Don’t Let your Website Drive away Traffic

I’m making SEO (Search Engine Optimization) changes to the Bedient website. These are minor adjustments, like adding alt tags to photos and entering meta data. Monkey work aside, I’m noticing things on other websites. Here’s a short list.

Data Mining too Soon

I have encountered websites (usually for a small company launched on WordPress) with screens asking for my e-mail information before I see any content. I leave these right away. On a subtle level, it tells me they only care about what I can do for them and that is probably reflected in their service. On a more practical level, those pop-ups might prevent me from getting to their content. This seems to happen most often to me on Twitter. I rarely check Twitter on anything but my phone (iPhone 5). My phone does not allow me to change the size of these pop-up screens. I have gone so far as to contact the companies and explain the problem. One changed their website in response, one did not. The latter lost my business immediately.

Incompatibility Across Platforms

We could have avoided the situation above simply by looking at the website on different devices. If you post links to your site in social media, your site needs to be compatible with mobile devices. If you are a small business owner, throw a party where friends bring their mobile devices (phones and tablets). Make a game out of finding the bug in your website. You can even give a small gift to the people with the hardest devices to interface. Take notes and make changes. Check the site for useability on Mac, Windows, and Linux (if you have a tech site). Check it in Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and even Opera. You will lose your audience if people cannot access content, or your forms don’t work. Treat your website like a resource for your clients. Flashy scripts are only cool if they don’t interfere with your web traffic.

Regular Maintenance

If you publish prices on your site, update them when they change. Make sure your links still work. If you write a blog, keep writing as regularly as you are able. Your website is a resource. Many people (myself included) will check a website before they walk into a store or call a company. If the information is outdated, or the site looks like it was created in 1998, I will assume the service or product is substandard. It doesn’t matter if that’s fair, it’s simply the nature of business. Getting back to SEO, regular maintenance tells search engines that this is a current site. That raises your rating in search results.

Fill in all the Content

A friend sent me a message a while back. She had been looking for leads and stumbled on a website for a marketing company. In the About Us section it read, “Lorem ipsum…” This was a marketing company that hadn’t bothered to replace the default text in at least one of their sections. Unfortunately, that is an advertisement. It clearly states the company doesn’t finish projects and has no eye for detail. The average person doesn’t care about back story. They won’t assume you had a huge client with a looming deadline. They care that you chose not to do something very simple with your own website.

Simple strategies work the best. Beautiful photos and well-written content always win me over. Useful information that I can find in one or two clicks is king. I’ll gladly send you my e-mail address if you offer something I can use. But make it an option at the bottom of your engaging content, don’t make my data the price of admission.

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No, Brand isn’t just your Logo

Many people use brand and logo interchangeably. While a great logo says a lot about you, your company, or your brand, it’s only part of the equation.

Calling your brand your reputation is a lot closer. As a consumer, I am more likely to buy or subscribe based on the brand than the logo. For example, when I see a cute, little panda icon, I don’t know if I should eat  Chinese food or make a charitable donation to save endangered species. If you are putting together a logo, I encourage you to read this article. Unless you really like pandas, consider the first rule: “Uniqueness: Do not emulate the logo of other brands. A copied logo or a common one will make your business look cheap and unoriginal. It is far better to create your own logo for your brand otherwise people won’t take you serious[ly]. A unique logo will also tend to be one that stands the test of time.”

Your brand is shorthand for who you are. It is the gut feeling people have when they think of you as a business, artist, or product. Start this process by identifying how you are similar to other brands. This helps you clearly define both your market and your image. Once you know your similarities, look at your differences. These are what make you marketable. The similar and different combine to create your brand. And it is a balance. Being too similar makes you appear to have nothing to offer. If you are too different, you run the risk of confusing your market and losing your share.

Once you identify your brand, everything you do needs to support that image. Every interaction you have with the public, every product you release, every service and piece of art needs to support your brand. Even your charitable giving needs to support your brand. In January my company, Bedient Pipe Organ Company became the first corporate partner of the Nebraska Organ Recovery System. It started as a joke. We moved a pipe organ across the country and called it an “organ transplant.” But we made a statement about ourselves as a company when we partnered with a group that types and matches soft tissue donors with recipients. We stated that we care about the lives of the people in our greater community. Our hashtag #Organs4Organs supports that partnership. Our brand serves many religious organizations. It’s important to support organizations that do good for a living.

