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Use the ‘Blemish Effect’ to skyrocket your sales

(MARKETING) The Blemish Effect dictates that small, adjacent flaws in a product can make it that much more interesting—is perfection out?

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Presenting a product or service in its most immaculate, polished state has been the strategy for virtually all organizations, and overselling items with known flaws is a practice as old as time. According to marketing researchers, however, this approach may not be the only way to achieve optimal results due to something known as the “Blemish Effect.”

The Blemish Effect isn’t quite the inverse of the perfectionist product pitch; rather, it builds on the theory that small problems with a product or service can actually throw into relief its good qualities. For example, a small scratch on the back of an otherwise pristine iPhone might draw one’s eye to the glossy finish, while an objectively perfect housing might not be appreciated in the same way.

The same goes for mildly bad press or a customer’s pros and cons list. If someone has absolutely no complaints or desires for whatever you’re marketing, the end result can look flat and lacking in nuance. Having the slightest bit of longing associated with an aspect (or lack thereof) of your business means that you have room to grow, which can be tantalizing for the eager consumer.

A Stanford study indicates that small doses of mildly negative information may actually strengthen a consumer’s positive impression of a product or service. Interesting.

Another beneficial aspect of the Blemish Effect is that it helps consumers focus their negativity. “Too good to be true” often means exactly that, and we’re eager to criticize where possible; if your product or service has a noticeable flaw which doesn’t harm the item’s use, your audience might settle for lamenting the minor flaw and favoring the rest of the product rather than looking for problems which don’t exist.

This concept also applies to expectation management. Absent an obvious blemish, it can be all to easy for consumers to envision your product or service on an unattainable level.

When they’re invariably disappointed that their unrealistic expectations weren’t fulfilled, your reputation might take a hit, or consumers might lose interest after the initial wave.

The takeaway is that consumers trust transparency, so in describing your offering, tossing in a negative boosts the perception that you’re being honest and transparent, so a graphic artist could note that while their skills are superior and their pricing reasonable, they take their time with intricate projects. The time expectation is a potentially negative aspect of their service, but expressing anything negative improves sales as it builds trust.

It should be noted that the Blemish Effect applies to minor impairments in cosmetic or adjacent qualities, not in the product or service itself. Delivering an item which is inherently flawed won’t make anyone happy.

In an age where less truly is more, the Blemish Effect stands to dictate a new wave of honesty in marketing.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Business Marketing

Uh oh… User-generated content hikes your business insurance rate

(MARKETING) User-generated content is a tremendous marketing tool brands should consider, but it does increase your liability, thus your insurance rates, so choose wisely.

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The use of “influencers” on social media and the sharing of user-generated content (UGC) isn’t a new thing in social media marketing. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to generate excitement and curiosity about your brand. The best reviews are always those from real users, and the best advertising is the one you didn’t have to create: those are social media marketing golden rules.

The implementation of user-generated content however, is rife with some potential troubles, especially when added to your own website. A lot of businesses can operate under the idea that the average social media user is okay with the sharing of their content. While some of them will be, you run the risk of crossing an invisible line with someone who then generates negative press about you and/or your company. And of course, there is always the possibility of litigation.

It’s in your best interest to be above board on user-generated content and it always begins with the first step – asking for permission. How you ask for permission depends on the medium, but be sure to get a DM, email, tweet, or something that clearly shows the content creator giving you the right to use that image (and document that permission in a way that you can locate it in the far future). This prevents you from getting into a whole lot of trouble, and allows you to use user generated content most effectively.

Pro tip: If you’re going to be working with the same brand ambassador or influencer, make sure any contracts or agreements you have include a waiver that allows you to repurpose content they create that impacts your brand.

This is an easy thing to do, and it will help protect the integrity of your brand and your online presence – make sure it’s part of your social media strategy.

But it should be noted that there are merits to only using content that you create yourself – it’s more secure, more controlled, and it typically decrease the cost of your business insurance as it’s less risky. Because a lot of brands don’t ask for permission, UGC takes on some risk and skyrockets insurance rates.

The decision to use UGC should be a smart one, and if you do decide to use it, just follow the golden rules: ask nicely and keep a paper trail.

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Business Marketing

How to tell if your SEO campaign is actually working

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Search Engine Optimization is more complex today than it ever has been, and whether doing it yourself or hiring a pro, you need to know if your SEO is on track. Here’s how.

