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  • 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

  • The Customer Journey Begins with the Right Questions

    Oct 20 2015

    the-customer-journey-begins-with-the-right-questions The essence of a brand lives within the heart and mind of every customer. As strategic B2B marketing professionals, it is imperative to understand what makes each customer tick to ensure that your key targets receive personalized content when and where they are looking for it.

    Surveys, focus groups and research help to gather insights into your customer's habits, but personal interviews with customers deliver some of the most powerful and relevant data.

    When conducting customer profiling interviews, it is important to interview recently won and recently lost customers, as both provide a unique perspective into why a customer chose your product, service or solution over a competitor's, and vice versa.

    Here are four tips to getting the most out of a customer interview:

    1. Don't go into the interview with a set of questions, although it doesn't hurt to have a few fallback questions in your back pocket. Instead, ask customers to take you back to the first day that they realized they had a problem and needed to find a solution.
    2. Have customers take you along their journey of discovery, and continue to ask questions that reveal their path from day one through their post-sale experience.
    3. If customers fast-forward to the solution too quickly, ask them to take you back to key moments along their journey, so you can identify where they went to look for resources, what types of resources interested them and who they went to for advice (both within their organization and externally).
    4. Talk to internal stakeholders such as sales representatives, product managers and marketing managers, as they can provide valuable insight into the customer experience. Their feedback, in addition to data gathered directly from your customer base, will help ensure that your marketing strategies map to your business goals.


    Randy Brodeur - VP, Team Leader

  • National Coffee Day with Ground Up

    Sep 29 2015

    Each day, our Ground Up pour over coffee crew enjoys their afternoon cup together. This special brew made our National Coffee Day celebrations complete.

  • Stop Selling and Start Telling a Story

    Sep 15 2015

    stop-selling-and-start-telling-a-story-beau-elwell Good branded content can make 30-second spots look like quaint, elbow-in-the-ribs sitcoms from the '60s. Consumers now expect more authentic content from their brands and less "selling." This quantum jump from push marketing to more robust storytelling occurred quickly, but it is here to stay.

    Social media and the resulting transparency make the latest generation of consumers savvier and less tolerant of traditional styles of advertising. Plus, with media consumption growing and fracturing at the same time, it behooves marketers to entertain and bring value to their customers' lives instead of simply adding a list of specs.

    So what are the keys to great branded content?

    • Research. Understand your target audience — branded content that fails to connect with consumers can have a negative impact.
    • Authenticity. The best branded content connects with the customers who understand your brand and want to align themselves with your philosophy.
    • Accessibility. Now more than ever, people want access to their brands — to feel like a part of their culture and that they are being heard. Use content to connect with people, allowing them to connect with your brand.
    • Storytelling. This is important. Get better at storytelling. Nearly all new media that have come online in the past decade are avenues for people to tell their stories. Your brand shouldn't be any different.

     

    Beau Elwell - Creative Director

  • Marketing Automation is the New Black

    Sep 15 2015

    Marketing automation has gained popularity in recent years thanks to the emergence and accessibility of automation software.

    It allows you to deliver personalized, relevant content to customers, leads and prospects, and to nurture leads across multiple channels.

    Many companies purchase marketing automation software thinking it comes equipped with all the necessary tools to generate, qualify and convert leads, which is why many out-of-the-box software implementations fail.

    Before you automate, consider these four things:

    1. Be strategic. A constant flow of new leads is crucial to successful automation. Relevant content attracts new leads and keeps prospects engaged throughout the buying cycle. You'll need a library of content that speaks to your audience's needs and challenges.
    2. Be realistic. Marketing automation tools help streamline and scale successful marketing efforts. You should already be generating a steady flow of leads and have a proven engagement strategy before deciding to automate.
    3. Start small. Create small pilot programs that can scale if the desired results are achieved. This way, you can easily identify successes and failures early on.
    4. Document everything. Keep a working master document explaining your internal processes, system configuration, program/asset naming conventions and overall strategy. Don't rely on one employee to be the central knowledge base for your organization.

     

    Tonya Walker - Marketing Automation Manager

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