Writing by James

Articles and opinions on technology, social media and innovation


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Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT

Logo for Central Desktop

It’s been a couple of months since my last guest post and the withdrawal symptoms have started to kick in. So here it is, my latest article at Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The Future of Marketing and IT

A short extract for your perusal:

Just a few years ago, asking the question whether the CIO and CMO roles were merging would have been madness. They couldn’t have been further apart. The CMO was a key part of a company’s leadership team, driving performance and changing the course of the organization, while in most cases the CIO didn’t even have a seat at the table.

That’s no longer the case – or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. If you believe Gartner’s January 2012 report entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO” and IBM’s annual CIO surveys, it would seem these two roles are on a collision course. Is it true?

Read the full article at Central Desktop.


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Product Review: Testimonial Monkey

Testimonial Monkey - Screenshot

It’s the start of 2013 and time to post in the new year with a product review of the slightly oddly named Testimonial Monkey.

I wanted to review Testimonial Monkey for two reasons:

  1. Those of you who follow my blog will be aware of the guest posts I write for Unbounce – the landing page specialists. One of the key elements of a when building trust with a user is the testimonial, and it’s something that I look for in a well designed landing page.
  2. My wife runs her own business, creating bespoke lampshades and teaching people how to make them (find out more over at Gilhoolie), so I understand the pressures of marketing a small business.
  3. Having worked in the real world for quite a few years now – on the agency and client side of the fence – I know that turning your consumers into advocates is no easy task.

Testimonial Monkey is a service designed to help organisations of all sizes gather and share testimonials easily, so it sounds like it might be the answer to our problems, but the $64,000 question is: does it work?

Getting Started

Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.

Testimonial Monkey uses basic gamification techniques to help you complete your profile.

Setting up your account with Testimonial Monkey is a simple business. Creating a profile (of which you can have a few) is a simple matter of entering contact details and some basic preference information, and it can be completed in a few minutes. You’ve then got the option of further personalising the service through some additional options, such as uploading a logo, setting your testimonial requirements (do you want to collect job titles, do you want to show all testimonials or just positive ones, etc). It’s easy to use and you’re prompted to complete actions through some basic gamification techniques, such as an account completion progress bar and a list of ‘To Do’ items (see left). They’re a welcome addition,  but I couldn’t help but think that this approach could have been taken further, so that it was a more integral part of the set-up process, rather than an aside.

Once your profile has been set up, you’re ready to send your first request.

As you would expect, Testimonial Monkey provides a number of options for requests: you can send them manually on an individual basis, upload emails in bulk, or – as most will probably do – set up automatic requests.

The individual requests are simply a matter of entering a name and email into a pre-populated form. It’s easy, but for the majority of users will be a last resort, as sending individual requests will become time-consuming. I used it for my testing purposes only. The bulk option allow you to upload a series of email addresses to be used.

In both cases, you can select a questionnaire that will be appended to the email. These questionnaires can be created through the administration tools, and add depth to the data you can collect. Be aware though, the more information you ask a user to complete, the less likely it will be that they will comply. If you want to collect more structured data, it may be worth doing this separately.

Finally, the automatic requests can be configured through the use of a personalised email address created for your account.  This email address can be bcc’d on any email communication you have with your customer. Once the blind copy has been received the system will automatically send a request a number of days later. Like a lot of the integration features available on Testimonial Monkey, its easy to use and set up.

Although it does have the questionnaires, Testimonial Monkey doesn’t have features that some of the competitors do (including the ability to record audio and video testimonials), so you’ll have to make a call as to whether that’s important to you or not.

Sharing your success (or failure)

So you’re all set up and you’ve sent out your first request for a testimonial, even better, you’ve actually got a response; so how do you share it? This is where things can get onerous if it’s a manual process, but Testimonial Monkey covers the bases with a range if options that are flexible enough for most needs.

Testimonial Monkey's Facebook integration in action.

Testimonial Monkey’s Facebook integration in action.

