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Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-5-09-08-pmThis year, Mack had the honor of presenting Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands all over the world— from Boston, Massachusetts to Vancouver, Canada; from Dublin, Ireland to Raleigh, North Carolina. What follows are the highlights of her talk that explores how companies need to evolve their marketing and what’s required to build a successful and durable brand in the digital age.


Imagine your company is competing in a fairly saturated and competitive industry like fast food. You’ve been around for a little while but you’re really just getting started. You have something new and different and you’re ready to take the world by storm.

Taking on the world

Now imagine that you’re up against companies like McDonald’s who spent $800 million on their advertising in 2013. Or Panera Bread who spent $55 million on their marketing efforts in that same year.

Imagine this is your competition and these are their marketing budgets. What would your marketing strategy be? How would your company contend?

How would your company compete?

Chipotle did. In 2013 they spent a fraction of what their competitors did — less than $10 million — on their advertising and marketing efforts and they had a much greater impact because they were doing things like this:

  • Creating videos like the Scarecrow that takes a stand and challenges how the fast food industry typically operates and sources its food.
  • Holding free festivals like Cultivate where people celebrate good food and music and connect with each other.
  • Sponsoring a “Food for Thought” column on the Huffington Post that is dedicated to creating awareness about how food is grown and the effects this system has on our world.
  • Investing in better ways of working that gives their employees more authority and empowers them to be better leaders.

All of these things that Chipotle has been doing aren’t just marketing campaigns. This is what they believe in as a company and this is authentically how they operate.

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And that is what has contributed to their durability and growth over the last decade.  From 2006 to 2015, Chipotle has grown revenue from $820 million to more than $4.5 billion.

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So how did Chipotle’s approach bring this much growth? And how can you learn from it to grow your business in the digital age?

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There’s no doubt that if you want to compete in the digital age, you must have a stellar product or service, and you have to provide a cross-channel experience that is unparalleled.

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Ultimately, these things must be baked into your DNA; this is the new status quo.

But competing today—for time, attention, and market share— is not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

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If you want to stand out from all the noise, you have to build from purpose and authenticity.

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And here’s why:

More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
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In that same Cohn & Wolfe study, the #1 behavior that people expect of brands is the fact that they communicate openly and honestly about their products and services. They don’t let their customers down, and that they act with integrity at all times. Because people want to relate to you, they want trust you and know you’re going to do what you say.

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Additionally, a BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions.

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And when people care about your company, they tell their friends. And word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

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The fact of the matter is, in this face-paced, digital world, if you want to earn and keep your customers, build a community of advocates who will support you and tell their friends about you, your approach to marketing must shift. It’s not just about how your company is packaged, it’s about who your company is.

If your company wants to experience growth in the digital age, your company, and your marketing, needs 3 very important things: 

  1. You need to clarify your purpose that so that you can effectively position around it and communicate it to your customers.
  2. You need to better understand your people so that you can remove their roadblocks.
  3. You need to use strategy and action to prove you’re worth your customers’ time and attention; showing them you are willing to keep your promise to them.

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Chances are, your company or the company you work for is in business because you want to make some money. You want to grow. So how will building an authentic brand help you do that?

Because authentic brands are built from purpose, and purpose is the key to their growth.

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Our world is changing so quickly, and that has changed how quickly businesses must react and it has also changed consumer behavior.

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Consumers know they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher for companies. Consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society.

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Not only that, but as far as employees go, people want meaning in their work and they want to work for better companies.

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Purpose is something that can help companies hurdle each of these challenges. It also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives.

In a Harvard Business Review study they found that companies with purpose make more money and have more involved employees, all because they’re operating from purpose.

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Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, and your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business. Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful marketing strategy that will connect with the right customers. When you’re talking to the right people and removing their roadblocks, those customers want to become part of your community, tell their friends, and drive your growth.

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The first step in building an authentic brand is positioning your company around that purpose. One of the ways we do this is by using an exercise from Ogilvy & Mather’s called the Big Ideal.

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It can take some time to figure out your big ideal (we’ll use Dove as an example from Arielle Jackson’s work on First Round), but essentially it works like this: combine two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address:

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with your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best:

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Dove’s big ideal is that the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about their bodies. This purpose drives the focus for everything they do. Their job is not just to sell soap; it’s to create products that help women feel good about their bodies.

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This purpose and focus then comes out loud and proud in everything they do in their marketing strategy. Dove has been running the real beauty campaign for over a decade now and it’s still resonating and relevant because it’s coming from their purpose.

And from 2004 to 2014, Dove saw a $1.5 billion dollar jump in sales as a result of focusing on purpose to drive their business.

Because Dove’s purpose is so clear, it’s easy for them to resonate with the people who align with it. This isn’t a marketing ploy. They eat, live, and breathe this throughout their organization. Just like Chipotle does.

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Often times companies will disregard an authentic, purpose-driven approach to building their company and brand because they think it is only applicable to environmentally or socially responsible companies like Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes.

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A purpose-driven approach is not a social cause thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. It’s a people connecting with people thing. It’s focusing on the right things that will help you build a company that people care about, want to work for, and do business with. That’s what brings growth in the digital age.

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When you’re building an authentic brand, how do people fit into the equation? Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try; a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. Having a great product, building a great company, being authentic, and doing the work to find and connect with your people will.

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The biggest thing to remember about growth and building a community is that you’re not looking for everyone. You’re looking for the right people who connect with your purpose. And this takes time because you’re not just looking for numbers. You’re building a community of customers who will become loyal advocates who want to tell their friends.

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If you want to build your community and make a connection with your customers, your job is not to focus solely on selling your product. Your job is to figure out how to bridge the gap between the purpose of your company and the people who want to be a part of it. Let’s look at an example.

Traveling Vineyard

We have worked for a company called Traveling Vineyard for the past three years. They’re a direct sales company. They have several thousand people, or Wine Guides as they call them, who are mostly women, who sell wine for them.

before-purpose

Before we met Traveling Vineyard, that’s exactly what they were doing. Selling wine. And they were struggling to connect with their people.

We worked with Traveling Vineyard to discover they actually don’t exist to sell wine. Their purpose is to change lives by providing fulfilling (and flexible) work. This purpose has been driving the growth of their business. One by one, we have been looking for the people and organizations who align with this purpose and who are a match for their community and customer base. Clarifying, operating, and marketing from their purpose has helped them build a deeper connection with their customers and has brought a tremendous amount of growth to their company.

In the very beginning of our work with Traveling Vineyard, we began by identifying an audience that appeared to be 3 different types of moms: a stay-at-home-mom who loves her family but could use a little extra income without a lot of commitment. An empty-nester who’s looking for something new to consume her life now that her kids are gone. And an achiever; someone who is tired of just being a mom and wants something that’s just for her.

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But when we were building their persona, we didn’t just stop here by identifying these stereotypes.

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We wanted to make sure we were talking to the right people, so we took the step of matching these persona to real, actual people.

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Once we mapped the characteristics of the stereotypes to REAL people in their community, we honored them as ambassadors. This allowed us to build better relationships with their existing community and leverage that community to find more people outside of their community who are like them.

connect-by-identifying-challenges-and-goals

One of the first steps we take when we’re building these relationships is to create a Customer Journey Map (adapted from an exercise from Adaptive Path) that helps us understand these women’s desires, roadblocks, and fears that keep them from converting to wine guides.

We then deconstruct this journey by starting with one persona or audience segment. Like Kirby, who represents nearly 60% of their customer base.

persona-segment
Through many surveys, group meetings, and 1:1 interviews, we’ve identified Kirby’s biggest challenges and goals.
biggest-challenges

goals

Once we knew Kirby’s greatest challenge and most important goals, we could break down what she is thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage in her journey in the lifecycle of becoming a Wine Guide for Traveling Vineyard.

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When we analyze what customers like Kirby are thinking, we look at the common questions that are holding them back. Stuff like: Is the company legit? Will I make money doing this? Do I have to be a wine expert?

Then we move onto how they may be feeling in each stage of their journey. These are the emotions that they are having that could also pose potential roadblocks like if they’re nervous about trusting the company, anxious to tell their friends they may do this, or even just excited to get started.

