Content Marketing Will Fail Your Business If You Keep Doing This Ross | June 3rd, 2014

Content marketing can be a valuable marketing strategy for just about any type of business. By giving your customers and prospects actionable content through great storytelling, you can help your brand increase trust, credibility and ultimately, sales.

But there’s an important caveat: the moment a brand tries to push a direct sale through its content marketing, customer trust in the content marketing plummets. This was the finding in a recent survey by CMS software company Kentico.

Q3Kentico

Kentico found that 74% of the general public trusts educational content from businesses. But even a simple product pitch at the end of the blog post or newsletter reduces the perceived credibility of the content by nearly half. In fact, as Contently reports:

The risk of falling off the credibility cliff doesn’t end there. Forty-nine percent of consumers will check a brand’s facts with other sources. If they can’t corroborate the content with non-company sources, 46% of consumers start losing trust in the content. Not addressing multiple perspectives, talking down to readers, and not clearly stating that the content is coming from a particular brand also impede consumer trust.

Interestingly, although a majority (60%) of survey respondents believed that a company’s size has no effect on the credibility of its content marketing, nearly a third of respondents believed that educational content from smaller businesses is more trustworthy than that of larger businesses.

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Listen Close: 5 Tips for Small Business and Startups Mike | June 2nd, 2014

People who run businesses tend to talk. A lot. We chair meetings, we advance our opinion, we write memos, we give marching orders, we articulate strategy, and we manage tactics. We are excellent at communicating our thoughts and wishes. What we don’t do quite as well is listen. As important as it is to be able to express our thoughts, it is equally important to be able to listen to those around us.

Managers are, by our very nature, in control. We control the situation, we control events, we control the people who work for us. We control our businesses. And, when we are speaking we are in control, but when we are listening to others that control is necessarily relinquished. For many managers, that yielding of control through the act of listening can be not just difficult, but can seem In conflict with our training.

And there’s the rub. Listening is a letting go of control. It does not come easy, and it requires practice and discipline. In order to understand someone we have to stop controlling and focus on the other half of the communication formula: listening. Listening is about respect; managers must understand that success is not to be attained unless they can seek out and act on information from the talented people around them. Your team needs to understand that their input is valuable, that you respect their ideas, and their contributions are unique.

Here are 5 things you can do to improve your listening skills and create an environment that encourages the healthy flow of fresh ideas and innovation.

Focus. Checking your phone, semi-listening, multi-tasking are all behaviors that constrain your ability to listen when someone else has the floor. You need to be fully present when another person is speaking or you are likely to miss something.

Learn. We have a tendency to focus on things we already know and are biased in particular towards ideas that we already believe in. But by forcing ourselves to listen for new and disconfirming ideas, we can gather information that we might otherwise miss. Be prepared to change your mind – if we listen hard, we can often find ourselves gaining knowledge we would not otherwise have obtained.

Challenge. Listening is an active pursuit and it is important that we not simply accept what is being said, but that we challenge the underlying assumptions at its core.

Ask. Always try to talk less than you listen. If you can apply a version of the 80-20 rule, and work hard to speak 20% of the time while listening 80% you are well on your way. And if you can use your 20% allotment to ask questions instead of offering your own ideas, you will learn more and better encourage others in the room to offer their own ideas.

Position. Body language means a great deal in your ability to listen to others. Maintain eye contact, lean in towards the other person, avoid unintended nonverbal communications such as fidgeting and eye-rolling. By disciplining your own physical interactions you can listen more effectively and communicate to the other person that you care about what they have to say.

Photo: Alexander Torrenegra

Twitter Link Roundup #225 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | May 30th, 2014

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The video above is a TED talk by Hugh Herr. Herr is building the next generation bionic limbs and robotic prosthetics. He was inspired by a personal tragedy – he lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago. It’s a terrific talk and well worth the time to watch.

smallbusinessblog

The 39 Best Pieces of Sales Advice You’ll Hear This Year – crowdspring.co/1ojWm1U

Story about one crowdSPRING customer’s logo design experience on crowdSPRING – | Lovin it! – crowdspring.co/1mq7jdH

On How To Turn Impossible Ideas Into Successful Businesses | Fast Company – crowdspring.co/1k0Nexi

startupsblog

On How To Turn Impossible Ideas Into Successful Businesses | Fast Company – crowdspring.co/1k0Nexi

The 39 Best Pieces of Sales Advice You’ll Hear This Year – crowdspring.co/1ojWm1U

