Are you listening brands? Really listening?

Customers are communicating. are we listening?

As marketing makes a slow progression from campaign based messaging to constant engagement in social media via mobile devices – we need to revisit our communication techniques.

Social is bringing us back to one-to-one communcation. People can now talk to people as faces of a brand. We can get resolution and great customer service from a mere tweet. Heck even two years ago Four Season Palo Alto set the bar for customer service on social media and (some) brands have kicked it up a level from there already.

And maybe they are being selective – responding to customers based on their status/connections/influence – but they’re listening and responding.

Monitor you brand mentions for free, at least!

Google alerts are a great first step for any brand to monitor brand mentions and what people are saying. lets you take it a little further and can also give you sentiment analysis. Get Agile! These alerts can give you a window on potentially sensitive news, disgruntled clients and maybe opportunities to take advantage of in your sector. News jacking when done right is highly effective.

Yet anyone who has featured on Interbrands top brands list or has thousands of engaged fans on Facebook MUST start thinking about Radian 6, Brandwatch, SM2 (more info on social media monitoring) or Sysomos. Tools that index and record every mention and can filter share of voice on topics and rank influencers. With these tools you can also build out a picture and backlog of issues, pain points, problems and hopefully delights your customers are mentioning. Understanding and prioritising these for action in terms of research and development is the goal of many big data buffs.

For us as marketers

  • we have feedback on our messages
  • we have topics for blogging
  • we can mitigate issues and educate the confused
  • we have data to support our strategy and formulate tactics

Listening to comments online ensures content marketing resonates.

Providing content, entertainment, news, information and services that have percieved value to our customers will keep them engaged and build their afinity with our brands. We’re becoming their favorite TV show or news source but instead of just broadcasting we can listen and make an informed response.

Bloomberg thinks ‘Jeff Bezos Can Make Newspapers Profitable’ –
My take is that this is an aquire-hire. He’s gearing up for the future and brand journalism. Jeff knows we want more from our brands than their product or service.

Content marketing can also build a valuable resource of information on getting the most out of our products and services. Amassing a wealth of valuable information on a variety of topics means potential clients will find you first on Google. It promotes self service and lowers the dreaded reliance on automated phone customer services. “Press one, if you’re already more irate hearing this message”. Although they’re ‘recorded for training purposes’ I CAN’T GOOGLE THEM!

But getting back to listening, we need to find the correct balance between one-to-one responses and providing value to as many customers as possible.

We can prioritise a backlog and calendar of maketing communications. One that addresses them at each stage of the customer journey and their hottest topics. Continuous communication that ultimately adds value to our customers, stakeholders, partners and community.

Image is everything online. Be it words, images, audio or video.

Image is everything. Conveying the right message to visitors irregardless of the page or area of your website they land on is paramount.

Your site needs to sing your brand message.

That’s not just through SEO optimised prose, but also each and every media element on your site. Be that images, colour palette, videos, audio or pictures. It’s not just how they perform on your website though, it’s also the singular story they tell when shared on social media or adapted by your fans.

Audio and video convey the strongest messages. Think of the Intel Inside ditty (dom dum dom ding) or the McDonalds whistle or that ever evocative chime of the ice cream van in childhood. Fisher and Paykel spend significant time at a product level honing the beeps and pips your washing machine makes when finished, or overloaded. Much like Harley Davison and Lexus spend time tuning engine exhaust notes. Items that can connect you with the brand as you use the product.

In marketing, sounds can evoke strong emotional connections with brands.

Recently BMW spent millions updating their signature jingle, a series of notes to sign off their video ads. The jingle is perhaps hinting to the sound of a gear down change, but the overuse of a synthesiser leaves it hard to recognise. I’m left thinking Transformers rather than BMW.

