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Social Media Basics

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Social Media Basics

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people on social media devices

So many different social media devices

This article is for the people within a B2B business that are responsible for the management of social media for business networking and communications. In most businesses this will include key executives, sales, marketing, and purchasing staff. Learn to manage your social media voice.

Budget Your Time

Managing your social media is simple but you have to continually refine social media to improve your business reach and voice. The key to this is that you have to invest time on a regular basis to build your network and exercise your voice. Social media can be a captivating technology that can consume untold hours and as a business you have to put some common sense limits on this. This is a process not a project so it will never be finished and it must be managed as such. Decide on the right balance of effort and then stick to that.

It’s simple…The right people in the right seats talking to the right people

The first step in social media is going to be picking the right people and they typically fall into three categories; Executives, Sales & Marketing, and Purchasing. The reality is that business value comes from communication for either sales or purchasing as those are the common external connections of a business. Executives are different in that they often reach into both areas with their contacts. In larger organizations this can be many profiles divided into territories. Once you have the profiles identified you need to create a profile of the connections. That profile should include their network which is simply made up of who they should be speaking to.

Audience Profiling – it’s not really a bad word

The media has given profiling people a bad name but the reality is that for each social media profile you should have an audience profile describing the audience that is targeted for that profile. For example, if you have a product sold to medical offices in Chicago and the profile has sales responsibility then the audience profile might be:

  1. Medical Office Decision Makers
    1. Common Titles
      1. Office Manager
      2. Practice Manager
      3. Medical Office
      4. Practice Administrator
      5. IT Manager
  2. Doctors
    1. Common Titles
      1. Medical Director
      2. Managing Partner
      3. Managing Physician
  3. Negative Contacts
    1. Competitor
    2. Out of the area

This profile is then used to qualify additional connections. The first thing some people might say is “well that’s dumb, I know who I want to connect to.” However, you will sing a different song when a key person leaves the organization and the network has to be rebuilt. The last item you might notice is the negative contact profile. These are the people we do not want in our network and the common example is the competitor but there are special considerations here. We have often accepted requests from competitors and then used that to check shared contacts to assess risk or to identify opportunities and then we disconnect them from the network.

Set Goals & Budget Time

Network building goes on for an entire career so the time involved can get out of balance with its true value. For this reason it is best to set a time-budget and then make sure it gets used. Spend half an hour each week introducing yourself to new people that fit your audience profile. All the social networks provide utilities for this network building process so make sure everyone is trained on how to use these. With each profile we recommend setting a weekly goal for network building and then tracking it on a monthly basis. In many client profiles that we manage the goal for a rep is to add 5 new people each week and while that seems like nothing, over the course of a year that is 250 additional contacts that are hearing your message.

Plan the message but react to events

With the network in place and evolving as it should the next area to address would be the messages that you will put into the network. First, remember that you are a person and that should not get lost here. Your messages paint a picture to your business and it needs to be what you are about but this is not advertising so it is not a constant sales message. The people that go into social media screaming at the top of their lungs are always surprised that they did not get the response they expected. That is because as a net-citizen they are being rude. The golden rule is that people do business with those that they trust and if your message is a constant “me, me, me” people will react badly to your messaging. A common plan is to share 80% personal and industry information and 20% or less direction promotional copy. Remember that the postings you make are painting a picture about who and what you are as a person and a person that spends all their time talking about themselves is boring.

In Summary: Build your network, refine your voice, and keep on keeping on.


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What’s Next?

Swami gazing into a crystal ball

Swami gazing into a crystal ball

I love this question and as the CEO of Systems & Marketing Solutions I try to make it a major part of our company culture. We define the marketing cycle of our clients as a constant cycle of “What Just Happened?” and “What’s Next?” Let’s take a look at what is likely to impact our what’s next thinking in the future.

Don’t sell to me!

Old practices die slowly but this generation of buyers clearly do not want to be sold anything. This generation believes that it is the most marketed to generation in history and this is probably true. The audiences in the market are becoming more and more reactive to marketing messages with filters that remove most of what comes their way. What does this mean? If you want to market a product in the future you will need to change to an educational model. You will be driven by the following statement:

“People do business with those they trust; they trust those that help them understand.’

