15 Ways To Develop A Customer-Centric Content Strategy

Content marketing is a great way to get in front of and bring value to consumers without going overboard on your sales pitch. However, it can be tough to strike a balance. Your content shouldn’t completely ignore your offerings, but you want to make sure it adds value for your customer first.

Forbes Agency Council

That’s why developing a strategy focused on your target customer is the key to executing successful content marketing initiatives. To help you achieve this, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council gave their best advice on how brands can develop effective, customer-centric content.

1. Create Outcome-Based Content

People today are focused on issues, personal and social outcomes and ways that products and product providers can positively affect their lives and the lives of others. Content should be visual, interactive, emotive and outcome-based. Pick the right channel. TikTok is delivering huge numbers. – Peter Prodromou, Boston Digital

2. Implement Persona Identifiers On Your Website

Implement persona identifiers (via “tags”) into the data layer of your website. Push those identifiers into audiences within your analytics tool. This will enable you to understand which audiences are interacting with existing content, selectively build out additional content based on audience priority and run “lookalike” campaigns to promote the new content to only that audience type. – Justin Cook, 9thCO Inc.

3. Engage In Non-Commerce Dialogue With Customers

We find that most marketing plans emphasize methods for pushing content to consumers while giving little thought to methods for customers to engage in “non-commerce dialogue.” Companies that have effective customer-centric marketing have built these methods, not just “product reviews,” for engaging in these conversations. Focusing on those channels is essential to crafting better outbound content. – James Cioban, Cierant Corporation

4. Focus On Benefits Over Features

Focus on product benefits over features. Use “you” over “we.” And most importantly, do key phrase research and understand the searcher intent behind your phrases. Truly customer-centric content ties the searcher’s intent to the product on the page. It doesn’t rely on brand terms. Instead, it includes non-branded terms that speak to the product’s universe. – Brian Rutledge, GPO

5. Answer Consumer Questions

Create content that provides high-value information, answers consumer questions and guides them toward making the best purchase decision. Within your content, showcase the benefits, uses and value of your products and services as examples and case studies. This tactic will build trust with the consumer and drive them to come to you when they are ready to purchase. – Laura Cole, Vivial

6. Interview Your Customers

Start with interviewing your customers. Find a small number that best represents each audience persona you intend to target. During a brief interview, listen closely to the words each customer uses to describe why they choose your company’s solutions and how it has impacted their business and professional success. – Wendy Covey, TREW Marketing

7. Tap Into Their Existing Motivations

For content that is truly customer-centric, campaigns should tap into the customer’s existing motivations. The reason being, you can’t motivate someone to action, but you can align your content with what that customer already is motivated to do. Once that is done, the content can prompt them to take action. – Roger Hurni, Off Madison Ave

8. Talk About Things They Love

A company’s story is nice, but if you want to engage someone, talk about things they care about or love. Take a page from the big boys: Know what you sell and why people are buying. It is always about the consumer. Apple does not sell computers; it sells a set of beliefs or a way of thinking. Starbucks does not sell coffee; its sells status quo. Even Toms Shoes sold the concept of giving back. – Patrick Nycz, NewPoint Marketing

9. Practice Inbound Marketing

Develop customer personas that identify the needs, concerns, dreams and opportunities of your ideal audiences. Find intersection points and create content that speaks to your personas at every point of the buyer journey. Then, make every communication, from award wins to case studies to blog posts, speak to them about their needs rather than your capabilities. – Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative

10. Ask Customers For Video Content

Customer-generated videos where customers record themselves with the brand and showcase its benefits offer an authentic way to show true excitement and endorsement of the brand from the customer’s individual perspective, which will appeal to others too. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

11. Make It Easy To Find Relevant Content

Make it easy for web visitors to find content suitable for their stage in the buying process. Think of your blog as a hub for insights that educate about your industry. Place evergreen content in static pages to inform about you and your capabilities. Find organic links between the two so that when prospects are ready to work themselves down the funnel, they can do so without friction. – Carey Kirkpatrick, CKP

12. Emphasize The Problem You Solve

There’s that old saying that nobody will care about your solution before they recognize there’s a massive problem—and it applies to them. So think about your customers’ context, situation and problems, and pick them up where they are by emphasizing that they all have a common problem that you figured out how to solve! – Lars Voedisch, PRecious Communications

13. Frame Your Message Around Their Needs

Customers largely see interactions with companies as transactional, while companies yearn for so much more. Content can help you build closer connections with customers, but only if it conveys your deep understanding of them. Always start with the emotional, social and functional outcomes they value as human beings. Then, frame your messages around the needs your offerings can deliver on. – Camille Nicita, Gongos, Inc.

14. Align Your Brand Ethos With Their Values

Newer generations care less about products’ USPs and more about how the brand’s ethos aligns with their values. To create a customer-centric content strategy, you have to understand what values are important for your audience and authentically align not only your brand message, but also your actions with those values. Brands that can create content around that will see the benefits of a customer-centric approach. – Emilie Tabor, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency

15. Showcase Your Solution Through Testimonials

True customer-centric content needs to answer the questions your audience is asking. Rather than touting how great your products or services are, you need to provide a solution to their problems. Some of the best customer-centric content actually includes customer testimonials. This is especially helpful as video content: Let your customers speak to how you helped them solve a problem. – Jason Wulfsohn, AUDIENCEX

Seeing Is Believing: Why Visual Search Works

Gen Z and millennials have embraced this way of shopping, and it’s time brands did too

Instead of text-based searches and sifting through pages of results, visual search enables enhanced, modern interfaces that help curate and review buying options faster, which comes naturally to Gen Z and millennials. Thanks to the convergence of computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, visual search is helping marketers meet these customers where they are by returning the most relevant search results based on similarities (e.g., color, style, shape, etc.)

