Brand building in the digital era

The following is a recap of my responses to questions that were provided for a Twitter chat I participated in with Wrk.

As marketers we know there are no “quick wins” when it comes to marketing in the digital age. Trends and best practices are changing every single day. This makes building and differentiating your brand even more difficult.

Overcoming marketing challenges in the digital era

Question 1: In the digital age, how would you say our role has changed and transformed overall from merely promoting and selling products when it comes to building a brand? 

As a marketer, when you’re promoting or selling products, you’re solving a need or customer pain point. A product is something your customers own. But a brand is bigger than that, it’s intangible ownership; it’s an outlook or lifestyle that your fans and followers are a part of.

Fundamentally, selling is different from brand building activities because building is by nature inclusive; you’re finding like minded people and creating a space for them to come together and a collective identity (your brand) to rally behind.

From an operations standpoint, it largely depends on where you “sit” within the org & whether or not you’re part of a marketing team. Are you a brand builder focused on awareness and activation activities in the market? Or are you on the product team focusing on delivering a great user experience when customers are shopping on your site or app?

Question 2: In today’s digital era, what are some of the biggest challenges that marketing professionals face today that they’ve never had to overcome before? 

I don’t think the obstacles have changed that much as much as the focus has shifted to place more prominence on the message being delivered. 

I heard this at the AdWorld conference recently by Ryan Deiss (and I’m paraphrasing)  the marketers mantra has been: right message, right time, right person. But today, the effort should be placed on the message. Meaning: the message itself has now become more important than the medium because brands can basically leverage any medium they want to reach their audience. It’s the message that needs to stand on its own.

I think today consumers expect a lot more from brands they spend money with. I’m part of the Millennial group – and we especially – expect the brands we back with our dollars to give back in a meaningful & measurable way, to demonstrate actions to eliminate things like climate change, or to to act more sustainably. Consumers expect brands to use their resources to make a difference for current and future generations.

Question 3: There is an old saying in the industry: “The medium is the message,” which means the forms of communication (or media) used to deliver information significantly impact the message. Does this still ring true today in the digital era? Why or why not? 

I think that’s flipped now: the message is now the most important component because mediums are largely a commodity.

There is so much opportunity to reach the right audience(s) with things like automation and paid search but if the message itself doesn’t resonate, it will get lost in the noise.  

Question 4: Technologies are advancing at break-neck speed, and while it can be a challenge to keep up, there are also unquestionable benefits for #marketers everywhere. What types of tools are helping you build your brand digitally today? 

I’m a search marketer at heart so I like any tool that can tell me what people are searching for, what time of year they’re searching for it, and what words or questions they’re using to find what they want.

I use a variety of tools that show me metrics like search volume and/or trends over time. Some of the paid tools are Google Keyword Planner (Google Ads) and SEMRush. The best free tools are Google Trends, in particular because it shows Search Interest over time for keywords or topics, and KW Finder that can be added to your Internet browser as an extension. Other tools I love and use are, which tells you what people search for and the words they use. For audience insights, I like SparkToro. I use Glimpse for discovering trends before they take off.  

Question 5: Now more than ever, it’s vital that marketers unite online to share insights and ideas. What are some digital channels that you use to stay connected?

I think marketers should dabble in lots of different digital channels to stay up with what’s going on and to learn what others are doing and to see where people are spending time. I pop in and out listening to topics in Clubhouse or on Twitter Spaces.

I subscribe to a handful of newsletters. My rule of thumb is that information you consume as a marketer should help you get a read on things in 3 ways: what’s going on internally for your industry, what’s happening externally and a high level view of the trends in the broader marketplace.  Here’s what I mean: in the SEO industry, I subscribe to a handful of newsletters like #SEOFOMO and Marie Haynes Consulting – Search News You Can Use, a few external sources are DTC newsletter and Ann Handley’s newsletter, and sources that are going to help me get a broader marketplace perspective (my go-to currently is CNN’s 5 Things daily newsletter).

What sources help you stay connected? Tweet to me at @millertime_baby.

