45 Engaging Examples of Interactive Storytelling in Content Marketing

As inbound marketers, content plays an important role in attracting attention to our company and building trust with our prospects. Our content can come in many different formats, and the format we choose can speak volumes about the research and ideas within.

Interactive content has become increasingly more popular as brands try to cut through the noise and keep prospects’ attention long enough to deliver a message.

So how exactly do you harness audience’s ever-decreasing attention span? By giving them an active role in their content consumption process by publishing stories with interactive elements. Such tools can increase engagement, on-site dwell time, and social share rates.

Free Download: 45 Interactive Content Examples to Inspire Your Next Content Project

HubSpot and Playbuzz joined forces to scour the web for amazing examples of interactive storytelling. Each industry poses its own obstacles and unique characteristics, but share one common denominator: Interactive content works for all topics and audiences.

Let’s take a look at a few examples from the ebook:

Interactive Content Examples from Real Brands

1) The Wall Street Journal

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Delivering a large amount of information is a challenge for content creators. This example from the Wall Street Journal does so using searchable, visual stats. The facts are arranged in a number of ways, including a recorded timeline for readers to hit “play” and simply watch.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Search is an interactive action on its own and can be easily incorporated into your content. Using search provides readers with a task to keep them engaged while presenting a healthy amount of information in a positive manner. Adding search options very much depends on the content you create, but tools like FlippingBook and Viostream make even PDF and video content searchable.

2) National Geographic

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Some of the most inspiring forms of interactive content match the topics they address. This example allows readers to follow the ancient cave paintings as if they are touring a prehistoric cave, with color-coded topics to provide insights.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Making history come to life can be a hard task. Don’t shy away from numbers and important facts, but don’t skimp on the imagery and engagement, either. Leave the canvas clear for creative imagery and video, while the text wraps the visuals but does not interfere.

3) Orbitz

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Whether or not your travel partner will make or break your trip is one question all backpackers ask themselves before embarking on a new adventure. Orbitz knew what was on their audience’s mind and created an online quiz that addresses this burning question — specifically for business travelers.

How can you incorporate this into your content marketing? Everyone loves interactive quizzes, but when creating one for your business, always think of what your audience would spend time in investigating. This is particularly true when you wish to exchange results for readers’ contact information.

How to Get Started with Interactive Storytelling

If you’re new to creating digital content, start small with a simple quiz or flashcards embedded in a blog post with Playbuzz. These assets perform well at the top of the funnel because they motivate the user to share and see how their peers stack up against their own experience. Experiment with new formats, topics, and which stage in the buyer’s journey your content serves.

When it’s time to build something more sophisticated, consider working with a developer to determine how to build the user experience and interactive elements you’re looking for. And remember to experiment. That means release early and often so you’re consistently collecting feedback and iterating on your interactive content.

Download the full guide here to learn from over 40 more examples of interactive storytelling, ranging in complexity and industry vertical.

What types of interactive content have you encountered around the internet? Share with us in the comments below.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/interactive-content-examples

10 of the Best Ads from April: Hygge, Apocalypse, and a Robot Baby

Although we haven’t been fortunate enough to see more than a few scattered days of sunlight here in Boston, I’m told it’s technically spring.

In addition to rain, April also brought us some stunning new creative work from agencies around the word. Our monthly ad round-up features a German-produced animated short, a delightful Danish beer ad, and a clever insurance spot from Japan starring a rugby team from New Zealand. 

Did you miss any of these ads from April? Scroll down to check them out, and get inspired to tackle your next big project. 

10 of the Best Ads from April

1) AIG Japan

New Zealand’s national rugby union team, the All Blacks, hit the pedestrian-heavy streets of Toyko in this unexpectedly charming spot for AIG Japan. The three-minute ad opens with the uniform-clad players tackling seemingly random (and reasonably stunned) Tokyo residents — but things quickly take a heartwarming turn.

About half-way through the TBWA\Hakuhodo-produced video, it becomes apparent that the All Blacks were actually saving people from unpredictable disasters — a car running a red light, a pile of debris falling from a construction site, and a sudden laptop fire.

“[The ad] was an arresting way to show our fantastic relationship with the All Blacks, demonstrate the idea of risk prevention, and create a strong connection to the Japanese audience,” said Matthew Walker, AIG Japan’s senior vice president and regional chief marketing officer.

 

2) Carlsberg

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen ponders the secret source of his home country’s enviable happiness in Carlsberg’s latest UK campaign. Produced by London-based agency Fold7, the ad follows Mikklesen as he peddles his way through Copenhagen, magically passing through hedges, into stylish, minimal apartments, and over a rustic table set for a hyggelig gathering.

His tour ends (where else?) at a Carlsberg brewery, where Mikklesen enjoys a cold Carlsberg pilsner and decides that this is the real secret of Danish happiness … probably.

 

3) Student Flights

If you’re young, you better enjoy traveling while you can — before you become an uncool, perpetually exhausted parent. That’s the message of this spot for Student Flights, a company that specializes in travel deals for the university set.

To really drive that message home, Johannesburg-based agency TBWA\Hunt Lascaris convinced a hip millennial to carry around a wailing, pooping “Babybot” for a few days at a music festival. The poor guy in question, Loyiso Madinga, is promised a free trip to New York if he can survive a weekend with Babybot unscathed. His initial assessment of the challenge? “How hard could this be … right?”

As expected, having a baby at a music festival isn’t super fun — even if that baby is Wifi-enabled and made of metal. 

 

4) Netto

Ever wonder where the Easter Bunny came from? European supermarket chain Netto teamed up with German agency Jung von Matt and production house Mill+ to share their whimsical imagining of the egg-laying rabbit’s origins (Hint: it starts with a hen and a rabbit meeting each other at a night club.)

Set to a innocent, heart-wrenching rendition of “Beautiful, Always,” the animated short packs a surprisingly poignant punch. It’s sure to make even the coldest little hearts grow three sizes.

 

5) The New York Times

Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (of Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan fame) lends his talents to this Droga5-produced spot for The New York Times. The stark, one-minute ad series is part of the Grey Lady’s first brand-focused ad campaign in a decade.

Aronofsky met with several New York Times photojournalists, asking them to recount their experiences covering some of the most impactful stories from recent years. As the photojournalists discuss their fieldwork and motivations, images from the trips in question flash across the screen.  

 

6) Unilever

Pricey, trendy beauty products aren’t necessarily worth the hype, according to Unilever’s latest marketing stunt. Vice’s digital agency Carrot invited a group of real beauty influencers to try a fake new shampoo: Evaus (Spoiler alert: that’s just discount hair care brand Suave spelled backwards).

Packaged in a sleek, minimal bottle, Evaus products were a big hit with the influencers, who raved about how shiny and soft their hair felt after 10 days of using the line. When producers reveal that the “startup” hair care brand is really just $3 Suave shampoo poured into fancy schmancy bottles, the influencers are shocked — and then seemingly delighted at the great value.

“We found seven of 10 women think higher-priced brands are more trustworthy,” Jen Bremner, Unilever marketing director explained to AdAge. “That really was the inspiration. We wanted to peel back the labels and convert the skeptics.”

 

7) Entourage

To promote Entourage, a French app aimed at reconnecting neighborhoods with their homeless populations, TBWA\Paris decided to take an unconventional, offline approach to viral marketing: writing directly on banknotes.

