/ Digital Marketing

The Next Big Channel: Should My Brand Make the Move?

Kevin McKernan

coworkers brainstorming around table

About a month ago I saw an ad on the back of Bloomberg Businessweek that made me stop. The ad was completely bright yellow. In the middle? The familiar ghost that represents the Snapchat logo. There was nothing else. No words. No CTA. Just a ghost.

It was a bold ad, and obviously the placement is meant to send a big message to the business world: Snapchat is here and your business should be using it.

Snapchat isn’t the first social media channel to tell businesses where they need to be next. And it’s no surprise that as Snapchat has grown in popularity, they too want a piece of your marketing budget.

Marketers are always trying to keep up with the latest trends. They want to be the ones to find untapped oil in a new platform that other brands, especially competitors, have yet to reach. They want another place to share their content. They want another place to find customers.

But are these channels where customers want to find you?

Regardless of the channel or the trend, you always have to stop and consider your audience. Don’t only think about where you’re most likely to find them, but whether or not they want to engage with you in that particular space.

Here are some quick considerations to help guide you in whether or not to move your brand to a new channel

1. Why this channel?

Whether it’s social media, email, direct mail, a paid channel such as PPC or remarketing, the first question you should ask is, why does my brand need to be on this channel? And notice, you’re asking “need”, not “want”.

2. How will you measure success?

Each channel you use should have its own metrics for defining success. By defining these from the start, you’ll be better prepared to create both a short-term and long-term strategy for every channel you’re on. You’ll also be able to set realistic expectations for both yourself and any other stakeholders.

3. How regularly will you communicate on this channel?

When new channels or trends arise, it’s up to the early adaptors to help establish best practices for frequency of communication. Start slow and see how your audience responds. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different forms of content or tones. And watch what others are doing on that same channel, particularly those outside of your industry, for inspiration on what your brand could do next.

4. What content will you need?

Whether you’re moving your brand to a new channel, or creating a new strategy for a channel you’re already on, you’re going to need content to support it. Content comes in many forms including videos, images, blogs, articles, etc. Think about the resources you’ll need and add them into your editorial calendar. Don’t have an editorial calendar? Before you even think about starting up on any new channels, create one. It’ll help keep you organized when creating new assets and tracking those you already have. (Here’s a great resource from Content Marketing Institute to get you started.)

Marketers love trying something new. They love to be creative. But don’t let your creative mind push you to a channel your brand has no business being on. Always stop to consider the benefits of following the next big trend and create a strategy that fits your brand both in the short-term and the long-term.

While a platform like Snapchat may be fun the first month you’re using it, if you don’t know how to sustain it 3 months, 6 months, or 9 months down the line, everything you did in that first month will be for nothing.

And sometimes, even with careful planning, you might find that a channel just isn’t right for your brand. In those cases, don’t consider it a total loss. Instead, think about why it wasn’t a right fit and consider what lessons you can take away from the experience to prepare you for other initiatives in the future. No matter what the channel or the outcome, there’s always a lesson to be learned.

/ Email

Getting to the Inbox: 3 Rules for Improving Email Deliverability

Kevin McKernan

Laptop with email openMarketers spend so much time focusing on content (as we should!) that sometimes we forget about that last, crucial part of the campaign: making sure the email actually lands in the consumer’s inbox. You can have the most amazing design, the most relevant content, with the clearest call to action, but if the subscriber never sees it, all that hard work goes to waste.

Deliverability can be a huge issue and if not properly handled, could fall low enough to get you on the dreaded blacklist. But did you know that by following just three simple rules you can improve email deliverability issues and ensure your messages make it to inbox?

In fact, taking these basic steps helped Pierry take a client from a deliverability rate of 83.9% to 99% in just four months! Here’s what we did:

Rule 1: Eliminate Bad Email Addresses

As you know, marketers use a lot of tactics to build up their lists. Whether you’re collecting addresses through a form on your website or getting opt-ins at an event, you’re bound to end up with some invalid email addresses. If you have a small list, most of the bad email addresses will naturally be removed when they bounce on the first send, depending on your email platform.

But larger lists will need to be scrubbed. At Pierry Software, we offer email domain validation and hygiene, but there are a number of list-cleaning services available which validate email addresses, telling you which ones should be removed. Products like Salesforce Marketing Cloud have built-in tools that allow you to clean your own list. With “List Detective” email validation rules are run against email addresses imported into the system. If it’s a known bad address or a known spam trap, the address is automatically filtered out.

Having a clean list can greatly reduce the number of addresses that hard bounce, improving your deliverability and reducing the chance your sending domain will be marked for spam, sending all your messages into the great unknown.

By eliminating bad email addresses, deliverability went from 83.9% to an average of 92%. And so, we were on to rule #2.

