December 2, 2013
Football season is here, but will be gone in a blink of an eye. You’ve experienced highs and lows as you root for your team, hoping they make it to the Super Bowl.
But before you turn on the next big game or hop in your car to go to a tailgate, let’s take a moment to think about how your organization’s strong marketing campaign parallels a great game plan for your beloved football team.
Throughout the entire football season, a coach is responsible for tracking the progress of his team toward their goals. And in order to achieve this, he must continually research, train and adjust what works for his unique combination of team members for that particular season.
This principle holds true for marketing. To achieve your sales goals for this quarter, you should outline specifically what you want to accomplish. Then design a marketing game plan around that goal. It may consist of a number of marketing tactics, whether it’s direct mail, new in-store signage or email marketing.
It’s typically easy for a coach to get the team behind a common goal of winning the big game.
Think of your entire staff as one team. Everyone should be aware of the marketing plan and how each person contributes to the success of the messages you’re putting out into the world. Whether it’s delivering the products on time or employing top-notch customer service, your marketing words should mirror your staff’s actions.
Build each other up (but skip the celebratory chest bumps in order to avoid problems with HR) and celebrate your success. And if there’s a team member not being fully utilized, ask them for their input. Be a good coach. Utilize all of your players for their unique strengths.
We’ve all seen this scenario played out on the field: the all-star quarterback gets injured and the coach is forced to put in the rookie who everyone doubts. But ultimately that rookie shocks and delights the stadium. Game-winning pass. The stadium roars. Cheering. Game over.
This principle holds true for marketing. Sometimes the game plan must change in order to achieve success. If your plays aren’t working, you need to adjust your strategy. In most instances, marketing plans only need slight adjustments to make a big difference. Just be ready to creatively problem solve. Marketing is an ever-shifting discipline. Like a coach, you must adapt or lose.
November 25, 2013
Details are underrated. I obsess over details probably because I’m an artist, and some people might call me anal or a perfectionist, and admittedly that could be the case. I do know that I’m not alone.
When I see attention to detail, it impresses me immensely. I don’t think some people realize that details have psychological benefits when they’re noticed. On the other hand, they can also cast doubts when attention to detail is missed. It proves that the “T’s” were crossed and “I’s” were dotted, and in the business world, that proof goes a long way to be assured that a job was well-done (or will be).
I often find these details that are sometimes missed in the online world, and some are much less obvious than others, but if you want a perfectionist’s opinion (and maybe call them pet peeves), here they are:
I see this all the time. Sigh. Folks spend all that precious time coming up with the perfect domain name, but still use generic emails like Gmail or countless others. If you wanted to start doing business by giving a stash of money for savings to your local banker and his email was “email@example.com,” would you really feel good about handing over your money? I didn’t think so.
If this is you, not to worry… it’s not a big deal. These days there are all kinds of solutions that make the transition fairly painless. Your website hosting provider may probably have free or really cheap email, or you can go with more advanced tools like Google.
Your domain is your brand. Remember that. Even if your domain name doesn’t match your company name, there is still a ton of value in building brand recognition for your domain. Use it everywhere, especially in your business emails. It eliminates the chance of casting doubt about your credibility. Some people don’t care, but people like me might—so let’s get your company email addresses up and running ASAP, sound good? Even if you use a shorter and more concise, but professional, vanity domain name to make your email address more memorable, that’s great too.
Some might get upset about this, saying I’m stuck in the 90s or 00s when they were all the rage, but favicons still matter, folks. If you don’t know what a favicon is, it is the tiny image that appears inside your browser tab. It’s a (clever) visual reference when you have 25 tabs open (guilty as charged.) When a website does not have one, it’s one of those details that really gets to me. It’s like a beautiful car that is missing wheel rims, or a banana split without the cherries, or like professional businesses that don’t have a (professional) logo (remind me to write another blog post about that). You get the picture… it is a “T” that’s not crossed.
If this is your website, not to worry. It is extremely simple to add a favicon to your website.
I’m not talking about weird business names. Those can be fun and cool. I’m talking about when a business name has different permutations and combinations. Maybe the official business name is long and it was shortened over time. Maybe there’s an LLC or Inc. in the legal business name but you never try to use it in public, and somehow it’s made its way online. There’s all kinds of reasons why your business name is used differently than maybe it was supposed to be, but the key is to do your absolute best to make it as consistent as possible so you don’t suffer from an online identity crisis.
Make sure your logo, footer and online directories all match up without any variances. Let’s not confuse people. This also has important search engine implications because if you have different business names floating around out there, it might be interpreted as different businesses altogether. That’s not a good thing. You want your business brand to be as pure as gold.
