Doing Innovation Labs the Right Way


This article is inspired by a client who is looking to launch an innovation lab.

If you were playing “buzzword bingo” at a business meeting, you can bet you’d see “innovation” in one of the squares. Yet it’s a lot easier to say innovation than it is to do it. That’s why many businesses today are focusing their game-changing efforts in an environment they label an Innovation Lab.

What is an Innovation Lab?

Innovation labs are intended to jumpstart creativity and change, but they aren’t going to look identical at every organization.

How can they? The goals are going to be different for every business. A site devoted to designing the environments for Innovation Labs outlines several objectives:

  • Inspire new types of interactions between your teams! 
  • Shrink product development cycle times!
  • Accelerate alignment of large groups of people around new strategies!
  • Accelerate new product development!

Defining Features

Although the objective of an innovation lab is specific to each business, there are features that are common to all innovation labs.  For instance, most innovation labs “strive to engage a wide range of stakeholders in problem-solving activities,” according to Stanford’s Social Innovation Review. But, what else defines these distinctively collaborative environments designed to drive change?

Focus with an open mind.

Even though innovation labs typically have a set topic or theme established as a focal point at the outset, successful labs remain flexible. The goal is to get a fresh perspective, cross boundaries, and leave the traditional top-down approach to problem solving behind. A truly collaborative innovation lab will allow participants room to co-create meaning around the central focal point.

Imagining the impossible.

As Lowe’s Innovation Labs note on their site, “the pace of change is exponential, creating an imperative for organizations to see their own narrative for the future and be proactive about building long-term competitive advantage.” To do that, lab participants need to be aiming to change the future — of a campaign, of how the brand story is told, of a product line, of a service offering, of a business process, or even of the industry.

Embracing experimentation.

Innovation labs will also be opened with the expectation of experimentation. This means that even the C-suite is aware in advance that failure is a possibility, but that it’s part of the pursuit of progress. Ben Davis of eConsultancy suggested the lab be “a form of insulation against short term accounting that some see as the enemy of innovation.” 

Diverse participant pool.

These labs aim to break down boundaries and give voice to a wide range of different perspectives. Stanford’s research noted labs describing their “unusual bunch” or “uncommon partners” or touting their “multidisciplinary dialogue, cross-sector partnerships.” No matter how it’s worded, the goal is to work collaboratively to generate long-term “breakthroughs.”

Now that you have a fundamental idea of the “what” of innovation labs, look out for a future blog on the “how.” I’ll give some insight into my work launching an Innovation Lab.

5 Marketing Metrics that Matter


Big numbers can boost organizational ego. But as I’ve recently discussed, some businesses are distracted by vanity metrics. Focus instead of the metrics that matter, those that indicate meaningful behaviors related to leads, conversions, and sales.

Marketing Metrics that Matter

Digital marketing is certainly making one thing more accessible — data. Yet all the information about leads, prospects, customers, and brand advocates doesn’t help if you don’t analyze the metrics that can drive future action.

Here, then, are some important questions to ask yourself when poring over all of the data about customer journeys, bounce rates, turning returning customers into loyalists, and all that other good stuff.

#1 Where is your traffic coming from?

Measuring traffic numbers alone is not enough. You need to be aware of your traffic sources. Really, you want to be bringing visitors to your site from a number of different sources:

•   Direct — visitors who arrive at your site after directly typing your URL

•   Search — those who find you based on your ranking in relation to their search query

•   Referral — people drawn to your site from influencers or another site.

#2 Who are you converting?

You also want to understand what is making people convert. You might compare the site interactions of different groups to determine what first-time visitors do differently from a loyal or returning customer.

In addressing new visitor conversions think about how responsive your site is and how easy it is to find needed information. Returning customers have the advantage of knowing what they are looking for, but you’ll need to analyze new visitor actions to see where they struggle or get frustrated and even leave.

#3 What are those conversions costing?

This one is truly important. Having high numbers of visitors, who spend a great deal of time on your page, and return and convert and all of that good stuff isn’t worth much if it costs you an arm and a leg to get them to do so. Your business can’t afford to go broke generating its leads.

In other words, make sure your marginal profit per customer is more than your customer acquisition costs.

Here’s an example of how Marketing Insider Group did the conversion cost math on two content guides it produced:


#4 What are people doing on your site?

Understanding what a user did on your website, what they saw, and what they clicked helps you tell a deeper story about your visitors.

You need to recognize what is driving conversions to try to influence the other users to act in the same way. So, keep an eye on page view rates per visitor, time spent, actions taken and determine what can be done to increase the time spent on your site and how you can leverage that time into increased conversions.

#5 When are people bouncing and why?

The bounce rate is a metric you want to minimize. This is the rate at which visitors to your site leave without moving onto another page. Bounce rates vary by industry so a quick search will shed light into your industry.

Visitors may bounce for several reasons such as:

  1. Weak Site Match - they were looking for eye glasses and ended up on your site selling monogrammed wineglasses.
  2. Bad User Experience - with more and more people coming from mobile devices but desktop traffic not dwindling, you need to make sure that your website presents well on smartphones, tablets and laptops. 
  3. Poor Design - difficult to find the information they want, endless scrolling on mobile devices, too busy, plain ugly.
  4. High Load Times - too slow and they'll go somewhere more responsive.
I spoke to Keenan Davis, Senior Director of Marketing for SVS, to gain insight into how to remedy the situation. Keenan says "the best way to remedy bounce rates is to think through the click path you want visitors to take.  If someone lands on your latest blog post is there a call to action referring that reader to a 2nd blog that acts as a great follow-up piece?  Are you directing them to resources or tools on your site that could be useful for them?  Are you introducing your product or service in an organic way that isn’t too over-the-top salesy?  There may be a path to conversion that is broken, or a weak call to action on the third page into the process. Identify the possible reasons exits are happening at a high rate and this can lead you to several small fixes to better optimize your site."

