Three Simple Tweaks to Help Startups and Small Business Optimize their Time

Most times, in startups and small businesses, we’re so busy that we get ahead of ourselves and put tactics before a strategic plan. While this may sound obvious, many may forego it due to the negative connotation that ‘strategic planning’ brings – time. But, there are ways to create simple tweaks to current strategies to enable better goal alignment with efforts already underway.

Who is your true target audience? This means your ideal fit, not anyone who may still be in the consideration phase. These people want to purchase, can purchase and are finalizing who they’ll contact to inquire about a purchase. Consider this when creating your targeted marketing efforts and the behavior that these people tend to take and through which channels. Reach them THERE, with THAT information. Do less of what does not serve this audience, if at all.

Is your price point serving you or making you work harder? Really consider if your price is making you do more to gain less. Could you have fewer customers at a higher price and still be making a profit? Do you even have a profit goal? Many times we think more is better but if you are a small shop you could be running the risk of letting things slip through the cracks or running yourself ragged for a price point that makes it not worth the huge effort. Set goals and test price points to adjust your current client base. Don’t be lured into promotional prices – the clients will only last as long as the price cut does! Better to build a strong client base that has the means and desire for your service than to try to lure those who do not to stay on.

Do you use a web intake form? How much time do you spend on sales intake? If you’re a sole proprietor, this can be a huge time suck. Think of how you can get the information you need to move forward as quickly as possible without returning mounds of emails and loads of voice mails. Can you create an intake form to redirect people to that lets you assess and prioritize? Are there certain criteria you can institutionalize for which clients/customers get priority? This is not meant to replace personal contacts as that is huge for your business – we’re not talking unpersonalized automation here. Rather, we’re looking for ways to allow you to optimize your time with the clients you do see by meeting their needs immediately or sending them on to another solution.

These three simple and easy to implement ideas should free you up to do more of what you love doing, making your clients satisfied evangelists for your product. It’s a win-win for you, them and your word of mouth marketing – your number one referral maker.

 

Higher Education Branding: Five Questions to Answer Before You Start

Branding. It seems to be today’s ‘it’ word for higher education marketers. For most, it can be a confusing, scary and budget draining nightmare. For others, it may seem a gigantic waste of time. They both could be right if these five questions cannot easily be answered before beginning a branding project in higher education:

What scope are you talking about? Sometimes in higher education, confusion grows in the lack of clear definition across departments, divisions, schools and offices. What may be the key messaging behind a capital or enrollment campaign, may to others be viewed as a branding campaign. Add to this the separate campaigns created for key programs across campus (graduate programs, online programs, intercession programs) and it becomes even more confusing. Be sure you know that you are talking about the institution at the highest level, serving all divisions and to be integrated in key messaging in all communications.

Why is brand work the answer to your question? Brand work can be very powerful but is by no means a panacea. How do you know that this is what is needed to solve the business problem you are trying to solve? Is there another change that could be made that would have a stronger, direct effect on the issue – programming, pricing or the types of classes offered? Be sure that the brand is what needs work, not the offering.

If you are successful, what will the outcome be? As with all great marketing work, have measurable and time sensitive goals. To this end, know your starting baseline and how you want to influence it to your organizations benefit. How will your public relations, marketing, enrollment, retention, alumni relations, donations and staff/faculty recruiting goals be affected. Make sure you can measure the impact on all major areas.

Is everyone ready for the work that lies ahead? A brand campaign is only as good as the implementation and this relies very heavily on the entire institutional community. Knowing how to play politics goes a long way in ensuring that the work is not only authentic but also carried out by the major players. If certain groups on campus are unavailable due to conflicting project timelines and priorities, failure may be sure to follow.

How will this integrate with current/upcoming campaign work? Back to the confusion in higher education, which may have several competing campaigns going on at the same time. How will the overarching brand campaign (not implementing of logos/typography, but true brand messaging) affect admission campaigns, annual giving campaigns, etc? Knowing the cycle of these large, annual projects will help those planning a larger brand overhaul.

A true brand campaign is more than simply updating logos, imagery, stationary and a website. It is an educated study in the entirety of the complex business problems and audiences that an institution deals with, setting it up for success in the future. It can be quantified and should move the needle on perception in the general public eye as well. In the changing landscape and with the huge demographic shift, this is crucial for higher education.

