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  • 09.17.14

Budgeting 2015 – The Essentials

marketing budget done wisely

Since digital channels are where so many interactions happen, brands need to make sure they have the essential digital technology pieces in place.  These include:

website / mobile / blogs / social / email / search / content / ratings & reviews / marketing automation / analytics / commerce

While almost every brand probably needs a website, the exact recipe should be determined by the right strategy work, as we discussed in this recent post: 5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget.

The idea is that modern marketing is circular not linear. You never come to a dead end and everything connects and supports everything else in the brand ecosystem.  In order to do that you need to have certain technology pieces of the puzzle in place before you jump to tactics.

You probably already have a website. It’s should be the core of your ecosystem. This is where you are free to cultivate and convert to the best of your ability. But all websites are not created equal. A modern marketing websites should:

  1. Have landing pages that are customized by where viewers come from.
  2. Tell a persuasive brand story customized to each viewer’s interests.
  3. Attract search with content designed for SEO.
  4. Enable advocacy with content and social media.
  5. Use Responsive design to enable viewing on any mobile device.
  6. Identify visitors and deliver relevant content.
  7. Produce comprehensive activity analytics.
  8. Enable speedy marketing updates with a flexible CMS.

These are the basics of a modern brand website. The key, however, is in how you execute them. You messaging, branding, content, design and user experience are all the product of your strategy work, without which your site may not resonate with consumers or produce the leads and conversions you hope for. Whatever the ingredients, the fundamental idea is that your digital marketing infrastructure should enable you to execute and adapt quickly and easily.

Advertising and acquisition tactics alone rarely close the deal anymore.  Consumers, B2C and B2B, need to do research, evaluate, talk with friends and peers, and be cultivated. It’s a complex soup of influences and interactions. The good news is that it can be mapped and understood, so that armed with that knowledge you can deliver the right message to the right person at exactly the right time. In order to do that, however, you need to have some essential mechanical pieces of the puzzle in place first.

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  • 09.15.14

5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget

5 Steps to a Defensible 2015 Marketing Budget

Just the fact of being asked for specific budget numbers often makes marketers jump straight to tactics before they’ve developed the strategic foundation that should drive those tactics. Unfortunately if you haven’t done that work yet for 2015, it’s probably too late for your budget process. But either way it’s never too late to start doing it the right way.

The 5 steps to an effective, defensible marketing plan:

1.    Don’t Guess

The powers that be need to recognize that before you decide where, when and how to spend money, modern marketing requires some pretty sophisticated strategic planning. While your team’s instincts and experience are probably good, you’d be surprised how wrong gut decisions can be. The Connect, Cultivate, Convert model does a good job of explaining why this complex environment requires a formalized strategic approach.

2.    Do the basics

The foundation starts with traditional research and insights, like customer segmentation, competitive review and persona development. But it’s what comes next that really counts.

3.    Journey Mapping

You need to know what the key interaction points and influences are on the way to purchase, and then advocacy, for each target segment.  This tells you when and where to interact with each target segment, but it’s still not enough.

4.    Content Strategy

You also need to know what to say, and how to say it to each segment at each interaction point. This comes from the work of a Content Strategy.  It includes social media listening to discover what people are saying, and studying search activity to find out what people are doing. This work reveals the psychology of the consumer at each point in their journey and provides essential direction to creative messaging.

5.    Playbook

At this point you have a strategic plan, which includes who you are targeting, when and where you should engage, what you should say and how that messaging should be delivered, but you need one more thing. The final step is to translate all this strategy into an actionable plan.

The Playbook should:

·      Prioritize tactics based on their ability to deliver against goals
·      Lay out tactics in priority over time
·      Show how each tactic ladders up to the strategy
·      Provide budgets for each tactic.
·      Project ROI
·      Identify KPIs for performance measurement

Tactics should include campaign work to connect with new prospects, tactics to cultivate prospects and customers over time, and tactics to convert prospects into customers. Some tactics may be one-time, others may be evergreen and part of your on-going marketing infrastructure.

