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I’m an American entrepreneur, marketing professional, and blogger. I help people with marketing challenges and share my life exploring my personal development.
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By Joshua Harrell 22 Oct, 2016

Just because you don't have a degree in graphic design doesn't mean you can't make your logo, advertisement, email or any promotional piece look like a professional did it. Before you spend company money on a designer, try your creative hand at design by using one of the many free design software platforms available for businesses. After all, nobody knows what you want from a design project better than you.

Whether you're creating the company logo or working on an online ad campaign, here are eight tips to get you started with your design, expressly written with non-designers in mind:

Limit Fonts

Yes, there are many fun and creative fonts out there, but that doesn't mean you need to use every single one in your design. Find two or three that are easy to read and go well together. Play around with different fonts until you have found a few that you like. Then get opinions to see which design is both aesthetically pleasing and functional. A good rule of thumb is to keep fonts of the same family together, using a variety of sizes and styles such as italics or bold faced.

Consider Graphics

Do you want a graphic to be in the background or at the forefront? How exactly do you want to sell your product: with words or images? You should have this aspect of the project well planned before you begin designing, keeping in mind that your original idea may change as the project progresses. And for goodness’ sake, DON'T ever just steal images from Google. Either use original images (i.e. photos taken just for this project) or use a stock photography service. There are several free ones online and many that charge minimal fees.

Know Your Audience

Who you're marketing to can make a big difference in how you design your piece. For instance, marketing for an older crowd might necessitate larger fonts and more contrasting colors. If you’re marketing to Millennials, you may want to be edgier with your design. Know your target audience and consider what will appeal to them.

Keep It Simple

The adage of quality over quantity certainly rings true here. You want your message read and your image to be powerful, so focus on the quality of your image and text instead of trying to fit in a full array of graphics. One image and some simple text will suffice. Less is more when it comes to design.

See What Other People Are Doing

Do some research to see what your competitors are doing with their promotional pieces. What colors and images are they using? Do they have a lot of text or do they let a picture communicate their message for them? What elements do you like? What features do you find unappealing? This will all come in handy for the next two steps.

Stand Out

You always want your design to stand out, so make sure you are not using color combinations, fonts, text, or graphics that are similar to your competitors. Think about what is unique about your brand/product and apply that to your graphic design.

Think Outside The (Text) Box

Don't worry if you're using fonts that are unpopular or new to you. This is a good thing because it means your design is creating a new image and look, which will help you stand out from the competition.

Take A Step Back

Once you have a few design options ready, take a day or so to take a break from the project. You'll come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Nine times out of ten you will have revisions, and that is a good thing.

Creating a good graphic can take some time, but once you get the hang of it, you'll likely find it to be an enjoyable and even empowering creative experience. Now, get those creative juices flowing and start designing!

By Joshua Harrell 05 Oct, 2016
Eighty-five percent of B2B marketers say lead generation will be their most important content marketing objective next year yet only 32% have a documented content marketing strategy to execute that goal. With content playing a huge role in inbound marketing and being one of the most powerful sources for creating new traffic and customer acquisition, it’s essential to develop a solid plan that positions your business to reap these positive rewards.Read more…

The challenges, however, that most brands have with content marketing are producing engaging content, measuring its effectiveness, and creating content consistently. If you have a content strategy, you want to make sure that it’s working and reaching your desired audience. There is a way to overcome these objections and experience the engagement your valuable content deserves.

Here is an exact outline of the action steps you need to take to launch a successful content marketing campaign for your overall inbound marketing strategy:

#1 Knowing Your Target Market

Having a clear understanding of your target audience and who they are is the prerequisite to your content strategy. You see, identifying the pains and challenges of this specific groups allows you to tailor your content that solves problems and brings value. Ultimately, you want to create content that engages your market and moves them to action. This requires clarity of knowing what they want so you can deliver the goods.

The optimal way to doing this through buyer personas. Essentially you are painting a picture of what your ideal customer looks like. It's almost like creating a real person yet based on the types of customers your business has and wants. Buyer personas include details like:

  • job description and responsibilities
  • role in the buying process
  • problems and concerns they're experiencing
  • pain points
  • their typical day
  • most impressing questions
  • goals and objectives
Establishing these personas allows you to build a deeper and personal connection with your audience because you’re relating your messages to their pains. You are speaking directly to them, making your content strategy impactful, effective, and engaging.

Knowing your target market will serve as an ultimate guide to your entire inbound marketing strategy because your content revolves around your intended audience.

#2 Brainstorming Content Congruent to Your Sales Funnel

Your brand will attract different prospects who are in various stages in your sales cycle (or sales funnel). You may have a visitor reading your content who is ready to invest in your service yet another who is “just browsing” and doing research. With this fact, it’s important to create content that fits the needs of your prospects at each stage that moves them to the next stage of your funnel.

Let’s briefly label the stages of a sales process and content ideas that fit each one:

Awareness Stage

The prospect is primarily in the discovery process of your brand. They realize they have a problem so they are in the research phase, only looking for educational content that will help them overcome their pains and challenges. The focus here is generating content that creates awareness and promotes your brand as the go-to source. Great content ideas here include blog posts, webinars, white papers, and infographics.

Consideration Stage

The buyer is not ready to make a purchasing decision yet is now familiar with your brand and respects you as an authority in your niche. They are looking for information related to solutions. Create content that encourages list building to get qualified email subscribers. Types of content that works in this stage are video series, guides, product webinars, and case studies.

Decision Stage

The prospect is getting closer to making the buying decision, so your goal is to create content that makes this a smooth flowing transaction. The content you will use to help close the deal will be different from the content used in the previous stages of the funnel. To convert leads into sales, the best content types that work well are free trials, implementation (how-to) guides, and live demonstrations.

#3 Content Creation

Now that you’ve identified your personas and have brainstormed the types of content to fit each stage in the sales process, it’s time to produce content that solves problems. There are countless ideas to creating content that your market seeks to read. The key is serving your audience a variety, so you speak to the different learning styles of your readers.

Here are some of the most useful kinds of content to consider:

  • Blogging (of course)
  • Research reports
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Video
  • eNewsletters
  • Webinars
  • How-to Guides
  • In-person events
  • Print Magazines
  • Visuals/Images (charts, graphs, memes, etc.)
  • Case Studies
  • Slideshares
  • Lists
  • With testing and measuring (which we'll discuss more in step #5), you’ll soon discover which types of content best resonates with your audience, giving you a solid direction on which to focus your energies on more.

Quick SEO Tip: Search engines favor content that has over 2,000 words. In other words, the longer and more detailed your content, the better for ranking!

#4 Getting the Word Out (Promoting)

As soon as you create your content, you want to publicize it quickly to your various marketing channels, ready to share value to the world. You see, content does not promote itself (hence, content marketing) so it's important to have a syndication strategy where you will distribute your content once it goes live online.

The promotion of your content, however, will largely depend on the campaign. While a blog post may be shared on social networks, a new white paper might require a bigger push in the form of paid content amplification.

Check out these quick strategies to promoting your content:

  • Email Marketing - The best because your email list is already engaged with your brand.
  • Social Media - It's okay to share several times on social media sites. For example, you can share the same post on Twitter 2-3 times a day throughout the week for effectiveness.
  • Google AdWords - For a new white paper or eBook, you can create display campaigns to raise awareness and remarketing campaigns to retarget abandoned visitors.

#5 Test, Track, Analyze, Measure, & Tweak

Don’t just create your content, promote it, and hope it sends traffic and leads your way. No! You must gauge to see what’s working and what’s not. This is the real essence of marketing success, knowing what your market is most receptive to so you can stick with what vibes most with your audience and give the people what they want. Testing, measuring, and tracking is essential to your overall content marketing strategy.

To measure your content success, here are a few questions you can ask to discover what’s effective:

  • How many page views does the content receive?
  • How many leads did my content generate?
  • What type of content is shared the most?
  • What type of content is read the most?
  • What keywords do people search for to find my content?
The answers will provide you with concrete data to use for your next content and ways to curtail it to meet the demands of your market. A win-win!

Armed with this strategic plan, you can now move forward in confidence to creating a successful content marketing strategy that will help manifest your business goals and objectives. Take action now, develop this plan quickly, make adjustments as you go along, and enjoy the benefits. Your audience is waiting!
By Joshua Harrell 27 Sep, 2016
Setting yourself up for success at work is critical to maintaining your position, lining yourself up for promotions, and preparing for future job opportunities. Not only that, there's a sense of satisfaction that comes when you know you've done your job to the best of your ability. Improving your work performance, however, doesn't always come quickly. By focusing on a few actionable steps, you can set yourself up for better performance at work and prepare to have a more positive impact on your daily schedule.