This means that your marketing mission becomes one of educating the market on the value your business creates and communicating that with people who care about what you do. This is a long drawn out process of continual conversation with the market enabling sales to happen when a demand pops up. Now it is still possible, in some cases, to create demand but that is mostly in the domain of large businesses with big budgets. Smaller businesses will be more like a cork in the ocean in that they follow the currents, not create them. Smart business plans for small businesses will utilize social media in a conversational manner, speaking not only to the audience but with them in addition to some basic well targeted digital advertising to specified audiences.

Marketing Ecosystems will change the way we think about Marketing

Smart businesses already think about marketing as an ecosystem with process flows as opposed to projects. This means that forward thinkers will look at the entire system and make marketing investments based on a strategy rather than the tactical thinking that is so prevalent in today’s direct marketing model. When businesses start to understand the entire marketing cycle and the independencies it will change the way they invest in their business.

It’s a Mobile World

There is no doubt that the market has become highly influenced by the mobile consumer. This has changed many things, especially the way we approach content, web and user experience design. While many advocate the use of responsive design that reuses web content across multiple devices, I believe this is a mistake. We must cater to desktop and mobile interactions differently. Not doing so is the design and technology sectors trying to avoid the hard work of redesigning content and user experience simply because, in many cases, they do not understand the problem. Make no mistake, responsive design is a great technology and it should be utilized in every website today but it will not serve us well in the long term. Why? Mobile devices change the way individuals interact with information and even how they choose to consume information. For example, when I look up a company on my mobile device I usually want to contact or go to that business. This means I’m likely looking for the phone number or address. On the other hand, when I search on my desktop I am commonly doing in-depth research and I want all the details. Although I love my phone, I hate reading details on my mobile device.

Wearables

Google Glasses, the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and all their cousins are the beginning of “The Internet of Things” that will connect us as a society; this will have a profound impact on marketing. These devices will know our patterns and allow providers to better serve us. On the other hand they could be a complete invasion of our privacy that we will hate. The differences between these two outcomes will be how we position our businesses to serve the market. If we start out trying to sell something to the person rather than focusing on how to serve them the results could be devastating. In the last few decades we have seen the impact of the Internet as it has woven itself into our lives and wearables hold the potential of another revolution of the same scope.

Websites as a Conversation

The majority of websites today are designed as a speech or a presentation; they simply display information. Soon, websites will morph to be more of a conversational experience radically changing the way that sites are designed and how the population will interact with them. In a conversational model we have a hello – dialog – and a good bye. The challenge will be the dialog/the evolution of the conversation and the AI tools needed to manage this. Websites in the future will need to adapt to be a presentation when we just want reference materials and a conversation when we are trying to make a decision. If you think the challenge of mobile design was tough you have not seen anything yet. Conversations require a model of thinking that adapts to clues from the other party in the conversation. While simple enough to understand in a one-on-one model doing this at scale will be incredibly complex and will likely create a new field of engineering.

If you think differently

Anytime you address the What’s next question it is fair for fair minded individuals to disagree. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts and comments, I would love to hear how others tackle this very important question.


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We are hiring: Digital Marketing Agency Sales Rep

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We are seeking a person to represent us in the Los Angles market. We will expect you to learn enough about Google AdWords that you can serve as the conduit between our analysists and the small business customer. We are willing to train the right individual that has the fundamental personal interaction and management skills required to build strong business relationships with Clients. If you want an entry level opportunity into the world of Digital Marketing and you are a smart outgoing personable individual then you should talk to us.

Our sales process is a low pressure approach that is best started part-time growing into full-time as your skills and territory improve. We start by opening a conversation with the client typically by getting permission to send them free email information about digital marketing for small businesses. This is followed by a regular email newsletter to educate the client about the value of online marketing in their business strategy. Next we open up more phone or in-person communication on a regular schedule to build a positive relationship. The sales transaction happens when the customer has a need and they see us as part of the solution.

As a sales rep within a territory you will need to reach out and network with the business community so you need to be comfortable with that. This includes attending business events and belonging to the key groups within your community.

As you build your territory you will be part of the continuing communications with the client to keep them informed of the results from their marketing investment. On a monthly basis our analysts review the data and report to the client what just happened and what’s next to advance their online marketing.  Part of your role in this will be to deliver and communicate this to the client.

