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Seven Branding Books You Should Read This Year

Written by Taylor Hawes

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Seven Branding Books You Should Read This Year

The role of business is ever changing, and with it, the practice of crafting identity. Competitive companies must continually position themselves as a necessary part of customers’ lives in order to stay relevant and profitable. Educate your staff, re-imagine your practice, and build a better practice through the knowledge imparted by these seven highly acclaimed resources.

 

StoryBranding

For many businesses, the concept of branding is difficult to grasp. Building recognition in the marketplace takes more than exposure and advertising, it takes a compelling story. That’s what 30-year advertising veteran Jim Signorelli preaches in this high-impact volume entitled StoryBranding: Creating Stand-Out Brands Through the Power of Story.

The book takes a look at the practice of branding as an extension of corporate identity. By asserting that modern branding practices should favor messages that resonate with customers over editorialized benefits, he challenges long-held preconceptions about what branding means and how to execute it successfully. The 6-step process guides businesses large and small through the process of finding their story and sharing it effectively with their target audience to build identity.

 

Designing Brand Identity

Branding and marketing are ever evolving practices, and brand managers that wish to stay abreast of changing trends need a reference as relevant as their work. Enter Alina Wheeler’s Designing Brand Identity, a powerful resource rebuffed by dozens of case studies highlighting the best practices of successful brands. Through a five-phase process that begins with research and leads through product implementation, launch, and continuing governance, the tome is a veritable users manual for the practice of branding in the modern marketplace.

 

Ancient Secrets of Lead Generation

A brand adorned with Facebook likes and clever aesthetic is nothing more than window decoration if it doesn’t generate sales. Fortunately, Daryl Urbanski’s cheekily titled volume examines what brands mean to customers and how to turn sentiment into revenue.

By looking at what brands and businesses mean to communities and groups of people, Urbanski inspires and entices with techniques designed to tap human psychology and satisfy customer needs. By combining message with method, Ancient Secrets works to build relationship with customers that bring profit and prosperity for both parties.

 

What Great Brands Do

Design can seem like hokum to the analytically minded. For those unconvinced of branding’s power, What Great Brands Do: The Seven Brand-Building Principles That Separate the Best from the Rest is like a marketing foreign-language dictionary.

Denise Lee Yohn takes world-class brands like Nike, Zappos, and Apple and examines their method on a scientific basis that makes branding understandable and approachable. Designed to examine companies from the inside out, from culture to capital, and build a brand-as-a-business model that facilitates profitability and personnel satisfaction, her seven key principles highlight the commonalities that can turn have turned multiple businesses from bit-players into superstars.

 

Kellogg on Branding

When you’re building the backbone of your corporate identity, leaning on the experts is never a bad idea. Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management takes an academic look at the practice of branding in this 352-page book that will educate your practice and hone your craft. It’s academic themes may feel inaccessible to some, but the information, presented scientifically or otherwise, is steeped in knowledge that only years of university research can provide.

 

Essential Elements of Brand Identity

A strong brand requires a strong visual identity and Essential Elements of Brand Identity tackles the aesthetic aspect of branding with aplomb. Kevin Budelmann, Yang Kim, and Curt Wozniak outline a platform for building brand identity predicated on a common framework of terminology and tools that both designers and customers can comprehend.

The work dives deep into the concept of visual identity by creating a structure of brand analysis. By deconstructing how aesthetic affects brand perception and linking the process of design to business concerns, it becomes immediately applicable and immediately understandable for both designers and management; a marriage that can lead to cooperation, impact, and profitability.

 

The Brand Gap

The strategic and creative forces behind your companies brand can sometimes become divorced, mired in a disconnect of goals and methods. Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap seeks to combine the two in a coherent fashion that aligns branding efforts for maximum effectiveness. Breaking the concept down into the “five essential disciplines of brand building”, the book looks to remove the disconnect between marketing arms and unite them in a way that strengthens image and breeds revenue.

Building a strong brand is an essential part of any successful business. Understand your goals, your allies, your customers, and your market through these seven volumes, and make 2014 the year that your brand reaches new heights.

13 Shocking Mistakes Killing Your Landing Page

Written by Anthony Sills

Monday, January 27th, 2014

internet marketing confusion

Let’s face it.

We’re all busy.