The agency asked homeless community members to pen short messages directly on paper bills. Each hand-written note reveals something that homeless people wish everyone else knew. Take this example from the case study video below: “For me, Pierrot, homeless for 19 years, this bill has a lot of value, but not as much as a hello.”

The hope is that the simple messages with encourage Parisians to download the Entourage app, which helps people offer support and make social connections with homeless folks in their neighborhood.

 

8) SubHub

When the inevitable robot apocalypse finally spells fatal disaster for the human race, won’t you wish you shelled out to see that Sia concert?

Goodby Silverstein & Partners produced this cinematic, YOLO-fueled spot for StubHub, encouraging you to buy those concert tickets “before it’s too late.” The ad balances sleek, action-movie pacing with an unexpected, hilarious ending.

 

9) Pedigree

BBDO New York resurrected a little-known story from the Revolutionary War to promote Pedigree’s “Feed the Good” campaign.

In 1777, General George Washington and his troops were in the midst of a battle against British Forces Commander-in-Chief William Howe when one of Washington’s men discovered Howe’s dog wandering lost near the American camp. Instead of harming the lost pup (as some of Washington’s men reportedly suggested), Washington benevolently returned the dog to Howe with a kind note. The true story reflects Pedigree’s belief that dogs bring out the best of us.

 

10) Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Here’s one for the IT guy or gal in your office.

In this playful Publicis New York-produced ad for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a sad, bobble-head IT employee named Brian is forced to deny his colleagues’ earnest requests due to inadequate legacy technology. That is, until his office gets Hewlett Packard Enterprise — at which point Brian transforms Pinocchio-style from a plastic bobble head doll into a guy who can finally say “yes.”

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/best-ads-from-april

Simplifying iOS Game Logic With Apple’s GameplayKit’s Rule Systems




 


 

When you develop a game, you need to sprinkle conditionals everywhere. If Pac-Man eats a power pill, then ghosts should run away. If the player has low health, then enemies attack more aggressively. If the space invader hits the left edge, then it should start moving right.

Simplifying iOS Game Logic With GameplayKit’s Rule Systems

Usually, these bits of code are strewn around, embedded in larger functions, and the overall logic of the game is difficult to see or reuse to build up new levels.

The post Simplifying iOS Game Logic With Apple’s GameplayKit’s Rule Systems appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

from Marketing https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/04/ios-game-logic-gameplaykit/

The Character Count Guide for Blog Posts, Videos, Tweets & More

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When it comes to writing text for your blog and social media posts, many marketers wonder, “But what’s the character limit?” It’s never a simple question — sometimes, it’s answered by parameters established by certain channels. And on other occasions, it’s more a question of what’s ideal.

For example, you probably know the character limit for a tweet is 140, but did you know that the ideal length is actually less than that? (Hold tight — we’ll explain why.) While we’ve written before about optimizing your actual content, we thought it would be helpful to gather the numbers of character limits — both enforced and ideal — for different online channels, all in one place. New Call-to-action

Below, you’ll find a more detailed guide to character limits and ideal character counts for posts on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, and YouTube.

The Length & Character Count for Everything on the Internet

1) Blog Posts

1-6nX_PYNpn0Ajc0tardzIkg.pngSource: Medium

Quick reference:

  • Post length: 2100 words
  • Title: Under 60 characters
  • Meta Description: Under 155 characters

Post Body

When it comes to the length of blog posts, there are a few different items to consider. For example:

  • According to Medium, posts with an average read time of seven minutes captured the most attention.
  • The average reading speed of native English-speaking adults remains commonly cited as 300 words per minute, according to research conducted in 1990.
  • At that reading rate, the ideal post length is 2100 words.
  • That aligns with research previously conducted by serpIQ, which indicated that, on average, the top 10 results for most Google searches are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.

That means that this ideal word count can address goals around both readability and SEO. But that’s just the actual body of the post. Plus, when we looked at our own blog on organic traffic, we found that the sweet spot was 2,250–2,500 words.

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But that’s just the post body — let’s have a look at the other areas of text that comprise a full blog post.

Title

The length of your title depends on your goals, and where it will appear.

Let’s start with SEO. Do you want this post to rank really well in search? It turns out, that often has to do with the dimensions of each entry on a search engine results page (SERP). For Google, titles of search results are usually contained at a length of 600 pixels — which Moz measures as being able to display the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. So, if you don’t want your title to get cut off in the search results, it might be best to keep it under 60 characters. But when in doubt, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo, or you can use Moz’s title tag preview tool.

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Then, there’s optimizing your title for social sharing. On Twitter, for example, consider that each tweet has a limit of 140 characters — however, if you include an image, that doesn’t count toward the limit. But consider that even the average shortened URL takes up about 23 characters — that leaves you with about 116 characters left for the title and any accompanying text.

In our own analysis at HubSpot, we found that headlines between 8–12 words in length got the most Twitter shares on average, while headlines with either 12 or 14 words got the most Facebook Likes.

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Meta Description

A meta description refers to the HTML attribute that explains the contents of a given webpage. It’s the short description you see on a SERP to “preview” what the page is about.

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Moz notes that Google seems to cut off most meta descriptions — which are sometimes called snippets — after roughly two lines of text — though there’s some conjecture that, like title tags, it’s actually based on pixel count. In any case, it amounts to about 160 characters, though this particular outlet recommends keeping it at 155.

Again, you can double-check the length of your meta description and title tags with this handy tool from SEOmofo.

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2) Facebook

Quick reference:

  • Status updates: 63,206-character maximum | Ideal length is 40 characters
  • Video: 120-minute maximum | Ideal length is two minutes

Status Updates

Facebook’s character limit on status updates is 63,206. However, that’s far from ideal, says HubSpot Social Media Marketing Manager Chelsea Hunersen. “The social gurus will throw around the number 40 characters. That data seems to be backed up by BuzzSumo’s ranking of HubSpot’s own Facebook Page.

But why 40, specifically? “Ideally,” Hunersen says, “you’ll want to use the copy in a status update to provide context for whatever you’re linking to.” That said, she notes, the copy of the status update itself isn’t as important as the copy in the meta title or meta description that gets pulled in when you insert a link into your post. That’s right — social media posts have their own meta data too.

“Often, people look at the image of the article and then directly down at the meta title and meta description for context clues,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t realize you can change those.”

Even on Facebook, it’s still best to keep your meta title to fewer than 60 characters, and to 155 for meta descriptions. There are some resources available to those familiar with coding that let you play around with social media metadata character counts, like these templates. But unless you’re a developer, we recommend keeping it short and sweet.

Video

While Facebook allows a maximum of 120 minutes for videos, we wouldn’t advise posting anything that long, unless you’re doing a special, social-media-only screening of a full-length film.

According to research conducted by Wistia, two minutes is the “sweet spot” — even a minute longer than that shows a significant drop in viewership. “Engagement is steady up to [two] minutes, meaning that a 90-second video will hold a viewer’s attention as much as a 30-second video, the research reads,” so “if you’re making short videos, you don’t need to stress about the difference of a few seconds. Just keep it under [two] minutes.”

b3c077ee5e1cad372628b599fceca8c7717cd4ba.jpgSource: Wistia

However, optimal length can vary depending on the topic. “If you produce something as catchy as BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are putting out there, it can be up to five minutes long,” says Hunersen.

Regardless of the length of your video, Hunersen reminds us that all Facebook videos start without sound, meaning users have to make a conscious decision to stop scrolling through their feeds and unmute the video. Facebook videos should be visually compelling from the get-to, make sense without sound, and be engaging enough to encourage the user to stop and watch.

