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Content Marketing: 7 copy editing tips to improve any content piece

October 22nd, 2013
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Creating intriguing and relevant content is key to successful content marketing.

Webinars, webpages and ebooks were all cited in the 2013 MarketingSherpa SEO Marketing Benchmark Survey as “the most effective places to create content for meeting marketing objectives.”

Creating content is one thing, improving it through copy editing, however, is another step in the process.

I say this because content becomes less effective with each glaring error. Depending on the circumstances, those mistakes are perhaps even costing your organization revenue as customers look elsewhere to shop.

 

Think about it …

Do you want to spend your time deciphering information riddled with grammar and spelling errors?

Well, your readers certainly don’t and why should they? Why should they take their time to untangle a web of errors and inconsistencies in a content piece in order to understand the message?

They will simply move on to something else that is polished, clear and professionally written. Luckily in the digital realm, minor mistakes can be caught after a blog post, article or social media post is published online and can be seamlessly fixed.

However, some diligent eyes can spot errors before critics take to social media and immortalize a glaring typo.

For example, the Mankato Free Press was not immune to criticism when a creative, but poorly designed page slipped past copy editors and startled readers while enjoying their breakfast.

As the copy editor at MECLABS, my job revolves around editing everything from blog posts, articles, landing page copy, marketing materials and many other essential pieces of content for MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments.

The insights in this post revolve strictly around copy editing to help you focus on improving the accuracy of your text, not editing, which is designed to help you improve the organization of your content.

Read on for seven copy editing tips you can use to improve the quality of your content.

 

Tip #1. Stick with a style

When copy editing, consistency is very important – so pick a style and stick with it.

Establishing style standards early on will help keep all the content you produce uniform across different formats.

At MECLABS, we devised a Stylebook that incorporates elements of AP style and stylistic preferences unique to our company.

For instance, some of the most common words and phrases utilized in our content appear in the Stylebook reflecting MECLABS’ usage.

Words like clickthrough, call-to-action, homepage, e-commerce, Web (always capitalized) and others have a specific way of being spelled or capitalized preferable to us that may not be used the same grammatically or contextually elsewhere.

Not everything can be covered in a company style guide, so having a secondary resource such as the AP Stylebook on hand is essential for finding those words and phrases you may not know how to utilize correctly in a piece.

For other aspects of writing, such as headlines, consistency is also extremely important.

Editors tend to decide what words are used in a headline, so your stylebook should include style preferences for headlines, to help editors keep those copy decisions consistent.

Also, try to make considerations in your Stylebook for any additional content you may have that will need formatting guidelines and make sure your content team understands and adheres to those standards.

 

Tip #2. Read aloud

The very first step of copy editing is reading through content to make changes.

Reading silently to yourself is a good way to start, but taking it to the next level and reading a piece aloud will help you catch more errors and hear how the words and sentences flow together.

It may also seem like common sense, but reading it aloud conversationally is not enough to catch mistakes. By reading slowly and articulating each word, you are more likely to spot grammar and spelling mistakes that your word processor might have missed.

 

Tip #3. Keep it concise

Attention spans are shorter than ever, so keeping length in mind while editing is also extremely important. By keeping sentences concise, you will captivate readers by making every word count.

When possible, delete extraneous words from sentences unless they impact the integrity of the overall meaning.

For example, the word “that” is often used as a crutch word and can be eliminated in most cases.

 

Tip #4. Do a final proofread after publishing 

Hitting the “publish” button is not the end of a copy editor’s work day. Even after a vigorous round of editing, mistakes can still fall through the cracks.

This is why taking one more look at your content after it’s published is a great idea.

As I mentioned earlier, digital publishing in most instances is a lot more forgiving than print. Once you publish content in a print medium, the words and any mistakes you may have missed are stamped onto the pages of your publication and into history.

One example I can think of recently was the misspelling of the word “Marketing” as “Makreting” on the spine of a printed publication. Luckily, the error was caught before a large pressing of the misprints was ordered.

Consequently, although something may already be published, some minor changes can still likely be made if needed before the majority of your audience engages the content.

 

Tip #5. Avoid proofing your own work whenever possible

(Most) copy editors love to write, but reviewing your own content can be problematic, and should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other option.

Therefore, having another set of eyes on your piece can catch errors you would probably miss as the writer.

