Meet Dan Morris, Executive Vice President, North America

  1. Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

The top three reasons were People, Product and Opportunity. I met the people who make up our business and heard their stories from the past 18 years, learned about the platform and market leading status they had built in the UK, and saw that I could add value with my U.S. high growth business experience. I’ve been working with marketers, entrepreneurs and business owners for years across a series of different roles, and saw that I could apply what I’d learned from that and the start-up space to dotmailer’s U.S. operation. dotmailer has had clients in the U.S. for 12 years and we’re positioned to grow the user base of our powerful and easy-to-use platform significantly. I knew I could make a difference here, and what closed the deal for me was the people.  Every single person I’ve met is deeply committed to the business, to the success of our customers and to making our solution simple and efficient.  We’re a great group of passionate people and I’m proud to have joined the dotfamily.

Dan Morris, dotmailer’s EVP for North America in the new NYC office

      1. Tell us a bit about your new role

dotmailer has been in business and in this space for more than 18 years. We were a web agency, then a Systems Integrator, and we got into the email business that way, ultimately building the dotmailer platform thousands of people use daily. This means we know this space better than anyone and we have the perfect solutions to align closely with our customers and the solutions flexible enough to grow with them.  My role is to take all that experience and the platform and grow our U.S. presence. My early focus has been on identifying the right team to execute our growth plans. We want to be the market leader in the U.S. in the next three years – just like we’ve done in the UK –  so getting the right people in the right spots was critical.  We quickly assessed the skills of the U.S. team and made changes that were necessary in order to provide the right focus on customer success. Next, we set out to completely rebuild dotmailer’s commercial approach in the U.S.  We simplified our offers to three bundles, so that pricing and what’s included in those bundles is transparent to our customers.  We’ve heard great things about this already from clients and partners. We’re also increasing our resources on customer success and support.  We’re intensely focused on ease of on-boarding, ease of use and speed of use.  We consistently hear how easy and smooth a process it is to use dotmailer’s tools.  That’s key for us – when you buy a dotmailer solution, we want to onboard you quickly and make sure you have all of your questions answered right away so that you can move right into using it.  Customers are raving about this, so we know it’s working well.

  1. What early accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I’ve been at dotmailer for eight months now and I’m really proud of all we’ve accomplished together.  We spent a lot of time assessing where we needed to restructure and where we needed to invest.  We made the changes we needed, invested in our partner program, localized tech support, customer on-boarding and added customer success team members.  We have the right people in the right roles and it’s making a difference.  We have a commercial approach that is clear with the complete transparency that we wanted to provide our customers.  We’ve got a more customer-focused approach and we’re on-boarding customers quickly so they’re up and running faster.  We have happier customers than ever before and that’s the key to everything we do.

  1. You’ve moved the U.S. team to a new office. Can you tell us why and a bit about the new space?

I thought it was very important to create a NY office space that was tied to branding and other offices around the world, and also had its own NY energy and culture for our team here – to foster collaboration and to have some fun.  It was also important for us that we had a flexible space where we could welcome customers, partners and resellers, and also hold classes and dotUniversity training sessions. I’m really grateful to the team who worked on the space because it really reflects our team and what we care about.   At any given time, you’ll see a training session happening, the team collaborating, a customer dropping in to ask a few questions or a partner dropping in to work from here.  We love our new, NYC space.

We had a spectacular reception this week to celebrate the opening of this office with customers, partners and the dotmailer leadership team in attendance. Please take a look at the photos from our event on Facebook.

Guests and the team at dotmailer's new NYC office warming party

Guests and the team at dotmailer’s new NYC office warming party

  1. What did you learn from your days in the start-up space that you’re applying at dotmailer?

The start-up space is a great place to learn. You have to know where every dollar is going and coming from, so every choice you make needs to be backed up with a business case for that investment.  You try lots of different things to see if they’ll work and you’re ready to turn those tactics up or down quickly based on an assessment of the results. You also learn things don’t have to stay the way they are, and can change if you make them change. You always listen and learn – to customers, partners, industry veterans, advisors, etc. to better understand what’s working and not working.  dotmailer has been in business for 18 years now, and so there are so many great contributors across the business who know how things have worked and yet are always keen to keep improving.  I am constantly in listening and learning mode so that I can understand all of the unique perspectives our team brings and what we need to act on.