And then lastly, in the doing stage, we analyze their actions; the actions that the potential wine guides may take before they convert. Things like investigating other companies, talking to their friends and family, and watching videos or reading content on the website.

And even though Kirby won’t be thinking/feeling/and doing these things in a linear fashion, deconstructing her customer journey this way helps us understand what her overall experience must be likecustomer-journey

Now once we understood all of these things about Kirby, we can address all of her thoughts/concerns/fears/challenges through a content strategy that helps reach goals for the company.

content-strategy-to-remove-roadblocks

Let’s say we’re breaking down the CONSIDER phase in the funnel and identify roadblocks for potential Wine Guides who have been comparing Traveling Vineyard with other direct selling job opportunities.

So for example, let’s say we wanted to address Kirby’s fear of whether Traveling Vineyard is a legitimate company:

thinking-stage

We created some content around the concern of pyramid schemes and how Traveling Vineyard isn’t one.

model-example

We asked their existing Wine Guides (who Kirby can relate to) in order to help us create content so that they could tell potential Wine Guides about how Traveling Vineyard’s business model actually works and isn’t a scam.

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We even asked direct selling experts to provide an unbiased view on direct selling to address this roadblock.

expert-insight

Then we built content to address Kirby’s ‘feeling’ behaviors; being unsure that this job will add stress to her family:

feeling-roadblock

We interviewed Jonelle, an existing Wine Guide who someone like Kirby would resonate with, to talk about what a day in the life is like with Traveling Vineyard and how she balances it all.

day-in-the-life

In this video, Jonelle shows talks about her schedule and how she fits Traveling Vineyard into her family routine. Again, more real people (and user generated content) from the Traveling Vineyard community addressing these common roadblocks.

day-in-the-life-schedule

Finally, we addressed Kirby’s ‘doing’ behaviors — the actions that someone like Kirby might want to take in order to become a Wine Guide.

doing-behaviors

Each week, Traveling Vineyard provides a webinar which is an opportunity for potential Wine Guides like Kirby to better understand the business. It’s also a chance to ask questions about what it’s really like to work for Traveling Vineyard and learn that it is in fact possible to be a Wine Guide and keep your family in tact. 

weekly-webinar

Doing this work to understand Kirby (and the other persona segments) and give her what she needs throughout her customer journey with Traveling Vineyard has helped to increase lead form submissions (one of Traveling Vineyard’s key performance indicators) by more than 298%. This growth has contributed to a more than 40% revenue growth in the company (year-over-year).

growth

Clarifying your purpose, understanding your people, and removing roadblocks brings sustainable growth. This is an iterative cycle of getting to know your people, understanding them, figuring out what they need, and helping them solve their challenges.

people-purpose-growth

This doesn’t require any of your content to “go viral.” This is simply a slow build of trust that has brought tremendous growth to the company.

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Over the last year, Chipotle has been having a rough go of it. And for a brand that is supposed to be synonymous with “FOOD WITH INTEGRITY” being associated with words like Norovirus, E.coli, and Salmonella is pretty bad news. Even worse, when people are talking on social media about puking and pooping and going to the hospital because they’ve eaten your food, it is not so good for business.

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But in true authentic style, Chipotle has spent the last year reacting to this stuff from authenticity and purpose. So they’ve not only been telling their customers that they’ve blown it, but they’re doing what it takes to make it right.

Chipotle has been transparent about how the outbreaks most likely happened. They’ve taken apart their current food safety systems and put them back together. They’ve provided their customers with a plan for action to pioneer and become a leader in food safety. Chipotle wants to make sure that this not only doesn’t happen again in their restaurants, but also inspire other fast food restaurants to operate the same.

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But had Chipotle not built such trust with their customers over the last 10 years — if they hadn’t operated from their purpose from the inside, and not just in their marketing — something like this could have ruined them.

And that’s what’s kind of remarkable about Chipotle’s community is that their customers were willing to give them a second chance. Even as their stock prices fell and the media chewed them up, their customers were still with them.

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And even though Chipotle is projected to have a 65% earnings loss this year due to the outbreaks, next year in 2017, their earnings are projected to jump 125%. And even over the next many years, Chipotle is still projected to have a higher growth in earnings than McDonald’s and their big ol’ marketing budgets.

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So here’s the thing about living your promise and leading from purpose. It is a parallel path. Because the way purpose shows itself inside your organization is inextricably linked to how your company is perceived on the outside.

So here’s the thing about living your promise and leading from your purpose. It is a parallel path. Because the way purpose shows itself inside your organization is inextricably linked to how your company is perceived on the outside.

If your company wants sustainable, durable growth in the digital age, your company’s sales, marketing, and customer experience strategy must start with 4 simple steps.

The first step in living your promise and leading from purpose is clarifying the purpose of your organization.

Just like we talked about with Dove and Traveling Vineyard, look at the cultural tension you want to address in our world and combine that with your best self. This is what will make you relevant. It’s also the key to connection.

But it’s really important that you’re clear with your team about what purpose actually is and what it isn’t.

Purpose is aspirational and belief-driven. It’s way bigger than your what you sell or what you make. It’s fully integrated into your business model and it’s the long-game of how you’re going to improve your customers and your employees lives.

Purpose is NOT your vision, mission, or values statement. It’s not solely focused on internal activities. It’s not making a bunch of money so that you can give it away (that’s great, but that’s not purpose). It’s not your brand guidelines or PR. It’s not a tagline or a trend. Purpose is connection and your teams need to understand what purpose truly is so that they can use it effectively in their strategies.

The second step to living your promise is deconstructing your customer’s journey. Once you know your purpose, you’ve got to look at connecting with your customer.

Look at the journey of your customer and what they’re thinking/feeling/and doing at every stage. Remember, it’s not just assessing audience data, demographic data, or psychographic data; that data is plentiful but it doesn’t tell you about their fears, desires, or what’s truly on their minds.

The good stuff is when you participate in actual conversations with your customers in real life (not just through digital surveys but with 1:1 interviews) so that you can understand how to bridge the gap between the purpose of the company and the people who align with it. Your job is to understand and remove their roadblocks so that you can connect and be part of their lives.

The third part of living your promise is to connect your team’s purpose to the purpose of the organization. You can do this by asking 2 questions:

What does the organization that you work for exist to achieve as a whole? In addition to making money. In other words, what is the purpose of the entire company? And the second question, what role does your team play in achieving that purpose (other than to make money)? Your teams need to understand how their daily contributions matter to the overarching purpose of the company. Especially when they’re pushing hard on things that seem meaningless; understanding how purpose relates to their day-to-day can go a long way for efficiency, output, and morale.

And the fourth and final step to living your promise is to effectively communicate your purpose externally.

Especially in your sales, marketing, and customer experience teams, they need to understand that the conversation is not only about your product, it’s also about your purpose.

What that means is that rather than only focusing the conversation with your customers about your product (like Dove; when they were just selling soap)…

You can have a much more meaningful conversation about things that matter.

Like women feeling good about their bodies:

Like women working on their self-esteem:

Like having the body image conversation with young girls so that they learn to love their bodies from a young age, too:

The thing is, there are thousands of ways to talk about Dove’s purpose of helping women feel better about their bodies, but there’s only a handful of ways to talk about soap.

The same thing with Chipotle, there are thousands of ways to talk about food with integrity and its impact on our world, but there’s only a handful of ways to talk about a burritos. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk about or advertise your product. What I am saying is when you change the conversation from product to purpose, you open up the opportunity to exponentially connect with more people.

Look at all of these organizations, people, media outlets, communities, influencers who are part of Dove’s purpose-conversation vs. the amount of people who want to talk about soap.

When you lead from purpose and live your promise, you have a competitive advantage.

In a Harvard Business Review study, 85% of purpose-led companies experienced positive growth of at least 10% annually.

An EY study shows that 72% of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose.

Not only that, but keeping your employees is an significant factor in contributing to your profits. The employees at purpose-driven organizations are 3 times more likely to stay. 

