Krysten Ritter stars at the title character in the 2015 Netflix series, “Jessica Jones.”
Netflix original programming began 3 years ago today with “House of Cards.”
What they mean to publishers, to communities, to advertisers varies over time.
While reading an interview with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, I understood better how viewing habits have changed radically in the last 10 years. This from a company that evolved from DVD delivery to streaming service to entertainment producer.
Netflix has evolved to meet viewers’ changing needs, and viewers have evolved to binge, stream and share in ways that didn’t exist before 2011.
Blogging has been around for as long as Netflix, and so much has changed in those 20 years. The platforms, the promotion through social media, the commenting, the credibility, mobile. It would help if one of the big platforms (Blogger, WordPress) shared detailed reader data, as Sarandos did to a degree in his interview.
“Should I blog?” is a common question. The answer will never be as simple as yes or no. It depends on the goal, the audience, the brand and even the stage of evolution we’re in now.
Read the interview for an eye-opening look at how people around the world watch TV shows and movies in 2016. And imagine how different our viewing and reading experiences will be in the next 5 years.
• • •
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Video: The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves
Driving into Biloxi Tuesday felt positively balmy. It may be because it was only 20 degrees when I left Birmingham that morning and a sunny 55 when I arrived by lunchtime.
No time for frolicking on the beach, though.
I came to talk with the AAF Mississippi Gulf Coast about “The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves.” This 39-minute video has the shortened version of my popular presentation on elevating your brand through blogging.
If you have a question, let me know in the comments.
My thanks to the folks in Biloxi for having me at their first meeting of the year.
Contact me if you want the slides and worksheet that accompany this presentation.
More videos? Visit my YouTube channel.
My first speaking gig of the year will be on the Gulf Coast. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area, especially in the months and years after Hurricane Katrina, serving as a volunteer.
I’ll be at the January meeting of the American Advertising Federation Mississippi Gulf Coast to talk about “The Art of the Brand: What Your Blog Needs and Deserves.”
The official description:
Your blog stands for something. It represents your values and your personality, even if unintentionally. Branding might be more buzz word than tactic, but you must make it meaningful.
Join Y’all Connect conference director Wade Kwon as he explains how he turned a campaign launch with a so-so logo into a juggernaut. And how his online dating profile made him invisible. And how his adventures in branding helped his clients create and maintain standout brands.
The event takes place at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at Bonefish Grill in Biloxi. Tickets, $20 to $25, are available online.
I’m looking forward to my trip to Mississippi. Hope to see you there!
• • •
Book me for your event, conference or workshop today …
I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.
This week’s fear: “My fear or challenge is meeting my own self-imposed deadlines.”
— Nate Crowell
The paperweight on my desk reminds me how to write. It reads: “The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.”
It has never failed me.
But I am a creature of a different era, one who lived according to daily newspaper deadlines. You brainstorm, you interview, you ruminate, you procrastinate, you write, you panic, you rewrite, you edit, you cut, you proofread, you make deadline.
And then, you do it all over again. Repeat till dead (more appropriately, repeat till newspaper is dead).
Perhaps you are the super-organized type, a blogger who plans far ahead and arrives everywhere early.
We secretly hate you.
If you have self-imposed deadlines, you have recognized the importance of publishing on a routine basis on your site. But you may have difficulty following such a regimen for any number of reasons.
1. Poor time management. Some activities, vital and otherwise, interfere with your time for blogging. A blogger can compensate for this with another tradeoff, such as giving up time for sleep to finish a post.
We make time for what is important. Ultimately, blogging must be a priority to take up part of your schedule.
2. No risk/no reward. Many corporate bloggers miss deadlines because no one cares. Not them, not their colleagues or boss or customers. Whether they miss one post or a dozen, no one will be reprimanded or fired for skipping on the company blog.
Conversely, a salesperson may receive a hefty bonus for closing a big deal. Publishing a post that earns praise, awards or even leads may receive nothing but silence.
Either blogging is an integral part of a business’ goals, or it’s not. If a blogger stops blogging with no effect on sales, customer service, marketing or branding, why bother?
3. Poor resource management. A conscientious blogger can be derailed by many issues. At a newspaper, it wouldn’t matter if I turned in my story on time if the photographer lost the memory card with the images, or the computer system shut down, or a breaking story needed more space in tomorrow’s edition.
A corporate blog may need careful attention to available resources: people for art, editing, promotion and programming; money for research, licensing, freelancers and equipment; and time (see No. 1).
Dig deeper into how your blog posts come together — it ain’t by magic. If deadlines are set but not met, define the roadblocks and develop ways to go around or through them.
Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.
More in our Blogging Fears series.
Experienced writers find themselves blessed with a hefty vocabulary to deploy as needed. The mot juste can make or break a sentence.
I find that in crafting long articles and blog posts, I run out of words. Specifically, I repeat words unnecessarily.
During editing, I hunt down those offending scamps and replace them with synonyms. Judiciously, of course.
Careful editing and attention to word usage can improve writing significantly.
The best way to determine if a story is clanging with the echoes of repeated words is to use the free online tool TagCrowd. It can show the frequency of word usage for any article or Web page within seconds with a tag cloud.
I ran TagCrowd on one of my longer recent posts on email marketing.
Tag cloud generated by TagCrowd
(click image for full-size version)
Not surprisingly, the words “email” and “marketing” are the among the most used in the 729-word post. Other frequent fliers are “click,” “open,” “rates” and “newsletter,” since I refer to click rates and open rates. Overall, I’m happy with usage and frequency.
Had I written a 5,000-word feature story about pens, I’d expect to see “pen” pop up dozens of times. Would I replace them with synonyms fountain pen, marker, stick, nib, quill, reed, ball point and felt-tip? No way.
We edit to improve clarity and to punch up the writing. In editing the book “The Future of Birmingham,” I looked out for my essay writers by removing repetitive words within essays and repetitive words, phrases and ideas across essays.
For example, occasionally a writer would use the nickname “the Magic City” to refer to Birmingham. He might do it once, but across multiple authors and essays, it adds up. The easiest and most readable solution was to drop all the Magic City references and use either “the city” or “it” or “Birmingham.”
Using a well-rounded vocabulary adds shading and interest to writing. It shows an author’s focus on an audience. And it prevents the lull of unneeded hypnotic repetition.
Through careful editing and a quick review of word frequencies, a writer can craft a blog post or an article with maximum impact.
• • •
Don’t struggle with your blog posts in 2016:
Contact me today for a free consultation …
Quickie reviews of four books I read (or re-read) recently …
“SPIN Selling,” by Neil Rackham. I’m always reading up on sales, an area where I look to improve all the time. I can’t recall how “SPIN Selling” landed on my reading list recently, but what caught my eye was the amount of research put into validating these methods. The author carefully dismantles the tried-and-true techniques of selling and offers an alternate approach of quickly solving problems for potential clients. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The Ernst and Young Business Plan Guide,” by Brian R. Ford, Jay M. Bornstein and Patrick T. Pruitt. How many times have I counseled people to write a business plan? I’ve offered them resources and classes in town, as well as several books including this one. I had been meaning to read it for years, but finally took it on this month. The authors are thorough in mapping out what entrepreneurs and veterans will need in writing an impressive and effective business plan. I didn’t need all the details on manufacturing and capitalization, but the rest has come in handy. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss. This book receives a regular shout out from me. I re-read it again recently, and plan on reading it once a year. It’s that good. Learn how to cut out the least productive habits and build a business requiring little maintenance. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy for a friend who was looking for focus in her life and her work. This was a necessary first step. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The Flinch,” by Julien Smith. More of a Kindle single than a full book, the author pens a long essay on taking chances. It’s a quick read, as more than half of the “book” is comprised of teaser excerpts from other books. Aff. link: Amazon
Need more reading suggestions?
“Business books for your reading list”
Screenshots of Voice Dream Reader: left, reading screen;
right, list of books and articles.
I made a 10-hour road trip earlier this month super productive. No, I didn’t watch 10 webinars or hold a really long conference call. I finally knocked out two business books, one of which I’d been wanting to read for a couple of years.
Usually, I’d search the library ahead of time to find audiobooks, either digital downloads or CDs. But I’d need to spend at least half an hour prepping the audio files so my iPhone could play them at double-speed. It’s almost always worth it, since a 10-hour audiobook takes only 5 hours. (Sadly, CD players don’t have playback speed control.)
But I found an app to help my audiobook addiction, Voice Dream Reader [aff. link].
When I outlined how to triple your reading, I showed how the free service Instapaper allows me to save all the articles I want to read in one place. A bonus feature is that the Instapaper app will read any article aloud, letting me listen to them at regular or double speed in the car or on walks.
Sadly, the only hurdle in Instapaper has been other file types, such as PDFs and ebooks.
Adding Voice Dream Reader made it possible to listen to audiobooks simply by importing the PDF or epub files. This is especially helpful when the audio version doesn’t exist, because the book is out of print or never offered an audiobook.
Yes, instantly turn any ebook into an audiobook!