  1. What are your plans for the U.S. and the sales function there?

On our path to being the market leader in the U.S., I’m focused on three things going forward: 1 – I want our customers to be truly happy.  It’s already a big focus in the dotmailer organization – and we’re working hard to understand their challenges and goals so we can take product and service to the next level. 2 – Creating an even more robust program around partners, resellers and further building out our channel partners to continuously improve sales and customer service programs. We recently launched a certification program to ensure partners have all the training and resources they need to support our mutual customers.  3 – We have an aggressive growth plan for the U.S. and I’m very focused on making sure our team is well trained, and that we remain thoughtful and measured as we take the steps to grow.  We want to always keep an eye on what we’re known for – tools that are powerful and simple to use – and make sure everything else we offer remains accessible and valuable as we execute our growth plans.

  1. What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

The questions we usually get are around price, service level and flexibility.  How much does dotmailer cost?  How well are you going to look after my business?  How will you integrate into my existing stack and then my plans for future growth? We now have three transparent bundle options with specifics around what’s included published right on our website.  We have introduced a customer success team that’s focused only on taking great care of our customers and we’re hearing stories every day that tells me this is working.  And we have all of the tools to support our customers as they grow and to also integrate into their existing stacks – often integrating so well that you can use dotmailer from within Magento, Salesforce or Dynamics, for example.

  1. Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

In addition to the ones above – ease of use, speed of use and the ability to scale with you. With dotmailer’s tiered program, you can start with a lighter level of functionality and grow into more advanced functionality as you need it. The platform itself is so easy to use that most marketers are able to build campaigns in minutes that would have taken hours on other platforms. Our customer success team is also with you all the way if ever you want or need help.  We’ve built a very powerful platform and we have a fantastic team to help you with personalized service as an extended part of your team and we’re ready to grow with you.

  1. How much time is your team on the road vs. in the office? Any road warrior tips to share?

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, one year I attended 22 tradeshows! Top tip when flying is to be willing to give up your seat for families or groups once you’re at the airport gate, as you’ll often be rewarded with a better seat for helping the airline make the family or group happy. Win win! Since joining dotmailer, I’m focused on being in office and present for the team and customers as much as possible. I can usually be found in our new, NYC office where I spend a lot of time with our team, in customer meetings, in trainings and other hosted events, sales conversations or marketing meetings. I’m here to help the team, clients and partners to succeed, and will always do my best to say yes! Once our prospective customers see how quickly and efficiently they can execute tasks with dotmailer solutions vs. their existing solutions, it’s a no-brainer for them.  I love seeing and hearing their reactions.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m originally from Yorkshire in England, and grew up just outside York. I moved to the U.S. about seven years ago to join a very fast growing startup, we took it from 5 to well over 300 people which was a fantastic experience. I moved to NYC almost two years ago, and I love exploring this great city.  There’s so much to see and do.  Outside of dotmailer, my passion is cars, and I also enjoy skeet shooting, almost all types of music, and I love to travel – my goal is to get to India, Thailand, Australia and Japan in the near future.

Want to find out more about the dotfamily? Check out our recent post about Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support.

Reblogged 3 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

The Magento Xcelerate program: A positive sum game

As an open source ecommerce platform, Magento is flexible and accessible for developers to work with and as a result, an active community of developers emerged on online forums and at offline meetups all over the world. Many of these were happily plugging away independently of Magento until the split from eBay in early 2015.

Free from the reins of eBay, Magento has decisively been reaching out to, promoting and rewarding the individuals, agencies and technology providers that make up its ecosystem. Last February they announced the Magento Masters Program, empowering the top platform advocates, frequent forum contributors and the innovative solution implementers. Then at April‘s Magento Imagine conference (the largest yet) the theme emerged as ‘We are Magento”, in celebration of the community.

