Archive | May 2015

Quote of the Day

“Don’t confuse the urgent with the important.”

– Preston Ni

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David Sedaris on why he picks up litter, not writing about sex and his first break

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The greater wisdom of small bills

When I was in college, that was the first time I was flying on airplanes and I remember my mother saying that I should always have fives and singles on a plane so that if you want to buy a drink, you don’t have to pay the stewardess with a $20, because only assholes do that. I noticed when I started flying that men, always men, would pay with a $20 because then the flight attendant had to go get change and then if they couldn’t find the change, they might say, fine, take it for free. I think in a broader way, what my mom was saying is just be conscientious and don’t make life more difficult for other people. It’s not that difficult to break a $20 before you get to the airport.

It’s not who you know

I bristle when people say, “It’s all who you know.” People can sense when you’re grilling them as a contact. It is so irritating. I’ll get a letter from somebody and they’ll say, “Oh, I read your book and I really liked it.” And I answer all my mail unless it’s somebody really angry or crazy. Usually that’s the end of it, but sometimes they’ll write back and you think, Okay. And then they’ll write you a third time and they’ll say, “Well actually, I’ve written a book and I was just wondering if maybe you could show it to your agent or talk to somebody at The New Yorker.” Why didn’t you just come out and say that to begin with? I lived in New York for a while. I remember going to see a play and half the audience had flyers for their own play. It’s just so unsavoury.

The way to get: don’t ask

An old saying that I can’t stand is, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.” [My career really started when] I did a little reading in Chicago at a club. It was just a silly show, but Ira Glass happened to be in the audience. He introduced himself and then he called me a couple of years later and asked if I had anything Christmas-y that would work for a local radio show in Chicago. I had a story about the time I worked as an elf at Macy’s Santa Land, so I recorded the story and he put it on his radio show Morning Edition, which has an audience of 10 million. It changed my career in every way, but the difference is, I didn’t invite Ira to come and hear me, he just happened to be there. Somebody gave me a manuscript not that long ago. The note on it said, “Please Mr. Sedaris, you can become my Ira Glass.” That’s not the same! I have helped plenty of people, but I’ve helped them because they didn’t ask me to. Usually when somebody asks you, that’s a sign that their talent is for self-promotion, not writing.

There nothing rubbish about picking up rubbish

Every day I pick up litter. Some days when I’m home in England I’ll do it for nine hours. There’s a lot of rubbish in England. Even today [in Toronto], I was running out for lunch and there were cans and bottles that somebody had left on a bench. I picked them up and I threw them away. Say my work is not going very well, or maybe I’ve had an argument with someone I care about. By picking up trash I can know that I am making the world a better place, that I’m adding value in a small way. Every morning I get up and I do sit-ups and push-ups, but that’s not making the world a better place. I don’t even know that it’s making my body a better place. Picking up rubbish keeps you humble.

My own private instrument

When I was 20 I was hitchhiking though the Pacific Northwest. I was writing letters to my friends and family, but I didn’t have an address for them to write back to so eventually I just started writing to myself. I’m a very habitual person. Many years later, I would say I could probably count the number of days I’ve missed on my hands. Every morning I’ll get up and figure out what happened to me that I most want to write about. I’ll go to a strange city and I’ll spend my time in my room writing about what happened the day before, and I’ll think Oh, I should be out living life and not writing about what happened the previous day. I see it as practice. Almost like playing the scales for a pianist. It’s private – I’ve never handed my diary over to anyone, so I can experiment.

Not everyone should write everything

I don’t write about sex. It’s just never been my topic. I read aloud [from my own work] so often, at book signings or on the radio or other events. Maybe that has something to do with it. Let’s say I’m in front of an audience and I’m reading about making my bed, then the audience is picturing me making my bed. Or if I’m reading about picking up trash on the side of the highway, they’re picturing that. I don’t want them to picture me having sex! I’m 57 – nobody really wants to picture that. I admire people who do write about sex. That, to me, is really exposing yourself.

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The Hidden Benefits of Remote Research

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Little did I know what a compelling option it would turn out to be.

In-person usability testing is the most frequently used method of product research today, hailed as “essential” since as early as 1993. Back then Jakob Neilsen explained that “testing with real users is the most fundamental usability method …it is in some sense irreplaceable, since it provides direct information about how people use computers and what their exact problems are with the interface being tested.”