Focus On One Task at a Time

Simply put, it's time to stop multitasking. It's tempting, in today's fast-paced and highly technological society, to feel as though you have to be connected to everything, all the time. That may mean that you're answering a text message, checking your email, and working on your latest presentation, all at the same time. There's just one problem: in all that busy-ness, you aren't giving your full focus to any of those tasks. That can lead to greater problems than simply the lost time you spent switching back and forth between tasks and trying to convince your brain to refocus whenever you go back to your intended task. When it takes as much as 25 minutes to get fully back on task when you've been interrupted, that alone is a big problem! Multitasking can also lead to:

  • Higher stress levels
  • Decreased quality of relationships—both business and personal
  • Problems thinking creatively, especially on the fly
  • A greater likelihood that you'll make mistakes whether firing off a personal text to a business contact or sending an email with the wrong information
When you focus on a single task at a time, on the other hand, you'll discover that you're much better able to complete the task at hand. You'll also learn to pay more attention to what's going on around you—and that can lead to more opportunities in the workplace, too. It can be helpful to develop a schedule or routine that allows you to focus on one task at a time, compartmentalizing your day so that you're better able to concentrate.

Set Goals

When was the last time you sat down and made a serious list of the things that you're hoping to accomplish in the foreseeable future? Do you have a ten-year plan? Have you set out goals that will get you through the next five years? If you haven't taken the time to create those goals, it's time to get on it! Setting goals has many key benefits.

Goal-setting allows you to develop a picture of where your life is heading and work toward it in a focused, concentrated way.
Setting goals allows you to use your time and resources more efficiently. Instead of jumping at every opportunity that comes along, you're able to guide yourself toward those big-picture goals more effectively.
Clear goals make it easier to make decisions, whether small ones about what you want to accomplish day-to-day—you don't choose the doughnut for breakfast or the burger, fries, and shake for lunch when you're trying to lose weight!—or bigger ones that concern the way you want to direct your future. From the classes you want to take and the certifications you want to gain to the new jobs you pursue or the projects you want in on, setting goals will help create a roadmap for your decisions.
Give goal-setting a try. Take the time to sit down and decide where you want to be and what you want to accomplish. Paint a broad picture: what are you hoping to accomplish over the next month? The next year? When you set goals, you'll be able to move toward them. Even better, ultimately, you may find that you surpass your initial estimates and accomplish more than you dreamed possible.

Learn the Value of Teamwork

When you have a weak relationship with your colleagues, coming into work every day is a chore. You dread getting up in the morning, you drag you way through the day, and when the end of your work day finally rolls around, you can't wait to get out the door. On the other hand, when you develop positive relationships with your colleagues, you'll be able to see plenty of benefits: greater overall morale, improved productivity, and a better ability to work with your colleagues. It can be difficult to find a place to begin those relationships, especially if you've worked for a particular company for a long time without feeling as though you fit in. Developing those teamwork skills, however, can greatly enhance your performance at work.

  • Share accomplishments, not blame. Look for ways to share appreciation with your colleagues, not to point fingers when something goes wrong.
  • Pay attention. Keep an eye on what's going on around you and look for ways to make things easier for your colleagues. Be the one who sees and hears what's going on.
  • Develop more effective communication skills. Look for ways to enhance and improve your communication with individuals within the office, and be honest whenever possible.
  • Be courteous. Simple common courtesy often makes all the difference in a traditional office relationship.
  • As your relationship with your coworkers improves, both you and your workplace will reap the benefits. Even better, as you become known as a people person and a team player, you'll find that it opens doors for you across both your workplace and your industry.

Seek Knowledge

One of the best ways to set yourself apart as an employee is to seek new knowledge continually. Check out the latest certifications in your field and develop a plan for studying that information and taking the tests. Since you've developed a series of goals for your future, you should be able to explicitly choose the direction you need to take with new classes, certifications, and seminars. It's also critical to understand the "why" behind decisions, protocols, and technology, not just the "how." When you figure out why something is done a certain way, it's easier to follow it, uphold company policy, or help customers make better decisions.

Even if you aren't in a workplace where new technology or changing information is standard, you can continue learning and grow in your position. There's always new information out there. Seek out how to be a better employee, learn how to do another job in your department, or develop your skills to their highest possible level. Whatever you do, commit to doing it to the best of your ability and look for the information that will help you accomplish that. The more you know, the more you'll be able to accomplish!

Every day at work, you have a choice. You can spend the day just getting by, performing the bare minimum to get through the day and keep your job, or you can put forth your best possible effort to showcase the full range of your skills. The satisfaction in a job well done is well worth putting forth the effort to improve yourself. If that isn't incentive enough, keep in mind that your job is never certain, and the better you are, the better your chances of keeping your job or moving successfully into a new position. Whatever the reason for your goals, personal improvement at work is never wasted.
By Joshua Harrell 21 Sep, 2016
When you think of workplace distractions, the first thing you imagine is that receptionist who is always texting at her desk or has her social media account open on the computer all day long. In many cases, however, the biggest distractions you'll face at work aren't the result of procrastination or off-task behaviors. You can waste a huge chunk of your day engaging in activities that are work-related, but ultimately unproductive. To avoid being caught in that trap and improve your work performance, make sure these key distractions aren't impacting your work day.

Distraction #1: Your Email

Do you have email notifications turned on for your phone, tablet, or computer? Do you leave your email open in the background all day, where you'll notice immediately if a new message comes in? If so, stop! This is one of the most potent distractions in your day. In some cases, it can take as much as 25 minutes to get back on task and working at peak efficiency following a distraction. If you get an email every hour or so throughout the day, that's a lot of lost work time!

Instead, if you aren't waiting for an important email (that's an email that's genuinely important and that you expect to come in at any time), leave your email closed for the majority of the day. Try setting specific times when you'll check your email. It might be the first thing you do in the morning, the last thing you do before leaving for lunch or the first thing you do when you get back, and the last thing you do when you leave for the day.

Distraction #2: Your Phone

Do you use your phone throughout your work day? Do you regularly find yourself receiving critical texts from coworkers or calls from clients that can impact and change the flow of your workday? If not, there's no reason to keep your phone on you. Shut it in your desk drawer or turn it to silent—completely silent, without even the vibrate function turned on. If you are expecting critical calls from coworkers or clients, try to schedule them so that you know when they're coming and can arrange your day accordingly.

Worried that you'll miss something important, whether it's a call from your spouse or a message from someone in another department? Schedule your day to allow time for "phone breaks." Plan to take a 5-10 minute break every hour to check your phone. Use that time to reply to calls and texts, then go back to your productive schedule.

Distraction #3: Skipping the To Do List

One of the biggest distractions you'll face in the workplace is your decision to tackle work as it comes across your desk, ignoring big projects and small details until they become serious concerns. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that you need to take care of. The solution? Plan out your day before you ever get started. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to write out a To Do list. Include the things that you need to get done that day as well as tasks that you need to accomplish or that you need to work on if you have the time. The simple act of writing out that list and checking off items as you get them done will help you prioritize your day more efficiently—and that means less time spent on tasks that don't contribute to your day.

Distraction #4: People in the Office

You can't get away from your coworkers completely—and you don't want to. Some of them, you genuinely like. Others, you tolerate avoiding being labeled "that antisocial coworker." Whether you like your coworkers or not, however, you can't spend all day talking to them when you have a stack of projects waiting on your desk! Try some of these techniques for eliminating coworker distractions:

  • If you're lucky enough to have your own office, shut the door when you need to get away and focus.
  • Be clear about your needs. Learn to turn people away politely even when they're persistent.
  • Don't let yourself get dragged into a conversation when you have somewhere else you need to be. Practice conversation-ending tactics if necessary.
  • Make time for coworkers outside your designated work time, whether that means going out for drinks after work, hanging out in the break room for your lunch, or attending post-work events.
Distraction #5: Multitasking

Doing multiple things at the same time makes you feel more productive. Whether you're messaging a co-worker to set up a meeting while simultaneously writing an email or checking out an article while participating in a conference call, the more you can do at once, the better your time has been spent, right? Unfortunately, multitasking can have some substantial consequences. The more often you switch tasks, the higher your stress levels. You'll also feel more pressed for time and struggle to feel as though you've accomplished everything in your day.

Learning to stop multitasking and start concentrating on one task at a time takes a great deal of mental discipline. You'll naturally want to skip from one task to the next, chipping away at your responsibilities a little bit at a time instead of accomplishing them in large chunks. When you do learn to set multitasking to the side, however, you'll discover that you feel less stressed about your workload, which will make it easier to face your increasing To Do list each day.

Distraction #6: A Messy Workspace

There are some people who can live in chaos and still know where everything is. Their desks are piled high, papers are overflowing, and they still know exactly how to lay hands on that important document that they need for a meeting. Those people, however, are comparatively rare. Most people need an element of organization in their lives to find the vital pieces of paperwork they need to accomplish tasks throughout their day.

