Seven years ago, in the midst of an economic recession, Boston’s Yale Appliance + Lighting was losing money. “I’d read somewhere that people will buy some things anyway during a recession — and one of those things was refrigerators,” recalls CEO Steve Sheinkopf. “So we pumped more money into radio and newspaper advertising, thinking it would help. It didn’t — it hurt.”
Sheinkopf, who had taken over the store founded by his grandfather, refocused with what was (at the time) a radical approach. He doubled down on a digital marketing strategy that included social media, blogging, reputation management and email components.
The focus on a content-based inbound marketing program allowed Sheinkopf to bring his advertising budget to near zero. (Last year, he says, he spent nothing aside from seasonal Google AdWords buys around Black Friday and a tax-free holiday weekend.)
Today Yale Appliance is profitable and growing, with 140 employees. Top-line revenue is expected to hit $80 million this year, and in June the company opened a state-of-the-art showroom in Framingham, Mass. — only its second store after 92 years in business.
So how did Sheinkopf use digital marketing to turn around his grandfather’s company? There’s no magic or special gift involved. “Obviously I’m not a genius; otherwise, I wouldn’t be in the appliance business,” he laughs.
What he does have: commitment. A content-based marketing strategy requires it. Here’s how you can get similar results.
1. Actively manage your online reputation.
When you’re a small, regional business, you compete with companies that can easily outspend you in advertising. In Sheinkopf’s case, that includes big-time players: Sears, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s.
But digital content can give small, scrappy companies a bigger footprint — if they’re willing to work it. “Google is democratic,” Sheinkopf notes. What’s more, online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can give a small business direct insight into its brand reputation. “Businesses may despise Yelp, but [it’s] a window on how you operate and are perceived,” he says.
So encourage social reviews, thank people who say nice things, and view negative reviews as an opportunity to fix what’s broken. “It’s painful to see a negative comment or review,” Sheinkopf admits. But take a long-term view: Use the criticism as a chance to both resolve an immediate issue for one customer and to improve a process or system for the good of future customers.
2. Know what your customers want.
In 2007, when Sheinkopf started blogging, he got some traction through organic search results. But things really ignited when he dug deeper into digital marketing basics. He credits Marcus Sheridan at thesaleslion.com with teaching him how to write a metatag, a headline and a call to action that can convert prospects into customers.
Sheinkopf also studied customer reactions to figure out what kind of posts would be most useful. It turned out that trend pieces and specific comparisons of, say, a Thermador to a Viking cooktop, got the most traffic. Recommendation posts like “The 5 best counter depth refrigerators” also did well.
Creating customer-centric content takes time. But it’s a valuable exercise, for two reasons: It helps you understand what motivates customers, and it requires you to learn everything about your stock, inside and out.
Online content has become Yale’s biggest driver of new business, Sheinkopf says. Page views were at 18,000 visitors per month in 2011; this past August, the site had 448,000 visitors. What’s more, those who visit the blog and download buyer’s guides convert into buyers at a much higher rate. That’s why Sheinkopf personally reviews all the content his blog publishes.
I told him I was surprised that the CEO manages the company blog, and he laughed: “There’s no better business-development effort. So why wouldn’t I?”
3. Make customers smarter.
Yale Appliance has more than 20 guides covering everything from how to buy under-cabinet lighting to what to look for in a dishwasher. Many of those started as internal, vendor- agnostic training resources for new employees. “We already had a 10-page guide on an induction oven,” Sheinkopf says. It wasn’t a far leap to turn it into a buying guide for customers.
Yale uses marketing-automation vendor HubSpot to nurture customers through the buying process. Anyone who downloads a guide to buying a sub-zero fridge opts-in to a series of emails designed to deliver more information about the appliances. Those emails have a high engagement rate: 35 percent, vs. 5 to 10 percent for other emails Yale sends (mainly newsletters and daily promotions).
“We focus on making our customer smarter,” Sheinkopf says. “People want to be informed; they don’t want to be sold to anymore—if they ever did.”
4. Invest in staff and other resources that touch customers.
Customer happiness is rooted in happy employees. So Yale hires carefully, finding employees with the right cultural fit and making sure they are happy and well taken care of — through profit sharing and generous benefit packages, as well as top-notch training programs.
Yale has also spent time and effort identifying and investing in improvements to customer experience, including better phone and computer systems.
5. Quit procrastinating.
Sheinkopf embraced content marketing long before a lot of other businesses caught on. So is his success linked to a first-mover advantage? “Good, original information is still good, original information,” he points out. “Good content is still good content.”
In other words, any small business can — and shouldtake advantage of these digital strategies. “I’m not an outlier,” Sheinkopf adds. “There are still millions of industries and countless opportunities in underserved markets. You just have to refuse to do business like everyone else.”
Conversion tracking enables you to match each advertising dollar to its business impact and answer important questions like “How successful is my ad campaign?” “Which audiences are converting higher?” or “Which keywords lead to more sales?” The answers and related conversion insights will help you make better decisions for your campaigns. Based on your feedback, we’re making a useful change to our conversion reporting that will help you focus your business decisions and actions across our platform.
1. Conversions will now be reported based on the time of the ad click that led to the conversion. 2. Assists will now be reported based on the time of the ad click that contributed to a conversion.
This will improve the performance of ad schedule bid modifiers, as they align better to the time of the click, instead of the conversion.
Let’s walk through an example to illustrate how this change will show up across our reporting.
Day 1: A user clicks on your ad (keyword 1) and browses through your website to see if you have a product they want.
Day 2: The same user clicks on another one of your ads (keyword 2) and, while on your website, adds a product to their cart.
Day 3: The user goes to your website and completes the purchase of the product in their shopping cart.
