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Understanding Google’s New Emphasis On “Helpful Content” Related To SEO

As we’ve shared on social media and with our SEO company’s clients, Google announced in September 2022 a key revision to their search algorithm (the algorithm they use to decide which websites to serve up, and in which order, for search terms entered in their search engine) to which each and every website owner should pay close attention. And, that is that they, as the #1 search engine used by individuals (92% or more of individuals use Google as their primary search engine), will be paying greater consideration to whether or not a website’s content is “helpful” or “unhelpful” when making search engine results listing ranking decisions. As you would expect, sites with “helpful content” are more likely to be served up and rank well in search results for relevant terms.

Impact of Google’s September 2022 “Helpful Content” Algorithm Change

We know first-hand how much of a shift in ranking can take place when Google views your site as one that shares “helpful content.” Our site now rank approx. 50 spots higher in Google search results for a high-volume, relevant keyword and that shift happened almost overnight. We believe that the positive shift was due to Google recognizing that our Boston digital marketing agency consistently publishes blog posts that are easily understood by a “lay person,” but also provide enough instruction to implement some of the marketing tactics we describe and recommend in our posts.

Shared below in Google’s “own words” is information from Google’s Search Central blog about how to ensure your website content is “helpful.” We’ve highlighted (via bold italics) what we consider to be the most critical policies to apply when making decisions about what topics to write about — and how to write about them — to make sure your content is beneficial to the various audiences who visit your site. All of their recommendations should improve your website’s “bounce rate,” i.e., the percentage of people who land/start on your site without interacting it in any way, such as clicking on a link or call-out, or visiting another page of your site. When prospective clients or clients are bouncing too quickly from your site, it’s an opportunity for a competitor to win them over on their site, right?

Unhelpful Website Content And How It Impacts SEO

The flip side of the positive practice of regular production and posting of “helpful content” is to eliminate content that Google may deem as “unhelpful (which could negatively impact how your website ranks for “desirable” search terms).” Such “unhelpful” content includes:

  • Short content that is “stuffed” with keywords and was primarily loaded to your site to support your site being found on Google for those keywords.
  • Content that is outdated — think events that have already passed or information that is no longer relevant or accurate, particularly pre-pandemic information since the pandemic greatly changed both business and consumer behavior.
  • Content that is all “about you,”, i.e., too focused on selling your products and singing your praises or sharing your differentiators without explaining how your prospective clients or clients would benefit from your products, services, and solutions, i.e., explaining what pain points of clients they would address.

Our team is here to help you interpret this most recent Google algorithm change, and put the right steps in place to make sure you respond to, and take advantage of, this recent Google algorithm change appropriately, promptly, and effectively. It’s very much in keeping with what we shared years ago in one of our very first SEO blog posts about making sure your website is “authentic.” So, please reach out if we can help you effectively navigation this change in algorithm — one we think makes is warranted, was a long-time-in-coming, and will provide for a far better user experience on all websites.

Google’s Explanation Of What “Helpful Content” Is

Source of information below: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update#:~:text=The%20helpful%20content%20update%20aims,successful%20with%20our%20new%20update%3F

Focus on people-first content

The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.

How can you ensure you’re creating content that will be successful with our new update? By following our long-standing advice and guidelines to create content for people, not for search engines. People-first content creators focus first on creating satisfying content, while also utilizing SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value. Answering yes to the questions below means you’re probably on the right track with a people-first approach:

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

Avoid creating content for search engines first

Our advice about having a people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices, such as those covered in Google’s own SEO guide. SEO is a helpful activity when it’s applied to people-first content. However, content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.

How do you avoid taking a search engine-first approach? Answering yes to some or all of the questions is a warning sign that you should reevaluate how you’re creating content across your site:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
  • Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?

competitive advantage, differentiation, digital marketing agency, diversity, Enjoying What You Do, Importance of taking break, lead generation, marketing best practices, marketing consultant, Marketing Planning, Memorability, Objectives Setting, Passion, push marketing, sales, strategic planning, target audiences, Target Marketing, traditional marketing, Understanding Your Environment

The Two Key Perks To Pre-Internet, Non-Digital (Traditional) Marketing

This morning I participated in an interview with two University of Connecticut students who were working on a class project about leadership in marketing & communications (I’m a UCONN alum to whom they outreached via LinkedIn). I had already completed an initial draft of this post before my meeting with them, but while discussing with them the shift that has occurred since I first launched my marketing career – from “traditional” marketing to digital marketing – it struck me to refer to traditional marketing as “pre-internet” marketing. I’m going to start using that term and “non-digital” more because “traditional marketing” has just never felt right to me as the term to use for activities advertisers engaged in more before Google searches, social media, and texting took over the world!

Read on to learn what I see as the two broad categories of perks to employing non-digital marketing activities.