Rule #2: Set a Sending Cadence

There was a time when internet service providers (ISPs) found their networks constantly overloaded by spammers. In an effort to reduce this, most larger ISPs set a limit for the amount of email that can come through their network from a single IP Address at one time. For email marketers, this can mean deliverability issues.

How do you show you’re a welcome party and not a spammer? By setting a message cadence, or throttling, you can limit the number of emails per hour sent based on domain and ensure it meets the criteria for each ISPs standards.

Sure, the send may take a few days longer to complete, but what’s more important, sending all emails at once or making sure your consumers receive your email?

Establishing the proper cadence during month two of our client’s campaign took deliverability from an average of 92% to 96%. While another step in the right direction, it still wasn’t good enough for this e-marketer! So on to rule #3.

Rule #3: Monitor Your Send Frequency and Send Quantity

Once you’ve cleaned your list and established a cadence, there can still be room for improvement. Sending too infrequently causes the ISPs to bump your IP address back down to the “untrusted” category. Smaller, regular sends from your IP will build a reputation with the ISP so they trust that your sends are legit. For our client, we utilized a few smaller sends in the weeks between newsletter sends and continued to follow the email providers’ rules of send frequency: every three weeks to stay fresh.

With that final piece of the puzzle, we throttled the next send and saw that jump we were looking for—99% and above.

While thinking outside the box and bending or breaking conventional rules can lead to truly innovative marketing campaigns, it should be avoided when it comes to actually deploying materials via email. The rules that email providers put in place are there for a reason—to protect their users from unwanted messaging. If you follow the rules, they let you through to the audience you’re trying to reach. And ultimately, isn’t that where you want to be?

/ Email

3 Secrets to Successfully A/B Testing Your Email Campaigns

Kevin McKernan

Test tubes

As a journalism major in college, I rejoiced in the fact that I tested out of most math classes and would only have to take one math course to complete my degree. Little did I know that a single statistics class would come back to haunt help me in my career as a digital marketer.

Running a successful email marketing A/B test depends on a few elements straight out of your old stats class. But don’t worry, you don’t need to pull an all-nighter to set up your first A/B test, just follow these simple steps:

1. Develop a Hypothesis:

It doesn’t matter if you’re testing a subject line, a call to action, a button, an offer, or something else, you should have a reason for running your test, i.e. something to prove or disprove. A/B testing is more than just throwing two options to the masses to see which performs “better” and assuming it’s the end all, be all. There needs to be logic behind not only why you are running the test, but what the outcome will be. For example:

  • A subject line that teases a “new product” will have more opens than a subject line that simply states what the new product is because people are curious about the new product.
  • An email body that has 4 or fewer interaction points (links) will have higher click-throughs than an email body that has 5 or more interaction points because too many options creates no action.
  • A subject line that uses the brand name will earn more opens than a subject line that does not use a brand name because brand recognition increases opens.

Each hypothesis includes a rationale at the end. Knowing the reasoning behind the outcome, or in other words the reasoning behind subscriber behavior, is just as, if not more important, than which performed better or worse and can lead you to new hypotheses to test.

2. Choose your test group carefully:

To limit variability and maximize the success of your A/B test, you’ll want to perform your test on a similar group of email subscribers. In statistics, this is known as “blocking,” and it helps increase the precision of your tests.

In email marketing, you’ll want to look closely at the list you are going to use. Hopefully, it goes without saying that you’ll want to only use active subscribers, but did you know that removing highly-engaged subscribers may help your test too? Both represent opposite extremes of your subscriber spectrum and could inaccurately sway your results. Other aspects to consider when it comes to your test group include:

  • Email service providers: If one or more of the providers you send to regularly causes problems with deliverability, remove them from your test.
  • List segments: Unless your hypothesis is dependent on a particular segment, now isn’t the time to slice and dice your list, meaning you don’t want to target just men or just subscribers in a specific zip code.
  • Time of send: If you always send your emails at 3 pm on a Tuesday, you should do so for your test too, unless of course time of send is what you are testing.

In short, you’ll want to eliminate as many variables as possible from your email test. Keep things consistent with what you’ve previously done. Rule of thumb is to make one change at a time so you can really zero in on what is causing a change in subscriber behavior.

3. Analyze the statistical significance of your test:

Just because you performed a test doesn’t mean the results are conclusive. A test shows just one data point and often requires additional testing before you can conclusively rely on the results. We often suggest testing a single hypothesis for at least 3 months before determining a winner.

Once you feel you have enough data to determine what we refer to as statistical significance, you can take advantage of online tools, such as this A/B split test calculator. Just plug in the number of subscribers you sent your control and variable to and the number of conversions for each. The calculator then tells you if the results of your test are statistically significant. You could calculate the statistical significance yourself, but because I don’t trust my mathematical skills—again, journalism major.

