7 Engaging Ways to Advertise to Upcoming Generations on TikTok

In a post-COVID world, people are using content to fill their time and find daily satisfaction, thus creating a greater need for content creation. This gives marketers a real opportunity to reach their target demographic in an engaging way.

If you are looking to market to the under-30 age group of Millennials, Gen Z, and upcoming Gen Alpha, then TikTok and its 800+ million worldwide active users is a great place to explore. TikTok has only been running ads for under two years, which means less oversaturation for marketers and lots of room for creativity in future ads.

Key TikTok Advertising Methods

TikTok has created a few different engaging advertising methods for marketers to choose from. Marketers partner with TikTok advertising reps directly to select the best options and ensure a smooth execution. The choices are:

  1. Top View and Takeover Ads: This is an ad that is displayed as soon as a user opens the app on the home “For You” page. It can be a photo or video, and has 100% share of voice.
  2. Hashtag Challenges: Brands can create a hashtag challenge that encourages users to follow an action, trend, dance, or something else that users can post on their feeds (and encourage their friends to do the same).
  3. Creator Marketplace: These are the content-creator royalty on TikTok. Brands can work with creators that have demographic-relevant followers to promote a brand or product on the creator’s page with custom videos.
  4. Branded Filters and Effects: These are branded 2D or 3D camera effects users can add while creating videos in a fun and interactive way.
  5. Infeed Video Ads: This is the widest, most direct advertising method on TikTok; it includes an in-feed video ad whose appearance is native to the platform.

Now that we know the TikTok advertising methods, let’s talk strategy. The platform is a unique world that brands must familiarize themselves with before entering. Since marketers are just becoming accustomed with this new advertising landscape, it’s easy for ads to look out of place or even worse, “cringy.” Here are seven engaging ways to advertise to the upcoming generations on TikTok:

1. Know the culture

Before advertising on the platform, take some time to understand the unique characteristics and the popularity of different voices and content types. Whether it be a prank, dance, sound bite, or skit, TikTok content that performs well is all about authenticity and having fun. Right now it’s truly about showing people’s everyday lives during this unusual year, making for very entertaining video content.

2. Be in with the trends – and start some of your own!

TikTok is very “in the moment” driven, and trends come and go. Get to know what’s trending and hop on! The platform is a community and everyone can join in on the fun — even brands. TikTok also offers brands the opportunity to create paid hashtag challenges, which is great for starting trends that audiences can participate in. Make sure your content is fun, engaging, and that it truly aligns with your brand’s message.

3. Follow the rules

TikTok is new to advertising, so many marketers are still getting familiar with its layout and best practices. It’s great to stand out from the masses, but standing out because of a mistake could have negative consequences. Know the guidelines of the vertical feed before creating and publishing. To up your engagement, make ads specifically tailored for TikTok; an ad taken off of a different social media platform and recycled for a new one can come off looking out of place on the feed, causing people to skip right past it.

4. Create content-like ads

TikTok offers in-feed video ads that can look like a post that users see on their For You pages. Other than a very small, opaque “Sponsored” button, everything else looks exactly the same. Use this to your advantage to create content similar to what people use TikTok for: sharing entertaining content with friends. Try creating a short, amusing video that intertwines with your brand or product messaging.

5. Tell a story

Storytelling is huge on TikTok, but you only have 60 seconds to do it. Ads should only be nine to 15 seconds anyway, so quickly tell your brand’s story in a way that catches a viewer’s attention. Create a scene with a few likable characters partaking in an action that will relate to your targeted demographic.

6. Include characters

The majority of the videos on TikTok, especially now, are at-home videos taken of individuals, their family members, or their close friends. Lean into that and do the same, with either a TikTok creator partnership engaging with your product/brand, or existing footage you have with people.

7. Be unique, but be quick to standout

Gen Z and Millennials love to try new products and test out new trends, so consider what you can offer to the content community, and how your brand or product can improve someone’s life. The goal is to make them stop and watch your 15-second ad while bringing value to their day, thus captivating them to click the “Learn More” button and engage with your brand further.

So what are you waiting for? If you don’t have TikTok downloaded, take a moment to get the app and start exploring the world and culture that awaits.

Is Digital Marketing Something You Can DIY?

This past weekend, the ringing I heard wasn’t in my ears. It was the transmitter for our Invisible Fence beeping away in the basement, telling me that something was wrong with the fence.

Being handy — and cheap — I asked everybody’s favorite search engine what the beeping meant and got to work testing the possibilities. Half an hour later, I had my answer. There was a break in the wire running around the perimeter of our property.

And that’s where my handy-ness ended. I called the pros to come out with their specialized radio receiver equipment to find the break and make the fix. They made the fix far faster than I could have, but I was able to save money eliminating all of the other possibilities.

