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The type of promotional emails I actually enjoy getting

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Emails fly into our inboxes every day, and most are ignored. But some blatantly advertise to us, and yet we enjoy opening them. Why?

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Sucky email is annoying

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I order something, then get added to an email loop that I never signed up for. For example, I ordered tickets for JFK from the Fort Worth Opera, and in the last month or two, I’ve received sales promotions from them. Delete.

They don’t encourage me to order anything more. Forget for one minute that I don’t even live there, but I didn’t ask for them to invade my mailbox.

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I have to sort through the email I get to find the ones that are important and I don’t want to read a bunch of junk. (For the record, snail mail advertising gives me the same feelings.)

My favorite promotional emails are from…

Don’t scream your message. That being said, there are promotional emails which I do get and read. Think Geek is one of my favorites. I like their email because it introduces me to a number of products that I wouldn’t necessarily see. It’s promotional without screaming at me “buy from me.”

It doesn’t come so often that I just throw it out. One of my favorite apparel stores will send me two emails a day, “Hurry, last chance!” and I just trash them. From experience, I know that it won’t be my last chance for anything. They’ll have another sale, and they won’t run out of clothes. Think Geek sends maybe two a week, which I think is one too many, but I can live with it.

So how can you make me enjoy YOUR emails?

The most engaging emails I’ve found are those which provide information and inspiration about the product or service. Think about television advertising. Other than for the Super Bowl, do consumers really tune in for the commercials? No. It’s for entertainment or information. And yet, consumers do respond to advertising.

On television, there are roughly nine minutes of ads in every 30 minutes of programming. The 70 percent of entertainment lets the 30 percent of ads work. If you send a newsletter, it needs to engage your customer.

Don’t just tell me what you sell. Give me a reason to open your email and take my time to read your ad.

I’d actually probably read an email from the Fort Worth Opera if it included history or information about their programs instead of just asking me to donate or pony up for tickets all the time.

Ask yourself what your email newsletter is doing for you.

#EmailMarketing

Dawn Brotherton is a staff writer at The American Genius, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. Before earning her degree, she spent over 20 years homeschooling her two daughters, who are now out changing the world. She lives in Oklahoma and loves to golf. She hopes to publish a novel in the future.

Business Marketing

The science behind using pictures of people in marketing to convert more leads

(MARKETING) People fear using their picture in social networking profiles, but we make the case not only for using pictures of yourself, but of scrapping stock graphics for photos of people that studies show improve conversion rates in marketing.

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To avatar or not to avatar?

After all of these years of people using the web, the debate continues about whether or not people should use their headshots as their profile pictures and avatars on their blogs and their social networks. Many people are uncomfortable with the way they look in photos, and some are never satisfied with their picture, so they settle for their company logo, a cartoon image, or a random photo to share something about who they are. While some believe the argument is subjective, we would argue otherwise.

It is advisable to use a photo of yourself as your profile picture wherever you go, no matter how unsatisfied you are and how uncomfortable. There are many reasons from making it easier to connect with people offline after talking online, to giving people a better way to connect with you, but a personal side has become expected on social networks and blogs, making a profile picture culturally mandatory.

Throw culture out of the window

So let’s say you’re still uncomfortable advertising your face. I personally hate every picture of me taken since I was 11 and had a bad perm, I get it. Profile pictures can send some people into full fledged panic, and at that point, who cares if web culture dictates a photo?

You should, and here’s why… science.

Science? Yep. Any parent knows intuitively, and scientists have studied for years that babies love pictures of other babies, and part of socializing a child is giving them books with pictures of other babies to connect with, learn from, and see other ethnicities. Babies love looking at other babies, it helps them connect and learn, and believe it or not, many studies show that we don’t evolve past that point in our lives, so, adults love looking at other adults.

More science

If that isn’t enough to convince you to use a profile picture, a recent study shows that a website’s conversion rate can be skyrocketed by using human faces. According to KISSmetrics.com, using human faces “get your prospects to focus more and this causes them to draw towards a common point of interest. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

The company cites an A/B test on Medalia.net, an online art shop, which presented paintings from artists on their homepage, and during testing, they swapped out the photos of the paintings with photos of the artists hoping to increase user engagement. KISSmetrics said, “Making this small but relevant change sent their conversion rate through the roof – something they didn’t expect. Their site experienced a whopping 95% increase in conversions!.”

