Up until a couple of years ago, many experts would have scoffed at the idea of influencer marketing becoming a powerful marketing tool. These days? Not so much. According to recent studies, an average influencer marketing campaign has earned $6.85 for every $1 spent.
As more and more brands are starting to find out, word-of-mouth marketing is routinely outperforming all other marketing types by a large margin. Does this mean all businesses should focus exclusively on taking advantage of influencer marketing? It's not quite that simple. Though influencers can play a vital role in your marketing strategy, they also bring a specific set of challenges that can affect your campaign.
Here are three things every business owner needs to know about influencer marketing.
1. Not All Influencers Are Equal
Influencer marketing is still relatively new, so it's probably no surprise to see brands struggling to identify the right influencers for their needs. Many celebrity-level influencers have over 300,000 followers on social media, but their fans might not be the right target audience for your brand. Can you confirm that these followers were not purchased? Can the influencer in question provide quality content? What about the level of engagement their posts are generating? In many cases, you'd be better off focusing on the so-called micro-influencers. These people have considerably smaller media followings, but they're often able to influence more purchases from their audience. Additionally, their rates are generally lower than those of celebrity-level influencers. If you want to find the right influencers for your campaign, your first step should be to define your business goals.
Do you want to focus on getting followers, increasing your conversion rate or driving website traffic? Once you have your answer, look for influencers that are relevant in your industry. With enough research, you'll be able to identify those of them who can engage your target audience.
2. Determining Your Campaign ROI
How can you tell whether influencer marketing is worth your investment? With other marketing strategies, the easiest way to do so would be to calculate your campaign ROI. However, influence marketing is somewhat of an outlier in this regard, as measuring direct financial return is often impossible.
One way to approach this issue would be to provide your influencers with unique money-off coupons. Any time their followers use one of these coupons, you'd be able to measure the conversion rate. This is what Nutrisystem did. Nutrisystem is a diet company that launched Nutrisystem Nation Blogger program some time ago. Through this program it reached out to women bloggers, like Beatrice of Bestiews, who would be willing to try the popular diet, and blog about their weight loss experience. Nutrisystem gave these influencers special coupon codes to offer to their followers. People used these Nuitrsystem coupons to purchase the diet program allowing the company to measure the campaign’s ROI.
If you're not planning on providing such discounts, though, you can take note of your other campaign factors such as brand advocacy, brand awareness and reaching your target audience.
There are a couple of online tools that can help you with this task. For example, NeoReach is a social media platform that allows you to monitor your campaign results. Thanks to this tool, you'll be able to keep track of your influencers' impressions and the engagement they're generating. In addition to that, you can take note of your overall campaign spending and compare it with the cost per impression and the cost per engagement.
3. Attracting Influencers
When it comes to influencers, their content creation rates can obviously vary wildly. However, there are some statistics that can help you determine how far you should go in order to attract the right people for your campaign. According to Influence.co, the average cost of an Instagram post made by an influencer is $271. Additionally, an average micro-influencer (fewer than 1,000 followers) will demand $83 per post, whereas celebrity-level influencers (over 100,000 followers) will ask for $763 per post.
We should also note that influencers are busy people, and attracting them is far from a walk in the park. In a recent Econsultancy study, it was found that 59% of businesses are struggling with this task. What's the right way to approach them? Well, many experts believe that influencers are more likely to pay attention to marketers who try to befriend them instead of pitching them.
In other words, you should spend some time researching the influencers you want to work with. If you happen to share any common interests or if you liked some of their recent work, make sure to mention that in your emails. Keep in mind that your main goal should be to give them a reason to care about your campaign.
The World Economic Forum has also listed cybercrime as a major global economic risk and warns that more sophisticated cyber-attacks are on the rise. The economic risk is confirmed by a report from a 2017 Cost of Data Study sponsored by IBM which shows that the average total cost of a data breaches is $3.62 million. Further, the study found out that one in every four companies experience a data breach.
Digital devices are increasingly playing a significant role in people’s lives these days, and this is one of the factors that are fueling cybercrime. A recent Norton Cyber Security Insights Report estimated that 35 percent of people across the globe have at least one unprotected digital device that leaves them vulnerable to cyber attacks. These devices are therefore a growing security concern for small business owners given the fact that a good number of them use small digital devices like their smartphones to run their operations.
Some of the major cyber threats small companies face include Hack attacks, Ransomware, CEO fraud, phishing, denial of services, among others.
So how can small businesses protect themselves against cybercrime?
Fortunately for business owners, there are preventative measures they can take to avoid falling victims to cybercrime. Here are some of them:
Use IBM Watson
Watson by IBM is an artificial intelligence of many talents. It works as A.I by day and a cyber crime fighter by night. It improves a security analyst's ability to keep up with sophisticated threats, by drawing from unstructured data (ex. blogs, websites, research papers) and correlating it with local security offenses.
Educate Your Employees
Small business owners need to train their staff on proper security measures. First of all, “employees should not use their work computer for personal business and vice versa”, says information technology expert Dirk Anderson. It is crucial that every employee in your business understands the inherent risk of digital communications. Run regular cyber attack training sessions and let everyone understand that it only takes a single click to compromise the entire system. They should not be quick to open attachments or click on any URLs even if they receive them from trusted friends.
