Act-On Software – Seven Smart Strategies to Maximize Your Gmail Inbox Placement

Seven Smart Strategies to Maximize Your Gmail Inbox Placement

Gmail is one of the largest email service providers in the market today. In fact, the goliath surpassed over 1 billion active users in February of 2016. With this enormous active user base, it’s highly likely that you’re already mailing to Gmail recipients. Because the industry market leader has such massive reach, we as email marketers must keep a diligent eye on their practices and find the best ways to get Gmail inbox placement.

In addition to deliverability and engagement rates, inbox placement is a crucial metric to keep in mind when analyzing your email marketing needs. In permission-based email marketing the inbox placement rate (IPR) is a benchmark for deliverability used to determine what percentage of sent emails reach the intended subscriber’s inbox. This rate is crucial, and you may want to become more aware of your inbox placement with your recipients — especially Gmail recipients. Why Gmail? Gmail has a reputation for being extremely tough on senders. You must remember they have their users’ interest in mind, not your interests as the sender.

How to Monitor Gmail Inbox Placement

I’d bet that a majority of you email marketers out there have test email accounts that you send to —which is a good for occasional checkups. Using a third-party provider such as 250ok or Email on Acid is another option. 250ok provides you with a seed list that tracks most of the major ISPs and hosts providers’ inbox placement rate. This is a great tool and supports Gmail inbox placement testing well. Email on Acid is a similar service, but it has more focus on content and a less extensive seed list.

Inbox Placement Basics

Recently Act-On has covered inbox placement in a few blog posts such as this one, so we won’t go into too much detail as far as the basics. But just to recap briefly, authentication such as DKIM and SPF should be set up. Content is lower on the priority list and carries less weight when it comes to inbox placement rate; it can, however, be very important when you’re trying to increase engagement with your recipients. Try to avoid spam trigger words and spammy content and subject lines.

Gmail-Specific Inbox Placement

The guideline you must keep in mind when you’re aiming for Gmail-specific inbox placement is their “rule” on inboxing: Do their users want your mail? Gmail cares more than any other provider about this specific rule. Keeping this in mind, we can narrow down some key strategies that can help you land in Gmail inboxes.

1. Target the right list.

If possible, make sure you’re sending to an opt-in list. Try to avoid sending to Gmail recipients who have not given you explicit permission to email them.

2. Let people leave.

Make sure you unsubscribe process is easy and prominent. One of the more effective unsubscribe strategies I’ve seen is placing an unsubscribe link in the header of your email, making it clear and simple for recipients to opt-out of your emails. Opt-outs are always better then spam complaints.

3. Give up on the unengaged.

Engagement is key to inbox placement success with Gmail. Stop sending to unengaged recipients, as they are not helping your engagement statistics with Gmail. The almost guaranteed way of not getting into Gmail inboxes is sending to a predominantly unengaged list. When should you remove these unengaged recipients from your sends? The industry rule of thumb is generally after 180 days or 6 months of no activity such as opening or clicking on your emails. Personally, I like to think of it in terms of cadence or volume. Ask yourself if this recipient opened your last 10 emails. If “no” is the answer, then it’s probably time to stop sending to them.

4. Consider your timing.

If you’re starting to notice inbox placement issue with Gmail, try slowing down your cadence. I think we can all agree that when it comes to marketing/promotional emails, sending one email for five consecutive days to a unique recipient is excessive. If you begin to see inbox placement issues with Gmail, reduce your cadence by half. For example, if you’re sending two emails to a unique recipient per week and seeing inboxing issues, reduce that to once a week. If the cadence is once a week, reduce that to once every other week.

5. Clean up your list.

List maintenance should always be a priority. Have a regular list cleanse and validation done to your lists to avoid mailing to expired, bad, or malicious addresses.

6. Court clicks.

Have your emails encourage interaction. Gmail experts recommend five different clickable links or images within an email.

7. Make it personal.

Last but not least, try sending personalized emails targeting Gmail users. In the subject line and content, personalize and specifically aim for your intended audience. For example, this would be a targeted Gmail subject line: “Gmail Users Receive an eBook When Subscribing to Our Newsletter.”

In summary, Gmail inboxing is user-centric. Along with following the steps above, design and target your emails to Gmail’s users and you’ll be well on your way to finding success in the inbox.

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Act-On Software – Nervous on Camera? Consider Using a Teleprompter for Your Next B2B Video

Nervous on Camera? Consider Using a Teleprompter for Your Next B2B Video

Thinking on your feet is a lot harder when you’re in front of the camera. Luckily, there’s a simple way to help keep your commentary on track. If you’re a marketer who produces in-house videos, consider using a teleprompter for your next B2B video.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • A teleprompter can help if you’re nervous on camera
  • A teleprompter tightens your message
  • A teleprompter speeds up the process

A lot of folks will tell you to avoid using a teleprompter so that your videos are more authentic. There is some truth to that, but mostly any drawbacks of using a teleprompter can be averted through proper techniques, which we’ll address at the end of the blog.

First, I have a confession. When I was a student at the University of Washington (way back in the day), I interned at KOMO 4 TV’s morning news show, which required me to get up around 3:45 a.m. The trouble was that I was also an editor for the student paper, which kept me there until about 11. Oh, and I also attended classes full time.

As you may guess, I got a little tired, and then I got a little crabby. One of my responsibilities for the show was running the teleprompter. Well … on more than one occasion one of the anchors said something that annoyed me and later regretted the comment once we went on air ‒ and I got a little revenge via the teleprompter. … Enough said.

OK, back to our discussion of improving your on-camera performance.

A teleprompter hides the camera

Many people get nervous speaking on camera. They freeze up, act awkward, or forget what they want to say. On more than one occasion, I’ve spent literally hours behind the camera, through take after take, attempting to record just a couple of minutes of usable video with an interviewee.

Well, believe it or not, a teleprompter can help make you more comfortable by hiding the camera so that you’re only seeing the script you created scrolling along (and, don’t worry, I’m not controlling the playback speed).

A teleprompter tightens your message

Somewhere along the way, this idea that winging what you say is more authentic became the advice of the trade. But, it’s simply not true. While there are some people who are naturally skilled at doing this, most are not. Our CEO, Andy MacMillan, is great in front of a camera and working without a teleprompter. I am not. I usually need about a dozen or more takes to be able to stitch together a 1-minute B2B video. Then, during editing, I realize I forgot to say one or more key points in the video. Ugh.

A teleprompter forces you to write a script. Most teleprompter apps also let you know what the estimated run time is for that script. This is great for helping you tighten your messaging. One of the biggest metrics for your videos should be viewer engagement (how much of the video are they watching), and I can tell you from experience that folks stop watching as you drift from thought to thought when not using a script.

With a teleprompter, you also save tons of time before, during, and after the video shoot. First, you don’t have to spend the energy memorizing a script. Second, you don’t have to spend an hour or more, through take after take, trying to get what you need recorded. And, third, you don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort in post-production editing all those takes into something you can use.

A teleprompter improves your performance

Teleprompters allow you to control the scrolling playback speed for the script. If people have told you that you are either a too-fast or a too-slow talker, you can correct for that by adjusting the playback speed. Listen to or think about narrators from your favorite movies or videos. They tend to have an even, Goldilocks-friendly pace – neither too fast nor too slow.

Because you’re just reading your script and not worrying about what to say next, you can focus on other aspects of your performance. This could include altering your tone to emphasize key points and avoid a monotone delivery.

One of the reasons why video is such a powerful sales and marketing tool is that it allows you to build personal connections with your prospects and customers. How you sound in the video is a key factor to building that connection.

Audio is a significant aspect of your own camera performance because it is the primary way you connect with your audience.

Likewise, using a teleprompter and a script gives you the ability to delegate your energies. Instead of worrying about what to say next, you can focus on other key presentation tactics such as your posture or how you use your arms and hands.

Teleprompter Tips

If you’ve made it this far, you probably want to know how to get a teleprompter for your next video, as well as some best practices for making the most of it.

This is a picture of the teleprompter Act-On Software uses for its B2B videos

You can rent one of these handy devices from your local camera and video rental shop, or you can check with your local event production company. You can also hack one together using a laptop, tablet or computer monitor, and your preferred presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.). Or, you can buy a teleprompter online. We’ve purchased this one for $139 on Amazon, and it required about 10 minutes to assemble. There are dozens more choices to choose from.

Most inexpensive teleprompters that you buy will require you use a tablet that sits in front of the teleprompter and projects your scrolling text up to the reflective glass. We bought an inexpensive refurbished iPad that does the trick. From there, we purchased the Teleprompt+ 3 app for about $20.

The app allows you to load your scripts from Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or iTunes File Sharing, or just cut and paste them into the program. I don’t mess around with the default settings other than to adjust the playback speed. The app also can be downloaded to your smartphone, which you can then use as a playback speed controller once you sync the two. This is more trouble than its worth (remember my earlier suggestion).

