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Rethinking the marketing planning process for an agile world

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Rethinking the marketing planning process for an agile world


The whole premise of agile marketing is exactly that:

  • To be agile in our delivery of marketing assets, campaigns, educational content and product launches.
  • To generate conversations within our industries around topics of interest to our clients that would surface the next big thing we’d embark on.

The traditional annual marketing plan is a waterfall approach that does not support fast experiments. It talks about the “4Ps” — product, price, promotion and place — instead of focusing on the customer, their needs, and the fantastic way we are going to solve them. In today’s martech world, we cannot afford to be constrained with an annual marketing plan — and the good news is that we don’t have to be. 

Old habits, bad habits

I have witnessed time and again, throughout my career as a marketer, how marketing teams spend weeks crafting their annual marketing plans, only to see them forgotten in an obscure file somewhere in someone’s laptop. The frequently expressed frustration is: “We spend all this time working on a marketing plan and then we don’t look back at it all year” Who’s fault is it?

I used to adopt the main objectives in my product marketing plan as my goals for the year, actually entering them in the “system” and therefore, I felt a little reassurance that I had not worked for nothing. I’m sure I’m not the only one. 


Catch up on the Agile Marketing Navigator series!


New habits, better habits

As I evolved my thinking into an agile marketing framework, I moved away from the traditional marketing plan and more into thinking about “chunks of work” that would support the overall goal of the company with the product I’m managing. It has been my experience that, in fact, marketing plans that endure are living documents that get updated and evolve. That allows for flexibility and – the devil is in the details here – the plans should be stored in a place where teams can go in and periodically update them to reflect any major changes. 

Here are five things to tackle that will evolve your marketing plan and make it agile:

  1. Keep the market assessment and SWOTs in mind and review them quarterly.
  2. Review your value proposition, positioning statement, unique selling prop, and customer-centric benefits and revisit them throughout the year.
  3. Create Epics (user stories that span more than one sprint) for all your main marketing goals and objectives and add stories underneath the Epic that will become your backlog of deliverables.
  4. Note how many items or stories you have in your backlog that are unassigned.
  5. Keep your plan short in time and scope. In an agile mindset, planning through December 31 when it is only January 2nd is not only frowned upon — you won’t be able to keep that kind of planning up. If you do agile correctly, by end of Q2, your plan will have changed. And that’s okay.

When you think about agile and how to apply it to marketing, looking at the marketing plan and adapting it to be more agile will set marketers up for success as we start the planning season. Let’s start it with the right mindset. We know how to move fast — good marketers know that well. We’ve done it all our lives; we have mastered the art of fast-pace, change, and adaptation. We just have some lingering “old habits” we need to kick to the curb and we’ll be stellar.

Not only stellar, but we’ll be able to cope the work that needs to be done because it will be nicely placed in the multiple iterations that we’ll create on, say, fortnightly periods. We can measure, we can adapt, we can fail fast and move on, and we can conduct so many more experiments. The difference is that, with agile marketing, we’ll have visibility not only into the marketplace but within our organization. We’ll stop being the outbound marketing gals and guys, and be true movers and shakers within our organizations. 

Stacey Ackerman’s Agile Marketing Navigator series continues next week.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Giannina is a product marketing manager at 3M Company. She currently manages the commercialization of new and established healthcare software products and creates brand and marketing content for healthcare organizations of all sizes. She’s a marketing veteran with 20 years of experience covering a wide range of industries, mostly with tech/software companies. Ever since she stumbled upon the concept of agile marketing back in 2015, Giannina became a strong proponent and early adopter of Agile Marketing and Scrum methodologies. She has subsequently led divison’s marketing team to adopt agile methodologies and practices. She is a Licensed Scrum Product Owner; holds a Bachelor’s Degree in international marketing from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and additional advertising and communications degrees from Instituto Peruano de Publicidad – in Lima, Peru, her home country. Giannina lives in Maryland with her husband and two kids.



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Freshness & SEO: An Underrated Concept

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Freshness & SEO: An Underrated Concept


The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

During my time in search, there are certain ranking factors that I’ve changed my perspective on. For instance, after coming to Go Fish Digital and working on internal linking initiatives, I started to realize the power of internal links over time. By implementing internal links at scale, we were able to see consistent success.

Freshness is another one of these factors. After working with a news organization and testing the learnings gained from that work on other sites, I started to see the immense power that content refreshes could produce. As a result, I think the entire SEO community has underrated this concept for quite some time. Let’s dig into why.

Reviewing news sites

This all started when we began to work with a large news publisher who was having trouble getting in Google’s Top Stories for highly competitive keywords. They were consistently finding that their content wasn’t able to get inclusion in this feature, and wanted to know why.

Inclusion in “Top stories”

We began to perform a lot of research around news outlets that seemed quite adept at getting included in Top Stories. This immediately turned our attention to CNN, the site that is by far the most skilled in acquiring coveted Top Stories positions.

