Identify Your Goal Before Executing Your Marketing

One of the most common conversations I have with business owners and leaders is around what kind of marketing they need. Some know exactly what they want. Some think they know exactly what they need. Some mention random tactics that are the buzzwords du jour. And some ask me what they should do within five minutes of us starting our conversation.

Before I answer their question or agree with what they are asking for support on, I ask them what is their goal. Where are they in their business? This is the crucial starting point for any conversation. There are many frameworks for this approach – most notably a sales or marketing funnel. A similar parallel in social media is the know-like-trust strategy. The main point of this thinking is to have an understanding on the audience you’re trying to reach, what information they are seeking, and the tactics that resonate with that target. Too often people jump to the “most effective tactics” and don’t understand why they are not achieving their goal of acquiring new leads, converting the leads, or retaining current customers.

Create awareness by starting with the middle of the funnel

Let’s say you’re about to launch a new product, service, or company. Where should you start with your marketing? Conventional wisdom says at the very top of the funnel – creating awareness around the thing you’re launching. Strategically that’s correct, but how do you generate awareness for something new?

One tactic is to start in the middle of the funnel – think about the type of content and marketing tactics that generate interest or likes. If your brand identity is fun, then use fun imagery and copy. If you’re trying to position yourself as a thought leader, than use informative infographics and copy.

The main difference is that you need to bring awareness to the brand / company name or the product or product category. So unlike in the middle of the funnel, you need to make sure whatever you’re launching is at the forefront of your communications. Plus, you’ll want to keep the information simpler and shorter.

For example, let’s say you have a new fruit jam company called Organic Jams. When creating top of the funnel tactics, the three things you should to include are: Organic Jams (company name), logo (visual identity), and one differentiating factor from competitors (direct or indirect). To find that differentiating factor, you can work on the middle of the funnel tactics – the blog post, sales brochure, etc. – which describes in greater detail how your jams are made, the unique flavors, the farmers you work with, or whatever else is part of your brand story. Sometimes it is easier to start with the long-form tactic to find a succinct description.

Continue past the bottom of the funnel

The traditional bottom of the funnel is reengagement, retention, or upselling. It’s also the trust point where you hope your loyal followers promote you to their own networks. You can continue to refine your communications even further whether it is heavily targeting high-value customers or by consciously choosing to ignore low-value customers.

Wait, ignore an existing customer? Not every customer is worth retaining. That’s a hard concept, especially for a small or micro business, to accept. However, if you are putting more resources into retaining or upselling that customer than sales you’re getting in return then their value is negative. I mention resources because it is not always a dollar amount you’re investing, but if you find yourself spending more time on account management / customer service than other customers or clients, that translates into time that could be used more efficiently.

One example that exemplifies the “ignore a customer group” is the world of GroupOn and Living Social deals. They were thought to be an easy way to reach new potential customers. While the deals may have brought new customers into your business, many of these people were deal hoppers or people who valued your service at the deal price and not your standard price. Business owners often tried to retain these customers, but ultimately realized that the effort didn’t match the reward.

Define your goal before starting the process

Before you develop a marketing strategy which of course comes before tactical execution, you should establish your goal. Your goal should be specific to what business stage you are at. There is a reason processes and frameworks become commonplace; they work. So remember awareness – interest – action – reengagement and know – like – trust when thinking about your marketing goals.

Tips for Emails That Deliver

Email marketing has been around for decades, but best practices have shifted over the years. When “buying a list” was previously the norm, it is now about lead generation from your own organic or paid efforts. More data and automation tools have also changed the game – but what remains true is that nothing beats compelling subject lines coupled with timely and relevant content.

Tip 1: Add to your contact list

Don’t buy email lists. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk about other ways you can add to your contact list. Note, you should always require an explicit opt-in, and you’ll see how below.

