Unleashing the Power of Content

client_6By Steven Shapiro

Content marketing must work because here you are. You are reading a blog that will take you to a video that resides on a publishing platform called Speakers’ Corner that builds brand engagement with Westmeath, and exposes you to me and my company Communications Strategy Group. If the quality of the content is worthwhile and provides value, you will be willing to exchange your engagement, in whatever form that is, for access to the content, and a relationship will be born. This is what we call a “Content Value Exchange.”

More and more organizations are coming to understand the importance of becoming publishers as they recognize that marketing is no longer a game of control, but one of influence. Market forces, whether it be the advancement of ad blockers or the “consumer spring” that empowers stakeholders to verify and validate authenticity, have required brands to build an audience and trust with consumers like no other time in history. Valuable content has become the vehicle to build that relationship. It’s not a new concept, but it has become more of an imperative in the marketing communications world. With this accelerating interest and growing commitment to content marketing has come greater complexity both in terms of the structure and responsibilities of those in the marketing organization and the tools and tactics that are applied.

The question is, how do you approach this dynamic marketing communications environment in way that optimizes your marketing communications budget and delivers measurable outcomes for your organization? At the heart of a streamlined content marketing effort is what we call “Content Process Optimization” (CPO). While CPO requires a great deal of front end work, including:

• persona development,
• shared value identification,
• promotional channel analysis,
• content and subject matter expertise audit,
• influencer ecosystem mapping, and
• creation of measurement dashboards among many other foundational steps.

The heartbeat of CPO is a consistent work flow application of a content supply chain around a shared value with the audience, including:

• creation/extraction of content,
• packaging of content, and
• the distribution/promotion of content.

Sounds simplistic and obvious, but in most organizations today it is the distribution and promotion phase of the work flow that often drives the first two or worse there is no coordination at all. For example, in most organizations, the PR function is extracting and packaging content for the media, while the social media team is creating streams to cultivate a community, while advertising is centered on brand building activities all of which are often not aligned. This misalignment causes inefficiencies in the allocation of human and financial resources, marginalizes marketing outcomes, and perhaps most importantly, dilutes what your brand stands for in the minds of consumers and stakeholders in the cacophony of voices they are peppered with each day.

At the end of the day, the goal of your content marketing initiative is to create a publishing platform that over time builds an engaged audience that in turn can reduce marketing costs and maximize the lifetime value of your customers.

Data Analytics and My Stream of Consciousness

client_11By Arezou Zarafshan

Recently, my team and I were faced with a major challenge that required a herculean analytical effort.  The project was the type that any data junkie such as myself dreams about (new, exciting, big challenge and big visibility) and is deathly afraid of (huge risk, big challenge, big visibility), all at the same time.

We were asked by our CEO to project market performance for our brands in the upcoming quarter.  My team and I got to work, derived a great model with high correlation values and proudly presented our insights to our executive office.  Big bust!  Our CEO had over a dozen questions about how our projections tied to other pieces of our business.  How did it correlate with our inventory position?  What about account sales?  Should the company expect a slew of new orders in the coming quarter as we were projecting a very healthy growth in market position?

Although our sophisticated model commanded 93% accuracy, we did not have any answers to our CEO’s questions.  We had done the job we were asked to do very well but ultimately we had failed in providing business-worthy insights.

I spent sometime reflecting on where we had gone wrong.   We knew what to look at qualitatively and measure quantitatively.  We definitely had clarity about our signal (market position).  We understood very well what the signal was telling us (25% lift in value market share in less than two months).  All good, except we failed to ask “So What?”

As it turns out, a snapshot market position does little for lifting our business performance in a given quarter.  In our business, there is a sizable lag between account orders and consumer purchase and hence, our business has already realized the revenue for the product purchased by the consumer.