3) Twitter

Quick reference:

  • Tweets: 140-character maximum
    • Does not include images, videos, polls, or quotes tweets
    • Ideal length is 120-130 characters
  • Hashtags: No more than two
  • Videos: Maximum length is two minutes and 20 seconds

Length of Tweets

Marketers everywhere rejoiced when Twitter finally eased up on its character count parameters, and such media as images, videos, and polls, as well as quoted tweets, ceased counting toward its 140-character limit.

Still, the “Quote Tweet” feature remains available, providing even greater character-saving measures. That happens when you press the rotating arrow icon to retweet a post, and then add a comment in the text box provided. You’ve still got 140 characters all to yourself to comment.

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Ideal Length Overall

Like so much of what we’ve covered, it seems that when it comes to the overall length of a tweet, aim for short and sweet. (See what we did there?) That’s resonated in research conducted by social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who found that tweets with 120-130 characters showed the highest click-through rate (CTR):

Screen-Shot-2013-08-16-at-10.51.12-AM.pngSource: Buffer

The same goes for hashtags. While they can technically be any length up to 140 characters, remember that people will want to accompany the hashtag with other copy. Short hashtags are always better. Ideally, your hashtags should be under 11 characters — shorter if you can.

Also, in a single tweet, stick to one or two hashtags, and definitely don’t go over three. Buddy Media found that all tweets with hashtags get double the engagement metrics than tweets without any. But tweets that kept the hashtags to a minimum — one or two — have a 21% higher engagement than tweets with three or more.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-06-at-6.45.50-AM.pngSource: Buffer

Videos

You can post a video on Twitter by importing a video or recording it using the Twitter app. In any case, the maximum video length is two minutes and 20 seconds.

4) LinkedIn

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Profiles

Here’s a handy list of some of LinkedIn’s most important profile character maximums, according to Andy Foote:

  • Professional headline: 120
  • Summary: 2,000
  • Position title: 100
  • Position description: 2,000 (200 character minimum)
  • Status Update: 600 characters — however, Foote also notes that, “if you select to also post on Twitter from LinkedIn, only the first 140 characters will show on your Twitter post.”

Original Content

With LinkedIn’s publishing platform, users can now compose and share original written content with their networks, or publicly. Of course, that comes with its own character counts, according to Foote:

  • Post headline: 100
  • Post body: 40,000

5) Instagram

Quick reference:

  • Bio: 150-character maximum
  • Hashtags: Maximum of 30
  • Captions: Ideal length is under 125 characters

Since Instagram is, first and foremost, a platform for sharing photos and videos, the primary focus is typically your visual content. However, it’s always helpful to provide some context, and let users know what they’re looking at.

Given that, here are some helpful character counts for the text you include with your visual content:

Captions

While Instagram doesn’t seem to specify a maximum total number of caption characters, it does note that, within users’ feeds, the caption is cut off after the first three lines. For that reason, it’s advised to limit captions to 125 characters. However, don’t leave out important information just for the sake of keeping your entire caption visible. Instead, frontload it with crucial details and calls-to-action, leaving any hashtags, @mentions, or extraneous information for the end.

As for Instagram Stories, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of detail on character limits there, either. However, because the text overlays the visual content — which is the focus — don’t obscure too much of the photo or video with a caption.

6) Snapchat

Quick reference:

  • Character limit: 80 per post

Speaking of not obscuring visual content — that brings us to Snapchat.

Instagram Stories was, many believe, an effort to emulate the features of Snapchat, to create an opportunity for users to share quickly-disappearing photos and videos. And again, because the focus here is on the visual, you’ll want to prevent distracting viewers from it with too much text.

According to Teen Vogue, Snapchat’s character limit is 80 per post, which is more than double its previous 31-character limit. And, if you’re looking for more guidance, just look to this particular app’s name, and remember the “snap” element of it — a word that implies brevity — and try not to ramble. Here’s a great example of how SXSW uses its captions efficiently:

7) YouTube

Here we have yet another network that’s focused on visual content, leading some to incorrectly assume that accompanying text — like titles and descriptions — don’t matter as much.

That’s not entirely false — as a video-hosting platform, YouTube should primarily be used to showcase a brand’s quality videos. However, like any other visual content, it needs context. People need to know what they’re watching, who it’s from, and why it matters.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t appear to provide any specific parameters over its character counts — except for your channel description, which according to the official help site is limited to 1,000 characters. But other than that, it seems that the only guideline available is the alert display that lets you know, “Your [title or description] is too long,” if you’ve entered too much text in either of those fields.

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In this case, we would advise taking the same approach as adding text to support your visuals on Instagram and Snapchat. Like the former, a video’s description is cut off after the first line or two, so frontload the most important descriptors and CTAs, leaving extra details for the end.

Show Your Character

As you set out to determine the length of your text, regardless of the platform, remember to do so with the user in mind. Many of these channel-mandated character limits are established for that reason — to keep audiences from getting bored or overwhelmed.

Like anything else in marketing, however, it’s never an exact science, despite the best data. We encourage you to follow these guidelines, but don’t be afraid to experiment if they don’t always work. Test different amounts of text within your various channels, and keep track of how each post performs. From there, you can make decisions about which types of content, as well as its accompanying titles and descriptions, are the most well-received from your audience.

How do you approach text with different online channels? Let us know in the comments.

This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/character-count-guide

6 Business Challenges Every Small Business Struggles With (And How to Fix Them)

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In the first few years of business, small companies come up against a lot of different challenges. Some are harder than others to overcome — and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses fail by the end of their first year. By the end of their fifth year, 50% go under; and by the tenth year, that number rises to 80%.

With survival rates like that, it’s easy to understand why folks face the first few years of business with trepidation. But in fact, many common business problems and challenges are actually fixable, from difficulty finding customers, generating leads, and building an email list, all the way to hiring the right people and balancing quality and growth. Many times, you’ll find you need to take a step back, take the time to understand the pain points you’re feeling, and re-think your strategy.

Here are six challenges every small business faces, along with some tactical advice about how to fix them. (And if one of the challenges you’re facing is growing your email lists and generating leads, then be sure to save your seat for our live workshop that’s taking place on Thursday, April 27 at 1:00 P.M. EST.)

6 Small Business Problems & How to Fix Them

1) Finding Customers

This first one isn’t just a small business problem. The marketers at well-known companies like Apple and Toyota and McDonald’s don’t just sit around waiting for the leads to come in: Even the biggest, most successful companies have people working hard every single day to find new customers.

But for small businesses that aren’t a household name, finding customers can be particularly difficult. For example, there seem to be so many channels you can choose to focus on … how do you know what to prioritize and where to allocate resources?

How to Fix It:

Finding customers starts with figuring how who your ideal customer actually is. Spraying and praying doesn’t work for anybody — you need to make sure you’re spreading the word to the right people.

Craft an idea of what your target customers look like, what they do, where they spend time online by building your buyer personas. (Here are some free buyer persona templates to get you started.) Creating very specific ones can dramatically improve your business results. Once you’ve built your buyer personas, you can start creating content and getting in front of your target customers in the places they spend time online and with the messages that they care about.

2) Hiring Talented People

Hiring is often one of the biggest challenges for small businesses, especially since small business executives tend to feel under-resourced to begin with. Hiring new employees is a big deal and a complex process, and the cost of onboarding is an average of over $4,000 per new employee for most companies. And if you don’t hire well, employee turnover can be very, very expensive.