1. Perks To The Marketing Professional Developing and Executing Non-Digital Marketing Tactics

Call me crazy, but I miss things like print checks and listening to possible music beds and writing advertorial copy – all things that came with being involved with or overseeing non-digital marketing activities like direct mail, TV and radio advertising, and print advertising. I also miss physically visiting or viewing images of billboard locations and scripting messaging for radio ads. And, I miss holding a beautifully crafted – both in appearance and messaging – sturdy, direct mail piece, and being responsible for buying a target audience mailing list and working with direct mail house partners. I miss ad slicks and seeing my print ads in the Metro newspaper that I snagged at the train station to read on my commute to work, and I miss seeing my advertising subway posters on that same commute.

Particularly during my days when I was employed in bank marketing roles, and we implemented integrated marketing campaigns that ran anywhere from one month to three, I loved overseeing the content, production, and design of various pieces; plus, working with our external marketing agency to produce a number of physical marketing pieces that all mirrored each other and sent customers and prospective customers the same marketing messages and reminders. These included:

  • Physical statement stuffers that went in customer bank statements – it was so enjoyable to brainstorm with others on my team to arrive at fun, punchy, effective copy and seeing the stuffer come to fruition in its beautiful slick, printed form. Often we would create extras of these for tellers or other bank employees to give out to customers or prospective customers.
  • Lobby posters – these would appear in each of the bank’s various branches and most branches had several locations within the office to hang the posters that highlighted whatever product or service we were promoting that month.
  • ATM messages – back then, people used ATMs more and we’d arrange for messages to appear on the screen that mirrored the campaign-in-question’s key messages.
  • Teller posters/cards – these were mini versions of the lobby posters that were placed at teller stations for viewing by customers as they waited in line or interacted with the teller.
  • Visual displays – these were physical/tangible items we’d place in bank branches that were relevant to the product or service we were promoting, such as telephones to encourage people to use the bank’s “phone banking” service.

The takeaway? Pre-internet marketing activities allow marketing staff and professionals to use a different part of their brain and more of their senses, including touch/feel, and it’s important to shake things up that way, right? Using one part of your brain can help strengthen the other part of your brain, or give a certain part of your brain a rest or new perspective.

2. Perks To The Organization Employing Non-Digital Marketing Activities And To Their Target Audiences

In keeping with the message that ended the discussion of perk #1 above, everyone has different preferred and default means of learning and absorbing information. Organizations need to understand that seeing a billboard or an advertisement at a movie, mall, or subway station might resonate more with, or be more easily digested by, certain individuals than an online ad or social media post.

Plus, some target audiences may not spend a lot of time online or on the phone because of personal life circumstances or the nature of their job – equating to missed opportunities for the organization who is advertising. Some target audience members may be more likely to see or notice your advertising if it occurred on or in a billboard, train, bus, mall, TV, radio, or a printed/hard copy of a newspaper or magazine. I think you get the picture! Plus, there is so much distraction for a prospective customer when they are on their phone or computer; non-digital marketing tactics are often served up and to, and viewed by, customers when they are in more of a “captive” vs. distracted mode.

To summarize the above, we believe both the advertiser and target audiences win when marketing activities that go beyond digital ones are employed to create awareness and educate prospective customers. As we discussed in our recent blog post, non-digital marketing activities can greatly contribute to the success of a multi-tactic, integrated marketing campaign.

We Can Help You Decide If and What Non-Digital Marketing Is Right For Your Organization

While we often refer to ourselves as a Boston digital marketing agency or Boston SEO company, we are so much more than that, and bring significant non-digital/traditional marketing experience. We can serve as a marketing consultant for developing strategic marketing plans and as your outsourced digital marketing team. Our team can help with both high-level marketing work like determining strategy, as well as hands-on implementation of day-to-day marketing work and marketing campaign and advertising campaign tactics.

The team at Results C & R is glad to hold a complimentary discussion with you about available non-digital/traditional marketing activities, and which, if any, might make sense for your organization. Reach out to schedule your consultation to start planning for the new year!

brand promise, competitive advantage, content marketing, differentiation, digital marketing agency, integrated marketing, lead generation, pull marketing, push marketing, Results Analysis, sales, Setting Marketing Budget, strategic planning, Strong Ad Creative, taglines, target audiences, Target Marketing, traditional marketing

Why It’s A Marketing Must That Your Marketing Activities and Tactics Be Integrated

When I first started drafting this blog post, I thought I’d be mainly talking about traditional marketing and what I miss about it. But, as the post evolved, I realized the traditional marketing tactics/activities were just a piece of something bigger that I miss, sometimes, and that is being aware of, involved with, and/or or having oversight for ALL the marketing activities that a particular brand/organization executes. Often as a consultant, my team and I are working with organizations who have their own internal marketing team, and/or who work with a number of different outsourced marketing vendors or agencies. This means, while we are responsible for one or several pieces of the overall marketing strategic plan – usually digital pieces, we aren’t always aware of, kept informed of, or responsible for other pieces. As you would expect, each and every marketing message or tactic that is put out there in the universe by an organization has an impact – both negative and positive – on the effectiveness of the other marketing tactics.

