Eyes up here

For those of us in the world of social media marketing, the “like” is currency. It’s one of the most important and visible ways we measure engagement, efficacy and success.

For regular social media users, however – especially younger ones, and especially on more visual platforms like Instagram – focusing on generating likes increasingly distorted the experience users were having with such platforms. This, in turn, was creating more unhealthy, negative experiences for more and more users.

Instagram is taking some pretty drastic and novel steps to combat this – they were providing users in test markets a feature that would hide the likes from their posts. There was much consternation among many, many likes-obsesses users when the test was first announced, as you could imagine. But a funny thing happened after it was in effect for a while – users really like it. More and more users became less focused on the numbers below the post and more on the post itself. In other words, the focus shifted back toward content – where it should be.

For marketers, it doesn’t seem like the change will change much for them. They’ll still have access to Instagram’s highly detailed metrics and analytics – and they can still see the number of likes on their own content and track it. Again, the upside for them is a renewed focus on the quality of the content as opposed to the quantity of the likes.

Building a greater Fort Wayne

We just love it when worlds collide. (Figuratively, of course.) Take Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Electric Works, for example.

We’ve had the honor of working with both over the past several years. We worked with the development team behind Electric Works to create the project’s name and identity, and have helped them share their ambitious and inspiring vision for the redevelopment of the former General Electric campus locally, regionally and across the country.

We’ve also been fortunate to work with the awesome team at GFW Inc. on several initiatives, including recent upgrades to their website, as well as updates to the “Vision to Vibrant” video we originally developed for them in 2016.

Greater Fort Wayne Inc. has been a strong and enthusiastic supporter of Electric Works, so it makes sense that these worlds would collide – which they did last year when we worked with GFW Inc. on a regional and national advocacy campaign on behalf of Electric Works. In particular, we supported the campaign through a video and Electric Works-dedicated video brochure.

Which ALL brings us to earlier this month, when the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) bestowed three national awards on GFW Inc., including a Best in Show and Grand Award for its 2018 Electric Works campaign. In addition, GFW Inc. VP of Economic Development Ellen Cutter was named to ACCE’s 40 Under 40 list for 2019 – congrats, Ellen!

We’re thrilled for GFW Inc. We’re thrilled for Electric Works. We’re pretty proud of ourselves – and we’re so honored we get to work with both of these amazing teams and support their work on behalf of our hometown.

Monkey business

Each new season at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo brings with it its own unique sense of excitement and anticipation. For our friends at the Zoo, this season was particularly exciting because they were finally able to unveil several updates to popular attractions, most notably Monkey Island and the river-otter environment.

The new season at the Children’s Zoo was particularly exciting for us, too – because we just launched their enhanced and expanded website. The new site makes it easier to buy tickets, plan your visit, and learn more about the 1,400-plus animals that call the Zoo home. We also made sure the new site is ADA-compliant. (Yes, even websites need to be ADA-compliant.)

Check out the new site – and, more important, check out the new and improved Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo this summer!

Kids these days

Millennials! When they’re not busy feasting on avocado toast and demanding participation trophies, they’re busy killing off the housing industry, the automotive industry, the retail industry…or something like that. Indeed, it’s become standard operating procedure these days for just about any industry undergoing drastic change or disruption to blame millennials for their travails. At the same time, an ever-increasing number of B2C brands across those same industries are becoming obsessed with marketing to millennials. Which makes sense, of course; as more millennials become household decision-makers, more B2C brands want to influence those purchase decisions. What’s generating less breathless coverage and conversation, however, is how this same phenomenon is already starting to impact B2B marketers, as well.

Which also makes sense, of course; just as more millennials are becoming decision makers at home, more of them are becoming decision-makers at work, too. In fact, 73 percent of millennials who work in business are involved in the technology-purchasing process for their companies, according to a recent study. This generation shift in purchasing power brings with it new challenges – and opportunities – for B2B marketers. And it should come as no surprise that, when it comes to a brand’s content strategy in particular, the most effective ways to reach and engage millennials for B2B brands are quite similar to the ways in which B2C brands are going about it.

Some examples:

  • Video. Nearly 30 percent of millennial B2B buyers listed video as their preferred content of choice, coming in first. And, just as in the B2C world, quality matters – B2B video needs to informative, engaging and entertaining.
  • Values. Millennials show unique affinity for and loyalty to B2C brands they believe share their values; the same is true of B2B brands. Making your company’s value, character and ethics more prominent in your marketing makes you stand out more to this growing group.
  • Social. While an active social presence may not necessarily be new for B2B marketers, it’s the types of platforms most popular with millennials that may be a bit foreign – and frightening – to those same marketers. Expanding beyond the typical LinkedIn and Facebook into more millennial-focused platforms, however, can pay dividends by driving stronger brand awareness and loyalty.

