Offshore development for beginners

Offshore development: Diagram with a world map, tablets and phones plus networked icons of people

We talk about marketing for start-ups and tech companies but did you know that we are talking from experience? We drink our own champagne: Turbine is a software start-up and a subsidiary of my marketing company, Articulate.

Although Turbine is based in London, England, we built the application using outsourced, mostly offshore talent. The main development was done by a company in Ukraine called Anadea. We also used testers in Romania, web developers in Argentina and AdWords consultants in Austria, among others.

For the most part, it worked very well. But I learned a lot and this article outlines some of those lessons for anyone thinking of going down the same road.

Offshore is good

Fundamentally, there is no difference between a programmer (or a designer or a tester) based in an office in London and one in another part of the world. They’re either good or bad, talented or useless, collaborative or ego-centric.

What does change is that they are often cheaper and you get access to a much wider pool of talent. This is why I’ve said before that Turbine wouldn’t have been possible without it. Going offshore is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, most of the applications you use every day were built ‘offshore’.

Your job is the same whether you work with people in the same building or people on the same planet: find the right developers, brief them properly and manage the project well.

Finding developers

In my time, I’ve interviewed hundreds of programmers. There are three secrets to hiring a great developer every time but nobody knows what they are. However, there is already some good advice on the web that will help you reduce the risk of hiring a terrible one:

My experience suggests that when working with offshore developers (and programmers in general), there are a few traits to look out for:

  • Communication. An ability to communicate clearly about technical issues in a language you understand. For example, they explain the pros and cons of different approaches.
  • Context. They see the project as a whole instead of focusing on some obscure technical detail or vanity project or intellectual obsession. For example, they talk about pieces of programming in terms of the improvements they deliver to users.
  • Methodology. The right approach to programming is critical. When I was interviewing for Turbine initially, most developers wanted a very detailed specification and approached projects in a ‘you-asked-for-it, you-got-it’ way. I preferred a more agile approach.
  • Prototype. You should plan on building a prototype with them – a minimum viable product that takes less than a month to build – before committing to a long term relationship. They should welcome this. Plan on throwing it away and starting again, with them or with someone else.
  • Pricing. They may not be able to give you a fixed price but they should give you a very clear idea of what their prices are, how they will charge and how you will pay them. If they quote a price per hour or per day, find out how long that price will be in effect. It’s no point signing up at $40 an hour and then they double the prices on you three months later.
  • Team. If you’re working with an outsourcing provider rather than hiring individuals, you should aim for a certain amount of team stability. Who is working on your project? For how long? Can you meet them (virtually or otherwise) before you commit?
  • Project management. They should have a good story to tell about how they will track and manage the implementation. What tools do they use? What methodology do they follow? What do they expect from you?

Getting the brief right

The initial specification for your product is the constitution and foundation of your relationship with software developers. It’s important for what it says but it is also important because of the way you say it.

Looking back, I think the original Turbine specific was too detailed and too comprehensive. It was 22 pages and should have been five pages. We could have easily launched the application with a quarter of the functionality we had at launch. That would have allowed us to launch sooner, get feedback faster and focus our work on features that mattered to users.

As I’ve said before, non-existent code doesn’t crash. It also doesn’t cost anything to write.

My top tip: once you’ve written a specification or brief for a developer, go through it line by line and delete everything that is not absolutely necessary. Less is definitely more.

It’s better to work collaboratively with your developers to figure out the best way to implement and design functionality. Your job is to be the champion of the compelling, unique features of your app and the guardian against gold-plating.

37 Signals’ Getting Real is essential reading before you start this process. As is Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. I read them both but, looking back, I don’t think I really paid enough attention. So, my advice is to read them twice!