And when it comes to digital marketing, there’s a lot to learn. But if you’re doing business online you should take a close look at your landing pages because you could be losing money. To put it bluntly, a landing page that sucks can be hazardous to your business.

According to MarketingSherpa, only 52% of the companies that use landing pages test them to improve conversion. They also found that the number one reason companies don’t use or test landing pages is because their marketing department doesn’t know how to set them up or they’re too overloaded.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to feel confused, overwhelmed or frustrated anymore. And you can’t use “I don’t know how” as an excuse.

Because I’m going to show you how to avoid the mistakes most people make with landing pages. That way you can improve your landing page experience and your conversion rates.

But before I show you how to improve your landing pages, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here.

A landing page, sometimes known as a “lead capture page”, is a webpage that has a form and exists only to capture a visitor’s information through that form. That’s it in a nutshell. A landing page is a marketing tool designed to prompt a certain action or result.

In fact, they’re arguably the single most vital component of your online marketing efforts. I don’t believe in silver bullets but if I had to suggest one marketing tactic you could use to improve your bottom line, I’d suggest using landing pages on your site. Since landing pages are intended to prompt a specific action or result, if you drive a stream of traffic to a targeted landing page, you can improve your chances of converting that traffic into leads.

However, the problem is most digital marketers aren’t reaping the benefits of effective landing pages.

You owe it to yourself to learn how to recognize critical mistakes most people make with landing pages and how to avoid them.

Do You Make These 13 Mistakes?

  1. Confusing the visitor— Landing pages should have one purpose. If your landing page has more than one objective, off-page links, presents too many choices, or doesn’t match the traffic source, you’re in trouble.
  2. Cluttered, unfocused design— Effective landing pages have only one objective—get the reader to take a specific action—and every word and element on the page should support that one action. Anything else on the page is a distraction.
  3. Weak copy— Just having a landing page isn’t enough to get you the conversion rate you want. Compelling copy is the “secret sauce” that persuades people to take action. You need a benefit-rich headline that makes the reader a promise and connects with them emotionally. Your compelling lead entices them to keep reading as you emphasize your value proposition. And through it all you should be speaking your customer’s language.
  4. Too much focus on you, your company, or your product or service—Nobody cares about you. They do care how you can help them. Your landing page copy should be all about helping the reader solve their problem.
  5. No clear call to action—Can your visitors easily identify the call to action? If your landing page doesn’t tell your visitor exactly what you want them to do next, they won’t do anything. That means you’re leaving money on the table.
  6. No credibility—You only have 2 to 3 seconds to capture your visitor’s attention and confirm that they’re in the right place. It doesn’t matter whether you’re asking people to give you their email address or part with their hard-earned cash, if they don’t trust you it’s going to be tough to seal the deal.
  7. Not using the recommended one-column format—There’s plenty of research showing that centered, single-column landing pages generally convert best. The 1-column format tends to look cleaner, have more white space, increase reading comprehension, and keep readers engaged with the message.
  8.  Not matching the look, feel and tone of the original ad, email or website—Your headline and other landing page elements should relate to the ad copy that drove the click. In other words, the page should be relevant to your ad text and keyword.
  9. Ignoring fundamental principles of landing page design—There are best practices for creating an effective landing page. They include hiding your website navigation elements, keep your form “above the fold”, and underlining your links. A well-designed landing page must include a headline, benefits, a call to action, and an opt-in form.
  10. Ineffective use of images—This is where lots of marketers drop the ball. They take the easy way out and use clip art. They have uncaptioned images that have nothing to do with the objective of the page. Or their images aren’t clickable.
  11. Not optimizing the buttons—If the buttons on your landing page don’t look like buttons or they say “submit” or “send”, you could have a problem. A Hubspot researcher studied more than 40,000 landing pages and discovered that landing pages with submit buttons labeled “submit” had lower conversion rates than those with more engaging button text.
  12. No reason for visitor to act: ethical bribe or sense of urgency—If your visitor is on the fence and your landing page doesn’t give them a reason to act…they usually won’t. Are you giving them a reason to take action?
  13. Not testing—There’s always room for improvement and absolutely no way to know what to improve unless you test. Split-testing, or “A/B testing”, is an easy way to compare the results of tweaks to your landing page like a new call to action or a different headline.

Even if you’re not among the 10 percent of the U.S. population that has a fear of the number 13, the effect those 13 mistakes can have on your conversion rates is frightening.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

When it comes to marketing, ignorance is not bliss.