How much do Y Combinator founders earn? | 80,000 Hours – crowdspring.co/1k0NMTU

A tech bubble: What Chicago entrepreneurs think | Blue Sky Innovation – crowdspring.co/1lJaw6B

socialmediablog

Brands are pissing online ad money away – crowdspring.co/1mn7MNz

The 39 Best Pieces of Sales Advice You’ll Hear This Year – crowdspring.co/1ojWm1U

Why is 37 Signals’s Marketing so Captivating? It’s the “Narrative.” | Help Scout – crowdspring.co/1tb5XpC

Some marketers just don’t get it … crowdspring.co/1jOdkm0

There’s too much bad data out there, even when presented by reputable sites – crowdspring.co/1pycqut

10 Conversion Killers and the Hacks to Fix Them | Unbounce – crowdspring.co/1kfEf5N

A/B Testing Results that Surprised the Experts | Visual Website Optimizer Blog – crowdspring.co/1k0Pd4L

Are they serious? A dozen experts need six weeks to publish a corporate tweet? crowdspring.co/TRO4lE

designblog

Useful Mockups Templates For Presenting Print Designs – crowdspring.co/1jB1A7q

A Beautiful Collection Of Vintage Bicycle Ads – crowdspring.co/1jB2HUy

The A to Z of Adobe Photoshop – crowdspring.co/1lDsGGR

Read the rest of this post »

Twitter Link Roundup #224 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | May 23rd, 2014

tesla

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

Klyati Trehan, a design student from India created a phenomenally impressive project, combining science and typography to visually represent 26 inventions that have changed the world. Above is her design for the letter T, reflecting the discovery of the rotating magnetic field by Tesla. More examples in the Design section below.

smallbusinessblog

HOT! New edition of Empower Your Small Business, @crowdSPRING‘s SmallBiz newsletter – crowdspring.co/1mY7CyW

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Superheroes! – crowdspring.co/1j2mWos

12 indispensable digital tools for startups | Blue Sky Innovation – crowdspring.co/1vm5ncs

Creating Customers for Life: 50 Resources on Loyalty, Churn, and Customer Retention | Help Scout – crowdspring.co/1lD094d

The Most Entertaining Guide to Landing Page Optimization You’ll Ever Read | Moz – crowdspring.co/Sl15mH

startupsblog

To build all-star teams, entrepreneurs should rank/reward team and not individual performance – crowdspring.co/1k9XDFx

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Superheroes! – crowdspring.co/1j2mWos

Unifyo: Post Mortem – crowdspring.co/1iXFOF4

Tech Start-Ups: Take the Money and Build | by @tullmancrowdspring.co/1jvoIEu

Helpful insight for bootstrapping entrepreneurs … how we built besnappy for 317000 – crowdspring.co/1o7tpX4

Ruthlessness and Grit in Startups | by @ttunguzcrowdspring.co/1odycDT

The hard thing about inspiring more women entrepreneurs | Fortune – crowdspring.co/Sl1hSW

29 Tips for Entrepreneurs & Women in Tech | Tech Cocktail – crowdspring.co/1oj9QIU

Creating Customers for Life: 50 Resources on Loyalty, Churn, and Customer Retention | Help Scout – crowdspring.co/1lD094d

The Price Is Right: For Early-Stage SaaS Companies, It Needs To Be | TechCrunch – crowdspring.co/1j0ToYh

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned About Marketing, Distribution and Sales | 25iq – crowdspring.co/1lD0q6Y

The Most Entertaining Guide to Landing Page Optimization You’ll Ever Read | Moz – crowdspring.co/Sl15mH

Process Is Being Told What to Do by Someone Who Has Less Information than You – crowdspring.co/SkUrN3

12 indispensable digital tools for startups | Blue Sky Innovation – crowdspring.co/1vm5ncs

Syndicate Funding on AngelList – A Company’s Perspective – crowdspring.co/Sl0HEA

Do Entrepreneurs Get Better With Age? | Re/code – crowdspring.co/1hYEli4

The Single Biggest Reason Most Entrepreneurs Fail in 2014 – crowdspring.co/1jzW3Oy

Product lessons we can learn from Google+ | Inside Intercom – crowdspring.co/1o6ZpYG

socialmediablog

3 Key PPC Metrics Are Lying To You. Find Out How – crowdspring.co/1j0S8nO

False Goals Kill (at the end of the day marketing has to SELL stuff) – crowdspring.co/1lSzVMh

A Dozen Things I’ve Learned About Marketing, Distribution and Sales | 25iq – crowdspring.co/1lD0q6Y

Leaked NY Times Innovation Report applies to ad agencies, too | by Edward Boches – crowdspring.co/1hYEcve

The Most Entertaining Guide to Landing Page Optimization You’ll Ever Read | Moz – crowdspring.co/Sl15mH