Yet it’s precisely due to in-person usability testing’s prevalence that many people overlook the possibility of conducting their research remotely, in what are arguably more realistic usage contexts. In my situation, testing an online poetry journal with readers located in Australia, the US and the UK, it proved essential to include remote research. Not only was it impossible for me to travel to each location and recruit participants, it was also important to learn about — and see — each user’s behavior in their natural environment. For researchers learning about location-specific use, many will find, as I did, that remote research can prove more insightful (and therefore more effective) than its in-person counterpart.

WHAT EVEN IS…?

Remote research is any research in which participants and researchers do not interact in-person, face-to-face. It is typically conducted via a computer or a phone, allowing the researcher to see or hear (with the aid of screen-sharing software, for example) exactly that which the remote research participant sees or hears. This makes remote research a powerful tool for studying user behavior patterns “in the wild.”

In order to gain contextual information, researchers often approach interview participants while they’re already performing a task on the actual website being tested, via a live chat feature or similar tools. This subset of remote research is known as time-aware research. It’s especially important with regards to mobile devices, where context factors heavily into a user’s experience.

During the last five years there has been a significant increase in the tools by which remote research might be conducted. Nonetheless, remote research comprises only 5% of all user research. While A/B testing and surveys are both generally accepted as types of research that can and should be conducted remotely, usability testing is rarely seen as such.

In my case, gathering real-time feedback on the usability of an online poetry magazine, remote participants were more focused on completing the task at hand than in-person participants, in part because they were not distracted by my presence. They were also more honest in their feedback, offering both negative and positive comments without any prompts on my part. Face-to-face participants, by way of contrast, were consistently verbally positive about the look and feel of the website, despite the fact that I watched them struggle to accomplish the tasks I had assigned them.

WHEN TO INCORPORATE REMOTE RESEARCH

Despite its inherent advantages, remote usability testing isn’t right for every situation; there’s a time and a place for everything. In order to determine the best research methodology for a particular study, designers should evaluate their project against three key criteria: their research objective, their audience, and their budget.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVE

The first, and most important factor in deciding how to approach a study is determining the research objective. A researcher’s methodology should always depend on her objective, not the other way around. For example, if the research objective is to “obtain contextual information about the task at hand and its likely uses,” she will likely want to observe users in their natural environment. Remote usability testing, remote-access surveys, or remote A/B testing will all allow the researcher to do variations on this kind of fieldwork.

AUDIENCE

The second factor to keep in mind when choosing a research methodology is the study’s target audience. Testing remotely with students and young professionals works particularly well, since this target group is generally comfortable with online meetings and screen sharing. This is important, because in some situations the participant has to be an active participant in accepting screen recording, turning their microphone on or even circumventing firewall restrictions.

If the task at hand involves senior citizens however, who tend to have lower computer literacy, it can become complicated to set up remote testing—and technical glitchesalways occur. Or, if the target audience (regardless of age) uses vastly different terminology for their computer programs and websites, remote communication can become unnecessarily complicated. If, however, the audience is using a program similar to one they use daily, or if the program is intended to be particularly intuitive for first-time users, then remote testing can provide a far more accurate look at how users will approach the application.

Essentially, considering our audience requires that we answer two questions:

  1. Will technology overly complicate the process?
  2. How can we best replicate our audience’s real-life use circumstances?

BUDGET

Although budget shouldn’t lead our decision making process, it is a necessary consideration. Remote research is typically more cost-effective, due to the fact that it eschews travel costs in favor of software costs (e.g. screen sharing). This can be helpful in many situations, especially when conducting multiple rounds of tests.

My assignment, to look at the usability of an online poetry journal, had a very restricted budget, which made travel impossible. The objective of my research was to collect enough user research to later inform the re-design of the website, including removing or changing a variety of elements. With this objective in mind, it was essential for me to see users in their natural environments, while keeping the budget low.

GETTING STARTED

There are many different types of research available within the umbrella of remote research; the Webnographer blog recently published a list of 23! However, these remote research options are traditionally divided into two categories: moderated and unmoderated methods. Or, as Nate Bolt would say, “methods for when you do or don’t like interacting with people.”

MODERATED RESEARCH

During a moderated, remote user test, there is still live contact with the participant, even though it is not face to face. The facilitator can call the participant and/or interact via screen-sharing and a microphone. This way it is possible to follow the participants’ online navigation and ask follow-up questions during the test. Some tools will also connect the webcam and record a video of the participant’s face, allowing the facilitator to take facial expressions into account while interacting.

The clear advantage of using moderated but remote testing over moderated face-to-face testing is that the researcher gets to see and talk to the participant in their natural environment, which makes the test subjects feel more relaxed and potentially more honest about the experience. When comparing the results from the poetry website usability tests I noticed that my face-to-face test subjects were more polite (and less honest!) about certain features than the subjects that tested remotely.
Other types of moderated testing include online ethnography, telephone surveys, and remote eye tracking—to name but a few.