This is a major detail. You want to know the quickest way to make people bail from your site? Give them a bunch of form fields. Do you really need to know their gender? Do you really need to know their business name? (Hint: if they follow #1 you can figure it out yourself.) Less is more with form fields. Get only the absolute essentials and get more conversions.
Have you ever looked at a site secretly at work and the music or sound starts blaring? Me neither. Please do everyone a favor and never, ever use automated music or video. Give the end user the decision to click play. I’ve seen a lot of photography websites where the artist wants to add some flair to their images with music. The intention is nice, but don’t do it.
I’ve stepped off my soap box now. In all seriousness, details like these, as small as they might seem, lead to first impressions about the details you hit or missed. The sum of them will result in more business or less business.
Do you have any details you notice that other people miss? Please share them in the comments below and let’s make the web a better place.
November 18, 2013
Table for 95, please.
That’s exactly what we’ll need this Thursday, when we gather our entire Firespring family around one very long table at our headquarters to share a lunchtime meal and give thanks. It’s no small feat, but we’re pretty savvy, so we always find a way to make our celebration both festive and functional.
This is a tradition that goes way back to the early days of the company, when there were just a handful of scrappy employees. We continue to hold it near and dear to our hearts, no matter how large our family grows.
Like most families on Thanksgiving, we enjoy delicious food, lots of laughter and ultimately, a food coma. Rumor has it that a few employees have been caught catnapping under the table after the feast. I can neither confirm nor deny.
Creating workplace traditions like this goes a long way in developing a great company culture—one that fosters a sense of loyalty among employees. Lest you think workplace traditions are a waste of time, here’s why we’d disagree.
That is, if you plan them right. We don’t cater in our company-wide Thanksgiving meal, we potluck it. Long-time employee Kim Stokes roasts the turkey and the rest of us provide sides of mashed potatoes, salads, rolls, casseroles and desserts. We pig out just like a real 95-member family would, with savory and sweet homemade goodness. When everyone pitches in to make a tradition successful, people take ownership.
When you bring back celebrated traditions in your workplace each year and create memories that your staff will dish about for months, you’re not “wasting time.” You’re developing a team.
I won’t be able to attend our Firespring Thanksgiving feast this year, but you can bet I will spend the day missing my workplace family, reminiscing about past years, and appreciating my coworkers from afar. Sappy? Maybe. But I have formed bonds with these people that will last a lifetime. And it’s not just because we’ve worked together; it’s because we’ve celebrated and played together as well.
To the past. To each other. To your company. Many of us spend eight hours a day connected to our computers, which may be necessary in this digital age, but I’d argue that’s not enough to keep your employees loyal to your company, no matter how large of a screen you provide. Traditions allow everyone to break away from the day-to-day routines and connect in person, something most people crave.
They also allow your people to connect to the past. Do you know how many conversations I’ve heard about the “old days” when “we had to cram 30 people around a table for four?” I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea: People love history. They love to remember the past—it connects them to something bigger than themselves.
It’s Monday—we’ll probably start setting our “table for 95” now to be sure we’re ready by Thursday. How about you? Any workplace traditions you’ll be celebrating this holiday season?
November 11, 2013
When’s the last time you used a camera camera? Unless you’re a professional photographer—or you don’t own a smartphone—your answer might be “several months ago.” Maybe even years. Now that smartphone cameras have evolved to take pretty decent pictures, most of us rely on them as the main tool for snapping the candids in our lives. Add in all the fun filters and apps that make photo editing a snap, and it’s no wonder that we keep our “other” cameras tucked away in their cases.
This has become true for businesses as well, especially when it comes to social media posts. If you use Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to share photos of a company event, a new employee or a behind-the-scenes look at your workplace, it’s super easy to snap shots with your smartphone and upload them directly to your social media pages.
With the holiday season coming up, we predict even more photo sharing than normal. Since we’re big fans of sharing our company photos on our social networks, we thought we’d pass along a few things we’ve learned about smartphone photography. Here are five tips to make your company candids merry and bright.
Your phone’s biggest weakness is its difficulty to adjust in low-light situations. Have your subject face the light source whenever possible, and you keep your back to it.
A shaky hand will ruin even the best pictures, and smartphones are hard to keep steady. The brighter your environment, the less sensitive your camera will be to shaking. But if you’re in a poorly lit room, there are some apps that can help. iPhone users can try ProCamera, a photo app with an anti-shake image stabilizer. Android users can try Camera360, a similar app with an anti-shake feature.