Managing remote developers

I’ve written before about project management in general but here are some of the things that worked for us doing offshore development on Turbine:

  • Seeing is believing. After a rough patch in the relationship, we started doing video conferences using Skype and then Google Hangouts. This made a huge improvement in the quality of the relationship – we were more communicative and trusting once we started using video. Aim to have at least one video conference a week.
  • Talk about the weather. Seriously. Make a bit of small talk. Treat one another as human beings. It builds up a reservoir of mutual understanding.
  • Emails. Have the developers send you a daily wrap-up email. What were they working on, what problems did they have, what do they need etc. It shouldn’t be a formal report. A short, friendly email is very helpful for keeping the channels open.
  • Address problems early. Distance amplifies stress. If you feel like there’s a problem, address it as soon as possible, preferably on the phone or via video conference not via email.
  • Use export English. You should be working with developers who can speak and write English to a reasonable standard but remember to speak slowly, use simple words and avoid idiomatic language if you want to be clearly understood.
  • Put it in writing. Verbal communications should also be captured in writing, ideally using a project management tool like Basecamp or Pivotal Tracker or a bug tracking tool like Lighthouse.
  • Don’t interrupt. Programmers need to concentrate so avoid interrupting them. Use the tools they prefer for communication. Generally, IM and email are better than an unscheduled phone or video call.

Let’s compare notes. Comment here or contact us with your feedback. If you’re working on an app, drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on.

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Impatience is a virtue and six other essential attitudes for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs: NASA coffee cup with a launch in the foam

Get a cup of coffee and prepare for launch. Rome wasn’t built in a day but it should have been. The status quo is obsolete. Best practice is someone else’s idea of what you should do. Good enough isn’t.

Impatience – the fierce hunger for progress – is one of the defining characteristics of an entrepreneur. For them (for us), impatience is a virtue.

If you want to understand what your boss is thinking, remember that she is probably frustrated that things aren’t changing fast enough.

Attitude adjustment

Clare gave me this title – ‘impatience is a virtue’ – to work with and it sparked more reflections on the right attitude for an entrepreneur:

  • Don’t believe the hype. Lots of people, me included, will tell you about their shining success and how they achieved it. Just look at all the business biographies next time you’re in an airport book shop. Four-hour Work Week! Hah! Overnight success is a myth. Listen to Alex Blumberg’s painfully-honest and charming StartUp podcast for a dash of reality.
  • Failure is good for you. You don’t learn much from success. This is why so many mega-hits are followed by lousy sequels. Matrix Revolutions anyone? Failure is a better teacher: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ (Samuel Beckett)
  • Taking a break is work. Getting up insanely early is the latest fad recommendation for entrepreneurs. In fact, how I trained myself to get up earlier is the most popular post on this blog, so I’m not immune from giving this advice. (But I wrote my piece in 2006, before it became fashionable. Ahem.) But the truth is you have to find your own pace, your own sleep and work patterns. Sometimes taking a short break or a long walk is more important.
  • Time is precious. Waste it. Your time is more valuable than diamonds. An hour spent solving an important problem, closing a great deal or writing an awesome blog post adds more value to your business than an hour wasted on email or pointless meetings. But your personal time is also precious. As Bertrand Russell said, ‘time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time.’ There are three essential skills: delegation, prioritisation and saying ‘no’.
  • Habits trump passion. Passion has no place in business and there are too many myths about productivity. Willpower is not a lengthy visitor. I find that I need to turn it into something sustainable and the one thing that consistently helps is to form a new habit. Leo Babauta’s Zenhabits blog and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit are the definitive sources on this point.
  • Love and respect are business assets. I’m not a ‘take what you want, give nothing back’ type of boss. I strongly believe that running a business is an engine for progress, a noble calling, a Good Thing. It is an expression of creativity and an opportunity to show respect to people, no less so than any other calling. Work is love made visible.

What do you think? What works for you?

(Image hat tip: NASA, io9)

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Why customers are your best allies in sales

Team huddle: Why customers are your best allies in sales

The days of cold calls are dwindling. That’s because potential customers are turning to the internet looking for products and information. It’s no longer about finding customers, but making sure they can find you.

Content marketing’s main purpose is to ensure that the right customers find you and that when they do, they like what they see.

But there’s another side: content marketing builds a relationship between your company and your customers. As you learn more about your existing customers, you can hone content to delight them. This fosters greater customer loyalty, which is essential for growing your company.

In fact, you’ll find that your existing customers are your best allies when it comes to marketing and sales.

Learning how to delight potential customers

Existing customers offer information about who uses your product, why they use your product and feedback about where your company is falling short.