The new Xcelerate Technology Partner Program focuses not on individuals but on business partnerships formed with the technology companies that offer tools for Magento merchants to implement.

 Sharing ideas, opportunities and successes:

This is the Xcelerate Program tagline, which acts as a sort of mission statement to get the technology partners involved moving with regards to continuously considering Magento in their own technology roadmap and jointly communicating successes and learnings from working on implementations with merchants.

“In turn, the program offers members the tools to get moving, through events, resources and contacts. Our goal is to enable you to be an integral part of the Magento ecosystem” Jon Carmody, Head of Technology Partners

The program in practice:

The new program is accompanied by the new Marketplace from which the extensions can be purchased and downloaded. The program splits the extensions into 3 partnership levels:

Registered Partners – these are technology extensions that the new Magento Marketplace team test for code quality. Extensions must now pass this initial level to be eligible for the Marketplace. With each merchant having on average 15 extensions for their site, this is a win for merchants when it comes to extension trustworthiness.

Select Partners – extensions can enter this second tier if the technology falls into one of the strategic categories identified by Magento and if they pass an in-depth technical review. These will be marked as being ‘Select’ in the Marketplace.

Premier Partners – this level is by invitation only, chosen as providing crucial technology to Magento merchants (such as payments, marketing, tax software). The Magento team’s Extension Quality Program looks at coding structure, performance, scalability, security and compatibility but influence in the Community is also a consideration. dotmailer is proud to be the first Premier Technology Partner in the marketing space for Magento.

All in all, the latest move from Magento in illuminating its ecosystem should be positive for all; the merchants who can now choose from a vetted list of extensions and know when to expect tight integration, the technology partners building extensions now with clearer merchant needs/extension gaps in mind and guidance from Magento, and of course the solution implementers recommending the best extension for the merchant now knowing it will be maintained.

Reblogged 3 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Lessons from the Front Line of Front-End Content Development

Posted by richardbaxterseo

As content marketing evolves, the list of media you could choose to communicate your message expands. So does the list of technologies at your disposal. But without a process, a project plan and a tried and tested approach, you might struggle to gain any traction at all.

In this post, based on my
MozCon 2014 presentation, I’d like to share the high level approach we take while developing content for our clients, and the lessons we’ve learned from initial research to final delivery. Hopefully there are some takeaways for you to enhance your own approach or make your first project a little less difficult.

This stuff is hard to do

I hate to break it to you, but the first few times you attempt to develop something
a little more innovative, you’re going to get burned. Making things is pretty tough and there are lots of lessons to learn. Sometimes you’ll think your work is going to be huge, and it flops. That sucks, move on, learn and maybe come back later to revisit your approach.

To structure and execute a genuinely innovative, successful content marketing campaign, you need to understand what’s possible, especially within the context of your available skills, process, budget, available time and scope.

You’ll have a few failures along the journey, but when something goes viral, when people respond positively to your work – that, friends, feels amazing.

What this post is designed to address

In the early days of SEO, we built links. Email outreach, guest posting, eventually, infographics. It was easy, for a time. Then,
Penguin came and changed everything.

Our industry learned that we should be finding creative and inventive ways to solve our customers’ problems, inspire, guide, help – whatever the solution, an outcome had to be justified. Yet still, a classic habit of the SEO remained: the need to decide in what form the content should be executed before deciding on the message to tell.

I think we’ve evolved from “let’s do an infographic on something!” to “I’ve got a concept that people will love should this be long form, an interactive, a data visualization, an infographic, a video, or something else?”

This post is designed to outline the foundations on an approach you can use to enhance your approach to content development. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:

The first rule of almost anything: be prepared or prepare to fail. This rule definitely applies to content development!

Understand the technical environment you’re hosting your content in

Never make assumptions about the technical environment your content will be hosted in. We’ve learned to ask more about technical setup of a client’s website. You see, big enterprise class sites usually have load balancing, 
pre-rendering, and very custom JavaScript that could introduce technical surprises much too late in the process. Better to be aware of what’s in store than hope your work will be compatible with its eventual home.