Key Takeaway

Having a useful product or service is only part of the battle. Marketers must also get their brand (and its content) noticed so that sales can convert that audience into customers. Doing so depends on using the right metrics to tweak campaigns, optimize marketing efforts, and better target the audience that will want to buy and become loyal to your brand.

Vanity Metrics: They Seduce and Blind Us

Photo: Carlos Muza

Photo: Carlos Muza

In the words of Whodini … friends, how many of us have them. Now, replace the word friends, with KPI’s. Doesn’t have the same ring to it but these are the references you get when I’m writing and listening to backspin. Back to the story. When it comes to online marketing, there are some indicators (The I in KPIs) that are really nothing more than vanity metrics. Sure, they can make the organization feel successful, but the data generated isn’t actionable. Since vanity metrics can be easily manipulated, you do not want to focus on vanity metrics.

Your Vanity Metrics Cheat Sheet

Identifying vanity metrics will be easier than deciphering some vanity license plates with this helpful list.

#1 Unique Site Visits

This very common metric indicates that a web page or website is popular. But does it tell you anything about what individuals are doing on the site? Without knowing what they see, click on, and act upon or where they came from, you’re not getting actionable insight into the site success.

#2 Number of Hits/Page Views

Tracking hits or views doesn’t actually tell you anything useful. Maybe a frustrated user is looking for something particular on your site and keeps clicking on things to find the right solution (at least you’d be lucky enough they are sticking with your site). Page views is better than number of hits, yes, but this information needs to be contextualized with information about time spent or actions taken. Ultimately, it’s not just about the number, but about the behavior that accompanies the number.


Without any accompanying data for this metric, all you know is that a user downloaded your gated content. There is so much more you could know:

  • Did they use it?
  • Did they share it?
  • Did they find it useful?
  • What did they do next?
  • Did they follow up with sales after reading it?
  • What brought them to the download in the first place?


It’s very rewarding to have thousands of followers. But think about a teenager on Facebook with 1,617 friends. Would you believe that individual actually interacts, let alone meaningfully engages, with even 117 of those “friends”? Not likely.

So, why would it be any different for an organization with 10,000 followers? If those followers aren’t real people who are interested in the business and its content then this is mere vanity.

#5 Time on Site or Page

If you have ever been on a website and then turned away to join a conversation about Power then you know why this one doesn’t matter much. You might be sucked into ten minutes of conversation about Ghost or Kanan before turning back to view the site again. An organization that is on the other end applauding itself on its keeping your interest for those five minutes is misled.

Again, time spent means little taken as a solo metric. This needs to be considered in conjunction with other details such as what actions the individual takes on the site or what they do next.

Focus on Metrics that Matter

These vanity metrics don’t necessarily correlate to what really matters for an organization. Organizations should focus instead on metrics that can guide action. What are some of the important ones? I’ll address that in the next article!

Elements in Creating A Customer Journey Map


The customer journey map is one map that marketers, male and female alike, are both willing to consult for direction. Illustrating points at which the customer engages with the company, these maps provide an overview of the many possible points at which marketers can connect with and add value to potential customers.

The customer journey map can trace the customer’s experience from first engagement (via web search, social media mention or influencer post), through buying the product or service, using it, offering feedback and possibly upgrading or adding on to the purchase. The map can also look more specifically at the touchpoints within a particular stage. A marketer might specifically outline the paths a potential customer takes traveling from awareness of their need and consideration of product or service offerings before making a decision.

Elements of a Customer Journey Map

The best customer journey map will be as detailed as you can make it, regardless of whether it is a deep dive into a particular stage or an all-encompassing view of process. The following elements can help marketers make better decisions based on customer journey maps.

Actions. Know what activities the customer will take at each stage on the journey map. You should be able to differentiate, for instance, what someone will do on your site, or in your store, or on social media when they are weighing options versus when they are ready to pull the trigger on a purchase.

Motivations. What is driving the customer’s awareness, research, consideration, purchase, feedback or continued loyalty? A good way to better understand what motivates your prospects and customers is to ask them. I know, crazy idea. Use feedback tools to solicit information from people engaging with your business at all points on the map.  

Questions. Customers today avoid interaction with sales teams for the majority of their trip. The truth is they can gather all the information they need without speaking to someone in your organization.  Paying attention to keyword searches, asking the sales team for their perspective, and perusing social media, can help you identify typical questions asked at each stage of the journey. Making the process easier for them makes a difference.

Barriers. What stands in the way of the customer making a purchase? There may be cost, process, or friction in the buying process you may have to address. If marketing identifies these in advance, then the team can better provide content marketing that helps address these barriers.

Muse. We already know how to find our brand muse.  And we all wish the customer journey map was a linear tool that applies to every customer and potential customer, but it just doesn’t work that way. A journey map can’t show only the route you want someone to follow. They’ll add U-turns or long and unexpected detours. You need to truly leverage insight from your brand muse.   

One last tip: don’t hog the customer journey map. Other departments — sales, product development, and legal for example — can offer fresh insights too. They can benefit too from the trailblazing marketing does to map out this navigational tool in the first place.

Essential Guide to Launching a Pop-Up Store


Pop-ups represent a welcome respite from retail fatigue. Today we can see restaurants, bars, events, and experiences pop up almost anywhere. For brevity’s sake, though, let’s focus on the essentials you need to know to successfully launch a pop-up store.

Defining the Pop-Up

A pop-up store offers something new and leverages people’s natural curiosity. Enthusiasm for the pop-up store relies on:

  • Word of mouth to gain momentum
  • Limited time availability of the goods
  • Added desirability tied to the fact that the shopper must be “in the know” about the shop’s presence.

Pop-up stores started out as a way for a new brand to test the market and determine if there was enough interest to support a permanent store. Today, however, you might see Kendrick Lamar and his DAMN pop-up shops or an independent clothing designer just as easily as you might see a big brand using a clever pop-up concept to launch a new product.

Powering Your Pop-Up Launch

Pop-ups are reaching the point at which they are a common retail offering. This makes it all the more important to launch your pop-up store smartly. Consider this advice:

Get Creative.