Why should you care about my dog fence? Because you should adopt the same approach to your marketing. Here’s why.

There are, of course, lots of different ways you can market your products and services. All will fall into one of three main buckets.

  1. DIY
  2. DFY (Done for You)
  3. Collaboration

DIY Marketing for B2B Businesses

The DIY approach is going to save you money in the short term but likely cost you in lost opportunities.

You miss out by not spending your time more wisely and you miss out because, unless you have expertise in a range of marketing disciplines, your marketing work isn’t going to be as good as a pro’s. (How often do you build a website? Or create a content marketing strategy? Do you really think you can do it better than a pro?)

Unless you have a depth of knowledge going into the process and the time to stay current on the latest techniques, a strictly DIY approach is going to cost you money.

DFY – Done For You Marketing for B2B Businesses

The DFY approach eliminates those problems, but introduces others.

The experts you engage will have deep knowledge of their domains and will know the latest developments across their marketing disciplines. What they’ll lack is the institutional knowledge of your business. So, there will be a learning period during which results may lag, but as they come to know your business your marketing results will be stronger than you’re likely to get via the DIY path.

This may be the route to go if you simply don’t have the bandwidth to participate more fully in your marketing, as might be the case during periods of rapid growth.

The Collaborative B2B Marketing Approach

Better than either of these options is the collaborative approach to digital marketing. It marries the best of both worlds: You provide your deep knowledge of your business, your customers, and your market; your marketing experts bring their experience and perspective.

This is true whether those experts are outside consultants or team members you add to your staff. In either case, the marketing team must be collaborating with all departments within your organization in order to succeed.

Marketing can’t happen in a vacuum. It must feed on — and have an impact on — the conversations occurring between your sales team and prospects, between your customer service teams and your clients, and within your product development teams.

Who Does What on the Marketing Team?

Be careful about hiring a strategist. You definitely need a solid strategy, but you also need a clear plan for implementing that strategy and the resources to follow through on that plan. At the very least, a strategist needs to visit your front line team down in the trenches on a regular basis.

There are exceptions to these rules of thumb and you have to tailor your approach to you firm’s needs. Just be sure you have someone leading the team who can guide you through all available options and possibilities, move you back and forth between initiatives as needs dictate, and who can help you integrate marketing into sales team activity and other initiatives.

Brand Experience and a Tale of Two Startups

As if there isn’t already enough happening in the world right now, I’ve been taking on one of the most stressful endeavors at regular times, amplified during COVID: a move! Not just any move — a cross-country move. The thought of being by myself all summer long in this strange pandemic version of New York was making me feel a little unhinged, so I departed for sunny California.

Selling my NYC condo is about as much real estate woe as I can handle, so I turned to specialty startups to help soften my landing in CA. It was like living through one of my very own presentations about brand experience do’s and don’ts.

It all boils down to what I tell my clients all the time:

Customer Service Is the Original Creative Branding Solution — Don’t Overlook It.

Brands are increasingly relying on tech like slick websites and flash apps to appeal to customers. Those things are great, but they only go so far. Great tech is worth nothing if the brand is not thinking about the end-to-end customer experience and all the different touch points that can affect a customer’s perception. Big-picture customer service just isn’t being talked about anymore.

Case in point — the startup I worked with to set up my new place. They specialize in doing all the boring, time-consuming condo tasks, and marketed themselves as having beautifully furnished corporate apartments so that I could “simply show up and start living.” The opportunity to test out an interesting building before I choose exactly where to settle sounded perfect. But what would happen after the marketing has done its job and it’s time to follow through? Nothing good, it turns out.

Just to get the contract signed I was passed around from person to person. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my experience. I’ll spare you the full horror story that awaited me when it was time to check in to my new place. Let’s just say there wasn’t even a bed ready to sleep in. I had to use all my negotiating experience to back out of the agreement, and didn’t receive so much as an apology.

I seek out a great customer experience wherever I go, and this particular experience was a powerful reminder that too many brands are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to marketing and customer service.

Reach out to me if you want to know the company I am talking about so you can avoid the same headache.

Problems Are Universal. Problem Solving Is What Sets You Apart.

Enter the next startup, Feather. I moved to a different unit in the same building, and picked a different startup to work with on furnishing. You get to rent anything you want from their inventory of stylish furniture, which they deliver and set up — it’s more of subscription service versus the good old-fashioned Rent-a-Center model. Everything happened on a sleek app. When I signed up, there was a credit card issue. I got an immediate phone call from a real person who solved the problem. I received follow-up calls to check in and offer help all throughout the process. When a delivery went wrong, they made me feel like fixing it immediately was a priority to them. They even honored a promotion I received after signing up.