Before you get started on any development or design, make sure you’ve built an awareness of your client’s development and production environments. Find out more about their CMS, code base, and ask what they can and cannot host.

Knowing more about the client’s development schedule, for example how quickly a project can be uploaded, will help you plan lead times into your project documentation.

We’ve found that discussing early stage ideas with your client’s development team will help them visualise the level of task required to get something live. Involving them at this early stage means you’re informed on any potential risk in technology choice that will harm your project integrity later down the line.

Initial stakeholder outreach and ideation

Way back at MozCon 2013, I presented an idea called “really targeted outreach“. The concept was simple: find influential people in your space, learn more about the people they influence, and build content that appeals to both.

We’ve been using a similar methodology for larger content development projects: using social data to inspire the creative process gathered from the Twitter Firehose and
other freely available tools, reaching out to identified influencers and ask them to contribute or feedback on an idea. The trick is to execute your social research at a critical, early stage of the content development process. Essentially, you’re collecting data to gain a sense of confidence in the appeal of your content.

We’ve made content with such a broad range of people involved, from astronauts to butlers working at well known, historic hotels. With a little of the right approach to outreach, it’s amazing how helpful people can be. Supplemented by the confidence you’ve gained from your data, some positive results from your early stage outreach can really set a content project on the right course.

My tip: outreach and research several ideas and tell your clients which was most popular. If you can get them excited and behind the idea with the biggest response then you’ll find it easier to get everyone on the same page throughout your project.

Asset collection and research

Now, the real work begins. As I’ve
written elsewhere, I believe that the depth of your content, it’s accuracy and integrity is an absolute must if it is to be taken seriously by those it’s intended for.

Each project tends to be approached a little differently, although I tend to see these steps in almost every one: research, asset collection, storyboarding and conceptual illustration.

For asset collection and research, we use a tool called
Mural.ly – a wonderful collaborative tool to help speed up the creative process. Members of the project team begin by collecting relevant information and assets (think: images, quotes, video snippets) and adding them to the project. As the collection evolves, we begin to arrange the data into something that might resemble a timeline:

After a while, the story begins to take shape. Depending on how complex the concept is, we’ll either go ahead with some basic illustration (a “white board session”) or we’ll detail the storyboard in a written form. Here’s the Word document that summarised the chronological order of the content we’d planned for our
Messages in the Deep project:

messages-in-the-deep-storyboard

And, if the brief is more complex, we’ll create a more visual outline in a whiteboard session with our designers:

interactive-map-sketch

How do you decide on the level of brief needed to describe your project? Generally, the more complex the project, the more important a full array of briefing materials and project scoping will be. If, however, we’re talking simpler, like “long form” article content, the chances are a written storyboard and a collection of assets should be enough.

schema-guide

Over time, we’ve learned how to roll out content that’s partially template based, rather than having to re-invent the wheel each time. Dan’s amazing
Log File Analysis guide was reused when we decided to re-skin the Schema Guide, and as a result we’ve decided to give Kaitlin’s Google Analytics Guide the same treatment.

Whichever process you choose, it helps to re-engage your original contributors, influencers and publishers for feedback. Remember to keep them involved at key stages – if for no other reason than to make sure you’re meeting their expectations on content they’d be willing to share.

Going into development

Obviously we could talk all day about the development process. I think I’ll save the detail for my next post, but suffice it to say we’ve learned some big things along the way.

Firstly, it’s good to brief your developers well before the design and content is finalised. Particularly if there are features that might need some thought and experimental prototyping. I’ve found over time that a conversation with a developer leads to a better understanding of what’s easily possible with existing libraries and code. If you don’t involve the developers in the design process, you may find yourself committed to building something extremely custom, and your project timeline can become drastically underestimated.

It’s also really important to make sure that your developers have had the opportunity to specify how they’d like the design work to be delivered; file format; layers and sizing for different break points are all really important to an efficient development schedule and make a huge difference to the agility of your work.

Our developers like to have a logical structure of layers and groups in a PSD. Layers and groups should all be named and it’s a good idea to attach different UI states for interactive elements (buttons, links, tabs, etc.), too.

