Local Business Transparency & Empathy for the Holidays: Tips + Downloadable Checklist

Posted by MiriamEllis

Your local business will invest its all in stocking shelves and menus with the right goods and services in advance of the 2018 holiday season, but does your inventory include the on-and-offline experiences consumers say they want most?

Right now, a potential patron near you is having an experience that will inform their decision of whether to do business with you at year’s end, and their takeaway is largely hinging on two things: your brand’s transparency and empathy.

An excellent SproutSocial survey of 1,000 consumers found that people define transparency as being:

  • Open (59%)
  • Clear (53%)
  • Honest (49%)

Meanwhile, after a trying year of fake news, bad news, and privacy breaches, Americans could certainly use some empathy from brands that respect their rights, needs, aspirations, and time.

Today, let’s explore how your local brand can gift customers with both transparency and empathy before and during the holiday season, and let’s make it easy for your team with a shareable, downloadable checklist, complete with 20 tips for in-store excellence and holiday Google My Business best practices:

Grab the Holiday Checklist now!

For consumers, even the little things mean a lot

Your brother eats at that restaurant because its owner fed 10,000 meals to displaced residents during a wildfire. My sister won’t buy merchandise from that shop because their hiring practices are discriminatory. A friend was so amazed when the big brand CEO responded personally to her complaint that she’s telling all her social followers about it now.

Maybe it’s always been a national pastime for Americans to benefit one another with wisdom gained from their purchasing experiences. I own one of the first cookbooks ever published in this country and ‘tis full of wyse warnings about how to avoid “doctored” meats and grains in the marketplace. Social media has certainly amplified our voices, but it has done something else that truly does feel fresh and new. Consider SproutSocial’s findings that:

  • 86% of Americans say transparency from businesses is more important than ever before.
  • 40% of people who say brand transparency is more important than ever before attribute it to social media.
  • 63% of people say CEOs who have their own social profiles are better representatives for their companies than CEOs who do not.

What were customers’ chances of seeking redress and publicity just 20 years ago if a big brand treated them poorly? Today, they can document with video, write a review, tweet to the multitudes, even get picked up by national news. They can use a search engine to dig up the truth about a company’s past and present practices. And… they can find the social profiles of a growing number of brand representatives and speak to them directly about their experiences, putting the ball in the company’s court to respond for all to see.

In other words, people increasingly assume brands should be directly accessible. That’s new!

Should this increased expectation of interactive transparency terrify businesses?

Absolutely not, if their intentions and policies are open, clear, and honest. It’s a little thing to treat a customer with fairness and regard, but its impacts in the age of social media are not small. In fact, SproutSocial found that transparent practices are golden as far as consumer loyalty is concerned:

  • 85% of people say a business’ history of being transparent makes them more likely to give it a second chance after a bad experience.
  • 89% of people say a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue.

I highly recommend reading the entire SproutSocial study, and while it focuses mainly on general brands and general social media, my read of it correlated again and again to the specific scenario of local businesses. Let’s talk about this!

How transparency & empathy relate to local brands

“73.8% of customers were either likely or extremely likely to continue to do business with a merchant once the complaint had been resolved.”
GetFiveStars

On the local business scene, we’re also witnessing the rising trend of consumers who expect accountability and accessibility, and who speak up when they don’t encounter it. Local businesses need to commit to openness in terms of their business practices, just as digital businesses do, but there are some special nuances at play here, too.

I can’t count the number of negative reviews I’ve read that cited inconvenience caused by local business listings containing wrong addresses and incorrect hours. These reviewers have experienced a sense of ill-usage stemming from a perceived lack of respect for their busy schedules and a lack of brand concern for their well-being. Neglected online local business information leads to neglected-feeling customers who sometimes even believe that a company is hiding the truth from them!

These are avoidable outcomes. As the above quote from a GetFiveStars survey demonstrates, local brands that fully participate in anticipating, hearing, and responding to consumer needs are rewarded with loyalty. Given this, as we begin the countdown to holiday shopping, be sure you’re fostering basic transparency and empathy with simple steps like:

  • Checking your core citations for accurate names, addresses, phone numbers, and other info and making necessary corrections
  • Updating your local business listing hours to reflect extended holiday hours and closures
  • Updating your website and all local landing pages to reflect this information

Next, bolster more advanced transparency by:

  • Using Google Posts to clearly highlight your major sale dates so people don’t feel tricked or left out
  • Answering all consumer questions via Google Questions & Answers in your Google Knowledge Panels
  • Responding swiftly to both positive and negative reviews on core platforms
  • Monitoring and participating on all social discussion of your brand when concerns or complaints arise, letting customers know you are accessible
  • Posting in-store signage directing customers to complaint phone/text hotlines

And, finally, create an empathetic rapport with customers via efforts like:

  • Developing and publishing a consumer-centric service policy both on your website and in signage or print materials in all of your locations
  • Using Google My Business attributes to let patrons know about features like wheelchair accessibility, available parking, pet-friendliness, etc.
  • Publishing your company giving strategies so that customers can feel spending with you supports good things — for example, X% of sales going to a local homeless shelter, children’s hospital, or other worthy cause
  • Creating a true welcome for all patrons, regardless of gender, identity, race, creed, or culture — for example, gender neutral bathrooms, feeding stations for mothers, fragrance-free environments for the chemically sensitive, or even a few comfortable chairs for tired shoppers to rest in

A company commitment to standards like TAGFEE coupled with a basic regard for the rights, well-being, and aspirations of customers year-round can stand a local brand in very good stead at the holidays. Sometimes it’s the intangible goods a brand stocks — like goodwill towards one’s local community — that yield a brand of loyalty nothing else can buy.

Why not organize for it, organize for the mutual benefits of business and society with a detailed, step-by-step checklist you can take to your next team meeting?:

Download the 2018 Holiday Local SEO Checklist

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 1 week ago from tracking.feedpress.it

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 2 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Becoming Better SEO Scientists – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by MarkTraphagen

Editor’s note: Today we’re featuring back-to-back episodes of Whiteboard Friday from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting. Make sure to also check out the second episode, “UX, Content Quality, and SEO” from Eric Enge.

Like many other areas of marketing, SEO incorporates elements of science. It becomes problematic for everyone, though, when theories that haven’t been the subject of real scientific rigor are passed off as proven facts. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Stone Temple Consulting’s Mark Traphagen is here to teach us a thing or two about the scientific method and how it can be applied to our day-to-day work.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.
Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Mozzers. Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting here today to share with you how to become a better SEO scientist. We know that SEO is a science in a lot of ways, and everything I’m going to say today applies not only to SEO, but testing things like your AdWords, how does that work, quality scores. There’s a lot of different applications you can make in marketing, but we’ll focus on the SEO world because that’s where we do a lot of testing. What I want to talk to you about today is how that really is a science and how we need to bring better science in it to get better results.

The reason is in astrophysics, things like that we know there’s something that they’re talking about these days called dark matter, and dark matter is something that we know it’s there. It’s pretty much accepted that it’s there. We can’t see it. We can’t measure it directly. We don’t even know what it is. We can’t even imagine what it is yet, and yet we know it’s there because we see its effect on things like gravity and mass. Its effects are everywhere. And that’s a lot like search engines, isn’t it? It’s like Google or Bing. We see the effects, but we don’t see inside the machine. We don’t know exactly what’s happening in there.

An artist’s depiction of how search engines work.