We are a 20 year old Digital Marketing agency with hundreds of clients and tens of millions of ad spend under management in Google AdWords alone. We provide clients with a full range of Online Marketing services but 100% of our clients have us manage their AdWords and that is where our services almost always start. Beyond AdWords that we provide Social Media Management, Search Engine Optimization, Crowdfunding, Website Design, Analytics, Graphic Design, Video editing, Photography, Content creation, and other digital marketing services.

To apply send your resume to bob@smsrd.com along with three times (8am – 3pm) in the next week for an online interview. You need online access with a video camera for the online interview. If you do not have this check with your local library because most of them have this available.

Compensation commission only with credit for on-going revenue. In this way you can build recurring revenue with no cap on your income. Our target income for a successful Sales Rep is $70k – $100k. We expect it will take 2-3 years for a rep to reach that level.

In the LA territory we have 200+ qualified leads with emails that have been on our email list for months to years. We believe that a person in the LA market will be able to do much more than we can do remotely.

Learn more about us at www.smsdesignlab.com and www.smsrd.com



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Infographics for Busy Executives

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According to Wikipedia “Infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.” I propose to you that that is a horribly simplified description; especially if the Infographic is for marketing purposes. In reality an Infographic is a visual object that tells a story, engages viewer emotion and moves an audience to take action. Let’s look at how we go through the creative process of creating an Infographic.

Infographics Plans Contain:

1. Visual Concept
2. Data-Points
3. Call to Action
4. Data-Point Presentation Styles
5. Story Path

Why tell a story?
First let’s be clear that infographics are non-fictional stories that represent real data found by real research. The reason for a story line dates back to the beginning of time when our ancestors used stories to teach younger generations’ lessons, values, morals, etc simply because most people remember stories and forget data. In this context the story is the path through the data that justifies some call to action. These data based story lines engage the emotions of the audience and as we all know, the more emotion evoked the better.

Infographics are truthful but not 100% accurate
If you ever do the research involved in creating data points for an infographic story line you will quickly realize that the “most important” facts are almost always accompanied by small print documenting exceptions or conditions to the data. Infographics cut through the small print in order to reduce 100 pages of research to 5-7 clear charts on one page. That being said, the small print of exceptions and conditions hardly ever make the cut.

Never have a researcher do the infographic
Often reports hold so much detail that readers are drowned in information. Because of this, the readers are more focused on the deep breath they will take at the end of the report than they are on the treasures of the sea of information around them.
Researchers are, by nature, detailed technical experts far too engaged with details to give them up. They represent .01% of the audience for the information with a personal agenda related to the details. Because Infographics contain highlighted points often without the details they are for the other 99.99% of the audience. If you are interested in outliers or the small print you will have to join the .01% and read the full report.
While researchers are great resources, they are almost never the infographic decision makers. They collect the information and pass it along to somebody who can highlight what’s “most important” and cut out the fat.

Visual Concept
Like all stories, visual stories must have a plot that will associate the facts into a story line to create your visual concept. The visual concept will set the style and approach to the infographic and give the audience of your story a foundation to follow. In simple terms, your visual concept is the theme of the entire infographic. It is important that your visual concept is highly relevant to the experiences of your research and of your audience so be sure to pick it wisely.

Data Points
This is where most people start and it is okay to do that but you have to remember that you are building a story so your data points have to fit on the story path. If you start with data points then you need to select twice as many as you need so you can throw some out in the latter stages of the design. In most cases the data points will have textual support but this needs to be kept to a minimum and you have to avoid the trap of rewriting the report. Data points will need to be reduced to a graphic or iconic image with minimal textual support. What textual support you do have will ultimately be reduced to bullet points not narratives.

Data points come in various flavors and they need to be organized on the story path in the proper order. Here is our recommendation:

1. Need
2. Outcome
3. Solution
4. Evidence
5. Call to Action

You always start with the need of the audience followed by the solution that serves that need. This is followed by evidence that the solution will work and a call to action. In many infographics we see either weak or entirely missing calls to action and we wonder why someone would do that. You identified the challenge proposed a solution and then failed to ask for the action you want taken.

