Design Thinking Transforming Business: Lessons from the Harvard Business School Conference

21 Feb

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Harvard Business School Dynamic Women in Business Conference. It was a rich experience across different disciplines, as leaders from media, healthcare, IT and more gathered to reflect on how professionals can develop, regardless of industry.

A lively panel looked at the developments in media, and one thing really emerged from that panel: without a web presence, you’re like someone without a business card. “You have to have one,” said Amy Blumkin of Strategy Impact Group.

Seeing your website as your business card is a great perspective. What does it mean? Well, what does your business card do? It conveys your brand, provides the facts, and does it clearly with economy.

The economy part is important. Your website may be 3, 30, or 300 pages, but it always needs to present information in just the right quantity. Too little, and  customers don’t get the information they need, of course. Too much on one page, and it’s like handing out brochures instead of cards: it overwhelmes. Good information architecture can make your website the perfect business card. You need a solid brand conveyed with concentrated impact.



Getting Started with Conversion Rate Optimization: Why, How, and What Not to Do

11 Jun

On Monday, I was honored to be a guest on Conversion Rate Optimization with Tim Ash on Webmaster Radio. Tim is a leader of the movement towards rational, effective CRO, and I had the pleasure of speaking at Conversion Conference last fall to a few thousand of the most enthusiastic conversion and metrics professionals out there.

In the radio conversation, we talked about what it takes to do testing and optimization right. Followers of this space know that testing all of your marketing and UX are critical to business success. Companies often wonder where to start. From the interview, here are what I think are the top five tips:

  1. Make sure there’s a high-level champion. The CEO or COO must advocate for metrics.
  2. Measure everything holistically. If your web traffic is up, but no one is using your app, or they drop off suddenly, you need to know that for the survival of your business. Using Google Analytics to measure web traffic is just the tip of the iceberg and won’t tell you what you need to know about the health of your business.
  3. Give CRO a seat at the grownups’ table. If you’re not testing and optimizing, you’re not surviving. This goes back to point 1. It also means that the business value of time spent on testing needs to be factored in to resource allocation.
  4. Don’t go overboard. If you test every single subject line, you’re being ridiculous.
  5. Keep testing. You can always get better. Markets change, so even if what you’re doing now is ideal, it will need to change in 6 months’ time to stay ideal.

Testing and optimization are about more than just great tools. It’s a mindset of continuous iteration and improvement based on hard data. And it’s the way businesses today survive and thrive.

To hear the full interview, go to:

Thanks again to Tim and his team for hosting a great show.

Striking A Blow Against Sloppy PR & SEO, Google Panda 4.0 Goes After Press Release Sites.

6 Jun

Search Engine Land broke the news recently that Panda 4.0, the newest update to how Google ranks websites for search, has apparently come down heavily on the many press release sites that have become a standard part of the SEO arsenal. You know the sites: generalized dumping grounds for press releases on every topic, where companies could post anything formatted as a news release to eke out some SEO benefits.

It’s hardly surprising if Google has chosen to demote these sites. Google’s express intent for years has been to rank sites highly in search based on merit. Past efforts to game the system, such as keyword stuffing (adding lots of keywords to text that don’t add to meaning but fool search engines) have all fallen in turn.

But the press release sites lingered. Partly, this is because many capitalized on naive companies believing that journalists actually read such sites to get story ideas. They don’t. Many journalists receive over 200 press releases a day and don’t read those, let alone press release sites. So as PR, these sites are useless. Yet they did become a wasteland of bad PR in the form of broadcast releases.

SEO-savvy marketers were posting press releases to these sites solely to gain yet another mention of their brands, which could translate into a slight boost in search visibility. It’s content of no merit, however, put up just to game the SEO system. Hours of time that could have been spent writing content that would genuinely convince potential customers was instead spent spamming up these sites. It was a holdout of old-school SEO, the kind that was not focused on creating good websites but on tricking people to find and come to any site. But companies pay dearly for this kind of SEO spamming, because it alienates potential customers once they realize a site is not what they thought it was. Like all forms of trying to take business shortcuts, SEO gamesmanship and amateur PR end up hurting the very organizations that were trying to get ahead without delivering quality.

