Your CMS is what supports your business’s digital front door. Be sure it’s the right one!
Last month, we shared a post on selecting the right customer relationship management (CRM) solution for your business. At the time, we highlighted the fundamental importance of such platforms, in that it’s difficult to make sales without first having access to the clean, organized and insightful customer data that CRMs provide.
All of this remains true; a good CRM can help make or break a business. Yet if there is one solution even more important, it would be your content management system (CMS). While CRMs can help you sell better and optimize your processes, without a great CMS you may not need processes as you likely won’t have customers to sell to. CMSs let users create, manage and modify content on a website even if they don’t possess specialized technical knowledge like coding. And since we live in a digital-first world, without a website it is extraordinarily difficult to find, attract and establish an audience for your products or services.
Here’s how to select the right CMS for your business needs and ensure that you’ll always have an easy way to manage your content.
CMS Platforms 101
What do we mean when we say that CMS platforms allow you to create and modify content without advanced knowledge of computer programming? Well, without a CMS, you would need to write a static HTML file and upload it to your server if you wanted to present your audience with a fresh piece of content. A CMS does all this heavy lifting for you. With an interface roughly comparable to Microsoft Word, these platforms make it a breeze to compose, format and optimize your content with elements like links, videos, polls or photos.
In addition, CMS platforms assist users with designing the look and feel of their site. They also often support functionality like eCommerce, blogging, forums, portfolios, social networks and more. The amount and variety of features vary across platforms and price points, but increasingly, most leading CMS brands, such as JoomlaTM, DrupalTM, WordPress.orgTM, SquarespaceTM and WixTM, can accommodate a wide variety of different use cases.
What Type of CMS Do You Need?
Whenever investing in a new piece of software, you should always start by addressing who your stakeholders are. If your agency has a marketing professional on staff, for instance, they will likely need to be involved in the decision. The same goes for IT and, of course, sales. Gather their input before moving forward with a vendor and be sure that they are a part of the conversation during the implementation process.
It is also crucial to think through your priorities and the priorities of your stakeholders. Consider what CMS features are organizational needs or, in other words, your “must-haves,” and what are your organizational wants or “nice to haves.” Write these down to help guide your conversations with vendors. If you’re finding it difficult to think through the features you do or do not need, never fear. There are plenty of articles online that can help get you up to speed on the features offered by many top platforms.
Next, you must grapple with the logistical question of how your CMS will be hosted, choosing between either cloud or on-premise; each have their pros and cons. Of course, these days when it comes to new software solutions, many people extol the values of a cloud-native approach, and it’s not difficult to understand why. From lowering IT workloads to reducing costs, the cloud clearly holds some major advantages. However, you must carefully consider the merits of each option to decide what will work best for your organization.
After that, take a good, hard look at your internal capabilities – that is, the technical competency of you and your staff. This is a pertinent question to explore, as the amount of digital acumen required to fully leverage a CMS depends completely on the brand you select.
There is no need to worry too much on this point. Many of the leading CMS brands have reached their current market position due to their incredible usability. But there are still major differences between systems, and the last thing you want is to invest in a new solution that is difficult or impossible for your staff to use.
CMS: A Pathway to Sales and Business Success
CMS platforms have been around for decades now, and it’s quite likely that you have already had some experience operating one. Still, you may never have gone through the process of implementing such an important system. Thinking through the questions outlined here can be a helpful exercise. It can ensure that you and your agency create a dynamic digital experience for your customers, which, of course, is a sure-fire way to start bettering your sales.
Stay on the right side of the law while promoting your agency
Let’s face it: producing content can get tiring. Whether it be written or visual, each project requires time and talent. When you’re running a business, every moment is precious. It can be tempting to grab assets wherever you can find them.
While we exist in a copy-and-paste digital environment, copyright and copyright infringement have not gone away. In fact, with technologies like search robots and web-crawling spiders, it is now easier than ever to track down inappropriate uses of copyrighted material across the internet. Numerous people have received angry correspondence from giant corporations like Getty Images demanding that copyrighted material be taken down and for offenders to pay damages.
