Covesting look to bring copy trading to Blockchain

The innovative and pioneering platform which offers copy trading among other features for cryptocurrency traders, Covesting, has announced their pre-ICO sale on their website, The pre-sale starts on 20th October which will go on for 30 days till 19th of November. The company is expecting to draw experienced traders and follower traders to their […]

It looks like Harvey Norman can keep a secret!

The Harvey Norman 1 Day Flash Sale starts tomorrow and here’s what you need to know. You can get an extra 10% off in-store & online on all of these items:  Laptops (yes that includes Macbook), Cameras, TVs, Washing Machines, Vacuum Cleaners, Sofas, Beds, Mattresses, Homewares. Yes, that’s on top of sale pricing. It all […]

10 Brands Making Instagram Stories the Right Way

Instagram Stories have only existed for about a year, but they’re fast becoming the video feed medium of choice, edging out Snapchat among certain demographics.

With Instagram Stories the images and videos only last for 24 hours after posting and don’t appear in your main feed. It’s a fun social format that more and more brands experimenting with, especially because of their temporary nature and high levels of engagement. These brands are learning that Instagram Stories can be a great way to test messaging and  connect with many users at once.

Here are 10 brands and influencers using Instagram Stories effectively to reach their audience, along with some key takeaways to help you build your own Insta-Stories strategy.

1. New Belgium Brewing

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New Belgium Brewing uses Stories to do more than advertise its brand – it showcases an active, authentic lifestyle that resonates with its customers. The brand’s Stories display life in the New Belgium way with biking and outdoor adventures in locations near their breweries and other spots all over the world.

Takeaway: You don’t always have to “sell” a product. Instagram Stories can be about the people who are a part of your brand’s tribe on social media.

2. Sephora

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Sephora goes beyond selling products, using Instagram Stories to show shoppers how products work and look on an actual person. The short videos take users through a series of products, offering information, tips, and reviews. It’s engaging content for  that doesn’t need to be online for a long period of time.

Takeaway: Swipe to shop is a great technique for getting users to move from your Instagram Story to your website. Keep the video short so that users don’t tune out before the call to action.

3. The Bitter Southerner

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Instagram Stories are the only place on the social media platform where users can link to outside content, beyond the bio link. (You can’t do it with regular image posts unless they’re sponsored.) The Bitter Southerner, an online magazine, creates Stories that tease magazine content with a swipe for more. The link might go to an article or video, but each “teaser” feels like must-see content.

Takeaway: Drive traffic to your site by asking users a question. The best questions are usually ones that either stoke the imagination, or something followers would likely already know the answer to. The question above works because even if the user thinks they know the answer, they will still swipe to make sure they get it right.

4. Jenna Kinz

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This running blogger uses Stories to share tips for runners while also showing off some of the brands she represents as an an ambassador. While there’s a mix of video and still image collages, every visual is personalized with a usable tip and hashtag to promote engagement among her 26,000 followers. By creating engagement and user-friendly content, Jenna Kinz is able to take a social media fan base and usher them to her blog.

Takeaway: Instagram Stories allow you to use a series of images and videos. Mix up the type of media and include simple, relatable messages to create engagement.


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NASA uses Stories to educate users on things happening in the world of science. A recent Story took users on a tour of a space lab; it contained a mix of photos and videos and every image was themed, using text elements and colored blocks with the same format to create a sense of unity throughout the Story. This in-Story branding can be important because Instagram Stories from different brands will run right after each other in the app.

Takeaway: Brand your Instagram Stories with a theme for overlay elements such as text, emojis, or colors. String the same concept throughout each post so users will know where your Story ends and the next one begins.

6. Time

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Time uses Instagram Stories to tell compelling stories. The media house builds its Stories by using a big headline and multiple images or videos in a straightforward manner almost every day. Users know they can regularly refer to Time’s feed to find out their next topic for water-cooler talk.

Takeaway: Use Instagram Stories with regular frequency so users know to come to you for information. Sporadic posting will not help develop a following. Make sure each Story uses high-quality images and video; users won’t stick around for subpar images when there are so many other good options available.

7. Reese Witherspoon

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The actress uses Instagram Stories as a lifestyle brand, regularly sharing images and videos of clothing and fashion accessories (notably from her brand, Draper James), and moments of her day to day. The slice-of-life concept makes you feel like you’re following your friend Reese, rather than an indifferent celebrity.

Takeaway: Use Stories to provide users with a “backstage pass” to your brand, letting them feel like part of an exclusive group. Show moments that users would not otherwise see in your regular Instagram feed or on your other social channels.

