Posted: April 28, 2011 at 5:51 am
Categories: content strategy
There are three simple signs that your SEO spend is wasted:
- You don’t have enough valuable content that matches what your audience is searching for
- Reputable sites are not linking back to your site
- Your vendor is telling you that you can ignore items 1 and 2
The solution is simple. Cut your SEO budget by 90%, and spend that money creating content that meets customer needs. And spend the remaining 10% on word-of-mouth efforts to encourage sharing.
Posted: March 5, 2010 at 7:59 am
Categories: nonproft, philanthropy
In recent work that Syncresis has done in the foundation / nonprofit space, we’ve come to a number of conclusions about the intersection between a consumer brand, in the for-profit space, and a mission, in the NFP space. By using brand-focused tactics to create engagement around organizational missions, you find four interesting points of resonance:
- If you don’t dedicate real energy to advocacy for the populations you serve, you fail to create a space of engagement where people can come to your mission as promoters or as donors
- As with brand-based social network activity, advocacy is a conversation with other advocates. You should actually embrace the multiplicity of points of view, rather than fear the unaligned
- Think of your online user experience as a tool for converting “receptives” into “actives.” In other words, focus on motivating people who are likely to engage in an organization’s mission and bring them to a point where site visits persuade them to participate
- Take a broad view on participation. It goes beyond donation and sign-ups, to other engagement behaviors, including frequent repeat visits, longer stays on the site, sharing content with others, and joining active conversations (discussion, forums, etc.)
Perhaps our next steps, as a firm but also within the community of nonprofit marketers, should be to systematize these observations into clearer, actionable best practices, to be shared within the broader spectrum of philanthropy.
Posted: October 6, 2009 at 10:37 am
Categories: program management, project management
Many projects go awry because of unclear vision, and many because of weak planning, where most would agree on what went wrong. But very few people recognize the impact of an overly complex methodology. Complex methodologies create tasks based on principles rather than on need; they create tasks where there is no work. These needless tasks dilute energy and focus from the project team, and a cynic might even say that over-complication makes a great way to sap budget, too.
An effective methodology, in fact, should under-complicate projects, cutting through tasks that don’t need to be accomplished to achieve the project’s objectives. Its should not introduce tasks that do not actually exist without the methodology to create them.
One of the most effective ways to under-complicate a project is to use a methodology that focuses on the essence of what it takes to reach a goal:
PLAN - DO - CHECK
The power of this radical simplicity is its focus on the end rather than on the means. It also applies at every level of the project structure. A project begins with initiation and design, then goes through implementation, and finally to testing and success metrics. Project initiation starts with a project plan, then yields a visual and interface approach, which is validated by usability testing. The project plan is born from strategic alignment, developed in detailed work breakdowns, and tested with processes for risk and issues management.
To sum it up, PLAN-DO-CHECK is a self-replicating, self-correcting process that keeps your project on track (view full approach). It steers you away from self-imposed obstacles that divert the project from its goal.
Posted: August 11, 2009 at 7:30 pm
Categories: online strategy, user experience
As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, one of my preoccupations at the moment has been the continuity between online and offline user experience for products and for retailers. Kroger is a master of the in-store customer experience, so I decided to take a look at Kroger.com to see how their experience carries over in the web channel. My quick finding was that Kroger’s website is surprisingly promotion-centric, not customer-centric. There’s little sense of well-managed space that enables a visitors experience, strongly unlike one of the core dimensions of the in-store experience.
My goal in this post is to distill 6 lessons from kroger.com as guidelines to retailers (including Kroger) who want to achieve better experiential alignment.