With 90% of information processed by the human brain being visual, and that brain’s ability to identify images it’s viewed for as little as 13 milliseconds, brands using visual search are definitely onto something. These companies are not only feeding the new generations of shoppers’ craving for automation, they’re also opening the window for all generations to test the visual search waters.

The ‘easy’ button
Research shows that 62% of millennials are more interested in visual search capability than any other new technology, and that over 600 million visual searches are done on Pinterest every month. The process finds customers looking for products with a photo or other image versus keywords that are typically used in search engines. They can simply take a picture of the item, upload it to a visual search engine and be presented with the similar items available to purchase. It’s as easy as that.
For example, using an uploaded image of a blue prom dress, a visual search would enable someone to shop for an identical or similar dress online. And because visual search engines rely on neural networks that leverage machine learning, these engines are constantly expanding their fields of experience. As they become “smarter,” these search engines deliver more accurate, relevant results to shoppers.

From Pinterest to Bing to Amazon
Many online brands are successfully using visual search. Pinterest Lens allows customers to use their photo of an item to find out where to buy it or search for similar products, all while viewing ads for options for sale on other platforms; Google Lens recognizes objects and details via a camera; and Bing Visual Search allows consumers to search for specific elements within images (versus having to sort through a list of results) by clicking “visual search.”
Amazon has been in the visual search game since 2019, when it introduced StyleSnap. Shoppers click the camera icon in the upper right hand corner of their Amazon app, select the StyleSnap option, and then upload a photograph or screenshot of the desired outfit. StyleSnap presents recommendations for similar items on Amazon that match the look in the photo, factoring in parameters like brand, price range and customer reviews.

Putting visual search to work
For performance marketers, visual search provides a new channel for reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers who either don’t want to use text-based searches or are seeking new, automated ways to find stuff online. With these new highly visual consumers, and many search engines already offering visual search capabilities, this capability has become an opportunity that direct marketers can’t afford to ignore.
Consider this: Visual results are going to show up higher in a search engine’s rankings. That means your results appear faster, are seen more often and get better conversion rates than non-visual results. Younger generations of shoppers already love visual search, but it won’t be long before all consumers take to it and come to expect it. With 35% of marketers already planning to optimize their own websites for visual search, one can assume that number will only continue to grow in 2021.

As companies look for new ways to harness the attention of younger, tech-savvy shoppers, visual search may rise to the top as an effective way to align the creativity of the human brain with advanced technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. And with visual search conversions providing 85% higher returns than textual search results, the more “visualized” your brand becomes, the more customers you’ll be able to attract and engage online.

15 business leaders share smart strategies for conducting a scenario analysis

After the events of 2020, every business leader is focused on being better prepared for the unexpected. One effective way to do this is to conduct a scenario analysis, a useful planning tool in which businesses create an action plan for the “what-ifs” they may encounter.

The Business Journals

Effective scenario analysis can help your organization evaluate the efficiency of current systems while also helping to mitigate against risk and minimize negative impact. Not sure where to begin? Follow this advice from the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust.

1. Study how you responded to difficult scenarios in the past year.
A good first step in conducting a scenario analysis is to evaluate the scenarios you faced over the past year and how you responded. Take the Covid-19 element out of the discussion and evaluate based on the factors it influenced, such as where you could work, how you could do the work and the change in demand for your product or service. What would you do differently, and what are the options for next time? – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

2. Start with a SWOT analysis.
A simple SWOT analysis can be a good starting point. Be honest about your weaknesses and threats. Do you have a client concentration problem? Are you over-reliant on one supply partner? Have you failed to differentiate your brand or services? Imagine these weaknesses leading to unpleasant outcomes and then create mitigation — or better yet, plan to prevent the outcome. – Karen Albritton, Thinc Strategy, Inc.

3. Be honest about the future of your product or service.
Re-analyze whether your product or service has a future. In times like these, there is no use in being adventurous or dreamy; it’s time to be conservative. Take advantage of what people already know how to do and move forward. – Roberto Malpica, M&T Consulting Group

4. Review your largest revenue accounts.
Step one is to review your largest revenue accounts. If one, two or even three of them went away tomorrow, for whatever reason, how would you respond? Will you trim costs? If so, where? What is your plan to replace the revenue? How quickly can you make that happen? – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

5. Diversify your customer acquisition processes.
The first step to making sure your business is ready for anything 2021 throws your way is to diversify the way you acquire customers. Have multiple front-end offers, multiple marketing channels and multiple entry points. This way if something is impacted you have more ways to generate new customers. Without new customers, you don’t have a business, so customer acquisition must be a priority. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group

6. Consider what you would do if one part of your business was shut down.
At the most basic level, most businesses have an operations side (e.g., the kitchen) and a service delivery channel (e.g., the dining room). Think about these two main areas of your business and assume one of them is shut down for various time frames (24 hours, 48 hours, two weeks and so on). What could you do to operate in those circumstances? Then assume the other side is closed and develop alternatives for it. – Ryan Morris, First State Bank

7. Don’t disregard the ‘unimaginable.’
Every business must spend more time picturing and thinking about the “unimaginable.” Organizations often rush through the threats when setting their short- and long-term strategies and creating their annual operating plans. The events of 2020 have taught us not to just “glance over” the unimaginable — your business could be open one day, following all the rules and regulations, and shut down the next through no fault of your own. – Mike Sipple, Centennial Talent Strategy and Executive Search