8. The Onion

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Not every user is comfortable with the Stories feature on Instagram, so popular satire publication The Onion uses clear calls to action (“See More,” as in the image above) for each post to ensure users know they can swipe up to get additional details.

Takeaway: Build an obvious call to action into the Story design if you want users to swipe for more. You can do this easily by building a call to action into the image itself using a simple editing tool like Shutterstock Editor, or you can write it using the text tools in the app (in block letters or handwriting) to draw users’ attention to the swipe-for-more function.

9. Senita Athletics

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While many brands plan and produce some of the Stories they showcase on Instagram, a live broadcast can come across as a great way to “be real” with users — right now. Much like Facebook Live or Snapchat, Instagram allows live Stories that users can see, like, or comment on in real time. (Followers also get a notification when you start broadcasting so they don’t miss it.)

Takeaway: Go live! There’s nothing like seeing a streaming flow of comments, emojis, and likes on a video to encourage even more users to chime in. That communal aspect helps impart a sense of belonging to followers, while the live format lends a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the messages you’re sharing.

10. ZZ Ward

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How does a musician live on the road? ZZ Ward shares video snippets of her life — what she eats, what she wears, radio performances, and other snapshots — on Instagram Stories. It’s a great way to stay relevant among fans who can’t see her on tour and foster a sense of familiarity and loyalty among her fan base. The key to her Instagram Stories success, though, is that she keeps the snippets short — just enough to entertain users and tease an upcoming event without giving away too much information.

Takeaway: Short videos are a perfect medium with which to engage users. You can present them as is, or string them together with other short videos to reveal a bigger picture as the day wears on. Just remember — followers have just 24 hours to see your Story, so make sure your timing is right to maximize your message’s impact.

Make a better Instagram Story

You can do much more with Instagram Stories using Shutterstock Editor. Go beyond the standard text tools to create Story cards with beautiful images, shapes, emojis, and your own brand logo. Crop your image and create a template that you can save and use every morning when you’re making the day’s Story posting. Try Shutterstock Editor here.

Top Image by Ink Drop

The post 10 Brands Making Instagram Stories the Right Way appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

How Covesting are solving some of the biggest problems in Cryptocurrency investing

Guest post by Covesting, who we recently featured. Business Showcase : Covesting The biggest barriers to entry and mistakes new potential investors are making can often cause many new potential investors in the Cryptocurrency world to shy away from crypto. The recent success of Bitcoin and Ethereum has quickly gained notoriety across the globe on many […]

9 great reasons to attend 3XE Search on October 19th

By @SimonCocking it’s almost time for 3XE Digitial Search Marketing Conference – 1 Day/ 20 Great Speakers/ 6 Workshops. Tickets here ->  #3xedigital. We have interviews with 9 of their great speakers below, read, enjoy, get inspired and come to the event on Thursday.  3XE Digitial Search Marketing Conference – 1 Day/ 20 Great Speakers/ […]

Breaking Banks Podcast: Artificial Intelligence is coming to help!

Great podcast from the team at Breaking Banks – a show that explores the FinTech evolution and the disruption of banking. Click here for more such podcasts. There is little question that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will loom large in our future. It is already present in almost all the new technologies we rely on. The question is whether the […]

10 Top Digital Marketing Automation Tools That Could Transform Your Business

10 Top Digital Marketing Automation Tools

It was 2008.

Trying to find a way to shorten a link for Twitter to get the tweet under 140 characters was a challenge. You needed a tool to do that simple task.

Then I stumbled upon “that” tool.

Twitter then used it as the default URL shortening service in May, 2009 until it created its own.

Social media and digital marketing was simple back then. Twitter and Facebook were it and digital marketing revolved around Banner ads, Google AdWords and email marketing.

But it quickly became complex with many moving parts.

Just the Twitter torrent of tweets with @mentions, retweets and #hashtags needed social media management tools. Distilling the noise and managing the engagement required more than just watching the native Twitter feed.

Raw social media automation software that allowed you to grow your followers, tweet content and other mundane tasks started to emerge. They weren’t pretty but most of the time they worked.

But back then even simple social media automation was frowned upon because it wasn’t really social.

The first wave of digital marketing automation

On the social web tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite were launched by enterprising entrepreneurs to help handle the complexity and noise.

They provided the dashboards for managing Twitter and Facebook.

That was one thing but other networks were launched. It was getting complicated….Pinterest, Instagram and Google+ were the next wave. These were also followed by Vine and others and now we have Meerkat and Periscope. And we are just talking english speaking social networks.

During this first wave the web connected mobile phone started to make its presence felt. Today there are 2.7 billion of these now on the web and growing at 39% per annum. But the full impact of this is wasn’t felt till the second wave.

digital marketing automation tools

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Every switched on marketer was excited by the launch and possibility of every new platform.

