Darcy Grabenstein Nov 29

Don’t Overlook the Importance of Brand Building


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At this time of year, consumers have visions of gifts being exchanged, and retailers have visions of record sales. While Q4 is key for retail and other industry segments, businesses that focus solely on moving product do so at their own risk.

In fact, branding may be even more crucial at holiday time to distinguish yourself from the competition. So what exactly is branding? It’s more than slapping a logo and tagline on your ads, products and packaging and calling it a day.

Some of the most effective seasonal branding campaigns could actually be construed as promoting the spirit of the holiday over the commercial aspect. Here’s a partial list of stores closed on Thanksgiving. Instead of cashing in early on Black Friday sales, these companies show that they value their employees. This can go a long way in winning over customers.

  • A.C. Moore
  • American Girl
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed Bath & Beyond (Select Locations)
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club
  • Burlington
  • Cabela’s
  • Christmas Tree Shops (Select Locations)
  • Costco
  • Crate and Barrel
  • Dillard’s
  • DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse
  • Gamestop
  • Guitar Center
  • HHGregg
  • HomeGoods
  • IKEA
  • Jo-Ann Fabrics
  • Lowe’s
  • Marshalls
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nordstrom / Nordstrom Rack
  • Office Max / Office Depot
  • Patagonia
  • Petco
  • PetSmart
  • Pier 1 Imports
  • Raymour & Flanigan
  • REI
  • Sam’s Club
  • The Container Store
  • T.J. Maxx

Brands that reflect the spirit of the season with cause-related campaigns are definitely on the right track. Burlington Stores’ annual Warm Coats & Warm Hearts drive is a perfect example. Not only does it directly tie to its products, it encourages customer participation.

 Burlington Warm Coats & Warm Hearts

However, even the best-laid branding plans can backfire. Last year, Starbucks introduced a plain red holiday cup instead of its traditional Christmas cups and came under attack from many customers. This year, its festive red cups are making a comeback.

Starbucks holiday cups

A Starbucks news release reinforces the brand’s seasonal tradition: “Since 1997, Starbucks has welcomed the holidays with a special red cup that celebrates the spirit of the season.”

Think about it. The commercial side of Christmas itself has excellent branding. There’s Santa Claus, a charismatic spokesperson; the use of red, an exciting color; interactive elements (writing letters to St. Nick, exchanging presents); and brand symbolism in the form of the Christmas tree.

And to all those non-believers in branding during the holidays, I say: Bah, humbug!

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Michelle DeVirgiliis Oct 31

How to Transform Alumni into Brand Evangelists


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Call it what you want — brand advocate, brand ambassador, brand evangelist — this is an individual who enthusiastically supports (and promotes) an organization and its products/services. At Annodyne, we prefer the term “brand evangelist” because it describes someone who has complete faith in your offerings.

When it comes to your Executive MBA program, what audience segment is likely to be your best brand evangelists? Your alumni. They have already gone through your application/admissions process, experienced your curriculum firsthand and hopefully are on to bigger and better things in their careers.

Marketing guru Guy Kawasaki is credited with coining the concept “brand evangelism.” He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. Kawasaki was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing its Macintosh computer line back in ’84. He currently is brand evangelist for Canva.

Kawasaki maintains that the key to brand evangelism is a great product. He has come up with the acronym DICEE to illustrate what constitutes a great product:

Megaphone

 

  • • A great product is Deep. That is, it does not run out of features after a few weeks of use. In the EMBA world, this could mean offering your alumni executive education courses to keep on top of industry trends or holding networking/reunion events to maintain connections beyond graduation.
  • • A great product is Indulgent. With the price tag of most EMBA programs, this is a given. Keep in mind that you don’t want to be the cheapest option available. However, you must provide value (think ROI) to your cohorts.
  • • A great product is Complete. The total user experience should be exceptional. If you have the greatest EMBA program around but a lousy admissions process, for example, you miss the mark.
  • • A great product has an Elegant user interface. Think about it. Are your faculty members accessible? Is the post-enrollment process (course selection, housing, transportation, etc.) a seamless one?
  • • A great product is Emotive. It is so awesome that consumers (i.e., students & alumni) can’t wait to tell others about it.

Let’s assume your EMBA program is a great product. How do you encourage your alumni to become brand evangelists? You can pray that they’ll see the light, or you can take active steps to foster their relationship with your brand:

  • • Segment your marketing strategy to target the alumni audience.
  • • Connect with and friend alumni on social networking sites.
  • • Invite them to share their enthusiasm in info sessions and class previews.
  • • Create a closed alumni/student group on LinkedIn and encourage alumni to acts as mentors.
  • • Better yet, set up your own private networking site (ask us how) where alumni can seek answers to work challenges, post job openings, announce & bid on RFPs and more.
  • • Interview your alumni to create case studies that can be used to market your program.
  • • Curate/create content alumni would be proud to share, comment on or like.

