The skills we teach deliver real ROI.

Archive of ‘Branding’ category

Content Marketing Campaign of the Week: L.L. Bean

For years L.L. Bean was the epitome of outdoor essentials. From clothing to equipment to learning how to be an outdoorsman, everyone who went hiking knew the L.L. Bean brand. But what happens when your business is based on mail-order catalogs and everyone goes digital? You either change your ways or go out of business. While L.L. Bean struggled with sales in the first decade of the 21st century, it seems they’ve integrated the digital world and content marketing strategy with their core values, earning them a 3% net revenue increase in 2014, according to their Newsroom results.

When Leon Leonwood Bean founded the company in 1912, his Golden Rule the foundation of his business:  “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings and they will always come back for more.” Even though that was more than 100 years ago, the statement embodies what many consumers look for in a company – they want to be treated like human beings and get a good product. In addition to the Golden Rule, L.L. Bean has had a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all of its products since its inception.

While the focus on doing the right thing, caring about nature, and family first will give you warm fuzzies, it doesn’t guarantee sales. And let’s face it – if you don’t have that in a business, the warm fuzzies go away quickly. But when you combine a brand that makes quality products with great content marketing and publicity, you get success. Most notably, their handmade boots have a wait list of 100,000 people.

So how do they do it? Catalogs are no longer the prime method of sales. Their website is reasonably functional and easy to use, but not spectacular. Their blog is inconsistent with anywhere from one to five blog posts per month. Where are they getting noticed? The content they publicize on social media.


Web Seminar Recap: Brand Advocates – Empower Your Followers to Become a Powerful Content Creation Force

Marketers today have been engaging in a “social media arms race” trying to gain as many fans and followers across their social media channels. Many are realizing that increasing the size of their social communities rarely translates to increased engagement or revenue. The real value of social media marketing comes from identifying your most passionate fans and influencing them to recommend and advocate for your brand, products and services. Are you confusing ‘audience’ with ‘influence’?

Cord Silverstein, President of Advocacy Social, discussed how to identify, engage and empower brand advocates. Participants learned how to distinguish audience from influence by developing social media advocacy and content programs that help them identify and engage with their most loyal fans and increase their brand’s visibility.

This session was presented by Cord Silverstein on May 26th.

Missed this seminar? Catch up by downloading the slides and recording here.

Why Customer Personas Matter

Consumers expect you to talk to them.  Not them as a group, but as individuals.  Marketing to the masses with a single message for everyone is a tactic of the past.  Remarketing campaigns were introduced in recent years, but even they are not perfect, not always reaching the right customer.

In Crafting the Customer Experience for People Not Like You, Kelly McDonald reminds us that one size does not fit all.  Simply recognizing this fact is a win because businesses are moving into the right mindset to beat their competitors and show they are ready to think in terms of personas.  Once customers are treated as individuals, they become loyal to a brand.  It’s about the pre-purchase experience all the way through the post-purchase care.  When you understand who your customers are, you can create a great experience for them.

The Obama campaign is a perfect example of collecting individualized data for decision making.  His team was able to send out messages that were relevant, personalized, and delivered in context.  Mainstream media and research organizations discussed his ability to “reduce every American to a series of numbers”.   In Converge, Bob Lord and Ray Velez talk more about Obama’s campaign and that the personalization of an experience is what positions anyone – a company or a presidential candidate – as the right one to meet a consumer need.  With millennials especially, personalization is not an option, but rather a necessity.   Jeff Fromm and Christie Garton write in Marketing to Millennials that this particular audience wants to engage with brands who offer personalized conversations.

Segmenting and targeting go hand in hand with building personas.  These personas represent your customers and are ideally based on real data, like demographics, education, and online activities.  Fortunately, Google Analytics can also help with some of this demographic data to develop personas, but the best source is your internal data from your CRM.

Personas are based on real people so a one-dimensional description isn’t enough.  They’re not rich, poor, male, female – they have a lot more to them.  Take multiple aspects into consideration and base this on existing research or through interviews with customers.   It can also help to talk to non-buyers.  It may be tough to recruit prospects who went to a competitor instead, but it is a valuable source of data.  Some people may even want to provide this feedback because they may have really wanted to buy from you initially.

If you are launching a new brand or product, you may not have the benefit of existing CRM data so your personas will be fictional creations of who you think your users will be.  This needs to be established early on – especially if you are developing something new.  Aim to do surveys or interviews with different types of buyers so you know who to target when you are ready to launch.

You can take this a step further with negative personas. These represent who you do not want as a buyer.  When you segment these personas out of your marketing plan, you may find lower costs in both leads and customer acquisition.  Although it can be hard to admit, “everyone” is not the audience so by owning that early and ruling groups out, it can be a time-saver in the long run for everyone on your team.