  1. Include an email opt-in module on your website. If collecting email is a priority, make sure this form matches that priority on your site. Don’t hide it if you want people to take action!
  2. Utilize social media. You can post (organic) periodic reminders to sign up or include a link in your bio / profile. You can also use paid media with sign up forms.
  3. Have new and existing customers opt-in to promotional emails. Or make this part of the on-boarding process. You can use incentives such as content only available to subscribers or the traditional discount for signing up. To be clear, just because someone provides their email address for transactional emails (e.g., receipts or invoices) does not always mean you have permission to send promotional emails. Check your opt-in language.
  4. Ask your existing and new contacts. If you’re just starting out, friends and family are a great resource – both for sign ups and for them to spread the word. Or as you network, instead of simply collecting a business card / LinkedIn connection, ask them if they’re interested in [insert content of your emails]. You can manually add them in at that point, but be sure to make a note of when/how they agreed to receive emails. Don’t just add everyone to your list if you haven’t asked.
  5. Gate your content. Essentially you require an email address and an opt-in to access a white paper or webinar you’re promoting. The lead “pays” for exclusive information with their email address. This tactic works best for B2B marketers and for specific types of content and audiences, so tread carefully here.

I would be negligent if I didn’t promote our email newsletter. Our subscribers receive exclusive insights, so if you want more content like this post sign up now.

Tip 2: Create and follow user journeys for your email campaigns

However you are collecting email addresses, keeping accurate data on each lead is important. And once that lead enters your email program, you should track all of their behavior (or as much as possible) not only with email engagement but also buying habits and any other marketing tactics. This data will help you create and execute user journeys for each segment of your business.

So what exactly are user journeys? In this context, they are plans with predetermined triggers and tactics. They can be designed with many different automation tools, or you can simply create it in PowerPoint as a guideline for you to follow. The goal is to make sure you know how you’ll take a lead from awareness to conversion to retention and upsell. Triggers can include email engagement (opens, clicks, etc.), cart abandon (when someone leaves something in their cart or if they do not finish a registration process), conversions (what they buy or register for), etc. Tactics can be a combo of emails and other channels that you utilize.

And remember, just as growing your list is important, so is maintaining your list. You want to keep people from opting out or reporting you as SPAM. But don’t fret if you lose a few subscribers – oftentimes the content is truly irrelevant or situations evolve.

Tip 3: Consistently review your results to optimize future efforts

In addition to tracking unsubscribe and SPAM rates, you should also monitor your hard bounces especially as leads come into your database. Hard bounces are emails that are undeliverable due to a bad email address (e.g., fake) or ones that do not exist (e.g., a corporate email for a former employee). This will help you determine if the source of the emails may need either a validity check for email format or if it is not a reliable collection tactic.

What are some common success metrics and what do they measure?

Open rate is the percent of recipients that opened the email. Note, you can track unique or total. My preference is to report on unique opens; however, keeping an eye on total is helpful anecdotally to see if people are referring back to your email. One thing this does not measure is how many people may see the email in a preview pane.

To optimize open rates, you can test these variables:

  • Subject line
  • Day of week / time of day
  • Frequency

Click-thru-rate (CTR) is the number of recipients who click on a link in the email divided by the total number of recipients. Similar to open rate, this can be tracked as a unique or total stat. This measures how relevant, engaging, and user friendly your email is.

To optimize your CTR, you can test these variables:

  • Layout / template
  • Offer / call to action
  • Headlines or body copy

Click-to-open rate (CTOR) is the number of recipients who click on a link in the email divided by the number of recipients who opened the email. This measures if your subject line effectively communicated the content in your email. Similarly to CTR, it also measures the general effectiveness of the design and copy.

Remember not all email campaigns are the same

You often hear about people talk about what works for them. A recent example is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) retailer who has a three touchpoint campaign that always performs in the same way. Email 1 announces a sale. Email 2 reminds you about the sale. Email 3 warns you the item is about to sell out. With this cadence, Email 3 always performs well – and the best. However, your audience may behave differently, so relying solely on what works for someone else is not necessarily the right – or best – solution. You should always look for your own winning formula.

Trick-or-Treat

Halloween is this week, so I thought I’d commemorate the holiday with trick-or-treating. Well, marketing style. There are many different tricks in marketing – hacks that make your work easier and more efficient – so I thought I’d share some of my favorite treats.

