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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.

Integrated Marketing Measurement: The Story That Proves Your Value

By | Data and Analytics, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | No Comments

Another day, another deck

To the envy of the rest of our Anglophile team, Mack was recently honored with an invitation to speak at SearchLove London.

Which of course, meant it was time to create another spectacular slide deck. (And, y’know, put together a talk to go along with it.)

Mack’s talk addressed one of the pressing difficulties of implementing an integrated marketing strategy: measuring the right things not just to correctly assess your progress but to keep your clients satisfied with that progress and engaged with your strategy. It’s less about what you measure and more how you convey the data: telling the story of how the short-term wins move you down the road toward your longer-term goals.

The result was this deck, as ever a splendid joint creation of Mack, our designer Nat, and the eagle eyes of the rest of the team.

We recommend giving it a gander and, in case you missed Mack’s presentation on  integrated marketing measurement or if you’re in a hurry, keep reading for the highlights.


Key Takeaways

Just because it takes 2-3 years to spiral up the Mountain of Success doesn’t mean that your clients will wait that long for results.

Often the first obstacle we encounter with our clients is convincing them to do their marketing right. They want to parkour their way up the quickest path, taking whatever expedient and dodgy measures necessary to get quick results. Convincing them to take the long-view, spiraling our way up the proper footpath – with brand building and authenticity and putting in the work to build a better business – can be a hard sell.

Slide 5 - The Mountain of Success

And even if they’re willing to do the foundational work that can take 2-3 years to complete, they’re not going to wait that long for results. You have to prove your value long before the 2-3 year mark.

Slide 8 - Prove Value to Build a Brand

And that’s where integrated marketing measurement comes in.


 A side note: The best marketing works from the inside out.

If you’re curious about that 2-3 year span, well…you obviously missed Mack’s presentation at C3 2014, where she went through all the steps and pieces of an integrated marketing strategy and why it works.

The very, very short version is this: the best marketing, the marketing that pulls people in and turns them into brand evangelists, starts by identifying your business’ meaning beyond money, building an entire brand experience around that meaning with every available channel working together, and forging relationships through your authenticity.

Slide 18 - Community and Revenue

 

The slightly longer version can be found in the key takeaways from Mack’s C3 2014 talk, Playing the Long Game: Growing Your Business Through Community and Integrated Marketing.


 Prove your value to your client by telling them the story your data is creating about the progress you’re making toward their goals.

Tracing the path of customer conversions is tricky with an integrated approach. The whole point is to have all the channels working together, giving each customer a multi-channel experience and many levels of persuasion.

Slide 43 - The Path to Conversion

Knowing exactly which piece was the tipping point and how to weigh the value of each piece of the experience is pretty much impossible. So you can’t just use conversions to prove your value to the client. Instead, as Vizzini advises, you have to go back to the beginning.

The first thing you’re going to do when you follow that integrated marketing approach is to identify your clients goals: their overarching vision, the benchmarks for their brand and business along the way, and then the individual campaigns that will push you toward those benchmarks.

Slide 71 - Focus on Goal Progress

Instead of giving them the number of clicks and forms and sessions and all the other KPIs, use the goals as focal points and tell them how much progress you’ve made toward them. They don’t need to know all the number stuff. To the clients, the metrics only mean what you tell them they mean. Distilling all the work and effort that went into earning those numbers into a statistic only diminishes the perceived value of your efforts. So cut that out.

Instead you read the metrics and craft that into a narrative of progress to communicate your value to your client.


 The story is for them, the metrics are for you. Seize opportunities for progress.

But just because you’re not sharing all the nitty-gritty numbers with them doesn’t mean you’re not avidly watching them yourself. Measure the right things, the numbers that actually mean something. When you see something interesting, do something about it. Take note of trends and spikes and patterns and then make a plan of action for further testing or taking advantage of what you’ve noticed.

But here’s the trick, with clients and with an integrated approach: you can’t jump on every little blip, every little opportunity as you see it.

Slide 93 - Not the Shiny Things

When you see and interesting trend or your clients come to you with a brilliant new idea or direction stop and ask: Does this align with our goals? If so, is it urgent? Or can it wait until the next strategy iteration?

If it’s urgent, it’s urgent. If not, keep a running list that will guide your next set of campaigns.


 The nature of integrated marketing makes it difficult to parse the progress for your clients.

Integrated marketing, by its very nature, is difficult to measure. So many pieces working together make it difficult to determine what’s working and what isn’t.

Slide 99 - Nothing works in isolation

So when you get frustrated, here are the things to remember:

  • Everything goes back to your goals.
  • Prove your value with the story your data is telling, not the data itself. (A story about what? That’s right, your goals.)
  • Don’t rest on your laurels: try new tactics and new KPIs. You’ll never see so clearly what works until it’s set next to something that doesn’t.

 Just getting started

As we hinted in our post digesting the C3 2014 slide deck, this topic – of integrated marketing and integrated marketing measurement and integrated marketing with meaning – is our passion.

We will absolutely be talking more about this in days to come. You should probably sign up for our email below, just to make sure you don’t miss anything.

That would be so sad for you.

Putting the ‘Integrated’ into Integrated Marketing Strategy

By | Building Community, Events, Web Marketing | No Comments

Mack was recently asked to speak at C3 2014, a marketing conference hosted by Conductor.

It’s not a surprise to us that they requested that she speak on the topic of community. Our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities made quite a splash when we launched it a year ago and Mack (and, consequently, the whole Mack Web Team) is well-known for being passionate on this topic.

Never one to disappoint, Mack did talk about community. In fact, her talk was called “Growing Your Business Through Community and Integrated Marketing.” (See, community is in the title and everything.) But, in true Mack Web fashion, she didn’t focus on fuzzy or fluffy talk of singing Kumbaya and/or bribing people to be your friends. She came out with a practical, actionable approach and process for building the necessary groundwork to grow an authentic community.

In other words: building a better business, one soul-searching, thought-provoking, hard-working step at a time.

Build a better business, attract a community.

Here, in its entirety, is her beautiful deck from that talk, lovingly crafted by Mack and our genius designer Natalie and then cruelly nitpicked to death by the rest of the team.

 

But if you’re in a hurry, keep reading for the highlights.


Key Takeaways

Building a community is how you perform well online. Building a better business is how you attract a community.

Community is what you need to make your marketing sing: actual human people sharing and disseminating your content, promoting your brand, buying and recommending your stuff, both online and in person.

Marketing is building a better business.

You attract people by building a better business from the inside out. You find something authentic and meaningful at the core of your company and build your business around that. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be real. That special something is what will draw your audience near and give them something to tell their friends about you.


Sustainable marketing results demand an integrated marketing strategy.

An integrated approach means you build a cross-channel marketing experience which will attract both the right people and revenue. It means that no matter where a consumer comes in contact with your brand (on- or offline), you’re living up to (or exceeding) their expectations.

An integrated marketing strategy uses all channels.