Restrict Access to Important Data
You need to restrict access to your company’s critical data to only those staff members that have to work with it. Don’t forget to shut down accounts of your former employees as quickly as possible. An employee can access the data after leaving your company and use it to compromise your system. Also, it is extremely important to run background checks on potential employees before hiring them.
Be Aware of Unsecured Devices in Your Business
As noted earlier, breaches through mobile devices are on the rise, and this should be a huge matter of concern. You need to understand that any unsecured connected digital device in your business can be accessed easily by cyber-criminals. It is therefore vital to ensure that all the devices brought into your business are secured with very strong passwords which are regularly changed. Have up-to-date security software on all these devices.
Monitor Your Cloud Infrastructure Constantly
Your cloud provider can do this for you. Ensure that all your servers are secure all the time, monitor advanced threat management systems, web application firewalls, security patch management, data storage, among other things. Regularly scan for any vulnerabilities, and take appropriate measures if you find any. You also need to carry out a security assessment of your website regularly.
Install a Combination of Security Software
Use anti-spam, anti-virus, and anti-malware software and make sure you update them regularly. There are many security protection solutions including Symantec and Avast which have practical solutions for small businesses. Antivirus software experts at Qetes advise to always have a firewall software to fend off spyware, virus and phishing attacks.
Back Up Your Data Routinely and Have a Disaster Recovery Plan
Make sure you back up all your data on the cloud, external hard drives, and other locations. Carbonite offers automatic backup solutions for small businesses from as low as $5 per month.
Use Complex Passwords on All Your Computers And Devices
Use passwords with a minimum of 8 characters and make sure you change them regularly. This resilient password policy should also apply to your employees. Ensure they change their passwords often. There are free password management tools like LastPass that you can use to generate very strong passwords and keep track of all them safely.
To sum this up, at times it may be unfortunate that even after doing everything right, you still fall victim to a cyber attack. It is therefore wise to consider having a data breach insurance that will help you mitigate any costs as result of a data security breach including legal fees.
The low priority that businesses have placed on Data Quality has caused the failure of many projects over the last 10 years. In today’s Big Data era where massive scale and complex data reign, success is achieved by prioritizing Data Quality management.
To gain a competitive advantage many companies are performing advanced analytics on Big Data. It is described using the 5 V’s: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity and Value. Social Media and the Internet of Things (IoT) are examples of large Volume and extreme Velocity of data. Variety represents data types; structured, semi structured or unstructured.
Data Quality impacts all 5 V’s as highlighted by Anmol Rajpurohit in a KDnuggets article. The two most important for Data Quality are Veracity (the ability to trust the data) and the Value the data enables.
Top Data Quality Issues
Lessons learned from top Data Quality issues that existed a decade ago in traditional relational systems with ‘small data’ are still relevant today. Small and Big Data have the same Data Quality issues. An estimated $3.1 trillion are spent in the United States on Data Quality issues, according to IBM Big Data Hub.
Lack of Data Standards
Metadata Definitions/Quality - Incorrect definitions or lack of proper definitions describing the data within a column (i.e. allowed values)
Manual Human Intervention
Data entry errors and use of spreadsheets for data preparation
Broken Business Processes
Changes in business requirements not properly captured/accounted for leading to broken business processes (i.e. outdated data feeds)
Poor Data Requirements
Missing or incorrect data configuration rules, mappings or cleansing handled by custom application code unknown to stakeholders in a data migration/integration project
Big Data Quality
One might argue there has been an increase in Data Quality issues from mere volume with Big Data. Data Scientists spend 80% of their time in data preparation activities as indicated by a Forbes article. A large effort of time is spent cleaning “dirty data” prior to the fun tasks of generating data models, applying sophisticated algorithms and using machine learning.
Data has become more complex in today’s world with new characteristics, but the foundational Data Quality principles remain:
Focus on business goals that produce Value
Prioritize data that supports the business goals and use cases
Institute a Data Quality initiative that identifies data issues inhibiting value
Execute Data Cleansing where it matters
What has changed today is the approach in Data Quality analysis execution, as now it must consider the 5 V’s. Data Quality thresholds will vary based on how data is produced. Social media data will not have the same standards as operational data. Data Quality must be scalable and keep up with the growing volume and speed of data. It’s no longer sufficient to just focus on automation using profiling tools. The future for Data Quality is using Machine Learning (ML) technologies to help detect future issues or similar issues with varying data sets. How will you use Machine Learning to help your Data Quality program?
What is more important: a great product or a great marketing? The truth is that a mediocre product with great marketing will always defeat a great product with mediocre marketing. This is because great marketing can influence consumers through psychological tactics. For example, a marketing campaign that creates scarcity and urgency, makes consumers think the marketed product is more valuable than the one that exists in abundance.
When a market is so overloaded that is difficult for you as a merchant to stand out, your marketing may be more important than the product you are selling.