We can’t stress enough the importance of social media. In terms of alumni giving, donations have dropped at schools nationwide in recent years. However, Philadelphia’s Drexel University is bucking that trend, thanks to a social media engagement campaign. David Unruh, senior vice president of Institutional Advancement at Drexel, says in the Philadelphia Business Journal that seeking large donations wasn’t the main goal of the campaign. “[The campaign events] are not intended to generate large dollar amounts… they’re really designed to engage the broader Drexel community.”

We’ll take it a step further. Don’t just milk your alumni for donations. Milk them for prospects.

It’s all about social proof or social influence. Include alumni testimonials on your website and in your marketing materials. Alumni videos can be repurposed; include them on your website, your social networking sites and in online ads. Third-party “endorsements” — such as testimonials, rankings and news placements — are extremely effective in forming a positive impression of your program among prospective students.

To recap, create a great product. Maintain your connection with alumni. When you do, they’ll become  believers, brand evangelists who will help you convert your prospects into students. Amen.

Want to explore how to engage and connect with your alumni in a secure, private online environment? Learn about Ziel, Annodyne’s proprietary audience engagement portal.

Michelle DeVirgiliis is an account manager at Annodyne.

 


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Darcy Grabenstein Oct 27

3 Ways to Refine Your Email Testing Process


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Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or relatively new to email marketing, you’ve got to think outside the inbox when it comes to A/B testing. If you’re not already running A/B tests, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to optimize your email campaigns. If you are conducting A/B tests, don’t get complacent. Test various elements to ensure that your content continues to resonate with your subscribers.

However, resist the temptation to test multiple elements at once. To avoid skewing the results, test one element at a time. For instance, test a subject line in one email campaign, a call to action in another.

Also keep in mind that you should test a large-enough email sample to make the test statistically significant. What exactly constitutes a statistically valid sample size? Most email marketers will suggest at least 1,000 email addresses. That doesn’t mean you need to run every test on your entire email list. If your list is smaller than 1,000, test 85 percent to 95 percent of the list to ensure valid results.

For larger lists, you may want to test using the 20/80 rule. Send Version A of your email to 10 percent of your list, and Version B to another 10 percent. A couple hours after the email is deployed, the email with the most opens is determined the winner, and that version is sent to the remaining 80 percent of your list. Most email service providers (ESPs) have built-in functionality to automate these types of tests.

Now that we’ve got the technical aspects out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the more creative aspects of A/B testing. Following are three concepts to consider the next time you launch an A/B email test.

1. Go “old school”

Pit a text-only email against an HTML email and see which one converts better. Take a look at your inbox. You’ve undoubtedly got dozens and dozens of HTML-designed emails, filled with eye-catching graphics. When is the last time you remember seeing a text-only promotional email? The absence of distracting graphics may actually cause a text-only email to perform better than its image-filled counterpart. A case in point:

 Purdue

Note that a text-only email, such as the one above, doesn’t mean you should forsake all branding. Including your organization’s logo at the top of the email lends credibility and recognition to your communications.

Special characters in subject lines are so “yesterday,” which is why you just might want to test them again. This site is a good place to start if you need some ideas on what icons are available. The charts also include both Unicode and UTF-8 codes, one of which your developers will need for production. Here’s an excerpt from one of the charts:

 unicode

If you’re targeting a B2B audience, though, you should know that Outlook and Gmail will display the special characters slightly differently. As with any email, you should do test sends with various email clients and browsers to make sure the email renders properly before sending.

And while personalization is nothing new, when done right it’s worth testing. Remember, personalization is not limited to the subject line. The following email also inserts the first name into the body of the email:

 PZ

Be sure to use best practices when adding personalization to an email. Always include a generic subject line version in case the email record in your database does not include a first name. For example, the generic version of the Ticketmaster subject line could be “Your Ultimate Live Event Guide.” If you are personalizing the body copy, the name should be the same font/size/color as the rest of the body copy. Otherwise, it will look out of place and defeat the whole purpose of personalization.

Another throwback approach would be to use the tried-and-true direct mail technique of adding a “P.S.” line. According to Professor Siegfried Vogele in Handbook of Direct Mail, over 90 percent of people read the P.S. first in a direct-mail letter. Granted, a recipient may have to scroll down to see the P.S. line in an email, but a strong P.S. can reinforce the call to action.

2. Take advantage of technology

If you don’t think you have the bandwidth to conduct A/B tests on a regular basis, think again. The technology is out there to make A/B tests as simple as A-B-C. Take advantage of these tools of the trade (both free and inexpensive), and take the pain out of email testing.

The email isn’t the only thing you should be testing. If you want to test conversions, then you need to test the landing pages, too. Unbounce, as it states, lets you build, publish and test landing pages without the need for IT. Rates are as low as $49/month. The site also offers landing page templates.

Spaces’ Image Resizer makes the task of resizing images a no-brainer. It’s not only free, it’s handy for both A/B testing and for sharing your email content — especially when an offer is involved — on social media.

 Sweets-lg Sweets-sm

Email on Acid, which conducts email rendering tests (as recommended above) for its clients, has provided a list of sites that offer free email templates. The company offers its own free templates as well, including responsive templates such as these:

 Mobile

Any email you develop, whether from scratch or using a template, should be responsive. Mobile-friendly emails are a must, as more than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices.