So what do we do? We do experiments. We do tests to try to figure that out, to see the effects, and from the effects outside we can make better guesses about what’s going on inside and do a better job of giving those search engines what they need to connect us with our customers and prospects. That’s the goal in the end.

Now, the problem is there’s a lot of testing going on out there, a lot of experiments that maybe aren’t being run very well. They’re not being run according to scientific principles that have been proven over centuries to get the best possible results.

Basic data science in 10 steps

So today I want to give you just very quickly 10 basic things that a real scientist goes through on their way to trying to give you better data. Let’s see what we can do with those in our SEO testing in the future.

So let’s start with number one. You’ve got to start with a hypothesis. Your hypothesis is the question that you want to solve. You always start with that, a good question in mind, and it’s got to be relatively narrow. You’ve got to narrow it down to something very specific. Something like how does time on page effect rankings, that’s pretty narrow. That’s very specific. That’s a good question. Might be able to test that. But something like how do social signals effect rankings, that’s too broad. You’ve got to narrow it down. Get it down to one simple question.

Then you choose a variable that you’re going to test. Out of all the things that you could do, that you could play with or you could tweak, you should choose one thing or at least a very few things that you’re going to tweak and say, “When we tweak this, when we change this, when we do this one thing, what happens? Does it change anything out there in the world that we are looking at?” That’s the variable.

The next step is to set a sample group. Where are you going to gather the data from? Where is it going to come from? That’s the world that you’re working in here. Out of all the possible data that’s out there, where are you going to gather your data and how much? That’s the small circle within the big circle. Now even though it’s smaller, you’re probably not going to get all the data in the world. You’re not going to scrape every search ranking that’s possible or visit every URL.

You’ve got to ask yourself, “Is it large enough that we’re at least going to get some validity?” If I wanted to find out what is the typical person in Seattle and I might walk through just one part of the Moz offices here, I’d get some kind of view. But is that a typical, average person from Seattle? I’ve been around here at Moz. Probably not. But this was large enough.

Also, it should be randomized as much as possible. Again, going back to that example, if I just stayed here within the walls of Moz and do research about Mozzers, I’d learn a lot about what Mozzers do, what Mozzers think, how they behave. But that may or may not be applicable to the larger world outside, so you randomized.

We want to control. So we’ve got our sample group. If possible, it’s always good to have another sample group that you don’t do anything to. You do not manipulate the variable in that group. Now, why do you have that? You have that so that you can say, to some extent, if we saw a change when we manipulated our variable and we did not see it in the control group, the same thing didn’t happen, more likely it’s not just part of the natural things that happen in the world or in the search engine.

If possible, even better you want to make that what scientists call double blind, which means that even you the experimenter don’t know who that control group is out of all the SERPs that you’re looking at or whatever it is. As careful as you might be and honest as you might be, you can end up manipulating the results if you know who is who within the test group? It’s not going to apply to every test that we do in SEO, but a good thing to have in mind as you work on that.

Next, very quickly, duration. How long does it have to be? Is there sufficient time? If you’re just testing like if I share a URL to Google +, how quickly does it get indexed in the SERPs, you might only need a day on that because typically it takes less than a day in that case. But if you’re looking at seasonality effects, you might need to go over several years to get a good test on that.

Let’s move to the second group here. The sixth thing keep a clean lab. Now what that means is try as much as possible to keep anything that might be dirtying your results, any kind of variables creeping in that you didn’t want to have in the test. Hard to do, especially in what we’re testing, but do the best you can to keep out the dirt.

Manipulate only one variable. Out of all the things that you could tweak or change choose one thing or a very small set of things. That will give more accuracy to your test. The more variables that you change, the more other effects and inner effects that are going to happen that you may not be accounting for and are going to muddy your results.

Make sure you have statistical validity when you go to analyze those results. Now that’s beyond the scope of this little talk, but you can read up on that. Or even better, if you are able to, hire somebody or work with somebody who is a trained data scientist or has training in statistics so they can look at your evaluation and say the correlations or whatever you’re seeing, “Does it have a statistical significance?” Very important.

Transparency. As much as possible, share with the world your data set, your full results, your methodology. What did you do? How did you set up the study? That’s going to be important to our last step here, which is replication and falsification, one of the most important parts of any scientific process.

So what you want to invite is, hey we did this study. We did this test. Here’s what we found. Here’s how we did it. Here’s the data. If other people ask the same question again and run the same kind of test, do they get the same results? Somebody runs it again, do they get the same results? Even better, if you have some people out there who say, “I don’t think you’re right about that because I think you missed this, and I’m going to throw this in and see what happens,” aha they falsify. That might make you feel like you failed, but it’s success because in the end what are we after? We’re after the truth about what really works.

Think about your next test, your next experiment that you do. How can you apply these 10 principles to do better testing, get better results, and have better marketing? Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. WordPress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How to Be TAGFEE when You Disagree

Posted by Lisa-Mozstaff

On being TAGFEE


I’m a big advocate of the TAGFEE culture at Moz. It’s one of the big
reasons I joined the team and why I stay here. I also recognize that sometimes
it can be hard to practice it in “Real Life.” 

How, for instance, can I
be both authentic AND fun when I tell Anthony how angry I am that he
took the last two donuts? I can certainly be transparent and authentic,
but, anger and confrontation…where does that get fun?

But those times when you need to be authentic—those are the times when being generous and empathetic matter the most. It may seem more generous and empathetic to just withhold that difficult feedback, but it’s not. Giving that feedback can be scary, and most people imagine things going horribly wrong and leaving everything in ruins when you really just wanted to help.

Having a little bit of self-awareness and a whole lot of hold-on- there-a-minute can really help with this. I’ve been sharing with other Mozzers a way to be Transparent AND Authentic AND Generous AND Fun AND Empathetic AND Exceptional. And I thought I’d share a little bit of it with you too.

Conflict can be productive

Why it’s important to have productive conflict

Why it matters

If you read about the psychology and physiology of confrontations, you’ll realize that our brains aren’t at their best when we’re in a confrontation.

When threatened, our bodies respond by going back to our most basic, primal instincts, sometimes called the lizard brain or (cue scary music) “amygdala hijack.” Blood and oxygen pump away from your brain and into your muscles so you’re equipped to fight or run away.

However, having your higher-order thinking functions deprived of oxygen when confronted by an angry customer or coworker isn’t such a good thing. Your lizard brain isn’t well-equipped to deal with situations diplomatically, or look at ways to find common ground and a win-win solution. It’s looking to destroy or get the heck out of there (or both), and neither of those approaches work well in a business environment.

To really communicate,*everyone* has to feel safe. If you are calm and collected and using the collaborative parts of your brain, but the person you’re talking to is scared or uncertain, you can’t communicate.

Fighting the lizard

Control the physiological and psychological reactions of fear

When you’re in a confrontation, how do you control the physiological and psychological reactions of fear so you can choose to act rather than react?

To bring your brain back, you need to force your brain to use its higher-order thinking functions. Ask yourself questions that the lizard brain can’t answer, and it’ll have to send some of that oxygen and blood back up into the rest of your brain.

Once you’ve freed your brain from the lizard, you have access to your higher thinking functions – and the resources to have a productive confrontation.

Questions to fight the lizard:

  • Find benevolent intent. Ask yourself what you really want from this interaction. Find an intention that’s benevolent for both you and the other person. Draw on your Empathy and Generosity here. 
  • Get curious. Ask yourself why you or the other person is emotional and seek to understand. The lizard brain hates “why” questions. 