When you’ve taken these five steps you will really be ready for budget time. You will be able to tell your management exactly how much you need, why, and what the ROI will be. You will be able to explain how, in the context of corporate goals, you got to your strategy, how the tactics you recommend will accomplish the strategy and why you have prioritized certain tactics within the time period. You will be able to justify each tactic, why it makes sense and how it ladders up to the long-term vision for the brand.

You may not be quite ready to deliver, however, if you don’t have the right mechanics in place. In our digitally centric world these are mostly digital assets like an effective website.  These technology components, of what essentially becomes a brand ecosystem, enable you to consistently turn the activity you generate with advertising and marketing into sales and loyalty.  But that’s another post.

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Online Video Top Priority For Brands in 2015

Marketing Content Strat for VideoThe CMO Council’s latest report shows that the two top priorities for brands in the coming year will be social and online video.

Everyone has been focused on social for a while, of course, and it continues to be a fast-evolving space, but video is rapidly becoming the new challenge for brands–and an opportunity for competitive advantage. Compared to text, video is easier to consume, and, if used in the right context and at the right time, consumers prefer it to other types of messaging.

The value proposition for brands is irresistible:

• Instead of paying a network or TV station to deliver your video, you can make your video “findable” by people who are searching using SEO.

• Many of these videos should live on your Web site, so when you drive people there to see a video, they become the gateway into your entire sales story.

• Videos are also powerful with existing customers for upsell, cross-sell, and retention, and can be triggered with email and even by 1-2-1 sales.

• You can also use paid SEM, buying keywords to drive audience to your videos.

• You can, of course, buy preroll video ads just about anywhere, and use display ads to show or link to your videos

• Videos are also social currency and exactly what people like to share in social networks, so they should become a key component in your social strategy

The list of applications for video includes paid (purchased media) exposure, as well as earned (social/PR) and owned (Web site). But clearly it’s smart to exhaust the opportunities to get free exposure before putting your hand in your pocket.

The challenge is that just putting a video out there doesn’t cut it. To succeed, brands have to make the right videos, tailored for the target audience and context. However, many brands still don’t put the time and money into figuring out what videos they should make, what subjects they should address, what they should say, and how they should say it. And the truth is, video is not right for every situation; often, it is very wrong.

All of those questions can be answered with a good content strategy, which studies the consumer decision journey, the context, competition, and so on. Guessing is really not an option, and only when you have a content strategy to guide you should you move to creative and production.

For example, for one of IQ’s clients we learned that consumers were very uneducated about the buying process. So we researched via organic search to discover the top terms, especially long-tail searches, people used in the buying process. These led to videos designed to address those areas and questions, and which, through good SEO, would attract those searches. Since we know that Google favors videos in natural search results, these videos acted as a lead-generation tool, while, at the same time, filled out the brand story on the Web site and acted as content for marketing automation.

The idea is to make an effective video, but what works? Google considers “good” to be videos that are popular, based on such factors as how much people share your video, as well as how many links connect to it; the more popular, the higher the rank. So the objective is to make videos that your target audience find valuable and want to share. But why is one video more compelling than another? While there’s no simple answer, we do know that there are some general rules for what works, what doesn’t, and how to get it done.

Online, brands need a constant stream of compelling content to stay fresh and relevant to their consumers. The ability, therefore, to quickly create high-quality video on an ongoing basis at a reasonable cost is a key to making video online work. The trouble for many brands and their agencies is that making Web videos is not like making TV commercials. TV spots are produced only a couple of times a year, take months to make, and have very large budgets. They’re just too slow and too expensive for Web video.

As brands turn their focus to delivering fresh, relevant, and compelling online video, they will realize that it’s not as easy as checking a box. That means some will be better than others–some will succeed, while others will fail–but in the end isn’t that what competitive advantage is all about?