Call to Action
I may be Ms. Obvious here but this is the reason that you did all this work; don’t make it weak! Your call to action needs to be direct, simple, and to the point. Never assume that your audience knows what to do with the information you give them. Give them the action you want them to take because leaving it to their imaginations is a very dangerous business practice.

Data-Point Presentation Styles
For each data point you need to decide on how that that will be presented and how that style will fit with the other data points so the document feels like a cohesive story. After you do a number of these you will start to realize there are a limited number of styles that fit with your dataset. Once the style of presentation is selected the data points should be roughed into the style so you can start to visualize what the story will look like.

Design Process
info-arrows
Like any other project an infographic will go through design process steps. Here are the typical steps:

1. Goals & Objectives
2. Audience Persona
3. Business Data
4. Pencil Drafts
5. Concept Roughs
6. Revisions
7. Final Art

Goals & Objectives
This is the first step in the process and it is best if it comes from the highest levels within the business. If you cannot get the CEO to champion the idea, in most cases, it is best to not attempt the project. Goals and objectives typically communicate the value of the research to your customers and should be very broad.

Audience Persona
This is a critical and often overlooked part of project specifications. Lacking in this area is setting the project up for failure. It is nearly impossible to create a communication for an audience that you do not have a profile for. Often times this is passed down as “All Customers” or the “Whole Market” and those have to be pushed back because the broader the persona the more difficult it is to put real power in an infographic. You have to understand the experience set of the audience so you know where the conversation starts. The stronger the shared experiences the better the design can talk like the audience and the stronger the message will be. On the other hand, you do not want an audience so tightly defined that the number of people in the audience approaches zero.

Business Data
This is what created the need to communicate something of value to someone important and normally it is TMI (Too Much Information). The mission of the infographic is to create a visual that communicates key metrics to the audience. Step one in this phase is to collect lots of data and isolate the key metrics that hold the most value for the audience. This phase is all about finding and summarizing raw data in databases and long winded narratives and using it to create charts and bullet points containing the most important or relevant pieces of information.

The Value of a Pencil Draft
In this day and age you have to wonder why we would recommend going through pencil drafts. The reason is that you need to get the design outlined with maximum engagement from the stakeholders in the project. Programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop inhibit input because of the technical operation barrier. Input in the earliest stages is critical to the creative process and the engagement of your key staff. Pencil drafts do this better than any other form we have found. If you are like me and do not have God given artistic skills that is fine. You can print out pictures, cut them up with scissors, and then use a pencil to fill in the blanks between the printed images. This can also be done with post it notes on a white board. The value here is to get all of the stakeholders engaged as early as possible so when the finished product emerges you have buy-in.

Before you engage outsiders
There is a certain amount of magic involved in transforming data into infographics and it requires skills that many businesses do not have internally. This does not mean that you should not engage in the process. In most cases you should complete items 1-3 before turning to external experts. There are plenty of experts that can guide you through the creative process but the strategy of your business should always start and be owned internally.

Disclaimer
Clearly Infographics are a broad topic and cannot be covered in a single book never mind a blog article. Our intent here was to isolate marketing infographics and provide the reader with a short teaser on this subject. Infographics are creative endeavors and as such you will get many different opinions so as they say your mileage on these ideas many vary.

Credits
The (NOSE) organization of the infographic is based on work done by Dr. Tom Sant from Hyde Park Partners. For our purposes we added a call to action although it would be reasonable to put that into the evidence part of his concept. Dr. Sant is an excellent author and speaker.
http://www.hydeparkpartnerscal.com/books.htm


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White House Petition – Service Dogs as a Therapy Option for Disabled Service-Connected Combat Veterans suffering from PTSD

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smiley-dogWe respectfully petition the President and Commander in Chief on behalf of the Disabled Combat Veterans suffering from PTSD related to their service to our country.
Congress and the Executive Branch Acted:

“The Service Dogs for Veterans Act, cosponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a pilot program working in partnership with non-profit service dog agencies to pair service dogs with veterans with physical and mental injuries and disabilities, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Senator Franken’s bill was included as an amendment to the National Defense and Authorization Act that passed the Senate on July 23, 2009, and was subsequently signed into law by the President.”