A pop-up store can’t be a standard brick and mortar affair offering the same products someone might get at the mall or somewhere else for that matter. These small, temporary retail environments should be unique and invite customer interaction in a fresh way.

Ideally, you’re renting a vacant space at a low cost. Put those rent savings into creating a truly imaginative, memorable space. If you can wow people in-store, then you’re more likely to see them sharing their experiences on their social networking platforms.

Shop for your location.

Finding the perfect place for your pop-up will take research and planning, but it’s important. Look into demographics in the neighborhood, competitive landscape, visibility and traffic opportunities just as you would for a traditional store. Yes, you will be in this spot a shorter amount of time. But, really, that just means you have to be more confident that you’re going to be able to make your mark and see sales success more quickly.

The nomadic nature of the pop-up means you can take your product to your customers. Selling handmade hammocks? Find a space near a sprawling park or music festival that draws frequent campers. Customizing pet crates for a living? Get a short-term lease by a dog park or near where people frequently walk their dogs.   

Be fleeting.

Sign a short-term lease for your shop. Have a set start and end date to your pop-up shop experiment. Claiming to be a pop-up and then staying in that same location for a year offering the same products undermines the very pop-up-ness of your venture. Your effort should be unexpected and surprising, as flash retailing depends on what American Express called the trend’s “ephemeral charm.”

Take this seriously.

Even though you want to make customers feel that their discovery of your shop is serendipitous, make sure your shop has a professional look and feel. Adrian Gonzalez, Brand Manager at VILLA, has launched a few pop-ups in his time and offers the following tips when thinking about your pop-up space.

AG’s Rules for Launching a Pop-up Shop: 

  1. Create an experience by telling a powerful product story using the merchandise being sold.
  2. Have the “WOW” factor either through the product or through the activities done at the shop.
  3. Integrate your shop with the surrounding neighborhood.
  4. Partner with local influencers to share the message.
  5. Keep store organized and clean.
  6. Rotate product regularly to help create a sense of urgency.
  7. Hire quality staff with retail experience.
  8. Educate your staff to communicate your unique selling points.

Get social.

Use social media to let people know you are in business. Encourage customers to share their experiences with your brand on their own channels. Post messages about your pop-up to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Use images of products and creative posts to help feed a steady flow of customers to your pop-up.

Pop-ups are pervasive — especially in this upcoming holiday season. Make the most of your unique opportunity with proper planning and smart strategizing.


Little Known Ways to use VR in your Marketing

Image by Paulo Oliveira

Image by Paulo Oliveira

Virtual reality (VR) has actually been around since the 1950s. You read that right, the nineteen fifties. But it’s only in this current decade that the technology has achieved mainstream acceptance. Providing the opportunity for people to engage and interact in immersive experiences, regardless of where they are, VR is fast leveling-up from gaming applications to become a marketing tool too.

Virtual Reality’s Real Advantages

Virtual reality is more memorable. As Lao Tse said literally ages ago, “If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see. But if you let me experience, I will learn.” With VR instead of relying on an email campaign or product pitch, the marketing becomes truly immersive.

The Virtual Reality Society (yes, such a thing exists) also outlines additional benefits:

  • Provides realistic scenarios in a safe, controlled setting
  • Enables remote access
  • Simplifies complex problems/situations
  • Suits different learning styles in an enjoyable way that improves retention and recall

Applications of VR in Marketing

I’ve written before about the marketing applications of augmented reality. VR, though, is more in-depth. Instead of simply adding a layer to the existing, real-time reality (augmenting), VR marketing puts the customer or client into a convincing virtual environment.

Volvo was the first car manufacturer to get on the VR highway when it released a virtual reality test drive campaign with Google Cardboard to amp up enthusiasm for its new XC90.

JaguarUK took a different direction with its VR by inviting its customers to experience Wimbledon, which it sponsored. The viewer even ended up slamming the final match point as Andy Murray. See the video (sorry, you’ll need your own headset to get the full experience):

Fashion retailer TopShop also used VR to provide visibility and give customers a unique experience. The brand building VR experience took place during London Fashion Week and offered contest winners a chance to participate in a virtual catwalk experience. The VR event was held in a special pop-up space in the window display of the company’s flagship London store.

Hotel chain Marriott also uses VR to enhance customer engagement by offering virtual journeys. In one of their campaigns, guests step into a booth that uses heaters, wind jets, and VR headsets to teleport them to a new location. Starting out at a Marriott Hotel (of course) visitors might be taken on a trip to Hawaii or London. This transports them into a possible future vacation destination while boosting brand loyalty along the way.

At the same time, virtual reality can bring customers to the marketers’ home location. A university admissions team, for instance, might use VR at a college fair in St. Louis to lead a virtual tour of its Boston campus. Or, admissions could send a link to the video and mail an inexpensive headset to let international students (who pay more to university coffers) see the institution from their own phones.

Virtual focus groups can also interact with products from anywhere in the world. This lets marketers solicit information about product packaging or test placement on shelves, without having to travel to each new market. This not only saves money, but could also save time in already tight product development timelines.

Additionally, retailers are using virtual reality to do floor sets and get feedback from vendors and brand teams to ensure messages are communicated effectively. VR headsets are also being used to teach Walmart employees how to properly merchandise and even prepare for Black Friday mayhem. Running through these types of simulations in training, can also help with brand consistency across stores and, in the long run, enhance customer satisfaction with the retail chain.

These are only some examples of how VR is being used creatively in marketing today. Perhaps these will inspire you to come up with the next innovative use of virtual reality. Think about where in the buyer’s journey actually experiencing your product or service would make the most difference. Now make it happen.


How to Find your Brand Muse

Photo by Brad Neathery 

Photo by Brad Neathery 

Picasso had Sylvette David. John Lennon had Yoko One. And you have… btw, who is your muse? Marketing is a creative field. So, we too should have a muse to direct and guide our creativity. Here are some ideas to help you find a brand muse and inspire you to take a fresh, focused approach.

