Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can the Business Hug Be Far Behind?

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When did hand shakes and pats on the back get replaced by tight, long, two armed, bear hugs?

A phenomenon happened in the past 20 years or so where now full on embraces have become quite customary in the most casual settings and public spaces. World leaders do it at summits. World Series winners do it preceded by a run and jump. Actors do it after each performance. So yes, it's more than okay when men hug. But to me, the platonic embrace seems like it's being overused and more from as a calculated tactic than a genuine display of emotion.

Odder still to me is the opposite sex, platonic hug. Now, when I walk into my local Japanese restaurant or sports bar I am greeted by a long warm embrace by the hostess and/or waitress. Believe me, this divorced middle-aged man is not complaining. And there are no ulterior motives implied by these women, as I may tip well, but I don't tip with Lamborghinis. But in the single evening I can go from meeting the new bartender to receiving a warm hug goodbye from her even if I just dropped by for an iced tea. It's become S.O.P. for those in the service industry.
When I was growing up, if you received a warm embrace from a single woman who was not your relative, there was a good chance that she would become your relative or at the very least your girlfriend. In fact, the "no hug for you" handshake is still the international first date symbol for "Not interested, buddy." So I'm not the only one who still hold hugs in high esteem.

Don't get me wrong. I come from a hugging family. My dad always hugged me growing up, I hug my kid, but aside from visits from grandma who always chooses to smother with love, I pick and choose my hugs, using them more sparingly. It's because hugs really mean something more to me. It's a step above and beyond just a handshake or a peck on the cheek. It's a way of showing that I really care and I'm overcome with emotion.
I'm not sure what the cut-off age is, but for middle aged and older people, hugs, particularly from acquaintances can be genuinely flattering and oddly uncomfortable all at the same time. So if you feel us tense up, that's probably why.

Which brings me to the business hug. Yes, that's right.  It's pretty commonplace at sales incentive meetings as you congratulate the winner of the most widgets sold. And it happens at the holiday party - though those of us who have been in business awhile know all too well a lot more can happen at office parties than a random New Year's hug. It's on the rise and I don't think it will be long before it becomes an almost daily occurrence.

I'm sure it's a sign of the times, like casual Fridays, and bring your dog to work day. And making the workplace more comfortable is just good business. All I'm saying is that maybe hugging one out after clearing the paper jam on the copy machine might not really be a good idea nonetheless appropriate. Or maybe I'm overreacting and I just need a good hug?

Monday, September 29, 2014

SEO vs. SEM: the Real War for Top Placement

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Forget net neutrality, there's a bigger war taking place online today. It's the battle between search engine optimization (SEO) versus search engine marketing (SEM) to get to the top of the search engine result pages (SERP). And the most shocking thing about it is most business leaders don't realize that the two practices are working against each other.

Wait a second? Did he just say SEO and SEM compete against each other? Yep. Most companies erroneously use the terms interchangeably which is at the crux of the problem. So let's first start with an explanation of terms.

SEO is a practice of tailoring or "optimizing" the contents of your websites, landing pages, pdfs, videos, and social media posts so that your brand (product, service, company, or client) comes up at the top (or close to it) when someone performs a search. While SEM is the practice of bidding on placement of your brand in the designated marketing areas of a search engine and/or their partner sites for contextual advertising, and paid inclusion.

But let's simplify that further in a way that makes sense to all businesses. SEO = free. SEM = paid. And the overwhelming percentage of a company's SEM costs is due to the fact that they do their SEO poorly, inconsistently, or were late to the game. True, the on-going costs of an SEO service or company are not free, but they are fixed and you are not in a bidding war against all your competition. And some people prefer the paid searches as they are highlighted and/or appear first.

Search marketing is deployed by many sites not just search engines. LinkedIn lets job applicants appear at the top for a fee when applying to positions, for example. Dating sites let you highlight your profile and your face appear at the top of searches for a price. But these non-search engine sites do not let you optimize your profile like you are able to optimize your web content. 

Search engines (e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) actually are giving you a choice of whether you want to pay or not. And they actually reward those who adhere to their search algorithms standards (white hat SEO practices) with top positions.