Grid layouts are much preferred although it doesn’t matter if it’s 1200px or 960px, or 12/16/24 columns. As long as the content has some structure, development is easier.

As our developers like to say: Because structure = patterns = abstraction = good things and in an ideal world they prefer to work with
style tiles.

Launching

Big content takes more promotion to get that all important initial traction. Your outreach strategy has already been set, you’ve defined your influencers, and you have buy in from publishers. So, as soon as your work is ready, go ahead and tell your stakeholders it’s live and get that flywheel turning!

My pro tip for a successful launch is be prepared to offer customised content for certain publishers. Simple touches, like
The Washington Post’s animated GIF idea was a real touch of genius – I think some people liked the GIF more than the actual interactive! This post on Mashable was made possible by our development of some of the interactive to be iFramed – publishers seem to love a different approach, so try to design that concept in right at the beginning of your plan. From there, stand back, measure, learn and never give up!

That’s it for today’s post. I hope you’ve found it informative, and I look forward to your comments below.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 4 years ago from moz.com

Announcing the 2014 Local Search Ranking Factors Results

Posted by David-Mihm

Many of you have been tweeting, emailing, asking in conference Q&As, or just generally awaiting this year’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey results.
Here they are!

Hard to believe, but this is the seventh year I’ve conducted this survey—local search has come a long way since the early days of the 10-pack way back in 2008! As always, a massive thanks to all of the expert panelists who in many cases gave up a weekend or a date night in order to fill out the survey.

New this year

As the complexity of the local search results has increased, I’ve tried to keep the survey as manageable as possible for the participants, and the presentation of results as actionable as possible for the community. So to that end, I’ve made a couple of tweaks this year.

Combination of desktop and mobile results

Very few participants last year perceived any noticeable difference between ranking criteria on desktop and mobile devices, so this year I simply asked that they rate localized organic results, and pack/carousel results, across both result types.

Results limited to top 50 factors in each category

Again, the goal here was to simplify some of the complexity and help readers focus on the factors that really matter. Let me know in the comments if you think this decision detracts significantly from the results, and I’ll revisit it in 2015.

Factors influenced by Pigeon

If you were at Matt McGee’s Pigeon session at SMX East a couple of weeks ago, you got an early look at these results in my presentation. The big winners were domain authority and proximity to searcher, while the big losers were proximity to centroid and having an address in the city of search. (For those who weren’t at my presentation, the latter assessment may have to do with larger radii of relevant results for geomodified phrases).

My own takeaways

Overall, the
algorithmic model that Mike Blumenthal developed (with help from some of the same contributors to this survey) way back in 2008 continues to stand up. Nonetheless, there were a few clear shifts this year that I’ll highlight below:

  • Behavioral signals—especially clickthrough rate from search results—seem to be increasing in importance. Darren Shaw in particular noted Rand’s IMEC Labs research, saying “I think factors like click through rate, driving directions, and “pogo sticking” are valuable quality signals that Google has cranked up the dial on.”
  • Domain authority seems to be on its way up—particularly since the Pigeon rollout here in the U.S. Indeed, even in clear instances of post-Pigeon spam, the poor results seem to relate to Google’s inability to reliably separate “brands” from “spam” in Local. I expect Google to get better at this, and the importance of brand signals to remain high.
  • Initially, I was surprised to see authority and consistency of citations rated so highly for localized organic results. But then I thought to myself, “if Google is increasingly looking for brand signals, then why shouldn’t citations help in the organic algorithm as well?” And while the quantity of structured citations still rated highly for pack and carousel results, consistent citations from quality sources continue to carry the day across both major result types.
  • Proximity to searcher saw one of the biggest moves in this year’s survey. Google is getting better at detecting location at a more granular level—even on the desktop. The user is the new Centroid.
  • For markets where Pigeon has not rolled out yet (i.e. everywhere besides the U.S.), I’d encourage business owners and marketers to start taking as many screenshots of their primary keywords as possible. With the benefit of knowing that Pigeon will eventually roll out in your countries, the ability to compare before-and-after results for the same keywords will yield great insight for you in discerning the direction of the algorithm.

