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Launching a business in a recession – 3 of 4 – Pre-Launch

This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)

You could go all out with a launch from the get-go where you prepare everything in stealth mode and then when ready, you launch fully to the market. Or you could take a more measured approach where you start in semi stealth, i.e. you don’t disclose all details of your product or service, but you do go live with some basic details online. I prefer this latter route because you can make your online presence minimal until you are ready to share more but still have that work for you. The benefits are multiple in that you can start to build awareness and get crucial feedback before the formal launch.

Landing page


SeedProd is one of the more popular website builders and is used by many startups.

It comes with many templates, including one for landing pages, this being the standard way to have a minimal presence that can still work for you. Typically, you will communicate that the full product/service is coming soon but you can start to build awareness and anticipation for what’s to come and brand.

This is by no means the only tool you can use; in fact you don’t even need to use such a tool. With WordPress for example, you could use the full site editing tools that are now available.

Research


The next stage is to gather feedback from visitors and potential customers on key elements of your intended product/service offering.

Why not add a simple poll or survey on the landing page. There are many options for this and one such option is Microsoft Forms.

Whatever you do, keep it simple, that’s why I suggest a poll, rather than a long-winded survey. And try keep visitors on the page instead of sending them somewhere else to fill out the form, e.g. embed the poll.

Bonus Tool/Service: Lead Management

A final stage to consider is adding some kind of lead generation component. At its simplest this could just be a way to get visitors to provide their contact details so you can reach them when you are ready to launch and they can be informed of this and more besides.

The easiest way to do this is to put a simple, single field form on the site to collect email address.

But the crucial thing is what you do with that lead afterwards and many tools offer ways to manage the lead from first contact. You could integrate website efforts with other lead generation efforts via social media too. Most important is that you can automate the entire lead journey through various stages, including many follow-up efforts.

Here again there are a plethora of tools available to you. I use Mailchimp and have found it to be a superb tool covering many of the elements mentioned above.

NOTE: Consider using a lead magnet, also commonly called opt-ins, freebies, or swipe files, are valuable free pieces of content that you give to people in exchange for an email address.

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Launching a business in a recession – 2 of 4 – Branding

This is a post in a series of four detailing how you can start a business during a recession (find them all eventually under the startup innovation tag). I think it is a commonly held view that we are about to enter into or are already in a recession. For whatever reason you are thinking about starting a business at this time, I am helping a startup on a similar path and thought I would share what I am thinking about to help them (more on my mentoring here). The focus in this series is the really early stages prior to launch and the emphasis is on how to do things on the cheap ;)

Branding is not highest on the priority list when starting a business, but it is when launching and if you intend to have any kind of presence, even if it is minimal as you will see in later posts, you will need to look semi-decent. In other words, you can create branding that is not final but at least it looks good enough for initial activities. For this, these services that I cover in this post will more than do, and do not have to cost the earth, if anything.

Canva


Canva is such an amazing tool for designing just about anything and you don’t have to be a designer to use it.

It comes with many templates, including for logo design which is probably where you will start with your branding efforts, this plus fonts and colours.

You can even build a brand kit from what you have designed using the templates. Much is available for free, but I pay for that little more flexibility – check pricing here.

Fiverr


Fiverr is a marketplace for design resources where you have a whole world of freelance talent at your fingertips.

From Graphics & Design, Digital Marketing, Video & Animation to much more, you can find someone to do the work for you at a price point that works.

I generally start with basic designs in Canva and then take them to a pro designer on Fiverr to tweak and get professional artwork as required.

Bonus Tool/Service

Behance is the world’s largest creative network for showcasing and discovering creative work. It has now been acquired by Adobe but it remains free and open source and you can use it for a great many things, even to find designers or freelances. But I use it for inspiration.

You can filter your search by many different options and as you can see in the screenshot below, Logo Design is one of them. Here you get a vast array of inspiring designs from some of the world’s best creatives.

A good idea is to have an idea of what your logo should look like or represent and then do a word search for the term that best represents that. You can also just use Google if you want to broaden things further.

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Power Automate your content curation for WordPress

I started work a while back on trying to curate articles from a platform I use (Flipboard) and bringing them into WordPress. I started with a plugin called Feedzy, an RSS aggregator, but that had limitations. I documented those here in the first of a series of posts called SenseMaking from the web. This post is about an alternative which I am much happier with, using Power Automate from Microsoft. And a big shout out to a colleague who helped me achieve this: Amit Chug.

First, what is the purpose of curating content and who is this for?