When you’re ready to record your B2B video, have your subject read the script aloud one time. This does two things. First, you can find what their preferred playback speed should be; and, second, it allows them to familiarize themselves with the script and how it plays back on the screen.

The next thing to do is have your subject stand about 7-10 feet away from the teleprompter. When folks criticize reading from a teleprompter as unauthentic, what they’re usually referring to are the subject’s eyes scanning side to side as they read the script. If your subject is too close to the camera, this becomes noticeable. So, move them farther away. Simple.

There will be times when your camera subject stumbles on a word or phrasing. This could be either their own error or how the script was written. You can easily continue filming. Just scroll the script backward to an earlier point and continue on.

Summary

If the camera starts rolling and you only have a vague idea of what you plan to say, you’re in trouble.

By using a teleprompter to aid your B2B video, you have a tool to help you appear confident, composed, and comfortable on camera, enabling you to build trust and confidence with your prospects and customers so that they’ll want to do business with you.

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Act-On Software – How to Develop a Brand Voice You Can Live With

How to Develop a Brand Voice You Can Live With

If you read a piece of your company’s content out loud at a conference – with no introduction, and no attribution ‒ would the audience recognize it as yours?

That’s the ultimate test of a brand “voice.”

The conference challenge might be a bit unrealistic, but it’s still a worthy goal. Everything you publish should have a consistent voice.

Why? Because consistency supports trust.

Trust is everything in marketing. It’s particularly important in content marketing.

If you doubt that a consistent voice matters, consider this: If your best friend started talking like a corporate attorney, for no reason, randomly, and then at other times talked like a teenager, for no reason, randomly … would you not start wondering about them?

Would you still trust them? Enough to have them look after your house or your children? Enough to let them drive?

Brand voice versus your brand’s “look”

This idea of consistency doesn’t just exist in the editorial world. It has a parallel in design. Usually the question for designers is, “If someone had just one page of your eBook/company report/web page – and the page had no logo – could that person recognize it as your company’s simply by the design?”

Would the typeface, colors, and the layout be distinctive enough for them to recognize you?

Graphic designers often seem to have an easier time answering “yes” to that question than editorial people do answering “yes” to the conference reading question. Perhaps that’s because it’s easier to have a recognizable brand “look” than a recognizable brand “voice”?

It could be. More of us are visual learners than auditory learners. So we’re more attuned to how things look than how they sound. Or it might be that it’s just easier to recognize (and differentiate) a particular shade of blue than it is to recognize, say, a professional, upbeat tone with a sly sense of humor.

But maybe designers just have these things nailed down better. Maybe a lot of us editorial people are just coming into our brand voices randomly … kinda by trial and error. Almost by mistake.

This doesn’t have to be.

So, how do you get things to sound consistent? There are several levels to the solution:

  • Defining your company’s style and usage rules
  • Defining your company’s personality
  • Defining your company’s beliefs and worldview

Does that all sound a bit … squishy? A little too psychological?

Maybe it is, but don’t dismiss it just for that. Here’s how to dial in on your brand’s voice at each of those levels.

“Wherefore thy style primer?”… or, “Use a style book”

We editorial folk can borrow a key trick from our designer friends. It’s called a style book.

Sometimes also called “a branding guidelines book” or a “style manual,” this is a rulebook on how to use your company’s logo and all the other little design usage practices and preferences your company requires. A good guide, followed closely, lends a visual consistency to everything a brand publishes, whether the content is from the team in Los Angeles or Tokyo.

I became very familiar with a couple of these handy books back when I worked at ad agencies. They were usually printed binders, and included everything from gauzy brand descriptions to specific Pantone color codes. Some clients were more rigid about following them than others.

You, as an editorial person, can have your own version of a style book.

It could be as brief as a few pages, or heavy enough to use as a doorstop. If you want your teams to actually read it, I’d recommend making it no more than 20 pages.

Here are the sort of things a style book typically specifies and clarifies:

  • Which editorial rule of law do you follow? The Chicago Manual of Style, or The Associated Press Style Book?
  • Which industry terms are acceptable? How are they spelled? Hyphenated?
  • Can writers start a sentence with an “and”? Is it okay to have one-sentence paragraphs? Fragments?
  • Is it okay to use slang? Tell jokes? Trash people or ideas … or even disagree with them?

Don’t discount these issues as niggling details (though no editor would ever consider these things niggling). A good style book is the first step to a much more consistent voice.

Even if you can only find the time to put out a five-page style book, you’ll still be ahead of the game. And you’ll have a spiffy draft to work from as your content operation scales up.

Your company’s personality

If you’ve read about developing a brand voice before, you’ll be familiar with this exercise: Pick three words that describe your company’s brand voice.

It’s a good and necessary exercise, but it’s only a start. Here’s another good one: If your company was at a dinner party, what sort of personality would it be?

But both of these exercises can generate some blank stares around the conference table.

Know why?

Because it’s tough to define a brand (or any brand attribute) in a vacuum.

Want to make it easier? Then you need to understand positioning.

For those of you who slept through Marketing 101, positioning is, well, how you “position” your company in the marketplace. It’s how you compare and contrast yourself with other brands in your industry or niche.

The all-time best book ever about this is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The examples might seem “old” to some, but the ideas are 100% current. If you have a chance, read it. It’s short.

If you don’t have time to read a full-length book, here’s how to apply this positioning idea. Instead of just starting with the “which three words best describe our brand voice?” question, first do a warm-up exercise. Pick three words to describe the brand voice for each of the following:

  • Geico
  • Beyonce
  • Verizon

Those are three seriously well-developed brands that almost everybody knows, so they tend to be a good starting point. They’ll warm up your brand-voice-defining muscles.

Next, define the personalities of your competitors. Discuss at least the three major businesses, and possibly a few more.

Finally, define your own brand’s three words. This table from Erika Heald on how she would define three attributes (it expanded into four attributes) should help:

Then write 2-3 paragraphs that describe how your content should sound. This is much easier to define after you’ve thought about how your competitors talk. It should also nudge you toward being different and distinctive … which is an excellent positioning exercise in and of itself.

You may also want to include examples. A few good models can bring a sense of concreteness and clarity to what might otherwise feel vague.

So… ahem… for example:

Our competitor A would write like this:

“Multiple pre-eminent vendors offer location data largely based on the social media activity of their audiences. This geo-tagging which is usually embedded in photographs and other user-generated content uploaded to social networks, combined with keyword and hashtag searches, permit tracking social activity within a “tile” or radius, or sometimes along a vector, of interest.”

We want to sound like this:

“We can track where your audience is based on what they’re doing on social media. By tagging photos and tracking which hashtags or search terms they’re using, we can notify you when one of your customers is near your store, or on their way to one of your events.”

Choosing these examples is a great opportunity to review your own company’s content, and to get many people’s input on what they want your brand’s voice to sound like. Just don’t go too crazy. You don’t need pages and pages of these examples. Even 3-5 paragraphs, pulled from a couple of sources, will do.

Your company’s beliefs and worldview

This sounds silly … until you really look into it.

Here’s the simplest way to approach this aspect of brand voice: Does your company believe the glass is half empty, or half full?

More specifically, does your content almost subconsciously assume that if things can go wrong, they will? … Or does your company believe that experimentation is free and should be encouraged – “don’t worry about failure, it’s healthy!”?

This worldview is so fundamental that it can – and often does ‒ align with your company’s purpose.

For instance, a security company will probably hold the worldview that the world is a little dangerous, risky, and untrustworthy. They might not be so heavy-handed as to say: “The world is a dangerous place.” But they might have a sense of humor about it, like Allstate Insurance has:


You may need to think a bit about this for a few days to really see it. You might also want to go review how your customers talk and think. The more you can align your messaging with what’s going on in their heads, the more successful that messaging will be.

Just don’t get too long-winded in your definition of this “worldview.” When you finally define it, you may spend several hours to produce just a couple of sentences. That’s good, actually – the shorter and more concise it is, the better.

If you’re in a large company that’s already done a lot of brand work, you may only have to look at its tagline. That’s often a pithy, memorable version of your company’s worldview.

If this all seems a little weird, try thinking of this as your company’s “mindset.” That might be a better way to describe this for some of you.

Whatever you call it, do try to define it, or at least give some examples of it. Otherwise, it could cost you.

Pieces of content that are misaligned with a company’s worldview often go nowhere.

I believe that a good chunk of the content that’s going unused at a lot of B2B firms (or at any company) is going to waste because it isn’t aligned with the right “mindset.” You can have a piece of content that sounds perfectly fine, meets all the keyword and length requirements, but just never quite … fits.

Often, in editorial meetings, you’ll see a symptom of this misalignment when a senior person says something like, “I just don’t like it.”