Weight loss is a very crowded market. It is comprised of commercial weight loss chains (i.e Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig), diet pills (i.e Alli, Belviq), diet food home delivery services (i.e BistroMD, Nutrisystem), medical procedures (i.e gastric bypass surgery), and even weight loss gamification (gadgets and mobile apps). In fact, at some point, an incentive-based app by IBM aimed to bring weight loss gamification to the workplace. Many of these products and services offer effective solutions to the problem of obesity. Yet, as is the case in almost every market, 10% of these weight loss products absorb 90% of the customer base. What’s interesting, the weight loss solutions that are most successful do not necessarily provide a better service than their competitors. They are just better marketed.
The largest weight loss program in the US today is Weight Watchers. More than 8 million people visit it website every month. With more than two-thirds of the U.S. population overweight or obese, there is an enormous weight-loss market – to the tune of an estimated $66 billion this year. Weight Watchers has cornered a significant share of it, thanks to a smart strategy in targeting dieters.
With $1.16 billion in revenue in 2016, Weight Watchers is at least two times larger than its biggest competitors in the space, Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig. It’s also seen a meteoric rise in shareholder support, as its stock price has skyrocketed more than 2,000% from $2.13 per share in 1999 to $44.44 in December 2017.
So how did Weight Watchers rise to the top? Surely, the product they sell is very well designed. For over 50 years they keep improving what they offer to the point that today the company’s reputation precedes its service. But, the company’s success is based to a substantial degree on great marketing tactics, not the product itself. This is, after all, expected for a company that spends 90 million a year on advertising campaigns. Let’s take a look at what Weight Watchers does right.
Lesson 1. Present the Problem, Make it Look Complicated
First, the company makes the weight loss problem look complicated. Despite what dieticians may have been telling us, according to Weight Watchers, it’s not just calories in, calories out. Instead, it’s all about how your body processes different types of foods. A 200-calorie cupcake is processed differently than a 200-calorie salad, according to Weight Watchers’ nutritional scientists.
Weight Watchers’ new Freestyle program incorporates new data from recent research in the field of eating behavior and psychology. What makes us gain weight is not homeostatic hunger (eating to meet the body’s energy needs) but hedonic hunger (eating for pleasure), they tell us. This makes the issue complicated in the eyes of the consumer. If weight loss is not as drop-dead simple as we thought, then we feel that we have to turn to a company who can provide us the right solution.
Lesson 2. Offer an Exclusive Product that Solves the Problem
This brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers has created a solution to a complicated problem that looks relatively easy… but not so easy that someone can follow the system all on his or her own. Weight Watchers has created the PointsPlus system that assigns a certain number of points to each food based on how the body processes it. It used to be that points values were calculated based on calories and fat content, but now calories have been taken out of the equation. It’s now based on what it does in the body, a more complicated equation that considers carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber. A 272-calorie apple serving has 0 Points while a 272-calorie ice cream serving has 7 points. A sophisticated mathematical formula calculates the points which means that consumers need some type of a guide—whether it be a special Weight Watchers calculator, a book or online tools—to tell them the number of points for each food.
Lesson 3. Exploit Your Competitors Weakness
Another smart marketing strategy employed by Weight Watchers has to with taking advantage of its competitors’ weaknesses. People who struggle with their weight generally don’t like rigid food plans or having someone else tell them what to eat. If they did do well with meal structure and discipline, many of them probably wouldn’t have weight difficulties in the first place. Weight Watchers has smartly tackled this in its marketing campaigns by contrasting the freedom to eat what you want in their program to the food restrictions in their competitors’ programs.
For example, Optifast, Jenny Craig and Medifast are all meal-replacement programs. And Nutrisystem is considered by many the best diet meal delivery service. Although all of them do offer some flexibility in letting customers choose different meals, Weight Watchers has taken advantage by referring to their foods as a “’boxed burger” and “microwave pizza.” Weight Watchers then contrasts this with its own strengths by saying you can eat “real food in the real world. You want a burger? Go ahead you can have it. Weight Watchers is not a diet”.
Lesson 4. Sell Feelings Not Products
That brings us to our next point: Weight Watchers focuses on people’s feelings and making them feel good. On the Weight Watchers plan you can eat “real food” versus “boxed food”–that just makes you feel better. Even in the company’s promotional materials, famous singer Jennifer Hudson talks about how great Weight Watchers makes her feel as a mother and as a performer. She talks about how Weight Watchers gives her so much energy, makes her “feel great and liberated in so many ways”.
In one interview, Jennifer says: “Weight Watchers has helped make my new lifestyle a reality”. What Weight Watchers is doing here is selling the feelings around the product, not the product itself. Currently, in the Weight Watchers home page, spokesperson Jessica Simpson “feels like she’s on top of the world” inviting readers to see why Weight Watchers worked so well for her. Weight Watchers knows how to sell feelings.
Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics explains that businesses make this mistake all too often. They try to sell software, marketing strategies, copy-writing services, websites, etc but what customers need is not the product; they want what the product will give them: money, respect, freedom, etc. They want the feelings associated with the product.
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek proves that successful businesses are those that have managed to clearly communicate their “why” (the belief, the lifestyle and the feelings the brand represents). To the contrary, businesses that focused on the “what” (the product), didn’t go that far.
