Web Design: Time to Weed Out The Laggards

The world of websites seems to be split into two groups these days: those which understand what the mobile push means, and those who still use websites designed 15 years ago. With the latest changes in SEO and device adoption, the laggards will finally be weeded out.

I am always surprised by how many companies are reluctant to invest in new web design. I mean, you wouldn’t use the same sales catalog for 15 years. Even logos seem to get updated more often than websites.

We recently did a survey in Asia and found that a staggering 27% of corporate websites were designed before 2005. That’s millennia in digital times.

Companies don’t seem to understand that it matters a great deal whether you use modern, responsive web design or not. For those who still don’t get it, here’s a quick run-down:

 

The age of surfing websites on PCs is over

Over 85% of traffic is now coming from mobile devices. It is no longer enough to have a site, your site must constantly evolve to meet the display options of a mobile marketplace. Exactly how your website is displayed changes with every new iteration of devices.

Right now, responsive web design is an essential part of creating a user-friendly mobile web experience. Search engines are already punishing websites which are not mobile friendly. That means people searching for your products will not find you, period.

Observe your own browsing behavior: most of it is done on phones and tablets, while you are on public transport, waiting at the doctor’s office, or sitting in the park. Having a separate mobile version is no longer feasible and way too costly. Multiple sites mean that you have multiple pages being indexed by Google, and your traffic will likely be split between the two. Crafting your page to be responsive out of the gate lets you contain everything on a single page that is clean, organized, and fully functional for mobile use.

Of course, mobile means that people don’t have a keyboard and are less willing to fill in a lot of information. Making your site mobile-friendly isn’t just technical jargon, it means rethinking the entire user interaction with the site.

 

Better SEO

Speaking of Google indexing… Responsive web design contributes to your SEO value. With only one page to index rather than two, Google has an easier time collecting data about your page. It also reduces the likelihood of on-page SEO errors. Not to mention that responsive websites, which generally offer a streamlined user experience, will receive more page hits and conveys authority and quality to your audience.

Read also: 3 Outdated SEO Tactics You Should Stop Immediately

Device Adaptation

Responsive web design truly shines when you consider the bizarre new Internet browsing options being made available to us. While most of us use smartphones, we also use tablets, game consoles, PCs, smartwatches, TVs, and whatever other display technology will come out tomorrow. There are an estimated 390 different screen sizes in use just for smartphones around the world.

Good luck finding standardized screen sizes across all these different devices. Responsive web design, being based on screen size itself rather than a device, ensures that your site will always display correctly across each unique product. This will pay off now but is also an investment in the future. Our love affair with non-traditional Internet browsing isn’t dying anytime soon.

And yet, only 15% of government websites in Asia and fewer than 30% in Europe use responsive web design. Time to get a facelift!

Simplicity Rules!

Responsive web design and mobile adoption is all about simplicity. It’s designed to make the browsing experience simple for your users, but developers can benefit from the simplicity as well.

Having a single page URL (rather than a primary one with a mobile cousin) lets you focus your marketing on a single campaign. All of your traffic can be directed to a single landing page, regardless of the browsing device. This is also true for social sharing metrics, your online Google reputation, and just about anything else that applies to your page’s domain. Single is simple.

It’s Not Too Late

Although the responsive design push is well underway, it’s not too late to reap the benefits for your own site. Responsive web design is both part of the past and a trend for the future. It won’t be long before we start browsing the Internet through our glasses, our wristbands, our AR and VR headsets, and who knows what’s next. Fostering a culture of constant adaptation is essential for your marketing and also your technical team.

The changes are coming, and your site must be ready for the ride. If you don’t update your website now, don’t be surprised if nobody comes to visit.

Word of the Year: Instagrammable

Every year has its buzzwords and neologisms. May I suggest that for 2018 we choose something that is both. My vote goes to “instagrammable”.

The first time I heard it was from a food blogger friend, who told me that the “instagrammability” of food was one part of how she chose her venues. As in the sentence “no matter how good the food, if it’s not instagrammable, there’s no point going there.

Even clothing, a selfie, your mother and your pet can be more or less instagrammable.

What is certainly changing is the nature of photography. Countless traditional photographers find themselves out of business, while 10-year-olds with the right camera phone suddenly have a million followers.

In fact, Instagram has become the leading platform for the younger generation to develop a following and their own, personal brand. And personal brands are increasingly important in an age of visuals. 

But Instagrammability is not just the question of whether your product is likely to make an impact on Instagram and be liked and shared a lot, nor is it an indicator of the expressiveness or beauty of an image.

It is indicative of a sea change, a massive shift from text-based information transfer to images, videos, holographic images, AR, VR, and whatever comes next.

Read also: 6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

 

Why we are switching to images

The growth of Instagram is truly remarkable. In a few short years, it has reached over 1 billion users worldwide, despite the competition from Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat etc.

Researchers have known for a long time found that drawing pictures of information that needs to be remembered is a strong and reliable strategy to enhance memory. The more you are exposed to images from an early age, the less willing you will be to read through complicated text description, and the quicker you are absorbing image-based information content.

Take food for example. It is no wonder that foodies are one of the mainstays of Instagram. Eating is a very sensory experience, and an image of the food you are going to receive conveys a lot more information than the simple title – or even the recipe – of the dish in writing.

The same is true for fashion, luxury items, and other products with high visual appeal. These types of brands dominate Instagram and the platform has become an integral part of their inbound marketing.

 

Content Marketing Reinvented

But not all brand stories are that simple. Some have managed to reinvent themselves on Instagram with brilliant content strategies. Especially adventure athletic brands are making great use of a mixture of user-generated and professional content

But even B2B brands in the industrial sector have discovered Instagram as a platform for creative visual outputs. Just look at GE, Siemens, or Kuka Robotics as wonderful examples of what can be done with Instagram in this space.

Read more: Marketing for Boring Industries and  The True Meaning of Industry 4.0 for Manufacturers

The initial reaction of managers will be skeptical: how much do such exercises really do for the bottom line of an industrial company? The answer is that it does not matter: millennials, the first generation that really grew up with images and videos more than text are entering the workforce.

Read more: Why B2B Companies Need to Embrace Millennials

And some of these companies use their Instagram accounts more to foster cohesion in a global workforce than to generate business.

Read more: Use Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand from Within

We learn easier from images and videos, and the more we are exposed to images and videos from an early age, the faster we can absorb information from them. Thus a younger person taking one look at a motherboard, a robot, or a technical drawing may understand the information content of that image much faster than someone reading a detailed description.

Another reason why we are moving to images is of course purely technical. We have never had more computing power, more gadgets, more touchpoints where still images and videos are so readily available. Uploading content to Instagram is fast and easy – much quicker for example than Facebook, allowing users to document their lives, hobbies, interests or professions almost in real-time.

Read more: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

 

Images Mean Business

Instagrammable also means marketable. Over 80% of Instagrammers are outside the US, so it is a truly global platform. Over 75% of people under 35 get purchasing ideas from Instagram. While overshadowed by Snapchat for US teens, Instagram is now twice as big as Facebook in terms of content consumption for that age group.

In the general population, Facebook and YouTube are still far bigger, but even on these and other platforms, there is a clear trend towards images and videos. For YouTube this is self-evident, but while Facebook has been a text-based platform for 10 years, it is now increasingly a video consumption platform. Taiwan, for example, shows that over 80% of Facebook users watch television programs on the platform.

The fact that Facebook moved the video button to the center of the control bar in 2018 is indicative of this development.

This trend will continue, as more and more brands and stores discover the power of image content in all industries.

Read also: Why You Should Always Put Your Retail Strategy First

 

The Future of Content

There are, of course, a number of problems with this trend towards more and more immediate, user-generated image and video content:

  • Young, fit, or generally photogenic people are more likely to produce video content, leaving behind one or two generations of business owners who are unwilling to engage visually.
  • In-depth content is still necessary to extol the virtues of products, services, and technologies.
  • A number of studies have now shown that pupils in schools don’t remember information presented purely in image or video form, throwing into question the strategies of certain companies to move the classroom toward much more tech-based solutions that favor images and videos.
  • There will still be a large number of people who simply prefer text.
  • Images can be misleading and tend to oversimplify difficult concepts.
  • Virtual reality hasn’t taken off yet at the scale we initially expected. For one, it involves cumbersome gadgets, and may also cause health problems.
  • Legally binding information, detailed instructions, and any kind for argumentative content will remain text-based. This is why even with the most Instagrammable images, we still have text-based comments, expressing opinions in the simplest form: natural language.
  • Danger lurks in technology, as sophisticated algorithms are being used to manipulate images to disseminate false information.

Finally, the Instagram craze may be temporary. As we develop intricate and powerful voice interfaces, more and more versatile screens, haptic gesture computing and, last but not least, the Internet of Things, the importance of Instagram may yet wane as quickly as it grew.

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

Everybody knows the enterprise needs to move towards a digital future. We speak of “data-driven organizations“. But in marketing in particular, but eventually in any other part of the modern enterprise, there is one question managers are asking these days: faced with the onslaught of artificial intelligence solutions and all the buzz about it, when are we really ready for AI?

There are lots of reasons to fear AI. Managers used to be completely unsure what AI is, what it is, and – most importantly – how much it costs. Do I have to hire new people for it? How much change is involved in general, from personnel to equipment to internal processes?

Let’s start with the most important question:

Where can this new tool fit into my business?

The first step is to draw up  a list of possible applications for AI in your business. This can be customer service functions, predictive functions (predicting churn rates or conversion rates for example), or functions linked to gathering and evaluating data for the C-suite. Where will the AI impact the customer, and where is it a purely internal consideration?

Once you have this list, choose the easiest use case, where deployment involves the smallest amount of change. 

The key here is to identify those cases which can be managed by the existing staff, perhaps even within the existing budget, and without big staff changes. More importantly, try to identify which use cases would need a data scientist — those can be notoriously hard to find and demand huge salaries.

Read also: How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

The challenge for the decision maker is to understand all the concepts, from AI to machine learning and deep learning, and everything under those headlines.

Read: Beyond the Hype: The difference between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

Start With the Pain

Everybody knows that artificial intelligence is the key to competitiveness. To begin deployment in your enterprise, don’t try to understand big concepts or the ultimate potential of AI, but start with concrete use cases where you think AI might have an immediate impact on the bottom line. In other words, deploy AI where the pain is. 

Good salespeople of AI solutions understand this. They don’t try to sell you big words like deep learning but will help you solve concrete problems in your organization.

Talking about the technology rather than solutions is tantamount to a car salesman explaining the combustion engine rather than extolling the virtues of the car’s features.

It’s All About the Data

Once you have identified the pain point where AI will come in most handy, it’s all about the data.

Raw data is worth nothing if it cannot be manipulated to produce meaningful results and similarly, machine learning and AI cannot happen without sufficient and relevant data.

The data does not only have to be relevant, but it also has to be cleaned up and prepared for whatever use you are envisaging. Questions you are facing are: is there enough data to make the AI deployment feasible? Is the data readily available? Is the data biased? Do you have control over the data source? and many more questions.

I have also written a detailed description of general machine learning deployment which covers many of these issues in detail: Read Machine Learning in Organizations: First Steps

Managing Change at the Top

What it comes down to is the readiness of management to sit down and understand the questions involved.

Some managers may be unwilling or unable to grasp new concepts. Others may be willing to change, learn the new skills, and become change leaders who then spearhead the adoption of AI.

I often compare these to the advent of the PC in companies. Lots of employees were left behind because they did not want to or could not make the switch from the typewriter.

The HR impact of AI cannot be underestimated. AI will involve changes in business processes (streamlining or eliminating them), thus impacting anyone in the organization. But it may also involve output directly directed at top management (think of reporting). Only if top management is ready for AI should you consider a significant deployment.

Impacting the Customer

The final hurdle to adopting AI in the organization is the impact on the customer. Think about the relatively primitive chatbots used by airlines. You can only deploy these if you have a large enough customer base actually willing to use chatbots. If most of them prefer calling by phone, your lovely chatbot will gather spider webs.