What’s a Brand Muse?

Let’s first agree on the definition of a brand muse. Traditionally, a muse has been seen as a beautiful woman who inspires a man. This goes back to Greek mythology when several of Zeus’s daughters were seen as goddesses inspiring certain arts and sciences. For instance, Calliope was the muse of epic poetry while Terpsichore was the muse of dance. 

Of course, the woman inspiring man definition is outdated today. Women get to be inspired too! In thinking of the muse in a marketing context, though, lets think of a brand muse as someone who inspires the marketers to do their best, most innovative work. There’s levels to this and having a muse gets you to a higher level. This muse can’t be a nebulous idea. Instead, this is a specific, detailed idea of the person you want to interact with your brand. This muse, then, can serve as the hero of your brand’s story.

A brand muse provides a focal point. With a brand muse in mind, you can avoid: 

  • Getting distracted by what the competitors are doing; you’ll stick to what works for your brand muse.
  • Being drawn into technology or brand channels just because they are the new, shiny things; instead they’ll have to speak to the muse.
  • Losing site of your brand values — the brand muse keeps you authentic.

How to Find Your Brand Muse

Finding a brand muse takes strategic effort. The clearer the view you have of your muse, the more inspired you can become. Here are some steps to take:

Step 1. Look Inward

Gather together all the folks in your organization that interact with your customer. These are the marketing, customer service, sales teams, etc. Leverage their combined knowledge to determine what makes the customer tick. Use this insight to create a concrete, comprehensive view of your brand muse.

Step 2. Look Outward

Survey your social media channels to identify the folks who are hungry for more information about your brand. Determine the common thread among these individuals. Add their attributes to the brand muse’s persona.

Step 3. Research

Start your additional research by having conversations with your real-life customers. Talk, in-person or online, with people already interacting with your brand; identify their pain points and aspirations. I once heard a story about a company who would save an empty seat at meetings so they would always think about the customer. They wouldn't talk to a real customer, they would just save an empty seat in meetings. Don't do that. Instead, figure out how you can not only solve their concerns, but also help them reach their goals. Now, incorporate this information into your view of the brand muse.

Step 4. Give the Muse Dimension

You’ve gathered a lot of information to work with, but take the time also to cultivate a definite view of the muse. Benefit from:

  • Naming your muse. 

  • Creating a visualization of your muse.

  • Imagining the personality of your muse.

  • Developing an ongoing relationship with your muse — the muse can’t be a static concept (unless you want your marketing to stagnate too).

Cultivating a brand muse takes work. Yet, the inspiration that results can help you create relevant and remarkable brand communications that are cohesive and authentic. [insert one of Flex's bombs here]


Augmented Reality: The B2B Marketing Playbook


Not too long ago, if you saw people at the park swiping at their phone and inexplicably shouting with joy, you might have a) thought their tinder game was on a hundred or b) assumed they were playing Pokemon Go. Even as downloads of the hit Augmented Reality (AR) game have slowed, B2B marketer interest in AR continues to increase. And Apple going all in with AR has definitely made people pay attention. Here’s what it can add to the digital marketer’s arsenal.

First, what is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality uses the camera view of a mobile or tablet device to superimpose digital images on the real-time reality in that space. The virtual object is, ideally, scaled to fit the camera view’s spatial layout for an even more effective immersive experience. Or, AR might involve glasses — such as Spectacles by Snap — through which users can see the real world and a virtual overlay simultaneously. I was very close to snapping (see what I did there) up a pair at the Grove in LA this past weekend.

We’ve seen several AR business application already. Car manufacturers have made it easier to park our vehicles with guidelines on the camera when we put the car in reverse. Lowe’s has “holorooms” in some of its stores to help customers envision their remodeled homes. But this technology can also be effective in B2B marketing efforts.

Augmented and virtual reality markets are poised to jump dramatically by 2020, according to Statista:


B2B marketers are speaking to an already information overloaded audience, and trying to stand out from the competition. This requires being on the cutting edge and crafting brand stories that resonate with the target customers. AR can help with this by extending the effectiveness of the brand storytelling. Here’s how:

#1 Customer Engagement

AR is immersive. Successful marketing connects with customers emotionally. Effectively designed AR experiences can surprise and delight your target audience and provide a memorable impression.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are paving the way to an $80 billion market opportunity by 2025. — Goldman Sachs

#2 Customer Education

An AR marketing campaign can give your prospective client an opportunity to interact with the product or brand on an experiential level. Using their own device, they are able to learn about the solution and absorb useful information on their own terms.

#3 Customer Independence

Consider the oft-repeated statistics about how much research the buyer is doing on their own now, before even interacting with a brand representative. With AR marketing offerings, your prospect is interacting with the brand independently — still without needing to engage directly with a human sales rep — at a much deeper level.

#4 Customization to Customer

With AR, the B2B marketer can better personalize their products and services to the prospect’s particular context. Imagine the potential at a conference or trade show where a B2B company could immerse attendees in an informative experience specific to their vertical, rather than simply handing out a flier with product specs.

Though not as immersive as virtual reality, which puts the person inside a virtual space and enables them to feel as if they are in a real, physical environment, AR has impact. B2B marketers looking to innovate can find great value in developing exciting and interesting AR opportunities as part of any digital B2B campaign.


Why Brands Need to Gamify Experiences

Across industries, brands are getting into the “gamification” game. By leveraging the human desire for fun, competition, and socialization, adding a game element to an experience can make a difference for B2C and B2B brands. Are you ready to level up?

What does it mean to gamify?

Gamification is being embraced across industries today as a way to drive engagement, increase customer commitment and boost loyalty. By incorporating elements of fun and competition (really, who doesn’t like those) into your marketing strategy, your brand can better connect with its target audience. Consider the success of the Starbucks seasonal Bingo game or McDonald’s Monopoly game.

Offering a small incentive or game can encourage people to take an action they might not have otherwise. For example, many people have purchased a FitBit and enrolled in the brand’s online community drawn in by the ability to challenge friends and see who will earn the most steps in a day.