It is easy to import files of all types, including Instapaper articles. Voice Dream Reader has a few advantages over Instapaper. First, it automatically plays the next article in the queue; with Instapaper, I always had to bring up the list of articles to play the next one, which isn’t much fun while driving.
Second, it maintains most recent position within an article; Instapaper would sometimes forget where I had left off, meaning a few minutes of scrolling to find my place, which again isn’t much fun while driving.
Third, not only does it have optional male and female voices but also a customizable pronunciation dictionary. I’ve been able to tweak words, proper names and acronyms for a better listening experience.
Like most e-readers and apps, Voice Dream Reader does not read DRM-protected files, but does include the following note on its features page:
Books in Kindle, iBooks, Nook and most online bookstores are protected by DRM and cannot be loaded into Voice Dream Reader. It’s possible to remove DRM, but it violates your contract with the online bookstores.
For me, having an app that reads aloud anything and everything has been a huge help. I’m looking forward to taking deep dives into my extensive reading list every time I hit the road.
• • •
If you need help with communication,
contact me today for a free consultation …
Part 3: For advanced marketers
Create 25 newsletters. Send them punctually.
For monthly publishers, it’ll take 2 years. For weekly publishers, about 6 months. And daily publishers will knock it out in a month.
That gives us a starting point in understanding metrics and building momentum. Let’s move on to advanced tactics.
The goal was never to have a million subscribers. It’s much better to have a thousand engaged followers rather than a million strangers who wouldn’t notice if the newsletters stopped coming. A thousand subscribers have brought me tens of thousands of dollars in revenue over the years.
To get to that thousand subscribers requires strong consistency, both in newsletters and in website content. Newsletters maintain an open line of communication, an opportunity to speak with each person one on one. Blog content builds search traffic and site equity, giving marketers a bounty of material to share on many channels.
Consistency helps a site and a brand stand out, even in a crowded competitive industry. Being helpful to readers, being timely with information, being easy to use and quick to respond makes for a compelling resource. Of course people will want to subscribe to a newsletter from a trusted source. It doesn’t hurt to be witty or personable or anything but bland.
Anyone struggling with consistency may need the help of an editorial calendar (download our template) or professional freelance writers or editors (contact me for recommendations). Pros handle everything from email newsletters to annual reports to catalog copy and blog posts.
Building a following quickly requires savvy choices in outreach. Asking people to subscribe is the most basic way, but so much competition, we need better incentives and pickup lines to woo would-be customers.
Try the following:
- Bribe people. Offer a free book/ebook or 30 percent off the first order. Show readers ways to save time or money. Have a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift certificate or Apple Watch. Do it right, as I have done, and hundreds of people will jump on a new list.
- Use popups. Marketers worry about annoying visitors. Personally, I hate sites that ask me on every single visit. That’s why I use the WordPress plugin OptinMonster, made by my friend Syed Balkhi. I set it to pop up once every hundred visits. Other settings allow for popups based on user behavior, such as when she’s about to close the browser page. Try it!
- Set up autoresponders. Many mailing list services (including our Y’all Connect sponsor MailChimp) offer this feature. Having several emails that welcome new subscribers allows marketers to fulfill incentives (such as a link to a free ebook), give a tour of a blog, provide resources that hook newbies and offer fans a chance to share the newsletter with others.
- Be exclusive. One special factor about my mailing lists is that they are exclusive. Subscribers receive the royal treatment: first look at posts, first chance at tickets and the best opportunity at prizes and discounts. Some marketers share their email newsletters with everyone, but I’m not a fan of that approach. (I do love when my subscribers forward my emails to others and share them on social media, but that’s because it’s fan-based publicity.)
Once a larger list is in place, marketers have more options available to test and grow.
One option is to divide and conquer. Segmenting allows marketers to drill down on mailing lists: customers vs. fans, or by age, geography or offer (subscribers via an offer, a purchase, a contest or a social media channel). Have newsletters and updates reach the right audience each time. I even use a dynamic segment every week, resending newsletters to people who didn’t open it within 48 hours … boosting my open rate to 33.6 percent.
Another option is A/B testing. The ability to test more than one subject line, offer, headline, photo or layout can make a huge difference in opens and clicks. Some services automate the process, ensuring that most subscribers receive the more popular version after early testing.
Focus on the basics before attempting these advanced tactics. (Or contact me to get started today.) A mailing list built properly will bring great rewards to companies and to readers, but it requires smart deployment and consistently good content from the start.
• • •
Join our exclusive free mailing list right now …
Part 2: For intermediate marketers
Email marketers ask people to subscribe to their lists and then contact them regularly (at least once a month). Beginners who haven’t done either of these tasks should visit Part 1.