If others proofing your work is not an option, putting the finished product aside for a few days can help you get out of “writer” mode and into “proofing” mode.

Also, the content isn’t nearly as fresh in your mind, so you’re more likely to catch mistakes.

 

Tip #6. Read through backwards

This may seem a little strange, but the best tips usually are.

From my experience, going through content one sentence at a time backwards is a surprisingly great way to catch problems in the copy.

Incorrect punctuation, extra or double words and other issues that might have been skimmed over normally, can be singled out quickly by reading it backwards.

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Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Hotline

October 15th, 2013
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Buying your first house is a big milestone in American life.

There are two entire HGTV shows, “My First Place” and “Property Virgins” centered around the experience.

Every episode follows basically the same trajectory:

Overly anxious buyers, with expectations that far exceed their budgets, hoping to find the “perfect” dream home to live happily ever after with no problems.

“Oh honey,” current homeowners say pityingly, as they shake their heads knowingly.

Good luck to whoever has those expectations. The really difficult (and least interesting) stuff happens once you move into that glorious, shining home.

Take a friend of mine for example – she recently made that big step into adulthood and bought her first home. Closing went fairly well, so she was feeling good when she finally moved in.

Then, like most first-time homeowners, she looked around and realized how much needed to be done, and how much stuff she didn’t have.

All at once the chaos of happily ever after began to unravel in a series of rescheduled deliveries and insanely long waits on the customer service lines. The real breaking point came when she was trying to schedule the delivery of her washer and dryer.

The company-that-shall-not-be-named rescheduled her delivery four times, and upped her backorder wait time from two weeks to six weeks. After being stressed out by multiple phone reps and receiving no responses to her emails to customer service (she’s still waiting for a reply, in fact), she decided to take the fight to social media.

She was shocked to see the company’s Facebook page promoting the backordered machine that had caused her so much trouble five weeks after purchasing. Not only that, but the website was making the dubious promise that people ordering five weeks after her would receive their washers only three days after her machine was scheduled for delivery.

In spite of posting her concerns, the only interaction she had was with other customers – the brand never commented or attempted to help.

The truth is, many large companies are still not placing enough importance on social media as a customer service channel that more customers have come to expect.

But, there is hope as some big brands are starting to use social media to truly enhance the customer service experience.

 

Social media is the ultimate opportunity to connect with customers

For example, Cisco is a large company that focuses on meeting customers in the social media sphere. Kathleen Mudge, Social Media Marketing Manager and consultant, Cisco, has previously spoken with MarketingSherpa about her views on different social media platforms.

Kathleen consistently embraces social media as the ultimate opportunity to connect with customers.

“Providing customer service can be an entry point to an ongoing relationship,” she said, adding customer service is a great opportunity for conversation and connection with the brand.

Because Cisco is such a large company, Kathleen said it can be “daunting and confusing for customers when an issue arises.  I love delighting customers with quick replies to questions, issues or concerns they post through their social media channels,” she said.

 

Make customers feel heard

Cisco’s social media channels are monitored year-round, Kathleen said, and her goal is to consistently be “extremely responsive to our communities.”

During off-peak times, when one of Cisco’s events isn’t ramping up or in progress, she said customers may expect a response within 12 hours, “but normally within the hour during the week.”

During events however, social media is in overdrive, and customers receive a response time that local emergency crews would envy – within three minutes or sooner.

Kathleen credits proper staffing to this feat, a necessity when “event conversations explode, as they did last June [during the Cisco Live event] with 46,000 total social mentions.”

 

Use complaints as an opportunity

Responsiveness is especially key when dealing with a complaint or upset customers, and addressing the issue immediately will keep the issue in check, Kathleen said.

“I may not have the answer, but I want to let them know I am aware of their issue and I am seeking an answer or solution or whatever it is they may need,” she said.

The same principles of customer service via phone, email or in-person are true in social media (perhaps especially important since it’s available for other customers to see) and making sure a customer feels seen and heard is paramount.

If there isn’t a timely response, “they will most likely continue to get more frustrated and their complaints may multiply, causing a very negative situation for the brand,” Kathleen said.

A complaint handled properly is an opportunity to solve the same problem for other customers who may be following the conversation.

“We can’t always provide a resolution that is what the customer is requesting. No brand can be all things to all people,” she said. But letting a customer know you are aware of their situation and troubleshooting it, “that does a lot to ease the aggravation.”