- Get the layout right. Grocery stores are remarkable for the way they structure the shopping experience. Shoppers enter the store with a strong impression of abundance, but at the same time, there is a clear basic flow with perimeter and aisles to make it easy to orient oneself. Imagine how baffling it would be to enter a store via a lobby with a few posters, no merchandise, and closed doors leading to each aisle individually. Yet the home page of kroger.com does exactly that. At a 1024×768 screen resolution, less than 5% of the page real estate supports navigation, and another 5% for search and log in. The rest is either space for large promotional banners, or white space. Most calls to action require a scroll to be seen. The layout and flow for grocery store sites should be much more logical and merchandise-focused, just as the layout and flow of a store are designed to optimize shopping
- Make it easy to shop. A grocery site does not need to have e-commerce, but it can and should be a time saving tool. Although kroger.com does offer a shopping list tool, the tool is cumbersome to use and buried in a “My Account” section. Users must either enter your items free-form (but have to know which department to find them in), or are forced to go through product recipes to browse items, then add all of the ingredients for the entire recipe to your list. This approach is a poor analogue for the way shoppers naturally combine searching for known items and browsing to discover items. The grocery list feature should be a prominent home page item on any grocer’s site, and be designed to support searching and browsing through items (food and non-food)
- Make loyalty fun. It’s helpful to let users check their loyalty points card balance, but much more can be done with loyalty accounts online. This is a missed opportunity on Kroger’s site. Why not let people earn loyalty points by using the site with features such as points for browsing through pages, printable coupons that earn additional points when redeemed in-store, coupons and promotions that can be sent to family and friends on Facebook or Twitter in order to earn points? Grocery sites need to give incentives for site visits in the same way that store purchases are rewarded
- Show shoppers you understand them. The flexibility of a data-driven online experience means that sites can show different users different views of the site based on their attributes and preferences. This means much more than featuring different promotional banners based on seasons and holidays. Having better product information and a more dynamic site would offer the opportunity to offer custom experiences to niches that would be difficult to serve all at the same time with the physical store design. Grocery sites should provide shopping guides and shopping tools to support all sorts of shoppers: super-savers, diabetics, kosher families, vegetarians/vegans, eco-friendly shoppers, etc. The Kroger site offers some informational content for some of these segments, but going further and offering appropriate site personalization is a great way to support these needs and preferences, and get these shoppers into the store
- Partner with suppliers. Shelf space is one of a grocer’s most valuable assets in negotiating with consumer product manufacturers. Kroger does have some promotional banners on the home page, but they mysteriously link out to other sites such as P&G’s eSaver program, or coupons.com. In fact, the link to coupons.com targets the same window as Kroger’s site, and breaks the back button. It’s as if shoppers stepped on a trap door in the store and then could not get back in. Grocers should think of their screen real estate in the same way that they think of shelf space, aisle displays and end caps, but with a much greater supply of space to offer suppliers. This approach can manifest as online stores-within-a-store (i.e., branded mini-sites) or site sections featuring line extensions and new products
- It’s hard to get right. Kroger is not the master of store designs that it is by random luck. Without having any privileged information about their process, I would still be confident in surmising that it’s not haphazard. In the same way that Kroger and all grocers invest in in-store shopper research and analysis of point-of-sale and loyalty card data, the online channel should also be heavily researched with both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Applying the same rigor and discipline to the online channel would result in a significant improvement of the quality and the ROI of the online experience
Posted: August 6, 2009 at 2:49 pm
Categories: brand alignment, user experience
Brands are losing ground to private labels for more reasons than cutbacks in consumer spending. Media consumption has changed, too. And the frequent lack of consistent, relevant brand-aligned user experience on product marketing sites is weakening the psychological infrastructure that brands need to create. These shifts and gaps make it harder for brands to function and differentiate.
The latest evidence I found this week was that the Food Management Institute’s daily e-mail newsletter will now include a weekly digest of news about grocery private labels. Until very recently, the idea of private labels bringing news to a category was absurd. “News,” in the form of innovation, packaging, new flavors, etc. had been the province of brands with budgets to promote newness. Private labels would only replicate innovation after it was proven in stores. News is very dangerous territory for brands to lose.
This will be the first of many posts where I’ll explore solutions and share insights on how brands can stop getting outmaneuvered. Here, I’ll just stop with a rough hypothesis around why it’s happening, and why it’s more fundamental than a recession.
It’s more or less conventional wisdom, at least among people who think about brands, that a brand is a psychological shortcut. The brand encapsulates the emotional associations and consumption experience of a product. E.g., a brand helps consumers choose “Cokeness” instead of picking a beverage at random.
But the main vehicle for the brand thinking shortcut is mass media. With DVRs and social media, brand have less time to reinforce any impression. In an old media world, consumers participated in brand formation by reading, seeing, listening, and watching. In today’s, consumers are forming brand associations by participating more actively. Because brands are failing to create anything online sufficiently relevant to participate in, an increasing number of consumers arrive at store shelves with fewer repeat impressions of your message, and a more crowded mind. Fewer experiential shortcuts, and more unaided category choices.
Posted: July 30, 2009 at 10:10 am
Categories: brand alignment, content strategy, online strategy
Content has a funny way of exposing things you didn’t mean to say. Without a clear content strategy and consistent execution, your site may be delivering hidden messages to your customers and prospects. Here are four of the most common secrets you may be revealing, without even intending to:
- “We don’t care what you do”
When content overwhelms the user with facts and statements at the expense of actionable information, you’re telling users that what they do doesn’t matter to you. Worse, you really suggesting that you’ve not made the effort to connect your products and services to their needs and interests. What you need to do instead is gather clear insights about what your audience segments need to know, decide, and do in order to have a meaningful experience on your site. These insights should translate into your vision for what content you offer to users.
- “It’s all about us”
Be careful of loading your site with too many “about us” pages. Some site visitors want to know about your management team, your history, and your press releases; a few more may want to know “what you do.” But mostly your prospects want to know the benefits and value of your products and services, while your customers want to know how to use them and seek support after a purchase. Here is a rough metric for you to keep in mind: 90% of your content should directly support a customer-facing objective. Any less, and you’re suggesting that your company is focused inward, not outward.