As marketers discovered the power of social media to reach the world in real time the need for more sophisticated tools became apparent.

The second wave

As social media became seen as the next start up gold rush, the older generation of software providers in email marketing and lead generation rushed to join the party. This saw the rapid evolution of platforms like Marketo, Eloqua and Pardot amongst many.

Here is a timeline from Marketing Automation Insider that suggests the journey started in 1992 with Unica. According to them the industry is now $1.65 billion industry and has seen $5.5 billion in acquisitions by Salesforce, IBM, Adobe and Microsoft and others.

Digital Marketing Automation Tools

The smart phone and mobile market reached critical mass and is accelerating digital noise and adoption.

Established Enterprise software providers at the big end of town including IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe and Teradata started building their own platforms. But to accelerate their evolution they started acquiring technology start-ups that added features and market share.  Salesforce bought Exact Target, IBM purchased SilverPop and Oracle bought Eloqua.

Today digital marketing automation has become big business. It is about marketing at scale with multiple partners, many social networks and managing content and permissions.

Marketing is now not just an art but becoming a science. To do it well you will need the tools to manage, measure and optimize your efforts.

What is digital marketing automation?

Digital marketing automation has its roots in email marketing.

So how do we define it?

It is software that allows you to automate repetitive tasks, reduce human error, manage complexity and measure and optimize your efforts.

How complex is it and what skills does it need?

top digital marketing automation tools

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We can also add SEO and digital advertising to the above mix.

Each of those disciplines from analytics to social media is complex in its own right. One of the biggies that will become more important is “analytics”. The ability to sift through the big data and make insightful decisions to optimize your marketing efforts.

The skill gap shows that “analytics” is the biggest talent gap.

top digital marketing automation

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So what platform do you choose?

There isn’t an easy answer. It will depend on whether you are a small, medium or large brand.

Some platforms are better at email, others social media and then analytics. Then there is the user interface and ease of use. This is important when using complex software.

One review site that provides valuable insights is G2 Crowd. They score products and vendors based on ratings and reviews gathered from the user community, as well as data aggregated from online sources and social networks. They apply a unique, patent-pending algorithm to this data to calculate the customer satisfaction and market presence scores in real time.

The rating variables

The satisfaction rating is affected by the following:

  • Customers’ likelihood of recommending the product to others (this is the question we use to calculate the star rating)
  • Satisfaction ratings gathered from questions in the review
  • User ratings of features specific to a particular category of software
  • The number of reviews received on G2 Crowd; buyers trust a product with more reviews, and more reviews means a more representative and accurate reflection of the customer experience.
  • How recently the review was submitted; reviews that have been written or updated more recently receive a higher weight to help more accurately capture the rapidly evolving nature of software.

The Grid

Below is the G2 Crowd Grid Showing where the different platforms sit according to their ratings.


Here are the top 10 digital marketing automation tools based on their algorithm. Listing them here doesn’t mean I recommend them.

1. HubSpot

HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company that helps businesses transform their marketing from outbound (cold calls, email spam, trade shows, TV ads, etc) lead generation to inbound lead generation enabling them to “get found” by more potential customers in the natural course of the way they shop and learn.

I discovered Hubspot 7 years ago in 2008 (it was big part of the inspiration of me starting this blog in 2009) and they were one of the pioneers in automated digital marketing. It was founded in 2006 by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and launched in December 2007.

They “get” content marketing.

Top Digital Marketing Automation Tools

2. Pardot

Pardot, a Company, is an easy-to-use B2B Marketing Automation suite that helps sales and marketing teams maximize efficiency and increase revenue.

Pardot’s lead management software features CRM integration, email marketing, lead nurturing, lead scoring, and ROI reporting to help marketing and sales teams work together to generate and qualify sales leads, shorten sales cycles, and demonstrate marketing accountability.

It was founded by David Cummings and Adam Blitzer in 2007. It was acquired by Exact Target in 2012 for a reported $95 million and then Exact Target was bought by Salesforce in 2013.

top digital marketing automation tools 2

3. Marketo

Powerful and easy marketing software that helps marketing and sales professionals drive revenue and improve marketing accountability. Marketo provides the leading cloud-based marketing software platform for companies of all sizes to build and sustain engaging customer relationships. They offer a free trial and no set-up fees!

Founded in 2006 and launched its first product “Lead Management”. It acquired “Crowd Factory” in 2012 which added social media marketing capabilities and went public in 2013. Just after launch it was valued at $724 million.

top digital marketing automation tools

4. Oracle Eloqua

Oracle’s B2B Cross-Channel Marketing solution, Oracle Eloqua, enables marketers to plan and execute automated marketing campaigns while delivering a personalized customer experience for their prospects.