Posting an image to Instagram directly from your computer

In Chrome, you can use the device mode option to “trick” your computer browser into thinking it is a mobile device. This setting is typically used by developers and designers to simulate what a website would look like on different screens. (Note, this is also a great option for any quick or basic web page or email testing you might be doing.)

Simply go to the menu options (top, right corner of your browser window), and select “More tools” – “Developer tools.” Then, click on the devices icon to choose a mobile device. Not sure where the devices icon is located? Scroll to the bottom of this post for a screenshot.

Go to instagram.com and you should see a similar layout to the mobile app. If not, try refreshing the page. Then post as you would on your phone!

Too complicated? Simply use a scheduler app like Later or post from Canva.

Use Design Ideas in PowerPoint

Microsoft has always offered different PowerPoint templates and Design Ideas. However, if you haven’t tried out Design Ideas, it may be worth a look. It takes the content already on your slide and provides suggestions on how you can organize the information differently. It can also provide new font and template options.

You can simply select one of the options provided. The different options may also help you visualize a different – better – custom layout.

Look for the Design Ideas button under the Design menu.

Create original content that is only available on your website

If you are the only source for a specific data point or stat then you will be go-to destination for that information. Think about what you can measure, what your audience might be searching, and what is relevant to your business. Collect or analyze data and add it to the content on your site. Remember, this is great for driving traffic to your site, but it’s just the start to converting that visitor.

Happy Halloween! 🎃

Devices icon in the Developer Tools menu in Chrome

When Good Enough is Good Enough

Many business owners are perfectionists. This makes a lot of sense. To be successful, you need to be dedicated to learning and honing your craft. You need to pay attention to detail – whether it is in product design or in tracking your budget. Many of these areas are imperative to ensure safe products and reliable services. However, what happens when the perfectionism crosses into your marketing efforts? When does it become “analysis paralysis”? And equally important, when do you need to take that extra minute?

Without a specific end goal, testing and learning can be an infinite process

Ask any good strategic marketer if they believe in testing and they’ll say yes. To optimize your marketing whether it is an email subject line, time of day of a social media post, or a sale offer, you can create an A/B test. Simply put, you test version A versus version B of the tactic with one variable. The winner becomes your “champion” for your next test. After introducing a new challenger, the process begins again. If you don’t have a predetermined success metric – e.g., open rate of 30%, 10% lift in engagement, etc. then this cycle can be never ending. At some point, the improvement will not justify the efforts. That’s when good enough is good enough.

Proofreading is a forgotten science

In the time of immediate publishing and the race to be the first to share, we seem to have forgotten about how to reread what we write. On the reader side, we also have become accepting of typos and incomplete thoughts. It’s the Twitter brain. However, just because readers are less judgmental, it does not mean you shouldn’t proofread your content – both copy and text on images. Read about why anything you share should also pass the nanosecond test. This one task that I think good enough is not good enough – there is no reason for typos or misspellings. And remember, if you proofread and autocorrected in your own brain, then most platforms allow for editing after publishing. If not, then consider deleting and reposting if you won’t lose engagement.

Tips for Proofreading

  • Read it out loud. This slows down the process of reading back your copy.
  • Spellcheck! You can always copy and paste text into a program like Word if the platform you’re using doesn’t have the ability.
  • Prefill information like hashtags or mentioning other accounts. Oftentimes posting or tweeting live can feel overwhelming, but if you’ve already started a draft with these items, then all you need to add is the insight you want to share.

Numbers and Data Are Only Part of the Story

Every business leader knows the importance of setting goals and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). The great leaders know that data is only as good as the insights you gather and the actions you and your team take after understanding that information. Below are some key lessons to consider when creating your plan for measuring success.

How data is presented matters

There is a reason that data visualization is a separate technique, skill, and platform from collection and analysis. While the process of collecting data such as customer preferences, sales numbers, or marketing engagement is crucial, the way the data is presented is equally, if not more important. Let’s take a look at a basic example of sales by quarter.

It is the exact same data, but at first glance the graph on the left looks like sales have been growing slowly and with the graph on the right, sales growth looks much more impressive. This illustrates how you visually share data may skew interpretations and therefore subsequent actions by your team or customers.