Do these examples, among others, take most B2B marketers outside their comfort zone? They certainly can – and they should, too! Because, performed with quality and consistency, they can also put them in prime position to connect and engage with the growing number of millennials in decision-making positions at B2B brands.

Let’s talk about that…Superb Owl

(Yes…Superb Owl.)

Before one Super Bowl is over, brands are already busy planning, plotting and preparing for the next. But plan they must, as creating a memorable, relatable, engaging 30-second message – as well as navigating the thin line of product pitches, brand standards, celebrity endorsements and current issues – remains one of their most formidable challenges. Though this year’s big game was…underwhelming, it was clear the advertisers came to compete. After all, there are only over 100 million watching – and waiting to see which spots are worthy of the worldwide stage.

Here are the true winners of the day – according to the experts (that’s us).

Washington Post “Democracy Dies in Darkness”
As an agency of many journalists, the Post’s inaugural Super Bowl ad spot truly resonated. Featuring imagery from WWII’s D-Day and the first landing on the moon – all narrated by Tom Hanks – the ad honors journalists and reporters, their role and the freedom of the press. The message really brought it all home — “Knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free.”

NFL’s “100 Years of Football”
We love this for two reasons: the legends and the grand silliness of men becoming boys (in a ballroom, might we add). There are obvious illusions to the old, star-studded Miller Lite ads, but it reminds us of one of our all-time favorites – Nike’s “Keep the Ball Alive” campaign, which features a battalion of world-class rugby players running wild through a city.

Bud Light’s “Jousting Match”
Promoting the upcoming and final season of Game of Thrones, the commercial – very much like the series itself – is a helluva twist. At 1:35, the commercial entertains with everything from a lucky loincloth to a deadly plague. The ad set fire to social media, amassing more than 183 million social impressions, according to iSpot.tv. Or, perhaps it was the dragons? We could almost hear the joyous cheers and applause of GoT superfans everywhere when they made their appearance…

Pepsi’s “More Than OK”
The #PepsiMoreThanOK hashtag received more than 65.2 million impressions (Brandwatch) and nearly 18,000 mentions on Twitter (Salesforce). Featuring Lil Jon, Steve Carell and Cardi B, Pepsi successfully reached their target audiences, but was charming enough for all viewers to enjoy. It had us practicing Cardi’s famous “okuuurt” much longer than we’d like to admit.

M&Ms “Bad Passenger”
Christina Appelgate plays the suburban mom – van and all – who’s trying to settle the feud in the backseat to no avail. (Ah, parenthood.) Finally, she slams the brakes, turns and yells a form of what us parents have threatening since the days of mules and carriages: “OK, that’s it! If you don’t stop, I will eat all of you alive right now!” The camera pans to the back seat where we’re able to place the distinctive voices to the three M&M’s we’ve come to know and love, but in a very different form. This time, they’re embedded into one giant chocolate bar and reply, “I prefer the ‘break-us-apart option.’” Simple. Effective. Delicious. Three ingredients to successfully – and memorably – introducing a new product.

Skittle’s “Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical”
Weeks before the big game, the company dropped a teaser of Michael C. Hall (Dexter) clarifying that Skittle’s Super Bowl commercial would not be a commercial at all. Instead, the company put up an entire Broadway musical in NYC – complete with a Pulitzer finalist playwright, director and choreography. The 30-minute long play, attended by 1,500+, was a self-deprecatingly funny take on advertising itself that felt like a true Broadway production (Business Insider). All proceeds went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Google’s “Job Search for Veterans”
The company was once again successful in tugging at the heartstrings and shining light on an oft-overlooked issue. Focusing on the 7% of our society that have served in the military, the ad humbly reminds us of all they’ve sacrificed and endured before it unveils their latest, progressive feature. Using their specific military job codes, veterans can find civilian jobs that require skills similar to those used in the service – reminding them: “No simple code can define who you are. But now, it can help you search for whatever’s next.”

Browser window shopping

Just about everyone who uses the internet with any regularity is familiar with those ubiquitous search ads. But did you know Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines offer a separate, more visual search-based ad tool that offers a number of distinct advantages for certain brands? You didn’t? Well, it’s your lucky day – our digital media team just so happened to put together a handy rundown of this tool – and how it may be able to impact your digital marketing plan.

Many business owners are familiar with these search ads (text results signified by the “AD” badge), yet many are unfamiliar with shopping ads. Shopping ads are specialized ads for retailers who would like to promote their online and local inventory on Google, Bing and Yahoo – as well as their partner sites like YouTube, Maps or the image search tab.