An integrated process is an agile way to create and maintain momentum in your marketing efforts. It puts the focus on accomplishing real-world goals so that you’re doing the right things (not just the shiny things) to move your business forward.

Integrated results look at the what all of your channels have achieved together, not just individually, over the long-haul. These results are an indication that you’re doing the right things in the short term to accomplish the big things in the long-term.


Your integrated marketing strategy starts with who you are and what you want to achieve.

Before you do anything else, figure out your company’s meaning: why, beyond making money, does your company exist? What is your authentic passion? This is how you will form a meaningful connection with your audience.

An integrated marketing strategy builds an experience and relationships.

Then figure out your goals; they will drive everything else you do. (These are goals for your whole business, not just your marketing, by the way.) There are three levels: visionary, business & brand, and campaign goals. Your campaign goals help you achieve your business & brand goals which, in turn, feed into your big, overarching visionary goal.


Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s time for action.

Start your 90-day integrated marketing strategy cycle by figuring out what is most important. What needs to be done first to set out towards your business & brand and visionary goals? Look at your audience, the current state of your brand, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you match up to the competition.

When you know what your priorities are, start planning tactical campaigns to reach them. And this is where that word “integrated” really comes into play. Make sure you’re looking at all channels (content, search, social media, email, outreach), at efforts both on- and offline.

Then, y’know, do the stuff.


Build agility into the process and factor momentum into your planning.

Be prepared to assess every 30 days and change direction as needed. Measurement is not enough. You must be prepared to respond with action.

At 60 days, start looking forward: what is your next 90-day strategy going to hold? What are your priorities? How is your progress toward those goals of yours? By the time your first 90 days are up, you’re ready for the next. And you’re not starting from scratch. You’re simply continuing the momentum you’ve got going.

An integrated marketing strategy means you always have momentum and a plan.


Sorry, kids. We’re in it for the long haul.

An integrated marketing strategy can deliver amazing results, but it takes time, it takes one-on-one effort, it takes passion, and it takes authenticity.


More to Come

As part of mastering this process, you’ll need to understand how to effectively communicate the value of an integrated approach. Mack continues the conversation with her presentation from SearchLove London: The Measurement Behind Your Integrated Marketing Strategy.

Hungry for more? Never fear: the idea of an integrated marketing strategy for building a better business as a true, sustainable method for growing an online community is something Mack Web will be talking about more and more in the coming days.

Curious? Want more? You should definitely sign up for our e-news so that any updates will come directly to you. (It’s super easy.)

You could also download the infamous guide itself and find out more that way.

What do you think?

The Importance of Company Culture from the Inside Out

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Web Marketing | 4 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

At the beginning of last summer I quit my job at Walther’s Golf & Fun to move to Fort Collins, CO. I’d been working there for almost ten years. I wasn’t even old enough to drive myself to my very first shift.

Walther’s was a big metal building on the north side of town with indoor and outdoor miniature golf courses, a Lazer Tag arena, a full cafe, and over 50 arcade games. What I liked most about that place wasn’t the unlimited free lazer tag or the or the discount on pizza and mozzarella sticks, but rather all of the fun times with my co-workers and the irreplaceable memories made.

Walthers

Mack has a saying (well, she has a lot of them, but one specifically that relates to this post): Culture is the heartbeat of a company. And I realize how true this is – the importance of genuine company culture – more and more everyday. The heartbeat keeps blood and oxygen circulating in the body. Culture drives everything a company does.

It’s both intensely personal and completely obvious. Your culture is unique to you and if it’s healthy, you thrive. And that vitality attracts people who align with the culture. It draws them in and keeps them coming back.

Any company that can earn a decade’s worth of loyalty has this kind of culture. Though we always called it Walther’s for short, Fun is in the name of the company, and there’s a reason why. It’s what keeps the company alive and drives everything they do. It’s their heartbeat.

At Walther’s, we had permission and encouragement from upper-management to have a lot of fun, all the time. If we were having fun, then that meant our customers could have fun. If we were bored, well, our customers probably wouldn’t enjoy their visit quite as much. Sometimes this looked like a quick demonstration at the prize counter of how a sticky hand or slap bracelet worked. Sometimes it meant letting the employees stay late after the building closed to play our favorite arcade games or a round of employee-only all-building lazer tag. Of course no job is perfect, but for the most part we all loved coming to work because we knew we were going to have a great time while we were there. And because of that, our customers had a great time too.

This culture-from-within concept worked really well at Walther’s. As employees, we were having such a fun time and believed so fully that Walther’s was a fun place to be that we ensured that our customers were having fun, too. When the core values of a company are sincerely embraced by everyone inside the company, it becomes much easier to reflect those values outward.

It’s a real world thing and it happens all the time

Two companies letting their heartbeats shine bright to their customers are WestJet and TD Bank. Both companies pull off pretty clever campaigns that seem to come from a place of genuine authenticity. A little research shows that their inspiration is rooted deep in their respective company cultures.

Let’s start with Canadian airline West Jet:

This Christmas Miracle makes two things very apparent:

First, their company culture goes beyond good service. WestJet might be a terrific, affordable, safe, and on-time airline, but they don’t think that’s enough. Richard Bartrem, VP of Communications for WestJet, in his explanation of why they put together this Christmas Miracle, says that their company culture is all about being fun, friendly, and caring. He says they’re always full of surprises, and that’s part of what makes them fun. They believe in magic. That’s what they wanted to share with their guests and YouTube visitors. This fun, friendly, and caring spirit is the heartbeat which drives everything they do.

Roald Dahl

WestJet showed their true dedication to their cause in the way they gave thought to each individual customer (or ‘guest’, as WestJet calls them). They could have chosen to give every guest Christmas cash or a free flight voucher, but instead they took the time to ask what it was that each individual guest really wanted. It was all about making people smile, all about that moment when the boy says, “NO WAY!” That’s their caring heartbeat shining through.

A culture this strong starts at home, with the very top-dogs of the company who fully believe in it. WestJet takes good care of their employees who all participate in profit sharing and are offered ownership in the company. It’s where they get their “owners care” slogan. (And if you needed another example of their culture, check out the material they’ve put together for shareholder meetings: such as this video showing what “owners carereally means.) And, being so well taken care of themselves, the WestJet employees take good care of their guests in their turn. The 150+ employees who helped put together the Christmas Miracle were all volunteers. This kind of campaign comes from within; it’s who they are and the proof is in the figgy pudding.

Speaking of surprising your customers with something extra special, have you seen TD Bank’s #TDThanksYou campaign?

Automatic Thanking Machines (ATMs), such a genius idea for a bank. And what an amazingly thoughtful and go-the-extra-mile type of thing to do.

No surprise, this is what TD Bank is all about: being considerate and caring, putting people at the forefront of everything they do. “Banking human” is what they like to call it. Their selfless gestures range from small to grand, from staying open late to thanking ATMs.

throw kindness around like confetti

Just like with WestJet, all of this started in-house. TD’s employees are at the very center and the culture they live day-in and day-out is what drove this campaign. How else do you think the thanking machine would have known that Michael was a huge Blue Jay’s fan or that Dorthy’s only daughter, who lives in Trinidad, just had surgery and could use a visit from her mom who’s never been able to make it out?