As a global brand strategist and a picky consumer of luxury brands, I’ve seen it all, and I promise that old-fashioned customer service isn’t going to stop being important any time soon. Fabulous brand events and other cool experiences you create are quickly forgotten when someone has a bad check in experience at a hotel, or the internet doesn’t work in your Airbnb rental, or a luxury car dealer makes a busy executive come into the dealership to sign paperwork. Never, ever underestimate the basic and fundamental human experience along every touch point of the customer journey.

A Map or a Matrix? Identity Management Is More Complex By the Day

A newly published white paper on how advertisers and brands can recognize unique customers across marketing platforms underscores just how tough this important job is for data-driven marketers.

As technologists and policymakers weigh in themselves on the data universe – often without understanding the full ramifications of what they do (or worse, knowing so but proceeding anyway) – data flows on the Internet and on mobile platforms are being dammed, diverted, denuded, and divided.

In my opinion, these developments are not decidedly good for advertising – which relies on such data to deliver relevance in messaging, as well as attribution and measurement. There is a troubling anti-competition mood in the air. It needs to be reckoned with.

Consider these recent developments:

  • Last week, the European Court of Justice rendered a decision that overturned “Privacy Shield” – the safe harbor program that upward of 5,000 companies rely upon to move data securely between the European Union and the United States. Perhaps we can blame U.S. government surveillance practices made known by Edward Snowden, but the impact will undermine hugely practical, beneficial, and benign uses of data – including for such laudable aims as identity management, and associated advertising and marketing uses.
  • Apple announced it will mandate an “opt-in” for mobile identification data used for advertising and marketing beginning with iOS 14. Apple may report this is about privacy, but it is also a business decision to keep Apple user data from other large digital companies. How can effective cross-app advertising survive (and be measured) when opt-in rates are tiny? What about the long-tail and diversity of content that such advertising finances?
  • Google’s announcement that it plans to cease third-party cookies – as Safari and Mozilla have already done – in two years’ time (six months and ticking) is another erosion on data monetization used for advertising. At least Google is making a full-on attempt to work with industry stakeholders (Privacy Sandbox) to replace cookies with something else yet to be formulated. All the same, ad tech is getting nervous.
  • California’s Attorney General – in promulgating regulation in conjunction with the enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (in itself an upset of a uniform national market for data flows, and an undermining of interstate commerce) – came forth with a new obligation that is absent from the law, but asked for by privacy advocates: Companies will be required to honor a browser’s global default signals for data collection used for advertising, potentially interfering with a consumer’s own choice in the matter. It’s the Do Not Track debate all over again, with a decision by fiat.

These external realities for identity are only part of the complexity. Mind you, I haven’t even explored here the volume, variety, and velocity of data that make data collection, integration, analysis, and application by advertisers both vital and difficult to do. As consumers engage with brands on a seemingly ever-widening number of media channels and data platforms, there’s nothing simple about it. No wonder Scott Brinker’s Mar Tech artwork is becoming more and more an exercise in pointillism.

Searching for a Post-Cookie Blueprint

So it is in this flurry (or fury) of policy developments that the Winterberry Group issued its most recent paper, “Identity Outlook 2020: The Evolution of Identity in a Privacy-First, Post-Cookie World.”

Its authors take a more positive view of recent trends – reflecting perhaps a resolve that the private sector will seize the moment:

“We believe that regulation and cookie deprecation are a positive for the future health and next stage of growth for the advertising and marketing industry as they are appropriate catalysts for change in an increasingly privacy-aware consumer environment,” write authors Bruce Biegel, Charles Ping, and Michael Harrison, all of whom are with the Winterberry Group.

The researchers report five emerging identity management processes, each with its own regulatory risk. Brands may pursue any one or combination of these methodologies:

  • “A proprietary ID based on authenticated first-party data where the brand or media owner has established a unique ID for use on their owned properties and for matching with partners either directly or through privacy safe environments (e.g.: Facebook, Google, Amazon).
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a PII- [personally identifiable information] based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy.
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a third-party, PII-based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy; leverages a deterministic approach, with probabilistic matching to increase reach.
  • “A second-party data environment based on clean environments with anonymous ID linking to allow privacy safe data partnerships to be created.
  • “A household ID based on IP address and geographic match.”

The authors offer a chart that highlights some of the regulatory risks with each approach.

“As a result of the diversity of requirements across the three ecosystems (personalization, programmatic and ATV [advanced television]) the conclusion that Winterberry Group draws from the market is that multiple identity solutions will be required and continue to evolve in parallel. To achieve the goals of consumer engagement and customer acquisition marketers will seek to apply a blend of approaches based on the availability of privacy-compliant identifiers and the suitability of the approach for specific channels and touchpoints.”