While that can sound scary, you still need to promote and market your business. Start by brushing up on some of the basics of copyright in the digital age. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better positioned to help your business while staying on the right side of the law.
What is Copyright Anyway?
Copyright protects creators from unlicensed actors taking original works and claiming them as their own. It covers literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, architectural, and other intellectual works. Federal copyright begins as soon as a work is in “tangible form,”[i] which can include it being on “a hard drive, computer disc, film or tape.”[ii]
Copyright is also automatically applied when a work is created, and creators are not required to declare their copyright for it to be in effect. Websites are also the copyrighted property of their respective owners, including “overall design, all links, original text, graphics, audio, video and any additional original elements.”[iii]
Alternatives to Infringement
When it comes to copyright, the internet is a double-edged sword: it provides a glut of content, but creative works cannot be used without explicit permission. Providing a disclaimer like “No copyright intended” or merely giving credit to the original creator does not magically make it okay to use.
There are, however, other ways to utilize some of the excellent works that are floating around on the information superhighway. Those might look like:
- Ask permission: It may seem silly or overly simple, but often the best way to leverage online creative assets for your agency is to ask the original creator. It may not work, particularly if you are using the asset for financial or business purposes, but it also might. The fact is that exposure is everything these days. By reaching out directly to an artist or writer with a compelling offer, such as guaranteeing to credit them and provide their work with a platform, you might receive permission to use their copyrighted material for your business.
- Look for royalty-free work: While all creative works automatically carry copyright, there are specific materials that are designated as “royalty-free,” which makes them free for a third party to use. The trick is knowing where to look. The Associated Press, for instance, has a cache of royalty-free imagery, as does Getty Images. There are also lesser-known sources, such as Pexels.
- Fair use: Fair use is a legal doctrine that allows for limited use of copyrighted material under highly specific circumstances. The use of copyrighted material is determined to be “fair use” depending on how it is interpreted through a four-point test. The four points include:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is for a commercial nature or nonprofit, educational purpose;
- The nature of the copyrighted work;
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
To learn more about fair use, consult the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Public domain: Copyright infringement can, at times, feel onerous. Thankfully, copyright does not last forever. Currently, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the original author plus 70 additional years, while works made for hire enjoy copyright protection for 95 years following publication or 120 years following creation. You can find huge troves of public domain photos online, with this particular website being a great place to start.
- Creative Commons: One of the last ways that you access copyrighted works is through Creative Commons, which offers a variety of public licenses for creators to share their works. All licenses issued through Creative Commons stipulate that you credit the original creator, and some prohibit using their work for financial purposes. You can learn more about the specifics of Creative Commons by viewing its website.
Work Faster and Smarter
The internet made the world’s scholarly, scientific and artistic resources available to creators across the planet. But despite this accessibility, creative work remains protected by copyright, meaning that, as an agency owner, you still need to be mindful of the assets you’re leveraging for promotional content. The good news is that there are other methods for obtaining wonderful creative materials that can enhance your marketing work. From simply asking permission to utilizing the Creative Commons, it is still possible to use the internet and its inexhaustible content to work faster and smarter for both yourself and your agency.
*This blog post is issued for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as legal advice.
[i] Copyright Protection on the Internet: Everything to Know (upcounsel.com)
Your brand doesn’t begin and end with your logo.
What makes a strong brand? If you’re asking that question, rest assured, you are not alone. While many people are aware that a company’s “brand” includes its logos and colors, other aspects of the branding process may not be quite so familiar. Just the fact that you are thinking about branding at all deserves a pat on the back. Your brand is probably your agency’s most valuable intangible asset. It can help establish your competitive difference. On the other hand, a poorly thought-out brand can harm your reputation.
Building a strong brand, however, can quickly get complicated; it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to strengthen your brand that are relatively straightforward. Ready to learn more? Then let’s begin.
What is Branding?