Instead of casting a wide net with your marketing efforts, the information from your existing customer base allows you to target and attract the right individuals.

Building personas

Personas aren’t based on one actual customer. They are a synthesis of the commonalities between different types of customers who you identify as your ideal buyers around which entire marketing campaigns are built.

To build accurate personas and effective campaigns, you need data on the demographics, personalities, wants, needs and values of people that have already bought into your brand.

Selling the right thing

You also need information on why your existing customers chose to buy from you. Your sales and marketing efforts won’t be as effective if you are emphasising the wrong benefits, which no one cares about.

Your customers are the only ones who can tell you what’s best about your product and your company from the buyer’s perspective.

Getting critical feedback

On the other hand, customers also provide feedback about where you fall short. In one of his TED talks, Bill Gates said, ‘We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.’ If you never improve, you never grow.

You need to know what your buyers don’t like and where you can improve in order to market yourselves more effectively and hone your products, services and brand to meet your ideal buyers’ needs.

Delighted customers become brand ambassadors

Information from your customers helps you build effective marketing campaigns with targeted content. These in turn help to ensure customers are delighted with your company and therefore return for future transactions. If you’re really lucky, they’ll also become your brand ambassadors. There are a few key ways this happens.

Shared content

Good content gets shared, liked and followed. If you put out good content, your existing customers are more likely to share it with their network of people who have similar needs and which you might not otherwise have access to.

Social proof

The number of followers you have on social media doesn’t tell you if you’ve met your sales goals, but it does offer evidence to potential customers that your brand is well-liked. And potential customers use social proof when making a purchase decision.

Referrals and reviews

It’s easier for potential customers to buy into a brand recommended by someone they already trust. Encourage existing customers to refer others or fill out online reviews by offering incentives. The word of existing customers can sway an indecisive buyer.

How you respond seals the deal

A Crayola customer once complained on social media that one of the pink crayons in his new box was dull. Crayola responded and sent the customer a brand new crayon in the same shade. That customer got back on social media to talk about that response.

In a digital age, you can’t control every piece of information that shows up online about your company. But you do control how your company responds and your response creates allies.

Gathering information about what delights your ideal customers increases the effectiveness of your marketing and in turn, you delight customers and create loyal advocates for your brand, which extends your reach well past what you could achieve on your own.

(Credit to Wikipedia Commons for the photo)

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Roll up, roll up: I’m speaking at MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum in Boston next week

#mpb2b join me logo

Here at Articulate, we live and breathe marketing. In particular, inbound marketing and copywriting. And what are the essential ingredients for amazing marketing content and lovely qualified leads? Personas.

We believe in understanding your customers’ personas and your own. This is why I’m going to be talking on this very topic, next week, at Marketing Profs’ B2B Marketing Forum (#mpb2b).

Interactive Session: Creating Useful Personas and Tone of Voice Guidelines

Well-executed marketing copy has deep foundations. Whether it is your website home page, blog, social media marketing, emails or advertising; your company has a voice. This interactive session will help you discover, focus and refine that voice and describe it in ways that make sense to people who write for you and for your potential customers. Accurate, well-articulated personas are key to this process and go hand-in-hand with tone of voice guidelines. This session will walk you through ways to develop and improve marketing personas to make them more effective and useful.

Discover

  • How to create better marketing personas
  • How to find and describe your company’s tone of voice
  • How to use personas and voice to create better marketing copy

So why not join me?

Meet hundreds of your fellow marketers and check out Matthew’s live session at #mpb2b in Boston – next week, 8-10 October. And if you don’t happen to be going along, why not share this anyway and spread the word about what I hope will be a useful talk. And if you’re going, contact me. Let’s meet up!

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The 7 qualities of an eye-catching and effective call-to-action

Man using a megaphone for The qualities of an eye-catching and effective call-to-action

An effective call-to-action is critical to inbound marketing. Get it wrong and your content-driven inbound marketing strategy could fail.

Make sure you create a clickable call that will convert visitors into viable leads.

Start by attracting the right visitors to your site

Before you can convert visitors into leads, you have to attract those visitors to your site. This is done by generating good content that means something to your potential customers.