 

Use and promote positive interactions

Sometimes customers are using social media as an outlet to voice their excitement for an event or their overall experience with the company, and those positive updates, “truly make my day and are the favorite part of my job,” Kathleen said.

 

When Cisco customers post positive updates on Twitter, for example, Kathleen retweets it from the brand in addition to responding to them.

“When I see that I can make a positive difference for someone online through communication with the brand, I am absolutely thrilled and I want to amplify their update by a retweet on Twitter or a ‘like’ and response on Facebook or another channel,” she said.

Cisco’s events are also provide a great opportunity to  flaunt those positive customer interactions – as updates may appear on the big screen during a keynote in front of 20,000 attendees, as well as being available for their virtual audience.

Singling those comments out works for both parties: “They love being recognized and we love highlighting their comments,” she said.

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Content Marketing: How to manage a change in content on your blog

October 11th, 2013
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You’ll get no arguments from me that starting a new blog can be difficult.

There are plenty of great content marketing resources from MarketingSherpa and elsewhere to help you do that.

But, what happens when your company decides to undergo a change in content?

Navigating the waters of a new format on a well-established blog is a different kind of monster than starting from scratch.

 

Make sure everyone understands the big picture

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of new faces on the MarketingSherpa blog.

Also, if you read the blogs of our sister brands MarketingExperiments and B2B Lead Roundtable, you will also find a lot of new contributors there as well.

When I asked Brandon Stamschror, Senior Director of Content Operations, MECLABS, about some of the elements driving the change in content, Brandon explained the new approach was a unique opportunity to return blogging to its roots.

“For us, it felt like it was time for our blogging voice to come full circle,” Brandon explained. “Blogging originated as the ultimate personal journal. It was a platform for practitioners who were passionate about their message being heard, but over time, that approach has evolved into a more sophisticated medium that has as much in common with a trade journal as it does with a personal journal.“

Another reason Brandon mentioned for the change was based on the idea that members of the MECLABS research team have a wide range of insights and practical advice to offer our audience.

“We realized that we are in a place to leverage the strengths of both approaches. Real world practitioner discoveries and observations supported by a consistent editorial standard,” Brandon said.

Instead of letting all of that content simply vanish, the era of the MECLABS practitioner blogger had arrived.

Consequently, this also meant the MECLABS research team would be taking on a new writing initiative, so the first real challenge was one of communication throughout the organization.

So, the first tip here is simple – communicate, communicate and communicate.

Make sure everyone in the organization understands the reasons for change and what their role in those changes will be, as your team can’t help build something they don’t fully understand.

 

Anticipate problems and start looking for solutions

This is my faith in Murphy’s Law – if anything can go wrong, it will – so the trick is to anticipate problems and find solutions to avoid headaches later.

For instance, while having a sizeable pool of new content creators was a great asset, there was one catch …

Most of our practitioners’ writing skills were based on formal training in academic writing.

Few had prior blogging experience, while only one to my knowledge had any experience in journalism or exposure to the editorial process.

Based on our assessment, here were some of the problems we anticipated:

  • Limited blogging experience – How do we help analysts to start writing blog posts?
  • Formal training in academic writing – How can the content team help practitioners develop blog writing skills?
  • Few have exposure to editorial process – How do we build a new editorial process that allows for more revision and editing time? How can we educate our internal thought leaders on the editorial process?

After a few rounds of discussion, our team decided a blog post template provided a simple solution to solve the problem of helping analysts get started writing blog posts.

 

The feedback we received from our in-house writers so far is the blog post template has been helpful in providing some rudimentary direction and structure to get started.

In short, the more problems like these that you can anticipate and find solutions for beforehand, the less painful your transition will hopefully be.

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Marketing Careers: Why gut instincts are only artificial marketing brilliance

October 4th, 2013
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At some point in your marketing career, you’ve had a moment of artificial marketing brilliance.

It was a moment where you suspected your customers might respond better to a shorter form or a bigger and more colorful call-to-action button inviting them to a unique experience.

You might have even had the sneaking suspicion that changing some of the value copy on your homepage would boost sales of your product or service because no other competitor can boast figures close to your product’s success rate.

So, you make changes as your gut tells you, “Of course this will work.”