Benchmarks bring meaning to your data

Without context, it can be difficult to find insights. Using the example from above, it appears that business has been good in 2020. You’re seeing a steady increase in quarterly sales. But what if we introduce 2019 sales?

Two things emerge from adding in the prior year’s sales. You lost sales from the end of 2019 to the beginning of 2020. You also are seeing a more sluggish growth rate. This may change your view on the success of 2020. In addition to historical data, you can also add in industry or competitor benchmarks.

Changing how and what you measure can be acceptable

You may have heard that consistency is key to measuring results so you can compare year over year (YoY) data like the example above. I agree that you should always compare like for like, but what if your business or environmental factors changes? It would be foolish to keep focusing on the same exact thing year after year for the simple sake of consistency. For instance, what happens if you’ve dramatically reduced your costs in 2020?

This new chart tells a different story. While your gross sales in 2020 were less than 2019, you are actually making more money. This is a simple example as to why it sometimes helps to look at different success metrics.

Collecting and presenting data is only the first step

More important than setting up a process for collecting and reporting data is the process of ingesting that data into your strategic planning process. Numbers are great. Numbers that tell a story are even better. Numbers with a clear story that point you to a plan to improve your business are the best.

From Pivot to Pod to…People

A few weeks ago, I realized that almost every conversation I had in Q2 revolved around the word “pivot.” Then it became “pod” in Q3. So what is the “P” word for Q4? Perhaps one of these words – plan, prepare, perfect, or pitch. Or hopefully prosper. But my money is on people.

People have defined 2020

Regardless if you’re talking about your personal life or your business, people are always a major component of your daily activities. In 2020, we’ve seen the power of people. People ignited a movement like no other to fight for social justice. People came together to support front-line workers, small businesses, and their communities. People are what we missed the most, but we stayed away to protect the people we loved the most.

People are the soul of a business

One of the things I’ve routinely said this year is that I want to support the small businesses I love because I want to see them survive. While the product they sold or service they provided is obviously important, what I realized was that what made a business fall into that category was the people. I either had a personal connection with the owner / employees, or I appreciated their entrepreneurial spirit / story. Or in some cases, the people I met through patronizing their establishments. As a lifelong marketer, it seems counter-intuitive for me to say this, but edited, scripted social media posts cannot replace real authenticity that comes from actual people. Because if you and your team genuinely love what you do and who you serve, your customers will see you as people, not a product or commodity.

Make people a priority in Q4 and beyond

As you think about the remainder of 2020 and planning for 2021, remember to surround yourself with the right people. Surround yourself with people who can teach you something, challenge you, and balance your weaknesses. The people that will do all the other “P” words – help you create an effective plan, prepare for another world changing event, or perfect your pitch for investors.

Because with the right people we can all prosper.

5 Tips for Starting Q4 the Right Way

At the start of a new quarter (yes, that’s this week), I recommend going through a list of tactical marketing and business “to dos.” Oftentimes these items are deprioritized during the daily grind, but taking the time to do them will ensure your digital presence is on brand and will help your ongoing business planning and marketing optimization.

