Social, video, and messaging apps now occupy a fair share of the content landscape — but with over 3.5 billion searches per day on Google alone, search is a channel marketers still can’t afford to ignore.
Over the last ten years or so, it feels like we’ve figured out a pretty standard content formula: publish a large volume of content to target long-tail keywords, and convert that organic traffic into leads via gated content offers.
But this way of thinking about content has hit a wall. Search has changed, and it’s time content did too.
There are two big ways search has changed in recent years:
Let’s dive into each.
Back in 2006, search behavior was relatively simplistic. We typed at search engines with queries like, “Restaurants Boston,” rather than talking to them conversationally.
Today, the average search query goes something like, “Where is the best place to eat near me right now?”.
In fact, in May 2016 Google CEO, Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of queries on mobile and Android are voice searches.
Regardless of whether you type or use voice search, longer, more-conversational queries have become standard.
In a study conducted by Ahrefs of search volume by keyword length, they found 64% of searches are four words or more. And the rise of conversational search is only making this search pattern more prevalent.
Source: Ahrefs long-tail keyword study
This isn’t because we’ve suddenly become comfortable talking to robots. It’s largely because the quality of results that search engines serve has substantially improved, along with the quantity of content.
We’ve learned the playbook and have published so much content, some marketers say we’ve hit “content shock,” and that producing content at this rate is no longer sustainable.
"While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not."
While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not. Sure, there are individual publishers and sites that create amazing content you probably consume regularly. But for the most part, a lot of content published today doesn’t contribute much to the conversation.
In addition to our search behavior, the general way we use the internet to interact with sites has changed. We’ve shifted from desktop-based PCs, to mobile laptops, to smartphones as mini-computers in the palm of our hands.
Readers are skimming content and searching for quick answers. The emergence of messaging also means visitors are less likely to fill out a lengthy form. This has natural consequences on how we think about our content to build an audience, brand, and ultimately generate leads.
We’re going to focus on Google-specific updates here, since between their core search, image search, and YouTube, they collectively control 90% of the search market.
When Google first popped up on the scene, the way they returned results was to essentially deconstruct queries into their fundamental pieces — meaning individual keywords that appeared — and serve results based on exact matches. At that time, marketers who stuffed matching keywords into content would naturally rank for the query, until Google started adjusting their algorithm.
If we go back just a few years, we can see a rich history that leads us to the search experience we have today, and we can uncover lessons that apply to our own content strategies.
Let’s walk through three of the most important Google search updates and how they impact your strategy.
Penguin Algorithm Update — Rolled out April 24, 2012.
This algorithm update was designed to penalize “webspam” and sites that were over-optimized using black-hat SEO techniques. Webspam –such as keyword stuffing and link schemes — was penalized in this update, with 3.1% of English search queries impacted.
In the official Penguin announcement, Google described a blog post that was written about fitness and had relevant content. But within the post, there were also completely irrelevant links to payday loans and other sites. This form of random keyword stuffing is a perfect example of an SEO tactic that was likely impacted by Penguin.
The takeaway: Include relevant links and keywords in your content, but don’t overdo it. While there’s no magical number that’s right or wrong, look at your content through the lens of a reader and make a judgment call if it’s too much.
Hummingbird Algorithm Update — Announced on August 20, 2013.
Based on what we know, this was a core algorithm update that focused on improving semantic search. As search becomes more conversational, Hummingbird is now the core algorithm interpreting these queries and translating them into meaningful results.
For example, if you search for “what’s the best place to buy an iPhone 7 near my home?” a traditional algorithm before Hummingbird would have taken each individual keyword and looked for matches. With Hummingbird, Google began to look at the meaning behind these words and translate them into a better result.
Digging into that example query above, “place” means you’re looking for a store you can physically go to, instead of a website you can buy from. Hummingbird looks at the entire query and attempts to understand the meaning behind the words used to return relevant results.
The takeaway: We now search the way we talk. Focusing only on keywords means you’re likely missing out on traffic from conversational search. Start thinking about clustering your content into topics, and adjusting the way you create content with pillar pages.
RankBrain Algorithm Update — Announced on October 26, 2015.
In October 2015, Google announced that machine learning, via RankBrain, had been a part of their algorithm for months and is now the third most influential ranking factor.
It’s important to understand that there are over 200 ranking signals when Google evaluates a page. When RankBrain was announced, it immediately became the third most-important factor Google uses to determine rank.
So, what does RankBrain do? At a basic level, this algorithm helps interpret searches to find pages that might not have the exact words searched for. For example, if you search for “sneakers,” Google understands that you might have meant “running shoes” and incorporates that factor into results.
Although Google begun to understand synonyms between words prior to this update, RankBrain propelled that understanding forward and truly brought a focus on topic-based content to the forefront.
The takeaway: Searchers are likely discovering your content even though they don’t use exact keywords. When you combine this update with Hummingbird, the evidence is clear that we need to shift how we think about, plan, and create content.
Based on our search behavior, and the search technology updates, the playbook for content needs to change. The same formula we used for the past ten years might still generate moderate results, but it will not help us adjust to the way potential buyers are searching for our content today, or the way search works.
No — keywords are still very relevant today. Yet many marketers solely rely on keywords to inform their content strategy. With the search behavior and technology changes we’ve discussed, your future playbook must be based on the overall topics that match the intent of a searcher, and the specific keywords they use.
For example, if you want help companies redesign websites, then you would naturally want to appear on a search engine results page for the keyword “website redesign.” In this case, “website redesign” is the overall topic. But some users might be really be searching for “redesign existing website”, which is essentially the same query with different keywords.
With this shift in search technology, search behavior, and how we interact with content, the way we make content to attract users has to change.
Here are core tenets of the new playbook to help you adjust:
The new content playbook is comprised of three parts: overall topics that you want to be known for organized into clusters, pillar content, and subtopic content. This model can helps you establish areas of influence into overall topics, and a solid information architecture at the same time.
As Matt Barby, Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot, explains:
“The basic premise behind building a content program in topic clusters is to enable a deeper coverage across a range of core topic areas, whilst creating an efficient information architecture in the process.”
Instead of thinking about every variation of exact keywords, think about the topics you want to be known for, and the content you create will deeply cover that topic. Then, within this topic-based content, include relevant keywords. To explain this further, let’s break down topic vs. keyword in the table below.
An overall topic cluster is represented with a comprehensive piece of content at the center (called pillar content) and then surrounded by subtopic content. Visually it looks like this:
A topic cluster should be specific to the topic you want to be known for and should be short — ideally between two and four words.
For example, at HubSpot “inbound marketing” is a topic cluster, and we have pillar content dedicated to describing the methodology. You can have numerous topic clusters across your site for as many topics as are relevant to your company.
Pillar content is central to this new strategy. It is typically comprised of a single page — such as a website or landing page — that offers a comprehensive view of the topic.
If you have a lot of content, this page might already exist on your site. If not, or you want to expand into a new topic, check-out this decision tree to help decide when to create a new piece of pillar content.
There are a three key aspects of pillar content that you should consider:
Subtopic content should be related to your pillar content. It centers around the same overall topic, but should answer longer, more niche questions. These can take the form of blog posts or site pages, and should contain a text link that points back to the pillar content.
This hyperlink helps signal to search engines that all of this content is related. With all of your subtopic content pointing towards the pillar, it builds authority within your site.
Here’s an example of what this could look like for your website:
This new approach helps you attract more traffic from broad topics, and still captures long-tail keyword based traffic as well. It’s a solution that is better for your visitors, and allows you to provide answers they expect to find without encountering technology hurdles.
The best content will be remarkable, comprehensive, and organized in this structure to not only help search crawlers discover their content, but naturally provide answers to topic-based queries. Content creation has evolved over the past few years, and is now hitting an inflection point where another major evolution is happening right before our eyes.
As marketers, it’s up to us to create valuable content people actually want. Content that is helpful, human, and easily found.
Ultimately you want to achieve your goals — whether that’s increasing traffic, leads, or MQLs — but it all begins with content that matches the way people search, and the way search engines work today.
So why, oh why, does almost every marketer I talk to have a laundry list of excuses for why they can’t consistently blog? Maybe because, unless you’re one of the few people who actually like writing, business blogging kind of stinks. You have to find words, string them together into sentences, and ughhh where do you even start?
Well my friend, the time for excuses is over.
After you read this post, there will be absolutely no reason you can’t blog every single day — and do it quickly. Not only am I about to provide you with a simple blogging formula to follow, but I’m also going to give you free templates for creating five different types of blog posts:
With all this blogging how-to, literally anyone can blog as long as they truly know the subject matter they’re writing about. And since you’re an expert in your industry, there’s no longer any reason you can’t sit down every day and hammer out an excellent blog post.
Before you start to write, have a clear understanding of your target audience. What do they want to know about? What will resonate with them? This is where creating your buyer personas comes in handy. Consider what you know about your buyer personas and their interests while you’re coming up with a topic for your blog post.
For instance, if your readers are millennials looking to start their own business, you probably don’t need to provide them with information about getting started in social media — most of them already have that down. You might, however, want to give them information about how to adjust their approach to social media from a more casual, personal one to a more business-savvy, networking-focused approach. That kind of tweak is what separates you from blogging about generic stuff to the stuff your audience really wants (and needs) to hear.
Don’t have buyer personas in place for your business? Here are a few resources to help you get started:
Before you even write anything, you need to pick a topic for your blog post. The topic can be pretty general to start with. For example, if you’re a plumber, you might start out thinking you want to write about leaky faucets. Then you might come up with a few different working titles — in other words, iterations or different ways of approaching that topic to help you focus your writing. For example, you might decide to narrow your topic to “Tools for Fixing Leaky Faucets” or “Common Causes of Leaky Faucets.” A working title is specific and will guide your post so you can start writing.
Let’s take a real post as an example: “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.” Appropriate, right? The topic, in this case, was probably simply “blogging.” Then the working title may have been something like, “The Process for Selecting a Blog Post Topic.” And the final title ended up being “How to Choose a Solid Topic for Your Next Blog Post.”