Lesson 5. Give them What They Want, Not What They Need
Finally, Weight Watchers is so successful because it employs one of the best marketing tactics in the book: it gives people what they want, not necessarily what they need. By allowing members to choose the foods they love (as long as they stay within their PointsPlus limits), they are still letting members follow their desires. Perhaps members should be eating more fruits and vegetables (and those foods are enormously rewarded in the Weight Watchers system by usually being worth 0 points), but Weight Watchers gives them the option to eat chocolate, cake, ice cream, donuts, burgers, you name it. By doing so, consumers don’t feel restricted or feel like someone else is telling them what to do, and so they will gravitate more towards that type of weight-loss program.
Lesson 6. Let Potential Customers Join for Free
Allowing people to try your product without attaching any strings to it (i.e credit card information), eliminates the sense of fear and risk that often stand as an obstacle between your product and your potential customers. Weight Watchers allows you to join their program for free. You can experience a Weight Watchers meeting discussion free of charge and without any obligation in some of the 30,000 weekly meetings in the US for people trying to lose weight. For those who want to continue the program promo codes for Weight Watchers products are always available. Of course, there is always a sense of hurriedness as the offer ends soon.
Overall, Weight Watchers provides a fantastic case study of marketing weight-loss products. From offering exclusive solutions to a complicated problem, to letting people join for free, the company has been incredibly savvy in the way it promotes itself to consumers. With the weight-loss market only expected to go up for the foreseeable future, Weight Watchers only stands to benefit as more and more people seek the program that gives them the right feeling when it comes to shedding their extra pounds.
What can YOU learn from Weight Watchers’ marketing approach?
Some people like celebrities can have a significant effect on the character of brands. Since these individuals (influencers) have a vast following and appeal to many people, brands use them to promote and sell their products and services. This is what influencer marketing is all about. While there are other channels for influencer marketing, social media influencer marketing is currently the most effective. Businesses are taking advantage of influencers with a massive following on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and other platforms to sell their brands.
Although influencer marketing has been around for a long time, it has recently become a hot trend and is expected to be the next big thing for marketers. One of the reasons it is trendy now is the fact there are more people than ever before using various social media platforms, with an opportunity to share their opinion and content on anything. Here are reasons influencer marketing is considered the next big thing;
It is powerful
Influencers can significantly improve your brand’s sentiment among consumers. A study by Rhythmone showed that influencer marketing campaigns that lasted for 14 days or more led to a 9 percent improvement in positive brand sentiment. Investing in influencers who believe in your products and services has even more benefits.
Social media is a big factor
More consumers are shifting to social media by the day, and this is going to make influencer marketing even more effective. Social media is, in fact, turning traditional marketing models on their head. A recent report from Salesforce showed that up to 70% of brands will allocate a bigger budget on social media. Nowadays consumers are connecting with each other on social media and making purchase decisions by learning the experiences of each other and those of their favorite personalities.
It is currently an arbitrage
When Facebook launched its ad network, business owners who adopted it early had record ROIs. Currently, influencer marketing is a massive arbitrage as there is a huge supply of influencers, but few brands are running the influencer campaigns. For instance, Periscope and Snapchat present good markets for influencer marketing but very few marketers are investing in it.
People are getting tired of paid ads
Consumers are these days exposed so many ads that they at times unconsciously tune them out. For instance, can you remember the last ad you saw and what it was promoting? Infolinks (a digital advertising platform) found out that just 14% of its respondents remembered the recent ad they saw and whatever was promoted in it.
Influencer marketing is good for SEO
Besides driving sales more effectively, influencer marketing can also boost your ranking on search engines. A study by The Social Media Revolution suggests that user-generated social media posts account for up to 25% of search results. The more your brand is mentioned on social media, the more relevant and popular you get on Google.
It is more effective that traditional models and other forms of digital media
A case study by WhiteWave Foods and TapInfluence found out that per 1000 views, influencer marketing brings in $285. This is 11 times more ROI over other forms of digital media.
It is also worth mentioning that Millenials have become vital game-changers as far as influencer marketing is concerned. The rules of marketing to this generation have changed, and traditional channels no longer appeal to them. Studies show that these days, only 3 percent of Millenials consult traditional forms of marketing such as TV, magazine and newspaper ads before making purchase decisions. Instead, they go to social media platforms, websites, and blogs to find out what their friends are saying. Again, the Gen X and Millenials only trust people they know.
Contrary to what you might expect, content does not matter so much to Millenials, authenticity does. If they don’t trust you, no matter how good your content is, they will not bother looking at it. Influencer marketing seems to be working for them, and this necessitates the need to engage them on social media or the blogosphere.
Experts also say that consumers’ trust in brands has been decreasing over the years. On the other hand, the tendency to rely upon word-of-mouth has been increasing. Consumers continue to demand authenticity, and instead of using outdated brand messages, authentic brands are now focusing on the human component by, say, putting a face to the brand’s name. This genuine and relatable marketing creates a connection with consumers and can foster brand loyalty if done effectively.
An Influencer can have millions of followers or just a few thousand. The number of people who follow an influencer is not that important. What matters when looking for the right influencer to promote your brand is the level of relevance and engagement. Therefore, while a celebrity with a 100 million followers, like Kim Kardashian’s younger sister Kendal Jenner could be the right influencer for a beauty and lifestyle brand, micro-influencers like Leandro of LifetoLiveit and Alex of Wikigains could be similarly effective for a fitness brand or a brand that uses coupons and deals as a sales promotion tool.
