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User Data: Who Owns It?

Facebook knows more about you than your own mother. Seriously. As a matter of fact, even before the age of user data, catalogs from department stores were accurately predicting which consumers were pregnant before they could even report this sensitive information to their families. By law, users don’t have possession of their own data, and this is part of the dilemma. What happens when a corporation you don’t even trust knows just about everything about you? Is this good, bad, or somewhere in between?

If you were to ask me, the defense of user data for purchase from the highest bidder is an increasingly dangerous game, which has even started to affect our electoral politics in the United States. Foreign nations or just even the U.S. Government has to ask permission for this data from these corporations. They can purchase it, buy their own ad space like they are regular companies, and from there do what they will. If you’re like me, that’s cause for real concern.

On the other hand, the defense for companies owning their users’ privacy in lieu of digital marketing is a shallow argument for me. I say this for two reasons:

  1. The important thing is the trust from the consumer, and sketchy companies with loads of user data and resources to exploit them don’t aid in user trust for consumer longevity.
  2. Even before the digital age companies with vast resources had the ability to use consumer’s own psychology against them: it’s the very same set of tactics that created foundational advertising techniques.

So to conclude, even if you rightly understand that user data makes things easier for the consumer, it may still be a serious cause for other concerns in the long-run.

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Damage Control: Digital Reputation Management

Damage Control. It’s an unfortunate but very real element of being a business. Try as you might, whether you’re a major corporation being nailed for shallow pandering, or a local shop facing accusations of racism, a business’s job is to catch the headlines. Sometimes they won’t be the right ones. Now, naturally, it isn’t very hard at all to avoid catching flack for downright unethical behavior, but what if you’re just doing business as usual? Not all press is good press — especially in a viral social media environment.

Types of Responses

Practical elements of damage control, or, in safer terms, reputation management, can be broken into roughly two perspectives: Proactive responses and Defensive responses.

Proactive Responses

Proactive suggests that the firm is being careful in their approach to extend an actionable solution to a problem — whether that requires action for the business themselves, or the disgruntled consumer(s). The question that firms must ask themselves in taking this path is what actions will they take after, during, or even before making their Public Relations or Customer response that aligns with the statement. Remember, it’s even worse than saying nothing at all if a firm makes a claim and follows it up with either no action or hypocrisy. If actions are met as indicated in a public response or apology, it is very often a better outcome than the defensive response.

Defensive Responses

Defensive responses are just what they sound like: a company sticking to its guns in whatever embroiled social platform quagmire they’ve gotten themselves into. Rarely does this approach result in the most savory of outcomes. Only the most avid fans and passive consumers of a given brand will stick around after a mediocre defensive response. Companies will go in this direction most likely if they feel that the scandal or customer complaint runs entirely contrary to their mission statement, or the complaint brought is entirely nonsensical. If a defensive statement has the well-being of brand employees in mind, it can reach a positive outcome. These outcomes, of course, are generally dependent on the scenario.

What It All Means

What should really be taken away here, is that a Proactive and Defensive response will send very different messages to the consumer. Proactive might mean “I’m here, I am listening, I am goal-oriented.” and defensive might mean “I’m right, and you’re incorrect on this one.”. Unless the defensive statement would be met with good public reception on a broader level, it is usually a much harder response to pull off. If possible, definitely choose to be proactive.

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Social Listening: We Get It, You’re a Brand

Let’s talk about it. Lots of things are going on in people’s lives right now. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, there is civil unrest in countries around the world, and people’s trust in their institutions everywhere are eroding. I don’t particularly care what side of the aisle you’re on, either — this year is a struggle for everyone.

So suffice to say, it is especially upsetting to see major brands and corporations flex their out-of-touch ad spending on a population of disillusioned citizens. Even Twitter and Instagram are becoming newly discovered hot-beds to reach young people with advertising. Though this is not all bad, it is crucial for these same firms to be aware of what is happening in people’s lives that can make their campaigns not just relevant, but important to users on these platforms.