But, as CEO of 2020 On-site Optometry Howard Bernstein said in our panel on how to start a business, it’s impossible to know everything yourself. That’s why finding and hiring the right people — and the people who are really excited about what you’re doing — matters.

How to Fix It:

It’s easy to hire with a short-term mindset: send out a job description, screen applicants, and make a decision. But because of the high costs of hiring right, it’s important to invest a significant amount of time in the hiring process. Don’t settle for good employees when you can find great ones, even if it takes longer. It’s the great employees that will help your company get to the next level.

Just like you create buyer personas for your customers, create candidate personas for your job candidates. Your personas should be different for each new role that you’re hiring for, but will share some underlying traits around company culture.

Next, take ownership of attracting candidates to your company’s brand and make them interested in learning more. This will help you build a recruiting pipeline that will give hiring the same predictability as sales. Then, turn those leads into applicants.

3) Spreading Brand Awareness

It can sometimes seem like today’s biggest brands seemed to have popped up out of nowhere. How did they become a household name? How did they grow that quickly? Can your business grow like that, too?

Of course, most of these companies’ hard work, failures, and rejections happened behind the scenes. But there are strategies for spreading the word about your brand and building a great reputation that you can start right away.

How to Fix It:

There are many ways to spread brand awareness, but the three I’ll touch on here are PR, co-marketing, and blogging.

  • PR: Public relations is less about paying for a spot in a news blog, and more about focusing your voice and finding your place in the market. I recommend reading this great post from FirstRound Capital on what startups and small businesses often get wrong about PR, which also includes some great, tactical tips on how to figure out who’s covering your industry, building relationships, and working with reporters. You can also download our free public relations kit to learn how to maximize your public relations efforts with inbound marketing and social media.
  • Co-marketing: Partnering with another brand will help you inherit some of their image and reputation and create brand evangelists outside your circle. It’s a fantastic way to gain a large volume of new contacts alongside your organic marketing efforts. You can read our ebook on how to get started with co-marketing for more helpful information.
  • Blogging: Running a consistently high-quality blog will also help you build brand awareness. Not only does a blog help drive traffic to your website and convert that traffic into leads, but it also helps you establish authority in your industry and trust among your prospects. Many people find out about HubSpot because of our blog posts. It’ll also help you build an email list, which brings us to our next point …

4) Building an Email List

As if it isn’t hard enough to build an email list, did you know your email marketing database degrades by about 22.5% every year? That means you have to increase your email list by almost a quarter to just maintain it, never mind grow it. It’s the marketing team’s job to find ways to constantly add fresh, new email contacts to your lists.

But what many people call “building an email list” is actually buying an email list — and buying an email list is never a good idea. I repeat: Never a good idea. Not only will your email deliverability and IP reputation be harmed, but it’s also a waste of money. If your current strategy is to buy or rent email lists, then it’s time to regroup and find better places to put those resources.

How to Fix It:

Instead of buying or renting lists, build opt-in email lists. An opt-in email list is made up of subscribers who voluntarily give you their email address so you can send them emails. One great way to build an opt-in list is by creating great blog content and making it easy for people to subscribe — which, at the same time, will help you increase your online presence, build up search authority, and create evangelists from your content.

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[Example of a subscribe CTA on Help Scout’s blog.]

You can also revive older lists that you think are mostly decayed by creating an engaging opt-in message and sending it to your old list encouraging contacts who wish to re-opt-in and promising to remove all contacts who don’t respond.

To learn more strategies and tips, register here for our live workshop on growing your email subscribers.

5) Lead Generation

Another problem most small businesses share is lead generation — specifically, generating enough leads to keep the sales team happy. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone: Only 1 in 10 marketers feel their lead generation campaigns are effective.

But generating leads that are both high quantity and high quality is a marketing team’s most important objective. A successful lead generation engine is what turns website visitors into prospective customers and keeps the funnel full of sales prospects while you sleep.

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[Lead generation is part of the “convert” stage of the inbound methodology.]

How to Fix It:

To make the lead generation process work for your business, you need to first optimize your existing website for leads. Your website is the most important tool you have for turning prospects into customers. Look through your website and ask yourself:

  • Do each of your webpages clearly guide visitors to take action, or do they leave them wondering what to do next?
  • Do you use a tool that automatically pulls the submissions from your forms and puts them into your contact database, like HubSpot’s free lead generation tool?
  • Are you creating custom landing pages for every single campaign that you run?
  • Do you have lead generation CTAs on each of your blog posts? (Do you have a blog at all?)

Prioritize the most popular pages on your website first. Most businesses have a few, specific pages that bring in the majority of their traffic — often the homepage, “About” page, “Contact Us” page, and maybe one or two of your most popular blog posts. Read this blog post to learn how to figure out which pages to prioritize, and how to optimize them.

Finally, be sure to take advantage of free lead management software. Affording marketing in general is a big challenge in and of itself, so finding and implementing the most robust free marketing tools can be a game changer. HubSpot Marketing Free, for example, has features like a form-scraping tool that scrapes any pre-existing forms you have on your website and adds those contacts to your existing contact database. It also lets you new pop-ups, hello bars, or slide-ins — called “lead flows” — that’ll help you turn website visitors into leads immediately.

6) Balancing Quality and Growth

“There’s this mix of building scalability early, versus doing what you have to do to get it all done,” Nick Rellas, co-founder and CEO of Drizly, told our panel of startup executives about starting his own business.

This is a tricky one, especially since every situation is different. You’ll see this problem arise in all areas of business: in product development, in marketing and content creation, in hiring, and so on. For example, many business executives will push growth at all costs. But if you grow your company too quickly, you’ll find yourself having to hire quickly. This can overwhelm your experienced team members because it takes a while to train people. And if you don’t train people well, it can end up backfiring.

How to Fix It:

Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer here. “Depending where you are in your business’ lifecycle,” says Rellas, “the scale will tip one way or the other, but I do think you need both at different times.”

What it comes down to is not obsessing over every detail, but obsessing over the right details. Obsessing over product perfection, for example, might not be as important as obsessing over customer service. It’s better to put your fears aside and launch a product that isn’t perfect because you can always update and improve it. After all, once your products are in the hands of your customers, you can learn much more quickly what’s working and what isn’t.

Obsessing over customer service, however, is worth the extra effort. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos puts it well in his 2016 letter to shareholders: “There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.” (“Day 1” is what he refers to as a period of growth and innovation, whereas “Day 2” is stasis, irrelevance, and slow demise.)

While these are just a few of the many business challenges facing small businesses every day, there are many others out there. Are there other challenges your small business is facing that you want to bring up? Share with us in the comments below — and don’t forget to share your ideas for solutions, too!

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/small-business-challenges

How We Grew Our Organic Traffic by 43% Without Publishing a Single New Blog Post

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Today I’m going to show you how we boosted our organic traffic by 43% over a 3 month period.

The best part is, we did it without publishing any new content, spending any more money on marketing or adding any additional resources to our team.

We call the strategy, The Mission Week, and I will tell you exactly how we do it.

But First, a Little Story …

I am the founder of small business-focused job board called Proven.

In October of 2015, we made the difficult decision to completely forgo building a sales team and focus all our efforts instead on acquiring customers via content marketing and SEO.

We knew that given the price point of our product, it was not economically viable for us to have people make sales calls. We needed a lower cost solution to bringing in new customers.

