SEO or SMM? What Drives More Traffic?

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

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

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

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

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

Read also: How to Become a Smarter Marketer

The Key to SEO

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

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

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

The Key to Optimizing Social Media

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

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

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

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

Read also: 6 Fairy Tales About Digital Marketing

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Curiosity Marketing: The Ideal Solution for Digital Natives

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

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

One of these is curiosity marketing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curiosity, FOMO, and Scarcity

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

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

Curiosity and Ethics

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

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

Authenticity and Consistency

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

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

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

Focus on the Relationship

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

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

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

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

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

The Appocalyse: No Bright Future for Apps

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

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

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

Apps and Marketing

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

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

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

Apps, apps everywhere – until there were none

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apps are great – for a very small number of applications

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

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

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

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

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

Speed, privacy and safety

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

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

Read also:

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

The Right Role for Marketing

The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital Marketing

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

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

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

You need a retail partner no matter what

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

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

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

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

Your customer’s voice is a powerful marketing tool

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

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

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback

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

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

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

Engage With Your Fans

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

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

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

Reward loyal fans with great experiences

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time For B2B enterprises to Embrace Influencers

Micro-Influencer Marketing: The Ins and Outs

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

 

Lend a helping hand!

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

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

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

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

Read more on How to Influence The Customer Journey

How to Estimate an AI Project’s Data Needs

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

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

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

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

Data: The Have and the Have Nots

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

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

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

Domain Specificity is both Key and Curse

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

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

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

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

Estimating by Comparing

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

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

Executives Need to Understand the Data Needs

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

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

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

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

 

What Chatbots Can Currently Do For Your Business

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

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

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

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

But let’s get started.

The Low Hanging Fruit

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

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

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

Pitfalls for Basic Chatbots

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

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

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

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

Personalization is the Key

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

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

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

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

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

It Takes Time and Common Sense

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

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

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

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

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

Think Voice For the Long Term

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

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

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

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Writing Your First Chatbot Script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

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

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

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

Make It Sound Human – For Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

Read also:

How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

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

The Importance of Customer Feedback

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

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

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

Artificial Intelligence

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

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

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

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

Machine Learning

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

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

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

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

Read also: Machine Learning in Organization: First Steps

Deep_Learning_Icons_R5_PNG.jpg

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

 

Deep Learning

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

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

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

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

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

 

Can Blockchain Technology Solve the Food Chain Crisis?

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

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

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

Food traceability is complicated

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

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

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

Complicated Supply Chains Scream for Blockchain

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

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

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

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

But is blockchain really the solution?

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

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

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

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

Expect an Increase in Food Cost

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t Rely on Rented Land Alone

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

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

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

Content Marketing Done Right

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

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

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

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

2) Build an e-mail communication channel

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

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

3) Have a backup

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

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

4) Spread the gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Originality wins every time

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Bounce Rate Scenarios

Consider the following scenarios:

1) You are selling products on your website

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

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

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

2) A blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be original and stop being greedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethink collecting information

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

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

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

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

Original content and consistent identity

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

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

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

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

The Right Role for Marketing

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

What is marketing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marketing is not an afterthought to product development

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

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

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

 

If management is the brain, marketing is the heart

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

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

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

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

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, let’s get busy then.

Create simple landing pages

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

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

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

Analyzing behavior is fun

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

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

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

Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer

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

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

Stay in touch and build relationships

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Customer Feedback and What to Do With It

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

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

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

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

Read also: How to Influence the Customer Journey

 

Why companies don’t listen to feedback

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

1. Bridges to nowhere

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

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

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

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

2. No SOP

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

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

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

No follow up

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

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

 

What does feedback do for your business?

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

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

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

Improving Products

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

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

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

Not listening to customers = losing money.

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

Feedback Creates Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Gaining Competitive Advantage

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

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

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

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

Stay Ahead of Future Trends

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

Keeps Your Employees Creative

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

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

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

Read also: The Intersection of Personal and Corporate Brand

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

Why You Should Always Put Your Retail Strategy First

Parts of the world, especially in Asia, are in a startup frenzy.

Not a week goes by without a new startup looking for branding and marketing advice.

Because this is Asia, which has a long history of making things and the most brilliant engineers in the world, most of these startups make hardware. Established companies too are making use of the rapid changes in technology and are launching new products at record speed.

All of them have the same plan: they want to come up with a name, create a logo, a brand identity, CIS; perhaps make a video then build a website with an online commerce function, or manage their crowdfunding campaign and social media accounts.

As important as all these things are, one crucial element is always missing from the business plan: a retailer marketing strategy. 

Depending on your target market, you will need a strategy for the locally dominant company. But because almost all my clients want to sell in the United States or Europe first, I will talk mostly about Amazon in this article.

However, much of what I will cover applies to other retail platforms and even traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

Online retailers are not websites, they are ecosystems

Amazon isn’t just a webshop. It is most of all a review website. Everyone checks Amazon for product reviews. If your product is not reviewed here, it doesn’t exist. If your reviews are bad, it won’t sell.

Amazon is not merely an online retailer anymore, it is an ecosystem with a best-selling voice assistant that is redefining shopping as we know it. The company is expanding its technology into everything from drone delivery to the grocery business and recently brick-and-mortar stores without checkout.

Amazon Prime is used by over 70% of American households. That means free shipping. Your own website with your own warehouse can never ever compete with that.

Brand-owned e-commerce solutions, bar a few lucky exceptions, don’t work. Consumers don’t want to pay for shipping. Most buying processes on brand websites break off on the page where the shipping costs are displayed.

If you don’t believe me, check your Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel data. Psychologically, the page with the shipping charges is saying to the user: “Hey, look at that. Perhaps you can get this product cheaper somewhere else.”

Having shipping charges is bad UX, period.

