" />

Tag Archives: ChuckReynolds

Steps for Turning Your Invention Ideas Into a Product

 Steps for Turning Your Invention Ideas Into a Product

The light bulb above your head is glowing so bright that it's threatening to blind everyone around you. But what should you do with your great invention ideas? Before you start blabbing about your invention to the wrong person or run to the first company that offers to buy it, you need to do one thing: Protect it.

Whether you want to produce and market your invention yourself or license it to another company, the only way to make money from your invention and to guarantee that no one will steal your idea is to file a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This can be an intimidating process, so we've asked Andy Gibbs, CEO of PatentCafe.com, to break it down for you in five easy steps.

Document It

Simply having an "idea" is worthless–you need to have proof of when you came up with the invention ideas. Write down everything you can think of that relates to your invention, from what it is and how it works to how you'll make and market it. This is the first step to patenting your idea and keeping it from being stolen. You've probably heard about the "poor man's patent"–writing your idea down and mail it to yourself in a sealed envelope so you have dated proof of your invention's conception. This is unreliable and unlikely to hold up in court. Write your idea down in an inventor's journal and have it signed by a witness. This journal will become your bible throughout the patent process. An inventor's journal can by any bound notebook whose pages are numbered consecutively and can't be removed or reinserted. You can find specially designed inventor's journals at bookstores, or you can save money and purchase a generic notebook anywhere they're sold, such as the grocery store, office supply store, stationary store, etc. Just make sure it meets the requirements above.

Research It

You will need to research your idea from a legal and business standpoint. Before you file a patent, you should:

  • Complete an initial patent search. Just because you haven't seen your invention doesn't mean it doesn't already exist. Before you hire a patent attorney or agent, complete a rudimentary search for free to make sure no one else has patented your idea. You should also complete a non-patent "prior art" search. If you find any sort of artwork or design related to your idea, you cannot patent it–regardless of whether a prior patent has been filed.
  • Research your market. Sure, your brother thinks your idea for a new lawn sprinkler is a great idea, but that doesn't mean your neighbor would buy one. More than 95 percent of all patents never make money for the inventor. Before you invest too much time and money into patenting your invention, do some preliminary research of your target market. Is this something people will actually buy? Once you know there's a market, make sure your product can be manufactured and distributed at a low enough cost so that your retail price is reasonable. You can determine these costs by comparing those of similar products currently on the market. This will also help you size up your competition–which you will have, no matter how unique you think your invention is.

 Make a Prototype

A prototype is a model of your invention that puts into practice all of the things you have written in your inventor's journal. This will demonstrate the design of your invention when you present it to potential lenders and licensees. Do not file a patent before you have made a prototype. You will almost always discover a flaw in your original design or think of a new feature you would like to add. If you patent your idea before you work out these kinks, it will be too late to include them in the patent and you will risk losing the patent rights of the new design to someone else.

Here are some general rules of thumb when prototyping your invention:

1. Begin with a drawing. Before you begin the prototyping phase, sketch out all of your ideas into your inventor's journal.

2. Create a concept mockup out of any material that will allow you to create a 3-D model of your design.

3. Once you're satisfied with the mockup, create a full-working model of your idea. There are many books and kits that can help you create prototypes. If your invention is something that will cost a lot of money or is unreasonable to prototype (like an oil refinery process or a new pharmaceutical drug), consider using a computer-animated virtual prototype.

 File a Patent

Now that you have all of the kinks worked out of your design, it's finally time to file a patent. There are two main patents you will have to choose from: a utility patent (for new processes or machines) or a design patent (for manufacturing new, nonobvious ornamental designs). You can write the patent and fill out the application yourself, but do not file it yourself until you have had a skilled patent professional look it over first. If the invention is really valuable, someone will infringe on it. If you do not have a strong patent written by a patent attorney or agent, you will be pulling your hair out later when a competitor finds a loophole that allows them to copy your idea. It's best to get the legal help now to avoid any legal problems in the future.

When searching for a patent attorney or agent, remember one thing: If you see them advertised on TV, run away! Once you are far, far away, follow these steps to choosing the best patent professional:

1. Do your homework. Have your inventor's journal, prototype, and notes with you. This will save them time, and your money. This will also help persuade them to work with you.

2. Make sure they are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

3. Ask them what their technical background is. If your invention is electronic, find a patent professional who is also an electrical engineer.

4. Discuss fees. Keep your focus on smaller patent firms. They are less expensive and will work more closely with you. Agree to the estimated total cost before hiring your patent professional.

 Market Your Invention

Now it's time to figure out how you're going to bring your product to market. Create a business plan: How will you get money? Where will you manufacture the product? How will you sell it? Now is a good time to decide if you will manufacture and sell the product yourself, or license it for sale through another company. When you license your product you will probably only receive two percent to five percent in royalty fees. This often scares away investors who feel they deserve more. But consider the upside: You will not have the financial burden associated with maintaining a business. This could end up making you more money in the long run.

Following these five steps will ensure an easy road to patenting your invention. Just remember that an easy road doesn't necessarily mean a short one. From the time you conceive your idea to the time you see your product on the shelf is a very long process. Most inventions take years to come to fruition. Have patience and follow due diligence in your steps to patenting your invention and your years of hard work will finally pay off.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

How to Make ‘Boring’ Industries Exciting Online

How to Make 'Boring' Industries Exciting Online

Are you in a boring industry? Doesn't matter. Generating awareness online can work for any industry.
 

Are you in a “boring” industry? Finance or real estate, perhaps? Legal services or manufacturing? Sure, you may find your profession interesting, but you sigh at the futility of engaging with your audience online. “They just won’t care,” you say with resigned certainty. Stop the negative talk. Generating awareness online can work for any industry. You just have to find a way to make your industry exciting.

So I want you to change the way you frame the situation. If you’re in a “boring” industry, then see that for the opportunity it really is. Your competitors haven’t found an effective way to engage with their audience online. What an incredible opportunity for you to find a strategy that works.

By getting digital attention for your business, you’ll be cashing in on a huge competitive advantage. While everyone else is stuck in the “boring” mindset, you’ll be making yourself a valuable part of the online conversation and growing your business in the process. Here are several strategies from companies who have turned their industries from sleepy to sexy through innovative digital initiatives.

Create and share great video content.

Will It Blend?

Blenders may not be the most exciting kitchen appliance, but chances are you’ve seen those "Will It Blend?" videos. In a brilliant viral marketing campaign that dates back to 2006, Blendtec’s founder Tom Dickson showed off the power of his blenders by blending all sorts of things in a series of short video infomercials. Ever seen the one of him blending Bic lighters? Oh Man, is that satisfying.

By blending everything from golf balls and credit cards to cell phones and camcorders, Dickson capitalizes on our childlike curiosity to see household items get completely destroyed. And he gets to prove the power of his blenders in the process.

In a stroke of genius, Dickson turned an everyday kitchen gadget into a compelling conversation starter online. Those videos get hundreds of thousands — even millions — of views each. The iPad blending video from 2010 already has 18 million views and counting! That’s a lot of people to care about a kitchen gadget. And the kicker? The "Will It Blend?" series boosted sales by a factor of five between 2006 and 2007.

Take advantage of social media.

Is there anything more boring than taxes? Probably not, and yet, H&R Block has somehow managed to amass nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined. Who are these people? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time than follow a tax service provider on social media?

The answer is twofold. First, H&R Block is active online and uses social media in all the right ways. They give quick tips for taxpayers, provide in-depth knowledge for professionals and piggyback off current events to give their fun, unique take on the news.

Second, their followers are their community. They’re accountants, people who care about taxes, finance gurus and everyday Joe Schmoes who have questions about their taxes. And H&R Block clearly cares about that community. They regularly respond to comments on their Facebook page and encourage people to Tweet out for help on their taxes.

Engage your customers via email.

People care about food. A lot. But food delivery is a bit of a snoozefest.

Nevertheless, Seamless has done an amazing job of making food delivery fun with their email marketing campaigns. I’ve experienced those emails firsthand, and it doesn’t feel like the spammy garbage I receive from other companies. It’s a bit of a game, actually. Sometimes I get a 10, 15 or 20 percent off my next order for being a loyal customer. Other times, I get an email where they piggyback off a holiday like National Donut Day to offer a special deal on donut deliveries.

Or, it might just be a fun PR partnership like when they partnered with Bon Appetit to rank the top 10 delivery restaurants in the country. Another time, they partnered with HBO to offer viewers a free month and pair food in your area with HBO favorites.

My favorite email of all time came with this headline: "Get 10 percent OFF for picking the winning Best Picture NOM-inee!" Now if that doesn’t get you ready for food delivery during the Academy Awards, I don’t know what will.

Launch online contests and giveaways.

London Drugs Giveaway

Nothing screams excitement like multi-chain pharmacies.

London Drugs is a Canadian retail chain with a focus on pharmaceuticals. They’reactive active on social media and actively manage seven blogs, but their real distinguishing factor is their focus on prizes, contests, and giveaways. Contests and sweepstakes are great because they generate buzz around your brand, reach your target market, and help you generate email leads from interested customers. Win-win-win and all for a smaller price than you’d pay for traditional advertising.

London Drugs runs a number of targeted sweepstakes on its social channels, which has helped transform Facebook into their #1 source of website referral traffic. (They’ve grown their Facebook following to over 120,000 people strong.) Entrants to these contests simply submit their email for a chance to win a gift card or something related to the London Drugs brand. They actually launched a giveaway recently where you can enter for a chance to win a first aid/emergency kit. Don’t mind if I do…

Humor, humor, humor.