5 Retro Web No-No’s

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If you’re like me, this week’s episode of Mr. Robot was a phenomenal flashback to the TV of your youth. Specifically, the TGIF tone of ‘Step by Step’, ‘Full House’ and ‘Family Matters’. Color me extra giddy when the special guest star showed up.

It got me thinking about how we used to create websites and pages—and what we thought were best practices—which now have become embarrassing nuisances. Many of these may lead to people exiting early, not completing actions (conversions) or even making your brand appear out of touch with current web trends.

In this respect, here’s five retro web experiences that should retire for good:

Flashy Intros. Yes. They do still exist. Usually, unfortunately, on agency sites. Even though they may appear to be ‘cool’ all they really do is make your user angry. If I have to sit through something that takes time away from the reason I’m on your site there’s a good chance I’ll give up and never come back.

Unresponsive Sites. You’ve finally found the content you’ve been searching for and you can’t read it because the site is not optimized for mobile or worse displays poorly on your lap or desktop. It’s a simple fix that goes a long way for user experience and should be standard practice now for all those with a web presence.

‘Welcome to Our Website!’ No commentary needed. :)

Static Navigation on a Scrolling Page. Don’t get me wrong: static navs have their place. But if you’re going to have long form content, users need a way to navigate elsewhere. The easier we can make it for them to find what they need, the more value our site holds for them. This is what we should be focusing on instead of our own ease of organization. Content is to be used, not only categorized!

‘Click Here.’ Yet another practice that hurts us so much! Not only do we do ourselves no SEO favors, but it appears antiquated and even lazy. A little thoughtful content creation goes a long way in helping lead users down the path to completing transactions.

What did I miss? What retro web trends have you stumbled across lately that really grind your gears?

Innovation for the NYT and Higher Ed?

This morning I stumbled upon the Neiman Lab’s article on the Leaked New York Times Innovation Report. Which, you NEED to read. Many of the key take aways are no brainers but a few ring very true to the way we’ve seen digital trending and may even be trying to get our own properties bended towards. 

Some of my favorite highlights for higher ed:

The importance of packaging content: we often create content with no plan on how it will be used, promoted or measured. Also, we think of content as only being something new, not something old. We need to find better ways to use the content we have in innovative, fun and user focused ways. 

The relevance of social media strategy: social media plays a vital role in not only creating news, but spreading it and finding it in real time. We need to be better about creating a strong, integrated, multi-platform strategies that build on each other and reach greater audience depth. 

Taxonomy in all of its glory: we have a ton of data and stories. We need to find better ways to categorize it and serve it up in meaningful, interactive and creative ways that get user attention and make our content work for us longer term. 

User generated content wins: we don’t know it all and could benefit from outsider perspective. Using content from our audience helps extend our knowledge base as well as show our human side. We need to trust and provide more opportunities for this to happen on its own. 

Calculated risk taking: being creative and using new technology is often a risk. Most times, we do not think of ways to include various outlets until someone else takes our content and does it on their own, with all the glory that comes with. We need to try new things more often and learn from what works and what doesn’t. 

Being user focused, not ego focused: this may be the hardest for some well established brands in higher ed (and beyond) to take. People may not be coming to you for specific information. We need to make it easier for them to find, be served it and to share and build upon our own content. 

What take aways did you find the most supportive for your current dream list in your gig?

How #LonelyAlex Had the Best Worst Week Ever

During Spring Break, the campus is not the only place that becomes a ghost town. Usually during this time our social media channels also end up taking a breather. At Hamilton, we’ve seen less of that because of The Scroll: students are able to share their alternative spring break, choir tour, spring training and travel photos in one easy to find place. But beyond that, how do we spur social activity especially the weeks before our admission notifications are released?

While walking across campus the first day of break, I noticed how eerily still and quiet the much traveled path to the fitness center was. I snapped a pic and posted it on our social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) and did not expect much. Much to my surprise, the response was overwhelming. Which brought up another idea: with our Al Ham bobble head becoming a more and more visual piece of our identity (he’s currently the star of our annual giving campaign ‘What’s Your Number’), I decided to turn up the fun a notch and get him involved. So, Alex went around campus snapping selfies lamenting at the empty campus. #LonelyAlex was born.

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It did not take long for alumni, current students and prospective students to respond. They loved watching Alex as he sadly travelled around campus hotspots missing students and alums alike as he tried to get a chai latte, took a swim, thought about climbing the rock wall and even landed a double selfie. He was a hit!