This lizard has no choice, but you do! (Image by Lisa Wildwood)

What does productive conflict look like?

Giving up “winning” to win

Give yourself permission to try something new. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, it’s better than the lizard.

These steps assume you’ve got some time to prepare, but sometimes, you find yourself in a confrontation and have to do the best you can. Give yourself permission to try something new. Even if you don’t do it perfectly, it’s better than the lizard taking over. And the more you practice these, the easier and more natural they’ll feel, and the more confidence you’ll have in the power of productive confrontations.

Once I’ve walked you through all of these steps, I’ll talk about how to put it all together. Also note that these steps may be contrary to how you are used to behaving, particularly if you come from a culture that values personal success over teamwork. It may feel strange to do this at first, and it may feel like you’re giving up the chance to “win”… but it’s worth it.


Steps to productive conflict:

  1. Change your story.
  2. Talk about the right things. 
  3. Get curious.
  4. Inspire and be inspired
  5. Follow up.

1 - Change your story

Create a benevolent story and a positive intent

The first step to Productive Conflict is to change your story. And to do that, you first have to realize you’re telling stories in the first place…

We’re all amazing storytellers

We all make up stories every time we see something happen. It’s human nature.

Here’s my story:

This is Anthony, stealing my donut. He saw me coming and grabbed it
before I could.

He’s munching on my donut while I despair of ever
getting a donut.

I don’t get why he’s so selfish that he took two donuts. I mean, didn’t his mama raise him right?

Imaged cropped from an image courtesy of

Stéfan under Creative Commons license

My story is one we all make up sometimes. We paint ourselves as helpless victims thwarted by an evil villain. Sometimes we don’t see them as stories, however, but as reality, and that’s where we get into trouble.

The victim/villain story may get you sympathy, but it takes away your power. During a confrontation, it helps if you remember that it *is* a story, and it’s also:

  • Internal – Something you made up based on what you’ve seen, assumed, or experienced in the past in a similar situation
  • Of questionable validity. It could be true, partially true, or completely bogus 
  • Mutable!

“Mutable?” you ask. Why, yes, it is!

Changing the story you’re telling yourself is the key to having a productive (and powerful) conversation.

Make a happy story

You can read body language really well. And so can the person you’re talking to.

If you’re going to make up a story, make one up that helps you resolve an important issue and maintain your relationships.

Change your story to the most kind and generous one that fits the facts you’ve seen, and then believe it. Why? Because non-verbal cues, state of mind, fear or anger, and judgments and stories affect your reactions and approach to the conversation.

If you’ve planned your words out carefully but the intent doesn’t match, the other person can tell. If your intent isn’t good, the interaction won’t be good either. At best, you may appear to be trying to do the right thing but not really managing it. At worst, you appear insincere and manipulative.

Here’s your benevolent story, just waiting to hatch
(
Image by Pon Malar on Wikimedia under creative commons license)

How to change your story

To help change your story, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why might a reasonable, intelligent, courteous, kind person do that?
  • Could there be circumstances I’m not aware of that could be contributing?
  • What if it was me? How would I explain what happened from my perspective? Be as lenient/forgiving as you can to your imaginary self
Review the facts… what you’ve seen and what you’ve
chosen to pay attention to. They may all appear to support a nasty
story, but you don’t know for sure. Think of the Rorschach tests…
people see different things depending on how they’re feeling and their
unique view on life, so find a benevolent story.

My new story

So, let’s try this on my story.  I’ll start with the facts,
remove my emotional devastation at not getting a donut, and create a
benevolent story:

  • My facts are: I saw someone take the last two donuts.
  • My new benevolent story is: Anthony didn’t see me, and didn’t know how much I was craving a donut.

What do you see? (Image by Hermann Rorschach (died 1922), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

But my story is true!

Let’s assume for a moment, your not-so-nice story is completely, 100%, bonafide TRUE. This is hard, but consider this carefully… It Doesn’t Matter!

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is the best way to motivate them to change. By creating a benevolent story, you give the person a way to improve AND save face. It’s magic!

Assuming the worst can severely damage your relationships, even if it’s true! Getting caught it a mistake makes people immediately defensive, which will hinder the conversation. Give them a chance to just fix things and they’ll be grateful to you and more inspired to make the change stick.

And then there’s the flip side… what if your story is partly or all wrong? This situation, as you can imagine, is much worse.

You’ll probably never find out what truly happened, and may find yourself arguing about the parts you got wrong rather than the real issue. It also damages the relationship, and here’s the key point: even if the person can get past their anger and hear your message, they will likely not like you, trust you, or want to work with you. And I’ve heard crow tastes really bad.

The power of a benevolent story and positive intent

The last part of changing your story is figuring out what you want from the conversation.

Think about what you want to happen, but also what you want from the relationship. The power of a benevolent story and positive intent is that it fosters a better relationship based on trust . That is huge and I recommend that it be part of the intent of all conversations.

Judgment doublecheck!

When you’re done, go back through what you’ve got down and make sure a not-so-nice story hasn’t crept back in:

  • Remove judgment
  • Check that the issue matches your intent

Some examples

Here’s some examples where I take a nasty story, break it down to the facts, and then create a new, benevolent story and a positive intent for a discussion.

Judgment & Nasty Story

Fact

New Benevolent Story

Positive Intent

What a jerk, he just cut me off! Are you trying to kill me?

A car changed lanes in front of me in a way that I found uncomfortable.

Wow, he must not have seen me.

Let him know a head check was needed.

Sue doesn’t respect me enough to respond to my email. She thinks it’s a stupid idea.

Sue didn’t answer my email when I expected.

Sue’s busy and either hasn’t seen my email or hasn’t had time to respond.

Follow up with Sue on what she thinks

What an idiot! That report Bruce turned in didn’t even try to answer the questions I had. It’s useless!

Bruce turned in a report that didn’t have the information I expected and needed.

Bruce wasn’t aware or misunderstood what information I needed.

Let Bruce know what I need in the reports.

Remember that stories spread…all storytellers love an audience. So make sure your story is spreading positivity

2 - Talk about the right things

Get clear on what the conversation needs to be about

What do you want from the conversation?

The next step is to think about what the real issue is. What exactly needs to happen? Who is involved? Who is impacted? Which facts are known? What information is available?

In TAGFEE terms, this is where transparency and being exceptional come in. Make sure that you’re talking about the right issue.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the impact to you and others?
  • What are the facts?
  • Scope – is this the first time? The second? The umpteenth?

Can you spot the judgment?

I just broke my own rules… can you see it?

I’ll give you a hint…it’s that last word in the Scope point… it sneaks in, so check!

Are you talking about apples when the issue is really oranges?

Scope is important:

  • If it’s the first time something has happened, you talk about what happened.
  • If it’s the second or third, talk about how it keeps happening.
  • If you can’t remember how many times it’s happened, talk about how the behavior is affecting your relationship.

Orange

Ask questions to understand and get to the root causes

Be an information maniac

Find out how the other person sees the situation.

Before you trip too far down that happy path, get more information. Seek to understand. Use Empathy and Generosity, and be Authentic. Ask neutral questions to create safety, and give the other person a chance to respond – you might find out something you didn’t know.

Asking neutral questions can create a space of collaboration, where you are both on the same side trying to figure out how to solve an issue you both agree needs to be resolved. It’s not always possible to turn a conflict into a collaboration, but you’d be surprised how many times it does work that way.