Well-written content that addresses the questions and interests of your buyer personas will draw them to your site and then it’s up to you to follow it up with a call-to-action worth clicking.

1. Offer something of value

In the case of content marketing, the call-to-action usually comes at the end of a blog article. Every call-to-action offers something to the visitor and, just like the content, the offer must hold value to your ideal buyer. To make sure the offer is worthwhile for the reader:

Target the same buyer persona as the content. For example, if the topic of a blog article targets a startup entrepreneur, an ebook or whitepaper on startup marketing or equipping a startup in the cloud would make sense.

Match the stage of the buyer process. Avoid offering too much too soon (or too little too late). Learn what content requires an offer like an ebook aimed at the early stages of the buyer process or an offer like a consultation or a pricing guide for a buyer closer to making a decision.

Your whole marketing team needs to realise that the call-to-action is a critical part of meeting your marketing goals using inbound strategy and learn how to make the call effective.

Once you have content to attract visitors and an offer that appeals to them, it’s essential to use copy and design that will catch the reader’s eye.

2. A clickable shape

The design of any call-to-action needs to appear clickable and this is best done with a button.

For example, check out HubSpot’s call-to-action:

HubSpot's call-to-action

The button in this offer makes it obvious the visitor should click to receive the offer, but there’s another aspect of this call-to-action that makes it effective.

3. Contrasting colour

Despite extensive research, there is no one magical colour to up conversions. What is important is colour usage and contrast.

For the call-to-action to draw attention, make use of white space and contrasting colours like the HubSpot example above with a bright blue button on a dark banner sitting on a white background.

The example below, from Pancake’s main page, uses contrast to highlight the call-to-action button:

Call-to-action on Pancake's home page

4. Complementary font

Just like with colour, a font that is different from the rest of the text on the page will emphasise the call-to-action.

Take a look at this example from The Daily Egg where the colour and font contrast the rest of the page to make it standout:

Call-to-action from The Daily Egg

5. Actionable wording

The copy in your call-to-action is just as vital as its design. A call-to-action requires action words like:

  • Download
  • Attend
  • Sign up

You also have to be clear about what you’re actually offering. For example:

  • Download your free ebook: Social media for the small business
  • Attend the webinar: How to market on a shoestring budget
  • Sign up for a free 30-day trial

Avoid language that isn’t clear and straight-forward. No one’s going to act on this: ‘If you’re interested in learning more, consider downloading our ebook … .’

6. Prime real estate

You can place a call-to-action at the end of a blog, in a sidebar, on a home or product page or religiously above the fold but, wherever it is, it’s best to:

  • Avoid placing competing offers next to each other
  • Make sure the call-to-action is at the forefront of the page design
  • Use directional cues such as arrows to guide visitors to the offer
  • Avoid placing a call-to-action in a cluttered area of the page

7. A/B testing

There are things that don’t work in a call-to-action, but there’s no single magic colour, font, wording or placement that converts for all companies. So the most important step is to conduct A/B tests to see what visitors to the site actually respond to.

Create the same offer with variations in colour, font, wording, placement or size. For example, you may create a blue version and a red version. Test which gets more clicks and conversions and then use those results in future offers.

As you learn which call-to-action variations work for a brand, you’ll be able to create the most effective call-to-action every time and generate more viable leads to nurture into customers.

(Hat tip to Wikimedia Commons for the photo)

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Book review: ‘Everybody Writes’ by Ann Handley

Ann Handley is Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and our very own Matthew Stibbe is speaking at their 2014 B2B Marketing Forum in Boston in October.

Everybody writes review book cover

Many of us become complacent as writers, believing the ability to write well is an innate gift. Balderdash, says Ann Handley.

In a refreshing take on mastering the written art, ‘Everybody Writes’, the new book by Handley, reminds us writers (and would-be-writers) of a couple of important facts:

  • ‘If you have a website you are a publisher. If you are on social media you are in marketing. And that means we are all writers.’
  • In the words of New York Times’ David Carr, ‘Writing is less about beckoning the muse than hanging in until the typing becomes writing.’

Who’s it for?

Although geared towards business and marketing writers, ‘Everybody Writes’ offers general tips that are useful no matter what you write or how experienced you are at writing it.

