It’s Marketing Planning Time!

It's marketing planning timeLabor Day has come and gone. Not only does this represent the end of the summer season, it also means we’re coming up on the fourth quarter of 2017. That means it’s time to start thinking about the marketing planning process for 2018.

The truth is, marketing planning for next year should be well underway long before the year ends. It’s just too important to put it off until the last minute. Budgets and goals are set well before January 1st, and your marketing plan should also be finalized before then.

Why do you need a marketing plan?

Would you take a long trip without your GPS or a map? Well, you need a marketing plan to plot out where you want your business to go and how you plan to get there. Marketing planning helps you think through and write down your business goals and what you need to do to achieve them.

The marketing planning process is a good opportunity to:

  • Identify and understand your target market
  • Take an in-depth look at your competition
  • Examine what differentiates your from your competition
  • Assess what you do very well and what needs improvement
  • Recognize emerging market threats and opportunities
  • Determine how you intend to reach your target market
  • Assemble a budget with the sufficient resources necessary for success

After you’ve reflected on the big picture, defined your vision and identified your marketing goals, you need to put a plan in place so you achieve those goals. Your marketing planning process should map out a blueprint to help in achieving each one of your goals, guiding your marketing decisions as you go. We’ve written a separate post about what a marketing plan is and what goes into it, which you’ll find here.

Once you finish your marketing plan, don’t let it collect dust! While you’re busy putting out those daily fires in the office, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees where your business is concerned. Even so, try to make time to refer to your marketing plan at least every quarter. Since things will always change, be ready to make those mid-year changes or tweaks to your plan to keep it on track. You’ll be helping your business stay on track to achieve your marketing goals.

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What is people-based marketing?

 What exactly is people-based marketing?

People-based marketing refers to the ability to deliver targeted ads and messages to individuals across any screen, on any device. Facebook was first to use the term “people-based marketing” when it launched its people-based solution, Custom Audiences. The new tactic allowed marketers to target campaigns to individual Facebook users using their interests, characteristics and affinities — everything except their real names.

Digital marketing had gained a somewhat deserved reputation for reducing people to numbers, segments and vaguely defined profiles. Marketers spent their budget on impressions without really knowing if they were making “an impression.”

With consumers rapidly shifting away from television and desktop computers to mobile devices and multiple platforms, the cookie-based tracking methods advertisers used for years weren’t working as work well across web and mobile devices. Facebook billed people-based marketing as a “must-have” answer for businesses. Almost three years later, people-based marketing has gone mainstream.

According to Danielle Lee, Global VP, Partner Solutions at Spotify, “People-based marketing represents an industry shift from targeting devices to connecting with the right people at the right time, with the right message. Rather than targeting ads to devices based on cookies, which is fraught with inadequacies, marketers can now reach people across the many devices they use, thanks to persistent identity.”

Marketers have traditionally relied on third-party data picked up by cookies and tracking pixels as we explore the web. Marketers use these bits and pieces — our preferences, habits, and identities — to form an incomplete approximation of consumers. Although digital marketers have made great strides interpreting these fragments, they still don’t add up to a whole person. People-based marketing goes at all this in a different way.

Where people-based marketing data comes from

People-based marketing relies on what’s called “first-party data”. The most prominent sources of first party data are the logins popularized by Facebook and Google. Over time these login identities have become even more valuable as apps, sites, services and tools offer users the opportunity to login through their social and email profiles. These logged-in encounters offer marketers more sources of first-party data on consumers’ habits and behaviors across the web.

Many brands have been collecting verified first-party information on consumers for research or customer service purposes for years. Stored in customer relationship management databases, there can be a cache of information including customer contact info, as well as known product and service preferences. This data can be repurposed to fuel people-based marketing campaigns targeting existing customers. This also allows marketing teams to tailor specific messages to audiences composed only of likely consumers.

If you don’t have data, buy it!

As people-based marketing has taken off, there’s an emerging class of data marketers selling these data packages to brands as the seeds from which brand marketers can populate an audience for people-based campaigns and grow a healthy audience of their own.

“With people-based marketing, you have greater assurance that your message is reaching your known customer and driving measurable results. Even better, we’re beginning to see measurement of both the online and offline impact of these ads, explained Lee.”