Although I could always point people to Flipboard to the collection of articles I save in my magazine there, I wanted to be a little more intentional and bring them into this site and blog in separate posts, each taking a snapshot of recent articles I collected.

  1. Curating good articles and content from other sites around the web is a discerning process and takes time, effort and requires insights into what is good versus what isn’t. Automating the process is also very helpful.
  2. Curated content adds value to originally created content and recognises the wealth of other information and talent that exists out there on the web.
  3. It’s good for staying fresh with new content, which in return helps improve content marketing, boosts your SEO, increases audience engagement, and if that’s what you are in it for, it probably earns you more money.
  4. You become good by association if the articles you share are good.
  5. Who this is for: Anyone publishing their own content on a blog like this one or for people in companies responsible for content marketing or managing their company’s blog/s and want to achieve some of the aims above.

How to use Power Automate to do this

The above is the flow in brief, without each of the sections expanded or explained in detail aside from below:

  1. The first step is to create a recurring trigger that schedules the task weekly.
  2. The second step focuses on the feed source and details necessary to fetch articles.
  3. The filter array in the third step and the fourth step specifies further the tasks related to time period and items being fetched.
  4. The final step with multiple steps in it in the left branch, set up the formatting of the output and form it should take, namely a WordPress post containing all feed items from the last seven days should be created in draft form.
  5. Once the draft is created, I can perform some simple checks in WordPress before publishing. I have also automated the use of a featured image using another plugin called Quick Featured Images which creates a featured image based on the tag I assigned in the final step.

At this stage, I have just managed to get the automation to work but I have more work to do trying to improve the formatting of the output. If you compare the output of the Feedzy posts captured here versus the first version I achieved here using Power Automate, there is a gap I need to fill.

As I progress, I will update this post with more detail of how I improve things and how the automation works will become clearer.

In the meantime, if you are interested, I can share an exported version of the current automation if you contact me.

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How Artificial Intelligence is Changing Marketing Forever

Today, marketers need to be agile, intuitive and strategic to thrive. In future, they’ll need intelligence, of the artificial kind. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing how we market forever. AI is the ability for computers to process data and make decisions based on that information. It can solve complex problems, identify patterns in data and learn from new information. AI uses Machine Learning algorithms so that computer programs can learn as new information becomes available. Marketing programs are using AI in everything from audience segmentation and targeting, to content creation and social media optimization. Let’s explore how businesses are using AI in marketing today.

NOTE: This article was written with the support of Writesonic. In fact it should take credit for about 60% of the content you read in this post. I wanted to make a case in point and test out the options. I read about the options from this article: 31+ Best AI Writer: Free AI Writing Assistant [July 2022]. That article was pointed out to me by a friend on LinkedIn. If you read that thread on LinkedIn you will see that that start of it is a similar case in point – I was trying to automate some content publishing functions. As you can see this topic is very much top of mind and that’s because a lot is happening in this space. In this article, I took the copy that was produced by Writesonic and tweaked it, exactly as my friend suggested and I was left feeling inspired and not that I was cheating. You be the judge on how it worked.

Why Is AI in Marketing Important?

For decades, marketers have been using data to inform their strategies, but manual, human-led processes are limiting. Manual processes aren’t scalable, and it’s difficult to get the level of precision that an AI solution can offer. AI offers marketers a chance to automate and increase the effectiveness of their strategies by creating the right technology to meet their unique needs. There’s evidence to suggest that AI adoption in marketing will increase significantly over the next few years. Past reports from a CMO Survey indicated that 41% of marketers were planning to increase their AI spending in 2018. The same report predicted that AI adoption in marketing will grow globally by 5X, with $37 billion being spent on AI in 2020. Considering it is now 2022, you’d expect that to be borne out and a quick search finds many studies corroborating that, like this one: AI Marketing Adoption: A 5-Step Guide | Emarsys.

Audience Segmentation and Targeting

One of the best uses for AI in marketing is audience segmentation and targeting. AI helps marketers create more personalized marketing campaigns by segmenting their audience and targeting specific groups. For example, AI can help marketers identify which customers are more likely to buy their products. Some marketing software can automatically collect data about customers, campaigns or website visitors. That data can then be used to build customer profiles. Other marketing software can use your existing customer data to create audience segments. AI can also be used to explore your existing customer data to find patterns that can be used to create audience segments.