Originally, branding was the practice of marking cattle or material goods. Later, in the middle ages, it evolved with the introduction of watermarks. During the Industrial Revolution, proprietors began placing distinguishing marks on generic, mass-produced goods to give them an appeal for consumers accustomed to locally produced products. By the late 19th century, branding had been developed enough as a field that legislation was passed to protect corporate investment. In the 20th century, the development of the field ramped up even further, with corporations introducing slogans and mascots, and taking advantage of new communication mediums such as radio and television.
Creating a memorable logo and visual palette can help your company leave a powerful first impression and separate it from the competition. All strong logos include several elements. A logo should reflect the nature of your business. It should use colors in an intentional manner that communicates aspects of your company’s personality. The fonts you select also need to work well with its other visual elements. Lastly, all logos should strike a careful balance between being distinctive and being simple enough for easy replication across a wide variety of marketing materials.
Of course, logo design is easier said than done. And if you are running an independent agency, funds may be too limited to pay for a graphic designer. Thankfully, there are now several sites online that can assist you in creating a professional DIY logo either for free or for a manageable price.
If you want a strong brand, then you must have a strong “brand promise,” a short, simple statement that outlines what consumers can expect from your company. A brand promise describes the products and services you provide, as well as the impact they will have on your customers’ lives. The purpose of a brand promise is two-fold. Once again, it helps your company create a positive and lasting impact on a consumer, concisely communicating what you can do for them. It also acts as a unifying force, clarifying a company’s scope and focuses, and helping lay the groundwork for other parts of the branding process.
Successful branding can’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it must be infused into all aspects of an organization’s output. This brings us to brand voice – the tone in which a brand communicates. Establishing a memorable brand voice is a terrific way to give your company personality, but it also requires careful thought and consideration.
Not all tones are right for all brands. For instance, if you are cancer research company, it is probably not appropriate to communicate in a casual or jokey tone. Similarly, if you sell board games, you likely don’t want to project a stodgy air. Find the tone that works well for you and master communicating within its structures. Don’t forget that the strength of your brand voice hinges on it being adopted company-wide. All employees must be educated on the particulars of the company’s voice, and you could consider creating a style guide or full-scale brand book that they can use as a reference for any questions.
Your brand positioning statement describes your position in the marketplace. More importantly, this statement is your opportunity to describe further how you differ from your competitors and why consumers should choose to work with you over another provider. A well-written brand positioning statement involves a keen understanding of your target audience, knowledge of your core competitors, compelling use of your value proposition and evidence that you can deliver on your brand promise.
Let’s Start Branding!
Now that you have an understanding of some of the core aspects of branding, you should be ready to start putting it all together. While this list of steps is by no means comprehensive, by developing your brand aesthetics, promise, voice and positioning statement, you will have a great start on creating a distinctive identity for your business and a leg-up on your competitors.
Any marketing campaign must begin with setting goals. Here’s how to make them SMART.
Any successful marketing effort begins by setting goals. You should never put the cart before the horse, and neither should you begin a campaign without knowing what you want to accomplish. But simply discussing your goals ahead of time is not sufficient. You need to also make them SMART. What does that mean exactly? Let’s find out.
The SMART Goal Model
The SMART acronym is a model for creating effective goals. The different letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. In the next sections, we will break these down in greater detail.
The “S” in SMART stands for Specific, perhaps the most important tenant of any marketing campaign. To communicate well, you need to avoid creating goals that are too broad or vague.
One way to avoid doing this is to understand that there are generally three types of goals for marketing campaigns: awareness, acceptance, and action; then determine the appropriate category for your goal. After that, though, you should still add additional detail.
For example, let’s say you decide that you want to raise awareness for your agency. This is a decent starting point, but a more effective approach would be to say that you want to raise awareness amongst real estate agents between the ages of 35 and 60 and who live in Texas or Oklahoma. Not only does this provide more direction for creating strategies and tactics, but it can also help create other parts of the SMART model.
All goals must have a measurement metric attached to them. There is no other way to determine if your campaign has been successful. And you will have little data to review or use in improving future campaigns.
