By Kristin Dziadul
It’s hot. It’s sticky. We’re in no mood to put up with scope creep or petty debates when we’d rather be poolside soaking up every ray of sun this summer. But is that our biggest problem? Do we get too excited for the summer weather (and I don’t blame you, I’m born and raised in New England) and lose focus and make sloppy decisions? Possibly.
Yet, it’s not just this season that cause a lack of focus — it’s the lack of understanding for how to focus and where to focus that can be our real downfall. We’ve all been in those over-attended meetings where everyone throws in ideas, people get excited, and before you know it, the whole messaging platform and feature set of the product has expanded and shifted. Wait… What?! So what happens when your team doesn’t know how to get out of that black hole?
Having experienced this happen time and again, here’s how to focus your marketing efforts and core feature sets, even during the hot and sticky summer months:
Always remember what you stand for
This past weekend I was at Cape Cod and observed a beachside walk-up restaurant demonstrating clear signs of a lack of focus. First, there was a massive line — and I mean 40+ people. I tried to figure out why. Then I saw it: the menu. 50+ options, spread across multiple whiteboards, on printed out pieces of paper, and posted all over the side of the building. How could customers ever make a decision? This small restaurant was trying far too hard to be everything to everyone — even offering calamari and Cod dishes! Instead, they should have kept it simple with 1 easy-to-see menu with about a third of the options. I’m positive that would have cut their line down significantly.
After observing this, I realized it applies to so many companies that try to be everything to everyone. They feel they need to add more and more features and functionalities that don’t match the core of what the company does, and in turn, that causes all facets of the company to suffer since they’re spread too far and wide. So in short, remember what you’re on a mission to do (and do well) and stick to that. You will turn some people off, but perhaps they aren’t even your ideal customer.
Customer Needs/Wants/Desires First
You’ve probably been in those meetings where someone says “It’d be awesome if we had this in our app!”, and everyone claps and smiles at the idea. On occasion its fun to brainstorm all of the possibilities for what your product can do, but at the end of the day, it’s what your customers want and need that matters in your product. You and your team may not even be the target customer for your product, so as much as you’d love to see a feature added, do your users really want it?
Your customers may not be ‘wowed’ at all if they can’t even focus in on what to do with your product! Center back on your them and make sure that what you do is focused on the core set of features that makes them truly happy.
Realize your budgets, team capabilities and timeframes
It would be great if you could use every ad platform out there to accelerate lead gen and spread your messaging, but is that really affordable and manageable? Probably not. And yes, it’d be awesome to have an absolutely massive booth at your next conference to garner attention, but how much will that cost and do you have the staff to plan for and man that? Maybe not.
So anytime you’re planning for the next marketing campaign or activity, keep in mind how much money you realistically have to spend, how much time your team has to devote to it and when you need to realize results by. That will all be a big determinant of what you can do, and will keep you focused as well.
So whether it’s the summer heat making you tuned out and tired, or just the lack of organized decisions within your teams, use these above principles to bring back focus to the core of what you do. So have fun, dream of big plans, but always remember to focus in like the lens of a camera to make the right impact.
What other ways do you and your team maintain focus? Have things gone seriously awry, and how did you fix that? Leave your advice or experiences below!
By Kristin Dziadul
“We should hold this off until fall — no one does this in the summer so let’s start planning at the end of August instead,” said nearly every marketing and product team, ever.
While it’s not the greatest time to launch a product or get a lot of PR, it’s definitely a great time to start planning ahead. That impending product launch? Yup, that needs a lot of planning put into it. That inbound tool your engineer has been working on? That will need a PR plan behind it to give it some leverage.
I personally love summer because it gives us marketers (and anyone, really) time to (a) reflect on progress and (b) decide what you need to accomplish in the next several months. It would be a failure on our part to let these months pass by idle.
While the appeal of suntans, sandy beaches, bonfires and Coronas may be calling your name (and I don’t blame you!), you can still muster up the energy during the day to set yourself up for success this summer.
Here are the top five marketing-related projects you should be focused on the next few (hot and sticky) months:
1. Review Progress and Metrics
Progress reviews and metrics reports are a living-breathing thing that should be done regularly anyways. However, the summer months provide you the perfect opportunity to really hone in on some particular metrics and gather actionable insights and ideas from them.
