The Calculator Within, Part 2

Thanks to part 1, I have your attention. Good.

Let’s cut right to the chase, price leadership appeals strongly to our inner calculators. It is universal (rational in the words of the economist) when products are identical, to choose the lowest priced item. Walmart is the master of this strategy through tactics ranging from featuring prices prominently in their merchandising, running their price rollbacks ad campaign, and (in legend) fleecing employees and suppliers. Similarly, commodities like gasoline and groceries are inner calculator plays by subverting aspects of quality and service to the almighty price.

Inner Calculator

FedEx created an industry by appealing to the inner calculator. “If it has to be their overnight,” the saying goes. FedEx marketed their 10:30AM next day delivery service level agreement and backed it with a money-back guarantee. So we know the FedEx delivery time, but what is the price for their service? I don’t have a clue, but know it’s a lot more than $0.39 for a first class stamp. We each use our inner calculator to determine if the value of overnight delivery is substantial enough for FedEx.

The inner calculator drives software buyers to value quality and service more than price. (Innovation is also a key factor, but that is a different topic for a different day.) As a result, selling on price alone is rare in the software industry. Bill Gates’ and Larry Ellison’s personal wealth are the poster children of a software industry built on quality, service and innovation, not price. On the buy side, countless IT professionals, from programmers to CIOs, have build careers and nest eggs on their ability to translate the principles of quality, service and innovation into specific business solutions.

Even with the emergence of open source software, quality and service continues to trump acquisition cost. Open source makes technology free to acquire. Importantly, the projects and businesses that succeed in open source create a long term value advantage well beyond the initial acquisition cost savings.

Every time I look at an IT department budget, the number that sticks out is labor costs…employees. Smart CIOs know that is where the value is. They also know that the software they acquire is a rent payment on the brains of smart programmers working for software companies. IT professionals who listening to their inner calculators know that open source may be “rent free” at time of acquisition, but it is not “cost free” over the useful life of the technology.

While smart labor is in IT, the cost areas that make or break a business are in ongoing operations. Automating critical but repetitive functions such as processing orders, monitoring quality, and routing information are prime areas where IT applies smart labor to create long term value for business. After all, the most efficient bank teller cannot compete with the speed, accuracy or cost of operating a banking portal for displaying bank balances.

Focusing the Inner Calculator on Value

While price is always a factor for the inner calculator, its not the most important number. The most important number is the value assigned to the features, services and innovation of a product offering. A customer that precisely knows the value associated with a potential purchase or by automating a business process is the one that is ready to put the inner calculator to use…and to buy something. And Walmart, FedEx, Oracle, Microsoft, and Red Hat all have mastered selling to the inner calculator of IT executives to the delight of shareholders and customers alike.

The Calculator Within, Part 1

In my experience, there is no better way to foster a heated discussion than to quantify a claim. From guessing how many gumballs are in a pickle jar to forecasting future interest rates, humans have an inner calculator ready to quantify the size, scale and trajectory. Of course, anyone and everyone can shout out a number. Some, however, are more savvy (and more accurate) with their calculators than others.

Many marketers, myself included, present quantified claims. Fewer, however, explore the behavioral impact of such claims on customers. How you frame a discussion about quantitative information determines if you are “in the game” or irrelevant.

Quantifying claims achieves two important outcomes. First the quantified claim either establishes or fails to establish a bond of empathy between you and the customer around a specific area of interest. One clever example is a local real estate agent who sends a monthly mailer including the address, number of bedrooms and sale price of local houses. For homeowners in the neighborhood, this mailer sets their inner calculators abuzz with estimates of the change in value of their own homes. For renters or homeowners in different neighborhoods, the calculator is quiet.

Second, the quantified claim either establishes or fails to establish credibility. Returning to home real estate, think of all the mortgage refinance offers you receive in the mail offering below-market interest rates. The savvy inner calculator quickly rejects the low-ball rate. These mailers exist to prey on people who’s inner calculators are less refined or perhaps malfunctioning.

Empathy and credibility are important prerequisites for any conversation or business transaction. Prerequisites are nice, but I play to win. Moving from prerequisites to winning transactions is important work–and the focus of part two of this topic. You can read part 2 on December 8 right here at Bill Freedman’s Soon To Be A Major Trend.