Regardless of the above, because we strive each and every day to support our clients’ success, and to serve and be viewed as a member of their team, we often make recommendations and suggestions related to overall marketing strategy and various marketing tactics that others are overseeing. Sometimes, we suggest adding a new marketing tactic to the mix, even if we won’t be the ones making it happen, and sometimes, our suggestions are about shaking up how an existing marketing tactic is handled or executed.

Why Every Organization Needs Someone Monitoring and Aware Of All Marketing Tactics

Ultimately, each and every organization needs to have one person – whether it be an outsourced marketing consultant or agency or an in-house marketing director, chief marketing officer, or the business owner themselves – who:

  • Is aware of and tracking and analyzing the results of each and every marketing activity to ensure that marketing dollars and time are spent on those activities that lead to the greatest awareness, and ultimately highest possible number of conversions, such as sales (product purchase or engagement for services), and inquiries.
  • Ensures that marketing creative (messaging and design) is consistent across all marketing activities.

What Is Integrated Marketing and Why Is It So Important?

As hinted at above, integrated marketing means that all the marketing tactics you use to promote your organization and create awareness of it are cohesive, and therefore “mirror” each other. All tactics included in a strategic integrated marketing plan/campaign to promote a particular product or service should:

  • Contain and repeat the same key messages of the campaign
  • Reflect the same product or service promise and your competitive differentiators
  • Have a similar appearance as far as logos, design, color, and graphics go

For centuries, those who have succeeded at growing an organization have known that you have to hit the audiences whom you think will be the best target/users of your product or service numerous times to create both awareness and sales. Target audiences need to hear and see the same message multiple times for it to both stick and resonate. If you shake things up too much across your various marketing tactics and vehicles, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to expose your targeted customers to the same messaging and look and feel and you’ll also CONFUSE them.

Check out this blog post from marketing guru, Neil Patel, to read about integrated marketing campaign examples. And, read our blog post that explains how and why content marketing and integrated marketing are different. Or, use the search tool found on our “Ponderings” blog main page, to search for other posts that contain helpful info. on integrated marketing.

Help For Creating, Executing, and Implementing An Integrated Marketing Plan and Campaign

At Results Communications & Research, we bring more than 30 years of experience of implementing effective, integrated marketing campaigns, including ones that contain both digital and more traditional tactics such as outdoors (billboards), print, transit, movie, mall and broadcast (radio, TV) advertising. We can help you develop a strategic integrated marketing plan that outlines the various marketing vehicles and tactics we believe you should employ in a particular campaign, based on what we learn of your marketing objectives, challenges, and target audiences. Then, we’ll work with you to ensure proper tracking is in place to track the effectiveness of each of the various marketing tactics to help inform what tactics to employ in future campaigns or reallocate existing campaign $$ and/or pivot mid-campaign, based on what results are showing. So, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We love developing, executing, and analyzing the results of integrated marketing campaigns!

Being Found on Google, Customer Service, differentiation, keywords, marketing best practices, organic SEO, pull marketing, sales, Search Engine Optimization, SEO, social media, technical SEO, traditional marketing, Understanding Your Environment, website

Clearly & Regularly Communicate Solutions and How You Address Client Pain Points to Succeed at SEO

As I am and my team at Results Communications & Research, a Greater Boston SEO Company, have observed and demonstrated, succeeding at SEO goes far beyond incorporating high-volume search terms (keywords) that are the synonyms, or the exact phrases your organization employs in your digital content, for your various products and services.

Regardless of the nature of your organization, if you want to be found on Google, i.e., rank well in organic search engine results, you need to metaphorically borrow your clients’ boots and sneakers, and walk in their shoes. Why? Because often target audience members don’t enter the common/standard term for a particular product or service that you offer into a search engine like Google, including ones that your organization uses on your website or in other digital marketing materials or activities. Instead, they search for insight on how to solve a problem — whether it be a consumer/personal problem or a business one.

Let’s say you offer nutrition services that provide a number of benefits and support a number of positive outcomes and goal achievements, including helping individuals lose weight or have more energy. Your target audiences may not search on terms like “nutritionist near me” to find you. Instead, they may be putting terms like “how to lose weight” or “how to have more energy” into a search engine, such as Google.

How to Be Viewed As Part of the Solution, Not The Problem!