Poo Pourri

 

Poo-Pourri is the “before-you-go” toilet spray that made its mark on consumers thanks to its “Girls Don’t Poop” campaign back in 2013. In that video, you can watch the red-headed Bethany Woodruff talk confidently about “tenacious skid marks” and “dropping a motherload” — shameless toilet humor from a woman that makes the product incredibly accessible.

Poo Pourri’s toilet humor campaign seems obvious after the fact, but have you ever seen Febreze or any other air freshener market themselves in that way before Poo-Pourri came along?

Yes, this company takes advantage of great video content. And yes, they’re using social media. But really, they’re just being lighthearted and funny about their product. By not taking themselves too seriously, Poo-Pourri was able to tap into a market of customers who otherwise might not use a toilet spray at all. Sometimes humor can go a long way.

Educate your audience.

Ask a Mortician

 

There is a mortician in Los Angeles that hosts an “Ask a Mortician” video series on Youtube. People leave comments on her videos asking questions about burials and death and she posts new videos answering those questions. (I highly recommend the Corpse Poo episode — Poo-Pourri anyone?)

The videos are a bit more polished today, but if you go back to her original ones in 2011 and 2012, you’ll see that the quality leaves much to be desired. And those early videos are the ones that sparked her fame online. So don’t be discouraged by your lack of pro video skills.

The mortician,  Caitlin Doughty, has done a terrific job answering her audience’s questions and growing over 80,000 subscribers on Youtube in the process. Some of her most popular videos have earned hundreds of thousands of views.

Doesn’t this example prove any industry can make an impact online? Sure, funeral directing may not be the most stereotypically boring profession around, but it sure isn’t one you’d typically expect to engage in content marketing initiatives online.

Pharmaceutical, tax and manufacturing companies — even morticians — are finding effective ways to get attention for their brands online. Still, think your industry is too boring for the digital world? If they can do it, you can too.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Growing of Popularity and Links

The Growing of Popularity and Links

For search engines that crawl the vast metropolis of the web, links are the streets between pages. Using sophisticated link analysis, the engines can discover how pages are related to each other and in what ways.

 

Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance in the ongoing democratic opinion poll of the web. The engines themselves have refined the use of link data to a fine art, and use complex algorithms to perform nuanced evaluations of sites and pages based on this information.

Links aren't everything in SEO, but search professionals attribute a large portion of the engines' algorithms to link-related factors. Through links, engines can not only analyze the popularity websites and pages based on the number and popularity of pages linking to them, but also metrics like trust, spam, and authority. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites, while spammy sites receive very few links from trusted sources. Authority models, like those postulated in the Hilltop Algorithm, suggest that links are a very good way of identifying expert documents on a given subject.

Link Signals

Used by search engines

How do search engines assign a value to links? To answer this, we need to explore the individual elements of a link and look at how the search engines assess these elements. We don't fully understand the proprietary metrics that search engines use, but through analysis of patent applications, years of experience, and hands-on testing, we can draw some intelligent assumptions that hold up in the real world. Below is a list of notable factors worthy of consideration. These signals and more are considered by professional SEOs when measuring link value and a site's link profile. You may also enjoy some further on the Moz Blog reading about search engine valuation of links.

Global Popularity

The more popular and important a site is, the more links from that site matter. A site like Wikipedia has thousands of diverse sites linking to it, which means it's probably a popular and important site. To earn trust and authority with the engines, you'll need the help of other link partners. The more popular, the better.

Local/Topic-Specific Popularity

The concept of "local" popularity, first pioneered by the Teoma search engine, suggests that links from sites within a topic-specific community matter more than links from general or off-topic sites. For example, if your website sells dog houses, a link from the Society of Dog Breeders matters much more than one from a site about roller skating.

Anchor Text

One of the strongest signals the engines use in rankings is anchor text. If dozens of links point to a page with the right keywords, that page has a very good probability of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text. You can see examples of this in action with searches where many results rank solely due to the anchor text of inbound links.

TrustRank

It's no surprise that the Internet contains massive amounts of spam. Some estimate as much as 60% of the web's pages are spam. In order to weed out this irrelevant content, search engines use systems for measuring trust, many of which are based on the link graph. Earning links from highly trusted domains can result in a significant boost to this scoring metric. Universities, government websites, and non-profit organizations represent examples of high-trust domains.

Link Neighborhood

Spam links often go both ways. A website that links to spam is likely spam itself, and in turn often has many spam sites linking back to it. By looking at these links in the aggregate, search engines can understand the "link neighborhood" in which your website exists. Thus, it's wise to choose those sites you link to carefully and be equally selective with the sites you attempt to earn links from.

Freshness

Link signals tend to decay over time. Sites that were once popular often go stale, and eventually fail to earn new links. Thus, it's important to continue earning additional links over time. Commonly referred to as "FreshRank," search engines use the freshness signals of links to judge current popularity and relevance.

Social Sharing

The last few years have seen an explosion in the amount of content shared through social services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Although search engines treat socially shared links differently than other types of links, they notice them nonetheless. There is much debate among search professionals as to how exactly search engines factor social link signals into their algorithms, but there is no denying the rising importance of social channels.

 

The Power of Social Sharing

How Google+, Twitter, and Facebook Change the Game

The years 2011-2012 saw a huge rise in social sharing and its effects on search. Google, in particular, began to incorporate a huge number of social signals into its search results. This involves serving personalized results to logged-in users that include content shared by the searcher's social circle (Facebook, Twitter and others). These results might not always appear in the top ten, but are undoubtedly promoted due to this social influence.

The potential power of this shift towards social for search marketers is huge. Someone with a large social circle, who shares a lot of material, is more likely to see that material (and her face) promoted in search results. For publishers, it's beneficial to have your content shared by these highly influential folks with large social followings. For Google searches, this is especially true of content shared on Google+.

Are Social Shares the Same as Links?

In a word: no. Although there is evidence that social shares such as Tweets, Likes, and Plusses affect rankings, at this time links are considered a far superior and more lasting way to promote the popularity of your content than any other method.

Link Building Basics

Link building is an art. It's almost always the most challenging part of an SEO's job, but also the one most critical to success. Link building requires creativity, hustle, and often, a budget. No two link building campaigns are the same, and the way you choose to build links depends as much upon your website as it does your personality. Below are three basic types of link acquisition.

  1.  "Natural" Editorial LinksLinks that are given naturally by sites and pages that want to link to your content or company. These links require no specific action from the SEO, other than the creation of worthy material (great content) and the ability to create awareness about it.
  2.  Manual "Outreach" Link BuildingThe SEO creates these links by emailing bloggers for links, submitting sites to directories, or paying for listings of any kind. The SEO often creates a value proposition by explaining to the link target why creating the link is in their best interest. Examples include filling out forms for submissions to a website award program or convincing a professor that your resource is worthy of inclusion on the public syllabus.
  3.  Self-Created, Non-EditorialHundreds of thousands of websites offer any visitor the opportunity to create links through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles. These links offer the lowest value, but can, in the aggregate, still have an impact for some sites. In general, search engines continue to devalue most of these types of links and have been known to penalize sites that pursue these links aggressively. Today, these types of links are often considered spammy and should be pursued with caution.

It's up to you, as an SEO, to select which of these will have the highest return on the effort invested. As a general rule, it's wise to build as vast and varied a link profile as possible, as this brings the best search engine results. Any link building pattern that appears non-standard, unnatural, or manipulative will eventually become a target for advancing search algorithms to discount.

As with any marketing activity, the first step in any link building campaign is the creation of goals and strategies. Unfortunately, link building is one of the most difficult activities to measure. Although the engines internally weigh each link with precise, mathematical metrics, it's impossible for those on the outside to access this information.

SEOs rely on a number of signals to help build a rating scale of link value. Along with the data from the link signals mentioned above, these metrics include the following:

Ranking for Relevant Search Terms

One of the best ways to determine how highly a search engine values a given page is to search for some of the keywords and phrases that page targets (particularly those in the title tag and headline). For example, if you are trying to rank for the phrase "dog kennel," earning links from pages that already rank for this phrase would help significantly.

MozRank

MozRank (mR) shows how popular a given web page is on the web. Pages with high MozRank scores tend to rank better. The more links to a given page, the more popular it becomes. Links from important pages (like www.cnn.com or www.irs.gov) increase a page's popularity, and subsequently its MozRank, more than unpopular websites. A page's MozRank can be improved by getting lots of links from semi-popular pages, or a few links from very popular pages.

Domain Authority

Moz Domain Authority (or DA) is a query-independent measure of how likely a domain is to rank for any given query. DA is calculated by analyzing the Internet's domain graph and comparing a given domain to tens of thousands of queries in Google.

Competitor's Backlinks

By examining the backlinks (inbound links) of a website that already ranks well for your targeted keyword phrase, you gain valuable intelligence about the links that help them achieve this ranking. Using tools like Open Site Explorer, SEOs can discover these links and target these domains in their own link building campaigns.

Number of Links on a Page

According to the original PageRank formula, the value that a link passes is diluted by the presence of other links on a page. Thus, all other things being equal, being linked to by a page with few links is better than being linked to by a page with many links. The degree to which this is relevant is unknowable (in our testing, it appears to be important, but not overwhelmingly so), but it's certainly something to be aware of as you conduct your link acquisition campaign.

Potential Referral Traffic

Link building should never be solely about search engines. Links that send high amounts of direct click-through traffic not only tend to provide better search engine value for rankings, but also send targeted, valuable visitors to your site (the basic goal of all Internet marketing). This is something you can estimate based on the numbers of visits or page views according to site analytics. If you can't get access to these, services like Google Trends can give you a rough idea of at least domain-wide traffic, although these estimates are known to be wildly inaccurate at times.