Think of the child stars of the past. Most did not transition well to adulthood, because their brands were tied up in the image of sweet, doe-eyed children. In contrast, look at a company like Mountain Dew, now Mtn Dew. Their product has always included an element of fun and energy. Today’s advertising agencies would never name a soft drink Mountain Dew. Their original 1969 logo included a hillbilly on a tire swing. Over the years the company has changed their logo, but their brand has remained constant. They continue to be a brand of fun and energy, and support that by sponsoring snow and skate boarders, and musicians like Dierks Bentley.

So, figure out who you are. What makes you just a little bit different? Make sure everything you put out there, every contact you make, supports that brand. A great logo won’t hurt, but it is more susceptible to trends than your brand is.

The Whim

In 2000 I was working part time as on air staff for the Nebraska Public Radio Network, now NET Radio. I worked Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m., and Weekends on All Things Considered aired during my shift. Radio announcers have a strange job. They step into a little room and everyone in the listening area (in my case, the state of Nebraska) knows everything that happens.

On a whim, I decided to submit one of my stories to The National Story Project, an NPR series of author Paul Auster. My story was included. The day my story aired, our network preempted this spot with a Met Opera broadcast. I never got to hear the program live. One of my listeners happened to be listening on another NPR station (maybe she didn’t like opera), taped the show, and sent it to me. I was touched. This is the archived show.

I thought that was the end of it. I thought that would be my one brush with fame. I was wrong. A while later, I received a letter, asking me release my writing for inclusion in I Thought My Father Was God: And Other True Tales from NPR’s National Story Project. Now I was a published author (sort of)! They sent me a copy of the book. I read through it. I enjoyed it. I showed it to friends.

A few years later, I received an e-mail message from Lee Schneider, a documentary film maker, who was working on a project called, Chance Happens. This was completely unexpected and I was skeptical. Then my research showed one of the members of the production team had been involved in the book. I went with it. At this point I started to believe that maybe the Universe was trying to tell me something. My whim was starting to make me believe I had something to offer. I started to think seriously about writing.

This morning, I came across this blog post. It helped me relive the process that started on a whim 14 years ago. Is there a moral to this story? If there is, it’s to do things on a whim. Take those silly opportunities when they appear. The secondary moral, don’t assume you know what’s important all the time. The Universe has a crazy way of throwing together people and things. Go with that flow. It’s full of wonderful surprises.

How to Market Fun

I am a monster with a GoPro and an iPhone. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been walking up to strangers and asking if I could film them for a video, the video above. It’s amazing how easy it is. I say, “Excuse me. My name is Holly. I’m putting together a video to promote a photo contest. If you’re not in the witness protection program, would you mind being part of it? I won’t take more than 2 minutes of your time.” I had one person decline, just one.

I don’t think these people were interested in fame. None of them asked me to send them the finished video. I think they wanted to be helpful, or thought it might be fun. And it was fun! By the end of this project, I had a real desire to go to a quilt museum. I don’t quilt. I simply got caught up in the energy of the people I was filming.

Honestly, I think that’s the key to any marketing. If you can get caught up in the energy of whatever you are promoting, you can create the same spark in others. And it follows that anything we lose interest in as marketers will suffer from that waning energy. We sometimes think of content marketing as a burden, about as much fun as those English Lit papers we had to write in college (woo-hoo). It starts to feel like something we have to do, instead of something we get to do.

So, how does Stella get her groove back? I got energized by other people, people who already enjoyed the very things I was trying to promote. I didn’t survey them. I didn’t do a market test. I got out there with them and caught them in the act of enjoying what they already enjoy. You can see it on their faces. You can see it in the way they move. So, get out there and experience what you’re trying to promote. Listen to the people who already love it. You get to do this for a living.

All the Cool Kids are into Pipe Organs

10513402_660855714008338_8874838361076655335_nThis is a mass selfie (a groupie?) from about a week ago. These are high schoolers touring the Bedient Pipe Organ Company. They are real teens, who got on a bus, and toured four churches and a pipe organ builder one day in the middle of July. Pipe Organ Encounters (POEs) happen all over the US, and the kids who participate are wild about pipe organs.