This relates to event marketing too. At a trade show, a brand might encourage different sales regions or individuals to compete against one another in an on-site gaming experience that sees them interacting with the brand’s product. A real-time leader board could foster healthy competition and encourage repeat business at the brand’s trade show booth.

Why Gamification is Good for Brand Experiences

#1 Data.

Data is king these days. Gamification gives the brand access to a huge amount of information. By incorporating gaming elements into experiences, the brand’s sales, marketing, and product development teams can all gather useful data about potential and current customers. This can be analyzed to drive product decisions, analyze customer needs, segment audience populations, personalize future marketing and more. All while the customer is engaging more often with the brand.

#2 Brand Building.

Bringing a brand to someone’s attention via a game can also help capture new potential leads. Take Target’s animated Holiday Wish app, which allowed kids to create Christmas lists to send to Santa. Over 100,000 wish lists were created along with 9,200 new accounts. Over six weeks a total 1.7 million items were added to wish lists, for a potential sales total of $92.3 million.


#3 Social Amplification

When users are enjoying the experience, they’ll often share that enthusiasm with friends and family. Associating a hashtag with the experience can lead to increased customer awareness and grab the attention of new users via word of mouth.

Gamification can turn customers into influencers when they are sharing something fun, suggesting a cool competition, or pointing out a cool freebie to their friends and other consumers. Giving participants something to tweet, gram or post to Facebook about can also help drive more people to actually seek out your brand’s experience for themselves.

#4 Educate Users

Making a video tutorial or instructions more fun can also lead to greater customer satisfaction. They are more likely to learn how to use the product or service more fully if they have an incentive to participate in the education.

In a B2C example, a marketing company created a gamified “tour” of Singapore for its Tourism Board client. The tour, which ran through attractions with high impact imagery and video, netted more than 5,000 sessions and more than 300 game completions in just two months.

Friendly competition or making an on-site training into more of a game involving people working together to solve a puzzle (industry-related of course) brings a new dimension. Plus, it’s more memorable and will help your brand stand out from the competition.

Game over!

This may sound exciting, and it can be. However, you can’t just make a game of your product or service without careful planning. The gamification should suit the brand value and marketing message to further educate and engage customers and increase brand awareness and loyalty.

The Secret of Successful Brand Ambassador Programs

Image by Phil Coffman

Image by Phil Coffman

You get an email or voicemail message from someone you don’t know. If you’re like me, you likely delete the email without reading it. The voicemail suffers the same fate — immediate deletion. Yet your reaction changes dramatically when it’s from someone you know. This, in a nutshell, explains the power of brand ambassadors. Launch your own brand ambassador program today with these 6 tips.

Only 33% of buyers trust the brand but 90% of customers trust product or service recommendations from people they know
— Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey

#1 Determine your goals

Brand ambassadors are everyday customers who love your product or service. Ultimately, though, they are only truly useful if they know and understand your goals. You might even identify particular groups for different purposes: some might be better influencers of brand awareness, while others could provide more leverage for long-term promotion of a new product launch or more detail about a specific service or solution they’ve used.

#2 Get to know your ambassadors

Simply selecting the people on social media with lots of followers who like your brand isn’t going to drive the most effective brand ambassador program. You need to find the top customers or clients, consultants, and business partners who will be proud of their affiliation with your brand.

Have an application that questions how the potential ambassador wants to get involved, why they are applying, and why they love your brand. You want to understand their reasons for being ambassadors. They might be building their resume, looking for free stuff or the inside scoop, or trying to get hired as consultants.

#3 Develop a program structure

You’ve done the legwork to find the right influencers to invite into your brand ambassador program. Yet you still want to offer some parameters. In launching your program consider developing a code of conduct, instituting milestones, and clear expectations.

For instance, Hootsuite, which has grown exponentially due to its ambassadors, expects advocacy, content sharing, creating a stronger regional presence and even hosting events.

#4 Identify incentives

Loyal customers may be driven to share their enthusiasm for your product or service for their own personal or professional reasons. At the same time, offering free access to new feature or product testing or VIP events can provide an incentive to ambassadors.

It’s unlikely you want to get involved with financially rewarding your brand ambassadors — potential clients might doubt the credibility of a paid ambassador. Yet, you may be able to offer compensation in the form of professional affiliation with your brand, partnerships at conferences, or sharing guest posts on each other’s blogs.

 #5 Cultivate communication

The brand ambassador program depends on mutual trust. Keep your advocates in the know. They should not find out about an important new product feature or solution launch from external sources. They want to be in the inner circle — treat them as the partners you want them to be.

Identify their best channels of communication to offer feedback and criticism. Make sure that your ambassadors know that their opinions matter — positive and negative — and encourage them to offer suggested improvements.

#6 Quantify success

The brand ambassador program demands consistent monitoring and measuring. You want your launch to be deliberate . Determine in advance what metrics you might use to gauge success. Set up the means to track that data.

It can also go a long way to recognize ambassadors’ successes and offer praise. Identify standout performance on a page of your site devoted to the program or in a weekly communication to your ambassadors. Personal recognition can help deepen an individual’s relationship with your brand, which can only further amplify enthusiasm as an advocate.

B2B Event Marketing Decoded


There are only so many branded lanyards, T-shirts, or travel mugs a business contact needs. [insert hypeman yelling “Facts”]. Event marketing instead builds awareness, promotes sales, and fosters loyalty in a more personal, immediate context — through intentionally designed experiences. [again with the hypeman saying “Facts”]. The only way that paragraph works is if you can imagine me saying that on stage with my hypeman yelling “facts” after each sentence. Moving on.

59% of B2B marketers never charge for their events — Hubspot

What is Event Marketing?

Event marketing sees the business coming up with creative ways to engage its audience in an immersive experience. Methods can vary, but marketers start out by designing a concept driven by strategic analysis of data about what the customer needs and a clear vision of the brand value message.