This is not a joke: one of my customers thought of introducing an internet chatbot for insurance questions directed at senior citizens. I dissuaded them from the endeavor.

Incidentally, this last point of customer impact is often the most easily overlooked. An AI system making an automated recommendation for customers of a real estate agent, for example, caused utter confusion among customers as they found themselves confronted with choices they themselves would never make.

Read also: What Chatbots Can Currently Do for your Business

In Conclusion

In summary, deployment of AI solutions involves the following four touchpoints:

  • Which applications should come first?
  • Is there enough GOOD data to work with
  • Is management ready for deployment
  • How does the introduction of AI affect our customers?

You may also want to read:

How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

What Chatbots Can Currently Do for your Business

5 Ways Towards a Data-Driven Business Culture

Martin Hiesboeck is an international business consultant with a focus on companies’ operations in Asia. 

Why I Never Use TripAdvisor – Or: The Curse of Reviews

Reviews, even with the best intentions, seldom help brands and businesses. This sounds heretical, but let me explain.

TripAdvisor is an amazing site. In a sense, together with the reviews on Amazon, and any other site that uses a rating system, it embodies the essence of the digital economy: easy access to other people’s opinions and feelings. 

And yet, I never use it. On purpose.

I recently went to Slovenia and stayed at a spa hotel. It was an amazing experience. Buildings left over from its founding in the times of the Hapsburg Empire; signs in Russian reminding you of the country’s Communist past as part of Yugoslavia, and a German heart specialist offering free consultations for senior guests in his clinic full of Scandinavian furniture. The cake shop sold only traditional Slovene pastries. A grandiose mix of history, culture, cuisine, and brilliant marketing.

Yet on TripAdvisor you would find reviews by the 27-year-old dad of three who was annoyed by the number of old people in the pool, the 42-year-old woman who complained about being charged for her bathrobe, and the 38-year-old businessman who fretted about the bad WiFi. None of which mattered to me: I don’t mind other people in the spa, I do not give a damn about bathrobes, and since I was doing my digital detox, I couldn’t care less about the WiFi.

What I am trying to say is that reviews are mainly useless, even the good ones.

Our experiences with brands are entirely personal and unique. Reviews say more about the reviewer than the brand. If they are bad and biased they are useless. If they are perfectly crafted and insightful, they are probably sponsored in one way or another.

On the other hand, if the review is subjective it is useless because it doesn’t tell me anything about my potential satisfaction with the brand. If the review is ostensibly objective, it is useless because it is probably fake. An author I know wrote 50 reviews of his own book and sent them to his circle of friends to post for him on Amazon. They rate very highly and look entirely genuine. The book sells reasonably well, may I opine.

Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained

Inherent Vice

Even if the review is not fake and really well written, it carries the bias and intent of the reviewer. Some reviewers do it to increase their digital clout, others to show off their expertise in a field.

What’s more, reviews have a time problem, or rather a deterioration problem. Imagine visiting a holiday resort based on a rave review and when you arrive, finding that nothing matches the description.

Should you trust an old review, or only look at the latest ones? Amazon’s (and others’) algorithms display a mix of reviews ranked by relevance and timeliness. If the reviews can be liked (“was this review useful? they ask), certain reviews – with a certain bias – get pushed inexorably to the top, leaving no room for change over time.

The Objective World

Indeed, because of the human condition, our distinct lives, experiences, and motivations, are all so different, that there is no such thing as an objective review of anything. A middle-class Chinese family from Wuhan, an African-American Lesbian from Detroit, a rich Brazilian businessman from Sao Paolo, or a German automotive engineer from Stuttgart with two children, can hardly have the same view of the same hotel, tourist site, product, or service. Not even a book will they read with the same eyes.

People exclusively concerned with content in one language and country hardly notice this. It’s ok if an item in Sweden has only reviews by Swedes. They which match a cultural norm — and thus a heavy cultural bias.

Back to my sojourn in Slovenia: most of the reviews were by Austrian and German tourists, and are thus inherently useless to, say, an American, or a Japanese tourist.

Read also: Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land That Strategy Forgot

The Curse of Honesty

And yet, the Internet’s data giants keep telling us that reviews are meaningful, and marketing experts insist that this form of user-generated content is good for exposure and to increase brand loyalty. But there is a big caveat.

Sites like TripAdvisor are so powerful, they can completely destroy a business. It did happen to an acquaintance of mine. He opened a B&B on the East Coast of Taiwan some years ago. In the beginning, he didn’t know much about Western tastes, and when an American couple stayed there, disapproved of the breakfast (not because it was bad, but because it was Taiwanese style and not to their taste), and found the room too hot, they left a scathing review on Google. Because reviews and browser content is often auto-translated, reservations fell dramatically.

Bad reviews don’t have to be malicious, they can be entirely honest. But because of our different cultures, experiences, and expectations, they can have a hugely negative impact on a business or brand.

The Curse of Personal Preference

In an experiment with my students I asked them to rate a particular sports brand, Nike, and then divided the class into three group: those who had a clear affinity to the brand, those who had no affinity, and the broad middle.

I then asked them to write a review of an Adidas product. To no one’s surprise, the group with the Nike fans rated the competitor’s product less favorable than the other two groups.

We already know what we like, or think what we like, and our relationship with brands is very much based on this so-called “confirmation bias”. We are much happier when we see our bias confirmed than when we are confronted with the cold reality of data.

Read also: What is a brand in the digital age?

The Curse of Data

One reason for this enormous power of reviews is the aggregation of data and the bias of previews existing reviews.

In another experiment with book reviews I conducted with some of my students, I divided the class into two groups. One group had to review a book which had an average of 1.4 stars and some very negative reviews on Amazon, the other a book with 4.8 stars. Only it was exactly the same book, and the reviews made up. Group A with the 1.4 stars rated the book 1.8 points lower than Group B.

Data scientists are coming up with ever-smarter ways of deploying, interpreting, and visualizing data, but when it comes to brand loyalty and marketing, data can work very much against the interests of brands, especially when powerful incumbents are using the data to their advantage.

Conclusion

In summary, while in some cases reviews may work in favor of a brand, the motto is buyer beware! Reviews can have a terrible impact on your marketing performance and the overall brand image.

Of course, bad reviews can also be great material for counter-intuitive marketing.

More about that here: The Importance of Customer Feedback and What to Do With It

Read also:

How to Become a Smarter Marketer

Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

Branding is overrated! Why not all companies need to be brands

 

 

 

 

Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

Influencer marketing is big these days, but not everyone can afford to pay celebrities and online megastars with millions of followers. For some brands, micro influencers will be much more realistic and even powerful than big names.

The key to influencer marketing is authenticity. I covered this here: Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

This is true for celebrity endorsements but it is even more true for influencers with a smaller following. Marketers usually refer to digital presences of around 50’000 followers and below as “micro influencers”.

While they may not move the needle when it comes to mass-market products, they are hugely influential if their audience is well focused.

Read also: The 7 Deadly Sins of Influencer Marketing

Focus is the Key

That’s because micro influencers usually do not have a following with a very broad interest, but they may have exactly the fanbase you need. In particular, B2B influencers can really make a difference.

One example is healthcare. There are thousands of doctors and medical professionals really engaging with their audience and subject matter. If you have a product that fits in that niche, you will see immediate returns. Make sure that the influencers posts have the right links, and offer a window to engage with potential customers.

Another industry predestined for micro-influencers is machinery and electronic equipment. Brands like Huawei, AT&T, Siemens, Kuka, and many more work with hundreds of industry specialists around the world to get the word out about new products or services. Brands which ignore the power of influencer will be left behind. They already are, as the success of Huawei and Samsung shows.

Another sector where micro-influencers dominate is the financial sector, in particular for innovative services, apps, or SaaS payment solutions.

The reason is simple: we believe people we trust more than we believe brand. If all your marketing is about your product specs, you will not be successful. The key to successful brand marketing is more about your clients’ reaction than your product’s potential.

Events – the Micro-Influencers Paradise

Local events are another perfect application for micro-influencers. Most influencers have a following in a particular country or language. Promoting events like industry conferences, trade shows or an annual congress through micro influencers with regional audiences is both effective and authentic.

Whereas the conference schedule may appeal to real aficionados, and the list of keynote speakers may attract another segment of visitors, micro-influencers in the target market may help you fill the remaining seats by targeting special interests or industries.

What’s more, not everyone has the time or budget to attend every conference. Well-selected influencers can fill this information gap and keep a wider audience up-to-date which what’s going in your industry.

Regional Influencers Rule!

Local businesses, in general, are a great case for micro-influencers. If your brand or product is limited to a specific region, such as a hotel, restaurant, or local shop, regional influencers may be working in your favor. They charge considerably less and actually speak to an audience that is within driving or walking distance of your business. This allows you to focus your marketing efforts and spend money only on that segment of the digital audience that actually has the potential to become customers.

This kind of grass-roots marketing has the advantage of sounding more authentic, and binding potential clients to things, regions, and topics they know and care about. If done right, it can cut down your advertising business significantly.

Special Interest Influencers

People turn to the internet for information and help. When it comes to specialist subjects, nothing beats micro-influencers. In a recent case, I signed on 5 blockchain specialists to promote a startup, and each one of them had fewer than 5000 followers. This tactic got us better results than the press release the client had tried a month earlier.

The reason why press releases are becoming more and more useless is generational. GenZ consumers do not believe anything that looks like advertising

Read also: Why B2B companies need to embrace millennials

The Magic of Youtube

Apart from the obvious Instagram and Twitter, one of the most popular platforms for micro-influencers is YouTube.

As a brand, you want to find an individual with a niche interest and loyal following, someone who offers real value, whether its woodworking tips or the latest developments in artificial intelligence. For almost every subject imaginable, there is an influencer in any region in the world.

Youtube is particularly useful for younger generations and in-depth content, such as broadcasts from conferences, product demonstrations, how-to guides and so on.

The Law of Increasing Returns

One aspect of micro-influencers is that they usually work in an ecosystem of other influencers, people who retweet and share each other’s content, meaning that by paying one influencer, you can get exposure over a whole network of connected individuals.

Some of these individuals may cover the same niche and region but very likely they will come from all over the world, covering different countries, markets, and consumer segments.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

What Not To Do

One of the biggest mistakes brands make is bombarding influencers with demands. If you are paying the minimum, or not paying at all, you have no right to demand that the influencer present your product in a certain way.

This practice by brands is more common than you would believe. Do not annoy the influencers with copyright agreements and a list of demands. Influencers can be very efficient and engaging, but as a brand, do not ruin the relationship with a straight-jacket of do’s and don’ts. Not only does it harm the willingness of other influencers to engage, but it also destroys the authentic appeal influencers have.

Influencers have their own style, their own rules, and their own brand. Don’t let the bureaucracy of brand management destroy their potential.

Read on: The Secret Sauce: Working Effectively With B2B Influencers

B2B influencers on Twitter you may want to check out:

 

influencers

 

 

Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

Word of mouth is by any measure the best form of marketing. Recommendations from friends, colleagues, and even strangers lend credibility and are far more cost-effective than tedious advertising.

This is increasingly true as younger generations or ‘digital natives’ are becoming increasingly impervious to advertising.

In a digital world, word of mouth takes on a new dimension as user opinions can reach thousands of potential customers through likes and shares on social media platforms. Experiences marketers like Tyler Anderson have called word-of-mouth on social the new organic, and they may be right.

What customers say about your product or service is far more important than your ad campaign, whether it’s offline or online.

Surprisingly, very few brands have a word-of-mouth strategy

You have a strategy for Facebook, and overall digital strategy, an advertising strategy, but very few businesses have a word of mouth strategy. Although word-of-mouth is the oldest and most effective form of marketing, I’ve never seen a name card saying “Chief WOM Officer”.