I was fortunate that our CEO gave me a second chance and asked me to come back with a more comprehensive analysis.  This time around, I reminded myself of the steps to take for data to generate meaningful insights and action.  I brought a cross-functional team together, comprising  sales, account management, forecasting, finance and inventory management.  Collectively, we agreed on all the different data points and sources to examine.  When everyone came back with their results, time and time again, we asked ourselves and each other: “So What?”  This critical examination of our story only added to the robustness of our collective insights.

As we methodically peeled the onion, we learned that due to a large order two months prior and the softening of the market, our inventory was healthy enough to support the market demand for the quarter although our consumer sell-through continued to be healthy and growing.  In summary, even though our market position continued to gain strength, our account orders remained the same as previously anticipated.

With this insight, the business was able to better forecast for the upcoming quarters and become more accurate in financial projections (the Now What piece).

Viola!  Eureka!  I redeemed my credibility and perhaps a bit of my ego!

I enjoyed the challenge immensely.  However, the most valuable part of this experience for me was the reminder to follow my own recipe:

  1. Simplify
  2. Know the Signal from the Noise
  3. Ask So What?
  4. Ask Now What?
  5. Act!
  6. Cross-Functional

Does Customer Engagement Matter for Brands?

Diane Scott
Diane Scott

By Speakers’ Corner Presenter and Western Union Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Diane Scott

As a purpose-driven company that “moves money for better,” placing strong emphasis on our customer experience and engagement is of utmost importance.  People and businesses choose Western Union because we are a business centered on the needs of our customers, and we’ve invested and innovated to provide consumers and businesses with a wide range of choice in services.  We strive to enable them to move money any time, anyway, in almost anywhere in the world.

On average, Western Union customers transact with us less than a dozen times a year, which makes customer engagement even more important during the times they are not using our services.

So how do we do that?

Well, our business is social in nature. It is relationship driven.  So it only makes sense that we as a business leverage social media to engage with our existing customers, while continuing to grow a strong customer base.   As such, we are utilizing social media to build a critical mass audience that is engaged with the Western Union brand, drives awareness and advocacy, and provides high quality care.

Since launching a formal social media campaign about two years ago, the practice has been a resounding success, creating a strong following of consumers, customers and other notable external stakeholders and influencers.   Today, we engage with more than six million followers across our Western Union social channels.

As listening and conversation are the foundation of social marketing, we have found that there are some conversations that are more important than others and we would like to share our thoughts with you in this video.

Join us in this Speakers’ Corner webisode as we discuss the five social conversations that all brands should care about, and how they have provided us with invaluable insights about our customers, helped tens of thousands of customers through our 24×7/ 365 social care and created a lot of brand advocacy and awareness along the way.

www.westernunion.com

15 Steps to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

By Speakers’ Corner Presenter and Social/Digital expert, Amy McIlwainAmy_McIlwain_HS

Utilizing blogging as a tool to grow your business through increased awareness, website traffic and leads can be hard work. Success isn’t going to happen overnight. So how do you know if you are on the right track? Is there anything else you can be doing to help boost your blog views?

We have created a checklist to help you optimize your LinkedIn profile and blog content, make sure you have your blogging platform setup correctly and offer new ideas to get more people seeing your blog articles.

Optimize For Your Audience
Who are you trying to reach with your blog? What do they want to hear from you? What information will they find helpful, informative or entertaining

Start with these tips for optimizing your blog content for your targeted audience so that they will keep coming back for more:

1 – Define your ideal reader.

2 – Think about what questions this reader would have and answer them. When someone asks a question in a search engine online, your blog will come up. Also, being extremely helpful will help build trust and credibility.

3 – Include quotes from influencers.

4 – Don’t let your content get out of date. Old content or broken links may deter readers from coming back.

5 – Use quality, unique images to add value. Don’t rely on stock photos. Also, be sure to label your photos with optimized names, descriptions and alt tags.