And the time is now. Only 37% of executives believe that their own business model and operations are aligned with their company’s purpose.

It’s time for you to get ahead of the other 63%.

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If you’re considering building an authentic, purpose-drive
brand, remember these things:

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Building your company from purpose gives people something to connect to and believe in. Even more, building from purpose gives your business focus. Focus that will bring growth.

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If you want to earn the right customers who will support you and stand by you through the good and the bad, you’ve got to bust your ass, hustle and do the work to connect with people. The people who align with your purpose.

For better or worse, customers no longer believe your advertising alone. You must earn your customers by fighting for and exhibiting, your purpose through your actions and the experiences you provide.

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When it comes down to it, building and marketing a company and brand in today’s world requires a different path than traditional marketing, advertising, and quick-fix tactical approaches. It’s not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

Technology is going to continue to change. Google is going to continue to change. We need to use technology effectively and also build brands that transcend this technology.

These are all very simple things. They just take time and iteration and focus. Many companies aren’t committed to doing the diligence of this work. They are doing the same things that every other company is doing. They are creating content for the sake of content. They are adding to the noise. 

If your company is ready to triumph over the next many years, it’s time to evaluate and evolve your approach to marketing.

Why Content Strategy Isn’t Enough

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | One Comment

Mack recently had the honor of speaking at SearchLove Boston 2016 where she presented on Why Content Strategy Isn’t Enough. What follows is a recap of her talk about how companies need to evolve their approach to marketing in order to survive in our ever-changing world.

Technology has changed our world

There’s no doubt that technological advances have made our world faster, smarter, and more connected. Where it took the phone companies 89 years to connect 150 million people, it took Facebook only 8 years to connect 8 billion.

technology-advancing

The problem is, even with all of the remarkable technology that we have, companies are failing to make authentic connections with their customers. Although our world, business, and consumer behavior has evolved, there is an approach to marketing that’s fundamentally broken and it’s not helping companies earn the relationships they need with their customers.

 

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Competing on content and experience alone won’t do it anymore. Great brands and companies already have these things baked into their DNA.

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Being stellar at every touchpoint is the new status quo. And yet this, alone, is not enough for companies to weather the relentless evolution of technology, earn customers, and experience growth.

Earning customers and experiencing growth has to come from something bigger and deeper than content marketing or content strategy; it comes from building a company from purpose and earning the trust of your customers through authenticity.

Building an authentic brand is not a social cause thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. It’s a people connecting with people thing. And it’s about building a company that people care about and want to do business with.

In order for your company to succeed, you have to continually strive to build a better one. And from that, comes your marketing.

Over the next 5 years, authenticity will win

Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try: a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. If your company wants to make it through the next 5 years of content saturation, noise, and technological advances, you must build an authentic, human brand.

cohn-wolfe-study

Here are the facts:

  • More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
  • That same Cohn & Wolfe study shows that the number one behavior that people expect of brands is open and honest communication about their products and services. The second behavior is that they don’t let their customers down, and the third behavior is that they act with integrity at all times.
  • A BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product, when they’re making purchasing decisions.
  • When people care about your company, they tell their friends. Word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

In today’s face-paced, digital world, it’s not about how your company is packaged. It’s about who your company is.

not-about-packaging

about-who-you-are

How to evolve your marketing

How does your company evolve in this digital age so that you can experience sustainable growth?

Start from purpose

Building an authentic brand starts from purpose, and from purpose comes growth.

purpose-growth

Purpose is also what solves these common challenges in our world:

  • Businesses are challenged with unrelenting change. And because our world is changing so quickly, that has changed consumer behavior and how quickly businesses must react.
  • Consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society. They know they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher. Consumers want companies to do more than just make money.
  • Employees want more meaning in their work. And they want to work for better companies.

Purpose helps companies hurdle each of these problems and also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives. Even more, “purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees, and are better at innovation and transformational change.”

purpose-driven-company-benefits

Building an authentic brand comes from purpose and that purpose drives everything.

purpose-drives-everything

Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business.

Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful marketing strategy that will connect with the right customers. When you have a great product or offer great services, and you’ve done your diligence to learn about your customers and how they align with your purpose, those customers want to become part of your community and support your growth.

Positioning around your company’s purpose can be done through an exercise called the Big Ideal from Ogilvy & Mather.

the-big-ideal

Your Big Ideal is the soul of your company. It’s also your point of view on how the world should be. Identifying your company’s purpose comes from the combination of two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address, and your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best.

big-ideal

One of our clients, the Traveling Vineyard, addresses the cultural tension that people are looking for more meaning in their work and also in their lives.

cultural-tension

At their best self, Traveling Vineyard provides the resources and training necessary to build a successful career in direct sales.

best-self

Traveling Vineyard believes that the world would be a better place if people could change their lives with a fulfilling job. This is their Big Ideal.

world-is-better-place

Traveling Vineyard’s Big Ideal then drives their purpose. Traveling Vineyard exists as a company so that they can change lives by providing fulfilling work.

purpose

This purpose then powers Traveling Vineyard’s marketing strategy that is centered around the theme of living a richer, fuller life. Any content that is generated addresses the questions, concerns, thoughts, and feelings that their customers have at every stage in their journey with Traveling Vineyard.

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Build an ecosystem

Once your company has clearly identified its purpose, that will drive everything. Essentially, your marketing strategy will be born out of this ecosystem:

marketing-ecosystem

  • Identifying and understanding the people who align with your purpose so that you can talk to them
  • Developing the strategy that will help you use the right channels to reach that audience
  • Creating the right content that will connect with that audience, taking care to solve their problems
  • Getting that personal and customized content in front of the right people with customized outreach
  • Assessing data (and intuition) to determine whether what you’re doing throughout this cycle is bringing growth.
  • Finally, showing your purpose through action: having that stellar experience; having that stellar content; following through at every touchpoint and simply being human

Ultimately, your marketing strategy is only powerful when it’s connected to the purpose of your business as a whole. Your marketing efforts then become an iterative cycle of getting to know the right people, understanding them, figuring out what they need, and helping them solve their challenges. This is a slow build of trust. You must work to be authentic and personal in order to earn a community and grow your business.

personalization

Why isn’t content strategy enough?

There are two reasons that content strategy isn’t enough to build a sustainable company and brand:

durable-brands

 1) Content strategy alone won’t build a durable brand
If you want to earn the right customers who will support you, tell their friends about you, and stand by you in good and bad, you’ve got to do the work to connect with people. Yes, you need to create 10x content and provide a stellar experience across channels, but growth goes deeper than that. It’s not about how your company is packaged; it’s about who your company is.

brands-transcend-technology

2) We need to build brands that transcend technology
Remember that technology can’t build relationships with your customers. That’s what humans are for. Building an authentic brand will help you weather technology, the saturation of mediocre content, competition, and Google. So no matter what the trend is, or how the algorithm is changing, you will have built a brand so durable that people will talk about you, they will hear about you, and they will come looking for you.

time-to-evolve

It’s time to evolve our approach for durability and growth

Just like building a business, a purpose-driven and authentic approach to marketing is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort and care. Perhaps it’s time to assess whether what you’re doing now in your marketing is really working. Maybe you’re feeling stuck. Maybe you’re not getting results from what you’ve been doing for many years. Maybe your audience growth has plateaued. And maybe all the tactics you try don’t seem to get traction.

It’s time to do things a little differently. It’s time to build from purpose and build authentic, human relationships with customers.

7 Steps to Authentic Influencer Marketing, Part Three

By | Outreach, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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You’re now at the third and final stage of our influencer outreach marketing series. Remember, influencer marketing is the practice of building relationships and collaborating with influencers in order to increase brand awareness, build a community, and/or expand your network.