Shopping Ads offer some unique advantage over text ads. The biggest? Web users get to see how the product looks. It is important to showcase what makes your products better and different than your competitors – and Shopping Ads do just that, allowing you to promote your products with detailed photos, pricing and your store name (as well as additional information). Giving customers this valuable information means that they are well informed before they click the ad. Well-informed customers are significantly further along in the purchase funnel – and ultimately more valuable than your average web user.

Shopping Ads appear at the top of the search results page and take up a large portion of the space, especially on mobile devices. Mobile shopping continues to rise year-over-year – making it more important to be in front of your customers on the right device with the right offer. According to Google, shopping ads have, in some cases, earned advertisers up to two or three times higher click-through rates in comparison to text ads.

Similar to Search Ads, Shopping Ads are only triggered when a web user searches for your product or a similar product. More than one of your products may appear in the Shopping Ad results and, if relevant, your Shopping Ad may appear next to a text ad at the same time. This is an excellent opportunity to increase your brand’s awareness on Google’s most valuable real estate.

So who do Shopping Ads work best for? As you can probably guess, Shopping Ads are best for retailers or manufacturers who have an online catalog. (Keep in mind, however, that several products are not eligible, such as ticket sales, motor vehicles, stocks or bonds, cryptocurrencies, services, real estate or land plots, lottery tickets, alcohol, illicit drugs and many more.) Unsure if your product can be advertised on shopping ads? You know who to ask. (It’s us.)

Run an online store? Here are four reasons why you should be running Shopping Ads…

  1. Increase product awareness – Show more than one product alongside text ads.
  2. Drive qualified traffic – Provide customers with valuable information before they click to your site.
  3. Reach more shoppers – Show up in searches for your product and relevant products.
  4. Standout – Detailed images, pricing and store name, give you a competitive edge.

Merry Trendmas!

‘Tis the season…for trend stories. Yes, along with the ringing of jingle bells and the airing of grievances, nothing marks the most wonderful time of year quite like a torrent of trend stories aiming to demystify and decipher the year ahead in the world of marketing. Lucky for you, dear reader, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you – we’ve digested the best looks at marketing trends for 2019 and identified what we think are a few of the most important. It’s our gift to you, you might say.

As we look to 2019, here are a few of the trends discussed in the myriad of articles that we see as important and notable:

  • Humanization, not hubris. Or, put another way, brands will focus more on customer experience and culture – and less on promotion and persuasion. While the struggle to break through the deluge of content consumers digest on a daily basis is not new, the ability of brands breaking through by being more human and focusing more on experience will only become more important.
  • Storification of social. There’s no easier way to understand the growing and lasting popularity of Instagram Stories than to see the rush of competitors to get their own versions of the service – which enables users to post short and short-lived videos – on their platforms. What makes Stories and its ilk so attractive to brands – and positions it for big growth in 2019 – is that it enables them incorporate video more fully into their content strategy without having to, you know, invest a ton in video. It also provides an engaging and easy way for brands to embrace the humanization trend mentioned above – Stories can be used to show behind-scenes videos and snapshots that make brands more personable and approachable.
  • Savvier social ads. It’s no secret that Facebook continues to “incentivize” brands to promote their organic content through paid support. As more brands throw more budget behind paid content, it will only become more important for that content to cut through the clutter and connect with audiences. Simply put, brands will need to put the same savvy, creativity and investment behind paid ads and content that they do behind their organic output.
  • Listen up. Brand engagement on social isn’t just about talking – social listening will continue to grow in importance in 2019. Indeed, listening to audience members is just as important a part of the engagement equation as talking with them is. Further, listening – which involves analyzing specific conversations, phrases, and other details – can provide attentive brands a decisive advantage over competitors and help fuel adaptive social strategies.
  • Safety first. Data breaches and other security crises seem to crop up on an almost daily basis, making security and privacy an only bigger area of focus for brands in 2019. The debut of GDPR and the need for companies to be compliant only increases the focus on digital privacy and security. Certainly across their owned digital platforms, as well as their social ones, it’s more imperative than ever for companies to understand this aspect of their digital strategy – and communicate it clearly with customers and other key audiences.

It’s important to remember that each of these trends is already under way, meaning the need to understand and adapt to them doesn’t wait until next year.

There are many more potential trends for 2019 to unwrap under the Trendmas tree, of course; if you’re so inclined, you can read about more of them here and here.

Welcome to the search party

When it comes to search engine marketing today, the conversation almost exclusively starts (and stops) with Google, especially for brands optimizing for product searches. There’s an increasingly prominent player in the world of product search – and, given their disruption of just about every other industry on earth, who it is should come as little surprise.