Even if your brand doesn’t want to interact with Amazon, your customers certainly do, and more do so every day as the company expands.

With more and more people shopping online, logistics and sustainability will become hot issues. A lot of deliveries with old trucks means air pollution and global warming; only big retailers will have the resources and innovation skills to combat this trend by embracing e-vehicles, drone delivery, and data-based logistics optimization. As they do so, even more consumers will flock to Amazon and its peers.

How to develop a Retailer Marketing Strategy

By now you should have realized that every startup, every brand, every new product launch needs a retail marketing strategy. Now let’s find out how to go about developing such a strategy, regardless whether you are launching in America or South-East Asia.

Step 1: Open Your Eyes

The first step is to check out similar products and examine what people say about the product. Let’s say there is a top-loading, cold-water washing machine, and you are trying to build one.

Careful study of the reviews will tell you that 90% of customers do not like top-loading, cold-water washing machines. There goes your business plan. I know it sounds ridiculous, but no hardware startup that contacted me in the last few years had done this simple step of verifying consumer preferences.

Developing a product shouldn’t be based on your engineering capabilities but on consumer preferences.

Reviewing data is hugely important in many ways. It allows you to find out what people really care about in a product and how they use it.

If every phone at a certain price point has hundreds of reviews saying that “the short battery life sucks”, then you need to build a phone at that price point which has a significantly longer battery life. You can save yourself a lot of time, money, and hassle, but opening your eyes before starting the tinkering.

Step 2: Get a feel

Even if a product category is accepted by consumers, you can learn even more by carefully analyzing the reviews on the retail platform. What do consumers love about a specific product? What do they hate? What excites them? Emotions are the key to successful marketing, and if your new product cannot awake emotions, then it will likely fail.

Step 3: Embrace opportunities

Once you have confirmed that the product you are trying to launch is worth launching, you need to understand how consumers buy it. Do they use a particular website? Do they prefer to see the product in real life before buying? Is testing and comparing the key to success?

Will consumers be talking about that product, or is it a routine purchase (social media marketing opportunities! Cf. Kindle vs. washing powder) Are they using Amazon Prime Video? Are they ordering it through Voice AI Alexa?

Amazon and other retailers offer a wide variety of choices so you will have to look beyond the obvious.

For example, will your product fit into an Amazon Go scenario, and what does that mean from a geo-fencing standpoint? How many of your customers are consuming content on Youtube, Twitch, and do you have opportunities for a partnership?

A comprehensive opportunities audit is key to developing a good marketing plan and refining your product offering!

Step 4: Data, data, and more data

You really need to make use of all the data retailers offer. Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA) and Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) offer great insights into what works, and what doesn’t, from consumer preferences to product categories, hobbies, activities, etc. If 90% of the people who bought a specific type of bag also like “Hiking”, then optimizing your stylish new backpack for avid hikers makes perfect sense.

Thus you can avoid designing the wrong product from the start. Go to Facebook and study what people are saying about it there. Check for any hashtags and Twitter accounts, or whatever your local social media networks are.

Research into data must also include the third-party apps that connect with Alexa for example. What people are doing with AI greatly influences which products they will stumble across, and ultimately buy.

Step 5: Redo your business plan, redesign your product

After gathering all these insights you will perhaps realize that certain aspects of your product design or marketing strategy, or even your entire business plan, will need redoing.

Starting a business or launching a new product is not about what you and your team can do (in terms of hardware engineering capabilities, say) but about what you can do for your prospective customers.

Are you really meeting their needs? Are you really delivering a product or service that will convince them? Are you solving your customers’ problems?

Step 6: Decide how to work with your retailer

There are a lot of different ways to work with retailers. Amazon, for example, offers fulfillment services which greatly reduce the need for companies to deal with warehousing and logistics in a country where they don’t necessarily have a presence.

Even though Amazon does charge for its services (and the more you use, the higher the fee), it usually comes cheaper than having to deal with all the logistics, shipping, delivery, returns, and customer complaints yourself. And because Amazon customer service is commonly acknowledged as very good, it may even improve the value of your own brand by trusting them.

Conclusion

I have used Amazon as an example because it is so dominant has so much data on consumers. But I realize your target market may not be covered by Amazon, or you may not want to work with them. That is beside the point.

What you should take home from reading this article is simply this: Startups and new product ideas should always start with a close look at the dominant retailers, online and offline.

Always look at the data out there, or hire an experienced marketer to do that for you. Doing so will save you tons of money in the long run.

Is Digital Advertising the Biggest Fraud in History?

Enron is commonly referred to as the biggest fraud ever, costing investors over 70 billion USD. Perhaps Lehman Brothers did even more damage. Or Bernie Madoff. It’s hard to say. But without a doubt, we do now have a new candidate, and it’s not a company or a person. It’s an industry; digital advertising.

Listen to marketing podcast and read the more critical marketing blogs, and you will find that advertising and under siege.

But what is really behind the accusations that billions are lost every year to fraudulent practices in the industry? I discussed the issue with three industry experts.

Here is our in-depth analysis of everything that is wrong with digital advertising, and how to solve the conundrum. We try to explain the issues with as little technical jargon as possible because we do not want to be guilty of the same tactics ad networks use to lure advertisers into highly questionable schemes.

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With contributions from

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We all agree that digital advertising seems like a fantastic idea, whether it is Google Adwords, display ads on YouTube and the expanded Google network, Facebook, native advertising, reward ads, etc. They don’t cost much to produce, and you can reach millions of potential customers around the world.

But the same technologies that made advertising online possible are now causing advertisers to lose millions of dollars every day.

Part of it is unscrupulous behavior by agencies and ad networks, who work with publishers who specialize in creating ad inventory out of nothing. Part of it is stupidity or willful blindness by advertisers and agencies, bad targeting, and a lack of understanding of how ad placement works.