As with every year, though, it’s the comments from the experts and community (that’s you, below!) that I find most interesting to read.  So I think at this point I’ll sign off, crack open a
GABF Gold-Medal-Winning Breakside IPA from Portland, and watch them roll in!

2014 Local Search Ranking Factors

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Reblogged 5 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How to Be More Creative in Your Online Campaigns

Posted by ShellShock

The SEO landscape has changed so much in the last few years in the wake of the Penguin and Panda apocalypse that the discipline is now considered in the broader terms of online marketing or digital marketing. The one element that is common is the requirement for new skills such as PR, classic marketing and most importantly: creativity. Agencies and freelance individuals who can’t adapt, evolve and embrace the new mode of thinking/operating are vulnerable with nowhere to hide behind mediocre work and outdated tactics.

Be more creative, is a phrase often used within business and marketing with little consideration given to its meaning. But, what does it mean to be creative?

There is much confusion about what creativity is and a general misconception of mistaking style for creativity. Most designers are stylists: they make things look good. Creativity is about concepts, ideas and innovation. In art school, I was always taught that being able to justify the concept was the most important element of creativity. You had to argue your reason for why the design piece was a solution to the problem. I can still recall how nervous I used to get before a group critique session (the phrase blood bath comes to mind) even though it was over 20 years ago. It’s not about how good it looks – it’s how well it answers the questions.

Creativity is a skill we can all access. Everyone has the capacity to generate ideas. Admittedly, some people are more inclined towards creative thinking, just as some are able to figure large maths calculations in their head or swim like Michael Phelps. But anyone can increase his or her level of creativity by learning the skills of thinking and exercising their idea muscle.

I recently published a free ebook called ‘What is Creativity?’ and the following are six ideas extracted and expanded from the book to increase your creative thinking and improve your online campaigns:


Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating. John Cleese


Learning to switch into open mode
Ex Monty Python, John Cleese understands and defines the creative process as learning to switch between two states or modes: open and closed. When we are under pressure and stress to deliver, such as in our everyday working lives, we are in closed mode. When we are relaxed, detached from problems and playful, we are in the open mode. Open can be considered playful (lateral thinking) and closed logical (vertical thinking). Just as we need both lateral thinking and vertical thinking, we need open and closed states to solve a problem: the open state allows us to develop creative ideas and then the closed state to plan and implement the idea. These are similarly aligned to vertical and lateral thinking processes.

1: How to achieve an Open state
Schedule time to avoid being distracted and remove the pressure to instantly generate ideas; your brain needs time to open up. The optimum amount of time is 90 minutes, it takes a minimum of 60 minutes for the brain to focus on a task and after 90 minutes will be prone to distraction and need a break.

Place of work is essential for creatives to get into state – most writers and artists will follow a routine and often have isolated spaces such as garden offices to minimize distraction. Some artists need to be surrounded by ephemera such as the collection of memorabilia that Paul Smith surrounds himself with for inspiration. Others, like Maya Angelou, prefer minimalism and, like myself, need an uncluttered desk and space for an uncluttered mind to be able to think.

Agatha Christie preferred to work in a large Victorian bath whilst eating apples. Benjamin Franklin would work naked for an hour every morning. Maya Angelou preferred the isolation of a hotel room and requested everything removed from the walls; she would bring her own sherry and ashtray. The eccentric poet Dame Edith Sitwell would lie down in a coffin finding inspiration in the claustrophobic and restrictive space.

You don’t need to go to the extremes of a coffin but find a space which is conducive to relaxation and without distraction, anywhere that removes you from association with work or pressure (preferably not home). Try a coffee shop (JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in her local coffee shop), the library, a hotel or even a camper van (Breaking Bad style). Removing yourself from the usual place of work will remove yourself from distraction, help the brain to break pattern which in turn will switch into a more receptive state for ideas.