TD’s employees listen to their customers. They have really taken the time and made an effort to get to know their guests individually. It’s the human thing again, building relationships with other humans. It’s why people love to go there, to that specific bank, over all of the other banking options.

Remember: It starts on the inside, at the very core, then works its way outwards

You can have the most creative campaigns in the world, but if people realize it’s not who you really are, they won’t stick around. People crave authenticity, especially in this day and age when it’s so easy to hide behind the Internet like a mask. Your campaigns must be deeply rooted in every aspect of who you are.

All of this is kind of how my role at Mack Web came to be. Mack cares a great deal about our culture, and truly being who we say we are and who we want to be. Kid you not, it’s half of our performance review.

One of these things we very much care about is people: being humans among humans (human-centric, as we say), connecting and fostering relationships. It’s our whole approach to customer service and how we do marketing, and, well, pretty much everything we do.

My tenure at Mack Web started off by solely helping Mack as her assistant. Mack was losing her mind trying to juggle everything and the whole team was feeling it. Before they could even think of serving the clients they had, they needed to take care of the team first, and that started with Mack.

Maybe I wasn’t the most practical hire for a team that really needed a Director of Client Strategy (don’t worry, we later got that dude too). But they decided that looking after the people on our team was the utmost priority.

My job was to alleviate some of the day-to-day tasks of running a business, like managing her schedule and keeping the oh-so-treasured snack cabinet fully stocked. Taking weight off of her shoulders a few days each week would provide her some extra time in her schedule and the head space to stay focused on our company and clients.

Snack fairy

Once I was there to take the edge off Mack’s crazy, the team started to realize what a difference it made having me around (and not just because I introduced them to gummy bunnies, which are way better than gummy bears). Thus being Mack’s assistant and only taking care of her turned into full blown Team Support.

I still help keep the boss sane, but I also make sure the rest of the team is fully supported too, ricocheting back and forth from person to person and task to task depending on what the needs of that day or week or month may be. My job’s nickname is Rubber Cement, because I can bounce around easily, but I still help hold everything (read: everyone) together.

My role is important not only in the practical aspects but also in the way the Mack Web team reflects our brand: How could we claim to care about the real people on the other side of the screen if we didn’t take care of the real people on our side of the screen? Helping our clients build and foster relationships always starts by taking care of our own on the inside.

But PS: it’s also not always the happy stuff and it’s not always easy

As great as that sounds, there’s a hard truth we haven’t discussed yet which is this: creating and cultivating your company culture isn’t all about playing Santa and sending people to Trinidad and making sure the snack cabinet is correctly stocked.

Preserving company culture takes A LOT of hard work. It’s not easy. And it’s not always fun.

Sometimes this not-always-happy-side of culture involves letting people go because they’re not a culture fit. Because if they stick around and they don’t have the same heartbeat as you, it will destroy your company from the inside out.

Sometimes it means saying no to a potential client because you know that they don’t value the same stuff as you do. Sometimes it means waiting patiently for the best thing instead of what’s easiest, fastest, or cheapest.

One of the not-so-sunshiney sides of our culture at Mack Web is Conflict and Commit. Mack doesn’t let us back down from this difficult side of our culture. We have to be willing to have conflicts with each other. We bring it up with someone when something rubs us the wrong way or is making our job more difficult. Then we commit to finding a solution together. In the end our team is stronger and more unified, rather than a bundle of seething resentment and neuroses.

kitten hug

I’ve been on the flip side of this before, the lack of a steady heartbeat, and it’s not enjoyable. You can have the flexible work schedule, casual dress code, and coffee bar in your office building (which unfortunately is sometimes all that people count as “company culture”), but all of it amounts to nothing and it’s only a matter of time before it comes crashing down if the beat that drives your company isn’t strong and distinct enough to be felt by your people.

This is the ultimate way to check the authenticity of your brand: do your employees naturally adopt the characteristics you brag about on your website? Is your internal culture a healthy point of origin for the customer experience you want to provide?

Before coming to Mack Web, I’d seen both sides of it: excellent culture and terrible culture and I knew which one I wanted to find. It was important that I find a place with a company culture consistent with the core values they claimed. A place that would be around for a while and that I would want to stay in for as long as it was. Just like the employees of WestJet and TD Bank, I recognized the heart that beat in time with my own.

That’s why I tell Mack all the time how thankful I am to be a part of this place and especially how thankful I am that she fights really hard to keep it this way. She doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and she works hard to preserve all of the good stuff. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.

My Mack Web hoodie is just a bonus.

Officially a part of team awesome

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?

Quest-Post

Conversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

By | Building Community, Data and Analytics, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | 5 Comments

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where it’s immediately obvious that the only thing the client cares about is leads, conversions, or sales. Hey, I get that. They want to improve their business. We want to help them build a better business. We’re on the same page there.

But focusing on conversions – and conversions alone – isn’t helping a business get any better for a few reasons. First, focusing on the number of conversions ignores a lot of the work that goes into setting the stage for those conversions, drawing people to the brand. Like integrated marketing. Using all the channels together to keep your strategy in sync and make sure the right people are becoming aware of you. These efforts aren’t as easy to express as conversions, but they are worthwhile. Without these efforts, conversion rate suffers… a lot.

diasppointed turtle

Second, the conversion-only focus means you (or more likely your staff, under pressure to perform for conversions alone) neglect your higher level goals (you know, the ones that move you toward a better business and not just a better income). Again, those higher level goals might not come wrapped up in one simple number, which can be presented to superiors. However, they are just as important to moving your business forward.

If we had only focused on how many conversions (in this case, how many clients we signed) we received from our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities and neglected to look at our integrated marketing efforts and all they accomplished along the way, we would have felt like we failed.

If we only looked at new client conversions alone, we would be missing the more important, bigger picture of everything we achieved. When we took the time to analyze our efforts, we realized we accomplished so much more than signing on new clients. And we saw our success in a whole lot of different places. Read on for our very own study on measuring integrated marketing efforts.

The What, Why, & How of Our Community Building Guide

The What

Over 10 months ago, we released our Community Building Guide. We affectionately nicknamed this 147-page guide Arthur. The guide itself is an ode to why and how to build communities online.

The Why

Arthur sprang up out of our need to talk about the benefits of online community building to anyone who would listen. No, really, we are passionate about building communities (it worked so well for us) and we wanted to share this love with the world (it can work well for others, too).

In addition to our desire to share our community-building knowledge with the world, we had goals for the company. As a brand, we wanted to continue to earn and enhance our reputation for thought leadership in our community and the industry it serves. As a benchmark for that, we set the goal of 8,000 downloads of the guide by the end of 2014. We also set a business goal of increasing leads. We had no idea that launching this guide would do so much more than that.