How to know if influencer marketing can benefit your business
If you intend to use influencer marketing, here are some tips for telling if the marketing campaign would be right for you.
Lifestyle and statues. For instance, if you are selling luxury products like watches, then you might want to consider influencer marketing.
Do consumers need to trust your products and services before they buy? If yes, then this marketing campaign can drive sales for you.
If you are working in a very competitive industry or one that is commoditized or homogenized, influencers can help you stand out from the rest.
Online reviews have a very strong influence on the success of any business. According to the Wall Street Journal, consumers’ behavior is influenced by social norms. This is why online reviews—the new social proof—is such a powerful concept. A survey by Bright Local in 2017 found that 85% of consumers trust online reviews like personal recommendations. No wonder why Influencer Marketing has become such a powerful weapon for brands. Just consider the initial steps you normally take when you are thinking about buying a product or service. You most likely go online and begin looking for reviews to help ensure you are spending your hard earned money wisely. Your clients or customers will also want to do the same thing before they purchase your products or services.
According to a study that was conducted by YouGov, 78% of customers consult online reviews before making a purchase. Another online review survey done by Bright Local’s in the year 2016, revealed that 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as they trust recommendations from family members and friends. That same study also found that, 74% of costumers say that the positive reviews make them trust a business more.
If you are a business owner, the aforementioned statistics should provide you with sufficient evidence of the importance of the online reviews. That being so, many businesses tend to struggle when it comes to getting reviews from customers. Either they get very few reviews, or none at all. So, how do you get people to review your products or services? Here are our top 6 tips;
1. Spotlight the Customer
Most people like being the center of attention. When you receive a review from a client or customer, you can show gratitude by giving them some spotlight. Giving your customers or reviewers attention can actually encourage other customers to give their reviews. Moreover, expressing your gratitude in public can help you inspire customer loyalty. You can also feature the best reviews on your website or social media pages, and even go a step further and give shout outs to each reviewer by name.
2. Send a Follow-Up Email
At times, it can be somewhat intimidating to use emails to encourage clients to leave reviews as you might feel as if you are harassing them. However, when done correctly, this can be one of the most efficient ways of getting more reviews. If you've the client’s email address, consider sending out a personalized email 2 to 7 days after the purchase. The follow up email should contain links of where to leave a review. Remember to let them know that your goal is to create the best possible experience, and that you do value their feedback.
3. Make It Easy to Review Your Products
In order to inspire customers to review your products, you need to make it easy for them to do so. You should list your business on various different review sites which are relevant to your particular business. Some of the best review sites you might want to consider include: Yelp, Lodlois, ConsumerAffairs for Brands, among others. That said, make sure you not only provide them with the website URLs, but also explain how to leave a review.
4. Respond to Reviews
If you ask your customers for reviews, the least you can do is read what they've written, and respond when necessary. You should show them that you are available to talk by personally responding to their reviews. Responsiveness actually shows that you value their feedback and care about their opinions. It also increases the likelihood of other customers joining the conversation and adding their own reviews.
5. Don’t Forget to Ask for Reviews
This is one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to convince clients/customers to leave online reviews. If you do not ask for reviews, many customers will not remember to do it since they've other things going on. According to a 2016 survey by Bright Local, 70% of customers were willing to write a review if the business actually asked them to do so.
The ideal time to ask for a review is when the value that you have delivered is fresh in the customer’s mind, therefore making it easier for them to recall the purchase, and write a honest review. So, do not wait for too long before asking for a review since the happy memories will get more out of focus with every passing minute.
6. Incentivize Your Customers
It is really amazing what a little incentive will do to encourage people to leave reviews. For instance, you can set up a program which rewards customers at random for leaving a review. The program should be designed in such a way that it rewards any review at random regardless of whether it's positive or negative. That said, be careful not to give an impression that you're trying to compensate customers for writing reviews.
The Superbowl. It is the culmination of a football season and the most watched football game each year. But for football fans and non-fans, part of this event’s draw are the commercials. Every year, the “big boys” – Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay, and more – put their marketing and advertising teams to work to come up with amazing commercials. For days afterward, these commercials are analyzed and voted upon by a loyal following.
For average businesses, however, this type of marketing is an impossible dream. They have to use more conventional methods, most of which involve developing customer personas, trying to develop relationships with customers, providing responsive customer service, and creating online advertising and content marketing which is, actually, pretty budget-friendly.
Hacking Through a Noisy Environment
The problem with internet marketing, or marketing of any kind for that matter, is that the environment is noisy. Marketers are throwing a lot of “stuff” out there and hoping that some of it will stick with some of their target audience members. And consumers are growing tired of the growing disruptions of marketing of products and services that don’t meet their needs.
Many marketers have also come to use data analytics to keep track of the success of specific campaigns they run – tracking consumer response and the number of conversions that can be attributed to each strategy. And this can drive marketing decisions that they make for future campaigns. It’s a good use of “science” to make marketing strategies more effective.