Once you can identify your target audience by developing personas, only then can you market to them with appropriate messaging and through use of the right channels.  In addition to helping marketing staff with their role of creating content, personas help the sales team know what a good lead looks like, and your software developers will know which features matter to different users.

When you have your personas, you are in a better mindset to determine how buyers’ lives might improve as a result of your product or service.  This is the opposite of an advertising strategy focused on why you think your offer is great.  When the audience is not identified, much time is wasted trying to convince people to buy what you have.

The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them beyond the point of sale.  When you view things from their perspective, you can maintain the relationship with them and ideally build them as advocates for your brand.   Building personas is much more than a theoretical exercise.  It has implications for your day-to-day work across the organization.

Common Reasons for Content Marketing Failure

*The original article can be found in ASPE’s ROI November/December Newsletter. Interested in more articles like this one? View the most current newsletter here.*

As content marketing continues to grow in popularity, the number of companies implementing this strategy will also rise.While some organizations have a clearly defined plan in place, others take a scattergun approach and hope for the best.

Has your content marketing strategy come up short in the past? Are you looking for a way to change your fortunes in the future? If you answered yes to either question, you need to know what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong, and how to make the appropriate adjustments as you continue forward.

No two content marketing strategies are exactly the same. However, regardless of your company or industry, there are reasons why this part of your marketing plan may have failed you in the past. Here are five common reasons for content marketing failure:

1. Taking a “half in, half out” approach. Just because content marketing is the “in” thing doesn’t mean it is the only way to market your business.

If you aren’t all in with content marketing, you should stay on the outside for the time being. Anybody can create a blog, but not everybody has what it takes to keep it fresh.

It takes time to create high quality blog posts. Not only that, but it takes creativity to continue with the content creation process on a regular basis.

Simply put, if you don’t have what it takes to blog regularly, you will find it challenging to gain traction. Your readers want to hear from you consistently. Are you able to give them what they want?

2. Believing that longer is always better. Google has made it perfectly clear that it is uninterested in websites with little or no original content. Here is what the search engine giant has to say about this:

“One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.

However, some webmasters attempt to improve their pages’ ranking and attract visitors by creating pages with many words but little or no authentic content. Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users.”

This has led many to believe that longer has to be better. This may be right to a certain degree, as longer posts give you the chance to provide more detailed information. At the same time, you don’t necessarily need to compose long pieces of content, such as those in excess of 1,000 words, in order to achieve great results.

What you should care about the most is this:

  • Providing value no matter what you are talking about
  • Making sure your content is unique
  • Building trust among your readers

Rather than focus all your time and attention on hitting a particular word count, take a stronger look at the quality of your content. This is what matters most.

3. Keeping the best content for your blog. When you come up with a killer idea for a piece, you have some big decisions to make. Most importantly, you have to answer this question:  where will you publish the article?

It is a common belief that your best content should be published on your site. While this may help your site grow, there is something you need to consider:  there are other places that may be better suited for your best content.

Don’t hesitate to hold off on publishing as you search for the perfect partner. It is likely that there are bigger and better outlets out there. By posting your piece on a third party site, as a guest post, for instance, you may be able to generate more traffic and interest.

4. You lack a clear plan for defining success. Is there anything better than tracking your content marketing strategy back to a big sale? This is sure to put a smile on your face as it makes you realize that all your hard work has paid off.

Unfortunately, you cannot expect every piece of content to generate sales. You need to focus on more than sales. Here are some of the other ways you can benefit from content marketing:

  • Building your brand
  • Increasing the number of high quality backlinks to your site, thus strengthening its authority
  • Connecting with others, including potential customers, current customers, and those who simply enjoy what you are doing

Even if your content marketing strategy comes up short in terms of generating sales, there are other benefits to be aware of.

5. The belief that you have to do everything on your own. From one-man companies to those with hundreds of employees, there is always help to be had.

Have you given any thought to hiring a freelance writer to produce blog posts for your company? Have you experimented with the idea of enlisting the help of employees within a variety of departments, knowing that each person can bring valuable advice to the forefront?

You should never feel as if you have to create all the content on your own. Even if you enjoy doing so, don’t be afraid to hand off the responsibility from time to time. Not only will this save you time, but it will allow you to more easily provide unique content.

These five reasons for content marketing failure never have to slow you down. Now that you are aware of the mistakes that others are making, you can avoid doing the same in the future. As a result, you can expect solid results from your content marketing strategy.

Why Nerds Should Rule the World

A Lesson in How Honesty and Loyalty Builds Communities and Why Businesses Should Pay Attention

downloadI have a confession:  I love Nerdfighteria. If you don’t know what that is, you will. Nerdfighteria is an online community subculture (there are now offline groups as well) that came about when the VlogBrothers John and Hank Green started their video blog channel on YouTube in 2007 and gained popularity with their witty, honest, nerdy videos. Read about it. Get into it. You won’t regret it.