A blend of approaches? Looks like I’ll need a navigator as well as the map. As one of the six key takeaways, the report authors write:

“Talent gaps, not tech gaps: One of the issues holding the market back is the lack of focus in the brand/agency model that is dedicated to understanding the variety of privacy-compliant identity options. We expect that the increased market complexity in identity will require Chief Data Officers to expand their roles and place themselves at the center of efforts to reduce the media silos that separate paid, earned and owned use cases. The development of talent that overlaps marketing/advertising strategy, data/data science and data privacy will be more critical in the post-cookie, privacy-regulated market than ever before.”

There’s much more in the research to explore than one blog post – so do your data prowess a favor and download the full report here.

And let’s keep the competition concerns open and continuing. There’s more at stake here than simply a broken customer identity or the receipt of an irrelevant ad.

5 Actions in the “Age of Re-”

Now is the time to re-imagine parts of your brand. The Age of Re is upon us, where we connect to the core values and ideas that make our connections authentic and purposeful.

The Latin root of the prefix “Re” means “again.”

Even though this year seems more uncertain and brand-new than we can professionally remember, I’m thinking it might actually be the time for “again.”

Brands in 2020 seem to be going back to their core customers with the strongest loyalty. To lean into that loyalty means messages and brand positions have to be more basic and true to what your core group of customers believe about you.

I’ve thought of this as the Age of Re. It’s the Age of Again for brands who want to remember who they are, what their real purpose is, and regain their footing in an uncertain landscape.

So, here are 5 Re’s your brand can embrace in this strange landscape. All of us are reimagining our health, economic, and social cause futures. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed, and I challenge you to talk with your team about these, and other, Re’s.

  1. Revisit – How many ideas have you filed away? They might have been too goofy, too strange, or lower priority than other ideas that drove shorter-term revenue. For some brands, being on the brink may also mean removing fear.
  2. Remind – Stating your position in the market, your values, and what makes you different than competitors is vital. Customers are – like all of us – scattered in their thinking. We have been at home balancing school, work, and new social norms…all while being bombarded with a relentless news cycle that won’t quit. It’s easy for customers to forget what you stand for.
  3. Reinvent – It might be time to add new products, expand into other markets, or transform a core competency into something different. If you are in retail or clothes-making, adjusting to producing masks makes a lot of sense. In fact, a recent bag company made some modifications to create masks as a new product line.

Slight Detour: Check out the pivots from these companies now offering masks:

  • bluecanoe.com – selling out the first wave of organic, cotton-stretch, amazingly comfortable masks
  • bagmasters.com – pivoted their bag-making business into making masks
  • customink.com – which does custom t-shirts, and is now making customized masks

In addition, businesses used to a physical presence are thinking of how they move forward with remote workers. Companies like Zapier and NinjaCat are all remote. Businesses like Modern Postcard – which has a physical printing and mailing facility – are now hybrid models with some workers on-site, and others remotely working. This change created an opportunity to reinvent your business model and working organization.

  1. Retouch – Beyond what to say, it’s also a time to communicate differently to your customers and leads. With email, mailings, educational webinars, and PDFs, the reason to send messages back to all of your customers is clear. You can remind them of your mission and values by retouching all of them. Setting but limiting your marketing communication schedule for the next 6 months makes sense – it’s going to be an uncertain back-half of the year, especially heading into the tumultuous November Election cycle.
  2. Recover – Focusing the business on clawing back to a steady revenue place is key. The Playbook for 2020 was thrown out the window in March, and now the expectations and goals are completely different. I’ve heard from several brands that breaking down the goal in stages can help. It might seem too daunting to recover all of the business, so focusing on one or two aspects where getting back to baseline is do-able

Bonus Re: Rejuvenate. There are many brands who are engaging the current conversation of racial injustice and some kind of police reform. Shout-out to Everlane, who has a link to resources related to Black Lives Matter that help educate, create awareness, and deepen understanding. Every marketer should know that 76% of Generation Z – who will be the largest consumer group in 2026 – purchases or considers purchasing from a brand to show support for the social issues the brand cares about. Everlane has done this, injecting a more youthful, lively and aware message on their website.

It’s a time to go back again to ideas, values, and customers that made your brand unique in the first place.

As marketers, we all professionally ascribe to the concept that more information and understanding yields better decisions. Why wouldn’t that happen in other areas of our life and community?

As always, I welcome your comments.

Needed Again? The Ad Campaign That Saved New York

It’s midsummer, yet we are at a moment in time when tourism and travel ad campaigns are practically at a standstill, due to COVID-19 and our economic shutdown. Here in New York, the lights of Broadway will be out for not just the rest of summer, but the entire year (subscription required). Who knows if New Year 2021 will bring the bright lights back – and if so, the audiences, with billions in the balance.