They started in 1999 and its mission then was to improve lead generation. It was acquired by Oracle in 2012 for $871 million.

Top Digital Marketing Automation Tools

5. Act-On

Act-On’s cloud-based integrated marketing automation platform allows marketers to tie inbound, outbound, and lead nurturing programs together to maximize their return on marketing investments.

The company was founded in 2008 and initially sold its software exclusively through Cisco, which provided $2 million in funding. It has raised an additional $74 million and its platform according to reviews is best suited to small and medium business.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools

6. LeadSquared

LeadSquared is a Marketing Software company helping small and medium businesses drive revenue by aligning their marketing and sales activities. Provides the capture of leads from all your sources – inbound email, online campaigns, phone calls, website, chat, lead generation websites and more.

It was founded in 2012.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools

7. Infusionsoft

Infusionsoft is a leading sales and marketing software for small business owners that helps them get organized, grow sales and save time. It is also used by many bloggers for creating marketing campaigns and funnels and email marketing.

Infusionsoft makes it easy to create and execute a sales and marketing strategy; centralize customer interactions; capture new leads; close sales faster; and automate repetitive tasks like follow-up, contact management, billing and payment—all from one place.

Infusionsoft was founded in 2001 by brothers Scott and Eric Martineau and Clate Mask in Mesa, Arizona. It has 25,000 customers and has raised $125 million in funding.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools

8. Sales Fusion

Salesfusion is a leading provider of marketing automation software that is designed for B2B companies who are committed to driving more revenue by aligning marketing and sales.

According to SiriusDecisions, a leading sales and marketing analyst firm, as much of 70% of the buying cycle may be self-directed and completed prior to sales engagement.

Salesfusion is dedicated to helping companies build a large revenue funnel for marketing and sales by creating customized digital conversations that are seamlessly transitioned between departments. Marketing and sales teams participate in and measure these digital conversations to deliver more lead-to-revenue results by communicating with the right leads at the right time with the right message.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools 5

9. OutMarket

OutMarket provides marketing automation software and services for marketing teams to drive quantifiable results.

The OutMarket platform integrates email marketing, landing pages, social media management, press outreach, and robust analytics in a simple but comprehensive cloud-based solution that helps customers outmarket the competition and grow their business.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools 5

10. Net-Results

Net-Results  aims to make it easy for you to automate all kinds of marketing tasks.

You end up getting more done in less time while doing a much better job nurturing your prospects, uncovering qualified leads and driving revenue growth.

Top Digital marketing Automation Tools

So what are you using?

Are you already on the journey of marketing automation? Not started yet?


Look forward to hearing your story in the comments below.

The post 10 Top Digital Marketing Automation Tools That Could Transform Your Business appeared first on Jeffbullas's Blog.

How to Create Brand Loyalty Before Your Customer Even Makes a Purchase

How to Create Brand Loyalty Before Your Customer Even Makes a Purchase
In the Digital Age, new marketing strategies are rapidly adopted while old tactics are going obsolete overnight.

Deploying tactics can generate enormous short-term profits, but in order to transition from a money-making enterprise to a sustainable brand, it’s important to prioritize long-term relationships.

Oftentimes, brand loyalty is created when a person makes multiple purchases, then recommends the business to their friends because of the high value they’ve received.

However, purchasing isn’t always a prerequisite for brand loyalty.

In a study by Wunderman on consumer behavior, 79% of American respondents stated that brands have to demonstrate they understand and care about them before they’d be willing to make a purchase.

For instance, I’m a huge fan of Neil Patel’s marketing content. I’ve linked to his articles in countless posts and recommended him to numerous friends.

I’ve never paid Neil any money, but I’m definitely loyal to him because he produces such exemplary work. Because I know his blog posts will help the people I care about, I always link to him, and his personal brand grows as a consequence (without any money being exchanged).

In order to create brand advocates out of people who are not yet your customers, you must strive to deliver as much value as possible. Here are my tips for achieving this.

Free resources

If a friend wanted some information about implementing social proof on their website, I’d probably link them to a Neil Patel article. However, life isn’t only about business.

I often enjoy drinking wine, but it’s not something I’ve become more knowledgeable about until recently.

Cracka Wines is one of my favorite wine retailers, not only because of their good customer service and expansive range of products – but also because of their educational content.

The site features a wine library packed full of valuable information. You can read about grape varieties, gain insights from top wine reviewers and best of all, learn about the world’s wine regions.

As a fan of novel and unusual wines, I would have never purchased a bottle from the unheralded wine-producing country, Austria, if it wasn’t for the educational content by Cracka Wines (I was pleasantly surprised by the bottle, by the way).