Before and After-the-Fact Analytics
There is data and then there is big data. Conventional analytics is “after-the-fact” analysis. But what if bigger amounts of data could be gathered and gathered before marketing campaigns were ever crafted in the first place? This is the promise of this new big data science. Here is an example:
A bank has had a portfolio of loan options for consumers – auto, home, personal, business, etc. – for a number of years. Now it must compete with a host of new loan products from a host of new lenders, especially online lenders, and business is falling off. How does it determine how to alter it current products, perhaps design new ones, and market those effectively, in order to gain a good market share? Big data analytics can do this.
With the right software and tools, and the right questions, data can be gathered from all over – from the competition, from social media, from consumer review sites, etc. – and all of that data can be organized and synthesized to provide answers that will drive the loan products the bank will offer, to whom, and even how and where they will best be marketed.
The idea of big data analytics is that it is supremely scientific. It deals only with factual information and is based upon actual consumer behaviors that are gathered from multiple sources and then presented in reports that businesses can use to predict how consumers will act in the future. Armed with this knowledge, business owners, managers, and marketers can make smart decisions about what they offer, when it is offered, to whom, and the best places for their campaigns.
6 Ways in Which Big Data Analytics Can Boost Marketing
Consumers looking for products or services often conduct generic searches. And, according to Matt Kirkman, Director of Grapefruit Digital SEO Agency,
“...consumers rarely go beyond the first page of a search result, in fact, beyond the top five results. What big data analysis can bring to the table is not just the most commonly-used search terms, although that is a critical factor, but also the demographics using those terms, where they hang out online, and the most common needs they identify related to products or services. All of these can be used to craft content that search engines will find valuable.”
More Precise Definition of the Ideal Customer
Marketers spend a lot of time developing a target audience persona. Some of this may be based upon current customers, and some may be a “guess and test” strategy. Big data takes the guesswork out. Companies can see who is buying similar products/services, what and where their related conversations take place, what other websites they visit, the social media platforms they use, and, when, where, and how they prefer to be contacted.
Anyone who has shopped for a product on Amazon or ordered a movie from Netflix, will find suggestions for additional purchases or other movies they might like. This is the result of big data and machine learning, gathering information on previous customer behaviors to predict those of future customers. Marketers for any business can use such data to suggest additional products or services too.
Another aspect of personalization is targeted marketing based upon predictive analysis. When leads come in to sales teams, they can be categorized as hot, warm, or cold, based upon how similar leads have behaved in the past. This allows sales teams to spend their time more wisely relative to those leads.
Better Content Marketing
Marketers have used analytics to measure responses to their content – blog articles, social media posts, etc. The right big data analytics tools, though, can now crawl through related content all over the web and analyze responses to it all. This provides marketers with topics, with “pain points” to address, and with offers such as loyalty programs and discounts.
Managing a Reputation
New analytics tools also allow businesses to monitor any mention of their brands or products/services from any place on the web. They can then immediately access those mentions and respond accordingly. When compliments are given, that behavior can be reinforced with coupons, discounts, etc. By the same token, negative comments can be addressed publicly with resolutions that both satisfy the unhappy customer and let others know that a business is serious about its customer service/relationships.
Because of big data algorithms and analytics, it is possible for businesses to rapidly obtain information on competitors’ pricing, price changes in the sector as a whole, and even price points at which customers may be turned away. Pricing optimization is a huge factor in marketing and sales, and the ability to get information and suggestions based upon actual data relieves marketing departments of a lot of manual research, which may not be comprehensive.
This list of six benefits is only the beginning. Data science is relatively new, and promises to be the single most important factor as businesses look to design products and services that consumers really want and need, to find their ideal customers, and to market their brands most effectively.
You start working on a spreadsheet from your home office. Later, on the train you open it up with your phone to check out a few of your calculations. When you get to work, you open up your laptop, and continue working on it. You’re not carrying the document around on a flash drive. You’re simply taking advantage of the convenience of cloud storage. It may be time to move forward, and treat your accounting the same way.
Using cloud based accounting solutions is certainly not bleeding edge technology either. As of 2014, 69% of accounting firms were using cloud based financial solutions. More than 25% of the small to mid sized businesses that were surveyed indicated that they were using cloud based accounting solutions specifically.
Whether you’re a small business owner handling your own financials or a dedicated accounting pro, there are plenty of reasons to consider cloud software. It’s certainly a technology that’s growing in population overall. Keep reading to learn more about the growth of cloud solutions for accounting, and why it should be a viable option for you.
Access And Collaboration For Team Members
Cloud based accounting solutions are highly regarded because they don’t keep people pinned to their desks. You also don’t have to rely on emails or file sharing to share accounting data with other team members. Instead, those with authority and connection can simply access the accounting system from any connected device.
Cloud based accounting systems also enable collaboration. Files can be accessed, modified, and created by multiple team members. This ensures that everyone has the latest version of each document.
It Takes The Heat Off of Your Systems
In addition to financials, your home-based systems handle a lot. You likely store customer and employee data. You may process transactions. There’s also emails, data related to other systems, security and antivirus software, and more. That’s a lot of processing and storage. This doesn’t come for free.
By moving your accounting to the cloud, you can take a load off of your networks, servers, and peripherals. This can lead to better performance, and more room for the data you do choose to keep in house.