Afterwards, you kick back to watch the ROI roll in.

And then, it happens.

Your brilliant idea bombs in glorious fashion and you’re left scratching your head.

If your marketing is driven by intuition, at some point, you are going to fail and it’s one of the best things that can happen for your customers and your career. Read on to find out why.

 

Failure starts at relying on your gut

Many marketers use gut instinct in hopes of delivering optimal results, but when they fall short of expected results, those marketers never fully understand why.

But, if we use the hypothetical situation above, some clues emerge that can help us understand what leads to failure.

According to the MarketingSherpa 2012 Marketing Analytics Benchmark Report (free excerpt at that link), when marketers were asked …

Q: Instead of analytics data to make marketing decisions, we rely on the following:

 

Nearly half (42%) responded with gut instincts, followed by historical spending trends.

So, with almost half of marketers proclaiming instinct and prior spending as their decision engines, let’s fill in the blanks with a few primary sources of inspiration:

  • Case studies performed by other companies
  • Best practices picked up along the way
  • Marketing research

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these resources because, let’s face it, it’s easier to borrow from a seemingly good idea than it is to create a new one from scratch.

The inherent problem is not where you get an idea. The problem is how you intend to use it.

This is the point at which many marketing campaigns were doomed to underperform because ideas untested are always at the mercy of uncertainty.

 

Life beyond using your gut

Your gut failed you … now what?

One of the best career moves you can make is to move away from gut instinct marketing and begin using an evidence-based approach that is methodical and systematic. Chances are, you’re going to have some questions after your first radical redesign where shorter landing pages resulted in a 10% decrease in clickthrough.

Did the larger hero image take away from the copy? Was the award for customer satisfaction from 2004 recent enough to provide credibility? What turned the audience away?

You’ll also have questions if your redesign brought you a 5% lift in clickthrough. You might even be pretty content and let things rest, even if you could do better.

Those strokes of “marketing brilliance” are coming from a different source – online testing results that can be used to build a customer knowledge base.

Did your customers like your new vivid red button? Did they respond well to reading you were the only company in your field to offer one-on-one tutorials with an expert?

If you changed the eye-path on the page, could you have achieved a 10% lift? 20%?

 

The inevitable question – Why?

You must realize that success and failure lead to an inevitable conclusion in marketing – you have to test to truly discover, “Why?”

You can try to isolate the factors that seemingly impacted your audience, or you can test them and measure their performance to know for sure.

Understanding the “why” of customer behavior is really the product of methodical trial and error through testing, discovering and optimizing what you think works …

And then, it’s time for more testing.

Both the small gains and big flops lead you to learning more about your customers, a path riddled with failure, success and discovery, that no gut instinct on the planet can come close to.

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Email Messaging: Start empathizing with your potential customers

September 17th, 2013
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One of the biggest hurdles you face as marketer lies in the mind of your customers.

What do they think when they read your marketing messages? How does your copy make them feel? What impresses them? Are they sold on what you’re saying? Do they understand what you’re saying? Are you coming on too strong? Are they intrigued? Are they frustrated?

You need to uncover the attitude of your consumers and tweak your marketing efforts to appeal to that way of thinking.

 

Understanding a customer’s mindset

In the MECLABS Email Messaging Course, Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, dissects the attitude of prospective customers towards marketers. Below is a list of the “Prospect’s Protest,” which illustrates the mindset of your customers: what they want from you and, more importantly, what they don’t.

Brace yourself. These may be harsher than you’d expect:

  • I am not a target. I am a person. Don’t market to me – communicate with me.
  • Don’t wear out my name, and don’t call me “friend” until we know each other.
  • When you say “sell,” I hear “hype.” Clarity trumps persuasion. Don’t sell – say.
  • I don’t buy from companies, I buy from people. Here’s a clue: I dislike companies for the same reason I dislike people.
  • Stop bragging. It’s disgusting.
  • Why is your marketing voice different from your real voice? The people I trust don’t patronize me.
  • In all cases, where the quality of the information is debatable, I will always resort to the quality of the source. My trust is not for sale. You need to earn it.
  • Dazzle me gradually. Tell me what you can’t do, and I might believe you when you tell me what you can do.
  • In case you still don’t get it, I don’t trust you. Your copy is arrogant, your motives seem selfish, and your claims sound inflated. If you want to change how I buy, first change how you market.