I think that social listening is an integral part of any corporation’s marketing strategy, and a lot of firms are dropping the ball. Consider the idea of ‘social listening’, which is explained in part in this Stukent Expert Session video with Tori McClellan.

As far as I’m concerned, the strategy of social listening dictates that a firm keeps its ear to the ground of social media conversation, with keywords, hashtags, and trends so they can contrive some answers to their overall marketing strategy. What is making people’s 2020 so difficult? What can we offer as a solution? Is this the time to be shilling out the same ad campaigns with only “COVID-19 in the title?

If firms were genuinely asking these questions for themselves more productive dialogue could be happening on these social platforms. Dialogue that really informs a business on their performance. In my opinion, the biggest brands should neglect self-promotion entirely in their actual feed posts, and save it for the paid social ads. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn an accounts’ sole purpose on social is to communicate with others- so brands should start acting like it.

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Ad Spend: Breaking The Bank To Stay In The Game?

How to Monitor the Effectiveness of Paid Search with a Search Marketing  Dashboard | ClickDimensions Blog

Truth be told, a big ad spending budget is a crucial weapon in the arsenal of big businesses. This isn’t slowing down, either. According to a blog put out by Hootsuite, social ad spend is projected to reach $43 Billion USD in 2020 alone, which is a 20% increase from the last year.

But not everyone is a big business or can hope to work with an operating budget in the millions. So this begs the question, how can smaller firms and advertisers hope to stick out in the fray for paid search and others?

Let’s confront why spending on paid Search and Social advertisements even matters, in the first place.

According to the same 2020 trend list from Hootsuite, 27% of internet users say they find new products and brands through paid social ads. This stat hikes up to 31% in users between the ages of 16-24. Simply put, paying to play isn’t going away. In the realm of paid search ads, engines like Google and Bing both utilize ad auctions as an integral part in determining which firm’s ad campaigns show up first.

Despite of all of this, there are strategies that smaller entities must bear in mind to reach the consumers necessary to reach ROI on any sort of ad campaign.

How Do We Compete, Then?

In a Stukent Expert Session presented by John Gagnon, we can break down some fundamentals of what your business (or client) might need on their side without a massive budget.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a mathematician. This formula was created in order to calculate the likelihood of conversion in users who stumble across search ads. Rather than take this head-on, let’s observe some crucial elements within.

User motivation, which is captured by “m” in the formula is something that advertisers can close in on by increasing the specificity for what triggers their ads showing up. In other words, making your key search phrases as specific as possible will help improve the relevance of your ad against what the user is looking for.

For example, if a user is searching “wedding band” or “funeral home” it is quite likely that the user is looking to convert and not just casually browse. Being aware of these probabilities and applying them to your own business is part of a strategy called “Search Funnel”. The main question here is “Is the consumer ready to buy?”

Ad Copy

Also intrinsic to paid search strategy and user motivation is the length and content of the text on the elements of your ad. Gagnon suggests phrases between 6-7 words hit the sweet spot between attention-grabbing and informative. Any longer risks losing the focus of your audience, any shorter may not be enough to get the message across!!

Value A Click

The last and perhaps most important thing to consider with your budget is how to determine the value of a click. Gagnon charges us with these questions: How much money do I make on CPA? and How many conversions do I get out of 100 users? (What’s the conversion rate?).

In Conclusion, I would say that the only way to circumvent the big guys in the ad-spend-world, if only for a while, comes down to your strategy! Know your client’s goals, the consumers’ goals, and ultimately measure your ROI!

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All About Your HelloFresh Meal-Match!

Thank You For Signing Up For HelloFresh’s Meal-Match Plan!

This page is your one-stop-shop for understanding your Meal-Match’s features, contributors, and what you can look forward to while helping people stay fed during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

A Meal-Match in progress with a local food distributor in Cleveland, Ohio

LOCAL VENDORS

HelloFresh is proud to partner with food banks and distributors near you to make the Meal-Match possible! Take a look at some of our partners in Rochester that are here to help us make strides in keeping everyone fed.