Learning to be organized takes time and effort. You'll have to discipline yourself to file papers away when you're done with them, get used to tossing things out when you no longer need them, and taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of every day to straighten things up and prepare for tomorrow. The reward, however, is decreased distraction throughout your entire work day.

Distraction #7: Internet Browsing

You don't want to think of yourself as one of those people who frequently falls down the rabbit hole and gets lost in the world of the internet. In fact, you've worked very hard not to let that happen. You don't check your personal social media accounts while you're at the office, nor do you watch that funny video that everyone has seen on company time. Unfortunately, the distraction of internet browsing doesn't just apply to personal browsing.

Have you ever found yourself reading an article about your industry or checking out a news source, only to look up thirty minutes later and realize that you've followed the chain of articles to something that no longer resembles your original topic? Do you do excessive amounts of research before making a purchase, whether for yourself or the company? All of these are distractions that can eat your productivity.

Set aside your browsing habits. If you go online, commit to accomplishing the task that you're there to accomplish, then close out your browser again. Discipline yourself to finish a task and move on rather than letting the internet suck you in.

Improving your performance at work is a process. You won't be able to eliminate every distraction in the workplace overnight. The good news is, you can learn to set aside distractions, increase your productivity, and stay on task throughout your day.
By Joshua Harrell 12 Sep, 2016
You've been put in charge of facilitating a strategy session. The feeling that the success or failure of the session rests on your shoulders—even if it's not true—can be stressful for anyone. Whether you've run dozens of strategy sessions and only want to refine your technique or it's your first time running a strategy session, and you're barely sure where to start, this list will help you create the best strategy sessions your business has ever seen.

Start with the End Goal

When you're sitting down to work your way through a strategy session, start by putting the goal out there on the table for everyone to observe. What's your desired result at the end of the session? When everyone understands the direction you're going, they're able to more efficiently direct their efforts. This leads to a more effective session for everyone! It's often easier to work backward than it is to start with a vague question and work your way forwards.

Discuss Expectations

Everyone runs meetings a little bit differently. Some people want to encourage creative exploration and are willing to chase after side topics before coming back to the issue at hand. Others prefer a more straightforward approach. When you start your meeting, make sure you're clear about the expectations you have for the meeting. As adults, you shouldn't have to remind one another to be kind and respectful, but if you expect it to be an issue, it's worth mentioning! Discuss how long the session will last, what you plan to accomplish during the session, and how you'll be facilitating the discussion to create a more efficient flow.

Set Your Opinions Aside

If you want to be the most effective facilitator possible, you have to be able to set your opinions aside. Assume that everyone else in the session has, at this point, more to say about the topic than you do—and invite them to do exactly that without interruption. While you can indeed issue your opinion if it's asked for, try to keep it under your hat until it's requested. Remember, as the facilitator, you'll be seen as an authority figure. Others may automatically mimic your opinions instead of coming out with their own, which can be detrimental to the entire strategy session. Instead, ask meaningful questions, guide the discussion, and try to put others in a position to share their ideas.

Give Every Voice Weight

Some personalities are naturally better in large-group discussions than others. Some people will come blasting out of the gate ready and willing to jump in and share everything they know. Others will sit quietly, keeping their opinions to themselves. As the session facilitator, it's your job to be sure that every voice is given equal weight. Consider some of the following strategies:

  • Collect input when the session is over. This can be in the form of a survey, a comment, or an email.
  • Ask for input by name, especially if you notice that someone has something to say but appears to have been unnoticed by other participants.
  • Have private discussions after the session as needed, particularly if you notice that someone seems frustrated or hasn't had a chance to be heard.
  • Take votes or opinions from each participant in turn if necessary.
  • Encourage communication after the session in whatever form each participant is comfortable with. Email or text may be favorites for individuals who are less outspoken.
  • Engage Every Member of the Discussion

Everyone who is present for the discussion is important to its success. When you're in the middle of a strategy session, your goal is to gather everyone you need to make educated choices and select the best path forward. If some of those people aren't ready to "buy in," however, they may lack engagement or fail to provide their best ideas. Let every member of your strategy session know that their voice is important and encourage them to go all in. Explain how the results of the session will benefit both the company as a whole and them in particular. Try to identify the needs of the individuals in the session and show them how the plan you're creating will ultimately help meet those needs.

Get It Together

Your job doesn't start when you walk into a room for a strategy session. Before the session begins, make sure you have access to the latest and most relevant information. This may mean bringing specific individuals into the session, having internet access throughout your discussion to check the latest numbers, or doing plenty of research before you begin. The last thing you want is to spend hours on a session, coming up with what you feel is the perfect solution, only to discover the moment you leave the room that your information was outdated, irrelevant, or that you didn't have all the facts! Take the time to gather as much information as possible before heading in for your strategy session. It can also be helpful to let the other participants know what information you expect to be relevant so they can bring the latest research, numbers, or facts with them instead of needing to check later.

Keep It On Track

You started with your end goal. That means that you know exactly what you're hoping to accomplish before your strategy session is over. During the meeting, do your best to keep things on track. While there's a time and place for tangential discussions—and many of them may arise as a result of the information you're covering during the meeting—this isn't it! Instead, redirect the members of the session to other ways to share their grievances or discuss issues that have come to light. Provide forums, email threads, or future meetings to allow free discussion of those concerns and focus in on the point of the meeting. If it doesn't help reach the solution, it can wait until later!

Stay Small

Many times, getting all the information together for your strategy session requires you to approach many individuals. You want to be sure you have everything and everyone you need, so the invitation list keeps getting longer! Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to meeting your goals by the end of the session. At most, keep your session to six or seven people who will contribute positively to meeting your goal by the end of the session. Don't choose those individuals by the position they hold, either! Instead, create your session list by selecting the people within your organization who are most likely to be able to add real value to the discussion. If the janitor is better placed to offer input than the head of a department, don't be afraid to invite the janitor.

Heading into a strategic planning session can be daunting. By preparing ahead of time, from trimming down your guest list to making sure you have all the necessary information, you'll ensure that you're prepared for success. Once the session begins, stepping back to create an environment of engagement and respect will be sure to set your attendees to creative problem-solving as they develop the plans and processes you're hoping for. Your goal is in sight, and you've chosen exactly the right people to meet it. That means that the sky's the limit for your session.
By Joshua Harrell 22 Oct, 2014
Whether your current field-marketing strategy puts you behind a trade-show booth or brings you out to the streets, you've probably noticed that the biggest difference between traditional- and experiential-marketing efforts is the people!

Unlike a print or digital advertisement strategy, which doesn't feel disappointment when dismissed or ignored, field marketing puts you at the center of customer interaction. And while there are endless courses offered for different marketing techniques, we still don't have a user manual for human interactions. That's unfortunate, since the most important component of experiential marketing involves customer engagement (and it would make your blind dates a lot simpler!).

Though humanity doesn't come with a user manual, psychological studies have taught us a thing or two about the human brain. And while this social science may seem worlds away from your busy marketing career, hacking into the human brain is an important and inspiring way to rethink the way you engage and excite your audience.

Below, find three keys to rethinking your marketing strategy by unlocking the human brain.

1. The shocking impact of expertise.

In 1963, psychologist Stanley Milgram carried out one of the most important studies of the time, which tested the effect that perceived authority had on obedience. Milgram sought to understand how so many regular people could have committed various kinds of atrocities during World War II, simply because they were acting under orders.

In his experiment, Milgram set up a situation in which participants were given orders by a researcher to press buttons that would send an electric shock to an unseen participant (an actor) in another room. As the experiment continued, the shocks supposedly increased, and although sound effects from the other room portrayed screams of pain from the participant, an overwhelming number of subjects continued to deliver the shocks when urged on by the researcher. Although Milgram's experiment was extreme, it demonstrated the impact that authority has on human behavior. When someone is perceived to have more authority than us, we are significantly more likely to do as they say.

In all of your marketing efforts, consider the difference that authority can make. When someone is perceived as having authority, people are much more likely to listen genuinely and to do as they are asked. Use marketing strategies that could give your product or service more credibility, such as a stamp of approval from a doctor or expert in the field. Even small changes in title (consider the Genius title for Apple employees) can increase the amount of authority an individual is perceived to have.

2. Get mysterious.

Whether it's a detective novel, the latest thriller in theaters, or a whodunnit board game, everyone loves a good mystery. One theory posits that we love mystery because it unites us: when something is unexplainable, we must collaborate with others who are equally duped and work together to piece it together. Whatever the reason, a little bit of mystery tends to excite people to seek out more information.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to everything you know about marketing, sometimes less information is actually more. Even simple mysteries can do the trick: if you ever utilize giveaways for customers, consider keeping the prize a mystery (e.g., "Sign up for our email list to be entered for a mystery prize!"). While knowing what the prize is means that potential customers can choose whether or not they are interested, they may be more willing to sign up if they don't know just how wonderful the prize could be.