Why Products Created By Ad Agencies Fail | Co.Create – crowdspring.co/1lDryD6

6 Branding Lessons from the Pioneers of Weed Design | Co.Design – crowdspring.co/1jkiGR5

designblog

A Designer’s Guide On Workspace Organization – crowdspring.co/1lDrLpR

Let A Client Go: 4 Signs Why You Need to Fire Clients | 1stwebdesigner – crowdspring.co/RHNxkQ

Read the rest of this post »

12 Questions: Meet Jelena Mirkovic Jankovic (Serbia) Audree | May 22nd, 2014

In our 12 Questions blog series, we feature interviews with someone from the crowdSPRING community. For these interviews, we pick people who add value to our community – in the blog, in the forums, in the projects. Plainly – activities that make crowdSPRING a better community. Be professional, treat others with respect, help us build something very special, and we’ll take notice.

We’re very proud to feature Jelena Mirkovic Jankovic (crowdSPRING username: JMJ) today. Jelena lives and works in Belgrade, Serbia.

JMJ

1. Please tell us about yourself.


When I think a bit, my name is mom. Most of the day I respond to IT: Moooom, come to see this!!! 
Moooom, why are turtles bold? 
Mom, will the people on clouds fall down on us one day? 
Mom, why are there no woman pirates? 
…and so on and so forth. 
Seventhousandandeightynine times a day!
And the rest of the day – when I’m not dressed in the magic “mom” costume – I’m simply Jelena. I got Mirkovic from my father and I greedily snatched Jankovic from my husband. And thus we got JMJ (Jelena Mirkovic Jankovic).

Oh, I forgot to tell you. 
I am actually a sculptor. Deeply involved in painting and arts. And again – in momhood.NegativeColorVertical

It all started a long time ago – almost 38 years ago, when everything that could be drawn – was drawn, when all that could be colored – got colored. And that “disease” remained incurable in my case. I was born in Bosanski Petrovac, a small town in Bosnia (ex-Yugoslavia), where I blissfully lived the best and most magnificent childhood on earth.  This was a childhood ample with smells of earth and sky, full of colors, bare feet, animals and freedom. Following my “artistic urge”, which is more powerful than orientation (what I would be when I grew up), I left to attend the High School of Art in Novi Sad (Serbia), where I graduated from the Department for Interior and Industrial Design. I never wondered what I would do later. Nor did I have any compromise. I wanted to study painting. Alas, all the teachers who saw the drawings that I prepared for the entrance exam said – you’re born to be a sculptor. And it took me just few days to make five portraits (plaster cast) and take them, still “hot”, to the exam. This is how I became a graduate sculptor and art professor. In spite of my fingertips being enamored with the tactile world of sculpture, my ontological need for painting, drawing and colors never ceased, it was rather simultaneous. Following this urge, I finalized my Master at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Department for the Theory of Culture, and I defended the thesis entitled Color and Culture (from myth to postmodern culture).

2. How did you become interested in design?
Huh, entirely by chance!
By the end of my studies, I visited a friend and colleague in a marketing agency and their design studio. At that moment, they sought a junior designer, which was not me, of course. I had zero experience. And no designer portfolio whatsoever. The only thing that I always had with me was a bunch of drawings. And yet, almost the same day, I found myself before a Wacom tablet, exploring the world of design from a completely different perspective – a creative one.
Almost 15 years have lapsed since then, and for the past seven years I have been employed as art director in several marketing agencies. I am currently working for an international company as consultant at the position of art director for several projects.

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How Typography Affects Conversions and Sales Ross | May 21st, 2014

typography-is-important

 

Do you give much thought to the typography you use on your website or marketing materials? You should! Typography plays an important role in influencing people’s decisions.

For example, Tahoma is the most legible font at size 10, Courier is the most legible at size 12 and Arial is the most legible at size 14. Since people spend so little time looking at web pages, you should optimize your content to be as legible as possible, at all times.

Typography can be a small detail in an otherwise large site. But sometimes the smallest details have a big impact.

Neil Patel created a helpful infographic (below) that explains good/bad practices when it comes to typography and conversions.

Read the rest of this post »

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Superheroes! Mike | May 19th, 2014

To many people out there (investors, business students, politicians) entrepreneurs are heroes of the first degree. They are lionized, studied, imitated, and held up as shining examples of American ingenuity and creativity. But truly, entrepreneurs are heroes of the second degree. Although their creativity can not be denied, their energy borders on legendary, their resourcefulness is unmatched, and their passion boundless, they still have a great deal to learn. And who better to learn from the Superheroes!

