ACE - a new focus
By Jeff Thomas - February 20, 2013
sit this one out
By Jeff Thomas - August 02, 2012 (view comments)
I've often been abused by my friends and colleagues for being the eternal optimist. Yes, it's true, I not only see the glass half full, but when the glass is empty, I still note that the straw is still half full. But when the economy is dragging like it has been for so long, even I have to fight the temptation to worry. Recently, one of our favorite clients said of the lagging economy and the risk of a double dip recession, "You know, I think we'll just sit this one out!"
Whether the economy takes off or not, the notion of a viable business rolling up its tents and moving on, or even cutting marketing expenses, is way beyond my ability to grasp. Business owners and managers have the choice of how they respond to challenges. If they are willing to change; if they are eager to take on the challenges with the same willingness to assume risk that they began with; if they are willing to say "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!", there are still enormous opportunities to prosper, even during these difficult and uncertain times. It takes determination. It takes focus. It takes leadership. And it takes guts!
I don't have all of those virtues nailed yet, and the temptation to worry is certainly real. But I'm absolutely convinced that those who boldly pursue a dream—a dream to succeed—will ultimately rise above it all, and the rewards will be plentiful! Okay, the national economy sucks... but OUR economy isn't necessarily tied to the national, state or even local economy. Like our aforementioned client (who by the way has shown 30-40% growth, year over year even during the recession), if you aggressively fight the battle, and focus even more efforts on marketing and sales, you can indeed... sit this one out! I can tell you, we certainly intend to!
By Jeff Thomas - June 27, 2012
Here in Colorado Springs, it has been a devastating few days. Unfortunately, we don't see the end anywhere in sight, as the fires of the Waldo Canyon have swept over the ridge and into our neighborhoods and taken our homes.
"Fire" is a word that will have new meaning for us after this is all over. We depend on it for so many things, and yet it can be enormously, even viciously destructive when it's out of control. We've seen it spread in mere hours to take out entire neighborhoods that only hours before were not really considered seriously threatened. Some of the staff here, and some of our friends and colleagues have had to evacuate their homes, and they remain uncertain as to when they will be allowed to return, or if they will even have a home to return to when this is over.
Isn't it interesting how we go about our lives assuming (or pretending) that we are in control of everything, and in an instant, that foolish notion can be so completely dispelled? Nonetheless, there are certainly things which we have responsibility for, and over which our decisions and influence are most seriously felt. Sometimes, it is simply how we respond to disappointment, tragedy and loss... or how we approach problems, challenges and adversity... or how helpful we are to others. While we clearly are NOT in control as we too often pretend, let us be deliberate in our decisions, and in how we use our influence.
creating customers for life
By Jeff Thomas - February 24, 2012
We're very proud of our customer retention at 30dps, as it is substantially higher than that of most agencies. I'm happy to say that we have a reputation for going the extra mile, and being willing to sacrifice short term gain in exchange for long term relationships. But, unfortunately, we've had failures... and every single one of them causes me genuine heartache. While I understand that you can't make everyone happy all the time, the truth is, if we were truly consistent in our performance, we'd probably never have disappointed the customers that cause my distress. (Side note: I'll certainly confess, that some customers are simply unreasonable, and not worth losing sleep over. While I do tend to stress over them anyway, those are not the ones that I'm speaking of here.)
While 100% customer satisfaction is most often not achievable, I believe that businesses should never lose sight of that lofty goal. In fact, I would argue that in today's business climate, creating customers for life is no longer just a matter of providing a consistently high-quality service. Today, customers demand more. They demand perfection... and when they don't get it, they demand complete honesty, transparency, and a commitment to making it right. But even that's not enough. They want more. They want extraordinary. They want the unexpected. They want to have their socks knocked off. They want to be made to feel special.
One of the challenges business owners face is that the bar on extraordinary keeps getting raised. What was unexpected last year, is the norm this year. So how do you keep knocking their socks off? How do you keep making them feel special? It definitely requires getting close to your customers–dialoguing with them. It requires creativity and challenging the status quo. And it requires confessing failure when you've screwed up. Desire and effort score points, but results are what win the game. Creating customers for life is undoubtedly a "life-long" journey. It can be a challenging journey, but it's one that is extremely rewarding! And because it is a long journey, the sooner you get started, the sooner you start reaping the rewards.
my heroes have always been...
By Jeff Thomas - February 24, 2012
Cowboys? Well, I grew up in cowboy territory (Indian Territory actually), i.e. Oklahoma. And, like most boys around those parts, I grew up with a six-gun in my hand (plastic though it may have been). And, my college team was, of course, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. My favorite pro football team was the Dallas Cowboys. And my favorite TV star was, yep, you guessed it, John Wayne. So, I guess it's fair to say that I've always admired cowboys.
But I realized recently that my true heroes, while arguably cowboy-like in some ways, were really something different. I'll start with my lifelong hero, my father. Now there are many things about my father that I admired, but he was best known for his generosity and concern for the well-being of others. In business, my father was smart, accomplished and motivated. But he was mostly motivated to help others. In the last couple of decades of his life, he had a small retail art and graphic supply store. His customers absolutely adored him. He sold his products at a fair price (although often higher than Walmart), but his customers did business with him primarily because he was such a servant to them. His customer-centered nature was that which really distinguished him the most. Everytime he made a delivery (believe it or not, he was making deliveries into his eighties), he always remembered to greet them with a broad smile and a bag of candy. They loved it.
One of my other early heroes was a man named Charlie Ryan. The first time I ever saw Charlie, he was the butcher in our corner grocery store. Even when I was barely tall enough to see into the glass meat counter, he always greeted me with a warm smile and a hearty welcome. As I grew older, Charlie started his own taco shop near our high school. It was the hangout of first choice for us kids, and we all loved Charlie! (Honestly, for decades I thought I had a "special" relationship with Charlie, because he always treated me that way. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that he had that same relationship with just about EVERYONE!) The food at the Taco Hut was great, but Charlie is what made it special. I ran into Charlie most recently at a high school class reunion, where he was youthfully serving all of us old graduates a barbeque meal... to the delight of us all. Charlie, like my dad, is one of my heroes. He always knew how to make people happy by being a servant, and providing exceptional customer service.
After college, I eventually landed at Federal Express (now just FedEx). It was a great experience! What made that job so great was the core beliefs of the company, led by our founder, Fred Smith. Now folks have long heard tales of Fred Smith (and I have a few of my own I like to tell,) but the thing that most made Fred a hero of mine, was that he built a company on the concept of "people first," People/Service/Profit was the "cube" that drove the company, but it was truly, people first. FedEx was built upon the absolute conviction that if you put people first (employees and customers), the profit would follow. And follow it did. FedEx became one of the greatest companies on the planet because Fred Smith (and others in his employ) held an absolute commitment to extraordinary customer service. Nearly everyone who worked there believed in it. From COO to courier, every employee understood that we were to do anything in our power to exceed the expectations of our customers. We proudly bled purple and orange for our customers (internal and external).
Even today, I am convicted of my failures in this regard, and commit anew to try to emulate the amazing heroes that I have had in my life. You see, my heroes have always been people/customer centered fanatics.
can't always get what you want
By Jeff Thomas - February 23, 2012
It is one of the most common things in business—as in the rest of life—to want what we want. As adults, we generally accept the fact that we can't always get what we want, but it doesn't mean that we don't keep wanting. Unfortunately, there are times in business when our wants may run contrary to the wants of our customers. Then what?
Increasingly, customers want "real" information about the companies they do business with, i.e. they want the good, the bad and the ugly. They want the unvarnished truth. They think they can be trusted with all of the information, and they think they are capable of sifting through the irrelevant, the fabrications and the exaggerations, and making sound decisions.
Unfortunately, too often, business people want to control the information. They want to polish the facts. They want to protect their image. They want to manage the relationship... on their terms. Therein lies the rub. Customers want just the opposite.
As a business person, if you find yourself wanting to filter the information your customers receive; if you are tempted to varnish over the truth; if you find yourself trying to cover up the evidence of your mistakes; if you start believing that you know better than your customers do regarding what they "really" need, you're almost certainly headed down the wrong path. And it is extremely likely that you're headed towards long-term financial difficulties.
Today's business requires a new kind of transparency... a new kind of openness. You might try sometimes relinquishing control. There is little doubt that you can't always get what you want—but if you try, sometimes you might find you get what you need!
please pass the salt
By Jeff Thomas - February 23, 2012
So if, as I contend, businesses need a bit of a catalyst to promote the thawing of this economic freeze, then what the heck is the salt?