It takes time, practice, and experience to build comfort with these variables as they relate to search engine traffic. However, using your websites analytics, you should be able to determine whether your campaign is successful.

Success comes when you see increases in search traffic, higher rankings, more frequent search engine crawling and increases in referring link traffic. If these metrics do not rise after a successful link building campaign, it's possible you either need to seek better quality link targets or improve your on-page optimization.

Five Samples of Link Building Strategies

Get your customers to link to you

Build a company blog; make it a valuable, informative, and entertaining resource

  • If you have partners you work with regularly or loyal customers that love your brand, you can capitalize on this by sending out partnership badges—graphic icons that link back to your site (like Google often does with their AdWords certification program). Just as you'd get customers wearing your t-shirts or sporting your bumper stickers, links are the best way to accomplish the same feat on the web.
  •  
  • This content and link building strategy is so popular and valuable that it's one of the few recommended personally by the engineers at Google. Blogs have the unique ability to contribute fresh material on a consistent basis, participate in conversations across the web, and earn listings and links from other blogs, including blogrolls and blog directories.

Create content that inspires viral sharing and natural linking

  • In the SEO world, we often call this "linkbait." Good examples might include David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors, Compare the Meerkat, or the funny How Not To Clean a Window. Each leverages aspects of usefulness, information dissemination, or humor to create a viral effect. Users who see it once want to share it with friends, and bloggers/tech-savvy webmasters who see it will often do so through links. Such high quality, editorially earned votes are invaluable to building trust, authority, and rankings potential.

Be newsworthy

  • Earning the attention of the press, bloggers and news media is an effective, time-honored way to earn links. Sometimes this is as simple as giving away something for free, releasing a great new product, or stating something controversial. The link building activities you engage in depend largely on the type of site you're working with.

For smaller sites, manual link building, including directories, link requests, and link exchanges may be a part of the equation. With larger sites, these tactics tend to fall flat and more scalable solutions are required. Sample strategies are listed here, though this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Search for sites like yours by using keywords and phrases directly relevant to your business. When you locate sites that aren't directly competitive, email them, use their online forms, call them on the phone, or even send them a letter by mail to start a conversation about getting a link. Check out this blog post on link requests for more detail.

Show Me the Money

An aside on buying links

Google and Bing seek to discount the influence of paid links in their organic search results. While it is impossible for them to detect and discredit all paid links, the search engines put a lot of time and resources into finding ways to detect these. Websites caught buying links or participating in link schemes risk severe penalties that will drop their rankings into oblivion. Notwithstanding these efforts, link buying sometimes works; many search professionals wish the search engines would do even more to discourage it.

We spending your time on long-term link building strategies that focus on building links naturally.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Measuring and Tracking Success

Measuring and Tracking Success

They say that if you can measure it, then you can improve it. In search engine optimization, measurement is critical to success. Professional SEOs track data about rankings, referrals, links, and more to help analyze their SEO strategy and create a roadmap for success.

Recommended Metrics to Track

Although every business is unique, and every website has different metrics that matter, the following list is nearly universal. Here we're covering metrics critical to SEO; more general metrics are not included. For a more comprehensive look at web analytics, check out Choosing Web Analytics Key Performance Indicators by Avinash Kaushik.

Search Engine Share of Referring Visits

Every month, keep track of the contribution of each traffic source for your site, including:

  • Direct Navigation: Typed in traffic, bookmarks, email links without tracking codes, etc.
  • Referral Traffic: From links across the web or in trackable email, promotional, and branding campaign links
  • Search Traffic: Queries that sent traffic from any major or minor web search engine

Knowing both the percentage and exact numbers will help you identify weaknesses and give you a basis for comparison over time. For example, if you see that traffic has spiked dramatically but it comes from referral links with low relevance, it's not the time to get excited. On the other hand, if search engine traffic falls dramatically, you may be in trouble. You should use this data to track your marketing efforts and plan your traffic acquisition efforts.

Search Engine Referrals

Three major engines make up 95%+ of all search traffic in the US: Google and the Yahoo!-Bing alliance. For most countries outside the US, 80%+ of search traffic comes solely from Google (with a few notable exceptions including Russia and China). Measuring the contribution of your search traffic from each engine is useful for several reasons:

Compare Performance vs. Market Share

Compare the volume contribution of each engine with its estimated market share.

Get Visibility Into Potential Drops

If your search traffic should drop significantly at any point, knowing the relative and exact contributions from each engine will be essential to diagnosing the issue. If all the engines drop off equally, the problem is almost certainly one of accessibility. If Google drops while the others remain at previous levels, it's more likely to be a penalty or devaluation of your SEO efforts by that singular engine.

Uncover Strategic Value

It's very likely that some efforts you undertake in SEO will have greater positive results on some engines than on others. For example, we've observed that on-page optimization tactics like better keyword inclusion and targeting reap greater benefits with Bing and Yahoo! than with Google. On the other hand, gaining specific anchor text links from a large number of domains has a more positive impact on Google than the others. If you can identify the tactics that are having success with one engine, you'll better know how to focus your efforts.

Visits Referred by Specific Search Engine Terms and Phrases

The keywords that send traffic are another important piece of your analytics pie. You'll want to keep track of these on a regular basis to help identify new trends in keyword demand, gauge your performance on key terms, and find terms that are bringing significant traffic that you're potentially under-optimized for.

You may also find value in tracking search referral counts for terms outside the top terms and phrases—those that are most valuable to your business. If the trend lines are pointing in the wrong direction, you know efforts need to be undertaken to course-correct. Search traffic worldwide has consistently risen over the past 15 years, so a decline in quantity of referrals is troubling. Check for seasonality issues (keywords that are only in demand certain times of the week/month/year) and rankings (have you dropped, or has search volume ebbed?).

Conversion Rate by Search Query Term/Phrase

When it comes to the bottom line for your organization, few metrics matter as much as conversion. For example, in the graphic to the right, 5.80% of visitors who reached Moz with the query "SEO Tools" signed up to become members during that visit. This is a much higher conversion rate than most of the thousands of keywords used to find our site. With this information, we can now do two things:

  1. Checking our rankings, we see that we only rank #4 for "SEO Tools." Working to improve this position will undoubtedly lead to more conversion.
  2. Because our analytics will also tell us what page these visitors landed on, we can focus our efforts on improving the visitor experience on that page.

The real value from this simplistic tracking comes from the low-hanging fruit: finding keywords that continually send visitors who convert to paying customers, and increasing focus on rankings and on improving the landing pages that visitors reach. While conversion rate tracking from keyword phrase referrals is certainly important, it's never the whole story. Dig deeper and you can often uncover far more interesting and applicable data about how conversion starts and ends on your site.

Number of pages receiving at least one visit from search engines

Knowing the number of pages that receive search engine traffic is an essential metric for monitoring overall SEO performance. From this number, we can get a glimpse into indexation—the number of pages from our site the engines are keeping in their indexes. For most large websites (50,000+ pages), mere inclusion is essential to earning traffic, and this metric delivers a trackable number that's indicative of success or failure. As you work on issues like site architecture, link acquisition, XML sitemaps, and uniqueness of content and meta data, the trend line should rise, showing that more and more pages are earning their way into the engines' results. Pages receiving search traffic is, quite possibly, the best long tail metric around.

While other analytics data points are of great importance, those mentioned above should be universally applied to get the maximum value from your SEO campaigns.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Social Media Marketing for Businesses

Social Media Marketing for Businesses

social media and marketingUsing social media for marketing can enable small business looking to further their reach to more customers. Your customers are interacting with brands through social media, therefore, having a strong social media marketing plan and presence on the web is the key to their interest. If implemented correctly, marketing with social media can bring remarkable success to your business.

What is Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing, or SMM, is a form of internet marketing that implements various social media networks in order to achieve marketing communication and branding goals. Social media marketing primarily covers activities involving social sharing of content, videos, and images for marketing purposes, as well as paid social media advertising.

We’ve created this guide to provide you with the social media marketing tips and training you need to better your business. We want to give small businesses on short budgets an alternative to hiring a social media marketing agency or paying for social media marketing services.

With our Social Media Marketing 101 Guide below, you can begin developing your own social media marketing expert plan.

Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses:

Learn Social Media Marketing 101

This guide gives a basic overview on how to use social media for marketing, serving as a social media marketing for dummies manual.

Start With a Plan

Before you begin creating social media marketing campaigns, consider your business’ goals. Starting a social media marketing campaign without a social strategy in mind is like wandering through a forest without a map—you’ll only end up lost.

Create a social media marketing plan and brainstorm about your goals: what are you hoping to achieve through social media marketing? Who is your target audience? Where would your target audience hang out and how would they use social media? What message do you want to send to your audience with social media marketing?

Developing Your Goals

Social media marketing can help with a number of goals, such as:

  • Increasing website traffic
  • Building conversions
  • Raising brand awareness
  • Creating a brand identity and positive brand association
  • Improving communication and interaction with key audiences

Only by establishing your goals can you measure your social media ROI.

Learn Marketing with Social Media

Here are some social media marketing tips to keep you on the right track across all your social media campaigns.