Remember, when your test is complete and you’ve analyzed the results, you’ve still just got one data point of evidence. Before relying on that data point, you’ll need to do further testing. Depending on your industry and audience, you may need more than 5 statistically significant tests before you can make any assumptions.

Although that may seem like a lot of work, A/B testing can give you the type of insights that can increase open rates, click rates and more, optimizing your email strategy. Happy testing!

/ Marketing Best Practices

Rebranding Basics: Avoid a Branding Flop with These Tips

Kevin McKernan

Designer sketching
Could your brand use a refresh? The answer is—it depends. There are a number of reasons businesses big and small decide to take on a rebranding. Sometimes it’s because their business has evolved and the branding no longer serves as an accurate reflection of what the company represents. Other times it’s because sales are stagnant or slowing and there’s a belief that it could be due to a stale look or feel with the brand.

But rebranding is not something that should be considered lightly. It is a major undertaking that can take up a lot of time and money—and without the right strategy in place, all that time and money could be for nothing.

So what should you do before you decide to rebrand?

Ask the Right Questions

The beginning of any rebranding strategy starts by asking the right questions, including, why are we doing a rebrand? Consider the end mission or goal behind the rebranding project and what issue or problem you’re attempting to solve.

Other questions to ask before you even begin to strategize include:

  • Does our current branding tell an outdated story?
  • Has our customer base changed, and if so, in what way?
  • Has our competitive landscaped changed?
  • What’s our current customer base’s relationship to our current brand?
  • Will a new brand turn people away?
  • Why does anyone care about our brand in the first place?

The answers to these questions will not only help you feel confident in the choice to rebrand (or not to rebrand, for that matter), while also helping to lead the initial strategy phases.

Elements to Consider in a Rebranding Strategy

A true rebrand goes well beyond just updating your logo and your color scheme. You also need to consider things like tone, story, and overall brand experience, as these elements will effect everything from your business cards to your website.

Your Audience

Who are you speaking to? Has your audience changed as your business has evolved? Or has your audience evolved while your business has remained the same?

Knowing whom you are speaking to is the first step in any rebrand. You need to think about your audience’s likes and dislikes. Consider their favorite brands and what it is about those brand stories that appeals to them. Think about how they talk and how they want to be spoken to and then ask if your brand is meeting them where they are.

During a rebranding, you should dive so deep into your audience that you’re able to talk about them as if they are close friends you’ve known for years. And keep in mind, your audience is not just one personality type. You likely have three or four main buyer personas that you need to consider.

What’s the best way to get to know your audience? You can start by simply listening to them, whether that’s in person, on social media, or through ratings and reviews.

The Brand Story

Many consumers, particularly millennials, are most loyal to the brands they connect with. And that connection is generally gained by the story the brand tells.

What do you want your brand to represent? And can you build a story around it?

Start by revisiting your mission and value statements. Are they still accurate? If not, update accordingly. Does the style and tone of the mission and value statements fit your audience? If not, be sure to make those changes as well.

Even if your mission and value statements are never seen verbatim by your audience, they do serve as a guide for how your brand will express itself. By setting these in the story and tone of the new branding, you’ll lay a foundation that you can build upon moving forward.

Longevity

How will this new branding look a year from now? Three years from now? A decade from now? Your business will continue to evolve, and your branding should be able to evolve with it. When planning for a rebrand, think about how it represents where your brand is now, and where it will be in the future.

Introducing Your New Branding

Once you know what your branding will be, put a plan of action in place as to how you’ll present it to the world. Announce your new look via a press release, an email campaign, on social media, and your company blog.

And make sure this announcement comes a few weeks before any rebranded items go live. This will not only add some hype to your new branding, but can also make your current consumers feel like they are a part of it. It can also help avoid any of the confusion or frustrations that come with customers encountering a change from a brand they enjoy.

Remember, clear communication isn’t just for your customers. You also need to keep your employees internally aware of what’s going on and when they can expect to see changes on their end.

Mistakes to Avoid

Not all rebrands go as well as we plan. Take for instance, Gap who in late 2010 changed their iconic logo by giving it a new typeface with a gradient blue box in the corner. The new logo got such a negative reaction from customers on social media that 6 days later, the brand went back to their previous logo.

And while there’s no way to guarantee your rebrand will be a hit, there are a number of mistakes you can avoid to give yourself a fighting chance:

Don’t Fix What’s Not Broken. If customers like your current brand, and there’s not a clear, business impacting reason to change your branding, the choice is easy—don’t change it.

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse. Make sure you establish the need for a rebrand, as well as the overall goal and story you want your new brand to tell before you start pulling in graphic designers or web developers. While their job is to help you bring that vision to life, it’s best to come to them with your background research first, and not work based off what they think your brand should be. And remember, working with a design firm in any capacity should function as an on-going collaboration.