Far from it.

If you don’t use or test landing pages because you don’t know how you’re cheating your customer and your business. Your customer deserves the best landing page experience you can deliver. And if you can improve on the 5-15% average conversion rate for landing pages, you’ll have an advantage over your competition.

AWeber recently surveyed small business owners and marketers and discovered that while 94% said online marketing was very important to the growth of their business, 29% said they were a bit overwhelmed by online marketing.

If online marketing is important to your business—and I’m guessing it is—I want to let you in on a little secret.

There’s never a point where you know it all. There’s never going to be a day you wake up and understand everything about marketing. You may never cross everything off your “To Do” list. But you still have a business to run so you just have to do it.

Here’s how:

Get Rid of Your Landing Page Problems Once and For All

Now that you’re aware of the disastrous mistakes most people make with landing pages let’s talk about how to avoid them.

The list of landing page mistakes offered a few clues on how to improve your landing page. Here are a few more.

  • Grab your visitor’s attention as soon as they land on the page and keep them focused on your message and the offer you’re making. Get rid of navigation bars, visual clutter, and anything else distracting. Your goal is to lead the reader from having a problem to seeing your offer as the solution.  Write tight copy that’s clear and persuasive and write in the second person.
  • You want to make visitors feel comfortable and confident about doing business with you. You can do this with social proof, testimonials, a strong guarantee, a BBB logo, state licenses, or other means. You also accomplish this by making claims you can prove and backing up what you say. Offer an incentive for visitors taking action. It could be a free report, webinar, audio seminar, tip sheet, or eBook.
  • Use visual elements to draw your visitor’s attention toward your call to action. Check out other businesses’ landing pages for ideas. Conduct regular tests on your landing pages to improve conversion. There are easy-to-use tools and some of them are even free.

In the end, great landing pages involve a bit of art and science

Can you share any examples of good landing pages you’ve seen recently? Let us know about it in the comments.

About the Author

Anthony Sills’ work can be found at American Express OPEN Forum, Copyblogger, Infusionsoft’s Big Ideas blog, and elsewhere. He writes about HR & employment, marketing, and business. You can always reach Anthony via social media, email, or by leaving a comment below…

image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 Ways to Launch an Effective Holiday Marketing Campaign

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, November 11th, 2013

BUSINESS TEAM PREPARING A PROPOSAL

For marketers, the holiday season truly can be “the most wonderful time of the year“. However, without a sound strategy, the holiday can offer as little to businesses as it does to sandal-makers. And considering the very specific nature of the holidays, a little knowledge can go a long way.

So what is it that makes the holidays tick? How can you as a marketer successfully market your product to consumers? Before even putting pen to paper, know that your strategy, your goals, your channels for engagement, and your tone will ultimately determine your potential for success.

 

1. Know Your Goal

At the risk of traipsing into philosophical territory, what is your reason for the season? Before doling out cash for advertising and social media resources, consider what it is your businesses would like to achieve during the holiday season. Is increased sales your top priority? Is customer engagement the focus? Do you simply wish to associate your brand image with the good-will and holiday cheer of the winter months? In any instance, know what your goal is and stick to it.

Base your goals around what would most benefit your organization. If your company delves into consumer goods, figure out how you can make lives easier during the busy and often hassle-filled holiday season. Financial planning? Engage your customers by associating your company with financial prudence and peace of mind in what are frequently fiscally tumultuous times. Tailor your content around the needs of your customers for the holidays and make your mark in the process.

 

2. Focus Your Efforts

The holidays present myriad opportunities for marketing themes and targeted campaigns. Aside from the occurrence of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years, the commercial “holidays” of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday transpire through the season as well. Each instance presents its own distinct themes and opportunities for ambitious businesses, but losing focus can be a detriment.

Avoid spreading your resources and your image too thin. Focus on one event and tailor your efforts to it. Consider what characteristics your organization wishes to espouse and build association with the event that most clearly promotes them. Consider the circumstances of the event, be they travel, family gatherings, shopping, or general celebration and tap into those when building your campaign.

 

3. Harness the Internet

Even for small businesses, the Internet presents a powerful channel for customer engagement and dispersal of marketing materials, especially at a time when large swaths of the population are traveling. Social media’s ubiquity presents a chance to market to customers checking in with friends or browsing family photos. Email and advertising provide the opportunity to offer holiday-themed deals for budget conscious shoppers.