3. Come on, get happy.

In today's internet-savvy world, it seems a company has truly struck gold when they produce viral content. After all, what better press is there than having your brand name posted and shared across the internet?

Still, it seems that there is no rhyme or reason as to what content passes the tipping point to go viral. Studies on the subject have produced some interesting results, finding that shares were greater for content with positive emotional value. That is, people more often shared content that caused awe, laughter, or amusement. Conversely, negative emotions like sadness and anger were the last likely to be shared.

Although it often seems that controversial or heart-wrenching content is prime for sharing, the importance of these results are not to be taken lightly. Consider Coca-Cola's Friendly Twist campaign, which placed unique vending machines on college campuses. Each coke from these machines came with a cap that could only be twisted off by connecting it to another bottle. Coke's campaign was fun, friendly, and racked up over eight million views.

Now that you're rethinking your marketing strategy, keep in mind these psychological studies, and the one thing that they all have in common: how people interact with their worlds. Above all, people respond best to authority, a little mystery, and positive messaging.
By Joshua Harrell 21 Oct, 2014
According to social media expert Simon Mainwaring, "One of the greatest challenges companies face in adjusting to the impact of social media, is knowing where to start."

It may seem obvious, but the best way to start your social media campaign is to make a plan. After all, you have to know where you're going before you begin. Here are five simple steps to help you map it out.

1. Set specific and measurable goals.

This principle should be second nature to most business owners. By setting specific goals, you’ll know exactly what it is you wish to achieve. When those goals are measurable, you can easily see how you’re progressing and when you’ve achieved them.

Whatever the desired result of your social media initiatives, start with where you are now. If you have some historical data on how many leads you’ve generated per month, for example, you can express your goal as a percentage increase. Or, you could look at the total number of leads generated by all your marketing efforts, and decide what percentage of those leads you want to be generated by your social media activity. Either way, be consistent about the metric you're using each month, to see whether you're hitting the mark.

How you express and measure your social media marketing goals will depend largely on your individual business. But the importance of specific and measurable goals applies no matter what.

2. Determine which social media networks to use.

Of course, the 800-pound gorillas in the room are Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, and some combination of those major networks may be all you need. But you would be well served to explore other possibilities. In fact, depending on your business and market niche, you may find that your time and energy are better spent on a niche network. If you decide to go that route, don't rule out online forums as a way of connecting with people in your niche. Of course, the deciding factor should be results. Measure the results from each network you use, and ditch the ones that aren’t producing.

3. Post good content.

Content is what grows your social media presence. But the mistake many social media marketers make is to post content that’s all about them and their offers -- a huge mistake. Sure, posting offers is fine from time to time. But people don’t typically use social media to find products or services to buy. People use social media to connect with other people, learn new things, and better their lives in some way. Most of the content you post should consist of useful information that generally relates to your business or industry. That information can be in the form of links to third-party videos or blog posts, or even to related content on your company website. Just make sure it’s timely, useful and relevant.

By primarily posting this kind of content, your friends and followers will begin to look forward to your posts, and you’ll position yourself and your company as experts in your field. As a result, yours will be the first name they think of when they need a product or service that you offer.

4. Create a schedule of posting frequency.

Creating a schedule of posting frequency, and sticking to it, is essential to the success of your social media efforts. Consistency is the key. In the brick-and-mortar world, consistency can be achieved through geographic location. Businesses that are located in high-traffic areas typically do better than those in low-traffic areas, for obvious reasons. In the social media world, the best "location" is at or near the top of the newsfeed. The only way to get there is to post frequently. Adhering to a strict posting schedule will ensure that your posts stay at the top.

5. Set aside time for responsiveness.

Social media is a two-way street. You must engage friends and followers who ask questions or make comments on your posts. That’s the social part of social media. And the more feedback you receive, the better, because feedback indicates that people are paying attention to you and what you post. Whatever your social media marketing goals are, you'll never achieve them if you fail to engage with people. So, set aside time every day to respond to questions and comments.

It's important to keep in mind that shaping your social media marketing plan will take some time, and implementing it won’t necessarily pay dividends overnight. Just think of it as an investment. Over time, that investment in your social media presence will yield big returns for your business.
By Joshua Harrell 15 Oct, 2014
Your business is up and running, and you already have an effective website that's generating market-research leads. But how exactly do you classify these leads? Are they marketing leads or sales leads?

First, you need to understand the difference between marketing leads and sales-qualified leads. By being clear on this point, you can then take full advantage of your marketing funnel.

So, let's get to it. Here's a quick overview of your marketing funnel for marketing leads and sales-qualified leads.

Marketing Leads

These types of leads take place when a customer visits your website or your actual store. It's through these two routes that you'll be able to capture information about the consumer, and be able to use the collected data to appeal to her specific wants and needs. If you handle your marketing leads in the right way, you'll be very likely to turn this consumer into not only a customer, but a customer who keeps coming back.

To capture information, you'll want to ask for the consumer's name, email address, and the reason that the person is browsing your products and services. Even though this information will be passed down to your sales team, the lead itself is considered a marketing lead because the sales team has not yet came in contact with the consumer.

It's imperative that you carefully analyze the information gathered through marketing leads. By doing this, you can come to a conclusion as to whether or not a specific consumer actually fits your buying demographic. If he or she does not, then you can avoid wasting time and money on trying to get the consumer to buy something from you, when in all actuality, she is most likely not to.

Sales Lead

At the top of the funnel, you will find marketing leads. If these leads make it to the bottom of the funnel, then this means that your sales team believes a consumer is ready to make a purchase.

Sales-qualified leads only take place once a member of the sales team has made contact with the prospective customer. From emails to telephone calls, there are many ways to graduate a marketing lead to a sales-qualified lead. It's most important, though, to remember to assess carefully the marketing leads, to make sure that they will be profitable in terms of funneling them down to become a sales lead.

The Takeaway

No matter the type of leads that you have in your marketing funnel, you must assess the quality of each. In fact, having one-hundred marketing leads that are of low-quality will likely lead to only one to two percent of those converting into sales leads. This means that only about one to two of those leads will turn into actual transactions.

On the other hand, if you have 20 high-quality marketing leads, you can bet on 50 percent or more of them making their way to the bottom of your marketing funnel and leading to a transaction. That's 10 or more sales off of just 20 leads.
By Joshua Harrell 07 Oct, 2014
You've finally started your dream business. You have a website and an online marketing plan, but you're just not turning leads into customers at an acceptable rate. Having a booth at a trade show is a great way to provide product sampling for potential customers. However, if you've never exhibited, there are a few things you should know beforehand.

Choose Carefully

Not every trade show is the same. You should research shows within your traveling distance and collect brochures and booth packets. When you have two or three shows you are seriously considering, it's a good idea to attend the show first, before you commit. Walk around and check out the exhibits. Would you fit in? Does your product make sense here? Does this show target your potential customers?

Deciding what section your booth should be in is just as important as the show itself. You don't want to be right next to a competing company, but you shouldn't be too out of place, either. Familiarizing yourself with your area will give you a leg up.

Display With Pop

You want to customize your display to reflect your business attitude. Your display needs to be professional, but also attention grabbing. Far too often, companies simply design their displays to fit in as much information as possible. Think about it from the attendee's perspective: if he were to walk up to your booth without knowing anything about your product, would he be interested, or just overwhelmed?

Plan to have demos and let the product speak for itself. Be present to fill in any gaps and to answer any questions your new leads may have. The display is there to draw the potential customers in. You make the sale.

Schedule Appropriately

Tending to your booth and entertaining potential customers can be tiresome. Plan a schedule that allows breaks for meals, but also one that gives you a rest from the monotony of having to stand, smile and answer the same questions over and over. Breaks help keep you and your staff fresh and motivated.

Networking

Trade shows are good for more than just obtaining new customers. They are also a good place for meeting and learning about your competition. Make time in your schedule to walk around and speak with other exhibitors. Find out who has done this show before, and get some tips. Perhaps they know of similar shows that you could be a part of.

You can also network with exhibitors whose products could be used in conjunction with yours. Your two companies could market your products together, showing how they complement each other. This can enlarge your customer pool, and you would be splitting the marketing costs.

Take Notes To Follow Up

It will be impossible to remember everyone you meet and what every conversation was about by the end of the show, even with that pile of business cards at the end of the day. Take notes about each lead you spoke with and gather as much contact information as you can. Don't try to fit it all on the back of a business card, either. Lead cards are a great way to keep track and stay organized.

Collecting all this valuable information won't do you any good if you don't follow up right away. Don't wait a month or even a week to begin your follow ups. Keep in mind that the show attendees were there in need of products just like yours. Don't let the potential customers slip away to a competitor because you didn't want to seem needy. Instead, be available without being pushy. Start with a follow-up phone call to verify the lead's information. Then, be sure to send him information about your product, and samples if you can. Follow up that interaction with a phone call or email to make sure your lead has received the information and samples, and ask him if he has any questions.