Measurements of success vary. For instance, event marketing automation company Certain found many businesses declared success when registrations increased (32.6%) while 27.62% measured event success by new leads. Improved satisfaction scores and boosted brand awareness could see event marketing deemed successful.

65% of people think live events help them understand a product — Event Marketing Institute

What B2B Event Marketing Looks Like

Effective event marketing is relevant to the target audience and the event’s context. Some examples I’ve activated for clients:

  • Setting up a run clinic on a college campus to encourage students to try new athletic footwear and enroll in an activity tracking program
  • Hosting a sales tour offering hands-on training sessions for electronic devices in various customer contexts, followed by a sales rep-sponsored cocktail hour
  • Making a game of product training participation by tracking points in competitions between sales regions and individuals attending an industry conference
  • Promoting an energy drink by offering refreshment at an expert-led stretching session post-race
  • Reinforcing a brand’s security focus by hosting device training within a bank vault
  • Organizing a conference with clients sharing success stories alongside new product release events to provide relevant content to the audience while letting a sales team make in-person contact with attendees.

Using creative, relevant experiences, B2B event marketing is face-to-face marketing at its best. Instead of trying to write content that stands out in a crowded inbox or stuffed social media stream, B2B event marketing meets the customer and client where they already are.

Effective event marketing can also have a snowball effect as:

  • Businesses post anticipatory messages on social media, followed by invitations, and then images, videos and participant quotes from the events.
  • Customers share their experience on social media using the branded hashtag. In fact, an estimated 49% of attendees at branded events make their own videos of the experience to share on social media, according to the Event Marketing Institute.

Why do B2B Event Marketing?

The same reason you do any marketing — to connect with leads and strengthen your relationship with existing customers. Engaging with your audience through event marketing can help a business bring in buyers, educate the audience and demonstrate thought leadership while also enhancing customer retention, encouraging upsells, and boosting brand advocacy.

Your goal should be to immerse clients and customers in a real-world experience — make it an event.

7 Steps to B2B Instagram Success

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

B2B marketers have been slow to join Instagram. Yet the businesses that have embraced this social platform see gains in brand awareness and engagement as well as enhanced relationship building. Use these seven steps as a cheat sheet to get your B2B IG off the ground. 

#1 Understand the potential

Instagram is projected to hit 1 billion users by October of this year. In fact, the social platform is growing faster than ever. The channel gained its last 100 million users even faster than its first 100 million.


#2 Recognize the audience

You may think Instagram is only for young people’s selfies and pictures of food, but in fact the fastest growing user segment in 2017 is females 40 – 50. Bet one of your B2B buyer personas is a woman in the business within that age range.


#3 Know your target audience

If you don’t have the buyer personas just mentioned, get them. OK, now that you know your target audience and their pain points and passions, you can effectively leverage Instagram. Understanding your business customer base, you can focus on stories that speak to their interests and needs. Be engaged with them, too: Like their posts. Ask questions. Offer thanks for their engagement. Remember this is a social media — so, be social!

#4 Decide on an IG voice

Just as your other content marketing strategies have a brand voice, you’ll need to decide on your Instagram voice. Make it consistent. Your customers should be able to identify how the images you are curating reflect your brand’s image. Consider your values and mission and make content choices accordingly. You don’t need to re-gram every reference to your business; focus on those that help communicate the story you want to tell.  

#5 Always be #branding

Use branded hashtags on posts promoting new products or services and promotional opportunities. Offer attractive limited time deals, again with branded hashtags. These boost your discoverability and encourage engagement.

Another way to gain traction for a brand hashtag is to encourage employee engagement with the business IG account using the tag. Follow your employees on Instagram and encourage them to tag posts related to your company’s culture that help provide a well-rounded view of your brand.

#6 Curate user-generated content

You know your target audience and have followed them on Instagram to gain insight into their behaviors. Be on the lookout for user-generated content (UCG) that you can repost to further establish credibility. Repackage customer content to demonstrate your understanding of what they care about and how your product or service suits their needs. Again, use that #branding we already discussed.

#7 Don't be dull

It’s true of any B2B marketing. Regardless of your industry, you want to post content that is visually stimulating and creative while still relevant to what you do. Tara Wilson Agency (client plug) does a great job creating visually stimulating and educational content for Samsung’s B2B Instagram account. I’ll close out with some great examples of B2B brands finding fun and unique ways to stand out in their audience’s feed.


Bonus Tip: Get to know the lingo. Can your brand plan to leverage #WednesdayWisdom or #FOMO “fear of missing out” when planning the content calendar? Employing IG slang can help your business join a larger, social conversation.

What Matters Now in Event Marketing

Event marketing seeks to turn the volume of targeted messaging up to 11 (and yes that is a Spinal Tap reference). As this type of face-to-face marketing grows more prevalent, businesses must differentiate themselves by designing and delivering relevant and remarkable experiences. There is a lot of noise in this space, but here are 4 trends that should guide your event marketing plans.

Make it Lit

There are many definitions for lit, but let’s stick with this one: make it amazing. The increasing influence of millennials is one factor driving a demand for remarkable experiences. They are not impressed easily. Plus, they are constantly looking to share their experience via social media and connect with others in real-time having the same experience.

Active participation increases customer engagement and learning and can boost overall connections with your brand. Yet keep in mind that experiential campaigns don’t need to be event-centric. Think Virtual Reality. Whether the experience is tied to a conference, concert, festival, etc., it should focus on creating brand interaction opportunities first and foremost.

Make it Meaningful

Google, for instance, decided to publicize its charitable giving by letting the public decide where the money should go. They installed interactive stations at bus shelters, food trucks, and restaurants to give the local community the chance to vote for a cause. The #GoogleImpactChallenge earned 400,000 votes in less than a month. One of my personal favorites was hack the hood.

Or, consider the Lean Cuisine #WeighThis campaign in New York’s Grand Central Station. Women were invited to share what they would want to be weighed for — rather than pounds — on small boards that looked like scales. Examples included being back in college at 55 or caring for 200 homeless children each day. The experience sent a supportive message about appreciating what matters and it was still clearly associated with Lean Cuisine and healthy eating.