Handley advocates that as writers, we can always improve and evolve, so this book isn’t one to be flicked through once, and then left at the back of the shelf; it’s a book you can constantly refer back to.

Following Handley’s lead, here’s a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what you’ll learn from ‘Everybody Writes.’

How to write better (and how to hate writing less)

As Handley writes, writing is something we all do all the time and if Buzzfeed can find internet success with ‘3 Bananas That Look Like Celebrities’ it can’t be that difficult or mysterious.

Like driving, good writing is more habit than anything else. As advertised, this section provides would-be writers with some guidance to hone their skills and habituate the writing process (or at least make it less painful).

The strength in this section (and the entire book actually) really lies in the fact Handley practices what she preaches in the first rule when she says that to write well we need to read a lot, as well as write. The volume of clever and insightful quotes shows that Handley is clearly well read.

Writing rules: Grammar and usage

Many writers won’t feel they can benefit from yet more grammar advice (although arguably many of them probably can).

This section, however, is useful for novices and pros alike. Rather than pontificating about the finer points of grammar (that most people don’t really care about), Handley concerns herself with what readers really do find annoying.

Rule 37 even suggests old-school rules we shouldn’t bother following anymore, like ‘never split infinitives’.

As a former French student, the word grammar strikes fear into the very core of my being, but this section is significantly less painful than the majority of grammar reading out there.

Story rules

As an inherent storyteller, this section really resonated with me.

Handley succinctly and smartly theorises how you inject the storytelling spirit of writing into writing for business: ‘your content is not about storytelling, it’s about telling a true story well.’

This is an excellent tip for those who generally view storytelling as something utterly fantastical, as well as those who are disenchanted with what they’re writing, or writing about.

Handley not only provides solid advice on how to create a story around just about anything, but provides some genuinely inspiring accounts of real-life businesses doing this.

Publishing rules

For anyone writing without journalistic experience, this section is incredibly helpful.

Although most of us have experience with sourcing and referencing others’ work, with free range over the internet and of all the information it holds, research can become dangerous territory, rife with blurred lines.

In this section, Handley handles some of the copyright and fact-checking issues that come with responsible, journalistic writing. She also summarises some of the other lessons journalists can teach us about writing and the general practices we can adopt to make sure our writing is ethical and interesting.

13 things marketers write

Every professional copywriter will, at some point, have to write something they’ve never written before, or that they’re not too familiar with – whether that’s social media posts or the annual report.

The beauty of this section is that it provides a short boost of confidence in how to approach specific writing tasks such as tweets or blog posts, offering the core information needed to do it well.

As a writer who has spent the past two months almost exclusively writing the unfamiliar, this section was of particular value to me.

Content tools

‘Everybody Writes’ has tips even for the master-writer, so if, by some strange turn of events, you make it all the way to this final section without finding anything helpful, you’ll find something here.

From word processing tools to productivity aids, this section contains a plethora of different tools for you to try out and give your inner writer the best possible chance of success. For procrastinators, like me, the time management tools may be a revelation, while for others the more practical resources, like image sourcing sites and blog idea generators, will make this section.

The verdict

In the foreword, author Nancy Duarte writes, ‘this book inspires you to become a stronger writer. And it does so with style’.

With some epiphany-inducing points, inspiring examples and excellent references, including, but not limited to, ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Mean Girls’, I don’t think I could sum this book up much better myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read ‘3 Bananas That Look Like Celebrities’.

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You’re invited: Microsoft small business mini-summit

Going for Growth - Microsoft Business Mini-Summit -...

Articulate is running an SMB mini-summit for our client Microsoft in Victoria, London on Wednesday 24 September.

If you run a growing business and you’d like to come along, we’d love to see you!

Register free via Eventbrite.

About the event

We will look at:

  • Challenges faced by growing businesses and ideas and insights about how to overcome them
  • Expert small business advice and tips from Emma Jones, small business expert and founder of Enterprise Nation
  • Technology insight from Microsoft experts
  • Hands-on demonstrations with the latest Microsoft technology

We want to get to know you and your business so we can expand the role Microsoft can play in supporting UK small businesses.