No sugarcoating there.

“Sorry if this is strong medicine, but you’ve got to understand this is the attitude that you’ve got to overcome with the way you write your copy,” Flint explained.

 

Adjusting your own marketing attitude

Now that you have a better glimpse into the attitude of your customers, you can adjust your own attitude and approach as a marketer to better suit your consumers and overcome their attitude.

In the course, Flint outlines the “MarketingExperiments Creed,” which is a response to the “Prospect’s Protest.” It’s a way of thinking on the marketer’s side. It’s an attitude syncing to the consumer’s mindset.

 

Article 1: We believe that people buy from people, people don’t buy from companies, from stores or from websites. People buy from people. Marketing is not about programs. It is about relationships.

Article 2: We believe that brand is just reputation. Marketing is just conversation, and buying is an act of trust. Trust is earned with two elements:

  1. Integrity
  2. Effectiveness

Both demand that you put the interest of the customer first.

Article 3: We believe that testing trumps speculation and that clarity trumps persuasion. Marketers need to base their decisions on honest data, and customers need to base their decisions on honest claims.

 

Notice the consistencies between the Prospect’s Protest and the MarketingExperiments Creed. Clarity trumps persuasion. People buy from people. Trust.

“Though you may be a marketer every single day, you’re treated as a consumer, too,” Flint explained. “Because all of us are not just marketers, we’re consumers and we’re tired of it, also.”

As a marketer, you need to empathize with your consumers. After all, you can.

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Customer Relevance: 3 golden rules for cookie-based Web segmentation

September 13th, 2013
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Over the years, the Internet has become more adaptive to the things we want.

It often seems as if sites are directly talking to us and can almost predict the things we are searching for, and in some ways, they are.

Once you visit a website, you may get a cookie saved within your browser that stores information about your interactions with that site. Websites use this cookie to remember who you are. You can use this same data to segment visitors on your own websites by presenting visitors with a tailored Web experience.

Much like a salesman with some background on a client, webpages are able to make their “pitch” to visitors by referencing  information they already know about them to encourage clickthrough and ultimately conversion.

Webpages get this information from cookies and then use a segmentation or targeting platform to give visitors tailored Web experiences.

Cookies can also be used to provide visitors with tailored ads, but in today’s MarketingSherpa Blog post, we will concentrate on your website, and how segmentation can be used on your pages to provide more relevant information to your potential customers.

 

Test your way into cookie-based segmentation

At MECLABS, we explore cookie-based segmentation the only way that makes sense to us – by testing it.

It’s fairly easy to identify the different variables you would want to segment visitors by, but how to accurately talk to them should be researched. It’s also easy to become distracted by the possibilities of the technology, but in reality, the basic principles of segmentation still apply, as well as the following general rules.

 

Rule #1. Remember you are segmenting the computer, not the person

There are more opportunities for error when segmenting online because multiple people may use the same computer.

Therefore, online segmentation has some mystery to it. You can tailor your message to best fit the cookies, but that may not accurately represent the needs of the specific person sitting in front of the computer at that time.

Many segmentation platforms boast a 60% to 80% confidence level when it comes to how accurately they can segment visitors, but I think a better way to position this information is there is a 20% to 40% margin of error.

That is pretty high!

Be cautious with how you segment. Make sure the different experiences you display are not too different and do not create discomfort for the visitor.

For visitors who do not share a computer, error can still be high. They may be cookied for things that do not accurately describe them.

I bet if you looked at your browser history, it may not be the most precise representation of who you are as a person. Therefore, don’t take cookie data as fact because it most likely isn’t. It should be used as a tool in your overall segmentation strategy and not serve as your primary resource for information about your customers.

 

Rule #2. Be helpful, not creepy

People are getting used to the Internet making suggestions and presenting only relevant information to them.

Some have even come to expect this sort of interaction with their favorite sites. However, there is a fine line between helpful and creepy. Visitors probably don’t want to feel like they are being watched or tracked. Marketers should use the data collected about their visitors in a way that does not surpass their conscious threshold for being tracked.

For example, providing location-specific information to visitors in a certain region is alright, but providing too much known information about those visitors may not be.

Cookies can tell you income level, demographic information, shopping preferences and so much more. Combining too much known information could seem overwhelming to the visitor and rather than speaking directly to them, you risk scaring them off.