If everything else about a piece of content seems to be okay, but it’s falling flat, check to see if it’s aligned with this “worldview” or “mindset” factor. Many pieces of abandoned content have this problem.

Conclusion

Don’t make this into an isolated exercise. Once you’ve got a document that defines your brand’s voice, use it. And if you’ve got two documents – one that’s a style guide, and another that goes more into the “squishy” worldview/mindset work we discussed here – then all the better.

Send these documents to every content creator you’ve got. Agencies and freelancers. Consultants and influencers. Even (and especially) to staff who might contribute content now and again.

You might even decide to get a little playful and create a quiz to make sure everyone actually read your brand voice document/s. And understood them. And will apply them to the next piece of content they submit.

So everyone speaks with one company voice.

Back to you

Got any suggestions of your own for how to define a brand voice? Share them in the comments.

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Act-On Software – Back to Basics: A Primer on Marketing Metrics

Back to Basics: A Primer on Marketing Metrics

As I’ve previously confessed, I’m not much of a numbers person. I excelled in math classes throughout my school years, but once I decided on a creative career path and formally acknowledged that I’m a word nerd, my math brain shut down. I struggle even to balance our personal budget.

This blissful ignorance – eschewing numbers – was mostly fine when I was in a purely writing and editing role. But once I switched over to marketing, I realized I was in for a problem. In business, math isn’t going anywhere. In fact, tracking metrics (the right ones) and determining hits and misses is a critical part of a marketer’s role.

If you’re in a similar position, welcome to the club. In today’s post I want to offer a primer of the key lessons I’ve learned – things that a marketer needs to keep in mind when measuring for success.

Learn to speak the language: marketing metrics vocabulary

There’s an alphabet soup of acronyms that you may encounter when talking about marketing metrics. If you’re already familiar with these, feel free to skip ahead.

“Return on Investment” (ROI) is a favorite in the business world. It basically answers the question: “Is the effort or cost of doing this thing yielding a positive return to our business?” It’s a powerful stat that can help justify – or kill – the project that you’re working on.

“Key performance indicators” (KPIs) are benchmarks of the main operations of your company. KPIs are useful in helping you get a pulse on how your business is performing. The numbers and calculations – what you’re striving for – may evolve, but the KPIs are likely to stay standard year in and year out. I can’t tell you exactly what your business’s KPIs are, but I encourage you to spend some time thinking about them and ensuring you’re tracking the right things.

“Comps” help you see how your efforts performed this time around as compared with a previous period. For example, you may compare month over month (“MoM”) or year over year (“YoY”).

When tracking digital efforts like web pages or email blasts, you’ll run into another set of terminology. There are “impressions” (how many times your page or ad displayed) and “clicks” (how many times the reader took the action to click a page – to view another page, for example). “Open rate” and “click-through rate” (CTR) are also key terms. Another “c” term, “conversions,” may be the ultimate metric: It helps you know how many people took the desired action – for example, purchased your product.

Customer Lifetime Value,” or CLV, is a newer metric, which started to be tracked more recently by marketers and brand loyalty experts. CLV is not easy to hard-stamp. It’s less scientific and more about how long your current or new customers will stick around.

Bottom line: There’s a lot you could track – but that doesn’t mean you should track every single thing, as I’ll explain momentarily.

Who cares about marketing metrics?

Who within a marketing org should look at metrics?

Hint: The answer is broader than you think. From content writers and producers to artists and analysts, everyone should have a look at the data – at least occasionally – to ensure things are on track.

At one of my recent jobs, everyone in the company, from HR to tech, went through analytics training. Granted, not everyone needed the same level of training. The people who were on the front lines calculating the website’s performance and tracking success, for example, needed more robust knowledge. But everyone needed to have at least a working understanding of what numbers we were following and the performance diagnostic they reflected for the business. 

What marketing metrics should I measure?

There are many kinds of metrics that you might want to watch, from views to open rates to conversions. First piece of advice, especially as you’re starting out: Keep it simple. Try to track a few things only so you can start to get a feel for your business and benchmarks.

Let me lob a couple questions back at you. At the end of the day, what do you really want to know? What are you really trying to test?

If you don’t have clear answers to these, get them. You may need more directives from your boss or to hash out what your main goals are. It’s important to ask these questions up front, before you start the work, to ensure everyone has the same expectations of what to achieve, what to measure, and, most importantly, what to tag a “success.”

As you’re determining answers to the above questions, it’s important to consider the context, too. For example, if you’ve just launched a product and created a new website or campaign, you probably want to track traffic. This helps you simply know how many people saw your Wonderful New Thing. These are called “awareness” metrics.

On the flip side, if you’re a decade in to an ongoing campaign, your measurement needs have matured far beyond awareness and traffic. I’m not saying you should stop tracking those – on the contrary, it’s always wise to keep an eye on standard KPIs and data. But you can dig for deeper meaning with metrics that track something called “engagement.” This may mean things like how much time people spend on a page or how many comments or likes your social media post gets. Engagement is a wide-swath term that helps characterize actions that show people are interested in your content.

Another thing you might look at is return visitor rates – as in how many of those people who come to your site keep coming back? (As an aside, if you’ve been running the same campaign for 10 years and it hasn’t gone stale, I’d love to hear from you. Share your secrets!)

How do you measure success?

And how does your boss measure success? If these answers are different – and they’re likely to be – you may encounter a problem even before you hand off numbers and reports. What you think is stellar may be abysmal to the boss. Again: Be sure to set expectations up front.

A quick note on industry standards: It’s good practice to know what they are for each key measurement. Industry norms help you gut-check how you’re doing. I hesitate to put specific numbers in this post because industry standards evolve and vary wildly by industry, but you can always do an internet search to see what is current. What I find more helpful, especially at the start, is to first establish the typical rate for your business. Benchmark and measure against that at the start; worry about the other guys later.

Pulling it all together: tips and tools for gathering your marketing metrics data

Now let’s talk tactics. When you first set out to track your metrics, you may be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of all those numbers. Where to put them?

Spreadsheets are a great place to store your raw data. I like to set up simple tables to capture it. For example, if I need to track web traffic week over week, I create a quick table that tracks date and frequency. It looks something like this:

These simple grids give me an easy place to input data and evaluate it. Take a look again at the example and see if you notice anything noteworthy – such as the spike in traffic to Page A between weeks 1 and 2. You would want to ask yourself questions such as: What caused that? What campaign did I start that week? or What email did I ship? When I start to look into the simple numbers, I begin to see a bigger story. More often than not I come up with a list of questions to investigate and more numbers to pull – all of which helps me measure success.

Painting pictures out of marketing metrics: charts and graphs

I also use that basic table as the backbone to calculate growth and create charts. For example, in this case I would calculate the growth from Week 1 to Week 2 via a formula in Excel or Google Sheets: (Week 2-Week 1)/Week 1 = growth %.

I can then create a chart out of that data to visually represent it, for example, a bar graph that shows my traffic soaring. These visual cues make it so much easier for people like me – the number averse – to quickly analyze performance and track dips or trends.

Save time with automation

If you find the need to pull the same data over and over, consider what you can automate with a query. All you need to do is execute the query and review the results rather than manually pulling data and crunching numbers into formulas.

Track the same things at the same times

For beginners, I usually suggest tracking the same data over and over – especially when you’re first getting started. Always chart site visits and click through rate, for example. Start small, with just a few key data points, and repeatedly look at their performance. It’s the “apples-to-apples” mentality. True, occasionally you will want to track a pineapple or starfruit – or some other oddity or one-off request. But to keep things simple, try to measure the same things over and over.

Also, aim to track your data over the same period of time for maximum impact. Many websites, like Google Analytics, provide data in real-time. You could constantly look at your data to see how your site or campaign is performing. But, caution! To tell an accurate story and not get lost in the endless sea of available data, you need to limit yourself. Look at data on Tuesdays, or on the 20th of the month, for example. This helps constrict how much time you’re spending with the numbers. It also helps you ensure your data is telling a comparable, coherent story.

For example, if in April you track how much traffic your website receives on the 20th, in May be sure to also look at the data through the 20th. If you alter that by even a day, your numbers may be off. This is especially critical when running comps like MoM and YoY, or checking seasonal trends.

And again, consider context. For example, if you want to see how well your Black Friday campaign behaved as well as set up projections for future years, take note that the date is different each year. You’ll need to know that Black Friday was on November 25th in 2016, but it’s not until November 29th in 2019, for example. Those pesky little details make a big difference.

What to do with the results: interpreting meaning and telling a story

So, you’ve got all of your numbers and are staring at them until your eyeballs are red, trying to discern what they mean. Now what?

Remember there are stories lurking in those numerals. And it’s your job to interpret what they’re saying – to determine what is working and what is not and to account for traffic spikes (or dips).