I’ve also just watched an Audi ad and realised that, in response they have upgraded there signature too. Far more evocative they play the sound of a low solid heart beat as the four rings of their logo appear. “Duh dum, duh dum.” Relatively fast paced, the beat reminds you of spirited driving, yet (with your Audi all wheel drive) you’re not out of control. A great piece of media, exemplifying the brand.

It is of course fine for global brands to create emtional storytelling through vidoes yet rich media is often out of reach for you average SME. Small businesses, even with the budget can find the time needed to create a quality video too much of a commitment. Still, if done well, smart phone quick updates on industry changes or products or services can be enticing for users to watch.

Take the time to include up to date shots of real people and real products.

The use of photos and images is within reach of most business. Even if it has to be the dreaded stock footage. The old adage ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ is as true online as when first penned. Product shots either static or in use or motion are a great way to connect users with your products. For services where, more often than not, success is defined by personal relationships between employees and clients – staff photos or the lack thereof conveys a strong message. Using stock footage when talking ‘about us’ says a lot about a service provider…

Images are so powerful and such a part of the modern mobile web that sites are now switching focus to portrait shots rather than landscape. The endless scroll and sites like Pinterest and Tumblr promoting the quick re-posting of images, the more vertical real estate your images can acquire the better. Infographics, visual interpretations of data or stories, are a great way to explain what you’re saying in a method that is more accessible for visual learners. When presented as vertical graphics they’re great for sharing on social media sites as well.

As with all marketing, images need a purpose and goal. Think real estate and target audience with each piece of multimedia. What pain point is it addressing, which user, which phase of the buying cycle and how does it speak of your brand’s promise.

Images and multimedia should augment an article or website, adding value to the user and creating affinity or demand for you brand.

Given also that many videos and infographics are shared using social media, they should also be able to stand alone conveying their message without contextual copy or written introductions. They should also drive, in some way, users further down the the sales funnel or closer to the brand for loyalty. Always asking for the sale, even with a subtle whisper, is key.

5 sources of innovation for your digital marketing

Now as a digital marketer or online marketing specialist, there’s a lot of innovations I need to keep up with.

There are technical updates in the various fields of the role: SEO, SEM, social media, content marketing, PR, email marketing and mobile marketing that I need to monitor so that I’m optimising and measuring efforts correctly.

But beyond that, how can you keep a competitive advantage in the online space?

Can we look at different perspectives, emulating competitors, extrapolating on someone else’s technique? Here’s some options you might wish to explore.

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Reflecting. Still Sunday in NZ

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  1. I’m starting to think more seriously about my photography and one method I use to create new shots is to emulate a technique that someone has used on a totally different subject. Maybe there’s methods that you use in web development that could help your content marketing?
  2. Attend a conference but look outside your industry when choosing break out sessions. If you market to consumers throw a B2B presentation into your mix. Very rarely will a competitor share the big secret to their online marketing, but someone in a different industry might.
  3. Learn a language or switch continent. I google a topic in Spanish and Portuguese to see if there’s experts there that are doing things differently. Sure, most of the SEO and PPC innovation comes from the US, but there’s quite a few Chilean and Brazilian startups doing innovative stuff in the Mobile and location (checking into locations) space.
  4. Think about external sources for your content like your supplier or resellers. Ozone Coffee Roasters tell their suppliers back story very well. Discussing suppliers can often lead to great long tail SEO.
  5. In your A/B testing, do something counterintuitive occasionally. OK, I’m not saying do something that will alienate your customers completely, but try sending out a new article at 8pm instead of 8am, just to see…

These are some of the ways I innovate. What do you do to keep ahead?

Some thoughts on different perspectives and using tactics from other specialities or industries to spice things up.

‘Bad’ UX for the right reasons

This might be a stretched metaphor but today’s extended efforts and long stairwell down to the beach meant relative seclusion as the boys and I paddled. Hafting to work for it made it all the more special.

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Secret beach. New fav. Calm and hard to get to.

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All to often we look for a slick, fast, simple, intuitive user experience on our websites.

The trouble is, for consultative or B2B websites, that you’re looking for qualified leads.