8. Look at the macro factors.
Always be cautiously aware of macro-environmental factors that can affect not only your business but also your clients’ businesses, and prepare in advance for any scenario. Make sure the core business and operations are stable and that employees feel that stability when there is uncertainty in the world around them. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Ask these five questions.
I ask five questions when doing a scenario analysis. “Where am I at now? What do I want to happen? What will it take to make it happen? What barriers/blocks/challenges will I need to overcome? How will I overcome them?” Armed with these answers, I set the new course and move forward. – Linda Bishop, Thought Transformation

10. Account for possible circumstances beyond your control.
In times of crisis, companies must blend historical information with plausible outcomes to determine ramifications for all parts of an organization. Scenario plans give leaders breathing room to slow down and evaluate environmental, political and economic factors. Those prioritized factors are an important part of crisis scenarios. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

11. Go in with a flexible mindset.
The first step is to ensure current clients’ needs are met. Maintaining the business of business comes first. The next step can be determined based on the depth of the unexpected. Can a derivation work or is a pivot required? As elaborate as what-ifs may be, having a flexible mindset and culture is key for any unexpected scenario. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

12. Look ahead to where you’re going.
Action plans need to be flexible. I learned to drive at 15; now, in my 30s, I’ve evolved my technique, my skill, my braking time and so on. Action plans need to meet your team where they are and flex when needed to meet where you are going. If you do not have the time and commitment in your action planning to be flexible, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. – Crystal Lazar, Habitat for Humanity East & Central Pasco County

13. Attend industry webinars on this topic.
Industry organizations and the Small Business Administration have webinars that address this with examples shared by other business leaders. Log on to your local organization and you will find an abundance of resources and video interviews addressing these exact topics. Take what’s relevant and apply it to your business. There are more resources available now than ever before. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

14. Identify who can do each of your company’s essential jobs.
Aside from keeping our business continuity plan current, it is critical to identify trusted team members who can do your job and the other essential jobs throughout the company. – Robert Antes, TradeTrans Corp.

15. Think outside the box.
When conducting a scenario analysis, you should be creative and be able to utilize out-of-the-box thinking. Come up with other scenarios that may impact your business. You should allow other concepts to exist so that you can expand your preparations to less-likely occurrences. – Jack Smith, Fortuna Business Management Consulting

14 trust-breaking mistakes that can damage your company’s brand

Companies that are transparent about their values and practices build long-term relationships with customers, employees and investors. Conversely, businesses that lose the trust of stakeholders can quickly fail — especially in today’s digital-first marketplace, where finding new options is easier and faster than ever before.

The Business Journals

Even business leaders with the best intentions may unwittingly engage in practices that undermine trust and damage their brand. To help your company avoid the same fate, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 14 common trust-breaking mistakes they have seen businesses make and what should be done instead.

1. Not following through on promises
Businesses often make statements or promises but don’t follow through or keep the promise. To me, this is the biggest trust eroder. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t say you’ll do something that you later don’t do. And if you make a statement or promise, then, by all means, don’t break it. Keep your word. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS

2. Not addressing problems head-on
When a problem arises with a customer or client — which is inevitable — businesses that address it head-on, admit their mistake and remedy it will gain trust. With the abundance of review platforms online, such as Yelp, Google and Facebook, potential clients can get a feel of what it’s like to work with you and what to expect if something goes wrong. We love second chances. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA

3. Saying what your customer wants to hear
A common mistake that can lead to the erosion of trust at the very beginning of a customer relationship is overpromising. Business owners must ensure they aren’t simply saying what the customer wants to hear. If what’s being said in the marketplace isn’t reflecting what your business is executing day in and day out, your words don’t hold any weight and trust will be greatly diminished. – Stacy McCall, ServiceMaster by Stratos

4. Being afraid to grant trust
Don’t be afraid of intimacy and granting trust as a means of accelerating mutual understanding. It is this understanding that allows you to build and sustain trust. Once you have trust, you must honor and respect it, never compromising your integrity. A brand is how someone experiences your culture. Set and enforce standards, top to bottom, or you’ll suffer in the long run. – Craig Parisot, ATA, LLC

5. Not being open to client feedback
Caring about your customer and their opinion of your company matters. You must take the time to know your clients and care for them as individuals. Build the relationship so that they feel they can be honest with you. Be open to suggestions and listen to their recommendations. – Ana Rivero, Allied Property Group

6. Failing to communicate
You lose trust when you stop communicating and vanish from the frontlines. Today everyone has a voice, and when leaders and companies shy away from using that voice, they lose trust in the marketplace. Today’s leaders should stand tall, own up to mistakes and be transparent with their audience. Failure to do so means the market will move on to someone who is leading from the front. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group

7. Not being honest or transparent
People won’t trust you if you don’t show them trust. If you hold everything close to the vest, are evasive or leave key details out, people will see right through you. Business relationships, like personal relationships, require risk and the vulnerability that comes along with it. If you are taking on something with someone, it will never be successful if all parties can’t be 100% honest. – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects

8. Ignoring negative comments
It’s upsetting to discover negative comments on digital channels, but ignoring them is a sure-fire way to completely lose customer confidence. If customers need service, promptly answer them. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

9. Sharing ‘off-brand’ messaging
Ensure that all public messages — even social messages, which can be put together quickly — emulate the brand’s position. This position should be carefully crafted and aligned with the customer demographic. Don’t let the need for posting social media content encourage your creators to post “off-brand” messaging that will erode customer trust. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Not considering the optics of your actions
Customers are human and slow to trust — and they can lose it instantly. A brand is valuable only if it is synonymous with the truth. Businesses often err by walking a thin reputational line. The optics of an action matter more than the action. If something looks wrong — even if it’s technically correct — it will hurt the business and the value of the brand. In short, avoid even a remote appearance of impropriety. – George Befeler, The Befeler Group