But a large part of it is just plain fraud.

Let’s start with the simplest problem.

Digital ads show up in the wrong place

Even with expert targeting, ads interrupt the consumption of media in the most annoying way. Let’s say you are interested in hand tools. The advertisers know that, so they will show you an ad while you are reading an article about travel in Tuscany. While the targeting of ads has become better, the placement of ads is still terrible. I’m not in the market for hand tools while dreaming of Tuscany. You caught me off guard, and I will find your ad inappropriate.

Some of the misplacement is hilarious. Ads for diapers and baby products spawned on gay dating apps, ads in German following you around for months just because you logged in the Wifi at Frankfurt airport one time. I bought a new ASUS notebook computer two months ago, and I still see ads for ASUS notebooks everywhere I go on the internet. As much as like my notebook, I am now annoyed by the brand unnecessarily stalking me online. I already bought the notebook, so why am I still seeing ads. Hashtag #techfailure

There is hope, however, notes Lyle Wagner: With improvements in data collection this targeting is getting better as cookies are placed on user’s devices which track user behavior and compared with other cookies to create an image of the user.

Although this has potentially negative implications in terms of privacy, and may run afoul of data privacy laws, in the arena of ‘advertising annoyance’ it actually shows great promise in showing better, more relevant and interesting ads to users.

In Europe and Canada, privacy laws make the collection of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) illegal, so privacy concerns are being dealt with in some key markets. Strict privacy laws may actually prevent the ad experience from improving. Users are forced to choose between privacy and relevance. (This is one of the key criticisms of GDPR).

Reward ads

Increasingly ad inventory is sold to networks using them for things like Wi-Fi log-in, receiving freebies, or as rewards in games. “Click on the ad to get 10 minutes of free Wi-Fi” is a way to incur costs for the advertiser, but it has zero value for the consumer if the ad is not relevant. I am going to click on the ad, just to get my 10 minutes, not to buy your skin mask.

Whole business models are built around this practice. In many cities, there are now Wi-Fi-networks, some of them run by big telecoms operators, which force users to click on an ad to get initial access, and on one or more ads to continue using the network after several minutes.

Most advertisers we spoke to are not aware that their ads are being used for this purpose. By offering up to 10 different ads to click on, operators claim to give users a choice and thus “target’ them. That is nonsense.

The majority of users randomly click on any ad available, skip it, and then go on to do what they really came to do: use the Wi-Fi network. Much the same is true for in-game reward ads.

Even if a user is potentially interested in a product, he or she very likely is logging on to the network for another purpose and will not be distracted by the ad. Hardly any gamer will be derailed from his path to glory by an ad about hair shampoo.

Yet not all reward ads are a waste of money. “Watch the ad to upgrade to a magic sword” again creates value for the player, but does a disservice to the advertiser if the user has no interest in the product.

Here the industry is slowly improving. Better quality and more interesting ads (think of puzzles or arcade-style mini-games) when used appropriately, have been shown to create a positive brand association and resulting brand lift on users exposed to them. An astonishingly high number of users react to these interactive ads by clicking through to the brand’s website, so not all is bad.

Video ads: stop interrupting me

Youtube’s ad model is essentially copying television, and it is annoying as hell. Ads in videos are increasingly irrelevant (I see nothing but skin care products and car ads in my location; I do public transport and my skin is great, thank you very much.)

Digital natives have already been conditioned to wait for the few seconds it takes to click the ad away. Ad content is not absorbed at all, and yet those few seconds count as an ad view, and incur costs to advertisers.

Recently, YouTube has begun to show more in-video ads. They are so annoying – if you are following the plot of the video you are watching – that most people just click them away after 3,4,5 of whatever how many seconds. That’s not advertising, that’s just click fraud.

Here too, better targeting and data collection are needed to show only really relevant ads in the relevant environment. The same data collection that causes all those privacy concerns, remember?

And if only brands could start making ads that are actually fun to watch, instead of the same boring stuff they’ve annoyed us on television with for decades. Yes, some brands are getting the message, but it’s still interruptive advertising because at that point you have been watching something else. Small wonder people are switching to Netflix & Co.

But I mean, who cares, because …

Most ads are never seen by humans

The final straw is of course real fraud, and here it gets hairy.

Websites created just to show ads, bots watching ads instead of humans, apps programmed just to get as many ad clicks as possible, are all losing advertisers billions each year. According to a number of security firms, as reported in the  Telegraph, criminals use “armies” of hijacked computers to mimic humans browsing.

Such computers create fake websites and watch as many as 300 million videos there per day. An estimated 70% of online adverts are never seen by humans, the paper reports.

“Bots are rampant and ad fraud is at its highest ever point,” Dr Augustine Fou, a cybersecurity expert, told The Telegraph.

WhiteOps reports that MethBot, an ad-fraud scam, costs advertisers at least 3 million USD and probably more than 5 m every single day. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. How did that happen?

Programmatic is evil

This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by the rise of programmatic advertising which replaced the old network-publisher relationship business with a more automated approach where machine-based ad exchanges control the ad placement process without human oversight. This led to a massive drop in price and quality.

This is finally starting to be rectified by more and better technology. Ad verification technologies have been developed that are able to monitor and detect suspicious ad viewing behavior, and they may succeed in saving the ad industry from implosion. The problem is that some of this software isn’t in compliance with privacy laws.

Before it gets better, it may get worse.

The biggest scam of all: attribution fraud

Attribution fraud in app marketing is probably the biggest scam of all. All the big networks from AdColony, AdAction to unity, Tapjoy, Applift, Taptica, etc. have at one point or another been accused of massaging the numbers.

Part of the blame here goes straight to Apple and Google for refusing to cooperate with attribution companies by offering a transparent and simple way to track users and traffic sources.

