Archive for April, 2011

10 Possibilities In a World Without Twitter [Humor]

Friday, April 29th, 2011

world without twitter Just a few years ago, Twitter never existed. It’s strange to take something that’s so widely used today and picture what life was like before it. It got me thinking, what would the world be like today if we never had Twitter?

Here are 10 possibilities…

  1. We’d all have one less excuse to not being more productive at work.
  2. We’d never know Comcast actually cares about fixing its poor customer service problem.
  3. Facebook and LinkedIn would start adding new features by copying more off each other.
  4. Instead of holding a #winning record on Twitter, Charlie Sheen’s only claim to fame would be making the list of “celebrities gone off the deep end.”
  5. Companies wouldn’t have to worry about what employees might tweet but really shouldn’t.
  6. Without the existence of “live tweeting,” using your cell phone during presentations would still seem taboo.
  7. We’d miss out on all the shenanigans caused by the Bronx Zoo’s Cobra while it went missing.
  8. Asking people to “follow you” will seem self-centered or creepy, or both.
  9. It’s less likely more than 300,000 people will know how “slizzard” you got last night.
  10. MySpace might still get some recognition, only because it would be part of the “big three.”

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World without Twitter Infographic

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What else would you add?

I’m sure there are many more that can be added to this list. How different do you think the world would be without Twitter?




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Top Questions You Asked about Producing a Webinar

Friday, April 29th, 2011

webinar on airWebinars can be a strong lead generation tool for businesses. This month, for instance, we at HubSpot were able to attract 10K leads from our big webinars. So are you leveraging this channel for what it’s worth?

To help businesses get started on using webinars for lead generation, yesterday we hosted a session that extensively covered the webinar production process. We received some consistent questions that we wanted to discuss with our blog readers as well:

Should you charge for webinars?

In most cases, your webinars should be free. If you want to open up your content in front of a lot of people, you don’t want to create extra hurdles. A free webinar has a much greater chance to attract a lot of registrants and get shared than a paid one. That means you will generate more leads if you offered your content for free. Sometimes, the value of a lead is greater than what you might be charging for a webinar.

In what ways can you promote a webinar?

There is a variety of ways in which you can promote your webinar. Start with social media by posting updates to your active social media channles whether that is on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Then consider sending a webinar invitation to your email subscribers. Don’t forget to blog about your event and include it in calls-to-action on relevant places throughout your site. Lastly, consider promoting it on webinar listing sites. 

Should you post slides beforehand?

We would advise to not share the webinar slides before the event. You can always send them to your registrants in a follow-up email. If you decide to give them out beforehand, you increase the chances of having a smaller live audience. When people become familiar with your presentation on their own, they might feel less inclined to join you live. That, in turn, could reduce the effectiveness of your content: slides without voiceover might be taken out of context and understood incorrectly. 

Are there cost-effective webinar platforms?

There is a wide range of webinar providers one could use: some are free and others you will need to pay for. Usually, the price would vary based on the number of registrants/attendees you have. Livestream and AnyMeeting.com offer free versions of their product. Other affordable systems include GoToWebinar, Dimdim and WebEx. For larger crowds of attendees, you might want to consider ON24 and VCall.  

What types of interactive tools do you suggest? 

The major interaction points during a webinar include polls, chatting with your audience in the webinar platform and keeping up the conversation on social media. Often times the webinar platform doesn’t allow for interaction among attendees. That is why you want to shift some discussions to Twitter and encourage people to use a hashtag. After the webinar has taken place, you can write a blog post and continue the discussion in the comments section. Something like what we are doing right now. ;-) 

So do you have any comments that will continue our discussion about webinar production?

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How to Cultivate an Inbound Marketing Mindset

Friday, April 29th, 2011

The following is a guest post from Greg Elwell, owner of B2B Inbound, an inbound marketing agency for B2B companies.

Are you less than 100% satisfied with what you’re getting out of your Web site in terms of business value? Perhaps you’re thinking of re-designing, migrating or re-building your site to a new, more powerful platform? Or, maybe you’ve come up with a brand new business or product idea and you can’t wait to get started, hire a design firm and begin generating brand awareness?

But before you start evaluating technologies, service providers, design or re-design firms be sure you put first things first. And that means getting into an inbound marketing mindset.