Cloud Accounting Solutions Are Often Less Expensive
In all likelihood, running your accounting solution is the cloud will result in lower out of pocket costs. First of all, if you purchase an in house solution, not only do you have to cover licensing fees, you’ll also have to cover the cost of any hardware upgrades required to host the solution. Also, you may be able to break your payment into a series of monthly payments thus defraying your upfront costs even further.
You’ll also pay less for hardware maintenance and other resources. This is especially beneficial for smaller businesses. Rather than hiring an IT person, or bringing in a consultant to deal with maintenance and upgrades, you can simply leave that to your solution provider. This is much less expensive than paying for an IT pro or consultant that you may only need part time.
Cost of storage is another thing to consider. With cloud based solutions, you only pay for what you use. And, in many cases your subscription options will likely give you plenty of room to grow before you move up to a higher, pricing tier.
Finally, keep in mind that as in house solutions grow, you also have to consider the physical space you have to store servers and other hardware. It’s not much of a stretch to go from having some equipment in a well vented utility closet to needing a fully realized computer room with raised flooring and other bells and whistles.
High Security Protocols And Standards
Unfortunately, some very publicized events relating to cloud storage has put people off the idea of using cloud as an accounting solution. They believe that their information won’t be secure. However, in most cases that’s simply not true. A reputable host is going to have exceptionally high security standards and protocols. They’re also going to have the manpower and knowledge to maintain a much more secure system than most businesses.
Truth be told, unless you’re a large company with a data security team, the right cloud provider is very likely to outdo you when it comes to data security and access control. However, this is important enough of an issue that you should ask questions about data security when you’re exploring cloud accounting solutions.
Flexibility And Scalability
If you select a cloud based ERP solution, or even a standalone accounting solution, it’s quite likely that you will be able to customize it to the needs of your organization and clients. This can often be done by selecting apps that are created by your vendors. Another option is to customize cloud based accounting systems yourself. This is one of the advantages of cloud computing that actually stretches beyond accounting and financials. You can do this in house, or bring in a software development contractor. This option is popular enough that many vendors offer development platforms, and open source products.
Cloud based solutions are also scalable. If you’re operation is growing, the cloud simply grows with it. You don’t have to calculate how much server space you may need in six months or how much you will need a year from now. Instead, you can spend those resources focusing on providing clients with great service and earning profit.
Cloud to Cloud Integration is Now a Possibility
If you’re already using cloud based solutions for other business applications, let your accounting solution provider know. It’s relatively, but the truth is cloud to cloud integration is absolutely a possibility. In all likelihood, all of your cloud based applications can share data amongst themselves in order to truly provide you with rich, enterprise solutions.
Automation Leads to Accuracy
Many cloud based accounting solutions are largely automated. That means there is less human intervention. That leads to less error,and more quality control. Fraud, duplicate entries, and other issues can be flagged and dealt with, often with limited human intervention.
Ease of Maintenance
In order to keep your in house systems working, you have to constantly concern yourself with upgrades and maintenance. Servers must be updated as your company grows. You’ve also got security patches and other upgrades to stay on top of. Even for a small accounting firm, the job of ensuring your servers, devices, and networks stay up and running can quickly become a full time task for at least one of your team members.
That’s not the case with the cloud. You don’t have to concern yourself with maintenance at all. These tasks fall under the responsibility of the software provider. Don’t forget the cost of server downtime. Depending on the solution you choose, a cloud based accounting system may mean you’ve got as little as 45 minutes down time each month.
Not only have cloud based solution providers gone a long way in allaying concerns about security and privacy, they’ve taken steps to ensure that their solutions are more secure than most other options. In addition to this, cloud solutions can be less expensive as well as using up fewer resources. Any accounting firm or small business in need of an accounting solution should strongly consider looking to the cloud. There’s a very good chance that there’s something in the cloud that will meet your needs.
The American Medical Association (AMA) is working alongside leading IT companies like IBM and Cerner to develop an integrated healthcare big data analytics platform. The name of the project is Integrated Health Model Initiative (IHMI) and it is aimed to provide a continuous learning environment that can produce interoperable technological solutions, as well as valid care models based on relevant feedback.
IHMI will feature a central data model for organizing and exchanging information, as well as a physician-led validation process to review the clinical applicability of the data. The technology that will deliver this type of sensitive data analysis will be developed by IBM and Cerner, as well as other partners that may join the project in the future. This new healthcare analysis big data platform is set to be developed and released in 2018.
The Central Aims of IHMI
The main goal of IHMI is to provide a digital basis that will support a collaborative approach to optimizing population health management. This will be achieved by identifying the diverse factors that have led to positive medical outcomes, as well as pointing out the points in healthcare development that require improvements. The platform will also offer comprehensive information for medical research.
According to James L. Mandra, MD, the CEO of AMA, the amount of health data produced in the US has reached impressive proportions. However, much of this data remains "fragmented, inaccessible or incomplete" in spite of its potential to lead to valuable improvements in patient outcomes.
As such, IHMI was created as a collaborative effort that could enable the healthcare system to "collect, organize, and exchange patient-centered data in a common structure that captures what is most important for improving care and long-term wellness, and transform the data into a rich stream of accessible and actionable information”, says Mandra.