If you’ve missed the first two posts, you’ll want to catch up with those before continuing on to the last stage here. The first post will help you understand why influencer marketing is so important, what it can do for your brand, and how you get started. The second post will walk you through how to keep your focus on the right influencers and how to authentically engage with influencers in a way that will lead to more success when you are ready to send over a pitch. And speaking of sending over pitches, that’s where I’ll pick up this part of the series. Read More

7 Steps to Authentic Influencer Marketing, Part Two

By | Outreach, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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In our series about working with influencers in authentic and meaningful ways, we’re now moving into Step 2 through 5 in this post. If you’ve come to this post before reading the first one on why you should collaborate with influencers and how to start your research, you can check it out here. For those keeping track at home, here are all the steps of the series: Read More

7 Steps to Authentic Influencer Marketing, Part One

By | Outreach, Social Media, Web Marketing | 2 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Think back to your last big purchase, let’s say a new oven.

You probably started out your search getting to know your options and narrowing down what features you wanted in the item you purchased (4 electric burners with a timer and a broil setting). Then, you tried to find out which oven was rated best for the features that were most important to you and was within your price range (your search might have taken you to Home Depot or Lowe’s to cost compare).

Somewhere between researching the item and actually buying it, you probably got input from friends, family, coworkers, online forums, or online reviews. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of info out there, you turned to the people or places you knew you could trust for unbiased reviews or feedback. You might have asked, is this brand better than another? Why does this one cost $200 more? Is that extra feature worth it? What oven do you have? Do you love it? Why?

We look for others’ feedback to validate our thoughts and help guide us in making the best decision or confirm that we made the right choice. Our desire to get others’ feedback before we make a purchase is what makes influencer outreach marketing so powerful, and therefore, important to many marketers. Read More

How to Lead with Meaning in Your Marketing

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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brian-solis

There are a whole lot of companies who have been changing the face of business, and our world, with a very simple approach: prioritizing meaning over money. Rather than just make a profit, they recognize they’re here to do something bigger. They want to use their businesses to be agents for change and to build durable, worthwhile companies that leave a mark on our world.

Often referred to as mission-driven, companies who value purpose over profit experience a number of advantages. Their employees are happier and more engaged; they stay longer and make bigger contributions. Mission-driven companies also have a better understanding of their value and how to use it to retain a strategic advantage over the competition. As a result, they attract much more passionate customers.

The biggest caveat to this concept is that it can’t be just for show. To reap these benefits and connect people to your brand, your company must genuinely communicate your meaning beyond money with an authenticity that comes directly from your core.

The trick is to lead with meaning while, at the same time, effectively marketing your product. The best way to do this is by completely intertwining them so that no one thinks of your product without considering your meaning, and no one ponders your meaning without connecting it to your product.

This can be accomplished in a few ways. Read More

Using Focus to Build Long-Term Momentum in Responsive Companies

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | 2 Comments

focus-mack-web

If you take all of the lessons we’ve learned over the last 11 years, add them up, and extract the most telling insight, the biggest realization is this: the clients who have been most successful are those who are willing to focus.

Focus is the ultimate challenge. We have a finite amount of time. How do you spend it on the right things that will grow your business?

Many of the companies we work with are Responsive or inherently become more Responsive as they work through our approach to marketing. Where traditional companies often allow their long-term planning and projections to drive the direction of the business (and their marketing), Responsive companies embrace the unpredictable and rapidly changing world we’re living in.

Responsive companies are a different kind of animal. They learn, respond, and advance. They utilize a more progressive method to build their businesses, one that is dedicated to constantly evolving and iterating — both their organizational structure and products or services. They also spend a lot of time investing and listening to their customers and their employees.

It’s definitely more work to be Responsive, but these companies are using their businesses to change our lives and leave their mark on our world.

Responsive companies run on operating systems that allow for agility. They move quickly and respond to unrelenting change with grace. They have different values and cultures and support flexible work environments that many companies envy.

Responsive companies hold themselves to a higher set of performance standards and expectations and actually achieve them. They work to communicate and collaborate. They honor transparency and community. Most importantly, they prioritize meaning ahead of money.

Responsive companies are remarkable and they build their organizations, and ultimately their brands, differently. And that requires a very different approach to marketing. Marketing that will provide focus so that goals are accomplished. Marketing that constantly evolves just as quickly as their company does, but without adding to the chaos.

If you want to be a Responsive company, you have to do it through and through, including your marketing. Every part of a Responsive company’s marketing should align with everything that makes the company Responsive. This requires a focus on two fundamental things:

[1] A Focus on Core
Especially as you grow, there must be a sustained focus on the core of the company and the stuff that makes you authentic.

[2] A Focus on an Adaptive Marketing Process
In order to accomplish company-wide brand and revenue goals, you need an adaptive process that lives and breathes within the company’s operating system.

Doing both of these things will keep you on target and add to the durability of your company. Even more, it will provide the focus and necessary momentum toward achieving the company’s long-term vision.

Here’s how it works.

A Focus On Core

As a Responsive company, your marketing is going to follow the same paradigm as your overall perspective: it focuses first and foremost on your core.

This, by far, is the most admirable characteristic of Responsive companies because at their core lives their higher purpose. Something truly authentic that propels the organization and transcends their desire to exist solely for the sake of profit.

Prioritizing meaning over money doesn’t mean your company has to lead an environmental cause, put shoes on people’s feet, or glasses on people’s faces. It can be as simple as encouraging young girls to develop an affinity for science or helping stay-at-home moms find more satisfaction in their lives by building a successful business.

Focusing on core and valuing meaning over money doesn’t mean you’re disregarding the importance of financial benchmarks. It means you’re investing in the long game. From the core meaning of the company you derive the marketing goals that are going to make you the company you want to be.

At the top are your Visionary goals, driving the 3-5 year bigger, hairier, audacious vision.  These goals are then broken down into approachable Business and Brand goals that share equal weight. In other words, the financial benchmarks you want your company to achieve are certainly important, but so are the Brand goals that will ensure you’re continually working toward realizing the company you really want to become.

Finally, Campaign goals are what initiate the necessary steps toward action and bringing everything to fruition (which I’ll explain more about in a just a bit).

Meaning Beyond Money | Mack Web

When a company has the courage to focus on their core and build an authentic brand from meaning, they have clarity about why they exist.  They’ve identified their heartbeat, the real thing that makes them go, and they choose to infuse that in everything they do. This is what drives their marketing and it’s also what makes their marketing go a little differently.

When a company operates from core meaning, marketing momentum starts at the source and naturally works its way out through integrated strategy. On the inside, the company is aligning all tactics and deliverables with their meaning, goals, and vision. On the outside, customers and community get to taste that authentic core first-hand, connecting them fully to the brand.

Just like building a Responsive company, marketing from your core is hard work as it is an ongoing challenge in self-awareness. Companies don’t have to be perfect, but they must be real, authentic, transparent, and above all, human.

When you can do that, people will genuinely respond to you. When you respond like a human who cares about something, you provide a better user experience. Your customers remember you. You stand out. They return. They tell their friends.

By focusing on core in your marketing,  people become your momentum. Before you know it, you have a community of loyal advocates and an inexplicable strategic advantage over the competition.

Over time, the organic velocity becomes unstoppable.

Improving, Not Just Promoting

In order for your marketing to align with everything that makes you Responsive, there must be a continual focus not only on defining your core purpose but on ensuring that everything you do — the marketing campaigns you execute; the user, customer, and employee experience you provide; the way you operate and communicate internally — aligns with the vision, mission, and goals that make up your brand’s foundation.

Ultimately, for marketing to bring momentum, there has to be a willingness to improve the business, not just promote it.

This requires continuous evaluation, improvement, and a willingness to be self-aware in the business. It’s doing what sometimes may be harder or take longer to experience ROI because that’s what’s best for your employees and for your customers. It’s putting an emphasis on important stuff like improving internal structure, team communication, fostering your internal culture, and investing in the personal growth of your employees as well as the external culture you have with your customers.

You must continually work on your company’s value and own what truly makes you different from your competition. The authentic vision that you’re driving toward needs to be revisited from time to time, not just put on auto-pilot. You’ve got to hold your entire company accountable for living your mission and values every single day. All of that stuff sounds great, but it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and work.