I think one of the answers is in having fun! I've noticed in my personal and professional life that when we were laughing and having fun, life not only seems better (regardless of our circumstances), but pretty quickly becomes better. The positive influence of having fun cannot be overstated. Now that's not to say that you stop providing a quality service and have the entire team head for the nearest game store or saloon, rather, I'm suggesting that we consider productive activities that promote business while having fun. For example:
- have a party and invite current customers and everyone on your prospect list
- shut the office down and take the team to a movie that is somehow related to what you do, how you do it, or a comedy staged in a business setting
- bring a video camera to the office and shoot candid shots throughout the day and post them on the company website
- have a contest to see who can come up with the most outlandish and yet profitable idea
- start taking clients out to lunch or a drink after work every week and keep it social
- buy your favorite vendor an unexpected gift or dinner for their entire team
- have a bring-your-pet-to-work-day and encourage the entire staff to participate
- have a bring-your-kid-to-work-day and encourage the staff with kids to participate
- call an office clean-up day, and insist that nobody do regular work, rather, focus only on organization and cleanup
- have an offsite meeting with the entire team— be sure to include fun activities and have it catered
- order pizza for the staff for no particular reason
- have the entire team participate in an arts-and-crafts project, producing a unique gift for one of your clients
- call time-out on regular job duties, and have the staff focus on sales and marketing for an entire day
- load the team up and take them to a mall or business complex, and have everyone drop off business cards or brochures, then take them to lunch... then do it again at another mall of business complex
- make up a board game that includes clients and their typical problems/challenges, with rewards for exceptionalism
- if you're the boss, say stupid stuff; the staff will love it (and I'm particularly good at it)!
is the freeze beginning to thaw?
By Jeff Thomas - November 14, 2011
Even though the economy is still struggling, we're beginning to see signs of life again. There could be any number of reasons that explain it, but I (of course) have my own opinion. I think folks are tired of waiting for something really good or really bad to happen (neither of which seems to be imminent). You can only hunker down so long before your knees begin to give out (and before your business begins to really struggle).
I tend to be an optimist, so I think businesses should be popping up and saying, "LET'S GO!" But also as I've blogged before, I think a recession is the BEST time to market your business anyway, and history proves it empirically! I do understand being worn down by being down. Doctors say that depression can become a chronic problem when the circumstances causing the depression in the first place persist for a protracted period of time. Our body chemistry reacts to the bad circumstances, and may actually extend the effects/feelings of depression even after the circumstances have changed. Not only are businesses run by people, but I suspect that the "chemistry" of a company also reacts in similar ways, i.e. the company stays "depressed" even after the initial cause of the depression has subsided. In people, antidepressants can be an effective way to get the brain back to normal. It's time to look for an antidepressant for business depression.
While the signs of the thawing are there, the business climate is still a bit frigid, but I'm convinced that most businesses are eager to snap out of their depression. Who knows... it might be as simple as throwing a little salt on it. It would not only promote the melt, but would add a bit of spice at the same time.
is cheaper better?
By Jeff Thomas - October 18, 2011
For some reason (I suspect that it probably has something to do with the economy) I seem to be hearing the word "cheap" a lot more frequently than I used to. I hear it most often from clients, or prospective clients, who are hoping we can save them money... okay, it also seems to be the name the staff occasionally calls me, but I pretend not to hear.
But is "cheaper" really better? Is "cheaper" even really cheaper? When looked at in isolation, cheaper certainly seems to be better. I mean, who would wisely spend more than they need to? In reality, most often when folks say that they want something "cheap," they really just want to pay less for the same product or service. They don't really want to sacrifice quality, or quantity, or speed, or efficiency, or convenience, or any of the other benefits they would receive at full price. They just want whatever they want for less than what they're used to spending (or less than what they have been bid). But the reality is that most of the time (assuming limited intervention by the law of supply and demand), whatever they get "cheaper" isn't the same as what they would pay regular price for. So, in essence, cheaper isn't really better... which is why the word "cheaper" has fallen into ill-repute.
I would contend that always seeking "cheap" is terribly counter productive, often leading to undesirable results. In marketing, going "cheap" often means you do a poorer job of stimulating business, and thus, the return on investment may actually be substantially worst than a pricier alternative, and ultimately, end up feeling like a complete waste of limited resources. Going "cheap" on printing costs, may mean that the quality of the product begins to decline, or that your local printer goes out of business... and when you need those last-minute jobs, you'll be stuck with those fast-service, incredibly high-priced alternatives.
Good value is much different than "cheap" and most consumers really already know this. But the pursuit of "cheap" often times keeps them from ever realizing the better value option, i.e. once customers insist upon "cheap," eventually the vendor or manufacturer gives up on producing the higher value option. A classic example is "service stations" vs. "gas stations." (I can't imagine anyone not wishing there was a station attendant to pump your gas on those cold and snowy days.)
Understandably (and rightfully) we all look for ways to cut costs and preserve cash. The question we need to ask ourselves is, "is the money I'm saving worth the cost!" If we consider that the true cost is the potential for improved returns, higher quality product or service, improved customer and vendor relations, improved self image, saved time (how much is the time we spend trying to find or negotiate "cheaper" worth), etc., I suspect we would often realize that what we "save" is actually more than offset with what we lost.
the death of capitalism
By Jeff Thomas - October 17, 2011
Okay, it's official: capitalism is dead. Well... if it's not dead yet, it certainly will be soon (I've recently seen the hand-painted signs that insist that it's failed). I'll admit that this news pains me, because, as a "business owner" and "marketing guy," I arguably may have more to lose than others (gosh... I honestly have no idea what I'll do if capitalism dies).
You know, for years I've heard that marketers are little more than deceivers that push inferior products (largely through lies and misrepresentations) that people don't otherwise want or need. As painful as that representation of marketing is, it's even more alarming to hear that the selfish desire of a business to make a profit is something just short of evil.
I have no doubt that some marketers will say almost anything to sell their product or service. I can also concede that some businesses will try to charge more than they "have to" and as a result, realize huge profits. But I guess I don't really think of consumers as mindless cattle, or children incapable of making their own decisions, and as a result, I believe that ultimately, consumers will determine whether a product or service is one they want or need... and aggregately, whether the product or service should even exist. And I certainly believe that consumers, with their purchasing power, will ultimately decide what a product or service is worth... and aggregately, will determine what a company can charge. Because of that, I also believe that only foolish marketers misrepresent the value of their products and services (in word or price) and ultimately, I have no doubt that they will lose their profits and, as a result, their company (and their good name)... and I think that's just as it SHOULD be.
Today, aided by the Internet, we live in the most democratic society that has ever existed. We, as consumers, have the ability and the freedom to choose what we buy, when and where we buy it, from whom we buy it, and even what we (are willing to) pay for it. With that freedom comes responsibility—responsibility to research, compare, evaluate, and provide feedback to others. Now, granted, even with all of that, some companies may charge more for their products and services than they "have to"... but they will never show huge profits if we as consumers aren't willing to pay for it.
With the passing of Steve Jobs, the world lost one of its most creative minds. Recently pronounced the most valuable company on the planet (with 35,000 employees, and tens or hundreds of thousands of shareholders), it could be claimed that Apple, Inc. has taken obscene profits... but I love my iPhone, my MacBook Pro, my iPad, and my iPod. Steve may well have been one of the greatest marketers and profiteers of all time... I sure hope his passing ISN'T the death of capitalism, because he sure showed us how to do it RIGHT!
just the facts, ma'am!
By Jeff Thomas - August 11, 2011
In the "good old days" of marketing and advertising, copywriters were compelled to constantly herald the merits of their products with increasingly flowery and dramatic terms. Words like:
- high quality
- cutting edge
- break through
- state of the art
- next generation
- one of a kind
- etc., etc.
Then there is the all-dreaded "technical-speak." This usually results from an engineer writing or editing the copy, or insisting that the target customer needs to know all of the details. Certainly, there are some contexts in which detailed technical information is needed and appropriate... but it is almost NEVER in a marketing piece. Technical-speak is usually filled with jargon (that only the closest insiders in the industry really know), consisting of complex sentence structure (to impress), and offering way too much detail. It most often talks about how something works, rather than how it helps.
Sometimes, you'll find both mistakes being made in the same marketing material. It says how innovative and groundbreaking it is, then speaks at such a technical level that you have to read it four times just to understand it.
The public, however, has become jaded, skeptical and impatient, and it finds both mistakes to be a turn-off. They have grown tired of glossy-brochure-speak, and impatient with technical-speak. They want common language. They want simple, straightforward conversation. They don't want to hear that it's "simply the best," rather, they want to know what it does, and how it's different. They refuse to study a marketing piece just to understand what the thing is saying. They just want to know what it looks like, or tastes like, smells like, how it works, how it feels, how it helps them, how much it costs.
What if someone marketed a product or service with the truth? For example:
"We sell pretty much the same stuff everyone else does. We're not particularly faster or better. But we're quite a bit cheaper than the competition, and our staff is really friendly (they are non-union, and they really need their job). So please consider buying from us!"
"Unfortunately, our service is often a bit slow. Because we put so much effort into getting it 'just right', and because we test everything just to make sure, we take a little longer than others do. And because the end product is so good, we have a lot of business, and therefore we take a little longer so we can perform just right for everyone. So if you don't mind waiting, we KNOW you'll be happy with the outcome!"
Or do you think consumers would rather hear...