11. Trying to ‘fix’ things behind the scenes
Too often, businesses want to “fix the client problem” behind the scenes rather than just embracing reality and dealing with it. Clients are much more amenable if you are upfront and honest. In a world of short-burst communications, we have lost some of the skill of thoughtful communication. – Russell Benaroya, Stride

12. Not sharing progress reports
Poorly managing expectations is a fast track to eroding trust. Studies show that buyers’ monetary cost increases as information increases, suggesting that sellers might profit from the exchange of information and, indirectly, from trust. Continuous communication of progress toward the target will reinforce the customer’s or stakeholder’s interest and their trust in your company and brand to deliver. – Scott Young, PennComp Outsourced IT

13. Focusing on fees instead of client needs
Stop focusing on your bottom line instead of your clients. Take great care of clients and they will take care of you. Avoid the nickel-and-dime fees and focus on growing, helping and developing your clients and customers. – Carter Keith, 31,000 FT.

14. Failing to build internal trust
More than ever, the trust and authenticity of a brand must be right internally to be right externally. Consumers and stakeholders see right through this. Add in social media, and the word spreads like wildfire. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.

Virtual Try-On Tech, the Pandemic-Accelerated Trend, Is Here to Stay and Save Headaches

There was a time when trying on clothing either meant a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, where you filled your arms with options and made your way into the dressing room, or ordered a few pieces online and hoping for the best. You could easily cull out what did or didn’t work while standing in the dressing room, but the latter was a hit-or-miss affair that often required yet another trip to the local shipping store to return what didn’t fit (and then try again later).

AdWeek

Busy lives, hectic paces and a pandemic that’s forced people to rethink how much time they want to spend in crowded spaces are driving a new trend: digital technology and trying stuff online. The technology was being tested previously—but it became especially relevant when stores had to close access to their dressing rooms and as e-commerce sales continued to go through the roof throughout 2020.

E-Commerce drives demand for virtual options

Forecast to reach $4.5 trillion in 2021 (up from $2.3 trillion in 2017), e-commerce is a key driver of this trend, but it’s not the only momentum behind it. Generations Y and Z love being able to use their mobile devices or laptops to “try before they buy,” knowing that it beats having to drive to the mall, find the right store, pinpoint the best options and then physically try them on one by one.
The trend isn’t limited to fashion. IKEA Place lets customers virtually put true-to-scale models in their own living spaces and Sephora Virtual Artist scans your face, determines the positioning of your lips and eyes, and allows you try on different looks.
Virtual try-on technology has also made its way into physical stores. According to the Washington Post, mall operator Brookfield Properties is adding 3-D body scanners that direct consumers to the clothing brands and sizes that will fit them best, and MAC Cosmetics uses virtual try-on mirrors in many of its stores.

Buying off a flat screen

Virtual try-ons also help brands offer a more personalized shopping experience online, where picking out items off a flat device or computer screen doesn’t replicate the chance to touch, feel and test out clothing, furniture, makeup item and other products before buying. For younger, tech-savvier generations, using a mobile app to see what their furniture looks like in their living spaces is a siren song that’s hard to resist.

Virtual try-ons are also a money-saver for merchants, who don’t have to pay return shipping costs and manage the logistics of taking back products that don’t meet expectations. Online returns cost businesses $550 billion a year, and primarily because 25% of items bought online are returned (versus 8% for in-store purchases). The most returned goods include clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry, all of which have the potential to be virtually “tried on” before buying.

Finally, merchants can use virtual try-ons to create stickier customer experiences and keep buyers coming back for more, knowing that they can more narrowly whittle down their choices with the help of an app or online service. Customers also appreciate the softer benefits of being able to test drive from afar, including a more comfortable, at-home experience in lieu of a crowded mall and dressing rooms. And, as the world begins to open back up and we return to safer socializing and spending time on leisure activities again, not having to visit a store (or, using a virtual try-on option once you get there) means more time for family, friends and fun activities.

A personalized approach

For now at least, the virtual fitting room will continue to serve as a modern-day replacement for the traditional dressing room and a way to augment the in-store shopping experience. As brands continue to focus on creating a more personalized experience for customers, virtual try-ons are yet another step in this direction.

Smart marketers will embrace and expand on the suite of features and services available with virtual try-ons to solidify the trend and optimize the customer experience. The accelerated convergence of virtual retail and ecommerce offers an unprecedented opportunity for brands to capture new customers in an emerging environment or gain an initial foothold in a traditionally challenging vertical.

Midsize companies: Avoid these 15 sales-stifling marketing mistakes

Middle-market companies are in a unique position when it comes to seeking growth. While these companies may not have the immediate brand recognition of an industry giant, they often have the resources to run a multichannel marketing campaign. However, all the ad money in the world won’t drive growth if a company isn’t using the right strategies.

The Business Journals

Below, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 15 common marketing mistakes midsize companies make that might be inhibiting their sales and growth — and what they should be doing instead.