What’s an inbound marketing mindset and how do you cultivate it? Here are 3 dimensions of cultivating an inbound marketing mindset that will put you on the track to success:

1. Develop a solid understanding of who you’re trying to attract.

If you’re going to attract rather than annoy your target buyers, you need to get inside their heads. Too often, marketers jump headfirst and begin designing and creating content based on their understanding of what they think their buyers want. Inbound marketing works best when the information, tone and features of your Web site appeals to what they (ideal buyers) want – not what you think they want. 

How do you know what your users want? Take some time to discover the goals, behaviors and attitudes of your buyer personas.  An excellent resource on this is Steve Mulder’s book, The User Is Always Right – A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web.  He also has an overview presentation on the key concepts and methodologies of creating and using personas which you can view or download here called, Making Personas Work for Your Site.

2. Calculate how much traffic and leads you need to achieve your revenue goal.

Once you have a clear understanding of who you’re trying to reach and how you might create and present content to them, it’s now time to crunch some numbers. If you’re going to approach inbound marketing from a business mindset, you’ve got to start with a revenue goal and know how it ties into key performance metrics like traffic, leads and sales. After all, you’re in this to grow the business and that means generating a positive ROI. So don’t crank up that design or content creation machine just yet. Take a walk on the calculating side.

This web-based inbound marketing calculator tool will help you see how much traffic and leads you need to support your revenue goal. Having these targets clearly in mind will keep you focused and on a clear path to continually improve and succeed.

3. Start drawing traffic and capturing leads by executing an inbound marketing plan.

With the needs of your buyer personas and your inbound marketing goals defined, it’s time to start generating traffic.  Your plan will also include tools and a process for converting visitors to leads and leads to customers. And of course, you’ll measure results and make improvements over time – doing the things that will yield the best return. No doubt you’ve heard this before, as a HubSpot blog reader!  

Having this mindset is one thing, being able to pull it off could be quite another matter. There’s a lot of moving parts and the competition is not standing still. There’s blogging and social media plus SEO and landing pages with lead nurturing campaigns, and so on. Achievement of goals that adds real value to the business is absolutely doable, but it takes unwavering dedication and skill to pull off.  If you’ve got the mindset but lack the necessary resources or skills, consider hiring an expert.

Marketing Takeaway

Yes, you can cultivate an inbound marketing mindset that will help guide your every move. The really great news is the tools and resources are at your disposal. And they seem to be getting better all the time. If you’re serious about drawing business to you, now is probably the right time for you to:

  1. Do market research to identify what will attract your target buyer persona.
  2. Do the calculations to determine the inbound metrics you need to hit in order to hit your business goals.
  3. Start executing the plan. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it certainly was a team effort.

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5 Marketing Lessons from Netflix

Friday, April 29th, 2011

netflix marketing lessonsThis week, video distribution company Netflix announced its first quarter earning. With the announcement came an important milestone for the company: Netflix now has more paying subscribers than Comcast, the largest cable television provider in the United States. How did a company that sent DVDs in the mail become one of the largest media distribution companies in the world? Looking at Netflix’s growth, we drew five valuable lessons for marketers.

5 Marketing Lessons From Netflix

1. Create Ubiquity – Overtime, Netflix created ways to distribute content in the formats its customers wanted: DVDs, computer, tablet, smart phone, TV, etc. Netflix understands that different customers and prospects have different needs. While working to solve for customer needs, Netflix also built an ubiquitous platform for delivering premium video content.

Marketing Takeaway:
In a world of inbound marketing, it is important to create this same type of distribution ubiquity with marketing content. For example, is your website usable on a smart phone? Prospects want to interact with your business in different ways so it is critical you provide these opportunities.

2. Market a Minimum Viable Product – Netflix was a DVD-by-mail business until it made the bold decision to start streaming video content. However, when the Netflix started its streaming service, it wasn’t full of the same content that was available via mail. Instead, it was only a small portion of its content, but that didn’t stop the company from actively promoting it to new and existing users.

Marketing Takeaway:
It is easy to drop an idea or a campaign because it isn’t “ready.” Netflix has taught us that “ready,” really, never happens: many people are still not satisfied with the content available through their streaming video service. However, this hasn’t stopped Netflix from meeting and exceeding its goals as a company.  Marketers should follow Netflix’s example and release ideas early and continue to improve upon them overtime.

3. Give Prospects What They Don’t Know They Want – When Netflix began streaming videos, their DVD-by-mail business was thriving and most customers were happy to wait a day or two to get their next DVD. With streaming content, Netflix reset customer expectations and solved a problem that customers didn’t even realize they had. By launching streaming before huge customer demand emerged, Netflix was able to focus on how they wanted to solve the problem versus directly addressing customer complaints.