This led us to seeking a content marketing and SEO strategy.

Like many companies new to blogging, we rushed into it full steam, cranking out tons of new posts. We started to realize that this was a doomed strategy. We had hundreds of posts, but were barely moving the needle on our overall traffic. We figured we could only get a traffic boost as long as we were creating new content.

In early 2016, we started to learn a lot more about content promotion and link building. This led to a number of content successes, like ranking in the top 5 on Google for the search term“job board”, but after a while, this growth started to tail off.

Our content promotion was unfocused, lacked clear goals, and as a result, great pieces of content were not ranking well.

Finally, this all changed when our amazing Director of Marketing, Caileen Kehayas, invented The Mission Week.

What is a Mission Week?

Our Mission Weeks consist of choosing one piece of content that’s under performing and everyone on the team focuses their promotional efforts only on this piece of content.

 We gamify the process by assigning points to different types of promotional activities.

 For example, sending an outreach email might get you 1 point, you can earn 2 points for broken link building and 5 points for writing a guest blog that links to the article. Each person must accumulate 20 points to complete their mission for the week.

Regardless of your role in our company, you can participate. If you aren’t comfortable writing articles, you can earn points through outreach emails, discovering linking opportunities or responding to relevant questions on Quora.

As part of the promotion, we will do minor content updates and perhaps update the title and meta tags of the article.

The weekly point goal is small enough that it doesn’t take up so much time that it becomes overwhelming. Team members can easily earn enough points without compromising their regular workloads. 

Involving everyone at Proven — even those outside of the marketing team — helps create more dynamic and diverse supporting content. We all have different backgrounds and skill sets, and everyone is focused on promoting the same piece of content. With everyone participating, it’s a great opportunity for team building across different departments.

A Mission Week Case Study

In January 2016 we published an article called How to Interview: The Definitive Guide. After being live for 10 months on our blog, it never cracked the top 10 for Google search results for any high value set of keywords.

We chose this article back in late October as our first Mission Week.

This article now ranks 5th on Google for “how to interview”, and has 49 backlinks from 27 domains.

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So, how did we do it?

Resource Link Building

Each participant was awarded 1 point for an outreach email sent to a site that was linking to similar content. Primarily, we use a resource link building strategy that I wrote about previously.

During this week, each person on the team sent an average of 18.5 outreach emails to sites linking to similar content.

To research 15 to 20 different possible sites and send them an email doesn’t take up too much of a person’s week. However, if someone was left doing all this outreach on their own, it becomes a huge tedious job that eats up a large portion of their week.

Guest Blogging

Each participant was awarded 5 points for writing an article that contained a link to this blog post.

During this week, our team produced 7 related articles that our Director of Marketing helped publish to different sites.

Again, writing one support piece is not too bad, but writing 7 is completely unreasonable for our small team.

Content Updates

We updated the title of the article to How to Interview Job Candidates (The Definitive Guide), because adding brackets to your title can help increase CTR on Google. We also updated the introduction and gave the design of the page a bit of a face lift.

All of these things help to improve CTR, bounce rate and dwell time, which are all ranking factors for Google.

Social Promotion

As part of the mission, we schedule promotion of the article on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. We typically schedule up to 8 tweets for a single article, changing up the text and hashtags we use. If one tweet is performing really well, we will re-use it again and again on different days and different times.

Quora Answers

Each participant was awarded 2 points for finding and answering a relevant Quora question. Although these are no-follow links, it does help to create brand awareness, referral traffic, and authority in the industry.

During the week, we had one team member answer 5 questions on Quora.

Results

As mentioned, this article now ranks 5th on Google and went from delivering close to zero organic traffic to now being one of our top performing pieces.

We’ve seen consistent movement in our Google rankings for every subject of a Mission Week thus far. Following the same process outlined above, we did a Mission Week for this article about job ads.

We now rank 2nd on Google for ”job advertisements” ahead of industry giants like Indeed and CareerBuilder.

Organizing Our Missions

Each week, our marketing director chooses the article with the most SEO potential that is under performing.

She puts together a document outlining the following:

  • Article title
  • Article URL
  • The keywords we are targeting
  • Current rankings for those keywords
  • Suggestions for supporting article topics
  • Search suggestions for finding sites that may link to us

Separately, we track in a shared spreadsheet all the outreach emails we send so that we don’t accidentally email the same person. This is also good for historical reference because it’s sometimes worth revisiting and following up with any outreach emails that get sent.

Transforming The Way We Promote Content

Mission Weeks have completely transformed the way we actively promote our content. Prior to having the Mission Weeks, we used a lot of the same promotional strategies, but it was not focused and many team members didn’t have clearly defined weekly goals to work towards.

Now, every week, everyone knows exactly what they need to accomplish. Marketing, engineering, customer support and the executives of Proven all participate, driving towards the same goal of accumulating 20 points. We brag to one another over Slack when we complete our missions or land a new link, which is typically followed by a barrage of GIFs.

Not only has The Mission Week process grown our organic traffic, it’s increased our new customers significantly in a short period of time.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try. You can play with the point system and weekly goal based on the needs and resources of your company.

Would you consider running a Mission Week at your company? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-we-grew-our-organic-traffic

7 Steps to Documenting a Content Marketing Strategy That Works

I already know what you’re thinking. You saw the words content marketing and strategy together in the headline and thought, “Oh, cool, another article telling me how important it is to have and actually write down my strategy — just what I need.”

Don’t worry, that’s not what this is.

You already know that having and documenting your strategy is important because you’ve probably read the same reports and case studies that my team and I have read. But there’s a pretty big difference between knowing you should do something and knowing how to do it — which might explain why 89 percent of B2B marketers use content, yet only 37 percent have documented strategies.

The marketing team at Influence & Co. spent the last couple months of 2016 carefully researching, planning, and creating a content marketing strategy for this year. What follows is an exploration of exactly which elements our team determined a successful plan must include to drive results, empowering you to create your own documented content strategy.

How to Document Your Content Marketing Strategy

Part of what makes a documented strategy so powerful is that every person on your team — from your content creators to your senior-level directors and everyone in between — can see what, why, and how your company is communicating.

This alignment makes it easier to get buy-in, crowdsource content, and pull employees into the distribution process, and it makes your efforts stronger because it extends your reach beyond the marketing team.

For your strategy to be helpful to your whole company and not just your immediate marketing team members, it has to address a few major questions, like:

  • Why are we utilizing content marketing as a strategy?
  • Who are we trying to reach with our content?
  • What are we hoping to accomplish?
  • How does this fit into our overall marketing strategy?
  • How will we measure success?

If you start with these questions in mind, the actual pieces of your strategy should come easily. In fact, each of the following components of your strategy should help you clearly answer those questions, align your team, and hold you accountable. Here are seven key elements your content marketing strategy must include:

1) Overall Mission

Before you get too far into the weeds, ask yourself, “What’s the real reason we’re investing in content?” And if the answer is anything close to “Well, we just know we should be doing content,” stop immediately and spend more time thinking about why you’re making this critical, valuable, and time-consuming investment in the first place.

If you do have a well-thought-out answer, write it down. Are you preparing to use content so your marketing team can generate leads and attract new customers? Are you trying to build brand awareness and credibility?

No matter your reason for investing in content marketing, it needs to take a prominent place at the beginning of your strategy; that overall mission will guide the rest of your document and keep your team on track when it’s time to execute.