1. Talking about what you do rather than the problem you solve
A common mistake is creating marketing content that sells what you do versus talking about the problems you solve for your customers. It’s easy to write content that details the services you provide. It requires much more time and research to understand how your clients experience your service and the impact that it has on their day-to-day operations. – Tim Tiller, MyTek Technology Solutions

2. Cutting the marketing budget too soon
One big mistake is to cut back on marketing spending when positive results appear. I would argue that a growth-oriented company needs to let its marketing budget grow with revenue rather than thinking, “It worked!” at the first small result. – Beth Waterfall, Beth Waterfall Creative

3. Not being bold about your story
Many middle-market brands are afraid to present their stories in a bold, differentiated way. They are humble — sometimes even deferential — to the behemoths in their category. Own your story and stand out! – Lauren Parker, FrazierHeiby

4. Being too focused on short-term goals
Middle-market companies tend to prioritize short-term objectives, which often results in paid advertising campaigns. The mistake is a failure to invest in long-term marketing strategies such as search engine optimization. Companies that can balance short-term objectives with long-term marketing investments can build a strong and sustainable sales and growth engine. – Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

5. Not catering to each stage of the buying process
One mistake is not using the right resources for the unique stages of the customer’s buying process. This includes creating awareness about the firm’s very differentiated product, getting customers interested enough to try the product and then purchase it, and setting the repurchasing cycle. Depending on products and markets, firms need unique, effective resources for success in each stage as well as a way to hand off from one stage to another. – Pradeep Anand, Seeta Resources

6. Failing to identify and measure success metrics
Marketing needs to deliver a concrete return on investment. Many mid-market companies get tricked into expensive marketing programs without identifying the success metrics and return in advance. Any marketing program that doesn’t deliver results in 90 days should be scrutinized very carefully. – Kimberly Lucas, Goldstone Partners

7. Creating a too-short marketing communications plan
Sales cycles can stretch out for months. One common marketing mistake of mid-market companies is creating a tactical marketing communications plan that’s too short for the cycle. When the communication flow dries up before the lead is ready to take the next step, you miss opportunities. To fix it, look at the cycle length and your communication flow. If they are not in sync, adjust. – Linda Bishop, Thought Transformation

8. Thinking marketing is a waste of money
First and foremost, a middle-market company needs to understand the importance of marketing to know it’s a necessary expense to grow a brand. They should also understand that marketing can and should have ROI associated with it so they don’t think it will be wasted money — just part of the overall business investment. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. Turning efforts on and off
A common mistake is turning marketing on and off, whether that be a focus on SEO, advertising or anything else. Too often companies are reactionary and don’t stay the course. It’s important to react if something isn’t working or push further when something is working, but you also have to cultivate your marketing, just as you do any other part of your business. – Eric Moraczewski, NMBL Strategies

10. Not integrating sales and marketing efforts
The biggest growth-inhibiting mistake I’ve seen mid-market companies make is not integrating sales and marketing efforts. I’ve worked with more than a thousand clients over my career, and time and again I see sales and marketing teams that are siloed and do not talk. Even if the technology is shared or integrated, the company culture can create barriers to success. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

11. Not keeping up with the times
Common mistakes in creating and deploying effective marketing strategies include failure to set and measure performance and return on investment targets and not keeping up with the times. Engagement, reactions and SEO-related analytics should be measured by channel and/or medium. Similarly, if your target audience is on TikTok or MeWe, you may need to add those channels. – Joey Johnsen, Zeevo Group LLC

12. Not concentrating resources
Some companies neglect to plan out their marketing efforts. Before investing money, you need to have clear goals for results. Don’t try to market to everyone, because your message could get lost. Concentrate your resources to have the greatest impact. Know your target customers’ needs, the way they consume information and how they make purchasing decisions. – Chris Friel, VoDaVi Technologies

13. Measuring ROI based on short-term results
A big mistake is to measure marketing investments based on immediate, short-term results. Yes, it’s important to monitor and adjust as needed, but often marketing investments are better measured over a longer horizon, which can be months or years. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm

14. Assuming you don’t have to market yourself
Avoid the mistake of assuming you do not have to market yourself! The best thing to do for your business includes knowing how you will deal with excess business when you do not yet have the business or once you are in a slump. If you wait until you have an overabundance of business to begin considering this, you will be too late. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

15. Not having the right partner
Just like buying a house or a car, when marketing it’s important to find the right partner who understands and has the reference to walk you through what you are trying to do. Let them provide their vision. This also means you need to let go of control and let the experts do it. – Gene Yoo, Resecurity, Inc.

11 Valuable Data Points To Be Gleaned From Clients’ Google Analytics

Some agency clients aren’t able to address important questions their marketing partners need answered in order to devise the best strategy to meet their needs. Luckily, analytics tools can help agencies uncover illuminating data points that clients can’t provide up front.

The key to informing a strategy that will achieve a client’s marketing goals is to identify which specific types of data you’re looking for before diving into the analysis. Below, experts from Forbes Agency Council share 11 of the most valuable pieces of information you can glean by analyzing your clients’ Google Analytics.

Forbes Agency Council

1. What Attracts Versus Repels

As communications experts, we love reviewing Google Analytics to better understand how customers are engaging with a brand and what’s attracting them versus repelling them. This establishes information that allows us to develop more compelling content strategies. You’re able to see the level of leads coming from media relations and placed articles, which is a strong indicator of campaign success. – Kathleen Lucente, Red Fan Communications

2. The Client’s Audience

At the end of the day, the most valuable element of successful marketing is understanding the consumer. Google Analytics can provide some insight into a client’s audience. Combining this with other data sets and marrying the research with strategic analysis can inform an insight-driven marketing strategy. This can inspire consumer targeting, creative, media and more. – Marc Becker, The Tangent Agency

3. ROI On Marketing Investments

No matter what, you want to make sure that you are getting ROI on any marketing investment. Even if your Google Analytics are telling a positive story, if you aren’t getting actual ROI, there is data that either is not accurate or needs to be looked at holistically. There should always be a system of checks and balances, and all touch points should be telling the same story. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

4. Return On Ad Spend Performance

The most important piece of data you can glean from Google Analytics is the ROAS performance of your clients’ media buying across the various websites they are advertising on. By tracking where the users are coming from and tracking their activity on your clients’ sites, you can determine their ROAS. You can then shift media investment to the top-performing websites. – Dennis Cook, Gamut. Smart Media from Cox.