ROC Food Not Bombs:

HelloFresh proudly partners with ROC Food Not Bombs, which is a community-led grass-roots network of food suppliers and volunteers that spreads free vegetarian and vegan meals in the local community.

Foodlink:

HelloFresh proudly partners with Foodlink, a food bank dedicated to “end hunger and build healthier communities”.

CONTENT MATCH

As you know, your Meal-Match plan will match the meals you select from your very own HelloFresh Meal Plan, and match the same delicious ingredients and recipes for someone who truly needs it! Even better, we at HelloFresh want to make sure the personalized meals you purchase for yourself will reflect what is sent to those in need.

With the Content Match element of the Meal-Match plan, HelloFresh wants you to expect a 1:1 comparison in what your friend in need will be receiving! In other words, if your scheduled Meal Kit provides for your entire family, you will be matched up with a family or those with similar portion demands. If you are ordering from the vegetarian, vegan, or pescatarian menus, the meals sent to those in need will reflect those dietary restrictions. We even account for allergies! We do all of this with our partners to ensure the culinary diversity of what those in need will consume, and to assure our customers that no cost is too high to feed those less fortunate.

CELEBRITY MATCH

We know that the fans of our meals are also fans of the greatest! With promo codes COOKINGWITHCONTESSA and others on our HelloFresh/CelebMeals.com page, you can now add some of these limited edition celebrity chef-inspired recipes to your Meal-Match plan. #HelloCeleb meals include real recipes from Gordan Ramsey, Ina Garten, Ree Drummond, and Aaron Sanchez. Terms and conditions apply.

#HelloatHome and #HelloCeleb

Join us on social! Show us the meals you selected for matching and the ones you’ve just cooked at home! With #HelloatHome show friends and family how you cook in quarantine with fresh meals sent straight to your door.

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Spotify Wrapped: A Metal Media Campaign

To be totally clear, I’m entirely biased for this one. Spotify Wrapped is only one of a million reasons why I care so much about the music listening platform. From a user experience perspective alone, Spotify is wonderful. It not only has all the songs and artists I desire to hear, (from Jazz to Metal) but the app updates me with new releases relevant to my listening and curates playlists and discovery-based lists of music that I genuinely would like to get interested in.

Now, add to all of this a killer social media campaign like Spotify Wrapped! This is why I’m obsessed with the app. The campaign smartly takes user’s data and culminates it all into one visually beautiful, interactive, and most importantly shareable display. Hootsuite, a social media management platform, boasts of this campaign’s success on their list of “7 of the Best Social Media Campaigns (And What You Can Learn from Them)”.

“Since 2017, Spotify has shared year-end data with their users, compiling their most-listened to songs, albums and artists in a personalized “Spotify Wrapped” summary.”

My Reaction

My gut reaction to this campaign the first time I saw it was just utter surprise. The mixture of its simplicity, informative nature, and captivating feel make this a campaign that I literally look forward to on a yearly basis. It’s like second Christmas. I was surprised by the results of my own user data, I was surprised by how accessible so much dense statistical information was presented, and I was surprised by how plain fun the whole thing was to mess with. Amongst me and my avid music-listening friends, Spotify Wrapped is legitimately becoming a tradition on shared media.

An Analysis

Some of what I notice from my personal experience with this viral media campaign is its extraordinary simplicity. And what I mean by this isn’t just the bold, sleek appearance of the campaign itself, I mean the goal behind the advertisement: community and personalization. Spotify is notoriously good at personalization, but I feel that Wrapped is an exercise for them to also dabble with community.