“We had Masterclasses/lectures on how the Organ is made and even went to Bedient Organ Shop! It was an AMAZING experience and I recommend it to EVERYONE!” Michael, a POE student, wrote on Facebook. He posted picture after picture of kids having a fantastic time looking at and interacting with pipe organs. I’m going to say it again, THEY WERE ALL EXCITED ABOUT PIPE ORGANS! You might not think this is normal, but it is. The smallest children are totally captivated by the instrument. It’s HUGE. You can make it play different sounds. And the coolest part, is you can play it with your feet! Did you ever see Big with Tom Hanks? It’s the same thing…

So, why am I yacking on and on about pipe organs? Because I think marketers sometimes don’t really understand teens. We make assumptions about what they like, based on our own biases. We associate pipe organs with church services we might have been forced to attend as children. Services that maybe even our parents stopped attending after we were confirmed. If we attend church, it has a praise band, which is cool, right? Teens see pipe organs differently. They see amazing pieces of technology you can watch work. Teens see gigantic instruments that dwarf the people who play them. They see power. They see awesomeness! And you can play them with your feet!

Above, is what these young enthusiasts see. They see a guy, dwarfed by an enormous instrument, surrounded by knobs, playing three keyboards (manuals) and a pedal board at the same time. It’s like extreme musicianship. The POE kids are a lot like their friends, who are sampling stuff and mixing their own songs. They love the technology, the mixing and matching, the power of big sounds. After all, a 32-foot Contrebombarde was the original subbass. So, why do we think more kids want to sit in their basements and sample music than want to harness the power of an instrument that is 50 times larger than they are?

Coolness comes in a lot of flavors. Don’t box in younger audiences. The best thing you can do to attract a young market, is to find the coolness factor in your product and let them know about it. It’s cool, because they think it’s cool. Show it to them, they’ll let you know how cool it is.

What’s Your Future Story?

By Rochkind (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Rochkind (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
What does your future look like? Does it look promising, dismal, about the same? Do you know how you’re getting there? Have you even thought that far ahead?

It might make your head hurt to think about what you’re going to eat for dinner tonight. You have a lot on your mind. Every moment of your life seems to be consumed with some sort of compulsion or autonomic task. Things are fine the way they are. If you mess with them, you’ll just make a mess of them. And so you continue with the status quo. Never going forward, never noticing if you go back… just a little.

But, the Future is out there, looming in the distance. Stop keeping your head down, hoping it won’t notice you haven’t gone anywhere in the past XX years. This doesn’t just apply to people going through a particular stage in their lives. It applies to a business that stops growing, a community that loses interest, a relationship that feels more like roommates than partners. It applies to everyone and everything that has stopped telling their Future Stories.

Your Future Story is YOUR story. You can invite whomever you like, but it’s your story. You are responsible for writing it the way you want it to play out. Start your story by saying who you are, what you do, how you got here, now. Continue by saying who you want to be, what you want to do, and how you plan to get there, then. Start your story, then start living it. The Future is waiting for you…

Dear Kitten — A Cute, Little, Fuzzy Lesson in Social Media

Not long ago, Friskies released this video, for BuzzFeed. This cute, little thing stands as a great lesson to anyone marketing on any of the social media — especially Facebook.

Justin and Steve
My boys, Justin and Steve

Bring on the kittens! First, let’s face it. The internet is filled with adorable kittens and puppies. They makes us go, “awwww.” They pull us out of our cubes, and into nature (or at least other people’s living rooms). Not long ago, I sat in the parking lot of my gym, and watched a stranger’s kitten climb into a tissue box. This is the power of the cute and fuzzy! Cats rule the internet, just like they did in Ancient Egypt. Yes. I have cats. So, what does Dear Kitten have to teach us?

Dear Kitten tells a story. You are at your best as a marketer if you can tell a story. This particular story is told through the older cat, while the kitten tumbles, and generally looks cute. It ain’t Ibsen, but it’s fun! We like fun! Be fun! Tell your story!

Borrow from the best. Some time ago, Henri le Chat Noir hit the share zone. It was a brilliant combination of French art film and cats. Henri filled a niche for the cat lover with a liberal arts degree. Yes. I have one of those too. Henri was niche. Dear Kitten is for the masses. Henri was a bit too brooding and critical. Dear Kitten has no disdain.

The dry cat food is to prepare them to be astronauts! The final lesson, is to remain positive. Certainly, some negativity works. Much of the political landscape is hip-deep in negativity. But a positive message like Dear Kitten won’t get the average person unfriended. It will get shared, and draw people to the Friskie’s website, and make that cat food fly off the shelves (and into space!).

Your goal is to generate shares. Make all things cute work for you. Tell stories. Have fun! Stay positive. Maybe you’ll get picked up by BuzzFeed…