It’s Amazon, of course! In fact, more than half of product searches now begin on Amazon, circumventing Google entirely – and search ad budgets are starting to reflect and react to this shift. The same goes for SEO strategy – if they weren’t already, brands need to be intentional about optimizing product copy for Amazon, who provides some insights in to how its search algorithm works. It should come as little surprise that, just like with Google, placing on the first page of product searches is the holy grail.

This doesn’t mean Google is losing its clout and value in product search, however. As the article states, while Amazon is growing as a center of product discover, Google is still being overwhelmingly used to validate purchases, as well as pricing, quality standards and brand reputation. In addition, Google still offers brands a more diverse array of ad options (like YouTube) and platforms for product search.

So, what’s it all mean? For brands dedicating ad budgets to product search, Amazon is now a growing player and part of the conversation. Those search ad budgets should take this shift into account, if they weren’t already. And, as with seemingly every other industry around, brands must account for Amazon.

Is the student becoming the master?

In the rather fluid world of social media marketing, there were at least a few irrefutable truths brands could count on – namely, that Facebook is king and Snapchat was on its way up in terms of relevance and reach. With Facebook mired in a seemingly endless array of scandals and Snapchat suddenly struggling to hold to its existing user base, however, social media marketers now face an interesting question: Is this Instagram’s time to shine?

Of course, Instagram’s been building some impressive growth independent of the calamities currently befalling Facebook and Snapchat. Indeed, Instagram’s revenue and user growth is far outpacing that of its parent company, Facebook, and has been for the past several quarters.

Is that growth a result of the struggles of other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat? Or is it a result of Instagram growing into its own as a stand-alone platform worthy of inclusion in an increasing number of social strategies for brands?

The answer to both questions is “yes.” What’s most important for marketers, however, is less about competitor struggles and more about the features Instagram has recently added have helped fuel its growth as a critical platform – and revenue driver – for brands as part of their social marketing mix. Some highlights and possible reasons behind Instagram’s growth as a marketing platform:

  • It drives ROI. Business Insider reported that nearly three-quarters of Instagram users have purchased a product they saw advertised through the app – an astronomical number.
  • It drives engagement. More than four times the engagement of Facebook for brands, according to a recent report.
  • It’s adding new features. Some brands are now experimenting with augmented reality through Instagram via Facebook’s Spark AR initiative. In addition, they’ve also been testing the use of geofencing to restrict posts and Stories to limited geographic areas. This feature could be of immense value to brands who want to geographically limit their spend and targeting based on their customer base.
  • It’s highly visual, which inspires high creativity. Forcing brands to think visually first inspires them to approach content from a more creative and engaging perspective. It forces them to think beyond text-photo-link.

What’s more: As smartphone adoption reaches its saturation point and older consumers continue to become more comfortable with and savvy at visually driven platforms like Instagram, its strategic value becomes greater to a broader array of brands than ever before. It’s no longer just a platform for brands wanting to engage with youth and younger consumers.

Does this mean brands should consider bailing on Facebook? Of course not – nor does it mean Instagram is a no-brainer option for all brands. As we always say, it comes down to clearly understanding audience, which helps dictate which social platforms make the most strategic sense.

What it does mean is that, for an increasing number of brands, Instagram continues to build itself into a picture of social marketing success.

Keep it simple, strategy

Strategy. A simple word that can make things very complicated very quickly. A word that can be grossly overused (and misused) in business and marketing. At its core, however, its definition is straightforward—a plan for obtaining goals. If it’s so simple, then, why do marketers tend to overcomplicate it?

As this recent article helpfully reminds us, it’s often because marketers can’t help themselves.

For one, overcomplicating strategic planning makes marketers indispensable in their own eyes—and, they hope, in the eyes of those they’re working with. The more complex and comprehensive you can make a strategic plan, the thinking goes, the more important and profound it’s perceived to be (and, they hope, the more the perceived value is).

We call this the “thud factor;” the bigger the plan, the more thunderous the thud—and the more impressed their partners or customers are. The end result of all this, of course, is a strategic plan that may look imposing and impressive on a shelf—but does little in helping marketers achieve goals and objectives.

It doesn’t have to be this way—nor should it. At Ferguson, we prefer to keep strategy simple—and as the article above helpfully reminds us, that’s when it’s most successful. Indeed, the most focused and effective strategic plans start by answering those most basic and fundamental questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?

  • What is the goal?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Why will they value the product/offering?
  • Where do we reach them?
  • When do we reach them?

Answering those questions should make it easier to answer the last, and perhaps most important, question: How? How are we going to get them to take the actions we want them to?

Altogether, these answers form the foundation of a more concise, focused (and often single-page) strategic plan. A strategic plan that’s easy to digest and disseminate—and ensures that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the objectives, as well as the strategy for achieving them.

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