The How

Here’s the first twist in measuring the results of a single piece of content when you’re Mack Web. We’re strong proponents of integrated marketing so nothing exists in a vacuum. We know our goals are better met if we put all available outreach channels to their best use.

Now to go back to Arthur specifically: take a look at all of our community building guide efforts in visual form first so you can be truly and properly overwhelmed. Then, we’ll get into the bits & pieces.

all the things for the guide

Pre-Guide Release

Here’s everything we did before the guide was even released:

  • We created a signup page for people if they wanted to get the guide right when it came out.  We used Launchrock to collect the email addresses and we highly recommend it.
  • We organized a Google+ Hangout with some excellent community building panelists in our industry two weeks prior to the guide’s launch.
  • We made five videos to promote the guide before it came out and to build some momentum. The videos provided lots of good tidbits about building community. We structured them as bite-sized teasers to the guide to inform and inspire people thinking about building online communities.
  • We sent out six pre-launch emails that shared value with our community and were related to our other efforts.
  • We wrote seven blog posts related to the guide and efforts surrounding it.
  • On social media, we made sure everyone and their brother knew that we had a guide coming out. And then we told everyone again.
During Release

And here’s what we did (mostly on the day of the release):

  • We released news about the guide on the blog, on our site, and via email to those who had signed up ahead of time and those already on our email list.
  • We contacted friends and peers in the industry to help spread the word about the release.
  • We promoted the guide on social media and to our community.
  • We celebrated and worked together that morning (our war room was filled to the brim with fruit, breakfast burritos, other delights, and snacks). This was a very important part of our launch.
Post-Guide Release

We didn’t leave it at that – here’s what we’ve done since the guide was released:

  • We asked for feedback about the guide via email and on social media.
  • Mack did a webinar based on the guide .
  • Mack spoke at WistiaFest and State of Search about the video series we did for Arthur.
  • Mack also wrote on Moz about 5 strategic steps to big content, stemming from our experience with the community building guide.
  • We promoted these spawn of Arthur via email, on the blog, and on social media.
  • And we’ve got a secret project in the works related to Arthur. No, you can’t bribe us for more information with gummy bears. We’ve got morals, people.

Now that you’ve got a bit of background about the tactics we used, you’ve probably reached two conclusions. First, we must have gotten a million new customers. Second, figuring out how many of those millions was a direct result of the guide would be pretty much impossible. Well, you’re right about the second one (coming up soon). As for the first conclusion… yeah, not so much.

The Results of Arthur Alone

Conversions

We can count the number of conversions of new clients we received off of our guide on one finger. Approximately 3 months after Arthur launched, we signed a client because they had read our guide.

You read that right. One. Single. Client. Un cliente. Ein Client. Great result for all that work, right?

But here’s where I’m going to blow your mind. That’s only an embarrassing result if all we cared about was the conversion rate of clients. Lucky for us (and our egos), we had a ton of other results from this guide that we’re proud of.

Inbound Links

The guide received 373 total inbound links since it launched in October 2013. Influential sites like Moz, Inbound, Conductor, and Wistia all linked to the guide, substantially increasing its reach. Most of those links were thanks to friendships we had made in the industry waaaaaayyyyyyy before the guide was even a twinkle in the Mack Web team’s collective eye. That’s the kind of groundwork that’s hard to measure and hard to do, but gives indisputable value.

And then, because the guide was full of so much good stuff, it earned even more links all by itself. That’s value we can’t even begin to attach a number to.

Guide Downloads & Pre-Guide Signups

Before the guide was launched, we had 350 signups from people who wanted to receive word when the guide launched. Within 30 days of launch, we had 1,250 downloads. As of July 2014, we’d reached  more than 5,500 guide downloads (just 9 months). We’re well on our way to reach 8,000 downloads by December 31st (I wouldn’t bet against us if I were you).

The number of downloads is a valuable metric for us. Each time a person downloads our guide and reads it, that’s one chance for us to convince someone of the value in building an online community. And once they’re convinced of that value, they often share the guide with their friends,  which expands the reach of our brand. As a bonus, the social proof offered by their willingness to share the guide builds trust in our brand as people come to know us as the folks who know what they’re talking about in terms of building communities.

The Results of Arthur as an Integrated Marketing Campaign

Those results above are just the ones directly related to the guide. We look at the community building guide as just one part of our march towards inevitable integrated and digital marketing greatness. And in the time since launching Arthur, we’ve made great strides forward.

The Full Story on Conversions

Let me go back real quick to the conversion. The best part about signing on a client because of the guide was that the client fully understood who we were and the value we bring to the table. Our guide did all of the work and we are now basking in the glory of a client who is in sync with our community building passion.

Leads

In March 2013, right around when we started the earliest pre-launch promotion efforts for Arthur, we were averaging 3-5 leads/month. Arthur was launched in October 2013. As of July 2014, we’re averaging approximately 20-25 leads/month. Conservatively speaking, that’s a 300% increase in leads.

arthur leads pre and post guide

Email Marketing

Our email list increased by 50% year over year (2012 vs. 2013). Once the community building guide was released, we started to see all kinds of organic email subscriptions.

Social Media & Community Building

Conversation, Amplification, & Applause

We’ve made solid growth on social media in our amplification, conversation, and follower count.

total applause amplification conversation fans_pre and post guide

Sessions & Pageviews from Social Media Referral Traffic

I like looking at how Arthur affected social media referral traffic. We saw awesome growth in our referral traffic sessions (what Google Analytics now calls visits) and pageviews from Twitter.

pageview referrals from Twitter

session referrals twitter

The other social channels also performed really well.

linkedin slideshare youtube referral sessions

Speaking & Blogging Gigs

In the 3 months after the launch of the guide, Mack was invited to speak at SearchFest and Conductor’s C3 conference. The guide helped give Mack a little bit of extra awesomeness (like she needs it).

mack

Site Traffic

New vs. Returning Visits

These metrics show us that not only are more people who’ve never heard of us coming to our site, but also that people who have heard about us are coming back for more.

new and returning visitors

Organic Search Traffic

We saw a 145% increase in organic search traffic in the 3 months after the guide launch (compared to the 3 months before the launch). And at the time of the launch, that meant more people were coming to our site than ever before. Woo hoo!

organic search traffic change 3 months pre and post arthur

Session (or Visit) Duration & Total Sessions

Session duration increased 8% (comparing 9 months pre- and post-Arthur) and we had 55% more sessions after the guide was launched (same time period). So not only are we getting more traffic to our site, but now they’re staying longer, too.

total sessions pre and post arthur updated

The Mitigating Factors

Are you thoroughly and undeniably impressed? All of that was a huge boost to our presence on the web, the awareness of our brand, and the respect in which our knowledge is held. We also want to acknowledge that a) just because we only signed one client directly from Arthur doesn’t mean we didn’t sign other clients in the intervening months and b) we are insanely selective about our clients, which is why more of those leads haven’t turned into clients.

And yet, Arthur was not the impetus for all those results. Because as the guide launched and lived on, we did not sit idle.