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New Facebook Strategy: Less Is More

New Facebook Strategy: Less is MoreFacebook’s organic reach and engagement (likes, comments, shares) continues it’s steady decline, begging for a new Facebook strategy. Part of the problem is the mind-boggling volume of content posted on Facebook. Getting your content seen is no mean feat. Statistics show every 20 minutes on Facebook there are:

  • 1 million links shared
  • 4.86 million photos uploaded
  • 763,888 status updates sent out

Conventional thinking says the logical Facebook strategy to beat the drop in organic reach and frequency is to post more often. The theory is, the more often you post, the larger your reach over time. Even if each post reaches an average of fewer people, the cumulative total reach would increase because you’re posting more content. Buffer put that conventional thinking to the test. What happened? The more often they posted, the worse they did!

That’s when Buffer decided to experiment with their Facebook strategy by doing something counter-intuitive. Instead of posting more content, they decided to post less and focus on quality over quantity. Buffer cut their Facebook posting frequency by more than half. The result was totally unexpected – their Facebook reach and engagement improved!

Not just slightly either. Reach more than tripled, and engagement more than doubled! Buffer also found more and more of their posts were reaching between 2.5x to 10x more people than before they decided to cut their Facebook posts by more than half.

To post or not to post…

The question is, if your new Facebook strategy calls for cutting your posts by half or more, how do you decide what stays and what goes? Buffer discovered that the content of everything they post on social media might not be right for Facebook. They did some research and concluded the best performing Facebook posts were either educational or entertainment based. Funny photos and GIFs would be good examples of the entertainment posts, while research data, “how-to” and infographics posts are educational posts. If you can somehow put together Facebook content containing both entertainment and educations components, that’s even better.

New Rule: 1-2 Facebook posts per day

With their revised Facebook strategy, Buffer is posting only once or twice per day. This means they have to select only the posts that best fit Facebook’s audience, while allowing Facebook to focus on delivering one post to their audience, instead of many.  Buffer believes by limiting the quantity of posts, it encourages a deep focus on posting quality and sends positive signals to the Facebook algorithm.

Curated content

Before adopting their new Facebook strategy, Buffer used to shy away from curated content because it didn’t directly impact their bottom-line.  Since they’ve changed their Facebook philosophy, Buffer has changed their mind. In recent months they found almost 2 out of 3 of their most successful Facebook posts were curated content.

While curated content may not directly affect the bottom line, it does play into improving Facebook reach, engagement and page growth significantly. Over time, this allows the delivery of homegrown content – content that does drive the bottom line – to a larger, more engaged audience.

Shifting more focus to brand awareness and engagement

Where they had previously focused on driving traffic to their website, Buffer’s new Facebook strategy concentrated on brand awareness and engagement. Buffer’s explanation for the change in philosophy was they had noticed a shift away from exclusively seeking driving traffic to a website to thinking about their content strategy as a whole – focusing on both direct traffic as well as engagement.

Buffer found that posting content designed to drive engagement only helps to build an activate Facebook audience. Overtime, that audience will go to you as a trusted source. Then, when you need to increase use of a product or service you offer, you have the opportunity to deliver a piece of brand content that helps move the bottom line.

If you decide to give the “less is more” Facebook strategy a try, please let us know if your results confirm what Buffer found or not so we can share it in a future post.

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Images and U.S. Copyright Law

images and copywright law

We live in a visual age where using images in your marketing efforts is essential, but are you using them legally according to U.S. copyright law?

While some might be flattered you chose to use their photo or image, most won’t feel that way. Like all other creative works, U.S. copyright law protects photos and images. Most people won’t take the time to read through copyright law, and many who do look at it may still be a bit confused about exactly what it says.

While this is by no means an authoritative legal analysis, we hope reading this helps you better understand what U.S. copyright law says you can and can’t do with photos and images.

You can find and publish legal images in a number of ways:

  • Take your own photos
  • Use public domain images
  • Properly attribute creative commons works
  • Take advantage of the concept of “Fair Use”
  • Purchase licensed stock photos

Take your own photos

Since they’ll be completely original, your readers won’t be able to see them anywhere else, which isn’t the case with public domain or stock photos.

If the photo you’re using has an identifiable person (that is, you can clearly see who they are) and the image is being used for an explicitly commercial purpose (like a landing page or an advertisement), you may not have the right to use their image unless the subject of the photograph signed a model release. The American Society of Media Photographers has a simple one you can use.

Public Domain

Images in the public domain have been unshackled from copyright law. Nobody owns them. So you can publish them, change them, or do anything you want with them. There are some instances where the creator of an image chooses to release it into the public domain. But the most common sources of public domain images are old images (the copyright has expired) and images produced by the government.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons’ license makes it possible for photographers to release their photos to the public, while still retaining some control over how they’re used. All licenses fall into two broad categories: those that allow the photos to be used for commercial use and those that don’t. How can you tell which image has which license? The restrictions of the Creative Commons license are usually published right alongside the image online.