At the intermediate level, we want to build a sustainable engine. Like blogs, I’ve seen too many email newsletters sputter and die within months. Don’t let that happen to your company’s precious marketing outreach.
I want you to work on these two tactics at the intermediate level: measuring open and click rates and creating an editorial calendar.
Regular readers know how much I care about tracking numbers. It’s important for you to know how effective your emails are, and tracking metrics should always be a part of your digital marketing.
Fortunately, most email providers have such metrics baked in. For example, I use MailChimp, a sponsor of my Y’all Connect annual conference, to send thousands of emails each month. I know that my emails usually have a 20 percent open rate, meaning that 20 percent of subscribers will open it at least once.
The industry average is 19 percent, so my goal is to beat that every time. Now you know exactly how many people bother to open your lovingly crafted email, and who they are.
(See why it’s not worth it to add subscribers without their consent? All you’ll get is a lousy open rate and possible fines.)
Your email might be simple and straightforward, with an image, some text and a button or link to click (you are providing a call to action, right?). Or your email might have multiple stories and links. Email metrics help you understand what subscribers click.
Understanding their behavior helps you provide better content, craft better pitches and sell more widgets. The higher your click rate, the more likely people are following your directives, whether to click to your site or elsewhere.
My click rate hovers between 1 and 2 percent, which leaves a lot of room for improvement with an industry average of 2.15 percent.
MailChimp has a great up-to-date table of benchmarks for open rates and click rates.
The click map is another tool to study user behavior.
Click on the click map to see larger version.
You can improve open rates by experimenting with:
- subject lines;
- delivery time and day;
- consistency in timing and frequency;
- great content inside.
You can improve click rates by experimenting with:
- wording of calls to action;
- newsletter layout;
- buttons (like the one at the end of this post);
- teasers vs. full stories;
- understanding what your audience craves.
I also track other email-related statistics. For example, how many people reading my latest post came via my email newsletter? How many sales and queries did I generate through this week’s newsletter?
Working with your email newsletter falls under my three-step plan for all aspects of digital marketing: 1. Experiment. 2. Measure. 3. Adjust. A spreadsheet, by the way, is an excellent way to record all of this data you’re tracking.
Long-term planning requires an editorial calendar. This tool helped me plan content at every media outlet I managed and will help you organize topics, writers and deadlines.
Brainstorm topics for future email newsletters, then organize them chronologically in a spreadsheet. Set aside a few hours to write your newsletters for the month or the quarter; batching can be a huge time-saver. Coordinate with colleagues who have roles in publishing the newsletter (writer, editor, photographer, designer, boss).
And coordinate your emails with your other marketing efforts: ads in traditional media, events, blog posts, social media campaigns, webinars and anything else.
A great editorial calendar keeps everyone in sync and allows for changes as marketing plans and audiences evolve. The hours invested in putting it together saves time and money down the road.
Download my free template to start building your own editorial calendar for email newsletters:
By working on metrics and an editorial calendar in advance, your email newsletter will grow in readership and engagement over the coming year. This is where you start to leave your competitors behind.
Parts 3 coming next week, with advanced tactics.
• • •
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Part 1: For beginners
Email marketing is one of the best ways to build and maintain a great customer base. But for one reason or another, companies are reluctant to use this effective tool as part of a marketing strategy.
They are pulled to the bells and whistles of social media, or let their personal annoyances at email newsletters dissuade them.
Two millennial entrepreneurs built the Skimm, a daily email newsletter with bullet point news, and amassed 1.5 million subscribers in 3 years. Your brand should be sharing as much interesting news as possible on a regular schedule.
They didn’t reinvent the mass email — but they did infuse their product with style and a distinct voice.
I want you to accomplish two tasks at the beginner level: collecting email addresses and sending the first email.
Collecting email addresses is super easy. Sign up with a mailing list provider. I recommend MailChimp, which is quick to set up and sponsors my annual Y’all Connect conference.
Have your Web developer take the code snippet from MailChimp to install on your website. This will create a form so visitors can subscribe. Don’t worry about getting their name and address and blood type: The more blanks they have to fill out, the less likely they are to click Subscribe.
(We’ll talk about incentives and bribes and pop-up forms in Part 3.)
Use a simple call to action: “Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the latest …”
Do not dump your customer database into your email newsletter subscriber list. Absolutely do not do this. You want to play by the rules, specifically the CAN-SPAM Act, which means allowing every single person to opt in to your list. Can you imagine just how many spam emails you’d receive if every company you’d ever spent a dollar with decided to add you to all their mailing lists?!