When you’re after a specific client and trying to distinguish yourself from the masses, having a simple user experience to register interest could in fact do you a disfavour. Unqualified leads are frustrating. Incorrectly routed leads cause delays and miss-categorised enquiries can also bog down a company’s success. For many websites, that “contact us” form is the heart and achilles heel all in one.

Still, the distinction should be made between qualifying criteria and a slick user interface. The last few days I’ve been left frustrated by recruitment sites that are not mobile optimised. Further frustration was felt by one popular system that would not let me upload a file with non alpha characters in the name. Nickallencv worked, Nick-Allen-CV did not, but was easy to read.

Nor could I just link to my LinkedIn profile or to my role specific application on Dropbox. Still, as a consequence I quadruple checked the doc before submitting (a good UX filter).

Functionally, a user experience should be as simplistic as possible. But with a little investigation there’s no reason we cannot simplify the qualification of leads.

If you’re working with c suite, high income, any clients, your site needs to be optimised for mobile and tablet use. Period! Once clear of creating a device agnostic experience, how about using what you know?

Implicit personalisation of a website and analytics profiles means that even after a user had browsed just a half dozen pages, you should already have a notion of their intent and profile. If they’ve come from a search engine query, heck, then you’re already half way there!

With B2C this means tailoring “related items” and understanding what they’re after, featuring similar items beside product descriptions etc. It means converting them to transactions and nurturing add-ons or up-sells.

For B2B it means feeding them more relevant content and related services. Then, once convinced, at the point of ‘contacting us’ this means: suggesting the auto-completion of form fields, bundling services they may be interested in and routing the lead accordingly.

As mentioned before, it’s key to UN-optimise your site for the wrong clients. The sweet spot is dropping the wrong leads and nurturing the right ones…

Of course for ecommerce websites the art with a large array of products is to balance explicit filter selections, with implicit recommendations. Apple fans are apple fans so there’s little reason to offer them a Blackberry. But they might be convinced to switch to a Samsung and would definitely like to know about the best cases and most used apps as additional items.

Finding the right balance of visual cues and prompts is the UX experts forte, knowing which user to optimise for and prioritising what upgrade to make first is the strength of a good Product Owner/Digital Strategist.

Rights, Critics, Publishers And Social Media In The Music Industry

Last night I attended my first Social Media focused event here in Auckland. Held by the Social Media Club Auckland called ‘Tweet to the Beat – When Music and Social Media Collide’

The evening had some great cider and pizza pre start and then after a short ‘shiny new thing’ segment covering the website, a very open panel with some interesting music industry figures and experts.

Here’s a quick rundown of my takeaways from the event.

25 most played
A compelling concept that – via Facebook opengraph, an app on your main iTunes mac and a weekly update – lets you share and compare your 25 most played songs with others.

Not that interesting for those with distinct taste, but there was a business element building.

We reviewed lists by those that ‘liked’ a fashion retailer. This could be a great way to pull a play list for your retail outlet that resonates with your clientele right? Also, they’re working on developing check-in facilities. So – if you check into a venue your 25 most could then be added to their playlist.

With genre based filtering to fit the locale, this could mean everywhere plays music you like or close to it.

Aggregators and Curation
25 most played reminded me of the recent news Matt Cutts released about Penguin 2.0 – Google’s wave of updates.

There’s a specific focus there on understanding curation sites like and I think sites like this will play a larger role in both mechanical aggregation of friends activity, but also as a space for experts to share their opinion. Something Google is also focusing on, understanding people who are an expert in X.

Dean Campbell talked of this a little and the struggles as a reporter to get interviews with some artists. This being a very strong signal of who is influential in an industry. He was the only one to get an official interview with Lorde, New Zealand’s latest teen success story.

Social media is giving more space for everyone to share opinions. We see their relative importance as likes, follows and retweets. Still, there is a large space for industry experts, critics and connected consultants to make or break an artist.