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Redesigning Amazon.com

Dear Brands, you’ll never be potato salad

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Rethinking Amazon.com

Eric Beatty Amazon.com redesign

 

A quick note from Clark Moss, IQ’s Executive Creative Director:

Every now and again at the IQ office, spontaneous discussions break out about our “dream brands,” those specific companies that we would just love to work on. It seems everyone in the office has one, from a tech giant to a local bar, a brand name clothing store to a niche-market product manufacturer. To celebrate that, we’ve challenged ourselves to write, design, blog and create ideas around these dream companies. We’ll be sharing them over the next few months on the IQ Agency blog, so please enjoy this first one by Eric Beatty, one of our wonderful Art Directors.

Before I start I want to state that I know that Amazon.com has an amazing team of UX & digital designers, and I know they have reasoning behind each element of the page and it’s placement. The comp that I designed is a direction that I personally think improves the usability of the site.

The Problem with Amazon.com

Amazon.com recently came out with an underwhelming redesign of their homepage. Though it is better then it’s predecessor, it didn’t solve for the overall clutter that is on the homepage. Due to the clutter there is no system of hierarchy to guide the user down the page through the various sections. Instead the user comes to the page and feels overwhelmed, flooded with information and images to take in. I wanted to solve for this.

Amazon's status quo

My Solution

I wanted to get rid of the clutter and focus on the most important things on the homepage: navigation, featured content and suggested products. I also wanted to create a system of hierarchy with the content, breaking up the page with large blocks of featured content  with smaller blocks of suggested products so the user doesn’t get overwhelmed. Finally I wanted to create a space at the top that showcased Amazon’s featured products in the best way possible.

Amazon.com solution

Navigation

Amazon Nav bar redesign

I shrunk the nav, leaving only the most important items: Departments, Prime, Wish list, My Account, Cart & Search. Note that search is front and center, allowing for people to quickly and easily get to it, since this is likely the most used way to navigate the site.

Hero Slider

Amazon hero slider redesign

I made an eye catching, full width image hero slider that showcases each featured product in an emotional way. I noticed that the current hero pieces are small and feel more like ads than a featured section. I wanted to make sure this section shined because this is where Amazon gets to push select items.

Suggested Products

Amazon Suggested Products redesign

I wanted to update the “related to items you’ve viewed” with Amazon’s colors. I feel they don’t use their branded orange enough, and by popping it in every now and then we are able to reinforce the brand subtly through the site. I also gave new spacing to the products to let them breathe, and to give the eye an easier time to see each product.

Featured Products

Featured Amazon Products Redesign

I think it is important to break up the product suggestion section with hero items. This keeps the user from feeling overwhelmed looking at a mass of products. It also provides visual interest and does a nice job breaking up the page.

Note the right side bar didn’t change that much, I wanted to make sure that section remained dedicated to advertisement, that way this is a more realistic approach to the redesign.

Take a look at the project on my Behance for more information. What is your opinion of Amazon.com’s homepage?

 

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  • 08.20.14

Do’s & Don’ts of Creating Brand Videos

Marketers have woken up to the need for great content to influence today’s savvy consumer, they have also recognized that a lot of it has to be video. Not just commercials once or twice a year, but a steady stream of compelling, relevant, valuable videos. That’s a pretty tall order, which is why this primer for making brand videos is so useful.

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Harpoons, Comets, Risk and Marketing

Marketing risks like unto harpooning a comet.

I was listening to the news this morning and heard the amazing story about the Rosetta spacecraft that has finally caught up with a comet it was sent to chase ten years ago. More unbelievable is that the plan is now to land the spacecraft on the comet by firing harpoons at the surface, which will pull the craft down. By the time you read this we should know if this wild plan was successful.