You get a hosted reviews page as standard, but the flexibility comes with the integration options. Dependent on your package, there are standard connectors for Twitter and Facebook, two or three widgets – including badges – to allow you to display the latest testimonials directly on your website, and an RSS feed for general use.

Each of these can be set up to display testimonials with a minimum rating (so only 4 or 5 star ratings for example) and there are basic theme options available too.

Regardless of the options selected, the integration is seamless, with posts appearing a regular intervals once received. It’s easy to use and requires no further interaction – which is perfect.

Packages and features

As with most services, Testimonial Monkey comes with a range of packages, ranging from Lite to Enterprise.

There is some confusion on the site in respect to pricing, as the Plans and Prices page shows a different set of one-time costs to the ‘Free Trial’ page, which quotes costs on a per month basis. I’m sure this will be cleared up.

Regardless of this, the features don’t really start kicking until the Professional level. It’s here that the vast majority of functionality becomes available. The Enterprise level adds the ability to completely white-label the product, removing the Testimonial Monkey branding that is otherwise displayed throughout (including customer emails and review pages). I haven’t seen the Lite/Essential version working, but without the ability to share via the social networks, it won’t be as useful to the majority of businesses (as they bring social media marketing into their marketing mix).

Does it work?

Yes, overall it does. The set-up is fairly easy to complete and the site does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The site isn’t perfect, I think it could be slicker and more streamlined in taking you through the initial set up, and it would be nice to have more inline help available at times, but it’s a satisfactory experience.

It would be good to have some better advice on how to use the testimonials you collect. There’s functionality available that allows you to limit the amount of testimonials you publish through each of the channels (five Facebook posts or five Tweets for example) and this is more important than it seems. New users might be tempted to push all their positive testimonials out of the door and into the public limelight, but it is judicious use that is more effective. There’s space here for Testimonial Monkey to be our guide, not just our conduit. This approach is hinted at in the free eBook you receive when signing up and the appointment of a ‘Success Manager’ for Enterprise customers, but it could be more obvious.

Would I recommend it? Would I give them my testimonial?

In the spirit of testimonials, here’s one to finish.

Testimonial Monkey is effective at delivering and sharing testimonials with minimum effort and input. A little more polish on the administration side would help, but it doesn’t detract from what is a well-thought out and focused product. 4/5.

James Gardner, 8th January 2013

Have you used Testimonial Monkey or a similar product? How did it work for you? Have you seen an increase in conversions or responses? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a professional account supplied to me for the purposes of reviewing the service. I have no business relationship with TestimonialMonkey. I have not received any direct monetary incentives or payments, but they have allowed me to keep the account if I so desire for no cost. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.


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Unbounce – Return of the Honey Badger!

Unbounce - LogoLike the Hulk, or to be precise, like Bruce Banner, I’ve been trying to keep my alter-ego under wraps for the last couple of months. Unfortunately the pressure was too great and after an internal struggle full of tension and pulling silly faces, he escaped.

THE HONEY BADGER HAS RETURNED!

You can catch up on the damage he did to other people’s landing pages over at Unbounce, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you find it distressing. This time the landing pages are focussed on cloud services:

Cloud Services are seen as a way to introduce technology into an organization simply and easily, without the need to get bogged down with IT processes and procedures. That may be an over-simplification, but the audience for these services cannot be assumed to be technical, so the approach taken with landing pages has to reflect this. Jargon is out, features are in, and there should be a focus on simplicity. It’s also imperative to build confidence quickly, creating trust in the solution with the audience.

In this article we’ll look at cloud services offering everything from file sharing through to innovation, and see whether they make the right first impression with their landing pages.

Even for those familiar with landing page design it’s worth checking up on the latest trends in design, but just in case you don’t fancy the article, here’s Hulk doing what he does best in The Avengers (2012).


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Unbounce – 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion

Unbounce - LogoMy latest article for Unbounce – 8 Small Business Landing Pages Critiqued for Conversion – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

As always, you can read the article at Unbounce, but here’s an extract:

In the United States small business accounts for 44% of GDP and employs 60 million people. In the United Kingdom, small businesses are responsible for 60% of private sector jobs.