Positive word-of-mouth is free publicity that is worth its weight in gold, and trade-show marketing is one of the best ways to get your product out there. No one knows your product better than you do, so show it off.
By Joshua Harrell 29 Sep, 2014
In today's fast-paced and competitive business world, any edge you have over your competitors in sales or service can make the difference in whether you gain or lose a sale. Automated touch-tone customer help systems used to be the norm, but times are changing. The ability for a customer to chat with a live person through a website is a standout feature for improving customer relationships.

The following are a few simple tips to help make the live chat you offer your customers rewarding and beneficial for everyone involved.

Atmosphere

Create a warm, welcoming, and personalized atmosphere for your customers. The welcome message sent to customers to initiate chat should be professional and friendly, with an appealing tone. Keep in mind that nobody really likes the pushy salesman type.

Your chat window should pop up only once. If a customer does not respond immediately, you should not send a message again. However, be certain to keep yourself or your support staff available should the customer require assistance.

Active Listening

It is a good idea to encourage feedback from the customer and learn how the visitor found your site. Remember, you are not a bot, so reading or typing from a script will not enhance the customer experience in a live chat.

Great customer service is not necessarily achieved by providing great responses. Listening to the customer and understanding what is being stated is often more important than an immediate response. Showing empathy and concern will also make the customer feel comfortable.

Keep It Simple

Your customers won't be able to initiate chat support if they can't find it. Customers want to have immediate access to a real person if a question arises during their shopping experiences, so live chat buttons should always be displayed prominently on your website.

Going Offline

Web chat is generally utilized by the younger generation, so be aware of generational differences. Some customers may not be as used to chat as others.

If you run into a situation that is too complex to handle via chat, don't be afraid to move your conversation to a different medium. Simply ask the customer if she would like to switch the conversation to a phone call.

Security issues are another reason to go offline with customers. For example, personal information, account details, or credit card numbers should never be shared on a live chat platform. Give the customer the chance to provide any security-sensitive information over the phone or with a secured web form.

With live help you can transform your website from a place where people go to learn about you, to a place where you build strong customer relationships with each and every visitor, and convert those relationships into sales. These days, if you're not using one of these services for your online store, it is possible you are missing out on valuable sales opportunities. Offering customers chat services will not only make them happy customers, but it will also improve customer relationships while creating loyalty and repeat business.
By Joshua Harrell 23 Sep, 2014
Branding is one of those difficult-to-define words like “justice” or “equality.” It means something different to just about everyone, so much so that some people begin to wonder if it means anything at all. Well, it does mean something, and it's actually pretty important.

Branding is the reason you see the word Nike and immediately think “quality athletic products.” And branding is the reason people will spend more for Coke or Bayer Aspirin than they will for the non-brand alternatives. Branding is the way you show customers your product is valuable and distinctive.

At its core, branding is a promise you make to your customers that your product is special and different from other products like it. That promise involves an assertion of who you are and what people can expect from you.

In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was branded as an agent of change, and John McCain was branded as the maverick. Obama was elected and, after six years in office, his approval rating is teetering around the 40 percent mark. Some would say this is because not much has changed in Washington, like they expected it would change. In other words, the 40 percent approval rating could be because constituents don't feel Obama has delivered on his brand.

Branding is grounded in symbolic language and instantly recognizable iconography—a logo. Your logo is the very foundation of your brand. You don’t have to hear the word Nike to recognize Nike—you just have to see that pervasive, cursive slash mark, for example. Upon that foundation iconographic language, your brand is built and extended through web materials, packaging concepts and marketing strategy.

Building Equity

Every time you pay your monthly home mortgage, you add equity—value—to your most important asset. Every time you successfully market your brand, you add equity to it. How much your product is worth is subjective, a function of what people believe about it. This is the essence of brand strategy, which is communicated through advertising, distribution, packaging, your website, social media and more. To be effective, brand strategy must be unwavering and consistent.

Just Love That Gecko!

Who would have guessed a dozen years ago that the way to sell insurance was by making it funny? Isn’t insurance supposed to be serious business? Well, it was, until Geico showed up with that genius branding strategy. Suddenly, everyone else is doing the same thing, and for a very good reason. Branding isn’t about logic—it’s about emotion.

People might justify their buying decisions with logic, but they make their buying decisions based on emotion. You might tell people you bought a certain car brand because of great gas mileage, but the truth is, you probably bought it because you were buying into carefully branded messaging, like financial success, to make your neighbors envious of your living the good life.

How To Define And Build Your Brand

Here are some quick tips to get your branding strategy started:

  1. Define it. Start with an objective assessment of your product’s benefits and features. Then, do some research to find out what your customers currently think about it. Finally, write down what you want them to think about it. Now you have your set goal.
  2. Create a logo and a tagline. You want a cool graphic that's related to your product, that's also memorable and instantly recognizable. You’ll probably want to get some help from professionals who do this for a living. You also need a tagline that connects effortlessly with your logo. Again, Nike has a great logo, but also a great, well-connected tagline: Just do it.
  3. Create your messages. What are the three or four messages you want consistently to deliver? Keep them concise and clear, and include them in every communication.
  4. Make it pervasive. Your logo needs to appear everywhere, and your messaging needs to be included through every marketing channel.
  5. Define a voice. Your narrative voice is simply the way you communicate. It can be formal, funny, conservative or edgy. Above all, it must be consistent.
  6. Deliver on your promises. It's a simple rule: don’t make promises you can’t keep, because your customers will hold you to those promises. If you’re an agent of change, you better make some changes.
Branding might seem like something that’s just for the big guys, but the fact is that every business, including every small business, needs to know what it stands for and communicate that branding message clearly and consistently to its customers. If you do, you’ll reap the financial rewards of a successful brand for years to come.
By Joshua Harrell 17 Sep, 2014
Some of the most important activities in any business are brand building and maintenance. This is particularly true for startups. Content marketing is an effective way to build and maintain your brand image, and to market at the same time. But there’s more to content marketing than meets the eye. Here are five tips that will help you use content to build and maintain your brand image.

1. Take it seriously.

Many business owners give in to the temptation to use an unpaid college intern or, worse yet, a friend or relative to create content for them. Don’t fall into that trap. Remember, the quality of your content will directly impact your brand image, and the success of your marketing efforts overall. If you’re not comfortable with your own writing ability, or you just don’t have the time, hire a professional content writer. It will be worth the investment. In addition to delivering well written content, a good content writer can also offer tips and suggestions that will make your overall content marketing strategy even better.

2. Write in your own voice.

If you decide to create some or all of your own content, keep it as simple as possible. Most people who don’t write for a living have the mistaken impression that the written word has to be formal in tone and grammatically perfect. Not true, unless your audience is a bunch of college professors who actually speak that way. But in most instances, your target audience will be average, ordinary people. So write in your own voice. Writing in your own voice simply means writing the way you speak -- in a casual and conversational tone.

3. Embrace white space.

People consume online content on a variety of devices, from desktop computers to smartphones. Whatever the device being used, large blocks of text can turn readers off. It just looks boring. Also, when people are consuming content, they need time to breathe. White space is a trigger that gives them that time. And the way to give them plenty of white space is to publish your content in short, bite-sized pieces.

4. Incorporate images.

Another good way to keep readers from becoming bored while reading your content is to incorporate images. Just as large blocks of text can turn readers off, imagery can turn them on. Of course, the images must be relevant to the topic. That's what makes infographics such an effective tool. They provide visual stimulation, while also providing relevant information.

5. Proofread your work.

When you've finished writing a piece of content, it's important to proofread it. I'd venture to say that proofreading a piece of content almost always results in some final editing. And it's that last edit that can make the piece just what you wanted it to be. But just reading the piece the way you would read a book or a magazine article won't do you any good. The reason for this is that when we read text, we do a great deal of skipping over words and filling in the blanks. This is a natural tendency, and it's fine when you're casually consuming written material. But if you proofread that way, your mind will see what you intended to say, not necessarily what's actually on the page. Make sense?

The most effective way to proofread content, especially content you've written personally, is to read it out loud. By reading out loud, you're forcing your mind to see what's actually on the page, which is what your readers will see.

Because of the variety and volume of media outlets where content can be used, there may be no better single tool for building and maintaining your company's brand image than an effective and carefully planned content-marketing strategy.
By Joshua Harrell 09 Sep, 2014
Whether you're writing print advertising copy, creating a commercial web page, or something in between, the bulk of your time and energy should be spent creating a good headline. You may think that’s an exaggeration, but it's not.