The reason content like this works is because it educates first and promotes second. In other words, the content delivers value rather than seeking to extract value from people.

By producing free resources that truly help people, some readers will convert to paying customers while others may appreciate the content and refer their friends. In either case, you’re establishing brand loyalty.

Build trust

Unfortunately, many marketers behave as if they’re only interested in a relationship with someone once they become paying customers. This is incredibly short-sighted, as it turns people away before you can get to know them.

I like to use social media to demonstrate authority and engage in discussions in my niche. This kind of behavior allows people to come to positive conclusions about me without having to sell to them.

Remember, 71% of consumers who have had a positive experience with a brand on social media are more likely to recommend it to their friends.

Ultimately, good social media conduct builds trust – which is severely lacking in the internet marketing niche.

Tech entrepreneur, Alex Becker, does an excellent job of this with his YouTube channel. Because he delivers high quality, actionable internet marketing advice and never sells to his audience – people trust him and keep coming back to view his content.

It doesn’t hurt that his videos are full of personality and very funny (so long as you’re okay with excessive profanity and tough love). When you can deliver expert practical tips and combine humor, that’s a winning combination.

Email marketing

In my opinion, email marketing is still one of the most powerful tools for engaging and warming up prospects.

For eCommerce businesses, it’s typical for people to arrive on your mailing list once they’ve become paying customers.

However, for B2B businesses (particularly if you’re selling high ticket items), giving away content upgrades and lead magnets in exchange for email addresses is the best way to get people onto your list.

According to research by Content Marketing Institute, 83% of B2B marketers use email newsletters for content marketing purposes.

My 3-step strategy for email marketing is pretty simple:

  1. Help people as much as humanly possible.
  2. Convey your personality authentically.
  3. Once prospects are warm, promote products and services which will change their lives for the better.

Delivering value should be the main focus of your email campaigns if you’re aiming to build a brand with longevity.

Think of educational content as the meal, and sales emails as the sauce for your campaigns (don’t confuse the sauce for the meal).

I sign up to a lot of email funnels to take inspiration from other marketers. There is a stark contrast between the ones who solely self-promote and those that clearly care about their readers.

Check out this excerpt from an email from Melyssa Griffin about her transition away from an unfulfilling job to a life of freedom as an entrepreneur and blogger:

Most people get involved in internet marketing because they’re sick of their job and want more autonomy in their lives (myself included). This authentic story about Melyssa’s agonizing job makes her more endearing, and it also propels people to take action and purchase her course.

Especially in a niche like internet marketing where not everyone is as reputable as they claim to be, stories like this show that Melyssa is not the type of person who will rip you off for some easy money and sell you a course that won’t actually help you.

Empathizing with the pain points of your customers is a great way to build loyalty.

As Robert Cialdini, author of best-selling book, Influence, states:

“It’s not just about talking about what your client stands to gain … It’s often more important to explain what stands to be lost if they fail to move in the direction you recommend.”

Numerous studies have shown that moving away from pain is a stronger motivational force than moving towards pleasure.

Although pain point marketing can be used to prey on people’s insecurities and sell them things they don’t need, it can also be used to compel people to purchase products that will change their lives for the better.

If you’re going to use this tactic, make sure you’re 100% certain that your products deliver on your promises. If you offer people a solution to a problem that keeps them up at night and you fail to deliver, this will destroy your brand integrity.


When you think about incentives, discount codes to encourage repeat purchases normally spring to mind. However, incentivization can be used on prospects as well as existing customers.

One of the best ways to incentivize loyalty from day one is to incorporate a double-sided referral program into your onboarding process (this means that both the referrer and the friend receive benefits).

When you consider that 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations over all other forms of advertising, it’s wise to encourage referrals as much as possible.

Dropbox provides the most compelling example of a brand that generated extreme loyalty using referral marketing.

As new users are on-boarded, they are encouraged to refer friends to the service. However, instead of overtly promoting a referral program, Dropbox presented this to the user as a way to get more account space.

In other words, Dropbox appealed to the self-interests of the individual rather than promoting their own service. This is a winning formula, since Dropbox acquired 4 million users in 15 months.

As a word of caution, Dropbox was only able to generate extreme growth using referral marketing because its service is incredibly useful. If users were encouraged to refer their friends and Dropbox delivered a poor service, the negative publicity would have spread like wildfire.


While all these tactics are useful for creating brand loyalty, they only work when your primary aim is to deliver value before you receive anything in return. In my experience, ironically, this is exactly the mindset which leads to great profits.

When you truly care about your readers, prospects, and customers – they can feel it.