UNMODERATED RESEARCH

Unmoderated tests occur without a facilitator. These are also referred to as “automated” tests. For this research method to be successful, the test needs to be pre-programmed and the facilitator needs to set the user-tasks in advance. Most often the participants are asked to follow a think-out-loud protocol so they will explain their choices when performing the tasks at hand. This method is useful when there are clearly described tasks the users need to perform, with minimal room for ambiguity. The time it takes for participants to complete the task and the path they choose are at the participants’ discretion, and the outcomes can then be analysed and compared.

For example, if the research objective is to “identify how long the average user takes to follow the flow from homepage to purchase,” an unmoderated Set Task is the best way to gather results. In this situation, users can visit the site at their leisure, and will feel no additional pressure while finding their way through the site. If this were a moderated test, the user might feel an obligation to finish quickly, or would likely begin to ask questions to ensure he or she was using the site “correctly.”
Other unmoderated research types include: surveys, critical incident reports, and (the ever popular) A/B tests.

ANOTHER TOOL IN THE TOOLBOX

After a thorough analysis of the website statistics and user data, I chose to conduct my usability tests first as moderated “live” user tests in Australia. During these in-person tests I was able to interact with the users and ask follow-up questions based on their actions. The results were complemented with four unmoderated remote tests with users in the US and the UK. We decided to move forward with the unmoderated tests in the second batch in large part due to the time-zone difference, but also in order to compare the differing results between a moderated and unmoderated test.

With the tasks clearly identified, our remote participants were able to participate in the same test I had initially attempted face-to-face, but their feedback and behavior was significantly different. They were less patient with the navigation and search options during more complicated tasks — natural behavior, which the other participants had held in due to consideration of our presence in the in-person usability tests. The combination of face-to-face and remote research gained me a new and interesting insight into user behavior for my client.

With an audience scattered across the globe, a limited budget and an exploratory research objective, our combination of in-person and remote user testing provided rich data that helped the online poetry journal to begin an informed re-design. And I came away understanding what all researchers should: research methodology must support the research objectives, and remote research is one more effective way to do so.

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Getting Your Business Through Tough Times

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Influencer

Serial Entrepreneur and Investor in People with Passion

Thankfully the economy has now turned a significant corner and it appears that we are well on the road to a full recovery. But that return to growth does not mean that business leaders should be complacent and relax.

It is easy when the good times are here to think that things will always stay the same way but the reality is that the economy is cyclical and the downturns are as inevitable as the upturns.

Too many firms make the fundamental mistake of building their business model around the kind of growth and demand that comes during the good times.

Over the course of my career I have lived through a few recessions. The worst for me was the one in the early 90’s, because I had made the mistake I mentioned above. My recruitment business had experienced nothing but high growth over the previous seven years, and when the recession hit, it was a real shock to the system.

Remember that in a recession the first area to be hit is recruitment – outgoing staff aren’t replaced, layers of management are stripped out, and companies just stop hiring. In 1990 we had made a profit of over £500,000. In 1992 that figure stood at £1475. To put that into context, I spent more per year on petrol!

Morale and productivity were just as bad as the economy and it really was the toughest time I have personally known. Eventually we recovered by battening down the hatches. What we also did towards the end of that year was look at other markets. We could see that the IT sector was showing signs of growth and recovery so began pushing our brand there. We really went back to basics in terms of calling clients and building up relationships and things began to improve.

However that whole experience taught me the importance of being constantly prepared for any eventuality and to never allow any sense of complacency within an organisation.

The way to avoid any nasty surprises and to ensure you are always fighting fit is by reviewing your business model on a regular basis, and by that I mean every six months. Which are your best and worst performing areas? Can you make your business leaner? Are there departments where you need to add or remove resources?

It might seem obvious but any successful operation should be built on a healthy profit margin.Too many people make the mistake of confusing rapid growth in turnover with making a healthy profit. The reality is that there is no point in bringing in lots of business if you are not making a decent profit.

For a business that has been established for a few years, I would want a profit margin of around 20% along with similar figures in terms of growth, although of course this number can vary slightly depending on your sector.

It is also vital not to build the long-term future of the business around a few key contracts. It makes far more sense to have a wide spread of customers rather than being over reliant on a handful of clients. This way you are less vulnerable to the external factors which you can’t control – whether that’s a downturn in the economy or one of your key clients.

Finally, remember that everything within the organisation should bring clear value. This of course means that in tough times you should steer clear of unnecessary luxuries, but also review staff roles. Everyone should be contributing to the business in a tangible and measurable way – if they are not then you need to reassign them or take a new look their role.

