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  • A Non-Negotiable for Digital Innovation

    Mar 11 2016

    a-non-negotiable-for-innovation-jonathan-orosco If you're familiar with the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), you understand the importance of implementing build-measure-learn loop cycles whenever you're creating a new digital site, product or service. Learning about your users during this process is informally called "user research," and it can mean the difference between building something expected vs. something truly exceptional.

    User research is different than market research, which concentrates on the consumer in the market economy. Instead, user research focuses on understanding user experience — those experiences associated with interacting with a product or site. How close your digital team is to potential users of the product can ultimately determine how successful they will be throughout its life cycle.

    Sometimes product requirements drafts are seen as set in stone, which may make user research seem counterintuitive to those solely intent on meeting those requirements. There can even be an intense reaction and quiet resistance to research to avoid exploring alternatives, going back to the drawing board or financing additional rounds of revisions. But the most costly path of all is using engineering teams to build and launch a product, then relying solely on analytics to tell you whether it was the right thing to build (better known as opportunity cost).

    Remember, problems in your site will be discovered at some point, and sticking your head in the proverbial sand will only delay the inevitable — at higher costs. Watching users interact with your product throughout the project life cycle has shown to be a critical tool to uncovering the insights that can help lead to true innovation.


    Jonathan Orosco - Interactive Producer

  • How to Jump-Start Your Inbound Marketing

    Mar 11 2016

    Attracting qualified leads to your brand through inbound marketing — the owned and organic content your brand publishes itself — isn't easy. Your team dedicates hours to writing for your company's blog and social channels, but still you don't see an increase in website traffic.

    The solution to your problem could be as easy as incorporating these best practices:

    • Content is king. Create quality content that answers your target's basic questions about an interest in your industry. Make your content shareable, with information that makes them look smart to pass it on. Add infographics, images and video that will capture their attention.
    • Map the buyer's journey. Address their needs at the right time. Talk to their pain points at the exact time they are experiencing them. Remember, your current customers were once strangers to your brand.
    • Personalize the customer experience. Have a one-to-one conversation with each person who consumes your content. Talk specifically about their most pressing issues. As you learn more about your prospects over time, you can better personalize your messages to their specific needs.
    • Use multiple channels. Inbound marketing reaches people where they are. Share your content across multiple channels, paying special attention to those that your primary target frequents.

    Multiple inbound tactics that work in tandem — and are driven by strategy — can help you reap the benefits of a pull marketing strategy.


    Tonya Walker - Marketing Automation Manager

  • SMS Marketing: Too Intrusive or a Missed Opportunity?

    Mar 11 2016

    sms-marketing-aaron-dubois Simply put, text messaging is personal. It's the one line of communication that happens among people you know personally — a parent, loved one, friends and companies that you give permission to send you information.

    As of today, 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone, with ownership on the rise among the younger generation. SMS is a valuable a way to communicate with your customers by providing deals, promotions or notifications about their account, like an upcoming bill… but only once they've opted in to receive those communications. Companies doing SMS correctly have a greater understanding of what their target's customer journey looks like, what role each channel plays in the customer journey and how psychology lines up with those channels.

    With smartphone users on the rise, why aren't more brands adopting SMS as a way to deliver content to their customers? Some companies might feel that sending a text message as the first touchpoint is too intrusive, but here are some points to keep in mind when leveraging SMS communication in your marketing mix:

    • Content needs to feel like content they would normally receive via text messaging
    • Value of the text message content should be timely and not spam the user
    • Interactivity should be a two-way street and allow recipients to send "commands"
    • Permission from the receiver to opt in or out with ease
    • Measure how many users subscribed and then dropped off

    When developing your SMS marketing strategy, think about your customers as if they were a loved one — after all, they're the ones on their way to becoming your brand ambassadors...who will love your brand.


    Aaron Dubois - VP, Digital

  • How Will the Web Look and Feel in 2016?

    Jan 22 2016
    how-will-the-web-look-and-feel-in-2016-hai-tran

    Design trends often span several years, even decades. Most websites and applications of the past decade continue to follow common layout patterns: header, footer, sidebars and content area. We look back at three of the biggest design trends of 2015 and how they'll impact 2016.

    1. To Scroll or Not to Scroll?
      Most designers agree that the trend of long scrolling will continue into 2016. With mobile browsing now exceeding desktop, the fold is officially dead with new research proving that users don't mind scrolling.