I’ve only been watching VlogBrothers for about two years, and found it because I saw John Green on a Mental Floss video. However, what I’ve seen in two years of John and Hank’s vlogs is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Some videos are nothing more than a rant that makes you laugh, some deal with difficult issues like bullying and depression, and some are educational about current events. But the common thread of all of these videos is the honest opinions and genuine affection Hank and John share with whoever wants to listen. And that is why there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments on their videos in YouTube from people who are loyal followers of VlogBrothers and support Nerdfighteria.

They now have more than 1.6 million subscribers for the VlogBrothers YouTube channel, reaching a widespread international audience as well. That international Nerdfighteria community spawned and supported a plethora of amazing organizations, events and projects such as:

  • VidCon – the largest in-person gathering of online video creators, viewers and representatives
  • Project for Awesome/Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck – a 100% volunteer organization that helps other charitable organizations raise funds
  • Crash Course – educational, entertaining YouTube video focused on making typical school subjects entertaining instead of boring
  • Subbable – crowdfunding to support various web video series
  • – a financial lending organization that has loaned more than $4.3 million around the world to people lacking access to traditional banking systems

So what does all this do-gooder, feel-good karma have to do with how to run a business? Up until a recent venture in which they use funds from an associated gaming channel to sponsor the AFC Wimbleton football club, VlogBrothers and Nerdfighteria garnered support and attention via word of mouth from loyal fans and supporters. That’s 1.6 million people who love and support this community without one dollar spent on marketing or sales. Not only that, but that community raises millions of dollars on their own to “decrease worldsuck” and educate in a non-traditional manner.

Not to mention John Green recently announced that they would start allowing advertising on the channel with proceeds going to several of their recognized charities and organizations, including Project for Awesome. Not an easy decision, because profiting from free and open information was opposed by the brothers for years, but Nerdfighteria encouraged the decision upon hearing where funds from advertising would be distributed.


The 5 Most Important Things You Should Be Doing on Facebook

A great Facebook profile is several things:  It’s informative, it’s well-branded, it’s interesting and it’s visually appealing. Nearly every organization has realized the importance of the largest social network, but not every organization is fully utilizing its potential. Poor captions, a lack of images and infrequent posting are the typical culprits of a Facebook page done too quickly.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that “a loyal fan base” or “a quality product” can suffice as excuses to not treating your Facebook page with care. Similar to a low-quality website or a shoddy store interior, an unattractive Facebook page reflects poorly on your reputation. Considering we shop first with our eyes, images matter, and looking bad usually implies bad service. Do yourself a favor and follow these five tips to keep your Facebook page clean and fresh.

  1. Pick a Great Cover Photo and Profile Picture (more…)

My Product is Boring. What Marketing Can I Do?

Many times we have students in class, or potential clients who say to our instructors, “My product is boring. How am I supposed to market something that’s so plain?” The answer is simple:  think outside the box. You’re a marketer, that’s part of your responsibility. Not to mention the fact that even if you think your product or service is boring, it exists because there is a demand from some audience, no matter how small. There is a need for it, and if not, your company may want to take a look at its business plan.

So where do you start? You already have collateral that describes what your product is, or explains what is provided with your service. Those are great ad-ons for your sales team to use that look professional to their clients. What more can you do with content marketing to engage customers and make them aware? Here are five examples of companies with so-called boring products or services that did a great job making themselves stand out and appeal to their consumers with content marketing. (more…)

How to Effectively Use Hashtags

One of the more impressive re-brandings is that of the pound sign. Very few people still refer to the tic-tac-toe board look-a-like by its pre-Twitter name, especially the younger generation. No, to us, this symbol is a “hashtag.”

Popularized by Twitter, the hashtag’s goal is to bond various social media users together with common topics. They serve as links to online conversations and can be ascribed to any subject imaginable, ranging from the ever-popular #thingsIdontlike to the more business-related #socialmedia. LinkedIn already allows the use of hashtags, and Facebook is rumored to start as well. Last year, someone even named their kid “hashtag” — well I guess in her case, it’s the capitalized “Hashtag.” (more…)

Web Seminar Recap: Best Practices in Sales and Marketing for Success

Sales and marketing / marketing and sales, they are not one in the same but together they make or break all organizations. Alignment is critical but correct strategic direction is mandatory for enduring profits.

In this web seminar Mike and Will Shook discussed how to build customer driven value propositions around your solution selling techniques. They presented on how to make rapid improvements in the full sales cycle to include lead generation and new customer acquisition, customer retention, pipeline and sales funnel management, sales force automation and effective account and territory planning. This web seminar gave a best practices understanding of how to properly qualify and quantify opportunities and unify your marketing and sales organizations so one creates the demand and the other efficiently harvests the demand.  (more…)