"We have the highest quality, most innovative and creative products on the market today. Our groundbreaking, advanced processes and extraordinary service make us the premier company in the industry... maybe even the world!"
What do you think?
but what should I do?
By Jeff Thomas - August 10, 2011
I keep beating the same drum: DO SOMETHING! Don't just sit there waitig for the economy to improve. So the logical question then is, SO WHAT DO I DO?!?
Great question. Obviously, the answer varies depending upon the kind of business you're in, what your competition is doing, what has or has not worked in the past, what your budget is (or how much you're willing to squeeze out of a non-existent budget), the size of your market, and the margin on what you're selling. But here are a few general thoughts to get the creative juices flowing:
- send a unique direct mail piece to customers who bought from you a year ago
- call all of your existing customers and ask them for a referral (and offer an incentive, if you can, for doing so)
- throw a party or special event to thank all of your customers; invite everyone on your prospect list
- send an email to your vendors, asking them for referrals
- start a blog, and then invite all of your customers and prospects
- look into search engine advertising (we here at 30dps even have a special promotion going for $100 in free Google advertising for those who have never tried it)
- grab a stack of business cards (20-30) and spend an entire day going places you normally don't go, and see if you can hand out every card before the end of the day
- do an online search for whatever it is you sell; see who shows up at the top of the list; if any are directories (e.g. yellow-page type websites), find out how much it costs to buy a premium placement, or at a minimum, make sure you take advantage of their free listings, if offered
- do a search for your company, then make sure your (free) Google Local listing has been claimed and is up to date
- send a quality HTML email to all of your customers, offering a discount or special offer
- hunker down and take that time to pack up, talk to the landlord about getting out of your lease, and figure out what you'll do next.
Okay, I'm being a bit dramatic with the last one, but the reality is that if the economy continues on the current path, some businesses will fold. The question is, which ones will fold, and which ones will survive and even thrive? I contend that the answer is, those that invest in marketing will be much more likely to survive (the statistics support that). And, as you can see from the list of examples above, it doesn't necessarily take a lot of money. It takes creativity, patience, and diligence—it takes a willingness to do it. Are you willing? If you need help with execution, we'd be honored to serve.
no... don't stop!
By Jeff Thomas - August 02, 2011
I'm a big fan of Zig ZIglar. For those who may not be familiar with Zig, he's one of the world's most effective motivational speakers and sales guru. And Zig is a legendary story-teller.
One of Zig's most compelling stories is of a couple friends of his driving across the country, who found themselves in need of refreshment when they came across an old-fashioned water pump along the side of the road. While telling this story, Zig usually has a chrome water pump on stage with him, so it leaves little to the imagination as he demonstrates how to operate a pump. But since most of you have probably seen one, I'll just say that you have to grab the handle of one of these metal beasts, and pump it up and down until the water comes from the deep recesses of the water well and out the spout. It can take a lot of pumping sometimes to get the water up, especially if the well is deep.
I won't recount the entire story (and I suspect a bunch of you have heard the story anyway), but the jist of the story is that one of the two men grabbed the handle and started pumping. After quite a while, the fellow tired out, and let go of the handle, at which point his friend screamed "No! Don't stop! If you do, all of that hard work will go to waste. Keep pumping!"
30dps has been in business for over 21 years. We've had good times, and we've had no-so-good times. In fact, in 2001 after the dot-com crash, the tech bubble burst, and 9/11, we had some VERY tough years. But through it all, we kept cranking on that handle... even when it seemed certain that the well had done gone dry.
Now a bunch of folks (many smarter than me) could make a strong argument that we should have just closed the doors, and possibly tried again with another entrepreneurial idea, if so disposed. But, being the stubborn type, and having Zig's "No! Don't stop! Keep pumping!" ringing in my ears, the course seemed clear.
Times are tough. They may even get tougher. But the cool waters of success rarely come easy. So... we're gonna keep on pumpin' with the firm conviction that the reward for all that effort is worth it. Oh, and feel free to come by for a refreshing drink, anytime!
By Jeff Thomas - July 28, 2011
They are now calling it the "great recession" and some think the worst is yet to come, i.e. a double-dip, etc. There is little doubt that the economy is at best limping along, and with the federal debt crisis looming, it's hard to be real optimistic about the economy in the short term.
But one way in which the recession CAN be "great" is if you/your company are jumping up and down with excitement, waving your hands in the air, telling everyone about how GREAT your products or services are, especially while your competition is struggling with depression, hunkered down just trying to survive.
It is the most natural thing in the world to be fearful during economic hard times like these. Smart business people look for every way they can to cut back, reduce cost—make do with less. But if I only have one dollar left in the bank, I'm going to spend it on marketing. Marketing is the single most effective way to "breed bread." Innovation, cost-cutting, streamlining processes, and improving customer service are all important things to do at times like these. They are a great way to make a dollar last longer, and are critical to long term success. But MARKETING can take one dollar and make two out of it. MARKETING is how you tell prospective or existing customers about your new innovations, your improved services, or your lower more competitive pricing.
Make this recession GREAT! Do everything you can to be more efficient. Do everything you can to provide an even more extraordinary product or service. But STOP hunkering down. STOP waiting for the economy to improve. Get out there and "breed bread" with smart and measurable marketing efforts.
why the shades?
By Jeff Thomas - July 18, 2011
Someone recently asked me why I had shades on in the picture. The answer is simple: the future looks SO BRIGHT, that I need sunglasses just to gaze upon it.
Granted, that may be a little cheesy, but honestly, I refuse to look at the future in any other way. Even when the present looks bleak (as it does sometimes), the future has yet to happen. Thus, while it often requires a leap of faith, the future CAN look bright, if we choose to look at it that way. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made in the present in order to give the future a better shot. Certainly, we need to do all we can today to improve the odds of being in a better position tomorrow. We need to plan. We need to execute. We need to follow through. We need to examine the outcomes. And we need to plan again.
To be sure, business is difficult at times. Things don't always go as we've planned. So that means we have to be resilient. We have to keep our heads high, our eyes fixed on the future, and keep moving forward—even if we have to take an occasional pause, or even a small step backward sometimes in order to regain our bearings and ensure that our next steps are in the right direction.
During economic downturns, it is easy to rest on our heels, or even take several steps backward instead of pressing ahead. We need to know where we're going, but it is precisely when times are tough that we need to charge ahead steadfastly. Rarely have battles been won while retreating (and there's no doubt that this is a war). Are you charging or retreating?
Strap on some shades, dream of a better tomorrow, then let's go execute!
the "right" conversion rate
By Jeff Thomas - May 27, 2011
I am regularly asked the question, "What SHOULD a website or landing page conversion rate be?" Unfortunately, there's not an easy answer. The industry average is easy enough: it's somewhere around 1.5% to 2%. And while that number is ridiculous, the real bad news is that too many folks are willing to live with that.
Top online retailers are upwards of 10%, including Amazon at 16%, ProFlowers at around 20%, and 1800petmeds is converting at 24%, just to name a few. But there are some websites that come it closer to 50%, e.g. Schwans at almost 46%. At 30dps, we've even seen conversion rates as high as 60%. The nature of some businesses and their websites (like Schwans) help facilitate higher conversion rates, i.e. Schwans' customers are reordering staples, like milk. But few websites convert at those levels without doing some things very well.
When asked the question about the "right" conversion rate, I usually respond with the thoughtful line "it depends!" While I would concede that it's a pretty silly reply, it's also true. There are a lot of factors that go into producing websites with higher conversion rates. But the the single most important factor is a determination to convert at the highest level possible, then doing everything possible to make it happen. Hire a consultant, agency, or employee that really understands conversion optimization. Then listen to them!
For those whose livelihood is largely driven by their website (and that number is likely to increase over time), conversion rate is almost certainly the single most important factor that will determine profitability. So, based on that, what's the "right" conversion rate? I say set the bar at 100%, then do everything possible to act like it's achievable. If you do THAT, I guarantee that you'll experience something much higher than the typical 1-2%!
time to slow down?
By Jeff Thomas - May 18, 2011
As I drove to work this morning, I watched a young driver speeding, bobbing and weaving in an out of traffic, violating almost every law and code of conduct known to exist on the road. Ironically, and almost comically, when I got to my exit, I found her just one car ahead of me, waiting at the same street light. Despite her "best" efforts (and the risk of life and limb of others along the way), she was able to improve her position by about three car lengths and a few seconds at best.
Sometimes, in our efforts to resolve our problems or improve our situation, we busy ourselves with a flurry of activity, without real hope of accomplishing our objective. Why do you think that is? I have several theories. To name a few:
- We may think that inactivity or slowness of pace caused us to be in our current situation, and we don't want to make that same mistake again.
- We have fear that if we don't do something, and do it NOW, our situation will get worse.
- We may simply be an adrenaline junky, or have lived life in chaos for so long, we simply don't know how to stop or even slow down.
- We may falsely be confusing frenzied activity for accomplishment.
- We may be trying to impress others, seek their approval, or get sympathy.