Clearly somebody 10 years ago had an extraordinary vision. The odds on catching the comet were slim and the odds of getting to the surface even slimmer. But despite that they managed to persuade someone to green light the money. Some cold-hearted, penny-pinching bureaucrat said yes to this outrageous plan. When I think of the small daily battles we have in marketing to get our clients to take risks it makes me feel truly humble.

Risk is of course the route to reward. As we are all told: the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Of course, the safer more predictable an investment, the more likely everyone will be doing it and the less likely it will be to produce a game-changing result. Yet it is that game-changing result that all our clients want, and actually deserve. They want the video that gets millions of viral views, the slogan that’s on everyone’s lips, the app that you simply must have. But at the same time, unlike at Rosetta’s organization, the typical corporate appetite for risk is small. This is nowhere more on display than from watching what’s happening in marketing today.

Companies, understandably, prefer investments in which they can accurately predict their risk. That’s really hard with creative, because how do you quantify the emotional impact of a new idea; it’s much easier with data. As a result you can already see the tremendous interest companies have in data. Already the corporate focus on data has started to squeeze out the focus on creative and originality. Instead of how do we capture people’s imagination, the talk is about programmatic buying, analytics, big data and so on. Companies love the idea of turning marketing into a predictable machine so they jump on all these technology investments in the belief that they will eliminate risk and uncertainty from the equation.

This is all well and good, but it ignores the final step in the journey; making the connection with the person. You note I said the person, not the consumer, because we are all people in the final analysis, not cogs in a giant marketing machine. I’m not saying that data is not valuable. At my agency, for example, we map all the customer touch points, aggregate the data and turn it into insights, which in turn leads us to original creative approaches that are more likely to resonate. Data does not replace the role of creative, but rather makes it smarter.

Data is good at telling us what has already happened and can predict, with some accuracy, what will happen in the future under similar circumstances. The problem is that data isn’t so effective when applied to new ideas. As Steve Jobs, who famously eschewed market research, said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” So the secret is in the marriage of data and creativity. Data informs the process of originality and innovation, but is not its master.

Don’t tell that to business today, however. Unfortunately, we are entering a phase in the marketing world where the momentum is to connect all the data silos into one unified system that promises to deliver marketing data Shangri-La. Companies will flock to this idea that data and systems will take the risk out of marketing, and will invest like crazy in platforms to predict and manage every thought consumers have. This will all come at the expense of creativity and in the end, I’m afraid, will still leave them short of that magical connection with the target audience. That will still take something that an algorithm will never produce, a completely original, emotionally impactful, idea, sort of like harpooning a comet.

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Before we knock “native advertising,” let’s talk about doing it right

How smart is your agency?

Dear brands, you’ll never be potato salad

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Before we knock “native advertising,” let’s talk about doing it right.

Before you knock it

 

I love John Oliver’s new show. It’s witty, funny, well-written and always on relevant topics. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see him taking a punch at native advertising.

If you don’t have time to watch his 11-minute segment, his argument is this: native advertising is ultimately deceptive and undermines the journalistic values that are essential to a free press. Why? As Oliver cites in the video, consumers rarely recognize when content on a publication’s website is “native ad” or not.

That’s very fair. Especially if you’re familiar with the The Atlantic’s Scientology fiasco, which Oliver mentions. But before we tie the phrase “native advertising” to a stake and burn it, I implore you to take a moment (as a brand, agency, journalist or consumer) to realize that native ads don’t have to be horrible farces to the public. They can be helpful, if they’re done right.

By done right, I mean this:

1. If you publish content for a brand, create something that actually matters and is relevant to that brand.

Truth is, behind every company is a group of real, often smart, people who care deeply about their products. Even though advertisers and their agencies (I’ll raise my hand here) have a goal to sell products or services, many work to sell things that they believe in. Companies spend millions of dollars testing their products and researching their industry. If brands are going to act as publishers, they should stick to topics relating to their area of expertise. Like Dell talking about work habits or a clothing company rounding up the latest fashion trends. Even though Swiffer’s Buzzfeed list offers more laughs than value, it talks about a relevant topic: cleaning. (And fits nicely on Buzzfeed, which offers more laughs than value too.)