Reference: https://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=issue&id=84

The Veterans Administration has fought this therapy and here is their argument:

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/09/05/2012-21784/service-dogs

Our Argument:

This law only provided $2 million in funding, which is completely inadequate. Even at that level the VA resisted the pilot test and buried the program. When Congress acts and the President signs a bill an agency like the VA should simply say “Yes Sir” and do what they are told. This is a case of an agency that has gone rouge causing harm to the treatment of our veterans. Granted they have done this with bureaucratic expertise but it is time for them to step up to their mission and serve the therapy needs of the service connected combat veterans.
Our argument is that dogs are better than drugs.

Service Dogs that are specially trained to assist veterans with PTSD have wide spread support from many experts but the VA does not agree. The VA appears to be a minority of one with a position that this is a poor therapy strategy. They are using all their skills as bureaucrats to wrap this in red tape and stop this therapy while at the same time embracing drugs. There are within the nation organizations that are willing to step up and provide trained dogs but we have to provide support for the expenses they incur. Our recommendation is to set a fair market value in the range of $20,000 – $40,000 based on cost to train the dog plus a reasonable profit margin and then index this to the cost of living. Assuming a reasonable life span of the dog this benefit should be limited to one dog. We would argue that the cost of the dog could be recovered from the lower drug cost by shifting the therapy from drugs to dogs.

Within the Service Dog Training industry there are practices that include the use of prison labor for part of the dog training and an incentive should exist for this. Early studies show that it improves prisoner rehabilitation and lowers the cost of raising the service dog. Organizations that utilize this method or other methods that create other social value should be paid more for their dogs.

To insure the quality of the dogs in the program the VA should have an inspection and certification process for trainers and/or training organizations. Because the VA has been resistant to this therapy, for a reason we do not understand, a provisional certification for the year should be issued to any organization with a mission to train service dogs. The VA will then have one year to inspect the organization and issue or deny a for cause permanent certification. An organization with a provisional certification shall only be allowed to sell 5 dogs per year into the system.
We fully understand the need to maintain control and fair administration and realize that demand for Service Dogs will exceed supply. We propose that the VA maintain a priority list just like the medical profession does for organ donations. The priority should be based on the urgency of need (Doctors recommendation) disability rating of the veteran, valor of service (Medals in DD214), and income (lower income higher priority).

What we request

We request that the President direct the Veterans Administration to provide this option to veterans suffering from PTSD as determined by mental therapy experts with an appeal process that uses Doctors from outside the VA direct control or compensation.

We request that the program be fully funded based on the needs of our Veterans suffering from PTSD related to combat service on behalf of our nation. This should not be a pilot program but a fully funded therapy provided to veterans where therapy is a reasonable course of treatment.

How you can help

For the short term we have a crowdfunding project for a non-profit that trains service dogs and then donates them to our Veterans.

White-House-Logo

 

In the long term you can lend your voice to our petition to the White House to direct the VA to do their job and find a way to provide this treatment option to our Disabled Service Connected Veterans suffering from PTSD.

 


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Business Personas Types

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Marketing-Strategy-TeamMany people want marketing to be simple but the reality is that marketing is where; people, systems, and language collide. The process is messy making content planning complicated with issues that are not right or wrong but simply different. In this article we propose that we have Worker Bees, Technicians, Managers, Connectors, and Entrepreneurs. Each of these personas looks, acts, and reacts differently to marketing messages and what turns one on may turn another off. In this article we are going to explore the people part of the challenge and to keep the scope somewhat manageable we are going to discuss the business to business market. These concepts apply to the consumer market as well but the number of segments is much larger.
In prior articles we talked stages of the audiences with discussion of Suspects, Prospects, Customers, Clients, and Evangelists. Within each of these audiences we have personas that have to be the center of our content creation strategy.

Worker Bees
Worker Bees are about following the rules and filling in the blanks. They are people within the organization that execute the plans and follow the direction of leadership and they are often the first contact in a sales cycle. Because of their role in the organization they follow rules and look for easy to implement guidelines but they are almost never the decision maker however they often control who gets on the short list. So while their decision ability is close to zero they can influence the procurement process. They are often overly concerned with things like price and that tends to be one of the first things they look for. A first contact that is looking for the cost in the first question is often a worker bee. A typical answer to the price first question is to ask “What is the problem we are trying to solve?” I will often equate this to a common or shared purchase decision like buying a car. A worker bee would call a dealer and ask “How much is a car?” Since this question is broad, the dealer would respond with a very wide range of prices and ask for more details. The thing to remember here is that this is not the decision maker but they may control if you get on the list that the decision maker will consider.