Reading between the lines

Using a photo in your profile pictures is important, it allows people to connect with you, just like babies connect with other babies through photos, and website viewers are converted by human photos. But, read between the lines here – using photos of people in marketing is a concept as old as the idea of marketing, and your using people in your blog photos and marketing can improve your conversion over outdated stock graphics. There are legal ways to obtain photos of people (through creative commons), and using photos of your own can have the most meaningful impact.

Whether you’re nervous to share your face with the world or not, web culture dictates that you should and studies show that a percentage of people distrust social networkers without a face shot. Independent of all of that, conversion rates improve when people see other people, as it is easier to connect with over stock graphics or abstract images, so take a leap of faith and put your picture out there, and while you’re at it, try to find ways of using photos of humans in your marketing and blogs.

Just remember – babies love looking at pictures of babies, and we’re all just babies when you boil it down.

This story originally ran here on March 6, 2012.

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Business Marketing

4 ways to rise above the noise and get your message heard

(MARKETING) Getting your message heard in this noisy world isn’t impossible, it just takes some purposeful habits on your part.

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When you sit down at your computer or pull your phone out of your pocket, you’re essentially going into battle – a battle for your focus and attention. Will you be able to complete the task you set out to accomplish, or will you get sidetracked by one of dozens of distractions?

Here’s the truth: Your customers aren’t all that different than you. They’re exposed to the same internet noise and onslaught of distractions that you are. If you want your marketing messages to be heard, you must rise above the noise and engage your audience in a clear manner that’s worthy of their focus and attention.

Here are four tips for rising above the noise:

It doesn’t take a lot of foresight or experience to know that the internet is a noisy place. Every single second, 8,015 tweets are sent out, 842 Instagram photos are uploaded, 1,369 Tumblr posts are published, 66,615 Google searches are initiated, 73,580 YouTube videos are viewed, and 2.69 million emails are sent.

There are currently more than 3.8 billion internet users – a 42 percent increase in the last three years – and these figures are ballooning even more. Your customers live in a loud, chaotic internet world where everyone and everything is vying for their attention.

“Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Twitter, sports, news, and the list goes on and on,” says Alex Kahan, President of Nomad Communications. “Notifications and alerts bombard us by the second. So what’s a marketer to do? How do brands stay relevant in the face of this digital onslaught?”

The solution isn’t to publish more content or create more noise. This will only make you blend in. If you want to thrive, you must rise above. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Go where people are paying attention

The first step is to go where people are paying attention. People are busy and they don’t have time to visit dozens of different outlets to consume content every day. They’d much rather congregate at a village square where they can get everything in one place.

“In digital terms, that village square is social media,” marketer Justin Gray writes. “That’s why most brands aggregate their content on Facebook and other platforms these days: People turn there for business news because their friends, colleagues, and favorite leaders are there in one place. If you think you’re site is where your buyers eyes are, you’re mistaken.”

2. Get to know your audience.

Do you know your audience, or are you too busy focusing on your own needs and goals to notice what they want, need, and feel?

Before you can ever expect your audience to engage you, you must engage them. Work on getting to know your audience and focus on building a tribe. Eventually, the hope is that this tribe will become your customer base.

3. Be authentic

“Trust is the top factor when it comes to getting heard,” Gray believes. “If your mind is only on revenue, stop—that’s 25 steps down the road. Your first priority should be making sure your content persuades buyers to view you in a different light than every other business on the web.”

How do you breed trust? Through authenticity and transparency, of course. With all the promotional marketing and bogus advertising going around the internet, a brand that’s authentic and genuine will stand out. It takes more work, but it’s worth it in the end.

4. Develop visual content

In an internet landscape where millions of words are published on an hourly basis, you need visual content to stand a chance of rising above the noise. Even then, you aren’t guaranteed any visibility and exposure. Your visual content must be compelling.

Compelling visual content is unique, vibrant, eye-popping, and digestible. You only have a few seconds to make an impact, so you need to get straight to the point. This means prioritizing uniqueness, yet being consistent to what your brand stands for. Over time, your audience should be able to identify a style as being associated with your brand without seeing a logo.

It’s not easy to stand out in a noisy marketplace.

Even brands like Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Disney, and McDonald’s face stiff challenges in this area. In order to be successful, you don’t have to reach the masses. You do, however, have to reach your audience and convince them that your messaging is more valuable, relevant, and worthwhile than everything else that’s competing for their finite attention. It sounds simple, but nothing could be more difficult.