To access open mode if you are in a group:
The open state thrives in humor and play so try the dinner party technique: create the dream dinner party guest list, such as Einstein, Da Vinci, Churchill, Kennedy or even fictional characters such as Don Corleone, Jack Sparrow and Luke Skywalker. Each person should take a persona and become their character – they must answer questions and think like they would imagine that character to think. The perfect warm up exercise; it is huge fun, encourages humor, it breaks awkwardness and forces the brain to break pattern from your normal style of thinking. Keep this game going for a minimum of 20 minutes before your brainstorm.

To access open mode if you are alone:
Research has shown a correlation between increased dopamine and creativity. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical which the brain releases to signal success but this chemical is not as straight forward and predictable as a reliable tool. The increase of endorphins will elevate our mood and help us achieve our open state: physical exercise is one of the easiest ways to access a rush of endorphins although, spicy food, sexual activity and pain can also trigger release – so whatever gets you going!

Try a walk, swim or bike ride to stimulate feel good. You want to ensure a careful balance of feeling exhilarated but also avoiding energy depletion. Opt for a route that you haven’t been on before to break any automatic behavior patterns. Walking in a new part of town and observing the unfamiliar territory or running backwards will stimulate new thought and movement patterns thus putting you into a more creative and receptive state.


Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, the just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.Steve Jobs


2: Make connections with an ideas wall
The ability to make connections and see relationships between seemingly random elements is the secret to creativity. Combining old elements to create something new.

Idea walls solve crimes
It’s no coincidence that you see examples of ideas walls on TV dramas and movies such as: Homelands, Sherlock Holmes, A Beautiful Mind and Three and a Half Days Later. Detectives have long used this technique to assist solving crimes. Placing photographs of the known or suspected perpetrators, victims, crime scenes and evidence on a wall enables items of evidence to be repositioned and grouped; string can link items together for visual affect. A detective can then stand back and mentally take in a great deal of information at once. The brain begins to process and use its natural ability to seek the connections between the items, find the clues and answers to the case.

images from Crazy Walls

When the BBC conducted a site redesign in 2010 they printed out the entire site and mounted on a wall affectionately known as ‘the wall of shame’. To enable them to better visualize what they had and to unify the visual and interaction design of the desktop and mobile sites.

How to create a content strategy ideas wall
Tools needed: paper, colored pens, highlighter pens, print outs of all reference material, colored string and push-pins, post it notes, blu tack or tape, and a large wall space, pin board or sheets of foam board.

  • Organize your reference material into themes or groups and pin/stick to the wall.
  • Devise a color code system for your different groups with the pen color you have and use the colored pens and highlighter and mark and highlight relevant pages and sections of information. (Homelands style, see above)
  • For example, if you are working on content strategy for your site group into:
    • Influencers – list influencers who could help to broadcast your content and sub group in different social media channels, newsletters and authority sites (eg Guardian, Huffington Post, Fast Company)
    • Audit – audit current site content
    • Idea sources – places to mine ideas from such as offline periodicals, online Q&A sites like Quora, social media channels and Google trends
    • Host Locations – potential sites to target for exposure, shares and links: authority hub sites, bloggers, online magazines/publishers, email newsletters and social media sites

  • By grouping related themes we start to see patterns. If you have a piece that doesn’t fit into a group this ‘outlier’ could in itself give ideas.
  • Stand back from the wall and look for potential relationships or connections between the information. Using push pins and colored string make a visual link between the two. (See photos above)
  • The key here is flexibility: move pieces of paper round, create new string links, devise new groups – by repositioning, regrouping and relinking this is where your ideas will start to form and generate as you begin to make the connections.

If wall space is an issue or you prefer a digital version, Mural.ly is an online alternative to creating an ideas wall; describing itself as “an online whiteboard designed to visually organize ideas and collaborate in a playful way.” Mural.ly allows collaboration of team members and you can drag and drop your reference material onto the white board and reposition items and make notes. I have only just begun to play with this tool and it has huge depth and potential to assist in creative projects.

image from Mural.ly

Pinterest is one of my favourite scrapbook tools for collecting visual information as an alternative. I use Evernote extensively for collecting information and research material. Quora is my favourite site for finding ideas for content.