Marketing Takeaway:
Marketers spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out what potential customers want. Often times, what is best for your business and for your customers isn’t even on their radar. In a crowded social Web, sometimes marketers must be the genesis of an idea and sell and distribute it to prospects.

4. Quickly Abandon Dying Platforms – What would Netflix’s business look like today if they were still only mailing DVDs? Netflix understood that usage and adoption of DVDs would gradually decline and worked aggressively to increase adoption of streaming video.

Marketing Takeaway:
Not all forms of marketing remain effective. As a marketer, you need to have clear analytics and return on investment metrics for both outbound and inbound marketing strategies. Once you can predict a prolonged decrease in results, consider reallocating marketing budget to other tactics that are increasing in value and adoption.

5. Publish and Distribute – Recently, Netflix made an interesting announcement. The company funded the production of a new show called “House of Cards,” featuring Kevin Spacey. This move marked a major transition for the company – it took them from a mere content distribution company to a business that creates and distributes video content. This move puts Netflix in direct competition with companies like HBO and Showtime.

Marketing Takeaway:
Value lies in vertical integration. The way Netflix is now in competition with HBO and Showtime, every business should consider itself in direct competition with their industry’s leading trade magazine. The Internet has democratized publishing. Marketers need to develop a strategy for creating content related to their business and industry as well as building reach through blog subscribers, social media and email lists. Leverage this reach and content and act as a vertically-integrated pubisher for your industry.

What lessons would you add to this list?

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3 Marketing Lessons from Kate Middleton’s Biggest Secret

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

kate middletonWhether or not you’re into the most talked about wedding of the century (ahem, William and Catherine aka Kate in case you haven’t been watching the news), you probably haven’t been able escape the speculation of what the soon-to-be princess will be wearing on her big day.

In fact, chatter about Kate’s wedding dress is one of the highest search trends on Google and every possible mention of it stirs up even more gossip.

Keeping Middleton’s wedding dress under wraps actually teaches us an important lesson about marketing. Kate’s biggest secret – her wedding dress – is an excellent example of creating anticipation, excitement and buzz.

Here are three marketing takeaways from the Royal Wedding:

1. Make Exciting News Early

It’s common for companies to announce news when it happens. When this occurs, there is so much missed opportunity left on the table by not making a pre-announcement way beforehand. If William and Catherine decided to announce their wedding date on the wedding day itself, companies currently profiting from the event would lose out on a lot of money.

This is the same reason companies like Apple schedule exciting press announcements regarding new product releases: to generate pre-release buzz. In another example, Netezza (now an IBM company) created an entertaining video of a popular industry authority sneaking into their facility in order to get a first-hand peek of a not-yet-released product (here’s a copy).  Think creative and out-of-the box when looking to generate buzz, and start by doing it early.

2. Don’t Give Away The Secret Too Early

The fact that we have to wait until April 29th to see the dress is creating a snowball effect of buzz. Every day that gets closer to the wedding, the more fans itch to see it and the thrill of a possible glimpse of the dress itself keeps us captivated. But at the same time, we know when our curiosity will be satisfied, so we’re not left in torture.

When you think about creating buzz for your company, give a date (or approximate timeframe) as to when something will be announced, but give yourself enough time to generate that buzz. This is the same technique that movies do when trailers are released. This gives your audience an expected day that they’ll be waiting for.

3. Give Your Audience What They Crave

Everyone who’s into the Royal Wedding can’t stop talking about it and the media is certainly taking advantage. TV shows and online media networks have been featuring the wedding almost every day this week. Their audience wants to know every detail about the event, and the media is delivering. Look into ways you can satisfy your audience’s craving to create some word-of-mouth buzz.

Final Thoughts

Overall, when you’re thinking about creating buzz for your company, whether it be over a huge product release, a new partnership, or simply a wedding dress, think about the non-traditional and bold ways you can make that news exciting to your audience.

What other takeaways do you suggest?

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Response: Is SEO DOA As a Core Marketing Strategy?

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Buyers influenced by search and social

Search & Social Influence – eMarketer

Reuters posted an article yesterday entitled, “Is SEO DOA as a core marketing strategy?” and trust me, I know better than to respond and fuel attention to a writer who is either naive or trying to stir up the bee’s nest with a contrarian title. I suspect there may be a bit of both in this situation. Basically, the article makes the argument that entrepreneurs “may want to reconsider pouring money into search engine optimization (SEO) as their primary marketing strategy” based on an ill conceived post by Chris Dixon “SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups”. The reason I am posting about another “SEO is Dead” diatribe, is that with the right context, I would agree.