See that evolution from topic, to working title, to final title? Even though the working title may not end up being the final title (more on that in a moment), it still provides enough information so you can focus your blog post on something more specific than a generic, overwhelming topic.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, check out this blog post from my colleague Ginny Soskey. In this post, Soskey walks through a helpful process for turning one idea into many. Similar to the “leaky faucet” example above, she suggests that you “iterate off old topics to come up with unique and compelling new topics.” This can be done by:
We’ve written more specifically about writing captivating introductions in the post, “How to Write an Introduction,” but let’s review, shall we?
First, grab the reader’s attention. If you lose the reader in the first few paragraphs — or even sentences — of the introduction, they will stop reading even before they’ve given your post a fair shake. You can do this in a number of ways: tell a story or a joke, be empathetic, or grip the reader with an interesting fact or statistic.
Then describe the purpose of the post and explain how it will address a problem the reader may be having. This will give the reader a reason to keep reading and give them a connection to how it will help them improve their work/lives. Here’s an example of a post that we think does a good job of attracting a reader’s attention right away:
Sometimes, blog posts can have an overwhelming amount of information — for the reader and the writer. The trick is to organize the info so readers are not intimidated by the length or amount of content. The organization can take multiple forms — sections, lists, tips, whatever’s most appropriate. But it must be organized!
Let’s take a look at the post, “How to Use Snapchat: A Detailed Look Into HubSpot’s Snapchat Strategy.“There is a lot of content in this post, so we broke it into a few different sections using the following headers: How to Setup Your Snapchat Account, Snaps vs. Stories: What’s the Difference?, and How to Use Snapchat for Business. These sections are then separated into sub-sections that to go into more detail and also make the content easier to read.
To complete this step, all you really need to do is outline your post. That way, before you start writing, you know which points you want to cover, and the best order in which to do it. To make things even easier, you can also download and use our free blog post templates, which are pre-organized for five of the most common blog post types. Just fill in the blanks!
The next step — but not the last — is actually writing the content. We couldn’t forget about that, of course.
Now that you have your outline/template, you’re ready to fill in the blanks. Use your outline as a guide and be sure to expand on all of your points as needed. Write about what you already know, and if necessary, do additional research to gather more information, examples, and data to back up your points, providing proper attribution when incorporating external sources. Need help finding accurate and compelling data to use in your post? Check out this roundup of sources — from Pew Research to Google Trends.
If you find you’re having trouble stringing sentences together, you’re not alone. Finding your “flow” can be really challenging for a lot of folks. Luckily, there are a ton of tools you can lean on to help you improve your writing. Here are a few to get you started:
For a complete list of tools for improving your writing skills, check out this post. And if you’re looking for more direction, the following resources are chock-full of valuable writing advice:
You’re not quite done yet, but you’re close! The editing process is an important part of blogging — don’t overlook it. Ask a grammar-conscious co-worker to copy, edit, and proofread your post, and consider enlisting the help of The Ultimate Editing Checklist. And if you’re looking to brush up on your own self-editing skills, turn to these helpful posts for some tips and tricks to get you started:
When you’re ready to check your formatting, keep the following advice in mind …
Make sure you choose a visually appealing and relevant image for your post. As social networks treat content with images more prominently, visuals are now more responsible than ever for the success of your blog content in social media. In fact, it’s been shown that content with relevant images receives 94% more views than content without relevant images.
For help selecting an image for your post, read “How to Select the Perfect Image for Your Next Blog Post” — and pay close attention to the section about copyright law.
No one likes an ugly blog post. And it’s not just pictures that make a post visually appealing — it’s the formatting and organization of the post, too.
In a properly formatted and visually appealing blog post, you’ll notice that header and sub-headers are used to break up large blocks of text — and those headers are styled consistently. Here’s an example of what that looks like:
Also, screenshots should always have a similar, defined border (see screenshot above for example) so they don’t appear as if they’re floating in space. And that style should stay consistent from post to post.
Maintaining this consistency makes your content (and your brand) look more professional, and makes it easier on the eyes.
Tags are specific, public-facing keywords that describe a post. They also allow readers to browse for more content in the same category on your blog. Refrain from adding a laundry list of tags to each post. Instead, put some thought into a tagging strategy. Think of tags as “topics” or “categories,” and choose 10-20 tags that represent all the main topics you want to cover on your blog. Then stick to those.
At the end of every blog post, you should have a CTA that indicates what you want the reader to do next — subscribe to your blog, download an ebook, register for a webinar or event, read a related article, etc. Typically, you think about the CTA being beneficial for the marketer. Your visitors read your blog post, they click on the CTA, and eventually you generate a lead. But the CTA is also a valuable resource for the person reading your content — use your CTAs to offer more content similar to the subject of the post they just finished reading.
In the blog post, “What to Post on Instagram: 18 Photo & Video Ideas to Spark Inspiration,” for instance, readers are given actionable ideas for creating valuable Instagram content. At the end of the post is a CTA referring readers to download a comprehensive guide on how to use Instagram for business:
See how that’s a win-win for everyone? Readers who want to learn more have the opportunity to do so, and the business receives a lead they can nurture … who may even become a customer! Learn more about how to choose the right CTA for every blog post in this article. And check out this collection of clever CTAs to inspire your own efforts.
After you finish writing, go back and optimize your post for search.
Don’t obsess over how many keywords to include. If there are opportunities to incorporate keywords you’re targeting, and it won’t impact reader experience, do it. If you can make your URL shorter and more keyword-friendly, go for it. But don’t cram keywords or shoot for some arbitrary keyword density — Google’s smarter than that!
Here’s a little reminder of what you can and should look for:
Meta descriptions are the descriptions below the post’s page title on Google’s search results pages. They provide searchers with a short summary of the post before clicking into it. They are ideally between 150-160 characters and start with a verb, such as “Learn,” “Read,” or “Discover.” While meta descriptions no longer factor into Google’s keyword ranking algorithm, they do give searchers a snapshot of what they will get by reading the post and can help improve your clickthrough rate from search.
Most blogging software uses your post title as your page title, which is the most important on-page SEO element at your disposal. But if you’ve followed our formula so far, you should already have a working title that will naturally include keywords/phrases your target audience is interested in. Don’t over-complicate your title by trying to fit keywords where they don’t naturally belong. That said, if there are clear opportunities to add keywords you’re targeting to your post title and headers, feel free to take them. Also, try to keep your headlines short — ideally, under 65 characters — so they don’t get truncated in search engine results.
Anchor text is the word or words that link to another page — either on your website or on another website. Carefully select which keywords you want to link to other pages on your site, because search engines take that into consideration when ranking your page for certain keywords.
It’s also important to consider which pages you link to. Consider linking to pages that you want to rank well for that keyword. You could end up getting it to rank on Google’s first page of results instead of its second page, and that ain’t small potatoes.
With mobile devices now accounting for nearly 2 out of every 3 minutes spent online, having a website that is responsive or designed for mobile has become more and more critical. In addition to making sure your website’s visitors (including your blog’s visitors) have the best experience possible, optimizing for mobile will score your website some SEO points.
Back in 2015, Google made a change to its algorithm that now penalizes sites that aren’t mobile optimized. This month (May 2016), Google rolled out their second version of the mobile-friendly algorithm update — creating a sense of urgency for the folks that have yet to update their websites. To make sure your site is getting the maximum SEO benefit possible, check out this free guide: How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Website: SEO Tips for a Post-“Mobilegeddon” World.
Last but not least, it’s time to spruce up that working title of yours. Luckily, we have a simple formula for writing catchy titles that will grab the attention of your reader. Here’s what to consider:
If you’ve mastered the steps above, learn about some way to take your blog posts to the next level in this post. What other steps do you take to refine your blog posts? Don’t forget to download your five free blog post templates right here.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Messenger opened its doors to developers with an invitation to create chatbots — something of which roughly 78% of online adults were unaware.
Within six months, developers had created about 30,000 active Messenger bots. Today, less than a year later, that number is up 233%, with 100,000 active bots on the platform.
But it’s not just a popular, funky thing to do. Businesses using chatbots are seeing results, like Sephora, which reportedly earns “an average spend of over $50 from clients who have booked an in-store service via its Messenger assistant,” according to VentureBeat.
In case you’re wondering what the heck a chatbot actually is, though, here’s the condensed definition: A bot is nothing more than a computer program that automates certain tasks, typically by chatting with a user through a conversational interface.
There’s a vast range of chatbots. They can be rule-based, or powered by artificial intelligence (AI), both of which will drastically change the process of developing one. And if you’re looking to formulate your own chatbot strategy — from building the bot from scratch to promoting it and getting customers to use it — we’ve developed a basic framework for just that.
Read on, and let’s start building.
Ultimately, the purpose of a bot is to provide a service people actually want to use — time and time again. No bot is meant to do everything, so when you set out to create your own, think of an existing problem that it can fix in a more efficient way.
While there are many types of chatbots, if you’re building one for the first time, you’ll likely want to choose from the following two options:
As the name suggests, these bots provide users with a new format of information consumption. For example, breaking news bots send developing stories as the information becomes available. TechCrunch has a bot of that nature — check it out below:
These bots are automated to complete tasks and answer questions. In other words, they solve a user’s problem or inquiry via a chat transaction. Customer service bots might immediately come to mind here, but a growing number of utility bots are being built for purposes like booking appointments or shopping online. One of our personal favorites is TacoBot: Taco Bell’s still-in-development bot that allows people to order food via Slack. Join the waitlist here, and check out the preview:
Source: Taco Bell
Earlier, we provided examples of bots that live on Messenger and Slack, respectively. And while those are two very popular options, there are many more available — for example, Kik and Viber.
Your chatbot’s “home” will largely depend on who’s using what. You’ll want to aim for the apps with an audience that matches the one you’re trying to reach. Slack, for example, tends to be more business-focused, so productivity bots are particularly helpful there.
Sephora is a great example. While the brand has bots on both Messenger and Kik, each one functions differently. The Messenger version is used for customer service, feedback, and booking makeovers:
The Kik version, on the other hand, is designed to help users find products and makeup tips:
Most messenger apps have tools and documents to help developers build bots — for example, Messenger has an entire library of resources here.
However, there are numerous platforms that can also help you build your bot — in some cases, without a lot of coding required. Here are a few that we recommend:
Remember when we mentioned the importance of matching your bot’s home with the audience you’re trying to reach? Well, we have a similar guiding principle for your bot’s personality: It should match your brand.