You can test your email and landing page designs outside your own lists with UsabilityHub’s Five Second Test. Pricing is on a subscription or test basis. How it works: Your design is shown to testers for 5 seconds. Then the testers are asked questions to see what they remembered. It’s a way to get a quick read on different treatments of an email, landing page, etc.

3. Test. Analyze. Repeat.

Over time, your list demographics will change and it pays to re-test elements that you previously tested. Or your product/service offering may vary, necessitating new tests. So what else can you test in your emails? The options are seemingly endless:

  • Preheader text
  • Email segmentation
  • Number of links
  • Colors
  • Navigation elements
  • Video
  • “From” name
  • Testimonials
  • Incentives
  • Day/time you send email

Regardless of what you ultimately decide to test in your emails, it’s important that you test. It’s equally important to analyze the results, and then apply your findings to future email campaigns.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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Marisa Albanese Oct 13

Art and Data: The New ‘It’ Couple


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In case you haven’t noticed (because you’ve either awoken from a 15-year coma, raised by feral wolves, or a little of both), 2016 is an election year. Don’t worry — I will refrain from any political discourse.

The election did inspire me and two friends to take a day trip to Washington, D.C. to see the sights. We tried to venture to different types of attractions and eventually ended up at the Renwick Galley at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of my friends, Amanda, is an art teacher. She also possesses a crazy knowledge of all things art, so I love going to galleries with her.

The Renwick focuses on contemporary craft art — sculptures, pottery and installation pieces. While exploring, I stumbled across Norwood Viviano’s “Global Cities.” On the floor lay separate white panels with black outlines of the continents with the names of major cities geographically highlighted. The panels were arranged to provide an almost seamless view of the map. Above the panels were 29 pieces of blown glass, each a different size and shape. The glass hovered above a specific city.

The size and shape of the glass corresponded with amount of time humans had inhabited the area and how the population had grown or declined. It was a breathtaking sight. An exhibit specialist at the Renwick explained that population data was used to create the blown glass. The piece was meant to showcase the true distribution of populations through the use of a grand visual display.

This piece showed what all data nerds like me feel: Data can be beautiful.

While I stood transfixed, Amanda explained  that artists were beginning to utilize data more in their pieces. I honestly never saw the connection before her statement. Art is, well, art. It can be anything. There are no rules. Data is the exact opposite. It’s regimented and structured. Their marriage, though, has the ability to create understanding for a whole slew of people. Ergo, art is able to unlock the true job of data, which is bringing information to light.

This brings up an intriguing insight. Perhaps things we had a preconceived notion about in marketing bear a second look. Maybe an audience who was perceived as not being receptive to a message should get a deeper dive. A failed campaign re-examined to understand what went

20160924_130906-min

“Global Cities”

If you ever get a chance to check out the Renwick and this piece, I highly recommend it. You may find it as inspiring as I did. I also recommend taking as many ridiculous pictures as you can in front of the Washington Monument. Why? No real reason, except to possibly annoy everyone around you.

 Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.


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Darcy Grabenstein Sep 27

The ABCs of Effective CTAs


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When researching best practices in copywriting, you can find a plethora of articles about headlines, email subject lines, SEO content and more. An equally important (and perhaps more important) element to research and refine is the call to action (CTA). According to Unbounce, more than 90% of people who read the headline also read the CTA.

Why is the CTA so important? This is the desired action you want your target audience to take as a result of your communication. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, the CTA could be a simple “Learn More.” Want to sell products or services? Be direct with a “BUY IT” button.

It does not matter whether your focus is B2C, B2B or what channel/tactic you use — email, direct mail, website, banner ad — a strong CTA is crucial. And it does not matter what industry you’re in — hi-tech, higher ed, pharma, tourism, retail — you still need a compelling CTA.

What’s not a compelling CTA? “Click here,” for starters. You’ve got to give them a reason to “click here.” From an SEO standpoint for web content, “click here” does nothing. And from a user experience (UX) perspective, it’s not exactly user friendly. Change it to “Learn more about our EMBA programs” and you’re on the right track. Adding a sense of urgency (“SHOP NOW”) can boost the click-through rate (CTR). All caps (“FIND OUT HOW”) vs. lowercase (“Find Out How”) can also increase response.

Design is another key component of a successful CTA. A button calls more attention to the CTA than a simple text link. Color, shape, icons (such as an arrow) and positioning of a CTA can impact its CTR. And don’t forget mobile. Buttons should be at least 44 pixels square to avoid errant clicks by large thumbs.

Here are several examples of click-worthy CTAs:

CTAs

When it comes to CTAs, there definitely can be too much of a good thing. On a landing page, where your goal should be to generate leads, you should have only one CTA. On the thank-you page, where you want to drive visitors back to your site, it’s OK to go hog-wild with links.

How do you know if your CTA is performing? Make sure you include a tracking code on the URL you’re linking to. Then check your analytics for click-throughs.

When in doubt, test. You could say that’s my mantra. But be sure to test only one element at a time to avoid skewing your results. After you test, apply those learnings to your next project.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


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