Asking For Help

For many people, especially clever people, asking for help is hard. Very hard. Like many of you, I enjoy solving problems on my own. I get great satisfaction from solitary problem-solving tasks such as finishing a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, mastering a particularly challenging Sudoku or climbing a difficult mountain trail.

There are other kinds of problems that need solving. No, I’m not talking about crossword puzzles, but the fuzzy, complex and nuanced problems faced in business and life. The ones where a worthy solution creates a new crop of problems (or in business-speak, opportunities) that need equally thoughtful consideration.

These problems come in all shapes and sizes. The economic: what is the best use of my abilities? The political: how can I foster peace, understanding and growth in my community? The business: how much money and skills (if any) should I invest into solving a market need or customer problem?

On the surface, asking for help creates the appearance of vulnerability. But a deeper analysis demonstrates that asking for help is one of the most powerful forms of leadership. Why? Because solving fuzzy problems isn’t an individual task. This is mainly because not everyone agrees that there is “a problem” or that a particular “solution” is valuable.

Those who seek to solve these sorts of problems on their own are tilting at windmills. To paraphrase H L Mencken: for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat-and wrong.

Alternatively, asking for help is an opportunity to understand how others feel about the issue. Does the problem need urgent attention? Is a solution vital to others? Sometimes you’ll find out if the problem is correctly framed. For example, is the use of modern phone call recording technology a matter of personal productivity, national security or constitutional rights? No simple answers here.

Asking for help is a chance to get feedback on a potential solution to the problem. If others agree with the solution, you can take a more aggressive step and ask for an endorsement or for resources to further your proposed solution. It is in these important moments that asking for help crosses the line from vulnerability to leadership. It’s important to note that this type of leadership and persuasion brings with it an obligation to further the desired end. I’ll discuss obligations at a later date.

Fuzzy problems need organization, clarification and consensus, not a solitary solution. So the measurable unit of success in asking for help is the degree of support behind the proposed solution. Building support, building a coalition, accumulating resources toward an end involves as much problem-solving attention as any puzzle. And the help, the support, the admiration that you get from others in advancing the solution is mighty satisfying.

Evidence, Persuasion and Perception

Marketing-speak is littered with all kinds of trite sayings. I was in a meeting today at a business software organization where the words “perception is reality” was uttered yet again. I sat quietly listening to the speakers’ claims. My client does, after all, have experience in the market, with customers and with the technology.

I understand the logic of the truism. If a customer believes something to be true, they will act on their beliefs. In my experience, prospective IT customers are a skeptical bunch. They distrust advertising slogans and sales claims. And for good reason: they’ve been burned by bold claims and vendor promises.

So the real question isn’t “if” the prospective customer believes your claims, but rather how to persuade the customer to conclude that they need your product and services. In other words, what can you do to induce the prospective customer to take the actions you prescribe. These words are easy to say, hard to accomplish. Changing individual behavior is hard to do. Changing the behavior of a large segment of the market is a remarkable accomplishment.

Evidence, I believe, is the strongest tool for persuasion. Evidence comes in many forms: quantitative studies, product demos, customer references, cost/benefit analyses and others. Evidence stands apart from claims in that it is grounded in one or more forms of reality. Typically evidence is tangible. Most importantly, customers can assess and experience evidence on their own terms.

Creating evidence with the power to change market and individual behavior is hard. It is rarely the case that your product aims at a greenfield opportunity and has no relevant competition. People are very much creatures of habit, making incumbent solutions to problems seem acceptable. Evidence however, can shock markets and individuals into action. They may not buy immediately, they may not even fully accept the evidence, but they will use the evidence to test and perhaps alter their perception of reality.

Is perception reality? Perhaps. But if you want to change perception, you better get some evidence.

Create Web Content That Gets Noticed With These 5 Tools

We all know that content management systems makes it fast and easy to publish to the web. Fast and easy, however, isn’t the same as optimal. Optimal is harder to achieve—and squishier to define. On the web it means you have to think about multiple variables: your audience, text, images, search engines, standards, guidelines, technology and a lot more, since there are different options for this purpose, from using websites to market your products to other strategies like send text message online to promote your products or services.