We launched a new website that more effectively communicated what we actually did. We started to get more qualified leads for our business. We became more strategic about our blog posts.

And as is fitting in a company that believes in building communities, we made more connections on social media and offline. We experimented with our email marketing and email subscription efforts. Mack keeps getting more speaking and blogging opportunities. Our processes are becoming tighter and even more integrated. We’ve found more llama images than when we wrote the guide. Sure, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but our team is in better shape than ever.

All of which is to say that, though Arthur undoubtedly played a huge role in the results of the year here at Mack Web, we don’t actually know how huge that role was (because of all the things). Which leads to one natural conclusion.

My Conclusion: Measuring the Effects of Truly Integrated Marketing is Hard

When you do a lot of things, it isn’t always clear what results can be attributed to what action. Arthur achieved a lot, but so did all our other integrated marketing efforts in the year. Because all these efforts played off each other as well, the data becomes even more entangled, harder to attribute, and skewed.

The important thing is that we’re reaching our goals, and not just with Arthur. With everything we do now, have done in the past, and will do in the future.

The Solution

If I told you I had the solution right now on how to best measure integrated marketing efforts, you’d probably give me a million bucks. Sorry, I have no such thing.

However, here are a few things that I advise you to remember and remind your clients or superiors along the way:

1. Assign specific KPIS to your goals, meaning all goals, not just business goals.

Conversion rate will only get you so far (and mainly it just works to make marketing look like a total loser. Which it isn’t. Anyone tells you otherwise, you send them to us. We’ll straighten them out.)

Think through key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics thoroughly, and take baseline measurements before you start your efforts. It’ll make your life infinitely easier in the long run, but it still won’t make it a cakewalk (mmm, cake).

2. Look at the long-term data.

So what if your campaign only lasted 3 months? You should still look at year over year data because it gives you an excellent baseline to show how much progress you’re making. Sure, it’s difficult to directly attribute specific successes to specific campaigns, but long-term data makes the results of all your efforts wonderfully obvious.

3. Educate your clients/higher ups on the the importance of meaningful goals (beyond conversion rate).

Remind them you can’t increase conversions without increasing brand awareness, establishing an online and social media presence, and building community.  Integrated marketing efforts are more than just stepping stones to more sales or leads. The broad-reaching and foundational goals they achieve – such as brand awareness and online community – are both vital to higher conversion rates for your digital marketing and valuable in their own right.

Questions, comments, suggestions, congratulations? We’ll accept all of those things (but especially the latter) in the comments below.

Solving Operational Challenges with Four Helpful Lists

By | Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Miscellany, Web Marketing | 3 Comments

I remember leaving the hospital with my daughter Ryan just a few days after she was born. She was my first child and Jon and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing. But still I was released from the hospital with a tiny, helpless infant. No quick-start guide. No instructions. No nurse in tow.

mack holding ryan hospital

Fast forward 6 years. Ryan is growing and so is Mack Web. As with my lack of innate skills as a mom, I’m no natural born entrepreneur. I’m just a rookie with no formal business training who’s learned everything about building this company from the kindness of mentors, books, blog posts, and trial by fire.

Sometimes I’ve managed to stockpile the right info to help me handle a rising situation like a champ. But more often than not, just like with raising the kids, I have to stumble through it. Somehow, I manage to make it to the other side, failing faster every time, emerging with more hard-won character.

As I pocket this wisdom along my business-rearing journey, I am slowly gaining contrast and clarity. Agility. Experience even. I’m still pretty much writing the Mack Web manual as I go. But sometimes I am gifted with tools along the way.

Most recently, there’s a simple exercise that has been helping us solve some common operational challenges:

  • How do we do stuff better?
  • How do we resolve gaps in communication and collaboration with the team and our clients?
  • Who do we hire next?

For the last year, Mack Web has been working with a Strat Ops facilitator to help us set goals, initiatives, and move the company forward. She introduced us to an exercise called Four Helpful Lists and lately it’s been working like a charm.

We’ve applied the Four Helpful Lists exercise to every one of the challenges above (which I will provide in detail below). The great thing about it is that the outcome isn’t just a list of problems. It’s a conversation of solutions. So instead of spending thirty minutes talking about all the things in a situation that are broken, we’re focusing on how we’re going to fix it. It provides us with a place from which we can take action.

How it Works

Below I’ve provided some specific examples of how we’ve used this tool at Mack Web, but first, here’s how you would run Four Helpful Lists:

1. Assemble Your Team for 30 minutes
Depending on the challenge you’re looking to address, you’ll want to invite a few key people on your team who are directly involved or affected by the issue. We’ve had success with just 3 of us, or even 10  in the room at once. We try to keep these meetings really focused at 30 minutes.

2. Get a Whiteboard
On a whiteboard, or one of those big wall post-its, make 4 columns; one with each of these questions:

  • What’s right?
  • What’s wrong?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s confused?

3. Pose a Question
This is the prompt that gets the conversation of solutions going and the way you frame the question is one of the most critical steps of this exercise. You’ll need to pose the question so that your team can get to the underlying issue. So for example, if we’re using this tool to determine who we’re going to hire next, I wouldn’t ask, “Who are we going to hire next?” Instead, I would ask, “How is the team functioning?” You’ve got to frame your question in such a way that the four lists (what’s right, wrong, missing, and confused) make sense as a reply.

4. Fill out the Stuff
Then, under each column, ask your team to contribute the answers related to the question you’ve posed; the situation or challenge you’re working to resolve.

It’s great if you can start with what’s right? as that will help you to avoid a gripe session. And then, as you move along to the rest of the columns, avoid putting everything into the what’s wrong? column. Really think through what belongs in the what’s missing? column (like things related to systems, processes, tools, resources, communication, trust) that could be the root cause of the issue. And many times, what’s confused? will be things related to communication and expectations (that haven’t been properly addressed).

5. Identify and Prioritize Places of Action
After you’ve exhausted your lists, now go back and look for patterns and places of action under each column.

I’ll go into more detail on this in the examples below, but you’ll notice that there are things in each column that will relate to each other or the same root cause. So circle those (and perhaps draw lines or arrows to connect them). Then prioritize those items. Will you need to address and resolve something on your list before you can address another? If so, number them accordingly.

6. Assign Tasks
Now that you know what needs to be addressed and in what order, determine the next steps and assign tasks (and due dates) to the members of your team. Designate a follow-up date for getting the stuff done, and have one person in the group be the facilitator (to keep everyone accountable for their deliverables).

We run this exercise quite often. And now that we know the power of it, we are starting to recognize when exactly we need it. Mostly it’s when we  find ourselves stuck . Either we’re frustrated with a problem that keeps resurfacing in different forms, or we’ve done the same thing the same way for several times and realize that we’re still not getting a different result.

For us, Four Helpful Lists resolves so many challenges that anytime we’re feeling angst about anything: a process, a common client deliverable, a team member, or even a client, we use this tool.

The great thing about the Four Helpful Lists in action is that, regardless of the problem you’re trying to solve, you never come away empty handed.