The irony is that SEM is winning this war simply because SEO practices are so widely ignored. Listen, no one said Google or its search algorithms were easy to understand. Or keep up with. They change it periodically for two reasons: one to improve customer searching satisfaction, and two, to prevent all the tricks (black hat practices) SEO companies and webmasters devise to cheat the system such as bogus or reciprocated back links, replicated sites, irrelevant bloggers, etc.

As I like to tell people, I've literally been doing Google Adwords before Google was. The early keyword bidding companies have been gobbled up (or Googled up as the case may be) since then, but those were simplier days. Now Google Adwords and the Bing/Yahoo Advertising are the one that matter for most businesses.

But SEM has become significantly more customizable (read complicated). Then there's Ad Tech that watches your browsing habits and serves you ads based upon your history. More and more companies are creating SEM manager positions and less towards SEO. I'm not saying SEM doesn't have it's place. Some of it actually aids in ranking because it drives more viewers to your site. But SEM should be the foot soldier not the General leading your marketing efforts.

What about the browsers? Where do they fall in this SEO/SEM war? Each browser calls them something different (add ons, extensions, extras, plugins etc.) and I guarantee that Adblock is at the top of the most downloaded. People have it in their power to block all those ads automatically. More tweaks let you easily block those bots that track your every move. I've been using these so long that I'm often confused when people complain about the ads on their gmail, facebook, news sites, everywhere because I no longer see them.

Once the general public catches onto the ad blocking plugins, the SEO/SEM war will heat up even more. Such things as pop-under ads, and pay-per-view ads (not to be confused with pay-per-click) will become more prevalent. If you're wondering, I am often paid to do both so think of me as Switzerland when it comes to this battle. But for now, those putting all their funds into SEM and not SEO may regret it in the long run.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Filling Open Spaces with Your Marketing Brand

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Maybe it's a sign of age, a growing reliance on technology, or just impatience, but when I'm introduced to someone now I forget their name literally the moment they mention it. But then there are things that people say that I wish I could forget but can't. I'm not talking about disturbing, unsettling, or insulting remarks - my mind does a good job of erasing those memories. No, I'm talking about random thoughts that are seemingly insignificant at the time, not good or bad, but somehow stay with me forever.

For instance, every time I wash a cooking pan, I think of an old co-worker named Chuck. When I was a newlywed, Chuck goadingly quipped to my new bride how he'd bet that I was so lazy that I didn't wash the handle when washing the pan. (It turns out he had been admonished by his wife for the same oversight.) "Yes," my then wife replied in a frustrated voice, "and it drives me crazy!"

Not only did Chuck's off-the-cuff remark land me a place on the couch that evening, it lodged in my memory forever. I can think of other instances when acquaintances and friends made random comments and observations that replay in my head like a bad infomercial. Not all of them were sarcastic, or critical. Sometimes they were funny and even sweet. They all had one thing in common. They all occurred when I was in the midst of performing menial tasks that I do everyday that do not require thought nor ones that I associate with any person or brand.

As a marketer, that stickiness is what we shoot for every time. If I was somehow able to do this cognitively and in a positive way, I'd be onto something. The challenge of course is finding these open spaces. And not just tasks, but sights and sounds: the windshield wipers on your car, your laser printer spitting out another page, etc. These open spaces are golden opportunities to associate products and services with targeted customers.

Who or what do you think of when you are washing a pan? I'm willing to bet no one and nothing. Who do your customers think of when they are using the products and services you market? Now we are zoning in the essence of branding. We are always striving to have our company/product top of mind. But unless it's new technology, there are a lot of competitors trying to do the same thing. Digital marketing has allowed us to better pinpoint more of those open spaces while social media provides a way to punctuate those points.

Open spaces should not be confused with the practice of selling benefits over features. I'm not talking about marketing the sizzle over the steak. I'm saying that these open spaces may have nothing at all to do with your product. What do polar bears really have to do with drinking Coca-Cola? So there's no reason why I can't think of your software went hiding my shoelaces, or remember your breakfast cereal when I hear the beep of my car alarm. Rather than shoot for the low hanging fruit of marketing and compete with an army of others, we should be searching out that Achilles' heel. So rather than the pan, look to the handle.