Data Visualization: the Way of the Future, or Just a Trend?

datavizWith so much data being created in today’s world, it can be a tremendous task to organize and understand it.

Despite being considered “boring” by many people, data has its place in the business world. Research from Statista found that the top three leading benefits for using big data in business were greater insights into the customer experience that could be worked into new strategies, the ability to analyze consumer feedbackto determine what products customers want, and better understanding customers’ opinions on current products and services.

Data visualizations are especially useful on the web, because they both catch the reader’s eye and allow the reader to more quickly consume important information.

In 2012 Column Five Media and business intelligence company DOMO worked together on an infographic that illustrates the rate at which data is created in one minute online. For example, every minute Google receives over two million search queries, the mobile web receives 217 new users, and Instagram users share 3,600 new photos. The numbers have only grown over the past few years, which raises the question: How can this data be understood and be made actionable?

At its core, data visualization better allows end users to “see” and digest data, which results in a greater understanding of the numbers. It is a broad term that applies to any attempt at helping audiences understand data by putting it in a visual model. With data visualizations, people can more readily spot trends and patterns within data, which helps them communicate their thoughts and ideas faster. In business, this enhanced speed of thought can be good news for the bottomline.

The upside of data visualization is that it makes data more easily accessible to more people. The downside is that these visualizations can become complicated or confusing. Creators of data visualizations could also potentially embellish or misrepresent data with their visual interpretations, whether intentionally or not. It is therefore important that content creators strictly adhere to codes of ethics (such as that created by the Society of Professional Journalists) and remain mindful of their audience.

Researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined what makes data visualizations memorable for the average viewer. They found faces and “human-centric scenes” are generally easy for people to remember while images of landscapes are not. The research also showed that certain things in particular made a visualization more memorable, for example colorful or dense visualizations. Surprisingly, the researchers found that unusual chart types such as tree diagrams are more memorable than more common place one like bar graphs and pie charts.

The researchers from Harvard and MIT also raised an excellent point in their findings: being memorable isn’t the most important part of a visualization. Rather visualizations need to be easy to understand, context appropriate, and accurate.

Today’s data visualizations are certainly more sophisticated than ever before in the past, but the most important point remains the same: a data visualization needs to factually represent and summarize the data while allowing the viewer to make conclusions based on that data.

About the Author

Nick Rojas is a journalist and business consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. and Chicago, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.

4 Ways Your Marketing Fails

Trier

Trier (Photo credit: sazbean)

Marketing is easy, right? Well, it doesn’t really have to be difficult, but it does require some forethought and planning. More importantly, it means understanding the entire point of marketing: explaining to potential customers what your product can do for them. Unfortunately, a lot of marketing out there fails at even that…

1. Customers Can’t Tell What You Do

Sometimes people think they need to use big phrases and keywords in their marketing and they forget to speak to who is important: people. If someone visits your website, or walks past your store, or sees your ad or your Facebook page, they should immediately be able to tell what it is you do. The best marketing sums this up in a short phrase that can often be used as a tagline.

2. Customers Can’t Understand How You can Help

Marketing too often is caught up in features.  Our product does X, Y & Z.  That’s great.  How does the fact that it does X help me? While it may be clear to you that a pressure washer that has a 1200 PSI is a good buy, how does a potential customer know why that’s a good (or not so good) number. What applications is 1200 PSI pressure washer good for?  When should they consider more, when should they consider less? If you think in terms of benefits to the customer or how you can solve specific problems, your marketing will be much more effective.

3. Customers Can’t Tell You Apart From Your Competitors

MBA-types like to talk a lot about competitive advantage — what sets you apart from your competitors.  While this is a lofty, intellectual concept, it really is important.  Not only from a business strategy, but also in marketing.  To boil it down: why should someone choose you over your competitors? This should be obvious from all of your marketing efforts.

