Trailblaze & Grow Month: April 2015

Content Marketing Generates Revenue

Four Reasons Why Content Marketing Drives Traffic (and Revenue)

Many experts predict that 2015 will be a big year for content marketing. According to recent studies, more than half of content marketing budgets will be increased in 2015, and content marketing alone will be a $100 billion industry sometime in the near future.

There is no question that content marketing is increasingly being adopted and expanded across a wide range of industries and economic sectors. The real question is: why?

The bottom line is that content marketing has proven to be an effective way to drive both traffic and revenue to companies, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing efforts. The following are a few of the specific ways that content marketing can help drive both traffic and revenue to your company.

High-quality content is essential to getting ranked on Google

Over the years, Google has made constant updates to its search engine in an effort to serve better results to their users. One of the ways Google has accomplished this is by directly combating marketing firms that tried to “game” the search engine by simply “keyword stuffing” low-quality content. In the past, these low-quality articles could often find themselves at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), even though they were clearly not the best result for users. In response, Google has changed their algorithm to highly value quality of content over simply the right quantity of words.

These ongoing changes mean that it is increasingly important for marketers to produce high-quality content that provides useful and unique information. Doing so can mean the difference between being highly ranked on Google and not showing up at all.

Content marketing is a one-time cost that results in long-term benefits that aggregate

Content marketing is one of the most cost-effective methods for building web traffic and sales, when looking at the long-term. While it can take some time for the benefits of content marketing to really show themselves, it is important to remember two characteristics of content marketing:

  • Content written is paid for once, but the benefits essentially exist in perpetuity, as the content will remain on the Internet for a long as a company chooses to keep it there.
  •  As the number of content pieces builds, a company can provide an increasingly comprehensive store of related information, which is valued both by a company’s target audience and by Google’s search algorithms.

Content is an effective way to convert traffic into revenue

Studies also increasingly show that Internet users (and particularly Millennials) do not like, and will not respond positively to the “hard sell”. Content marketing allows a company to position the benefits and rationale for a product or service in a non-threatening and non-aggressive way. At the same time, content can provide a powerful and convincing argument for an idea, product, or service without coming across as simply a sales tactic.

Content marketing is a great way to engage with your audience and build brand awareness

Content marketing is one of the best returns on investment in any marketing budget because the brand awareness it can help generate is long-lasting and comes at far less cost than more traditional paid advertising. At the same time, content marketing encourages an audience to engage with the company, and with each other, through a commenting system or on social media platforms.

At the end of the day, content marketing is popular because it is an effective way to reach your target audience in a friendly and engaging, yet also informative and persuasive way.

Sources

http://www.marketo.com/infographics/content-marketing-vs-traditional-advertising/
http://www.allocadia.com/cmo/marketing-spending-rise-focus-digital-social-content/
http://heidicohen.com/why-content-marketing-is-more-effective-than-digital-advertising-research/

Photo credit: itsmeritesh / Foter / CC BY-SA

Fundatmental Truths

Five Fundamental Truths from an Entrepreneur

April marks the 2-year anniversary for Trailblaze Growth Advisors. In that time, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it takes to succeed when I am directly responsible for my ultimate success or failure.

Being an entrepreneur is the most difficult but rewarding experience I have ever embarked upon. Looking back, I am so glad that I decided to make the difficult leap, and I hope that the fundamental truths I learned along the way can help other aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey.

According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, the number of new businesses started by entrepreneurs is starting to increase to levels not seen since before the 2008 Great Recession, and furthermore is trending toward the massive numbers (in excess of 85%) seen during the boom times of the 1990s. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has reported that about 54 million Americans – or about one-third of the workforce – are now freelancers or contractors, and that number is expected to increase over the next few years.

Clearly, the trend is moving toward Americans charting their own path through entrepreneurialism, and my hope is that the lessons learned by previous and current generations of entrepreneurs – myself included – can be used to the benefit of the new generation.

With that said, the following are five fundamental truths I have learned over the past years as the founder of Trailblaze Growth Advisors.