  • Planning – As discussed previously, building a social media marketing plan is essential. Consider keyword research and brainstorm content ideas that will interest your target audience.
  • Content is King — Consistent with other areas of online marketing, content reigns king when it comes to social media marketing. Make sure you are offering valuable information that your ideal customers will find interesting. Create a variety of content by implementing social media images, videos, and infographics in addition to classic text-based content.
  • Consistent Brand Image — Using social media for marketing enables your business to project your brand image across a variety of different social media platforms. While each platform has its own unique environment and voice, your business’ core identity should stay consistent.
  • Blog — Blogging is a great social media marketing tool that lets you share a wide array of information and content with readers. Your company blog can also serve as your social media marketing blog, in which you blog about your recent social media efforts, contests, and events.    
  • Links — While using social media for marketing relies primarily on your business sharing its own unique, original content to gain followers, fans, and devotees, it’s also great to link to outside articles as well. If other sources provide great, valuable information you think your target audience will enjoy, don’t be shy about linking to them. Linking to outside sources improves trust and reliability, and you may even get some links in return.
  • Track Competitors — It’s always important to keep an eye on competitors—they can provide valuable data for keyword research, where to get industry-related links, and other social media marketing insight. If your competitors are using a certain social media marketing technique that seems to be working for them, do the same thing, but do it better!
  • Measure Success with Analytics —You can’t determine the success of your social media marketing strategies without tracking data. Google Analytics can be used as a great social media marketing tool that will help you measure your triumphant social media marketing techniques, as well as determine which strategies are better off abandoned.  Attach tracking tags to your social media marketing campaigns so that you can properly monitor them.

Know Your Platform

We’ve put together a brief overview on how to use social media for marketing according to each platform’s unique environment. Various social media marketing sites will require different techniques, so develop a unique strategy tailored for each platform.

Facebook

Facebook’s casual, friendly environment requires an active social media marketing strategy that begins with creating a Facebook Business Fan Page.  You will want to pay careful attention to layout, as the visual component is a key aspect of the Facebook experience. Social media marketing for business pages revolves around furthering your conversation with audiences by posting industry-related articles, images, videos, etc.

Facebook is a place people go to relax and chat with friends, so keep your tone light and friendly.

 

Google+ for marketingGoogle+

Google+ is the new Facebook competitor, and it promotes the same fun, casual atmosphere. On Google+, you can upload and share photos, videos, links, and view all your +1s. Also take advantage of Google+ circles, which allow you to segment your followers into smaller groups, enabling you to share information with some followers while barring others. For example, you might try creating a “super-fan” circle, and share special discounts and exclusive offers only with that group.

You can also try hosting video conferences with Hangouts and experiment using the Hangout feature in some fun, creative ways. Some social media marketing ideas: if you're a salon, host a how-to session on how to braid your hair. If you own a local bookstore, try offering author video chats. If you're feeling adventurous, invite your +1s to your Google+ Community. Google+ Communities will allow you to listen to your fan's feedback and input, truly putting the social back into social media.

Pinterest

Pinterest is the latest in social media marketing trends. Pinterest’s image-centered platform is ideal for retail, but anyone can benefit from using Pinterest for social media purposes.

Pinterest allows small businesses to showcase their own product offerings while also developing their own brand’s personality with some unique pinboards.

Twitter

Twitter is the social media marketing tool that lets you broadcast your updates across the web. Follow tweeters in your industry or related fields, and you should gain a steady stream of followers in return.

Mix up your official-related tweets about specials, discounts, and news updates with some fun and quirky tweets interspersed. Be sure to retweet when a customer has something nice to say about you, and don’t forget answer people’s questions when possible.  Using Twitter as a social media marketing tool revolves around dialog and communication, so be sure to interact as much as possible

 

 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is one of the more professional social media marketing sites. LinkedIn Groups is a great venue for entering into a professional dialog with people in similar industries and provides a place to share content with like-minded individuals. 

Encourage customers or clients to give your business a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile. Recommendations make your business appear more credible and reliable for new customers. Also, browse the Questions section of LinkedIn; providing answers helps you get established and earns trust.

YouTube

YouTube is the number one place for creating video content, with can be an incredibly powerful social media marketing tool. Many businesses try to create video content with the aim of having their video “go viral,” but in reality, those chances are pretty slim. Instead, focus on creating useful, instructive “how-to” videos. These how-to videos also have the added benefit of ranking  the video search results of Google, so don't under-estimate the power of video content!

Location-Based Social Media Tools

Social media platforms like Yelp, FourSquare, and Level Up are great for brick and mortar businesses looking to implement marketing social media. Register on these sites to claim your location spot, and then consider extra incentives such as check-in rewards or special discounts. Remember, these visitors will have their phones in hand so they will have access to providing reviews which could hurt or significantly aid your users.

Reddit

Reddit, or similar social media platforms such as Stumble Upon or Digg, are ideal for sharing compelling content. With over 2 billion page views a month, Reddit has incredible social media marketing potential, but marketers should be warned that only truly unique, interesting content will be welcomed. Posting on Reddit is playing with fire—submit spammy or sales-focused content and your business could get berated by this extremely tech-savvy community.

If you have content you believe the Reddit community (majority is young, geeky, liberal, and internet-obsessed) would enjoy, you could reap tremendous benefits and earn valuable traffic.

Using social media in marketing does more than improve site traffic and help businesses reach more customers; it provides a valuable venue for better understanding and learning from your target audiences. Hopefully, this guide has helped you better understand how using social media for marketing  can improve your business.

Looking for better results? Pay-per-click marketing is a growing form of online advertising that continues to be very successfully for small and medium sized businesses. Learn about PPC and try WordStream's PPC Optimization software for free today!

Paid Social Media Marketing Tips

We love paid social advertising because it's a highly cost-effective way to expand your reach. If you play your cards right, you can get your content and offers in front of a huge audience at a very low cost. Most social media platforms offer incredibly granular targeting capabilities, allowing you to focus your budget on exactly the types of people that are most likely to be interested in your business. Below are some tips and resources for getting started with paid social media marketing:

Social Media Advertising for Small Businesses

social media advertising tipsLearn the ins and outs of social media advertising on four major networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Creating Effective Facebook Ads

If you know how to use it properly, Facebook can be one of the most powerful advertising platforms for driving your business forward. And it's not just for raising brand awareness. In this guide, you'll learn how to create effective Facebook ads that generate real leads.

If you're already advertising on Facebook and are looking to save time AND money, check out WordStream Social Ads, our new offering that makes Facebook advertising easier and more effective.

How to Create Twitter Ads

Many businesses aren’t quite sure how to tackle marketing on Twitter from a paid perspective. It’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and if you don’t quite know what you’re doing, you could wind up wasting a ton of money. Learn how to master Twitter advertising in this guide.

 

 

 

 

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Many Mistakes Content Marketers Make

The Many Mistakes Content Marketers Make

 

Content marketing is big business these days. It’s a huge element of online marketing and has become a favored lead generation tactic for many businesses, with good reason.

 

And, it’s not an easy task. There’s more to it than just posting content. The marketer must come up with a suitable, time appropriate topic, draft up the initial content, proofread and edit and then finally publish the piece. Content marketing experts know from experience just how tough it is to create outstanding content consistently, let alone content that shoots the lights out. This is why leading content marketers are highly sought after by big business, as they have honed their skills, understanding what makes great content and how to avoid fatal mistakes that can destroy the quality of their content, or even worse their brand.

In this post, I’m going to share 10 simple avoidable mistakes, to boost the quality of your content, and give it a stronger chance of being successful.

Quality is king.

A crucial mistake made by so many content marketers is the creation and pumping out of truckloads of content for the sake of content. When it comes to content, quality is king and to add to that — consistent, predictable quality is the sweet spot. A haphazard, rushed, or under-whelming content marketing strategy guarantees you or the company you are representing poor lead generation results, and an utter waste of marketing budgets.

Don’t ever feel compelled to throw words in for the sake of making the piece bigger. If you can say it succinctly and convincingly in fewer words, do exactly that.

Proofread, edit, proofread, edit, repeat.

Marketers and business owners new to content marketing often fall into the trap of thinking it's easy. How hard can  it be putting a few words down on paper be hey? Here's the reality check — being a quality content marketer is much harder than it seems. Creating engaging, quality content on a consistent basis is difficult and the fact is most of the population won’t be good at it for a variety of reasons. Those that are new to it, will almost always make this mistake. The mistake of failing to thoroughly proofread and edit their content, more than once.

Don't put in all the effort in the lead-up, to fall at the final hurdle, thus destroying everything before, by failing to proofread, and edit to ensure nothing less than an excellent end product.

Topic selection.

Topic selection is crucial and often underestimated in terms of it's impact on the outcomes of your content marketing efforts. Most people write about what they like or base the decision on a guess. Avoid these mistakes, and research your potential topics. Get insight into what topics are trending and delivering great engagement. These are your hotspots. Target them, and offer something unique, and engaging.

The drive by.

Content marketing is an opportunity to inform. To become a trusted advisor. Treating this with disrespect by being too brief and avoiding showing competence and appropriate levels of detail will put you on a fast track to being discarded as a content marketer, for those that are more comprehensive in their approach.

Content Marketing is an opportunity to gloat. It's a chance to show off a little and put your subject matter expertise on display, and by doing so encourage people to pick up and phone and buy from you. Don’t miss this opportunity to connect and ultimately sell.

The spray approach.

Once you've completed all of the tasks associated with creating great content, don’t forget you're only 50 percent of the way through the process. Once that first stage is complete, you must embark on the second phase — being the promotion of the content and ultimately building a following.

This isn’t achieved overnight. Building and maintaining a following is a slow process, one that takes time and above all, consistency. This is the difference between simply producing content and understanding why promotion is critical to the success of that content being created.