For instance, if you have a goal to drive traffic to your website, you need to know first what your current traffic is and then by how much you want to increase it. Otherwise, when you look at your analytics at the end of your campaign, the numbers you see will be meaningless. They will remain decontextualized, and you will not have insight as to whether the traffic funnels you created to drive people to your website (including emails, social media, digital ads, etc.) were successful in helping you meet or exceed your goal.
There is no point in setting goals that you will never meet, which is why the “A” within SMART is so important, as it stands for “achievable.” Creating achievable goals requires you to take an honest assessment of your company’s strengths and weaknesses, resources, and roadblocks.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are trying to build your agency’s presence on social media. Unless you have a seasoned social media expert on staff or a massive advertising budget, you should not create a goal of building a follower base of 10,000 Facebook users. Instead, a much more realistic goal would be to grow your followers by something like 10 percent – a far more modest and achievable endeavor.
It might seem like common sense, but any goal needs to be relevant to the purview of your organization. To put it another way: Your marketing goals should always be connected to specific business goals. And be sure you can see the connections. Otherwise, reconsider your approach and adjust as needed.
Finally, your goals need to be placed on a clearly defined timetable. A pre-established timeline is enormously beneficial in structuring a campaign and allocating resources and staff time. Of course, it’s important to set a timetable that is achievable. Establishing reasonable timelines can limit frustration down the road.
SMART Equals Success
Building out a marketing plan can be challenging but establishing SMART goals can help you avoid frustration by orienting your plan to create tangible results you can see and measure. SMART goals can take some getting used to, but by creating great goals, you will be positioned to build out a fantastic marketing plan and knock its execution out of the park.
To market effectively, understand your customers
When preparing any marketing campaign, sometimes there is the desire to put the cart before the horse. Such impulses are understandable. Creating marketing collateral often provides the greatest opportunity for marketers to exercise their creativity. However, jumping directly to a campaign’s deliverables misses a critical step of the process. Before you can think about how you’re going to unroll your marketing efforts, first you must think about who you are trying to reach.
One effective strategy to accomplish this is the use of buyer personas, a fictional representation of your ideal audience. Generating these representations can be enormously helpful for the entirety of your campaign, guiding the channels you select and the marketing material you create. The following tips can help you start creating these personas and have a better chance of ensuring your campaign’s success.
Use Real-World Data
When creating buyer personas, it’s best to trust real-world data over gut instincts. Start by conducting a top-level audit of your current customers. You can gather this information from a wide variety of sources. From social media analytics to your customer database, we live in a data-rich world where important insights can be easily gleaned. Even a cursory look at this data can yield demographical information such as gender, age, geographical location, language, education level, career level, interests and more. Gathering this information can help build the foundation of your buyer personas, serving as a strong starting point for compiling additional insights.
Once you have sketched a rough demographical outline of your various customers, you will want to dig deeper into their psychology – identifying goals, needs and pain points in the process. To obtain this information, you can carry out customer interviews or surveys, gain insights from your sales team or look at analytic platforms like Google Analytics or Google Trends. Use these sources to build out a psychological profile for your various customer segments and go so far as to write down your customers’ potential motivations, goals and frustrations.
Channels and Technology
After you have obtained a clearer picture of who your customers are and what motivates them, you need to flesh out their behavior. Ask yourself how your customers go about finding the information they need for obtaining solutions to the problems that plague them. This question can help you better understand how your customers behave online, what publications or websites they read and even what devices they use to access the internet. This knowledge can assist you in tailoring your campaigns, allocating marketing dollars to the correct channels and ensuring whether you need to create collateral optimized for mobile technology or not.
It is hard to overstate the importance of buyer personas or how they can act as a lynchpin for the overall success of your marketing endeavors. Built correctly, buyer personas can guide other steps in the marketing process, governing how you segment your potential customers, how you select your marketing channels and even how you package your marketing copy. In short, by putting your marketing in front of the right people, with the right message, at the right time, you will have a greater likelihood of meeting your sales goals and taking your business to the next level.