The reason headlines are so important is because they serve two essential roles:

  • Qualifying readers
  • Coaxing readers to read the body copy
Qualifying Readers

Most people don’t think of this as a role of the headline, especially in the world of online advertising. They think that if someone lands on a web page as the result of SEO or some other online marketing initiative, that person is already qualified in terms of potential interest in what is being sold. But that’s not necessarily true. Even if the marketing initiatives succeed in delivering prospects who are likely to be interested in what you sell, your headline can be used to qualify those prospects even further.

C oaxing Readers To Read The Body Copy

Getting people to continue on and read the body of your advertising is more commonly understood to be a goal of the headline.

Walt Disney said:

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

In advertising, the new path we want to lead people down is the path to owning our product. And the best way to get people to open that door is to arouse their curiosity.

How To Make Your Headlines Effectively Fill Both Roles

To further qualify your prospects, and arouse their curiosity at the same time, begin your headlines with words or phrases like:

  • "How”
  • “How To”
  • “Why”
  • “Which”
  • “Who Else”
  • “Wanted:”
  • “This”
  • “Because”
  • “If”
  • “Advice About”
  • “Introducing”
  • “Announcing”
  • “Finally”
  • “Presenting”
  • “Just Released”
  • "Exciting Release"
  • “Fantastic New”
  • “Now You Can”
  • “At Last”
Of course, the above list is by no means all inclusive. As you read over the list, ideas for other words or phrases probably came to you. If so, write them down and keep them in your swipe file for later testing and use. You may not recognize it now, but a headline that starts with words like these will naturally compel you to write a headline that will both qualify your prospect, and arouse their curiosity.

As an example, let’s consider a headline that reads; “How To Build A $300,000 Home For Less Than $100,000.” This headline would likely attract anyone who is considering building a house, and those people would not be able to resist reading the rest of the advertisement, even if the claim sounded too good to be true. Of course, it's up to the body of your ad to support any claims you might make in the headline. But that’s a whole other article.
By Joshua Harrell 05 Sep, 2014
Market leadership isn’t necessarily about being big. It’s about defining a niche and owning it, or creating a market that didn’t previously exist. Apple is a classic example of this: they have never had a dominant share of the personal computer market, but their leadership in their niche is undisputed.

There are many ways for a company to become a market leader. Offering a unique product that captures consumer interest can catapult a company to leadership status. Significantly improving an existing product can have the same effect. Even a new approach to the packaging and positioning of an existing product can raise a company’s visibility. In almost every case, branding and marketing play essential roles in establishing a company’s leadership in the marketplace.

Four Steps For Establishing Market Leadership

1. Attain Laser Focus — With so much competition, the key to successes is focus. What exactly does your company offer that’s different and valuable? And who’s the ideal customer? Without approaching the market with this level of understanding, there’s no way to stand out.

2. Power Up Your Brand — Focus is the heart of branding, and branding gives the company the look and feel that consumers can relate to. Branding is more than cool graphics and catchy slogans, though – it’s the tangible definition of a company. Getting the branding right is crucial. Without it, the target audience won’t respond to marketing.

3. Invest in Clear Marketing Strategies — Successful marketing is never scattershot. Strategies have clear objectives and planned actions that build awareness, generate leads and drive sales. Strategies can change, based on feedback from the target audience. But not having a plan? That’s the certain road to failure.

4. Never Think You’re Done With Branding And Marketing — Branding and marketing need to stay current while retaining their core messages. Take McDonald’s golden arches, for example. The logo has remained essentially the same since the 1960s. But it’s gone through a number of updates and has multiple variations, which are used to target different audiences.

Many factors contribute to becoming a market leader, but strong branding and marketing can turn a good company into a great one, simply by reaching the right audience.
By Joshua Harrell 28 Aug, 2014
Companies increasingly cite user experience as a primary pillar to their growth and success models. But like any core competency, implementation involves much more than adding a phase gate to the product-design flowchart.

User experience is a capacious concept, encompassing every customer interaction and touch point, from the first media or store-shelf impression, to the final moment of discarding the product or completing the service. Defining the full scope would require volumes of text. However, for physical products, as well as software and cloud-based solutions, a key phase of customer experience evaluation is beta testing. Beta testing is the first time that non-company customers have a chance to touch, feel, and decipher the product. When done properly, beta testing is tedious and slower than the project team desires. And when done properly, the results are enlightening, and highlight real changes for measurable improvement.

Before listing the DOs, one DO NOT must be mentioned: DO NOT send out 50 products and then request that participants complete an online survey. This is called feedback -- not beta testing. Feedback is a viable tool, but beta testing is a hands-on process for bench marking the customer experience. Key points of beta testing are:

Witness. Project team members must be onsite to observe all aspects of the beta test customer experience firsthand. The reasoning is simple but important. Customers rarely report failures of intermediate steps. Rather, they blame themselves. If a step takes three attempts to succeed, testers will not report this finding, as long as the end result works. In reality, this scenario is an enormous failure that will drive support calls and derail the customer experience in mass production. The onsite witness must recognize, document, and ask probing questions around any perceived confusion by the customer to identify possible improvements by the design team.

Regional Testing. Customers in Bangor have different experiences and viewpoints from customers in New Orleans or Phoenix. If a product or service is to be sold nationwide, then perform user-experience testing nationwide.

Demographic Variability. The product is designed for a particular market and age range, say, 25 - 54. Conduct 10 percent of your tests outside of the target range. Yes, this group will have feedback which does not apply. But this group will also preview shortcomings your customers might report later, as your target group shifts with time. Such data allows for summarized contingency plans to be documented for quick implementation later, should the findings prove true over time.

Edge-Case Conditions. Every product has limits: memory usage, weight supported, battery life, and wireless range. Work with your customers to create scenarios in the field that simulate the user experience near performance limits. These limits will certainly be encountered after launch, and usually sooner than later. The user experience at limits can be managed gracefully if properly understood and addressed prior to launch.

Follow-Up. Approximately 75 percent of findings will be found during the first few days of user-experience testing. But the project team must re-visit customers two to three weeks after the initial review. Is the product still functional? What has been better than expected? What has been worse than expected? Most importantly, does the product effectively serve its intended purpose?

User-experience verification encapsulates a healthy blend of rigorous planning and active observation. This includes much more than a dispassionate survey. User experience expertise is truly a touchy process, working side-by-side with customers every step of the way.
By Joshua Harrell 22 Aug, 2014
These days, many companies are building their brands through Agile Content Marketing.

Content Marketing gets a lot of well-deserved buzz, as one of the most effective ways to magnetize customers and generate leads. Content Marketing develops branding, based on content that speaks to the target audience.

Agile Content Marketing goes even further. Being “agile” means paying close attention to feedback, and using it to further refine the company’s marketing strategy.

Put simply, Content Marketing Works Like This:

Marketing Plan — Create multi-channel marketing strategy, based around content the company thinks is valuable to the target audience.

Deploy Content — Content is created and deployed through marketing channels.

Evaluate Feedback — Comments, shares and “likes” for each piece of content are evaluated.

Optimize Content Strategy — Based on feedback, the strategy is tweaked, to make content more valuable for the target audience.

The Benefits of Agile Content Marketing

Build the Audience — Content is designed to attract an audience of people who are interested in what the company does. The better the content, the more likely this audience is to share it with friends, which further builds the audience.

Generate Leads — The initial goal of content marketing is not necessarily sales. The focus is building trust with the audience, so that people will volunteer their contact information. By doing this, they indicate a willingness to be marketed to. In this way, a percentage of the audience is transformed into a group of highly qualified leads.

Increase Sales — The conversion rate for leads generated through content marketing is very high. Email to this kind of list has a 4% conversion rate — meaning that 4% of the leads are converted to customers. Compare this to a 2.5% conversion rate of people who find a company’s site through an online search and .5% conversion for social media.

The strategic use of great, original content positions a company as the authority in its niche. When people want information on certain topics, they go to the company’s website. Agile content marketing keeps the company tuned into the needs and desires of their audience, making it easier to hold their leadership position.
By Joshua Harrell 21 Aug, 2014
If there’s one tool that has leveled the business marketing playing field over the past 20 years, it’s the business website. Virtually every business has one, and they’re used with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Today’s businesses pay a great deal of attention to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and other ways of attracting internet users to their websites. That’s all well and good out in the ether, but what about in the real world? As great as SEO is from an internet marketing perspective, people are still out there moving around and living their lives in the real world. That’s why Times Square looks the way it does today, with all the colorful digital signage and other advertising.

So how do you bring people from the real world to your homepage? I’m not suggesting an electronic billboard in Times Square, or any other expensive marketing tactic: I’m talking about a seemingly boring little tool that you can get for free, and that can easily be built into your existing marketing arsenal. I’m talking about the QR code.

What Is A QR Code?