4. Customers Don’t Look to You to Solve Problems

Customers buy things because they have a need.  Sometimes that need is just for those trendy new shoes, but often times they’re looking for something to solve a specific problem.  This is especially true of services and business-to-business products. Do you know what types of problems can be solved for your product or service? Do you specifically address those problems and how you can help in your marketing? There is great content ideas here for blogging and social media….

What other ways does marketing fail?

Find the Funding You Need to Market Your Business

shutterstock_196752404The Small Business Administration suggests small businesses with revenues under $5 million allocate up to 8 percent of those revenues toward marketing. That figure could be split between brand development efforts such as creating content for websites and blogs and the costs of marketing campaigns, advertising and events. However, that percentage assumes a business has margins of 10 to 12 percent after other expenses have been covered.

It’s tempting to think you don’t need marketing if your business is strapped for cash. But remember, marketing is an investment in your future sales, and without public awareness of your services or products, business will fall flat. So how do you come up with the cash to fund a marketing push if you don’t have those margins? We have some simple tips on how to raise cash for your marketing push and build momentum for a thriving sales cycle.

Get Creative

Crowdfunding is an innovative way to raise capital and market your company without digging into your own pockets. Sites like Kickstarter enable users to post their project, set a deadline and financial goal and ask people to pledge money, with the promise of specific incentives. For example, if you’re working on opening a design studio, people who pledge money could be promised a discounted logo design or similar service. Showcasing your project on Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding site also helps spreads the word about your business and can attract thousands of viewers to your project.

Another option to creatively fund your marketing campaign: Look for assets you hold that can be cashed in. Stocks and bonds fall into this category, as do retirement accounts such as an IRA and 401(k)—but be careful with these, as you risk early withdrawal penalties and fees. If you receive regular payments from an annuity or structured settlement, you may be able to sell your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now, which you could then use to help fund your marketing push.

Get a Grant

To find open business grants, start at Grants.gov. Use the keyword tool and plug in the word “marketing” to find everything from marketing improvement programs to programs for investment in microentrepreneurs. Also check out the National Association for the Self-Employed; it offers grants of up to $5,000.

Get a Loan

Big banks may offer the traditional road map to business loans, but it’s often easier to find help at a local credit union. Credit unions typically offer lower fees and less stringent qualifications on loans. Credit unions are nonprofits that are controlled by members represented by a board of directors. Because they are controlled by their members, such institutions are often more vested in their surrounding community and businesses.

You also may be able to crowdfund a business loan. Sites like LendingClub.com work as a debt-based crowdfunding community to connect borrowers with lenders and investors. Apply for a loan from $1,000 up t $35,000 and a corresponding interest rate. Lenders earn an interest rate on the money loaned, and borrowers often get a lower rate and less hassle in securing their loan than through a traditional bank.

5 Tips for Better Twitter Advertising

Accessible Twitter website icon

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advertising on Twitter can be effective for increasing the size of your audience and also for sending traffic to your website. Besides knowing what your goal is, these tips will help you advertise better on Twitter…

1. Goal Impacts Type of Campaign

Deciding on your goal for your Twitter advertising will help you choose the right type of campaign. The promoted account campaign (followers campaign) is best for increasing your followers and building audience for the long term. If your goal is to boost traffic to your website (or to particular pages on your website), then take a look at the promoted tweets campaign. And if you’re trying to get people to install or engage with your mobile app, there’s a campaign for that too.

2. Targeting Usernames vs Interest Categories

For smaller organizations that are looking for niche audiences, use username targeting to find followers similar to the ones you enter. Interest category targeting works better for larger organizations or broader audiences.

3. Good Messaging

Just like any other good messaging, Twitter ads should have use plain and understandable text and have a clear call to action. Adding pictures can also increase clicks on your ads. Try adding 3-5 different tweets to test your message and images.

4. Competitive Budget

Advertising on Twitter can be cost effective, but make sure your bids are within the suggested range or you may see a drastic decrease in the impressions of your ads.