Before you think I’ve turned coat away from SEO, read my comment in response to the Reuters SEO is DOA post:

If you don’t want prospects, customers, investors, marketing partners, job candidates or journalists to find your content via search, then by all means – don’t even bother with SEO.

As a standalone tactic, (which is not the same thing as core) SEO is not what it was a few years ago and that is a valid point.

As others in the article state, SEO works in conjunction with other marketing, advertising and public relations tactics to achieve business goals. To work best across disciplines, SEO needs to be a core principle in online marketing since it affects discovery anywhere something can be searched on – including social networking and media sites.

If a business isn’t optimizing for improved findability, one needs to wonder what they’re hiding from?

For some reason, there’s a set of people in the biz media that like to focus on a small segment of opportunists making big claims with no skills about SEO vs. the thousands of professionals that are making a huge impact on companies’ bottom line.  The fact that there are a few misrepresenting the whole is no different than any other industry whether it’s PR, legal or car repair.  Making the effort to understand what SEO really is can help those who are not practitioners, but in a position to write about it, see the difference between the exception and the rule.

I’ve been providing SEO services since 1997 and like other industries, SEO has changed. Stand alone SEO only makes up a small percentage of our current consulting engagements. Most of what we do includes SEO as an element working in concert with social media, content marketing, email, PPC, social advertising and online PR.  Companies that want us to “just optimize” their site are met with questions about how much revenue they’d like to grow. Then we work backward from those goals and develop the appropriate strategy and mix of tactics, which often includes SEO.

Masterful SEO practitioners possess a unique set of skills ranging from technical to creative. As technology and consumer behaviors online have changed, so have SEO best practices.

Search as a means of discovery is massively popular. Google sites alone handle over 88 billion queries per month. The sheer volume of content being produced can possibly be filtered in a qualitative way by personal recommendations on social networks. Search plays an essential role for people that need to find answers whether it’s on a standard search engine like Google or Bing, the internal search engine on Facebook or YouTube, or on mobile devices.  In fact, search engines are the most popular destinations on smart phones, not social networks.

For many businesses, SEO is absolutely the most viable core marketing strategy.  And that strategy often includes working in concert with other marketing tactics such as PPC, content, display and email. SEO and nothing else is a disadvantage compared to SEO that is amplified by a robust social media and content marketing program.

As long as there are consumers in need of search engines, there will be a demand for expertise that helps brands surface their relevant content where people are looking.  If a company’s target audience is prone to use search for information discovery, then building a website with search in mind is absolutely a best practice. As I mentioned in the Reuter’s comment above, if a website isn’t optimizing content so prospects and customers can find easily find their content, what are they hiding? What’s the point of having a website?

If you’re a client side SEO practitioner or if you work at an agency as an SEO, what is your mix of stand alone SEO projects vs. SEO working in concert with other marketing?

 

 


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Facebook Fan Page Best Practices with Mari Smith [@InboundNow #18]

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

mariMari Smith, coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour a Day, joins us for another exciting episode of Inbound Now, HubSpot’s Social Media and Inbound Marketing Podcast!

Mari has been coined “the pied piper of the online world” by Fast Company, is a frequent contributor on Social Media Examiner, a well known speaker in the social media space, and the go to expert when it comes to all things Facebook marketing.

In this episode we chat about:

  • What types of content work best within Facebook to boost engagement
  • What is the sweet spot in terms of posting frequency
  • What Facebook’s “EdgeRank” is and why you should care
  • Why having a custom landing page tab is critical for every Page
  • The best third-party Facebook apps Mari recommends.

Enter for a chance to win a copy of @MariSmith’s Facebook Marketing: an Hour a Day

Winner will be announced Wednesday May 4th

 

Check out the full transcript of the episode here: Facebook Marketing Best Practices and Tips with Mari Smith

What Types of Content Should You Be Sharing Out?

“I like to recommend a mix of what I call your own intellectual property and OPC, other people’s content. I like to strike a balance roughly about 50/50.”

Questions work well when posting through to Facebook. Mari references a Buddy media study that states your posts should be under 80 characters.  Short and sweet.

A large number of fans never actually come back to your fan page after they like it,  so it’s important to keep your content relevant and “like-provoking” so they continue to see it in their streams.