As an SEO agency that has been helping clients move the SEO needle since 2014, we suggest you adhere to the following game plan to support being found in Google and other search engines for the solutions and benefits you offer:

  1. gather a cross-sectional group of individuals who interact with customers or prospective customers on a regular basis, such as customer service representatives, account managers, salespeople, and marketing staff to brainstorm and document what your customers’ pain points are:
    • what ongoing challenges do they face in their daily life or in their professional life/business role that purchasing your product or engaging you for your service can help address or eliminate, or reduce the impact of?
    • what problems or solutions to problems are current or prospective clients searching on, e.g., how to improve project tracking, how to maximize my marketing budget, how to keep ice dams from forming on my roof, help for anxiety, best way to create a cohesive team. You get the picture. If you can’t gather a team — even via a video chat or conference call, consider creating an online survey to gather team members’ feedback — something we can help you with. Regardless of how you gather the info., you may want to share our “Defining Your Differentiator with Detail” blog post with individuals from whom you welcome insights. It may spark some great ideas about your target audience’s pain points and how you lessen and erase your clients’ discomforts.
  2. using the list resulting from the above brainstorm activity, use a keyword planner tool or engage an SEO expert to conduct keyword research for you, to:
    • determine which of the phrases/search terms you and your team identified are being entered most in search engines by your target audiences
    • identify high-volume (frequently used) phrases/search terms that are similar to the ones your team identified, but different from them, and therefore, additions to your list
  3. begin employing the terms that your keyword research reveals are the most frequently used ones (as long as you believe they are relevant to both the solutions to problems you offer and clients are searching on) in:
    • social media posts, profiles and hashtags
    • website content and behind-the-scene tags, known as meta tags
    • other digital and traditional marketing materials and activities to support your sales proposition and reinforce value

Need help executing the SEO game plan outlined above? We’re here to help with any of your SEO challenges, so please reach out!

competitive advantage, Customer Service, differentiation, good will creation, Memorability, sales, traditional marketing, User experience

Employing a “Dinosaur” Marketing Practice to Keep From Going Extinct

Last week, I went “in town” (traveled from my office on the South Shore into Boston) to meet with a client. As I often do when I make the 45+- minute commute to meet with a client, or attend an industry or networking event, I ran a few errands after my meeting. There’s always a birthday gift or a new book to be bought, right? I stopped at Copley Place/The Prudential Building to buy a couple of ingredients that Sur La Table and Eataly carry, and also visited Barnes & Noble to purchase “The Secret” (a cool treasure hunt guide with a Boston reference).

Initially, I thought I was just having a lucky or “random acts of kindness” day, because employees in each of the businesses I mentioned above were so welcoming, helpful, or kind — something I hadn’t experienced to such a degree at retailers in a while. But, then it struck me on my journey home, how much retailers must be recognizing the need to step up their customer service game if they want to survive in the next year, never mind the next ten.

I’m likely stating the obvious here, but the plethora of online shopping opportunities, particularly, Amazon.com, is causing retailers across the U.S. to close their physical shops/locations in busy downtown areas and shopping malls. Whether it be filing for bankruptcy or completing closing up shop (literally and figuratively), recent victims of the uptick in online (particularly one-stop) shopping include Papyrus, Payless Shoes, Forever 21, Barneys New York, Gymboree, and more. And, it’s common knowledge, that time-honored retail giant, Macy’s, whom families have visited for generations, will be closing numerous storefronts.

As a marketer, I’ve always felt and known that customer service can make or break you, and if an organization’s service is outstanding or unique enough from that of competitors’ it can be a true differentiator. That’s why I’ve discussed this topic previously in my “In Praise of Praise” and “Why You Should Remind & Require Employees to ‘Do Your Job’ And Do It Well” blog posts.

My aforementioned shopping experience in Boston leads me to believe that many retailers are now coaching and requiring their sales staff to deliver exceptional service in hopes of maintaining a strong physical vs. online consumer following. So what were some of the stepped-up customer service tactics I experienced at the retailers mentioned above?

  • lots of smiles from individuals working on the floor of stores or at the registers
  • being greeted when I walked in the door
  • being asked by more than one employee if they could help me find anything or if I was finding what I was looking for
  • being offered food samples
  • being given double the portion of the food item I was purchasing (but only paying for the original one portion) and being alerted to that by the employee
  • displaying interest in my needs, my life, what problem I was looking to solve, etc.
  • engaging me in a lengthy conversation related to a product I was purchasing and why I was excited about it, and sharing in my enthusiasm

Based on the way I was made to feel noticed, valued, and important, I will definitely revisit all the physical stores of these retailers again. I’m someone who enjoys chatting with salespeople at stores, window-shopping, and being able to feel, test, try on, etc. a product I’m hoping to buy. Part of that may be due to the fact that I work out of my home office and all my co-workers are virtual. I welcome getting away from my office once in a while and excursions that provide opportunities to socialize. I know this does not hold true for all consumers, though — many don’t want to have to socialize with salespeople or leave their home to run an errand after a busy workday.