This is when you can go back to those questions you started asking yourself during the initial scan of the data. “What caused that spike?” or “Why was there so much traffic on August 1st?” That kind of thing.

Investigate and find those answers. Figure out what they’re saying – and why. This is a fun part of the job, at least for me. I feel like a detective wading through clues and context, trying to determine why things are they way they are.

As an example, let’s say you saw a traffic spike on August 1st. You track back to your editorial calendar and discover that – hey-o! – that’s the day you sent an email blast and made a Facebook post. Well, jinkies, that’s a clue! Because it’s relatively easy to get data for both email and Facebook marketing, now’s the time for you to go down those two rabbit trails and see what you can discover. Maybe you find that the email was your breadwinner in this campaign. Note that – and call it out as a win. Remember to put it on your list of “do agains.” And, for those tactics that aren’t working well, consider whether the low-performers were a fluke or something you need to ditch.

Remember, even “bad” metrics tell you something. They tell you where not to focus your efforts and spend your time. And that’s just as worthwhile as knowing what’s a homerun.

Reading between the lines

One final thought: Sometimes it isn’t always about what data you do get, but what you don’t. For example, where do people drop off your website? It’s important to know what is in those gaps and voids, those white spaces. Try to read between the lines and see what you can infer.

Believe me, I tried to avoid metrics as long as I could. But as I got further into my career, I realized marketing truly is a balance of science and creativity. And numbers aren’t so bad, after all!

Now it’s your turn

I hope you find these tips useful. Are there other metrics that you track and would suggest? Leave a comment.

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Act-On Software – Our Customers Share Why They Love Having Act-On on Their Side

Our Customers Share Why They Love Having Act-On on Their Side

Choosing a marketing automation platform can be a daunting undertaking. It’s a decision that will have an impact on almost every aspect of your marketing programs ‒ and your bottom line ‒ for years after purchase.

An appropriate and strategically-chosen system can help ground and organize all of your marketing activities helping your campaigns soar and thrive. A well-implemented platform can enable you to increase productivity, automate your workflow, track and monitor progress, grow brand awareness and demand generation, catalyze more customer connections, and help cement those relationships.
The right marketing automation solution goes beyond simple automation, beyond inbound marketing, and beyond demand generation, to support you at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Act-On does, and that’s why our customers love us.

Act-On is different than other platforms. It was built with modern tools on a next-generation platform for today’s digital marketer. Our focus from the beginning has been to make it easy for you to get your work done faster and better, and lessen (or even eliminate) your dependence on the IT department.

Our unrivaled support helps our customers succeed with our platform, regardless of what their goals may be. And, regardless of their subscription, they get unlimited access to training and support services for the lifetime of the relationship. It’s just one more thing that sets Act-On apart from our competition.

We understand that we are one among many vendors out there. It’s natural that picking a platform can seem a little overwhelming at first. And while we stand by the fact that our platform is miles ahead of our competitors, we think it’s best if you hear it straight from our users.

Jonas Construction Software

Jonas Construction Software makes accounting software for the construction, mining, moving/ storage, and metals industries. Each of Jonas’ market segments has specific requirements, and the company meets them with six products – all designed to streamline operational and accounting processes.

Like many businesses with a long sales cycle, Jonas struggled to stay top of mind with their prospects. The company was using HubSpot to reach potential customers, but the platform wasn’t capable of dynamically nurturing leads based on prospects’ profiles and actions.

Jonas chose Act-On for its robust automation programs and ease of implementation. “We needed the ability to set up more than 100 different reach campaigns, and nothing came close to Act-On,” said Sam Mendelsohn, Jonas’ Vice President of Business Development. “The level of detail it provides and the way it integrates with Salesforce is better than anything we’ve encountered.”

When Jonas switched to Act-On, it was able to run more than 100 automated programs and distribute thousands of emails daily to both prospects and customers. The company also dramatically increased the number of leads and opportunities and re-engaged 20% of prospects that had fallen dormant.

Today Jonas uses Act-On to engage their audience through a myriad of communications, including newsletters, tradeshow announcements, and sales emails. The marketing department automates almost all of its campaigns and leverages their vast library of content to personalize each message.

“We’re not just automating our marketing; we’re actively supporting our buyers’ entire journey,” said Mendelsohn. “Act-On logs every prospect’s behavior in their activity history, which allows the sales team to respond strategically to that data in Salesforce. It helps us keep Jonas top of mind, and reduces the length of our sales cycle.”

GM Nameplate

Like many manufacturers, GM Nameplate relied on traditional marketing practices to reach its audience. Cynthia Schulte, the company’s senior marketing manager, who’s responsible for promoting the company’s ability to design and build everything from labels and display screens to electrodes and circuit boards, wanted to streamline her work and strengthen her collaboration with sales.

Recognizing that a strong marketing automation system could take the company’s performance to the next level, Schulte set out to find a platform that would speed up processes, empower sales, and lighten her team’s workload. The six divisions she oversaw were using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, but a seventh – whose marketing was led by a colleague – was using Salesforce, so the product she chose had to easily accommodate both systems.

Schulte replaced GM Nameplate’s Email Service Provider (ESP) with a single instance of Act-On that included sub-accounts to support all the company’s divisions. “Implementing Act-On was simple and fast. It was up and running in two weeks, and we had campaigns in place within a month,” said Schulte.

The move transformed the global company’s approach to marketing by increasing overall sales and marketing productivity and providing the intelligence the business needed to understand its buyers’ behaviors ‒ and ultimately convert them into satisfied customers.

“Before Act-On, we had to manually enter lead information into our CRM and had no way to see how all our touchpoints interacted,” said Schulte. “Now all the information we capture automatically goes into Microsoft Dynamics, and a sales rep can look up contacts and see every email they’ve received, every trade show they’ve attended, and every exchange they’ve had with our company. This insight into prospect behavior makes sales more effective, particularly when they’re working with larger accounts and meeting with stakeholders they may not have had any interaction with.”

In addition to helping them work more intelligently, Act-On allows both sales and marketing to continuously optimize their work. “Act-On rolls up all this data into a single dashboard that lets us quickly assess the effectiveness of our activities,” Schulte said. “The feedback is immediate and actionable, and the interface is so easy to use. If you can use a computer, you can use Act-On.”

GM Nameplate’s switch to the Act-On system has made all the difference, Schulte reports. “Using Act-On to drive all our marketing programs is helping us get ahead of our competitors and become a leader in our industry.”

iCharts

iCharts delivers business data visualization to companies worldwide. With iCharts, businesses can track and visualize everything from sales numbers to worker productivity to market fluctuations.

When Ted Sapountzis, joined iCharts in 2014 as head of marketing, the company had virtually no marketing: very little content, no ongoing email campaigns, and no marketing automation.

iCharts needed to build a content marketing strategy, then attract potential sales leads through campaigns promoted via search ads, social media, and email campaigns. The process was manual and Sapountzis knew he needed to automate the outreach. “I wanted something with the capabilities to hit the middle of the funnel, to nurture leads after we attracted their interest.”

That meant a platform that could track leads and automatically send content based on a buyer’s actions and interest. As a one-person marketing team, the marketing automation platform had to be easy to use and, most of all, effective. “I’ve used other platforms in the past that just took too much time to get up and running,” he said. “I needed to get our marketing off the ground quickly and without any complications.”

Act-On immediately made a big difference to iCharts’ marketing program, including streamlining and simplifying its twice monthly webinars. The Act-on webinar integration allows us to minimize the manual work needed to get them up and running and nurture leads once they attend the webinars.” iCharts’ marketing team can quickly and easily setup WebEx webinar campaigns through Act-On. Leads receive invites, confirmations, and reminder emails as part of Act- On campaigns.

A nearly 20-fold increase in leads and sales opportunities has driven iCharts’ growth. Now the company has a 10-person sales team and three dedicated marketing positions. The company also works with outside marketing firms for creative and Google AdWords campaigns. It’s a far cry from where iCharts was when Sapountzis first joined.

Act-On is at the center of it all. “I don’t think we would be where we are today if it had not been for Act-On,” Sapountzis said.

Conclusion

Regardless of the size of your team, the Act-On marketing automation platform can put your marketing programs on track for much greater success! But don’t just take our word for it ‒ our customers will confirm why they love Act-On’s ease of use and integration, quick implementation, and ability to grow and nurture all stages of your customers’ lifecycles.

Choosing Marketing Automation: 2 Must-Haves that Predict Success

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Act-On Software – Your Customers Called. They Want You to Know These 6 Things

Your Customers Called. They Want You to Know These 6 Things

Businesses are changing how they think.

For years ― decades even ― companies have been focused on their products. The customer experience has always been top of mind, of course. But in a more passive role. If someone wasn’t happy with a product or service, usually they just stopped using it. Maybe they might complain to a couple of people, but probably not too many.