      But is it the best experience for your brand's users? While this trend is hot, we've seen a number of sites opting to go toward the minimal, or even no-scroll, to focus and increase engagement with their users. (For example: Peugeot GTi - Chase the Line.) What the user sees on any given page is everything they need — no further scrolling required.
    2. Component-based and Object-oriented Design
      Object-oriented design isn't new, but it's only been the last year or so that we've seen a growing proliferation toward the ultra-efficient modular and component-based design for the Web. Instead of mocking up entire layouts and comps for every Web page, brands are designing sites using repeatable elements that can be used on different screens and different locations, both within a given website as well as outside of it.
    3. Rich and Subtle Animations
      Vision (sight) is the strongest of our five senses. It stimulates, inspires and even disgusts to capture our attention. With HTML5 becoming standard, users can now engage with content in a much deeper way without suffering from slow load times, lag and having to download additional plugins. Stand apart in the sea of sameness with rich and clever animations to stimulate and engage vision — from expansive, moving hero images and cinemagraphs to small-scale hovers, loading bars and micro-interactions.

      Expect to see this trend evolve this year as designers take it to another level. Get ready for transition animations with deeper thoughts behind them instead of seeing just a generic animation that simply looks pretty.


    In 2016, Web design will to continue to change and grow toward richer, more dynamic and personalized digital experiences. We'll see smarter solutions that improve the way we work, play, live, discover and learn online.


    Hai Tran - Creative Director

  • The Dangers of Misunderstanding Minimum Viable Product

    Jan 22 2016
    the-dangers-of-minimum-viable-product-jonathan-orosco

    Technology needs to move at the speed of business, which often requires companies developing new digital products and experiences to be nimble, iterative and live by the "ship or die" philosophy — which can flirt dangerously with mediocrity. Companies often adopt similar models from the startup world to stay competitive, including the concept of Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

    Originally developed as part of the "lean startup" methodology, MVP refers to "that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort." Over time, this definition slowly transformed to mean "the smallest thing you can build that lets you quickly make it around the build/measure/learn loop." Both definitions have gradually led to a growing problem, where some misinterpret and consequently misuse this concept entirely.

    One erroneous thought is that MVP is about just building something that is barely functional enough to get feedback. Consequently, those who fall for this misconception will often tend to eschew usability or reliability in the name of accelerated learning. However, it's important not to let MVP be an excuse to deliver a half-finished product. While software is never done, releasing features that aren't solid or work as expected ultimately lead to a poor customer experience.

    Remember, customers aren’t interested in helping you be a success; they're looking for a product to help solve their problem. Continue to ideate, prototype, build and analyze, but don't neglect to confirm quality before releasing your work into the wild.


    Jonathan Orosco - Interactive Producer

  • Experiential Trends on the Rise

    Jan 22 2016
    experiential-trends-on-the-rise-steffenie-zorner

    Last year, 79 percent of brands found a 2-to-1 ROI on their experiential investments and 95 percent of consumers were more inclined to make a purchase after attending an event (EventTrack). As experiential marketing grows and earns a larger share of marketing budgets, what kind of trends can we expect to see for consumer and B2B brands in 2016?

    1. Pop-ups and Mobile Units. As brands make larger initial investments in concepts and production, they are challenged to find ways to increase ROI through creative executions. Mobile units allow brands to bolster reach by attending cross-state, or even cross-country, events with relatively low transportation/operating costs. From prefab units to fully customized build-outs, expect creativity to soar on wheels.
    2. A Shift Towards Interactive. Videos, premiums and giveaways will still have a place at events, but this year, brands will focus on creating emotional connections through consumer experiences. Newer technology, including wearables, 3D, virtual reality and mobile app integration, will allow brands to customize the experience to an exact audience — and collect prospect information to boot.
    3. Increased PR and Social Integration. As marketers recognize the importance of strong themes and storytelling in their experiential programs, they will strengthen the partnership between experiential programs, PR and social media (and at times, paid media). Experiential gives brands plenty to talk about, and if done right, can produce loads of quality content as well. From using social to drive attendance and extend reach, to partnering with PR and paid media on custom programs, experiential marketing may become a true IMC partner.