One of our favorite examples here is Pegg, a financial assistant designed for startups and small businesses — but speaking as someone who recently returned from vacation, it’s helpful for anyone trying to track their spending. And while finance isn’t something that’s usually associated with a fun, playful voice, Pegg’s bot, HelloPegg, flips that connotation on its head with a cute logo and friendly voice.
When you begin creating your chatbot, the platform you’re using should provide options on how to build out conversations. Usually, this is by way of providing the user with drag-and-drop or multiple choice responses, or frontloading the bot with if/then statements. For example, with the HelloPegg app above, the if/then flow might look like this:
If the user begins the sentence with, “Spent” — then respond with, “Who did you pay?”
It’s a way of building a series of questions that are dependent on certain input criteria from the user to reach a given response or solution. Remember, a bot is supposed to be able to understand intent and deliver a solution in the most efficient way possible — that’s the main point of building a conversational strategy. Unlike a type form, for example, not every user can receive the same questions, and each answer the user gives should alter the following question to make the conversation as productive as possible.
Chatbots don’t necessarily need to be loquacious — they serve the purpose solving real problems from real people with the same (or better) ability as a human.
Things like buttons, cards, or other UI elements can be helpful here. For example, when chatting with a friend on Messenger, you might notice that the app prompts you to do certain things, depending on what you’ve typed in — like when I used it to wish my colleague, Eric Peters, a happy birthday.
To help you build out these various pieces, we created the conversational framework below.
Finally, you’ll need to set up your chatbot’s ability to process the natural language that most users will input — meaning, the conversational vernacular that we use day-to-day. For example, “People don’t typically chat using words like ‘affirmative’ and ‘negative’,” explains HubSpot Senior Manager of Web Development Dmitry Shamis. “They say things like ‘yup’ and ‘nah, playa’ so natural language processing allows your bot to understand the underlying message and sentiment of those words.”
The way to do this varies with each platform, so depending on what you’re using to create the bot, going about this step will vary.
Once you’ve reached this step, you’ve likely finished building your bot. Now, it’s time to connect it to the app where you want it to live.
Many of the resources we listed in section 3 will allow you to do this within the same platform you used to build the bot. Both Motion AI and Chatfuel, for instance, have buttons in the interface that allow you to simply attach your bot directly to your Messenger page. But before you commit to those options, make sure you do thorough research to make sure you won’t be expected to pay any fees to the platform in the case that your bot sees a high level of success.
There are a few tools available to help you do this, one of which is the Recast.ai Bot Connector. It’s integrated with a number of apps, including Kik, Messenger, and Slack. It’s open source and free — check out the instructions for getting started here.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve finished a project of which I’m particularly proud, I’m impatient to share it with the world. But as much as we want to get our work out into the hands of the adoring masses, it’s imperative to make sure it works — especially with something as highly customer-facing and interacting as a chatbot.
That’s why we recommend forming a beta group to test the bot before it’s launched for public consumption. That can be internal or external — here at HubSpot, for example, we often test new products and features by sharing them with our colleagues and asking them to check for functionality, quality, and bugs.
But whoever you choose to test your chatbot, make sure they’re not afraid to give you their honest feedback. In order to fix a mistake, it needs to be unabashedly pointed out to you first.
Once your chatbot has been thoroughly QA’d and de-bugged, it’s time to release it to the public — and, of course, promote it.
There are several ways to go about the latter, but for the sake of keeping your strategy focused, we recommend the following steps to get started.
Not every app will have a listing like this, but if you’re using one that does, make sure your app is included. (For example, here’s Slack’s.) Otherwise, look to third-party directories like BotList or Bot Finder for such listings.
For us, there’s often nothing more frustrating than catching wind of a great chatbot and being unable to find a dedicated website for it. That’s why we encourage you to create a dedicated, central page to explain the purpose, features, and where to find/install your chatbot to avoid any difficulty finding it, or other confusion.
TOPBOTS marketing and strategy specialist Adelyn Zhou emphasizes the importance of such a page. “A dedicated landing page for your bot gives users the option to first read and understand your distinct value add,” she writes on Medium. “Without the introduction, you’re leaving them to deduce your functionality by themselves.”
Many emails include CTAs and icons for the reader to follow the sender on social media. Now, you can also add an option for your audience to engage with you via chatbot, by including icons for Messenger and Slack, for example.
Before you begin, remember: The hardest part of this process is not building your chatbot.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you re-read the steps above, you’ll see that while the actual bot buildout isn’t without its challenges, it doesn’t present the most difficulty. Rather, the hardest part is improving your conversational strategy over time — based on how actual humans are interacting with it.
Even after you’ve completed the steps we’ve outlined, your work won’t be completely done. You’ll want to see how users are engaging with your chatbot, and if they’re not, what might be the cause of it. Is it truly addressing the problem it was built to solve? Has it turned out that your audience has other issues it wishes to resolve with a bot?
Think about these different factors once your chatbot goes live, and the various ways you can continue to make it even better.
And if you’re looking to get started making your own presentation, why not learn from the best of the best?
To help you kick your own presentations up a notch, we’ve curated 24 awesome PowerPoint and SlideShare decks below.
When you’re clicking through the presentations below, notice how they weave an interesting story through the format, design their slides, and make their presentations interactive with features exclusive to the platform on which they were created. These are all crucial elements to making an awesome presentation — ones that you can certainly adapt and apply them to your own, with the right approach.
Even better … you may just learn a thing or two about marketing while you’re at it.
Here’s the thing — SlideShare exists for a reason. It allows users to view information in a presentation format without having to go somewhere else to see it presented. When you, a human being, deliver a presentation, chances are that that’s part of the reason why people are tuning in. They care about the topic, but they also are curious about the person speaking on it.
That’s why it can be valuable to keep your slides simple when delivering a presentation to an audience in-person. You want the focus to be on the message, rather than just the slides themselves. Keep the slides on-topic, but simple enough that people can still pay attention to what you’re saying, using the visual presentation to support your message.
One way to accomplish the aforementioned simplicity is to reduce the amount of text in your presentation. People recall information better when images are paired with it (as opposed to text), so to help your message resonate with the audience, focus on visual content when you create your slides — we’ll cover more on that in a bit.
You certainly won’t be alone — even Google CEO Sundar Pichai practices the reduction of text in his presentations. “Since stories are best told with pictures,” he reportedly remarked at Google I/O 2017, “bullet points and text-heavy slides are increasingly avoided at Google.”
When you reduce the amount of text in your slides, you’ll need compelling visuals to support the message you’re delivering to your audience. But that doesn’t mean you can just throw some nice-looking photos onto your deck and move on. Like any other content strategy, the visual elements of your presentation need to be strategic and relevant.
While PowerPoint templates have come a long way since the program was first unveiled to the world, chances are, they’re still commonly used. To help make your presentation unique, choose a theme that your audience hasn’t seen dozens of times before — one that matches your brand and complements the topic you’re speaking about.
Sometimes, it pays to look beyond to other presentation platforms other than PowerPoint to find unique templates, like Prezi. There are also many visual content design sites that offer customizable templates that you can adapt for your own brand and topic, like Canva. In fact, in addition to templates, Canva also offers its very own platform for building presentations from scratch, which you can check out here.
One of the best ways to support the message you’re delivering in your presentation is by including data and statistics — and the good news is that they, too, can be represented visually, rather than bulleted out in text.
That’s where charts and graphs come in: They provide a colorful and engaging way to present the details that support your point. That said, make sure they fit in with the rest of your presentation’s visual theme — otherwise, it’ll distract the audience from what you’re talking about, rather than enhancing it.
There’s been some research around the way color can influence our emotions, especially when used in marketing — in some cases, changing the color of a CTA button boosted conversions by 21%.
And while the goal of your presentation may not necessarily be to make a sale, you might be trying to invoke certain feelings or impressions, which a strategic use of color can help you do. Check out Coschedule’s guide on the psychology of color in marketing, which highlights the ways different tones, shades, and combinations can influence purchasing decisions.
When you do include text, you want it to be readable enough for your audience to fully consume and interpret it easily enough to avoid becoming distracted from your message. If you include text that’s too small or dense to easily read, they’ll become too focused on trying to decipher it to pay attention to what you’re saying.
That’s why the designers at Visage recommend choosing Sans Serif fonts that opt for “legibility over fun,” noting that text should not only be big enough for people in the back of the room to read it, but also, presented in the right color to maintain visibility over your background.
Incorporating this fabulous visual content into your presentation will go to waste if the images are low-quality. Make sure your photos and other visual assets are high-resolution enough to be crisp and clear when displayed on a huge presentation screen.
There’s a reason why we love examples. You can give out the best advice available, but sometimes, in order to believe it, people need to see it in practice.
Multimedia is one way to achieve that — in a manner that can also capture and maintain your audience’s attention. A simple Google search for “music in presentations” yields enough soundtrack results to suggests that it’s a unique way of engaging your audience, or at least create a welcoming atmosphere before and after you speak.
Within the presentation itself, video — as it is in so many other applications — serves as valuable visual content to keep your audience engaged. After all, 43% of people want to see more video content from marketers, often because it helps to illustrate and explain theories in practice in a way that the spoken word or photographs can’t do alone.
We all get writer’s block sometimes. You’ll stare at a screen, hoping for inspiration to strike — and for that idea to be amazing.
But that’s not actually the best way to think of ideas. In the presentation below, Mark Johnstone outlines a better way to brainstorm ideas that will help build your business.
Ever wonder what it’s actually like to work at Google? The presentation below from Eric Schmidt (Alphabet, Inc.’s Executive Chairman and ex-CEO of Google) could clue you in — it outlines some of the top lessons he and his team have learned from running and hiring for one of the top companies in the world. Besides giving you a peek behind the scenes of a top company, it could inspire you to make changes to the way your business runs.
Okay, maybe your PowerPoint isn’t that bad, but this presentation has some awesome takeaways we all could learn from. Even if you’re following all the tips in this presentation, you can sure be inspired by its expert copy and design.