Build your media strategy around the unique circumstances of the season. Craft content for social networking including photos that are not only easily digested by busy consumers, but can quickly build a brand association that will drive sales during a commercial watershed. Email coupons to those on your mailing list and offer online deals for last-minute shoppers. In all things, consider the circumstances of the holidays and figure out how to best engage busy, mobile, and enthusiastic consumers.

 

4. Deck The Halls

With the visual and social identity of most holidays well established, your job as a marketer is to tie your company in with those virtues. Engage customers on this basis by including holiday themed content that promotes sharing, like eCards or photos of cozy settings. Focus on permeating the market by highlighting how your customers identify with and benefit from your products around this specific time of year.

Even commercial holidays can receive the same thematic treatment. Do you run a small business? Tap into the spirit of entrepreneurship for Small Business Saturday. An online retailer? Highlight the convenience and wide selection of your shop by tailoring your content and offers toward Cyber Monday. Each holiday event presents an opportunity to effectively market to the good-will and frugality of festive shoppers.

 

5. Be Delightful

Regardless of the specific religious observation (or lack thereof) of holiday consumers, the winter season is about cheer. Families travel for joyful gatherings, happiness is a pervasive theme in all endeavors, and warmth and cheer seek to shut the door on cold winds and hazardous drives. Knowing that this sentiment represents the cultural milieu of consumers can make hay in the snowy months.

Consider how your campaign inspires these same feelings. Focus on the happiness of the season and delight customers with a helping hand by any means necessary. Offer deep discounts, concierge services, loyalty bonuses, and customized thank-yous for holiday shoppers and spread some cheer of your own. Give generously of your holiday spirit, and be assured that that generosity will improve your image, your brand, and your sales.

With a little knowledge, the holiday season presents a real opportunity for success. Consider what your company’s priorities are during the holidays and focus your efforts around the event that best espouses the virtues of your brand. Capitalize on the ubiquity and affordability of the Internet and theme your materials and your message around your event of choice. But above all else, be delightful and tap into the cheerful nature of the winter season. With a little care and attention, you too can have a very happy holidays indeed.

Crowd-Sourcing Your Site’s Content Using Twitter

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, March 8th, 2013

crowd sourcing on twitter

In a recent article, we discussed how powerful the process of A/B split testing can be when it comes to making measurable, data-based improvements to your website.  However, there is a simpler way to get the feedback needed to make your website as effective as possible.  Instead of waiting weeks for your split test to gain statistical significance, why not take your website questions directly to your most loyal followers on Twitter?

As an example, instead of testing two different page versions with a split test, why not simply ask your followers which version they prefer?  This process – known colloquially as “crowd sourcing” – can provide a wealth of information on your followers’ interests and preferences that can ultimately be used to make your site more profitable.

Of course, the crowd-sourcing process isn’t an ideal solution for every website question (though, in many instances, you’ll be amazed at the caliber of information this practice can generate).  Read on to learn more about the situations in which crowd-sourcing is most effective, how to use this method to improve your own site and what you need to be aware of when utilizing information gleaned in this manner.

 

Types of information that can be generated via crowd sourcing

First of all, while it’s important to be aware that not all types of website information can be generated through crowd sourcing, there are actually many more opportunities than most webmasters are aware of.  You’ve probably already asked your Twitter followers to share your posts or re-tweet your messages, but why not ask them to provide any of the following types of information as well?

 

Future blog post topics

Running a successful blog can be a struggle, as the process of coming up with topic ideas that will resonate with your readers can be quite time-consuming.  So why not minimize the hassle of this initial brainstorming period by asking your followers what they’d like to read – rather than rely on your own haphazard guesses?

In this case, something as simple as a tweet that reads, “What topic would you like to see me cover next on the blog?” can generate a treasure trove of great ideas that’ll keep you flush with content for the weeks or months to come.

 

Future promotion/giveaway ideas

In many cases, the success of a promotion relies on crafting compelling enough terms to get website visitors to take action.  Even something as simple as offering customers a 20% off coupon rather than a free shipping voucher can make the difference between a successful campaign and a flop.