Flash forward to now, when one person who has a poor customer experience can post a bad review on just one site and cause all kinds of havoc. In May, BrightLocal released research that found that if a company in the Google Local Pack can improve its rating from 3 stars to 5, they’ll get 25% more clicks.

Even those review stats look like peanuts compared to what a truly angry and vocal customer can do.

Just consider the case of Dave Carroll.

Dave is a musician. A few years ago he was seated on a United Airlines plane as United personnel loaded up the aircraft on the tarmac below. Dave saw his guitar thrown about and badly broken by staff who seemed to think it was as much a volleyball as someone’s primary earning tool.

Outraged, Dave petitioned multiple United customer service reps for justice … only to be dismissed. Now even more outraged, and still heartbroken over the loss of his beloved guitar, Dave made a video.

“United Breaks Guitars” now has more than 17 million views.

I’m not sure all of United’s ads, cumulatively, have 17 million views. (At least there were no broken bones, right?)

But the power to damage your brand isn’t the only power The Customer now wields.

And just trying to avoid making them angry isn’t enough.

The idea is to make them happy.

As we’ve written about before, happy customers stick around. It’s called loyalty. And if you can improve loyalty by even a paltry 5%, your profits can go up by 25% to 95%.

Happy customers stay longer, spend more ― and also pull in new customers.

How? Their referrals, reviews, comments, and social shares all amplify your brand’s message. All this user-generated content is basically the new word-of-mouth marketing. And as some of you old-time marketers know, word of mouth is the most effective type of marketing for actual ROI.

In short, customers have become so powerful, in so many different ways, that they are basically running the show.

Businesses will please their customers … or die. And when they do, there’s a herd of competitors behind them, waiting to take their place.

Even lucky companies, like Comcast, who all but own their industries, risk losing their customers to competing technologies. Alternative technologies that customers might embrace are always lurking on the edges of the market. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to burst through, like a young tree straining for light in the jungle.

The Customer-Centric Company

Customers are now so powerful, in fact, that many marketing wizards (like Joe Pulizzi, in his book “Content Inc.”) recommend a 180-degree change from the old way of doing things. You start a company by assembling an audience first, then figure out what to sell to them, these experts say. Design the products and the business model around the customer – not the other way around.

That sure flips the old business mindset on its head.

But it works. Companies that delight their customers now rule the business world. Witness Apple, which has more cash on hand than the US government.

So if customers are so important, so able to build empires ― or tear them down ― how can we work with them? How can we leverage their power to keep our businesses thriving?

Well, there are plenty of ways to do that. But you might want to start by finding out what they want you to know.

And they want you to know these things:

1. Your customer service is part of your marketing.

Marketing, customer experience, and customer service? It’s all connected.

Existing customers experience our brands without the silos we define in our businesses. To them, in a sense, messaging is messaging. That reply about a product issue is a message, and so is that ad they saw about your new product.

If you define marketing as “how we promote ourselves,” your customer service efforts are all marketing for your customers. You promote yourself (or not) by doing a good job for them (or not).

And, like any human interaction, what you say (your advertising, even your content), is less important than what you do (your customer support and other customer-touch activities).

2. I’m the customer. You’re supposed to put my needs ahead of your own.

This is the expectation. And boy, do a lot of companies fall short. Maybe that’s why so many consumers have become jaded. The advertising says: “We put you first” … but then the actual service does not.

There is a particular moment when the customer’s trust breaks. If you’re ever been in sales or customer service, you may have actually been with a customer, in person, to witness that moment.

It happens when the person gets a very clear look on their face, like: “Oh yeah, of course. Now I know you’re only out for yourselves. I should have known it all along.”

After a customer knows you put your own needs ahead of theirs, the romance is over. They may stick around out of habit or convenience, but they will try out one of your competitors as soon as they get the chance.

Marketing Sherpa documented this quite clearly in a recent survey they did for their “Customer Satisfaction Research Study”. It was one of the clearest differences between satisfied and unsatisfied customers.

3. I don’t necessarily want to talk to someone if I need help.

Here’s one for those of you who would rather not have the overhead of a large customer-service staff. Many customers, especially Millennials, would prefer to figure things out for themselves. They want “self-serve” customer service.

The Aspect Consumer Experience Index study found that “73 percent of US consumers said that they should have the ability to solve most product and service issues on their own.”

They really want it, too. From that same study:

How strongly do Americans like or dislike interacting with customer service?

Almost a third of America ― that’s over 100 million people ― would rather clean a toilet than interact with customer service. A quarter of America would rather change a dirty diaper than interact with customer service.

Those are some pretty strong feelings. And, they might well justify the cost of building a useful, detailed, self-serve help section, complete with short video tutorials and maybe even a forum, so customers could help each other and see how other customers’ issues were resolved.

Start building a hub like this by answering the 30 most common questions that your business receives. Then provide the answers via video, text, emails, on your site, via an app ― in every channel possible.

Next, expand to the top 50 answers. Then to the top 100.

4. Loyalty programs are a way for you to be loyal to me, not the other way around.

According to KiteWheel’s “The State of the Customer Journey” report:

“73% of consumers feel loyalty programs ‘should be a way for brands to show how loyal they are to them as a customer.’ However marketing executives disagree; 66% believe loyalty programs are still a way for consumers to show how loyal they are to their business.“

I hate to break it to you, CMOs … but you’re not going to win that argument.

5. I expect you to reply within an hour on social media. Really.

You may have heard this one before. But it bears repeating: According to research from Twitter, 71% of Twitter users expect a brand to respond within an hour of when the customer contacts them on social media.

Not only that, but a third of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes.

That’s internet time for you.

6. Irrelevant marketing is spam.

Here’s how the email tool Litmus describes the situation:

Your customers view any irrelevant or unwanted email as spam. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been a customer or if they’ve given you permission ― if your email is repeatedly of little to no relevance to them, it’s spam.

Trouble is, consumers ― and customers ― get a lot of irrelevant messages. In fact, 50% of consumers who receive marketing materials on the web or over the phone say this content is irrelevant to them.

A study from Janrain illustrates the problem:

This graphic is assembled from pieces of the 2015 Janrain “US Consumer Research Consumer Identity and Mistargeting” report.

Conclusion

Of course, these aren’t the only things your customers wish you knew. Every company is different. While your customers want all the things we’ve mentioned above, they also want “smaller,” more specific things from your particular products and services.

You need to get that information. Whether you do it through surveys or interviews or behavior tracking, the important thing is to find out what they want.

Of course, just talking to people is often best course. Giving them an open, prioritized voice in your business certainly helps, too.

You may have heard about how Amazon does this. They leave an empty chair at every meeting. It’s to represent the customer.

Perhaps it’s time we pushed that even further, and actually put a customer in the seat.

What do you think?

What do you think is the #1 thing your customers wish you knew ― and actually acted on? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Act-On Software – How to Create Content Unicorns and Ignore the Donkeys

How to Create Content Unicorns and Ignore the Donkeys

Are you producing content unicorns and, if you are, are you leveraging that content to make unicorn babies?

Larry Kim doubts you’re doing either, but is willing to tell you how you can.

In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, we talk with Kim, founder of WordStream and CEO of Mobile Monkey, about his new company and about what he calls “Content Marketing Moneyball.”

If you’ve seen Moneyball, the Brad Pitt movie about the Oakland A’s 2002 season (or read the book by Michael Lewis, or his latest book, The Undoing Project), you will get a sense of the subconscious biases that affect how we make decisions and, in Kim’s view, how content marketers are unable to reliably produce and leverage what he calls “unicorn content.”

Don’t worry though. Kim has a few tips on how you can create your own unicorn content and then leverage it to make unicorn babies.

Enjoy the conversation, and we hope you get one or two takeaways that you can bring to your business.

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.

What is Mobile Monkey?

NATHAN ISAACS:  Larry, can you tell me more about your new endeavor, Mobile Monkey, and what it does and who it does it for?

LARRY KIM: It’s a new startup I started a couple months ago. It’s very early stage right now. It’s only five people and maybe 50 or so customers. It’s in the chatbot AI space, like a gazillion other companies these days. It seems to be like the flavor of the month. But I really do think that there are some interesting technologies there for marketers. And I’m looking to try to build something kind of interesting and innovative in that space.

What is Content Marketing Moneyball?

NATHAN: You’ve been talking about Content Marketing Moneyball. Can you tell me more about that? What does that mean?

LARRY: The challenge here is that content marketers, I think, are very clueless when it comes to defining what exactly quality content is. There are basically two types of people. A lot of people are biased and they define quality content as content that they produced. And another group of people, they’ll define quality content in terms of a checklist of attributes ― Does it have 1,000 words? Does it have three graphics? Does it have high school-level English? Does it have a video embed?