Attribution companies have had to develop ‘fingerprinting’ technologies as a workaround thanks to the big OS’ insistence on controlling the install process. But the bottom line is, even without the fraud, an ad you must click on to get something else is just annoying.

Egocentric Irritation: Anti-social Ads

Simon Kemp thinks that even when advertisers do manage to display a relevant ad to someone in their audience, far too many of them waste that opportunity by delivering ads that focus on egocentric brand content.

“We’re being as anti-social as it gets; we’re going on a date and only talking about ourselves. As a result, more and more people around the world are blocking ads completely. We’ve irritated our audiences so much that they’re actually willing to spend their own money on tools that help them avoid the nonsense that most advertisers are spewing out.”

“There’s only one sustainable answer to this problem: advertisers need to get better at building meaningful exchanges of value with their audiences, instead of interrupting them with more and more irrelevant crap.”

How Will Digital Advertising Survive?

So, if digital advertising is to survive, we ‘re going to need to make some radical changes. Companies will have to turn to more sophisticated methods of content marketing and building audiences.

The big brands will be better at this than smaller firms, who lack resources. But for most companies, the whole concept of “audience building” and creating your own digital assets is an anathema: no expertise, no strategy, no vision.

Secondly, ads have to become better. More interesting, interactive ads, better quality video and in future VR and AR implementation will lead to a better ad experience. Anti-social is out, real connections are in. This is a challenge for marketers everywhere; it is even more a challenge for brands who will have to abandon decades of accepted practice and embrace a completely new way of thinking about ads.

Thirdly, technology must solve many of the problems it has created. Verification of users through accurate data, probabilistic and deterministic verification, analysis of in-app/site user behavior analytics in conjunction with media buys etc. have a long way to go.

Finally, we have to solve the conundrum of privacy.

Consumers, in particular in Europe and Canada, are screaming for stricter privacy laws without understanding what that does to their online experience. Regulators have no sympathy for advertisers and thus play their part in dismantling the industry. GDPR, in particular, was a huge step backward in making online advertising better and more relevant. And yet consumers love it.

More privacy means more ad-blocking, which means that much of what is available for free will no longer be available as ad revenues dwindle.

It is bad ad policy but also strict privacy laws which make even websites like CNN and Forbes look spammier every day by serving the bottom of the inventory barrel to consumers.

A few years ago there was one rotten apple. Now the barrel is slowly spoiling.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I believe technology will solve part of the problem, and brands will slowly embrace other forms of marketing.

But for the immediate future, fraud in digital advertising is a serious issue and will only get worse, unless brands wake up to the amount of money they are wasting, regulators stop appeasing consumers without considering the industry, and ad networks aren’t held accountable for their fraudulent practices.

It’s high time we took this issue seriously.

How to Influence the Customer Journey

Branding and marketing experts are increasingly talking about the “customer journey” – a fancy word encompassing everything from product discovery to actual purchase action. But what exactly is this “journey” and how, as product or service providers, can we influence it?

Think about it that way: the last time you purchased something other than a routine commodity, did you directly go to the brand’s or retailer’s website and put in your order? Probably not.

There is a very good chance you took a whole load of other actions before finally making the leap and reaching for your credit card.

You may have seen a post on Instagram, then checked out the reviews on Amazon or Tripadvisor. Then you asked your friends or checked out the brand’s website, before finally ending up on a random retail website and making your purchase. This is your “journey”: a long and winding road

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

 

The Obscure Road

In most cases, neither consumers nor clients rarely exactly what they want or how they ended up on a particular purchasing point. And this is the exact problem for marketers or business owners. Customers take a journey, but neither they nor brands know exactly how that journey progressed.

With increasingly strict privacy protection laws, it will be harder and harder to trace that journey.

Customers read blog content, check out YouTube, ‘Like’ their friend’s Facebook posts and scour Twitter for information. They might see a native ad that piques their interest, although they may not even be aware it is an ad. Similarly, they can be steered by multiple remarketing campaigns, white papers or in-store interaction tech.

Unless you are one of these predictable individuals who always by the same things at the same stores, the path you took remains obscure. If laws like GDPR spread and get expanded further, even routine purchased will be untraceable.

Brands want three outcomes of the journey: We want the customer

  1. To choose the brand at the end of the journey
  2. To spend the money you want them to spend
  3. To buy the products or services you would prefer them to purchase

Read also: Data Protection is a Marketing Issue

 

How Do We Influence A Journey We Know Nothing About? 

In the past, marketers used the idea of the “funnel” as a simile for that customer journey. Attract, Engage, Convert, and so on. There are countless variations of the purchasing funnel. They used to look something like this:

marketing-funnel-diagram.png

Looks intuitive, doesn’t it? Expect it no longer works like this. And even if it does, we no longer have a way of knowing where the “intent” occurs, how the “evaluation” progresses, even where exactly we “attract”. Least of all we know how we ended up at the “purchase” stage.

The customer journey is not a direct route, but a meandering path that frequently doubles back and takes unexpected turns. It can be easily aborted, diverted, interrupted and resumed months later … We just don’t know. 

A typical customer journey takes anything from minutes to months, it can start anywhere in that “funnel”; it invariably involves multiple platforms and channels; it always involves multiple devices and may be influenced by a long list of people from family and friends to influencers and celebrities; and finally, it can be easily aborted due to a long list of factors, from disappointing content, bad web design, negative reviews, and so on.

 

Every Journey Is Unique

Every journey is unique; every journey has pitfalls. You can’t possibly estimate where a potential customer is headed without some kind of guidance and a way to measure success.

Great marketing isn’t based on gut feeling or guesswork. Increasingly, it’s all about data. In other words, the only way to influence the customer journey is data.

Consumers have never been savvier. They know they will find more information online than they’ve ever found in a physical store. As helpful as this may be for them, it is also a golden opportunity for you to influence their journey. That is, within the rules of data privacy laws and actual technical possibilities.