The digital zoom doesn’t actually zoom, it just “crops” the photo, meaning the more you zoom, the more pixelated and fuzzy your image becomes. Instead, take the photograph without zooming and crop it later—it will be clearer. For better zoom capabilities, try Camera Zoom FX for Android and Camera Zoom for iPhone.
Imagine your photo divided with three horizontal lines and two vertical lines, creating nine even squares. Important elements of the photo should be placed along these lines. The beauty of your phone’s camera is, you don’t have to imagine. Both iPhones and Androids allow you to place grid lines across the screen.
You wouldn’t let your digital camera lens get filthy—remember to keep your phone lens clean as well. Whether they sit on a desk all day, get shoved in pockets or thrown in purses, smartphones are subject to a lot of dirt and grime. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe away dirt and fingerprints.
How do you make your smartphone photos top notch?
November 4, 2013
If you didn’t know already, let me spare you from the disgusting surprise. Google has decided that they will no longer provide keyword data. That means every organic search query made that resulted in a visit to your website will not be displayed inside of any statistics report. Keyword data allows you to really understand how people are finding your business online. It reveals what keywords you are ranking for and those you need to work on. Those days are over, my friends.
The good news is that common sense still heavily applies to a successful organic traffic strategy. Even though you don’t have the keyword data to reinforce that what you are doing (targeting different keywords) is working, you can still understand your success by looking at other factors like:
1. Overall traffic trends: You can expect nothing will happen to your traffic as the result of this change, but if you see your traffic go down, that means quite likely you could probably use some optimization to your pages.
2. Search traffic trends: Google still tells you the percentage of search traffic versus your other channels like referral links, social media, paid campaigns and others.
3. Keyword rankings: You can still use tools like SEObook’s Rank Checker plugin to see how your targeted keywords are doing. Knowing how you rank can be a key indicator as to what you should expect from organic traffic.
Download any and all keyword-related data before too much time passes. It’s hard to say whether Google will “erase” logged backdated data (I doubt it), but you never know, so play it safe and extract the data now. Just knowing your data from the past months and years can really help you understand the immediate future.
Yahoo and Bing, and other small search engines have not made any announcement of this sort, which means you’ll still get their keyword data. So you’ll see something inside your reports probably, but almost everything (around 67%) is Google, so your report will be decimated. Cherish the dust.
Also, Google AdWords advertisers WILL still see all specific keyword data which resulted in clicks to their ads. Interesting, eh? [Insert conspiracy thought (which may involve swearing) here.]
We don’t know, but it’s going to roll out and you’ll probably see this affect your analytics this year. In fact, it started a long time ago with the “SECURE SEARCH” or “NOT PROVIDED” data you’ve noticed that reflected any Google user who was logged in making searches. The percentage in this category slowly went up and up… and maybe this is Google’s way of padding your shock and awe from this. My guess is that it will slowly roll out, like a beautiful sunset slowly fading below the horizon. Enjoy the view now while you can. It will be dark soon.
It’s hard to know. Google has made claims about increasing privacy concerns and even national security implications. Let’s be real here. Google’s data is extremely valuable and the user share is enormous. By providing data to paid search advertisers, some conspiracy theorists believe it will assist them in adding more advertisers hungry for keyword data. I think that’s part of it. It’s time for Google to print more money, so here we are.
It appears that Google is shaking up the online world in multiple ways lately through its own tools, so this may only be the beginning. The good news is that it’s making even more powerful free tools (like the ever-changing Google Analytics) to hopefully lessen the impact of this… that is until they decide to start charging for it.
October 28, 2013
There’s no disputing that it’s the perfect food for a brisk fall day. But that’s only a minor detail in the grand scheme of reasons we Firespringers have a fond love of soup.
You might think that our annual Souptacular (our fall soup competition) sounds like another way to satisfy our deep-seated competitive nature. And you’d be right. But it’s much more than that.
One of Firespring’s original cultural traditions, the Souptacular has stood the test of time. When we were just a little tyke (in business years, that is) the Souptacular was a great way to have a community lunch where everybody pitched in. But its longstanding success can be attributed to our love of soup, competitive nature and of course, the marketing personalities that we were blessed (or cursed) with.
Smack talk is a common occurrence around these parts. But rest assured, it’s all friendly in nature. It must be in our DNA to thrive off of friendly competition. And when you can say that your soup was the best of the best for an entire year, consider us hooked.
If you’re looking for engagement in your company’s activities make sure to add some high stakes to the equation. No, you don’t have to give away a prize, although that’s a plus. Most of the time—as we’ve found—bragging rights are enough to bring out the boxing gloves.