5. Test to Optimize

Just like any advertising, testing will help you optimize the ads to get the best results for your budget and goals. Test different messages, images and calls to action. Test for a certain length of time, and then copy your campaign to make changes and save past tests and data.

Twitter advertising can be a very cost-effective way to increase the reach of your social media marketing.

Five Tactics to Build a Strong Brand Presence Online

The visual brand identity manual for Mobil Oil...

The visual brand identity manual for Mobil Oil (developed by Chermayeff & Geismar), one of the first visual identities to integrate logotype, icon, alphabet, color palette, and station architecture to create a comprehensive consumer brand experience. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you want your customers’ trust, there’s no better way to gain it than to build a strong brand presence online. This signals that your company is not only legitimate and recognized far and wide for your wonderful products or ideas, but also worthy of their investment. After all, no one will buy from a company they don’t trust, and no one trusts a company with sketchy online reviews or, perhaps worse, no web presence at all.

Put time and effort into the five following tactics and watch your brand’s internet presence flourish. Of course, it goes without saying that before you start tackling these ideas, you need to have a sound strategy and brand identity, otherwise you’ll be building a bridge to nowhere.

1. Provide Real Value with Your Website

Your website is often the first thing a potential customer encounters. Make sure the experience is a good one by providing in-depth information and background content on your site. Don’t hide prices or use a checkout system that’s hard to understand. A great site will have: 

  • A smart design
  • Clean, easy-to-read writing
  • Examples and case studies of past successes
  • Easily Accessible contact information

2. Strengthen Your Social Media Accounts

People see social media as the face of a company. If you don’t present a good face, you won’t make a favorable impression, so it’s important to keep your social media accounts up to date and address any and all problems brought to your attention by customers. 

Make sure to: 

3. Address Your Audience

You want to reach out with information that is pertinent and relevant to your customers. For instance, if you sell animal traps and repellents, like Havahart, you probably don’t need to be posting on social media about the latest episode of “Dance Moms.” Likewise, if you blog about “Dance Moms,” you don’t need to be discussing how to keep rabbits from eating the carrots in your garden.

Keep your audience top of mind and avoid going off topic to keep your brand identity focused. 

4. Try New Ideas

It can be scary to do something new, but every company can use a reset every now and then. Say you’ve run the same Pinterest contest every fall for three years. Maybe you should try an Instagram promotion instead. Or if you’ve always put the emphasis on your company rather than the people behind it, perhaps it’s time to humanize your brand by having your employees sign their Facebook posts and give your brand personality. Play around and move on if a new approach clearly isn’t working. 

5. Be Engaged

Finally, if you’re not engaged with your brand, no one else will be either. Here are simple yet important ways to show that your brand is responsive to customers online: 

  • Addressing social media feedback
  • Answering emails within a reasonable timeframe
  • Regularly cleaning up and updating your web site
  • Keeping your blog up to date
  • Removing dated holiday promotions from your ecommerce site

A strong online presence is the key to building a successful brand. If your business does not have a website or social media – or is just looking to strengthen its online strategy – follow the outlined tips and watch your brand grow!

About the Author –

IMG_1340Ali Lawrence is a content specialist for a web design company and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land. Her articles have been published by Hot in Social Media, Yahoo! Small Business, and Business2Community.

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Tips for Effective Lead Generation

marketoWhile we may have marketing to increase awareness or stay top-of-mind, the gold at the end of the rainbow is generating quality leads. Content marketing and communicating with customers via social channels are great ways to connect, but how do you leverage your efforts to generate leads? Marketo, which provides a marketing automation platform, recently asked several marketers (including me), about lead generation best practices:

There are a lot of philosophies and opinions on lead generation. To help you cut through the noise, we spoke to four leading marketing experts and got some of their best insights. Here’s what they had to say about the dos and don’ts of effective lead generation. — Dos and Don’ts of Effective Lead Generation

Some of my thoughts:

Leveraging your network to drive lead generation can be a very tempting way to try to get referrals. While it certainly makes sense to use this resource, it’s vital to respect your network.