That’s a lot of money and a lot of jobs. It’s also a big market place. In this article we’ll be looking at landing pages that are focused on selling to small businesses and asking one thing: do they cut the mustard?

Despite their importance to the economies of the US and UK and their combined buying power, selling to small businesses requires a particular approach: one based around value, not scale, and focused on ease-of-use, not enterprise features. Lined up below are eight landing pages from big and small organizations; let’s see how they get on.

 


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Unbounce – 12 Surprising A/B Test Results to Stop You Making Assumptions

Unbounce - LogoThis week it’s A/B testing week over at Unbounce. My contribution to the series of articles is 12 Surprising A/B Test Results to Stop You Making Assumptions.

It’s easy to think that your landing page is going to work just because you’ve followed best practice examples – but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s the unexpected combinations and designs that make the biggest impact. In this article I look at some examples that don’t follow convention, as well as some that do.

You can catch the rest of the articles from A/B testing week at http://unbounce.com/a-b-testing/.


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Book Review: Content is Currency by Jon Wuebben

Content is Currency by Jon Wuebben - CoverMost book reviews start by telling you about the author and content, and end with telling you whether you should read it. This time I’m going to start by telling you why should you read this book; it’s important.

The reason why you should read this book?

Content Marketing is the hot topic of the moment, and Jon Wuebben’s book is about as comprehensive a guide as you’re going to get currently. Whether you’re a content marketing novice or a have already dabbled, Content is Currency has something for you.

Having said that, we can now get back into the usual swing of things.

Jon Wuebben is CEO of Content Launch and a content strategist. Content is Currency is the follow-up to his 2008 book, Content Rich: Writing Your Way to Wealth on the Web, and in it he takes an in-depth look at the hows and whys of creating content for the web – both desktop and mobile (and about time – things have changed massively since 2008!)

The ability to create engaging content is becoming increasingly important in today’s digital landscape. The prevalence and power of search and the virality of social, means that content is a powerful medium for organisations to spread their messages. Being able to make the most of these channels is good for both your brand and your bottom line.

Content is Currency is set out into three parts:

  1. What is Content Marketing? – in this part Wuebben looks at the basics of content marketing, including analysing your current presence, performing keyword analysis and competitive research, and optimising your content.
  2. Content for the Web – here Wuebben delves into the different sorts of content (from articles to press releases and beyond) and how you can create content that has impact.
  3. Content for Community and Mobile – in this part, which will be the one that I suspect most people will be drawn to initially, Wuebben details best practice around the use of blogging, email, video and audio, including how to make this content work on mobile devices.

Within each part, the subject is broken into a number of chapters, each dealing with a different element of content marketing. The progression through the chapters is logical and they are filled with good examples to help highlight the tips and techniques within, making it easy to absorb. There are also Case Studies at the end of each chapter that reinforce the approach. Although unavoidable, some of these examples and Case Studies will date, especially where screenshots are included, but this is a minor point, and doesn’t significantly detract from the longevity of the book’s use – as I said, it’s impossible not to have this issue where you are using real-life examples

Content is Currency is a book that you could read from cover to cover, if you so wished, but it is equally as useful as a coffee-table style dip-in guide. And although some of the content may date, it is still a comprehensive guide that provides real value to marketers and agencies alike. In a fast moving ever-changing environment like the web, making our content work across multiple channels and devices is so important – the lessons in Content is Currency will help you to make this a reality.

Have you read Content is Currency? What did you think? Have you changed your thinking on content marketing, or implemented changes since reading the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a proof copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Jon Wuebben or Content Launch. I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.


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Unbounce – 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger

Honey Badger Gets What Honey Badger Wants!Just a quick post to say that my latest article for Unbounce – 15 Landing Pages That Couldn’t Sell Honey to a Honey Badger – is now online at the Unbounce blog.