At Firespring, marketing is what we do. It’s in our blood. That’s why it wouldn’t be right to put these soups out to the world with their ordinary names—so our go-to soup namer Shannon gives the soups a marketing makeover. Our eerie names of soups past have included (but are not limited to):
• Chipotle Butternut Upchuck (Chipotle Butternut Squash)
• Sinus Infection Stew (Beer Cheese Soup)
• Toenail Tortellini (Tomato Tortellini)
• Scurvy Curry (Curry Soup)
• Moldy Ole Mole (Taco Soup)
Plus, this year it looks like the ghouls and goblins have been out early destroying our promotional posters. We found bite marks, holes and a frankenstein-esque stitch job donning the once-normal posters. Next time your company puts on an event, skip the company-wide email. Dress up your marketing instead to increase the hype.
Last, but certainly not least, the soups are what make this event such a fun time for us. This year we’ve got more than 20 entries with everything from curry pumpkin soup to the traditional chili variations.
But like anything in life, we’ve learned from the past. From the Russian soup, borscht, to chili with a little too much kick, we’ve seen our fair share of—let’s just call them ‘experiments.’ And it’s safe to say those mistakes haven’t been repeated twice.
Consider adding an event like this to add some spice to your company culture. It’s easy. It gets everybody involved. Plus, it’s relatively cheap for everybody to pitch in. Whether it’s soup or everybody’s favorite recipe, your company culture can only go up from here.
October 21, 2013
If you haven’t noticed yet, the beloved cream-filled sponge cakes are back in the stores, and the sorrowful demise of the Twinkie is now history. After months off the shelves, Hostess relaunched their major brands with a campaign they called The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.
Failure is not always the end of the world, and second chances exist. Here are some takeaways from the Twinkie’s successful re-emergence back into the marketplace.
Why do people have such a sentimental bond with the Twinkie? It could be partly due to its 82-year history. But it’s also likely due to the Twinkie’s simplicity. It’s a combination of two basic elements—sponge cake and vanilla cream. Kind of like the M&M. People tend to respond to simplicity.
The new Twinkie now has a longer shelf life (45 days), a smaller size and way fewer jobs. The new Hostess employs 1,500 nonunion workers. The old Hostess had 15,000 union members on its payroll. The company also plans to use just four of its eleven factories. The company says it can make the cuts and still hit the same capacity as the old version.
The triumphant return of Twinkies is also a victory for social media. When Hostess went bankrupt and Twinkies disappeared, consumers retorted through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Apollo Global Management listened and today Twinkies are back. The lesson? Pay attention to the consumers in your networks and find out what products they want and need. Social media gives them a clear voice.
And FYI: The previous owners of the Hostess brand did try to respond to America’s cry for “healthier” junk food last summer (before they declared bankruptcy) when they introduced a lighter and leaner Twinkie. A single spongy treat now has 135 calories and weighs 38.5 grams, compared to the traditional Twinkie, which weighed in at 42.5 grams and had 150 calories. The change may not have saved the previous owners from bankruptcy, but the new brand owners are packaging the slimmed-down Twinkie, so you can snack without guilt and those extra whopping 15 calories.
October 14, 2013
A general rule of thumb for customer service departments is to “listen to your customers.” And sure, that’s a great start, but it means nothing if you aren’t actively listening and trying to problem solve.
Think back to the most frustrating call you’ve ever had—the phone operator probably acted like they could care less about your problems, never mind getting them solved quickly. The whole process took 20 minutes and by the end of it, you still had your original problem (now complete with a few busted blood vessels and a sore throat from repeating yourself so many times).
If you want quality customer service, your company must be valuable to your clients. So how do you do it? How do you always exemplify excellent customer service? Try following these rules:
Sounds simple, no? Avoid answering systems if at all possible. People want to talk to a person, not a machine.
No one likes hearing things they’ve done wrong. But give their complaint proper attention and you won’t lose their future business. Even if it’s negative, feedback is valuable in any form to know how to better serve your clients. Take it with class—your customers will appreciate your patience and attention.
Accept accountability, even if you didn’t personally handle their case. Apologize if necessary, and be the one who saves the day. Don’t get defensive. Simply ask how you can help solve their issue.
You can’t be the only one equipped to handle situations. Make sure your staff is well aware of protocol on solving various customer problems. And make it so your employees ever have to respond with, “I don’t know, but _________ will be back in 20 minutes and he/she can answer your question.”
If it takes 10 extra minutes to solve a problem more fully, do it. Go the extra step, call the extra person, and take the extra time because customers will notice.
Never agree to anything that your team or company isn’t capable of following through on. Breaking a client’s trust is the best way to lose them—permanently.