I’ve shared all of the above as a reminder and warning to anyone who is responsible for sales at their particular organization, regardless of the organization’s nature. Great customer service never grows old or goes out of style! It’s as relevant — in fact, it may be more relevant — than it was in the 1800’s (hence, the exaggerated dinosaur reference in my blog post title) when Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Bloomingdale, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Barnes & Noble opened their doors. While I do hope this stepped-up customer service effort will keep the retailers I cited from losing their brick & mortar presence, I wonder if such an effort might have kept them from being where some of them are today — close to closing up shop.

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Why Adjectives & Qualifiers Matter in the Game of SEO

Not that long ago, I wrote about the importance of “differentiating with detail.” The more detailed an organization can be about what makes them the best provider of a particular service or product, and therefore, how they stand out from a competitor, the better.

In somewhat of the same vein, as I help organizations of all shapes & sizes better position themselves to rank well in search engine results for the terms their target audience(s) are most regularly searching on, I’m continually reminded of the importance of detail and the benefits of “unpacking your adjectives” called out in the Schoolhouse Rock piece from my childhood below. What I’m seeing on a fairly consistent basis is this — organizations are not qualifying or describing their services or products in enough detail. They know what product or service they offer, and therefore, expect their target audience(s) will know too. The problem with this is that their target audience may not find them in the first place, through a search engine search, because the organization isn’t sending out appropriate signals via their website content and behind-the-scenes page title tags.

Here’s some examples that demonstrate the issue above:

Let’s say you’re a business-to-business (B2B) organization primarily offering consulting services to a particular industry or related to a particular function/department of an organization. You need to call that out in website page content and page title tags. For example, if your organization primarily works with higher education organizations or individuals in HR roles at an organization, you need to qualify/modify the phrase “consulting” in website page title tags and content, i.e., use terms like “HR consulting services” or “higher education consulting services.”

Only offer your products or services in a particular geography? Well, that’s another reason to break out the adjectives and modifiers like “Greater Boston”, “South Shore MA”, or “New England” in website content and page title tags like “South Shore MA digital marketing agency” or “digital marketing agency serving New England.” You wouldn’t believe the number of organizations I’ve seen with websites that have no “geographic triggers” in website content or page title tags to inform search engines where they operate/who they serve. In this scenario, it’s impossible to rank well in local search or in geographies you serve that are “not local.”

Are your services or products offered on both a wholesale (B2B) and retail (business-to-consumer (B2C)) basis or just one or the other, and is that obvious to search engines who are crawling/indexing your website content and page title tags? For example, if you offer food products that can only be bought retail or wholesale, are you making that clear through using the right modifiers like “hospitality industry food products” or “food products for the hospitality industry?” Or, “consumer food products” or “retail store food products?”

Do both businesses and individuals/homeowners need the type of services you offer, and do you only offer one or both? Make sure you spell that out through language in page title tags, such as “home roofing services”, “residential roofing services”, “commercial roofing services” or “business roofing services.” Or, “residential real estate appraisal services” vs. “commercial real estate appraisal services.”

I think you get the idea, and trust me, you’ll reap great SEO rewards just by keeping the above need to “modify” in mind when you either review an existing website from an SEO standpoint, or are writing page title tags and website content for a brand new site. And, as you go through this exercise, as our blog post reminds, think about how and when to use acronyms, industry jargon, scientific terms, internal speak, etc. to modify/qualify certain services or products you offer. Give great thought to whether your target audience(s) are using the aforementioned in the search terms they enter into a search engine like Google. If you don’t think your audiences are using those terms, forego using them in website content and page title tags, and instead, use the “lay person” terms that they are likely using.

Not sure what search terms/keywords your target audience(s) are most frequently entering in search engines to identify organizations that offer your particular products or services? Reach out. We’re keyword research and planning experts and can help you determine what phrases to focus on in website content and page title tags and how to best modify and qualify the products and services you offer.

 

 

 

 

 

brand promise, competitive advantage, Customer Service, differentiation, good will creation, Memorability, Uncategorized, User experience

Why You Should Remind & Require Employees to “Do Your Job” and Do It Well

In my last blog post, “In Praise of Praise”, I shared my thoughts about how, in this day and age of “digital sharing”, an organization’s success or failure may be very dependent on customers’ online reviews/ratings. The same success-failure relationship holds true for an organization’s customer service quality, which, of course, individuals likely take into consideration when reviewing or rating an organization online. As a marketer, I’ve always believed prompt, effective, exemplary, and customer-satisfying customer service delivery is an organization’s most important marketing tactic and a marketing “no-brainer” along with having an effective website that is optimized for SEO. In very competitive markets, where there is little differentiation between products or services offered, it often is the one and only true differentiator.