Put a link to subscribe in your email signature. On your business cards. On your brochures. In Facebook ads. On your product packaging.
At events, have a signup sheet for people to fill out, or have a fishbowl to collect business cards with clear signage on the intent.
Some companies have been collecting email addresses for years without sending a single email. Talk about wasted effort.
It took me months to send the first email, and it went to 39 people. I had to start somewhere.
Now, my emails go to nearly 40 times as many subscribers. I’ve sent out more than 400 weekly newsletters, with another 100 coming in the next 12 months.
I had to start somewhere. You have to start somewhere.
(If it’s been awhile since you sent an email, get on that right now.)
Once you get a few subscribers, start writing that first email.
Make it personal. Make it intimate. Write it to me and only me.
(I’m still working on this myself.)
This is your opportunity to talk to your customers and fans like real live human beings. Many companies worry about “spamming” their customers. The ones who feel spammed will stop reading and eventually unsubscribe. That is a very good outcome. (On occasion, I’ll invite subscribers to unsubscribe.)
I want to reach people that want to hear from me and learn more about communications. If that’s not their thing, no worries.
The best emails (and voicemails, texts, calls, letters, DMs, etc.) come from people and brands about which we are most passionate. You already know which of your hundreds of daily emails you open right away, regardless of subject line, and which ones you might skim or ignore. Make your weekly or monthly email as compelling as your favorites.
Many of your subscribers will be reading your emails from their phone screens. Make sure the mobile experience is a good one.
Send yourself a test copy. Check the links, check the spelling, check the subject line, check the date. (Trust me, I’ve screwed up all of those things and more.)
All that’s left is to send it to your list. And repeat the process the next day/week/month.
You are now on your way to building a great mailing list and expanding your marketing to one of your best customer groups.
Parts 2 and 3 coming soon, with more action steps at the intermediate and advanced levels.
• • •
I hope you’ll look at my newsletter info in action
in my free weekly email …
Working solo is interesting. You don’t have to put up with your coworkers’ weird tics, but you also don’t have anyone to chat with over coffee and shared misery.
I make my own fun, though like many things, I often forget to do so.
Marketers, what’s fun about what you do? What brings you smiles and giggles in your daily work? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll get us started with a few things I find fun in my different duties.
• Surprising others. It might be a nice note or a small token of gratitude. Or simply a fun reveal to an audience. I just like making people happy when possible.
• Staying up late writing a cool blog post. I do write a lot of posts, but it’s rare that I get so into it that I’m in the zone. It has to be the right combination of topic and energy.
• Teaching others to blog. As an editor and a coach for much of my career, I love being able to guide bloggers and writers in improving our craft.
• Gossip. Heck, I ain’t perfect. But if I’m with a trusted someone, I will gossip like crazy.
• Negotiating. I like numbers, and I like haggling. I’m terrible at poker, but I’m pretty good at working with others on securing a fair deal.
Don’t forget to share your answers in the comments.
The clumsily named Birmingham Blogging Academy blog has reached its 400th post! What a day, what a milestone.
I haven’t marked many other milestones here, except for occasional anniversaries. This site’s first post was on March 14, 2009, and I created it to talk about blogging and my company.
Since then, it has grown to include topics on social media, my speaking engagements, marketing, best practices in communication and this and that. It’s really the first site I’ve focused on one specific area.
Readers can keep up with new posts not only through the site itself and the newsletter, but also through RSS, the mobile version, a Kindle subscription, a WordPress subscription (below) or the new Apple News app.
I’ve had only one guest blogger all this time, Rachel Callahan, who has been kind enough to write two posts, one on graphics and another on Pinterest statistics. I should really recruit more bloggers, huh …
I’m marking another milestone on my first ever blog, Wade on Birmingham. We’re in the middle of a 26-part series on the Future of Birmingham, which includes an ebook launch, at future.wadeonbirmingham.com. This special project marks 10 years on that site.
In tossing around statistics, sometimes the most mundane make the biggest impression. A couple of weeks ago, I told my cocktail companion that I had eaten six Pop-Tarts for breakfast that morning (a cheat day). She looked on in disbelief. For the record, they were frosted brown sugar cinnamon (toasted twice and a little burnt) with me adding peanut butter.
I didn’t get there overnight, and clearly 6.5 years for 400 posts isn’t any kind of speed record. It saddens me that most bloggers won’t reach the 400-post mark, in 6 or 60 years. But if blogging is the right vehicle for sales, marketing or customer service, I encourage beginners to go for it.
Thank you to the more than 25,000 visitors to this site! I’m grateful for their time and their comments and their support.
I can’t wait to see what the next 400 chapters bring …