When it comes to strength of character and ability to persevere through tough times, no entrepreneur can even start to compare to the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, or Captain America! These heroes are the archetypal crime fighters, the justice slamming vigilantes, the saviors of all that is good and valuable in our society. They represent the powerless and strike down the evil! Kinda makes running a small business seem tedious by comparison, no?

This doesn’t mean that we can’t draw lessons from these selfless paragons of virtue. After all, aren’t entrepreneurs also intent on creating businesses for the benefit of humanity? Here are 5 lessons we can draw from our Superheroes!

1. Powers. Superheroes have powers galore: secret powers, supernatural powers. They posses extraordinary powers of strength, agility, and flexibility, not to mention the crazy weird powers to set things on fire, stretch themselves to unheard of lengths, perform gymnastic contortions, and deflect just about any projectile hurled their way. Entrepreneurs powers may pale in comparison, but that don’t mean we ain’t got em; the trick is in understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Entrepreneurs need a healthy dose of self-awareness in order to know what they are great at, what they need help with, and what they downright suck at. This awareness helps us to build better businesses, create stronger teams, and (when necessary) turn to others to ask for help. Matter of fact, that humble ability to know when they need assistance can be the mark of a true super-entrepreneur.

2. Branding. Seriously. Superheroes rock at their ability to create and sustain a brand image.  The costumes, the logos, the instantly-identifiable masks and capes! One of the hallmarks of a great superhero is their ability to be recognized instantly, whether in person or by something left behind. Who wouldn’t recognize Spider-Man swooping through the urban canyons in a flash of red and blue? Who on this earth would not know that the bat silhouette icon projected on the night skies is not the world-famous logo of the Dark Knight? Entrepreneurs must focus hard on creating brand value for their own companies through creating strong visual iconography that differentiates them from the competition and creates an indelible image in the minds of their customers.

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Twitter Link Roundup #223 – Small Business, Startups, Innovation, Social Media, Design, Marketing and More Ross | May 16th, 2014

spacefelix

Every day on the crowdSPRING Twitter account and on my own Twitter account, I post links to posts or videos I enjoyed reading or viewing. These posts and videos are about logo design, web design, startups, entrepreneurship, small business, leadership, social media, marketing, and more! Here are some of the links that I’ve liked and shared this past week!

The above image shows Felix Baumgarnter before his famous jump from a helium balloon in the stratosphere (where he set an altitude record for a manned balloon flight, parachute jump from the highest altitude, and greatest free fall velocity). You will find more examples of epic photos in the Other section below.

smallbusinessblog

What Influences People To Buy Products or Services? Top 10 Factors – crowdspring.co/1jWAkij

Small Business and Startup Tips: Enjoying Your Customers For Profit and Fun – crowdspring.co/1jy0bxm

7 Magic Words (And 10 Negotiation Ideas) For Entrepreneurs | Forbes by Cheryl Snapp – crowdspring.co/1uUleyG

The 7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs | Entrepreneur – crowdspring.co/QIOBDJ

Founders Can’t Scale: Fact or Fiction? – crowdspring.co/1iGeQlb

What Zillow Learned From Setting Unrealistic Goals | Fast Company – crowdspring.co/1uUZ9zW

startupsblog

Small Business and Startup Tips: Enjoying Your Customers For Profit and Fun – crowdspring.co/1jy0bxm

Very good overview from Chicago Tribune on Chicago’s coworking spaces – crowdspring.co/1uUmhyF

The 7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs | Entrepreneur – crowdspring.co/QIOBDJ

7 Magic Words (And 10 Negotiation Ideas) For Entrepreneurs | Forbes by Cheryl Snapp – crowdspring.co/1uUleyG

The Startup Mass Extinction | The New Yorker – crowdspring.co/1jTnSQs

Interesting insight for entrepreneurs raising seed rounds (best/worst times of year to do so) – crowdspring.co/1iGe0EW

What fuels great design (and why most startups don’t do it) – crowdspring.co/1nFcUi7

What Influences People To Buy Products or Services? Top 10 Factors – crowdspring.co/1jWAkij

4 crucial principles for a compelling startup website | Webdesigner Depot – crowdspring.co/1iGkzr9

How Much Can You Really Spend on Marketing? (And The “Problem” With The S+M=ACV Axiom) | saastr – crowdspring.co/1nEMgpF

The Anatomy of the Perfect Technical Interview from a Former Amazon VP – crowdspring.co/Rswumt

How To Use Portfolio Theory At Your Startup | by Chris Yeh – crowdspring.co/1jkfmFu

Mobile Commerce Sales to Top $100 Billion In 2014, Forrester Estimates – crowdspring.co/1iGdIy3