What started as a fun way to pass the break ended up a grand experiment. I found out that we gained several followers and the most engagement from Instagram. Facebook was a close second and Twitter was a distant third. On Facebook, even though the likes were extremely high, there were no off-campus shares. This was important because we had been testing the sharing aspect for information campaigns. Because of this, we will probably not be doing that type of campaign moving forward. This information reinforced what we had already been seeing. 

Engagement on our Facebook page for the 2 weeks of spring break was up over 100%. We gained 20 new followers and tripled our likes on Instagram. All in all, what was a simple, fun, quirky campaign yielded our biggest social media engagement and a lot of email, calls and tweets from alumni, prospects and current students talking about poor #LonelyAlex and where he should go next. 

This one’s definitely a keeper. :)

 

Why a Little ‘Ooooh, Shiny!’ Is OK

ImageLately, I’ve come to realize my wardrobe is extremely lacking. In building it up, I’ve been letting anything that speaks to me in some way end up in my closet. Hence: these shoes. At first, I thought they were ‘too much’. Then, I decide to just give ’em a shot and see how I felt about them. So far, I’ve only warn them once, but it’s still an experiment. One that I’m giddy with anticipation over: I’m finding my THING.

As communication practitioners we’ve come to loathe the shiny. The new. The next thing. Maybe not due to their specific purposes, but because of the disdain they cause us in the office. The desire by others to jump on to the next thing before we’ve even sorted out the old one. The ‘but so and so is using it’. The ‘here’s a vendor that emailed me about using it’. The ‘let’s just do it’. Sigh.

We need to make sure that we balance the ‘WANT’ with the practical need in a way that serves us in all that we do. Little experiments can make all the difference in deciding if a new initiative is a right fit for us. A way to ensure that is to:

1. Make sure it can fit into our current strategy. As long as it does not compete with what we’re trying to do with other tactics go ahead and try that new thing, be it snapchat or letting go of your viewbook.

2. Implement it in a way that’s true to our brand. How would our brand act as a person? This is how we should consider applying new communication strategies.

3. Find a way to add value for our audience. Will this just be a repeat of other channels? How will it give the consumer more?

4. Learn something. About ourselves. About our audience. Use this experiment to find out more and deliver better, in any way.

If we can do these four things, a little ‘Oooh, Shiny’ can be a fantastic thing, instead of the two dirtiest words in our office vocabulary.

How have you balanced the old and the new in your current communications strategy?

Curation over Aggregation – Easier Than You Think

ImageWhen launching The Scroll last year, I was met with a lot of confusion. ‘What does it do?’ and ‘How much time does THAT take?’ became ones I was very used to – and happy to! – answer (Scroll is my baby, of course!). The secret is: it really doesn’t take that much more work.

What makes The Scroll unique is more than the fact that it is not an aggregate of institutional accounts or hashtags. It’s curated content – a mix of institutional accounts, hashtags (across platforms), and found content from student, alumni or staff experiences.

Another step further? It’s segmented by target audience – prospective students/families, current students/staff/local community members, alumni and sports enthusiasts. By doing this, we allow units on campus to deepen engagement by highlighting their own segment – like admissions does with a touch screen in their lobby, allowing visitors to scroll through content specific to them. Social media win!

You’d think that this was either some magical script or a ton of time. But it’s neither. Just like real sentiment analysis, real curation cannot be scripted. It requires a human touch. 

That being said, if your social media person (coordinator, strategist, specialist, director, whatever!) is worth their salt, the first thing they have in place is a strong social media listening strategy. This includes not only your institutional accounts and tags, but also what’s being said about you out on the web in other formats. Those nitty gritty places. Is what you’re promoting on your social aggregator/accounts what students/alums REALLY feel/think/say? You need to know the worst to be the best.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 3.48.47 PMCuration is just one step further. You see all this great content. This #realtalk. But does anyone else? Only you are stringing together conversations, sentiment and a bigger picture of the brand based on authentic experiences. What if others could also see that? For Scroll, I’ve already seen 90% of the content before I see it in my admin screen for Scroll. I know it exists and it is not a surprise. Because I’m already curating content for use on other networks, clicking a link to the admin screen and checking off two boxes (a segmented tab designation and publish) is one extra, simple step. I can even do it via my iPhone.

Social media is not a silo. It’s an integrated part of communication with our audience, for and about us. It is content. Taking an extra minute to put content in context goes a very long way in helping showcase a conversation that we’re not only a part of but a contributor to. How are you curating content? Do you do this in more than just social ‘asks’ via unsolicited curation? How about other formats beyond social?