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Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex strategy, and one where there’s rarely a single “right” answer to any question. Your rankings are a the result of hundreds, if not thousands of interacting factors, and Google doesn’t disclose exactly how their algorithm works (though we have some good guesses based on its algorithm update history).

Measuring the results of your SEO campaign can also be challenging, especially for newcomers to the online marketing field. How are you supposed to determine whether your SEO campaign is actually working? And what do you do if it isn’t?

Before we get into how to tell if an SEO campaign is working, it’s important to define what “working” means for you. SEO serves many purposes for your organization; ranking higher can increase your brand visibility and your incoming traffic. But are you more worried about the sheer number of visitors you’re getting, or which pages are ranked number one? Is it better for your company to have 100 visitors with a 5 percent conversion rate or 200 visitors with a 2.5 percent conversion rate? There aren’t objective right answers to these questions—only what’s right for your brand.

You should also consider the peripheral effects that SEO can have. For example, most companies that pursue SEO invest heavily in their onsite content strategy, which can improve their brand reputation and help secure more conversions. How do these peripheral benefits factor into your judgement of your SEO strategy’s success?
We’ll get into the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) in the next couple of sections, but before that, take some time to clarify what your SEO goals truly are.

Typical KPIs for SEO – is your campaign working?

Let’s say you’ve been working on an SEO campaign for a few weeks now, and you’re interested to see if your efforts are making a difference. You’ve been producing onsite content, you’ve got your website’s technical SEO factors in order, and you’ve been building backlinks just as all the experts suggested.

What now?

There are a handful of key performance indicators (KPIs) that stand out as hallmarks of an effective SEO campaign overall:

1. Rankings. This is the most obvious factor, and the one most SEO newcomers gravitate toward, but it isn’t the be-all end-all measure of success for your campaign. “Rankings” are how the various pages of your site rank for your target keywords and phrases; typically, you’ll keep a list of all the words and phrases you’re actively targeting, and will use a tool like SEMRush to determine where you’re ranking (and where your competitors are ranking). Obviously, upward trajectory here is a good sign; if you’re ranking higher for all your targets, month after month, it means you’re making forward progress, and your tactics are making an impact.

However, these expectations should be tempered; some keywords are incredibly easy to rank for, allowing you to skyrocket to the number one position, without giving you much traffic or being especially relevant to your brand. The reverse is also true; you may spend a ton of effort increasing your rank only slightly for a highly competitive keyword, seeing only marginal bottom-line benefits from your efforts.

2. Organic traffic. Rankings are perhaps best held in consideration in the context of organic traffic, or the number of people who visit your site after discovering it in search engines. In some ways, this is the truer indicator of SEO success; regardless of how many keyword terms you’re ranking for, or how high in the rankings you climb, this number could be high or low depending on factors like click-through rates (CTRs), search volume, and your competition. You can find your organic traffic figures in Google Analytics, and tinker with the settings to see your traffic both for your entire domain and for individual pages of your site.

3. Domain and page authority. Google measures the trustworthiness of your site and its individual pages based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to them, eventually resulting in an “authority” score. The higher your domain authority, the easier it will be for all the pages of your site to rank. The higher your individual page’s authority, the more likely that page is to rank. Accordingly, you could use domain authority as an indicator of your campaign progress; a domain authority that’s growing is a sign you’re doing things right and a foundation on which you can create pages that rank more easily. There are a few ways to discover your domain and page-level authority, including through Moz’s Link Explorer.

There are a few other SEO-related metrics that warrant your attention, though they aren’t as direct an indicator of your progress as the aforementioned KPIs.

1. Referral traffic. Also discoverable in Google Analytics, if you’re big into link building, you’ll want to look at referral traffic. Referral traffic is a measure of how many people are visiting your pages from the links you’ve built. This metric doesn’t affect your search engine rankings, nor is it a byproduct of them, but it is a byproduct of one of the most important elements of your SEO strategy: your backlinks. Rising referral traffic is an indication that you’re getting published in bigger and more important publishers, and that you’re earning more authority for your work. Referral traffic is also a secondary way SEO provides value to your brand, since these visitors are as likely to convert as your organic traffic.