    Steffenie Zorner - Team Manager

  • Top 5 Reasons to Conduct High-Impact Research in 2016

    Jan 22 2016
    top-5-reasons-conduct-high-impact-research-in-2016-tori-young

    It's 2016…should you be doing research this year? Absolutely! Even if you did it last year, your findings could already be outdated. Tech, culture, competitors and your audience change so rapidly that you need to measure in weeks, not years. Here are five actionable reasons to conduct research this year that will DO something for your business:

    1. Answer Bigger Business Issues. Think of your biggest business challenges right now. Do you have a clear understanding of your target and their needs? Could your processes be more efficient? Research will help identify the roots of a problem so you can move quickly to remedy
    2. Deliver Insights at the Speed of Decision-making. You're being asked to make decisions faster than ever. The good news is that today's research is moving at the speed of your decision-making needs, so there's no need to postpone research due to time constraints.
    3. Provide a Future View. Doing research now will keep you ahead of the curve as industry trends inevitably change. The strongest companies are those that consistently monitor the pulse of the market and are prepared for sudden shifts.
    4. Generate a 360-degree View. Target audience research is often the first and only research conducted. But not looking at the comprehensive business picture can set you back. Take time to research what's going on with your internal business strategies, your competitors and general market shifts.
    5. Impact the Business. Research is not restricted to marketing. Key findings can help to inform decisions all the way to the top. Ultimately, research is not about data. It's about insights that lead to strong recommendations that affect business decisions. When we know the "why," we can craft the smartest ways to say "how."


    Tori Young - VP, Brand Strategy

  • Two Things CMO Demands Will Dictate in 2016

    Jan 21 2016
    two-things-CMO-demands-will-dictate-in-2016-joe-phelpsAs we dive, head-first, into 2016, the focus of the chief marketing officer (CMO) should be driven by two objectives — achieving better collaboration and access to in-depth analytics.

    Better Collaboration Among Suppliers

    Near the top of the list of CMOs’ greatest frustrations are the disappointments they share in their agencies’ inability to work together to integrate the myriad of today’s communications platforms.

    C-suite executives are looking for harmony in their communications in 2016. They’re tired of departments and agencies fighting over budgets. They’ve had it with agencies trying to one-up each other and working from different strategies.

    They want peace and prosperity. In 2016 we’ll see more CMOs insisting their agency partners play nice, respect each other and collaborate. They must — in order to reap the power that comes from aligning the paid, owned, earned and shared media to speak with one brand voice. CMOs will seek agencies that will recommend what’s right for the client, not just what’s right for the agency. So, in 2016 the smarter agencies will see the advantage of working in harmony with their clients’ other partners. These agencies will work as a team for the client’s benefit. They’ll learn from each other. As a result they will all gain from their combined efforts.

    Greater Demand for Analytics
    Organic and paid search (SEO/SEM) is becoming the most powerful marcom medium. Those searching are more in the information-seeking and buying modes. So it’s about giving them what they want quickly and clearly, and less about vying for their attention. The most effective media has shifted to more permissive and less interruptive messaging.

    Yet, analytics is obviously more than SEO/SEM. Using marcom as an example of opportunities available: What social media listening tools or brand passion indices are companies using? And how do they take that information (along with their web analytics or email analytics) to adjust content, offers, customer service, etc.?

    As this happens, marcom becomes more deeply involved with the operational workings of the company — the three marketing “Ps” — Product development, Place of distribution and Pricing. For sellers to meet demand for product and service features, and reach their target more efficiently, the demand for analytics increases and drives the integration of all elements of a business.

    Every discipline across the board needs to better understand what resonates with their target. Whether it is product design, sales, customer service or marketing communications, the analytics for one discipline can drive understanding for others. Every discipline needs to have access to and understand all the analytics. For example, if PR specialists know what content is resonating on the website or in an email campaign, that content can become a pitch that will likely resonate with a journalist or blogger.

    So back to my #1 prediction: Collaboration and integration can be both synergistic and symbiotic — whether it’s among departments in one company or among consultants. And fresh information from analytics provides the fuel to help this happen.

     

    Joe Phelps - Chairman/CEO

    This article was originally published on CommPRO.biz in January 2016.

  • Flash is Dead: Why HTML5 is the New Standard

    Dec 08 2015

    flash-is-dead-html5-new-standard-salim-peerally About three months ago, Google DoubleClick, a pioneer in online advertising, decided to move away from Flash and instead automatically convert ads and content to a programming format called HTML5.

    Completely different from Flash, the format companies have been using for years, HTML5 is the new standard for marketers. Here's what you need to know:

    • HTML5 animation loads faster. Faster means a better user experience.
    • More mobile apps and games will come out of this technology, and they don't have to be complicated. Google used HTML5 to recreate the PAC-MAN game for its 30th anniversary — simple, brilliant and entertaining.
    • HTML5 animation is programming-based, so people with disabilities will finally be able to interact with animated content. For example, screen readers can't show Flash videos, but they can read HTML code and convert graphics to accessibility-compliant content.
    • We will see smoother animations that work on more devices. Soon we'll see more animation using 3D layers, for an even better experience.
    • Most importantly for marketers: HTML5 banner ads and animations are SEO-friendly and can be crawled by robots, which should boost your brand's ranking in search results.