The healthcare platform is specifically targeted to gather data about high-cost and high-impact clinical areas, such as diabetes prevention or hypertension management. This platform would serve doctors and researchers in optimizing patient care tactics and developing new healthcare protocols based on comprehensive feedback, which has the potential to improve patient outcomes.
The Usability of IHMI
The AMA's big data platform is will ultimately be designed to be used by doctors. As such, IHMI will feature a close collaboration between physicians and IT specialists that can provide the specialized data analytics features that will be both useful and accessible to the medical community.
According to Laurie McGraw, AMA's Senior Vice President of Health Solutions, the new data platform will actually encompass many existing data standards that the medical community is already familiar with, such as SNOMED, CPT, LOINC, or ICD-10.
However, it will be taken one step further because it will help users gain access to patient-centered data, such as patient goals, function, and state, which are essential for an accurate assessment of patient wellness. McGraw said that IHMI is expected to "build bridges with health technology leaders and bring the physician voice into the innovation space”.
IHMI will help physicians access specific patient information in the patient's record more efficiently by putting together patient care models which can be easily deployed and the biggest advances in IT technology that target protocols and workflows.
This type of interdepartmental collaboration could lead to technological breakthroughs that would deliver sensitive information that is relevant to the specific needs of a group of users. Similar developments where technology can help facilitate certain red tape processes are made every day.
For instance, in 2017 a tech solution was made available that can issue an electronic Vietnam visa for US citizens upon demand. This will simplify the visa release process tremendously and hopefully, the model will be implemented for visa systems in other countries as well. In the same way, IHMI is meant as a technological advancement that could then be applied internationally.
To conclude, the Integrated Healthcare Model Initiative will have the titans of healthcare and IT working together for the development of comprehensive big data analysis platform that will fuel the optimization of the American healthcare system. It remains to be seen when the platform will be made accessible to the medical community, but it has the potential to fuel ground-breaking advancements in patient care.
Think about it. The importance of creating great customer experience predates computers. For example, people have always appreciated the following:
Well organized stores with easy to find merchandise
Knowledgeable customer service staff and salespeople
Servers who remember a customer’s regular order
Helpful suggestions that are based on the customer’s preferences and history
Interactions and experiences that simply work quickly effortlessly and effectively
Experiences and actions that bring pleasure
Historically, have not only appreciated these things, they’ll even pay more for better experiences. Early user experience efforts include Henry Ford’s creation of mass production technology, Walt Disney’s carefully designed strategies to make his parks a joyful place, and Don Norman’s pioneering work at Apple focusing on functionality and usability over aesthetics. In fact, it was Norman who coined the term ‘user experience’.
What’s slowly developed in recent years is that companies can now do a much better job of pinpointing the experiences that customers want. Even better, they can do it more effectively, and much less intrusively. Credit for this can largely go to big data and artificial intelligence.
The Role of AI in User Experience
A large part of the conversation about user experience and AI centers around chatbots. The idea is that AI driven chatbots can become more intelligent over time as they receive input from consumers as well as data from other sources. While this is true, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Artificial intelligence also plays a role in the creation of websites that deliver great user experiences. For example, The Grid uses artificial intelligence to help create sites with great UX nearly automatically. Netflix allows AI to do the grunt work of creating user experience by creating a framework of algorithms and rules that AI technology can work with. In the meantime, that leaves designers and others time to focus on the more human elements of user experience.
While AI plays a role in UX beyond the bot, that doesn’t mean the bot should be ignored. Chatbots are an emerging technology that have and will continue to improve the user experience. No, they aren’t perfect. There’s no doubt that most of have rolled our eyes at the seeming cluelessness of bots. However, thanks to advances in the way that bots process natural language, the ability for bots to respond and react appropriately to what people input is rapidly improving.
Paul Gordon at 720 Digital specializes in conversion rate optimization. He says, “Bots are no longer intrusive sales machines. They are intelligent. They possess the ability to interact, to show insight, and to meet customers’ needs when they interact. This is an exciting technology that will continue to improve UX down the road.”
Considering that most people have only five apps on their phone that they use on a regular basis, and that the most used of those five is likely to be a messenger app, there’s no reason to ignore the role that AI can play in messenger apps whether it’s facilitating purchase, acting in a customer service role, or simply providing information.
Big Data And UX
Another asset in the ability for businesses to deliver great user experience is the improved ability to collect and store data. This data can then be used to inform decisions about creating better UX.
One way that startups are able to use data to improve UX is by collecting that data in less obtrusive ways. Analytics software can deliver data about true consumer behavior. Not only that, sometimes big data can gleen better information about customer information than customer feedback through surveys and other instruments.
Of course surveys are a valuable means of connecting with customers. Market research is also an apparent tool for reaching out to the users. However, once again it’s intrusive and requires customers to provide input that they would not otherwise give freely.
Businesses have been collecting and using data from customers and other sources for years. However, thanks to analytics they can identify the right questions to ask in the first place, and also identify where data collection might require a bit of sensitivity. After all, at the end of the day businesses want customer data in the most convenient way possible.
What do Customers Really Want From UX
From the time they leave their homes, log into their computers, or walk into your store, customers really want just one thing. They want to be provided with easy, informative, and easy to connect experiences. More importantly, customers understand the value of CX. They want convenient, safe, and entertaining experiences.