- “We don’t talk to each other”
Usually sales, marketing, and customer support each provide their own content. And all too often, the style, tone, and even the facts just don’t add up. The purpose of your content will vary of course, but there has to be a consistent thread, an underlying substance of experience. That thread has to tie back to your brand. When site sections feel different, they make users suspect that they’ll have different experiences when considering, buying, and using your products or services. Maybe what they’re buying won’t live up to its promise either. To avoid this a miscommunication, appoint a “Chief Consistency Officer” for each of your brands. This role should be empowered to make decisions about the quality and content of each branded page. In turn, the CCO should enable writers in each area by providing clear guidelines and coaching on how to tie it all together.
- “Our brand does not matter”
Brand is a slippery concept, where people are usually just liminally aware of the behaviors and feelings that accrue around a product or service. Yet, when your content doesn’t align to that awareness, site visitors know. It’s like coming home and feeling that a stranger has been in your house. To avoid spooking your users with the fear that things aren’t what they should be, you should get at the heart of how users interpret your brand. Do this by conducting thorough research, and then articulating your findings by diagramming the way your brand works. That model gives shape to the style, tone, and structure that make users feel at home and safe on your site.
Posted: July 30, 2009 at 8:18 am
Categories: brand alignment, change management, program management, project management
It’s hard to disagree with these truisms from Holly Green’s More Than a Minute blog re: performance management:
My question would be this: shouldn’t ANY system work this way?
At this level, performance management, project and program management, brand alignment, and innovation efforts all link to the same best practices:
A good performance management process involves five key steps:
- Establish Goals. Start by linking what needs to get done to the strategic planning framework. Align the competencies, skills and knowledge of the employee to create specific action items that will guide the employee’s behavior going forward.
- Plan Development. Discuss short- and long-term development needs, including agreement on how and when development will occur, as well as prioritization of development to support more immediate business needs. Create a plan to accomplish the required and the desired learning and growth.
- Take Action. Provide ongoing and frequent direction and support while the employee applies energy and focus toward accomplishing the goals.
- Assess Performance. Evaluate the progress being made toward the goals and provide ongoing feedback to the employee on a formal and informal basis.
- Provide Reward. Acknowledge and reward employees through organizational programs, local recognition, and other approaches tailored to individual employees. This may also involve consequences and disciplinary action for poor performance.
Posted: July 21, 2009 at 10:00 am
Categories: program management, project management
Reposted from my comment to John Baldoni, Leadership at Work (original here):
“As an experienced “vendor” I’m still, naively, surprised that shared success, project communication, and accountability are not built into every project, by default.
If we’re interested in collaboration, let’s be more explicit in the fact that collaboration has to take place in two directions. Clients have to have their own teams on board as well, allow their delivery partner the space to engage with stakeholders, be transparent about internal issues and risks that may intersect with the project, and hold their end of the accountability contract. True collaboration does not take place without reciprocity.
If we’re interested in commitment, let’s not frame contractors purely as “vendors.” If you make the right choice in awarding a project, you’ve hired delivery partners who bring expertise and value that you can’t source yourself. If you assume that you just put in your money and get your can of soda when you push the button, you’re pushing the terms of the partnership into a position of mindless execution rather than commitment to shared success.
I’ve had the good fortune to have almost all of my clients look at the delivery of services as a delivery of value. Once we get beyond the level of choosing a qualified delivery partner, the projects succeed on the basis of respect for the value that expert partners bring to the table. Timely execution should be a given.”
Posted: July 21, 2009 at 8:26 am
Categories: social networks
“New research from social media platform Wetpaint and digital consulting firm Altimeter Group found that companies with the highest levels of social media activity on average increased revenues by 18% in the last 12 months, while the least active saw sales drop 6% over that period.”
Read full article here.
Posted: July 20, 2009 at 7:37 am
Categories: Uncategorized, social networks
An excellent posting on HBP’s Conversation Starters: Debunking Social Media Myths (David Armano)
There are a few considerations every organization needs to consider when developing their blueprints for their own unique social media design. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are few things you can plan for as you review the many options before you. Here are three to consider:
Seeding. As you plan your approach for designing your social system, take into account that you’ll have to invest to grow your effort into a healthy ecosystem that can produce data, insights or even new ideas. People will be required in order to do this.
Feeding. Whether it’s a community, Wiki or internal collaboration solution you’ve put in place, it will have to be fed with a steady stream of content. Some of this can be automated and some of it can come from your participants–but there has to be some editorial judgment made for every piece of content and functionality. People are required for that.
Weeding. A productive social business design will require efforts to prune and weed out material that can inhibit its growth (just like a garden). In some cases, automated moderation services can do this–but in others people will be required to ensure that interactions are productive. Weeding can also include creating a separate environment–for example, Nokia’s “blog hub” encourages employees to vent freely internally (using anonymous aliases).You can bet that someone is looking at the data and analyzing it. If not, they should be.