Prepare for the leap

There is no question that making the transition from a full-time salaried employee to an entrepreneur with no income guarantee is scary. If you are fortunate enough to still have a “regular” job, make the most of this time by preparing for the leap to full-time entrepreneurialism.

Take this time to aggressively network with your target market. Make as many connections as you can, and try to establish yourself well before actually giving up the regular paycheck. If at all possible, try to start your entrepreneurial venture as a part-time project while keeping your job, so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

One truth that I actually found to be a bit surprising at first is how willing people are to help. The concept of paying it forward is alive and well, particularly among fellow entrepreneurs.

You should learn as much as you can from experts in your field and anyone else that has experience and expertise that could benefit you and your business. The key, of course, is to ask for their help. Don’t be afraid to ask, and remember to return the favor when you are in a position to help an aspiring entrepreneur sometime in the future.

Always remember that you are the face of your company

As the founder of your company, you are the brand – particularly during the early stages. In addition, you are the Chief Sales Person at your company. Every major deal will ultimately involve you, even if you have hired a sales team. For people who are natural introverts (like myself), this can be a challenging truth, but ignoring it, or pretending that it isn’t the truth, is simply counterproductive.

You need to always be ready to give an elevator speech and a sales pitch. If you are an introvert, that just means you need to put more effort into practicing.

Don’t sacrifice your being

This is perhaps the hardest lesson to actually execute. When you are starting a business, you are going to be working nights, weekends, and holidays. In order to differentiate yourself from your better-established competition, you are going to have to work far harder than them. However, it is absolutely imperative that you also reserve time for you. Stay active and exercise, meditate (if you don’t meditate, you need to learn—it is an absolutely essential practice for an entrepreneur’s mental health), make time to spend with family and friends, and do your best to maintain a hobby you genuinely enjoy.

The importance of making time for yourself cannot be overstated. If necessary, write it down into your schedule as an appointment to yourself!

Balance being flexible and knowing when to say no

When I was first starting out, I wanted to accommodate every client that came my way. Conceptually this makes sense, since the need to generate revenue for the business is paramount in the early stages. However, the reality is that not every client and customer is going to be worth the time it would take to provide them with the level of customer service you want to provide. Not all customers are profitable, so learning how and when to say “no” is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur.

Hopefully you can learn something from the fundamental truths I learned during my first two years of Trailblaze Growth Advisors. It has been a great ride, and I am proud to say that Trailblaze Growth Advisors was named a “rising star” of VentureScape’s Office Hours Class of 2015 by John Backus.  Feel free to reach out to me any time at info@tbgrowthadvisors.com.

Photo credit: Julian Partridge / Foter / CC BY-SA

Team Building

Six Ways to Help Your Marketing Team Deliver Results

Is a marketing team different than any other workgroup? Sort of.

Marketing is one of those disciplines that can look easier than it is. Those who are great at it are constantly updating their tactics to stay fresh and continually grab attention.  They stay on top of breaking news; customer feedback; new technologies and media; and the vast amount of first-, second- and third-party data.  The best marketers then consolidate all the ingredients into integrated, immersive programs to achieve the company’s goals.

Because marketing teams do not produce traditional widgets, a truly great marketing team will be extremely diverse.  Ideally, marketing teams leverage data to come up with concepts that deliver results — revenue, users, subscribers, customer experience and more. They use words and visuals in select mediums to encourage desired actions.  This requires that the team have strengths in analytics, creative design, content development, project management, marketing communications, product development and cross-functional leadership.  The one skill that cut across all functions is creativity.  (Yes, data scientists and project managers are just as creative as designers and writers.)