Hot and cold.

You come out of the blocks guns blazing. You produce 10 pieces in the first week, and another eight in the following three weeks. In the second month, you produce four pieces and one in the third month. However, in month four you have your mojo back and you produce 12 pieces.

This inconsistency isn’t liked by search engines or readers. Consistency and predictability were important. Create and communicate a planned schedule, and stick to it. Don’t overcook it, keep it manageable and achievable.    

Analytics and knowledge.

You’re actively creating content on a weekly basis for your clients. But, have you taken the time to understand which pieces work, and importantly which ones don’t? This is a huge mistake made by content marketing experts. It’s a simple strategy. By understanding what does work, you can create more content along those lines, and avoid producing more content where data tells you it hasn’t been successful. Always test and understand the outcomes of your content. Being informed is what will enhance and maintain your success.

Look and feel appeal.

Most content these days in consumed online. Keep in mind that the look and feel of the website and blog where the content is being read will have a major impact on readership numbers. An appealing design and layout will enhance readership numbers significantly.

Another crucial element in building credibility and your readership is optimizing your content through on-page and off page SEO tactics, ensuring search engine friendly and keywords have been optimized to ensure indexing by Google and other search engines.

Be brave.

Boring content is everywhere. Literally everywhere. And with the rise of content marketing, it's becoming more and more common. Stand out from the crowd with bold, brave content that takes a different angle, offers something unique, quirky or simply very very engaging. Don't be afraid to take a few risks or even ruffle a few feathers. 

Video.

Include video as part of your content marketing strategy. Figures from Facebook prove the rapid rise of video consumption and its importance in content marketing. Don't miss that train by ignoring video as a crucial element in your approach.

Content marketing, when done correctly, can be one of the most successful customer acquisition channels for a business. However it must be done correctly, and with focus, avoiding common mistakes that will lead to poor outcomes. Avoid these  mistakes to boost your chances of success.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Which Is More Effective?

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing

Which Is More Effective?

 

If you’re running a business or a marketer, you’ve probably heard of the terms “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing”. You might think that these are just another categorization of marketing or just some buzzwords that marketers made up to sound cool.

While I won’t deny that having “Inbound Marketer” on my name card looks cooler than having “Normal Marketer” on it, we should really understand the distinction between these two marketing approaches and how they work in today’s digital age.

I know it’s still not as cool as this. Maybe someday, I’ll be as cool as Mark.

If you’re trying to expand the audience for your website, find new customers and grow your business, it’s likely that you’re going to have to invest in some sort of marketing campaigns in order to promote your brand or product or services.

Today, technology has changed how people obtain information and consequently, marketing has undergone a massive transformation. Outbound marketing tactics, like television and radio advertising, are not as effective as they once were. Now comes the age of inbound marketing, driven by the Internet and social media.

Think about it: today’s customers are really savvy. No one wants to sit through a sales pitch, and people today have become really good at avoiding them.

  • People can skip TV ads by recording their favorite shows and fast-forwarding through the commercials and with so many online streaming services, TVs don’t even get that many viewers anymore.
  • Digital music and satellite radio makes it easy for people to avoid radio advertising.
  • People get their news from the Internet, so no one sees the print advertising in the newspapers any more.
  • Online banner ads are blocked by ad blockers. Even if they don’t get blocked, they have very low visibility due to a symptom called banner blindness.
  • Email salesletters mostly wind up in the spam folder or doesn’t even get opened.
  • 44% of direct mail is never opened. So don’t bother wasting those paper and postage fees.
  • And do young people even know what the yellow pages are any more? Nobody is going to flip through hundreds of pages when they can simply Google what they are looking for.
  • With do-not-call lists, telemarketing is a thing of the past or just plain annoying.
  • Outdoor billboards are even less effective. Pay a huge sum of money to display your message to people who are moving at 60 mph and has primary focus on the road. Worst still, there are other brands fighting for their limited attention at the same time.

The bottom line is: Traditional advertising channels are just not getting the job done anymore. Technology has advanced and marketing strategies and tactics have also evolved to keep up with it.

What is Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is just another name for “traditional advertising methods”, it is devised to contrast with the newer “inbound marketing”. It includes television and radio advertising, print advertising, telemarketing, direct mail, and outdoor advertising.

If Facebook used outbound marketing tactics

The basic idea is that advertisers use mass media tools to push their message and products out to the public. The hope is that if enough people who are in your target audience hear the message, they will respond.

These marketing tactics used to be effective, but nowadays these ads are so saturated and so similar that people no longer pay attention to them.

Another problem with outbound marketing is that many people who are not in your target audience are also exposed to your message, which makes the cost of advertising on these mediums less effective.

Traditional marketing is interruptive. Commercials interrupt television shows. Door to door salesman and cold calls interrupt what people are doing to present a sales pitch. This push advertising worked in the mass media age, but modern communications technology has allowed people to escape and avoid these annoying interruptions.

What is Inbound Marketing

Definition of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing refers to marketing strategies that focus on pulling audiences in instead of going out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing pulls visitors in, increase brand exposure, and creates brand authority through the creation of valuable content.

Question: If people are not responding to traditional marketing channels, then how are they getting information about the products and services that they need?

Answer: They are using the Internet. Let’s say a homeowner is interested in a lawn care service. How is he going to find such a service? In the past, he might have looked in the yellow pages, the newspaper or a direct mail piece. Today’s homeowner is going to get on his computer, go to his favorite search engine and type “lawn care near Chicago” and look for the best result.

This simple search will yield resources to begin vetting lawn care services. This search may lead him to some blog posts about lawn care in Chicago and he may even download a white paper for even more information.

If he needs further assistance, he may go to his Facebook or Twitter account and ask his connections for their recommendations. The lawn care service that can deploy online marketing assets that attract this homeowner will eventually win his business.

This new marketing strategy is called inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is slightly more complicated and indirect compared to outbound marketing, but it’s the more effective way of reaching your target audiences.

Below is an illustration of the process of an inbound marketing campaign:

Difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

In their most basic forms, outbound marketing uses push tactics while inbound marketing uses pull tactics.

A big part of inbound marketing relies on creating valuable content and attracting visitors with it. It relies on the development of modern communications technology like the Internet, mobile phones and social media to attract consumers. Instead of pushing a message out onto a large population, inbound marketing attracts specific audiences that are out there looking for information.

The goal is to pull interested people toward the marketing materials and attract them to the business with valuable information. This is done by setting up a wide variety of online marketing assets are ready and waiting for interested consumers to find.

These assets include blog posts, websites and paid advertising optimized for specific Internet searches, a dynamic social media presence, mobile apps and much more. When people are attracted to your marketing content, they readily give their permission to receive more information and promotional material from you.

Communication Is a Two-Way Street

The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing is communication. Outbound marketing relies on mass media where communication is only one-way. The business shouts out a message about its brand, and that’s it. People can’t interact with the message or the brand even if they want to. They might even find ways to avoid it.

With inbound marketing, people can talk back and engage with the brand. They can send an email, leave a comment on a blog, post on social media, leave a review on a third-party site and engage your business in many ways. The Internet has returned power to the consumer. If your business’ advertising does not square with the actual services that you provide, people are going to find out and post about it online. Your business cannot hide behind a mass media campaign. If you don’t deliver on your promises, people are going to know.

The key to success in inbound marketing is transparency, honesty and engagement. You must be transparent and honest about your products and services. And you have to engage with people who are talking about your brand even when the comments are negative.

This two-way communication might seem scary to businesses with heavy investments in traditional marketing, but it is really a boon. Direct connections with consumers not only create brand loyalty but they let you know what problems exists so you can solve them. In addition, your customers are empowered to become ambassadors for your business. They can write reviews, promote your content on social media and make referrals.

Inbound Marketing Activities

Online marketing revolves around a set of key activities. Here are a few elements that you will need to master if you are going to promote your business with inbound marketing.

Search engine optimization: We can’t stress enough how important SEO is to inbound marketing. SEO is a set of tactics that makes your website attractive to search engines. It takes advantage of what we know about how search engines rank sites to boost the chances that your content will rank for specific keyword searches.

Content creation: Content can come in many forms, but the basic forms are website pages and blog posts. Search engines like sites with a lot of current content. But the main target of content is human visitors who want valuable information about a problem they are experiencing. The key is to position your business as a trusted expert through this content. Content also includes images and videos. Ebooks, white paper, webinars and other similar content offer more extensive information that is used to collect contact information from visitors.

Calls-to-action: Content is not complete without inviting the reader to act in some way. The action could be downloading an ebook in exchange for an email address. But it could also be to make a purchase now based on a discount offer. A call-to-action requires a landing page to further entice visitors to respond to an offer.

Social media: These platforms are ways to promote content. They make it possible for your content to go viral and reach a lot of people.

Emails: Emails are still a very effective tool to nurture an ongoing relationship with people who have expressed an interest in your products and services. You can send out an email newsletter with industry tips and best practices as well as great offers on your products.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing works, here are some of the stats that demonstrate how well inbound marketing works.

According to Hubspot’s report in 2013:

  • 79% of companies that have a blog reported a positive ROI.
  • 57% of marketers who blog monthly acquired a customer directly from their blog.
  • 77% of businesses that market directly to consumers have acquired a customer with Facebook.

Inbound marketing is a proven way to generate leads, drive sales and grow your business.

The best news is that inbound marketing is less expensive than traditional marketing. Outbound marketing is expensive because they are usually broadcast to a mass audience even if they aren’t in your target demographics. You have to buy expensive media exposure and keep repeating your message for it to work.