Instead of making it blatantly obvious to visitors you have collected information on them, I would suggest an approach that supplies users with relevant information that meets their needs.

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Email Marketing: Inactive lists and deliverability

September 6th, 2013
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I recently had the chance to speak with Ali Swerdlow, VP Channel Sales and Marketing, LeadSpend, on some of the challenges facing email marketers. She mentioned emailing inactive lists is an issue for a number of reasons.

That conversation led to a joint interview with industry experts Craig Swerdloff, CEO and Founder, LeadSpend, and Spencer Kollas, Global Director of Delivery Services, Experian Marketing Services.

 

MarketingSherpa: We’re going to be talking about inactive email and what email marketers can do about this issue. This is a challenge for a lot of marketers.

Spencer Kollas: There has been a lot of press around the fact that Yahoo! is actually shutting down and potentially reassigning I’ve heard anywhere between 7 million and 15 million email addresses that have not been logged into in the past 12 months.

It’s really important for clients, as they start looking at this, and senders, to focus on those most active users, because not only are the ISPs such as Yahoo! potentially shutting those addresses down because of inactivity, but a lot of the major ISPs are also looking at user-level engagement to determine inbox delivery.

When you look at  a Yahoo!, a Gmail, a Hotmail [account], they are actually looking at how engaged [your users are]. And that will actually help them determine whether they think that they should deliver all of your mail into the inbox, the bulk folder, or just even potentially block it.

By looking at that engagement level and focusing on those and knowing who your inactives are, and really determining what is considered inactive based on your business needs and goals, is also a very important piece.

Craig Swerdloff: Yeah, I would echo that. I completely agree with Spencer. I think marketers are faced with a tough challenge in really identifying active users, however, because at the end of the day, the metrics around activity aren’t necessarily accurate.

The best example I can give on that is there may be a lot of users who are receiving your email, for example, on a mobile device where the images are disabled by default. From a marketer’s perspective, they may never register an open [for that email] even though they may be actually engaging with that email on their mobile phone.

Furthermore, they might be taking action from that email that may not be identified in a click, but may actually result in a person coming into your store and making a purchase.

You’ve got to clean up your data and, obviously, you’ve got to remove inactives over a period of time. But you also don’t want to throw away email addresses of customers that are actually reading your email or seeing your email and who are then prompted to go into a store and make a purchase. So, you’ve got very careful about it.

 

MS: Actually, that brings up a great question because – what is the marketing challenge? Obviously you’re going to track open rate, clickthrough and everything else. But at the same time, you have people who are opening on mobile, they’re engaging with you in different places. How do you meet that challenge?

SK: From a straight deliverability standpoint, right, the ISPs are strictly looking at email engagement, right? So, truly understanding your customers and your business, you have to figure out – are there other ways to engage with [your customers]?

Are they looking at things on, say, social or are there other options that you can use to get them to open your emails – even by posting something through your social networks and getting them to open one of your emails, something along those lines.

Because Yahoo! doesn’t know that somebody’s coming into your business and your retail store and actually buying something. Only you know that. So, finding other avenues to reach out to those customers and getting them to engage with your email is something that I think is really important. Again, it’s all based on those particular business goals and those business needs.

It’s a careful balance. You want to work for better deliverability and better inbox placement rate, but at the same time, your ultimate goal is to optimize towards the highest ROI and the highest rate of return and revenue on your email program.

You probably want to do things in steps and do things in a gradual process. By the way, if you’re not having a deliverability problem, then you probably don’t need to really worry too much about removing inactive email addresses. But if you are, then you may want to stop and take a look at what’s causing that and which domains you might be having a problem [with].

Let’s just say, for example, you’re having a deliverability problem related to engagement at Yahoo!, then you probably want to start removing some of your inactive Yahoo! addresses.

But the best way to do that would be, for example, to start with email addresses that have never registered and opened, never registered a click, and who aren’t customers, current customers, as far as you can tell online or offline.

You can remove those folks and then kind of measure and gauge what effect that’s having on your deliverability and inbox placement at Yahoo!. And, if it is having enough of an effect, then you may want to start adding some additional email addresses into your inactive segments. So, you may want to start removing people who maybe haven’t opened or clicked in 12 months and who haven’t made a purchase in 12 months, and you can continue to sort of expand the universe, if necessary, in order to fix that deliverability problem.