We’re not selling anything – we want to learn about what makes entrepreneurs tick and capture your expertise and share it with our colleagues at Microsoft and with other small business owners.

Agenda

09.00-09.15         Arrive, breakfast, chat

09.15-10.30         Roundtable discussion about business growth

10.30-11.00         Coffee break and hands-on demos of the latest Microsoft technology

11.00-12.00         Presentation and discussion with Emma Jones from Enterprise Nation

12.00-12.30         Lunch

Sharing

During the day we’ll be doing one-to-one interviews and capturing some discussions and insights on video to share with other Microsoft customers and other entrepreneurs.

If we publish any of your stories, insights or interview videos, we’ll give you full credit and links to your business, so it’ll be good for PR and SEO.

Register free via Eventbrite.

 

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6 ways to use social proof in marketing campaigns

Social proof in marketing: Long queue outside apple store

With so much information on the internet, it can be difficult for customers to know who to trust. This is where social proof comes in.

Social proof is the idea that people are influenced by what others do, viewing it as ‘correct behaviour’.

Social proof isn’t a new concept, but thanks to the rise in social media it has become more versatile and easier to use and monitor. Taking advantage of social proof is not only becoming easier, but common practice.

With 81 percent of consumers using the internet to research purchases before making them, it’s easy to see why ‘social proof is the new marketing,’ according to Aileen Lee.

We’ve summarised six ways you can easily use social proof in marketing to widen your reach and increase your impact.

Social media interaction

Consumers are increasingly anxious about missing the next big thing, since there are so many things out there.

With so much choice, we often rely on others for a nudge in the right direction. Shares, likes and retweets all suggest that something has been tried, tested and enjoyed. As social proof is all about following the herd, the more interaction you get, the more you’ll gain.

As one study of German banks has shown, customers that come from customer referrals have a 16 percent higher lifetime value than those acquired in other ways, meaning social media sharing can be rewarding.

You can’t force people to interact, but by creating and sharing genuinely useful and remarkable content, tailored for your customers, they can’t help but get involved.

Social proof in marketing: Facebook like on beer bottle

Case studies

Everyone knows that a happy customer is a marketing tool in itself, but very often this idea is confined to the word-of-mouth business they could generate.

With case studies you can take that word-of-mouth and give it a further reach than your customer’s network, which in 2010 was estimated to be 1,375 people.

A case study or two can give your potential customers a genuine glowing review to base decisions on – taking one happy customer’s review and magnifying the effect, directing it towards your pool of potential customers.

User-generated content

User-generated content takes the benefits of a case study even further as readers can hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth.

A great example of this is ASOS’ ‘as seen on mecampaign. ASOS asked customers to Instagram pictures of themselves in their purchases using #AsSeenOnMe. Pictures then go into a gallery on the ASOS website as an incentive.

Incentives and competitions are common tactics to drive participation, but taking advantage of user-generated content is really about finding a platform that suits both your product and customers, which encourages them to create exciting content they are proud to share.

Instagram is a popular format for user-generated content but, Youtube, Vine, Twitter and Facebook are all excellent platforms for your customers to show you some love.

Reviews

Consumer reviews are now the second most trusted form of advertising and in 2012 52 percent of consumers were influenced by online reviews.

In real terms this means that a one star increase on a Yelp review corresponds to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue.

Yelp is great for attracting business and is free to signup for, but isn’t the only way to use reviews.

Setting up a Google+ business page will sync your Google+ customer reviews with Google maps and search, while on Facebook you can add a review tab to your page. You can also incorporate reviews into your website and blog.

Having the channels available to leave reviews will encourage customers to give them.

Social proof in marketing: Excellent tick rating

User statistics

Just as bloggers boast their number of subscribers and fast-food restaurants their number of customers served, you too can use numbers to your advantage.

When using statistics it’s worth considering the power of positivity. Psychologists Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin studied the impact of negative language in social proof statistics, using signs in the Arizona Petrified Forest, discouraging theft.

By highlighting that ‘many past visitors have removed the petrified wood’ theft tripled.

Leave out the negative. If you don’t have the numbers, don’t use them and focus on how many people are doing, liking, or benefiting from something: not how many aren’t.