Mystique and scarcity is also a tactic in social media

Scott McLauchlan of Universal and Saiko (who represent Lorde and Mt Eden) spoke of their efforts NOT to share too much about Lorde’s life – which is paying off. It also allows her to be authentic, saves on ghost writers and keeps her fans wanting more.

I can see this tactic working well for luxury brands as well but the mantra of ‘sharing valuable content not just sharing’ works for all digital marketing in my books.

Rights and economies of scale

Fiona Perry and Paul McLaney AKA Gramsci talked of holding onto the rights to your music as a must and that streaming music, and royalties from each play is the future, but it’s still yet to gain critical mass. Also of interest was that the Finns (Crowded House) are probably the only Kiwis to earn enough from iTunes to live off it. And, according to Fiona, the admin and data processing to check all the pips and cents from each streaming sites leaves little in profits.
There seems to be still a stronger focus on big data, technology and standards to allow these streams to be profitable whilst working with the percentages the big labels take ask Spotify.

They also reiterated that Universal, Sony and the other big players with their contacts, scale and marketing will still be needed if you aim to make the big time.
But more and more bands are making money from the gigs, merchandise and appearances along with the music. Sideline ventures bringing in money I guess means they’re keen to get their songs heard and clips watched online to build their brand…

I’ll leave you with a catchy number from Lorde. I’m sure she values the experience, contacts and influence Scott and his team provide.

Website Accessibility Around the Globe

As I log onto our WiFi here in the hotel hopefully for the last time I’m reminded of the infrastructure required for a truly global web presence.

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My new skyline – Auckland

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Although my blog is hosted on WordPress I use a number of peripheral services such as Flickr, Soundcloud, YouTube and Google for hosting rich media. Many of which rely on the Amazon Cloud or their own servers in multiple locations to replicate your content. Serving it to you via the closest server in the fastest method possible. Cloud replication of content also ensures there’s a backup (well now that Amazon have been through the 2012/2013 outages) for your content as well.

Hosting your own site on a dedicated server in a single location limits the ability for users to access it from distant time zones. It also opens you up to the threat of downtime. Host your content management system and backups on servers nearby and you also run into the risk of loosing your site completely.

Another point to consider is rendering multiple file resolutions dependant on the browser, PC, tablet or Internet connection that the user is connecting over. This ensures optimum user experience and also spreads server load over multiple files. Rather than everyone trying to download that huge video all at once, those on mobile can access a lighter version.

Subtle UI notes can also hint to those on a phone to save the page for viewing on a faster connection later. It is also good to note that Google penalises pages that load slower than average. I believe from memory this is around the 3 seconds upwards arena. They measure this from various locations, not just over 4G or UFB in a big city.

Tailoring the experience to mobile and limiting heavy files to PC or desktop viewing lets mobile users get to where they want to be. Rarely do we access video content over our phone due to data caps, so ensure your sites prioritises to mobile paths and usage such as finding addresses, browsing product prices, finding contact numbers and getting to those points quickly.

Even better, if your site uses forms or has e-commerce functionality allow transactions started on mobile to be easily picked up from other devices.

Online Analytics – Measuring The Right Thing

All new online initiatives require time, resources and budgets. The more unconventional they may be, the harder it is to tie them to definitive metrics and attribute ROI. Even harder to quantify are the long term benefits of content marketing and social media – for example.

One simple measure of success is qualified leads or sales conversions but there are many more metrics to monitor. Some useful, some easy to game and others more correlation than causation.

When setting targets and trying to quantify results using website Analytics, there’s a few tips I would recommend.

Set your tracking and conversion URLs up correctly

I’ve only done this with Google Analytics, which is relatively straight forward for single language simple URL website. But be wary of multiple language or dynamic (query string) URLs.

I have also experienced the pain of adding extra code and parameters for Webtrends and Omniture so am very aware that this is a measure twice cut once job. But, done correctly you should be able to track most activity and define ‘conversions’ and goals for the important events on your website.