Here’s what I mean.

Four Helpful Lists for Doing Stuff Better

There’s a whole lot of stuff we’re handling every day at Mack Web. And because we’re working with a small (but mighty) team, we are continuously looking for ways to be more efficient and, certainly, more effective.

Lately (and by lately I mean for almost a year), we’ve been working on improving our reporting. Not only do we spend a great deal of time on them, but they’re too long and they don’t communicate our value to our clients as clearly as we’d like. After the reports had gone through their most recent evolution, we decided to determine how to make them even better using Four Helpful Lists.

So when the team got together, the question posed was:

How do we make our reports better?

4-helpful-lists-a

What’s right?
The team had a few positive things to say about how we had been currently communicating value in our reports. We were getting better at identifying the metrics that really mattered for each client,  the way we were presenting the information was easier to digest, and the collaboration among the team was helping us to take action on the data that we were collecting. Lots of good progress had been made in the recent months and certainly over the last year.

What was wrong?
The biggest problem is that we were pretty sure our clients weren’t reading them. To make matters worse, we were spending a significant amount of the team’s time each month preparing these reports (even though we were learning a great deal from them). We were also finding some hangups with data collection and the automation of that process. Especially for social media.

What was missing?
What we realized was that we needed to have a conversation with our clients about what was most useful to them in the reports we provided. We were making all kinds of assumptions about what we thought they cared about, but we had not taken the time to verify their expectations. We wanted to make sure we guide them with the most important data (vs. just showing them metrics like follower count), but what do they really want to see?

We also had not asked our respected colleagues what their challenges were with reporting and how they had resolved them. Do they provide a one-page report or is it 20?  Do they hold a meeting to discuss the data, or just send it via email with key takeaways? Maybe they would have some great ways of presenting important data to their clients that we could learn from. They also might have some automation tool suggestions that would help save some time collecting and aggregating all of the data.

We realized that we had a ton of information that was missing which meant we had a place to start filling in the holes.

What was confused?
We definitely knew that our reporting process could use some work. And as we had defined in the missing column, we really needed to get to the heart of what our clients were expecting. Ultimately, could we really say, without a doubt, that what we were providing in our reports was valuable to our clients? Having all of this confused meant we definitely had some work to do, which means we knew where to take action.

Prioritizing and Taking Action
So once we worked through each list, there was a lot that we needed to focus on. We identified the most important of the items that were wrong, missing, and confused. Some of those were related to other items so we matched those up.  If we prioritized the core of those issues, we would essentially be solving the others, so we assigned action items from those.

We knew that our first and most important priority was to talk to our clients, so we circled that and identified it as #1. There were a few items in other columns that were related, so we matched those up, circled them, and drew connecting arrows.

Simultaneously we knew we could ask our colleagues about their reporting processes and also what tools they were using to automate the data (so we prioritized that as #2). Ideally, we would have feedback both from our clients and our colleagues around the same time and then we’d have our next action steps.

4-helpful-lists-b

Over the next several weeks, the team will work individually on their assigned tasks and report to the person we designated to keep everyone accountable. When we meet as a team at Strat Ops in the late fall, the team will communicate how they’ve decided to move forward in our reporting based on what they found and the action they took after we ran Four Helpful Lists.

Four Helpful Lists for Communication and Collaboration

This tool has worked so well for the Mack Web team that we’ve even used it with our clients. We run a pretty collaborative environment around here and require a whole lot of integration with our clients’ teams. Sometimes there are breakdowns in the communication and collaboration between our teams so we need to figure out why we’re having trouble getting on the same page.

After we’ve worked through the execution of the first strategy with a client, we use Four Helpful Lists to get to the root of any roadblocks we may have stumbled across.

Running the Four Helpful Lists exercise works best when everyone is in the same room, but since our clients aren’t in Fort Collins, we improvise with a Google+ Hangout and a Google spreadsheet.

4-helpful-lists-c

Our team in Fort Collins still works through each list with our client, but because it’s difficult for them to read our whiteboard from the other side of the web cam, we send a Google spreadsheet before we start the exercise. As we run down each list, we take notes in the spreadsheet so that our client can see what’s being written on the whiteboard as it’s being written. Once the exercise is over, we send a photo of the whiteboard to the client.

Using this tool, even just with the Mack Web team, requires a sometimes-uncomfortable level of honesty about what isn’t working. Using it with a client requires a lot of bravery. If we’re not willing to conflict and commit to get to the root of the problem, we’ll never be able to start working together toward a solution.

It should be pretty simple to identify where to take action based on the results of the Four Helpful Lists exercise. Especially when using Four Helpful Lists with clients, we are very diligent about assigning action items. We are specific about what the action items are and which team is taking action so that a solution can actually come to fruition.

Four Helpful Lists for Hiring

One of the  most significant challenges that Four Helpful Lists has solved at Mack Web is hiring.  As our team has grown, it has been difficult to prioritize who we need to hire next. We’re not a funded company, so we hire as we have the revenue to support new team members. Many times we have the resources just to fund one position, so it’s really important that we choose wisely.

Earlier this year we had an unexpected change in the members of our team. So before hiring to replace for that exact role, we took a step back to determine what the company really needed. We got the whole team together to hash out Four Helpful Lists.

But instead of asking the team, “Hey, who do you think we should hire next?” we addressed the question: How is the team functioning?

Once we completed the exercise, we noticed that, despite the departure of a Strategist, it wasn’t a lack of strategy that was missing on our team. It was the time spent on grinder tasks that was slowing down existing key personnel.

What we needed to do was pull weight off of some of our existing team members so that they could have some headspace. Giving them this much needed room would allow them to operate in a more strategic frame of mind. This would help them get out of the weeds a bit, really benefit our clients, and help bridge the gap to our next hire.

After compiling all the items from the wrong, missing, and confused lists, we were able to define a new role: Team Support .  We could see that we needed more than just one person to take on all of the tasks in this new support position, but we determined that some of those efforts could be outsourced as we acquired the revenue for the additional person.

support-role

Over the last six months this decision to hire a Team Support person rather than another Strategist has really paid off. Within weeks of the hire, the team was quickly rebounding from hurdles that we had been stuck on for months. Using this role to take away some of the team’s stress has helped us to be more connected and collaborative than ever. It has pushed us forward with great momentum and we’re well on our way to our next hires (which we will determine by running Four Helpful Lists).

Give it a Try, Kids

If I’ve learned anything about being a mom and running Mack Web it’s that I almost  never have the answer. And sometimes, that can feel pretty paralyzing. Four Helpful Lists gives us a place to start and also puts the responsibility on the team (and not just me). It’s a really simple tool for figuring out what’s not serving us well and what we all need to do to make it different.

Give it a try with your team and let me know how it goes.

An Integrated Approach to Video (Mack’s Slide Deck from #WistiaFest)

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

An Integrated Approach to Strategy

Video is an incredibly powerful tool that is integral to creating a connection with your customers. But it takes a whole lot of channels and a whole lot of effort —in addition to video—to build your brand and your community and to accomplish goals for your business.