Regardless of what causes this kind of activity, more often than not, it's a waste of time and energy, and/or can lead to bigger problems (I just knew the young driver was going to get pulled over). Now, having said that, I, at times, am totally guilty of this very thing, folks. There are times when my instincts say, "time to turn on the juice, and knock this out!" And at those times, my sound judgment and level head DOES NOT prevail (even though I know better).
When it comes to business and, more specifically, marketing, frenzied types of (last-minute) activities are probably nothing but a huge waste of time, energy, emotion, and money. Serious consideration to your branding, messaging, consistency, persistence, desired outcomes, costs, return on investment, etc. are all critical to success. Pretty much everyone in business appreciates the importance of planning. Developing a marketing plan is hugely important, and it will help you avoid the pitfalls of last-minute, frenzied, poor-performing marketing/advertising efforts.
I considered following that young driver to her destination this morning, to ask if everything was okay, and/or if there was anything I could do to help her. However, I was afraid she would think I was a stalker, or worse, would pull out a gun and shoot me. And it made me think... "I wonder how many folks try to navigate and solve their business problems in the same reckless way?" I wondered, "if we could track those business owners or marketers down, we could offer to help them. But if we did... would they just pull out a gun and shoot us?"
it's really pretty, but...
By Jeff Thomas - May 17, 2011
I was blessed to be raised in a family that valued art. My father, who had been an art major in college, was what in those days was called a commerical artist. (Today, they call them graphic designers.) My mother also loved art, dabbling in many forms herself. When I was a boy, art was also a normal part of school–we even had flash cards of famous artwork that all students had to memorize. As a result, I always enjoyed art, and somehow found myself following in my father's footsteps, initially pursuing an art degree in college.
Once in college, I quickly realized that there were a lot of folks more talented than I, and that it was going to be hard to make a living. But, as it turns out, the path I took (through business) eventually led me back to art... commercial art. I much prefer the term commercial art to graphic design, because it helps to keep the focus where it belongs—on supporting commerce. Too often, graphic designers fail to recognize that they are not in the fine arts, rather, are employed to support business. Graphic designers are often more interested in the aesthetic appeal (or in winning peer-awards) than in the commercial impact of their work.
We've all seen TV commercials that we thought were funny and entertaining... even though we have no idea what they were selling. Unfortunately, it's much the same way with graphic design. Throughout the advertising and design industry, designers' efforts are too often focused so narrowly on creating an attractive looking layout to the brochure, website or ad that they fail to realize that the copy isn't even readable (i.e. the type is too small or employs too little contrast). My design staff is undoubtedly sick of hearing my soapbox cry "Text is NOT a design element! If you can't read it, fix it, or get it off!"
For all of the time that is spent creating beautiful design (and I'm a fan of beautiful design), twice the time should be spent on creating effective commercial design. Inherent to that, is a necessity for graphic designers/commercial artists to invest time learning how to be effective communicators. And that necessitates studying copywriting, type setting, conversion optimization, and marketing... things that, unfortunately, many "graphic designers" in this industry find uninteresting, or downright boring.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a home where beautiful art was commonplace, and appreciated. As a result, I still appreciate the arts. I also appreciate a website that converts, a brochure or ad that sells, and a business card you can read! Otherwise, it may be pretty, but... will it make you money?
P.S. A well-reputed graphic designer once gave me his business card. It was absolutely stunning! I mean, it was REALLY creative. Unfortunately, it took me five minutes of study to find and read his name and phone number... every time I tried to use it. May it never be.
transparency creates credibility
By Jeff Thomas - May 14, 2011
Marketing has gotten a bad reputation through the years because truth has been sacrificed for marketing-speak. One of the things that is changing that is new media, i.e. the Web and social media. It used to be that a company could constantly control the message, i.e. they could largely ensure that much of what was being said about the company was well thought out, deliberate, carefully crafted and positive. Testimonials from happy customers were carefully selected (or simply written) by marketers to reflect most positively upon the company and heralded on brochures and websites as being reflective of the company's performance. Marketers have ALWAYS wanted to control the messaging and reputation of the company. That was their job.
Today, the good, the bad, and the ugly about your company will eventually be known by everyone. The Web and social media have provided a platform through which anyone who wants to talk about your company—report a problem, say nice things, leave a balanced review, or simply rant—can do so. And search engine technology makes it very easy for the public to find ALL OF THIS! The marketer, who has always been able to control the message suddenly finds him/herself on the defense.
In today's post Internet-explosion world, companies that do not offer a quality product or service with credibility and integrity are likely to have short lives, regardless of how much money they raise through investors. That's not to say that every company must be perfect. Certainly we make plenty of mistakes. The real challenge of today's companies is to maintain credibility in the face of increasing transparency. I believe that companies' efforts to control the message are not only largely futile, but counter productive. A better approach is to be open and transparent—do all you can to provide a quality and reliable product or service, and let consumers decide your company's fate (the fact is, they are going to anyway!). Use new media to learn and grow. Listen to what the customers are saying! If someone says something negative about your company, RESPOND... but do so with honesty, humility, and grace. If your company has performed admirably, the public will see that. If your company has performed poorly, confess it quickly, and do all you can to demonstrate what you intend to or have already done to resolve it. When the public sees that, you gain credibility... and new customers. There's no getting around it: some of your customers will prove to be simply negative folks who live their lives as victims and whiners. But other consumers will see right through that, especially if you behave honestly. Reasonable people do not expect perfection. They expect integrity.
We ALL live in glass houses these days, and that's only going to become more and more true as the new media technology advances. Those companies that choose to try to control the message will be found out. Those that do all they can to be open and transparent will be the big winners... provided they are willing to constantly improve.
By Jeff Thomas - May 13, 2011
When crafting website content with conversion optimization in mind, it is critical to constantly ask the question, "What is the next logical question the visitor is likely to have, and how can we credibly persuade them that we have the answer?" Rather than organizing and presenting content generalized by category, you should design a content architecture that is focused entirely upon persuading the visitor that they can find what they are looking for HERE—that you have credibility and provide value.
The MOST IMPORTANT THING about virtually every website design is its persuasive power. That doesn't mean producing flowery marketing-speak; rather, it means knowing who your website visitors are, how they think, and what questions they have... then developing relevant messages that demonstrate value, establish trust, and inspires them to take action.
Does your website have persuasive architecture?
innovate or die!
By Jeff Thomas - May 13, 2011
All right, granted, "innovate or die" may seem a bit extreme, and there are probably some businesses that may never have to innovate to survive, but, off the top of my head, I cannot think of what that company would be. Nonetheless, as a general rule, it's absolutely true.
I was blessed in my early career to work for a little company now called FedEx. The basic business is pretty simple, really—pickup and deliver packages. Our founder, Fred Smith, was known for his daring and audacity (I think he actually believed anything was possible). Fred thought that there was a better way to move packages around the country. But, there were many who thought his idea of bringing every package to Memphis and back out was nuts. After seeing some early success, Fred sent everyone reeling again, when he insisted that technologist ride around with the truck drivers/couriers to see how technology could help us provide a better service to our customers. As technologist, we thought the idea was a little silly, yet elected to humor the boss. The truck drivers on the other hand, didn't take to the notion AT ALL, and frankly, I think they were a bit suspicious of what we were REALLY doing.
Well, the rest, as they say, is history. FedEx developed innovative technology that changed the industry—and arguably, the world. Since that time, every direct competitor has copied that technology. As consumers, who among us can imagine NOT being able to track our package status? And just TRY taking one of those tracking devices away from a FedEx courier. You'll probably pull back a bloody stump.
If you are an executive or owner of a company (or an employee who wants to be irreplaceable), and you aren't constantly asking yourself, "how can we innovate?" or "how can we take advantage of advances in technology to do things differently, to give us an advantage over our competitors?" or "what can we change to provide a better, faster, cheaper, stronger, less painful, more fun, prettier, smarter, more reliable, more convenient, more profitable product or service?" well... we'll be bringing flowers to your company's funeral sometime in the near future, I suspect.
Note: You don't have to be a Fred Smith or have millions of dollars on hand to innovate. Some of our clients have dramatically impacted their industries (and profits) through innovation. Innovation is not an expense, it is an investment. It just takes creativity and a willingness to try. Try, don't die!
landing page strategies pt.2
By Jeff Thomas - May 11, 2011
Even if you never create a strategy for developing landing pages, you still HAVE a landing page (assuming you have a website)—they just won't perform as well as they might. In fact, they might perform so poorly that you begin to think you wasted money building the website in the first place.
By default, your website's home page is your landing page. But because most website designers don't understand conversion optimization—by the way, unfortunately, that's the norm in the world of website development today—it is likely that your home page, even as a home page, isn't very effective. And even if your home page is optimized for conversion, it is still likely to be a poor performing landing page, especially if you offer more than one product or service.