There’s an important marketing framework to developing your brand’s foundation, too, that improves the business and contributes to the success of your marketing. Persona must be developed and remain dynamic so that you’re attracting those customers who align with your approach, values, and over time will become loyal advocates. Communication loops must be built in and feedback applied so that customers and employees know you’re listening. Critical (yet simple) questions must be asked and answered so that resources can be developed for your audience and provided at every point in the lifecycle.

Investing in your core requires building meaningful relationships one by one. It’s seeing your goals through even when you don’t think you’re going to reach them.  It’s intentionally selecting priorities and spending time executing integrated strategies that strive for consistency and integrity across channels. These are all of your building blocks and they’re what place your responsive company on a solid foundation.

Momentum Comes From Building Blocks

No matter how long a company has been in business or what stage they’re in, momentum towards realized goals and fulfilled benchmarks comes from focusing on all of these core, foundational building blocks. Over time then, and through your marketing, you’re able to radiate your authenticity and the internal work you’ve been doing on your core, outward. This may seem fluffy, but in actuality, all of this work is what builds an ideal experience with your brand that you can actually measure.

Time spent on the brand’s foundation ensures that no matter how someone connects with your company — a referral from a friend, on social media or your website, clicking through on an ad, attending an event, speaking to customer service, or picking your product off the shelf in a big-box store — you present the same message, meeting and exceeding their expectations. You’re real, you’re human, you are the company you said you would be because of your investment on improving your business and in your core.

This level of commitment to core focus certainly requires a level of diligence and intention. It’s also something that can be managed with an adaptive process.

A Focus On an Adaptive Marketing Process

This authentic approach to marketing is a long, organic game. The inherent challenge with a Responsive company is that there are always so many opportunities along the way. So many shiny things that you want to embrace with enthusiasm as they provide another chance to iterate and try something new.

The problem is, this is also what perpetuates campaign-centric-shiny-thing marketing that makes it difficult to integrate across channels and teams, accomplish company-wide brand and revenue goals, and experience long-term progress. That’s why you need a process that helps you identify and focus on the right strategic priorities to stay the course,  but also gives you room to adapt.

It’s easy for Responsive companies to struggle with process because it can be difficult to implement and utilize one without feeling suffocated by it. Without allowing it to drive or sacrificing flexibility. Rather than stifle, process should provide guardrails for momentum.

Responsive companies may be drastically different from month-to-month. The challenge becomes making the commitment to slow down so that they can also speed up. As companies pass through different stages of growth, priorities become a moving target. This lack of focus impedes momentum. When it comes to marketing, Responsive companies need an iterative process — a cycle that ebbs and flows with the rhythm of the business — to help them identify and prioritize areas of focus and then provide the necessary structure to see them through.

Something like this:

 Responsive Process | Mack Web

Focusing and Adapting: 90 Days at a Time

When you’re aligning your marketing with your core and using an adaptive process to drive it, strategic priorities — and the tasks required to accomplish them — will ultimately fall into three categories: acquisition, conversion, and retention. Your focus may fall more heavily in one of these areas at any given time.

Let’s say your company is just starting out with this approach and you’re carefully placing the building blocks of your core (going back to identify your meaning beyond money, your values, your mission, vision, and goals).

Focusing on Core | Mack Web

Before you jump into your first 90-day cycle, you’ve identified your strategic priorities for accomplishing your Campaign goals (that stem from Business and Brand Goals), and for this time period, your strategic priorities lie in acquisition (and awareness) and retention.

Strategic Priorities | Mack Web

So, for this first 90 day cycle, 75% of your marketing resources and bandwidth will be spent executing deliverables that drive acquisition. You may be making the necessary adjustments to the copy on your website and on social media to better align with your authentic voice and communicate your meaning beyond money, focusing more heavily on the value you provide for your customers and community.

You may be creating additional copy on your website and blog to answer the questions your actual customers have (based on your persona research) as they’re experiencing your brand through the variety of phases and channels on which they interact with you.

The other 25% of your marketing efforts for this time period may be spent focusing on retention and the customers you already have. Listening and learning from them, understanding what they need, and then driving strategic priorities from there. Maybe, as part of a test phase, you’re curating content and talking with your community (both on and offline), using targeted social campaigns to test and gather information about what really speaks to them.

All of these efforts are essentially iterations that take place in 30-day increments. Your focus is on executing, testing, and collecting data that will help you better identify how to accomplish those goals you’ve set, and to make informed decisions about direction moving forward.

Iteration- Mack Web

As you go about your merry way, executing on these strategic priorities and associated deliverables, at 30-day intervals, your team will work through an exercise called Catapult where they will review data and also consider intuition to identify red flags, challenges, and opportunities. Most important, during Catapult, the pulse of the company is evaluated in order to determine whether deviations from tactics being executed need to occur. Then your focused efforts continue as planned, or are adjusted, and the cycle (and your momentum) continues.

At approximately the 60-day mark in the 90-day cycle, strategy is scrubbed at a deeper level:

  • What is generating the most momentum?
  • What has become a larger priority during this cycle because of what you’ve learned through testing and iteration?
  • Do you need to adjust the balance between Business and Brand focus during this cycle?
  • Based on what you’ve learned and what’s changed in the business, in the 90 days ahead of you, does acquisition, conversion, or retention take the largest precedence?
  • Ultimately, are you accomplishing the right things in the short-term to eventually (in many cycles) reach your long-term goals?

Responsive Process Scrub | Mack Web

The more cycles completed, the more momentum that builds and the more the process becomes ingrained in the natural routine and flow of the company. Every 90 days, strategic campaigns get better at integrating together and becoming more seamless, building continuity across teams and channels.

Then, as you accomplish the smaller Campaign goals each cycle, you’re slowly chipping away at achieving bigger Business and Brand Goals, and eventually, reaching the Visionary goals and mission you’re working toward for your company overall. Over time, all of the efforts build on each other, not only bringing momentum, but long-term value and durability to the company.

Responsive Process | Mack Web

The most important thing to remember about focus when using an adaptive process like this is that it doesn’t mean you just put your head down and drive. This is where self-awareness comes in. This is where you’re being accountable for aligning with your core and your meaning beyond money. It means getting to know your business better so that you can make better decisions. It means spending more time listening to your customers and your employees, all the while learning and adapting as you work your way up the mountain.

Mountain of Success

Playing the Long Game

Responsive companies are powerful, world-changing entities. They are bold, agile, and lead with authenticity and meaning. Their approach to marketing should most certainly follow suit.

But this kind of approach isn’t easy and it takes companies who have the diligence to be intentional. Companies who are committed to investing in their core and the foundation of their brand even when they’re not brand new. Companies who can be alive, self-aware, and present, and also see the value in taking the time to focus so that they can strategically play the long game.

By really focusing on conveying their central meaning to their very human audience, responsive companies light the spark of connection and interest and real, solid value that will ignite the engine of their growth. By following a reliable, adaptable, cyclic process, they can keep that motion going, meeting both Brand and Business goals.

Most important, they can effectively communicate why they exist, from their very soul, which will foster communities full of advocates, continue to shape a durable foundation, and sustain a strategic advantage in the marketplace. All it takes is a little focus for the momentum to build and the company to continue to thrive.

Better than Hawaii: Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Social Media, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | No Comments

Because why gloat over your vacation pictures when you could be catching up on the genius you missed?

Summer is a time for many wondrous things: swimming lessons and blockbuster movies, amazing thunderstorms and vacations to exotic locations, backyard barbeques and entirely more ice cream than can possibly be healthy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.23.07 PM

You know what summer is not a great time for? Reading anything other than ridiculously fluffy beach-worthy books, with titles like Cream Puffs by Starlight or The Undead Llamas Ride at Dawn.

Which is why, with the crisp hints of fall just around the corner and the kids shuffled back to school, we decided to make your lives a little easier. You don’t have to go back and catch up on everything the Mack Web team wrote this summer (though we wouldn’t blame you if you did; we are just that amazing).

Instead, we’ve put together the list of Mack Web best summer blog posts, the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

You’re welcome.

We’ve also provided a quick word on why we think each of these posts is emblematic of what Mack Web stands for, why they’re important in the general scheme of things.