Mary Meeker’s report on the latest internet trends is one of the most hotly anticipated data reports of the year. Even if you gave this presentation a gander when it first came out, it’s worth revisiting — the data’s fascinating, current, and relevant to marketers in any industry.
Sometimes, the most helpful pieces of content tell you what not to do. Rand Fishkin’s presentation does just that. He takes an in-depth look at the most common reasons people fail at content marketing — and offers practical, original advice on fixing it.
Most marketers are looking to grow … but sometimes they can get stuck making incremental improvements. While these improvements are growth, larger, bigger growth jumps are what most people want. To help you get unstuck from incrementalism, Motivate Design outlined a process in the presentation below.
Even though this presentation is almost 100 slides long, its content is pure gold. Caddell answers some of the biggest FAQs about digital strategy in a very accessible way. The reason his slides are so straightforward is because of the way he’s laid them out. He’s really adept at making “animated” slides explain his story — something we all should learn how to do.
Even though Upworthy’s got a bad rap for creating clickbait headlines, their lessons on going viral are incredibly interesting. Besides having great advice about going viral, Upworthy does a great job of making its presentation interactive using clickable links.
Even though this SlideShare is a few years old, it’s one every content marketer should flip through. The reason we love it so much is because the message — and delivery of that message — is pretty much flawless. Definitely take a second to flip through the presentation, as you’ll learn a great lesson while also soaking up a great piece of SlideShare content.
Not to toot our own horn, but this presentation has been one of our most successful ones, so we wanted to share it with you. I personally love how actionable tips are provided in a visual way. For example, in slides 47 through 49, the author explains the difference between “showing” and “telling” by putting the word “circle” next to a picture of a circle. Although showing, not telling, is a key storytelling technique in writing, it’s especially effective in presentations.
Feeling inspired to create a SlideShare of your own? Make sure you flip through Nick Demey’s presentation first. He shares some tried-and-true tips for creating awesome presentations that rack up tons of views.
This presentation is inspirational from a design perspective — we especially love the color scheme. Using complementary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel) can be overwhelming at times, but because Soap Presentations uses them with lots of white space in the background, the colors draw your attention to the content of the slides.
Learning from mistakes is a crucial part of growing in your professional and personal lives. But sometimes, it’s better to learn from others’ mistakes instead of making them yourself. This presentation outlines some core lessons successful entrepreneurs have learned by making mistakes. Read on so you don’t have to make the same ones.
We admire presentation for its exceptional display of data — now this post will explain how to do the same in your own presentations. I also love how this presentation is very concise and minimal, as it helps communicate a fairly advanced topic in an easy-to-understand way.
This presentation’s advice is applicable and its design admirable. The whole black-and-white color scheme really makes the salmon accent color pop — and the SlideShare creatively combines these elements for different slide layouts. Definitely bookmark this presentation as an example of a great SlideShare design.
The first time I heard the phrase “on fleek,” I had no idea what it meant. (Apparently, it’s a term that means “on point,” in case you were wondering.)
If you’re like me and feel like it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the latest cultural trends, spend time with the presentation below. It’ll outline the most popular trends you should know this year — most definitely worth a read.
SEO’s changed a lot in the past two decades. Most of us are concerned with keeping up with the latest and greatest changes … but have you ever taken a minute to step back in time? The presentation below will walk you through SEO history from the very beginning — it’s been a fascinating ride.
Once you start designing presentations, it’s easy to fall back on tried-and-true layouts, photos, fonts, and colors. While keeping everything consistent can be good for branding or for shipping a deck quickly, it can also prevent people from noticing the awesome new content you’ve put together. The quick presentation below shows you a few different ways you can design the same slide — all depending on what you want it to accomplish.
Besides having some great takeaways for any inbound marketer, I love how this presentation successfully uses Creative Commons images in almost every slide. It’s pretty inspirational — even if you don’t have budget for stock photos, you can have an engaging presentation.
When they’re first getting started, many startups and agile teams talk about creating a minimal viable product — using the smallest amount of resources to produce something that’s good enough to begin testing. After all, why pour tons of resources into something that you don’t know will work?
This presentation challenges the MVP concept in favor for creating something that people love. Check it out — it has lessons even for those of us who aren’t building technology every day.
Lots of people have “learn to code” on their to-do list … but they never get to it. In marketing, knowing how to navigate code is becoming even more important to being successful. If you’ve been waiting to get started with coding, check out the presentation below.
When you hear the phrase “design for mobile” what do you think? Probably that you need to create a responsive website, and that’s about it.
But that’s not all you need to worry about. When you’re creating mobile-optimized content, you need to know how people actually use their phones — and the presentation below will you a great overview of consumer behavior.
If you’re graduating from school or making a career change and looking to get into marketing, it can feel tough to actually get started. It’s one of those “you need experience to get the job, but you have no experience” conundrums.
Well, that’s where this presentation comes in. Hull growth marketer Ed Fry — once employee #1 at Inbound.org — gives real, actionable tips to help you get your foot in the door at your next marketing gig.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get bogged down and think you’re doing “just marketing.” You’re not operating on people and saving lives, right?
From the creators of “Crap: The Content Marketing Deluge” comes the following presentation. If you’re ever feeling down-in-the-dumps about marketing, I’d highly recommend reading it. It’s thoughtful, funny, and a great presentation to keep in your back pocket for a rainy day.
After all, 2017 is “the year of video” — so why shouldn’t people consume more videos, and why shouldn’t creators make more?
As it turns out, there is such a thing as too much video — and it happens when publishers “pivot to video.”
No, not that kind of pivot. I’m talking about the “pivot to video.”
What is pivoting to video? No, it’s not changing seats on the couch to get a better view — it’s the latest example of marketers and content creators being so eager to adopt a new platform or medium that they ruin it.
Pivot to video (verb): To decrease or entirely shutter written editorial operations to focus on creating more video content
Synonyms: restructuring, reorganizing, refocusing
If this sounds like a joke … well, the dictionary definition is kind of a joke. But “pivoting to video” consists of publications deciding to focus so entirely on video that entire writing and editorial staff are laid off completely.
It started with MTV News.
You might not be surpised to hear this — after all, the word “television” makes up two of the three letters in MTV. But after an organizational restructuring at MTV in 2015, long-form editorial and video content about politics, culture, and social issues helped improve the network’s ratings and engagement on web properties. MTV News staffed its team with content creators who produced documentary-style videos and 4,000-6,000-word long-form written pieces — most of whom were let go in June of this year, when MTV News “pivoted” to create more short-form music and entertainment video over long-form editorial pieces.
Twitter was flooded with tweets from former employees announcing their newfound employment status, friends calling for publishers to hire them, and content creators from all media decrying — and defending — the strategic pivot.
I’ve been laid off by @MTVNews. I’ll miss seeing my brilliant, talented colleagues, and I look forward to continuing my career elsewhere.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith)
June 28, 2017
.@MTVNews I’m a fan of video. I work in video. But behind strong video, you also need strong storytellers. https://t.co/LBgJZpi9mw
— Traci Lee (@traciglee)
June 28, 2017
I’ve been in digital media for 12 years. One thing I’ve learned is that nobody wants to read anything over 1,000 words. MTV is more proof.
— Andy Gray (@AndyGray35)
June 28, 2017
But the pivot didn’t stop there.
Over the past year thus far, several major publishers have pivoted, structured, reorganized, and refocused on creating video content — at the cost of writers’ and editors’ jobs. Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, Vice, and HuffPost have all focused efforts on creating short-form video content — and all have laid off writers and editors. One publication — Vocativ — laid off its entire editorial staff “to focus exclusively on video content.”
In fact, “pivoting to video” has become such a ubiquitous term in the digital space that it’s become a joke in and of itself.
Quit doing this. No one wants video. We all read faster than people talk, it eats up data, and you can’t watch video on the toilet at work. https://t.co/cctmoHKiwz
— Peter Lynn (@Peter_Lynn)
July 21, 2017
the WH communications department is pivoting to video
— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick)
July 31, 2017
But funny tweets notwithstanding, we need to talk about why you shouldn’t pivot to video — at least, not fully.
Let’s call a spade a spade — publishers are pivoting to video to make money.
In the age of pre-roll and mid-roll advertising, it’s harder to ignore a video ad when it’s the only thing standing between you and a video you want to watch. Ads are easier to ignore when they live in the side margins and on top of written long-form articles, so publishers might see a greater opportunity to make money from placing video ads over video content.
And the biggest piece of the digital advertising pie now goes not to advertisers or publishers — but to Facebook and Google. So it’s understandable that media companies and publications are doing whatever they can to drive ROI on the content they produce.
But the pivot to video isn’t happening at random — these strategic reorganizations are also a nod to the growing popularity of video content, which we can’t deny — nor would we want to.
We’ve blogged at length about video being engaging, in-demand, and a smart way for brands to diversify content and connect with audiences in new ways. And making videos is smart — it just shouldn’t be the only content your brand produces.
It’s true that videos are growing in popularity — your audience wants to see videos, videos drive results for your business, and videos are an extremely favorable medium across different social media platforms. It’s also true that the human attention span is waning. But this doesn’t mean you should send your editorial staff packing. You don’t need to “pivot to video” to develop a smart video strategy as part of your content production engine — and we’ll show you how.
Setting aside for a moment the fact that the written word has been in existence for several thousand years (Thank you, Flinstone family), the popularity of video content and written content aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, audiences want more written content and more videos — so can’t we all just get along?
Last year, we learned that almost half of consumers want to see more video content — but almost the same amount also wanted to see more news articles.
And in a new HubSpot Research survey forthcoming later this year, we learned that the popularity of video content is increasing — especially among people in their teens and early 20s. But people of all ages wanted to see more in-depth multimedia articles, ebooks, and blog posts, too — and you shouldn’t cast that segment of your audience aside in favor of solely creating content in the latest and most popular medium.
Content consumption preferences are always changing, and they vary across different age groups, content formats, and subject matter. There are some cases when the written word is a better way to share information than video content, and in some cases, audiences don’t want videos at all. For example, in the United States, NiemanLab found that video isn’t growing as rapidly as one might think.
In fact, roughly half of those surveyed didn’t watch any online news videos — and more than two-thirds said they consumed most news in text format. Most video being consumed was short and sweet and entertaining — leaving plenty of room at the table for written content consumption, too.