Another benefit of asking neutral questions is that it puts off conclusions and judgments until you have talked to the person involved and heard what they have to say. This is critical to keeping the conversation safe and collaborative.

Questions to ask:

  • What is your perspective? What do you see going on?
  • What’s important to you? Tell me more about that.
  • Here’s what I notice… What do you notice?

State conclusions tentatively

You can state a conclusion tentatively, making it clear you’re looking for their input on whether that conclusion is valid or if they have more information.

Listen carefully and continue to put off judgment until you’ve heard what they have to say.

Putting off judgment makes it easier for *you* to admit that you’ve been wrong. You may find what you thought was going to be a difficult conversation instead opens up a new level of authenticity and collaboration in your relationships.

Make sure anything you state definitively are only facts, devoid of judgment.

Be open to being wrong!

Or being surprised by more information that turns your story on its head.

Just maybe it wasn’t Anthony I saw “stealing” donuts in the stormtrooper outfit…

4 - Inspire and be inspiredCreate a mutual purpose or common goal that inspires everyone to move forward

It’s all upside

Why inspire others? Well, why not? There is no downside to inspiring people: it benefits everyone.

The earlier steps talk about getting clear of the negative. This is where the good stuff happens. The Fun in TAGFEE! If you start from what felt like a conflict and end up with a mutual understanding with someone about what an issue is and how to resolve it, all things are possible. It can feel like magic! You move from confrontation to collaboration and win-win thinking that can help you both step outside the box.

Here’s a chart that’s totally made up, but it communicates a key point in communication. Collaboration happens when you both trust and respect the people you’re talking to!

True collaboration

You need both a willingness and freedom to disagree, and mutual trust and respect to get into the “Collaboration Zone.”

The key to inspiring others is to seek to understand their point of view and their goals, and work together with them to find common ground.

Start the collaboration engine by asking some powerful questions and seeing what you can agree on and brainstorm solutions.

Collaboration engine questions:

  • What’s working?
  • What do you think?
  • What can we agree on?
  • What are we both interested in achieving?
  • What’s important about resolving this?
  • What can we try?

A rainbow of solutions

Solutions often go from the black and white “my” vs. “your”
choice to a synergistic combination of mine and yours and other ideas we
brainstormed along the way.

You may disagree on how to do something, but if
you can agree on a common goal, you’re one step closer to a win-win
solution.

Instead
of accusing Anthony of taking the last donut and demanding that he
promise to never do it again, or be reported to Team Happy for a
happiness “adjustment,” my conversation is now about fair access to
donuts at Moz. The entire conversation’s focus has shifted from “I want
Anthony to know how angry I am he stole my donut” to “how can we make
sure no-one at Moz is donut-deprived?” Magic!

Fair Access to Donuts at Moz – Possible solutions:

  • Work with Team Happy to make sure there’s enough donuts for everyone who wants them
  • Ask everyone at the company to only take one
  • Get a fresh donut machine where we can all make our own donuts on demand

5 - Follow up

Agree on what to do next and circle back around
This is a little step with a big impact.  Make sure you’ve captured your conversation and everyone is on board to take action to make your solutions a reality.

Being Exceptional and Authentic come into play here. You’re collaborating on a solution and then making it happen.

Once you’ve established a shared understanding of an issue that needs to be resolved, it’s time to figure out how. Solicit ideas for how to solve the problem. Listen, acknowledge feedback and discuss pros and cons on the solutions until you both agree the solution is a good approach.

Make sure everyone is in agreement on:

  • Goals. How will you measure success?
  • Due dates. Who will do what by when?
  • When to check in: What time will we check to see how we’re doing?

Wrapping it up

Have productive, inspiring conversations, whether you agree or disagree

Before you talk to someone

At first, it may help to write down what you’re planning on saying.

I’ve broken this down into discrete before and during steps, but it doesn’t always end up being that way in practice. Use these steps to plan and practice until it comes naturally.

Steps to prepare:

  • Calm down! Lizard brain begone!
  • Create a happy story
  • Make sure you’re talking about the right thing
  • Write out what you want to say and check for your old story & judgments
  • Remember your benevolent intent

Have the conversation

Steps:

  1. Ask if the person has time to talk
  2. State your benevolent intent
  3. Keep to the facts
  4. State conclusions tentatively
  5. Get curious – seek to understand their point of view
  6. Be open to being wrong. Change your mind if needed.
  7. Aim toward collaboration.
  8. Finish with summarizing what you’ve discussed, and who will do what, when.

Remember the conversation may dictate you take a different path.

If the conversation starts to get heated, re-establish safety:

  • Restate your intent
  • Explicitly state what you’re not trying to do. For example, “I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m trying to help us come to a solution that works for both of us.”

When conflict finds you

If you find yourself in a conversation unexpectedly, these steps can still help. Get curious, find out what they want, how they’re feeling, and tentatively state your perspective and ask for feedback. Some other ideas:

  • Accept the input and acknowledge the emotions but don’t reciprocate. Ask yourself “what do I want from this interaction” to rescue your brain from the lizard.
  • Do your best to establish safety for you and the other person by establishing a positive intent. It can be as simple as “Wow, Lisa, I can see you’re really upset about not getting a donut. I’d like to figure out how I can fix this – can I ask you a few questions?”

Don’t hesitate to take a break

If the conversation is heated, it may be better to step away and take the conversation up later. You might say:

“I can see this is an subject we both care deeply about. I’d like to take some time to prepare for a productive conversation, can we take a break and meet back here in an hour.”

An example conversation

So, my side of the conversation with Anthony about the donuts might go like this:

“Anthony, do you have time to talk?”

“I’d like to talk to you about making sure everyone at Moz has the opportunity to get a donut. ”

“I saw someone taking the last two donuts this morning, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get one.”

“I thought it might be you, so I wanted to talk to you to see what happened.”

“I’m
not accusing you of taking the last two donuts. I’m trying to figure
out what happened and then work on how to make sure the donuts are
evenly distributed at Moz”

“Oh, so you were grabbing a donut for Crystal too! Wow, I totally misinterpreted what I saw!”

“Can you think of ways we can ensure everyone gets a donut?”

“Great, so I’ll contact Team Happy about getting a donut machine tomorrow, and you’ll approve the expense report on Friday.”

Image from Nostalgia Electrics

Perfection not required

Not everything will always turn out wonderful, but at least you’ve approached the problem and given feedback in a way that has the best chance for a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Maybe you’re a little closer to what the real issues are, or you’ve agreed to disagree; even those outcomes will keep miscommunication or confusion from being a source of problems.

If I really feel that donut was mine, and Anthony really thinks that donut was promised to Crystal, we may not agree, but at least everything is on the table where we have the chance to deal with it. And, we’re not telling our nasty stories to everyone but the person we need to talk to.

Feedback is a gift

Annette Promes, our CMO, said to me, “Feedback is a gift,” and it is.

Most folks want to know, and are truly interested in being better… better coworkers, friends, and humans. So let’s all resolve to give that gift in the best way we can. And receive it gratefully when it comes to us.

Oh, and that donut conflict… totally made up. I’m gluten-intolerant girl, so you can always have my share, Anthony! 🙂

Give me feedback

I experimented with converting a training class into a blog post, and would love to have your feedback on what works for you and what could be better.