Technicians
Technicians are about the work and their perspective is driven by the quality of the product creation. They are often the business founder and hold the leadership role in the early stages of the business development. They are motivated by improvements in production, new tools & gadgets, and other things that they see as improving the product or service provided. They are about making products and production bigger, better, faster, and cheaper.

Managers
Managers are about consistency and they value dependability and repeatability. They are the reason that large business are great at consistent delivery and they tend to be driven by facts that can be validated. If you ever walk into the office of a manager you will see it immediately. Everything has a place and everything is in its place. The files are organized and probably color coded. They have a system for everything and they bring organization to the business.

Connectors
Connectors are about relationships they are often the rainmakers that bring transactions into the business through referrals. They are commonly found in the marketing, sales, and executive staff. Because they value relationships they are often very brand loyal and they create referrals as a reciprocal act because that is how they think. They are typically very easy to discover within the group because they are the first to greet you and find ways to personally connect with you. Connectors in most cases will influence the purchase decision but they rarely make the decision. Connectors belong to lots of networking groups and they are engaged with the community of the business.

Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are about innovation, creativity, vision, and brand advocacy. They know where they are going and how they want to get there but they need a help from Technicians and Managers make the magic happen. They often serve as the communication bridge the Technicians and Managers. They do not exist in all organizations and the larger the business the less likely there will be an entrepreneur because they require lots of freedom to operate.

Why We Care?
With all of this discussion the big question here is why do we care? Then answer is because each of these types is motivated to a decision based on a different set of values. If you want to sell to the Entrepreneur you need to talk about the future and the next version because they will be bored by what is already in market because they want new and exciting. The Manager on the other hand wants dependability and sees new as risky and not inside the system after all change brings chaos to their orderly world. The Technician is excited by new tools and methods but like the Manager they want to see proof that they are going to make their work better, faster, and cheaper. During this value communication process the Worker Bees will bring coffee to the conference room, fill out forms, and return RFP’s with additional questions that no decision maker will ever see.

Disclosure
This is an opinion article based on my experiences over far too many years working with lots of organizations. My experience is that if you break messaging down and find ways to communicate value to these personas great things can happen. We would love to have you share your perspective on this article.


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Do you speak Icon?

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Hover over the paragraph above to translate icons to text

 

How does one choose the perfect icon?

Properly used icons are a powerful part of any visual experience but just like any other language they have to fit your audience. The experiences and preferences of your audience will drive the icon selection process in your design. The essential icon concepts are message, theme, and testing.

Message

For icons to work the audience has to understand the concept they represent and this is based on the life experiences of the audience. While a person accustomed to an iPhone might understand certain icons an Android user may have a different experience with icons and therefor differ in understanding. This is no different than any other language in that icons can be misunderstood. For functionality you need to look at other interfaces that your audience is likely to have routine contact with. Like any writing you must become one with your audience if you want to create effective communication.

Theme

Icons need to fit together in a theme so they have the same look and feel within the interface. You have to consider them individually but you also have to consider them as a collection and in contrast to each other. If the theme is not consistent your icons can confuse the users. Remember to that color is one important component of icon design and often certain colors denote certain meanings. For example, the color red tends to be associated with warning signs, the color green with the environment, and the color blue with water.

Testing

Rule 1 of icons is test, test, and retest. Make sure that in setting up your test that you get a good random sample of the targeted users and avoid testing with friends and family. A user group of your friends and family are almost never a good representation of the users of your design, even if they are they tend to be nice to you rather than brutally honest. You need people that represent your audience and will be honest in the evaluation. When we conduct user testing on icons we like to get 3-4 icons competing for one function within the interface and then we ask our users to vote for the icon they like best. Asking question like do you like this icon will get you a very different result. When you conduct a user test of your icons give them just the icon and ask them to write down what they think the icon means and avoid leading them to the meaning.