Another billion dollar exist for a Chicago tech company (Fieldglass) – crowdspring.co/1g4kMtQ

Founders Can’t Scale: Fact or Fiction? – crowdspring.co/1iGeQlb

Apple buying Beats could radically transform the digital music business – crowdspring.co/1nELuZC

Knockoff products … an increasingly growing problem at Amazon – crowdspring.co/1g5t0By

The Mind Does Not Belong in a Cubicle | Atlantic Mobile – crowdspring.co/RsA6Fh

What Zillow Learned From Setting Unrealistic Goals | Fast Company – crowdspring.co/1uUZ9zW

socialmediablog

What Influences People To Buy Products or Services? Top 10 Factors – crowdspring.co/1jWAkij

Andrew Sullivan on native ads: Journalism has surrendered | Digiday – crowdspring.co/1kSVlZl

A Framework for Maximizing Startup Marketing Effectiveness | by Tomasz Tunguz – crowdspring.co/1g5sEuQ

Asking why is not always the best strategy | Inside Intercom – crowdspring.co/1jkkJ7A

How Much Can You Really Spend on Marketing? (And The “Problem” With The S+M=ACV Axiom) | saastr – crowdspring.co/1nEMgpF

How to Plan Your Content Marketing Strategy Beyond the Blog (Part 1 of 2) – crowdspring.co/1uUryGu

designblog

70 New High Quality Free Fonts For Professional Designers | InstantShift – crowdspring.co/1iGknYZ

What’s new for designers, May 2014 | Webdesigner Depot – crowdspring.co/RHLHQY

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What Influences People To Buy Products or Services? Top 10 Factors Ross | May 13th, 2014

decisionfactors

Why do people buy one company’s products or services while ignoring the products or services of a competitor? What influences people’s purchasing decisions?

Some, like Clay Christensen, argue that customers “hire” products (or services). It’s a novel theory -  one that requires you to carefully listen to your customers.

People’s purchasing decisions – both online and offline – are influenced by many factors. The following infographic from BigCommerce summarizes the key factors.

Quality dominates people’s purchasing decisions. That’s not surprising. Brands like Apple have gained substantial market share by introducing high quality products. More surprising was the finding that more than half of all shoppers research big-ticket items in-store before buying them online. This offers retail businesses a tremendous opportunity to find ways to convert those customers in the store.

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Small Business and Startup Tips: Enjoying Your Customers For Profit and Fun Mike | May 12th, 2014

When a customer walks through your door, be it a bricks-and-mortar door or a virtual one, it is paramount that they be greeted and feel welcomed into your business. Not just making them at home, or perhaps offering a little espresso, but rather making them feel that you are there to help them, to answer their questions, to find what they are looking for, or to chit chat about whatever is on their mind. There is no reason that the conversations you or your team have with customers should not be enjoyable for both of you. The best conversations are the fun conversations and these are the ones you want to actively encourage.

This means being accessible, being knowledgeable, being thoughtful, and being helpful. Every member of your team, whether it is a front-line cashier or a back-end coder, needs to understand your offering and be able (and willing) to help any customer. A baseline level of availability is necessary to build relationships with your customers; this can be achieved by positioning salespeople on the floor where customers can see them, by adding live chat features to your website, by displaying your customer service phone number prominently on every page of your site, or by communicating proactively through emails, newsletters, or mailings.

But aside from simply being available, of equal importance is how you are available; the quality of your communications count. What possible good can come with a surly or rude counter-person? How do potential customers feel if they are ignored or treated coldly? Here are five things any front-line employee can do to welcome customers, make them feel wanted, give them comfort that you are here to serve, and actually enjoy the interaction!

1. Understand them. The first step in communicating with your customers is to understand who they are, why they came to you, and what the problem they’re trying to solve might be. The basics of this are simple: if someone walks into a hardware store, chances are excellent that they want to buy some kind of tools or supplies, right? But it is impossible to know exactly which aisle they need unless you ask. Anyone in your business who is entrusted with speaking to customers needs a level of empathy and understanding that allows them to help that customer find exactly what they are looking for, advise them on their choices, and arrive at a decision on what they will buy from you that day.

2. Stay off-script. Last week, I had another of those incredibly frustrating calls with a customer service agent on the other end of the line insisted on reading to me (over and over) from the scripted response she was required to deliver. What this particular company (OK fine – it was People’s Gas) clearly didn’t understand, was that every customer is different and every customer’s problem is unique to that person. This is why we train our customer service agents to be natural in their conversations, to be themselves with our customers, and to understand that every response is must be distinct. Building a culture of service starts with the people who deliver that service and teaching them to communicate effectively without relying on a script is a good lace to start. Read the rest of this post »