For example, you should be reviewing:
- How many users have you acquired? How does that stack up to your goals?
- How many users are considered “active users”? What can be done to get more active users?
- How have your blog posts been performing? Are they written around a few central themes related back to your company’s core messaging? Do they include strong CTAs? Are you converting as much from your blog as you had expected?
- What is your PPC conversion rate per channel? Are there some channels that are underperforming and should be cut? Are there channels that are doing outstanding and should be ramped up?
- Is your website bringing visitors on a desired path? Is there the right amount of strong CTAs?
You should also check out this fantastic SaaS KPI Metrics chart, put together by David Skok of Matrix Ventures to help you frame your metrics reports and understand what you should be measuring and reporting on.
2. Revise your editorial calendar
If you find that your blog posts are underperforming (in terms of traffic, conversions, etc.) or that more can be done to bring attention to them, it’s time to revisit your editorial calendar. I actually recommend that companies do this every 90 days or so, especially if things are changing fast with your company and product.
Evaluate the following during your editorial calendar revamp:
- Core Themes:
- Have you decided on 2-4 core themes that you want to be known for? If not, you should — ASAP. If so, have you related all your blog posts to those themes?
- Take a quick look through the last 10 or so blog posts on your blog. Are your headlines actually compelling? If not, check out these surefire headline formulas to help you structure your next headlines.
- Internal Blogging Program:
- Does your team have the capacity to blog more? If so, it’s the perfect time to start an internal blogging program with at least a few contributing team members. And if any of the contributors (and yourself) have some extra bandwidth to blog now, why not begin creating a backlog of blog posts so you can fire them away throughout the year?
You should also check out Janet Aronica’s eight recommendations for blog post topics that should be on your editorial calendar — it’s awesome, seriously.
3. Plan for Q3 & Q4 PR
While the summer certainly isn’t the perfect time to pitch to the media, you can instead start planning for PR-worthy stories.
A few ideas:
- What product announcements are coming up that deserve attention and traction?
- What major hires are being made, or advisors brought on, that can be announced?
- Is a round of funding expected to close?
- Is a large customer going to close soon? Are they willing to team up with you on an announcement?
- Are there any major partnerships in the works that the world would be interested in?
- Are you launching any tangential products, such as an inbound tool, that can be pitched as a story?
- Have a ton of data? Bring it together into a report or infographic and tell a story with it.
The lesson here: create news whenever you can.
The summer is also a good time to revise your media list, pitch message, byline topics, etc.
4. Find new sources for content and ideas
Have your sources for social media content gone stale? Are your followers bored with the topics you’re sharing? When you don’t have blog posts and announcements of your own to share out, it’s always a good idea to share out third party blog posts that relate to your company’s mission and beliefs.
To refresh your social media content sources:
- Subscribe to new blogs on Feedly (their search functionality is fairly good)
- Regularly check out posts on LinkedIn Pulse and from LinkedIn Influencers
- Refine your Google Alerts or Mention alerts
- Subscribe to new newsletters to get targeted content delivered right to your inbox
For reading material that will inspire your own blog posts, or if you want to learn more about your industry:
- Review what your competitors share
- Search around for keywords and phrases related to your product and industry to find new blogs and media outlets
- Ask colleagues and friends in the same (or similar) space what they read
I’m always looking for new content both to share out and learn from — both for my clients and for my own professional development, so I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.
5. Build an inbound tool (or two)
The summer could be just the perfect time to build something new, such as an inbound tool, and have it ready come fall.
A few popular ideas for tools are:
- Grader tools (such as Hubspot’s grader tools)
- Calculators (such as this Inbound Marketing Calculator)
- Cost Estimators (such as this App Cost Estimator from Kinvey)
They’re a great way to (a) instantly provide value to your target audience in a way they’ll appreciate, (b) collect new leads to later convert to your main product, and (c) leverage for additional PR (as described above).
While you’re at it, get creative with your tool. Start by answering questions such as:
- What does your target audience want to solve immediately?
- What will really hook them and wow them — so much so that they’ll be interested in speaking with you about your main product too?