As an example, using campaign tracking, you can tell which tweets led traffic to your site. You can then flag those that then went on to subscribe to your newsletter or submitted a request to be contacted. With a good – connected – CRM you should then ultimately be able to tell if a tweet or email brought you sales or business.

Understand your base metrics

Müller Lyer illusion: shows that every measurement can be challenged by perspective
Müller Lyer illusion: shows that every measurement can be challenged by perspective

Analytics are always open to interpretation by the presenter and their recipient so be wary to establish a scale and base. Comparative values are far more useful than chronological increases.

For example two weeks ago was the hottest Saturday of the year. Sounds exciting until you realise where we were starting from this year. By comparison, this has been the coldest spring in many years. Also, understanding the contributing factors is key. We were at the beach in the wind so it felt colder than inland.

Likewise, reaching for an improvement of X% for the quarter needs to factor in all efforts, both on your website, in content marketing, social media and your business in general. Pre merger or big announcement days will see overall traffic spike, and certain conversion metrics to inflate.

Think offline too, like customer support

A few years back I attended a round table event. I remember one of the bigger retail chains mentioning their main metric for Twitter was the reduction in customer support or help minutes at their call centre.

They only gave support

  • via Twitter, directing clients to a wiki FAQ page
  • or over the phone via their call centre

He had a historic trend line for how the call centre was improving, and they made no significant changes to the call centre for two years. He attributes the halving of call times to his efforts on Twitter and the wiki, amassing indexed accessible answers.

Focus on solid metrics

Web conversions such as subscribing to a newsletter, year on year e-commerce figures or new business via web are solid metrics. Comparisons to previous months and years can give good insights.

Of less use in a summary but very much worth a daily, even real time focus are: traffic, average time on site, average of pages visited, bounce rate and exit rate. Trends are often of more interesting to analyse than seasonal or daily blips.

Likewise with social media, comments and shares or retweets are useful to measure. But followers as a metric or page likes on Facebook need to be taken with a grain of salt. Trends are of more value here than exact numbers. I think Twitter followers and ‘likes’ are 1000 for £5 if not less and ‘quality real followers’ if you believe the spam…

The Joneses and their numbers
To wrap this up one of you most valuable tools may be participating in industry surveys.

Taken with a grain of salt as most will inflate their figures you can get an understanding of: traffic from social media, QR code visits (all single figures I’m sure), email open rates, click thru rates and roughly how you compare to peers. Some broad extrapolation could also be done from Alexa traffic comparisons.

I’d still fall back to the number of quality leads that resulted in sales and their source. It is a number that you can easily compare across all marketing efforts too.

Image source:üller-Lyer_illusion

Getting personal with Buyer Personas

Big data and understanding customer sentiment has been a buzzword for the last few years. Garnering insights and adapting your proposition to suit has been taken to a new levels as we learn to crunch big data sets.

Conversely, running qualitative surveys with clients (enough to be statistically valid) can give valuable, actionable insights.

The trick is conveying these insights in a format that is accessible across the organisation.
Buyer personas are a fantastic tool for combining these qualitative insights, social data, CRM records and basic demographics, into a high level summary.

Having a clear idea of your average customer, you can then move on to the best ways to align your product or service to them.

Typically they will define

  1. Priorities
  2. Success and what it looks like to them
  3. Barriers or things stopping them going with your solution or product
  4. Buying process
  5. Decision criteria.

These personas can then be put to great use when working on marketing user stories and creating solutions to their pain points. They’re fantastic for defining content marketing themes and priorities, allocating expenditure on marketing content and the focus across paid, earned and owned media.

They can also help product owners prioritise backlogs and support their prioritisation – when confronting conflicting interests with internal stakeholders.

In fact, the Buyer Persona Institute (yes it even has it’s own movement) marks – internal preconceptions and guesstimates of what the typical client is – as the biggest hinderance to creating successful buyer personas. Basing the personas on concrete factual input from actual client surveys and interviews is key.