You can also download this blog post in slidedoc format. It’s a communication technique that’s halfway between presentation and documentation. I learned about it at
Write the Docs this year. You can read more and get the free slidedoc ebook at their site. What do you think?

Other resources

You may find these resources helpful too:

5 Rules for Productive Conflict (TED talk)

6 ways to make conflict productive

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 feedproxy.google.com

Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers

Posted by Annie Cushing

I presented on wrangling and demystifying the data visualization process for marketers at MozCon this year, and it turns out there was far more to talk about than could fit into that half-hour. For the sake of those who couldn’t make it and those who could but want to learn more, I pulled together this overview of my presentation, offering more detail than I could in the slides.

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I’m going to go through the presentation slide by slide to bring the narrative to print.

Slide 3

I have a confession: Although it’s probably safe to say I’m a fairly advanced Excel user — at least among marketers — until recently I had no real charting strategy. In fact, I signed up to do this presentation partly to force me to carve out a strategy, particularly with Google Analytics data.

Slide 4

In this presentation I have focused on Google Analytics data for a couple reasons:

  1. If you can wrangle Google Analytics, other marketing data is a walk in the park.
  2. It has naming conventions that map beautifully to Excel, making it an ideal tutor.

Slide 5

My approach may seem a bit Karate Kid-esque, but if you can grasp the interplay between Google Analytics and Excel, you’ll never be left wondering how to visualize your data.

Although there are many aspects to data visualization, I focus primarily on charting.

Slide 6

In Excel there are two components to charts that are critical to understand: data series and categories. They are always used together.

Think of categories as buckets for your data and data series as the data itself.

Slide 7

If you dumped a pile of Legos in front of a group of kids and told them to organize them by color into their corresponding, labeled containers and then count them, the containers would be categories. And the data series would be the count of Lego bricks.

Slide 8

First let’s peek under the hood on a PC by cracking open the Select Data Source dialog. You get to it by right-clicking on your chart and choosing Select Data.

Slide 9

Excel for Mac also has data series on the left and categories on the right. And that’s about all they have in common.

Slide 10

But, as with most features in Excel for Mac, the functionality of the Mac’s Data Source dialog is far inferior to that of the PC.

Slide 11

This sort option is helpful if you have a stacked chart and want to sort the individual data series. I like to put the larger series on the bottom and smaller ones on the top. But if you have a stacked chart on the Mac and you want to reorder the data series, you actually have to delete the series you want demoted and manually add it back in.

It’s kind of like that game, Hand on Hand, you might have played as a kid where kids go around in a circle putting their right hands in the middle, followed by the left hands. Then they go around the circle moving the bottom hands to the top of the pile as fast as possible.

Although in this case, you’re moving the data series to the
bottom of the pile.

Slide 12

To move the Sessions data series to the bottom of the pile, first select it from the Series list.

Slide 13

Then click the Remove button to delete it from the list.

Slide 14

Then click the Add button to add it back to the list of data series.

Slide 15

Click the data selector button to the right of the Name field and select the series name, as directed in the screenshot.

Slide 16

Click the data selector button to the right of the Y values field and click-and-drag over the values. If the column is long, just click the first cell and press Ctrl-Shift-Down Arrow (Mac: Command-Shift-Down Arrow) to select the entire column without scrolling. (We are nothing if not efficient.)

Slide 17

And finally you need to click-and-drag over the category axis labels. Which brings us to the Mac’s other issue ….

Slide 18

In the PC version, there’s one place for the category axis labels. On the Mac you have to choose the axis labels for each series. It’s counter-intuitive.

Slide 19

Categories end up along the horizontal axis — or the vertical axis for horizontal bar charts.

Slide 20

The data series ends up in the legend and is usually a metric (from GA). But there are a couple exceptions, which we’ll get to in a minute. The categories populate to the horizontal axis label or vertical axis label with the bar chart.

Slide 21

Transition to Google Analytics.

Slide 22

The two major players in Google Analytics – that we’ll be mapping to Excel – are dimensions and metrics. They’re (practically) inseparable.

Slide 23

Dimensions are the buckets your data is broken up into. These come into Excel as text – even if they’re values – like you get with the Days to Transaction dimension (which you can get from Conversions > Ecommerce > Time to Purchase). They are always the far-left column of the table.

  • Add a secondary dimension in any report (standard or custom).

  • Create a custom flat table with two dimensions. Learn how in this post.
  • Use the API. This is the only option that will allow you to use more than two dimensions. You can pull up to seven dimensions in one API call.

Slide 24

Metrics are anything that can be measured with a number.

Slide 25

If you’re in a custom report (or have clicked the Edit link at the top of most standard reports), metrics always show up to a party in blue.

Slide 26

And dimensions show up as green.

You can learn more about custom reports from the
video tutorial I created to help marketers.

Now it’s time to marry Google Analytics and Excel.

Slide 27

In most cases dimensions in Google Analytics map to categories in Excel.

Slide 28

And metrics map to data series in Excel.

Slide 29

I’m going to break this down systematically, based on the number of dimensions and metrics you’re wanting to visualize.

Slide 30

Dimensions: 0

Metrics: Multiple

You want this if you want to know aggregate numbers, e.g, sessions for the month, or revenue, or goal completions.

Slide 31

I hate to start on a downer, but you need the API to do this. The GA interface requires at least one dimension.

Slide 32

As with most things, if you prod enough, you’ll discover hacks and workarounds. But the name of the game here is to come up with a dimension that will only have one bucket. Going back to the Legos analogy, it would be kind of like saying, “Put all the plastic Legos in this bucket and count them.”

Slide 33

Workaround: Set dimension to something that will encompass all of your data, meaning you’ll only have one row in the report. One example of that would be the User Defined dimension (under Audience > Custom > User Defined).

As you’ll see in the screenshot, all of the values are consolidated as (not set) since this profile (now called view) doesn’t use the User Defined dimension.

Slide 34

If you’re still using the User Defined dimension (and, therefore, have multiple rows reporting), you really need to update.

If you’re using classic GA, you should be using custom variables and custom dimensions if you’re using Universal.

Slide 35

Another option is to use the Year dimension with a custom report. This is ideal if you are gathering data for a single month. You can aggregate data beyond one month, as long as the date range you choose doesn’t straddle more than one year.

Slide 36

Here’s what the custom report looks like under the hood. Learn how to 
create custom reports in Google Analytics in a video tutorial I did.

Slide 37

You can access this report 
here while logged in to Google Analytics.

Slide 38

This data isn’t conducive to charting, but you can sexy up a table with
sparklines and conditional formatting.

Slide 40

Dimensions: 1

Metrics: 1

An example of this might be revenue segmented by country or bounce rate segmented by device category.

Slide 41

Pie Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the pie chart:

  • They use angles to show the relative size of each value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Avoid 3D pie charts. They distort data.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Pie Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can grab a piece of the pie to isolate it and drag it out slightly to draw attention to it. This is called exploding pie pieces.
  • You can also change the values to percentages in the data labels or even add the categories, thereby negating the need for a legend.

Slide 42

Donut Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the donut chart:

  • Donut charts show data in rings, where each ring represents a data series
  • It uses the length of the arc to indicate the size of the value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Donut Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can put the title or the value you want to highlight in the center. 

  • I don’t recommend using the donut chart for multiple series or dimensions. They’re more difficult to interpret. 