There are four key elements in influencing the journey: the right way to attract, measuring outputs, solving problems, and building on success.

1. Attraction

You are going to need to provide the right content to the ideal audience. That means different media and content for each platform, updated content depending on changes in the media landscape, and the right tone or brand voice for the right audience.

2. Measuring

While increasingly difficult due to changes in privacy law, we can still gather some data about customers. Whatever data can be collected can be measured, quantified, and analyzed.

Measuring influence isn’t an easy task, particularly when consumers are moving across devices and channels so frequently. Yet the vast amounts of data gained from this process make it incredibly powerful for sellers.

There are many software tools available for that purpose, even though some of them may be running afoul of privacy laws already or in the near future.

3. Solving Problems

Customers may move any which way through the funnel, but they are nonetheless on a distinct journey. They are looking for help to solve a problem or satisfy a need. They are looking for somebody to provide a solution. And the closer to the point of purchasing or fulfilling a CTA they get, the more detailed information or convincing arguments they will need.

Your goal as a brand is to provide the right content at the right time, in sync with the customer’s expectations.

20 years ago, it would be normal to delve into the demographics watching a certain TV show then design adverts to tap into their presumed interests. But now, you have instant access to qualified data that lets you reach out to people in a hyper-personalized, ultra-tailored way. Within the norms of privacy laws of course.

Personalization is not about being pushy or intrusive. Don’t turn into that creepy, pushy sales guy we all dislike. But the more you know somebody; the better you can solve their problems.

4. Build on Success

Examine the way you plan, influence, measure and analyze customer journeys, and use them again for future projects. Building on successful campaigns is the key to improving your bottom line in the long run

Final Take-Aways

In a digital world, marketing is constantly changing. Platforms emerge, fall out of use; new players take the spoils and unsuccessful ones disappear. The pace of change is rapid and it affects businesses of all sizes. Customers are progressively sophisticated in the methods they use to research purchases. Just think of the fortunes of SnapChat. One tweet by a disgruntled celebrity can change the journey path for millions of prospective customers.

The most successful businesses are meeting customers on their journey and adapting this path in order to influence what (and how) they buy.

To achieve your goals, you must accurately anticipate and guide customer journeys by making better use of the available data, without violating local or global privacy laws. The best way to do this is to

  • Collaborate
  • Personalize
  • React in Real Time

For businesses of all sizes, there is really no way to plan multi-channel campaigns, even with the best of planning software. Credible, customized, content, and collaboration with influencers and the right inbound marketing strategies are the only way to success.

The Intersection of Personal and Corporate Brand

The Internet and social media, in particular, have turned the world into a global marketplace for attention. People, products, companies, political parties, NGOs and governments all need to present a “digital image”. How to be noticed and perceived positively in the digital space is a tedious and often painful exercise in self-promotion.

It can also be hugely rewarding.

 

Social media doesn’t make you famous

Here is the hard truth: social media doesn’t make you famous. Ellen Degeneres doesn’t have 55 million Twitter followers because she knows how to tweet. Apple doesn’t have millions of fans because it knows how to use Facebook. Every Instagram celebrity you can name has done other things besides making awesome posts. Every YouTube celebrity has peppered their way to fame with live appearances, participation in gaming tournaments or singing contests, or appeared on television.

It is most of all the things you do OFFLINE which help you get noticed ONLINE. Digital personal branding is more your about non-digital life, not your online click-through rate.

By being global, social media sites exacerbate the problem. Ever noticed how many profiles in Asia are faceless? I spend a lot of my time advising people and companies on their overall digital strategy. The subject which always comes up is self-esteem. “I don’t want I put my face pic because I’m ugly.” “We don’t want that because we are not a real brand.” “I don’t want people to see me, I want them to see the product.”

A lack of personal presence harms your corporate performance.

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

 

It’s all about meaning

Corporate brands aren’t liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers’ lives.

What all these clients miss is the concept of meaning and value. Oprah isn’t famous because she’s good looking. She is liked because what she does gives meaning to people’s lives. Corporate brands aren’t liked because they are cool, but because what they produce adds value to consumers’ lives.

The Internet has taught us that appearances are important. They are not as important as you may think. Actions are way more important. If you deceive your customers with empty promises they will desert you. If your online posts are blatant advertisement or copies of other people’s ideas, or just “thin content” as Google calls it, you shall be unfollowed.

Even seemingly shallow accounts – of handsome people, posh houses, or fabulous holiday destinations – are about meaning. These are aspirational accounts, they show people what they could achieve or at least dream of, a lifestyle or look they can never achieve. While this may have negative psychological implications especially for young people, it is still all about meaning added to user’s lives.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

 

Be an inspiration

No matter how ugly you are and how bad your brand image, if you offer genuine value to other people, you will be noticed. So ask yourself this: is what I am doing useful to anyone else? Is my online presence an inspiration to others?

Or simply, why should my friends or customers care?

This is the hardest question you can ask yourself. It’s also the most important one, as a person, and as a brand.

In the past, we have clearly distinguished between corporations and people. People used to hide behind corporate brands.

In a digital economy that is no longer viable. Companies are made up of people. People have brands, just like companies do.  Your profile picture on LinkedIn isn’t a photograph, it’s a personal logo. Apple is as much linked to the image of Steve Jobs and his successor as to the utility of its products. Alibaba’s brand is both formed by its online offering and the persona of Jack Ma. TSMC’s story is a lot less compelling without the father figure of Morris Chang. And Tesla’s branding is all about the personality of Elon Musk, rather than the actual features of the cars.

Companies outside the US, in particular, have a hard time with that concept. European companies tend to overemphasize corporate culture and values, product functionality and company tradition.