So, people are watching videos, but they’re also consuming a lot of text content, too. How should publishers and content producers address the diversifying content preferences of audiences?
Make great videos, and write great articles. In fact, ideally, you should be writing articles and reports, and then incorporating videos and other multimedia elements into them. Give the people what they want — which is written, visual, and audio content.
Think about how your audience wants to learn. According to the survey above, people are more interested in consuming in-depth news information by reading it, whereas they might be more interested in watching shorter, more consumable video content. While a video might be a good fit for briefly explaining a complicated topic, it might not be the best fit for a detailed breakdown of SEO best practices — like in these examples.
If you don’t know the answer to this question, ask your audience. If you’re not sure about your industry or audience’s preferences, ask them. Using an email newsletter or a Twitter poll, ask questions like, “What would you most like us to produce a video about?” or “Do you prefer written or visual explainers?” to figure out where to get started.
The answer to the question of what types of content your audience prefers is an evolving one — and one that we constantly experiment with here at HubSpot. Read about how we’re changing up our social media video strategy in this blog post.
Videos are hard to make — and it shows.
The internet is populated with far too many slideshows and photos set to music that are masquerading as videos — like this one:
Videos like these don’t offer the viewer much more value than reading a story would, but publishers keep making them — presumably because they get more clicks on social media than an article would.
I don’t know about you, but I find these videos extremely annoying — they either autoplay when I open an article, or I click them to learn more and get no additional information out of them.
Instead, publishers and brands should be striving to make great videos — which are driven by great stories. You need good storytelling to create a compelling video, and — guess what? That will require the writing of a script or outline beforehand, and writers and editors can be of tremendous value there.
Additionally, if you remember our finding above, audiences don’t just want one thing — they want it all. Consumers want multimedia articles, in-depth research reports, blog posts, and entertaining videos. There’s plenty of room for cross-collaboration between writers, editors, and video producers to create excellent content that solves for constantly-changing consumer preferences.
Before implementing a video strategy, invest in resources to do it well, and experiment with creating different videos for different segments of your audience.
This means taking the time (and resources) to invest in video equipment, filming, and editing software, and freelancers or new employees who can make videos — more specifically, who can make videos well.
By investing in video content up front, you’ll ensure that your entire content production team is firing on all cylinders and creating video content that can both eventually rank in search results, and generate millions of views organically — not just as an ad.
With the exception of a few major publications — with content production budgets in the millions — it’s hard to crack the code of not only how to make great videos, but how to monetize them and use them to drive leads, customers, and revenue.
That’s partly because digital video is such a new content medium, and content creators are figuring out how to make great videos (see above). It’s also because Google search ranking factors and social media algorithms change so frequently that it’s hard to nail getting videos surfaced and seen by people on different platforms.
And now that more people are jumping on the video content creation bandwagon, search engines and social networks are getting saturated with more videos to compete against.
So you might think that video creation is the hard part, but that’s just the beginning. It takes concerted effort for videos to rank in YouTube and Google search results, or to rack up thousands and millions of views on Instagram and Facebook. And even if you do everything right, there could be a bunch of reasons people don’t want to watch your videos — they might not want to turn up the volume, they might be running low on their monthly data plan, or hey — they could even be sitting on the toilet.
People have their preferences, and in our forthcoming survey, we found that consumers want to watch video content and read in-depth news and research content — and that they want to watch videos on social media. Millions of hours of video content are streamed across social platforms every day, but these popular social videos might not generate leads at the speed a growing business needs.
So, we suggest creating multimedia content that serves a variety of purposes on a variety of different platforms. For example, keyword-specific blog posts and YouTube videos might quickly rank in Google and YouTube searches, to help drive visitors to landing pages and lead forms that help brands start selling. On the other hand, entertaining, short-form videos on Facebook and Instagram will help spread a brand’s message and attract more people to a website down the line.
If you’re just getting started with video marketing, we have ideas for the type of video you should make first. Use them to help guide visitors along your marketing funnel — alongside written content and offers to capture lead information.
Make specific types of videos for specific platforms in the same way you would for different types of written content. That way, the videos you create will have specific goals in mind — for example, video views, video view rate, or website clicks — that you can measure and iterate on.
Videos achieve outcomes on social media that written content might not, and written content can achieve search engine rankings that videos might not. The best scenario is to create both types of content — along with multimedia content — to meet audiences’ ever-changing preferences, and to attract visitors and leads throughout the marketing funnel.
Images: Tumblr, HubSpot Research, NiemanLab
Whether you’re a brand, a webmaster or a solo blogger, it’s essential your audience takes you seriously.
You need to prove you know your stuff.
But in a world that’s become increasingly saturated with self-appointed “gurus,” it’s become incredibly difficult to separate yourself from the masses.
That’s why authority and credibility have become the name of the game.
How do you achieve authority and credibility?
It’s not something you can buy. It must be cultivated, and that takes time.
You can’s just go from being an unknown to being a top industry expert overnight.
But I’ve learned over the past decade that there are several ways to expedite the process and attain expert level status within a reasonable amount of time.
In this post, I would like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned, top strategies I’ve used as well as some specific tools you can use to become the world’s number one expert in your niche.
Before you do anything, you need to make sure you’re truly interested in and passionate about the niche you’re focusing on.
Let’s be honest.
It’ll be an uphill battle if you’re only lukewarm about the topic you are choosing.
Talking about it, writing about it, vlogging about it will inevitably become a chore, and you’ll lose momentum.
I can’t tell you the number of projects I’ve abandoned over the years simply because I wasn’t fully invested in them.
I lacked the passion.
And as Gary Vaynerchuk would say, “Passion is priceless.”
What I’m saying is before you get in too deep, make sure the niche you’re focusing on is something you’re deeply interested in and passionate about.
This is the key to sustaining you for the long haul.
Quite frankly, this has been a huge factor in my success.
It’s not by chance that my niche is digital marketing.
I truly love it. I eat, sleep and breathe digital marketing.
Talking about it all the time doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun.
That’s how I’ve been able to write over 4,000 blog posts over the past 10 years.
I would have never made it otherwise.
The bottom line is you need to be all in before anything else.
That’s a prerequisite.
And here’s a little slice of advice.
The smaller your niche is, the quicker you can build influence.
In fact, a study by Technorati found,
more than 54% of consumers agree that the shorter the community size, the greater the influence.
Keep it in mind because “niching down” is often a good idea when you’re seeking to attain expert status in a hurry.
Before you can share your knowledge with others, you need to accumulate your own pool of knowledge first.
The quickest way I’ve found to build a solid body of knowledge is to surround myself with the topic I’m interested in.
In other words, you need to get in the habit of learning continuously.
Fortunately, the Internet is the ultimate vessel for building your knowledge.
It’s simply a matter of finding the best possible resources for research and learning.
This usually starts with blogs, slideshows, infographics, etc.
But I have a little trick for streamlining things and finding some of the top resources quickly.
Here’s what you do.
Let’s say you want to become an expert in urban farming.
First, go to BuzzSumo.
Type in a search phrase.
Then click on “Content Analysis.”
Now click on “Search.”
You’ll get a bunch of results.
Next, scroll down to the section called “Most Shared Domains by Network.”
You’ll be able to see which websites, blogs and publications are receiving the most shares.
The pie chart on the right will give you a visual perspective on things.
For instance, it’s clear that inhabitat.com is killing it in terms of shares relating to “urban farming.”
It’s definitely a site I would want to check out.
You can also scroll down to the bottom to see the top 10 pieces of content for the moment.
I’ve found that BuzzSumo is absolutely perfect for identifying key resources for research.
There’s a lot I love about content marketing!
But what I love the most (besides increasing sales) is that it has allowed me to build my reputation and establish a loyal audience.
When it comes to boosting your authority and credibility, I can’t think of a better way than simply creating great content around your niche.
It’s the perfect way for putting your money where your mouth is and proving you truly know what you’re talking about.
Create your personal “hub,” where you use a variety of different mediums to discuss your niche.
Allow me to use NeilPatel.com as an example.
I use it to show potential clients I’m legit in a few different ways.
First, there’s my blog.
I make sure it stays populated with high-end, in-depth posts on everything digital marketing.
Next, there’s my collection of videos that I refer to as “Neil Knowledge.”
Here, visitors can watch brief videos where I share my knowledge on a variety of digital marketing topics.
Then, there’s my podcast that I call “Marketing School.”
At the moment, I have nearly 350 podcast sessions that run the digital marketing gamut.
This is a model I suggest you follow because it’s your key to being recognized as an expert.
Building a hub such as this gives you an opportunity to cover your niche in great detail and share your knowledge with visitors who are eager to learn.
This isn’t to say you need to use the same mediums I do.
In fact, I recommend experimenting with different formats to see what works best for you and what resonates the most with your audience.
Here are some ideas:
And the more high-quality content you accumulate, the more seriously people will take you.
At this point, you should have chosen a niche, learned everything you can about it and created a hub where you can share your knowledge.
The next step is to start forming relationships with other influencers in your niche.
Why is this important?
This is one of the best ways to get your name out there and to increase your brand equity.
Being associated with other major players enables you to siphon off some of their “street cred” and get your audience to take you more seriously.
Let me give you a quick example.
Awhile back, freelance writer Jorden Roper launched her website called Writing Revolt.
It serves as an online hub for talking about everything related to freelance writing, including ways to thrive in a competitive market.
She was an up-and-comer and had some loyal followers, but it was a fairly small following.
She connected with Bamidele Onibalusi of Writers in Charge, one of the most popular resources for freelance writers.
Bamidele talked about her journey, the way Jorden created a nice living for herself through writing and her tips for making it as a freelance writer.
Just like that, her brand equity skyrocketed, and she gained a massive amount of respect as an expert in her niche.
To me, connecting with relevant influencers like this is the quickest way to gain recognition and have your name associated with a particular topic.
After all, if a trusted name in your niche gives you their stamp of approval, it will inevitably have a positive impact on you.
For starters, let me suggest an incredibly old school yet (sometimes) effective tactic.
And that’s to simply get in the habit of consistently leaving high-level comments on top blogs in your industry.