Seasonal greetings and personalized birthday messages may seem negligible, but trust me, they make a long-term impression on people.

97% of consumers claim to be more loyal to companies that implement their feedback. Talk to your prospects and customers in order to find out what they really want, then deliver it to them.

The more you’re able to serve people, the more you’ll be rewarded. That’s how brand loyalty is created.

Can you think of any other brand loyalty tips? Please let me know in the comments below.

Guest Author: Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands, including Salesforce, Coca-Cola, Target and others, to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, his blogFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and LinkedIn.

The post How to Create Brand Loyalty Before Your Customer Even Makes a Purchase appeared first on Jeffbullas's Blog.

The Right Way to Select Technology, An Excerpt

A note from the editors: We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Tony Byrne and Jarrod Gingras’s new book, The Right Way to Select Technology, available now from Rosenfeld Media.

After establishing a solid business case, enterprises will typically turn to assembling the oft-dreaded “requirements document”—or more accurately, a set of documents, spreadsheets, and diagrams that compose a multiheaded requirements package.

Large requirements packages actually provide a false sense of security. Modern digital technology entails real people interacting with screens. Technology selection leaders need to capture those interactive requirements, but also remain realistic at this phase about their inability to fully know what their enterprise really needs and will adopt eventually.

This section will show how long spreadsheets full of “what” requirements really don’t work, and instead will focus on “how” a solution might work. The best way to reveal key differences among suppliers is to craft narrative “user stories” with “personas” (rough equivalent to use-cases with actors).

In other words, tell testable stories. Business users have stories; so do customers, partners, developers, sysadmins, designers, auditors, and others.

This section will lead you through an approach to telling those stories in a way that’s more conducive to differentiating among technology suppliers.

Capture requirements that don’t suck

A solid understanding of your organization’s requirements is essential to project success. Getting that understanding will involve information gathering from various stakeholder groups, potentially utilizing a variety of techniques.

Note that at this stage, your requirements should be business- and user-focused, rather than detailed technical specifications. (We’ll get to those in Chapter 6, “Ask Questions That Really Matter”). The final key step here is to analyze and prioritize your requirements, in order to determine which ones to emphasize in the RFP and subsequent demos and bake-offs.

How not to articulate requirements

Whatever you do, avoid “check box” requirements sheets where you ask the vendor: “Can you do this, can you do that?”

As a practical matter, vendors have seen all these questions and have figured out how to check all the boxes. But what’s worse is that such spreadsheets convert the understanding of what should be a human-centered, interactive activity into a bloodless series of row-by-row activities better suited for robots repeatedly performing rote tasks.

The typical pitfall here starts like this: a business analyst (BA) goes around interviewing users and other stakeholders, and she ends up with a long wish list of features. Excel allows her to categorize those features, which is handy, but because of the limitless rows, her spreadsheet will tend to emphasize comprehensiveness over business impact.

To address the challenge of priorities, the typical enterprise process asks stakeholders to rank their needs, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 5, or using MoSCoW (Must Have/Could Have/Should Have/Won’t Have) or some other methodology. Not surprisingly, this generates a scrum where users compete to identify as many rows of “Must Haves” as possible.

Ultimately, someone will ask the BA to tie back each requirement row to the business case (remember that?), so she then spends several days building new tables and cross-references in Excel. Ultimately, reviewers find exceptions and variants for each feature, so new columns get added. Now the spreadsheet is too big to fit on a standard screen, let alone print out. It’s impressive … and impressively unhelpful.

The government agency with the massive checklist

We once advised a major U.S. federal government agency to select a new portal platform as a hub for small business advice. We came late to the process after an initial round of vendor demos had failed to differentiate clearly among the bidders.

The problem was Excel. Or more specifically, the entire RFP as a 10-tab worksheet, with some sheets going hundreds of rows deeps. Most of the tabs held feature requests—notably categorized by agency department rather than customer persona—with a long series of columns annotating those features. (Our favorite: the ever-beloved “Must be easy to use” requirement.) Nearly all the features were listed as “must have.” They were rigorously cross-tabbed to a long-but vague set of business objectives, but otherwise there was no prioritization.

The vendors didn’t know what to demo, although several gamely tried. Mostly, they just talked about their (voluminous) proposal responses, most of which consisted of declaring, for each row, “We can do that!”

Ultimately, we were able to recraft a more user-centered approach, with a narrower scope, that vendors could reasonably demo against.

Lesson: Stay away from long, feature-based checklists.