Asian companies sometimes forbid their employees to have explicit online profiles, fearing that individuals could damage the company’s image or overshadow the owner or founder’s brand. On the other hand, their leaders are often so reclusive the don’t have an online presence at all. Try finding the bosses of Asia’s top 100 companies on LinkedIn! In these collectivist cultures, the group may come before the individual, but that is problematic in an age where users focus increasingly on authentic experiences.

It is much easier to have an “authentic” experience with a brand that puts people first, rather than intangible assets.

 

Corporate vs. private branding

The fortunes of companies and organizations, in general, are increasingly linked to the image of their leaders or the influencers with whom they are associated. You cannot hide behind a corporate brand. You are part of it.

Which brings me to my passion: digital marketing. It’s much more effective if it’s personal. If you only espouse corporate values you won’t get far.

It is personal values as much as corporate integrity which attracts customers by adding value. Personal stories resonate more with people than all the blah blah about your corporate vision and values. Who reads these corporate mission statements anyway? 

A corporate leader or influencer espousing the right values has more power than a mission statement, corporate values, or cool brand image.

Not everybody can be a charismatic leader. Not everyone has the ability to inspire millions. Not everyone has the confidence or looks to stand on stage and represent a brand.

But in a digital world you only have one choice: Put yourself out there or be left behind.

Why is Marketing Automation so Painful?

Disruptive innovation has been a buzzword ever since Clayton Christensen coined it way back in the mid-1990s. The latest disrupter was none other than Oracle and their customer management applications business sector, then by Salesforce. And currently, Salesforce faces the risk of being disrupted by another industry honcho, HubSpot. Interestingly, HubSpot is now on the verge of being disrupted by incumbents at lower market tiers.

The marketing automation (MA) industry is dominated by several established players like Marketo, HubSpot, Act-On, Eloqua and many more. And there are new entrants popping up every single day.

If there are a host of solutions that cater to any company’s requirements, what are the reasons for businesses still not adopting the technology even though it’s been over half a decade since MA has been around?

Techcrunch once reported that nearly 70% of marketers are either marginally happy or not satisfied with their marketing automation tools. It’s apparent that MA is going upmarket and has started overshooting some of the earlier needs of customers.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

 

Here are some reasons why MA has been a curse rather than a boon to marketers:

Lacking Automation

MA platforms lack the fundamental automation part. An ideal situation for a marketer is to pull out of the box solutions, turn them, and let them function on their own. We can all undoubtedly agree that we haven’t reached there yet, but most of us expect our MA tool to be intelligent enough to handle a decent chunk of all our marketing work. Although most platforms make this tall promise but there are some conflicting issues.

According to B2B Marketing Automation Report, 17% of businesses take a year, and 59% up to six months to adopt and implement MA software. Approximately 61% businesses find implementing the process difficult, based on a post by Email Mondal.

Autopilot states that 44% of businesses are not happy since they find it extremely difficult to learn the software. However, some larger platforms offer free training to their customers.

The most important hindrance that impedes the success of MA for marketers is the dearth of content.

There are many companies who have bought the software, implemented, and then let it sit, unused for years. The only cause was they didn’t find the software automating all the important aspects of their business.

Heavy Fees

Since MA companies entail the software to be implemented, they normally pass the buck on to the customers. For enterprises, this may be nothing new, but it’s the SMEs that have to face the brunt. And most companies ask for year-long commitments with payment up-front. This translates to massive deployment of capital for such companies. Once again, enterprises are used to these types of terms.

The evidence can be seen from the fact that more than 51% of Fortune 500 firms having adopted MA, a considerably higher percentage compared to their smaller brethren. The adoption continues to grow at a relatively rapid pace within enterprise organizations compared to smaller companies.

There are some ways to cut off the cost issues. Partners, for example, can modify payment terms to a quarterly payment system to east the costs related to the contract. But most importantly, it is important to understand the leverage and potential benefits from analytics:

Read: How Leading Organizations are Leveraging Big Data and Analytics

Miss Out On Current Events

If you schedule all of your tweets and posts weeks or even months in advance, you’ll fail to have a good grasp of current events. The only way to engage your fans on social media is to involve yourself in hot topics. If you automate your social messages, you’ll not be able to use current events as a way to engage your fans. Though current events may not have a direct relation to your brand, sharing your thoughts is a way to get people notice your company.

Not Designed Your Niche

This is a complaint we at Geber Brand Consulting here all the time: our industry is different, our business model is business, that software isn’t suited to our needs.

Yes, automation tools aren’t always designed to cater to your business needs. It’s logical to state that there will be a disparity when deploying tools that aren’t built for your niche; still, most businesses are doing it. Most of these tools are programmed with generalized functionalities and data, indicating that they may not be smart enough to address your specific market or/and respond to users on the other end of the computer.

Prospects Want To Talk To Real People

While MA can assist your business in various ways, it can also give you a harrowing experience. Your prospects want to talk to a real person and not to a computer. Trying to strike a conversation with artificial intelligence can be frustrating and tiresome at times. Think about the number of times you’ve been on the phone talking to a machine. Isn’t it frustrating to press 10 buttons just to talk to someone? And that’s exactly how your customers/prospects will feel if you are automating your social media.

MA is still in its early stage and a solution should crop up that fixes all of the issues mentioned above. Or companies need to accept the fact that there are things that cannot be automated and scaled up and move on. That said, larger platforms have taken massive strides in addressing the challenges pointed out, with marketers coining 2018 “The Year Of Marketing Automation.” So we should see massive advances (especially through the use of Artificial Intelligence) in the coming years.

Read also: So What is Content Marketing Anyway?

Why B2B Companies Need to Embrace Millennials

As a marketer, I work mostly with big B2B companies in the semiconductor, electronics, pharmaceutical, and machinery sector. These are conservative industries with little need for hype – on the contrary. Fluff pieces, unrealistic promises, and sensational advertising tactics harm these companies more than help them.