  • Like the pie chart, you can pull one out to draw attention to it.
  • You can use a donut chart to create a speedometer chart.
  • You can fill it with an image that resembles the surface of a donut to make it look like a … Okay, yeah, never mind …

Slide 43

Column Chart Basics

  • Should sort in descending order.
  • The axis should start at 0.
  • Categories don’t have to add up to 100%
  • Learn more

Column Chart Tricks

  • You can add a trendline to make trends stand out.
  • Consider going totally minimalist with the techniques I demonstrate in this video tutorial. (You can skip to the 15:53 mark.)
  • Don’t be afraid to move the legend around.
  • Excel’s default axis tends to be dense. I typically double the Major Unit, so if the major unit is set to 100, I typically up it to 200. Learn more about the major unit from the Microsoft site. (But I also show how in the above-mentioned video tutorial.
  • You can use a column chart to create a bullet graph to show current data vis-à-vis goals or projections.
  • You can use a column chart to create a waterfall chart.
  • You can add a target line to your chart.
  • If you have many categories to chart, you can use a scrollbar.
  • You can use a column chart to create a thermometer chart.
  • Just remember safety first when working with column charts.

Slide 44

Bar Chart Basics

  • You need to sort your data in ascending order to put the longest bars at the top.
  • Bar charts are good for categories with longer labels.
  • You shouldn’t use bar charts if your dimension is time based (date, month, etc.).
  • Learn more

Bar Chart Tricks

  • You can use all of the tricks (except the last two) listed in the Column Chart Tricks list.

Slide 45

Radar Chart Basics

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.

Radar Chart Tricks

  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. 

Slide 46

Notes about the Heat Map

Learn how to create a heat map in
this video tutorial I did.

Slide 47

And now let’s look under the hood at a typical chart that uses 1 dimension and 1 metric. Let’s say we have this table of analytics data ….

Slide 48

If we create a column chart from this table, this is what it’s going to look like (with some cleanup).

Slide 49

Now if we look at the data source this is what we’ll see ….

Slide 50

The mediums show up over here in the categories …

Slide 51

And the sessions values show up here in the data series …

Slide 52

Which populates to the legend. But you can delete the legend when you only have one metric (or data series). You’ll then want to include the metric in the chart title.

Slide 53

And the mediums populate the horizontal axis labels.

A little piece of Excel trivia: The Select Data Source dialog still says Horizontal Axis Labels, even for bar charts where the labels are on the vertical axis. #pedantic

Slide 54

Example of 1 dimension and multiple metrics: Sessions, goal completions, and revenue broken down by Device Category (mobile, tablet, desktop)

BTW, the Device Category dimension is one of the most important in Google Analytics. By itself it’s pretty useless, but in the context of other data, it’s very useful. You should be segmenting all of your data by it.

Slide 55

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • Clustered column charts are good for showing comparisons (e.g, sessions vs revenue for each month or ROI vs Margin by campaign (or keyword).
  • You could transform the clustered column chart into a combination chart by adding a line chart on the secondary axis that adds a percent value.

Slide 56

Notes about the Stacked Column Chart

  • The stacked column chart is good for showing how each data series contributes to the whole.
  • An example might be revenue broken down by medium.
  • If you want to order the columns by overall height, you can create a total column for the series. You just won’t chart that column.

Slide 57

Notes about the Clustered Bar Chart

  • All of the notes in the above-mentioned stacked column chart.
  • Like the [single] bar chart, the clustered bar chart is better for categories with long labels.
  • You can hack the clustered bar chart to create a double-sided bar chart. You can view a video tutorial I did on how to do this.

Slide 58

Notes about the Stacked Bar Chart

  • If you want to sort the bars so that the longer bars are on top, create a totals column and sort it in ascending order.
  • You shouldn’t use the stacked bar chart if your dimension is time oriented (date, month, etc.).

Slide 59

Notes about the 100% Stacked Column Chart

  • Use the 100% stacked column chart when you are working with percentages.
  • The data series must add up to 100%.
  • For example, if you wanted to see what percentage of social referrals came from desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

Slide 60

Notes about the 100% Stacked Bar Chart

All of the notes under the 100% stacked column chart apply here.

Slide 61

Notes about the Radar Chart

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.
  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. See the screenshot under the Slide 45 note above.

Slide 62

Notes about the Combination Chart

Learn all about combination charts in
this post I wrote on the Search Engine Land site.

Slide 63 – 69

Self-explanatory as they follow the same dialog as slides 46 – 52.

Slide 71

Notes about the Line Chart

  • In a line chart, category data is usually distributed evenly along the horizontal axis and value data is distributed evenly along the vertical axis.
  • Line charts can show continuous data over time, so they’re ideal for showing trends in data at equal intervals, like months, quarters, or fiscal years.
  • You can add markers and set the lines to none to use them in ranking charts.
  • Avoid using stacked line charts. It’s not always apparent that the data series are stacked. If you want to stack, use an area chart instead.
  • You can add interesting line markers like the ones I created in this video tutorial to replicate the charts in Moz’s tool set

Slide 72

Notes about the Stacked Area Chart

  • Ideal for showing stacked data series over time, especially if you want to demonstrate a fluid trend. Stacked column charts should be used if you want to keep each of the categories more disparate.
  • You should order the data series so that the larger series are at the bottom of the stack with the smaller series being clustered together at the top because people’s eyes naturally travel from the horizontal axis upward with stacked area charts.
  • If you keep the gridlines, make them significantly lighter. A light gray works well.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between contiguous data series. Sometimes Excel puts two colors next to each other that blend.
  • If you have smaller data series that are difficult to see, use stronger colors to make them easier to view.
  • If you have all larger data series and you want to add some finesse, give your data series a line (what would be called a stroke in graphic design programs) that’s slightly darker than the fill.
  • You can create a combination chart with a stacked area chart. Just don’t use a line chart for the other style. I like to use a chart style that stands out from the area chart, such as a column chart. You may want to increase the transparency of its fill so that you can easily see through to the stacked area chart.

Slide 73

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • You use the clustered column chart to show comparisons between data series (as opposed to how they contribute to the whole).
  • The clustered column chart is especially effective for showing year-over-year data. The categories would just have the name of the month (I abbreviate to three letters, which you can learn how to do in this tutorial), and one column would be used to show data from one year and the other colored column would indicate the previous year. To show the month from each year as a disparate data series, you would have to make each year a separate column in your data.
  • You can add a line chart on the secondary axis that highlights the percent change between values.
  • You can play with the gap width and overlap settings to adjust the series. You get to those by selecting a column, pressing Ctrl-1 (Mac: Command-1), and navigating to the Series Options (Mac: Options) area of the Format Data Series dialog.
  • Excel doesn’t provide the option to add a data label that indicates the total of all the data series for each column. You can hack one by adding a total column that you include in the clustered column but then change to a line chart. From there, remove the line and add data labels above the line.

Slide 74

Same as Slide 60.

Slide 75

Same as Slide 58

Slide 76 – 77

Self-explanatory.

Slide 78

Things get more complicated when you want to chart two dimensions. There are three ways to get 2 dimensions:

Slide 79

So here we have two dimensions (Device Category and User Type). I picked these dimensions to demonstrate because they have a finite number of options. I LOVE the device category dimension and use it frequently to segment my data in Google Analytics.

Note: When you chart two dimensions, you can only use one metric (or data series in Excel).

Slide 80

Here’s an example of what a clustered column chart might look like.

Slide 81

We now have a dimension in the legend — or category in Excel.

Slide 82

Using the Switch Row/Column button ….