  1. CONDUCT A MINI CONTENT REVIEW | A full content review should be completed at least 1x/year. However, regular interim reviews of digital tactics will make the annual task less daunting and time consuming. Plus, if you update messaging mid-year, you won’t have outdated tactics in market for a full year.
    • TIP | Establish brand guidelines which include both visual identity and messaging guidelines, and ensure anyone who is creating content is following them.
  2. ‘GOOGLE’ YOURSELF | Search your name and/or your business name on Google. Consider other search engines if you typically see significant web traffic from them. Make sure what appears first is what you expect (and want) to see. If not, make sure you’ve covered the basics of SEO such as a site map, titles, and tags. Or invest in more strategic tactics such as writing content based on what your audience is searching for.
    • TIP | Set-up a Google Alert for your business, so you can see when any new items are published. You can also monitor top competitors this way.
  3. CHECK IN ON COMPETITORS | Review what your top competitors have been up to – product offerings, marketing, pricing, etc. Check to see if there is a new company you need to be aware of or if you should add them to your “top” competitors list.
    • TIP | Do the same thing for peer (non-competing) companies or organizations. They may provide new inspiration or insights.
  4. SCAN TERTIARY ACCOUNTS | While I’d always highly recommend timely review of any social media accounts you have, I understand the reality of small teams and limited time. At a minimum, I recommend taking a look at least 1x/quarter. Respond to messages (with a make it right note if necessary for a late response), see what’s new, and consider if you should delete your account / profile or monitor it more regularly.
    • TIP | Even if your target audience is not on a particular platform, you can still periodically monitor it for trends. Plus, you may find the platform has added a feature that makes it more interesting to your audience – e.g., did you know LinkedIn has added stories?
  5. BREATHE | Leading a business, team, or family is challenging. Self care is a buzzword, but it is a buzzword I fully support. Establish “work hours” and personal time if you’re working from home. Pet your dog. Enjoy a hobby. Talk to a friend. Play with your kids. Take a walk around the block at lunchtime. Turn off your phone for a few hours.
    • TIP | Take care of yourself, so you can take care of business.

Getting on the Agenda

I recently had the opportunity to serve as the interim Program Manager and Experience Designer for Venture Cafe Philadelphia. During that time, I worked with speakers with varied experience presenting from novices to seasoned pros. I also talked with many people in my personal network about why sharing their expertise would be beneficial to them. Across these experiences, I realized that part of the reason the same handful of people appear on event agendas is not because they are the only experts in a particular field, but because many others need a little additional guidance on how and why they should share their knowledge.

Who should present?

I think everyone has the capacity to share meaningful content in at least one presentation format. For the purpose of the rest of this post, I will be focusing on presenting in the context of speaking to a group of people in a formal setting (e.g., live or virtual event). However, you may thrive by presenting in a 1:1 meeting or by giving an informal elevator pitch.

What should you present?

You should present anything that you can either provide expert guidance on and/or share a unique perspective. Expertise can range from a specific academic topic or tactical execution. A distinctive point-of-view can spark dialog on important social topics or it can showcase you as a thought leader. Presenting in a “problem – solution – result” way can provide a way to connect with prospects in a more meaningful way than a traditional sales pitch.

Why should you present?

  • To build relationships that can lead to business partners or customers
  • To support your community with useful information
  • To market yourself as a thought leader or influencer (online or offline)

When should you present?

You should present regularly or as often as possible. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Also, if you want to establish credibility as a speaker, it is helpful to have a variety of events on your speaking resume. However, as with everything, be sure to be selective on your speaking engagements. Consider speaking if it is part of a paid sponsorship, if you’ll receive an honorarium, if the event audience is who you’re trying to reach, and who else is on the agenda. Or simply if it benefits the greater good.

How should you present?

It’s up to you and your style. Some people are great presenting live to an audience and riff off of facial expressions and head nodding. Others prefer presenting virtually without the worry of someone interrupting their flow with a question or even a cough. If you aren’t sure which is best, try both and see what works for you. Oftentimes, I’ve gotten the question, do I need a deck? Maybe. A deck can helpful for both you as a speaker and for your audience. It can help you keep track of the top points you want to cover without needing to write a full script. It can also help visually explain with what you are sharing. Another common question is what program to use (e.g., Google Slides, Keynote, PowerPoint, or Canva). It depends on different factors such as shared editing needs, devices / OS being used, other data integrations, and ultimately your own comfort level.

If you’re notorious for going off script or running long, you may need to actually create a script whether it is just for practice or one to refer to during your presentation.

A final note on presentations and speaking engagements

If you’re interested in learning about building a marketing app stack, then join us virtually at Venture Cafe Philadelphia on Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 3 pm ET.

Entrepreneur, Small Business Owner, or Start-Up Founder?

Have you ever asked yourself if you’re an entrepreneur, a small or micro business owner, a start-up founder, or all of the above? Regardless of what title you prefer, there are global and local resources for anyone who owns their own business.

