What is innovation?

Thinking about innovative ideasInnovation defined.

Not surprisingly, innovation means different things to different people.  In one case, your audience might be thinking of a large, breakthrough change in technology or in the way an employee or consumer functions in their daily lives.  To someone else, an innovation may be a small step that seems small to the producer but makes a big change in enhancing the user experience.  In another case, it might be a small change that doesn’t appear to make allot of difference but over the long run and with additional changes makes a big difference. It could also mean a change in system or procedure that affects the employees in your company.  This list could go on and on.

If you read anywhere there’s lots of discussion about innovation to the point where the term seems overused.  So when you talk about innovation, it is a good idea to start by defining what innovation means to you and ask what it means to your audience, what the purpose of a new innovation might be and what lengths you or your customer is  interested or willing to go to incorporate a new innovation.

As an innovator, I hope for and work towards breakthrough innovation.  However, in tough economic times, innovation may require too much risk and expense for an organization.  It is also not uncommon for customers to resist change and therefore companies have a difficult time innovating product changes even if it is clearly a benefit to the customer.

So instead of dreaming about the next big thing for your product incorporate a step-by-step plan to develop and implement the innovation.  Focus on smaller changes and make changes easier to implement and easier for the customer to accept.  Use inexpensive and small experiments to test your new ideas. For example, add or make a small product improvement and test that improvement by watching users try the new feature.  Then evaluate how well, how significant, and how beneficial the audience considers this change to be.  Is it worth the money if the innovation affects your product’s price or the time needed for your customers to learn how to use the new feature?

In many cases, difficult economic times require product innovations that are easily adapted and cannot require a large investment either by the company or the consumer.

If you want to have the best possible outcome, have a plan for product innovation or for a major innovation as a series of palatable building blocks that moves toward and reaches your bigger goal. This approach, if the innovation is beneficial and is communicated that way,  should be met with less resistance from either  the company itself, company employees or their consumers.   This approach will allow for a smoother transition and incorporation of the innovation.

 

 

 

Why is a content strategy really necessary?

network-star-crop-527Because it is the foundation of your marketing program and by creating quality branded content and posting that across your applicable media outlets you can deliver a consistent message which provides your customers and potential customers with engaging material and value added information. This is not only valuable for your target but also for your company. Advantages are many including a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases sales and the ability to save money and time in the creation of marketing materials.

How do I build a content strategy?

Here is a step by step approach.

1. Outline objectives
First, conduct an audit of your current content strategy program. Is the graphic identity as well as message consistent? Is it the image you want to portray? Does it communicate your unique selling proposition? Is is geared to your target audience? When you have a clear picture of what you are currently doing you can start to evaluate weak areas and needs. Start by defining the over reaching content strategy objectives and then take each media outlet you are using and define the specific objective for each medium.

2. Define your audience(s)
Do you have a good idea of who your target audience is? What do they want to hear? What does this audience need or want from your company? What content would benefit the target as well as your company? This is a time to set objectives that will provide a focus as well as positive results. Include how you are going to measure the success of each program. Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors. Where does your target audience get information about the category that you are involved in?

3. Consider targeting opportunities
Targeting different types of customer through segmented content can make the process much more efficient and cost-effective, so consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content. But if you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This can be as simple as utilizing a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more sophisticated, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Establish your distribution strategy
How will your content reach your customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there are a huge range of channels to choose from. If you don’t trust the accuracy of your customer database (or you don’t have one), consider buying a list that matches the profile of your customers.

5. Establish measurements
Having regular, high-quality content can be a significant investment of time and money for your company, so establish benchmarks for success based on your objectives. Your objective should include measurable results. If you can plan or estimate how this approach will benefit the bottom line or the brand image of your company. You then need establish a workable budget. Next, get internal buy-in from all relevant departments, especially if you are expecting them to contribute to the budget.

6. Consider contracting with a content marketing agency
Very few client companies have the resources or expertise to create effective content in-house, so you may need to hire an outside agency. Be specific with the agency on what you are looking for and include the items that are important to you and your company including project criteria and potential working budget. Choose wisely not every consulting content marketing agency will fit your needs. Invite several to meet with and learn about all their services and what they can offer your company. For more information on selecting and working with an outside agency read blog post.

7. Create content
Once an agency has been selected, as them to provide a full content plan for your approval before they start creating any content. At these initial meetings you should agree to a communication plan between you and the agency including working arrangements, deciding such issues as how you want the content to be presented and who will approve the content within your organization.

8. Agree to a launch strategy
Do you have a launch date in mind. Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion. Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience.

9. Launch systematically
Take the time to launch systematically-just in case there is something that you did not anticipate.

10. Debrief/Evaluate
With the introduction of the launch and initial results gathered, you and your agency should now have a debrief meeting in which you go over all aspects of the content. With any new information and feedback, your agency can then start on the next phase of the campaign. Meanwhile, review your targeting strategy and ensure any internal results or opinions are communicated to your agency.

11. Move forward!!

 

10 tips for selecting an outside vendor

IMG_0164Throughout my career, I have hired and worked with outside consultants and freelancers and have had, for the most part, positive and workable experiences and successful project outcomes.

Here are 10 tips for selecting an outside vendor.

1. Define the project, the scope and rough schedule.

Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any vendor.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can provide clear, complete information to your selected vendor and this will in turn help you get more specific information from them.