2) Target Audience Personas

You may have included some general ideas about your audience members when you outlined your mission, and while that’s a helpful place to start, it’s not nearly detailed enough to start creating content for them.

Before you craft any content or develop any distribution plan, you have to know who you’re trying to reach. You aren’t creating content for the general public, you’re creating it to attract specific individuals who can contribute to your company’s goals.

You need to research and create detailed audience personas. If your personas inform the content you create, your content will do a much better job of speaking to the exact audience you’re targeting.

3) Content Mix Plan

Once you know why you’re creating content and for whom, you can determine what type to create. Depending on what your marketing funnel looks like, you’ll need a couple different types: content that educates and engages prospects at the top of the funnel and encourages them to learn more, as well as content for the bottom of the funnel that answers very specific questions and addresses objections to working with you.

That content can take any number of forms, from guest-contributed articles on online publications to blog posts, white papers, email campaigns, sales enablement materials, and more. What’s especially important here is thinking through the variety of earned, owned, and paid media you’ll need to keep prospects moving through this funnel.

4) Content Creation Process

You could follow each of the above steps exactly and still fall flat on your face when it’s time to actually put pen to paper. Creating content of your own and turning your company leaders into content creators takes time and effort.

So before you dig into executing your content plan, determine which processes, workflows, and resources make the most sense for your team. Perhaps taking advantage of content creation tools will make your job easier, or partnering with an agency to help may be a better solution.

5) Editorial Calendar

Consistency is key in content marketing. It’s your opportunity to build trust with your audience members, nurture them, and become a resource for them. Once you know what kinds of content you need to create, it’s time to develop a calendar or schedule to make sure you deliver.

Your editorial calendar should detail how often you need to publish to keep your audience engaged and when you’ll distribute your published pieces. Mapping out your target deadlines for different pieces will keep your process on track.

6) Distribution Plan

Distribution is all about getting your content to the right people at the right time. That can mean publishing articles in publications your target audience members are already reading, using a paid distribution plan on social to attract readers to your white paper, or simply including your content in your email newsletters.

Your distribution plan should be part of your documented strategy because knowing where and how you plan to distribute your content informs the type of content you create, how often you do it, and which processes you utilize. It’s a key part of your content marketing strategy, so don’t start executing the strategy until you’ve thought it through.

7) ROI Calculator

Remember when you identified your overall mission at the beginning of this document? You need to identify from the beginning how you’re going to measure success with this campaign, and now’s your chance to match metrics to your goals to gauge how well your content is helping to achieve that mission.

Set some benchmarks you want to hit concerning traffic to your website, leads generated, or opportunities created through content, and set up a plan for tracking this using anything from your own modest spreadsheets to a robust software package.

If this documented strategy seems like a lot, that’s because it is. Nobody said that content marketing was simple, but it’s well worth the investment, especially when you set yourself up for success. And with these seven must-have elements detailed in your documented content strategy, your team will be off to a fantastic start.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/documenting-content-marketing-strategy

8 How-To Videos We Love (and Why)

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Have you ever learned how to do something with the help of an internet search?

The answer is most likely a resounding “yes.” Most recently, I taught myself how to fold a fitted sheet with a helpful video from homemaker extraordinaire and friend of Snoop Dogg Martha Stewart.

Videos are an especially compelling way to learn how to do something online because, well, the video shows you exactly how to do it. I’m not alone here, either — 4X as many customers would prefer to watch a video about a product, rather than read about it. So if you’re among the many marketers producing more video content this year, there could be a lot of value in making videos specifically for those in your audience who are trying to learn how to do something, too.

In this post, we’ll explore just how popular these searches are on YouTube and what you can learn from eight how-to videos about how to make great teaching videos of your own.

How-To Video Searches Are Popular

How-to searches are incredibly popular. Think about just in your own life for a moment, and reconsider my question at the beginning of this blog post.

As it turns out, 91% of smartphone users consult their various devices seeking help completing a task. But these searches aren’t all happening on Google. People are searching for videos to learn how to do things on YouTube.

According to Think With Google, how-to searches are increasing 70% year-over-year on YouTube, and more than 100 million hours of how-to videos were watched in North America alone in recent years.

8 How-To Videos on YouTube to Learn From

1) How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

You may recognize the title of this how-to video — it’s the one I mentioned earlier in this very blog post. Are you always gets stymied when putting away fitted sheets on laundry day like me?

What I love about this video is how it showcases personality. It’s a simple how-to video of humans demonstrating how to do something, without any animations or high tech features, but it’s still extremely effective at teaching the viewer. Stewart and her guests make jokes about how hard it is to fold the sheet — Stewart even joking that her inability to do so led to her divorce — and they show the viewer how easy it is to get tripped up in the process. Stewart and her guests also have empathy for the viewer and show exactly how to avoid pitfalls along the way.

Takeaway for marketers: If you want to create a how-to video “hosted” by a real, live human, make sure they act like a human. Videos are an easy way for brands to showcase personality, so put yourself in the shoes of your viewer, and infuse humor, sincerity, and empathy into your instructions. If the concept you’re explaining is complicated, tell the viewer that. If you had no idea how to use your product at first, share that. Speaking like a human — instead of reading off a script like a robot — will make your video memorable, effective, and enjoyable, too.

2) How to Cook Perfect Pasta

Tasty on BuzzFeed shares cooking and recipe videos that frequently go viral on YouTube and other social media and reach millions of people every month. But this video isn’t one of Tasty’s trademark recipe videos — it’s one of several how-to videos that break down common or difficult cooking skills step-by-step. 

In this video, Tasty uses hyperlapse to speed up the cooking demonstration and get the viewer the information they need as quickly as possible. This fast-paced filming style is eye-catching if it starts auto-playing in a social media feed, too. Tasty chose a smart how-to search term, too — there’s a ton of search volume around the phrase “how to cook pasta.”

Takeaway for marketers: Viewers prefer YouTube videos on the shorter side, so sped-up hyperlapse filming helps conserve time and creates a neat visual effect. Work backward and conduct keyword research to learn what terms your audience is searching for to find a topic to make your video about.

3) How to Escape Quicksand

Evidently, Princess Buttercup’s tragic fall into quicksand in The Princess Bride wouldn’t have been quite as terrifying in real life.

In this how-to video, Tech Insider uses captions and animations to break down a complicated concept. I wasn’t exactly searching for information on how to escape quicksand when I found this video, but the unique subject matter made me instantly click, intrigued. What’s more, the sound isn’t required — although it does add dramatic effect — which might make people more likely to click and watch all the way through, since many social media videos are watched on mute.

Takeaway for marketers: Your how-to videos don’t necessarily need to be about a dry topic related to your industry. If you create a fascinating piece of content that goes viral, you’ll generate interest in your brand that way. Animations and captions help to show — rather than explain — trickier concepts like quicksand, so consider these visual elements for high-level explanations. And if there’s a way to make your videos volume-agnostic, do so. Some videos will require narration or other sounds, but the visual elements mentioned previously could do the talking for you.

4) How to Blow Out Curly Hair

Anyone who’s ever gotten a blowout knows that it can be expensive and time-consuming to have it professionally done.

So Bustle cleverly made a how-to video that teaches viewers how to DIY and save money — a motivating factor behind many how-to online searches, I suspect. This video is also short, which MiniMatters suggests for enticing viewers to watch videos all the way through. YouTube counts a view as once a video has been watched for approximately 30 seconds, so viewers with short attention spans might be more likely to stick around for that long if they see a video is shorter, like this one.