 

MS: How does your inactive crowd affect your reputation score?

SK: Again, from the deliverability standpoint, when you’re talking about the major ISPs that are using engagement as part of their overall reputation scores, it can have a drastic impact on your overall ability to reach your customers.

While some [if not all] of the ISPs use engagement level-type situations, a lot of the major ones do, and so that’s where you’re going to see the effects of your inbox delivery. It’s not just about how much mail are you sending in a given time or throttle rate, or even just spam complaints. It’s all of the different levers that they can look at, whether it’s unknown users, whether it’s spam traps, whether it’s complaint rates, whether it’s engagement level stuff. They’re looking at all of those and tweaking as they go along to determine your overall reputation.

 

MS: Is there anything you want to add that I’ve not brought up that you think is apropos to this entire conversation?

SK: I think from a deliverability standpoint, one thing that has been kind of proven time and time again is in email, it’s not always about the biggest list makes the most money. It’s about the most focused list, sending the most relevant content.

Just by sending emails to people that are opening or clicking or engaging with your brand isn’t necessarily going to make you the ROI that you’re looking for on email.

While email is very cheap and easy to do, you want to make sure you’re reaching those customers that are your most active and finding other avenues. Again, be it print, phone, social, whatever it may be, how to engage those customers and possibly bring them back into the fold in email.

 

MS: You’re telling me you like segmentation and not batch and blast, right?

SK: It was probably 10 years ago, my boss would basically start every presentation, every conversation with telling people that they are no longer allowed to say the word “blast” because blast is a bad thing and that’s exactly what the ISPs look for and try to block. They are looking for segmentation. They are looking for different ways that companies are reaching out to their users.

From a deliverability standpoint, that’s how best we can understand which segments are your most valuable. By just doing the old batch and blast, you can’t really tell what’s actually making you the most money and what’s not, so you don’t know where to focus your time.

By creating different segments, you can really focus where it’s going to make you money in return, instead of just focusing and wasting your time on people that will never truly engage with your brand via email.

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Marketing Concepts: 3 telltale signs your homepage is not customer-focused

August 9th, 2013
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As a research manager, when I look at a homepage, I always ask myself two questions …

  • Who are the customers?
  • Was the homepage designed with those customers in mind?

I often find a homepage design makes perfect sense to the company’s executives, but not to the most important audience, the customers.

As homepages increasingly become the center of a company’s marketing and sales universe, making sure your focus is on the customer is more important than ever.

In today’s MarketingSherpa Blog post, I wanted to share three common telltale signs your homepage is driven by company-centric marketing.

I’m sure this post is likely to raise a few eyebrows, but my goal here is to help you raise revenue by helping you see your marketing efforts through the eyes of your potential customers.

 

Sign #1. Our homepage is a collage of department products instead of popular products

I generally tend to hope the most popular products and services offered on a homepage within direct eye-path, which is also prime real estate on a homepage, are what customers came to your homepage to find, versus products and services the company wants to sell.

However, it is not always that simple when you are in a large company with various departments with different sales goals all competing for that prime real estate on the homepage.

The big issue with this is when departments become only focused on the product or service, and marketers lose sight of what the customers want.

If a product or service that is not the primary driver of your sales traffic is overtaken on the homepage by a minimal interest product or service, should it really be placed within the customer’s direct eye-path?

The obvious answer is no, and I understand it is more complicated than that.

I also understand the chances of success for a business model that tries to force the sale of products or services to people who don’t need or want them are also slim in the long run.

So, if you find yourself in this position, I encourage you to take a step back and develop a strategy to work collaboratively with other departments to build a homepage that improves the overall customer experience.

 

Sign #2. Our value copy talks “at” our customers instead of “to” our customers

Have you ever read about a new product and still had to ask yourself, “What is this thing and what will it do for me?”

Unfortunately, this happens frequently.

Sometimes, we try to impress our customers with creative copy, hoping to sound professional and intelligent. This is great as long as it makes sense to the customer.

Remember, you understand your products/services inside and out and your potential customers are more than likely just learning about it for the first time.

The value copy from a customer’s perspective should answer one essential question – what is in it for me?

 

For example, I did a quick search online about cloud services, which is a complex product, and the first homepage I found left me even more confused.