Competency Does Not Equal Conversation

Many brands think that as long as they run a good business, improve customer service and user experience, people will talk about the brand and word-of-mouth marketing will take care of itself.

Sadly it’s not that easy. In a recent interview, Jae Baer put it succinctly: competency does not mean conversation. Just because you had a satisfactory experience with a brand does not mean you will run around telling everyone about it.

Word of mouth marketing means that there must be not a good, not an adequate, not a memorable brand experience, but one that makes people talk about your brand. Marketers call that a “talk trigger” – a specific action you take as a business that makes people come back for more.

Getting people to advocate your business is hard, and most certainly deserves a strategy. Growing your business is all about getting your satisfied customers to talk to new potential customers. If you need to advertise, you are not doing a good job growing your business, because you are paying people to pay attention. True growth and customer retention don’t come from snappy adds, but from customer experiences that become talk triggers. Your happy customer, your fans, are your best asset, so use them.

One way to embrace word-of-mouth marketing is by engaging micro-influencers. Read more here: Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

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Why Don’t Businesses have WOM Strategies?

One reason is that most businesses believe that it is too hard to get people to talk about your brand, and any desperate effort to do so may backfire. That is in a sense true; according to Jae Baer and other marketers’ research, only about 1/3 of customers are willing to talk a great experience with a brand.

Yet it does depend on the industry or service provided. In the B2C space, a lot of word of mouth is happening online. Younger generations, in particular, are more willing to share a great experience on their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts.

In the B2B, B2G or even public services space, on the other hand, offline is still dominating. Many industrial brands rely on the testimonial of influencers and satisfied customers to gain market share and new customers

Read Also: It’s Time for B2B Enterprises to Embrace Global Influencers

Word of Mouth is King in B2B

That’s because B2B is all about trust. If you are spending thousands or even millions on a machine or solution, you have to know that it will work for you. B2B customers are worth more than B2C customers. They usually for longer-term, more engaging relationships with a brand (think of service contracts for machinery or other equipment, repeat purchases of materials, etc.) and thus their testimonial is worth far more than that of a casual B2C purchase.

Word-of-mouth is more impactful because most B2B companies are bad at marketing anyway, want to keep the details of their business deals secret, or simply follow the example of their industry leader. They copy the strategies of the GEs and Siemens’ of this world without ever thinking what kind of word-of-mouth strategy would be more suitable for their market niche.

Yet, according to Jae Baer, 91% of purchases in the B2B space are influenced by word-of-mouth. Compare that to the fact no no B2B company I have ever come across has a word-of-mouth strategy or someone in charge of WOM, there seems to be a crass misalignment of priorities here.

Personally, I admire the marketing of Kuka Robotics. The German-Chinese robotics company manages to surprise with creative marketing for their line of otherwise boring orange industrial robots, creating talking points and word-of-mouth strategies that are unique in the industrial space.

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How to Craft Your WOM Strategy

The first thing to remember as you embark on your WOM adventure is that it doesn’t pay to copy other brands and businesses. You need to come up with something memorable and unique as a talk trigger, an experience that offers both excitement and/or value to your potential customer. Baer calls it that “strategic operational differentiator”, I like to call it simply the thing that makes people talk.

Sometimes finding that unique thing means going back to your customers and finding out what they really like about your product. I did this with a server manufacturer and found that installing updates to certain software was the biggest headache for them. Simply by creating a much better update process than the competition, they probably saved millions in advertising, because the hassle-free update created a “talk trigger” – an experience with the brand that made people talk about it. And that’s the key to word-of-mouth marketing.

Restaurants know this well. In the age of Instagram, business success in the food industry is linked to exceptional experiences. You want to have that food presented in a way that makes people reach for their phones and take a picture of their plate, then share it on social media.

Hotels know this. I recently stayed at a spa hotel where instead of having to worry whether I had left my bathrobe in the room so they wouldn’t charge me for it, they presented me with a free bathrobe at check-in. It’s a real talk trigger – I have told every one of my friends about that unique experience and excellent service.

A good word-of-mouth strategy both reflects what you as a brand are good at, and what your customers really value about your brand. It should be consistent across the brand’s touchpoints and easily repeatable.

Encouraging the Creation of User-Generated Content (UGC)

Whereas in the B2B space offline word-of-mouth seems to work better than online, every brand should have a strategy – or at least think about – strategies to encourage UGC.

User-generated content is a testimonial to the success and popularity of your brand. Whether it’s on Instagram or Youtube, younger generations in particular love seeing content generated by their peers and are easily influenced by that content to make actual purchases. Creating talk triggers in B2C should be at the core of every B2C business’ marketing strategy.

 

6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

Thousands upon thousands of digital marketing agencies and talented individuals around the world are offering advice on digital marketing.

Some offer genuine insight about the latest strategies, others are merely repeating stuff they found on the net. Some get paid by companies to promote specific products instead of offering real solutions for your problems. Almost all of them are after your money. Here are some of the most egregious misconceptions about digital marketing touted by experts around the world.

We can make any post go viral

Going viral is not so much a function of technological prowess as of a matter of content. If your content doesn’t appeal to people, if it does not evoke the right emotions, no manner of marketing trick will make it go “viral.” Not even if you pay Oprah to tweet about your gadget.

What’s more, going viral might not even be in your best interest. What if your product video really takes off, while your customer support is overwhelmed or your manufacturing plant can’t keep up? You might destroy your hard-earned reputation at the very same time your marketing team is celebrating their viral success.

Read More: There Is No Such Thing As “Going Viral”

It’s easy to get great results, you just have to know the right tricks

It is not. Success in the digital market is a combination of creativity, cunning, and competence very few people possess. Yes, there are some tricks and growth-hacking is a burgeoning field.

Yet truly great results don’t just bring you a random audience, they bring you the right audience. Building a dedicated and engaged following is not easy. You need authenticity, consistency, and patience.

Read more: Curiosity Marketing: The Ideal Solution for Digital Natives

Digital marketing is cheap

It’s definitely not. Look at the most successful accounts on Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform: those with the most followers and views are people or products which also have a big following OFFLINE. If you start online with a brand-new venture and don’t have a significant offline presence, the road to digital fame can be quite treacherous. And it’s certainly not cheap. As we say, if you offer peanuts, you get monkeys.

We can do this ourselves

Maybe you can. But digital marketing is becoming such a complex affair – from SEO/SMM and profitable PPC to creating the right content, that building up an effective in-house team is an increasingly complex affair. What’s more, many in-house teams tend to be swallowed up by the corporate culture they inherit, making them less effective when it comes to innovative strategies and disruptive marketing techniques.

Once you built a big following, the rest is easy

Again, wrong. Even accounts with a big following make mistakes, lose focus and thus followers, or simply don’t have the right offering to engage customers. Some accounts with 2000 followers have conversion rates of 30 or more percent, while others have millions of followers and negligible engagement. Digital marketing, like everything in life, is not about quantity, it’s about quality. Having a large following can also work against you. One company I know managed to get 180’000 followers who use Facebook mainly to complain about the brand’s shortcomings.

What the leading digital marketing agencies recommend is always true.

It’s not. Many agencies are pushing their own agenda, creating content to serve their clients and driving you to use software solutions from which they themselves profit. Also, a lot of digital marketing wisdom comes from the US, which is a fairly homogeneous market and very different from the rest of the world. Twitter, for example, is used for entirely different purposes in Taiwan than in the US. It’s almost impossible to generate leads on Twitter here. In China, it doesn’t even exist and you’ll have to switch to other platforms like WeChat. In other words: the digital space may be global, but your strategy must still be local.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Follow the author on Twitter.

SEO or SMM? What Drives More Traffic?

We all know that “once you build it they will come” is a myth. Too many websites are rotting away in cyberspace because companies don’t know how to drive traffic. Yet even among those in the know, there is an ongoing debate which is more important: optimizing your site for search engines (SEO) or your social media marketing efforts (SMM).

So, as you embark on content marketing for real, what should you focus on?

The first truth is that you need both. Even though social media channels don’t really have an impact on site rankings, you can’t do SEO without them.

Social media is essential to drive traffic to your website. As consumers increasingly spend all of their time on Facebook and LinkedIn, the paradigm of web surfing from site to site has disappeared. 85% of traffic is already mobile, and around 2/3 of that is spent on Facebook, at least in some countries. Scrolling on your smartphone is the preferred consumption modus, not mouse-clicking links on the desktop.

Media companies like newspapers and TV stations are gearing their content entirely towards Facebook as they watch website hits fall month after month. New shopping features on Facebook mean that commerce too will be increasingly happening there. Even if Facebook fails, social media sites like Instagram or Medium, or, increasingly, regional or local solutions, will still capture much of the eyeballs – rather than your primary website.

Read also: How to Become a Smarter Marketer

The Key to SEO

Still, websites have their uses. Especially in the B2B business, you want customers to see your company website which is still the best place to showcase your products and services. Customers who need those products and services will search for them. Here’s where your SEO strategy comes in. Without SEO, you will be relegated to the nether regions of the Google pile.

But your best clients aren’t necessarily those searching for you. Companies are increasingly creating products with uses and names consumers are not familiar with. Factory automation companies, for example, use concepts not yet widely known. SMM is the ideal strategy for these companies because they need to create a platform or post on a platform that allows them to reach the right target audience and talk to them about solutions to problems their customers are not yet aware of. In Taiwan for example, FB pages like Taiwan’s Future reach a large audience of people interested in technology. Posting there or similar sites is the right way to reach B2B customers. Thousands of similar Facebook pages exist in every country, and marketers must embrace them in order to remain relevant.

If you absolutely must have both SEO and SMM, the question is how much effort you should put into each? Moz.com offers a few blog posts with excellent insights into the effectiveness of each strategy and the link between them. You also want to use Ahrefs, Rival IQ and SimilarWeb for analysis. Blogs to watch are blog.bufferapp.com, razorsocial.com and searchengineland.com for search and socialmediaexaminer.com and socialmediatoday.com for SMM.

The Key to Optimizing Social Media

Now the key to optimizing your SMM is to understand that the vast amount of users share and like content, but never actually read it, i.e. don’t click through to your website. So likes and shares are not the metrics that bring the best leads. What you really want is to focus on the posts that get the most click-throughs.

Once people click through to your website though, are they just reading that one blog post, or are they clicking through to your other pages? Are they subscribing to the newsletter? Are they buying products? The answer to these questions is in the Pixel. Facebook offers this amazing tool and gives you insight into the behavior of your visitors. Together with Google Analytics it is the nexus between SMM and SEO: comparing the data from Google and Facebook will allow you to make a judgment.

The results may be surprising. We recently implemented an SMM strategy for a company in the factory automation sector who believed that any potential client would come primarily from organic search results. After we set them up with social channels, a blog strategy and then put the Facebook Pixel on their site, we found that within six months they had four times more conversions from social than from organic search results. It seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is, consumers do not always know what they are looking for, and those actively searching for you might not be your best clients.

So the answer to the question of whether you spend more time on SMM or SEO is, unsurprisingly: look at the data!

Read also: 6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

Follow the author on Twitter or LinkedIn

Curiosity Marketing: The Ideal Solution for Digital Natives

We are drowning in a flood of information, on our desktops, our mobile devices, our televisions; from product videos to long-form written content, from Instagram images to LinkedIn posts.

Every avenue of marketing has been deployed, from aggressive advertising, email, to inbound strategies, podcasts, and webinars. And yet, marketers continue to come up with new (or not so new) concepts to get through to the customer. Or bring back old can trusted ways of attracting business.

One of these is curiosity marketing.

Curiosity as a concept is nothing new. Just think of cliffhangers in TV series, the anticipation created before a commercial break to make sure you stay on the channel, pre-announcements of products, leaking information before a launch, teaser landing pages, and all the other tricks in the toolkit of the scarcity marketers.