Takeaway for marketers: Almost everybody wants to save money where they can, so think about ways your how-to video could help viewers do that when brainstorming topics. When filming, try to keep videos as short as possible to attract viewers and keep them watching all the way through to steadily increase your number of YouTube views.

5) How to Add a Friend to a Group

In this short and sweet how-to demonstration video, Facebook infuses humor to provide context for the topic it unpacks. It gives the viewer a chuckle, and research shows that content that elicits strong positive feelings makes the material more memorable and sticky.

Takeaway for marketers: Don’t be afraid to be humorous and silly in your videos — even if it’s a little dorky, like in this example. It helps place the lesson your video teaches in context for your viewer and shows off the more personable side of your brand.

6) How to Asana: Planning with Asana calendar

Asana cleverly brands its how-to video series as “How to Asana,” and all of the videos in the series feature a consistent theme. All of the videos in this series are under two minutes in length, are hosted by the same person, and feature an eye-popping yellow background. The meat of the video consists of a screencast of someone using the Asana calendar tool, but these branding details bring life to what would otherwise be a rather boring video.

Takeaway for marketers: If you’re thinking about creating a how-to video series, take the extra time to make it memorable and recognizable. These efforts will make videos look more professional and will make viewers want to keep tuning in for more helpful videos if they know they can expect more.

7) How to Create an Animated GIF in Photoshop

Who else here loves GIFs? That’s right — everyone loves GIFs.

But before I watched the video above, I had no idea how easy it was to make my own. That’s the ideal reaction to a how-to video, by the way — “that was so easy.”

Adobe’s how-to video is a great example of a software demonstration video because it zooms in on only the necessary information. Instead of confusing the viewer by showing the entire Photoshop interface, the video features magnified animations of only the buttons and tools they need to accomplish the task at hand.

Takeaway for marketers: If you’re making a technology demonstration how-to video, consider how it will appear to any first-time product users watching. Try to minimize any confusion by only filming elements of the technology needed for your video so viewers can follow along on their devices.

8) How to Increase Your Facebook Reach and Outsmart the Algorithm

You might be hesitant to create videos to explain a complicated subject matter, but that could actually be the most effective medium to help your audience understand something.

In this video, my colleague Megan Conley breaks down the many nuances of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm in a clear and concise manner. Then, graphics, animations, and screencasts supplement what she talks about with data visualizations to make the stats and figures more memorable for the viewer. Finally, the video ends with helpful next steps viewers can take to solve the problem outlined in the video. The video isn’t about how to use HubSpot software at all — it’s only in the business of helping people get better results.

Takeaway for marketers: The most compelling how-to video might be one that doesn’t mention your product at all. Think about what questions your audience might be asking and establish your brand as a thought leader with helpful videos that don’t end with a sales pitch.

How to Make How-To Videos

Now that you have inspiration from real-life B2B and B2C brand videos, start thinking about how you could create helpful content for your audience.

Create buyer personas and use these to inform your strategy. What types of questions does your audience ask about your product? What questions do they ask about your industry? What problems does your product solve that you could demonstrate in a video? Use tools like Google Trends and HubSpot’s Keywords tool to learn more about the types of searches your audience is conducting and what content you could create to answer those questions.

What’s the best how-to video you’ve ever seen? Share with us in the comments below.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/how-to-videos-examples

Is an MBA Worth the Money?

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Here on the HubSpot Marketing Blog, I haven’t exactly made it a secret that I went to business school. It was an experience that provided two years’ worth of fodder, lessons learned, and other actionables that I like to share here.

But there’s one question I have yet to answer, at least in this venue, about the time spent earning my MBA: Was it worth it?

It’s a question I considered even before I began applying to different business schools, and one in which I’m certainly not alone. When I asked my colleagues if any of them had experienced the great “Should I get my MBA?” debate, there was a clamor of responses. Many of us — all marketing professionals — had experienced the same decision-making process, which made us realize how many other marketers out there must be going through the same thing. Download our free SEO ebook here for more tips from experts on increasing  your search rankings. 

While the topic seems to be eternally up for debate, we agree that there are instances when people should, in fact, go for an MBA — but it’s important to have a clear idea of what those circumstances are, and if they really apply to you. And if they don’t, fear not: There are alternatives. We’ve outlined the factors that do make an MBA worth the investment — and the other things you can do until that day arrives.

When an MBA Is Worth the Money

1) When you know exactly what you want out of it.

Before I began studying for the GMAT — the required admission exam for most MBA programs — I spent about five years deciding whether or not to apply to business school. I had a lot of questions, many of which were shared by my colleague, Mimi An, when she was faced with the same decision. For her, she told me:

The biggest things to consider were if I was at a place where I couldn’t progress further in my career, if I wanted to change function or industry, if I wanted to move, and what exactly I wanted out of the degree. I couldn’t answer the last question. In fact, the answer was ‘no’ to most of my questions. I could still progress. I did not want to change function. I did not want to move. I didn’t know what I expected to get out of it.”

According to Investopedia, the average cost of an MBA is $140,000 — and $260,000 if you’re not working or earning any income while you’re in school. Think of it this way: Would you spend that much on a luxury car or new condo if you weren’t sure why you were buying it? That’s a big chunk of change to spend on something that you aren’t certain is going to benefit you in some way.

Of course, for many people, the answer to those questions is overwhelmingly “yes” — in fact, they were for me. At the time, I wasn’t progressing in my career and I wanted to move, which are two fundamental reasons why I ultimately made the decision to go to business school. But not everyone will have the same responses to those important questions, nor do they come easily to anyone — so be sure to put sufficient time into them.

2) When your work isn’t teaching you what you need to grow.

There’s an important point that An made in her quote above — how much room for growth you have in your current career trajectory, whether that means you’re able to progress in your current job, or do it elsewhere.

If you’re not getting the right learning opportunities in your current workplace, but you’re also short on some of the skills to progress in another role or company, it might be time to think about getting an advanced degree. It’s what Jim O’Neill, HubSpot’s chief information officer, realized early in his career here, when he was also considering leaving to pursue an MBA.

“I couldn’t get it out of my head that I’d be giving up more by leaving the company at that stage than I’d ever be able to learn in business school,” he said. “And while I still might want a graduate degree someday, I was lucky to stay, learn, and grow over the following six years.”

But again — everyone’s experience is different. When O’Neill was contemplating this decision, HubSpot happened to be scaling up, which forced him to learn a lot of crucial business lessons as a byproduct of being in the throes of a company’s earliest stages. Not everyone will be in that same position, and some people will have to seek the lessons O’Neill learned elsewhere.

Depending on the program you choose, an MBA could be the best place to gain this knowledge. So when you’re making this decision, carefully evaluate where you are in your career, and how much you can learn on your current trajectory without an advanced degree.

3) When you actually have the time to dedicate to it.

During my first semester of business school, I was working full-time while also completing my coursework. Granted, most of my classes were at night, which on the surface seems like a convenient arrangement. But as any student will tell you, your academic work extends far beyond the hours you spend in the classroom. There are exams to study for, papers to write, and group projects to complete.

In other words, if you add that to your current professional workload — your nights and weekends are pretty much toast. At least, that was my experience.

That may seem like a sacrifice you’re willing to make, but think about it, in the context of the previous points. Even if you’re certain of your reasons for pursuing an MBA, do you really have the time to dedicate to it? Will you also be able to sufficiently take care of yourself, and spend enough time with loved ones to maintain a measurable level of mental health?