5. The Source Of Relevant Traffic

Analyzing their clients’ Google Analytics allows agencies to see where relevant traffic is coming from, identify trends and target opportunities. Additionally, optimizing your campaigns based on the data feedback will lead to higher conversion rates. – Jordan Edelson, Appetizer Mobile LLC

6. Time On Page

Time on page is the most important Google Analytics statistic. Once you get traffic to your site, do they stay? What content do they consume? How much mindshare do they give you? What pages are sticky and not transactional? Time on page tells you what prospects value and where they give your ideas credence. Know this, and you’ll know your audience. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

7. Where Viewers Leave The Website

The pages where viewers are leaving the client’s website at abnormally high rates is where to focus. By finding out what pages are causing website viewers to drop off the most, clients can analyze these pages and make necessary adjustments to better grab the attention of future visitors. – Stefan Pollack, The Pollack Group

8. Behavior Flow

Behavior Flow is still my favorite feature offered by Google Analytics. Studying the flow of the visitors and the path they take while interacting with a website helps business owners understand what a page means to the customer. This information helps business owners understand how to prioritize and optimize pages to offer visitors a better user experience. – Ahmad Kareh, Twistlab Marketing

9. Goal Conversion Data

Google Analytics can be overwhelming, so a great place to start is by looking at a client’s goal conversions (the number of visitors that took the action your client intended for them to take). This one area can give quick insight into how and why a website was built, as well as whether or not the site is performing the way it’s meant to. If goals have not yet been set up, this is a great opportunity to start a conversation with your client about short- and long-term objectives. – Carey Kirkpatrick, CKP

10. The Most Popular Content

Simply looking at your website’s most popular content can tell you if that website really serves your target customer. All too often, content serves another purpose or user. My agency’s example is that the bio I wrote for our vice president was the most popular piece of content, which proved that web visitors came to copy that bio rather than to hire our agency. – Jim Caruso, M1PR, Inc. d/b/a MediaFirst PR – Atlanta

11. Device Usage

One often overlooked piece of data in Google Analytics is device usage. All clients basically have two websites: a desktop site and a mobile site. Understanding what visitors are doing on both sites is critical, especially when it comes to advertising and landing pages. – T. Maxwell, eMaximize

Using Consumer Data To Drive Marketing? 14 Risks To Be Aware Of

To make the best decisions about strategy, marketers today largely depend more on data than on their gut instincts. While data is valuable and can reveal important insights, there are risks involved in betting on consumer data alone.

What are some caveats that companies need to be aware of when using consumer data to inform their marketing initiatives? Here, members of Forbes Agency Council discuss 14 potential risks for businesses relying on consumer data to drive their marketing strategy.

Forbes Agency Council

1. Not Finding The ‘Why’

Data is an effective tool for finding out “what” consumers are doing. Where data falls short is in explaining “why” they are doing it. Smart marketers would be wise to take an “outside-in” approach by connecting with and listening to consumers to humanize the data and fully understand the motivations behind their behaviors. – Camille Nicita, Gongos, Inc.

2. Lacking Focus On Actual Buyers

Shopper insights are readily available and often tapped to inform marketing direction, messaging and overall strategy. I would argue that a more valuable group to tap would be the “purchasers” rather than the shoppers. Brands would be well-served by focusing on who is actually buying their items, then enhancing brand loyalty by targeting others who are of a similar mind and creating a dialogue with these purchasers. – Dave Wendland, Hamacher Resource Group

3. Relying On Hindsight

Too many times, people use data to look in the rearview mirror. This narrows action moving forward and leaves sales on the table. Instead, use data that helps predict what your target is looking for. Then, develop content that is valuable on their terms and start them down the consideration path. – Leonard Cercone, CerconeBrownCompany

4. Examining Numbers Rather Than Behaviors

The problem with consumer data is the way many brands analyze it. The data isn’t a bunch of numbers; it represents real people who are telling you something. Brands need to examine the behaviors behind the numbers. Only then can they maximize the data’s potential. – Roger Hurni, Off Madison Ave

5. Uncontrollable Variables Interfering With Collection

When relying on consumer data to help market, you’re relying heavily on pure online data. The data can lack quality due to many uncontrollable variables that could be interfering with its collection. To counteract these variables, research on the psychological data of consumers can be paired with online data to best market effectively. – Tony Pec, Y Not You Media

6. Failing To Consider The Data’s Context

You need to make sure that you’re thinking through the context of the data and any external factors that may cause shifts in consumer behaviors. For example, when planning for 2021, will you go off of 2019 consumer habits? Or will you look at 2020 and what happened during the pandemic? – Spencer Hadelman, Advantage Marketing

7. ‘Analysis Paralysis’ Leading To Indecision

When there is so much data, “analysis paralysis” can often cause advertisers to avoid making critical decisions. With Facebook ads, for example, we’ve actually seen an improvement recently with broad audiences versus highly targeted audiences because the AI and machine learning is processing and using that data at a faster and more efficient rate than an individual could. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

8. Being Misled By Self-Reported Data

There’s always a chance that consumer data, and especially self-reported data, is misleading. Ultimately, if you are relying on consumer data to fuel your marketing, make sure that the value exchange for them providing good data is substantial. In other words, if you can offer users something useful and/or improve their experience, the likelihood of accurate data collection increases. – Donna Robinson, Collective Measures