Let’s hope that this move from Google will further encourage companies to build quality community and communications programs which is where the real SEO and PR wins can be found. They will benefit all of us more in the long run.
To read more about the new update, go to

Growing Events with Social Media: Twitter Basics

1 Jun
Embed from Getty Images

Social media has the power to transform a quiet get-together and with a few customers into a user conference that fills conference centers. Effective events that reach the right customers can also grow your brand in ways few other things can.

In this practical series, we’ll look at ways to grow events using social media. We’ll start with Twitter. Twitter is the cornerstone of modern events. An event without a Twitter presence may as well not have happened.

Here are the basics for a company event:

1. Establish a hashtag for your event. Don’t worry if it’s not utterly unique. Every short string of letters has been done. Just make sure it’s not overlapping with a very prominent one, one in your immediate competition, or a questionable one. Put the hashtag on all marketing material: emails, website, postcards, handouts.

2. Engage speakers and sponsors early by tweeting @ them as soon as they are confirmed.

3. If your audience is not tweeting your event as much as you’d like, incentivize them. Offer contents to not only encourage word of mouth,  but grow the  confident use of Twitter among your audience.

4. Tweet content as soon as you have it. Post session titles for a multi-session event. Post excerpts from a speaker’s book. Tweet questions your session aims to answer. This whets your audience’s appetite for your event’s topics.

5. Tweet more than just your conference or panel. Don’t stop curating other great stuff. Better still, curate content related to the topic of your event to get more buzz going.

There’s a lot more you can do to amp it up from here: Twitter contests, organizing Birds of a Feather sessions on the fly, using Storify to publish a story after the event, event social voting. These basics, though, create a cornerstone of effective social media for events, and can be done in relatively manageable chunks of time by event staff. Attendees have come to expect a social channel to all events, and with these tips, you can make that channel available effectively, create a more engaged audience, and drive attendance that grows, year on year.

Campaign Marketing Isn’t Dead-But It’s Not the Same, Either

27 Apr

Recently, Forrester Research shook the marketing world a bit by asserting what we’ve all suspected for a while–that campaign marketing as we know it is dead. The old days, when you designed a campaign over months, then deployed it over weeks, then assessed the results are long gone. Most of marketing now is a continuous cycle:

  1. You spot a trend, have an announcement, or just tap into the Zeitgeist
  2. You create a piece of content: an ebook or a blog post or even just a few tweets
  3. You look in real-time at the results
  4. Adjusting according to those results, you go do more of the same or something else.

This is very simplified, but it’s the essence of Agile marketing in everyday English. So does this mean all campaign marketing is dead?

Well, not really.

  • Some pieces of marketing content take a longer time to develop, so their development cycle, though Agile, is not as fast as a Facebook post. In-depth planning is required. A campaign-like structure is needed.
  • Viral marketing and other real-time activities that center on a particular theme are still, no matter how trendy we want to be, really very much like advertising campaigns.
  • It will take stakeholders outside marketing–clients or company leaders–a long time to stop asking for “campaigns,” so marketers are still going to need to label things under the campaign umbrella when presenting to clients.


It’s also useful to call anything a “campaign” that’s part of a long-term strategy. Say you want to reach homeschool parents. Your daily reality is that you first go to a homeschool conference with a small piece of content, a session and some collateral, to assess this market’s needs. You feed learnings from that face-to-face research with the other research you’ve done on size of market, needs, distribution channels, and that other go-to-market foundational stuff. You refine your approach, bring a range of additional messages, and build new content. You gain new followers among homeschool influencers on Twitter. Metrics and sales/subscriptions tell you whether you’re gaining traction in this market, and you iterate your go-to-market approach accordingly. As a marketer, you’re approaching the market with Agile tactics. But within this day-to-day, you are still mounting a “homeschool campaign”: it’s a sustained part of your company strategy to go into this market, and you have a definite timeline to see if you can. To that end, thinking in terms of campaigns makes sense. But “campaign” is no longer a term to describe most marketing tactics. Instead, it’s a word to describe long-term company strategy. It means you’re going after a market, you have a plan to do so, and a timeline for gaining traction. The campaign is not dead–it’s moved closer to the core of who you are as a company.