4: How to brainstorm the right way:

Generating ideas for content, marketing strategies or even creative use of data can all be more productive if tackled in a group – the synergy from more than one person will bring fresh perspective, new ideas and energy. But, brainstorming is such a common term that most people don’t consider how to undertake a session effectively.

One of the most important elements within team idea generation is trust and harmony. The group must be able to work well together through respect for each others’ opinions and ability and a general air of amiability. Any disagreeable personalities, critical individuals or large egos are not conducive to successful creative brainstorming and should be excluded from the group.

image from Atomic Spin

The following rules should be set to deter any fear or negativity that can squash creativity so that you can encourage a safe space to open up:

  • A diverse range of skills present in the group works well in bringing alternative approaches, as does varying levels of experience, age, gender and personality.
  • Allocate enough time to warm up and to focus. Between an hour and 90 minutes is preferable – after this the brain loses focus and needs a break. I recommend the ‘dinner party’ game above or another icebreaker to create an open state.
  • Allow the most junior person in the room to speak first and in turn to most senior. This removes any pressure from a junior member who may be intimidated to follow an experienced authority.
  • Stay focused on the topic. It is natural in group discussion to lose focus and drift into other subjects. The moderator must be vigilant in this area.
  • An experienced moderator is essential to the process and should be able to direct and manage the group without obstructing and keep the group on track and focused and ensure everyone follows the rules (such as not being negative or overbearing). The moderator will take notes (on a white board) and assist as an objective opinion to draw connections between ideas.
  • Above all else no judging, criticism or rejection of any idea – anything is valid and can be considered.

Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.Sir Ken Robinson


5: Change your thinking, change your life
If your natural disposition is not creative a creative thinker you can become more creative through repeated action, discipline and learning new ways to think.

Repetition and discipline
The more the brain processes a routine or skill, such as a new language or driving a car, the deeper the synapses physically carve a channel in the brain. Which explains to some degree why when we first learn a skill we have to concentrate intensely; it takes a great deal of energy, but through applied discipline it eventually becomes almost automatic and we don’t appear to think about what we are doing, the subconscious takes over.

Ten ideas lists
One of my favorite exercises to train your brain and develop your idea muscle is to generate lists of ideas everyday. I have to credit James Altucher and I recommend his article on how to become an idea machine here:

The concept is simple but challenging: think of ten new ideas. These can be for anything such as ten new business ideas, ten new ways to obtain quality earned links, ten new ways to improve conversion on a page or ten new ways to save energy, ten new ways to make a better cup of coffee or ten new ways to travel to work. For example:

Ten new ways to travel to work for free:

  1. Walk
  2. Push bike
  3. Run
  4. Roller blades
  5. Hitchhike
  6. Horse
  7. Skate board tied to a car (do I need to explain why this is a bad idea?)
  8. Get a job next to a canal and kayak to work
  9. Move to the Caribbean, live in a beach hut and swim to work
  10. Move to the top of a hill and go kart – makes the home journey a challenge (next list?)

The purpose is not to create ideas you will act on or even sensible, rational or reasonable ideas. This is gym training for the mind only so don’t get precious with your lists. Your first few lists may appear deceptively easy but as you begin to run out of obvious ideas you have to work hard just to think of list ideas and ten new ideas for my ten new ideas list is going to make your brain work for it. Don’t make the mistake of underrating this exercise; everything improves and becomes easier with practice and repetition.

6: Garbage in: Garbage out
My advice above all else is to read as widely as possible as I believe this feeds a creative mind more than any other activity. Just as athletes can only achieve their personal best if they eat a highly optimized diet, creatives need quality brain food and mental stimulation on a regular basis to operate at their creative best. You get out what you put in.

This article is an extract from ‘What is Creativity?’ a 76 page free ebook which offers an introduction to creativity with actionable tips to improve your thinking skills. The second part of the book is dedicated to thought leaders interviews who were posed the question: “what does creativity meant to you?”. Contributors include: Rand Fishkin, Bas Van Den Beld, Paddy Moogan, Neil Patel, Dave Trott, Lee Odden and Chris Brogan. You can download a free copy at creativity101 here…

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