Effective landing pages focus on a single message, and do so to the exclusion of all the other messages. Your home page cannot afford to exclude the other messages, e.g. if you sell lots of different kinds and brands of tires and other services, your home page cannot hype the sale on Firestone tires to the exclusion of the others brands (and you wouldn't make yourself very popular with your other suppliers). Unlike home pages, your landing page can/should present the same pitch multiple times, with alternative wording or with additional information, further increasing the odds of conversion. The "buy it now" button may well be on the page multiple times also, and may be represented in multiple ways—doing everything possible to get the visitor to convert.
Most website owners, and even most website developers, simply don't realize the effectiveness of this approach. If you understand who your prospective customers are and what they want/need, by carefully crafting the content of a landing page to present a single complete and compelling message, the page is destined to convert much better than your home page ever could... and a change in your conversion rate is a change to the profitability of your website.
There are certainly lots of benefits to having a smart landing page strategy, and most of them have president's pictures on them.
landing page strategies pt.1
By Jeff Thomas - May 09, 2011 (view comments)
Establishing a (well-reasoned) landing page strategy is increasingly important to maximizing and measuring the success of any marketing campaign that utililzes the Web... and today, most marketing campaigns SHOULD include the Web. Unfortunately, most folks either don't know what a landing page is, or they just assume it's the home page of their website. Certainly, very few really understand how to devise a strategy for optimizing the results.
Simply stated, your landing pages are the Web pages you direct traffic to with your marketing and advertising campaigns. If you are among the masses who direct all traffic to the home page of your website, you are missing out on an enormously profitable practice that can bring you a much higher return on investment. Instead, what you almost certainly should be doing, is directing traffic to unique Web pages that are designed to persuade the visitor to convert (i.e. buy) based upon the nature of the ad campaign, the source of the lead, and what you should be able to establish as the interests of the visitor.
For example, if you run an ad that offers a discount on Firestone tires, don't direct the traffic of that ad to your home page (where you show ALL brands and types of tires). Rather, direct them to a page that 1) describes the Firestone promotion in detail, 2) sells the visitor on why Firestone is a great tire and how your price is the best possible deal, and 3) gets them to sign up for the offer and/or set up the actual appointment to come have the tires installed. This page, targeted toward the traffic from the ad, is a profoundly more useful landing page and can be located on or off of your main website. Regardless of where it resides, it has a singular purpose, and in this example, it is to get the prospective customer to take advantage of the Firestone tire sale... NOW! The landing page may even offer additional incentives to buy, for instance, free mounting if they buy today!
Every element of your landing pages should be tested: the offer, the design, the copy, the buying process... everything! A/B testing is a great way to optimize each landing page to ensure that you've really got it right (see blog on A/B testing several blogs down). Once optimized, your landing page will likely see a conversion rate that is DRAMATICALLY higher than what you will experience if you direct traffic to your website home page. And frankly, it's a bit RUDE to direct all traffic to your website home page. Most of the time, you know something about the visitor's interest simply by the fact that they are responding to a particular ad. Therefore, you should direct them accordingly, using unique URLs. Don't make your would-be customers have to navigate the labyrinth of your website, when you should already know what they want and why they're visiting your website. Instead, take them somewhere that addresses directly, and completely, what they've already indicated interested in.
Think of it this way... how would you feel if you responded to a newspaper coupon for a free burger, and when you arrived at the burger joint, coupon in hand, you had to go all over the place looking for the one employee who would honor it? A well conceived and executed landing page strategy will take time. But, like all efforts to increase website conversion rates, it is almost certain to improve your bottom line.
beyond the postcard
By Jeff Thomas - May 03, 2011
While many forms of traditional mass media are faltering in cost effectiveness, good old direct mail can still show an excellent return on investment. The challenge (as in all marketing) is to make sure you're targeting the right audience and that your direct mail device is designed to get and keep attention.
Through the years, most direct mail marketing has (appropriately) acquired the nickname "junk mail." Whether at home or work, we tend to give a few seconds of attention (or less) to those items in our mailbox that look like junk mail, before tossing them into the trash. Nonetheless, the majority of direct mail marketing today takes the most recognizable form of "junk mail," i.e. the postcard. Still, if you've targeted the right folks, your message is clear and concise, the design attracts attention, and there is a clear call to action, even these "junk mail" postcards can work, especially if you have a large distribution and your product or service has a high enough margin. The main reason postcards are so heavily employed is that they can be produced inexpensively, thus, the advertiser can play the numbers game, and hope for a high enough response rate to make the effort profitable. However, according to a recent DMA report, the cost per response for these postcards is a whopping $75/each, and the response rate sub-1%.
Nonetheless, I'm convinced that direct mail still has wonderful potential. A personal letter, or elegant invitation can significantly increase the time and attention (and consequently, response) given by the recipient. But there are other approaches to direct mail that can show spectacular results... and it almost never includes a postcard.
We often propose a much more personal, impactful, higher cost per piece approach that we call "nox-your-sox-off." It's important to acknowledge that producing a low cost per piece device really isn't the objective, rather, a high return on investment is the goal. So even though a marketing device may be much higher in cost ($10, 20 or even $100/each), if the conversion rate is high enough, you can see significantly higher return on investment than typical postcard-type mailings. These devices are never mistaken for "junk" and are often kept as collectors items for years. The key is to be creatively open-minded, and riveted on what will attract and keep the prospective customer's attention.
While it's tempting to go after the quick (and "easy") sale, the truth is, most businesses survive on sustained, mutually rewarding relationships. Give it some thought. Which is more likely to stimulate a lasting relationship? A 10 cent postcard, or a memorable piece that implicitly says "You are important to me!"
it's the economy... smart guy!
By Jeff Thomas - April 29, 2011
While some are telling us the recession is over, there's no doubt that the economy is a long ways from being in full-swing. During economic downturns, too often, one of the first things company executives cut is their marketing budget, in spite of the fact that almost every study ever done shows that the companies that INCREASE their marketing efforts during a downturn actually grow their market share, while those that cut, lose market share (and actually take up to 5 years to recover).
It's very understandable to cut marketing and advertising. When times are tough, and you're looking at cuts to everything, it's easy to look at marketing and advertising as an expendable expense item, i.e. one that doesn't directly serve production, rather than an investment with measurable, and potentially, short term results. But the truth is, it is probably the LAST expense item you should cut, if you cut it at all. The good news about NOT cutting your marketing budget... or better yet, increasing it during economic downturns, is that most of your competitors will be cutting theirs.
Have you ever been the only one standing in an auditorium, theatre or other large audience? You tend to bring attention to yourself whether you want to or not. Or have you ever been the only one with your hand up in a classroom or meeting? Sort of stood out, didn't you? That's exactly what marketing is all about, i.e. being noticed. So if you're the only one (or one of merely a few) in your market space that has their hand up during an economic downturn, that's GREAT NEWS!
Let me hasten to say that not all advertising is wise marketing. Mass media advertising (shotgun or "interruption" advertising) can be a huge drain on your budget, and it may not give you the best return on your investment. Even if you are the only one with your hand up, if only 1 in an audience of 10,000 are interested in your product or service, there are almost certainly more efficient ways to reach them.
Having said that... for goodness sake, ACT NOW! Take advantage of the fact that your competitors are pulling back from their marketing and advertising. DO SOMETHING to get the attention of your prospective customers BEFORE the recession is over and your competitors (those that survive) start advertising again!
reliance on emailing (& texting)
By Jeff Thomas - April 28, 2011
I've been doing email for so long now that I almost can't remember NOT doing it. I check it first thing every morning, and (sadly) it's often the last thing I do at night. Worse than that though, it's become something I do all day long. Like many people, I've gone from checking my email a few times a day... to a few times an hour... to even constantly throughout the day. I process hundreds of emails every day, many within seconds or minutes of the time they were sent. Now THERE'S an accomplishment for you! I've become a slave to email.
Email is a great way of staying in touch with folks, and even manage the increased volume of communications. Today's email applications allow quick searches and organizational tools that make thousands or tens of thousands of emails instantly retrievable. We now have browser-based email applications as well as cell phone-based email clients... so now, we can access email from anywhere, anytime. It is just amazing! I can now get my email "fix" 24x7. Quite literally.
One of the changes in business is that many, if not most, have become as addicted to email as I have, and have begun to EXPECT others to be immediate with their email processing. That can prove to be very awkward, especially when there's someone in the loop that is actually being (what I will at least for the moment call) "smart" and only processing email a few times a day. One of the worst habits that has taken place, even within 30dps, is that we now use email when a five second walk across the hall or aisle, and a three minute discussion would be much more efficient, more personal, more accurate, and more meaningful. It is like pulling teeth to get some folks to pick up the phone and CALL someone these days, as we'd always rather just send an email. And I get that, and have even defended it myself. I mean, I have a perfect audit trail of the communications. And I can be more careful and thoughtful with my words. Oh, and I can control the amount of time I spend doing it, and don't get sucked into a long phone conversation. RIGHT!