The city also was recently met with the passing of Milton Glaser, the founder and publisher of New York magazine, and the graphics genius behind the now-ubiquitous “I❤NY” graphic.

A wise soul never bets against New York.

Another advertising genius, Mary Wells Lawrence — the first woman to found, own, and manage a major advertising agency (Wells Rich Greene, in 1966) – was honored last week with a Cannes Lions “Lion of St. Mark” for lifetime achievement. Her agency – with Glaser’s design – literally took a “deteriorating” New York and launched a Broadway-focused campaign that began the city’s (and state’s) path toward the world giant of tourism that it is today.

Here are some samples of work from this campaign in the early 1980s – note the direct-response call to action. Also of note, Glaser developed the graphics pro bono, and the jingle also was donated by composer Steve Karmen.

A Campaign That Sparked Imagination, Captured a Moment, and Practically Created a Category

New York will need nothing short of another seminal ad campaign – or campaign extension — to revise its fortunes once again.

This work was indeed seminal. Until that time (campaign launch, 1976-77), there were few state-funded tourism campaigns that captured America’s imagination as much as “I❤NY” – only “Virginia is for Lovers” (1969) comes to mind. “I❤NYmay not have invented the category, but it took travel and tourism marketing to new heights in public consciousness.

Famously left for bankruptcy by President Gerald Ford, New York City’s perceived state in the mid-1970s was nothing short of disastrous. Depopulation, crime (Son of Sam), blackouts (and looting), decrepit public transit… one might argue the city barely functioned, if at all.

But New York always fights back. The truth is the city never lost its global mantle atop finance, fashion, night life, the arts, and retail, among other sectors. Broadway is uniquely New York and – other than London’s West End – there was no greater concentration of live theater in all its forms than the Big Apple, so of course Broadway was going to be the initial focus of an ad campaign, which happened to open the door to New York’s comeback.

And oh, did it work, perhaps far beyond tourism and economic revival. It created an energy and mystique for the city that touched a chord with many – not just to visit New York, but to come to the city and live, take a chance, and forge our path in the pursuit of happiness. (When our pop heroes of the time – Blondie, the Rolling Stones, Kiss (Ace Frehley), Michael Jackson – are singing in and about you, adding a dose of parody, it’s also hard not to notice.) What followed in New York City is truly remarkable – a booming economy that even periodic stock market corrections and September 11 could not dislodge. These latter events, merely interruptions.

That is, until now.

A New Marketing Challenge – Who Wants to Step Up?

Even prior to COVID-19, New York has had new images and realities to contend with: a population that peaked in 2016, even amid a wildly successful tech and biomedical boom; Gen Z and Millennials with vitality and genius who can’t afford the price of entry – or, worse, feel it’s not worth it; strangulation by repugnant and short-sighted immigration curtailment and visa restrictions that serve to fail the American Dream. And now, it was the epicenter of a pandemic, which has brought into question the safety of dense population centers everywhere.

So how will NYC & Company, the State of New York Division of Tourism, and Empire State Development perhaps unite to revive New York’s fortunes this go-around?

It’s time for a Next Generation to dream big, strategize, and present the next seminal campaign (extension) that will “save” New York. I ask, who’s going to do it? Where are the next Mary Wells Lawrence and Milton Glaser?

How about you? If you and your agency are creating successful work right now, you can prove it: The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has now issued its 2021 International ECHO Awards call for entries. What makes the ANA ECHOs so unique is that each campaign is judged by peers based on data-informed strategy, creativity, and results in business outcomes that any c-suite would love. “Brilliant results. Executed brilliantly.”

Like the State and City of New York, thousands of brands right now need agency and marketing leadership that inspire, motivate, and move business and the economy. In both consumer and business markets, domestic and global, earning an ECHO shows data prowess in real campaigns that make a difference on the bottom line – attributes and outcomes that are in high demand. Take your best work from 2020 and enter, and I’m proud to say, I’ll have the opportunity to help judge that work this fall.

I’m eager to see the best. New York’s image curators ought to be watching as well.

Get More From Your Advertising While Spending A Lot Less

At a time when there seems to be a new national crisis daily, it is hard to justify moving forward with big marketing spends not knowing what the purchasing climate will be one day to the next. Clever copy, relevant content, and big promotions just can’t overcome the hurdles of spending freezes and cut backs many of your target customers are experiencing. When this happens, its really tough to make marketing pay off. At least the kind of marketing you might be used to executing.

Fortunately, marketing platforms today give us the opportunity to manage our marketing spend to be accountable for every dollar, and to eliminate waste by paying only for results, be it impressions, clicks, likes, contact information, and so on.