Email Marketing: A Little Known Way To Remain Relevant In Their Inbox

I thought this was a great and rather unique example of an email that aims to re-calibrate the level of engagement. Essentially proactively saying, we noticed you may need less communication: “We haven’t heard from you in a while, how can we adjust the frequency of our communication so you don’t unsubscribe completely.”

Ok, I’ll bite and open your email. I admit, I’ve been away from my personal inbox a bit more lately actively engaging in the physical world (#girlswhotrain). And also trying to be diligent about saving a bit of cash not buying every new Reebok shoe that comes on the market.

This email has a great approach because it taps into why I connect with the Spartan brand, reminding me of the mindset of never giving up. And the fact that they noticed I haven’t been clicking through to the website (clearly a diligent marketer leveraging their data & ESP). We, the brand, respect your training time and mental capacity so let’s actively provide you with a way to adjust the frequency of emails accordingly. I love how they use the illustration of buckets as a CTA to continue to engage with the brand at my own pace.

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How can you show your non-engaged consumers that you notice them? What can you do to ask them how they want to be communicated to or how often they want to hear from you?

4 Lessons In Online Marketing I Learned From Mom

In recent weeks, Google has officially begun phasing out the existence of its right-rail ads. As you can imagine, removing ads from one position means they’ll show up in another. Presently, this means up to four PPC ads can appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) thereby pushing the organic listings completely below the fold. The example below illustrates this point and shows how product listing ads (PLAs) occupy the right rail for transaction based queries.

Google removes right rail ads

While it’s not the case with this particular search above, the increase in page one real estate is very real!  In some cases, the number of organic listings on page one has decreased from ten listings to seven. That’s if users even scroll below the fold. As an SEO savvy to the consumer journey, I can’t stress how important it is to provide a seamless user experience that captures the transaction after the user moves from the SERP onto your site. Let me illustrate using my favorite, observable test subject; my mom.

It’s funny, marketers sometimes go to a lot of trouble organizing focus groups and selecting just the right individuals to represent their “target market.” But if you really want to know when and where customers are abandoning your site, watch your parents navigate the domain.

During a recent holiday with my parents, I watched my mom book tours and excursions online. The website (which will remain anonymous for this post) that my mom was attempting to book our tickets on using her tablet, provided such a poor user experience. She was unable to properly confirm the reservation had even been made (seriously, you don’t at least provide copy that says “Thank you for your reservation…”) that she proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes on the phone trying to reach a real person in the customer service department to confirm the reservation.

The frustration and confusion caused by this website’s booking design is completely unnecessary and very fixable. Here are the four highly frictional elements which nearly caused my mom not to compete the transaction:

  1. Required a login & password.
  2. Not providing the option to at least check out as a guest.
  3. Multiple information-requesting steps asking for the airline name, arrival and departure dates, even date of birth (seriously!?) prior to purchase.
  4. The website design was not formatted for a tablet device.

Don’t try be original, just be better.

As a consultant, I am constantly observing how elements on a page can help or hinder whether or not the consumer takes action. Simply doing the opposite of the four obstacles listed above will improve your user experience.  One-time visits to book tickets online or make a reservation should not require  a username/ password; it is literally too much for the customer to think about creating yet another username and password for your site that they’ll actually remember.  Which is why providing the option to check out as a “guest” is much more seamless and hassle free to the customer.

If the information requested during the time of checkout is not relevant to the actual tour, it should not be required. Ultimately, the number of steps towards completing a purchase should be as few as possible. If your business requires certain forms of information, indicate to the consumer what information is required versus what is optional. This at least ensures you get the necessary customer information all the while continuing to move them on their way towards their booking goal.

Lastly, website design should be formatted to the device (mobile, desktop or tablet). Otherwise, customers can quickly became frustrated at not being able to see how to successfully complete their transaction and may abandon the process without completing the sale.  Customer, gone.

With the increased competition for page one real estate in the Google SERP, it is imperative for e-commerce and service-oriented websites to provide an efficient online experience that quickly and securely ensures the transaction is complete and assures the customer of their purchase.