Okay, does anyone know anyone who has not COMPLETELY blown a relationship because they'd counted on email to sustain it, rather than using face-to-face or phone calls. I've certainly had more than my share. To say nothing of the number of times I've been a complete jerk in email, and would have been much more in control if I'd been looking the other person in the face. Oh, and let's not forget the accidental forward, in which you forget that someone's less than flattering comment or confidential discussion is somewhere in the email thread, and it gets into the wrong hands. It can all be a nightmare! I wonder how much work would get done, and how many relationships would be saved (business and personal) if we didn't rely so heavily on email?
Even as I write this, I'm commited to reducing my dependence upon email, and will encourage others to do the same. After all, there's always text messaging...
search engine advertising pt.2
By Jeff Thomas - April 27, 2011
With traditional mass media advertising, the entire production/results cycle is quite lengthy. You typically have to prepare and present the ad to the publisher well in advance, i.e. days, weeks or even months before the ad runs. Then, when the ad does run, depending upon the medium, there is often a significant delay in seeing a response (if you are able to attribute any response to the ad at all). And if you are able to measure a response to the ad, and decide to make a change, the lengthy cycle begins again.
With search engine advertising, you can launch a new campaign within days (or even hours), and can change the ads based upon readily available performance data within minutes. That means new concepts can be tested quickly and easily. Which leads me to a critical distinctive of search engine advertising, i.e. measurement.
Arguably the most powerful benefit of search engine advertising is that it provides extremely detailed statistics related to the performance of the ad. The statistics include the following:
- number of impressions (how many times the ad was displayed)
- number of clicks (how many times the ad was clicked on)
- click-thru rate (average number of impressions it takes to get a click)
- number of conversions (the number of times the visitor did what you hoped they'd do, e.g. buy)
- conversion rate (average number of clicks it takes to get a conversion)
- overall cost
- cost-per-click (CPC)
The above list represents but a small portion of the statistics search engines gather within their advertising management tools. The power this information gives the advertiser is extraordinary. Never before have we had this kind of data so readily available by which we can seek to perfect an advertising campaign.
search engine advertising pt.1
By Jeff Thomas - April 27, 2011
In spite of the fact that virtually everyone who uses a computer these days has seen it, there are still a lot of folks who don't really know what search engine advertising is. Many more know what it is, conceptually, but don't really understand how it works. I've been a big fan of search engine advertising for the better part of a decade, and have seen it do some amazing things for profitability. I've also seen it done very poorly, and in those cases, it can result in big losses, typically when the advertiser doesn't understand how it works.
Search engine advertising is most readily seen as those postage-stamp sized text ads that you see on the side of search engines. You will also see these "sponsored ads" or "sponsored links" on other non-search engine websites. Regardless of what you call the ads, they are presented by search engine technology like Google and Yahoo! and Bing, and the advertiser typically pays by the click.
Unlike most other forms of advertising, the great thing about search engine advertising is that you only pay for it when it "works." With other forms of advertising, you pay to run the ad for a period of time regardless of how many prospective customers actually see or respond to the ad. But with search engine advertising, you only pay for the ad when someone not only sees the ad, but actually takes action, e.g. he/she clicks on the ad and goes to your website. The practice is called pay-per-click. As the advertiser, you decide what your budget is (how much you're willing to spend per day) and how much per click you're willing to spend (what is the maximum amount you want to pay for someone to come to your website). As the advertiser, you create the ad text, choose the keywords that best describe your product (or those keywords that searchers are likely to be using when you want your ad to show up), and determine your budget and maximum cost-per-click. With this criteria, search engine technology presents the ads to the searcher who submits a relevant search.
One of the things that makes search engine advertising so effective is that, unlike other forms of traditional advertising, your ad is being presented to someone who is actively LOOKING for what you're selling. So in essence, you're already advertising to a qualified lead.
To sum up... you're presenting your ad to folks who are actively looking for what you sell, and you only pay for it when they bite. How cool is that?
a lot of talk about SEO
By Jeff Thomas - April 18, 2011
There has been a lot of talk these days about search engine optimization (SEO). Simply stated, SEO is the process of refining your website so that it ranks as well as possible with search engines. SEO is considered the "free" way to get to the top of search engines. The real truth is that SEO takes a substantial commitment in time, effort, and expertise, so it can get expensive... but it can prove to be well worth the effort.
While search engine advertising can often catapult your website to the top of the search engine, those listings are paid ads. The beauty of being at the top of what's called the "organic" rankings (the unpaid, ranked search results), is that you don't pay by the click like you do with pay-per-click ads. And there are many folks who only reluctantly click on the ads, thinking that the non-ad listings are somehow "better." So, with rare exception, it is important to carefully consider your plan for SEO.
The owners/management of search engines are compelled by their own need to generate a profit, to do all they can to present the "best" organic search results possible. Now "best" is certainly subjective, and search engine logic can't really "do subjective" so what they actually do is use extremely complex logic to try to determine the "best"... which is really mostly a measure of popularity and relevance.
Search engines closely guard the details of their programming logic, to keep hackers and those that would coerce their way to the top of the search engines from "cheating" their way to the top of the rankings. But there are a few things that are generally understood and/or openly communicated by search engines (although the major search engines each use their own proprietary logic, that do produce different results). The following is a partial list of those things:
- while of decreasing importance, special HTML tags called meta tags, help tell search engines directly what the relevant keywords are for a web page, what the page title is, etc. HTML, by the way, is essentially the programming language of the Internet, that defines each web page for web browsers to interpret, so that they can "paint" the screen properly.
- textual page content is the single most important SEO component. Since search engine logic can only understand text, it makes its determination of what each web page is about by looking at the text within the HTML. Because even graphics and hyperlinks (and other graphical or HTML buttons) are defined and pointed to via text, i.e., the names of those elements are also text that is read by the search engines. The content should be rich with keywords that represent the website's nature (products or services), and that those doing searches are likely to use to find it.
- the popularity of a website is (today anyway) determined almost entirely by links to the website, i.e. the number, popularity and relevancy of other websites that have links to your website. (note: search engines are "on to" link exchanges, so the linking websites need to be relevant.) Social media posts and video hosting channels, e.g. YouTube, are big contributors to the determination of popularity too.
The truth about SEO is that it doesn't happen by accident; it doesn't happen overnight; and it isn't really "free." SEO takes time and some level of expertise. While pretty much anyone CAN do it, few seem to want to take the time or go out the expense to pay some one to stay on top of it. It's sad though, because search engine optimization can pay HUGE dividends!
yes, it's a great idea, but...
By Jeff Thomas - April 17, 2011
One of the many fun parts of being in a creative business is that you get to hear a lot of really creative ideas. At 30dps, we are very proud of how we creatively help our clients realize their dreams of increased sales, increased market share, or broadened constituency. We also get to hear a lot of clever ideas from clients and prospective clients.
Through the years, we've been blessed to play a part in the success of some great businesses and ministries. We've also been approached many times by some very smart people who have big dreams... and we really like that! Many times, these creative thinkers are extremely excited about their idea, and are convinced that all they need is a bit of branding and marketing help to launch them on their way to earning millions.
And while that certainly CAN be true, it rarely is.
An idea, no matter how great it is, is largely worthless UNLESS there is sufficient energy, experience, and capital to propel it. Now, this is certainly a generality, and there are notable exceptions, but by and large, success requires more than just a good idea. It requires a relentless pursuit of seeing the idea to fruition. While it may be feasible for someone with no prior experience to launch their project or company, the chances of success are MUCH higher if he or she has relevant experience or an experienced team. And, it almost always requires the entrepreneur to be willing to stick his or her neck out financially and, more often than not, further out than he or she is comfortable with.
Sufficient energy, experience, and capital CAN propel a great idea if you have a good (written) plan that takes into account (among other things) branding and marketing. If you have all that... it's time to SELL!
that silly TV commercial
By Jeff Thomas - April 14, 2011
Do you remember that TV commercial years ago in which a new startup company launched their website with the team anxiously watching the computer screen? They were all excited when they got their first order, then their second, then it just exploded! That commercial likely spurred many an entrepreneur to launch their own web-based business.
Unfortunately, most e-commerce websites just don't see that kind of immediate response. And even more unfortunately, many of those entrepreneurs don't really understand what is required to ensure that the world knows they exist (they sometimes assume the world will just know). And sometimes, what seems like a creatively unique idea, either isn't all that unique, or is difficult to distinguish.
We have been doing search engine advertising for almost a decade now, and even search engine advertising alone cannot guarantee success (although it is pretty stinking cool stuff!). Search engine advertising, to be successful, requires the following:
- that the searcher /prospective customer uses search terms (i.e. keywords) that identify your product or service
- that you have bid on those same keywords and are competitive in your bids
- that you don't have a lot of competitors for those same keywords that can afford to outbid you!
Here's where it could get tricky. Let's say that what makes your product unique is that it pairs two attributes that your competitors don't – and that fact, by itself, is great! But if your prospective customers only search for one of those attributes at a time (the one they are most interested in at the moment), you have to be competitive with everyone selling that single attribute, and that could get very expensive if your competitors are better funded... which is probably the case, if you're a startup.