My point is that it’s neither. Quality content isn’t defined by our own biased opinions. It’s based on the outcomes. So, thinking back on the Moneyball movie, back in the day baseball scouts would make their decisions to bring on free agents based on things like: Did the player have a lot of confidence? or Does he look great? or Is he great with the press? … and all sorts of stupid meaningless attributes. And, basically, the question Billy Beane asked was: If he’s such a great hitter, why can’t he get on base? So, the question here is: If this content is such great quality, why does 99.9 percent of it go nowhere?

And the answer is: It’s not quality. It actually stinks. I believe we need to be a little more concrete about ― specifically ― what are we talking about when we talk about the need for great quality content.

Is it a checklist of attributes or what? I’m saying it should be defined by outcomes, like what your audience has to think about your content. Like: Did they read it or not, or did they convert to a sale or not? Usually, there’s some kind of desired outcome when we’re doing content marketing. We’re trying to sell products and services. Try to be a little bit more intentional around those metrics and figuring out how that impacts your strategy.

This is a pull quote graphic asking whether you have a content unicorn or a content donkey

What Metric Can Tell Us Our Content is a Unicorn?

NATHAN: What are the metrics you’re going to use for the content to know whether it’s quality?

LARRY: Great question. In baseball, you’ve got hundreds of different metrics. Same thing in marketing. There are hundreds of different possible metrics for your content. However, when I think about the objectives of marketers and why they’re producing all this content in the first place, they typically fall into one of four categories.

Category one would be they’re trying to drive awareness. So, this is your typical blog content. You’re just trying to get a lot of people to be familiar with your brand. Another one could be they’re trying to drive conversions. It could be like a special offer or something like this, so that it’s very compelling and turns leads into actual sales and customers. Another one is advertising. So, content could be like a really great ad. And another one could just be SEO and social, like just trying to rank really great in either Google search or to generate a lot of engagement in Facebook.

There might be more, but those are the big four I typically see. Now, what I’ve noticed is that when you look at the really, really high-performing content ― I’m not talking about just the stuff that you think is so great, I’m talking about every company ― if they’ve got 1,000 blog posts, there’s going to be like one or two that really stand head and shoulders beyond the other 999.

When you isolate those real outliers, they’re not just 5 percent better, 10 percent better; I’m talking about 10 times better kind of campaigns. They do have one thing in common, and that is they have high user engagement rates. So, user engagement rates … that could be things like in Facebook they’ll have a high engagement rate in terms of people clicking on the post, or liking, or commenting, or sharing it. In SEO, that could be a high ranking. And, by the way, Google SEO rankings take into consideration things like click-through rates. So, if you have an unusually high click-through rate for a given spot, Google will reward you with even better positioning.

We’ve also found that the content that converts best in terms of ads and offers tend to also have high click-through rates and low bounce rates. Because, quite frankly, if you can get people excited enough to click on something, that excitement tends to carry through to a purchase or a sale. My point here is, the metric, the one key metric that we should be focusing on more and more these days is engagement rates.

So basically click-through rates and engagement rates seem to be the key to unlocking all of those objectives, whatever your objective is. Why? It’s because all of these systems ― like the Facebook news feed algorithm, or the organic search algorithm, or Google AdWords quality score, or Facebook ads ― they all employ machine-learning algorithms that greatly reward content that has unusually high engagement rates with tremendous visibility within those platforms.

My point is, continuing the analogy, that engagement rate in content marketing is essentially the on-base percentage of baseball, which was the one key metric Billy Beane wanted to focus on. Because he believed that in order to win games, we need to get on base. Same idea here. In order for us to make our objectives, our content has to be consumed.

It seems simple, yet we still have 99 percent of these content marketers talking about checklists of what makes for great content and 10x content. It’s all attribute-based quality definitions, as opposed to outcomes.

What Do You Do Once You Recognize You Have a Unicorn?

NATHAN: Once you identify that outlier and you see the kind of content that the audience is engaging with, do you then just keep on doing that type of content and just make that sort of your standard at that point in time?

LARRY: We’re talking about strategy here. We’ve got this metric, what do we do with it? Well, you’ve got to optimize for it. There are two things you need to do in your strategy. The first thing is you need to spend less time with the donkeys. Because your time is finite. You only have certain amount of hours in the day and certain amount of resources to allocate towards content creation. And the big mistake that people are making is that in the past content marketers would get a lot of value just for showing up. Meaning, if you could just blog three times a week, or run Google AdWords, or Facebook five posts a day, or something like this, there was a certain value in just being present.

Now, what I’m saying is these new algorithms are kicking in, and you no longer get points for showing up. These posts get no shares, no links, no reads. It’s only the outliers that do. It’s basically you’re getting bigger winners and fewer of them. It’s like the difference between playing scratch tickets and Powerball. Fewer winners, but bigger jackpots.

What I’m saying is, you really need to stop wasting your time pushing donkeys. Donkeys are the opposite of unicorns. Unicorns are these great mythical things – your top 1 percent, your outliers. And the donkeys are basically everything else.

The mistake people make is they’ll keep pushing on the donkeys because they can’t overcome their own biases. They think that, ‘Oh well, this campaign didn’t do well on an email blast, but let’s do another email blast.’ Well, my point is just to say that if it didn’t do well in the first 5,000 emails, it’s not going to do any better in the next 10,000 emails.

What you really should do is just drop it and stop wasting time and energy on these things that are going nowhere, because it’s not going to change. The organic rankings aren’t going to improve. It’s not going to do any better if you share it again on Facebook, if it’s still a donkey. So just take a different shot.

The other mistake people make in terms of strategy when it comes to Moneyball is that when they do have a winner, they don’t milk it for all it’s worth. It would be like if we’re playing poker, and if I dealt you a very unusually strong hand ― like a full house or four aces ― are you going to play that hand in such a way just to grab the blinds and go to the next hand? That’s what a content calendar does. A content calendar says: We’ve got to just blog post every day, and there’s no flexibility because we scheduled the next month. But what I’m saying is, this one unicorn post, the one outlier, will generate 50 times, 100 times more value than all the other posts combined.

Content marketers are just too eager to jump back on the content marketing treadmill to produce the next thing on the calendar rather than milking the hand that they should play for all it’s worth when it’s valuable. I call this ‘making unicorn babies.’ So, if you have a unicorn, what are you going to do with it? Are you just going to play it once and then move on to the next donkey? No. What you need to do is go all in on it and make unicorn babies. You’ve got this one outlier piece of content. You should spend all of your quarter’s budget on promoting that one piece in paid social. You should cancel all the webinars that you have planned for the month and just do this one topic.

It’s a little bit like how CNN goes all in whenever there’s like a plane crash that’s a mystery. They clear the decks. They don’t care what else was on the calendar. And they just go all in on that one really engaging topic. And you might think that this is like, ‘Well, duh, that makes sense.’ But that’s not how people actually do things. I’ll give you an example with paid social, Facebook advertising. A company will say, ‘Oh, I’ve got 10 posts a month, and I’ve got $1,000 to spend on social advertising. Let’s equally divide the budget $100 per post.’ That’s what 99 percent of these companies are doing.

What you really should be doing is just spend nothing. I guess this is kind of like having the budget stay on rollover, if you will, and spending nothing on any post. And when you finally find that post that’s like, you know, the outlier, you should then go all in. You should spend the entire year’s budget on that one post. That’s what you should be doing, but that’s not what content marketers are doing today.

Two Types of Unicorn Content

NATHAN: When you wring everything out that you can from that piece of content, what happens next? Do you then go back to the grind of creating 10 more pieces of content, or 100, or 1,000, to see what is the next unicorn? How do you get your next unicorn?

LARRY: There are two ideas here. One, there are two types of unicorns I’ve noticed. One is an evergreen unicorn and the other one is a temporal unicorn. A temporal unicorn could be like the time I did a story about the Facebook IPO that generated 10,000 pickups in, like, every newspaper. I created a news cycle, basically. I was interviewed by dozens of radio stations and television stations, and generated over 10,000 pickups. But I can’t talk about that story anymore, because it’s not news anymore. The reason why it did well was because it was new and novel. And the reason why it stopped doing well is because the news cycle moved on.

You can make unicorn babies like that by transposing the same idea to the next item. So, the Twitter IPO, or the Snapchat IPO. We basically took the same play, but generated content for every … insert big brand IPO. And we just recreated the story.

The other idea is, with these evergreen stories, there are certain types of content that just never die. They’re like zombies. They just keep on living forever. I’ll give you an example. I once created a piece called the most expensive keywords in Google AdWords. It’s a great topic for me because I sell AdWords and pay-per-click advertising. This thing just generates, like, a million clicks every year. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. And so, what do you do with this? You just keep sharing it. You instruct your social media manager: Once a week I want you to share this thing. And it’s like, ‘Really? It’s like five years old.’ And I’m like, ‘Yep.’ Because this five-year-old unicorn does substantially better, and, even today at five years old, will do better than the average new piece of content.