Both the conversion event and assist event will be reported to you as the time of the related ad click, making it easier for you to understand the customer journey and related conversion metrics.
Note that our platform will continue to use a last-click attribution model for conversion tracking. That remains unchanged with this update.
If you’re using auto-bidding, no actions are required because the algorithm optimizes using the historical data.
Before this change
After this change
What should I expect?
Websites where conversions typically happen close to the click event may not see much change in their reporting. Websites with longer conversion windows from the click event may see some fluctuations in their reporting for a short time as the new reporting data stabilizes. This will not affect any conversion activity on your website, just the reporting data to Bing Ads.
You can review this help article if you see discrepancies between Bing Ads conversion counts and third-party analytics systems.
We wanted to update you about an upcoming change Facebook is introducing to their platform, and which affects how you may share posts from your WordPress.com website to your Facebook account.
Starting August 1, 2018, third-party tools can no longer share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles. This includes Publicize, the tool for WordPress.com and Jetpack-powered sites that connects your site to major social media platforms (like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook).
Will this affect your ability to share content on Facebook? It depends. If you’ve connected a Facebook Profile to your site, then yes: Publicize will no longer be able to share your posts to Facebook. On the other hand, nothing will change if you keep a Facebook Page connected to your site — all your content should still appear directly on Facebook via Publicize. (Not sure what the difference is between a Page and a Profile? Here’s Facebook’s explanation.)
If you’ve previously connected a Facebook Profile to your WordPress.com site and still want your Facebook followers to see your posts, you have two options. First, you could go the manual route: once you publish a new post, copy its URL and share the link in a new Facebook post. (You can also share right from the WordPress mobile apps after a scheduled post goes live.)
The other option is to convert your Facebook Profile to a Page. This might not be the right solution for everyone, but it’s something to consider if your website focuses on your business, organization, or brand.
While Facebook is introducing this change to improve their platform and prevent the misuse of personal profiles, we know that this might cause a disruption in the way you and your Facebook followers interact. If you’d like to share your concerns with Facebook, head to their Help Community.
“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” wrote Jonathan Swift over 200 years ago.
If that was the case back then, before telephones and radio, let alone Twitter and Instagram, imagine how much bigger the problem is now. In fact, it’s so big that “fake news” has become a hot topic for those on both sides of the political spectrum. Gartner has gone as far as predicting that by 2022, we will consume more lies than truth.
But if technology has exacerbated the situation, there’s hope that it may also offer remedies. In particular, artificial intelligence – in its most useful current form, machine learning – can potentially be a powerful tool for sorting truth from fiction.
Machine learning is already being used by banks and financial institutions to comb through records of financial transactions, looking for tell-tale signs of errors or fraud, and then using that data to become more efficient – effectively “learning” without human input.
In the same way, algorithms can be trained to monitor media – across both social networks and news organizations – looking for tell-tale signs that any piece of output might be out of alignment with whatever objective truths are known regarding situations or events.
One exciting application of this technology comes from Belgium-based startup VeriFlix. They have developed a method of scanning user-submitted videos – which play an increasingly significant part in the output of most media organizations – and attempting to determine whether they actually are what they purport to be.
After winning funding through Google’s Digital News Initiative, the company’s technology is now being put to use by one of that country’s largest media outlets – Rourlarta, with promising results.
Founder Donald Staar talked to me about how the platform had evolved from its initial conception as a peer-to-peer crowdsourcing app for videos. Media organizations would make a request for video footage through the app, and any user within the correct geolocation could switch on their phone and start filming.
“Once the videos get sent to the platform we add a layer which first detects the content of every stream – so we can say what we see in the video, alongside the geolocation data and time stamp,” Staar tells me.
“And once the videos are tagged we can compare them to one another, so that if for example, one request results in 1,000 videos, we can compare the content of every video and if a majority of the videos show the same content, then it can verify the authenticity of what has been shot.
“If 800 videos out of 1,000 show the same thing then the probability that the video has been faked is very low.”
Veriflix uses the YOLO (You Only Look Once) real-time object detection algorithms to classify and label contents of videos, before passing that data through to proprietary algorithms, designed in partnership with KU Leuven University. These algorithms analyze the data, alongside timestamp and geolocation information passed through the application’s secure interface.
Staar says “There are two main advantages – the first is that media companies can now make sure that videos they use are authentic and shot in the location where they say they are taken, and not modified or doctored.
“The other advantage is that they are able to bridge the gap between themselves and their audience – let their audience become a part of the story, and source exclusive and verified content very quickly. It can be for small things, too – it doesn’t have to just be big, breaking news.”
As is common with those working in today’s AI space, Staar is keen to point out that the idea isn’t to put journalists and human fact-checkers out of jobs.
“It will not replace the job of the journalist – we will always need journalists to put everything in perspective, but to get the raw data, this will be a great tool.”
Of course, as technology advances, the tools that fakers use to attempt to pull the wool over our eyes are likely to become increasingly sophisticated. It’s already possible to make highly realistic videos putting words in the mouths of people who would, in reality, be very unlikely to say such things. This doctored video of Obama being rather rude about Trump is a great example (warning, contains explicit language)
Over time it’s likely we will see a continuation of the arms race which has always existed in the technology sphere – with good guys racing against the bad guys to be the first to deploy the latest and most powerful tools.
Fake news is unlikely ever to be fully eradicated – there will always be someone willing to present a skewed version of the truth to push their own agenda. However, it could be the case that tools like VeriFlix, or whatever comes next, will raise the barrier regarding the tech and expertise needed to hoodwink us, going some way toward making the world a more truthful place.
Bernard Marr is a best-selling author & keynote speaker on business, technology and big data. His new book is Data Strategy. To read his future posts simply join his network here.