What I’ve learnt from tough times is that your mindset can change everything. Rather than getting caught up in the doom and gloom, or complaining, it is far more important to take action and remain vigilant. Get your staff together; be honest about the obstacles facing the business, and you can make it to the other side.

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Big Idea 2014: Stop Selling (and Start Marketing)

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Influencer

Business strategist for agencies and other professional firms, marketing author

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers pick one big idea that will shape 2014. See all the ideas here.

If you’re the leader of a professional services firm and you’re cracking the whip to get your business development person to make more cold calls, 2014 is the year you should stop cracking. Outbound sales activities like cold calling have always produced only modest results, and today’s avoidance-enabling technology only makes it easier for prospects to hide from your phone calls and ignore your e-mails. Traditional new business prospecting methods are becoming less and less effective.

A better alternative

Management genius Peter Druckerpreached, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.” In other words, the goal of marketing is to make a product, service, or company so relevant and compelling that it literally sells itself.

If you think this is hyperbole, consider captivating products like the iPhone. Can you imagine ever seeing an iPhone salesman? Instead, zealous customers are lined up in front of Apple stores for hours.

If your firm would spend more time and energy developing and marketing a relevant, differentiated “product,” you could spend a lot less time and energy trying to sell it.

Your firm is not as differentiated as you think it is

Bain & Company asked company executives if they agreed with the statement “Our company is highly differentiated.” 80% said yes. But only 8% of customers agreed. This is “confirmation bias” in action, and it causes company executives to overlook the very foundation of a prosperous, profitable firm: a clear positioning strategy.

Firms with a compelling positioning strategy don’t just have prospective customers; they have followers and advocates. While this dynamic is readily apparent in the mass market (Starbucks, Apple, Porsche), it’s just as true in the world of professional services. When you’ve done the work necessary to build a company that has followers, you have a brand in demand. You have prospective customers who actively seek you out, rather than having to track them down with a direct sales effort.

In my years of consulting with advertising agencies, I’ve consistently observed that the more focused the firm, the less prospecting they have to do. In fact, the most focused firms of all do virtually no traditional sales prospecting. They do, however, invest an above-average amount of time marketing their brands.

Make it someone’s job

Unless you make this someone’s job, marketing the firm can easily fall into the realm of good intentions. Trade the money you might have spent on a “sales” professional and instead appoint the equivalent of a Chief Marketing Officer, whose responsibilities include such areas as:

* Insuring that the firm has a well-designed and engaging website, with the firm’s positioning strategy clearly showcased on the home page. Seeing that the website is constantly refreshed and updated with new information, examples, case studies, and current biographies.

* Developing and overseeing a content strategy based on thought leadership in your category, manifest in the form of a meaningful blog, white papers, online newsletter, or other forms of intellectual capital that demonstrate your firm’s expertise and provide useful information and insights to your current and prospective customers.

* Creating and maintaining an active social media program that serves as a content distribution network for the firm. This includes developing and maintaining profile pages for the firm and its key executives on the major social networks and actively sharing appropriate news, information, and insights on social networks. Regularly reading and posting to appropriate blogs and publications. Fostering relationships with relevant bloggers and online publishers.

* Sponsoring, publishing, and publicizing proprietary studies that highlight the firm’s expertise. Showcasing the firm’s intellectual capital on information-sharing sites likeSlideshare and Scribd. Packaging up and branding individual services and products in a way that allows the firm to earn recurring revenues from its intellectual property.

* Overseeing an online search optimization program for the firm, including tagging content and identifying keywords to help optimize organic search.

* Telling the firm’s story via guest columns in the trade and business press, particularly publications read by target prospects. Actively identifying opportunities to publicize the firm’s intellectual capital by monitoring reporter queries using services like HARO.

* Actively seeking opportunities for key executives of the firm to speak and present at major conferences, contribute guest blog posts, or serve as interview sources for reporters and editors. Ensuring that the firm is well represented at major industry functions and events.

* Building and maintaining a permission-based list of prospects and influencers and sending appropriate periodic e-mailings (featuring useful information of interest to the prospect, not news about the firm).

* Measuring and refining the firm’s online presence and social media footprint using online analytics tools.

The late British adman Paul Ardenadvocated that you should “Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.” This is an incredibly effective marketing approach for professional services firms, but it absolutely hinges on one thing: having a clear positioning strategy.

So as you wrestle with the question of how to attract more business in 2014, muster the courage to stop selling and instead do a better job of marketing, starting with a commitment to focus on what you do best. Remember, what professional services firms ultimately sell is expertise. You can be an expert in something, but you can’t be an expert in everything.