It seems I have a reputation for telling it as it is, hence the eponymous Honey Badger of the title and the Tweets that went out today to promote the article:

And the editor’s intro:

With that, I’ll hand you over to James Gardner (no relation), who’ll walk you through 15 pages, an overview of their customers and what’s good and bad about them, some might get a little bloody, but there’s gold in there too, he makes a lot of sense and has some great advice, so pay attention.

I’m really quite pleasant in person, but I guess you can be who you want to be on the internet! I guess #iamthehoneybadger isn’t a bad reputation to have. Thanks Oli!

Here’s an extract, you can read the rest at Unbounce.

If there’s one thing a business wants from its landing pages, it’s conversions.

In this article we’ll look at 15 landing pages and critique them for conversion; looking at the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The key to driving a high conversion rate lies in understanding your audience, which is why I’ll dig into the types of customers they’re serving. If you do that, then at least you’ve given yourself the best possible chance. So who’s up first? Oh look! Adobe…


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Book Review: The Hidden Agenda

Book cover - The Hidden Agenda by Kevin AllenIt’s not often that I read ‘business’ books, being a fan of fiction, but in this case I’m going to put pen to paper for Kevin Allen’sThe Hidden Agenda’. A book that aims to impart the secrets of a perfect pitch and turn you into a ‘winner’1, based on Allen’s long career at some of the world’s biggest agencies.

Having been in ‘agency world’ for the majority of my career, I was keen to see how his approach matched both my own thoughts and my experiences.

Allen is best known for being behind the Mastercard ‘Priceless’  campaign – a wildly successful and much parodied campaign that is still running worldwide today, despite being fifteen years old – and although he tries to play down his part in the campaign throughout the book, it forms a central theme throughout.  It’s a strong theme though, and it pays dividends as you make your way through the book.

Allen’s approach is broken down into four clear stages that you can absorb into your pitch skills. As methodologies go, Allen’s is a simple one. It’s based on a large helping of common sense, but for the inexperienced his advice is sage. For those of us who have been in pitches – win or lose, and I’ve done plenty of both – there will be plenty to identify with.

From brief to pitch, Allen moves through three main stages, each illustrated with stories and personal insights:

#1 “Who”

In the first section of the book, Allen focuses on understanding who you are pitching to and trying to uncover the hidden agenda that lies behind the black and white requirements of the brief. By showing you how to listen and question effectively, it’s possible to understand the emotional make-up of your audience and align your pitch to their underlying needs.

#2 “What”

In the “What” section, he explores how you can bring your internal strengths to bear on a pitch. Identifying your complementary strengths helps you to align your team and pitch to the hidden agenda.

#3 “How”

Finally, the book looks at the art of the pitch, which is, to all intents and purposes, the art of storytelling. Allen shows how you can identify heroes and villains within the brief, and take the client on an emotional journey with you.

Allen’s methodology does not focus on solutions, this isn’t a book that will make you more creative or give you an in on the latest trends, but it will help you to deliver your creativity in a meaningful and effective way. This is neatly shown in the last pages of the book, where he gathers together a number of examples of real-life pitches and breaks them down, showing the inputs and outputs of each stage. It’s here that the book really comes together.

The methodology is backed with some simple tools and techniques to help you apply it in your own work. These aren’t mandatory, but are a welcome addition to the book, as are the accompanying videos and support materials on the book’s website. These additional materials are clearly marked with an icon as you read through.

“the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading”

If you’re new to pitching, or even new to agency life, the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading. It’s simple enough and broad enough to take onboard at first read, and it’s not onerous.  It’s also worth reading if you’re part of a non-agency Sales team; as Allen rightly points out, we all pitch everyday even if we don’t know it – it’s there every time we try to ‘sell’ ourselves. Even if you decide not to take everything on board, you’ll still come away with some valuable learning. It certainly helped me to take a healthily self-critical look at my pitching style and identify the things I did naturally well and those I needed to work on. Since I finished the book, I’ve found myself replaying some of the lessons as I’ve been working, which I think reflects well on it.