You might be saying, “Neil, that seems so primitive and antiquated!”
Perhaps it is.
But it can still be a great way to get on someone’s radar.
Here’s an example of a comment from one of my top commenters, J. Ustpassing:
Besides potentially building a relationship with a key influencer, you can also gain the attention of their readers.
And as long as your comments are legit, they will elevate your authority.
Another brilliant way to find influencers to connect with is to use BuzzSumo.
In fact, the “Influencers” feature is one of the top features on this platform.
I won’t cover the entire process here because I’ve already went over it before, but you can find all the details in this post.
For more on influencer marketing, I suggest checking out this article.
Finally, I would like to point out how great Quora is for building credibility.
This is one of the most high-end question-and-answer sites, and I’ve used it extensively.
At the moment, I’ve answered 287 different questions, and it’s helped me gain 8k followers on Quora and 47k answer views this month alone.
I’m telling you, Quora gets results and can be incredibly potent for you to position yourself as an expert in your niche.
I find it ideal for imparting my knowledge.
You can learn how to use Quora in this post.
I’ll be the first to say there’s no magic bullet that can turn you into a top expert in your niche overnight.
It’s very much a process that takes time.
Fortunately, you can accelerate that process significantly by following the formula I covered here.
With the right approach, you can gain serious recognition and make your name synonymous with your niche.
This, of course, can yield a host of benefits, e.g., increased brand equity, continual leads and higher conversions.
Which niche would you like to achieve expert status in?
My mom definitely remembers our phone bills when I doubled that amount every week in middle school.
Thankfully, companies created messaging apps to provide free and unlimited messaging, which was a refreshing solution for rigid text message limits and their lofty costs.
But messaging apps refused to be just another form of text messaging. They kept innovating and evolved into apps for almost every digital interaction possible.
Now, within a single app, you can chat with your friends, communicate with brands, make calls, play games, consume content, buy products, and even call a cab.
These added functionalities make messaging apps sticky. They draw users to the app more often and keep them there for a longer time. Today, messaging apps have over 5 billion monthly active users worldwide.
Most messaging apps also let businesses market to their massive, engaged user bases. Marketers can now use chatbots to provide customer service, send content to users, sell products, and advertise.
Naturally, different countries and age groups prefer some apps to others. Read on to learn how you can tailor your messaging app marketing for five different global messaging apps.
Monthly active users:1.3 billion
Most Popular Regions: Latin America, Europe, The Middle East, Southeast Asia, India, Russia, and Africa
Age Group: 25-44
WhatsApp doesn’t sell ads, prohibits third-party bots, and limits its broadcast message feature and group chats to 256 people. How are marketers supposed to leverage the most popular messaging app in the world then?
Since WhatsApp isn’t conducive to large-scale content distribution, marketers must take advantage of its one-to-one messaging capabilities. And by interacting with WhatsApp users like a normal user would, marketers can execute hyper-targeted and personalized campaigns.
In 2014, Hellman’s Brazil created WhatsCook, a live recipe service that connected people to real chefs. This wasn’t a service that just recommended recipes, though. It created recipes with the ingredients users already had.
After signing up for the service on their website, users would send a picture of their refrigerator’s contents to WhatsCook. Then a chef would whip up a unique recipe using the person’s available ingredients and teach them how to cook it using pictures, videos, and other WhatsApp features.
Over 13,000 people people signed up for WhatsCook and each user spent an average of 65 minutes interacting with Hellman’s chefs. The service also received a 99.5% approval rating.
WhatsCook is a prime example of creative WhatsApp marketing. By attracting users with a helpful service, they engaged thousands of more people than they could by blasting content through a broadcast or group chat.
To start a service like WhatsCook, you just need users’ phone numbers or they can add your number to their contact list.
Fortunately, WhatsApp offers a click-to-chat link that you can embed in your website, email signature, or social profiles, allowing you to effectively promote your service.
Monthly active users: 1.2 billion
Most Popular Regions: North America, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa
Age group: 16-44
Facebook messenger offers brands a stockpile of marketing features.
For instance, you can serve destination ads in people’s newsfeed to drive them to your messenger and spark a conversation, send sponsored messages to people who’ve messaged you in the past, integrate messenger bots like Chatfuel and ManyChat to interact with customers, and more.
At HubSpot, we use chatbots to automate Facebook conversations with people. Whenever someone messages our Facebook account, our chatbot will message back with a menu of options.
People can then search and subscribe to our content, check out our software, look at job openings, ask for customer support, and manage their Facebook messenger blog subscription.
Monthly active users: 938 million
Most popular regions: China
Age Group: 18-50
WeChat isn’t just a popular Chinese messaging app. Most Chinese citizens use it to run their entire lives.
In one app, they can:
WeChat is China’s most popular messaging app for a reason. And it also provides marketers a lot of opportunity to engage and delight users.
But if you want to market to users in China, or 90% of the user base, your business must be registered in Mainland China.
Businesses based in the United States, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand can only market to around 100 million of WeChat’s international users.
To establish a strong presence on WeChat, you should set up an official account for your business. This will allow you to create a company micro-site, publish content, and provide customer services all within the WeChat app.
There are two types of official accounts. Content publishers usually sign up for subscription accounts that let you broadcast one message per day to your subscribers in their subscription accounts folder.
Big retail chains usually sign up for service accounts that let you broadcast four messages per month to your subscribers in their friend session list.
Verified service accounts have access to 9 advanced APIs and WeChat payment. With access to these APIs, marketers can:
All accounts also offer bots that can interact with users and deliver keyword-triggered content.
BuzzFeed uses these bots to send WeChat users instant, personalized content whenever they message them a certain keyword like “dogs”, “lol”, or “fail”.
Monthly active users: 217 million
Most popular regions: Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia
Age group: 10-49
Line is a free messaging app that offers a profile page, stickers, games, video calling, music streaming, ride-sharing, and about 30 other features. It dominates Japan’s messaging app market, where 94% of messaging app users use the app.
Line is chock full of opportunity for marketers. In its four most popular countries, 73% of monthly active users use the app every day. This abundance of user engagement allows brands to build huge followings and boost engagement rates.
In fact, the Wall Street Journal acquired 2 million Line followers in only 15 months, which is the fastest social channel growth they’ve ever seen. They also claim that 30% of its followers like, comment, and share all their posts.
When brands sign up for Line official accounts, they can:
For Paul McCartney, Line is actually the best way to reach fans. His 12.5 million Line followers are more than all his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers combined.
And since he can send private messages to each of his 12.5 million Line followers, he also engages with them a lot more than he can with his traditional social media following.
Photo Credit: TechCrunch
Daily active users: 5 million
Most popular regions: United States
Age group: 25-54
Slack is the main internal communications platform for many businesses. In fact, 77% of Fortune 100 companies use it. If you work in B2B, Slack could be your most targeted marketing channel.
At HubSpot, we knew Slack could be an effective content delivery channel, so we decided to offer a Slack blog subscription. When users sign up for it, they add the HubSpot Blog app to their Slack profile, where they receive a weekly broadcast of content. They can also search for content in the app.
What messaging apps do you use for your marketing? Let us know on Twitter!
As an engineer, I get the technical aspects of this process. I can use SEO tools to identify opportunities, I understand why links are important, and I can follow the link building process. But I’m not a professional writer and no one else on our team is either.
How were we going to create compelling content as a bunch of amateur writers?
Luckily, we discovered content frameworks.
A content framework is a basic system that guides you through the content creation process. It structures your article in a way that effectively presents your content’s insights.
Over the past year, we’ve explored seven different content frameworks. During this time, we’ve skyrocketed our organic traffic by more than 1,000% and ranked on the first page of Google for a lot of highly competitive search terms.
In this article, I’ll describe our experiences with each framework, the pros and cons of each one, my personal tips for success, and which frameworks worked best for us.
Let’s dive in.
Everyone loves a good listicle. A standard list post will usually contain a short introduction, the list items, and finally a brief conclusion. The list elements will simply link to other sites or summarize the topic.
One of the biggest pros of a standard list post is that they’re easy to write. You don’t need to be a gifted wordsmith to put together a great listicle.
For us, listicles and the expanded-list post (covered below) have been some of our most successful pieces of content.
If there are a lot of other listicles covering your topic, it may take some work (and time) for your list post to rise to the top of Google.
Implement tactics like the Skyscraper Technique and Ego Bait in your list posts. If your list is longer, more comprehensive, and beautifully designed, it’ll overshadow all the other lists about your topic.
The expanded-list post, coined by Brian Dean of Backlinko, is an adaption of the standard list post. Like I mentioned before, there’s a ton of list posts on the web. How do you make yours stand out from the crowd?
Instead of listing a bunch of topics or links, the expanded-list post goes beyond a standard list post and take a deep dive into each item.
In the eyes of Google and your readers, these lists are rich with insights.
This has definitely been our most successful content framework. Our expanded list posts consistently rank on the first page of Google.
Expanded-list posts will usually be long-form content pieces, which Google prefers to show readers. Also, in comparison to competing list posts, the expanded-list post will be much more comprehensive, providing more value to your audience.
Producing a stellar expanded-list post requires a significant amount of work.
For example, it took us multiple weeks just to collect the data for one of our posts about the best business apps.
It was worth it, though. Google ranks the post third or higher for number of competitive keywords.
Designing and organizing expanded-list posts may require more time too. You might need to group elements by category and provide jump links to different sections of the content. This will make your content more digestible.
Similar to the Standard List Post pro tip, you want your article to be more in-depth and better than everyone else’s. So take your time when you design and organize the post. You need to make sure that your readers can easily find the information they’re looking for.
A Go-to Guidebook is a curated list of the top posts about a particular topic.
The biggest difference between this content framework and the list-type frameworks is that a go-to guidebook is normally organized like a book, with brief introductions to each sub-topic and links to the best content available around those topics.
This is one of the easiest types of content to produce. Even a complete amateur like myself can create a great go-to guidebook. You really don’t need to write that much.
It’s also a great way to re-purpose the best content that’s already available. All you have to do is source and organize the content.
Since you’re promoting other people’s content with your go-to guidebook, the original authors should have an incentive to share and promote your piece. Unfortunately, they may not always care to promote it.