And hey, if you think we missed a crucial read, let us know. We’ll add it to the list.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.16.01 PMHow To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

Our favorite post of the summer was this contribution from our designer extraordinaire. Natalie Touchberry is brilliant with all things design and this post gives you some amazing insight into her tricks of the trade.

We think this is an important one to share not only because it’s a wonderful, practical creative process from a master of her art but also for of its place in the broader spectrum of the Mack Web belief system. (Yep. Slide decks are part of our corporate religion, along with heart, passion, desire, excellence, and llamas.)

Our devotion to slide decks is twofold. First, we are firm believers in using different formats to convey our messages. And here’s the thing about slide decks: a slide deck devoid of meaning stands out a lot more than a fluffy blog post. In other words, to do the slide deck format well, you really have to know what you want to say and why you want to say it. We are all about the intentional content.

The second reason we love slide decks is because they are symbolic of a key part of digital marketing that is often overlooked: offline efforts. Frequently used as a visual aid for public speaking, slide decks are a great reminder that building relationships and reputation in the real world is a huge part of an integrated marketing strategy.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.48 PM Hashtag Series: Ally or Enemy? (Pt. 1) & A How-To for Success (Pt. 2)

We were really pleased with this collaboration by our Social & Community Management Strategist Ayelet Golz and our Account Coordinator Rebecca Gilmore. It’s not only a fantastic walk through of how, when, and why you should use hashtags in your social media marketing but also a practical guide to creating meaningful hashtags, based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

We’re featuring these posts because, while not overt, they so deeply express one of Mack Web’s most fundamental principles of digital marketing: everything starts from goals.

So we say ‘Don’t use a hashtag unless it serves your purpose in creating the social media campaign in the first place.’ And then Ayelet tells you when that might be. ‘Choose or create a hashtag that actually achieves what you want to achieve.’ And then Rebecca gives you a process for doing just that.

That’s Mack Web to the core.

Also, there are frolicking hashbrowns and Gandalf jokes. So, you won’t want to miss that.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.55 PMHow to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

Our shining star of the summer, our Team Member of the Season was, apparently, Ayelet.  This post of hers was a big favorite for its sheer practicality as she tells you everything – and we do mean everything – about Google+ Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts are a fantastic way to convey valuable information, host a gathering of experts, and build relationships with your peers and audience alike. (Mack Web is big on the personal touch.)

We’re also big on sharing what we know. Sometimes that’s theory: the why behind the methods we use. But sometimes that’s application: the methods themselves.

Because, hey, you’re going to have plenty of work to do figuring out the topic, the guest list, the promotion, the follow-up of your Hangout. We can make the actual, manual steps a little easier. Why would we make you suffer?


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.41 PMConversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

Yep, that’s right, our final Not-To-Be-Missed post of the summer is another Ayelet classic. This one uses our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities as a mini case study for the varying definitions of content success in digital marketing.

We chose this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a part of our Quest for Quanlitative Measurement: our ongoing journey to fully exploring, understanding, and optimizing the various ways to measure integrated marketing efforts. The Quest weighed heavy on our minds this summer and we didn’t want the season to pass without a mention of it.

Second, well, we love that guide. Arthur, as we call him. So figuring out how other people felt about him was important to us.

Third, we work hard to prove the value of our efforts to our clients. We know you do, too. Our experience with Arthur just proved to us that the narrow focus on conversion rate discounts so much great stuff that goes on in the background. So, in true Mack Web spirit, we provide you with some practical alternatives.

And finally…well…we had to include this post. Otherwise Disappointed Turtle might have scowled at us. And that’s not a fate lightly to be borne.


Alright, so it’s not quite Hawaii…

So we may not have been strictly factual when we said Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts were better than Hawaii. But we figure you would only know that if you actually went to Hawaii. In which case, you got both, so why are you complaining?

If you, like us, didn’t spend the summer sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the crystal blue waters, we want to know: what did you learn this summer? What made your Best Reads of the Summer List?

Hashtags: A How-To for Success

By | Social Media | 7 Comments

Part II

As a group, we marketers love us a good “how-to” guide. It’s not that we necessarily want to be told what to do or become automatons (although Ayelet does have her social media minions, but that’s not really the same thing).

how-to-survive-a-robot-uprising

A good how-to process can provide a basic framework from which to work, freeing us up to be creative, which is why most of us are in this industry in the first place.

A Brief Recap

Last week Ayelet and I shared Mack Web’s first-ever co-authored blog post: Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy? It’s not so much that we’re both equally awesome (that goes without saying); it’s that we have entered into a fellowship and are in search of the best process for developing successful hashtags for our marketing efforts.

Gandalf_2fly2die

In our last post we discussed how our fellowship came to be, a brief history of the # symbol, and how hashtags can be a friend or foe. That’s all well and good (if we do say so ourselves), but wouldn’t it be even better if we also shared with you our checklist and process for ensuring that our little hashtags are on the straight and narrow instead of on the path to Mordor?

Let the How-To fun begin

And all you list-crossers exclaimed, “Huzzah!” Over the course of developing hashtags, we’ve settled into a fine rhythm that takes us from high-level thinking to the hashtag we want to be with forever (or at least as long as the campaign). We haven’t come up with a fun acronym yet (we’re open to suggestions), but we’ve narrowed it down to these five simple steps:

  1. Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity
  2. Identify: Keywords & Branding
  3. Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity
  4. Filter: Length, Look & Search
  5. Review: Buddy & Team

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Step 1 – Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity

Start with goals

It’s like a mantra around here. Seriously. Ayelet already talked about it in our post last week. And I don’t think a single one of us will ever be able to delete the sound bite file in our brains of Mack repeating “everything starts with goals.” (We suspect this was implanted without our knowledge during the hiring process, but we lack any evidence to prove it.)

Before you even think about developing a hashtag for you or your client, you must determine why you want a hashtag in the first place and what you hope to accomplish with it. Revisit those high-level business and brand goals you developed for your own business or with your client and make sure your hashtag goals align. If this is still a little fuzzy, we’ll use our own #MackWebLife to, well, unfuzzy things.

mackweblife

The idea behind #MackWebLife was to find a way to share the, well, “life” side of working at Mack Web. But it wasn’t an idea that came out of the blue. Long before we came up with this hashtag, we sat down and decided what we as a company (and a brand) cared about. And as it turns out, the desire to show the human side of our brand is part of our DNA – so much so that we made it one of our brand goals (anything is official once it’s been written with fruit-flavored markers on large post-its).

Driver - human-centric

Before the genesis of #MackWebLife, we’d already been working hard to keep our tone and content as humane (er, human) as possible, but now it was time to take the plunge and show a more day-to-day perspective of what it’s really like at Mack Web.

Group MackWebLife shot

We then discussed what the main vehicle would be for sharing all this Mack Webbiness, and we decided that social would be our platform. Choosing a hashtag to be our sidekick was only natural after that.

As part of this “start with goals” discussion, we considered including “Fort Collins” in the hashtag to have a better chance of getting picked up locally (thinking of more local engagement). But on the other hand, it would exclude our Chicago office or any photos we would take while at conferences. This helped us define our goals even more specifically, realizing we wanted to have a much larger reach and inclusion than just our little city.

Identify KPIs

We know – it may seem like overkill to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for such a small thing as a hashtag, but how else will you measure the success? We decided that our main social thrust would be on Twitter, so here are the two KPIs we developed for our little hashtag:

1. Increase in conversation and applause on Twitter (replies, favorites)
2. Increase in social media referral traffic to our site from Twitter

MackWebLife on Twitter

Determine longevity

Now that you have your hashtag goals and KPIs established, this part should be relatively easy. Based on your goals, what is the expected lifespan of your little hashtag-that-could?

Round calendar

Since we knew we wanted to cover multiple aspects of working at Mack Web, our various office locations, group activities and more, we understood that this was to be a long-term relationship, meaning we weren’t going to limit the usage of this hashtag to a specific (relatively short) period of time. We wanted to be able to use this hashtag starting today and long into the future. We didn’t want the year, season, or anything else to limit how long we could use it. So we signed our marriage license and headed straight for the altar.