By diving into their strategies, one consistent trend we noticed was that they would always create a brand new URL the day they wanted to be included in the Top Stories carousel:

As an example, here you can see that they create a unique URL for their rolling coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Since they know that Google will show Top Stories results daily for queries around this, they create brand new URLs every single day:

    • cnn.com/europe/live-news/russia-ukraine-war-news-05-16-22/index.html

    • cnn.com/europe/live-news/russia-ukraine-war-news-05-21-22/index.html

    • cnn.com/europe/live-news/russia-ukraine-war-news-05-23-22/index.html

This flies in the face of traditional SEO advice that indicates web owners need to keep consistent URLs in order to ensure equity isn’t diluted and keywords aren’t cannibalized. But to be eligible for Top Stories, Google needs a “fresh” URL to be indexed in order for the content to qualify.

After we started implementing the strategy of creating unique URLs every day, we saw much more consistent inclusion for this news outlet in Top Stories for their primary keywords.

However, the next question we wanted to address was not just how to get included in this feature, but also how to maintain strong ranking positions once there.

Ranking in “Top stories”

The next element that we looked at was how frequently competitors were updating their stories once in the Top Stories carousel, and were surprised at how frequently top news outlets refresh their content.

We found that competitors were aggressively updating their timestamps. For one query, when reviewing three articles over a four-hour period, we found the average time between updates for major outlets:

  1. USA Today: Every 8 Minutes

  2. New York Times: Every 27 minutes

  3. CNN: Every 28 minutes

For this particular query, USA Today was literally updating their page every 8 minutes and maintaining the #1 ranking position for Top Stories. Clearly, they were putting a lot of effort into the freshness of their content.

But what about the rest of us?

Of course, it’s obvious how this would apply to news sites. There is certainly no other vertical where the concept of “freshness” is going to carry more weight to the algorithm. However, this got us thinking about how valuable this concept would be to the broader web. Are other sites doing this, and would it be possible to see SEO success by updating content more frequently?

Evergreen content

Fortunately, we were able to perform even more research in this area. Our news client also had many non-news specific sections of their site. These sections contain more “evergreen” articles where more traditional SEO norms and rules should apply. One section of their site contains more “reviews” type of content, where they find the best products for a given category.

When reviewing articles for these topics, we also noticed patterns around freshness. In general, high ranking articles in competitive product areas (electronics, bedding, appliances) would aggressively update their timestamps on a monthly (sometimes weekly) cadence.

For example, as of the date of this writing (May 25th, 2022), I can see that all of the top three articles for “best mattress” have been updated within the last 7 days.

Looking at the term “best robot vacuum”, it looks like all of the articles have been updated in the last month (as of May 2022):

Even though these articles are more “evergreen” and not tied to the news cycle, it’s obvious that these sites are placing a high emphasis on freshness with frequent article updates. This indicated to us that there might be more benefits to freshness than just news story results.

Performing a test

We decided to start testing the concept of freshness on our own blog to see what the impact of these updates could be. We had an article on automotive SEO that used to perform quite well for “automotive seo” queries. However, in recent years, this page lost a lot of organic traffic:

The article still contained evergreen information, but it hadn’t been updated since 2016:

It was the perfect candidate for our test. To perform this test, we made only three changes to the article:

  1. Updated the content to ensure it was all current. This changed less than 5% of the text.

  2. Added “2022” to the title tag.

  3. Updated the timestamp.

Immediately, we saw rankings improve for the keyword “automotive seo”. We moved from ranking on the third page to the first page the day after we updated the content:

To verify these results, we tested this concept on another page. For this next article, we only updated the timestamp and title tag with no changes to the on-page content. While we normally wouldn’t recommend doing this, this was the only way we could isolate whether “freshness” was the driving change, and not the content adjustments.

However, after making these two updates, we could clearly see an immediate improvement to the traffic of the second page:

These two experiments combined with other tests we’ve performed are showing us that Google places value on the recency of content. This value extends beyond just articles tied to the news cycle.

Why does Google care?

E-A-T considerations

Thinking about this more holistically, Google utilizing the concept of freshness makes sense from their E-A-T initiatives. The whole concept of E-A-T is that Google wants to rank content that it can trust (written by experts, citing facts) above other search results. Google has a borderline public responsibility to ensure that the content it serves is accurate, so it’s in the search giant’s best interest to surface content that it thinks it can trust.

So how does freshness play into this? Well, if Google thinks content is outdated, how is it supposed to trust that the information is accurate? If the search engine sees that your article hasn’t been updated in five years while competitors have more recent content, that might be a signal that their content is more trustworthy than yours.

For example, for the term “best camera phones”, would you want to read an article last updated two years ago? For that matter, would you even want an article last updated six months ago?

As we can see, Google is only ranking pages that have been updated within the last one or two months. That’s because the technology changes so rapidly in this space that, unless you’re updating your articles every couple of months or so, you’re dramatically behind the curve.

Marketplace threats

The concept of freshness also makes sense from a competitive perspective. One of the biggest weaknesses of an indexation engine is that it’s inherently hard to serve real-time results. To find when content changes, a search engine needs time to recrawl and reindex content. When combined with the demands of crawling the web at scale, this becomes extremely difficult.