Managing such a diverse team can be a challenge, but surprisingly, it is not too different than managing other groups of people. According to R. Keith Sawyer, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, anyone can learn to be creative, and good creativity is further stimulated by working with other people. But for businesses trying to create a dynamic, productive atmosphere for their creative teams, here’s how to start:

  • Build a genuine culture. Whether your whole team is on site or some members are remote, you need to find ways to make the real and virtual environments positive, stimulating and organized. All three of these are easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere. Kevin Barber, author of “How to Build a High Performance Marketing Team”on HubSpot, said the ideal team culture contains a blend of integrity, character, love and loyalty. This helps create the foundation, but the shape of the building is up to everyone on the team.
  • Track whenever and wherever possible.  If you do not measure something, you can’t understand it. If you don’t understand something, you can’t improve it.  Set goals and measure the drivers and achievement against those goals. Armed with this data, you and the team can take the proper tactics to achieve them. These could be broad conceptual goals, such as “increase revenue,” or specific goals, such as “grow social media presence by X amount in a certain time period.”
  • Evaluate at your team. You may need to adjust your team and add more members as people move on or more resources become available or are needed. I agree with Joanna Lord, a contributor to Entrepreneur, who suggests that someone’s “fit” in the culture should be more of a consideration than professional skill sets.  Not everyone will have the interest or aptitude to continue based on the teams goals. Stack rank your team by aptitude, interest and skill level.  Always share feedback and put performance plans in place to help everyone adjust to the new standards.
  • Look for gaps. Where is your team’s performance falling short?  Do you have enough resources to achieve those goals?  Which skills does your team lacking? Do your internal partners share your goals? Do your processes support or hinder achieving your goals? Team members should be tasked with projects that overcome the roadblocks identified in this exercise should be prioritized with run-the-business activities.
  • Create a roadmap. Having different broad and specific goals established provides the team with a “destination.” Moreover, putting programs in place to engage everyone provides the team a sense of a bigger picture and how they personally help the team achieve its goals.
  • Make Progress.  Team members should be tasked with strategic projects that overcome the gaps identified in the exercise above.  Set deliverables and timelines with each project lead and share them with the entire team.  Strategic projects should be prioritized and tracked alongside run-the-business activities.  Remember to report progress of projects and acknowledge each person for their roles in making something good happen, which also helps foster camaraderie

Overall, optimizing a marketing team’s performance can be tricky. Good managers can find a way to do so, such as how people rank individually and collectively on department goals. Better managers will find ways to not only quantify everyone’s efforts but foster a dynamic culture — it’s going to take time and buy-in, but the results can create a solid, efficient team.

Photo credit: Create-Learning Team Building & Leadership / Foter / CC BY

Social Media Advertising

Is Advertising on Social Media Worth It?

Social media advertising has become a multi-billion dollar industry over the past couple of years. According to recent reports, social media ad spending came in at around $2.9 billion in 2014, representing about 58% growth over 2013. Clearly, many companies believe that advertising on social media is, in fact, worth it and there are a number of reasons why this is the case. The following are four of the most prominent reasons why social media advertising is growing in popularity:

Great ROI Compared to Traditional Advertising Platforms

Most industry experts agree that social media advertising offers a fantastic return on investment. The real challenge is determining how one wants to quantify that return. For example, obviously clicks and sales conversions are important metrics, but what about brand awareness? Brand awareness is sometimes the primary reason for an advertising campaign, yet there aren’t any reliable metrics to determine how much brand awareness an advertising campaign produced. That being said, most consider the cost per thousand impressions, or “CPM”, to be a reliable metric of cost-effectiveness, particularly with regard to brand awareness.

Globally, the cost to reach one thousand impressions is around $0.75, according to Facebook. However, that number varies wildly depending on the region, industry, and a number of other factors. That being said, this cost is a dramatic reduction compared to other advertising platforms, which could typically be as much as one hundred times more expensive! However you look at it, social media advertising provides an almost unparalleled return on investment when utilized properly.

Highly-Targeted Advertisements

In addition to being more cost-effective, social media advertising can be much more highly targeted to the right audience. Thanks to the wealth of personal information contained on social media platforms such as Facebook, advertisers are able to target as narrow of an audience as they’d like. Everything from geographic location, age, marital status, interests, diets, and income can be filtered for in an advertising campaign. Advertisers can even choose distinct campaigns for different targeted groups, further increasing the potential ROI of a social media advertising campaign.