But sometimes we’re not looking for something that serious. We want to have some short-term, campaign-only fun and then part amicably. For example, Stephen Colbert implemented the hashtag #CutDownTheAmazon for his tirade against Amazon.com.

Stephen Colbert

Or if you search #WorldCup2014, know what you’ll get? That’s right – only soccer news and commentary from this year’s (not last year’s nor the year before that) World Cup. That’s it. Fini. These are short-term, campaign-specific hashtags, and their days are numbered.

WorldCup2014

Both long- and short-term hashtags have their purpose in this life – you just need to determine your commitment level.

Step 2 – Identify: Keywords & Branding

Review keywords

Keywords are, well, key to a brand’s SEO health, so it makes sense to go back and review them before deciding on a hashtag. It may not be vital to include a keyword, but your hashtag goals will help you figure that out. (See what we did there? We brought it back to goals. We’re so sneaky.) Either way, we should strive to keep SEO considerations at the forefront of our creative minds.

Here’s what you do: make a short list of keywords you might consider for your hashtag. This exercise will generate some seeds for brainstorming, providing that proverbial first brush stroke on that empty canvas. For our line of work, we might consider:

  • content
  • marketing
  • digital
  • social media
  • SEO
  • optimization
  • search

But for #MackWebLife, we opted out of industry keywords since we wanted a focus that was broader than just our industry. Instead we chose a word that encompasses all those things: life. Again, our goals educated our decision.

TIP: Just like Han, go Solo. Don’t lessen the effectiveness and impact of your finely crafted hashtag (and by extension, your campaign) by combining it with a ton of others. #Multiple #hashtags can be a #turnoff and an #annoyance to #fans. (See what we mean?) Unless you’re on Instagram, that is. Yeah, we don’t get it either.

To brand or not to brand

That is indeed the question. Hashtags need to be short and sweet (more on that in a minute), so deciding to place your brand within the # confines is an important step prior to brainstorming. Some considerations on branding are:

  • name of business
  • product name
  • product type
  • brand tone

There are others, but these are the main ones we consider regularly at this stage. Going back to #MackWebLife, we decided to include our full biz name: Mack Web. We nixed “MW” (we didn’t want to be confused with a kind of German vehicle) and decided against just “Mack,” although our fearless leader probably would have loved the extra attention.

Since we don’t really have a product name we’re trying to reference here, we skipped over to product type: our life (it’s quite the intangible product type, but so be it). We wanted to share our collective Mack Web life with our online community, so that was our desired product.

For brand tone, we regularly strive to be concise and clean and snarky, but we only have so much room. Our brainstorming would help us decide which way to go.

Step 3 – Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity

Go to town

Once you’ve reviewed your keywords and brand parameters, get to it. Brainstorm your little heart out. If you need a little something to get the juices flowing, peruse this colorful and innocent-looking brainstormed list of words related to arachnids:

Spider brainstorming

Or to play off our #MackWebLife example, these are some of the options we came up with:

#ScenicMackWeb
#MackWebSightings
#MackWebSights
#ScenesfromMackWeb
#MackWebScenes
#MackWebLife
#MackWebLives
#LifeWithMackWeb

Step 4 – Filter: Length, Look & Search

When you have a long, long list of possibilities, let the culling begin. We know, you love them all. But to quote Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail (and technically The Godfather): “It’s not personal, it’s business.” And we’ll provide a few ways to make the culling go a lot more smoothly.

Check your length

We all do it: we’ll place at the end of a particularly witty tweet a hashtag that goes against everything we’ve written here, such as #mackwebissoawesome.

Even though this may be 100% true, we would never suggest using that on a day-to-day basis. First, no one likes a braggart. Second, this length is ridiculous. If you are using or even considering using a hashtag this long, stop. You’re taking up a lot of valuable real estate to accommodate this craziness, so the content you actually want to share has to play second fiddle. A hashtag that is too long compromises your tweet content and meta descriptions, challenges the patience of your community, and also provides additional opportunities to misspell something.

How does it look?

Don’t forget that we’re dealing with a lot more than just letters here – we’re making word pictures (so to speak). As you narrow down your options, be sure to type them out in a variety of ways to reveal any unwanted visuals:

  • all lowercase (#mackweblife)
  • all uppercase (#MACKWEBLIFE)
  • main words capitalized but the rest lowercase (#MackWebLife)

Ask yourself: Does it look weird? Is it confusing? Does it spell something you’ll regret later?

TIP: Embrace consistency. Use your hashtag the same way each time – uppercase, lowercase, with campaign-specific content, etc. If you need to spend 15 minutes training your team on the parameters you’ve established, then for the love of all that is good and holy, just do it.

Search, baby, search

Make sure your hashtag is pure. What we mean is that in this wide world of evolved humans, it’s entirely possible that someone out there is using your hashtag (sick, we know). And they may not be using it in a way that benefits your brand.

So save yourself some heartache and search hashtags using a search engine as well as your main social channels (namely Twitter). Start by asking these questions:

  • Is anyone else using it? If so, who are they?
  • Is it too common to be useful to your brand?
  • How is it being used? Has it been used in a negative way already?
  • How recently has it been used in another way?
  • Could the hashtag be misleading or misunderstood?
  • Is it too vague or open-ended that it could easily be hijacked?

SERPs

Now that you’ve put your precious metals through the crucible and only the purest remain, you’re ready for the final step.

Step 5 – Review: Buddy & Team

Find a buddy

Select a team member close to the project or campaign and do an initial review with her of all your brainstormed hashtags. Don’t work in a silo – she may see things you don’t or offer other options to consider.

Let your team chime in

When you and your buddy get down to your favorites, let the rest of your team provide feedback. But don’t just choose your favorite hashtag and only show them that one, nor should you overload them with your entire brain dump. Select the top 5 (at most 10) that made the cut and present those for final consideration.

TIP: Ditch the dead weight. If you’re currently using a hashtag that isn’t delivering (based on your goals and KPIs), you might as well not even use it. Much like the slowest runner in the group during a zombie apocalypse, just abandon that hashtag and let it succumb to the (undead) order of things.

You want more?!

You sick-o. We thought you might. And we admit that we do not know everything (shocking, we know), so here are a few recommended resources we ran across in our travels:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so share with us your favorite hashtag tips & tricks and even stories – success or otherwise!

Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy?

By | Social Media | No Comments

Part I

A Fellowship is Formed

“Umph.”

This sound, the vocal equivalent of eye rolling, is uttered every now and then by Ayelet, our Community and Social Media Strategist. And it can only mean one thing.

It’s hashtag time.

Youre it_hashtag

Hashtags in social media marketing cause certain grief for Ayelet and others who manage online communities (more on that in a bit). And as the one with the pleasure of being her officemate, I have long played the role of counselor during these trying times.

Until the day when everything changed. Rather than offering commiseration and gummy bunnies (oh yes, they’re real), I engaged in a spontaneous mini-brainstorming session in which we worked through the pain together. What we discovered was that I actually enjoy the process and associated wordplay, and Ayelet prefers the metrics and measurement side of things. And so a partnership was formed. (Although I prefer to call it a fellowship, but alas no ring of power is involved. Yet.)

Gandalf_2fly2die

And as is the Mack Web fashion, we developed a process for approaching this elusive campaign asset, harnessing its power and using it for good instead of evil. We’re still testing and measuring and all that jazz, but as is our calling, we aspire to share with you some tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way. And since this is a true partnership, we even joined forces to bring you this post.

The Hashtag: A History (sorta)

The # has an involved and, at times, a somewhat unverifiable history. Much like Lord of the Ring’s Gandalf, this symbol goes by many names: pound, sharp, space (for you copy editors) and even the etymologically-challenged octothorpe.

Symbol

Today social media has adopted this multi-purpose symbol and its use has exploded. Now most commonly referred to as a “hashtag,” the # is used before words or groups of words on a variety of social platforms (such as Twitter, Instagram, and Google+). What makes hashtags really special? They are searchable, clickable, and measurable.