2. Publish first in a designated space for branded content, such as a branded blog. 

Many very successful brands are finding success publishing on their own website — often via a branded blog. Two of my favorites, West Elm’s Front + Main and Tory Burch, not only publish relevant content often, they offer sage advice from industry experts that’s actually helpful. If Tory Burch wants to share dinner party appropriate attire or West Elm offers essential tips for an attic renovation — by all means. They also do a great job of distributing that content with fans via social media and email. Do this regularly and consumers will come back to engage.

3. Give a branded representative the byline. 

If your brand is writing a piece, give that article or piece of content an actual byline. Meaning an article about “10 ways to accessorize your spring wardrobe” from a clothing company could (and really should) features a small byline, like “Written by Jane Smith, Clothing Co. Brand Manager.” This gives brands a face, which builds credibility and trust with customers. If real company employees can’t create content, at least cite their input with a byline like, “Written by Joshua Meade with contributor Jane Smith.”

Example below from New York Times: 

millennials

4. Think of native ads like food. Always, always check the label. 

If your brand chooses to publish a piece in a traditionally non-branded space (such as in a magazine or newspaper), make sure the publication clearly labels it as “sponsored content.” Label it in an extremely bold way, with a readable label and visual indicator like a color change. If that branded article is interesting and valuable enough, consumers will read it anyway. Being honest and transparent about branded content ensures credibility and trust, not just for the publication but also for the brand itself.

 

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  • 07.23.14

How smart is your agency?

Test your Agency's IQ

In 1940, smart was all about writing snappy copy for newspaper ads. In 1960, smart was a TV spot with a catchy jingle. Today, however, smart is something entirely different.

The modern advertising agency (or whatever you want to call it) has to be smarter, or at least more broadly skilled, than ever before. Of course, agencies always say they are good at everything, but are they really? With digital added to the mix, the list of what they have to be good at has grown so much longer and challenging.

The Agency IQ Test is 10 simple, multiple-choice questions, followed by a score and analysis, that will give you a quick idea of how your smart your agency might be. The test is, of course, neither scientific nor entirely serious, but at the very least it should get you and your colleagues asking the right questions.

Take the test now to see how smart your agency really is.

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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Dear Brands, You’ll Never Be Potato Salad

advice on viral for brands

 

The Internet is a strange thing; so strange, in fact, that a man asking for $10 to help him make potato salad for the first time has resulted in over $50,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that has gone viral. And why? His appeal wasn’t one based on need (he wasn’t starving). He didn’t promise to feed the hungry. He literally just wanted to try to make potato salad. And the Internet thought he should be able to make a lot of it.

Brands spend millions of dollars every year paying agencies for content aimed at going “viral” in a similar way, and it almost never does. The ask from these brands has become so normalized that social content is often just called “viral content.” The ask sounds something like this: “We want to create a viral video.” What they mean is that they want to create a video intended specifically for the Internet, usually YouTube. But when it gets uploaded, it gets a few hundred views and the agency that made it cashes a nice check. The brand gets very little in return.

I have a word of advice for you: stop. You aren’t a potato salad Kickstarter. Your brand is not a random phenomenon; it is carefully crafted. Your brand is also not human. Consumers know both of these things and so the content you publish, the campaigns you launch, are expected to be of the highest quality. The chances that you’ll create something that is so different from what is expected that gets shared millions of times is really really small. It happens, but rarely.

Instead of spending millions of dollars constantly creating content in hopes of something resonating, create content with utility. Unless you are a brand in an entertainment category, understanding the questions consumers have and providing solutions will do much more for your business.

Lowe’s does this really well. Its Vine account is a case study in strategic early adoption of an emerging channel, and its use of YouTube is really effective.