Like social media, email marketing, search, other forms of content, and offline efforts, video is just one tool that needs to fit into a larger marketing strategy.

This slide deck is a case study of the first time that Mack Web used video in our integrated marketing strategy. Inside you will find our roadmap. Our process. What we actually did: the goals we set, the strategy we followed, what we measured, and how it all turned out in the end.

(Feel free to walk through the deck yourself – it’s pretty self-explanatory – or have Mack walk you through it by watching the video of her WistiaFest talk.)

The Videos

If you’d like to see the actual videos that we created, take a peek at these. Each video provides a community building tip and a little Mack Web personality. Creating the videos this way really helped us to build brand awareness and a connection with our audience and to earn sign-ups for our community building guide:

Why Build a Community

Building Community Takes Personality

Building Community is a Team Effort

Make Friends with Other Communities

Our Guide to Building Online Communities is Finally Here

But Wait, There’s More

If you really want to experience the power of video, check out these speaker intros that Wistia created for each of the speakers at #WistiaFest. What a great way to honor each speaker and raise the energy level in the room before taking the stage.

I bet you can’t name anything that rhymes with Fogelson.

 

How to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

By | Miscellany, Social Media, Web Marketing | 11 Comments

Mack Web is  now Genuinely. Learn more.

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You’ve decided to do a Hangout on Air for yourself or your brand. Great idea! They’re a lot of fun and can help you provide value to your fans and solidify relationships within the industry. They also can make you want to pull your hair out.

oh no i've gone cross-eyed

That’s why I created this checklist with all the things that you want to do when you’re planning your Hangout on Air. This’ll take you from A to Z in chronological order, with a few side trips in between.

To get you pumped and ready to go, here’s an overview of the steps:

  1. Install G+ Hangouts plugin and make sure Hangouts are enabled
  2. Schedule the Hangouts on Air page as your brand page
  3. Connect the correct YouTube and Google+ accounts
  4. Think through the roles of your team
  5. Do a test run before the event
  6. Send panelists and participants an email about hangout structure and additional preparation
  7. Embed the Hangout on your event page or website
  8. Set up the apps in the Hangout
  9. Broadcast your Hangout on Air and have some fun!

**Everything has been updated in December 2015 to give you the most accurate, up-to-date information**

One note before we dive into the deep abyss of Hangouts on Air. Google+ has two products that are very similar: Hangouts and Hangouts on Air. Hangouts on Air is different because:

  1. You can embed the live video stream of the Hangout on Air to your YouTube channel, a G+ Event page, and even your site.
  2. You can have millions of viewers watch the Hangout on Air, but not actually participate in the Hangout.
  3. The Hangout on Air is recorded and published onto YouTube so anyone can watch later.

For the purpose of this post, assume that when I say “Hangout”, I mean “Hangout on Air.”

Let’s get started.

Way before the Hangout

If you or your Hangout participants don’t use Google+ much, you’ll need to install the G+ Hangouts plugin and test it. Also, if your account is controlled by a domain administrator, they’ll need to make sure that Hangouts is enabled for your account.

enabling Hangouts as domain administrator

Here’s where you need to enable the Hangout settings as an administrator

 

There are two ways you can create a page on G+ for the Hangout on Air to live. You could create an Event page or schedule a Hangouts on Air page. The only differences between the two options is that with the Hangouts on Air page, you can use the Q&A app (more on this later) and you don’t need to embed the video on to the Hangouts on Air page. For those reasons, scheduling a Hangout on Air page for the date of the Hangout can be an easier option for people. You can create this page ahead of time to use for promotion of your Hangout.

Whichever way you create your Hangouts page, you need to create it as your brand page, not with your personal G+ account. The Hangout will not be associated with your brand if you create it from your personal account (unless you’re hosting it as yourself in which case disregard the above advice).

Another item you want to do before you go playing around with Hangouts on Air is to connect the correct YouTube and Google+ accounts (mainly your brand accounts) if they are not already connected. You will get a notification on this if you have not done it by the time you schedule your Hangout on Air.

Here’s another warning for you: only 10 people are allowed on a G+ Hangout on Air at a time (meaning you can only have 10 individuals or screens total inside the Hangout although you can have an unlimited number of people watching it). Plan accordingly. Before you get too far into your planning, also think about the roles your team will play during the Hangout on Air:

  • Who’s moderating?
  • Who else will have control of the Hangout? More on this later.
  • Who will be your tech person (meaning someone who is knowledgeable about G+ who can work out technical difficulties you may/will have with the Hangout)? They must be on hand for the Hangout if they take on this role.
  • Who’ll be live tweeting and monitoring activity on social media?

Along with this, you may want to set a hashtag for your Hangout so that your followers can follow along on other social media outlets like Twitter. I’d recommend making your hashtag short, unique, and descriptive of the event.

During your test run of the Hangout

Yes, you must do a test run, especially if you’ve never ever done anything with Google+ or Hangouts on Air before. Hangouts is a great tool, but you will run into technical difficulties. Do not compromise on a test run to save time or effort. Google+ Hangouts on Air is not the most intuitive platform so familiarize yourself!

It’s best to do a test run about a week before your event. You should run through all the steps in this post as well as test the location, sound, and lighting of the person who is moderating the event. You can decide whether to invite your panelists to join in that particular test run or do another one just for them (depending on how comfortable with G+ Hangouts they are).

In the days leading up to your Hangout

About 3-4 days before the event, I will send participants info in an email about the structure of the Hangout, questions they can expect, and other logistics or prep they need to know about.

A few things that I make sure to cover are:

  • Tell them you will be inviting them to the Hangout 30 minutes before it starts (or goes on Air) to take care of a few last-minute logistics and make sure all is well before go-time.
  • Make sure they know they need a Google account and have the plugin installed on their computer before they can log into the Hangout.
  • Remind panelists that internet bandwidth is important so they should ask their team not to upload/download big files, back up their computers, or all watch the Hangout during the Hangout itself.
  • Ask for their cell phone numbers in case of internet issues. That way you can communicate with them easily if something goes wrong.
  • Have a logo file ready to upload for their footer during the Hangout (more on this below).
  • Let panelists know that you will be muting them during the Hangout when they are not speaking so that there are no audio issues. They can unmute themselves when they want to chime in and then mute themselves again when they’re done talking.

30 minutes before the Hangout

You made it this far and you only have a little more to go before you’re ready to rock your Hangouts on Air. To start the Hangout, you either go to your Hangouts on Air scheduled page and get started there, or you can start a Hangout on Air from scratch.

To start or schedule a Hangout on Air

  • Go to the Hangouts on Air page (it’s also in your left-hand nav under Hangouts). The new Google+ layout has Hangouts on Air in slightly different place when you go to the Hangouts page so I took a screenshot for you:where to find Hangouts on Air on new Google+ layout
  • Select “Create a Hangout on Air” on that page – don’t worry, it won’t start broadcasting until you tell it to.