Don’t Forget the Small Stuff. When people think of rebranding, they put a lot of attention on their website. You’ll be amazed by the amount of stuff your branding is on. Do an inventory of everything you currently have, including letterhead templates, presentation templates, business cards, billing or invoicing sheets, conference banners, brochures, case studies, signage, swag (such as shirts, pens, mugs, etc.), company vehicles or company uniforms, online directories, and social media icons/headers.

Don’t Use Rebranding as a Bandage. For some brands, rebranding can bring a much needed revival to their business. But changing your logo or website is not a quick fix for all the issues in the company. There’s a wide range of reasons that company sales could be poor or stagnant, such as quality of products, lack of interest, or poor customer experience. Before a rebrand, make sure to look at what’s currently working for you, what’s working against you, and identify and remedy any core problem areas before moving forward.

Rebranding takes strategizing and planning, but if done well, can pay off big for brands. It’s important to remember that your logo, color scheme, tone, font, and style doesn’t just represent your brand. It represents a story that you want your customers to have a connection to and give them a reason to keep coming back.

/ SEO

SEO in a World Where Content is King and It’s Always the Year of Mobile (Part 3 of 3)

Kevin McKernan

open office desk
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series we discussed SEO strategies of the past, technical SEO, and evolution of the non-technical side of SEO.

The fact of the matter is Google will never stop changing. Their goal is to help searchers find the information they need, when they need it, in the format they want it. And so, SEO will have to continue to evolve and adapt to meet those changes.

What’s coming next for SEO?

Content and SEO will Continue to Combine Forces

There’s a lot of noise out there that says SEO is dead and Content is King. Admittedly, I roll my eyes when someone tells me that “Content is King”. Maybe it’s just my natural aversion to buzzwords and phrases. Or maybe it’s because “Content is King” is insanely misleading as it suggests you can just create content and ta-dah! you’re done.

In fact, content needs SEO, and SEO needs content. Why? Because both play a major role in the user experience—a growing ranking factor with Google.

The opportunity for an SEO specialist to make content work hard for the brand, means taking a deep dive into what questions your audience is asking and how they’re asking it. In the past, SEO specialists would spend hours doing keyword research; today, SEO must move away from short-term keyword research to a more long-tail keyword approach, one that takes those specific audience questions in mind.

You also need to know how users are interacting with your current site. As the technology advances, we’ll see the use of heat maps and user experience analytics used as SEO tools, as well as a bigger push towards A/B testing of content and layouts. Finally, SEO specialists will become a growing part of helping brands provide more personalized, dynamic content.

In the meantime, your SEO efforts should support content by making it easy for Google to crawl and ensuring the user experience is optimized on all fronts—including desktop and mobile.

Mobile Will Be Mandatory, but Not the End All

In 2015, it was confirmed that the amount of searches performed on a mobile device had surpassed the amount of searches performed on desktop. Yes, it’s official. 2015 was the year of mobile. And mobile use will continue to rise. This means you want to make sure your business has a mobile friendly or, ideally, a responsive design website. You want to make it easy for users to interact with your pages and content, as well as convert, from their smartphone or tablet.

But that doesn’t mean you only need to worry about mobile users; desktop will likely never go away. And there are still many industries that get higher desktop traffic than mobile, particularly in B2B. So while we may have moved from the Year of Mobile to the Mobile Era, don’t forget to consider your audience across all platforms and devices.

And as new ways of viewing content are introduced, whether it’s in the form of wearable technology, such as smartwatches, SEO specialist will have to adjust their methods accordingly, focusing on how content on new devices can be viewed, and how to help those users find content as quickly as possible.

The Move Towards Instant Answers will Become More Commonplace

Google’s Knowledge Graph will continue to grow and evolve in order to provide instant answers to searchers. This means SEO specialists will have to pay even closer attention to technical elements, as well as schema and rich snippets.

Finally, this move to instant answers will leave SEO specialists having to consider the impact voice-based searches will have on their strategy. Technology like Google Now, Siri and Cortana are already impacting how consumers search. And over time, it will make searches more conversational in nature, meaning the move toward long-tail keywords and optimizing with sentences and phrases in mind will completely trump just optimizing for keywords (if it hasn’t already.) Voice-based search will also increase the importance of proper tagging and schema, and perhaps will one day lead to special mark-up for voice search specifically.

Right now, there is no data around traffic that is brought in specifically by searches performed via a voice-based search, but as these types of searches become for frequent, perhaps that’s something we will see in the future.

SEO Won’t Die, but it Will Evolve

Every year someone puts out an article claiming SEO has officially died. But rumors of its death have clearly been greatly exaggerated. SEO will never die. It is too engrained in our Internet experience. However, it must continue to evolve to meet the new challenges presented by changing Google algorithms and new technologies—which is something SEO specialists should be used to by now.