 


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Two Men writing content

Conversational Design

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Next Gen Web Design

Engineering a web experience is about establishing and conducting a conversation with your audience. By this standard most business sites are either rude or inconsiderate because they are based on a presentation model. In the physical world a good conversation has a “Hello” – Dialog – “Goodbye” flow and the same should be true digitally. A digital conversation has the same flow although the delivery does have to be slightly different. If your marketing model is based on building relationships then an exploration of the conversation model is critical.

Hello

This Hello phase in the digital world often starts with a query at a search engine and you can think about this as a “Tell me about X” question. Your response to this would typically be “Hello my name is Bob. Let me tell you about X”. This is followed by an acceptance of the offer, which moves the conversation to the dialog phase.

Dialog

The dialog section of the conversation is a point and counterpoint cycle that passes between the parties. In the physical world we have clues that cause us to pause and invite others in. In the digital design you need to engineer for the same process. A good conversation has balance and flow in the dialog and sometimes you need to take a breath and let the other person react to your comments. One common way to do this is to ask a question and get direction to the next issue in the conversation. Conversations by their nature can go in just about any direction.
In good conversations there is a refining process that helps the members of the conversation learn from each other. If you are on the provider side of the conversation your goal is to communicate the value of what you offer to the other party. If you are the purchaser, your goal is to gain the information you need to justify the decisions you need to make. Identifying with your audience is a key element in creating a relationship and that is ultimately what drives the actions of that audience. Get them to like you and you will find that people do business with those they like and they like those that help them understand.

Goodbye

The goodbye phase of the conversation is where you bring the conversation to a conclusion and often there is a “Call to Action” in this point. If you are selling something, then by all means ask for the order at this point. If this conversation is part of a larger relationship with the customer then invite them back.

Summary

Most sites today are modeled on a presentation not a conversation and the goal of the presentation is to move the relationship to a conversation that ultimately gets to the results your business needs. Simply stated we need to get off our soapboxes and talk with our audience. Our prediction is that the next generation of websites will be conversational and they will allow businesses to reach the scale that they struggle with today. This topic is evolutionary not revolutionary and so our advice is to move toward this model in manageable steps.


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Marketing-Strategy-Team

Marketing Teams & Operations

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Business success or failure is tightly related to the strength of its teams and the marketing team is often on the front edge of that sword. To build an effective marketing team you need a variety of experts that work effectively together. An effective digital marketing team will need at least 5 different skillsets to make the magic happen. So here they are:

  • Strategy
  • Content
  • Advertising
  • Conversation
  • Analytics

Each of these teams requires a different skillset and a person that is great in one might be a failure in another. Let’s explore the roles of these teams and the skills they need.

STRATEGY

This team needs to start with a representative from the Executive Management Group and the higher up the better. In a small business, this is typically the CEO or Owner and even if they know nothing about marketing they HAVE to be on the team. A strategy team without a representative from the executive group is very likely to fail. This does not mean that the executive has to become a marketing expert but they have to engage in the process. Many small businesses are owned and run by technical experts that lack the marketing skills. However, they bring to the team an understanding of and unquestioned loyalty to the business. This team can be subdivided into committees to deal with the detailed planning of specifics.
The strategy needs to answer these broad questions:

  • Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with?
  • Messages – What are we going to say?
  • Campaigns – When are we going to be in market?
  • Channels – Where are we going to be?
  • Performance – Why are we doing this?
  • Budget – How much are we going to invest?

I am sure most will instantly see the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How structure used for building a strategy. The challenge here is that these stages have many relationships that can be very difficult to document and think through.

Audiences – Who are we going to communicate with? This is a more complex question than many think. The simple answer is that you want to talk to customers and prospective customers but it is way more involved. The challenges are that communication is sloppy, messages between audiences can work against each other and channels overlap. Audiences evolve through stages of suspect, prospect, customer, client, and evangelist (aka Brand Advocate) and the communication evolves as the relationship does. The key thing is to know who we are talking to so we know how to talk. For each audience, we recommend building a persona that the planning groups can refer to in the later planning processes. It is much easier to remember a persona if you give them a name, image, and profile. At this stage, you need to gather some basic data on these audiences. At a minimum, get the number of people at each stage because one truth that will shortly be in front of you is that there is always more market to reach than there is budget to reach that market. This means that you are going to have to make priority decisions and the potential of each audience is a critical item in the thought process.