Mentions

Expert and celebrity endorsement is rife in modern advertising and may appear wildly unattainable for smaller business, but is more accessible than you think.

With the prevalence of social media and so many bloggers and social media stars, connecting to someone with a wide net of influence relevant to your ideal customers is much easier than it used to be. Media and blog mentions are great PR for your company and are something that you should track and encourage.

Social proof in marketing: Grumpy cat

Social proof is about people

Customers increasingly personify brands, meaning they apply human traits such as trustworthiness to them: trust is now central to consumer-brand engagement.

With so many online platforms, it’s easy to use the confidence that others have in your brand to develop a similar level of trust in new customers.

Marketing frequently relies on human instincts for success, so our herd mentality should be no different. After all, as Seth Godin says on social proof, ‘the first thing that happens after we encounter an earthquake is to wonder if anyone else felt it.’

(Hat tip to Waltarrr, Gareth Hacking, Jvleis and Ricky Brigante for the images)

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How we work: HubSpot and the battle for buyers’ attention

Hubspot: toy soldiers

Hannibal had elephants, the Trojans used a wooden horse and Queen Victoria had a Navy. Hannibal’s elephants weren’t so effective, but the Trojan strategy was a success and for years the sun never set on the British Empire. It goes to show that the way you equip yourself determines the success of your endeavours.

Marketers are fighting a different kind of battle online. But rather than world domination, marketers are fighting to create content that cuts through the noise and produces results.

Creating effective content is only half of it. The only way to tell if your content marketing efforts are successful is to equip yourself with a tool that can accurately measure the reach of and response to your content.

At Articulate, we decided it was time to suit up and so we equipped ourselves with the HubSpot Marketing Tool and it has changed the way we write, share and view our content marketing strategy.

(Full disclosure: we use HubSpot to market our own business and we are HubSpot resellers but this article is about our experience with the software and how it has influenced our thinking, not selling anything.)

Adopting a strategy: inbound methodology

It doesn’t matter if you win the battle if you’ve lost the war. You may be getting page views, but your content must engage site visitors and move them through the buyer process.

  • Attract visitors to your site.
  • Convert those visitors into leads.
  • Close leads.
  • Delight customers.

HubSpot and the inbound methodology allows us to knowledgeably strategize content at every stage of the buyer process.

Converting people to your cause: filling the funnel

Realistically, not every lead becomes a customer, but your task as a marketer is to fill the funnel. This is achieved through HubSpot’s conversion process.

  • Call-to action. On each page of a company’s blog, there should be an image that serves as a call-to-action containing an offer that holds value to your ideal buyer and encourage them to click through.
  • Landing page. Clicking on a call-to-action leads visitors to a landing page where they fill out a form with their contact information to receive the offer.
  • Thank you page. Once your visitors hit ‘submit,’ they receive the offer. But at the same time, their information is stored in the Hubspot tool. The visitor has successfully been converted to a lead.
  • Follow up email. The thank you page and follow up email that is generated is an opportunity to lead the contact further down the funnel.

Not all leads that come into the funnel are ready to buy at the beginning or may never become a customer. A content marketing strategy uses content to coax leads toward becoming a customer.

Content is your battle cry

We are writers who market, so writing quality content has always been important to us, but HubSpot has changed the way we think about our writing.

Buyer persona. The focus of each piece of content is no longer the product, service or the company, but instead the needs and interests of buyer personas, fictional characters we create to represent the ideal buyer.

Instead of one effort on one platform, one piece of content now generates a series of several specific activities. These activities and promotions are woven throughout your blog and across all the platforms your ideal buyer is engaged in and ties in with other pieces of content that address the same type of ideal buyer.

Content is no longer a one-off pitch. It’s one part of a long-term strategy to build trust between buyer and brand. HubSpot allows us to run and monitor these campaigns and track their effect.

The battle won: the bottom of the funnel

With HubSpot, content is a part of every part of the strategy. Once we’ve used content to attract leads, we still have to move qualified leads toward the bottom of the funnel and convert them.

Segmented marketing. You wouldn’t send a start-up entrepreneur a piece of content that tells them how to climb the corporate ladder if you could help it.