Your reader comes first. Period.

This should be obvious. You are publishing content for your audience. You are trying to inform, educate, persuade and amuse your audience. But when traffic or ranking on search engines is lower than you’d like, it’s tempting to make changes that negatively impact your audience in the hope of a short term traffic boost. My advice: don’t do it. Earning a loyal audience and avoiding penalties are two good reasons to take the high road. Concentrate on creating good content that keeps your audience engaged, opt to use AI content writer like to personalize your content even more.

Earning a loyal audience

If you’re like most web site owners, you want the audience to visit more than one page. Perhaps you want them to buy something or register for update or browse other content on your site or return again in the future. That first visit is your chance to earn trust and loyalty. If you think it’s hard to get somebody to your site, just wait until you learn how hard it is to keep them on your site or to convert from an anonymous visitor into a potential customer. Yes you need to get people to your site, but success requires planning for a journey, not just a single step.

Avoiding search engine penalties

Search engines have the power to reward and to punish publishers. Remember, they’re competing for users and trust just like you are. The are continuously tweaking and improving algorithms to present the best and most relevant information to users with each and every search. So when a page or an entire site is employing tactics that inflate the relevance of your content, you may get a short term improvement in your rankings and visits.

Users and search engines are smart. Users will abandon pages with weak content (called pogo-sticking). Search engines will take notice of sketchy practices and issue algorithmic or manual penalties. If your site relies on search engine traffic for revenue, getting penalized will be very painful. Future traffic could drop by 20% or more. And even after you clean up the user un-friendly tactics, it will take weeks or months to regain the trust of a scorned search engine vendor.  Those are significant costs and effective deterrents for mainstream site owners.

The flip side of penalties are rewards.  Following Quality Guidelines will not only let your avoid penalties, it will reward you with engaged readers and higher rankings in search engine results pages. Surprisingly few people have read Google’s quality guidelines. Fewer have put them into action. And even fewer still embrace these guidelines consistently across their site and content. That is your opportunity. Below are five tools that help authors succeed at publishing content that gets noticed by readers and search engines alike.

The more visitors to your site, the more of them you can eventually hope to convert to paying customers. SEO tends to be one of the best-converting traffic channels, because it relies on pulling in actively interested people instead of trying to capture their attention with paid ads. Partnering with an seo agency manchester also ensures you’ll know how to handle unexpected changes, like algorithm updates or even penalties. SEO agencies  have experienced these many times before, and can guide you through each potential issue smoothly and quickly. You may also attend an Internet Marketing Conference to learn more about effective digital marketing strategies.

As your financial services company starts showing up for more searches, more people will become aware of it, use different software or apps for finances, the seamless payroll operations system will be an improvement for your business. Soon, they’ll be associating your brand with being a major player in the field of finance. In time, if your on-site content truly delivers what they’re looking for, you’ll also strengthen your brand credibility by positioning yourself as a reliable expert.

5 Tools for creating irresistible content that gets noticed

Below are several of my favorite tools that help you create elated and sticky users and sites that are easy for search engines to crawl, parse, index and rank highly in search results. These tools focus on “on-page optimizations” which means that each page you create is ready for consumption by readers and search engines. “Off page optimization tools” which focus on building site-wide credibility and links are beyond the scope of this article. All of the recommended on-page optimization tools have free versions. Some have extremely useful professional editions that are worth evaluating.

1. Yoast SEO

Yoast SEO is an excellent plug-in for WordPress and Drupal that helps authors follow on-page search engine optimization best practices.

Get Noticed: Yoast SEO

Incorporating this tool into the writing/editing/publishing workflow is super easy for everyone from authors to content strategists, blog editors and WordPress administrators. Use this tool before publishing posts to validate that the content is set up for success across multiple dimensions. Yoast SEO uses the idea of a “focus keyword” as an organizing principal. It then provides guidance to authors for improving the content for robotic search engines crawlers such as increasing article length, incorporating useful hyperlinks and subheadings and crafting optimized meta descriptions. Now it’s even better because of 2016 improvements for post readability. Yoast SEO provides helpful and light-handed readability suggestions by scanning your content for long sentences, passive voice and use of transition words.