One sign that you have an audience problem is when someone says “Everyone is our customer” and even if this were true – and it never is – you still have to develop messaging that moves the person to action and that requires a defined audience.

Messages – What are we going to say? The marketing messages are independent of the audiences but they are assigned to the audiences. Over the years, we have discovered that many planning groups work better if they focus on an audience and then develop messages for that persona. As you move to subsequent audiences, the pace will pick up because you can assign already developed messages to the new group and discuss only what is different about messaging to that group.
In the old days, messages were largely one direction but social media changed that in a big way. Today messages are part of a two way conversation with the market and that means that all customer facing staff have to know these messages and who they are intended for.

Campaigns – When are we going to be in market? Armed with the audiences we want to communicate with and the messages we want to deliver, the next phase is putting them into campaigns and detailing out the specifics of budgets, content, specific performance goals, and other channel specific details. Campaigns ultimately are what bring audiences, messages, and channels together with performance goals.

Channels – Where are we going to be? This is a simple inventory of the channels that the strategy intends to use and every possible channel needs to be explored. There is no reason to be in every channel or every placement within the channel but you do have to consider it. Much of the research here is use by competitors, audience match to your audiences, and effectiveness of the placements. At a minimum, you need to consider search, display, remarketing, and social placements.

Performance – Why are we doing this? Performance is the reason we do all of this and it is what brings us back to the strategy. Within the strategy, we established goals for the various campaigns and in the performance we are checking to see what really happened and make adjustments as needed. Performance is not without its challenges and the first is that measurements in marketing are never perfect nor are they simple linear processes. We would all like to have an action to reaction relationship but the reality is that there are multiple actions to a reaction and the number of these varies greatly. There are many, including myself, that believe that action to reaction can be as high as 20. This means that for any one specific reaction, there could be 20 contributing actions that were taken.

Budget – How much are we going to invest? This is always one of the tough items in any plan. The answer to this is almost always the same. You want to spend as little as possible but as much as necessary.

CONTENT

Content is king and creating it is magic or so many would like you to think. There is no question that the team in this area has to be insanely creative with the ability to create visual and textual content that communicates the messages to the audience. While this has never been my strength, it is certainly one that I appreciate; when it is done right. The challenge sometimes is keeping the creative in-line with the strategy. One item that is very different in digital marketing (as opposed to print) is that the creative can be tested in the market to see if the message resonates with the audience.

ADVERTISING

Advertising is the blocking and tackling of the process. With the channels and budgets decided on, the goal of this team is to take care of the details. Digital advertising is very different than conventional placement in that the key is to run the system properly and keep the audience on target. This task is about running a fairly complex computer system to get maximum output from it. The team here tends to be strong on math and system process mechanics.

CONVERSATION

Conversations have always been part of marketing but social media has made them much more important and have changed the nature of these conversations. No longer is a conversation between the parties involved in the dialog because it now includes the thousands or even millions that will observe the conversation. An exchange with a prospect on Facebook can easily go viral resulting in millions of impressions for an offhand remark. This part of the team normally will fall to the customer service and sales department, which means getting them on board with the audiences and messages is now critical. Social media can be thought of as the dinner networking meeting of today only with an unlimited audience attending.

ANALYTICS

Analytics is an area that has existed in marketing since the first ad was run and someone wanted to know what it did. What has changed is that the depth of the data has increased and with that came some good things and some new challenges.

  • On the positive side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.
  • On the negative side we know a lot more about the interactions of people with our content and placements.

It is very easy today to bury decision makers in data while they starve for actionable information. The real magic in Analytics is reading the tea leaves and transforming data into information. You have to be very careful today with what you think you know and what specific data actually means. The Analytics team is responsible for transforming this data and feed the information back to the strategy team that can make adjustments in the direction of the business. This is typically done on a regular schedule and we recommend no more than one month between these cycles.

SUMMARY

In closing, you need smart people with different perspectives to the challenges that your business will face. In strategy, you need broad thinkers with a handle on the mission and goals of the organization. In content, you need creative people that can transform detailed messaging into easily understood visual and textual elements. In advertising, you need smart math skills with the discipline to execute. In conversations, you need people that understand how to relate to others using new means of communication like social media. In analytics, you need people that took Stats 450 for the easy A and that can communicate with the strategic thinkers, creatives, advertisers, and customer service.


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