The Social Organization: Personal Brands and How They Strengthen Your Team

27 Apr


Within a social organization, team members are encouraged to develop their own strong personal voice. This can take the form of active social media presences, public speaking/participation, and blogging, depending on personal style. These internal brand advocates make the company accessible, real, and outward-facing. Team members are not anonymous. Larger companies often fear making every team member a spokesperson, but today’s business teams are increasingly social media- and personal brand-savvy, and will naturally fall into speaking, blogging, and posting on behalf of work they’re passionate about. The key is to focus this work, while maintaining authenticity.

It’s a complex balance. Too little focus, and you’re not fully leveraging employee and leadership passion. Too much, and you risk compromising integrity. Or at least getting a bit repetitive. Luckily, there are rules of thumb that have helped social orgs turn their teams into effective advocates while not interfering with their authentic voice:

  1. Provide Social Media Training: A lot of times, teams want to do more to advocate on behalf of the company, but they need to be empowered with tools and strategy. Provide that training on a formal and informal basis.
  2. Set Up Systems: Make sure that specific people within the organization are tasked with handling social media communications of certain types—customer service posts, for example. Make sure everyone in the organization who’s active on social media knows who’s responsible if a customer tweets a request, for instance. That way, they’ll know whom to escalate to if they get inbound communications that require technical expertise or are sensitive.
  3. Put the Onus on Leadership: The more influential someone is within the organization, the more they should be posting on social media. It’s natural for a founder or senior leader to tweet passionately about your organization, and people are less likely to see such tweets as commercial. It also bypasses the ethical considerations of requiring employees to tweet using personal accounts (which you should never do).
  4. Ensure It’s Optional: Make sure that employees understand that they are not required to use their personal social media to promote the organization.
  5. Set Parameters: A lot of companies are concerned lest language, images, and other posts by employees, whether about the company or just on an account they use to discuss the company, are appropriate. One of the key things you can do is hire team members who use social media professionally, and don’t post, say, kegstands all over Twitter. However, with the exception of egregiously offensive people, whom I hope you don’t employ, most people, though their social media posts may be informal and personal, will do well with the social media training you should be having anyway.
  6. Make It a Channel for Growth: Employees cite opportunities for professional growth as one of the key reasons they choose jobs and stay. Social media is rapidly becoming a key avenue for professional learning, and encouraging employees to leverage it can pay huge dividends in improved skills and productivity. No matter the job function, there is a wealth of quality information out there on LinkedIn and Twitter. Identify employees who are savvy about whom to follow, and ask them to share their favorite news feeds and lists with colleagues. They’ll be amazed at what they can learn.




Building the Social Organization: A Strong Connection to Customers

18 Mar

People Around Conference Table

At the heart of being a social organization is a strong connection to your customers. Ask any business leader, and they’ll say their customers come first. But at social organizations, this customer focus takes on special meaning. It’s not just the biggest customers who come first, but all customers. And it’s not just at the point of sale that they become important, but throughout the product lifecycle, from testing to development. Customers are really an additional “department” within the company, one that actively has a say in what the company builds, who they build it for, and when. Everything is done in collaboration with customers, from marketing to engineering. Scary? Only if you don’t trust your customers to know what they want from your company. And they do. By working with them, you’ll better ensure that you deliver what they need, thereby keeping you in business.

There’s a strong connection between being social and being Agile. Most of the social orgs I’ve come across also embrace Agile, at least in their development, and often in their marketing ops. Social organizations embrace Agile, listening to their customers and building their products based on their needs. They build for the market, rather than trying to create a market for what they want to build. They listen across multiple channels, from Twitter and Facebook to face-to-face meetings, and actively solicit feedback. They also listen to all customers—not just the loudest or the one with the biggest invoice. The reasons are that good ideas come from everywhere, the “little” guy or gal may represent your biggest demographic, and all customers are important—they talk about your brand, and you want them to love your company.

Customers feel they “own” a product that was built for their needs. They use it. They talk about it positively. They are invested in getting others to adopt it. It becomes something they need, and they will naturally talk about it to others they think could use it, too. Suddenly, you have an army of people ready and willing to sell “their” product to their friends, family, and colleagues. And you cannot get a better sales team than your own customers.

Dell’s Official Flickr Page via Compfight cc