On the other hand, social media sites like Twitter don’t have this issue and are made to serve real-time content. The platform isn’t tasked with indexing results, and engagement metrics can help quickly surface content that’s gaining traction. As a result, Twitter does a much better job of surfacing trending content.

Thinking about the web from a platform based perspective, it makes sense that most users would choose Twitter over Google when looking for real-time information. This causes a big threat to Google, as it’s a reason for users to migrate off the ecosystem, thus presenting fewer opportunities to serve ads.

Recently in Top Stories, you now see a lot more “Live Blog Posts”. These articles utilize LiveBlogPosting structured data, which signals to Google that the content is getting updated in real-time. While looking for real-time URLs across the entire web is daunting, using this structured data type can help them better narrow in on content they need to be crawling and indexing more frequently.

Google seems to be aggressively pushing these live blogs in Top Stories as they often see strong visibility in Top Stories results:

This might be a strategic move to encourage publishers to create real-time content. The goal here could be increased adoption of content that’s updated in real-time with the end result of showcasing to users that they can get this type of content on Google, not just Twitter.

Utilizing these concepts moving forward

I think as an industry, sometimes there’s room for us to be more creative when thinking about our on-page optimizations. When looking at how to improve pages that have lost traffic and positions over time, we could take freshness into consideration. When looking at pages that have lost prominence over time, we might want to consider checking if that content is also outdated. Through testing and experimentation, you could see if updating the freshness of your content has noticeable positive impacts on ranking improvements.



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Build-A-Bear using data to make itself into an all-ages brand

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Build-A-Bear using data to make itself into an all-ages brand


Build-A-Bear is remaking itself for the 25th anniversary of its founding this year. This means using its experience and its data to appeal to older customers and create stronger online connections.

“The goal that was stated for us was to diversify our brand, evolve our retail portfolio and build stronger relationships with our consumers,” said Ed Poppe, Build-A-Bear’s vice president, loyalty and performance marketing for Build-A-Bear, in a presentation at The MarTech Conference.

That’s why they launched HeartBox, an e-commerce play which the company says will let it move into “the adult-to-adult gift-giving and gift box market which has been meaningfully expanding over the past few years.” This goes along with its new Bear Cave line of “adult” bears (in this case adult means they have alcohol in hand). The brand has also expanded through partnerships with film, entertainment and streaming TV properties like Harry Potter, Pokémon, The Matrix and the Marvel series WandaVision.

These efforts are designed to give more options to customers who buy online, and increase options for engagement. This has required integrating new teams and new sources of data.

Connecting customer data and teams

“Over half of businesses now say that they expect the majority of their revenue to come from digital channels,” said Loretta Shen, senior director, product marketing, marketing cloud intelligence for Salesforce. “To meet changing consumer behavior, marketers are adopting digital channels like video, social media and digital ads across search and paid media. But it’s not just adopting these channels, but how you use them, and in particular how you use them in tandem.”

Build-A-Bear adapted to customers’ increased digital use by adding new digital experiences while also reorganizing customer data to better understand what customers want.

“We have to understand our guests at Build-A-Bear,” said Bryce Ahrens, Build-A-Bear’s senior analyst, CRM, loyalty and performance marketing. “How do they engage with our email, our websites, our advertising and, of course, how do they engage and experience our in-store environment?”

They keep a large CRM database made up of loyalty program members, website customers, retail customers and sales prospects. Additionally, through access to the CRM, the organization is pulling together different teams: web development, analytics, marketing and also data privacy people.

These teams have to remain connected because data is coming through different systems. Build-A-Bear has a first-party data warehouse, a commerce cloud storefront, an order management system, marketing cloud, an email platform and different analytics solutions, not to mention ad platforms for campaigns.

“We need to be able to bring this information together, prioritize what we look at, and identify strategies to move quickly,” said Ahrens.

Read next: What you need to know to grow your e-commerce business

Count Your Candles

Data and digital experience come together in an ongoing Build-A-Bear effort called “Count Your Candles.”

The promotion is a special offer for customers to order a discounted bear (regularly priced at $14) that costs a dollar amount that matches their age.

The dedicated webpage for this promotion also allows customers and gift-givers to buy gift cards and become loyalty members. Additionally, there are a number of other ways that customers can celebrate birthdays, including in-store birthday parties and special birthday gift boxes that can be ordered and delivered.

These strategies came from marketers looking at the data and seeing what sparked their customers’ interests. In this case, it was birthdays.

“We’re lucky to have a team up here who wants to jump in and help drive our business forward,” said Poppe. “But it also brings us back to where it’s important to aggregate data, identify patterns, see your opportunities, and pick your path forward.”


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About The Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.



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How Local Business Schema Can Boost Your Company’s Visibility Online

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How Local Business Schema Can Boost Your Company's Visibility Online


You’ve started a website for your local business, but with so much competition out there, you may be struggling to make your website more visible online. That lack of visibility could hinder potential customers from finding your company. To improve your visibility in search engine results, local business schema could be the tool you need.

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