Curiosity comes into play everywhere, from podcasts to panel shows. As digital platforms change the way they display content, marketers must adapt. For years we tried to find the perfect still image for our video content; now it is about the first six seconds of an ad shown on Youtube. If you cannot arouse the viewers’ curiosity, they will not watch your ad.

Digitally native users are a particular are a hard nut to crack. Their brains have been conditioned to the myriad of stimuli already present everywhere in the digital world. They recognize icons, colors, and sequences of actions faster than older generations, and are much quicker to dismiss clues set by marketers. But the one thing they have in common with everybody else is curiosity.

I recently advised a luxury car accessory maker on the launch of their digital campaign. Instead of showing the product in detail, with high-resolution images, technical descriptions, and videos of flashy cars on a race track, we made only a simple landing page with a black background and a simple statement highlighting one feature of the flagship product. This that attracted the attention of car fanatics. We then promoted the website on Instagram and within 3 months had over 150’000 people in the target market signing up for a newsletter – an ideal basis for future marketing efforts.

Nothing was revealed about the product publicly, only in the newsletter. The buzz created by this form of curiosity marketing was amazing.

See also: Don’t Build Your House on Rented Land: 6 Basic Content Marketing Rules

Curiosity, FOMO, and Scarcity

Curiosity belongs in the same corner as scarcity marketing and exploiting FOMO – the fear of missing out, and the FOMO is a powerful force indeed.

Curiosity is built into the digital world like nothing else: you have to click on the teaser headline, the blurry image; you have to follow up on that murky statement because you do want to know, otherwise you could miss the latest trend, the big discount, or the change to win the big prize. Our innate human curiosity is the best tool for marketers to exploit – if they do so in an ethical way.

Curiosity and Ethics

The problem with curiosity marketing is the potential for abuse. How often have you clicked on something “interesting” only to find out it led to a spammy website or even a dangerous corner of the web where malware entered your computer, or nefarious elements tried to scam you or get a hold of your credit card data.

Thus, big brands are wary of playing the curiosity game. Gen X consumers have known from earliest childhood how to spot dodgy calls to action. Uusing the tricks of curiosity marketing without having built a reputation for honest, meaningful interaction with the consumer can totally ruin a brand’s image, as we see in scandal after scandal.

Authenticity and Consistency

The key to engaging via curiosity marketing is pure and adulterated authenticity. Don’t use other people’s tricks, don’t copy other people’s strategies. Only by nurturing an authentic dialog with your audience and engaging with them human-to-human, honestly and open, will you be able to use curiosity to increase your fans’ interest in your content, your product, or your service offering.

Another important factor is consistency. Because there is so much content on offer, in so many formats, good digital marketing is all about consistency. Consistency refers to your design, the layout of your pages, but also the steps you take to publish content and the road by which you are leading your potential client to a sales decision.

Just because you have built a loyal following through well-designed videos doesn’t mean that next time you can just spam your audience with a “buy my stuff”‘  CTA. People get used to their content sources, like them or not, and often start disliking them when you change the format or the goal of a campaign.

Focus on the Relationship

Finally, curiosity marketing works when it builds relationships, not just between the brand and the customer, but also between customers and other stakeholders. Using forums and Facebook groups, for example, doesn’t directly translate into sales, but creates relationships, because we are all curious about how other people do it, how other people use a product, or how celebrities discover (or get paid to discover) new products. Hence the mind-boggling success of Instagram.

Relationships can go many ways and include elements like your own employees, user-generated content, and most of all customer feedback. And only in the context of these authentic relationships should you deploy curiosity marketing.

See also: Employee Advocacy: The Key to Digital Marketing Success

Don’t venture into curiosity marketing without first building the foundation of a meaningful relationship to your customers. GenX, like no other generation in history, bombarded by information and constantly on the move, demands this authenticity.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

The Appocalyse: No Bright Future for Apps

Remember a few years ago, when every marketer told you that you needed to augment your brand with new touch points and that you couldn’t possibly do without your own app? The vision was that every store, every dentist and delivery service would have its own app.

While for some use cases such as public transport, food delivery, or management of appointments like in medical or public services apps have proven a great way to streamline transactional processes, many businesses wasted enormous amounts of money on creating apps that were perhaps downloaded once and never used again.

Ingenious and unscrupulous companies jumped on the bandwagon and created software that allowed for the simple and quick creation of apps, without complicated coding and very intuitive drag-and-drop functionality. (Also without much in the way of data security!)

Apps and Marketing

Marketing agencies tried to convince you that you must combine the easy general info of your website with the user-focused functionality of the cool app;  wishful thinking in many cases, lining the pockets of app developers and adding no benefits for customers.

Iterations of such services were copied around the world and localized in all major languages, and the app space exploded. Suddenly our mobile device screens filled with newspaper apps, public transport apps, ride-sharing service apps, restaurant apps, point collecting apps, accommodation apps and the local app to the best tourist attractions in a city we will only visit once in your life.

Point towards the QR code and download yet another app, until your screen is so cluttered it takes you five minutes to find the damn icon you thought was green but turned out to be yellow after the latest update – because you haven’t used the app in six months. Every restaurant and railway thought they needed to lock customers into their own app universe, coming up with ever cleverer ideas to reward loyalty and generate return business.

Apps, apps everywhere – until there were none

For a time the vision was that one day, every brand, business, boutique hotel, and burger joint would have its own mobile app. Apps promised to add “value” to the customer experience, lower labor cost, streamline business processes, increase customer loyalty and protect businesses from downturns.

But there are a few simple reasons why apps are actually on the way out.

Firstly, just like you can only fit so many store loyalty cards in your wallet, your phone will only hold so many apps before it becomes unwieldy. Some people may manage 100 apps, but most of us think 40-50 is more than enough. That’s not counting the bloatware installed by phone manufacturers in the first place. Add to it the apps you really need for business and daily living, and you will find yourself faced with app overload. According to some research, over 95% of new apps are only downloaded once and never used again.

Secondly, apps only work if they are used frequently for a useful, time or money-saving purpose.

My doctor’s app allows me to make appointments without having to speak to anyone, in seconds, and without providing repeat information. My bus service app allows me to see how many minutes the next bus is away. My supermarket app allows me to collect and redeem points just by scanning a barcode at every purchase. That’s useful, saves money, and provides actual value.

Apps that just provide information are faring less well. I won’t install the English-Spanish dictionary app if I can just google a word I don’t know. I won’t install my shoe store’s app, because I only buy a pair of shoes once a year and don’t really have any relationship with the brand anyway. I don’t use the Amazon app, because I prefer to shop via the desktop interface, which provides more information about products in an easier-to-absorb format.

All major brands thought they needed apps – until they realized how much effort it takes to keep them up-to-date, debug them, or else see them buried in app nirvana by bad reviews on the app store. Every time there is an update to the operating system, something goes awry with your app and you have to pay coders insane amounts of money to come up with a new version. If you’ve ever been involved in mobile app development, you know what I am talking about.

Apps are great – for a very small number of applications

In practice, unless you are a major online retailer or publisher of large amounts of content, delivered to thousands or millions of customers, or a public utility, you will probably be better off with a mobile-friendly website (RWD). Anything you can provide on a website should go there. If it can’t be done easier, better, and cheaper via an app, don’t bother with app development.

The app landscape is changing too. As a restaurant, why have your own delivery app if UberEats and FoodPanda can offer far better functionality and reach? How many people are really using newspaper apps, when they get most of their information through Google or content aggregators such as Medium? It takes time and money to promote the use of your own app, whereas joining an existing ecosystem of content can amplify your brand’s reach without spending a dime. For many B2B brands, having an impressive, engaging LinkedIn presence would probably do more for their business than investing in useless apps clients don’t really need and prospective clients don’t value anyway.

In many places, for example, gas (petrol) station chains came up with their own apps thinking that they could retain customers that way – only to be outsmarted by apps that should the cheapest prices in a certain radius.

In China, WeChat is showing the way by integrating thousands of functions into one central app. Although this is driven by government efforts to keep an eye on it citizens and would probably not work as well in more privacy-minded cultures, it is showing a trend toward simplification and centralization of essential functions.

Services like Line and Whatsapp are emulating WeChat and have created APIs that allow 3rd parties to create mini-applications that work in the main chat program. This trend will only continue in the coming years. Facebook and perhaps Twitter too will develop such functionality, hoping to retain eyeballs and keep customers in their ecosystem.

Speed, privacy and safety

With the arrival of 5G (solving the 4G latency problem), and increased use of IoT and cloud services, the industry will consolidate further. Promoting your app will become more and more expensive as applications proliferate and software development costs fall as SaaS solutions take over. More than 80% of SaaS services today are provided through browsers rather than special-purpose apps. Browser functionality will increase, and with privacy and security concerns, the browser will provide a layer of protection from malware or ransomware.

Users will be assured by service providers complying with a browser’s security protocols – whereas, with a standalone app, you never know what it really does with your private information. Every new data breach or leak of private information from a stand-alone app will convince users that they are better off trusting big content providers rather than individual brands. And with legislation like GDPR forcing brands to spend even more on data protection, management, and security, I am sure we are heading towards the day of the appocalypse – when it will be cheaper, faster, safer, and easier for anyone to use browser-dominated SaaS solutions or specialized app ecosystems rather than installing yet another badly designed, unreliable app.

Read also:

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

The Right Role for Marketing

The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital Marketing

Beating Amazon & Co: Hands-on Marketing Tips for Brands

In the digital age of ubiquitous information, machine learning, and big data dominance, reaching the customer is tough. With online shopping, customers have access to an unlimited number of brands and products, their attention spans are shorter and split between multiple devices, and they are constantly researching, comparing and exploring different options before making their purchase decisions.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence allow savvy companies with deep pockets or government connections to capture huge segments of the market. Brands are challenged with capturing consumers’ divided attention and with growing sales in an extremely crowded e-commerce environment. Global expansion is becoming a challenge as different platforms dominate different countries and regions.

You need a retail partner no matter what

While it is the goal of most manufacturers and startup entrepreneur to have their own website or webshop, in many countries and industries there is simply no way around the dominating retail platform.

Read also: Why you should always put your retail strategy first

To stay competitive, brands must capitalize on the online presence and sizable audiences of their retail partners and the tools offered by them, from AI-powered recommendations to paid advertising.

But rather than standing idly by and hoping for miraculous results, there are a number of strategies brands can employ to build their online presence on an online retailer’s website like Amazon. Being proactive when selling through online retail platforms can lead to many benefits in terms of brand awareness, credibility and customer retention.

Your customer’s voice is a powerful marketing tool

While the exact numbers differ from country to country, including ratings and reviews in the user experience usually means better conversions and more purchases. Even though customers have woken up to the fact that reviews can be abused are not always genuine, they still influencer purchase decisions.

What’s more, companies that collect customer feedback, analyze it, and act up it, are usually showing faster grow and better results in the long and short term.

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback

Feedback from your customers, however, is entirely ineffective if others don’t have access to it. By sharing customer reviews with the retail partners that sell your products, brands can extend the reach of their customer ratings and reviews and boost consideration and sales through the retail channel.

Capturing and publishing customer reviews sounds like a lot of hassle, but in most industries, it’s well worth the investment. And I am not just talking about consumer product here – even in the B2B space, the experience one customer has with your product or service can influence hundreds of potential clients.

Showing reviews, testimonials, and especially video clips documenting positive client experiences on your website and that of the retailer can help your brand get discovered and stand out positively, especially if the customer reviewing your product is genuine and believable. That doesn’t always mean massively popular influencers or celebrities or star brands, but an can mean your average, down-to-earth, real consumer with a low number of followers on their social media accounts. In an age of digital noise, genuine experiences and influencers are more believable than the latest AI experiment.

Engage With Your Fans

What’s even more important than publishing positive reviews or linking to them from your retail page is engaging with true fans. Every e-mail celebrating your success that comes from a genuine customer is worth more than any advertising dollar. If people love your brand, their testimony will influence many more people than an unrelatable TV ad.