2. Click-through rates (CTRs). What happens if you’re ranking at number one for your most heavily favored keyword phrase, yet nobody’s visiting your site? This scenario is unlikely, but you might be getting less traffic from your rankings than you expect if your click-through rates (CTRs) are low. CTRs have a complex relationship with SEO, affecting it and being affected by it, but you can definitely improve your CTRs (and therefore improve the value of each search ranking) by tweaking your title tags and meta descriptions to better appeal to your target audience.

3. Onsite behavior and conversion rates. Even with tons of organic traffic, the value of your SEO strategy still depends on your ability to convert that traffic. Spend time studying how your incoming organic visitors behave on your site. Do they spend minutes on your best content pages, reading it and engaging with it? Or do they bounce almost immediately? Better onsite behavioral metrics, like lower bounce rates, may have a marginal effect on your search rankings, but more importantly, they impact the net value of each incoming visitor. If you neglect these factors, even thousands of organic visitors may not be enough to make your search optimization efforts “worth it.”

4. Overall return on investment (ROI). Adding to that, for most businesses, the true measure of an SEO campaign’s success is your return on investment, or ROI. That’s because all the nice-looking numbers in the world (like high rankings and organic traffic) won’t mean much if you’re spending more money than you’re seeing from your core tactics. If you’re earning more in new sales than you’re spending on all your tactics, and that gap keeps positively widening, you’ll be in a good place. Use your conversion rates in combination with your organic and referral traffic to estimate how much value you’re getting, and compare that to your expenses. Expenses are easy to calculate if you’re outsourcing your work to an agency, but you may have to get creative if you’re working with an internal team.

Why SEO takes time (and why not to bail out too early):

There’s one important caveat to all these considerations. Up until now, we’ve been covering key metrics and indicators that your SEO campaign is working; if they’re showing signs of growth, it means your efforts are worthwhile. However, SEO is a campaign that necessarily takes time, which means you may not see positive results in these areas in the first few months even if you’re doing all the right things. In fact, the majority of campaigns only start seeing the fruits of their labor after 3 to 6 months.
Building authority and developing onsite content often takes months, and you’ll have to wait for Google’s index to fully catch up to you as well.

More importantly, the rewards of an SEO strategy in its developed stages are much richer than the rewards in its developing stages; at a higher level of authority, all your links and pages will generate more traffic, and you’ll get more value for even trivial efforts, like writing a new offsite post (assuming you’re doing everything correctly). If you’re not growing quickly, do analyze and critique your own efforts, but don’t panic; if you bail out of your campaign too early, you’ll miss out on the best benefits.

Don’t be discouraged if you find that your SEO campaign isn’t working, or isn’t working the way you thought it would; in fact, this is to be expected. SEO is both an art and a science; the most successful practitioners aren’t able to launch a perfect campaign from day one, but instead are the ones able to recognize flaws and make corrections where necessary.

Diagnose your campaign early and consistently, at least once a month, and make adjustments so you’re always moving in the right direction.

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Business Marketing

What skills do marketers need to survive the AI takeover?

(MARKETING) Quality marketers are constantly evolving, but getting your head around artificial intelligence can be a challenge – let’s boil it down to the most relevant skills you’ll need.

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When Facebook and Twitter were born, a new era of social media was ushered in, opening the gates for new areas of expertise that hadn’t existed before. At first, we all grappled to establish the culture together, but fast forward a decade and it is literally a science with thousands of supporting technology companies.

So as Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over marketing, doesn’t that mean it will replace marketers? If you can ask your smart speaker in your office what your engagement growth increase was for your Facebook Page, and ask for recommendations of growth, how do marketing professionals survive?

Marketers will survive the same way they did as social media was introduced – the practice will evolve and new niches will be born.

There are 7 skills marketers will need to adapt in order to evolve. None of these are done overnight, but quality professionals are constantly grooming their skills, so this won’t be stressful to the successful among us. And the truth is that it won’t be in our lifetime that AI can quite process the exact same way a human brain does, even with the advent of quantum computing, so let’s focus on AI’s weaknesses and where marketers can perform where artificial intelligence cannot.

1. Use the data your new AI buddies generate.

In the 70s, the infamous Ted Bundy murders yielded the first case that utilized computing. The lead investigator had heard about computers and asked a specialist to dig through all of their data points to find similarities – a task that was taking months for the investigative team. After inputting the data, within minutes, they had narrowed their list of suspects from several hundred to only 10.