Content Creation

With AI, marketers can use technology to help with this task, as I have. This could significantly reduce the time and cost of creating content. A few ways that AI can be used to create content include:

  1. Sentiment analysis – AI can help analyse the sentiment of your current content to provide insights that can be used to create more effective content.
  2. Automated journalism – AI can be used to create articles based on what’s happening in the world, or on topics you want to cover. This technology can be used to create weekly or daily content without the need for human intervention.
  3. Automated content curation – AI can be used to collect, organise and publish content from various sources. It can be used to maintain your social media channels and from the video at the end, you can see how the tool can be used to arrive at SEO optimised material that is useful for attractive and relevant post titles.

What I fear is that authenticity and originality is lost. And what about the nuanced perspective that you get from deeply personal insights in a specialist topic in which you have deep experience – can AI ever replace that?

I think that as long as you use it to support your writing and not in place of, this could be a winning combination. One I am willing to try and evolve with.

Summing up

Artificial Intelligence has been around for a long time and has always been used to automate repetitive tasks, but only recently has it been used to replace the most creative tasks in marketing such as content creation. With AI playing a significant role in marketing, there is no doubt that it will change the industry forever and it will be difficult for marketers to ignore this technology. Check out a video demo below of the very same function I used to create the basis for this article.

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3 ways to automate WordPress and improve content creation

This is a test post to some degree as well as an explainer. I’ve been trying to work out the best way to get a post out without needing to tend to some of the tedious chores of publishing a post every time. I want to get those out the way fast so I can focus on the writing. Read on to see what I am trying out.

I make use of featured images – a lot. I try have them in every post except when I create a DanelDoodle because then the doodle becomes the only image I want the reader to focus on.

Most of the time I create custom featured images for each post because when you share on social media, the central part of the featured image stands out. Sometimes it matters less so I looked at several ways of to automate the creation of a featured image.

One was super simple which I loved but there was no way to distinguish between posts and pages (Default Featured Image). Another broke my site since the plugin hadn’t been tested to work with my version of WordPress (Auto Post Thumbnail). The third worked a charm: Quick Featured Images.

The featured image (and thumbnail) for this post was automatically generated by using the plugin so its a step I can skip when creating posts with a specific tag. I’ve started with this and will see how I go but so far so good.

Social Sharing

click to enlarge

I had a challenge with the social sharing function in the past but I am now trying to see if it has been fixed. I’m referring to the Jetpack function that you see in the screenshot.

In the past, the message I would write for the audience would overwrite the heading and excerpt I normally capture at the start of the post or in the SEO description.

I don’t want that to happen.

I would prefer it if the message was displayed in addition to the title and the excerpt I normally see.

That is because each plays its own role in making content stand out. I have been doing it manually for the last year or so but am hoping this will now work and save me more time.

Once this post is published, I’ll come back and confirm how it worked.

Block Templates

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Reusable blocks. This entire page and its layout can be saved as a reusable block. I would first have to group the elements I would want to reuse and then save the group. There’s more on that from WordPress. This does not included the featured image however and nor the headline.
  2. Copy post. I could just go to my list of posts that have been published and copy the entire post. This would copy everything and then I just need to change the things I want to change but everything else in terms of structure, would remain. More on that here.
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Less sales people more info – B2B buyers have spoken

The featured image in this post is based on an ironic state of affairs. Salesforce, arguably the best known CRM platform on the market, first started out life positioning itself as the “no software” company (if you’re in the SaaS business you’ll know what it means). The irony is that a recent piece of Gartner research is now indicating sellers are no longer required, the very people Salesforce’s platform is used to support.

Well not so much that sellers are not required but that buyers are relying on them less and less. Also marketing’s traditional role in building pipeline to tee up sellers for direct engagement in a “serial” or linear manner is being disrupted.

This came to me yesterday via an article published in the Harvard Business Review: Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing Are Becoming Obsolete. That article is based on original Gartner research.

The article was heavy on statistics but not visually so. I decided to pull some out and focus on the things I found interesting.

One of the mind boggling statistics which is actually a status of pre pandemic views is encircled. You can imagine that now, post pandemic, it is even lower as personal interactions comes under pressure and more activities are conducted online.

The other mind boggling stat is the one at the bottom and how that is even higher for younger buyers who are going to increasingly bring this view to the fore.

All this points to sellers having an increasingly hard time getting in front of buyers and companies having to focus on amplifying the ways buyers now increasingly inform their decisions as the article points out.