Finding Images with Google

When doing a Google image search, filter your results to find images you have permission to use. To do this, use an Advanced Search filter called “usage rights” that lets you know when you can use, share, or modify something you find online.

When you do a search click on “Search Tools” and then “Usage rights” that lets you know when you can use, share, or modify something you find online. You’ll see four categories. To find the images that give you the most freedom, click on either “Labeled for reuse” or “Labeled for reuse with modification.”

Google search and copyright law

Labeled for reuse means you can use the image for your commercial purposes “as-is” – no modifications are allowed. To be sure, you should still look at the license. Some images require you to give written credit to the creator.

Labeled for reuse with modification means you can modify the image any way you’d like.

Before reusing content, make sure that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse. For example, the license might require that you give credit to the image creator when you use the image. Google can’t tell if the license label is legitimate and they don’t know if the content is lawfully licensed. If you come across content in Google search results with the wrong usage rights, you can alert them in the Google Search Forum.

In addition to doing a Google search for photos and images, there are a number of free stock photo websites you can look at too.

There’s also something in copyright law called “fair use”. It allows you use images that are protected by copyright under certain circumstances. A good explanation can be read here.

Stock Photos

Stock photos are licensed out to anyone who is willing to pay their licensing fee. Buying a license gives you the right to use the photo only as described in the licensing agreement. The main advantage of stock photo sites is the large number of pictures they offer. Some of the most popular stock photos sites include Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock.

Copyright law can be intimidating and confusing.  Playing by the rules does make finding images or photos you can use more time consuming. But it’s still less of a hassle than being on the wrong end of a law suit.

Everything’s easy when you know how. Once you find your favorite sources for legally compliant images, you’ll be able to find the perfect photos for your blog posts, website or landing pages more easily.

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Pop-ups – The Pros and Cons

Pros and cons of using pop-ups

Balancing the aesthetics of your website with the desire to create leads is a delicate juggling act. Nothing demonstrates this better than pop-ups.

Let’s define pop-ups

Pop-ups are windows that appear on the screen over other windows or documents when someone visits a page. Sometimes they appear seconds after you arrive on a page (by design). Pop-ups come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some pop-ups aren’t all that bad – you really hardly notice them. Then there are pop-ups that are distracting to the point where they’re downright annoying.

Recent research confirms that pop-ups improve conversion rates and sign-ups. When used appropriately, pop-ups can enhance the user experience on your website and help improve your conversion rate.

Over the past few years, pop-up forms have re-emerged as a popular marketing tactic for promoting content, driving blog subscriptions, growing email lists, and fueling lead generation.

The problem is, as 2017 rolled in Google started penalizing mobile sites for having what they describe as “intrusive” pop-ups. Google defines ‘intrusive’ as, ”anything that obscures the main content, either prior to, during the user accessing it.”

There are “bad” pop-ups…

Google has posted images with examples of pop-ups they don’t like and some they don’t mind as much. Here are the offending types of pop-ups.

Pop-ups Google penalizes

Shown above are pop-ups that Google has issues with:

  • Pop-ups that covers the main content, either immediately when the user navigates to a page, or later while they are reading through the page.
  • Displaying a stand alone interstitial that the user has to dismiss by clicking on an “X” before accessing the content they’re looking for.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page is similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content is dropped below the fold (where you’d need to scroll down to see it).

To summarize, Google is targeting and penalizing overlays that gray out the content beneath them to prevent you from reading a web page, either for a few seconds or until you find and very carefully tap a little X to dismiss them. These would count against you if they load immediately after a page is opened or if they appear after scrolling a certain distance. Google also dislikes ads that create the effect of a pop-up without actually being a pop-up, by taking up most of the page after a site is loaded.

Google has explained that not all pop-ups and interstitials will be penalized. They also have provided examples, which “would not be affected by the new signal, if used responsibly”.

…and some “good” pop-ups

Pop-ups Google doesn't penalize

Shown above are pop-ups Google doesn’t mind much:

  • Interstitials that are being used to fulfill a legal obligation like for cookie usage or age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, private content such as email or unindexable content that’s behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. The app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.

Do pop-ups work?

When used appropriately, pop-ups boost email list sign-ups and click-through rates. As much as people complain about them, they tolerate them for the most part.

If you decide to test a pop-up on your own site, test it for a specific amount of time and evaluate your results before making pop-ups a permanent part of your website. The right kind of pop-ups can improve website conversions, but implementing a strategy that annoys visitors can do serious damage to your marketing efforts.

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