Additionally, once you’ve kick-started the exchange of your customer reviews, more serendipitous opportunities could follow. Your retailer may be more likely to feature your product more prominently on their e-commerce site and mention your brand in their social media streams.

Using the voice of the customer can influence sales in retailers’ physical stores when people are researching products in a physical location. In some cases, retailers may offer exclusive, in-store displays and deals for popular products favored and liked by real-life customers. Brands that actively engage in this way are preferable partners for a retail website.

Reward loyal fans with great experiences

Reviews are important, but what about brand-new products? How do you create buzz around a new launch if no one has got their hands on the product yet?

One way is to curate a loyal customer database – fans of your product that have previously posted positive reviews or said positive things about your brand on social media.

Before the product launch, reach out to them and send them the new product for free. Managers don’t like giving away samples, but they serve a double purpose: if the new product is great, it creates an excellent buzz around it; if it’s flawed, you can delay the release until you have sorted out the bugs. Authentic, high-quality feedback is the best marketing tool there is.

With the right approach, sampling can lay the foundation for a steady stream of consumer reviews that you can share and distribute to your retail partners. Authentic ratings and reviews for new products will help convince casual visitors and turn browsers into buyers. They also give your retail partners valuable content from the moment they start selling your new product online or in-store.

Also recommended is the use of credible influencers. Read more here:

It’s Time For B2B enterprises to Embrace Influencers

Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

 

Lend a helping hand!

One of the drawbacks of mixed online retailers is that they can’t know every product in detail or offer support around the product category. You don’t go to Amazon for fashion tips of help on woodworking.

Yet customers will appreciate the help, useful tips, and recommendation on how to use specific products, solve individual problems or improve their skills. You can use the space offered by your online retailer to proffer this help or link to your website or youtube channel for more information.

As a brand, you have an opportunity to be the resident expert about your products and can offer helpful advice or answer specific customer questions about your products and the proper ways to use them. Share your expertise and product knowledge to provide an educational, informative point of view that your retailers can share with their audiences.

There are many more ways to engage and improve your customer retail experience even if you don’t have your own web shop. In particular, if you are expanding into new markets, check out the online behavior of your future customers. Where do they go for reviews? How do they make their purchase decision? Which forums do they trust? Are they swayed by influencers or celebrities?

Read more on How to Influence The Customer Journey

How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

One of the biggest challenges in today’s business world for mid and top-level executives is to correctly estimate data needs of new AI projects both at inception and over time.

You may also want to read: Machine Learning in the Organization: First Steps

The main questions which arise here are: what kind of data do we need, how do we need to prepare (clean) the data, and how do we teach employees who are not familiar with machine learning concepts and artificial intelligence how to manipulate and curate that data.

Most clients in this field come in two flavors: those with massive amounts of data who do not know what to do with it, and those who have never bothered to collect data and don’t know where to begin their journey.

Data: The Have and the Have Nots

If your goal is the prediction of future outcomes in a project and you do have a large amount of data available already, the key is to clearly understand the nature and quality of that data. A lot of companies are claiming to employ “AI” when they are actually just giving their existing data a once over. AI projects need highly qualified, reliable training data sets, and the people in your organization who have hitherto managed data collection may not be the best qualified to assure the usability of those training sets (especially for voice, computer vision, and natural language processing).

In particular, projects involving localization of large data sets (i.e. rollout in multiple languages), it is important to make sure that the basic data sets and procedures can be reliably employed throughout the entire application space.

For organizations who have not yet collected data, the challenge is to find out exactly which data must be collected and what is the most efficient way to do so. Mission creep in the planning phase, business silos, traditional hierarchical thinking and what I like to call ‘project envy’ between departments often lead to situations where too much data is collected at too many touchpoints, resulting both in dirty data and dissatisfied customers. Medical institutions like hospitals deploying AI solutions are particularly vulnerable, as each specialty and department wants complete control over the data.

Domain Specificity is both Key and Curse

Whereas domain generic projects can be excused for leaving the user with imprecise results, in many instances domain-specificity (currently in particular finance, insurance, and medical) is the absolute key to get good results and define the kind of data needed.

The categories in your domain-specific data may work in one language, but be completely irrelevant in another, causing problems as you try to scale up. Very often you need domain-specialized people (from biologists to comptrollers) to shed a light on the exact data needs. However, every time you add another domain expert the mountain of data that is supposedly needed grows.

Finding expertise is one of the tougher challenges in this area, not just for startups. AI systems analyzing shoulder x-rays should be viewed, classified and analyzed by a large number of orthopedic surgeons, and trying to get medical professionals to participate in any kind of extracurricular activity is either impossible or hugely expensive. In other industries, experts are bound by contracts or NDAs and unavailable to help you improve your project.

Even if your data entry module is perfectly designed, humans have a tendency to mess things up. In a recent project, we identified twelve different ways physicians in one hospital describe exactly the same condition.

Estimating by Comparing

One way for managers to estimate data needs is to look for comparable projects or join existing project pools. It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel every time you launch another AI project. Despite what you and your customers may think, your needs are probably not unique.

In particular, in NLP, someone probably has already done what you are trying to do, cleaned the data and trained the model. Managers must keep their eyes open for news about similar projects in their domain. At this point, many startups are simply translating ideas from one domain, country, or jurisdiction to another, adding little in the value of aggregate AI development, but at least aiming to solve specific programs with toy application type solutions. ROI doesn’t come into it yet.

Executives Need to Understand the Data Needs

Most projects fail because executives simply follow the hype, have the data or the budget to collect new data, and want to add an AI project to the list of their achievements. But just because you have data does not mean you need that data, not to mention an AI use case for it.

Executives must understand that at the core of our current efforts are human-machine interaction and augmentation of human capabilities. The first step in analyzing your data needs should, therefore, be these two questions: does the project make interacting with machines easier, and does it increase the capacity of the human to solve problems or complete workflows. All estimation of data needs should be guided by these two principles, all data collection and data cleaning should help make those goals clearer.

The key decision factor (especially when working with consultants and 3rd party providers) should not be price, but the quality of data. If an executive doesn’t understand the harm bad quality data can do to a project, they should not be in charge of such a project.

Read Also: Beyond the Hype: The difference between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

 

What Chatbots Can Currently Do For Your Business

Chatbots are being hyped as the next big thing in marketing. They should, marketers insist, be an integral part not just of customer service, but of your entire content marketing strategy.

In fact, far beyond marketing, they have use cases in every department of your business, every customer touchpoint, and even B2B interfaces of your industry or company internal processes. However, just like any new technology, chatbots are somewhat overhyped and the C-suite has no clear picture of how useful they will be in the end.

Deploying a chatbot requires a lot of preparation not unlike the work involved in prepping a department for machine learning or artificial intelligence.

For a general overview of machine learning deployment, see: Machine Learning in the Organization: First Steps

But let’s get started.

The Low Hanging Fruit

The easiest applications for chatbots are without doubt high-structured, repetitive information such as that contained in standard customer service dialogues. Whether it is information about your opening hours, making simple reservations, finding the location of offices or getting a step-by-step guide through bureaucratic processes, this is information any chatbot can give in a reliable way.

“When will my order arrive”, “can I make an appointment on Thursday at 2 pm”, “is this item available in red”, “what is the balance on my credit card account” should all be easily programmable responses. Experts estimate that over 70% of calls pertaining to information contained in FAQs or customer service manuals can be easily and quickly transferred to a chatbot API. Agents are taking their time to answer questions, while customers with much more pressing requests are made to wait: here the chatbot has a clear use case and offers immediate benefits.

In other words, chatbots should be used to remove large volume questions with standard answers from the queue.

Pitfalls for Basic Chatbots

NLP or natural language processing is the key to even basic chatbots. Different people use different expressions for the same thing. Whether you want “double cheese”, “extra cheese”, “more cheese” should all be understood without having to confirm. There is nothing more annoying than having the chatbot ask you “did you mean…?”

The key here is to build very simple decision trees modeled on existing workflows, avoiding brand-specific lingo the customer may not be familiar with and making use of existing customer data. An airline chatbot is a good example.

If I have booked 20 flights from A to B in the same time slot and class over the last 5 months, the chatbot should be smart enough to look up my past reservation data and thus not offer me choices I have previously rejected, while being flexible enough to make a slightly different reservation this time.

If I have consistently ordered the vegetarian meal, this information should be available to the chatbot also.

Personalization is the Key

This is not personalization per se, because hundreds of customers will have made the same type of reservation. Customization of a flight is not extremely complicated. Other than the date, time, class, window or aisle and perhaps the choice of meal, there is not a lot that goes into a flight reservation.

The same is true for any chatbot handling retail orders – and of course the AI behind voice assistants like Alexa.

But here is where we get a little more nuanced. In the coming years, we will see more elaborate dialogs. Currently, chatbots deliver simple answers to simple questions but are unable to build on those fragmentary interactions to conduct human-like dialogs.

Multi-stage conversations are not yet handled satisfactorily by chatbots and can do more harm than good to your brand’s reputation. An annoyed user is not a happy user.

In the example of the airline reservation, if the customer is a frequent flyer and no seat is available on the flight they are requesting, the chatbot should immediately hand off to a human operator. If a customer consistently ordered the same type of washing powder for months or years, do not bombard them with alternative choices.

It Takes Time and Common Sense

Depend on your industry, deploying chatbots takes time. Estimate at least a year to get to over 70% of requests handled by the bot! In the initial phase, make sure bot interactions are monitored and failures identified early. There should always be a human operator at hand to jump in.

Retailers, airlines, even hospitals, have started to adopt chatbots in that way. The key for customer satisfaction here is the remember that the caller should be in a relaxed state and friendly towards the chatbot service.

Detection systems for natural language processing are now being developed that can tell whether a caller is angry, agitated, confused or in distress — in which case a human interlocutor is preferable than a chatbot.

Finally, there will be situations where are chatbot is not the right technology. The complaints hotline should not be the first place to launch a chatbot, as you can reasonably expect a level of stress or agitation.

Repeat purchases of standard goods are easier handled by a chatbot than complicated orders. In banking, new generations may trust computer-controlled systems more than older generations, but always keep in mind who your customer is and how familiar with the technology they are.

Think Voice For the Long Term

While chatbots on social media platforms or your website are easier to implement because of the prevalence of text parsing, the future belongs to voice.

3-5 years from now voice will be the key enabler of chatting, and your business should be ready for it. In the meantime, take baby steps and pay attention not to annoy your existing customer base.

Read also: CIO 101: How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

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Writing Your First Chatbot Script

Chatbots are the next big thing, even though current implementation is still sketchy. In some industries – such as airline customer service – they have taken off quickly, others have struggled to come up with the right content, brand voice, and implementation

The best place to start planning your marketing chatbot is yourself. Have you used a chatbot? Do you like using chatbots? What problems have you found using chatbots.

I am sure that you will agree a chatbot has to meet the following criteria to appeal to users:

  • Responses have to be fast
  • Responses have to be accurate
  • Responses have to be natural

Remember the acronym: FAN – fast, accurate, natural.

Fast, because nobody likes to wait, especially on mobile. Make sure you have the right solution in place. Responses don’t have to be timed exactly, that would make the conversation feel unnatural. Anything between 1- 6 seconds is a good response time. The chatbot solution you choose probably has a feature called random or dynamic reply timing; use it.

Accurate because, well, what use is a chatbot that gives wrong answers. That means examining your data for accuracy and relevancy.

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

And finally, natural, because we feel more comfortable talking to real human beings, so the technology has to at least make an effort to sound like a real person. Chatbots are not Google search, they are not meant to deliver stilted answers, but to engage the customer into a real conversation. Or at least something that feels like a conversation.

Bearing in mind the above, the script you write for your chatbot should be based on actual conversations. For that, you need data – recordings of actual interaction with customers. Even without expensive data analysis, you will be able to extract some key elements that can guide you when writing the chatbot script.