Optimize For Readability & Usability

Now you have your awesome custom content ready to go, but you need to present it in a way that is easy to digest. Here are 5 tips for making your blogs easy to read, no matter the viewer:

6 – Pick a legible font. Fancy fonts stand out, but may be hard to read, so use them for headings and subheadings only.

7 – Pick a practical font size. This is often larger than what you would first pick as aesthetically pleasing.

8 – Use a dark font on a white background, because it’s just more pleasant for your eyeballs.

9 – Get rid of large blocks of text. Using large subheadings and bullet points make an article easy to scan and interrupt a monotonous flow of text.

10 – Use a responsive design. Many of your blog viewers may be coming to your site from mobile devices like phones and tablets, so it is important that it will be legible and have a clean layout on any device.

Optimize For Increased Traffic
You’re almost there… you have great content that answers your audience’s questions and it is laid out in an organized, user-friendly manner on your website. But how can you get your blog in front of more people? Below are a few tips to get more traffic, followers and devoted readers:

11 – Edit your headlines. Make sure that your titles and headlines are full of search-friendly keywords. Also, when sharing on social media and via email, make sure your headlines are intriguing.

12 – Always write meta-descriptions. These are the descriptions that show up in search results, so it should be a short description that encourages someone to read your full article.

13 – Use categories. This helps human readers and crawling search bots find your content. Categories are much more helpful for SEO than adding tags.

14 – Create images that are the correct size for each of your favorite social media channels. Optimal image sizes encourage engagement and sharing on social. For image sizing, check out our guide.

15 – Add social sharing buttons to your blog page. Placing these buttons right at the beginning or end of your blog encourages the reader to share with their friends, because it makes sharing on any channel so easy.

—-

Remember that your blog is a tool to start the conversation with a potential client, and not a direct sales tool. And to win business with your blog, you need to do more than write valuable content. You need to make it easy to find, easy to read and easy to share!

You can download the full 15-step checklist in this PDF!

Connect with Amy on Social!
youtube-icon twitter-icon linkedin-icon facebook-icon

Michael Baldwin: Presentation Tips and Recommendations

Written and provided by Speakers’ Corner featured presenter, Michael Baldwin, CEO of Michael Baldwin, Inc. and Author of, “Just Add Water!”

When it comes to speaking and presenting, there is only one thing you need to know: Nothing will accelerate your career faster than developing your ability to communicate. Nothing.

It is an art form, a powerful tool, and a credential which has no peer, in business or in life.

Here are a few basic recommendations and presentation tips for everyone who would like to master the art of presenting … with impact and gusto!

  • Pretend you are about to propose … to your audience.

Why is it that when we contemplate proposing marriage to someone, we immediately start making plans according to what the other person likes; how the other person thinks; from the other person’s POV? And we do so based on an intimate knowledge of that person.

When you are getting ready to present to an audience, knowing as much as you can about that audience should be your same starting point. How do they think? What are their expectations? How do they see themselves?Most importantly, knowing how what you are going to say on a topic will affect the predisposition or bias of those you will be addressing, is the real key. That’s how you are able to: 1. Anticipate resistance and 2. Preempt objections … right out of the gate if necessary.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you already know your audience without some due diligence — even if it means refreshing yourself on a group that you think is a familiar one. And don’t make assumptions about them — do that and you are playing with fire.

 

  • Don’t be clear; be Crystal Clear about your objective.

Without a single extra word, be able to articulate your objective in one simple sentence. It sounds simple … until you sit down to do it and you discover that it is anything but, because it isn’t crystal clear in your own head.

It must be simple, single-minded, and everything you say or do must be in service of that objective, or you don’t include it. Think of the foundation for a house; the through line of a scene; the key chords to a piece of music; if the foundation for your presentation — your crystal clear objective — isn’t crystal clear, your presentation will be fatally flawed.

Avoid being the next victim of a tired old saw: “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.” Spend the time to get it right before you start building your presentation.

 

  • Build your argument to an inescapable conclusion – Checkmate.