We’re not dealing with murderers here in the marketing world (…right, guys?), but the theory that algorithms can speed up our existing jobs is a golden lesson. As more AI tools are added to the marketplace to enhance your job, experiment with them! Get to know them! And continue to seek them out to empower you.

Atomic Reach studies your content and finds ways to enhance what you’re delivering. CaliberMind augments B2B sales, Stackla hunts down user-generated content that matches your brand efforts, Nudge analyzes deal risk and measures user account health, and Market Brew digs up tons of data for your SEO strategy.

See? Independently, these all sound like amazing tools, but call them “AI tools” and people lose their minds. Please.

Your job as a marketer is to do what AI cannot. Together, you can automate, do segmentation and automation, beef up your analytics, but no machine can replicate your innate interest in your customers, your compassion, and your ability to understand human emotions and predict outcomes effectively (because you have a lot more practice at being a human than the lil’ robots do).

2. Take advantage of AI’s primary weakness.

As noted, you have emotions and processes that are extremely complex and cannot be understood by artificial intelligence yet. Use those.

How? Compile all of the data that AI offers and then strategize. Duh. AI can offer recommendations, but it cannot (yet) suggest an entire brand strategy. That’s where you come in.

And more importantly, it cannot explain or defend any such strategy. One of the core problems with AI is that if you ask Alexa a question, you cannot ask how it came up with that information or why. This trust problem is the primary reason marketers are in no danger of being replaced by technology.

3. Obsess over data.

AI tools are young and evolving, so right now is the time to start obsessing over data. What I mean by that is not to use every single AI tool to compile mountains of useless data, but to start studying the data you already have.

The problem with new tools is that marketers are naturally inquisitive, so we try them out and then forget they exist if they didn’t immediately prove to be a golden egg.

Knowing your current marketing data inside and out will help you to learn alongside AI. If you aren’t intimately familiar, you won’t know if the recommendations made through AI are useful, and you could end up going down the wrong path because something shiny told you to.

Obsess over data not by knowing every single customers’ names, but be ready to identify which data sets are relevant for the results you’re seeking. A data scientist friend of mine recently pointed out that if you flip a coin five times and it happens to land on tails every time, AI would analyze that data and predict with 100% certainty that the sixth flip will be tails, but you and I have life experience and know better.

Staying on top of your data, even when you’re utilizing artificial intelligence tools will keep you the most valuable asset, not the robots. #winning

4. Don’t run away from math (no wait, come back!)

One of the appeals of marketing is that math is hard and you don’t need it in a creative field. But if you want to stay ahead of the robots, you’ll have to focus on your math skills.

You don’t have to go back to school for data science, but if you can’t read the basic reports that these endless AI tools can create, you’re already behind. At least spend a few hours this month on some “Intro to Data Science” courses on Udemy or Coursera.

5. Content is God.

We’ve all said for years that content is king and that feeding the search engines was a top way to reach consumers. You’ve already refined your skills in creating appealing content, and you already know that it costs less than many traditional lead generating efforts and spending on content is way up.

Content can be blogging, video, audio, or social media posts. Artificial intelligence will step in to skyrocket those efforts, if only you accept that content was once king, but is now God. What is changing is how customized content can be. For example, some companies are using AI tools to create dozens of different Facebook ads for different demographics, which would have taken weeks of human effort to do in the past.

Because content is what feeds all of these new smart devices, feeding your brand content effectively and utilizing AI tools to augment your efforts will keep you more relevant than ever.

6. Get ahead of privacy problems

Consumers now understand what website cookies are, and know when they’ve opted in (or opted out) of an email newsletter, but to this point, humans have made the decisions of how these data choices are made. Our teams have continually edited Terms of Service (ToS), all done not just with liability in mind, but to offer consumers the protections that they want and have come to expect.

But AI today doesn’t have morals, and consumer comfort is not a factor unless humans program that into said AI devices. But it still isn’t a creature of ethics like humans are. Ethical challenges going forward will be something to stay ahead of as you tap into the AI world. Making sure that you know the ToS of any tool you’re using to mine data is critical so that you don’t put the company in a bad position by violating basic human trust.

The takeaway

You’re smart, so you already knew that the robots aren’t taking your job, rather augmenting it, but adding AI into your marketing mix to stay ahead comes with risk and a learning curve. But seeing artificial intelligence for what it really is – a tool – will keep your focus on the big picture and save your job.

This story was first published in October 2018.

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