So at first glance, we have very little to do with millennials or the “next generation” of customers, whatever you call it. We inhabit a universe of often boring industries that haven’t really kept up with the social media revolution and companies that have made little effort to digitize their operations and marketing.

And yet, the changing attitude and habits of the new consumers mean that even the most boring old industries need to start engaging with new tools, concepts, and ideas.

Disruptive Marketing Is No Longer An Option

I came to me when I heard a seasoned marketing manager of an electronics company give a presentation in which he said: “All that inbound marketing, all that influencer marketing, that is just a fad. It’s got nothing to do with our business.”

He still bets on exhibitions (attendance falling), printing product spec sheets (young customers look for them on the Internet), and spamming people via e-mail (with questionable success).

The reason we had been invited to consult for that company was that market share had fallen from 20% to 8% and margins had halved in the last 3 years. Time to update your thinking maybe?

40 mill

What you need to understand is that by 2020, so-called millennials will make up 40% of the workforce.

Think about that. This is a generation that grew up with mobile devices, Instagram profiles, and Twitter accounts; employees that perchance found their last job on LinkedIn and who share their mood, experiences, and aspirations on Facebook. These are not the people that will respond to disruptive marketing techniques.

It is also a generation that does no longer trust advertising and brand messages, and relies on testimonials shared experiences; a generation that trusts influencers over brand ambassadors, Amazon reviews over product blurb; a generation that watches reviews on Youtube rather than read a 10-page report by a product testing agency.

We did a project recently for a server manufacturer who was convinced that reviews in industry magazines and special IT forums were the primary sources of product information for their potential clients. They spent millions on a promotional film to show on aircraft and hours on discussions which giveaways to prepare for their next trade show.

After a 6-week in-depth questionnaire sent to hundreds of IT managers, purchasers and CTOs, we found that over 90% of the people instrumental in buying new equipment got basically all their product information from YouTube.

Their clients, essentially IT managers under 40, spent up to 4 hours a day watching YouTube while sitting in the server room managing a company’s hardware. They didn’t read magazines, didn’t participate in forum discussions, and never bothered to attend poorly organized product presentations in hotels. Instead, they consumed in excess of 120 hours of video content on the Internet.

I have covered the details of inbound and content marketing – the only form of marketing millennials respond to – in articles like

Inbound Marketing Explained

So What is Content Marketing Anyway

Using Content Marketing to Strengthen Your Brand

There Is Money In That Content Man!

The 4 Key Success Factors of Content Marketing

While these are comprehensive articles about the different aspects of inbound and content strategies, let’s look at how industrial companies can and must leverage the new digital environment for their marketing.

One of the most successful examples of marketing in the industrial space is the German company Kuka. They make robots. What robots do in a factory is usually boring repetitive stuff, but not if you look at these examples:

table tnees

The Duel: Timo Boll vs. Kuka Robot

Here, machines are taking to their extremes, with creativity and the power of influencers and celebrities. As of 2018, the video has over 11 million views on YouTube, as have many of their other productions. The marketing message is clear: extremely brought reach with the right generation and a clear statement that if the robot can do this, there’s nothing it can’t handle at a customer’s plant.

GE is another brilliant example. A company that covers engineering in almost every industry from aviation to renewable energy has managed almost 1/2 million followers on Instagram, a platform better known for promoting food and fashion, by using exceptional photography, video marketing, and engagement with global influencers.

Industrial giants like Siemens have managed to engage over 2 million of potential customers on platforms like LinkedIn by producing and sharing industry-relevant content, like statistics, case studies, product news, and reports about the challenges of tomorrow. Schneider Electric, one of the most B2B companies imaginable, manages over 1 million followers.

So, if 40% of your technical professionals will be millennials, and good content marketing is the only way to reach them, the question is, how do you get started with it?

 

Getting Started With Industrial Content Marketing

The key here is to remember that just like everyone else, engineers and technical professionals have access to more information sources than ever before in history. They used to go to libraries and take part in training seminars to get access to the latest news about their industries; now they google what they need. The content they want to see must be part of their customer’s buying journey, i.e. deliver content that is informative, valuable, and solves problems or helps to increase efficiency.

Industrial marketers and influencers want content to help with customer base understand technologies, implement changes, and make informed decisions. 

Beyond doubt, one of the most powerful tools for engaging with customers in the realm are case studies; high-quality, in-depth, often long-form content, distributed over social networks through the help for great images and captivating videos. Content marketing isn’t about selling a specific product on the spot, it enables manufacturers to become a trusted resource for potential customers and be in a better position to win their business. Nowhere is this more important than with the millennial segment.

Millennials, already used to consuming content from trust sources like industry blogs and influencers, will keep following these sources as long as they deliver value. The investment into creating this content is minimal compared to what it costs to ship machines across the globe for exhibitions or engaging PR firms, not to mention advertising. All you need is a good camera or smartphone, and a marketer with a knack for journalism, able to tell the right stories in the right way.

Produce compelling content that resonates with your desired audience, and devote sufficient resources to ensure your content reaches the correct audience.

Content marketing is attractive to many industrial marketers because, in theory, no significant investment is required to implement a program. However, content creation is resource intensive and often strains an organization’s limited marketing resources to produce engaging content in a consistent manner. So many companies find that a key to content marketing success is engaging with a media partner, influencers, and other 3rd parties, who can provide a professional portfolio of end-to-end services that help to overcome such challenges.

In particular, industry exhibitions and trade shows should be leveraged through global B2B influencers. For very little investment, such industry celebrities often produce highly engaging content, live reports, blog posts, and product videos that may not be up to Hollywood production standards, but thanks to their hundreds of thousands of followers on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, allow for wide distribution of great content.