The term “QR Code” is short for “Quick Response Code.” It’s a graphic that’s been encoded with a URL. When users point a smartphone or other mobile device that has a camera and a QR code decoding app installed at the graphic, their internet browser is opened up, and the webpage for the encoded URL is displayed. This is much quicker and easier than actually typing in a URL.

How QR Codes Can Be Used

As we have just seen, a QR code makes accessing a web page with a mobile device quick and easy. But web pages are not the only things that can be accessed in this way. For example, QR codes can be created for a variety of data types including:

  • web page URLs
  • YouTube videos
  • Google Maps locations
  • Twitter feeds
  • Facebook business pages
  • LinkedIn pages
  • Instagram pages
  • app download links
  • telephone numbers
  • email addresses
  • email messages
  • contact details
  • digital business cards
  • event calendars
So where’s the best place to display a QR code? The short answer is: any visual marketing media you currently use. Beyond that, there are many other possibilities for drawing people to your marketing message when they’re out and about.

For example, if you have company vehicles traveling around town, you can include a QR code as part of the information you display on the side of those vehicles. If your business displays yard signs around the area (such as real estate agents, home builders, remodeling contractors, landscapers, etc.), you can include a QR code that directs people to an applicable web page. Even if you do TV infomercials, you can display a QR code and make it that much easier for viewers to visit your website from their tablet or smartphone. Anywhere you currently display a website URL can include a QR code for that URL, making it easy for people to visit your site on the spot.

The name says it all. Quick Response codes enable people to respond quickly to your marketing messages, whether those messages are presented on a TV infomercial, a business card, or something in between.

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By Joshua Harrell 05 Oct, 2016
Eighty-five percent of B2B marketers say lead generation will be their most important content marketing objective next year yet only 32% have a documented content marketing strategy to execute that goal. With content playing a huge role in inbound marketing and being one of the most powerful sources for creating new traffic and customer acquisition, it’s essential to develop a solid plan that positions your business to reap these positive rewards.Read more…

The challenges, however, that most brands have with content marketing are producing engaging content, measuring its effectiveness, and creating content consistently. If you have a content strategy, you want to make sure that it’s working and reaching your desired audience. There is a way to overcome these objections and experience the engagement your valuable content deserves.

Here is an exact outline of the action steps you need to take to launch a successful content marketing campaign for your overall inbound marketing strategy:

#1 Knowing Your Target Market

Having a clear understanding of your target audience and who they are is the prerequisite to your content strategy. You see, identifying the pains and challenges of this specific groups allows you to tailor your content that solves problems and brings value. Ultimately, you want to create content that engages your market and moves them to action. This requires clarity of knowing what they want so you can deliver the goods.

The optimal way to doing this through buyer personas. Essentially you are painting a picture of what your ideal customer looks like. It's almost like creating a real person yet based on the types of customers your business has and wants. Buyer personas include details like:

  • job description and responsibilities
  • role in the buying process
  • problems and concerns they're experiencing
  • pain points
  • their typical day
  • most impressing questions
  • goals and objectives
Establishing these personas allows you to build a deeper and personal connection with your audience because you’re relating your messages to their pains. You are speaking directly to them, making your content strategy impactful, effective, and engaging.

Knowing your target market will serve as an ultimate guide to your entire inbound marketing strategy because your content revolves around your intended audience.

#2 Brainstorming Content Congruent to Your Sales Funnel

Your brand will attract different prospects who are in various stages in your sales cycle (or sales funnel). You may have a visitor reading your content who is ready to invest in your service yet another who is “just browsing” and doing research. With this fact, it’s important to create content that fits the needs of your prospects at each stage that moves them to the next stage of your funnel.

Let’s briefly label the stages of a sales process and content ideas that fit each one:

Awareness Stage

The prospect is primarily in the discovery process of your brand. They realize they have a problem so they are in the research phase, only looking for educational content that will help them overcome their pains and challenges. The focus here is generating content that creates awareness and promotes your brand as the go-to source. Great content ideas here include blog posts, webinars, white papers, and infographics.

Consideration Stage

The buyer is not ready to make a purchasing decision yet is now familiar with your brand and respects you as an authority in your niche. They are looking for information related to solutions. Create content that encourages list building to get qualified email subscribers. Types of content that works in this stage are video series, guides, product webinars, and case studies.

Decision Stage

The prospect is getting closer to making the buying decision, so your goal is to create content that makes this a smooth flowing transaction. The content you will use to help close the deal will be different from the content used in the previous stages of the funnel. To convert leads into sales, the best content types that work well are free trials, implementation (how-to) guides, and live demonstrations.

#3 Content Creation

Now that you’ve identified your personas and have brainstormed the types of content to fit each stage in the sales process, it’s time to produce content that solves problems. There are countless ideas to creating content that your market seeks to read. The key is serving your audience a variety, so you speak to the different learning styles of your readers.

Here are some of the most useful kinds of content to consider:

  • Blogging (of course)
  • Research reports
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Video
  • eNewsletters
  • Webinars
  • How-to Guides
  • In-person events
  • Print Magazines
  • Visuals/Images (charts, graphs, memes, etc.)
  • Case Studies
  • Slideshares
  • Lists
  • With testing and measuring (which we'll discuss more in step #5), you’ll soon discover which types of content best resonates with your audience, giving you a solid direction on which to focus your energies on more.

Quick SEO Tip: Search engines favor content that has over 2,000 words. In other words, the longer and more detailed your content, the better for ranking!

#4 Getting the Word Out (Promoting)

As soon as you create your content, you want to publicize it quickly to your various marketing channels, ready to share value to the world. You see, content does not promote itself (hence, content marketing) so it's important to have a syndication strategy where you will distribute your content once it goes live online.

The promotion of your content, however, will largely depend on the campaign. While a blog post may be shared on social networks, a new white paper might require a bigger push in the form of paid content amplification.

Check out these quick strategies to promoting your content:

  • Email Marketing - The best because your email list is already engaged with your brand.
  • Social Media - It's okay to share several times on social media sites. For example, you can share the same post on Twitter 2-3 times a day throughout the week for effectiveness.
  • Google AdWords - For a new white paper or eBook, you can create display campaigns to raise awareness and remarketing campaigns to retarget abandoned visitors.

#5 Test, Track, Analyze, Measure, & Tweak

Don’t just create your content, promote it, and hope it sends traffic and leads your way. No! You must gauge to see what’s working and what’s not. This is the real essence of marketing success, knowing what your market is most receptive to so you can stick with what vibes most with your audience and give the people what they want. Testing, measuring, and tracking is essential to your overall content marketing strategy.

To measure your content success, here are a few questions you can ask to discover what’s effective:

  • How many page views does the content receive?
  • How many leads did my content generate?
  • What type of content is shared the most?
  • What type of content is read the most?
  • What keywords do people search for to find my content?
The answers will provide you with concrete data to use for your next content and ways to curtail it to meet the demands of your market. A win-win!

Armed with this strategic plan, you can now move forward in confidence to creating a successful content marketing strategy that will help manifest your business goals and objectives. Take action now, develop this plan quickly, make adjustments as you go along, and enjoy the benefits. Your audience is waiting!
By Joshua Harrell 27 Sep, 2016
Setting yourself up for success at work is critical to maintaining your position, lining yourself up for promotions, and preparing for future job opportunities. Not only that, there's a sense of satisfaction that comes when you know you've done your job to the best of your ability. Improving your work performance, however, doesn't always come quickly. By focusing on a few actionable steps, you can set yourself up for better performance at work and prepare to have a more positive impact on your daily schedule.

Focus On One Task at a Time

Simply put, it's time to stop multitasking. It's tempting, in today's fast-paced and highly technological society, to feel as though you have to be connected to everything, all the time. That may mean that you're answering a text message, checking your email, and working on your latest presentation, all at the same time. There's just one problem: in all that busy-ness, you aren't giving your full focus to any of those tasks. That can lead to greater problems than simply the lost time you spent switching back and forth between tasks and trying to convince your brain to refocus whenever you go back to your intended task. When it takes as much as 25 minutes to get fully back on task when you've been interrupted, that alone is a big problem! Multitasking can also lead to:

  • Higher stress levels
  • Decreased quality of relationships—both business and personal
  • Problems thinking creatively, especially on the fly
  • A greater likelihood that you'll make mistakes whether firing off a personal text to a business contact or sending an email with the wrong information
When you focus on a single task at a time, on the other hand, you'll discover that you're much better able to complete the task at hand. You'll also learn to pay more attention to what's going on around you—and that can lead to more opportunities in the workplace, too. It can be helpful to develop a schedule or routine that allows you to focus on one task at a time, compartmentalizing your day so that you're better able to concentrate.

Set Goals

When was the last time you sat down and made a serious list of the things that you're hoping to accomplish in the foreseeable future? Do you have a ten-year plan? Have you set out goals that will get you through the next five years? If you haven't taken the time to create those goals, it's time to get on it! Setting goals has many key benefits.