Google+ hangouts on air page

  • You’ll be asked to put in the event name and details. Select ‘starts now’ (or later if you’re scheduling it).
  • You can invite your audience by typing in their emails or their names to find them on Google+.
  • Then, select Share.

how to schedule a Hangout on Air

 

  • You may get a screen that asks you to connect your YouTube and Google+ accounts. This is something to take care of when you test out the Hangout on Air.
invite guests to hangout, connect youtube

Here’s how to invite guests and connect your YouTube account to your G+ account if you haven’t already done so.

You’ll now see this:

hangouts on air screen

What you’ll see when you’ve done everything right

Now you still need to do a few things before you click that tempting Start Broadcast button at the bottom.

1. Embed the video stream on your Events page (skip this step if you scheduled a Hangout on Air instead – it will do that automatically)
2. Embed the video on your site (if you plan to do so)
3. Set up your apps
4. Do a final check with your panelists

Embed the video stream on your Event page

If you’re using an Event page to stream your Hangout on Air, you’ll need to embed the YouTube embed link there.

  • Grab the YouTube URL from the lower right corner of your Hangout screen.

how to find youtube embed and video embed links for hangout on air

  • Plug that into your Events page if you created one. Go to your Event page, then Edit Description,  Event Options,  Advanced, and then Show More Options. If you did a Hangouts on Air page, just ignore this step.

hangout on air events page edit event

You’ll see the YouTube URL on the second from the last line. Paste the URL in there. Save.events page editing

The video on the page will show a coming soon type message until you start broadcasting so you can get this going ahead of the hangout.

Embed the video on your site

To embed the video on to your site, grab the video embed link just below where you grabbed the YouTube embed link. Paste that into your page where you want your video stream to be. Update your page and save. Just like the Event page, the video will show a coming soon type message until the Hangout starts broadcasting.

Set up apps

All of these apps can be found on the left-hand navigation panel or can be added as an app from the Add an App feature.

Control Room app

If you want to give control to co-moderators or managers to mute/unmute or take someone off screen, this is the app to do that.

  • Hover over that participants name and click the dropdown button to the right of their name.
  • Choose Give Controls and they’ll now be able to do the same things that you can do in the Hangouts on Air.
  • If someone comes on to your Hangout uninvited, this is the app you’ll use to shut them down (don’t laugh – it’s happened to me before).
Cameraman app

This app controls the broadcast and how panelists come on. I follow Google+ Hangouts mastermind Max Minzer’s advice and select yes, no, yes on the three options. Like so:

google+ hangouts on air cameraman app

Hangouts Toolbox app

This app will take your Hangout on Air from amateur to pro in 1 minute flat. What it’ll do is create a footer below each panelist with their name, company, and company logo.

  • Click the add app extension in the left-hand nav. Find and add the Hangout Toolbox app.
  • It’ll ask for your permission.
  • The app will then show up on the right side.
  • On the tab that has the person in the circle to the left, enter your name and company name; upload your logo; and change the color scheme of the line in the first box to the right.
  • Where it says “Lower Third” – click to change it to “On.”
Here's what the Toolbox app looks like

Here’s what the Toolbox app looks like

  • If you want to make changes to your name or logo, make sure you turn the lower third off, make the changes, then turn it back on.
  • Your panelists will need to do this themselves, but that’s why they should come on early to the event so you can walk them through this.

If your footer shows up in reverse, all you need to do to change it is to click the rotate or mirror icon and rotate until the footer looks right.

Google+ hangouts on air toolbox app - rotate or mirror logo footer

  • Here’s an example of a footer before I rotated it: wrong layout for toolbox app footer G+ Hangouts on Air
  • This is what the footer will look like when done right:G+ Hangouts on Air Toolbox App correct footer layout
Q&A app 

This app lets your audience ask you questions before or during the Hangout. You’ll need to set this up before you start broadcasting and you’ll have to use a Hangouts on Air page rather than a simple Events page. In order to enable the Q&A app, you need to click on the Q&A icon on the Events page preview video.

How to turn on the Q and A app on G+ Hangouts on Air

It will go from greyed out to a color icon when the app is enabled. You will do the same for the Showcase and Applause apps from this page if you want to use them.

Showcase app 

With this app, you can share links to resources, content, products, and sites without disrupting your broadcast. This is helpful if your participants mention articles when they’re talking and you want to send listeners to those pieces, or if you have a call to action you want to send viewers to.

You enable the app for use the same way you enabled the Q&A app above by clicking on the icon on the preview image on your Events page before the broadcast begins. In the screenshot below, it’s the yellow icon in the middle.

How to enable the Showcase app on Google+ Hangouts on Air

To use the Showcase app:

  • Once the app is enabled, you can use the app in the Hangouts on Air window.
  • Click the yellow Showcase app icon on the left-hand navigation in the Hangouts on Air.
  • You’ll see the text field where you can add a URL. Once you add the URL, you will see the item you can show when the time is right.

How to add an item to be shared on the Showcase App

  • When you’re ready to show an item, just click the checkbox next to it and it’ll be visible to your audience. Unclick the checkbox on that item when you’re done with it.

How to show an item in Showcase app on Google+ Hangouts on Air

To learn more about the ins and outs of the Showcase app, Mark Crosling has additional tips and tricks for you.

Applause App

You can use this app to allow your viewers to express their thoughts about the Hangout via thumbs up or down icons. If you’re looking for specific feedback or questions from the audience, the Q&A app would be a better option. However, if you want to get votes or do a simple poll during your broadcast, the Applause app would work well.

Final Checks Before Going Live

There are a few final things to check before your broadcast goes on air:

  • Is everyone there? If not, copy the link to the Hangout on Air and send it in an email to them. Some people don’t get the notification from Google.
  • Does everyone’s sound and video look ok?
  • Does everyone know where the mute button is?
  • The camera should automatically go to the person who’s speaking. To override this, the moderator can select the video image at the bottom of their screen to select the person he wants to be show.

Once you’re all ready to go, click Start Broadcast and you’re on air as well as streaming the video to YouTube and your site (if you chose to). Live tweeting the Hangout can enhance the experience for all and provides easy retweets to those who are listening and following along. You’re all set to start hosting your own Hangouts on Air now!

Do you have any questions I didn’t answer? Run into an issue? Want to commiserate about the difficulty of using G+ Hangouts? Share in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Quest-Post

Why Follower Count is Bullshit

By | Data and Analytics, Mack's Musings, Social Media, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | 7 Comments

Quest-PostIt’s impossible to communicate the value of social media efforts when you’re using a metric like follower count. It’s easy to measure, but it doesn’t mean anything.

You’ve got to put in the work to measure the right things so that you can determine whether your efforts are actually making a difference.

I’ve got a whole lot of reasons for (and proof of) why you should be measuring social media success differently. In an effort to provide a few suggestions on how to do that, I’ve put together this case study. A slide deck that tells the story of my own two-year, follower-building effort.

Enjoy.