Accelerators & Incubators

Harvard Business Review states, “Startup accelerators support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing.” According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ” A startup incubator is a collaborative program for startup companies — usually physically located in one central workspace — designed to help startups in their infancy succeed by providing workspace, seed funding, mentoring and training.” These terms are often used interchangeably but the notable difference is that accelerators are typically for companies who are looking to scale while incubators are for innovators who may need more guidance on a business plan and creating a viable business. Y Combinator, Tech Stars, and 500 Startups are three well-known accelerators.

TIP | Philly Mag published this list of accelerators and incubators which includes several local Philadelphia programs.

Small Business Association (SBA)

The U.S. SBA provides everything from loans to business counseling for small businesses and entrepreneurs at every business stage. They also provide certifications needed for government contract opportunities as well as guidelines and templates for creating business plans. SCORE which is a resource of the SBA connects business owners with mentors.

TIP | Look for local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) for training events and additional resources. In Pennsylvania? Visit the PA SBDC site.

Workshops & Networking Events

Various companies and organizations provide educational and networking opportunities. Read more about why attending events is important in this blog post. Traditional tradeshows and conventions can be good options. However, there are other options. Potential vendors are a great resource for webinars – keeping in mind that you will likely be solicited for business after signing up for their events. Don’t forget to track “live” schedules on Facebook and Instagram from individuals that you follow.

TIP | For free programming for innovators and entrepreneurs, check out any of the global Venture Cafe locations. Venture Cafe Philadelphia hosts weekly Thursday Gatherings.

Co-Working Spaces

While many of you may still be working remotely (and will continue to do so for some time), co-working spaces are also valuable resources. Whether you need a professional space to host a client meeting or if you just need physical space beyond your home, there are many different options with different models that can support your needs. All of the options most likely have changed in our current environment, so it is worth revisiting your choices now. You can also even get shared lab spaces from companies like BioLabs. Or a unique space in our hometown of Philly is REC Philly which is a shared space for creators and creative entrepreneurs. Local libraries, like the Business Resource and Innovation Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia, offer free small business support including desk space and private meeting rooms. Innovation centers, such as Quorum in Philadelphia, may also offer free drop-in or public lounge space you can use. Beyond the desk or office, co-working spaces can provide inspiration from spontaneous water cooler conversations or curated programming.

TIP | If you’re still working from home but crave community, look for co-working spaces that offer creative options such as the Indy Hall at Home membership. The founder of Indy Hall also produces events for freelancers.

Back to School, Back to Basics

The week after Labor Day was always the beginning of a new school year in my hometown. It was a time of much anticipation and excitement. Back to school shopping for new pencils, notebooks, and other school supplies was a fun activity and having something tangible in my hands was what made the excitement real.

Tangible tactics can make a tangible impact

In our increasingly more virtual world, traditional (aka old school) marketing tactics such as postcards, promotional products, and brochures are dwindling, even more so now as in-person events have been cancelled, concerns about mail delays have been raised, and marketing budgets have been reduced. However, the impact these items can make should not be forgotten.

Cross-channel or multi-channel marketing used to mean print ads, direct mail, online banners, emails, events, and more. As digital marketing increased in popularity – and effectiveness – many of the more traditional tactics became obsolete. Cross-channel started to mean using multiple social media platforms. This shift made sense; digital was faster, cheaper, and customizable. But have we gone too far?

Integrating printed tactics into your customer journey mapping

An important part of any marketing plan is the customer journey – mapping out touch points and triggers from discovery to purchase / conversion to upsell for each segment of your target audience. Oftentimes, these are utilized to automate marketing. However, don’t forget about the “hard copies” that might be relevant – the actual “touch” points. An insert in a package might just be the reinforcement or reminder a prospect needs to check out your business. There is a lot of noise and clutter online, so sometimes holding onto something (even if it is just the minute from mailbox to recycling bin) can have a breakthrough moment.

I’m not saying every marketing campaign should include a printed piece or a free t-shirt, but I am saying that offline marketing isn’t obsolete. Physical tactics should be part of the strategic planning discussion. Remember the rules of effective marketing should always apply including good design, messaging reasons to believe, accurate targeting, and using the channel your audience wants to consume information. Those are the basics, and sometimes all you need to do is get back to the basics.