Some experts have recommended using slang expressions and abbreviations, even emojis in replies. While this may give a more “authentic” feeling to the chatbot, it may not sit well with your brand voice. When I am making a reservation with a 5-star hotel, I don’t want the chatbot to call me “mate” or answer “yeah man!” Chatbot scripts have to match the brand and application they represent.

Make It Sound Human – For Everyone

If you do not have access to customer details at the time of interaction, remember that you are writing a script for all ages. The chatbot must feel equally professional and natural to a senior citizen as to a teenager. Sophisticated chatbot programs also allow you to program several choices for each response depending on the client persona (e.g. age of the user or type of service requested)

Even though human conversations can guide you when writing the chatbot responses, do not rely on one sample alone. It may be an outlier.

That said, even if you don’t use slang or emojis in your answers, your chatbot program should be able to understand them to a certain degree, especially if your customer profile includes younger generations. Natural language processing is a key feature of most chatbot solutions, but not all of them offer enough flexibility to accommodate the type of customers you are dealing with.

Chatbot scripts must be written from the perspective of the user. Always remember who you are talking to, and in which situation. A chatbot for ordering food or concert tickets is a different animal from a chatbot on a customer complaint website.

And finally, stay away from the canned responses pre-programming with many cloud-based chatbot solutions. Don’t even look at them. At this stage, AI is not general enough to offer solutions across the board, so you will have to program the chatbot with data befitting your organization, your customer profiles, and your use case.

Read also:

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

CIO 101: How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

The Importance of Customer Feedback

The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has entered our daily lives with a bang. From marketing to medicine, every business and industry seems to be affected. Technology companies are competing for dominance in the race to lead the market and acquire the most innovative and promising AI businesses.

You may already be using AI in everyday life, with applications such as speech recognition, virtual assistance on your smartphone, the recommendation algorithms of shopping websites and music or video streaming services, or even when you visit the doctor and he compares an X-Ray or other medical images with other medical data. And then there are the terms machine learning and deep learning, which seem to confuse many people. Too often they are used interchangeably, but although they are closely related to each other, they have different meanings. So, what is the difference between AI, machine learning, and deep learning?

Artificial Intelligence

In the broadest sense, according to its founders, AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, in particular, intelligent computer programs. It is a way of making a computer, a computer-controlled robot, or a software think intelligently in a way similar to the way humans think while exploiting the vastly greater speed and power of the computer.

Companies are using massive amounts of data, so much in fact that we need the help of computers to organize and analyze the data. All of this, in the broadest sense, falls under the umbrelle of machine intelligence. 

Knowledge engineering is a core part of AI research. Machines can act like humans only if they have abundant information relating to the world. An autonomous car can only drive safely with sufficient data about its environment. Decision-making algorithms are only as good as the input data.

In other words, artificial intelligence must have access to objects, categories, properties, and relations between all of them to implement knowledge engineering. Initiating common sense, reasoning and problem-solving power in machines is a difficult and tedious approach. We are nowhere near really intelligent machines.

Machine Learning

Whereas Artificial Intelligence covers the entire spectrum of machine learning, the term machine learning has a much narrower meaning, namely “the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed.”

By using algorithms, or mathematical formulas, computers can analyze the data and make predictions based on this analysis. Whereas initially machine learning was limited to algorithms programmed by humans, by now we have computers teaching themselves themselves and set their own rules. That’s machine learning.

Incidentally, this is where the biggest changing are happening right now: feeding massive data sets into computers and waiting for them to come with results.

Machine learning is a type of AI that facilitates a computer’s ability to learn and essentially teach itself to evolve as it becomes exposed to new and ever-changing data. For example, Facebook’s news feed uses machine learning in an effort to personalize each individual’s feed based on what they like. The main elements of traditional machine learning software are statistical analysis and predictive analysis used to spot patterns and find hidden insights based on observed data from previous computations without being programmed on where to look.

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

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Machine learning has truly evolved over the years by its ability to sift through a complex data set. These are often referred to as “big data”. Many may be surprised to know that they encounter machine learning applications in their everyday lives through streaming services like Netflix and social media algorithms that alert to trending topics or hashtags. Feature extraction in machine learning requires a programmer to tell the computer what kinds of things it should be looking for that will be formative in making a decision, which can be a time-consuming process. This also results in machine learning having decreased accuracy due to the element of human error during the programming process.

 

Deep Learning

Deep Learning is the youngest area of machine learning research, which has been introduced with the objective of moving machine learning closer to artificial intelligence.

It relates to study of ‘deep neural networks’ in the human brain and, under this perspective, the deep learning tries to emulate the functions of inner layers of the human brain, creating knowledge from multiple layers of information processing. Since the deep learning technology is modeled after the human brain, each time new data is poured in, its capabilities get better.

Under the deep learning paradigm, essentially the machine is ‘trained’ using large amounts of data and algorithms to give it the ability to learn how to perform the task. This data is fed through neural networks which ask a series of binary true/false questions or numerical values, of every bit of data which pass through them and classify it according to the answers received. Today, image recognition by machines trained via deep learning are used in training autonomous robots and vehicles, in medicine to identify disease markers and all kinds of images.

Some time ago Google’s AlphaGo learned the game in hours by playing against itself over and over and over. This unsupervised, increasingly faster ability to learn is the key to the current hype over deep learning. But the next revolutionary technology is not far away.

Read also: Sayonara, sucker! How digital companies are leaving the rest behind

 

Can Blockchain Technology Solve the Food Chain Crisis?

At blockchain-themed events around the world, bold promises are being made about the ability of blockchain technology to solve the problem of food traceability and supply chains in general. But how realistic is that prospect? Is blockchain really the right tool for supply chain management and traceability? What will happen if deploy it broadly?

Incidents of food fraud are on the rise globally. Multinational conglomerates often intentionally hide the precise location of food sources, while consumers – ever more health conscious – increasingly pay attention to where their food comes from.

No one is immune from the crisis. From e-coli spinach in America to horse meat lasagne in Europe – not to mention plastic-contaminated infant formula in China – food traceability is a global and very serious problem.

Food traceability is complicated

Truth be told, the problems of the food industry are manifold. Tampering with labels and seals, misreporting of fraud numbers, parallel imports, are costing the industry billions of dollars a year. From contaminated milk to re-labelled, expired, Spanish ham; from foul tomatoes ending up in ketchup to horse meat DNA across a variety of frozen food products, to dogs and cats in Indian mutton curry, not a week goes by without another scandal somewhere in the world.

But it doesn’t have to be fraud – consumers also want to know that their food is truly organic, or that animals have been treated properly. The British are afraid of chlorinated chicken and the Germans are obsessed with buying only “made in Germany” jam – even if all the fruit come from Romania and Ukraine.

Shoppers were flabbergasted when it turned out a famous local brand farmed all their shrimp in a polluted region of China. In short, food traceability is a huge issue for manufacturers and consumers alike, from marketing to actual health risks.

Complicated Supply Chains Scream for Blockchain

Supply chains have become so complicated, manufacturers themselves often don’t know where the ingredients really come from and how they reach their destination.

Blockchain promises a solution. The distributed ledger technology of blockchain means that thousands of copies of a ledger prevent alteration of the records. Every ingredient at every step of the manufacturing process can be monitored, the responsible parties held accountable. Hundreds of startups are working on solution promising one thing above all: transparency through blockchain.

Companies like Provenance connect the digital and physical world using natural markers like genetic profiles at the top end of their tech solutions, but at the very least promise to eliminate the most egregious examples of fraud, like copying or falsifying certificates of origin or batch numbers.

Fish are tracked with data including the fishing vessel, the phone number of the captain, date and location of the catch, and other verifiable data entered throughout the journey to market. Vegetables are tracked from farm to supermarket in the same way. Meat is traced from the moment an animal is born to the moment the customer swipes the ham package at the supermarket checkout.

But is blockchain really the solution?

The problem is that the blockchain technology itself doesn’t guarantee the accuracy of the data; you still need to trust the people making the ledger entry. This problem, experts predict, will be overcome with government regulation and machine learning: big data sets will be able to flag implausible and possibly fraudulent entries. Individuals and corporations being flagged repeatedly can be blocked from the supply chain accordingly.

Food fingerprinting – the record of molecular properties of food, recorded with blockchain – is another component of the fight against food fraud. I will allow consumers to verify that a particular product found on a shelf is actually the same product recorded at the source of production.

Sensors will offer another piece of the puzzle. Did irrigation from a neighboring farm contaminate a certified producer? Did refrigeration fail during a sea voyage? Was the shipment repackaged at a port along the way? The more data points we collect on the blockchain, the safer a food product will be.

The question is do we really need blockchain (with its proof-of-work step) or is this only a question of a distributed ledger? Are there solutions that involve safe, traceable data entry without actually requiring proof-of-work and enormous energy consumption?

Expect an Increase in Food Cost

We do not have all the answers. If there is no payment step involved, perhaps blockchain is an overkill. Perhaps there are other distributed solutions on the horizon which do not come with the baggage of long hours of computer processing.

However, all this technology will, at least in the short run, increase the cost of food production. Producers banned from the blockchain tracing system will continue to operate in a gray area, providing cheaper (albeit less safe) alternatives, which will be mostly used by the poor.

Blockchain, in other words, may make food safer for affluent societies while worsening the quality of alimentation in poorer countries.

That is unless a solution provider takes on the problem and offers a viable solution to any player in the market.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Build Your House on Rented Land: 6 Basic Content Marketing Rules

I have discussed content marketing in depth on this blog. There is no better way to attract, convert, and retain customers.

Advertising disrupts and annoys, and younger generations are completely impervious to it. Whether you like the term or not, it is the future and the only form of good marketing.

Yet, again and again, I come across companies who try their hand at what they believe is solid content marketing, but still make the mistake of relying too much on a specific social platform and “other people’s properties”, in a way building their marketing house on rented land. Such strategies are nothing more than social media marketing.

 

Don’t Rely on Rented Land Alone

In this analogy, your content is your house, and just like you want to own a house, you want to own your content.

If you make all your blog posts on Facebook and put all your videos on YouTube, you are actually building your content house on other people’s property. Of course, Facebook and YouTube and all the other platforms want you to do that because it makes them more interesting and influential. But at the end of the day, you need to link your customers and potential customers to something other than a Facebook page or a YouTube channel.

Here are some simple and practical steps on how to do that (courtesy of Content Marketing Institute and a number of other experienced marketers).

Content Marketing Done Right

Here are six basic tips on how to put your marketing on a solid foundation, reaching from where to post your content, how to build a following and engage with users, and how to make sure your content is seen first.

1) Don’t just blog on other platforms – have your own website

You own the website, and you can do with it what you want. If Facebook disappears tomorrow, you will still have your content. Of course, you can use WordPress or Squarespace, which are not likely to go under. But don’t rely on social media posts alone! A Facebook page alone is not a solid marketing strategy.

Read also: Web Design: Time to Weed Out The Laggards

2) Build an e-mail communication channel

You should have a way to communicate with clients or fans directly. I recommend e-mail, even though in some countries messaging platforms like Line, WhatsApp, WeChat or Facebook Messenger offer enticing alternatives. But those are, believe it or not, the same kind of rented land. Just think of recent events where Indonesia, Brazil, or Russia banned individual messaging tools.

E-Mail is still the safest way to build a communication channel. You must make every effort to get people onto your mailing list. You want to collect that data and own it. If Facebook disappears tomorrow, and your website suffers an outage, you will still have your e-mail data.

3) Have a backup

Surprisingly enough, few content marketers bother to back up their content. Even the most popular site providers can go bankrupt or be blocked. Even relying on automatic backup services can be a risk. Cloud data archiving like Amazon Glacier seems to be the most popular solution today but beware the small print: if you want your data restored very quickly, you’ll pay through your nose.

At the end of the day, the cheapest way for an efficient content backup is that external hard drive you thought you could do without.

4) Spread the gospel

Only when you have these independent assets you own ready should you go out and spread the news about your awesome content on rented land. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, or messaging apps … whatever. Spread the good news and get people to visit your website.