Let's say you are selling a cell phone that also keeps your coffee warm (I think I may have had a cell phone that ran that hot once). Those two attributes – cell phone and coffee warmer – are not individually unique, even though the combination may be. The challenge is, most of your prospective customers – coffee drinking cell phone users (which certainly makes a compelling market size) – isn't going to know to search for "coffee warming cell phones." Rather, they're likely to just be looking for either a cell phone or coffee in their search. So, in order to get your ads to appear when your prospective customer does a search, you've got to compete with everyone that sells cell phones and coffee... and THAT is a lot of competitors.
So, while search engine advertising can get you to the top of the search engines overnight if you're willing to pay the price, it doesn't ensure success. You still need to look at a hybrid approach (one that may indeed include search engine advertising) because branding, public relations, social media, direct mail, and traditional mass media all serve important roles in getting your message out.
you can never stop learning!
By Jeff Thomas - April 14, 2011
The term life-long learning is a relatively recent addition to educational jargon. The reason why it isn't just a lofty ideal, but a pragmatic necessity these days, is that the pace of change in our world is staggering. And so for pretty much anyone who is still wanting and needing to bring value to our economy (or for some, simply continue to bring home a paycheck), that means constant learning.
Now, the truth of the matter is that it is impossible to keep up. The pace of change and the scope of change is simply too much for anyone to keep up with. But that can't divert us from the pursuit, rather, it must spur us on to try all the harder. The degree to which the divide between the have's and the have-not's (wealthy and poor) widens in coming decades will largely be driven by the degree to which life-long learning is taken seriously by those who wish to improve their economic standing. Those who throw in the towel are certain to struggle financially. But even those who simply go about their day to day activities without challenging themselves – pushing themselves – to learn new things constantly, will see their careers and future livelihoods slip away.
While learning new things like how to cross-stich or how to play golf are certainly worthwhile endeavors, they usually don't help your financial security. Each of us who wants to have a reasonable degree of financial security in the future, needs to commit some of our personal time in the pursuit of personal professional growth. Now, some would argue that personal is personal, and professional is professional, thus, our employer should be responsible for investing in our professional growth, and we can invest in our personal growth on our own time. And, most employers are willing to take on a portion of that ongoing learning, i.e. they are willing to provide time and/or money to those pursuits. But the truth is, those that are unwilling to invest in their own future with their own time, are almost certainly to become increasingly familiar with forced career changes, i.e. layoffs and terminations.
There is no getting around the fact that we are all extremely busy, and finding time for personal career training is a challenge. Here are some things that I have found that help (even though I will confess that I wish I could increase my own investment ten-fold):
- listen to audio books (on CD or iPod) whenever you are driving, getting ready for work (and other times when you would otherwise listen to music)
- spend some time in the library every month (find a Saturday or Sunday when you can go with the kids, or a friend, and just hang out)
- have at least one book (some within your field of work, and some outside of your area of expertise) within your reach at all times, i.e. next to your bed, on your desk, on the coffee table next to where you watch TV, next to your computer, etc. We all experience momentary downtime, and those moments can contribute to your future
- read a futuristic book, or a book that will stretch your thinking about your field, while on vacation
- invest some personal time finding a blogger or two that you respect or that challenges you, and spend five or ten minutes every day reading their blogs
- search engines are one of the most valuable tools ever devised to help expand your knowledge, so when you find yourself curious or stumped by something, contemplating it even for a few seconds, make a quick note to yourself to research it later when you have a minute or two... then do it!
a/b testing can be powerful
By Jeff Thomas - April 12, 2011
Some call it binary testing, others call it A/B testing, but the principal is the same regardless of what you call it. This structured process of constant improvement allows practitioners to methodically change the elements of ads, websites, etc., and pragmatically compare the results.
For example, you could run two ads, ads A & B, in a popular publication, simultaneously for one month, each identical except for the phone number and caption. At the end of the month, compare the number of calls received on each number, and declare a winner (let's say that's ad B). The next month, you run ad B again (exactly as it was but with a new phone number), and a new ad, ad C. Ad C is exactly the same as ad B, but again with a new phone number, and a new caption. At the end of the month, you compare the number of calls received from ad B and ad C, and declare the winner (let's say at B again). Next month, do it again, with ad B and a new ad D.
This is an overly simple example, and you would likely not do something like this, because of the expense of running two print ads, the unpredicatable effects of ad location within the publication, and the cost of all of those phone lines. But, from this example you can begin to see that by methodically changing a single element at a time (in this case the ad caption) and comparing results, your ad continues to improve over time, simply by tossing the lesser-performing ad, and keeping the best.
That's A/B testing. While it sounds simple, it takes time, patience, persistence and a commitment to constant improvement. In the above example, eventually, you are likely to discover that your ad caption is performing optimally (all new ad caption versions perform worse), and you can move on to other changes in the ad (the image, layout, etc.) And ultimately, you'll have an optimized ad that brings you the business.
Where A/B testing is really most viable is in new media advertising, where you can make those changes in minutes, and at little expense. For example, you could have two Google ads running at the same time. At the end of a period of time or number of impressions or clicks, make the determination of which of the two ads is performing the best (the most number of clicks, the highest click-thru rate, or the highest number of conversion), kill the lesser performing ad, and create a new ad.
This simple process is proving to be a HUGE money-making innovation. Another example of A/B testing is to test the effects of changes in label of a buy button on your website. You might discover that changing the button text from CHECKOUT to GET FREE SHIPPING NOW results in a 10% increase in folks actually buying your product, even if you offer free shipping elsewhere in your shopping cart. These small, incremental changes can make the difference between a website that makes money and one the costs.
The mantra for A/B testers is TEST TEST TEST.
on life support
By Jeff Thomas - April 12, 2011
There has been a lot of discussion in the last decade about the supposed death of mass media. The basis for this claim is the belief that the effectiveness of mass media (TV, radio and traditional print publications) has continued to decline as consumers have increasingly employed new technology and turned to the Internet for news, information and entertainment.
There is no doubt that, as the use of DVRs, TiVo, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo! News, etc. continues to skyrocket, mass media marketers are scrambling to figure out how to breathe new life into their financially struggling businesses. So while they may not be dead (yet), many of those historically mammoth media organizations certainly appear to be on life support.
The challenge for advertisers is to understand how these changes effect their approach to marketing. The best alternative is most likely a hybrid approach – one that utilizes mass media (when appropriate), while at the same time exploring the advantages of other media options including Internet advertising, search engine advertising, social media, direct mail, etc. That is likely to require advertisers that have historically relied on traditional mass media to do their homework, and learn at least the basics of these other alternatives, and/or find someone they can trust to help them understand how these tools can benefit them.
The real good news is that competition, even among media alternatives, is a good thing. It has driven down costs (or certainly will eventually, as the formerly mammoth media giants are forced to accept that they have lost much of their audience and effectiveness), and increased choices! If/when the traditional mass media costs get in line with other alternatives and when entrepreneurs (or perhaps even those old media giants) find ways of making the integration and measurement of these alternatives more seamless, that is likely to recessitate mass media, and give advertisers improved opportunities to prosper.
what is a click?
By Jeff Thomas - April 10, 2011
Long before there was a World Wide Web, I was clicking on hyperlinks to navigate HyperCard stacks. HyperCard was Apple Computers' breakthrough product, released in 1987, that was way ahead of its time. For those not familiar with HyperCard, probably the best way to describe it would be Web-meets-PowerPoint. Hypercard used the metaphor of a stack of 3"x5" cards, each of which could contain text and images (and eventually video and animation). One of its most creative technologies was the ability to jump from anywhere within the stack to anywhere else in the stack, simply by clicking on something called hyperlinks. Clicking was a new advent that came with a computer mouse... you see mice were new to desktop computers back then. Hyperlinks would most often be graphical representations of a button, or a clickable word (called hypertext, which usually was underlined).
Today, the world clicks on Web-based hyperlinks billions of times each day. Website developers create websites in such a manner as to allow visitors to click on these hyperlinks to navigate the content of the website. Unfortunately, we most often fail to thoughtfully consider WHY they click.
A click on a hyperlink (whether button, image, or hypertext link) actually constitutes someone looking for the answer to a question.
Historically speaking, website developers were most often computer programmers (that is, of course, changing). Computer programmers, being logical thinkers, and often trained in analysis and design, thoughtfully organized website content into hierarchies, or outlines, by thinking through what the website owner wanted to say or sell and grouping like things together. Those outlines became the navigational hyperlinks that allowed a visitor to make his/her way around the website.
Unfortunately, websites today are still too frequently organized that same way. The problem with employing that method of organizing content is that it fails to acknowledge that visitors have specific questions in their minds that they are hoping the website will answer. So the best way to organize and present website content is to thoughtfully consider what those questions are (and the priority and sequence of those questions), then construct an architecture of answers.