I’ve also always been a big stickler when it comes to doing your job and doing it well — this includes having high expectations of myself as well as my co-workers, and thus, my always wanting to deliver outstanding work, both in corporate and consulting roles. I’ll never forget how, while employed at my very first permanent post-college job in a prominent bank’s corporate banking area, it was noted in my review as a criticism that I had too high or unreasonable expectations of co-workers. I couldn’t understand that being a negative trait at the time, and I still don’t comprehend why it was a perceived as a weakness that I would voice a concern to my manager whenever staff in the Bank’s wire transfer area messed up a transfer for the Bank’s biggest corporate customer — whose relationship I and my boss managed.

DO YOUR JOB

Fellow Bostonians and fans of the New England Patriots are sure to be familiar with the “Do Your Job” command associated with Coach Bill Belichick in recent years. I’ve been thinking about this statement a great deal lately, primarily because I have had, or friends and family have shared with me, so many recent experiences where individuals didn’t, had to be pushed to, or refused to do their job. It seems like it’s becoming more and more common for individuals to:

  • deliver slow or no service
  • express through body language or spoken language that they’re annoyed that they have to serve or help you, or that you asked them to serve or help you
  • ask you to self-serve or do their job for them
  • be immersed in their cell phone and not their job
  • continue talking with their co-workers when they see you standing at the counter or in line waiting to be helped

A couple examples of the above. Earlier in the week, my husband and I visited a popular and busy museum in New York City. The individual working at the coat check did not speak to us at all when we came to pick up my coat and bag, despite having chatted quite a bit with us when we dropped them off. Instead, she was very slow to get up out of her chair and get our things for us, and seemed very irritated that she had to do so. The fact that she had spoken with us previously meant there wasn’t any kind of language barrier getting in the way of her communicating with us. Therefore, she could have said “thanks” when we handed her our token and ticket to pick up the items, wished us “a good evening” as it was late in the day, or commented or asked about our visit or about our returning to the Museum. Even a smile would have gone a long way with us.

A family member recently needed help with a technical issue he was having with some software. He couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t able to get the software to function right, despite numerous attempts to use it to accomplish a necessary task. Instead, he was asked to do an extensive amount of trouble-shooting and rework on his end by the software company, when the individual with whom he was interacting could have easily identified the glitch/helped him resolve the issue. Basically, he was being asked to self-serve. And — I know I’m stating the obvious — that’s a common occurrence right now. We’re being asked now to regularly self-serve at checkout lines at the grocery store or pharmacy when we purchase products, and even self-serve related to services we receive.  And, even some smaller shops have implemented such technology.

Sure there are times when it’s helpful or quicker for customers to be able to self-serve, but I don’t believe that individuals should ever be forced to self-serve, and if we have to self-serve, shouldn’t we receive some kind of product or service price discount? Self service should be just one of several service options offered to customers. By offering self-service, organizations may believe their customers will be more satisfied, and in some cases, that may be true, but the organization also misses out on the opportunity for an individual to rave about the exceptional/outstanding/world-class service they received — service that may be the deciding factor in whether they return to a store location or use a particular service again, or the deciding factor among those with whom a client shares information about your organization’s service level.

patriots

So, what are the marketing and management implications of all of the above?

  • Managers of front line staff need to regularly conduct an assessment of how those customer-facing staff are doing their jobs and if they are doing it well via:
    • service surveys conducted of customers — I’m going to give a shout-out to the Lucerne Hotel in NYC — because they recently surveyed me with an online tool at the beginning of my stay and after my stay. Way to stay on top of any possible customer service issues!
    • hiring a mystery shopper to provide customer service experience feedback if your organization has one or several storefronts or locations where individuals receive face-to-face/in-person service from an employee
    • customers reviews posted on Facebook, Yelp, Google, and any other rating/review sites that might be relevant to your particular industry
    • other tactics, such as listening in on a staff member’s phone call with a customer (this should not be done without the staff member being aware of it, of course, or at least aware that, at any point, you might might be listening in on a customer call)
  • Organizations should ask themselves whether ALL of their target audiences/customers will welcome having to self-serve. If the answer is “no,” and there are customer or prospective client audiences who likely won’t welcome self-service, then a service option where an organization’s employees assists or waits on customers is required.

I’d so welcome hearing your thoughts and experiences related to being the victim of someone’s unwillingness to do their job or being forced to self-serve. So, please do share!

brand promise, competitive advantage, differentiation, Memorability, sales, taglines, target audiences, Understanding Your Environment

Defining Your Differentiator With Detail

I was prompted to write this post because of recent exercises and discussions in which I engaged related to how an organization differentiates itself from competitors. Earlier in the week, related to an opportunity I was pursuing, I needed to express in writing what makes me and my organization different from (well, really better than) other marketing consultants. I also had a discussion yesterday with a prospective new client — one in the very initial stages of creating a brand/identity — about the importance of calling out in marketing activities, including branding, what made his shop different from competitors.