Some of the cloud’s value copy explained this company’s service features“Open architecture based on OpenStack technology with no vendor lock-in.”

That may be an awesome feature, but I have no idea what it means.

Some of this company’s customers may understand this terminology, but the majority of customers are likely left just as confused as I am. Failing to provide clear and digestible information for customers could induce anxiety, increase frustration and ultimately leave visitors with no choice but to exit your page.

So, when I looked at the next cloud service homepage in my search, here’s what I found …

 

This homepage makes no assumptions about my level of IT sophistication.

It offers a short video and even lays out copy explaining what cloud service is and how it can help me.

And, there’s more …

 

Further down the page I found links to the options available that offer additional short videos combined with value copy explaining what cloud computing is and how the option can help me.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to optimize on this homepage as well.

The overall point here is to understand that I left the first homepage confused about how a solution could help me and I left this one with a clear understanding of what cloud service is and how it could help me.

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Online Marketing: 3 website optimization insights I learned from baking

July 26th, 2013
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Ever since I was a little girl, baking has been a hobby of mine.

There has always been something satisfying about attempting to master the complexities of baking.

Although the realist in me knew I wasn’t going to hit the big bucks through baking, I have found a few ways to apply some of the lessons I’ve learned from baking to my work as a research manager at MECLABS.

In today’s MarketingSherpa blog, I wanted to share three insights into how I think about testing and marketing as a result of my baking attempts.

 

Don’t stick with the directions on the box

Some of my best cakes have come from getting creative and literally thinking outside the box by adding different ingredients, or from asking friends what kind of crazy cake ingredients they’d like to try.

When working with one of our Research Partners to create a testing strategy, I often find myself confined to my own thought track – which I’ll admit can cause the creativity of test ideas to become stale and truthfully, can even get a little boring sometimes.

So, brainstorming with others in our peer review sessions is a great way to add those “new ingredients” to a test design to hopefully help our Research Partners learn more about their customers.

 

Beware of offering coupons in the Sunday paper too soon

Betty Crocker’s coupons excite me every time, and it’s a marketing tactic that stretches all the way back to 1929.

That’s when the company first decided to insert coupons into the flour mixture part of the box mix. And, I’ll admit the tactic works on me because I often find myself staring at the Save $1.00 off TWO boxes of cake mix coupon and debate a trip to the store.

But, here’s the big question … am I being motivated to buy more because of my aggregate experience with the product, or because of the value proposition offered in the coupon?

Before I even saw the coupon, I wasn’t planning on buying cake mixes, but now I’m thinking about it – why should I buy more cake mix from you?  It will cost me more regardless of the coupon savings.

Now, I understand the idea of incentives and they can work – people have a hard time letting savings slip through their fingers, but offering incentives right off the bat isn’t always the best answer to increasing conversion and here’s why …

At MECLABS, we generally stress incentives should be the last resort in your testing efforts to see a quick win. The reason for this is offering incentives can skew your understanding of true customer motivation, as you can tell from my coupon example above.

My need for cake mix is why I initially purchased, and a coupon incentive may not be the optimal solution to keeping me as a return customer or attracting new customers.

So, before you worry about the coupons and other incentives, try to make sure you have the basics covered first:

  • A website that visitors can easily navigate and find what they’re looking for.
  • A simplified purchase flow for potential customers.
  • Easy, accessible support for your customers when they can’t figure things out.

If those items are in place and you’ve tested for the optimal user experience, then you can begin to explore incentives.

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Content Marketing: How McGladrey built a strategy around content development [Video]

July 19th, 2013
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When asked about different types of content, more than half of marketers considered 12 of 18 types of content to be difficult to create.

At Lead Gen Summit 2013 in San Francisco, we will have sessions discussing how to use content marketing to capture and nurture leads.

To help prepare you for Summit, today on the MarketingSherpa Blog, we’re sharing a video excerpt from B2B Summit 2012 about content production …

 

In this video excerpt, Eric Webb, Senior Director of Corporate Communication, McGladrey, shared the steps the accounting and consulting firm took to improve its content marketing efforts and, ultimately, execute a 300% increase in content production.

To see the rest of Eric’s presentation and learn more about how you can use content marketing to better serve your customers, watch the free full presentation in the MarketingSherpa Video Archive.

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