Do not start with advertising, but observe how content performs organically first. It is cheaper and more efficient to boost posts that are already doing well, rather than rely on paid views from the beginning.

5) Don’t be lured into Facebook & Co’s next marketing gimmick

Facebook has enough money. It’s time to take back control of your content and engagement. You don’t need a shop or a blog on Facebook. Yes, you can, we are not saying you shouldn’t. But the original content should always in a house you actually own.

Don’t fall for any recent trends. Facebook has repeatedly changed its algorithm, at one time favoring video content over everything else, months later proclaiming that passive video viewing as not in its interest and it preferred posts that promoted engagement.

The algorithms of social media platforms will continue to evolve, and most likely evolve in the (financial) interest of their owners. Facebook’s 2018 changes were not about returning to “values” of engagement with family and friends, but to give a reason why every brand should now pay for promotion of posts.

Lesson learned. Post your content, spend a little on promotion in your like, but don’t believe anything the platforms tell you in their own PR.

6) Originality wins every time

At the time of this writing, and before Google can index massive amounts of audio and video data, originality still means text description, even if combined with video content. This will change over the coming years, and the rules are different for celebrities, gamers, vocal artists and other special groups, but for the average marketer, long-form text content is still the way forward.

As algorithms as the Google search algorithm get smarter by the day, they will recognize content poached from other websites, translated, or slightly edited. This means that at the end of the day, original content will always win, wherever it is posted first. And that should be your website, your house, the land your own.

Read also: Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bounce Rate: When It Matters, and When it Doesn’t

Bounce rate (sometimes confused with exit rate) is an Internet marketing term used in web traffic analysis. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce“) rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.

Whether you are using ads or inbound marketing strategies, the bounce rate tells you a lot about whether you are doing things right or wrong on your website.

In itself, however, it is pretty meaningless. Despite what various marketing websites report, there is no ideal or average bounce rate for a website. It depends on the industry, the competition, the age group you are addressing, the content itself, and what you are trying to do with the site.

Bounce Rate Scenarios

Consider the following scenarios:

1) You are selling products on your website

If you get traffic from organic search to your website and the landing page has a high bounce rate, that may indicate one of two things. Either your website isn’t really relevant to the search, or your product offering is not attractive to users. The first step then is to check your search terms and make sure they are aligned. If that is not the culprit, we need to find why your product offering isn’t attractive.

Do you have the price listed on the landing page? Try moving it to the following page. If the bounce rate improves, that means visitors are actually interested but are put off by the price. There are multiple combinations, and A/B testing is the way to go here. If you get the traffic from ads, it’s time to check your keywords and make sure the ad is shown to the right people.

Note that the bounce rate also varies by product, age group, and even time of day or the weather. A product with lots of competition, say, sports shoes, will have a higher bounce rate than a fairly unique product. That ice-cream parlor may bounce more on cold days when people just come to a have a look and remember you for the summer.

2) A blog post

A high bounce rate on a blog post is natural. People found the link somewhere on social media or a referrer and then landed on your blog. The bounce rate doesn’t tell you much about the success of the post – you need to look at the time spent on the page.

If you have a bounce rate of 99% but people spend several minutes on the page, that means, people are actually reading what you wrote, but aren’t interested in your other opinions — or you forgot to guide them to further reading. If you want people to stay on the site and read other articles, it makes sense to include links to other posts at the end of the post. However, those articles should be relevant and on a similar topic.

Good navigation is key to lowering bounce rates, but it far from the only factor. In general, there are a few tricks to improve your bounce rate regardless of what you are doing on your website.

You really need to understand your visitors. No, really!

Before even considering the importance of the bounce rate, you need to know why and how visitors come to your website. As shown above, this makes a huge difference.

Visitors who have followed a social media link are much less likely to continue reading other pages of your site because they want to get back to scrolling through Facebook, say, or keep reading other posts from their Twitter feed.

Visitors looking for a specific product or supplier will spend more time learning about your company or product offering.

Sounding “folksy” may cut it in Texas, but in Tokyo, you’d sound like an idiot.

Knowing your visitors is especially important if you are trying to appeal to a global audience. Many American websites, for example, use over-hyped language, content and design formats that Europeans or Asians consider spammy and untrustworthy. Sounding “folksy” may cut it in Texas, but in Tokyo, you’d sound like an idiot. Likewise, many Asian companies use a verbose and impersonal English style (based on the original Chinese or Japanese content, for example) that sounds completely outdated or statist to American or European ears.

Another aspect is technology. Look at Google Analytics and see where bounce rates happen most. Because so many websites out there are still not very mobile friendly, a high bounce rate on mobile my just underline the fact that you’ll have to invest in a new web design soon, rather than a general disinterest in your product. You can do the same analysis for countries, languages, and age groups, and thus tweak and improve your site.

UX is essential. Gee, where have we heard that before?

One of the most common general reasons for a high bounce rate is bad, outdated, or unappealing design. Just like with humans, first impressions go a long way. When visitors go to your site and are immediately put off by terrible design, they will not bother to go on reading content.

Hiding important navigation choices in obscure menus is one of the biggest reason for a high bounce rate.

The user experience is key. If you are offering products in 12 very different categories, make sure the landing page clearly directs users to these. Hiding important navigation choices in obscure menus is one of the biggest reason for a high bounce rate.

So, incidentally, is not having a clear way to go back to the home page. When visitors land on your site through referral links, they often like to know more about the site on which they find themselves perhaps by accident. Not having a clear home button and other essential navigation can raise your bounce rate significantly. The top of the page is essential in this regard.

Be original and stop being greedy

Another big reason for bouncing is derivative design, unoriginal content, or advertisement on the page. If your site looks like someone else’s – and that is not uncommon at all; if you copied the style or content from a competitor, or simply use the exact same terminology, users quickly learn to see you as an unimaginative rip-off of another brand. They learn to distrust you, and will likely never come back.

Users of WordPress and other systems with free templates are particularly prone to this problem. You may save a lot of money upfront by doing your own website with little original design, but you may end up paying dearly for that through the loss of users over the long run.

As for ads, they simply make your site look spammy and untrustworthy. Did you write that article to teach me something, or to earn money through Google ads? Personally, I don’t trust any advice from a site which clearly makes money from advertising and I immediately leave. There, up goes your bounce rate by being too greedy.

The importance of being mobile (and very, very fast)

1/2 the traffic worldwide, and over 85% of web traffic in certain countries (like Taiwan) is now on mobile. If your site doesn’t work on mobile, it is already invisible to a big percentage of your users. Especially large organizations and government agencies, or sites that require data entry of any kind, are a victim of this trend, and a lot of visitors may bounce because they simply cannot use the site from their mobile devices.

Directly related to the mobile trend is speed. At a recent conference about SEO I attended, one of the Google engineers explained that the future of SEO could be summed up in one word: speed.

The same goes for your website. If 85% of your visitors come from mobile, too many large videos or images, or badly designed java scripts and heavy CSS will result in a slow speed. Mobile users tend to abandon connections that don’t load within 3 seconds. Moving your site to a faster or geographically closer server or using CDN services may also help lower the bounce rate. If you are unsure about these terms, talk to your web developer, or an SEO professional. What’s good for the SEO is good for the bounce rate.

Rethink collecting information

Any kind of website requiring user data entry should be constantly monitored by the latest mobile devices. Badly designed data entry options don’t just slow down your site, they may make it perfectly unusable, and thus raise your bounce rate.

Reduce the number of interactions necessary. Many small businesses or outdated online shopping websites still require the user to enter a lot of data (name, address, phone, payment details, shipping address etc.) for each transaction, instead of allowing a “use as a visitor” option and requiring only the bare minimum.

The more data entry you require from your customers, the higher your bounce rate will be, because users on mobile are often not willing, or not in a position to complete lengthy data entry processes. Just think of your own experience: you are on the MRT/subway/bus, found this awesome new headphone, but as soon as you click “Buy” you are presented with a two-page form to fill in data. No thank you, Sir.

If data entry is part of a purchase action, you are leaving your paying customers with a horrible user experience, and they will likely never return.

Original content and consistent identity

Last but not least, one of the simplest explanation for high bounce rate is bad content. “Bad” may mean too complicated or badly written, badly formatted, irrelevant, outdated, or even in the wrong language. If your blog only contains content that can be found everywhere else, lots of users will realize they already read this somewhere, which increases – rather logically – your bounce rate.

Good content and an easily identifiable design around that content will make users linger. Whether it is a certain style of imagery or a uniquely designed text inlay in each header image; consistency and originality leave a lasting impression and raise the authority of your website. The right design varies from country to country.

Content should be well written, not just from your perspective, but from the perspective of your visitors. Speak to the user directly, try to anticipate their thought processes and intents, and keep the content clearly structured to maximize utility. Self-promotional content is a big turn-off; educational, useful pieces, on the other hand, will make users come back for more.

As I hope you will, to this, my blog.

The Right Role for Marketing

Marketers – especially those working in agencies for a variety of clients – tend to have a firm grasp of the terminology of marketing, the lingo, the concepts, and therefore claim to understand what exactly marketing is. But from a corporate perspective, the answer is far from clear.

What is marketing?

Marketing can be done large-scale or minimalist, it can be a very personal activity with a lot of human interaction, or a pure exercise in the deployment of technology. For some people, marketing is the same as sales, and for others, it is little more but a fancy word for advertising. It is all of these things and none of those.

As an inter-cultural marketer, I am keenly aware not just how difficult it is to pin down the true meaning of marketing, but also how different cultures understand the term.

Take Chinese for example. Marketing is either translated as “xing-xiao”, meaning “to go forth and sell”, or as “ying-xiao”, meaning “to execute the selling”. Neither term comes even close to the English meaning of “creating a market”. Maybe it is this bad translation that causes Chinese speakers to see marketing as a very limited and uncreative exercise, and why most companies working in Chinese are unwilling to embrace modern forms of marketing, such as inbound or content marketing.

More important than the linguistic difference is the cultural one. In the West, people are encouraged to be individualistic, outgoing, and develop a personal brand. In the age of social media, marketing has become just that: an exercise in personalization and self-promotion. Companies and products alike need a personal experience, and “authenticity”. Influencer marketing is the pinnacle of this philosophy, even though it is nothing more but an old-fashioned endorsement.

In Asian cultures, on the other hand, the group is more important than the individual, the firm greater than the employee. In Asia, you hardly ever find a star marketer or a personality cult around one outstanding individual. In the age of social media, that creates an obstacle for Asian companies that, as technology and social trends advance hand-in-hand, will become greater and greater.

The third difference isn’t one between Asia and the West, but between marketers and companies, especially companies who make physical products.

Read also: Inbound Marketing Explained and So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

I don’t need to understand your product in order to market it

Every first client meeting I have ever had starts with a lengthy explanation of the client’s product. Sometimes these can go into excruciating detail. One time it was so technical – and irrelevant to marketing – that I nodded off.

The company CEO who had given us a screw-by-screw rundown of the product caught me and said: “if you are not interested in our product, how can you market it?” I replied, “if you can’t tell me in one sentence what the product does for the consumer, why are you bothering to make it?” Proud engineers make very bad marketers.

How we do marketing depends on what we are trying to achieve. Do we want to boost sales of a specific product, or do we want to make the brand better known overall? Are we trying to compete against a market leader or are we setting the standards? We have such a superior product, how come nobody is paying attention? Why is it that our Facebook group has 90’000 likes yet no one is buying our face mask? Should we use Snapchat? How much will it cost to launch our new app? Which logo is better? Do we need a new CIS? What channels are right for us?

All these are marketing questions, but all of them require different expertise. Some are a question of technology, others of artistic expression. Marketing is an amalgam of science and art, but most of all, marketing is not the individual activity someone has in mind, but the strategy and the overall concept behind it.