What Content Does Not Work for Industrial Millennials?

In short: advertising. Millennials no longer believe brand messages and overly promotional content. Especially engineers, doctors, scientific staff or technical professionals are hardly ever influenced by promotional messages. On the contrary, when asked what they think about such content, most millennials will tell you that in their eyes, it lowers the respect for a brand. “If they have to resort to advertising, their product can’t be that good.”

Finally, millennials, at the start of their careers, are looking to the future. Therefore forward-looking content about industry trends, future technologies, the potential of new technologies, or the limits of technical solutions will always be more engaging than stale content about projects completed a decade ago. Don’t just do this on your website though. Content creation in and of itself is not enough: you have to get the message out there. Use social media platforms, industry blogs, industry publications, newsletters, and industry influencer to make sure your laboriously produced, informative, content actually gets seen and heard.

 

Marketing Keeps Evolving, So Must You

And one last thought, if you are just getting started with content marketing for your industry: it is not enough to implement a strategy and then stick to it stubbornly.

Digital marketing is not a static process. It is evolving over time. New tools and platforms come online, and the behavior of users changes. Two years ago, LinkedIn wasn’t exactly the most popular platform for marketing in most countries, now it’s growing rapidly and become more and more relevant for B2B marketing. People put great hopes in Snapchat, and then Instagram did hit back. What works and what doesn’t seems to change by the minute.

One way to keep abreast is to have a dedicated “technology advisor” with regular meetings. This may be a person in your company or an outside agency. Having these regular briefings will help assure your strategy isn’t outdated before it is even launched.

Content marketing is a journey. It is not just another way of marketing, it is part of the digitalization of our world. And one thing is sure, companies that don’t become digital will be left behind.

 

 

 

 

The New Frontier: Improving Customer Experience through AI

There are actually two frontiers when it comes to improving customer experience in an enterprise, namely the voice of your customer and the voice of your employees.

Customer feedback is integral to optimizing service offerings, improving products, and increasing operational efficiency. Yet a lot of feedback is misplaced, irrelevant, or even vicious.

Disgruntled customers with unrealistic expectations do not offer feedback that makes your company any better, more efficient, or more profitable.

Read also: The Importance of Customer Feedback

Employee feedback is probably the most overlooked source of improvement ideas in any corporation. Employees have their own agenda, their own career ideas, and their incentives, dreams, and values may be entirely misaligned with those of the enterprise. Yet employees experiences offer a great source of feedback for anything from marketing decisions to future product design.

The key to utilizing both frontiers is filtering. This is where AI and NLP (natural language processing) comes in. Using these new technologies in a practical way takes away the fear, increasing understanding of processes, feedback motivation, and the value of feedback itself.

The Voice of the Customer

Applying AI in the customer experience improvement process is one of the easiest ways to familiarize yourself with artificial intelligence. You do not need to dismantle existing systems and you don’t need expensive data scientists or machine learning experts to see the results.

The voice of the customer – if listened to correctly and efficiently – can improve other aspects of your business. Complaints processing may lead to insights into compliance issues, allowing future iterations of a service or product to offer a better UX/UI and a higher level of compliance, thus reducing incidents of future complaints.

The main reasons this does not work with artificial intelligence is that without data gathering, analysis, and quantifiable results, any customer feedback remains anecdotal. Handled by differing operators at differing times, management may never get the overall picture. To give you an example from one of our clients: over 90 complaints about problems streaming video through a hand-held projector were handled by 11 different support engineers, all of them trying to solve the technical problem on a case-by-case basis using existing checklists and protocols. Implementing a simple AI was able to trace all of the problems to a licensing issue, which, once solved, effectively stopped new complaints about the streaming issue entirely.

In the hospitality business, AI offers a plethora of insights normal human supervision would simply miss.

A hotel in central Taiwan had complaints about malfunctioning air-conditioners and followed up each of them by a visit from the A/C repair guy. Implementing an AI solution would have shown how all of the complaints happened on rainy days with a particular employee on duty – who habitually changed the settings of the room A/C thinking that high humidity required different operating parameters.

Read also: The Difference Between Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Deep Learning

In short, AI makes the “anecdotal” quantifiable, thus saving countless hours or repetitive support tasks and avoiding future problems.

This process has a direct impact on a company’s KPIs and spending. If AI analysis can drastically reduce the number of complaints on a specific issue, KPIs improve and costs go down.

But AI is not just about complaints. Getting feedback on new features can align future R&D spending, reducing waste and trial-and-error. Taking a large number of product reviews and employing simple NLP algorithms will give you more meaningful insight than anecdotally reading perhaps 1/10 of them. Solving the problems or adding the most demanded features can significantly increase sales and elevate the brand.

Read also: How to Know When You Are Ready for AI

What about the Employees?

Employees know a lot about the business, its products and how they are perceived by customers. In retail especially, employees on the ground receive a lot more insightful feedback than ever reaches the complaints inbox of HQ. Listening to employees and employing AI/NLP to analyze incident reports can help streamline operations and improve efficiency.

That, of course, means making sure employees have a reason, an incentive, or some kind of motivating factor to share their voice. Very often external factors are far more important to users experience than the service offering itself. Long waiting times make customers edgy, long forms to fill in annoy them. Yet when asked about the service itself, customer and employees may not be able to pinpoint a single factor that made their experience less than desirable.

Taiwan’s Tax Office analyzed the experience of thousands of foreign residents and found that understanding existing reporting forms was the biggest headache. New forms and temporary assistance from students and interns during peak season reduced complaints by over 80%. The AI necessary to identify such problem areas is rudimentary, available, and does not interfere with existing business processes.

As AI evolves, usage cases will become more and more transparent and ubiquitous. Companies who are familiar with AI/NLP will always have a lead over others, and the longer you wait, the farther you will fall behind.

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

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