Alternatively, if you are set on reaching a million+ people with a single piece of content, partner with an influencer who already has a large audience to create content on your behalf. Ford has done this really well on YouTube.

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  • 07.16.14

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting you”

IQ - Facebooks "new" old model

 

This is one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill, and what Facebook might be thinking as it tries to ram a new ad model down the throats of brands and consumers alike. Having already vented in my last post about this, I thought the greater implications of their actions on social media worthy of further comment.

A Giant Step Back

When Facebook decided to make brands pay to post content to their own fans, they took a giant step back into the old ad world.  Faced with ROI pressure brands can’t afford the luxury of content oriented posting, instead they have to turn to fast pay-off tactics like promotions, coupons etc.  This puts us back in the old world of interruptive advertising, where you’d be watching TV or reading a magazine and an ad would interrupt you. Consumers put up with this model in the pre-digital years because it seemed like a reasonable exchange; get the content in exchange for watching the ads. That was before we retrained them.

We Are Not a Captive Audience

Fast forward to today and digital consumers.  We don’t like interruptions, we don’t like delays and we don’t like ads. We have been schooled to find and use the most efficient ways to answer questions, solve problems, research solutions and evaluate options. Digital consumers are not a captive audience, so if ads interrupt our flow and slow our productivity we won’t put up with it. That’s why it’s more likely you will survive a plane crash or win the lottery than click a banner ad.

The Post-Advertising Age

Facebook just wants to make money, which is fair enough. But just because advertising is about the only business model that might work for them, doesn’t mean it will. The problem is that we live in the post-advertising age. We still need to tell brand stories; we just can’t do it effectively with conventional ads anymore; at least in digital channels. Even armed with all the creativity in the world the only way to consistently get the attention of the digitally empowered consumer is with relevance and timing.

Changing Hearts & Minds

So if marketers can’t use ads to get their message across, what’s a brand to do? The way to the digital consumer’s heart and mind is by serving up the right content at exactly the right time. The right kind of content is that which is appropriate for the context. So if someone has clicked to watch a video about planting a lawn, don’t have a pre-roll ad for Home Depot, have lawn care tips courtesy of Home Depot. The big difference is that one supports the consumer’s journey, while the other interrupts it. Seems simple enough, but the complexity comes in planning where and when to connect with each consumer segment, and developing just the right content for each situation.

The Magic Algorithm

The temptation today is to think that marketing has become a predictable machine. All you have to do is crunch some media numbers, apply an algorithm and magically consumers will come flocking to your brand. Of course this is what the purveyors of all manner of media ad wizardry would have you believe.  This ignores, however, the need to connect the dots; all the touch points that have to become one consistent story, personalized as narrowly as possible. Everything a brand does, therefore needs to be built on a foundation of consumer insights. This includes the critical exercises of mapping the Consumer Decision Journey* and developing a Content Strategy. Together they tell a brand when and where to connect with each target segment, plus what to say and how to say it at that critical moment. At the same time this work lets brands see, understand and design the cumulative effect of all the interaction points together. Inevitably this leads brands to shift their thinking from a product oriented, advertising approach to a content oriented, consumer approach.

The Training Wheels Come off

Facebook is trying lots of things (a few pretty out there), looking for ways to cash-in on their huge audience.  Some may work, but this shift to making brands pay to reach their own communities isn’t probably one of them, because consumers, let alone brands, won’t stand for having the content they came for taken away.

The good news is that social media marketing is not over; it’s actually shifting to a more mature model where brands have much more control and influence. What we are seeing with social media is the same kind of shift that we saw when users graduated from AOL’s training wheels to managing their own online experience. That’s happening now as consumers are becoming more experienced, and Facebook’s move is only going to accelerate it.

So it’s time for brands to strike out on their own and connect directly with their consumers without going through the gatekeepers anymore. That means starting with the foundational work to discover the when, where, what and how, which will drive their new social media, marketing plan.

* Mckinsey & Co

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