Goal-setting allows you to develop a picture of where your life is heading and work toward it in a focused, concentrated way.
Setting goals allows you to use your time and resources more efficiently. Instead of jumping at every opportunity that comes along, you're able to guide yourself toward those big-picture goals more effectively.
Clear goals make it easier to make decisions, whether small ones about what you want to accomplish day-to-day—you don't choose the doughnut for breakfast or the burger, fries, and shake for lunch when you're trying to lose weight!—or bigger ones that concern the way you want to direct your future. From the classes you want to take and the certifications you want to gain to the new jobs you pursue or the projects you want in on, setting goals will help create a roadmap for your decisions.
Give goal-setting a try. Take the time to sit down and decide where you want to be and what you want to accomplish. Paint a broad picture: what are you hoping to accomplish over the next month? The next year? When you set goals, you'll be able to move toward them. Even better, ultimately, you may find that you surpass your initial estimates and accomplish more than you dreamed possible.

Learn the Value of Teamwork

When you have a weak relationship with your colleagues, coming into work every day is a chore. You dread getting up in the morning, you drag you way through the day, and when the end of your work day finally rolls around, you can't wait to get out the door. On the other hand, when you develop positive relationships with your colleagues, you'll be able to see plenty of benefits: greater overall morale, improved productivity, and a better ability to work with your colleagues. It can be difficult to find a place to begin those relationships, especially if you've worked for a particular company for a long time without feeling as though you fit in. Developing those teamwork skills, however, can greatly enhance your performance at work.

  • Share accomplishments, not blame. Look for ways to share appreciation with your colleagues, not to point fingers when something goes wrong.
  • Pay attention. Keep an eye on what's going on around you and look for ways to make things easier for your colleagues. Be the one who sees and hears what's going on.
  • Develop more effective communication skills. Look for ways to enhance and improve your communication with individuals within the office, and be honest whenever possible.
  • Be courteous. Simple common courtesy often makes all the difference in a traditional office relationship.
  • As your relationship with your coworkers improves, both you and your workplace will reap the benefits. Even better, as you become known as a people person and a team player, you'll find that it opens doors for you across both your workplace and your industry.

Seek Knowledge

One of the best ways to set yourself apart as an employee is to seek new knowledge continually. Check out the latest certifications in your field and develop a plan for studying that information and taking the tests. Since you've developed a series of goals for your future, you should be able to explicitly choose the direction you need to take with new classes, certifications, and seminars. It's also critical to understand the "why" behind decisions, protocols, and technology, not just the "how." When you figure out why something is done a certain way, it's easier to follow it, uphold company policy, or help customers make better decisions.

Even if you aren't in a workplace where new technology or changing information is standard, you can continue learning and grow in your position. There's always new information out there. Seek out how to be a better employee, learn how to do another job in your department, or develop your skills to their highest possible level. Whatever you do, commit to doing it to the best of your ability and look for the information that will help you accomplish that. The more you know, the more you'll be able to accomplish!

Every day at work, you have a choice. You can spend the day just getting by, performing the bare minimum to get through the day and keep your job, or you can put forth your best possible effort to showcase the full range of your skills. The satisfaction in a job well done is well worth putting forth the effort to improve yourself. If that isn't incentive enough, keep in mind that your job is never certain, and the better you are, the better your chances of keeping your job or moving successfully into a new position. Whatever the reason for your goals, personal improvement at work is never wasted.
By Joshua Harrell 21 Sep, 2016
When you think of workplace distractions, the first thing you imagine is that receptionist who is always texting at her desk or has her social media account open on the computer all day long. In many cases, however, the biggest distractions you'll face at work aren't the result of procrastination or off-task behaviors. You can waste a huge chunk of your day engaging in activities that are work-related, but ultimately unproductive. To avoid being caught in that trap and improve your work performance, make sure these key distractions aren't impacting your work day.

Distraction #1: Your Email

Do you have email notifications turned on for your phone, tablet, or computer? Do you leave your email open in the background all day, where you'll notice immediately if a new message comes in? If so, stop! This is one of the most potent distractions in your day. In some cases, it can take as much as 25 minutes to get back on task and working at peak efficiency following a distraction. If you get an email every hour or so throughout the day, that's a lot of lost work time!

Instead, if you aren't waiting for an important email (that's an email that's genuinely important and that you expect to come in at any time), leave your email closed for the majority of the day. Try setting specific times when you'll check your email. It might be the first thing you do in the morning, the last thing you do before leaving for lunch or the first thing you do when you get back, and the last thing you do when you leave for the day.

Distraction #2: Your Phone

Do you use your phone throughout your work day? Do you regularly find yourself receiving critical texts from coworkers or calls from clients that can impact and change the flow of your workday? If not, there's no reason to keep your phone on you. Shut it in your desk drawer or turn it to silent—completely silent, without even the vibrate function turned on. If you are expecting critical calls from coworkers or clients, try to schedule them so that you know when they're coming and can arrange your day accordingly.

Worried that you'll miss something important, whether it's a call from your spouse or a message from someone in another department? Schedule your day to allow time for "phone breaks." Plan to take a 5-10 minute break every hour to check your phone. Use that time to reply to calls and texts, then go back to your productive schedule.

Distraction #3: Skipping the To Do List

One of the biggest distractions you'll face in the workplace is your decision to tackle work as it comes across your desk, ignoring big projects and small details until they become serious concerns. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that you need to take care of. The solution? Plan out your day before you ever get started. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to write out a To Do list. Include the things that you need to get done that day as well as tasks that you need to accomplish or that you need to work on if you have the time. The simple act of writing out that list and checking off items as you get them done will help you prioritize your day more efficiently—and that means less time spent on tasks that don't contribute to your day.

Distraction #4: People in the Office

You can't get away from your coworkers completely—and you don't want to. Some of them, you genuinely like. Others, you tolerate avoiding being labeled "that antisocial coworker." Whether you like your coworkers or not, however, you can't spend all day talking to them when you have a stack of projects waiting on your desk! Try some of these techniques for eliminating coworker distractions:

  • If you're lucky enough to have your own office, shut the door when you need to get away and focus.
  • Be clear about your needs. Learn to turn people away politely even when they're persistent.
  • Don't let yourself get dragged into a conversation when you have somewhere else you need to be. Practice conversation-ending tactics if necessary.
  • Make time for coworkers outside your designated work time, whether that means going out for drinks after work, hanging out in the break room for your lunch, or attending post-work events.
Distraction #5: Multitasking

Doing multiple things at the same time makes you feel more productive. Whether you're messaging a co-worker to set up a meeting while simultaneously writing an email or checking out an article while participating in a conference call, the more you can do at once, the better your time has been spent, right? Unfortunately, multitasking can have some substantial consequences. The more often you switch tasks, the higher your stress levels. You'll also feel more pressed for time and struggle to feel as though you've accomplished everything in your day.

Learning to stop multitasking and start concentrating on one task at a time takes a great deal of mental discipline. You'll naturally want to skip from one task to the next, chipping away at your responsibilities a little bit at a time instead of accomplishing them in large chunks. When you do learn to set multitasking to the side, however, you'll discover that you feel less stressed about your workload, which will make it easier to face your increasing To Do list each day.

Distraction #6: A Messy Workspace

There are some people who can live in chaos and still know where everything is. Their desks are piled high, papers are overflowing, and they still know exactly how to lay hands on that important document that they need for a meeting. Those people, however, are comparatively rare. Most people need an element of organization in their lives to find the vital pieces of paperwork they need to accomplish tasks throughout their day.

Learning to be organized takes time and effort. You'll have to discipline yourself to file papers away when you're done with them, get used to tossing things out when you no longer need them, and taking a few minutes at the beginning or end of every day to straighten things up and prepare for tomorrow. The reward, however, is decreased distraction throughout your entire work day.

Distraction #7: Internet Browsing

You don't want to think of yourself as one of those people who frequently falls down the rabbit hole and gets lost in the world of the internet. In fact, you've worked very hard not to let that happen. You don't check your personal social media accounts while you're at the office, nor do you watch that funny video that everyone has seen on company time. Unfortunately, the distraction of internet browsing doesn't just apply to personal browsing.

Have you ever found yourself reading an article about your industry or checking out a news source, only to look up thirty minutes later and realize that you've followed the chain of articles to something that no longer resembles your original topic? Do you do excessive amounts of research before making a purchase, whether for yourself or the company? All of these are distractions that can eat your productivity.

Set aside your browsing habits. If you go online, commit to accomplishing the task that you're there to accomplish, then close out your browser again. Discipline yourself to finish a task and move on rather than letting the internet suck you in.

Improving your performance at work is a process. You won't be able to eliminate every distraction in the workplace overnight. The good news is, you can learn to set aside distractions, increase your productivity, and stay on task throughout your day.
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