Be realistic about schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job.

2. Interview the vendor.

Ask questions—lots of questions.  You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people that not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too.  Then request that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process.  Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

3. Look for specific experience fit

Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

4. Review the vendor’s work

Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews.  Make sure that your expectations regarding style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and manner are applicable to what you want and need.

5. Confirm who will be doing the work

Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay.  But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved.  Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a printer.  But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced.  If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

6. Test

If you can, start with a small, simple project.  That way you can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what you need.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project.  This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

7. An agreed to schedule

By this point, you have defined with your provider a working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals.  This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points.

If any course corrections need to be made you will have adequate time to make those and you won’t be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late.  My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

8.  Final product ownership

For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are providing.

9.  Define what you expect as far as any ongoing support

During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes?  If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications.  That seemingly little detail  can save you time and money later.

10. Get everything in writing

Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to price, schedule, criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement.  Save email, text or any other exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member.  There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.

8 Steps to Identifying Relevant Marketing Content

people-target-fullsize-960What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is an ongoing process that involves creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.

The primary objective is to attract current and potential consumers to engage, take action and support your product or service by sales and positive referrals and reviews.

Content marketing is not only an art but a creative process that provides relevant communication to your customers and prospects without overtly selling and potentially driving the consumer away. Instead of talking only about your products or services, you deliver information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, consumers ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

To identify relevant content, I recommend using an 8 step content mapping approach that defines a process to gather appropriate, relevant information for the purposes of identifying and implementing the right content.

8 step content mapping process

Step 1.  Identify key personas.

In a previous post, I identified key identifiers for your target persona.  These identifiers include title, time in job, works with, daily tasks, responsibilities, likes as well as dislikes, frustrations, pressures, needs, activities, emotional mindset and role in buying process. For more information regarding identifiers refer to my previous blog post on building personas.

Step 2. Information/questions

What information or questions is the persona or personas, identified in step 1,  asking at each stage of the buying process?  The buying process includes 6 steps–awareness, interest, research, desire, user and finally evangelism.

Step 3.  What are the answers to their questions?

What answers can you provide for each of the questions identified?  Answer specifically and in depth those questions you anticipate your persona to be asking.

Step 4.  Review

Carefully look at your answers and identify what value added information you can provide that would be beneficial to your persona.   How are the products or services you provide able to tie into this process?

Step 5.  Map

Now take the time to mind map this information and see what content you have available or could research that would help your persona answer their questions and learn more in the process.  Take this time to identify steps to answering the questions-if the questions have multiple parts to the answer.

Step 6.  Research and Analyze

Look for places where more information is needed. Look at areas where you might be missing content.  Research and find answers to the holes in the content.

Step 7.  Create

Start creating content to fill the holes, answer the questions and add value to your customers with your product or service.

Step 8.  Evaluate

Keep track of the content you provide and evaluate analytically what benefit this information provided your company.

As with anything, this process takes time, effort and work but is well worth doing.

Building Personas– Part 1

people-network-blue-960x300What information should be included in developing a complete ideal persona?

 

Recently a client asked me to create a persona of their company’s key buyers.  He wanted to focus on the small percentage of consumers that spend the most and prove to be great advocates when talking about and working with his company.

Because this practice was new to the company, I started with a profile template that is familiar to me.  There are a number of persona templates available online and any would provide information needed.  However, some are more complex then others and can be a deterrent to getting the persona done and functional.

The first step included outlining the types of information that are helpful in the persona.  The second step was taking the template and talking to key buyers and advocates for this company.  In our exercise, we were able to fill in much of the information and only asked  customers about information not readily available or we weren’t sure about.

Information to include in a persona.

•    Title–If your major buyers work in small companies you may find that titles are a thing of the past.  So while identifying a specific title may be difficult, you can specify function which is still a valid selection.
•    Time in the job–How long have they been at their present job and how long have they been in the field?  This is a good indication of the group to target.
•    Who do they work with directly?  Who do they work with indirectly?
•    Responsibilities and daily tasks.  What are the daily job tasks and what are their key responsibilities?
•    Likes/dislikes include items relating to their job as well as personal likes/dislikes.  Review things this audience might appreciate during the sales process and things that they will definitely dislike if included in the sales process.
•    Frustrations and Concerns include both personal and job frustrations and concerns.
•    Pressures.  Again include both job and personal pressures.
•    Needs.  What needs is this person looking to fill both tangible and intangible.
•    Role in buying process and at what stage does the persona get involved.–The buying process consists of 6 stages.  Those stages are awareness, interest, research, desire, user and evangelist.  Which stage or stages is your persona involved in?
•    Key Drivers–What drives this persona to make the buying decision for your company’s products or services?  Include both tangible and intangible.

Once you have this information it helps to come up with a name and image.  Having a name and image of the persona helps all team members to think of this buyer as a real person.  I like to have the image available for meetings.  Or, as Steve Jobs did, designate an empty chair where the key persona joins in during meetings.

Remember that in the buyer persona, we are trying to learn who this person is both at a rational and emotional level.  We often make buying decisions by rationalizing our decisions but the emotional component is a strong influencer of behavior and should be studied.

Creating a name, image and persona is a bit like getting to know a friend so you can really understand your key customers.