Read also Word-of-Mouth Marketing: The Land that Strategy Forgot

 

Marketing is not an afterthought to product development

Yes, we can market your product, but if it is badly designed with horrible packaging and a ridiculous logo, what’s the point? My agency will not take cases like this lest our reputation suffer. Yes, we can increase engagement on Facebook, but don’t you want to know the real reason people are not buying your facemask? Why do you let the company owner choose the logo if all he knows is his own limited view of the world and questionable aesthetic sense? Why are you selling in cheap supermarkets yet call yourself a high-end product? In too many enterprises, marketing is called in after all the important decisions have been made by the wrong people.

Marketing is not the execution of an individual campaign. It is not the design of a logo or the naming of a project. Marketing must be at the very core of a company’s strategy. Marketing must be involved in all the crucial business decisions, in product development as much as in financial planning.

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback and How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

If management is the brain, marketing is the heart

In the last century, fueled by innovation in management thinking (Drucker etc) the CFO became elevated and almost surpassed the CEO in importance. Those days are long gone.

In the age of social media, of instant gratification, or data-driven enterprises, of online product reviews and personalized marketing, of boundless innovation in marketing technology, it is time to make the Chief Marketing Officer head of the company. For no matter what product or service you offer, the core of your enterprise is not management, finance, or HR. The heart of every firm must always be the marketing team. 

So there is my answer. Marketing is the heart. Let management be the brains, and finance be the lungs, but marketing must the heart: both an efficient pump that keeps the company going, and the (allegorical, admittedly) locus of your feelings and emotions.

Nothing in a company should happen without the marketing team. Whether you acquire a new startup, expand into a new market, develop new products, or hire a new IT specialist: the marketing team must be involved in all the crucial decisions. If it is not, if marketing is kept in a silo, and abused to make shoddy ads and manage a Facebook page, it will never create value: not for the firm, nor for the customer.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Busy Like a Bee: 3 Simple Ways to Improve Conversion Rates

Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from an online business asking why their sales are going down, why their site isn’t taking off, why nobody is subscribing to their product demo, what they could do to improve online sales, and so forth.

Sometimes the flaws are obvious, but more often than not finding the reason for low conversion rates can be a challenge.

It is especially frustrating when you have a lot of traffic. Traffic is good, traffic is nice, but just like a bee visiting flowers, it’s not the number of buzzing bees that counts, it is what they do on the flower.

So what can you do if you have all the traffic you need, but visits still aren’t converting?

Of course, there is A/B testing. But before you get busy testing, make sure you lay the groundwork. That means creating landing pages that are actually worth analyzing, looking closely at visitors’ behavior on your site, and, sometimes, asking direct questions.

So, let’s get busy then.

Create simple landing pages

Websites are usually chock full of distractions. There is simply too much information to decide which particular element turns away customers or reduces conversion rates. Often the very design of the navigation tools is a conversion killer.

A landing page should have the bare minimum of information and clear visuals. One or two product images are usually enough, and a short description will do. You can include options to expand text or images to see more or click through to a more thorough description. Technical details, usage in specific cases, or comparisons should be done on separate pages, that way you know who is really interested in your offering. There should be one clear call to action rather than a bewildering selection of what to do next.

If you use landing pages for lead generation, A/B testing is, of course, the logical next step.

Analyzing behavior is fun

Online behavior used to be a bit of a mystery, and a lot had to be inferred from sparse Google Analytics data. Time spent on a page doesn’t really tell you much for most content, while the bounce rate can be terribly misleading.

Happily, for marketers, there are now a number of nifty tools available to get to the bottom of things. Analyzing what people are doing on your site is not just essential, it’s also fun.

There are a lot of things you can learn from the analysis. How much of a blog post do people actually read? The best headlines are useless if the first paragraph makes people lose interest. What are they clicking on first?

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

The more you know about your site visitors, the better you will get at creating content they like, and offering products they actually buy. Analyzing online behavior and segmenting audiences with cleverly designed navigation options are the first steps, followed by A/B testing. Together these “hidden” analysis options can give you insights without actively asking customers.

Sometimes you want to know more of course, and then you need to turn to questions. Google Forms is a great way to design simple questionnaires. In our experience, customers are willing to answer 3-5 questions as long as they don’t have to write out the answers. Just make sure you ask the right questions, however. I recently was asked to reply to the question “Do you think our product price is right, or should it be a) lower or b) higher?” I seriously doubt that large numbers of customers would choose b, so the responses are perfectly meaningless.

Stay in touch and build relationships

If you have analyzed your website traffic and done your A/B testing, and you know your product is great but website visits still aren’t converting, it’s time to look at your funnel.

One reason why I don’t like advertising is that it distorts the funnel too much. You can spend millions on the flashiest ads with the biggest superstars, but what percentage of the people who respond to the creativity of an ad, or the allure of a star, actually end up being your customer? Unless you are a ubiquitous brand like Coke or McDonalds, advertising is probably not the most cost-effective way to promote your product.

There are a lot of content marketing options you can use to engage audiences and increase conversion rates. For shopping websites and B2B business alike, email newsletters are still a fantastic tool to stay in touch with customers. They also help improve conversion rates, sometimes very significantly. We recently started a newsletter for a niche fashion website and doubled their sales in just 3 months. Don’t underestimate the power of good old email!

The more you know about your visitors, the better your relationship will become. Better relationships mean higher trust, and that, in turn, leads to higher conversions. Investing the time in simple analysis or A/B testing is a lot more cost effective than increasing your ad budget, that’s for sure, and finding out about visitor behavior on your site can offer you a lot of valuable insights not just for your digital marketing, but also for your overall business strategy.

The Importance of Customer Feedback and What to Do With It

Getting feedback is the right thing to do, everybody can agree on that. At every workshop I have ever conducted, 100% of participants agreed that customer feedback is essential. In reality, though, very few companies solicit feedback, and even fewer actually use it.

The feedback you don’t listen to isn’t feedback, it’s a wasted opportunity.

Obviously, we don’t want to hear negative feedback about the products we worked so hard to deliver. But customer feedback is essential, not just for marketers, but for everyone from R&D all the way to top management.

Not collecting feedback is unforgivable, but the real problem is with companies who collect feedback and don’t do anything meaningful with it.

Read also: How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

Why companies don’t listen to feedback

There are a number of reasons why companies don’t listen to feedback. Here are the most common:

1. Bridges to nowhere

90% of the time companies build feedback bridges to nowhere. A system to collect feedback is in place, but it ends up unread, and thus useless, in a lonely folder on a hard disk. Or in a database no one ever opens. Or a department that doesn’t do anything with it.

Collecting data is great, but it is what you do with it that matters.

Solution: assign one person in the enterprise to exclusively deal with feedback and make sure it is collected, analyzed, and the results distributed to reach the right departments.

Read also: The New Frontier: Improving Customer Experience through AI

2. No SOP

Perhaps there is someone in charge of collecting feedback and presenting it in regular meetings, but everything is handled case-by-case and there is no proper SOP in place what to do with feedback. For what type of feedback do we alert which kind of manager? What gets channeled back to product development? How do we know which feedback is actionable? How do we handle offensive or aggressive feedback? How do we analyze numbers? What percentage of negative feedback about a feature triggers what kind of response?

Many of my clients are confronted with negative feedback. They call me and say thing like, “so-and-so posted on something negative on our Facebook page, what do we do?”

Solution: The question is not what you do in an individual case, but how do you standardize the handling of negative (or positive comments). Proper SOP will say something like, “react to negative comments within 24 hours, don’t delete them, offer posters and email address to channel their anger away from the public forum, etc.) SOP is key to handling complaints and praise alike.

No follow up

Even when a company has proper feedback channels and an SOP, there is often no follow up what happens to feedback. After receiving 100 complaints about feature X, was it eventually changed? Who was responsible for the change? Did the change reflect what customers said in the feedback? Good feedback systems must always be traceable and accountable.

Solution: Make sure your SOP includes the feedback to the feedback. Everyone in the organization who receives customer feedback should, in turn, be responsible to document their reaction to that feedback. Just like doctors in hospitals have to do presentations after a patient dies, R&D engineers, managers, customer service staff etc. should be required to report how they reacted to customer feedback both immediately (responding to a complaint) and in the long term (changing product features).

 

What does feedback do for your business?

To understand why customer feedback is vital for any business, you have to look at the economy itself. It consists of producers and consumers: companies are producers while individuals and other companies are consumers of goods.

The economy works by the law of supply and demand. Demand means consumers want something. If they don’t like it, they won’t want it. It is therefore essential to know what they like, otherwise, companies will produce for a demand that does not exist.

Thus, once you have a good feedback channel, SOP, and follow-up strategy in place, feedback can help you achieve the following:

Improving Products

By taking feedback into consideration, faults of the product can be easily detected and fixed, leading to a higher overall quality and better sales.

It sounds so simple but it is too often overlooked. I recently completed a project with a client who made an IT product. 90% of customers gave feedback that the setup procedure and connecting the device to other devices was far too cumbersome. That feedback never entered the minds of the managers, who only heard from their engineers: we can’t do it any other way.

In the end, the company produced over 2 million pieces of a product, which received horrible feedback on Amazon and similar websites. Demand disappeared overnight.

Not listening to customers = losing money.

Aside from improving the product, listening to customer feedback is also an effective method of evaluating your team. For example, with online employee information available, customers of the service industry can easily rate your employees based on their performance.

Feedback Creates Relationships

Customers will remain faithful to the products they helped shape. Truly listening to your customers creates a relationship with them that, if carefully maintained, can provide consistent benefits to a company. People are much more likely to give their business to a company that is known to them, and which respond to feedback in a meaningful way. Customers are more likely to forgive a company for slipups if it usually listens and responds to feedback.

This, of course, has a great impact on digital marketing efforts. If you don’t respond to feedback you receive online, you will not garner the goodwill of your customers, and they will be less forgiving when you mess up.

Customer retention and fidelity is the welcomed by-product of a good customer relations policy. Satisfied that they have been listened to, customers will remain faithful to the products they helped shape and mend. Moreover, the company will receive good PR – the kind that cannot be bought with a media campaign. A responsive company is a good company.

Some companies even show off how much they value customer feedback. See this KFC ad campaign based on a tweet they received:

Or this ad by a ski resort using a one star review by a customer:

Gaining Competitive Advantage

People always say Apple is successful because they are innovative. Apple is not an innovative company. Almost every feature or product they ever came up with was a knockoff.

Apple is a listening company. They listen to feedback, over and over again, until the vast majority of customers are satisfied with the experience.

No matter what you do, your product may not always be the best and your ideas might not always be the most innovative. Even when such is the case, a larger company might outspend and outproduce your capabilities, selling at a price which would put you out of business.

Because the market is always changing and the trends are always shifting, staying ahead of the curve can put you ahead of the larger companies in terms of understanding the preferences of customers. Aided by a good relationship, your customers may even prefer your product above others for personal, emotional reasons that don’t relate to product quality.

Stay Ahead of Future Trends

Aside from improving your products and the opinion that customers have of your company, listening and reacting to customer feedback can also provide valuable data regarding future trends. If the focus of the consumer is on a single feature of the product, that should tell you something about the importance of that feature, and where you should place the emphasis for future development.

Keeps Your Employees Creative

Making feedback part of the conversation inside the company keeps your employees on their toes. Why did you not listen to this feedback? Does R&D think we can do better? Feedback from engaged customers is a valuable pool of ideas that can inspire researchers, engineers, and even your customer service department.

For customer service employees, knowing what a lot of people say about the product can prepare them for answering calls and emails in a professional way, reducing friction with complaining customers and creating a much better user experience.

In conclusion, gathering and using feedback isn’t really an option for a modern enterprise. If you don’t do it, you will be less profitable, you may even lose money, you will certainly disappoint your customers, and you will fall behind the competition. Before you know it, you are out of business

Read also: The Intersection of Personal and Corporate Brand

Read also: Employee Advocacy: The Key to Digital Marketing Success

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