You also might have to curate content that isn’t fresh. We’ve managed to get posts in this style to rank, but it took a lot of research and work.
Use graphics in your go-to guidebook to make it more visually appealing. The go-to guidebook consists of short paragraphs, so adding vivid pictures can make it feel like a real book.
A how-to guide is a content framework where you explain how to use a product or perform a task. It’s much more focused than a go-to guidebook, so you have to rely on your own research or knowledge to create it.
Google generally loves it when your content can answer a question or solve a problem. And the how-to guide is a great way to provide value to your audience. So far, almost all our guides receive consistent organic traffic without us having to build a ton of backlinks.
If you can effectively optimize for search engines, Google might highlight your guide in the featured snippet, like the screenshot below.
By optimizing our “How to Post a Job on Craigslist Guide” to rank for the snippet, Google ranked it first. And we didn’t even have to build a single backlink.
How-to guides require significant time and subject matter expertise to produce. You’ll have to write more than you would for any other framework.
Clarify all of your guide’s takeaways. Even if it’s an obvious step or detail, just spell it out and make your content easy for people to understand. What is obvious to you might not be obvious to your audience.
An expert roundup is a collection of quotes or short interviews with influential people in your industry. You basically reach out to a bunch of experts, ask them specific questions, and compile their answers into an article.
To do this effectively, you’ll need to grasp a few nuances, but the great thing is that the experts you interview will write most of the content for you.
Once you’ve collected your experts’ responses, you can easily produce a really unique and great piece of long-form content.
Another big advantage of an expert roundup post is that your contributors will have an incentive to promote the article to their own audiences.
Our most successful roundup was about remote work. The article has over 100 backlinks, and most of the initial links came from the article’s contributors. This also helped us form relationships with a lot of industry experts, created other blogging opportunities, and piqued the interest of mainstream writers in our stance on remote work.
While creating an expert round up post might not take much work, collecting your experts’ contact information and gathering their responses can be a handful, especially if it’s your first time doing it.
Your next roundups will be easier since you can interview some of the same experts again. But there will be a steep hill to climb during your first go-around.
Another significant con is that you’re depending on your influencers’ schedules to complete your piece. Compared to writing your own piece, you’ll definitely have less control over an expert roundup post’s production time.
Take time to craft your questions because you’ll only have one shot to interview most experts. If your questions are clear and straightforward, they’ll be more likely to participate.
With this framework, you simply interview an expert on the topic you want to cover and turn the interview into an article. This is more of a journalistic approach to content creation.
After you conduct the interview, the article doesn’t require a lot of writing. The expert you interviewed can also potentially be asked to promote the article on their own social media channels and networks. And since you’re showing how an expert tackles a certain topic, your post will be unique and compelling.
Interviews provide an opportunity to produce content across multiple mediums. For example, we now interview small business owners and feature them in our podcast, our blog, and — down the road — in our own book.
An interview can be very insightful, so there’s a lot of opportunity for re-purposing it into multiple content formats.
When we first tried this approach, we ran into a lot of issues scheduling the interviews. We also struggled to convince the experts to promote our content to their fans.
After our initial attempts, we actually thought the time investment wasn’t worth it anymore, but we tried out the approach again and have seen some success.
Interview micro-influencers in the industry you’re covering. They’ll be more willing to promote your article, where a huge celebrity will have less of an incentive to help you out.
Nowadays, infographics are very popular. They’re unique and engaging because they visualize data sets to tell a compelling stories.
According to Massplanner, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than any other type of content. You can easily spread awareness for your infographics by sharing them on Pinterest, Visual.ly, and the Infographic Directory.
You can also reach out to the sources you cited in your infographic and ask them to promote it.
You’ll need some graphic design chops to craft a great infographic. Or you can pay someone to do it. Tools like Venngage can help you create your own infographic, but these tools’ capabilities are somewhat limited, so the graphic could look a little generic.
The infographic market is also over-saturated. There are some really great infographics out there, but there’s loads of them that don’t do anything except collect internet dust.
Our track record with infographics hasn’t been great. None of our infographics have ranked that well on Google.
In terms of social shares, our Snapchat marketing infographic has performed the best, with over 800 pins on Pinterest. Its search value is still low, though
When you create your infographic, make sure to breakdown the graphic’s content in your introduction.
Google can’t crawl your graphic, so you need text to explain your piece’s premise. This is the only way Google can truly know what your article is about.
As amateur writers, we rely heavily on the structure of existing content frameworks. They help us efficiently produce quality content and massively boost our search presence.
We’ve experienced consistent success with expanded-list posts, how-to guides, and expert roundups. Each of these frameworks help us create rich pieces of long-form content that provide a lot of value to our readers.
For us, these three frameworks provide the most benefits relative to how long it takes to create them. You could experience differently depending on your skill set and industry.
Ten years ago, people still relied on morning papers for news. Today, the vast majority of your company’s customers and prospects scan headlines on Twitter or see what’s trending in their Facebook feed.
People now have control over where, when, and how they consume information. As a result, public relations is no longer about feeding into a traditional news cycle; it’s about providing relevant content when, where, and how your prospects, influencers, and customers will consume it.
Sounds pretty hopeless, right? Wrong. While relationship-building still helps you get into popular publications, we now have the opportunity to quit playing the waiting game and generate our own buzz. By turning your PR strategy into an inbound one, you create opportunities that weren’t there before and carve out a place for your company, building meaningful mindshare with your target audiences in the process.
One of the most crucial updates to make to your PR strategy is to think of press releases as an opportunity to connect to the audiences you care about — including, but not limited to, reporters.
A press release is an official announcement (written or recorded) that an organization issues to the news media and beyond. Whether we call it a “press release,” a “press statement,” a “news release,” or a “media release,” we’re always talking about the same basic thing.
Most press releases are succinct at just a page long. Two pages tops. Ultimately, companies want to provide enough information so that news outlets have sufficient material for publishing their own stories about whatever the company is announcing in the release.
And while it may be tempting to craft a press release that embellishes your company’s accomplishments or twists the facts to make a story sound more intriguing to the media, remember: Press releases live in the public domain, which means your customers and prospective customers can see them. So instead of thinking of a press release solely as a ticket to earning news coverage, you should also think of it as a valuable piece of marketing content.
You’ve got your announcement in mind, and now it’s time to get it down in words to share with your community, industry, and followers.
Take Catbrella Inc., a fictitious ad agency, which just gained its 10th Twitter follower after two years of paid social media efforts. To announce its achievement, Catbrella could issue a press release like the one we’ve dissected below.*
*Disclaimer: HubSpot is entirely responsible for the silliness of this faux announcement.
Just like writing the perfect blog post title, setting up your press release for success starts with your headline. You only have one line to work with, which can seem scary, but consider diction carefully to make your headline captivating.
Use action verbs, clear, understandable language, and keep your headline simple and short — fortune (and search engines) reward the brief, so keep your title to one line to clearly focus people’s attention on your topline message.
Most importantly, make it interesting: Keep in mind that reporters get dozens, if not hundreds, of releases each day, so invest the time to write a compelling headline. It’s worth the time and effort on your part.
For reporters, analysts, influencers, or followers to be inclined to share your announcement, you have to tell them upfront why they should care.
The first paragraph of your release should cover the who, what, why, where, and how of your new launch, update, or development. Reporters don’t have a ton of time to sift through details and fluffy background information — they just need the facts that’ll help them tell your story to someone else from a position of authority.
There shouldn’t be any new, crucial information covered after this section that the reader could potentially miss.
Once you’ve set the scene, it’s time to bring your details to life with a quote that reporters can use for context around your announcement and help paint a picture of how your news affects the given industry, customer base, and landscape.
Ideally, quotes will be from key stakeholders in your company including your executive team, project leads, or those directly impacted by your announcement. Quoting key figures and authorities underlines the importance of your development. The chosen quote should shape your narrative and emphasize the core of the announcement. Don’t ask everyone in your office for a comment or feel compelled to quote all 25 people included in the acquisition — pick one or two critical spokespeople and focus the quotes around their unique perspective.
In this last paragraph, keep in mind that the reader already has all of the vital details and information they need to file a story or spread the word.
It can be tempting to provide superfluous facts and tidbits about your company or the development of your announcement — we sometimes think a piece of writing is lacking if it isn’t drawn-out and just shy of being a novella. However, a press release needs to be helpful and concise.
Offer details here that strengthen your narrative, like creative or noteworthy ways your company developed the project or announcement at hand. Or, when applicable, comment on future implications of your announcement.
Twitter is chock-full of reporters lamenting press releases or pitches that don’t clearly explain what the company does or what the announcement is actually about, so instead of being the butt of a joke, make your release incredibly easy to reference.
Describe what your company does in clear, plain English, include a link to your company’s homepage early on, and make your boilerplate succinct and straightforward. If you cite data, include a reference link for the data source, and make sure every name in the release has an associated title and company as well.
To keep yourself honest on this front, ask a friend or colleague to read the release without context and ask if they can easily and readily explain why the announcement matters, what your company does, and why the executives included are quoted. If the answer to any of those questions is no, get back to the drawing board.
The key to keeping your PR strategy new school is forgetting preconceived notions of what public relations is and instead focusing on creating highly remarkable content. Traditional press releases can still be really valuable when executed well, so instead of ditching releases as a tactic, give them a modern makeover to make them more useful for your marketing.
Think about how you’ve used inbound methods to transform your marketing strategies to be more personalized, approachable, and build relationships. Those same principles apply to your PR strategy: Create content to craft your own story and use tactful outreach to get reporters and analysts familiar with your brand.
While there’s no cut-and-dried formula for when a press release should be written (and distributed), here’s a few reasons when it’s a good idea:
A regular cadence of (meaningful) news can help a company stand out and build mindshare with journalists over time, so that’s where the press release (or news announcement) comes in.
Many people think press releases have to be chock full of buzzwords and branded terms. Big data anyone? Five syllable words you have to look up on Thesaurus.com? Quotes from every executive on the planet that go on for pages? We’ve seen it all. Unfortunately, so have reporters — and they are not fans.