I could go on and on about what you could do in these hot, sticky summer months. In short, don’t want until the fall to cram your schedule with 12-hour days to get done what you should be doing today. If you’re not spending the time actively promoting new products, announcements, tools, or answering influxes of customer emails and tweets, then shift your focus to metrics and planning to set you and your team up for success. And you just might impress your boss with all that you find — especially if they take a nice long vacation, giving you added quiet time to focus :)
What other marketing activities do you find effective to do during the calm of summer? I’d love to hear it — please share in the comments below!
My marketing consulting work for startups often involves kicking off a content marketing program.
For some companies, that means starting the blog from scratch.
For others, it means taking an existing content marketing program and using this as a jumping off point for a more cohesive, proactive, and effective approach.
In both cases, setting up an editorial calendar is always a part of the process. An editorial calendar is basically just a schedule of posts you plan to write for the upcoming month. It’s a key step towards making content a priority at your company.
The Templates You Need
This post will prep you to perform a competitive analysis and content planning session with your team.
These free content planning templates will help you take action on the tips we talk about in this post.
Develop an Editorial Calendar
For startups, planning content a month out is perfect. I wouldn’t plan further out than a month because things change so quickly. If you plan for less than a month it’s not worth it, and you end spending more time in meetings about the content than you do producing it.
As far as how often you should post, you should publish content as often as you can while maintaining the quality and still having time to hustle the content on social. This may only be one time a week for the first month. If that’s the case, that’s awesome. Use that as a starting off point, and accelerate from there.
Your editorial calendar doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark.
You shouldn’t copy others, but you should have a sense of what worked for them and what didn’t work for them to guide your own original strategy.
Here is a step-by-step process for performing a competitive analysis:
- Collect two or three months worth of competitors’ blog posts in a spreadsheet like this (Competitor Analysis tab).
- Check out how many social shares the posts got using MuckRack’s Who Shared.
- Record the number of shares in the spreadsheet.
- Review the results to identify patterns. Which content formats worked best? Which topics fell flat?
- Discuss this together as a team.
Of course, social shares are only a rough proxy for a blog posts’ success. But it is the metric that’s available to you from the outside looking in and a good starting point for your strategy.
The Blog Posts You Need
Here are the types of blog posts you should put in your editorial calendar.
1. Something Evergreen - Explain something that your customer wants to know about and will be popular even two years from now.
2. Something Shareable - Format this post with this in mind: How will I get 1,000 shares on this article? Mention other people in the blog post so that you can tag them in Tweets (a list of quotes or brands works) and get them to share the post. Use Click to Tweet to create Tweetable links of quotes or statistics.
3. Something That Shows You How to Do Something - This can be step-by-step instructions or a list of tips. Get tactical.
Example: 25 Ways to Run Faster Right Now
4. Something Timely - Offer your take on a current event, new study that just came out from your industry, or a recent announcement that would be important to your customer.
Example: How Much Should I Pay for Facebook?
5. Something That Worked for a Competitor - Find blog post topics and formats that worked for others. Then add your own spin and do those on your blog.
6. Something That Shows Off a Customer - You want your users and customers to come off as pioneers/experts, as that success will be associated with you.
7. Something Controversial - Controversial doesn’t mean culturally offensive or mean spirited, it’s about drawing the line in the sand and taking a strong stance on a topic. Taking the contrary opinion and backing it up is a good way to think about this content.
8. Something Repackaged - Once you have almost a month’s worth of blog content, think about how you can re-package the stuff you’ve already done in a new format. For instance, collect all the statistics you have mentioned from your previous blog posts into a “25 Facts About _____” Slideshare presentation.
Example: At my last company, I turned this blog post by our CPO into this Slideshare presentation, which was featured in the Leadership and Management section, has gotten more than 4,000 views, and inspired a few articles from the community.
Sit down with your team, this content planning spreadsheet, and this list. Then fill in what posts you’re going to write about for the next month or so. Then, get writing!
Wrapping It All Up
Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:
- Figure out the main messages you want to put out into the world as a company first. It’ll make repackaging those messages into different kinds of content much easier.
- Planning is important. It holds people accountable, and by making this a priority in your schedule, you will produce much higher quality content.