HubSpot allows you to divide your leads into lists and nurture them based on your buyer personas. This way, you put the right content in front of the right people to lead them closer to the end of the funnel.

Assigning value to your content. Knowing when a lead has reached the bottom of the funnel is defined by the value of the offer they have signed up for.

For example, a lead who has signed up for a whitepaper is not as invested in what your company has to offer as a lead who signs up for a webinar or a free consultation.

HubSpot as a new kind of ally in sales

Understanding the value of content helps us identify when leads are ready for the hand-off. But the beauty of the inbound methodology is that marketing still has a role.

Marketing is no longer a linear process. Once sales has closed the deal, that customer is back in the hands of marketing.

It’s estimated to be six to seven times more expensive to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one and it’s the job of marketing to continue to delight those customers.

The true purpose of social media is to build a voice for your brand that delights customers into continuing to do business with you and makes them willing advocates of your company.

Evidence of victory

Before HubSpot, there was disconnect. We could see which blog articles were popular or which Facebook posts received the most likes, but we could not tell how many leads were generated or sales made as a result of that effort.

Now, HubSpot tracks and stores that information for us so we can head into battle equipped with the tool that will help us win the war for people’s attention.

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Startup marketing boss battle: campaign vs. quick win

Rock 'em Sock 'em: Startup marketing battle: campaign vs. quick win

You know you need to market your startup online, but the reality is that everyone in your business is already filling multiple roles and short on time. How do you squeeze in effective marketing?

Why the quick win wins in startup marketing

The quick win is a singular effort with the goal of increasing awareness of your startup while a campaign is a consistent series of activities with an underlying focus that takes planning.

The quick win allows you to feel like you’ve checked marketing off your list with a one-off blog post, tweet, ad or promotion without losing any time. And you feel you can measure the short burst of business that comes as a result. So it’s easy to feel like it’s the right fit for your startup.

But what if the quick win isn’t the best pick for your marketing strategy? Is it worth the time it takes to put together a campaign focused on the buyer? Or do you stick with the quick win and move on to other things?

Why the quick win isn’t enough

The problem with the quick win is that you’re handing out crumbs, just bits of your company, and that won’t satisfy customers who are looking to buy from a company they can trust.

Trust is built through long term marketing strategies that nurtures leads by showcasing the personality of your brand.

Quick wins fail in this regard because your marketing efforts lack consistency. Without an underlying strategy, the quick wins won’t tell your story.

Campaigns tell the whole story

There is marketing power in storytelling, in building loyalty as a knowledgeable and trustworthy source and in sustained, targeted efforts to delight customers. Customers find satisfaction in knowing who they are buying from and what that brand stands for.

Campaigns allow you to give voice to your brand and make that personality consistently available to your buyers.

When you do tell a story, you build a relationship with customers through your marketing. This relationship is essential to growing your business and growing your business is essential to the success of your start up.

Marketing strategy that works for startups

Even if you understand the benefit of the campaign, it’s easy to still opt for the quick win because startups must move quickly, waste little time and have little room for risk.

A lean marketing strategy gives you the agility of the quick win with the consistent growth of the long term campaign.

Lean strategy gets the inbound content marketing that is necessary for your startup done in a cost-effective and time-efficient way. It’s consistent, measurable and responsive to results.

A time and place for the quick win

But you can’t entirely discount the quick win. Lean marketing is about the long term strategy that builds trust between buyer and brand, but it is also about responsiveness.

During the 2013 Superbowl game, the Oreo cookie marketing team took advantage of the power outage with a fitting tweet, which was well-received by their audience and acknowledged as a solid play by marketers.

When you market your product or service, you do have to keep your eyes open for those circumstances your company can capitalise on for the quick win. But a successful marketing strategy recognises that the quick win lends itself to the bigger picture of your campaign.

Transition from quick wins to campaigns

If you’ve been going for the quick win in an effort to save time and resources in your startup marketing, it’s time to change those quick wins into campaigns.

Look at a campaign as a series of quick wins that work together to achieve your marketing goals. This will give consistency to your marketing efforts and win you the trust and loyalty of customers you need for your startup to succeed.

(Hat tip to Randy Heinitz for the photo)

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