Regardless of COVID-19 economic challenges, and civil rights protests that disrupt business as usual in every sense of the term, spending dollars on performance marketing programs that are highly measurable is smart marketing under all circumstances. Such programs enable you to reach only who you want to reach, and only cost you money when they perform. This makes sense in good times, certain times, and the reverse.

The key to getting more from these media channels (e.g., Google Ads and LinkedIn ads) really boils down to two things:

  • What you say and how you say it
  • How you use them to spark a multi-step journey to YES for the leads you generate

Here are some considerations.

What You Say and How You Say It

Emotional and psychological relevance is more important than ever. It’s fair to say that most of us are operating from a perspective of fear, anxiety, and doubt most of the time. Every day there’s another setback to our respect for humanity, our belief in governments, our sense of security, and a lot more. So ads that appeal to just about anything but the above are likely to go unnoticed or unacted upon. Copy that directly appeals to a solution vs. boasts a brand’s expertise is likely to influence and persuade, the goal of all marketing. Yet so many ads across all platforms are still brag sheets that are meaningless to purchasers seeking solutions to the fears and anxieties that consume them.

You need to use powerful words that speak to how you can add confidence and security to those struggling to find both in their jobs and personal worlds. Even with the strict word counts for Google Ads and LinkedIn Ads, you can do it. The best way to identify the words or issues that move your customers the most is to ask them. Use your website, social media pages, and email programs to ask one to three questions that identify the greatest concerns and needs on customers’ minds today.

If you find fear of job loss or the great unknown to be top of mind among your customers, use words that speak directly to these fears in your Search Ads. Back up the promise implied by these words with all the other touch points you prepare to keep them on a journey to YES.

How You Spark a Multi-Step Journey

Its amazing how many marketers spend a lot of money on PPC and other performance marketing programs and then stop there. The intent of these programs is most often to create a lead or get people to a website where further engagement takes place. Yet many marketers don’t plan well for the next touch point.

This is why Customer Experience (CX) strategies and plans are so critical. And putting a strong CX plan in place is really quite simple. Some tips:

  • Map out the steps that take place from first introduction to your brand to closing the first sale and then what you do to keep them purchasing.
  • Document the triggers that keep customers moving from one step to the next. Was it a price incentive? A free trial? Content or actionable information? Was it simply a phone call or additional email?
  • Promote these triggers in a carefully concerted customer journey, starting with your website.

Once you get people to your website from your digital advertising campaigns, keep them there by making these same triggers or offers the first thing they see on your home page. Use them as reasons to go deeper in your site, sign up for a demo, download a paper, and so on.

The next step to doing more with less is to train your customer service and sales team members to follow up with each lead that lands on your website or responds to an email. As you are already paying for these people, having them follow up with a personal touch does not cost you a lot more, but most often gives back a lot more in terms of getting customers to take the next step in that critical journey to the first sale. Quite often it’s the phone call or personal email that makes all the difference, and yet this is often overlooked.

While it may seem like advertising is a big waste right now with all the uncertainty we face daily in this new normal state of the world, if you use the right emotional appeals, and keep engaging customers with a strong workflow and customer journey plans, you can actually achieve a great deal at a fairly low cost.

Know What to Automate With Machine Learning

There are many posers in the data and analytics industry. Unfortunately, some of them occupy managerial positions, making critical decisions based on superficial knowledge and limited experiences. I’ve seen companies wasting loads of money and resources on projects with no substantial value — all because posers in high places bought into buzzwords or false promises. As if buzzwords have some magical power to get things done “auto-magically.”

I’ve written articles about how to identify posers and why buzzwords suck. But allow me to add a few more thoughts, as the phrase “Machine Learning” is rapidly gaining that magical power in many circles. You’d think that machines could read our minds and deliver results on their own. Sorry to break it to you, but even in the world of Star Trek, computers still wouldn’t understand illogical requests.

Beware of people who try to employ machine learning and no other technique. Generally, such people don’t even understand what they are trying to automate, only caring about the cost reduction part. But the price that others end up paying for such a bad decision could be far greater than any savings. The worst-case scenario is automating inadequate practices, which leads to wrong places really fast. How can anyone create a shortcut if he doesn’t know how to get to the destination in the first place, or worse, where the destination is supposed to be?

The goal of any data project should never be employing machine learning for the sake of it. After all, you wouldn’t respect a guitarist who can’t play a simple lick, just because he has a $5,000 custom guitar on his shoulder.