How do you deliver excellent customer service?
October 7, 2013
Branching out can be tough, especially if it’s something slightly out of your expertise. But you don’t have to be a professional filmmaker to start thinking video when marketing your business. It’s important to keep things fresh afterall.
A major part of content marketing is the creation and sharing of content that engages and informs your target audience. The more captivating the content, the more likely it is to be shared. Videos present your message in a way that text and plain images can’t. It gives you a unique opportunity to show some personality, and it can even be done on a reasonable budget.
Here a few simple tips for creating top-notch videos to enhance your content marketing efforts.
If this is your first video endeavor, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’ll lead to chewing with your mouth full—unattractive on multiple levels. Pick a simple topic with a clear message you feel you can share some unique insight on for your audience.
Next, make sure your video is in a readily sharable format. So make a Facebook post, tweet it, pin it and any other means you have to circulate it. Consider attaching this video in your next email newsletter—including videos in emails is said to boost conversion rates by as much as 50 percent. The more you can share the video and get it shared, the more brand awareness it brings.
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but you’d be surprised. Avoid giving into the temptation of making your first video post something cutesy or comical. While these can be elements within your video, there needs to be a benefit or call to action for the viewer.
What do they get out of watching? A helpful tip or easy solution? A product demonstration? An answer to a question? Additionally, ensure that your video integrates your company’s culture and personality, as videos are an awesome opportunity to do so.
Got you on board for this video thing, but fresh out of ideas? Here’s a short list to get you going. Take one of these ideas and roll with it. Put your own spin on it. Your company is as unique as a fingerprint—use this opportunity to show that.
• Show a product or service
• Use a customer testimonial
• Introduce staff members
• Give users a tour of your office space
• Show off your company culture (holiday parties, company outings, etc.)
No matter the topic you select, make sure your video is high quality. A low quality video reflects poorly on your professionalism and authority of the subject matter. That doesn’t mean you need fancy equipment. Many low cost cameras—including your iPhone—can do the trick, depending on the subject matter. You just want to be sure your video is a caliber of video you yourself would watch.
How has adding video helped your content marketing efforts?
September 30, 2013
I just spent five minutes on Facebook. In those 300 seconds, I saw:
• Someone use the words “in tell” in place of “until” (a first)
• The plural of statuses spelled status’s (what?)
• This sentence—“I seen what you posted yesterday an it was funny.”
I’m trying to keep my inner grammar girl calm, but seriously, people—WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
It’s no wonder I keep reading that managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. We can blame it on texting, social media or lazy communication, but regardless of who’s at fault, bad grammar is running amok. Recent studies show that employers are spending more time training employees on proper grammar usage. Why? Because even in the day of Twitter and Facebook feeds, bad grammar creates negative impressions.
It can ruin marketing materials. Cause communication errors. Tarnish your brand’s credibility. Basically, bad grammar is not okay.
When I was seven, I decided to be a writer and I never changed my mind. Strange kid. This meant I paid particularly close attention in English class, and yes—I am a grammar geek. I can’t tutor your first-grader in math, but I know a few things about words. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to touch on some of the most common grammar mistakes and some tips on how to remember the rules.
Who is subjective, like he, she, they and we. Whom is objective along with him, her, them and us. Here’s how to keep them straight: Substitute “who” with he or “whom” with him and see if the sentence makes sense.
“Affect” is typically a verb—Facebook can affect people’s attention spans. (Quick tip: Think “a” for “active, like a verb.) “Effect” is typically used as a noun—Facebook also has some positive effects. Exceptions exist, but they’re rare.
They both mean the opposite of more, but they’re used differently. “Fewer” pertains to things you can count, as in, That company has fewer than 10 employees. “Less” is used for an amount you can’t count, like I’ll put less cream in my coffee next time.
These can be tricky. If you compliment someone, you say something nice, like, Your eyes are amazing. If that person with the great eyes is wearing a shirt that makes his eyes even bluer, you might say, That shirt complements your eyes—because the shirt and his eyes go well together. Get it?
They’re used for two purposes—to form contractions and to show possession. Period.
Could’ve, would’ve and should’ve are all legitimate contractions. However, if you break them apart the second word is have not of, which many people use. Writing Sally could of texted me earlier makes no sense.
If you say, “I was literally dying of laughter,” it means you were thisclose to breathing your last breath. Literally means exactly what you say is true—no metaphors and analogies.
If you think all of this is stupid and that you could “care less” about good grammar, you’re, um, wrong. (Insert smiley face emoticon here.) If you really could care less about something, you’re actually saying you do care about it. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, I could not care less.
But honestly, I hope you do.