Make it Social

Companies and brand marketers recognize the importance of social marketing related to event marketing. Some 70% identify social as “extremely” or “very important,” yet creating memorable content worth social sharing is challenging.

In examining The Viral Impact of Events, the Event Marketing Institute found certain channels fare better at different points in the process:

Event Marketer

Event Marketer

Make it Personal

Take GE’s set up at a conference representing actual healthcare settings — a rural African clinic, an urban clinic, and an emergency room — at which the brand had actual doctors sharing real stories about how the company’s healthcare technology made a difference to their work. This wasn’t sales people, but personal stories making a real connection with the potential customer.

Or how about Facebook IQ Live? It’s experience-based event series sought to create positive brand awareness and give marketers concrete ideas of how they might better interact with the Facebook and Instagram brand.

Making your event marketing strategy and execution more lit, meaningful, social, and personal will require innovative thinking. Don’t do what you’ve done before. Don’t do what someone else has done before. Align an idea with your brand values and business objective and take the leap into immersive face-to-face marketing.

Essential Guide to Launching Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

I focused on grassroots or guerilla marketing when I first cut my teeth in the marketing space. My competitive advantage, the one I told clients, was my ability to target and work with influential people to spread a message in a targeted community. It seemed like every other marketing agency wanted to talk about creating ads so I zigged instead of zagging and focused on what I called grassroots marketing. This targeted approach to marketing is all the rage now. It even has a cool name - Influencer Marketing.

So what is Influencer Marketing. In its simplest form, Influencer Marketing is a form of marketing where you leverage influential people to distribute and share your message with their followers. This goes without saying, but I'll write it anyway - their followers should be the same people you want to reach. 

Forbes predicted influencer marketing would explode in 2017, so you probably already have a program in place. After all, 84% of marketers were planning on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign this year. Let's consider some essentials you should think about in making the most out of your influencer initiative.

Influencer Marketing Basics

You likely already know that influencers are the people who are active on social media and blogs who can advocate for your brand and promote you with a niche, targeted audience.

Smart marketers research people online who have credibility with an audience they covet. This isn’t about just finding people with tons of followers. It’s about seeking out the people who have the right followers, and credibility with those followers.  

In the best case, an influencer can increase your social media exposure, drive traffic to your site, and increase your sell through rate. For instance, by providing reputable fashion bloggers with clothing and accessory samples, a fashion company could bolster sales to relevant products. Or, a VOIP telecommunications provider could see an uptick in installs after one of its small business clients endorses its phone system setup and customer service online.

Even Nielsen acknowledges the power of the social influencer trend noting that 92% of global consumers trust “earned media” above all other forms of advertising.

16X higher average engagement rate with social endorsement than paid media and owned alternatives.
— Nielsen

What to Include in Your Program

With influencer marketing on trend right now, you have to work harder to make your program work well. What can you do?

Know your influencers. Research ideal influencers who not only fit your niche, but also have a personality type that suits your brand values. Know the topics that make them a good fit and have a clear idea of what your goals are for their potential reach. Spend a lot of time here. You don't want to end up like Reebok when they signed Rick Ross. No shade but did anyone really see this working. The brand values were misaligned. 

Ongoing research. Finding a few influencers and calling it a day won’t work. Social media marketing moves fast. You need to use social media monitoring, hashtag research, Google alerts and other tools to find the right influencers to interact with on an ongoing basis.

Happy customers. The best influencer is someone who truly knows and loves your brand. So leverage relevant content from happy users and clients. When I was the Director of Marketing at VILLA, our approach was to work with customers to share our collective story. See what I did there. The story we shared wasn't just about VILLA. It was about VILLA and its customers on a quest to achieve a goal. Ok, I got sidetracked there for a bit. You can do something similar by encouraging user generated content by asking customers to upload photos and videos, offering product discounts or other incentives, sending out trial products, and participating in communities related to your product or service to find comments and quotes you might use in testimonials or to inspire blog posts.

Compensation. Sometimes giving influencers a social shout out can help them feel important. Giving away free stuff can work too. Some companies even offer commissions or financial rewards. But, these latter two can muddy the organic nature of the influence and could backfire for both you and the influencer.  

Clear goals. It is difficult to quantify the ROI from influencer marketing. In fact, 38% of marketers say they are unable to tell whether influencer activity actually drives sales, according to a Rakuten Marketing survey. But, at the very least, if you have established clear objectives (Improve brand reach? Drive site traffic? Increase sales?), you can better identify the appropriate influencers and gauge your program’s effectiveness.

Ultimately, as is true for all digital marketing efforts, influencer marketing requires you to know your audience, brand voice, and do due diligence to find the right contextual fit for your business message.

Now, go ahead and influence others by sharing this blog post!

Is Your Company Ready for Artificial Intelligence?



Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of science fiction alone. It’s widespread in business and in our homes — many people have smart phone conversations with Siri or rely on the assistance of Amazon’s Alexa. But, does AI make sense for your business? Consider these prompts when deciding.

Artificial intelligence has many applications and as many descriptors. Some will refer to machine learning or machine intelligence, others to cognitive computing or deep learning. Ultimately Big Blue, I’m referring to IBM not Famous Dex, estimates it’s a $2 trillion market in which computing power is used to understand data, reason, talk, make decisions and learn.

The Harvard Business Review charted the most popular uses of AI today:


Companies such as Samsung, Google, Facebook, Uber, and Amazon are all investing heavily in AI technology. But should you? Here are some questions to consider:

How efficiently are you able to maximize data analytics today?

We become increasingly connected digitally on a daily basis. This means a deluge of data available to business. This data can help:

  • Predict customer service issues
  • Identify prospective leads
  • Personalize marketing
  • Drive product development
  • Anticipate sales opportunities

And, that’s just the beginning. Of course, you could spend hours poring over spreadsheets with hella data points. Or, explore solutions harnessing AI’s power to enable your business to improve its processes and learn more from its data.