Something else to focus on – customer success

In place of the question mark in the featured image and in addition to the excellent recommendations in the HBR article focused on getting buyers the right info, this is what I suggest B2B vendors also focus on:

  1. Customer Successes that can be captured and shared with other prospective customers. So in other words, customer advocacy. Whatever form that takes (online stories, case studies or webinars with customers) it needs to be super authentic and succinct. Having the mechanism behind this requires a customer success and marketing operation driving these things – something similar to what I describe in this trend I am watching: Customer Success Marketing and Scale.
  2. Customer Success itself as an organisation, profession and operation is very much geared to ensuring renewals and drive upsells and cross sells from existing customers. So my suggestion would be to focus on getting this right and a huge customer base that already exists would be properly leveraged and protected against churn. The art of doing that is for another post, or read some of my other posts in this category.
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Marketing sales and customer success for 360 degree effectiveness

Click to enlarge

In line with the trend I’m watching and some recent work I’ve been doing working with colleagues in sales and marketing, I had some brief additional thoughts around this topic. More on the trend here: Customer Success Marketing and Scale.

These thoughts in the form of a DanelDoodle are a little heavier on the sales side. I do work very closely with sales people because I end up landing with what they have sold so it’s in my interest. I also want them to do a better job because ultimately, especially in SaaS businesses, its all interconnected. After I have done my job and they come back to renew or upsell the customer, they will expect that I have done the right thing to make that easier for them. So its a two way street.

I think the doodle is fairly self explanatory and I am using it to share my thoughts with colleagues on how we can work better together. Maybe its of use to you.

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State of advertising and company customer interactions 2021

My background in advertising makes this an interesting topic and you will hopefully soon see where the company customer interactions come in. I started out in the ad industry in the 90’s but left it before the turn of the century. My reasoning: the writing on the wall which indicated a gradual decline and irrelevance for the practice, especially at the onset of the technological revolution that was the world wide web. Twenty years later it’s worth pondering where things stand and if I was right in any way.

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What hope, the individual, drowning in a deluge of content?

I’ve been blogging on and off since at least 2005 in various forms or another, on many different platforms. This one is now 5 years old 🥳 (cue celebratory badge). The death knell for blogging has been tolled many times since. Social media and always on access through mobile phones have led to massive proliferation and consumption of content. Most is crap.

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Trending

Customer Success and Marketing functions are increasingly interrelated and working together. With scale motions and operations it’s driving customer experiences to new heights. I’m not sure its a new trend but I’ve started watching it here: Customer Success Marketing and Scale

A trend watcher is an innovator that spots trends and determines if they are here to stay and whether they should be incorporated into existing strategy. I enjoy it, it keeps me on my innovation toes and I dabble. I’ve captured this view with a few trends I’m tracking and published reports on already: Trend Watching

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Content Marketing 2020 – six things that work

Six of the things that I think work in terms of content marketing in 2020, captured in a DanelDoodle. This list is not exhaustive and the brief points for each are also not set in stone. Below is a brief additional paragraph on each.

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The new customer success partnerships

Customer Success teams in SaaS companies (mostly what I am focusing on here) probably like to think they are the spearhead for making customers successful (as the name suggests). In truth, its not that simple (is it ever).

First a little context on the two DanelDoodle’s I shared in this post. I use the Paper App (iOS) for my Doodles. They have a Paper Store where you can buy Workbooks. I purchased one on Data Doodling. Check out a video of the workbook. Basically it’s a set of instructions and practice steps for creating data doodles.

As part of the practice you create a mind map to break down a topic and then you start to define sources from that breakdown for your data doodle. So that is what you see in the two doodles. What a fun exercise it was and I plan to do more.

Now a few extra words about the subject. I chose it since I am a practicing professional in the space and wanted to explore some recent changes. As mentioned, Customer Success Managers will often take a lead in making customers successful. But since this is a relatively new role in many companies, it will often fall to other roles until CSM’s get up to speed. Even when they do, its a team game.

Mind map

In the mind map I tried to plot all of the functions that typically interface with the customer and even some that don’t normally, other than in some minor way. I also tried to add some new aspects to the typical roles and how they have evolved to work with customers. I’m not saying this mind map is in any way complete or even correct – it was done as part of the exercise and was a spontaneous process, no science.

Once you create the base mind map, you look to identify relationships that can be explored in the data doodle. These are the larger circles which I believe represent the old and new relationships working to serve customers.

Chart

I used one of the template charts from the work book and plotted a change in value the relationships were creating over time. These are then further categorised into new and old. The new and old reference does not imply that some partnerships are disappearing or will be replaced by other newer ones. And the trends are also a non scientific view I have, based on my experience in the customer success role since roughly 2012.

Things are definitely on the move and this view may not stand the test of time very long. Take Microsoft where I work (disclosure), we have just announced a major change in our Customer Success function. I cannot go into it but this public post by a long time and trusted Microsoft journalist at ZDNet gives some detail: Microsoft makes changes in its field sales, support groups as FY’21 begins.

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Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

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