Just like any brilliant Supreme Court oral argument, you want to build your case, point by point, in a logical flow that ends in checkmate — an inescapable end point that makes your POV the obvious one. My favorite methodology: use one index card per point to collect and organize your thoughts. Then organize them sequentially — left to right like an equation — slowly building to your end point.

A random collection of slides (too common a problem with presenters) has nowhere near the impact — or the power — to convince audiences, change minds, and close deals.

 

  • Stay connected to what you are saying and to whom you are saying it.

Nothing persuades like the passion of conviction. And nothing works harder against you than any hint you are phoning it in. Understand the stakes of each presentation personally — know why the outcome is important to you, and let the audience know it too. Genuine contact, eye-to-eye, is the only way to make a meaningful connection with someone, and the only way to communicate real conviction in a visceral, human way.

 

  • Read the faces in the room like tea leaves.

It’s called “active listening” in acting, and it’s what differentiates the great speakers: reading the faces and body language of the people in the room non-stop. Be on the lookout for expressions or body language that feel like someone is confused, uncomfortable, or lost. And don’t be afraid to press pause; to stop and ask someone if there’s a problem or a question that needs to be asked. It’s how you make it clear to an audience that you are paying attention to them.

Connect with Michael on social!
-LinkedIn
Twitter

Click here to download a FREE chapter of Michael’s book, “Just Add Water
Baldwin_Just_Add_Water_Cover

Employee Advocacy LIVE Q&A Recap

Amanda_Turner_Bernie_Charland_Employee_Advocacy
Employee Advocacy Experts, Amanda Turner and Bernie Charland

Thank you to all who joined our first LIVE Q&A on the topic of Employee Advocacy.  Bernie Charland, Principal/Founder of Thinktwice Communications teamed up with Amanda Turner, President/Founder of ClearChange Communications, to share their insights on this hot topic and field your questions together to provide you the best answers possible.  Below, you’ll find a full listing of questions with their respective answers.  **Don’t forget to download this FREE list of Employee Advocacy Stats to reinforce your own employee advocacy program! Here are a few key points of the Q&A:

  • Gamification and Incentivizing Employee Advocacy Programs.  Several folks asked about gamification and turning your employee advocacy program into a rewards based “game” with points, scores and a competitive element to drive some friendly competition in the office while promoting the company brand.  For the most part, the answer is yes.  Incentivizing employees to establish a stronger program is effective but needs to be done correctly and must be a good fit within the company.  “Incentives and gamification should be encouraged – not coerced.”
  • Employee Social Pages and Disclaimers.  A noted concern in the conversation was whether or not employee-owned social media channels should feature any type of disclaimer.  The answer varies from company-to-company but the bottom line is that it will not harm your company to have a disclaimer or a company hashtag indicating the employee is a part of the employee advocacy program and their views may not fully represent those of the company’s.
  • Using Caution in Highly Regulated Industries.  Many companies operate within industries that have very complicated and strict rules and regulations surrounding what employees/companies can and cannot say publicly.  Organizations that fit within one of these industries can do a few things to minimize the risk of an employee advocacy program such as ensuring a detailed social media policy and providing rigorous social media training to those participating in the employee advocacy program.
  • Monitoring Employees on Social Media.  Should the brand govern what is said on social media by closely monitoring what employees say and share?  You cannot govern what the employee decides to share; you can only provide them approved content to share.  What they decide to say and which content they decide to share will be determined by what’s relevant to their likes/interests and those of their audience (friends and family).  What they say/share SHOULD be monitored, but it cannot be governed in an effective program.  That would create a “manufactured” marketing program.
























Want more from Bernie and Amanda? Check out their highlight clips from their Speakers’ Corner webisode, “Employee Advocacy: Why Employees Are The Next Big Thing.
-Highlight Clip #1: Mitigate the Risk of an Employee Advocacy Program
-Highlight Clip #2: Employee Advocacy Stats