For perspective: I used to be a huge fan of YouTube and content creators called “YouTubers” when I was younger, and a very similar year-end campaign that I always looked forward to was the YouTube Rewind. Maybe you recall how big of a deal this used to be. All of your idols on the video-streaming platform would potentially be in one 8-10 minute music video passing around YouTube’s icon, the “play button”. The only goal of this happening at the end of every year was to remind viewers from different spheres of the platform (Gaming, Beauty, Vlogging, Comedy, etc.) how many viral trends, new creators, and significant events had occurred on-platform throughout the year. It built up a platform-wide community and buzz from what would otherwise continue to be smaller cells within the platform. The only major difference here is that Youtube Rewind isn’t a personalized product. Spotify, however, brings that edge to the year-end review: something personal you can share with others.

I think Spotify Wrapped achieves the same effect for the app’s listeners. Spotify is saying that they are resourceful in recycling data they already have to themselves by making it an irresistible and fun media campaign for people to play around with. The user data itself requires no additional cost for the platform, and with what they already have they just build a beautiful design to make a shareable piece of media for people to communicate to other users with. The shareable nature of this personalized design is what makes this a community-driving campaign.

Spotify is forcing conversation and buzz around social media about what they know people are interested in.

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Web Design: Form Or Function?

It’s an understandable question to those across the design world. Even more particularly to those in the web design and marketing spheres. The truth of the matter is, BOTH are essential. I would say that Form and Function aren’t just on equal footing, but they DEPEND on one another for the ultimate purpose of any kind of design — to be used!!

Design In Practice

This is how it works from an advertiser or user experience perspective:

  1. An online display advertisement for jeans catches your eye for its great visual and captivating text — “Levi Jeans/Buy Now/40% off!”
  2. You decide to click through the ad and navigate to the landing page.
  3. The Levi’s landing page brings you to a filtered results page with all the products that apply to the advertised discount. Large text at the top, accompanied with a similar enlarged image of what you originally saw in the display ad tell you that you’re in the right place!
  4. Now that you’re selecting the desired products, you see some smaller text and images at the bottom for what “customers also bought”.
  5. The landing page allows you to further filter the applied products and navigating to the cart and checkout are a breeze.
  6. As a result, you buy some jeans!

If all of this can happen smoothly for a user in an instant (give or take the time it requires them to shop for jeans) and result in a conversion for the advertiser, we’re looking at a successful design! Every cog in the machine from the display ad to the checkout process uses an incredibly important blend of form and function. Many strategies of both are highlighted in Oli Gardener’s Stukent Expert Session, “Principles of Good Web Design”.

The Interdependence of Both

Functionality is required for the link to successfully bring you to the right landing page, filter out more specifics of what you are looking for, and be able to retain your payment information to check out so you receive your product! But without form in the mix, the user (you) will not be able to make sense of the relevance between the display ad and the landing page. Maybe the text size in an unintelligible hierarchy of scale offers no clarity in telling you what you’re clicking on and where you’re headed to or what navigates you to check out your product! Even prior to the checkout, the user who’s new to Levi’s site needs to do some “cognitive overhead” in figuring out how the landing page and the website at large works.

In Review

In conclusion, a good design function is required for successful conversion and ease of use, but a good design form is required for enhanced user experience and the ability for the user to even learn how the site functionality works. Good design can’t be possible if both are not present and used to capacity. If you’re in the design world, don’t neglect either!

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Your Email Marketing Campaign Isn’t Dead (yet)

Let’s face it. Your email is flooded with all sorts of information at any given moment. The spam folder is flooded, your ‘Promotions’ tab is overrun with services you subscribed to in the past, and your ‘Social’ tab is not even worth opening. This is known to consumers and advertisers alike. So, this begs the question: why bother with email marketing?

The simple answer is this: email is still widely used! In spite of bad marketing techniques and Gmail’s capabilities to filter out promotional content, millions of people rely on email on a daily basis as a means of communicating with family, friends, professionals. To get off the Promotions tab and into your customers’ inbox, you’ll need to take advantage of PPC and Custom Audience strategies. These require minimal paid investment in hopes of a maximized ROI if employed correctly.