Then, what is the right way to approach this machine learning hype? First, you must recognize that there are multiple steps in predictive modeling. Allow me to illustrate some major steps and questions to ask:

  1. Planning: This critical step is often the most difficult one. What are you trying to achieve through data and analytics? Building the most eloquent model can’t be the sole purpose outside academia. Converting business goals into tangible solution sets is a project in itself. What kind of analytics should be employed? What would be the outcome? How will those model scores be applied to actual marketing campaigns? How will the results would be measured? Prescribing proper solutions to business challenges within the limitation of systems, toolsets, and the budget is one of the most coveted skill sets. And it has nothing to do with tools like machine learning, yet.
  2. Data Audit: Before we chart a long analytics journey, let’s put a horse before the cart, as data is the fuel for an engine called machine learning. I’ve seen too many cases where the cart is firmly mounted before the horse. What data are we going to use? From what sources? Do we have enough data to perform the task? How far in time do the datasets go back? Are they merged in one place? Are they in usable forms? Too many datasets are disconnected, unstructured, uncategorized, and unclean. Even for the machines.
  3. Data Transformation: Preparing available data for advanced analytics is also a project in itself. Be mindful that you don’t have to clean everything; just deal with the elements that are essential for required analytics to meet pre-determined business goals. At this stage, you may employ machine learning to categorize, group, or reformat data variables. But note that such modules are quite different from the ones for predictions.
  4. Target Definition: Setting up proper model targets is half-art/half-science. If the target is hung on a wrong spot, the resultant model will never render any value. For instance, if you are targeting so-called “High Value” customers, how would you express it in mathematical terms? It could be defined by any combinations of value, frequency, recency, and product categories. The targets are to be set after a long series of assumptions, profiling, and testing. No matter what modeling methodology eventually gets employed, you do NOT want targets to be unilaterally determined by a machine. Even with a simple navigator, which provides driving directions through machine-based algorithms, the user must provide the destination first. A machine cannot determine where you need to go (at least not yet).
  5. Universe Definition: In what universe will the resultant model be applied and used? Model comparison universe is as important as the target itself, as a model score is a mathematical expression of differences between two dichotomous universes (e.g., buyers vs. non-buyers). Even with the same target, switching the comparison universe would render completely different algorithms. On top of that, you may want to put extra filters by region, gender, customer type, user segment, etc. A machine may determine distinct sets of universes that require separate models, but don’t relinquish all controls to machines, either. Machine may not aware of where you would apply the model.
  6. Modeling: This statistical work is comprised of sub-steps such as variable selection, variable transformation, binning, outlier exclusion, algorithm creation, and validation, all in multiple iterations. It is indeed laborious work, and “some” parts may be done by the machines to save time. You may have heard of terms such as Deep Learning, Neural Net, logistic regression, stepwise regression, Random Forest, CHAID analysis, tree analysis, etc. Some are to be done by machines, and some by human analysts. All those techniques are basically to create algorithms. In any case, some human touch is inevitable regardless of employed methodology, as nothing should be released without continuous testing, validation, and tweaking. Don’t blindly subscribe to terms like “unsupervised learning.”
  7. Application: An algorithm may have been created in a test environment, but to be useful, the model score must be applied to the entire universe. Some toolsets provide “in-database-scoring”, which is great for automation. Let me remind you that most errors happen before or after the modeling step. Again, humans should not be out of the loop until everything becomes a routine, all the way to campaign execution and attribution.
  8. Maintenance: Models deteriorate and require scheduled reviews. Even self-perpetuating algorithms should be examined periodically, as business environments, data quality, and assumptions may take drastic turns. The auto-pilot switch shouldn’t stay on forever.

So, out of this outline for a simple target modeling (for 1:1 marketing applications), which parts do you think can fully be automated without any human intervention? I’d say some parts of data transformation, maybe all of modeling, and some application steps could go on the hands-free route.

The most critical step of all, of course, is the planning and goal-setting part. Humans must breathe their intention into any project. Once things are running smoothly, then sure, we can carve out the parts that can be automated in a step-wise fashion (i.e., never in one shot).

Now, would you still believe sales pitches that claim all your marketing dreams will come true if you just purchase some commercial machine-learning modules? Even if decent toolsets are tuned up properly, don’t forget that you are supposed to be the one who puts them in motion, just like self-driving cars.

What’s in a Name? A Lot. Here’s How to Successfully Rebrand Your Business

Rebrands of companies, products, and services are not uncommon. A company may choose to rebrand to refresh a stale image. Often a rebrand is triggered by a merger or acquisition. A scandal is also a catalyst for a rebrand. For example, increased focus and sensitivity surrounding brands with controversial roots like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s have led to recent rebrand announcements.

Successful rebranding, regardless of the impetus, starts with a thoughtful assessment of why, what, how, when, and where.

  • Why rebrand now?
  • What aspects of the brand need a refresh?
  • How will the rebrand work be done?
  • When will the new brand launch?
  • Where will you represent your new brand?