The cost per lead drops significantly for inbound marketing because online resource are significantly less expensive than mass media. You focus on a target audience that is already interested in your products. Inbound marketing results in a significant decrease in cost associated with lead generation.

A marketing strategy that works and is less expensive than the alternative: it seems like a no-brainer. Just look at the numbers below, according to a survey, 41% expressed that inbound marketing demonstrated positive ROI for their company.

Developing a Marketing Strategy

If you are just getting started developing a marketing strategy for your business, then the path forward is clear. Inbound marketing is your best bet. It is more effective and will ultimately cost less. You might also invest in more targeted traditional marketing if there is real evidence that you can reach your audience, but there is no reason to invest in large mass media advertising campaigns. Any traditional marketing that you do should drive people to your online resources.

If you are heavily invested in traditional marketing, you are probably seeing a drop in the effectiveness of your efforts. It may be time to start investing some of your marketing budget into inbound marketing. You can then align your traditional marketing campaigns with your online resources over time. As you move forward, you can shift more and more of your budget to inbound marketing.

The way people communicate is changing rapidly. Inbound marketing leverages these changes to more effectively promote your business. If you want to expand your audience, find new customers and grow, inbound marketing strategies are the way to go.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Why is Inbound Marketing Hot Today?

What is Inbound Marketing?
Why is Inbound Marketing Hot Today?

Inbound marketing is a strategy that utilizes many forms of pull marketing – content marketing, blogs, events, SEO, social media and more – to create brand awareness and attract new business. In contrast to outbound marketing, where marketers attempt to find customers, inbound marketing earns the attention of customers and makes the company easy to be found.

We live in a word of information abundance and attention scarcity – and the pace of information creation is accelerating. According to IBM, we now create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

Buyers today are more empowered. The web provides them with instant information gratification. They can access detailed specs, pricing, and reviews about goods and services 24/7 with a few flicks of their thumbs. Meanwhile, social media encourages them to share and compare, while mobile devices add a wherever/whenever dimension to every aspect of the experience.

"Inbound Marketing is so powerful because you have the power to give the searcher/consumer exactly what answers they are looking for at the precise point that they need it. That builds trust, reputation, and authority in whatever niche you are practicing this form of marketing in.” Because of this, traditional marketing tactics based on “renting” attention that others have built — and interrupting the buyer in the process — are becoming less and less effective.

 

“Although it varies greatly with product complexity and market maturity, today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they will engage with a vendor’s sales rep.”

Time for Inbound Marketing!

To replace outdated “renting attention” marketing tactics, companies are deploying new methods geared at building awareness, developing relationships and generating leads. In short, inbound marketing attracts customers to you so you are not chasing them down. It helps prospects find your company in the early stages of their decision-making process, leading to a stronger influence on their future buying decisions.

                     Why You Need Inbound Marketing to Survive

Inbound marketing offers numerous benefits. When utilized effectively, it can:

  • Shape a brand preference and influence future purchases. 
  • Generate social media shares and inbound links.
  • Put customers in the driver’s seat.
  • Help fuel search engine optimization efforts.
  • Increase brand awareness.
  • Enable customers to engage with your brand at their point of need, 24/7.
  • Generate qualified leads for less money (when compared with traditional marketing).

Unlike traditional marketing initiatives, inbound efforts build upon themselves over time. For example, a strong piece of content offers many immediate and long-term benefits. It brings attention to your company when launched and will continue to resource your clients as long as it stays on your site. As the content gains more exposure, it can then become an ongoing source of inbound traffic via search engine optimization (SEO), social shares and word of mouth.

“The key is to create a strategic content strategy tailored around your personas and the stage of the buying cycle they are in. By doing this, you are providing valuable content geared directly towards that specific visitor. This helps move them down the buying cycle, answer their objections and build trust. All of these factors result in a shorts sales time, more qualified leads and an easier sale for your sales team.”

Types of Inbound Marketing:

What Makes For a Successful Campaign

There is no single inbound marketing tactic that works well on its own. Here’s what Bill Faeth shared with us about healthy inbound marketing ecosystems:

“Inbound marketing can’t be segmented into separate categories, with each section holding independent power. While we rely on SEO to draw in visitors from organic search, that SEO doesn’t work if there’s   a  content without social media, blogs don’t reach new, interested people. And SEO, content, and social media are all completely useless without a lead generation process in place.” Most successful inbound marketing campaigns incorporate all or parts of the following elements:  

SEO

Search engine optimization is an integral part of effective inbound marketing. Using effective keyword analysis, well-structured site design and other SEO “best practices” to launch your company to the top of search results will ensure that your content is being seen by the right audience and bring in the right leads.

Blogging

By far the most common form of inbound marketing, blogging can play a powerful role in driving traffic and nurturing leads.

Social Media

With 67% of online adults using social media to share information, you can’t afford to neglect widely popular online communities such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Live Events and Webinars

Take inbound marketing to the next level with online webinars and live events. And there’s much more: Videos, whitepapers, eBooks, e-newsletters, public speaking… Any opportunity to share valuable content is an opportunity to practice inbound marketing.

How to Initiate Your Inbound Marketing

When it comes to inbound marketing, the more you invest, the greater your return. Creating killer content is more about brains and commitment rather than budget. Don’t throw money at it – put your head and heart into it!

Here’s how to get started:

  • Identify your target audience and learn all you can about them. You can’t write content to inform your customers until you know what makes your audience tick.
  • Determine your unique, compelling story. Why should your audience listen to you?
  • Choose your delivery platforms. Will you blog? Tweet? Use Facebook? Pinterest?
  • Create and execute your content calendar.

It is important to create a schedule that will consistently turn out fresh and relevant content to continue to engage your audience. Keep in mind that your theme should be focused on customer issues, not on your business.

“Rather than focusing on ‘enough’ content, marketers should be focused on publishing quality content. Content that educates their audience and builds brands and authority.  The right content will be shared, increasing your reach, increasing awareness, increasing trust and increasing leads. The wrong content will lose followers and damage your reputation.”

And don’t forget to set aside time for analysis on a weekly basis. This step will aid you in understanding how effective your inbound marketing efforts have been and how they can be improved.

Put Marketing Automation to Work

Inbound marketing cannot be relied on as the sole means of generating business. To achieve a more balanced approach, combine inbound efforts with outbound activities such as lead nurturing, lead scoring and other components of marketing automation.

Marketing automation empowers inbound marketers with tools and strategies to convert fans and followers to leads and customers. Automation accomplishes this by cultivating relationships with leads which are not yet ready to buy (most often via targeted email campaigns). Automation also enhances your inbound efforts by helping you separate legitimate leads from the not-so-legitimate ones. Furthermore, connecting marketing automation to your customer relationship management (CRM) system makes certain none of your leads get lost in the shuffle. Leveraging marketing automation with your inbound marketing campaign is like throwing fuel on your marketing fire.

Learn to Quantify Your Success

When measuring the success of your inbound marketing efforts, there are a plethora of metrics to choose from. Whether you decide to look at SEO rankings, inbound links or number of articles published, you’re sure to derive some insight into how your campaigns are performing. 

However, don’t get caught up in basing your decisions on marketing activities alone. For instance, having 5,000 followers on Twitter might sound impressive, but this number doesn’t offer too much insight in terms of real business results. Instead, you should be looking to financial metrics that show how marketing helps your company generate more profits and faster growth when stacked against your competitors.

One of these valuable metrics is organic traffic, which involves people finding your website by means other than typing in your URL or searching for your brand name. So, say you are a staffing company and a prospect types “local staffing solutions” into a Google search. If your company name pops up high in the results, then you’ve benefited from a successful organic search. Tracking how much of this traffic converts into leads will give you an idea of how you might need to adjust your marketing strategies. Taking it a step further, you should be tracking the trends (not just the hard numbers) so you can see how quickly your online presence is improving. Some marketing automation solutions have this type of useful functionality built right in.

Make Inbound Marketing Work For You!

In our fast-paced society where the Internet and social networking shape our daily decisions, customers are exposed to more information than ever. This phenomenon is not only making them more educated but also is causing a change in buying behaviors. As a result, B2B and B2C marketing efforts must be adjusted to respond to this shift.

Today’s businesses are realizing that outbound efforts alone are not enough to produce profits. Instead, inbound marketing techniques need to be utilized in order to attract more leads and foster better brand preference. To be successful in inbound marketing, businesses need to introduce a disciplined approach to content creation, introduce marketing automation tools that can help them nurture and score leads, and optimize how these leads flow through the sales pipeline.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Effective Business Development Strategies

Effective Business Development Strategies to get started

Over the past few years, organizations worldwide are beginning to understand the importance of business developers and the value they bring to the organization, although not all companies quit understand what business development managers do exactly.

 

 If you are one of those people, please find the time to read this:

Let us say you have just moved into a business development position from a sales or a marketing background, normally, big enterprises provide their employees with training and orientation, small and medium size companies on the other hand usually lack such processes, if you find your self confused about what to do, then keep on reading

In this article we will discuss business development activities that successful business development managers adopt to ensure success in their work, these main strategies are divided to three main parts:

  1. Business Development Activities
  2. Enhancing Public image
  3. Increasing market exposure

In this article, we will attempt to provide a summarized review of what you as a business developer should do to add value to your company.