Yoast SEO also does a ton behind the scenes optimizations too. Webmaster best practices such as maintaining sitemap.xml and robots.txt files happen without direct intervention from authors, editors, administrators or theme designers.

2. ImageOptim

ImageOptim is a free and open source MacOS app that strips images of extra pixels and unneeded meta data. This is extremely important because photographs, stock images and even images created in tools like Photoshop include a lot of information that isn’t needed by image consumers. Extra information results in bloated files that download slowly. The result is small image files that render beautifully and transfer across the internet quickly.

Get Noticed: ImageOptim

Adding ImageOptim to your workflow is super simple. Once you’ve downloaded and install the app, add the icon to your Mac’s dock. Before adding new images to your post, drag it onto the docked icon. The reduced-size file replaces the original. Lossy compression is a available as a user preference if you want to reduce file size even further.

3. Web Developer Extension for Chrome

Web Developer is a Swiss Army Knife of web development tools used by just about every experienced web developer and publisher—and you should start using it too. Your initial focus should be on using the extension to run validation tests using the W3C validation engines for your HTML and CSS code plus any links that are on your page.

Get Noticed: Web Developer for Chrome

Many HTML and CSS errors are benign. Others cause pages to render poorly. Poorly formatted pages discourage users and diminish trust. The same is true of hyperlinks. Nothing frustrates a visitor more than clicking on a link and not getting the desired payload.

4. SEOQuake Browser Extension for Chrome

SEOQuake presents a consolidated audit of SEO metrics and ranking factors for published pages.

Get Noticed: SEOQuake

It gives you information about how easy your pages are to be indexed along with useful information on effective keywords. Not only does SEOQuake help you evaluate your own site and pages, but it’s highly useful for evaluating how effective your competitors are at creating irresistible pages.

5. Google PageSpeed Insights

Google PageSpeed Insights is a web application focused on the all-important page load time. You provide it with a URL and it identifies fixable elements on your pages for improving performance on desktop and mobile devices. Research studies suggest that in 2016 users prefer pages to load on any device in 3 seconds or fewer and that pages that take more than 5 seconds to load risk abandonment. What’s more, Google uses page load time as a ranking factor.

Get Noticed: PageSpeed Insights

The tool presents a numeric score for your pages, but the real value is in the detail. Drill in to learn where PageSpeed bottlenecks are and how to fix them. The report is a gold mine of issues that are generally easy for authors to fix, like compressing images with ImageOptim.

There’s a lot more you can do but I strongly recommend start with a “high road” philosophy and this initial set of tools. Take the time to learn their features. Figure out how to incorporate the tools into your publishing workflow. And, when you have a few moments, you should also run these tools on previously published pages.

Getty Images New Embedding Policy: I’m Excited!

I’m pretty good at stringing together some words to tell a story. Images? I’m not as good at creating those. I like images a lot which is why I’m excited about Getty Images announcement that it’s allowing bloggers and social media users to embed selected Getty Images at no charge.

Images improve stories. They add texture and dimension. They set a mood. And images get into the reader’s brain more quickly than words.

Getty Images Library is huge and spans a range of topics, events, people, places, emotions and situations. So when I’m looking to emphasize an idea, I now have ready access to a large set of visual messages that can be embedded without having to either consult a lawyer or open a wallet.

I sense this is good business for Getty Images, too. It’s safe to say this policy change will drive more people to their site.  Like most good marketers Getty Images is confident that they can convert visitors into customers. And if they are good modern marketers, they have a predictive model in place that helps them reliably forecast a rosier future.

Remember, the agreement allows you to embed images only. No derivative works. No customization. No mash-ups. No white label. No offline use. For those you need to license images.

Getty Images: New Tool, Not a Replacement for Custom Design

As excited as I am about Getty Images new embedding policy, I’m still improving my visual design skills, taking more photographs and keeping my licenses for Sketch and Pixelmator. There just are too many times when only a custom image will do. A few examples:

  • Fact-based charts
  • Gradient backgrounds
  • Icons
  • Specialized items like email headers
  • Presentation slides
  • Search Engine Optimization (image “alt” tags)

… and much much more.

Today, however, is a day to be joyful about the new possibilities. My keyword searches have found many spectacular images. I feel like a kid excited about the future.