Real-Time Analytics

Unlike traditional advertising platforms, such as television or newspapers, social media advertising provides real-time information on the effectiveness of a campaign. Advertisers can see precisely how many impressions, clicks, and conversions each ad has generated and can adjust strategies accordingly. This also means that the number of dollars invested in a campaign can be increased or decreased on a minute-by-minute basis.

Ability to Change the Campaign at Any Time

Along with the ability to gauge the effectiveness of an advertising campaign in real-time, social media advertising can be changed mid-campaign. In fact, one of the best ways to conduct a social media advertising campaign is to have small “experimental” campaigns running, designed to test the effectiveness of each campaign. Experimental campaigns that prove to be effective can then receive the most significant percentage of the overall advertising budget.

At the same time, the effectiveness of each social media campaign can (and should) be constantly monitored for effectiveness. Advertisements that prove to be less effective can then be replaced by “experimental” ads that have proven to be effective in their smaller trials. This is just one example of how real-time information, in conjunction with the ability to change a social media advertising campaign at any time, can facilitate a more robust and effective advertising strategy.

Without a doubt, social media advertising is an effective way to reach a highly-targeted audience. Whether or not it is right for your company depends on your marketing and advertising goals.

Sources:

http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-research/15-new-facebook-advertising-statistics/
http://marketingland.com/first-half-digital-revs-23b-mobile-social-grew-104542

Photo credit: mkhmarketing / Foter / CC BY

Ideation

The Science Behind Creativity?

Steve Jobs is widely regarded as one of the most creative business owners in American history. Not only was he one of the “founding fathers” of the personal computer era, but he was able to take a struggling company – Apple – and set it on a trajectory to become the company with the highest valuation in the world (as of March 31, 2014).

In 1982, Jobs won the Golden Plate award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington D.C. During that speech, Jobs discussed his theory on creativity, which essentially boiled down to emphasizing the importance of unique and wide-ranging experiences. Few dispute the validity and value of that lesson; however, many have sought out a more concrete way to understand creativity – both where it comes from, and how we can generate it more reliably.

Recently, an article from the Columbia Business School addressed the very question of whether scientific principles can be applied to creativity. Can science, in fact, be at the foundation of creativity?

In the article, the author indirectly expands on the ideas that Jobs shared more than three decades earlier. However, instead of simply relying on personal experiences, the act of reading and learning from the experiences of others can be used to generate creative ideas. Creative ideas don’t simply come “out of the blue,” the author states. Instead, they are built on the great ideas that came before them. This principle is self-evident from the very fact that this author was likely influenced – whether directly or indirectly – by the speech Jobs gave in 1982, and the creative business philosophy Jobs engaged in during his life.

The article also discusses a study conducted by Professor Oded Netzer, who was able to uncover a “schematic link between the various components of an idea and its perceived creativity.” In the study, which was fairly involved (and can be read about in greater detail by clicking here), Netzer was able to make several conclusions.

  • Ideas tend to fall on a spectrum of either “familiar” or “novel.” Where they fall on this spectrum is determined largely by the individual components – either familiar or novel – of which the idea is made up.
  • There needs to be equilibrium between novel and familiar concepts in order to make an idea appropriately “creative.” If ideas were too familiar, a separate novel concept could be used to make the idea innovative. If an idea was too novel, then familiar concepts could be found that would make the idea more palatable to the average user.

Leverage this Research to Improve Products and Marketing Strategy

The results of Netzer’s study are obviously on the cutting edge, and it will probably take some time before the ideas truly take hold in the mainstream. Nevertheless, there are a number of lessons from the study that marketers can use in their own efforts.

Most importantly, marketers who want to be innovative and creative must have a strong sense of balance between novel and familiar ideas. Too much in either direction will lead to suboptimal effectiveness.

Beyond that, everyone (marketer or otherwise) can learn from the inherent truth found in the study — namely, that many things in life (marketing and business included) require a level of “harmony and balance” if they are to be successful. While this might seem a bit too philosophical for some, those who are able to internalize these ideas will be combining the best parts of science, business and innovation into their own lives.

Photo credit: Rob Enslin / Foter / CC BY