For those daunted by the task of creating these very user centric profiles and negotiating internal stakeholders, remember – we do it every day. I noted on Sunday that we all subconsciously create immensely detailed buyer personas. When we make new friends, go on dates or get to know new colleagues, banking what makes them tick and the best approach to resonate.

Social CRM
Moving beyond the buyer persona, I can’t help but feel that social CRM will allow us to have highly detailed buyer profiles. Not just personas, but detailed dashboards of each buyer or customers interaction with our brand, their sentiment for our industry and peripheral products on social networks and even their purchases, buying habits and triggers.

At a macro level – aggregating these could provide a realtime singular buyer persona or multiple profiles. A daily dashboard to drive strategy and the direction of the company.

At a micro level – the trick will be up-skilling as an organisation to know how best to use this data. Finding the balance with your customers between stalky big brother-ish and delighting interactions and touch points.

Focus on what works, cut what doesn’t

Over the last months I’ve talked about using Agile Project Management techniques and various other tips for getting MORE content onto your website, more posts on your walls and generally more marketing everywhere. My impending move to New Zealand and the efforts we are taking to ditch what we don’t need, means doing and keeping what what matters is forefront of my mind.

In Agile retrospectives at the end of a sprint we ask three poignant questions:

  1. What worked?
  2. What didn’t work?
  3. What will we do different next time?

The later questions are often the most difficult to answer – yet can provide you with scope to grow AND help you free up time to focus on what did work.

Growing your marketing also involves ensuring you’re doing the right thing.  Having a clear high level product vision for your website and online presence means you can cross check activities with your end goal.

Content marketing campaigns, video series, or podcasts that are not performing  should all be reviewed for effectiveness on a regular basis.  This also extends to social networks. Ditch the ones  that your target audience does not use or has left. Re evaluate the money you’re putting into adwords or paid advertising on social networks. Perhaps spending that money on evergreen media rich content is of more value.

Although not web specific there a couple of famous quotes I have read over the past weeks that ring true in our world of marketing.

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” ~ Coco Chanel

“He who dies with the least toys wins. Because the more you know, the less you need.” ~ Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia.

Podcast: Focusing on what matters

Digital Marketing Strategy and The Product Owner’s Vision

Last week I touched on brand storytelling for businesses. Conveying the ‘why’ you are in business – and how you got there – to your target audiences. This ‘why’ for many companies is core to their business internally as well. Not just in their outward facing sales/marketing/recruitment pitch.

Converting that ‘why’ into strategic digital marketing goals is paramount for an affective web presence. Knowing what success looks like enables you to define key metrics to validate success. It can in most cases influence tactical decisions as well. Guiding your design and execution.


Today we sat in the castle grounds and I’m pretty sure from this shot, even blurred, you can tell it’s a castle. Understanding it’s a castle you know what is needed or entailed in the creation of a good castle. Turrets, fortified, gate, maybe a moat, and 9 times out of 10 made of brick or stone. You also know what you don’t need and potentially after building a few, know what works and what doesn’t.

Product owners and their clear vision

Your strategic goals should have a similar broad stroke definition. They should tell you it’s a castle, but not how to build the windows or the finer details of execution. If your site is about new business generation, it should be highly optimised and proportionately text rich. If it is about sharing images it will have a whole different shape. As a lead in digital marketing or product owner for digital, this story belongs to you.

The vision should be well articulated, regularly, to the team.

The clearer the vision, the easier it is for those working on the website to make decisions and proceed. This also extends to epics, and then individual stories or groupings of work.

The vision and prioritising the most important features to users (internal or end users) means that even for release one your website is providing value to users. Much like the journalists inverted pyramid.

From there the vision will dictate your next iterations and the success of the site.

Today’s podcast

A few extras on evaluating you tactical adjustments and refinements against your core goals.