Q: Why Should Your Target Audience(s) Choose Your Product or Service Over That of A Competitor?

Answering the above question is no easy feat! In certain industries, and with particular product and service offerings, it can be extremely difficult to identify a differentiator, particularly if your organization operates in a highly regulated industry where certain product and service features are limited or mandated by state or federal regulations. I’ll give an example from my corporate marketing days. I worked for two health plans who served individuals qualifying for state-funded health care coverage, such as Medicaid. The states in which the health plans operated had very specific guidelines regarding what plans could and couldn’t offer members related to the various healthcare coverage programs for which they were contracted. This made it very difficult to create and execute program benefits, features, services, etc. that stood out from competitors. For example, on the customer service and coverage front, state-contracted health plans were required to achieve a mandated level of customer service and coverage. One of the ways plans attempted to stand out was to offer tangible wellness benefits such as free car seats, bike helmets, etc.

Despite the type of challenge described above, I believe each and every organization can and should identify what makes them unique/special/different (in a positive way!) from competitors. To aid you in landing on a “differentiator with details”, i.e., an explanation that has some “meat” to it and isn’t vague or general, I’ve outlined steps and questions to use as you brainstorm individually or with others at your organization about how and why your products and services outshine your competitors, i.e., why your organization rocks!

A bunch of white balloons with one red balloon standing out and rising above the white ones

STEPS FOR DETAILING YOUR DIFFERENTIATOR

Step One: Identify Broad Differentiation Categories In Which Your Organization Falls

  • Determine the broader categories on which your organization can differentiate its products & services. Note that there will likely be some overlap and your organization will fall into several categories.
    • convenience (location, online/website user-friendly tools & apps, hours of operation, portability of service/product; ease of use of product or service)
    • product features (consider how they speak to the various senses: taste, feel, appearance, sound, smell)
    •  less tangible benefits, such as free assistance on certain topics or activities or ongoing e-communications that educate client on topics of importance to them
    • customer service (hours, days, quality, free vs. cost – does client have to buy service package?)
    • speed (how much turnaround time to receive service or product post-order/engagement?)
    • depth of expertise (# of years in business, in a particular industry, on a particular topic, background of organization leadership, etc.)
    • price/value (this can be tricky to promote, and often isn’t the best way to differentiate yourself, unless you know you are the lowest-cost provider, and that “low cost” won’t be associated by your target audiences with being low quality)
    • quality & durability of work, services, or product (materials used, how long something will last/be valuable)
    • breadth of offerings (can your organization meet several needs or pain points of clients immediately, or if needed in the future?; do you offer one-stop shopping or connections to experts when needed?)
    • organization size (what does your size allow for — more personal attention, less overhead equating to lower cost, more services and diverse staff experience?)

Step Two: Evaluate Which of Your Broad Categories of Differentiation Matter to Your Target Audience(s)

Ask and be honest with yourself about the following:

  1. “Does/do my target audience(s) value what makes me different/is my differentiator important to a prospective customer?”
  2. “Does my differentiator speak to a particular pain point or several pain points that a prospective client is likely experiencing?”
  3. “Are you able to communicate your differentiator quickly/efficiently in a language your audiences will understand?”

At a minimum, you must be able to answer “yes” to #1 and #3 above if you plan to market your differentiator and have it resonate with target audiences, and ultimately support sales and lead generation.

Step Three: Build Out The Details of Your Differentiator

Hopefully, the above exercise landed you on one or two broad categories of differentiation that will be meaningful to prospective clients. Now, it’s time to build out the details. Let’s use size as an example. The “About” page of my site includes the following reference “Our small size means our Principal, Gail Snow Moraski, will be directly involved with your account, providing the experience and attention ALL clients deserve.” If your organization is a large shop, and you believe prospective clients will benefit from that, elaborate on why being large is beneficial. Your details around your large-size differentiator might reference the diverse, extensive experience of staff, the one-stop shopping you offer, the many, varied services you offer, or even the stability of your firm and the likelihood it will be around for a while.

Another differentiator example from our my own organization. Our tagline is “Maximizing Results Through Research-Supported Marketing.” I hope and believe that it expresses to prospective client audiences that I won’t encourage them to execute or continue any marketing activities that don’t generate leads or sales for them. And, that our tagline conveys that we are a data-driven, analytical shop. I consider my research and analysis skills a differentiator from some fellow marketing consultants who offer certain marketing & communications services, particularly writing- or creative-related ones, but don’t necessarily know how to determine in advance what marketing vehicles or activities (employing content or images/graphics they’ve created) should work as far as generating sales go, or how to go about analyzing what worked in the past. On the other hand, some marketing consultants have differentiators or skills that I don’t have, such as an artistic background/eye or experience creating and laying out sizable documents, such as annual reports.