Business Development Activities

Market Research

Performing market research is highly important in order to understand your company current position and determine where it is headed, for that, you will need to do the following:

Perform research about the industry you are in, the geographical area you cover and the market segment you are targeting. There are many ready made reports about the industry, market, country over the Internet sphere that you can find useful, they inform you about market trends and value, you can then calculate your market share out of the total market value.
Research for contracts, bids and opportunities of cooperation with other companies that your company can take to increase its channels of revenues.
Subscribe to industry related databases, forums and blogs; these can be of great value to you, especially if you were in the construction or building industry as they provide detailed information regarding all projects within your area from concept to execution, this would save you plenty of time consumed normally in collecting information and vastly reduce your market intelligence efforts, use them wisely as leverage over your competition.

Competitive analysis

Once you learn everything you can about the products/ services your company offers, you have to learn about your competition in order to understand where you stand compared to others, it will also help you determine your desired market positioning, for that you will need to do the following:

  1. Determine your company top competitors (4-6 competitors)
  2. Set up a criteria or mechanism of comparison, choose different variables of which you will do the comparison with, this could be in the form of strengths/ weaknesses or in other form such as price, product quality, exposure, brand reputation, etc.
  3. Try to find out what are the projects your competitors are targeting within your market segment, assess if you can develop an offering that can win those business from them.
  4. Since you are a new employee, competitors do not know you yet, use that to visit your competitors showrooms (if they have any), therefore you can visit them anonymously like any regular customer and collect valuable input to use in your research.

Current Client Relations  

  1. Conduct warm calls to your existing clients, in order to assess the company current situation, what are you doing right/ wrong? In order to assess your strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats (SWOT Analysis) and ensure your clients are not being tempted by other competitors.
  2. Build close relationship with your clients, through the use of emails, phone calls, face to face meetings and product technical presentations in order to assess your client requirements and needs, do not forget to provide them with the latest copy of your marketing material.
  3. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, do not push hard, but also do not give up easily, 80% of B2B sales are conducted after the 5th encounter.
  4. Identify your main target audience sectors, then categorize the main companies you want to approach within these sectors.
  5. Conduct cold calls with the desired company and arrange meetings in order to identify their current supplier or service provider, find out why they are currently working with that supplier/ service provider and if they were happy about their current provider, tailor your sales pitch based on the given feedback to win the business.
  6. Email your marketing materials to existing clients & potential clients within your target audience in order to raise awareness about the latest products you added or new services you provide.
  7. Follow up, Follow up, and Follow up! Don’t push too hard but also do not give up. There are several email tracking tools that you can use, these can be useful as you will find out when a certain person have checked your email recently therefore you know that something must have come up and perhaps you should give your client a call.

Reach out to new clients

  1. Identify your main target audience sectors, then categorize the main companies you want to approach within these sectors.
  2. Conduct cold calls with the desired company and arrange meetings in order to identify their current supplier or service provider, find out why they are currently working with that supplier/ service provider and if they were happy about their current provider, tailor your sales pitch based on the given feedback to win the business.
  3. Email your marketing materials to existing clients & potential clients within your target audience in order to raise awareness about the latest products you added or new services you provide.
  4. Follow up, Follow up, and Follow up! Don’t push too hard but also do not give up. There are several email tracking tools that you can use, these can be useful as you will find out when a certain person have checked your email recently therefore you know that something must have come up and perhaps you should give your client a call.

Networking Events

As a BDM, spending your whole day inside the office will not be the best use of your time, you need to spend time out there, meeting people related to your market. Attending networking events can be of great value to you, you get to meet new people and learn new things about your market.

Attend industry related networking events, exhibitions, seminars, conferences and trade shows to be in contact with new; potential clients, having a booth in the exhibition is an advantage, however make sure it presents a good image and reflects the company brand identity, otherwise, you may be perceived to be unprofessional or cheap.

Attend as many industry related events as you can, make sure you follow up with a thank you email to everyone you meet the second day.

Enhancing the Public image

This strategy addresses the company’s image and how it is perceived by the different stakeholders, the company is a brand, and like any brand, you cannot control the way perceive it, however you can only try to influence your audience perception, this can be achieved through:

Website 

  1. You can work with the marketing division or marketing specialists on enhancing the company website, making it more user friendly, with a clear call for action message to converge views into actions, a poorly designed website can repulse people from your business and can cause you to lose customers before you even have them.
  2. Make sure your website is ‘responsive’, what responsive means is that your website should be able to adapt to whatever browser used for view and it should also be able to fit multiple screens sizes depending on the gadget used to view your website (PC, Tablet, Laptop, Mobile, etc.)
  3.  Proof read your website content and ensure there are no punctuation or grammatical mistakes within, your font must be clear enough to read without problems, these small mistakes can go unnoticeable most of the time, however for clients with an eye for details, your company will be perceived as unprofessional or of low quality.
  4. Use only high quality images on your website, low quality images may reflect bad image or poor quality, consider hiring a professional photographer to take some shots of staff in office or engineers working on site, these photos can be used on the website and for other marketing materials so don’t forget to archive these photos and label them for ease of use in future.
  5. Consider adding the organizational chart of your company to the website, at least for upper management, this could ease the life of the website viewers as it would be clear who does what inside the organization, and who they need to contact.

Branding 

There should be only one integrated communication theme that governs the all aspects of your brand, whether online or offline your brand must reflect consistency.

Creating and implementing the below in compliance with your brand guidelines will ensure your company is presented with one unified, cohesive and professional image, addressing your customers in English is important, you need to consider your target audience, therefore adding the native language of your target audience is as important, your marketing material should include:

  • Company Profile
  • Generic Company Brochure
  • Product Catalogs
  • Branded Folder
  • Branded CD’s
  • Customer testimonials
  • Press Releases
  • A unified presentation template, also make sure all employees use it.
  • Short 1-3 minutes promotional videos that promotes the company and its products to be used on multiple platforms (YouTube, Exhibitions, Reception area, etc.).
  • A unified company signature for emails and make sure all employees use it.

Office

Ensure your company offices reflect the company brand image, this includes:

  • Reception Area should be equipped with marketing materials and business cards displayed in an attractive manner, available as takeaways for visitors.
  • Company videos are displayed on loop in the waiting area, it gives your visitors an opportunity to know more about your business while waiting.
  • Proper Signage displayed in all the company common areas, clearly displaying the company name and logo.
  • Common areas and staff offices must be clean, tidy, uncluttered and inviting, bathrooms must remain clean at all times.
  • Make sure that snacks and hot beverages are available at all times for visitors, served in an attractive dish wear.
  • Your conference room should always be ready to accommodate guests, trainings, seminars and meetings, therefore it should be equipped with a screen or projector, a laser pointer, teleconferencing equipment and a white board.

Increasing market exposure

Optimize your online presence 

  1. Conduct and online reputation management research, this would ensure that all articles, posts, videos and comments out there present your brand in a positive manner.
  2. Develop your company presence over different social media platforms, ensure you choose your platforms according to your target audience (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
  3. Develop content to post on your different social media platforms, such as (Press releases, Success stories, case studies, promotional videos, ongoing training activities, testimonials, etc.)
  4. Increase your online exposure by applying search engine optimization techniques to enhance your online visibility.

By applying the above strategies, you can get ahead of your colleagues and reflect a professional image in front of your superiors, make sure you get upper management support for your actions, present them with a plan of what you want to do, they need to believe that what you are doing is in the best interest of the company, you will find that without upper management support, accomplishing the above strategies will be difficult if not impossible.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Sponsorships that Used to Work

Sponsorships that Used to Work

In the era of Facebook and YouTube, brand building has become a vexing challenge. This is not how things were supposed to turn out. A decade ago most companies were heralding the arrival of a new golden age of branding. They hired creative agencies and armies of technologists to insert brands throughout the digital universe. Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness, and form factor became the lingua franca of branding. But despite all the hoopla, such efforts have had very little payoff.

As a central feature of their digital strategy, companies made huge bets on what is often called branded content. The thinking went like this: Social media would allow your company to leapfrog traditional media and forge relationships directly with customers. If you told them great stories and connected with them in real time, your brand would become a hub for a community of consumers. Businesses have invested billions pursuing this vision. Yet few brands have generated meaningful consumer interest online. In fact, social media seems to have made brands less significant. What has gone wrong?

To solve this puzzle, we need to remember that brands succeed when they break through in culture. And branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance. Digital technologies have not only created potent new social networks but also dramatically altered how culture works. Digital crowds now serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture—a phenomenon I call crowdculture. Crowdculture changes the rules of branding—which techniques work and which do not. If we understand crowdculture, then, we can figure out why branded-content strategies have fallen flat—and what alternative branding methods are empowered by social media.

Why Branded Content and Sponsorships Used to Work

While promoters insist that branded content is a hot new thing, it’s actually a relic of the mass media age that has been repackaged as a digital concept. In the early days of that era, companies borrowed approaches from popular entertainment to make their brands famous, using short-form storytelling, cinematic tricks, songs, and empathetic characters to win over audiences. Classic ads like Alka-Seltzer’s “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” Frito-Lay’s “Frito Bandito,” and Farrah Fawcett “creaming” Joe Namath with Noxema all snuck into popular culture by amusing audiences.

This early form of branded content worked well because the entertainment media were oligopolies, so a cultural competition was limited. In the United States, three networks produced television programming for 30 weeks or so every year and then went into reruns. Films were distributed only through local movie theaters; similarly, magazine competition was restricted to what fit on the shelves at drugstores. Consumer marketing companies could buy their way to fame by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.

Brands also infiltrated culture by sponsoring TV shows and events, attaching themselves to successful content. Since fans had limited access to their favorite entertainers, brands could act as intermediaries. For decades, we were accustomed to fast food chains’ sponsoring new blockbuster films, luxury autos’ bringing us golf and tennis competitions, and youth brands’ underwriting bands and festivals.