    Salim Peerally - Motion Graphics Specialist

  • Going Hybrid: When Design and Code Meet in One Specialist

    Dec 08 2015

    going-hybrid-designers-who-code-jess-mcdowell

    A question designers face is whether they need to be able to code their designs. In an era of ridiculously specialized roles, there's a strong pull for both sides of the argument.

    I've begun to incorporate front end development and responsive design best practices into my workflow, which allows me to bring ideas from concept to full development for smaller projects. It's so empowering! For larger, complex projects, I can communicate more efficiently with interactive specialists for better and more profitable work.

    If you're trying to decide if a hybrid workflow is right for your team, here are some pros and cons:

    Pros:

    • Increases profitability and workflow efficiency — eliminates the middle man
    • Influences design decisions from the beginning of the project
    • Enables staying current with Web design trends and techniques
    • Allows for greater control over the work
    • Provides more marketable skillset
    • Gives an edge over the competition

    Cons:

    • Intensive time investment
    • Steep learning curve
    • Formal training can be expensive
    • Tough to stay current on trends and best practices in the developer community
    • May lead to a compromise in quality if used for the wrong projects


    Is a hybrid role right for you?
    If you design for digital, it's recommended that you understand hybrid principles. At the very least, you'll learn the basics of coding to understand developers' needs. You'll learn vocabulary to accurately express your ideas. And you'll probably become a better designer and ultimately create better work.

    At some point, all designers have handed off beautiful creative only to see half of it reflected in the final HTML product. If designers have more influence in the project flow, end users will benefit from the unity of our decisions: better designs, better workflows and, ultimately, better work. It's a win-win situation.

    And if you're a female creative thinking about becoming a hybrid, cheers to you! We need more of us.


    Jess McDowell - Art Director

  • Building Trust Through Content Timing

    Dec 08 2015

    building-trust-through-content-timing-monica-peixoto

    We've all been there. You receive an email with an appealing subject line that speaks to you, open it and decide to download the white paper. Next thing you know: a salesperson calls to see if you are ready to buy.

    That's a great way to do marketing automation poorly.

    If your brand is automating, do not immediately assign a sales rep for a simple white paper download — this prospect is in research mode. With a solid content strategy, your brand will have materials ready and available for the next time that prospect engages with you.

    Content strategy allows you to match your content to the different stages of the prospecting funnel. Develop content as a building block to create trust and deliver it, but only at the appropriate time. In our example, send a product demonstration video to the researching prospect; don't call.

    Your content should build thought leadership and, most importantly, trust with your target audience. Over time, by delivering relevant content, you will be seen as a go-to expert in your field.

    Consider several types of content (infographics, white papers, webinars, videos) and time them to the customer journey. But realize that in the B2B world, “only 9% of people consider vendor content trustworthy.”

    You can play a huge role in reversing this stat.

    To gain the trust of your prospects, create content that is:

    • Relevant
    • Engaging
    • Timely — as in, appropriate to the sales funnel
    • Proven for any claim you make

    The ultimate goal is to build a relationship over time to give to the sales team to close. Remember, people like to give their business to companies they trust.


    Monica Peixoto - VP, Team Leader

  • How Out-of-Home Technology is Reaching Our Devices

    Dec 08 2015

    how-ooh-technology-is-reaching-our-devices-regina-hinton

    The out-of-home (OOH) industry is challenging consumers to look up from their smartphones to engage with displays, then return to their mobile screens to continue the experience.

    By nature, OOH forces great creative executions because the typical consumer only has a few seconds to interact with the message. An innovative billboard design can attract attention from miles around. From traditional billboards to augmented reality, these formats take that attention and generate digital buzz.

    With near ubiquity, OOH is evolving from a standalone medium to an entry portal to digital and mobile programs in the form of a QR code, URL or hashtag on a poster.

    OOH may take the form of augmented reality, digital imaging or other tactics to enhance an outdoor message. By working synergistically, OOH gives brands a chance to boost engagement through coupons, discounts and entertainment to more accurately measure campaign impact and ROI.

    Today's OOH platforms provide connections to a virtual marketplace where consumers have the ability to download music, video, games, coupons, tickets, etc.