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How to Be Everywhere Through Marketing Automation Magic

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Jan Marciniak – Enjoy!

marketing-automation-stairs

When marketing your business you have a lot of ends to meet. Your goal should always be to systemize your marketing campaigns in a way that their success is repeatable and the process can be carried out by almost anyone. And since you do not want to do the same work over again and again you need to implement processes and systems that automate the technical and operational parts of your marketing efforts as much as possible.

1. Automate Lead Generation, at least a little bit

To automate the lead generation process would be a dream come true for every business. This step is the one where mostly manual labor is necessary. But you can systemize the processes that you need to go through in order to create a new lead generation campaign or landing page on your website and test it so that it is almost automated.

Reduce your time spent from the first campaign idea to a finished landing page by using tools that allow you implement quickly and change settings with ease.

In order to test out ideas for landing pages and their variations you can use tools likeUnbounce or LeadPages to create a landing page from an idea within minutes and implement it without any programming knowledge. With their built in analytics you can easily see what works and what doesn’t.

On the backend you will need some kind of email marketing automation tool that lets you automatically segment your leads depending on the source.

2. The Mother of Automated Marketing – Perfect Email Marketing Automation

Email marketing is one of the most powerful but mostly overlooked marketing tactic that can be automated to almost 100%. It seems like everybody knows that having a newsletter is important. But what about an automated series of emails that give the recipient value, draw him closer to your brand and eventually make him buy your product?

You will keep potential customers engaged and informed over a period of weeks or months  without any extra investment of your time, 100% automated.

Services like aweber or mailchimp can be used by anyone without any technical knowledge; self-hosted tools like sendy need some technical knowledge to set up but are a lot cheaper.

3. Automate you Social Media Activities and Appear Everywhere

Like with any other marketing efforts you need to find the right balance between automation and manual engagement with your customers. In order to create an efficient social media marketing process you need to have the right automation tools.

You need to set up an automated system so that you do not need to post your message to every social media platform available. Instead you should use a service that lets you post to all services at once. You can use services that are designed exactly for that like bufferor create your custom social media distribution process with automation tools like zapieror ifttt.

The rest of the time you will need to monitor your social media activities, which can also be automated pretty easy. There are several tools to manage your social media analytics. With tools like twittaquitta where you can monitor all your unfollowers you can easily get insights into you social media campaigns without doing any manual analyzing.

4. Active Customer Communication in a Fraction of the Time

Communicating with your customers is a vital but time consuming task. There are however processes that you can implement which streamline customer communication. You will still need to actively communicate with you customers, but will be able to do it in a fraction of the time and have time for other important things.

Instead of repeating email texts over and over you should use text expander programs (Lh Texter; TextExpander). With a simple shortcut you can insert repetitive text blocks into your mails and save a ton of time.

An extensive and regularly updated FAQ section on you website will also save you a lot of typing and trouble.

5. It does not Stop with The Campaign – Automate you Analytics 

In order to fully automate your marketing efforts you will also need to have an automated analytics process. For many tasks a combination of Google Analytics can be used. By creating custom events for your relevant tasks you can get a fully automated report for every landing page or email campaign that you send out.

All tools that you need are out there, mostly free. Start setting up your marketing machine today to reap the benefits in the time to come. 

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Don’t check email in the morning.

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By: Laura Shin

If you’re like most people, your reaction might have been half “that’s genius!” and the other half “that’s never going to work.”

The many problems with email begin with the fact that we receive both essential and inessential communications all in the same spot. Sorting through email and deciding what’s important and what isn’t, and what requires a response, what you should delete and what you should archive takes a lot of energy.

And no one has a limitless amount of that precious resource. In fact, the amount we have is, scientifically, finite — actually dependent on the food (energy) we take in — and the more decisions we make throughout the day, the more our energy gets depleted.

A study of parole board hearings by Columbia Business School and Ben Gurion University found that after lunch parole board officers granted 60% of paroles. But before lunch, when they were hungry and their glucose levels were dropping, they only granted 20%. They were falling victim to decision fatigue, which causes us to start making reckless decisions or to stop making decisions at all.

So the impulse to say, “Don’t check your email in the morning” is a good one, even if it may not feel realistic. Decision-making is an energy-hungry task. Our tanks are full in the morning, so that energy should be reserved for something important. Since email is usually the means by which other people get you to pay attention to the tasks important to them, it’s understandable that some experts would caution you against using the time of day when you have the most brain power to get them ahead on their goals instead of moving forward on your own.

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