You can certainly test this type of promotion using A/B split testing (both on your website and in your email marketing campaigns), but why not just ask your followers which promotion or giveaway idea they’d prefer.  You might be surprised at the amount of valuable feedback you’ll receive by crowd-sourcing your site’s content in this way.

crowd sourcing promotion ideas

 

Future product/service offerings

In the past, deploying new product or service offerings was typically preceded by a period of expensive market research that included everything from personal surveys to in-person focus groups.  However, the immediacy of the contact that many businesses now have with their followers via social media has changed this process.  Instead of wasting time and money on lengthy market research campaigns, businesses can now take their questions directly to their customers and get valuable answers back in just a few days.

So if you’re thinking about launching a new product or service, why not try posing variants of any of the following questions to your Twitter followers?

  • What is the one “must have” feature you’d like to see on our next product?
  • If we offered [this particular type of service], what would you be willing to pay for it?
  • Would you be more interested in buying [proposed product A] or [proposed product B]?

Not only will this process save you time and money, it also increases feelings of ownership amongst respondents, making them more likely to purchase your products or services in the future.

 

Feedback on proposed website changes

Similarly, if you’re thinking of making major changes to the way your website looks or operates, you can get feedback from actual site visitors much more quickly using the crowd-sourcing approach on Twitter than you can using traditional A/B split testing (which typically requires a test period of at least two weeks in order to reach statistical significance).

To use this particular process, try posing any of the following questions to your Twitter followers:

  • What’s the one thing that’s missing from our website?
  • If we added [this new website feature], would you use it?
  • If we removed [some other feature], would you miss it?

Obviously, these are only a few of the different types of information you can generate using this method – though each of these options represents a great place to get your feet wet with the process.  Experiment with the specific types of content described above, and then expand your crowd-sourcing procedure to gather information on other subjects that are important to your business.

 

How to crowd-source your site’s content

No matter what type of information you decide to generate using the process of crowd-sourcing, there are a few basic guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind to make your queries as successful as possible:

  • Determine when your followers are most active – Unfortunately, given the amount of noise in the Twitterverse, it’s entirely possible that your crowd sourcing question will go unnoticed by the majority of your followers.  To minimize this problem, use the free tool Tweriod to determine when your followers are most active on this social site and then time your questions to go live during these periods.
  • Keep questions simple ­– Twitter is known as a micro-blogging platform for good reason.  Users don’t visit the site to write out lengthy updates or to contribute more than passing thoughts.  For this reason, it’s important to keep your questions simple in order to maximize the number of responses you receive.  You’re far more likely to get useful information if you ask for a single blog post idea or the answer to a “Yes/No” question than if you waste users’ time requesting extensive feedback.

 

requesting feedback through crowd sourcing

 

Crowd-sourcing caveats

As mentioned earlier, there are a few limitations to the crowd-sourcing process that you’ll want to be aware of.  While it is possible to generate tons of useful information using this approach, it’s also important to keep in mind that crowd-sourcing isn’t the “be all, end all” solution for every single market research need.

Specifically, you’ll want to be aware of the following crowd-sourcing weaknesses:

  • Users don’t always know what they want – In some situations, asking followers for their feedback can introduce a level of bias that isn’t present in randomized split testing.  Take, for example, the idea of using pop-ups to gather email newsletter opt-ins.  If you ask your users whether the like having pop-ups on your site, they’ll probably say “No” – even if this feature has proven to be your most effective opt-in generation strategy.  Consider this limitation carefully when deciding what to crowd-source and what to split test.
  • Don’t bombard users with questions – Your social profiles shouldn’t be looked at as nothing more than a wealth of market research data.  If you want people to respond to your queries, you’ve got to be an active, engaging part of your industry’s social sphere as well.  Participate on Twitter like a normal person and try to limit your crowd-sourcing questions to no more than 5-10% of your total updates.
  • Consider the statistical significance of information generated – It’s also important to keep in mind that your active Twitter followers represent only a small part of your total brand following (especially in industries where social site usage is limited).  For this reason, it’s important to use the information generated via Twitter crowd-sourcing as one piece of a much larger puzzle and to avoid making substantial business changes based on this limited data set.

That – in a nutshell – is the process of crowd sourcing your website’s content using Twitter.  When used correctly, this practice can be an incredibly powerful tool for shaping both your website’s content and the products and services you offer – so get out there and start gathering feedback today!

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