It’s easy to think that the answers to those questions are “yes” — in fact, I told myself that I would have plenty of time to work out between classes or before work in the morning, and to cook healthy meals ahead of time on the weekends. And while that was sometimes true, it required extremely strict time management, and left precious little time to actually relax.

My colleague, Karla Cook — who’s working full-time while pursuing her master’s degree — agrees. “I tell people the only reason they should work full-time while pursuing a graduate degree is if they get offered an opportunity that falls in the ‘dream job’ category,” she explains. “If that’s not the case, then it’s probably not worth completely killing yourself over, because you will have no free time.”

But the good news is, it’s temporary. Business school doesn’t last forever — though it might seem like that while you’re going through it. But before you seriously consider going through this kind of program, have a clear idea of what’s going to make it “worth it” to you. Having that goal in mind gives you something tangible to keep you motivated during these stressful periods.

4) … And when you have the money saved.

They say that “time is money” — and just as you must be sure you’re willing to sacrifice the former, you also have to make certain that you have the latter. Remember those aforementioned dollar figures we cited about the true cost of an MBA? File this point under deciding what will make the degree “worth it,” with “it” being the hundreds of thousands of dollars that your degree will likely cost.

When you’re deciding whether or not to go to business school, ask yourself if you can afford to take on student loan debt. If you’ve just bought a house, paid for a wedding, expanded your family, or bought a car — the answer might be “no,” unless you happen to have a lot of liquid funds at your disposal.

That said, loans aren’t the only answer. You should also see what other resources might be available to you, like scholarships or fellowships, some of which might even be available through the school you end up attending.

When you begin selecting which programs you’ll apply to, explore their respective policies on merit-based financial aid — that’s the kind that you don’t usually have to repay. There are several guides to external merit scholarships available to MBA students, as well, like this one from GoGrad.org.

5) When the program’s career resources will actually help you.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, this point also speaks to the idea of what will make an MBA program “worth it.” Again, everyone’s priorities are different, but if you’re going to business school with the hope of advancing your career with a new employer, make sure the school you choose has the right resources to support your job search.

This factor is one that institutions know prospective students take seriously. In the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Alumni Perspectives Survey Report 2017, 91% of respondents indicated that they found their MBAs to be “professionally rewarding,” and many schools feel a lot of pressure to uphold that significant figure for their own students. For that reason, many graduate students have found advertised career services to sometimes be a bit embellished. Cook echoes that sentiment, and says she’s come across many graduate programs that lack “any useful career benefits,” despite what they claim.

In my own MBA experience, those services weren’t exactly embellished, but they were removed from the university’s budget after I had committed to the program. That wasn’t entirely negative — experiences like those can teach some students crucial lessons on networking and other valuable job search skills. Evaluate the resources available to you through a very fine lens, and consider how much of a priority they are in selecting a business school.

6) When your employer will cover your tuition.

This one seems a bit obvious, but it requires some reading between the lines, so to speak. If your employer will reimburse your MBA tuition, it might seem like a proverbial no-brainer to take advantage of that benefit. But understand what will be required if you do.

First, understand that you’ll most likely have to pay taxes on any amount of reimbursement you receive over $5,250. Also, some employers require you to stay with the company for a certain amount of time upon completion of your degree as a condition of receiving this benefit. Once again — ask yourself what your reasons are for pursuing an MBA. If they include progressing your career in a new work environment, taking a route that requires you to stay with the same employer for at least two years after you graduate might not be the most optimal one.

You might notice that many of these considerations work in tandem. For example, the point above about tuition reimbursement from your employer could be countered by having enough money saved to invest in the degree yourself, or being in a position to use student loans. That’s why we encourage you to spend ample time thinking about all of these factors — getting an MBA isn’t a minor decision.

When an MBA Is Not Worth the Money

1) When you should get a different degree.

Maybe — just maybe — you’ve decided against getting an MBA because it’s simply not the right degree for your career trajectory, or for what you’re hoping to do. If you’re looking to specialize in corporate communications, for example, it might be worthwhile to look into graduate programs that specialize in it, and have the catered career resources to support it.

That idea re-emphasizes the importance of knowing exactly what you’re hoping to gain from an MBA. When you outline your goals, compare them to the standard coursework required of an MBA, and see if they align. If not, it might be time to look into a different academic concentration.

2) When you can work for an emerging or early-stage business.

Remember O’Neill’s great story of how much he learned from sticking with a company that was scaling up — in lieu of pursuing an MBA? As we mentioned earlier, working with a company in its earliest stages often forces its employees, whether they like it or not, to learn a ton of business fundamentals.

In a valuable MBA program, you should learn such fundamentals as managing budgets, personnel, projects, and — when the company really begins to take off — scaling it to keep up with that growth. Sounds a lot like the type of thing that managers have to learn with a new, emerging business, doesn’t it? If that’s the type of work and knowledge you crave, it could be time to look for job opportunities with a company in these early stages.

3) When you can use individual courses to gain the skills you’re missing.

When I was in business school, I was fortunate enough to have some truly great professors. But I also learned something else — without naming names, I realized that while many academic instructors are experts in their respective fields, that doesn’t mean they excel when it comes to teaching.

That meant, for certain subjects, I sometimes had to seek outside resources to supplement classroom teachings — most notably, Khan Academy, an online provider of free classes and courses. I found out about it through a classmate in a particularly difficult class, and once I started using it for that particular topic, I saw how much knowledge the site has to offer.

And while I wasn’t about to abandon my MBA to self-teach via this resource alone, it did make me realize that, for individual areas and skills, sites like these can be a tremendous help to those who aren’t ready to pursue a full degree, but want to improve their professional credentials. And Khan Academy — despite offering a plethora of courses on subjects ranging from economics to art history — is hardly the only resource of this kind. Our favorites include Coursera, edX, HubSpot AcademyLynda, and Udemy. Even better, some of these sites, like Coursera, actually offer classes taught by faculty of some top-tier schools, including Stanford.

To B-School, or Not to B-School

Deciding whether or not to pursue your MBA is a pretty big decision — it can be a significant investment of both time and money. But, for many, it’s worth it. And now, you have a checklist to help make that decision just a little bit easier.

And as for me — the verdict is in. My MBA was worth it. In the thick of my coursework, I did sometimes question, “Why am I doing this?” Plus, I agree that there are many times when the investment just isn’t necessary. But in the end, I remain very happy with my decision to go to business school. I got to experience living in a new city, gain new skills, and figure out what I don’t want to do, which, to me, is a milestone in one’s career progression.

All in all, I think of it as a very productive use of my time — and I want it to be for you, too. You’ll make the right decision. But please, don’t make it in a hurry.

What are your thoughts on pursuing an MBA? Let us know in the comments.

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from Marketing https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/is-an-mba-worth-the-money

Applications Of Machine Learning For Designers




 


 

As a designer, you will be facing more demands and opportunities to work with digital systems that embody machine learning. To have your say about how best to use it, you need a good understanding about its applications and related design patterns.

Applications Of Machine Learning For Designers

This article illustrates the power of machine learning through the applications of detection, prediction and generation. It gives six reasons why machine learning makes products and services better and introduces four design patterns relevant to such applications. To help you get started, I have included two non-technical questions that will help with assessing whether your task is ready to be learned by a machine.

The post Applications Of Machine Learning For Designers appeared first on Smashing Magazine.

from Marketing https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/04/applications-machine-learning-designers/