In sum, the key to identifying and promoting your differentiator(s) is knowing which of your strengths a prospective customer will value most, and then, making it clear through understandable, concise statements what that differentiator is and how your target audiences will benefit.

We always welcome a good marketing brainstorm, so if your organization is struggling with determining your differentiators, which to promote, and how to effectively communicate them, we hope you’ll reach out.

brand promise, differentiation, good will creation, marketing consultant, Memorability, Understanding Your Environment

Branding At Its Finest

Any marketing professional worth their weight in salt is both in awe and envious of the successful branding run of the Morton Salt Girl. The Girl is celebrating 100 years and never looked so young and hip!  Kudos to all the internal and external marketing and advertising folk who kept her looking fresh and current throughout the years. She’s had some great stylists!

Who doesn’t love the Morton Salt Girl? I mean what’s not to love? Despite the fact that the Morton Salt Girl is wearing clothes de jour, if you’re an adult, she still takes you back to your days of youth when you enjoyed being out in the rain with your umbrella, splashing in puddles, and getting your shoes as wet as possible.  And, if you are a child, there’s an immediate connection because of the clothes, and the fact that she, like you, knows the joys of “singing and dancing in the rain”.

The Girl still looks down-to-earth, and similar enough to the Girl we’ve seen throughout the decades in various styling stages, that she continues to support Morton’s brand promise to us that the Salt she promotes will bring all good things — like old-fashioned cooking, low-key suppers with family and friends, folks gathered around the kitchen and dining room table. Just general togetherness and slowing down for baking and cooking activities, i.e., more traditional activities, and the ability to step away from the fast-paced high-technology world for a minute. That’s a lot for one GIRL to convey, but she does it just wonderfully by her simplicity and her commitment to obliviously enjoying her day in the rain — with no desire or interest in being the sun or spotlight.

What memories does she conjure up for you?

Learn more about the Morton Salt Girl here: https://www.mortonsaltgirl100.com/.

competitive advantage, differentiation, diversity, keeping up with trends, marketing consultant, staying current

The Value of Diverse Industry Experience to Both Employee and Employer

No clever, punchy headline today.  Instead, a statement about which I feel very strongly.  In the past several weeks, both I and friends who are in the marketing field and seeking contract or permanent employment, have had potential employers or people we network with make comments indicating that they didn’t think were appropriate for a particular job in a particular industry because we had no industry experience.  Or, we’ve had comments along the same vein made to us that the hiring company was likely to, or was going to, proceed with another candidate who had experience in that’s company’s industry.  And, we’ve been told, “well, I would have spoken with you about X,Y,Z opportunity, but I thought you were only interested in or able to do work in X,Y,Z industry”.

My whole career I’ve never forgotten a statement made by my then VP of Marketing and Sales.  He told his staff at a team-building event, “don’t just strive to be the best in our industry, strive to be the best in any industry.  Look at what world-class organizations are doing in other industries, and not just ours”.  I never forgot that.  At the time, I was employed at a health plan that had unfortunately allowed itself to become a bit of a dinosaur, relying on past achievements, and not keeping up with the times.  He encouraged us to look toward world-class organizations such as FedEx for inspiration and role models.  At that health plan, as part of a sales conference I helped plan, we had a speaker from a leading hotel chain that had received accolades for outstanding customer service, address our group.  The hotel representative talked a lot of about how to improve customer experience by thinking outside the box.

I digressed a little, but it was with a definite purpose.  The above reinforces, that quite often, both an employee and employer benefit when an employee has been able to work in and/or get exposure to different industries.  I’ve found this to be very true in my case.  At this point, between my permanent positions and my various contract and agency positions, I’ve served clients in or worked in the following industries:  healthcare (health plans and hospitals), financial services (both investments and banking), higher education, consumer goods (health and beauty, food, and more), manufacturing, hospitality, private investigation, non-profits serving vulnerable populations, real estate, and I’m sure there are more.

I believe without a doubt that employers and clients both have benefitted greatly from the fact that I am able to bring best practices and innovation from other industries to any work with which I am involved.  And, without a doubt, I’ve grown professionally, mentally, and emotionally from having exposure to so many distinct industries with their distinct challenges.  It’s kept my mind sharp, kept me learning, and kept me quite happy.

I’ll just close with this simple hope — that employers won’t shut out/dismiss potential contract or permanent employees because of lack of industry experience, particularly us marketing and communications folks.  My experience has proven that marketing and communications skills are extremely transferable across industries, and as long as a potential hire is intelligent, they can fairly readily learn the nuances, opportunities, and challenges of any industry.  And, they’ll likely bring an open mind to the situation and discover some opportunities that someone who’s worked in an industry for years might not bring.