Slide 83

This is what the chart would now look like. Notice we now have three data series and two categories.

Slide 84

Now let’s take a peek under the hood.

Slide 85

Again, here you see we have dimensions, not metrics, in the data series. The metrics should be included in the chart title.

Slide 86

And now the Device Category dimension is in the category area.

Slide 87

Your chart options are the same as when you had one dimension and multiple metrics. These options are not exhaustive.

Slide 88

Slide 89

The data in this table is in report format. If only marketing export data came in this format. (It doesn’t.)

Slide 90

This is how marketing data actually comes out of different marketing tools. It’s called tabular format.

Slide 91

Just as in a database, rows in tabular data are called records.

Slide 92

Columns are called fields.

Slide 93

And the column headings are called field names. But if I were to select two dimension columns and one metric and select a chart, here’s how Excel digests the data …

Slide 94

Gross, I know. I’m a child.

Slide 95

Here’s what it actually looks like. A royal mess.

Slide 96

Excel requires that data be in a report format in order to chart two dimensions. And the one metric (sessions, revenue, impressions, whatever) goes into the green area. There’s only one way to corral an export with two dimensions and one metric into report format …

Slide 97

Pivot tables sound scary and intimidating but not if you think about what pivot means.

Slide 98

When a soldier pivots, s/he very simply goes from standing facing one direction to turning at a 90 degree angle. That’s what a pivot table does. By moving one of your dimensions into the Columns field (Mac: Column Labels field), Excel puts that dimension’s values across the top of your data. 

Once you have your data in report format, and you can chart it. You typically want to put the dimension with fewer values into the columns area.

Learn how to create pivot tables in this comprehensive video tutorial I did.

Slide 99

Although pivot tables come with a lot of junk in the trunk, you can see the pivot table puts the data into report layout, which Excel can then use to chart the data. If you’re on a PC, you can create a pivot chart. If you’re on a Mac, you can create a static chart from the pivot table because Excel for
Mac still doesn’t support pivot charts. Still. Ridic.

Slide 100

Now you’re ready to look at GA data — nay, all marketing data — with a more strategic eye… And spend less time tooling around in Excel trying to figure out how to visualize your data!

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Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How To Tap Into Social Norms to Build a Strong Brand

Posted by bridget.randolph

In recent years there has been a necessary shift in the way businesses advertise themselves to consumers, thanks to the increasingly common information overload experienced by the average person.

In 1945, just after WWII, the
annual total ad spend in the United States was about $2.8 billion (that’s around $36.8 million before the adjustment for inflation). In 2013, it was around $140 billion.

Don’t forget that this is just paid media advertising; it doesn’t include the many types of earned coverage like search, social, email, supermarket displays, direct mail and so on. Alongside the growth in media spends is a growth in the sheer volume of products available, which is made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies for sales, inventory, delivery and so on.

What does this mean? Well, simply that the strategy of ‘just buy some ads and sell the benefits’ isn’t enough anymore: you’ll be lost in the noise. How can a brand retain customers and create loyalty in an atmosphere where everyone else has a better offer? Through tapping into the psychology of social relationships.


Imagine that you are at home for Thanksgiving, and your mother has pulled out all the stops to lovingly craft the most delicious, intricate dinner ever known to man. You and your family have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of socializing and snacking on leftovers and watching football, and now it’s time to leave. As you hug your parents goodbye, you take out your wallet. “How much do I owe you for all the love and time you put into this wonderful afternoon?” you ask. “$100 for the food? here, have $50 more as a thank you for the great hospitality!” How would your mother respond to such an offer? I don’t know about your mother, but my mom would be deeply offended.

New scenario: You’ve gone to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the most delicious dinner you’ve ever had, the atmosphere is great with the football playing in the background, and best of all, your server is attentive, warm, and maternal. You feel right at home. At the end of the meal, you give her a hug and thank her for the delicious meal before leaving. She calls the cops and has you arrested for a dine-and-dash.

And herein lies the difference between social norms and market norms.

Social norms vs. market norms

The Thanksgiving dinner example is one which I’ve borrowed from a book by Dan Ariely,
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Ariely discusses two ways in which humans interact: social norms and market norms.


Social norms
, as Ariely explains, “are wrapped up in our social nature and our need for community. They are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required.” Examples would be: helping a friend move house, babysitting your grandchild, having your parents over for dinner. There is an implied reciprocity on some level but it is not instantaneous nor is it expected that the action will be repaid on a financial level. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with friends and family.


Market norms
, on the other hand, are about the exchange of resources and in particular, money. Examples of this type of interaction would be any type of business transaction where goods or services are exchanged for money: wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefit. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with businesses.

I’ve drawn you a very rough illustration – it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing visual, but it gets the point across:

Market norms come into play any time money enters into the equation, sometimes counter-intuitively! Ariely gives the example of a group of lawyers who were approached by the AARP and asked whether they would provide legal services to needy retirees at a drastically discounted rate of $30/hour. The lawyers said no. From a market norms perspective, the exchange didn’t make sense. Later the same lawyers were asked whether they would consider donating their time free of charge to needy retirees. The vast majority of the lawyers said yes. The difference is that, when no money changes hands, the exchange shifts from a poor-value market exchange to an altruistic and therefore high-value social exchange. It is a strange psychological quirk that ‘once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.’

Mixed signals: when social and market norms collide

In a book called
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published in 1981), the authors describe the 1950s as the ‘product era’ of advertising, when ‘advertising people focused their attention on product features and customer benefits.’ It was all about the unique selling proposition (USP).


In this case, the USP is mildness: “not one single case of throat irritation!” (image source)

However, as the sheer volume of products on the market increased, it became more difficult to sell a product simply by pointing out the benefits. As Ries and Trout put it, ‘Your “better mousetrap” was quickly followed by two more just like it. Both claiming to be better than the first one.’

They describe the next phase of advertising (which hit its peak in the 1960s and 70s and which we can probably all relate to if we watch Mad Men) as the ‘image era’, pioneered by David Ogilvy. In this period, successful campaigns sold the reputation, or ‘image’ of a brand and a product rather than its features. Ries and Trout quote Ogilvy as saying that ‘Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand’. Examples include Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce.

Rather than the product benefits, this ad focuses on the ‘image’ of the man who smokes Viceroys: “Viceroy has a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste. (image source)

But yet again, as more and more brands imitate the strategy of these successful campaigns, the space gets more crowded and the consumer becomes more jaded and these techniques become less effective.

According to Ries and Trout, this brought the world of advertising into the ‘positioning era’ of the 80s, which is where they positioned (hehe) themselves. As they described this, “To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”

This one’s all about positioning Winston’s in opposition to competitors: as the brand with real taste, as opposed to other brands which ‘promise taste’ but fail to deliver. (image source)

And yet, despite this evolution of advertising strategy over the course of the 20th century, all of these different approaches are ultimately based on market norms. The ‘product era’ sells you features and benefits in exchange for money; the ‘image era’ sells you on an image and a lifestyle in exchange for money, and the ‘positioning era’ sells you on why a particular company is the right one to supply your needs in exchange for money.

Social norms and loyalty


When does cheap not win?
When it comes to social norms. Social norms are about relationships, community and loyalty. If your sister is getting married, you don’t do a cost benefit analysis to decide whether or not you should go to her wedding or whether the food will be better and the travel cheaper if you go to your next door neighbor’s BBQ instead. If anything, it’s the opposite: some people take it to such an extreme that they will go into massive debt to attend friends’ weddings and bring lavish gifts. That is certainly not a decision based on monetary considerations.