Frequency of Posts

“I think for most small businesses you’re going to want to post about twice a day, maybe two to three times a day. That’s my sweet spot, and I’m getting close to about 40,000 fans right now. I know if I post anymore, my hide and unlike rate goes up, unfortunately, people hiding stuff from the news feed.”

Edge Rank, What It Is and Why it Matters

Edge rank is “a very complex ranking algorithm that Facebook has under a lock and key.”

Every piece of content passes through this algorithm and then decides which content should actually be shown to the end user.

The edge rank between your page and each user is unique based off three main factors:  

Affinity - “The first factor is what’s called affinity, which really the relationship. If you and I are interacting a lot, if I interact with your fan page a lot, I’m going to see your posts more. If we’re friends and we I interact a lot, I’m going to see your content from your profile more. The less someone engages with you, the less affinity score.”  

Weight - “which is the type of content. I mentioned about photos getting a little bit of a better weight. Photos, videos, links, status updates, and then unfortunately third-party apps are way down at the bottom. They get less weight to them than other types of posts. They get less weight than manual posts.”  

Time Decay - How recent is the post? Older posts are obviously shown less frequently.

What Time to Post?

Look for high traffic windows.

Mari likes to post at her peak hours 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m. Pacific and then at about 1:00pm PST.

“Now what’s fascinating, and this was also in the recent Buddy Media study, is that it varies depending on industry.”

Leverage your Facebook insights and look into your fan base demographics. You might have some fans in Australia or Europe that want content at their peak traffic hours.

Facebook Page Insights

Impressions = how many times the content has been rendered, not necessarily how many eyeballs have seen it.

Instead of looking for the impressions Mari suggests “to focus on is the feedback percent. You mentioned likes and comments. It’s an aggregate total of the likes and comments divided by the number of impressions and that gives you a percent.”

Mari also suggests keeping an eye on the unlikes and hides on your page. This is the Facebook equivalent of unsubscribes.

Recent Facebook Changes and Why They Are Awesome !

Browsing as your Facebook Fan Page is a fantastic way to reach out and connect with other like businesses.

Why Custom Iframe Tabs in Facebook Rock!

“Jeff Widman of BrandGlue had a study where they did a split test ads and they drove ads to custom landing tab and another set was driving just to the wall. They found that the custom landing tab will convert visitors to fans at a rate of about 47% versus the wall which is about 26%.”

The welcome tab is something you should most definitely have set up. They allow you to convey to the user what to expect from your page and offer a significant conversion opportunity.

Custom Apps for Custom Facebook Landing Pages

Use Facebook @ Tags

One of the most under utilized features of the Facebook wall is using Facebook’s built in @ tagging feature.

When referening other peoples content always like their page (while logged in as your page) before sharing out the content. This will allow you to @ tag them in the post and have the content show on your fan page wall and on whoever you are taggings wall.

Connect with Mari Online

You can follow Mari on Twitter @MariSmith and connect with her on her blog , also don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a copy of her book, Facebook Marketing: an Hour a Day.

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5 Key Tools for Effective Facebook Marketing

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

While the average number of Facebook friends per user is 130, people who click the Like button have an average of 310 friends. Justin Kistner of Webtrends revealed this piece of data during yesterday’s Facebook marketing webinar. What does it mean for you?

Facebook fans are more active and engaged that just regular Facebook users: they are consuming more content and clicking on links. As Justin said, they are looking for deals, news and community. Here are five ways in which you can capitalize on that engagement:

1. Website Integration

like button“The core building block is the Like button,” said Justin about the way in which you can connect Facebook with your existing website. Including the Like button throughout your site creates opportunities for social engagement. Every time you click on it, you share a link with your friends and allow for a discussion to form around it. So make sure your Web pages are well integrated with your Facebook marketing efforts and include Like buttons on your blog, landing pages and other marketing offers.

2. Facebook Pages

Fan pages are the strongest Facebook real estate businesses own. They empower you to reach your fans by merely posting on your wall. But here is a caveat. “Just because you hit ‘publish’ doesn’t mean your news post went to all your fans,” Justin noted. Facebook’s algorithm EdgeRank determines that distribution. That decision is made based on the type of content you share, the number of comments it generated and who posted it in the first place. That is why you want to have at least 1% of your fan base start interacting with your content so that it surfaces in more people’s news feeds.

3. Facebook Ads

While Google ads are focused on sales—20% off a product, free shipping, etc—Facebook ads should revolve around content offers. On Facebook, Justin said, you have to think of other lifestyle examples that might help you reach your target market. The goal would be to capture this person within Facebook (as opposed to on an outside page) and continue nurturing her through engagement. The most important element here is image selection—make sure you test how your images perform before making any assumptions.