You can find out more about the book at its website (http://thehiddenagendabook.com), or purchase it from all major book or e-book sellers. Or if you want to hear about the book from the horses mouth, watch this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1WpMbZyLPU&feature=youtu.be

1 This is one of Allen’s favourite words – you’ll hear it a lot.

Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a review copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Kevin Allen, KevinAllenPartners or Bibliomotion (the publishers). I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent. :-)

Have you read the Hidden Agenda? What did you think? What did you take from it? I’d be interested in your comments.


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4 reasons why mobile marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought

In the past, many companies tried to graft digital strategies onto existing offline campaigns. The results were uncoordinated campaigns that failed to make the most out of the opportunities that an integrated approach could bring. They were, in effect, two separate campaigns.

The same thing is happening today, but this time it’s regarding mobile strategies. Here are four reasons why mobile marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Reason #1: It will cost you more

While it’s possible to create a separate mobile marketing strategy around your existing marketing, it will cost you more in the long run.

Why?

Because the content and assets required for effective mobile marketing are not the same as for offline, or even digital marketing. Mobile content should be lightweight, adaptable and concise – creating a 200-page PDF whitepaper won’t cut it on a three and a half inch screen.

While content marketing is the new king of the marketing hill, content is expensive and time consuming to create. By creating effective content that can be used across many communication channels and finding multiple applications for it, you’ll use your budget more effectively.

Reason #2: Your campaigns won’t be truly ‘integrated’

Planning campaigns to be multichannel from the start allows the savvy marketer to make the best use of mobile as a communication channel. Marketing synergies can be created by linking offline and online channels through QR codes to drive consumer activity at the point of interaction – be it on packaging, posters, or any other touch point – rather than later on.

The immediacy of mobile marketing increases our ability to influence the customer. In fact, according to the Mobile Marketing Association, 70% of all mobile searches result in action within one hour! Whether that search is driven from offline or digital marketing activity, the opportunity that mobile marketing provides are too great to ignore. An integrated multi-channel approach to marketing will ensure that you capture the broadest possible audience into the sales funnel.

Reason #3: You won’t be taking advantage of the opportunities that mobile makes available

Mobile marketing provides a new set of opportunities to marketers. The hardware capabilities of the mobile devices allow for new approaches to customer interaction.

Not only does the camera on a mobile device enable QR codes, it also allows foraugmented reality experiences, where our message can be overlaid over the real world.

Geo-location is even more exciting. Marketers are now in a position to communicate with consumers at, or close to, the point of sale. Traditional approaches, such as discounts and coupons, can be delivered directly to the consumer as they approach a store, or during the purchasing process.

Reason #4: Purchasing behaviour is changing and mobile is becoming more important

The beauty of a mobile device is that it is with your consumer almost all the time and gives them access to information on the move. As a result, people are changing their browsing habits by accessing information away from the traditional desktop browser.

This change in browsing habits is having an impact on the way people behave offline; consumers are now much more likely to use a smartphone or similar mobile device to inform the purchasing decision. By allowing mobile marketing to be an afterthought, you’re throwing away the opportunity to influence customer behavior at a time that matters most – in-store at the point of purchase.

Not convinced?

If you’re still not sure about the benefits that mobile marketing can bring, consider this: mobile internet usage will outstrip desktop usage by 2015, and in the last year smartphone and tablet sales outstripped desktop PC sales for the first time.

By embracing mobile marketing now, you’re not just getting ready for the future, you’re making the most of now. The mobile era is here already; don’t get left behind.

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DoNanza: The easy way to establish your expertise using Quora

DoNanza - QuoraThe 15th April saw my first article published for DoNanza. DoNanza is an online service that helps freelancers find work, providing a range of tools to help them get noticed by potential employers.

“The easy way to establish your expertise using Quora” covers the basics of using Quora to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge across multiple subject areas, and highlights how you can use this effectively in creating your own personal brand – opening up job opportunities.

As well as the website, you can find them on Twitter or on Facebook.

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