital marketing, specifically in the social media landscape. What makes someone a social media expert? Because I understand technology and I am extremely photogenic, can I run your company’s social media profiles?

Let’s examine what is plaguing the marketing industry:

The Instant Social Media Marketing Agency

Background: I have an iPhone, a Macbook Pro, and managed a family friend’s company’s social media profile. This gives me instant credibility to manage more business profiles and start selling social media services.

Results: They produce great photo content, create posts using the same stock photos, edit photos using tools like Canva, and get you likes. You ask the question (or should ask), ”How much business does my social media generate?” It is pretty hard to provide evidence on your ROI, so most of the time you will get reports on “engagement,” “number of likes,” and “we are building your long-term profile.”

The Intern Farm Agency

Background: These agencies leverage their interns to help in the content production process. Most of the time, they hire interns for little to no pay.

Results: Companies will pay a hefty price tag for social media services from these agencies, which employ free labor. As above, they’ll report about engagements and likes and, “your long-term profile”.

Real Life Example: One of my clients requested that we transition from social media management to other digital marketing services, which was for the best interest for my client. We found a great intern to manage their profiles. Shortly thereafter, another agency pitched their services to this client at five times the current cost. We soon found out that this agency had hired the same intern, but this was a non-paid position.*

Thought Reversal - Medical Industry and Social Media

The Robot Agency

Background: These agencies are the ones which guarantee likes and followers. This sounds great and looks good on paper, but this is achieved by using automated bot services.

"This bot walked right into that one..."

Results: Your company will build fake followers, likes, and engagement. You may have more fans, but do they care about your business? Again, you have been trained to focus on likes and followers, not ROI.

Unregulated Influencers

Background: The influencer industry is one of those areas that is really difficult to understand and to scale. There is no formula for how much an influencer should cost; rather, it is simply what they want to charge.

Results: You spend an endless amount of time reviewing influencers. Some influencers will ask for thousands of dollars, while similar influencers will do it for free in exchange for products. My least favorite “influencer” is the one which uses bots to build fake followers. They post content on their profiles, you prepare for sales to come in and…no sales.

These are just some examples of what is plaguing the marketing industry. Even if you get over the hurdle of working with these agencies and influencers, you still have another challenge to deal with: Facebook. With all the negative press, their growth rate leveling out, and reduced organic reach, what is a business supposed to do? It really depends, but if you don’t know what to do, then do nothing. Let the dust settle and then re-enter the social media market. It is too chaotic and takes too much time to figure out.

That is probably not the answer you wanted to hear, so here is what we are doing:

The social media market needs to grow up and mature. Mark Traphagen (Stone Template) claims “that these changes are a good thing, because they will finally force social media marketers to grow up and act like REAL marketers, not hackers or tricksters.”

Take that concept and start focusing on marketing, not gaming the system. We strongly believe that if agencies and marketers don’t transition away from trick marketing tactics, they will find themselves forced out of this industry as companies start to focus on measuring their results. While industry cleanses itself, take that time and start focusing on boring, non-flashy marketing activities like search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, post nurturing customers, or even try print media.

Let’s continue to use one of our clients as an example. We transitioned from heavy social media management to SEO and email marketing. We continue to advise and support my client for their social media needs, but it is mainly managed by an intern that is given direction. Now that we have focused on SEO and optimizing email marketing, sales are up 65% and organic search traffic increased about 40% within one month. When we have conversations with our client, they are able to see the ROI on their marketing dollars. Again, we are using data to make our marketing decisions; without the use of data, we are just guessing. Remember radium water? Imagine this: if we ignored the fact that people die from ingesting radium, we would still have salesmen pushing this product.