So we’re talking about not only maximizing the output, but also minimizing the effort. Because a known unicorn that’s evergreen will outperform an unproven new piece of content. So you just keep promoting it. You have an auto responder to all your new emails that come into the system. Send that evergreen unicorn to them forever. And send it to them twice ― once when they come in, and once at the six-month mark. For ad campaigns, just set a budget for $100 a day and just keep promoting it to that audience forever. These things are just so rare and so valuable that you really need to maximize the winnings when you have a winner.

NATHAN: Absolutely. If anybody wants to learn more about you or Mobile Monkey, what should they do?

LARRY: The easiest way to do this is to follow me on Twitter. Or go to my website, mobilemonkey.com. There isn’t a ton of information up there right now, but hopefully, God willing, we’ll close a round of venture financing sometime this summer and have more to share about that.

NATHAN: Well, we’re looking forward to it.

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Act-On Software – 5 Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Webinar

5 Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Webinar

Hey, kids! Let’s put on a … webinar.

Well, that doesn’t quite have the same ring that “Let’s put on a show in the old barn!” had in the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, but, on the other hand, pulling off a webinar requires many fewer people than pulling off a show. And, a webinar is broadcast on the Internet, so no barns will need to be prepared for your event.

A valuable tool for marketers, webinars are an incredibly rich source of content that can be tapped into in many ways throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

A well-executed webinar can offer the following benefits:

  • During a webinar, attendees give you 30 minutes to an hour of their undivided attention, a feat practically unheard of in today’s digital age.
  • Their format facilitates a two-way conversation between businesses and customers (or prospective customers).
  • Attendees have the opportunity to ask questions and start meaningful dialogues.
  • Webinars are an incredibly effective method for B2B marketers to generate leads and market to both prospective and existing customers.
  • They create a wealth of information that can be spun into marketing gold.

Even though most marketers are leveraging webinars as part of their content strategy, there is always room for improvement in the way that we plan, promote, and execute webinars and then optimize the aftermath.

The following steps can help you walk through the process and emerge on the other side with a successful webinar that yields leads, customers, and first-rate content long after the actual event has ended.

1. Tailor your webinar to your target audience.

Once you’ve decided to put on a webinar, take the time to think about what you want to get out of it. Decide what audience you’re targeting before you put the go-live date on your calendar.

Once you determine your main goal, use it to clearly define your webinar content and map it to the customer lifecycle stages of Attract, Capture, Nurture, Convert, and Expand. To help further shape content, you’ll want to create target buyer personas (for more help on this, check out this short video on creating buyer personas). This will enable a more directed approach and help improve the results you’ll see from your webinar.

2. Determine your webinar format.

After you know your primary goal and your ideal audience, you need to figure out what kind of webinar will be best for your purposes.

Educational Webinars

This is the most common webinar format. It works because it allows presenters to demonstrate their expertise on particular topics; this helps to develop trust in the speaker and/or the brand. Educational webinars also offer a lot of flexibility. Typically, one to two experts speak, and they present to a slide deck or leverage some sort of video or animations to illustrate their points. These webinars are best when you also allow for some form of audience participation, such as a Q&A or live polling.

Q&A Webinars

Q&A webinars are the ultimate in audience-driven webinar formats because they involve attendees asking questions of panel experts. These events are relatively easy to host because they don’t require you to prepare content in advance. But make sure you have someone fielding questions who is adept at quickly identifying which topics should or should not be addressed. The moderator should create a welcoming atmosphere that people feel comfortable participating in and also prepare a list of seed question to fill in any gaps.

Panelist Discussions

A panelist discussion is similar to Q&A, but it’s not quite as audience driven. Instead, it’s guided by the moderator, who typically asks prepared questions that have been shared with the panel in advance of the event. These webinars are usually very interesting because the audience has the benefit of learning from top influencers and experts sharing their experiences, knowledge, and (at times clashing) opinions. They also offer the possibility that panelists will amplify the event promotion by sharing registration links with their own audiences and followers, thus driving more people to attend.

Workshops

The workshop format is the most applicable to expanding customer relationships because it involves walking viewers through a live step-by-step process. Often the host shares the screen so the audience can see everything that’s occurring. These events are great for education and product demonstrations.

3. Determine webinar logistics.

Once you’ve picked your format, it’s time to establish the logistics of the event. If your webinar is haphazardly put together at the last minute, your audience will know. Many details and moving parts go into producing a webinar. You want to make sure that you have a plan, stay organized, and set clear expectations.

Start with booking your speaker or speakers, because their availability can have a big impact on your planning. Always convey clear expectations to your speakers ― they should know the topic and be comfortable with the event’s abstract. Also let them know if they’ll need to create visuals for the webinar.

Set the schedule by mapping out dates for things like rehearsals and content submission (if you’re not creating it yourself) and plan the promotion schedule.

You also need to consider the webinar platform or the technology you’ll use. Many good options are now available. Consider your need for engagement and interaction, as well as your budget.

It’s very important to rehearse your webinar. For the best quality audio, present from a quiet room. And, by all means, make sure your Internet connection is stable!

4. Promote your webinar for increased engagement.

Well-thought-out promotional materials and communications with attendees will go a long way toward making your webinar a success.

Automate your promotions if possible, because, really, why wouldn’t you? Marketers are known for keeping incredibly busy schedules and juggling multiple tasks. So, save yourself some valuable time and automate your promotions.

Utilizing multi-channel promotion is a good strategy for most marketing campaigns, and webinars in particular. You should employ all the tools in your arsenal: emails, website promotions, social media promotions, app banners, and so on. Using multiple channels to publicize your webinar will drive greater interest, registration, and, ultimately, revenue.

5. Help your webinars live on.

Once you’ve created something special, give it plenty of time to shine. After the event, continue to leverage content so all your hard work keeps paying off long after you hang up the phone on the webinar. Explore the different ways you can shape content gleaned from your event and turn it into blog posts, eBooks, infographics, and other promotional formats that suit your organization’s needs.

By following these five steps for creating first-rate webinars and optimizing the results, you should emerge from the event with new and stronger relationships with your audience, solid new leads, and a wealth of content that leaves you convinced that putting on a webinar is well worth the effort.

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Act-On Software – CASL Lessons from Blackstone: Gain Consent, Strive to Comply

CASL Lessons from Blackstone - Gain Consent, Strive to Comply

Canada is a place well known for its unforgiving winters, but this summer it’s likely to get a whole lot colder for some marketers. Come July 1st, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) ― widely considered one of the toughest laws of its kind ― will take full effect, as its three-year transition period ends and “private right of act” provisions become enforceable law.

What this means on the ground: Just about anyone in Canada who receives unsolicited commercial electronic messages ― including emails, texts, instant messages, even direct messages on social media ― has the right to pursue legal action against the sender. Fines start at $200 (Canadian) per message, with additional penalties from the Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), potentially reaching into the millions.

What this means more broadly: The stakes for doing business in Canada for companies based in Canada, as well as for international companies with Canadian constituencies, have never been higher. Under CASL, businesses can only send messages to buyers who have explicitly consented to the contact (opted in), or buyers with whom they’ve had a preexisting relationship (inquiries in the last six months, say, or a purchase in the past two years). Parameters for engagement are narrow, and penalties for violators are strict.

It’s a lot to brace for, but, fortunately, we’ve something of a blueprint to work from: The October 2016 Blackstone decision ― CRTC’s first-ever ruling under CASL.

In this case, Blackstone Learning Corp., a provider of educational and training services, was found to have sent more than 380,000 emails violating CASL statutes. Nine messaging campaigns in all that targeted government employees were sent without their recipients’ consent. Blackstone initially contested CRTC’s verdict, arguing that definitions of consent under CASL were vague and imprecise. But CASL won out. The company was fined $640,000, and ultimately paid out $50,000. It was an instructive outcome; it gave us a glimpse into the courts’ rationale in enforcing CASL, an indication of the penalties they’d likely levy, and a reminder to marketers to keep the following guidelines in mind:

• A public email does not amount to implied consent. In its defense, Blackstone argued it had the implied consent of the people it targeted (government employees) because their email addresses were “conspicuously published” ― readily available to the public, as is often the case with government roles.

On this detail, however, CRTC demurred, ruling that implied consent required a higher standard. It wasn’t enough for an email address simply to be public to be “conspicuously published”; there also needed to be a clear indication ― a note ― that the person was willing to accept unsolicited commercial electronic messages (CEMs), and that these CEMs were relevant to the person’s role, business function, or official capacity. Those are two incredibly important conditions for marketers reaching out cold.

• It’s on businesses to prove consent, and businesses alone. CRTC’s position on this front was firm: Businesses like Blackstone bear the burden in proving consent, implied or otherwise, as consent had to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis only.