Why Rebrand Now?

A new marketing leader or executive looking to institute change may request a rebrand. But is that the right reason? Your brand wasn’t built in a day. Before rebranding, it’s worth taking stock of your brand, its history, market perception, and current value.

Weigh the pros and cons of moving forward with a rebranding effort along with the anticipated cost. Get input from a cross-section of the company along with end customers.

What Aspects of the Brand Need a Refresh?

Most people outside of the marketing community would associate a rebrand with a name change, but there’s much more to it. Determine if you’re reimagining the brand’s visual representation, language, story, or a combination of these elements. Create a complete list of all the brand aspects you wish to revamp.

How Will the Rebrand Work Be Done?

Companies of all sizes have been through the rebranding process. While many, such as Google/Alphabet, have significant in-house marketing staff, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a rebrand should be executed entirely by an internal team.

Outside perspective and expertise can provide an unbiased point of view and more in-depth experience related to rebranding. This sounding board and external counsel can also help to sell through ideas to leadership and management without jeopardizing relationships.

When Will the New Brand Launch?

Unless you’re a household name, most of the general public will have little interest in your new brand. However, employees and loyal customers may be more invested. Be sensitive to the audiences that will care most and consider timing the rebrand to something meaningful like a corporate anniversary, large company or industry event, or another milestone.

Where Will You Represent Your New Brand?

Orchestrating the new brand launch requires a coordinated effort across your brand channels. If you send a customer email introducing a new brand, but your website still aligns with your retired brand, the rebrand is incomplete and ineffective.

Take stock of your current marketing resources – both digital and offline – as well as your internal materials and training efforts. Ensure that all of your employees, especially those within sales, marketing, client services, and leadership, understand how to express the new brand. An end-to-end rebrand can’t happen overnight. It will require support from many departments, from HR for training and onboarding to technology for digital representation.

Be Thorough and Patient.

A rebrand is typically a massive undertaking. Make sure you have a plan and secure buy-in from the critical stakeholders. Take your time to do it properly and ask the right questions from the start.

The Power of Content Marketing Partnerships and Alliances

Though our culture reveres the power of genius and the magic that genius can conjure — as well we should — most of us work in realms where collaboration can be far more productive than forging our own path. Content marketing is one of those realms.

In content marketing, alliances and partnerships can prove the truth behind the idea that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.

E-A-T

Despite looking like the name of a hipster, retro diner, E-A-T has nothing to do with food. It’s shorthand for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. These are three factors that Google considers in ranking websites.

On its own, E-A-T is important enough a factor to warrant an in-depth article. For today, we’ll use it as context for the value that partnerships can have in adding power to your content marketing.

You’re Experiencing the Power of Partnerships Right Now

Observant readers may have noticed that I am not an employee of Target Marketing. I run Andigo, a digital marketing agency. And I lend my expertise in digital marketing to the Target Marketing website.

I’m a nice guy and all, but I don’t write these columns merely out of the goodness of my heart. In exchange for my sweat and toil, Target Marketing stamps me with their seal of approval. That approval gives me a leg up in gaining your trust as an audience. (Because you’ve already come to trust Target Marketing’s judgement.)

That’s certainly a beneficial exchange for both of us, but there’s more. The reason the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in relationships like this is that both parties bring their own audiences with them. This expands my reach beyond what I could hope to achieve on my own, and does the same for Target Marketing.

Symmetrical Content Marketing Partnerships Work, Too

Of course, there’s an asymmetry to our relationship that adds to the power of working together. Each partner brings its own strength, with little to no overlap.

But more symmetrical relationships can work well, too. Co-creating a piece of content with a partner of similar “weight” still introduces you each to a broader audience than you’d achieve without a partner. But now, rather than the stamp of approval being one-directional, you are each endorsing the other as a trustworthy expert to your own audiences.

May I Introduce to You …

A warm introduction is an enormous leg up over being found via a cold web search. That introduction is what makes content marketing partnerships one of the best ways to establish expertise, authority, and trust — and to grow your audience in the process.

As you’d imagine, some thought is required to find appropriate partners. You should seek partners who work with the same target audience as you do and whose services are complementary to yours.

For example, a digital marketing firm might partner with a branding firm who works with the same B2B clients. They could also partner with a branding firm who works with B2C companies, but they would likely not see the same return on their time.

Similarly, that digital marketing firm could partner with a company providing break-room services to B2B companies, but there is less synergy there, even though both firms provide services to the same target market.

Finally, remember the adage about lying down with dogs and waking up with fleas. You must be comfortable with the integrity and reputation of your partners. Your good name won’t rescue a bad partner nearly as readily as their bad name will tarnish yours.