We understand that this may upset or contradict your beliefs. Are we saying social media marketers and influencers are con-artists? No, absolutely not. There are many social media marketers that are doing great campaigns for their clients, but there are just as many that are not. We feel that there is a strong disconnect between social media marketers and business objectives. When the barrier to entry is this easy (iPhone, laptop and a license to Hootsuite) and unregulated, you end up with people that enter this market to make a quick and easy dollar. If you have a full-stack marketing consultant, they will contact and notify you to pivot your marketing dollars away from social media. If they don’t, they just may not understand your business well enough. Hey, if you are measuring your social media success on likes and followers, then your social media team is doing the exact job you hired them for.


The Difference Between Marketing and Design

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

A Marketer and a Designer Walk into a Bar...

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

Designer: “You know what would be cool? It should be a clean black pallete, representing the existential state of your being and then we finish with a single, dramatic product image, resonating the importance of the product with the viewer.”

Marketer: “The consumer must be informed, we have to communicate that our product is all natural, low fat, never animal tested, environmentally friendly, high fiber and contains more than six times the recommended daily value of phosphorous. They shouldn’t be confused by alternating brand messages or fun fonts. Just the facts.”

When The Chips are on the Table

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

We are using this hypothetical example of chips because it’s a good example of what we’re talking about, though what we’re saying really has nothing to do with chips per se. Insert any product here, we’ve all seen examples of how design or marketing can pass or fail out there in the boardroom and on the sales floor.

When brand imagery, be it product packaging, web presence, presentation materials or the like, are created without a carefully rendered balance of marketing and design, there is a significant portion of your message that can become lost. Designers look first to create something visually appealing to capture the attention of the viewer, considering dramatic presentation, sensationalism and composition as some of their primary goals. Meanwhile, marketers know that they have to set their brand or product apart from the competition, establish or validate what they do and how they do it. They need to demonstrate the features and benefits of the product as well as explain why it is more valuable…and never the twain shall meet, right?
Wrong. They must meet. They will meet, and when they do, it will be amazing. It is your job to make these factors balance. Or your boss’s job, or your subordinates’. Whether you outsource your artwork and marketing, or you have in house teams or you are the designer and the marketer, someone must be (or should be) carefully considering the balance of both the design and messaging of all of your brand’s content.

When marketing and design come together, wonderful things can happen.

A Delicate Balance

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

This balance is delicate, and to do it successfully not only do you need to consider and align all your touch points and editorial calendars but also connect the right team together to pull it all off. Figuring out why you do what you do (and I’m not referring to profit) is an important step and exponentially valuable. It will not only help you to select the team that believes in the core values of the organization and the products, it will help you to identify who you are marketing to. If you know the why it can be relatively simple to seamlessly align design and marketing objectives all while targeting the audience that believes in what you believe, making selling much easier from every way you look at it.

Often times we see successful marketing that does not seem to be balanced between dramatic or artful imagery and clear messaging or seems more weighted in marketing or in design, but it somehow works. Why?

This ad isn't the whole story.

How Much of your Story Do They Already Know?

The Difference Between Marketing and Design

This might seem to be both wholly dramatic and hugely successful to you. But consider that this ad isn’t the whole story. Apple is a company that’s been creating innovative products since the 1970’s and their marketing has evolved drastically over the past 40 years. You know the brand, you know their beliefs and you know this product already. You already know what the product does. They have created such a powerful brand identity that they don’t need to waste time or space telling their customers what they already know. Today an Apple ad can focus on any one element and bring to mind the other parts of their overall message. They have so successfully communicated their belief that they “think differently” that those who subscribe to the same beliefs will wait on line for hours to buy the newest product release.

For the rest of us who aren’t Apple or insert mega brand here, we may not be currently enjoying the same massive success but we can analyze and learn what makes them so successful.

When you or your team combines marketing with design, consider what the target audience already knows about your brand, or more aptly, what they don’t know. Consider which touch points will promote the different aspects of your message and where in your marketing you will introduce more. Remember that you must capture and hold their attention long enough to tell them your story so decide what part of the story you want to tell. You’ll want to create a content map to help to organize how and where to focus on features and benefits or your mission statement. When marketing and design come together, wonderful things happen.