Could your customer service improve?

Many businesses turn to AI chatbots to improve customer experience. Intelligent digital agents can be accessible 24–7, where and when the customer needs help. Via instant messaging, the business can provide quick and easy answers to many of the familiar questions customers have. Incorporating AI assistance into website design can also help users navigate the business site more effectively, driving sales and gathering prospect data to support personalized data.

AI bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020 — Gartner

Do you want to improve productivity?

There are many AI solutions to address back office functions of IT, HR, and finance/accounting. Consider the time saved just by automating technology to deal with password resets rather than having your tech talent wasting their time on this mundane task. Or, AI might be used to perform more menial tasks in HR by asking the standardized series of questions required of all applicants or new employees.

Could your employees benefit from more time to be creative/innovative?

Morale can also improve in a business when AI solutions take rote tasks off the plate of the people working for you. Applications can take over every day functions such as order tracking, fraud notifications, answering employee FAQs, staff communication, and even staff training. This can free up the people who know your company and its customers best to spend their time developing new product ideas, customer-centric marketing approaches, or more revenue generating innovations.

20% of business content will come from AI by 2018. — Gartner

Parting — human — thought

AI is one of the essential eight emerging technologies disrupting business and industry today, per PWC. Some 54% of its survey respondents were planning to make “substantial investments” in AI (second only to 73% investing in Internet of Things). Yet only 20% indicated they had the skills to address the technology. Thus, in considering your readiness for AI, examine your internal tech skills foundation and find out what support you can expect from any solution partners.

The Ultimate Cheatsheet on Marketing Chatbots



Personalization is a marketing buzzword today. Ironically, that personalized touch doesn’t have to come from a human. More businesses today are turning to marketing chatbots to engage with customers and prospects in a brand-specific way.

57% of firms are already using chatbots or planned to begin doing so this year — Forrester

Chatbots use artificial intelligence to mimic actual human conversation, via text messaging. Customer-service robots aren’t necessarily new, but the technology has advanced to such a point that the computer programs interacting with human clients are becoming indistinguishable from the real thing.

Understanding the Popularity of Chatbots

We’ve witnessed the evolution of chatbots without realizing it because it didn’t have a name back then. When I first signed up for AOL back in college, all those fake account spamming me were an early form of chatbots. Phone trees that tell you to press different numbers to reach the right department are another form of chatbots. Today’s chatbots leverage artificial intelligence a bit more and can help your business in many ways:

Providing customer service. Instead of waiting to speak to a human representative with an easy-to-resolve question, users can message a chatbot to get the needed answer more efficiently. Better customer service = better customer satisfaction and improved brand loyalty.

Targeting marketing. A customer reaching out to a chatbot provides personal information to begin a service inquiry. Personalized marketing (based on the information provided) shows during the interval while the customer holds. This same premise applies to lead nurturing on the site, with the chatbot messaging guiding prospects in the desired funnel direction.

Reaching out proactively. Relying only on human customer service representatives is a passive approach. The user has to reach out to you first. But, chatbots can offer assistance at any time, and be ready to reach out proactively to offer customer support. This can foster brand affinity as customers see the company as being always there for their needs.

Gaining data. Looking to optimize your website? (Your answer should always be yes, as it’s an ongoing process). Chatbots can be programmed to reach out to site visitors with simple questions soliciting site feedback. This can help marketers determine what is resonating with prospects, where the funnel might be leaking, and help explain cart abandonment issues.

“The open rate for mobile messages is 98 percent, compared to the 22 percent open rate for email.” — Pypestream

Tailor to Brand Voice

Chatbots reflect a mobile-first approach to digital marketing. Plus, chatbots are programmed to remain in brand voice. Instead of training human employees endlessly about business values and brand goals, a chatbot integrated across digital platforms can improve brand consistency.

Examples of chatbot marketing abound. Beauty and cosmetics retailer Sephora, for instance, created a chatbot to ask users who messaged it to take a quiz. Using the data gained from the quiz responses, the chatbot provided customized beauty tips. Team project management app Slack has its own chatbot allowing users to ask for tips to enhance their efficiency within Slack channels (plus, they’ve integrated with Taco Bell’s chatbot to allow Slack clients to order and pay for tacos directly from Slack).

Keep in mind, though, that chatbot success takes effort. According to Forrester, marketers should limit the scope of the chatbot, set realistic goals, and not launch the chatbot until it is ready. The more information you feed into the marketing bot, the more data you’ll get back. So create a smart, human-like bot that can provide quality content and excellent support.

Why would someone hire you?

That question makes most people recline in their seat. Most people start off with "well, ah ... you see" But, that's not the real question I want to ask. More specifically, why would someone hire your brand? Brands are hired guns. We hire brands for their utility. And, there are only two ways we choose between your brand and the competition -- price and story. 

Price. If I deem your product/service to be similar to the competition then I'll just buy the cheapest one. This is common sense. And, it's the reason we all have more private label brands in our house. 

Story. If your brand doesn't have a story, then your brand gets lumped in with the others without a story (see definition of commodity). The questions you must answer as a storyteller:

  1. What does your brand say about me or who I want to be?
  2. How does your brand connect me to others similar to me i.e. my clique?


Are you Better or Different?

The question many of us ask ourselves as we begin a New Year is this -- How will I be better or different?  The same thinking applies for the brands we manage.

Brands are driven by the pursuit of doing better each year. Better sales, better stock price, better market share (please don’t say more market share… focus on profitability), better sentiment on social media, etc. Being better is the province of established competitors. It's a game of incremental gains. It is the way we are taught to build sustainable brands. That is until the new guy wants in on the game. The new guy realizes he can't beat you at your own game, so he changes the game. Instead of trying to position himself as better, he positions himself as different to your audience. 

We’ve seen this happen with GORUCK, Nest Thermostats, and Uber. 

I have three questions for you.

1. What job is your brand being hired to do?

2. How can you do a better job for your customer?

3. What is the biggest threat to your brand? (hint: the threat is the new guy)