- Your content doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Don’t copy competitors, but use their past mistakes and successes to inform your own unique approach.
- You don’t always have to start from scratch. Re-packaging content into new formats is an opportunity to not only save time, but also to reinforce messages.
- With a focused strategy and regular look at the metrics, you can calmly review what is working and not working, and improve from there.
How do you plan your content? Let me know in the comments.
Image courtesy of theselfemployed.com
By Kristin Dziadul
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you’re just getting started on a major project you’ve had on your plate all day. Am I right? Raise your hand confidently, because you’re not alone in this pitfall of productivity — especially as a marketer.
We marketers have a tough job. One with tight deadlines, high visibility and that requires real-time responsiveness at almost all hours. Aside from inbound tweets and urgent meetings that come up, a lot of other demands are put on us each day that we must tend to. While it means that our jobs are critical and valued across the organization, it also means we need to learn to better manage both our reactive and regular projects simultaneously.
After starting my own marketing business, I began to really think about how I spent my time to be as productive yet responsive as possible. I’ve also started reading a lot on productivity tips and hacks. From this, I’ve learned a lot about myself and identified mistakes made in the past for not fighting for my time.
Here are five productivity hacks specifically applicable to marketers:
DON’T check email immediately I’m sure you’re thinking, “But how will I know what else I need to do today?” A valid question, and one I used to have a lot – until I read up on how BAD checking email first thing in the morning is to your productivity. Email is a trap — a big fat trap. Once you check it and start responding, you’re then sucked into a deep spiral and before you know it, it’s 2pm.
Instead, when you get to your desk in the morning, write out the top 3-5 projects you know you MUST tackle that day and prioritize them. Now start working on the most important one — even if you just get started on a chunk of it. After you’ve made true progress on it, then check email. But once you check your email, time block yourself. Give yourself 15 minutes later in the morning and again mid-afternoon, but otherwise keep yourself logged out of email and focused on the tasks at hand.
No one can tell you that working on a large marketing campaign with an urgent deadline comes before answering an unnecessary email.
Learn the power of “NO”
My friend and fellow contributor on this blog, Pam Sahota, will appreciate this notion as we talk a lot about using this word. “No” is such a hard word to say in the workplace, yet so important. I’m still learning it to this day, but making a lot of progress. Look at your list of projects you MUST get done today. Now think of the past few “urgent” project requests someone has asked of you recently. Do those projects feel as important compared to your list? If not, simply say, “That’s a good idea, I can get started on it tomorrow. My schedule today is full and I cannot prioritize it in.” Easy as that. It shows that you respect your own time and know how to budget your schedule well.
Time block your calendar
Once you have your top projects for the day (or even for the week), decide WHEN you’re going to sit down and focus on each project. Put it on your calendar so that anyone who wants to schedule time with you during the day will see that you are busy. During these time blocks, remember to stay away from email and say “no” to non-critical projects that pop up.
Change your “to do” list
I’ve read a lot about the dangers of to do lists. Almost everyone is guilty of doing it wrong, so let’s fix that. The biggest thing I have learned is to break your list into 2-3 sections:
- The top section has the urgent projects that you MUST get done today.
- The second section includes “nice to have” projects that could get done today but can wait for tomorrow if necessary.
- The third section has more timeless tasks that you can get to when you have some downtime.
I’ve divided up my to do list this way many times and it’s truly worked wonders. I tend to crank through my list MUCH faster than when I have all my urgent and non-urgent tasks jumbled together.
Yes, even as a crazy busy marketer, you deserve time away from the computer each day. One way to do this is to take a real break during lunch. Step away from the computer and eat lunch in a new area of the office, with colleagues in a common area, or somewhere out of the office.
Even a brisk walk outside for ten minutes can refresh you and spark ideas, so if you don’t have time for a lunch getaway, try walking to clear your mind. Giving yourself a mental break from your desk environment will relieve you from stress you were feeling in the morning and can rejuvenate you when you come back.
I’ve found that after months of trying all of the above, I now respect my own time and schedule much more. I am also far more productive, less prone to distractions, and able to be a more focused marketer.
The tips and hacks don’t stop here. Let me know the ways you achieve productivity as a marketer. I’d love to hear in the comments below (and might even add your ideas into this post).