Spamming with marketing and sales offers is the surest way to lose valuable human connections, and increase the deafness to your message when you really need it. Stick to an 80/20 rule for any marketing you do online, but especially to your networks. Eighty percent of your content should be of value to the audience, and only 20% (or less!) should be direct marketing or advertising.

Providing regular, valuable content to your network will increase their awareness of your services and improve your reputation as an expert.

Read more –Dos and Don’ts of Effective Lead Generation

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Understanding Facebook Boosted Post Metrics

Cardboard rocket

Cardboard rocket (Photo credit: Matt Biddulph)

 

As you may be aware, Facebook is making it more difficult for companies and organizations to engage directly with their intended audiences.  To counter this (and to make revenue), Facebook offers the ability to boost an individual post so that it shows up in the news feed of your intended audience.  These boosted posts can be fairly low-cost, with a minimum boost of $5 per day.  So how well do these boosted posts perform and what sort of metrics does Facebook provide? To find out, I boosted a post on Lady Paragon’s Facebook page (a site I run with my sister for Women in STEM careers).

Facebook Post Pre-Boost

Here’s what the post looked like before I boosted it:

LP-beforeboost

The metrics we see are:

  • 1 person liked it (red circle)
  • There was 1 share (green rectangle)
  • 976 people saw the post (blue rectangle)

I boosted this post for 1 day at a budget of $5 and targeted fans & friends of fans of Lady Paragon’s Facebook page.

Facebook Boosted Post Metrics

Here are the metrics after the boost:

ladyparagons-FBafter

The metrics provided are:

  • 4 people liked it (red circle) — 1 was from before, which Facebook properly reports in the red circle in the How people engaged with your post section.
  • 1 share (green rectangle) — this was from before the boost
  • 3102 saw the post (blue rectangle) — Facebook reports that 2079 were from the boost in the Paid Reach box.  You can also see the percentage of paid to organic in the box with the 3102 — blue was organic, green was paid
  • 4 link clicks (purple circle)
  • Engagement of 7 — this is the number of link clicks added to the number of post likes

Facebook Post Insights

When you look at the post in the page Insights, you see the following metrics (more recent data):

FBboostedpostinsights

The orange bar shows the number of people who viewed the post, divided into lighter orange for organic, darker for paid.  3.1K is pretty close to the 3102 mentioned above.  218 is the number of post clicks and 116 is the number of likes, comments and shares. This is very interesting. Either the boosted metrics didn’t include some of the stats, boosting the post helped increase the organic reach and engagement, or the post received an unusually high number of engaged traffic from some of the people who saw it (remember that when someone likes a post, their network sees that they liked it, at least for a short time period).

Hypothesis: Boosting a Post Improves It’s Organic Reach & Engagement Too

I boosted another post on the same page (same budget $5) and got the following results:

  • 1331 Paid Reach
  • 5 Engagements – 3 link clicks, 2 post likes

FBboostedpostinsights2

According to the post insights, the post  got 15 post clicks and 4 likes, comments and shares.  Not nearly as high, so there probably is a difference in the influence of the people who engaged with each post.

If we look at the Google Analytics traffic to the actual post on the website (April 2-April 22), the April 2nd post (Jessica Kirkpatrick) had 338 pageviews (20 from Facebook), while the April 9th post (Kate Synder), had 93 pageviews (77 from Facebook).

Conclusion: Unclear, More Results Needed

The results do tend to show that a boosted post receives more organic engagement, especially if there are people with good influence that do engage with the post.  Using good targeting to reach the right audience to improve engagement on a boosted post may provide the most beneficial of results.  More testing is needed — I’ll continue to monitor my efforts.

What have you found with Facebook boosted posts?

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