Therefore, if the average brand wants to get out of the vicious cycle of undercutting competitors in order to gain business, they need to start focusing on relationships and community building instead of ‘SUPER CHEAP BEST LOW LOW PRICES!!®’ and sneaky upsells at the point of sale. This is something my colleague
Tim Allen spoke about in a presentation called “Make Me Love Your Brand, Not Just Tolerate It”. And this is what a large number of recent ‘advertising success stories’ are based on and it’s the whole premise behind many of the more recent trends in marketing: email marketing, personalization, SMS marketing, good social media marketing, and so on.

Some of the most popular brands are the ones which are able to find the perfect balance between:

  • a friendly, warm relationship with customers and potential customers, which also often includes a fun, personal tone of voice (the ‘brand personality’) – in these interactions there is often an offering of something to the customer without an expectation of instant payback, and
  • a strong product which they offer at a good price with good ‘market’ benefits like free returns and so on.

One example of this is John Lewis, who have good customer service policies around returns etc but also offer free perks to their shoppers, like the maternity room where breastfeeding mothers can relax. One of my colleagues mentioned that, as a new mother, his girlfriend always prefers to shop at John Lewis over other competitor stores for that very reason. Now if this is purely a convenience factor for her, and after her child is older she stops shopping at John Lewis in favor of a cheaper option, you could argue that this is less of a social interaction and more market influenced (in some sense it serves as a service differentiator between JL and their customers). However, if after she no longer requires the service, she continues to shop there because she wants to reciprocate their past support of her as a breastfeeding mother, that pushes it more firmly into the realm of the social.

Another thing John Lewis do for their fans is the annual Christmas ad, which (much like the 
Coca-Cola Santa truck in the UK) has become something which people look forward to each year because it’s a heartwarming little story more than just an ad for a home and garden store. Their 2012 ad was my favorite (and a lot of other people’s too, with over 4.5 million Youtube views).

But usually anytime a brand ‘do something nice’ for no immediate monetary benefit, it counts as a ‘social’ interaction – a classic example is
Sainsbury’s response to the little girl who wrote to them about ‘tiger bread’.

Some of my other favorite examples of social norm interactions by brands are:

The catch is, you have to be careful and keep the ‘mix’ of social and market norms consistent.

Ariely uses the example of a bank when describing the danger of bringing social norms into a business relationship:

“What happens if a customer’s check bounces? If the relationship is based on market norms, the bank charges a fee, and the customer shakes it off. Business is business. While the fee is annoying, it’s nonetheless acceptable. In a social relationship, however, a hefty late fee–rather than a friendly call from the manager or an automatic fee waiver–is not only a relationship-killer; it’s a stab in the back. Consumers will take personal offense. They’ll leave the bank angry and spend hours complaining to their friends about this awful bank.”

Richard Fergie also summed this issue up nicely in this G+ post about the recent outrage over Facebook manipulating users’ emotions; in this case, the back-stab effect was due to the fact that the implicit agreement between the users and the company about what was being ‘sold’ and therefore ‘valued’ in the exchange changed without warning.


The basic rule of thumb is that whether you choose to emphasize market norms or social norms, you can’t arbitrarily change the rules.

A side note about social media and brands: Act like a normal person

In a time when
the average American aged 18-64 spends 2-3 hours a day on social media, it is only logical that we would start to see brands and the advertising industry follow suit. But if this is your only strategy for building relationships and interacting with your customers socially, it’s not good enough. Instead, in this new ‘relationship era’ of advertising (as I’ve just pretentiously dubbed it, in true Ries-and-Trout fashion), the brands who will successfully merge market and social norms in their advertising will be the brands which are able to develop the sort of reciprocal relationships that we see with our friends and family. I wrote a post over on the Distilled blog about what social media marketers can learn from weddings. That was just one example, but the TL;DR is: as a brand, you still need to use social media the way that normal people do. Otherwise you risk becoming a Condescending Corporate Brand on Facebook. On Twitter too.

Social norms and authenticity: Why you actually do need to care

Another way in which brands tap into social norms are through their brand values. My colleague
Hannah Smith talked about this in her post on The Future of Marketing. Moz themselves are a great example of a brand with strong values: for them it’s TAGFEE. Hannah also gives the examples of Innocent Drinks (sustainability), Patagonia (environmentalism) and Nike (whose strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’ is about their brand values of everyone being able to ‘achieve their own defining moment of greatness’).

Havas Media have been doing some interesting work around trying to ‘measure’ brand sentiment with something call the
‘Meaningful Brands Index’ (MBi), based on how much a brand is perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, both for personal wellbeing and collective wellbeing. Whether or not you like their approach, they have some interesting stats: apparently only 20% of brands worldwide are seen to ‘meaningfully positively impact peoples’ lives’, but the brands that rank high on the MBi also tend to outperform other brands significantly (120%).

Now there may be a ‘correlation vs causation’ argument here, and I don’t have space to explore it. But regardless of whether you like the MBi as a metric or not, countless case studies demonstrate that it’s valuable for a brand to have strong brand values.

There are two basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing brand values:

1) I
t has to be relevant to what you do. If a bingo site is running an environmentalism campaign, it might seem a bit weird and it won’t resonate well with your audience. You also need to watch out for accidental irony. For example, McDonalds and Coca-Cola came in for some flak when they sponsored the Olympics, due to their reputation as purveyors of unhealthy food/drink products.

Nike’s #FindYourGreatness campaign, on the other hand, is a great example of how to tie in your values with your product. Another example is one of our clients at Distilled, SimplyBusiness, a business insurance company whose brand values include being ‘the small business champion’. This has informed their content strategy, leading them to develop in-depth resources for small businesses, and it has served them very well.

2) I
t can’t be so closely connected to what you do that it comes across as self-serving. For example, NatWest’s NatYes campaign claims to be about enabling people to become homeowners, but ultimately (in no small part thanks to the scary legal compliance small print about foreclosure) the authenticity of the message is undermined.

The most important thing when it comes to brand values: it’s very easy for people to be cynical about brands and whether they ‘care’. Havas did a survey that found that
only 32% of people feel that brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises. So choose values that you do feel strongly about and follow through even if it means potentially alienating some people. The recent OKCupid vs Mozilla Firefox episode is an illustration of standing up for brand values (regardless of where you stand on this particular example, it got them a lot of positive publicity).

Key takeaways

So what can we take away from these basic principles of social norms and market norms? If you want to build a brand based on social relationships, here’s 3 things to remember.

1)
Your brand needs to provide something besides just a low price. In order to have a social relationship with your customers, your brand needs a personality, a tone of voice, and you need to do nice things for your customers without the expectation of immediate payback.

2)
You need to keep your mix of social and market norms consistent at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Don’t pull the rug out from under your loyal fans by hitting them with surprise costs after they checkout or other tricks. And don’t give new customers significantly better benefits. What you gain in the short term you will lose in the long term resentment they will feel about having been fooled. Instead, treat them with transparency and fairness and be responsive to customer service issues.

3)
You need brand values that make sense for your brand and that you (personally and as a company) really believe in. Don’t have values that don’t relate to your core business. Don’t have values which are obviously self-serving. Don’t be accidentally ironic like McDonalds.

Have you seen examples of brands building customer relationships based on social norms? Did it work? Do you do this type of relationship-building for your brand?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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