A click isn't just a click, it's a question looking for an answer!
how to win friends and influence
By Jeff Thomas - April 10, 2011
When I was an awkward and gangly teenager, my father, seeing how tortured I was by the usual rejections that often comes with that age, offered me a copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I remember being very upset at the time, but nonetheless, spent the evening reading the book cover to cover. The book made a lasting impression, and I'd like to think, made a difference in how I related to people from that day on.
Website optimization, it occurs to me, is a bit like the lessons taught in that book, one of the all-time best selling books. It is also a bit like my favorite lesson from Zig Ziglar, one of the world's most successful non-fiction authors and public speakers, i.e. You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.
Those profound lessons aimed at living a fulfilling life, both point to the importance of studying others, learning what they want and need, and learning how to speak their language so that you can best help them get it. That's also precisely the best way to create outstanding websites. The challenge is in helping other people get what they want.
It's NOT just an online brochure
By Jeff Thomas - April 08, 2011
We've been developing websites now for, well... really since almost before there was such a thing. Like everyone else, in the olden days (of the 90's) the websites we produced we're pretty much just an online version of a printed brochure – it gave the basic information, the pitch, maybe some photos of products or people receiving the service, and maybe even some pricing. It seemed at the time like it was a pretty cool thing, i.e. saved some trees, saved some money, and made the information available free to anyone who wanted it from anywhere in the world.
It amazes me, though, that all these years later, there are still so many website owners that have not progressed much beyond those good ol' days, still producing websites that are little more than electronic brochures. In spite of our best counsel, we still have clients who (often for budgetary reasons) are stuck in brochure-mode. But today's websites should always DO SOMETHING!
I often tell our clients that they have two choices: Your website can make you money or it can cost you money. Which do you want to do? Then I try to help them see that the choice is really obvious. Some folks instantly see (because of the nature of their product or service) that they can sell their product online. Others, who may not sell low-priced products, often struggle to understand how they can make money on their website. If they offer an off-line service, or sell an expensive product (like a house), they may not readily understand how to make money on their website. That's why it's important to get creative, and explore new ways of doing things – new ways of thinking about transacting business.
Many years ago, I worked for a little company that delivered packages. The founder of the company was known for doing crazy things, and thinking of the parcel service differently. But when we who were in the technology side of the business were told that we needed to ride around in the delivery trucks and figure out how to distribute technology – put it in the couriers' hands, and actually provide an improved service to the customer somehow, well... it all seemed a little crazy. Almost three decades later, virtually every major carrier in the world has copied that technology which we first developed at FedEx. And as consumers, we have come to expect – even demand – that we know precisely where our packages are at all times (something that prior to Fred Smith's visionary notion, was unimaginable!)
So, don't think of your website as a brochure. Think of it as an opportunity to create a new way for your customers to do business with you. Look at the inefficiencies in the relationship you have with your customers or suppliers. Think about how you could improve information flow, reduce inhouse costs, upsell, communicate, etc., then just DO IT!
...but can you measure it?
By Jeff Thomas - April 07, 2011
For decades advertising agencies have heralded their ability to approximate the size and demographics of the audience that would see or hear their clients' ads within any particular advertising venue (publication, station, etc.). That ability is important in being able to compare costs for mass media advertising, and uses a common measurement called cost-per-thousand (CPM), or the cost for every thousand impressions (impressions being the number of folks that could hear or see that ad.)
But have you ever asked an ad man to tell you how well an ad actually worked (at bringing in new business, etc.) so that you, as the advertiser, could determine the return on your investment? Too often, the job of determining ROI has fallen on the advertiser him/herself, by looking at fluctuations in total revenues over time, rather than getting any quantifiable data from your advertising agency. And, truth is, on some level, the ad agency would rather the advertiser NOT know, because, especially these days, mass media often fails to deliver a good return on investment.
Today, if you are considering investing in advertising, you should be asking youself (and/or your prospective ad agency) how will we measure the success of this campaign? And if those responsible for placing those ads can't give you a good answer, STOP... and ask yourself why you are going to spend the money if you won't reasonably be able to determine how well it worked! Because the truth is, today, you should be able to put measurement metrics in place, and have at least SOME ability to determine if your investment is paying off, for almost every form of advertising you could consider.
work should be a joy
By Jeff Thomas - April 05, 2011 (view comments)
My father once confessed that he was a workaholic... but he also quickly added that he came by it honestly, because his father was also a workaholic. My (very understanding and patient) wife, Jill, would probably say something about how the family heritage is still alive and well. But much of what I consider my work ethic actually came from a boss I had when I was only 16 years old. I was afraid of this old man (he wasn't really that old, but when you're afraid of your boss and you are only 16, the boss certainly looks old), but I also respected him. He was a very hard worker himself, working almost until the day that he died, decades later.
Some of the things I learned from him were through harsh admonitions. He often taught me simply by tossing me in over my head and leaving me there to sink or swim. For some reason, I was determined to never disappoint this old man, and sometimes, that meant physically working so hard, and in such extreme conditions, that I would nearly collapse. And you know... I've rarely felt so good in my entire life!
It makes me sad that some people never learn to love their work. I have been very fortunate in my life, but I passionately believe that work is a blessing, and everyone (especially here in the U.S.) should be able to find a way to love their job. One of the things my father taught me was that the company that you work for is not the enemy, but an ally, with shared goals, and shared outcomes. And he taught me that everyone works for someone, and attitude about work is a decision we make, consciously or unconsciously. A favorite line from a movie I have long-enjoyed (John Wayne's McClintock) takes place when The Duke corrected a young hire who commented that McClintock had given him a job. McClintock's response was "Son, I don't give jobs. I hire men!" He later went on to explain that we ALL work for someone, and that HE (as a cattleman) worked for everyone who ever bought a steak.
That's precisely the way everyone should view work, and the way they should approach their job. We all serve someone. The distinguishing question is how well, and with what kind of attitude we will serve.
let's ebay everything!
By Jeff Thomas - April 05, 2011
What if you could bid on ebay for virtually everything you buy?
What if you could buy auto repair services through on online auction? Dentistry maybe? I know that sounds a bit crazy, but if a dentist (or car mechanic) has lots of customer ratings, and still has a 99-100% score, why not?
For those of us that still believe in good old capitalism, online auctions are a great equalizer. They allow even the smallest of companies, offering relatively unknown products and services, to compete with industry giants. The skeptics would quickly point out that price isn't everything. But that ignores the value of having access to customer reviews and quality scores. And NOBODY HAS TO BUY ANYTHING (assuming there are still folks out there that are offering fixed prices for their car repair and dentistry)... it would just be an option. Certainly, buyer beware is the name of the game, but that's really the way it's supposed to work anyway, is it not?
I've had some terrible automotive repair transactions, and I'm STILL ticked off about a hack-job root canal I had done 20 years ago... so what's the worst that could happen?
Now... some may be asking the question... am I (Jeff Thomas, President and CEO of 30dps) willing to put my money where my mouth is? Well... email me your bid on some branding or website services with 30dps, and find out! (notice: I may have a reserve)
focus on conversion rates
By Jeff Thomas - April 04, 2011
Industry statistics show that 1-2% is the industry norm for online conversion rates, i.e. only one or two out of 100 visitors do what they came there to do. Shouldn't we be asking ourselves WHY? When someone walks into a brick and mortar store, the percentage of those who buy is somewhere in excess of 40%—so why do we settle for such low online conversion rates? Heck, setting aside the lost revenue implications for a second, what a shame it is to disappoint so many visitors.
Owners may be frustrated with the poor profitability of their website, but lack the understanding or even the vocabulary to properly express the concern to their web developer. And the truth is, depending upon the relationship the owner has with their website developer (in-house or outsourced), the website developer may have no interest or stake in ensuring the website is effective, i.e. they may have already moved on. But more often than not, the real problem is that mainstream website developers simply don't have a real understanding of conversion optimization, so even if they want to make things better, their chances of tangible and predictable success are minimal. As a result, most of their (largely futile) efforts are based upon hunches, personal opinion, or anecdotal evidence.
Over the next few years, the gulf between the websites that perform and those that don't (and, as a result, often times, the companies that perform and those that don't) will be determined by the website owners' investment in conversion optimization.
the website traffic conspiracy
By Jeff Thomas - April 03, 2011 (view comments)
Okay, maybe it's not really a "conspiracy" but there are certainly a lot of folks who would like you to believe that the most important key to building a successful website is to drive/increase traffic. Those who are the most adamant about the importance of driving traffic often have a lot to gain from this emphasis, e.g. Google, SEO/SEA firms, etc. If these companies can convince you that the best way to profit from your website is to increase traffic, they profit, i.e. paying for Google advertising or agency fees to improve SEO, whether you profit or not.
Now on the surface, it is obvious that the more customers you can drive to your website, the more profitable your website will be. However, if your website design and content organization is such that you only convert a small portion of those visiting your website into paying customers, then driving additional traffic may be the most expensive way to increase the business generated by your website. What if you focused your time, attention and money on giving those that are already coming to your website a superior experience, and made it easy for them to do business with you?