Applying UCD principles

There’s a different way to do this than torturing your BA— and everyone else—with long spreadsheets, and it revolves around pursuing a user-centered design (UCD) approach that emphasizes narratives, which we’ll call stories here. People will disagree about the tactics of UCD, but we can generalize overall that a user-centered approach is:

  • Holistic to encompass the entire digital experience (and therefore not feature based)
  • Iterative, where you initially sketch light (and therefore imperfect) requirements and refine them over time via iteration
  • Story-based, with an emphasis on user narratives, often called “journeys” or “top tasks”

There’s much more to UCD, but for our purposes, two key constructs stand out:

  • Personas: User archetypes that guide decisions about technology effectiveness. Personas are useful in the sense that they create a common shared understanding of the user group, but with a human existence to help keep it real.
  • User Stories: A to-be story about the “daily life of” or a journey undertaken by key personas. User stories are exceptionally valuable here because they offer test cases against which you can compare and contrast vendor bidders.

Information gathering

You can chose from among numerous well-known methods for eliciting information needed to create personas and user stories.

  • Document reviews: Including existing and prospective systems diagrams, planning documents, and analytics, but also the information that flows through the anticipated technology, like catalog entries for an ecommerce site, or forms in a document management system
  • Questionnaires: Including customer and employee surveys, as well as specialized questions you might want to pose in advance of any in-person meetings
  • Workshops: A useful way to debrief groups of people, as well as experiment with more forward-looking brainstorming; customer focus groups fall into this category as well
  • Interviewing: Debriefing individual stakeholders one-on-one, where they may become more candid
  • Shadowing: Following stakeholders around for a typical duration of time; this sort of contextual inquiry is often the most useful, but also labor intensive
  • Potentially others …

Different practitioners will take different approaches, and clearly the level of effort here should be commensurate with the anticipated benefits and risks with the new technology.

At Real Story Group when we’re creating personas and scenarios, we like to take a modified contextual inquiry approach. We gather individuals with similar roles in a conference room and debrief the team as a group. Using a projector, we may ask some members to log in to show specific examples of an incumbent system to the group. When we are gathering requirements for an interactive system, we make the environment as interactive as possible to get the maximum information exchange.

We’ll send five questions in advance as the agenda for the workshop:

  1. Show us briefly, on the screen, what you do.
  2. What works well in the existing environment (top three only)?
  3. What doesn’t work well or is missing in the existing environment (top three only)?
  4. How is your work/market/environment/customer changing?
  5. What else is important that we haven’t discussed?

The questions are deliberately open ended, to create as much of an open dialogue as possible. Note the emphasis on “top three”—we don’t want a laundry list of features, but rather the most important problems and opportunities.

Sometimes, it’s hard for line employees to identify potential future opportunities, so it can be useful to introduce the whole process with an educational workshop describing industry best practices or examples of what other enterprises have done with the technology. This is particularly important when selecting a type of technology that the enterprise has never used before.

The question still remains of staying aligned with the initial business plan. We like to book half-hour sessions with interested executives to understand the broader business currents and objectives underneath the technology selection effort.

At this point, a lot of raw material has been accumulated. The next step is to convert it into the two core components of the future RFP: user stories and advanced Q&A.


  • You will need to invest in both information and process analysis, and this will require document analysis as well as contextual inquiry.
  • Avoid long, undifferentiated, spreadsheet-based feature lists in favor of uncovering material necessary to create key personas and scenarios.
  • Start with the user experience and work your way back into enterprise systems.
  • Avoid the temptation to broaden your scope beyond the original charter.
  • You don’t need to be perfect at this (or any other) phase, so focus inquiry into your stakeholders’ most burning problems or intense needs.

Why Every Major Business Decision Must Be Backed By Data

Why Every Major Business Decision Must Be Backed By Data

One of America’s most famous media proprietors, actresses and philanthropists, often attributes her success to following her gut feelings. According to her website, “Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success.”

Overall, she claims that trusting her gut more than anyone else’s opinion is one of the largest contributors to her success.

Can you guess who this woman is? More importantly, do you think that her claim is fair?

Image Source: N4BB

This woman is none other than Oprah Winfrey, and according to experts, her belief might be a little short-sided.

A gut feeling is something you intuitively accept and believe. The thought seems so undeniably true that it often influences your decisions automatically. If you’ve ever made a decision for your business based on a feeling rather than an objective measure, you’ve made a gut decision.

In general, gut feelings are pretty good at guiding simple everyday decisions – like what to wear. That being said, industry experts suggest that using gut feelings to guide big decisions can be extremely dangerous.

In the long run, every important decision you make – whether it’s in your personal or professional life – should be backed by data and logic, not just emotions or gut feelings.

Below, you’ll learn why every major business decision must be backed by data. This article will also provide five tried-and-true steps that you can implement in your daily work to make more data-driven decisions.