In this case specifically, Blackstone was asked to share its methods for obtaining consent, and couldn’t ― hence the courts’ finding. This is a lesson for the rest of us in keeping exhaustive records on consent, whether implied or express. We need to know if it was obtained, how it was obtained, and when it was obtained.

  • Cooperate and correct course early. As we consider this case and the law at hand, it’s worth remembering that CASL was never intended to punish or hobble businesses outright. Its goal, always, was to deter potential violators and encourage compliance.

Blackstone faced an incredibly stiff penalty initially of more than a half million Canadian dollars, but saw the fine lowered (down to just $50,000) for two primary reasons. First, the initial fee was more than Blackstone could likely afford, and more than its total number of emails warranted. Second (and more importantly), Blackstone had at least tried to comply previously by contacting the Department of Industry before CASL took effect. Fees were reduced significantly because the defendant was compliant, demonstrating the importance of cooperating early and often with CASL inquiries.

Conclusion

By gaining consent explicitly and studying and adhering to CASL guidelines, marketers can safeguard their electronic communications with Canadian individuals and organizations and avoid spam … and penalties.

 

6/12/2017 update: The government of Canada has suspended the private right of action that was due to become effective in July. Marketers, however, can still have legal action brought against them under the existing CASL regulations, but not by an individual.

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Act-On Software – How to Maximize Your Inbound Strategy

How to Maximize Your Inbound Strategy

Marketers are pressed for time. There are way too many things to do and channels to do them on ‒ and not enough staff, cash, or time to get them all done. That’s why an inbound strategy is so appealing.

Maybe this isn’t true for you and your B2B marketing team. But, personally, I know that our team’s to-do lists only seem to grow longer and our deadlines only seem to grow shorter. And we won’t even start talking about measuring ROI.

At Act-On, we believe in a balanced marketing approach that includes both inbound and outbound tactics. We’ve also built best-in-class inbound features in our platform, according to Forrester, to help marketers do the best work of their careers. For this post, let’s focus on what you need to know to maximize your inbound marketing strategy.

We’ll cover:

  • What is inbound marketing?
  • The role of personas
  • The power of content marketing
  • How to gain visibility
  • How to convert prospects into customers

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is defined as a marketing strategy that focuses on a brand getting found by customers.

“Now that sounds really simple until you’ve ever tried to be found by customers,” said Phil Bosley, Act-On’s lead marketing automation strategist, in the on-demand webinar Maximizing Inbound Strategies.

Bosley outlines the inbound marketing components as:

  • “We have to have content we’ve developed specifically for our audience that they will find relevant and engaging.”
  • “We have to find the right audience and attract and pair those people with that content.”
  • “We have to learn who these people are by capturing their identity through some mechanism.”
  • “We have to nurture them through a decision-making process (the buyer’s journey).”
  • “We have to convert them into customers.”

As you can see, inbound marketing is more than just attracting folks to your website. As Bosley says, “An inbound lead is going to be an excellently qualified prospect, but they are still just that, a lead and a prospect. I still have to nurture them.”

What is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a constructed depiction of your ideal customer that allows you to identify your target audience. The more focused your buyer persona, the more successful you’ll be marketing and selling to that greater audience.

This is always a hard fact for businesses to accept ‒ especially for startups, where you’re keenly interested in getting sales and less worried about where you get them from. That sort of shotgun approach to growth can work for a bit, but it’s never sustainable.

Besides the business reasons, it’s also important know who your buyer is when you want to create content for them as the hook to your inbound marketing strategy.

Creating a persona requires gathering demographic and psychographic information about your buyer. The demographic information consists of the facts about your ideal buyer. For example, you might be targeting someone who is female, 35 years old, a homeowner, and so forth. The psychographic information is more in depth and goes into things like buying behavior, decision-making processes, and things of that nature.

Do you need help with this step? We have a short video to help you get you started.

What is content’s role in inbound?

What is content? Well, I really enjoyed a recent Gartner blog post that begins the conversation by asking whether the marketer wants to focus on marketing content or content marketing. For our conversation, we’re focusing on content marketing: creating content such as eBooks, videos, blog posts, infographics, quizzes, and other interactive that speak specifically to your ideal buyer, who you previously identified in your buyer personas.

At Act-On, we like to use the Rule of Four when we’re thinking about creating content. And that is when you create one strong piece of content – what Larry Kim would call Unicorn Content – and repurpose it into four additional pieces. In this blog’s example, we’ve take a webinar, turned it into an on-demand webinar (1), and now have turned it into a blog post (2) with a video (3). For #4 I could schedule a call with Phil to record a podcast on the topic or pull quotes and bullet points from the post and make them into a SlideShare.

But, you may be asking, what is the purpose of this content?

To answer this question, we first must understand what we mean when we describe our buyers as “being on a journey.” In the first leg of that journey, they are becoming aware they have a problem (it could be either a good or bad problem: not getting enough leads, or getting too many leads). In the second stage of the journey, they then begin searching for potential solutions. This could be asking a peer for help, or it could be typing what they believe their problem is into an Internet search bar.

This is a diagram for creating content for the customer buying journey, one of five steps to maximize your inbound strategy

The content you create is aimed at addressing the questions your buyers have. It could be directed at those initial questions they are typing into Google or Bing, or it could be more content aimed at addressing questions buyers have when they’re further along on their journeys, such as why they should choose your solution over your competitor’s, or why should they act now rather than at some later time.

Also, you may create content that frames the problem in a new or different way ‒ one which is more favorable to the solution you offer.

A personal example comes from my days marketing a startup making electric vehicle charging stations. We felt confident positioning our charging station as the smart networking option for our buyers, who were local governments. Then, out of the blue, a competitor who did not have a smart solution changed the conversation to talking about the need for retractable charging cables that would prevent people from tripping or getting their hands dirty. The result was that those local agencies started requiring cable management in their RFPs.

Channels to Turn on Your Inbound Strategy

So, you’ve created a lot of great content that really speaks to your buyers throughout their journey. Great! Now what?

Well, this is where your Inbound Strategy is going to need some help from Outbound Marketing Tactics because, as the cliché goes, if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it …

You need to activate some promotion to help get that great content seen and heard by your target audience. And this is for several reasons. First, Google and the other search engines may have indexed your website and seen that you have Content X that addresses a specific question being asked by your buyer, but they’re giving preference to other, similar content that’s getting traffic, engagement on the site, links, social shares, and mentions throughout the web. As a result of this ‒ and because you’re not the only one attempting an inbound strategy ‒there is a ton of great content being pushed out into the world.

I can’t say what channel or type of promotion is best for you. But, if you’ve done the legwork of building a robust buyer persona, you should have a pretty good sense of the channels your audience is using, whether that is LinkedIn, Facebook, syndication, PPC advertising, or some other vehicle.

What we will recommend is that you test which channels are working best for you ‒ and then test them again and again.

“One of the tactics that I’ve seen work very, very well is, at the end of any given quarter or the time period you’re measuring, look at where your lowest-performing channel was and reallocate that budget to your highest-performing channel,” Bosley said. “That way you’re constantly improving, dropping the dead weight, and maximizing those channels that work best for you.”

Nurture and Convert

What happens when folks do get to your website and want to access that great content you’ve created for them?

Well, you’re hoping they read your value-filled blog post and then click “buy.” But I’m guessing that, for most of us, it’s going to be a longer cycle, which is one of the reasons you may want to gate that content so you can begin to identify and nurture your prospective buyer until they’re ready to convert.

Gating content has its advocates and opponents. I’m an advocate ‒ as long as you’re providing real value in exchange for the visitor’s name and other information.

“When we’ve developed good content for our audience, content that’s designed to help them, that content has intrinsic value,” Bosley said. “And that’s the type of content that people will trade their information for so that they can gain access to that resource. It’s commerce, like anything else. The price of admission is your information. And if I believe that I have a problem and you have a solution that’s sitting behind that gate, I’m absolutely making that trade.”

Once you’ve made that initial exchange of identify for content, you should next segment those buyers so that your future conversations with them remain meaningful and valuable. This could be characterizing them by where they are in the buying journey, or by their persona type, such as CMO or decision maker, and so forth.

Next, you’ll want to create automated nurture programs that deliver your content to these prospects based on their engagement. For example, they originally downloaded your eBook on creating a high-performance marketing plan. A week or two later, you may want to invite them to watch an on-demand webinar on a related topic. And, if they watched the video, you may invite them to check out the next piece of content in their journey, such as a data sheet comparing various marketing automation platforms.

As your ideal buyer continues to engage with you and your content, you’ll start to have a conversation about converting to a sale. This could be as simple as your buyer clicking on a “buy-me” button on your website, but, more likely, it will be engaging your sales team to reach out and connect with them.

The good news is that those actions are going to be welcomed by your buyers because you’ve already had conversations built upon an inbound strategy for a targeted, specific buyer with value-added content made just for them.

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