    We use a tool (http://creativetool.oaaa.org/) that allows us to test a variety of OOH formats in different environments — such as urban, suburban and highway — with an adjustable distance meter. In the localized world of OOH, distance and location are akin to the targeting capabilities digital marketers use to deliver relevant messaging to specific multicultural segments.

    What ties these traditional and new technology formats together is the opportunity for imagination and visual storytelling to reach people where they live, work, shop and play. And when used with inventiveness, it creates ad spaces where none existed before.


    Regina Hinton - Media Strategist

  • Evolving the Facebook 'Like'

    Oct 20 2015

    evolving-the-facebook-like-susan-shimotsu

    Facebook would not remain the unquestioned leader in social media if it didn't constantly try to improve its platform. What started with the "Like" is now a full suite of engagements, and soon, reactions.

    Facebook is testing emoji reactions in Spain and Ireland, allowing users to respond to posts with "haha" and "sad" buttons in addition to the traditional "like," potentially bringing value back to Facebook's most recognizable feature.

    Because of these regular changes, brands are often playing catch-up to make sure they're fully utilizing Facebook to reach their customers. While any of these reactions still count as “likes” when calculating analytics and insights for ads, brands can prepare for the shift by setting more specific goals prior to creating content and creative.

    With a broader range of emotions, marketers need to identify exactly what reactions they want their target audience to feel. Is your campaign trying to be charming? Put more effort into content that cleverly engages the audience. Does your brand want to inspire your audience? Adjust your tone to motivate people to action.

    It's been several years since Facebook page "likes" have held any real weight. Re-energize your content to impact your target's News Feed positively — or whatever specific reaction your brand seeks.


    Susan Shimotsu - Public Relations Coordinator

  • SEOlution: Why Internal Linking is Overlooked and Underutilized

    Oct 20 2015

    seolution-internal-linking-chris-herbrand No SEO strategy is exactly the same, but there are core strategies that brands should use regardless of industry or category. Internal linking is one of them.

    There are a few benefits to implementing an internal linking strategy:

    1. It gives Google and other search engines a clearer understanding of your website and its content, which allows them to crawl and catalog your content more efficiently.
    2. It can help bring users to other relevant areas of your website that they might find interesting, which increases the chance of them linking back to your content.
    3. It can help funnel authority from overly popular pages to perfectly relevant pages deeper in your website that have fallen off the radar due to time and/or neglect.

    Optimize internal links with relevant anchor text to clearly communicate the subject matter. If Google and the other search engines continuously see anchor text that is similar and that links to the same page, the chances of that page showing in search results for similar words are higher.

    Internal links should be part of every SEO campaign because they are one of the factors within your control.

     

    Chris Herbrand - SEO Specialist

  • 5 Ways to Keep Your Content from Getting Stale

    Oct 20 2015

    5-ways-to-keep-your-content-from-getting-stale-andy-kaufman Everybody likes creating shiny new things.

    Whether it's a new customer help document or a complete website redesign, hitting the PUBLISH button and finally sending your creation out into the world is an exhilarating experience.

    Unfortunately, we often spend so much time and energy creating content that will engage our customers to help achieve our business goals that we forget to set up a process to ensure that our content continues to do what we want it to in the long term.

    Without a clear, realistic and actionable content governance plan, your content can quickly become stale, out-of-date and ineffective. This can lead to things like:

    • Broken links
    • Inaccurate information
    • Wrong tense (e.g., "Attend our upcoming webinar...")
    • Duplicate content
    • Inconsistent branding
    After a few years of neglect, you're right back where you started when you decided to update your content in the first place.

    So how do you make sure that your content gets the love and attention it deserves?

    Here's a five-point content governance plan to ensure freshness:

    1. Content Ownership: Assign an owner to every piece of content. This person is responsible for reviewing it and, if necessary, coordinating with subject matter experts to keep it updated on an ongoing basis.
    2. Style Guidelines: To ensure consistency, create clear rules for tone, voice, message architecture, branding and content formats (this really should happen before you start creating any content in the first place).
    3. Workflow: Establish an efficient, repeatable process to ensure that all new content meets editorial, style and technical guidelines.
    4. Editorial Calendar: Create a content calendar to plan out new content initiatives as well as schedule reviews of current content.
    5. Stakeholder Buy-in: Even the best governance plan can fail if the people implementing it don't take it seriously. Socializing the importance and benefits of governance is key.

    Content governance may not be sexy. It may not be exhilarating. Yet it is crucial to ensuring your content helps serve users' needs and achieve your business goals.

     

    Andy Kaufman - Content Strategist

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