4. Facebook Apps

facebook appsHow to use tabs and social widgets to drive fans on and off the Facebook page? One of the most important uses of apps is for the creation of landing pages. We recently covered how businesses can use iFrames to do that now that the Facebook Markup Language (FBML) is going away. Keep in mind that busy tabs make bad landing pages, so your design should be simple and to the point.

5. Facebook Analytics

What is the value of your Facebook fan page? There are many ways in which you can slice and dice the data: you can do demographic analysis, track app measurement and perform geographic split testing. Don’t forger you have access to Facebook Insights which will help you better undertand “trends within user growth and demographics, consumption of content, and creation of content. Use that information to revisit your marketing strategies and improve upon them.

Which key tool is your favorite and how do you use it?

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Facebook Deals Unveiled, Goes Head-on with Groupon

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

It is no secret that Facebook wants to own all parts of the social Web. Quickly following Facebook’s announcement of its new Send Button, The New York Times broke an embargo about Facebook’s next step in world domination, Facebook Deals. Today, Facebook began to test its new deals platform in five cities: Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, San Diego and San Francisco.

Facebook Deals resized 600

Facebook’s test project in the local deals industry places the social network in direct competition with Groupon and LivingSocial. Like the existing coupon-based services, Facebook Deals will appear in users’ email inboxes. In addition, relevant deals will appear in users’ news feeds.

Facebook is a latecomer to the local deals industry. It is clear that the social networking giant is looking towards integration with its existing features and users to overcome the first-mover advantage of Groupon. An interesting implication of Facebook’s Deals platform is its potential to fuel the use of Facebook Credits, the company’s virtual currency.

Facebook Deals will allow users to pay for deals with credit cards as well as Facebook Credits. Payment is a major point of friction on the social Web. It is a problem that few companies, aside from Apple, have been able to solve. Clearly, Facebook Credits is an attempt to emulate Apple in reducing friction in social Web transactions.

Marketing Takeaway

Facebook’s entry into the already crowded daily deal space solidifies the fact that the industry is here to stay. Businesses must plan accordingly to maximize benefits from local deal platforms. As a marketer or a business owner, you should consider these deals as a marketing expense since most will make little or no money from transactions.

Thinking of local deals as a marketing expense will move your mindset away from selling and into marketing. If you participate in a local deal, determine how to track what percent of purchasers are new to your business. Additionally, plan strategies such as email list opt-in at check to establish a way to market to new customers and get them to return to your business for a regular or a less-discounted purchase.

What do you think of Facebook’s entry into the local deals arena?

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Why the Mean Is Killing Marketing Data Analysis [Excel Tips]

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

If you’re an inbound marketer, chances are you have lots of data to analyze and you base your most important decisions on quantitative measures. In this blog series, I discuss some the most useful tools and tricks for analyzing your data in Excel.

medianOften times we hear statistics based on the average or the mean value of a dataset. The average, however, is often not the most representative number and should be used with caution. This is because the average includes the most extreme values in a dataset, i.e. it gives equal weight to all numbers including the smallest and largest values.
The median, however, does not.  The median is just the datapoint in the middle.  It is not affected by wild outliers and, because of this, it is often more representative of the data than the average.
 
median v averageThe example in this dataset shows how the average and the median can tell two different stories. Suppose we have the number of days in the sales cycles of nine customers.  The average number of days is over six weeks (44 days). The median, however tells a very different story, i.e. that a typical sales cycle only lasts about two weeks (16 days). This is because of one crazy outlier (270 days) that is pushing the average up.
 
 
Median functionExcel provides a MEDIAN function for calculating this value. You can either enter the individual numbers separated by commas, or you can enter a range of cells with numbers (i.e. an array). The formula in this example at right would return “16″.
An alternative to the median is the TRIMMEAN function.  This function calculates the average, but it enables you to exclude the most extreme values.  For example, if you had 100 values in your dataset and you trimmed 20% of the values, TRIMMEAN would exclude the lowest 10 and the highest 10 values from the average.
 
In one of my earlier posts, I went through the steps of how to create a pivot table that computes averages for large sets of data.  Unfortunately, pivot tables do not have the functionality to compute the median values.  There is a workaround though! Please stay tuned to this series to learn how it’s done. In the meantime, please share your Excel experiences with us… Have you discovered other common data analysis mistakes?

Image by Steven Vance

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