So instead of stuffing your next release with jargon, take a page out of our book (okay, fine, ebook), The Newsworthy Guide to Inbound Public Relations, and brainstorm some creative approaches for your next announcement. Can you include new data? A remarkable graphic or video? A shareable SlideShare? If so, a creative angle will often help carry your content and increase the likelihood of social sharing.
Even so, a press release can still be a really valuable medium for communicating news to your audiences. You just have to make it readable, relevant, and relatable.
We have crafted this comprehensive, easy-to-follow press release template complete with a promotional plan and considerations for your next announcement. We use these same guidelines when writing and formatting our releases here at HubSpot, and created a faux, sample release to illustrate what content goes where and why.
Writing a press release is really only half the battle. Once you’re finished with production, it’ll be time to focus on distribution.
Of course, we’re all familiar with the traditional distribution levers we can pull, which include publishing the press release on our website/blog, as well as sharing the press release with our followers/subscribers via social media and email. But for ensuring a press release gets the maximum amount of distribution possible, here are some tips you can follow.
Instead of blasting a press release out to every journalist you can find an email address for, focus on a few journalists who have experience covering your industry (and company, hopefully) and send them personalized messages. Connect the dots. Show why what you wrote connects to what they write.
Most journalists have mountains of emails (and press releases) to sort through. Try sending your release through snail mail or another offline channel to differentiate yourself.
Give journalists some time to craft a story around your press release by sending it to them — under embargo — the day before it officially goes live. (FYI “under embargo” just means they aren’t allowed to share the information in the press release until the time you specify.)
If you’re publishing your press release on a distribution service like PR Newswire or Business Wire, avoid publishing it on the hour (e.g., 1 p.m., or 3 p.m., or 5 p.m.). The reason? Most companies schedule their releases to go out on the hour, which means if your release goes out on the hour too, it’s more likely to get lost in the shuffle. Instead, try going with a more distinct time (e.g., 1:12 p.m., or 3:18 p.m., or 5:22 p.m.).
If all goes according to plan, and your press release gets picked up by the media, your job still isn’t finished. To keep the buzz going, you can release a “second wave” of distribution by sharing the specific stories that news outlets write based on your press release.
What other best practices do you follow when writing press releases? Share your thoughts with us below, and don’t forget to download our free press release template here.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Explored in what follows are critical issues to address in assembling a comprehensive branding program, based on challenges and opportunities that we at Siegelvision consistently encounter with clients.
Henry Ford is often quoted as having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether the words were his or not, they reflect what we call the “outside-in” approach — trusting customers to provide critical insights to help define a brand identity. But relying on customer feedback alone is akin to treating symptoms rather than the underlying illness.
While customers may be able to pinpoint certain problems they would like to see addressed, they rarely have enough information to understand the organization in sufficient detail.
An “inside-out” approach, on the other hand, helps achieve a distinctive and credible branding program by tapping insights that emerge from within the organization itself — a process largely contingent upon leadership support.
Validation research is then conducted, bringing employees and outside audiences together to react to concrete ideas, and helping ensure that the resulting strategy will be clear, compelling, and relevant.
Most organizations spend months devising predictable, and often garbled, mission or vision statements that employees ignore and that fail to guide decision-making in both day-to-day management and big-picture strategic planning.
An effective purpose statement defines your reason for being in business, the calling your organization aims to answer in the marketplace, and the problems you strive to solve.
Moreover, defining a clear and concise purpose statement creates coherence for your employees — coherence about what your company stands for and what inspires its work, beyond just the pursuit of money. Effectively crafted, it should be the driving force behind strategic decisions, investments, and other critical matters.
The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to “help solve the problem” of inner-city poverty. Over the years, it’s become a respected source for intelligent, accessible analyses of economic and social policies. But despite the institute’s admirable aims, its impact was long undermined by a verbose and confusing mission statement, which read:
“The Urban Institute gathers data, conducts research, evaluates programs, offers technical assistance overseas, and educates Americans on social and economic issues — to foster sound public policy and effective government.
The Urban Institute builds knowledge about the nation’s social and fiscal challenges, practicing open-minded, evidence-based research to diagnose problems and figure out which policies and programs work best for whom, and how.”
The Urban Institute certainly does all of those things, but, as we learned during our immersive branding project, they do not comprise the organization’s core purpose. We replaced the institute’s lengthy and impractical mission statement with a powerful three-word purpose statement:
“ELEVATE THE DEBATE.”
The Urban Institute’s cogent new expression of its purpose — its essence — resonated deeply with all stakeholders. Defining the organization’s role in simple, concrete terms provides a strong guide for decision-making and acts as a beacon for employees at every level.
Americans are daily bombarded by vague, generic taglines that masquerade as brand positioning. Such identity imprecision appears everywhere, including among institutions of higher education.
“Fierce Advocates for Justice,” the highly effective positioning that Siegelvision developed for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, provided the touchstone for an aggressive campaign to change the public’s perception of the school as a “cop college” into a view of it as a comprehensive educational institution, one that boasts a liberal arts curriculum coupled with world-class criminal justice courses for undergraduate and graduate students alike.
In a 2012 conversation, Jeremy Travis, the college’s current president, told me that the “Fierce Advocates for Justice” positioning “has allowed every member of our community to see a place for his or her interests in the brand of the college. The language we now use … [reflects] who they are and want to be. When we first put up [signage with our new tagline,] a student told me: ‘That wakes me up when I come to school every morning, to remind myself that I’m here because I’m a fierce advocate for justice.'”
We define “brand voice” as the distinctive tone and style of an organization’s communications, which should reflect its personality and positioning and provide coherence for its brand across all communications platforms.
I find that these voices can be fragmented, driven to a large degree by advertising and public relations, direct-response mailings, and the uncoordinated management of financial and internal communications.
In recent years, corporations have strived to unify their diverse communications, but the internet has proven disruptive to such efforts. The production of corporate communications has now gone from being a professional operation to a free-for-all in which everyone, at all levels, communicates internally and externally via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms. Brand voice is becoming increasingly decentralized and social; the most successful organizations understand how to engage audiences and leverage the voices of employees and consumers effectively.
As digital platforms become more sophisticated and audiences grow more distinctly delineated, organizations must keep up by embracing experiential and personal communications that harness opportunities for consumers to engage with them.
Finally, the information immediacy that now so powerfully defines our lives means that messages are spread far and wide very quickly, a fact that underscores the importance of having an organized and unified brand voice.
Our work with The College Board provides valuable insight into the process of developing an effective voice that enhances and reinforces brand messaging. Driven by the College Board’s dynamic purpose statement, “Challenging All Students to Own Their Future,” we defined its voice as:
Each of these terms was then defined to reflect the College Board’s messaging and public persona. To describe its most distinctive quality — galvanizing — we recommended the following: “We make things happen. We challenge students to persevere and make the most of their education. We rally our member organizations to challenge the status quo and extend the promise of education to all. We are motivating and collaborative, not confrontational.”
Employees will thrive and become powerful brand ambassadors if their organization’s culture embraces a set of values that resonate deeply and authentically. Building an atmosphere in which this happens depends on what you do, not just on what you say.
Wells Fargo, today a textbook case of poor corporate culture, communicates a vision and values that are shockingly discordant with its recent behavior. Even now, in the wake of its management scandals, Wells Fargo continues to speak of “integrity,” “principled performance,” and a tireless commitment to valuing “what’s right for our customers in everything we do.”
In an extensive 2015 document, “The Vision and Values of Wells Fargo,” CEO John Stumpf (who was fired the following year) defined the bank’s vision as being “about building lifelong relationships one customer at a time,” with the promise to “never put the stagecoach ahead of the horses.” What comedy.
A positive, top-down culture is crucial to the success of your organization and the people who work for it. This is powerfully demonstrated in the 2014 book “Any Wednesday” by Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the global advertising firm DDB Worldwide. The title stems from the brief, encouraging memos he sent to everyone in the agency on Wednesdays to help them finish the week with optimism.
Even from his seat at the head of the table, Reinhard did not forget the importance of connecting creatively and personally with all employees. His memos show a person who has served at all levels in an organization and who understands better than most that there is no substitute for an inspiring and inclusive work culture. Here’s one of our favorites:
“When I first became head of the agency, I gave board members small potted plants with a note saying I expected each one of them to cause his or her plant to grow. It was a simple — perhaps simplistic — reminder that talent, like the plant, must be nurtured. Neither plants nor talented people can be instructed or commanded to grow.”
Ultimately, the best test of an organization’s voice is its impact on the market. ROI (Return on Investment), a conventional measure of impact, may work well in measuring tangible outcomes but does little to predict the effect of a product or program on an intended audience. We recast this formula as Relevance, Originality, Impact. The omission of any of these three elements can spell disaster for a branding program; by contrast, the most successful rebrands embrace each one with care and authenticity.
Our work for John Jay College exemplifies the importance of this ROI and its effectiveness in the marketplace. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” was a call to action to the younger generation to respond to the social injustices troubling our nation.
The motto was a stirring expression of purpose that made waves in the higher education community and inspired other schools to follow suit. And it was accompanied by a comprehensive campaign — aimed at having maximum impact on the targeted demographics — that included striking subway advertisements and geofencing around high school campuses to help attract prospective students — achieving relevance, originality, and impact.
Various metrics were developed to gauge the campaign’s reach, including measurements of awareness, familiarity, and reputation, as well as a willingness to provide financial support. “Fierce Advocates for Justice” generated highly impressive results: the number of alumni donors has increased by 35% since 2013; and the Justice Campaign — a comprehensive digital and subway ad initiative than ran in the fourth quarter of 2016 — has sparked an increase in applications of more than 40%. As a result, for the first time in its 52-year history, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has a waiting list for enrollment.
Building a brand for the 21st century is no easy task. The advent of social media has provided podiums for customers and employees to voice their criticisms of once-impervious brands. Rather than fight this pervasive change, organizations would do well to evolve toward more transparent and authentic identities.
Siegelvision’s own mantra is “Clarity Above All,” which means clarity of purpose, expression, and experience. It is only getting easier today to identify organizations that fail to practice what they preach. Therefore, it is in the interests of everyone in your organization that you define and deeply believe in your purpose and positioning, express your voice coherently and empathetically, and promote an internal culture that eschews disingenuousness and places a premium on authenticity.