9. Not Accounting For Inherent Bias

Be sure to understand and account for any inherent bias in the respondents. For example, if the research data is generated by online panels, then you are likely to have respondents who skew younger in age and are more comfortable using technology. If you are not aware of this, unadjusted insights may misinform your strategies. – Brian Handrigan, Advocado

10. Data Quickly Becoming Obsolete

Relying on data rather than instinct helps marketers develop much more effective strategies and results. One factor to always keep in mind when relying on consumer data is that you have to make sure it’s up to date. With rapidly changing times, data can become obsolete rather quickly. One way to avoid this is to narrow down and combine several data points to ensure the highest quality audiences and results. – Jonathan Durante, Expandify Marketing Inc

11. Being Careless About Data Collection

One of the main risks is not being careful enough about the information you are collecting and how you are collecting it. Many new laws have been put in place recently, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) in Europe, to ensure that standards of privacy are followed. These standards include things such as how long you can retain someone’s data as well as what you can do with it in the long term. – Jon James, Ignited Results

12. Being Misinformed By Imperfect Data

Consumer data should be used knowing that the data is not perfect. The collected data could come from another member of the household who was using the device the data was collected on instead of from the intended consumer. Keep the halo effect in mind because one person could influence the purchasing decisions of another member of the household. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

13. A Resulting Lack Of Innovation

Did people know they wanted an iPhone before Apple created it? All the consumer data in the world can’t replace innovative thinking when it comes to developing great ideas. If you take a color-by-numbers approach to marketing based on what customers say they want, you will never produce an original work of art that inspires them in ways they had never imagined possible. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

14. Not Seeing The Full Picture

You need to understand that the data doesn’t always give the full picture. I watch a lot of people make decisions with the data they have, assuming that is all the information there could be. You need to take a step back and understand the ecosystem in which the data sits so that you can use it to make informed decisions—but don’t solely rely on it. – Erik Huberman, Hawke Media

How To Start A Social Monitoring Program: 14 Tips For Companies

While related, social monitoring and social listening are two distinct strategies to improve the customer experience. Social listening allows companies to take a broad look at the discussions occurring on social media around their brand. They then collect data and analyze it to find useful insights.

Through social monitoring, however, social media managers actively monitor their companies’ social accounts and newsfeeds, acting in a one-to-one capacity to address issues and engage with customers. In this way, companies can respond directly to the questions and comments customers post online for them.

Forbes Agency Council

We asked a panel of experts what important things companies should keep in mind when setting up social monitoring programs. If you’re considering implementing one, check out these tips from 14 members of Forbes Agency Council.

1. Have A Well-Defined Social Strategy

The customer makes the first move by reaching out to the brand, tagging them or mentioning them. Then, it’s up to the company to respond appropriately. It’s crucial to have a well-defined social strategy that helps your team know how to interact with your audience. Brands often have multiple audiences, and what you share, comment on or like differs, depending on the audience. – Tim Sellers, Inferno

2. Start With Intention

Have clearly stated expectations and goals, then share those with key stakeholders as well as the people executing the social media monitoring. If everyone is on the same page in regard to the intent behind the financial and time investment, you will better understand the key performance indicators and the value the investment will bring to the organization. – Korena Keys, KeyMedia Solutions

3. Give The Team Flexibility To Customize Responses

While brands should anticipate common questions and their answers, give the team flexibility to customize a response. Cut-and-paste answers make things worse. Your team needs marketing awareness, as their answers are read by others beyond the original poster. Also, take the conversation out of the news feed as quickly as possible on the way to resolving the issue. – Jim Tobin, Carusele and Ignite Social Media

4. Develop A Messaging Grid

Developing a messaging grid is key so that community managers are empowered to monitor and respond to mentions in real time. Account leaders should tap social, creative and PR teams and have them role-play potential responses. Community managers will be aware of frequent topics from past social listening, creative will provide the right tone of voice, and PR can play out any possible crisis scenarios. – Elliott Phear, Night After Night

5. Leverage Social Monitoring Tools

Social media is a sea teeming with brand mentions. Trying to monitor and respond manually will burn out even the most passionate marketer. Use social monitoring and management tools, such as Talkwalker, Google Alerts, Hootsuite and Reputology, to save time that you can spend on social media strategy and tactics to garner your audience’s attention. – Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative

6. Highlight Positive Mentions

Social media has transformed the customer service experience. It’s become a public forum. Highlight your positive brand mentions as a part of your social media messaging campaign. Boost posts on social media to support positive interactions and foster community. – Michael Kalman, MediaCrossing Inc.

7. Address Negative Mentions

Reaching out to your fans is great, but remember that negative attention can also offer a chance to engage and show off your customer-service muscles. If you’re able to correct the situation and make the customer happy, they’re likely to share that experience as widely as they shared the first interaction. – Hannah Trivette, NUVEW Web Solutions

8. Learn How To Anticipate

My No. 1 tip is to anticipate. Before starting the program, define common workflows around who will answer the questions or comments. Determine ahead of time what common answers and approvals will be, if needed, so that all stakeholders are aware of what is happening. Social media responses go quickly, so we want to be ready to react versus waiting for approvals so that the program accomplishes the goals at launch. – Gavin Baker, Baker Labs

9. Work Backward From Your Goals

If you want sales, for example, you need to measure traffic to the site where you sell. If you want awareness, then you might want to measure reach and engagement. If you measure just for the sake of measuring, you risk not getting the whole picture. Many software solutions currently available offer far more metrics than you’ll ever need to know. – Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR

10. Understand What The Numbers Mean

The No. 1 tip is to first understand what the numbers that you are seeing mean. How interactive are people on the platform you’re using? What age are they? What other demographics do they fill? Your program will give you a number that represents how many people mention your company, but unless you know who those people are, it won’t do you any good in the long run. – Jason Hall, FiveChannels Marketing

11. Don’t Be Creepy

Everyone knows that the things we do online are being tracked and codified. But how companies use that information can make all the difference in how their brands are perceived. Most people on social media appreciate or will at least tolerate engagement from brands as long as it feels above-board and not as if they’re being stalked. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

12. Be Consistent Across The Board

When you begin the process of social monitoring and responding to individual brand mentions, make sure you are consistent across the board with responses. Consumers are very smart and will see if a brand responds to some comments and not others. Consistency is key to ensuring that consumers continue engaging with the brand on social channels. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

13. Find Balance Between Responding And Observing

I’ve found that the key to social monitoring is finding a balance between responding and observing. Some believe that responding to every single mention of their product is a good idea, but you can easily get lost in the weeds and not really see the big picture. Take the opportunity to step back and see the broader trends of reactions, and then use the perspective you gain to create your marketing and PR strategies. – Adrian Falk, Believe Advertising & PR

14. Don’t ‘Farm It Out’

It’s understandable to want to hire a freelancer to monitor and engage on your behalf in an attempt to save costs. To keep your brand voice on-point, to hear what is actually being said on social and to engage effectively, you need a dedicated team member. Without this, you won’t be able to formulate engagement strategies around any possible PR issues, should any arise. – Bernard May, National Positions

11 Inspiring Ways To Market A Strong Company Culture

Company culture can be a huge selling point for potential employees as well as potential clients. Both of these audiences want to know that the people behind the scenes not only believe in what the company offers, but also collaborate well with each other to deliver it it.

Highlighting a thriving culture is an effective marketing technique that capitalizes on the internal strength of a business and its people. That’s why we asked members of Forbes Agency Council to tell us about some of the best ways to do it. To inspire you, here are 11 of their top recommendations for showcasing your company culture in your marketing efforts.

Forbes Agency Council

1. Communicate Through Visuals

When it comes to marketing your company’s culture, it’s important to remember that it comes down to transparency and trust. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through incredible visuals that allow members of the public to interact with and learn more about your company on a personal level. Every member of the team creates a company, and it’s a great idea to get this message across. – James Blake, Vindicta Digital

2. Highlight The Hiring Process

With a mission of “empowering our people to be the best versions of themselves,” we highlight how our hiring practice aligns employees with the roles that they will most likely love and wildly succeed at. We also share stories of our core values in action and how our daily huddle (where everyone shares gratitude, their next 24 hours of activity and any places they’re stuck) keeps everyone connected. – Brian Handrigan, Advocado

3. Illuminate Your Humanity

We focus on highlighting our employees, first, to illuminate the humanity of our company. Organizations often focus on the company’s views and actions rather than those of their employees; we do the opposite. One of our most-used slogans is “#behuman” because, at the end of the day, we want to create a space where you can be yourself. – Melissa Chang, PureB2B

4. Let Your People Do The Talking

I’ve always been wary of firms that overtly “market” culture. It tends to come off as “clubby” or exclusive. Flip the script. Build a team of customer-service-centric people and let them do the talking. Whether interacting with current or potential clients or attracting talent, an authentic customer-service-driven team will go above and beyond to make everyone feel welcome. – Patrick Nycz, NewPoint Marketing

5. Explain How You’re Different

We market our culture based on the differences between our environment and that of most corporate jobs. We believe that finding a flow in work instead of being in endless meetings gives both our employees as well as our clients the best results. Working autonomously hasn’t ever been more important, and remote work has a culture that works wonderfully for self-starters. – Lee Salisbury, UnitOneNine

6. Show It Off In-Office

We market our culture by proclaiming it on the walls of our offices in the form of posters of our core values, DiSC scores on everyone’s office door and a “kudos” board in the kitchen for notes about team members who have done something wonderful. Our core values are dominant on our website and featured in our sales proposals, and we also blog about them, which helps with recruitment. – Jeff Bradford, the Bradford Group

7. Create A Culture Presentation Deck

I’ve often seen companies promote culture by putting their culture presentation deck on SlideShare, and then promoting it via the press, blog articles or social media. It’s a great way to help others who are searching for your company to find and understand your culture and core values. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

8. Livestream Daily Operations

One of the best ways to market company culture is to look at daily operations and do livestreams. This is very valuable to your customers because it shows that you follow the talk with the walk. You are not afraid to open your doors to ensure that it is possible for everyone who is following you to see inside your operation. – Jon James, Ignited Results

9. Share Screenshots Of Teamwork

There is no “I” in “team,” and all great work is done in a collaborative way. Highlighting the team aspect of culture is important, and in these virtual times, is made more creative through screenshots of team meetups and collaboration sessions. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

10. Prove Your Culture Through Your Actions

Although we do promote our team (and, in turn, our culture) on platforms such as Instagram, actions speak louder than words. If we promote a culture of results and collaboration, it is our responsibility to prove these repeatedly through our actions. If these actions are good enough, and we are graced with a positive email or review, we can repurpose these in our content to further promote our culture. – Bernard May, National Positions

11. Produce Blogs And Podcasts

Podcasts are big for us. Through our podcasts and blogs, others can see the culture that we have built. To see our team and spend time with us is to see our strength as a team. Because we’re proud of the culture we’ve created, we want to make it as transparent as possible. Our podcasts are like opening a door on one of our fun but informative meetings. – Danny Star, Website Depot