In a 2016 Stukent Expert Session on Email Marketing featuring Larry Kim, we get a glimpse of how effective these strategies can be. A custom audience is exactly how it sounds – you create a custom list of the people you wish to advertise to, and exactly what you want your branded message to be. This is advantageous for several reasons:

  • Get away from the mass/large-scale email blasts that users are tired of.
  • Tailor your messaging to be as specific and relevant as possible to potential consumers.
  • Increase the likelihood of engagement and conversion with these personalized messages, thus, expanding ROI.

The conclusion here is to avoid email advertising that looks like email advertising! (Who would’ve thought, right?) That means email marketing at scale will send your ad right into the spam folder. It also means ads that look like blatant, impersonal commercials will be avoided by users.

Think small and well-targeted over massive, impression-based ad strategy for email.

In today’s digital landscape user fatigue is prominent. The last thing advertisers want to do is compel users to abandon subscriptions or send ad content to ‘spam’. Another thing advertisers might want to consider in optimizing email marketing is tying our Custom Audience with a Remarketing campaign. The best Custom Audiences are those already familiar with your brand. Once brand awareness is out of the way, you can focus on the specificity of your message to consumers.

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Click-Through Ads That Actually Get Me

POV: The year is 2020 and you’re aware of the software that is AdBlocker.

Today it is super easy to side-step display advertisements and pop-ups on most webpages users visit. If you do happen to have software like AdBlocker installed on your browser, it usually isn’t until you visit a site that isn’t a retail platform (consider a news website or blog, for example) that you may be asked to ditch your adblocking capabilities in order to use website perks or read content on some pages.

I think due to this phenomenon my biggest exposure to ads in the last several years has truly only come from social media like Instagram and those handfuls of sites that disallow you to block ads. When I do see them, oftentimes they are what we call remarketing advertisements. Whether you recognize them by name or not, you’re certainly aware of the type: targeted ads that will reappear after you abandon a potential conversion on some other website. Say you never officially made an account for that one program, or you never made a purchase on this one website. The fact that you see that same product or service advertised elsewhere, on perhaps the same day, is hardly if ever, a coincidence.

I personally grow really tired of remarketing ads, but I cannot say they aren’t effective in getting me to think consistently about a product, even if I don’t click-through on them. If anything, they can often encourage me to shop around and price compare the advertised products quite often after I leave a site. For me, the most effective ads that I will click-through come down to things that I trust. Things that I don’t consider a waste of time, essentially. These include recurring advertisements like Spotify’s Year-end music compilations and playlists, or any newer ad campaign coming from software/apps/programs that I already use. Because the initial level of trust is already there and I am familiar with the product, I would say that I’m very likely to click-through.

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Can You Be #1 On Google?

Based on George Do’s SEO walkthrough I’d say hitting a number one spot for a Google search definitely is possible if your product or service is niche enough. In the video, he shows an example of a smaller trekking pole retailer appearing above REI (a much, much larger retailer) in a search. So simply speaking, I think its totally possible if you’re lucky to have the proper keywords that your competitors lack. I think it is a matter of luck and timing, however, because larger retailers with deeper pockets have more resources to burn on other tactics such as advertising or even SEO consulting and may eventually regain the top spot soon enough. Especially if they find their competition (you) has gained an edge.

I think some websites may have it better than others, though. For example, if you are not selling trekking poles and are competing in a more tech-oriented market (say you are a retailer) even a niche product may be harder pull off a top spot on because assuredly competition in that market depends heavily on blogs with product rankings and forums for things like referral links. So, if it is common market practice to hunt for product descriptions in forums, larger retailers in that space may have already cornered in on those keywords and I imagine they spend painstaking amounts of time on SEO, especially if they are wholly online entities.

I do wonder though, how different the game is for services as opposed to goods because a unique service has a lot more potential of being niche than a material good.

TL;DR — It can happen, but perhaps not for long. Maintaining the top spot must be a constant effort.