The power of data-backed decisions

According to VisualCue, a Big Data visualization tool, almost every company has valuable data at their fingertips – it’s just difficult to connect the dots in the data. For example, if your business has a website or a social media presence, it harnesses data that can help improve its operations.

One of the main ways companies use data is to learn more about their customers. Thanks to Big Data, it’s easy for companies to get better insights into what their customers want, what they will use and how they will complete future purchases.

Data can also be used to improve a company’s internal operations. Simply put, if you want to improve the way your company ships its goods, you can look to Big Data for help.

Step One – Your goals

The first step to making data-backed decisions is to identify your goals. You might be interested in using data to look for new leads. Alternatively, you might want to use data to improve your customer churn rates. No matter what you are using it for, there is sure to be an area of operation where data can help you run a more efficient business.

Take a few moments and outline three to five business objectives and build a strategy around them. Search the internet or reach out to a data visualization company that can help you understand what data you’ll need to analyze to inform your objectives.

Step Two – Data sources

After you understand what data you need, identify where it can be found. Data flows from all directions, so you’ll need to evaluate every source of data to understand which areas will bring the most benefit.

During this step, you might also consider adding in new data collection procedures. For example, if your company is trying to improve your customer experience, you might want to start using a customer relationship management tool that can help inform your insights.

Image Source: FinancesOnline

Step Three – Resourcing

The third step is to decide who will work on this project. If your project relies on simple analytics that can be easily managed in Excel, you can feel confident completing the project in-house. If your data requires more in-depth analytics or you need help connecting all of your data sources, you might want to work with a third-party software as a service provider.

Image Source: JumpCloud

To complete this project in-house, you’ll need to start by identifying key players that’ll move the project along. These individuals will most likely be department heads. That said, if you can select key players that come from all levels of your company, you’ll likely have a more well-rounded view.

Step Four – Clean and test your data

This step is one of the most time-consuming in the process – it’s also one of the most important. During this step, companies must clean and test all of the data they collect.

Once all of your data is in one place, you must go through it and make sure it’s clean. In many cases, Big Data provides more information than what’s required. Someone will need to go through the data to remove extraneous details.

After the data has been cleaned, several tests must be conducted. Testing Big Data can be very challenging for organizations, especially if they aren’t privy to various testing techniques. However, there are certain basic aspects of data processing that every organization should be able to learn and conduct.

Image Source: SlideShare

Step Five – Turn insights into action

The final step in the process is to turn your insights into action. In general, it’s best practice to transform your data into visualizations so you can have a clear picture of what actions need to be taken.

Image Source: VisualCue

Here, you might want to use a business intelligence tool that can help you turn your complex sets of data into clear, all-in-one pictures that will be easily accessible for your entire organization. The aforementioned VisualCue has quickly made a name for itself doing just that. The tools they provide offer real-time data analysis made easy through visual tiles.

Case studies

It’s important to understand how and why you should use Big Data, but it’s not everything … To gain a real understanding of the results Big Data can create, it’s important to look at companies that are using data to inform their decisions.

In 2016, a digital business named Commonbound used Big Data to improve their student lending platform. They used data-derived insights to better connect students and graduates with alumni investors and accomplished professionals. With their help, students were able to save thousands of dollars on their repayments.

The Fortune 500 company Netflix used data and analytics to study international viewing habits last year. Thanks to their insights, they were able to purchase and create programming that’s more easily embraced by large audiences.

Walmart also spent time analyzing Big Data last year to forecast demand for emergency supplies. When this year’s hurricanes struck, Walmart used Big Data to inform their supply chain so it could both meet and anticipate demands. The retail corporation was able to keep products fresh and fill their shelves based on the information they collected the previous year.

Making the change

Whether you’re a small entrepreneurial venture or a large, established company, you need to use Big Data. Overall, being a data-driven organization takes more planning than being an insight-driven organization, but it’s so worth it. (No offense, Oprah.)

Developing the right infrastructure or implementing the right tool that will help you create valuable insights from your data will allow you to compete like never before.

Right now, whether you realize it or not, you’re probably collecting valuable data that can be used to improve your operations. All you need to do is to identify some objectives and get to work deriving targeted insights from your data.

Now, it’s time to hear what you think! Are you currently using data to inform your business decisions? If so, what are your results? For those not yet using data to drive insights, what’s holding you back? I’m excited to start a conversation with you in the comments section below.

Guest Author: Lucas Miller is a Freelance Copywriter and Founder of Echelon Copy. When not writing, tweeting or attempting to play pickup basketball, he’s working tirelessly to perfect what he claims is the “World’s Greatest Pompadour.” To get more tips on how to start your own six-figure freelance copywriting business, join his free newsletter.

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