Anything less means your competitors will pick up the sale where your website left off.

The Inversion Point is Coming – Is Your Mobile Site Ready To Handle Business?

As Joe DeMike, Principal Marketing Consultant at Google explained at IMPACT14 this September, there is an inversion point that’s coming with regard to mobile devices.  Simply put, there will come a point in the very near future where traffic from mobile devices to your company website will overtake that of traffic from desktop (and we’re talking organic traffic). Companies need to be ready and they need to be able to provide a seamless, frictionless experience on the customer path to purchase.

Case in point, I used two types of car services to get me to and from the airport while traveling to the Impact14 conference in Las Vegas this year. I booked an Uber from my office to the airport and I took a cab from LAX back to my office.

Here’s the key difference in my choice of words which, I’ll explain, simultaneously illustrates the difference between companies that are optimizing for mobile experiences versus those that are not: I booked the Uber—implying preference in my transportation arrangements whereas I had to “take” a cab from the airport because Uber drivers are no longer allowed to pick up from the airport…Lame.

Read on and see which seamless and frictionless experience you would prefer:

The Uber

  • Exiting my office building, I open the Uber app and use the pinpoint location to alert a nearby driver I would like to be picked up.
  • Moments later, I get a text message saying my driver is en route and the expected wait time is less than 5 minutes.
  • The driver pleasantly greeted me. He offered me bottled water and gum upon getting settled inside his clean, well-kept vehicle.
  • The driver used the company-provided smartphone to input my desired location.
  • We chatted back and forth during the entire ride to the airport.
  • Since my payment details are on file with Uber, there was no swiping of my credit card or fishing through my purse for cash—even tip is factored into the Uber rides.
  • In short, I arrived at my destination and left the car feeling happy and knowing that I would use Uber’s services again.

The Cab

  • Exited baggage claim at LAX and climbed into the cab giving the driver the exact office address for my destination. He did nothing with the information except nod, start the meter and shift the car into drive.
  • We spend the next minute debating the state of traffic conditions on the freeway versus side streets. When it becomes apparent to me that the cab driver does not know which route is faster, I pull out my smart phone. A quick look on ends the discussion; we will take the freeway (where is his smartphone?).
  • No conversation.
  • I advise the cab driver to exit the freeway and proceed to Pico to make a quick left and then right using back roads to the office (seriously, where is his smart phone?). He is flustered saying “but you said it was on Olympic?…” I say, “this method takes the back roads, it’s OK.”
  • The cab pulls up outside the office. This being the part where we exchange money for his service, I tell the cab driver I will be paying with a credit card and would like a receipt. His reaction is one of visible displeasure that I don’t have cash to give him.
  • I swipe my card into the machine and tip him 20% (since I’m such an inconvenience). The machine doesn’t work and I have to repeat the process again (seriously?!). Finally, receipt in hand, I silently vow not to take a cab again unless I absolutely have to.

These two experiences are night and day and, to a large degree, illuminate the disparity between companies that have optimized their websites to handle mobile engagement and transactions versus those that have yet to. A snippet from DeMike’s presentation, “mobile users will notice and be delighted by the small things you do for them to enhance their experience.” Some of the unique user needs (Read: mobile optimization principles) included:

  • Optimize your entire site for mobile
  • Don’t make users pinch-to-zoom
  • Make product images expandable
  • Tell users which screen orientation works best (if applicable)
  • Keep your user in a single browser window
  • Be clear why you need a user’s location

As it stands, there is a big disparity between the companies that are ahead of the game and those still thinking of getting on board the mobile bandwagon. The time for thinking has past. It’s time for action. I agree, the inversion point will happen and when it does, upon finishing an experience with a brand on a mobile device, marketers will want their customers feeling happy and knowing they’ll use the brand’s services again.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a few snapshots of what this years presenters had to say on mobile.  The IMPACT14 conference is an annual event hosted by the Internet Marketing Association.

Joe DeMike's technical check list
mobile commerce
build best in class experience
Cross device compatability
build app that enhances site

Please visit the event photo gallery for more photos of the event.