As this triple threat has grown in popularity, so have the numerous ways social sharers choose to utilize the hashtag in their tweets, pins and posts. Some are clever and strategic and worthy of our praise, while others make community managers want to rip those four little lines apart limb from limb, or slash from slash, or whatever.

On that note, let me turn things over to my “umph”-grunting Fellowshipper Ayelet, who is well-known in these parts as our social media & community savant. And I do believe she has something to say on this subject. But never fear – I’ll be back next week with our follow-up post Hashtags: A How-To for Success. Take it away, Ayelet.

Hashtags as Your Ally

Hi everyone! So, #YOLO and #SorryNotSorry aside, hashtags honestly can be a valuable tool in your social media campaigns. Hashtags can do a lot to further your strategies and help you connect with the people you want to build relationships with. In fact, there are a number of benefits to using hashtags.

They Boost Searches on Social Media & Help with Brand Recognition

The number one reason to use hashtags is because they can be used to file and find specific topics that otherwise would be hard to group together on social media. This works in two ways. First, when someone searches for a specific hashtag, all of the conversations and updates that contain that hashtag will show up in the search results. Second, when someone clicks on the hashtag within her news feed, it shows all the conversations that are using that hashtag. Both ways of searching make it easy to group discussions that relate to that hashtag for the person who is interested in it.

Using a hashtag allows you to reach people beyond your current followers but who still share in your interests, which increases your brand’s recognition and awareness among a new, awesome audience.

They Unify an Event or Campaign

Conferences use hashtags to keep track of what’s being said during the conference (often in live tweeting form) and to unify the messages that they’re sending out. When you see a conference hashtag that you know about or are interested in and you see that hashtag used either by the organizer or an excited attendee, you immediately identify with that hashtag and pay closer attention to see what’s new.

For example, MozCon happened recently so my news feed was bombarded with all the great information people were learning at the conference. Because I know it’s an awesome conference, I paid closer attention to the hashtag #mozcon on Twitter and kept up with all the good learning to be had from the conference.

#mozcon posts

Hashtags also make contests possible on social networks where contests are hard to run otherwise. For example, Facebook allows handy third-party apps to manage contests on its network. However, Twitter and Instagram don’t have that capability. So people use hashtags on those platforms to group contest entries together (and to make life as an online contest manager that much easier).

Also, Twitter chats (where people get together to discuss topics through a Q&A-style format on Twitter) would be impossible to do without them – people wouldn’t be able to understand the purpose of the Twitter chat, find the conversation, follow along, or participate in it without hashtags.

hashtag of #cmgrchat Twitter chat

Hashtags also can be used across social networks (with varying degrees of success), which can unify a campaign that runs on different social networks and encourage more interaction. A fan might use the hashtag not just on one network, but maybe two or three of her favorite social networks (especially if she has a strong motivation to do so, like a contest). This would spread your campaign beyond just one platform and let people take the campaign to the social networks where they already interact.

They Help Build a Sense of Community

As I mentioned with the conference example above, when you see news about a conference you’re going to, you pay closer attention. That’s because you’re part of the conference community. Hashtags help bring that community closer on certain social networks by identifying potential friends you haven’t yet met.

Similarly, as we’ve seen with news events around the world, hashtags support activism and knowledge about current events. When you see a hashtag related to a world event popping up more and more in your news feed, you start to wonder what’s going on and seek out additional information about the situation. That is likely to lead to expanding your community to include new people who are equally concerned about the issue. You may even take action on what you learn from each other to help make the situation better.

They Increase Engagement on Social Media

Research shows that hashtags improve engagement on social media (well, only on certain social networks that is). Buffer wrote the book on the science of hashtags, but we can give you a summary of their findings:

  • Tweets with hashtags are more likely to be retweeted.
  • Posts on Instagram with 11+ hashtags (seriously?! I don’t think I even know 11 hashtags) get more interactions.
  • Posts on Facebook that didn’t have a hashtag did better than posts that did (this is not unusual because Facebook predates the use of hashtags and users have been unwilling to adopt them).

Facebook

They Can Be Used as a Trending Tool

You know in high school, when all the cool kids showed up to school wearing striped shirts and pretty soon everyone was wearing striped shirts? If a high school equivalent of Twitter were around, you could monitor the hashtag #stripedshirtsrock (or some such hashtag) and be in the know before the mainstream. Similarly, using a real-time, trending hashtag that’s relevant to your brand could earn you some major wins on social media.

You also can look at trending hashtags as a pattern to help influence and boost future campaigns of yours. For example, if you’re a marketer for a football jersey company, you would want to monitor the hashtags being used around certain teams and then incorporate those hashtags into your social media updates for more exposure.

The screenshot below shows what trending hashtags look like on Twitter (you can find them to the left-hand side of your news feed). The trends change based on what your peers are saying or what you’re interested in (not everyone cares about Denver or Colorado as much as we do since we live here). There are lots of hashtag trending tools  if you’re interested in looking beyond your own trends.

trending twitter hashtags

Hashtags as Your Enemy

But as beneficial as hashtags can be, there also is a sinister side to them. It’s the side that can derail your campaign or strategy the moment you let that hashtag loose. Check yourself to make sure that you’re not falling into any of these hashtag traps.

Are you focusing too much on the wit of your hashtag rather than what it’s supposed to accomplish?

You’re going to run into serious issues if you focus way too much on the hashtag and way too little on your actual strategy. Goals should always come first, always. Remember why you’re using a hashtag  and what that hashtag is doing for your campaign. Make sure that the hashtag complements and furthers your goals. An awesome hashtag is gold, but a solid strategy is priceless. (This point is so vital that we’re going to repeat it again very soon.)

TIP: Beware of premature brainstorming. Don’t start the brainstorming process too soon. Make sure your critical campaign assets (landing page copy, product name or title, etc.) have been developed before you start the wordplay.

Are you hijacking the traffic of a trending hashtag?

Many companies get excited about the conversations that happen on social media when breaking news hits. As it unfolds on social media, the surge in activity and promise of impressions can easily lure companies into jumping on the bandwagon, leaving all of their common sense behind. If you see a trending hashtag and want the extra boost it may give you, think very carefully about it. It’ll work for some situations, but not for all.

klm world cup tweet

For example, during the World Cup, the #NEDMEX was trending and KLM Airlines tweeted the above after the Netherlands beat Mexico. Needless to say, Mexico’s fans did not take kindly to it and there was a huge uproar. The tweet was deleted and you can bet someone got a reprimand… or is looking for a new job.

It’s also common that companies try to ride on the coattails of weather-related and/or sports hashtags and this has backfired dramatically on many brands. Let’s say you’re a sock company and the trending hashtag is about a hurricane. Whatever you do, do not hijack a hurricane hashtag and tweet about how now is a great time to buy new socks because the ones you used to have are being washed away. By doing so, you would be taking advantage of a tragedy to peddle your wares and it will not reflect well on your taste, class, or heart. Go ahead and press that delete key, and then face palm yourself a few times.

Are you using a hashtag that doesn’t convey anything?

Listen, there is an art to hashtag creation. I know because I don’t have it. At Mack Web, we call Rebecca the Hashtag Queen and rightly so. She would never craft and approve a hashtag that was overly vague or too cryptic for anyone to figure out.

You may think your hashtag is creative and expresses your brand perfectly, but your followers may not get it (and that’ll make them feel stupid, which goes against basic social media etiquette). So what’s the test to make sure a hashtag is appropriate for a campaign? Run it by a few people who aren’t overly familiar with the campaign (but are active on social media) and listen to their feedback. Don’t say to yourself, “Oh, they don’t get it, but our followers will.” If they don’t get it, your followers won’t. Get thyself back to the drawing board.

TIP: Don’t be a snob. Let’s be creative, but keep control of those wordsmithing reins. Don’t sacrifice brand recognition or basic understandability for a chance to pat yourself on the back for your amazingly clever wit. If fans don’t get the inside joke, then there’s a disconnect with your community, and that’s no good.

Want more tips like this with a how-to process for your team? Then tune in next week for Part II: A How-To for Hashtag Success.