The rise of new technologies that allowed audiences to opt out of ads—from cable networks to DVRs and then the internet—made it much harder for brands to buy fame. Now they had to compete directly with real entertainment. So companies upped the ante. BMW pioneered the practice of creating short films for the internet. Soon corporations were hiring top film directors (Michael Bay, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, David Lynch) and pushing for ever-more-spectacular special effects and production values.

These early (pre-social-media) digital efforts led companies to believe that if they delivered Hollywood-level creative at internet speed, they could gather huge engaged audiences around their brands. Thus was born the great push toward branded content. But its champions weren’t counting on new competition. And this time it came not from big media companies but from the crowd.

The Rise of Crowdculture

Historically, cultural innovation flowed from the margins of society—from fringe groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged mainstream norms and conventions. Companies and the mass media acted as intermediaries, diffusing these new ideas into the mass market. But social media has changed everything.

Social media binds together communities that once were geographically isolated, greatly increasing the pace and intensity of collaboration. Now that these once-remote communities are densely networked, their cultural influence has become direct and substantial. These new crowd culture come in two flavors: subcultures, which incubate new ideologies and practices, and art worlds, which break new ground in entertainment.

Amplified subcultures.

Today you’ll find a flourishing crowd culture around almost any topic: espresso, the demise of the American Dream, Victorian novels, arts-and-crafts furniture, libertarianism, new urbanism, 3-D printing, anime, bird-watching, homeschooling, barbecue. Back in the day, these subculturalists had to gather physically and had very limited ways to communicate collectively: magazines and, later, primitive Usenet groups and meet-ups.

Social media has expanded and democratized these subcultures. With a few clicks, you can jump into the center of any subculture, and participants’ intensive interactions move seamlessly among the web, physical spaces, and traditional media. Together members are pushing forward new ideas, products, practices, and aesthetics—bypassing mass-culture gatekeepers. With the rise of crowd culture, cultural innovators, and their early adopter markets have become one and the same.

Turbocharged art worlds.

Producing innovative popular entertainment requires a distinctive mode of organization—what sociologists call an art world. In art worlds, artists (musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, cartoonists, and so on) gather in inspired collaborative competition: They work together, learn from one another, play off ideas, and push one another. The collective efforts of participants in these “scenes” often generate major creative breakthroughs. Before the rise of social media, the mass-culture industries (film, television, print media, fashion) thrived by pilfering and repurposing their innovations.

Crowdculture has turbocharged art worlds, vastly increasing the number of participants and the speed and quality of their interactions. No longer do you need to be part of a local scene; no longer do you need to work for a year to get funding and distribution for your short film. Now millions of nimble cultural entrepreneurs come together online to hone their craft, exchange ideas, fine-tune their content, and compete to produce hits. The net effect is a new mode of rapid cultural prototyping, in which you can get instant data on the market’s reception of ideas, have them critiqued, and then rework them so that the most resonant content quickly surfaces. In the process, new talent emerges and new genres form. Squeezing into every nook and cranny of pop culture, the new content is highly attuned to audiences and produced on the cheap. These art-world crowd culture are the main reason why branded content has failed.

Beyond Branded Content

While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade, much brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by the number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead, you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.

YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel had more than 41 million subscribers.

How did this happen? The story begins with the youth subcultures that formed around video games. When they landed on social media, they became a force. The once-oddball video-gaming-as-entertainment subculture of South Korea went global, producing a massive spectator sport, now known as E-Sports, with a fan base approaching 100 million people. (Amazon recently bought the E-Sports network Twitch for $970 million.)

In E-Sports, broadcasters provide a play-by-play narration of video games. PewDiePie and his comrades riffed on this commentary, turning it into a potty-mouthed new form of sophomoric comedy. Other gamers who film themselves, such as VanossGaming (YouTube rank #19, 15.6 million subscribers), elrubiusOMG (#20, 15.6 million), CaptainSparklez (#60, 9 million), and Ali-A (#94, 7.4 million), are also influential members of this tribe. The crowd culture was initially organized by specialized media platforms that disseminated this content and by insider fans who gathered around and critiqued it, hyping some efforts and dissing others. PewDiePie became the star of this digital art world—just as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Patti Smith had done in urban art worlds back in the analog days. The main difference is that the power of crowd culture propelled him to global fame and influence in record time.

Gaming comedy is just one of hundreds of new genres that crowd culture has created. Those genres fill every imaginable entertainment gap in popular culture, from girls’ fashion advice to gross-out indulgent foods to fanboy sports criticism. Brands can’t compete, despite their investments. Compare PewDiePie, who cranks out inexpensive videos in his house, to McDonald’s, one of the world’s biggest spenders on social media. The McDonald’s channel (#9,414) has 204,000 YouTube subscribers. PewDiePie is 200 times as popular, for a minuscule fraction of the cost.

Or consider Red Bull, the most lauded branded-content success story. It has become a new-media hub producing extreme- and alternative-sports content. While Red Bull spends much of its $2 billion annual marketing budget on branded content, its YouTube channel (rank #184, 4.9 million subscribers) is lapped by dozens of crowd culture start-ups with production budgets under $100,000. Indeed, Dude Perfect (#81, 8 million subscribers), the brainchild of five college jocks from Texas who make videos of trick shots and goofy improvised athletic feats, does far better.

Coca-Cola offers another cautionary tale. In 2011 the company announced a new marketing strategy—called Liquid & Linked—with great fanfare. Going all in, it shifted its emphasis from “creative excellence” (the old mass-media approach) to “content excellence” (branded content in social media). Coke’s Jonathan Mildenhall claimed that Coke would continually produce “the world’s most compelling content,” which would capture “a disproportionate share of popular culture,” doubling sales by 2020.

The following year, Coca-Cola launched its first big bet, transforming the static corporate website into a digital magazine, Coca-Cola Journey. It runs stories on virtually every pop culture topic—from sports and food to sustainability and travel. It’s the epitome of a branded content strategy.

 Journey has now been live for over three years, and it barely registers views. It hasn’t cracked the top 10,000 sites in the United States or the top 20,000 worldwide. Likewise, the company’s YouTube channel (ranked #2,749) has only 676,000 subscribers.

It turns out that consumers have little interest in the content that brands churn out. Very few people want it in their feed. Most view it as clutter—as brand spam. When Facebook realized this, it began charging companies to get “sponsored” content into the feeds of people who were supposed to be their fans.

.The problem companies face is structural, not creative. Big companies organize their marketing efforts as the antithesis of art worlds, in what I have termed brand bureaucracies. They excel at coordinating and executing complex marketing programs across multiple markets around the world. But this organizational model leads to mediocrity when it comes to cultural innovation.

Brand Sponsors Are Disintermediated

Entertainment “properties”—performers, athletes, sports teams, films, television programs, and video games—are also hugely popular on social media. Across all the big platforms you’ll find the usual A-list of celebrities dominating. On YouTube musicians, Rihanna, One Direction, Katy Perry, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift have built massive audiences. On Twitter, you’ll find a similar cast of singers, along with media stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Oprah, Bill Gates, and the pope. Fans gather around the tweets of sports stars Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Neymar, and Kaká, and teams such as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (which are far more popular than the two dominant sports brands, Nike and Adidas). On Instagram, you’ll find more of the same.

These celebrities are all garnering the super engaged community that pundits have long promised social media would deliver. But it’s not available to companies and their branded goods and services. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be surprising: Interacting with a favored entertainer is different from interacting with a brand of rental car or orange juice. What works for Shakira backfires for Crest and Clorox. The idea that consumers could possibly want to talk about Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of Ronaldo and Messi is silly.

Nike’s approach, launched in the 1970s and perfected in the 1990s, was to tell stories of athletes who overcame societal barriers through sheer willpower. But a decade ago Nike abandoned its competitive-underdog ideology to go all in on branded content, using famous athletes to make entertaining sports films. Under Armour stepped into the void, producing arresting new ads, such as “Protect This House,” that championed the same ideology and took off on social media.

Under Armour also followed Nike in dramatizing how übercompetitiveness, traditionally associated with masculinity, applied equally to women, broadcasting spots that showcased female athletes. The latest effort, “I Will What I Want,” pushed gender boundaries even further, challenging conventions in areas where traditional ideals of femininity still reign.

Ballet star Misty Copeland—who grew up in poverty with a single parent—is an athletic, muscular dancer in a profession that celebrates waifish, reed-thin women. Under Armour made a video about how she rose above adversity (the voice-over is from a rejection letter saying that her body was completely wrong for ballet), showing her dancing in a form-fitting sports bra and pants that reveal her curvier physique.

A Gisele Bündchen film followed the same convention-breaking formula but mashed up incongruous ccrowd cultureto provoke a social media response. The former Victoria’s Secret star is usually portrayed within the glamorous world of runways and celebrity hobnobbing. Under Armour broke the frame by placing her in what was essentially an old Nike ad: a backstage video of Gisele in an intense kickboxing workout. The company announced the partnership ahead of filming. It immediately stirred up the ccrowd culture Sports fans were cynical, Gisele fans were curious, fashionistas were puzzled, and feminists simply loved it. Under Armour’s agency scraped all this commentary from the web and projected quotes from the digital discussion on the walls behind her.

Under Armour succeeded because it innovated with ideology—using female celebrities to provocatively push against gender norms. The company aimed its communiqués directly at the crowdcultures that held those norms, which set off a firestorm of debate.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Ecosystem for all Entrepreneurs