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Business Marketing

Modern best practices for your online design portfolio

(BUSINESS) Do you have an online design portfolio? Does it hold up to modern standards or is it stuck in 1997?

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Whether you’re looking for your next gig or full time opportunity, your online portfolio is your showcase, your chance to shine. But so frequently, we see creatives that either don’t have an online portfolio, or an awful (or incomplete) portfolio. It’s a challenge, because you often sign NDAs and are not at liberty to share all of your work, it’s a challenge.

Let’s talk about the modern best practices for your online portfolio.

First, before you even open a browser tab, put pen to paper and commit to your goals and consider what you are looking to express. Look around at what others are doing so you know what to compete with. Are you just going to slap up some pics of your work, or are you going to tell the story about the process and why you made certain choices? The language you use will differ if you’re looking for a job or for a client.

Second, where are you pointing people to? If you have some thumbnails on your Geocities site from 1997, you’ve already lost. Owning your own site is the best method, and the most common option used in the industry is WordPress (here are 50 themes to consider), and ideally you own the URL for your name that points to any site hosting your portfolio.

If WordPress feels too advanced for you, Squarespace is the most popular drag and drop option in the industry, and some even use Wix (which was recently improved). Or, you could consider a design portfolio platform like Big Black Bag or Behance.

Next, consider what you’ll display. You’re in a real catch-22, because you want to express experience, diversity, and quality, but if some of your work doesn’t apply to what you want to be hired for, it could actually work against you. Think of this as an art show at a museum – they would never show every piece of your work, rather they would curate specific pieces to tell a story.

And if your portfolio is light on applicable work, create your own concepts and redesigns (so long as you label it as such). Hate Google’s logo redesign or maybe the search interface? Mock up your own, show a before and after, then disclose it as a concept piece you’ve imagined. You could even have a section for concepts that is separated from client work.

Your display should match your work – if you design mobile websites but your portfolio isn’t responsive, you’ve screwed yourself. If you’re an animator, your portfolio shouldn’t be a bunch of websites you redesigned. If you’re a graphic designer, your portfolio shouldn’t showcase a bunch of emailers you created copy for. People are judging you within the first three seconds, so your offering better match the story you’re trying to tell about yourself. If you’re not a deconstructionist designer, your website design better not be deconstructionist. Get it?

Always be updating your portfolio, even if you’re not looking for clients or employment. It’s harder to go back in time to recreate a portfolio than updating as you go. But remember – you can’t just slap up 800 images of a project, again, you’re curating. Select only the best images and add them as you go to save endless time. Try doing this at least monthly (plus, it’s a great way to tell search engines that your site is fresh, thereby improving your ranking).

If much of your work is physical or print, take the time to take high quality photos of these works, potentially even mocking them up on physical products (you can use a site like Smart Mockups as a shortcut).

Next, you want to make sure that your online portfolio serves client or employers’ needs. Is your About page sparse, or does it talk about how you connect with your profession? Does your site tell people who you are, where you are, who you’ve worked for, what kind of work you’re looking for, how you charge, and how they can contact you? If you can’t answer each question in under three seconds, you’re losing opportunities. Design your portfolio for them, not for you. Do you have a logo and tagline? Testimonials? Can they find you elsewhere online (do you have social media buttons in the header or footer)? Everything we’ve mentioned in this paragraph is the equivalent of dozens of “Hire Me” buttons, so don’t take this part lightly.

Make sure that your portfolio is error free. Test every single page to make sure it works, then before going live to the world and sharing the URL, have at least three people (ideally that are writers or editors) review all of the copy for accuracy. You’re not a professional writer, so trust their input if they suggest the copy is off.

If you have the time and capacity, blogging is the cherry on top. Not only does it help your search engine rankings (don’t stress too much about SEO, though), it creates new opportunities for your thoughts to be shared, expanding your reach. You’re smart, you know not to blog about conspiracy theories or politics, blog about your work – why did you choose this profession, what enriches you, why do you make certain design choices, what do you think of large brand designs, etc.

Get the word out. Be sure to add the URL to your design portfolio on all of your social media profiles, even LinkedIn. Audit your online profiles annually to make sure they point to the place that will generate business opportunities for you.

TL;DR – get a WordPress site, curate your best work, make it easy to contact you.

And if your brain needs some samples of modern design, start clicking:

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