Why Perfecting Your Brand Story Matters in 2016

The more that brands focus on self promotion and sales pitches, the less “human” it becomes to consumers. Consumers today seek meaning in everything that they do, and that includes deciding who to do business with. The human voice behind the brand, that uses storytelling and tone to illustrate what the organization stands for, is essential for bridging the meaning gap between brands and consumers. The move toward more personal interaction with brands means that there’s a widening gap between consumers that seek this interaction and the brands that lack this human touch.

Below is an excerpt from Sparxoo’s “2016 Digital Marketing Trends: Your Guide to Be Badass that explains why brands tend to miss the connection between utility and sincere content:

Today, all useful content is not created equal. Where brands truly win is by bridging what we call, the meaning gap. We believe content with context provides useful content with meaning. The meaning gap is the area that most brands miss because they lead with utility. Usefulness is still important, but it is the emotional connection where you tell your readers why it matters to them is where the true value is.

2016 is the year for connecting with audiences on a deeper level and focusing less on mindless consumerism. Developing this connection can be done through the art of brand storytelling, which conveys brand messages in a way that truly resonates with the audience. Here’s how to use storytelling to perfect brand messaging and bridge the meaning gap:

Master the Art of Effective Storytelling
Storytelling has been the cornerstone of human connection since its innovation. The sharing of personal anecdotes is what draws people closer together and helps us to better understand each other, as well as ourselves. Incorporating this iconic exchange into your company’s marketing model expresses an authenticity through transparency that allows people to not only remember your company, but identify with its values. In a world with boundless options, having a unique and profound brand story is what will help brands stand out among the clutter.

Do Less, Say More
In terms of brand development, the marketing world has become much more sophisticated. Long gone are the days of, “get 25 percent off your first purchase if you call now!” and other cheap quips. We are in an age in which consumers and society demand a more well-developed understanding of the companies they are investing in. By switching the focus from company utility to company vision and beliefs, you convey a message much more meaningful and priceless. Generate this genuine connection with lifestyle pieces of content rather than hard-selling ads that lack human emotion. Brand stories will help get your point across in a way that is both elegant and non-invasive.

Relate to Your Audience
To communicate a message more effectively, it’s essential to find common ground with the audience. Ask yourself why you are in business, what your purpose is and what these goals communicate as per your company values. An audience may not know much about certain technologies or different specialized services, but what they will understand is the human component that lies underneath. By reaching out to the audience and providing a sincere means for bridging the gap, people will feel more confident in investing with your company.

Keep Your Brand Story Static
The rules with traditional narratives apply to brand initiatives as well – keep the brand story enticing. Engage with customers and clients at all times and make an effort to exceed expectations for the values you’ve set. A life insurance company, for example, that believes in the value of fruitful relationships and genuine hospitality, should let those beliefs permeate through excellent customer service and an inviting company nature. The goal is not only to evoke emotion, but to to create an entire storytelling experience for your audience and be there for the whole journey.

Every company has a story. At Sparxoo, we believe in the beauty of concise, meaningful brand strategy that sticks. Rather than forge meaning for our clients, we build their business based on true, authentic, company aspiration. Our final piece of advice?  Be bold. Be disruptive. To learn more why we think brand story will be important this year, download our guide, “2016 Digital Marketing Trends: Your Guide to Be Badass.”

Tech Buzz: Tap In to Grow Your Business

(As seen in the Winter 2015-2016 edition of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Magazine)

Well, it’s official: The world is now (for the most part) accessible at your fingertips. Today’s always-on, digital world has opened the door to immediate access of information, and has enabled a simplified, personalized consumer search process. With a couple of quick Google searches, consumers can access all the tools they need to make an informed decision.

Today’s society not only thrives on digital, it depends on it. A few swipes on a keyboard have replaced the trusted phone call to a travel agent; smartphone applications create our trip planners; and Google Maps navigates the way we travel. No matter if you’re in the lodging, travel or food and beverage business, your consumers’ consumption habits have changed. They’re searching for you online, and it’s your brand’s job to be there.

User-Generated Reviews

Consumer decision making and purchase behavior is driven by the fast-paced, tech-centered world we live in. To become a part of this, it is key for your brand to activate and maintain a strong digital footprint. According to Google, 83 percent of consumers use social networking, video or photo sites for travel planning. Using social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram help your customers learn more about you—from who you are as a company to the services you provide. Social platforms also have the ability to establish initial connections with consumers, using imagery and video to tell your brand’s story.

An active web presence is an important element to establish trust and credibility. Fun fact: More than 50 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 factor consumer reviews into dining decisions (National Restaurant Association). User-generated review apps like Yelp and Urbanspoon have become an essential first course in dining decisions. In fact, they often act as a restaurant’s first chance to make an impression. For hoteliers, your consumers are reading reviews on TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel advising platform. Each month, TripAdvisor attracts 375 million unique users looking for information on accommodations, restaurants and attractions (TripAdvisor).

Not only do these consumer review sites improve your online searchability, but they also increase your reach and inherent consumer reliability. It’s a best practice to update platform profiles frequently, letting your customers know about upcoming events, menu changes or promotions as they occur. Additionally, questions and comments (both negative and positive) from customers always deserve responses. This increases brand transparency and improves community engagement.

Reinforce with Ads

In addition to consumer review sites, advertisements are now digital. Display and geo-targeted ads, are popping up everywhere—literally. By using consumers’ geolocations, digital marketers can tailor messages to specific audiences from a few hundred feet to a few mile radius. Geo-targeting has even reached a new level of granularity with IP address targeting. Brands are now able to deliver digital ads to specific IP addresses, which means businesses can target specific household or business computers based on the computer’s connection to the Internet.

“Geo-targeting allows businesses to reach consumers directly and powerfully,” said Sparxoo Director of Digital Marketing Joey Baird. “It can have immense impact on driving foot traffic to your business, general brand awareness and opens up remarketing opportunities as well.”

According to Baird, the concepts of general display targeting and retargeting are great ways to market to hotel and restaurant seekers. By using applications such as Chango, businesses can send customized messages to consumers who previously searched keywords pertaining to your business.

The Bottom Line

As time progresses, digital inherently evolves, making it essential for businesses to sign in to the online realm. With a few clicks, consumers are able to access and use the information they need when, where and how they want to make informed decisions, which ultimately affects your brand’s bottom line. Additionally, the Internet and digital marketing have expanded the opportunities available for businesses to reach and market to consumers. Not only does this deliver businesses with targeted, high return on their investments, but is also opens up opportunity to increase new customers.

How Google Changes Will Impact 2016 Digital Marketing Trends in SEO

Google Hummingbird, the 2013 search algorithm update that focused on semantics to display results, forever changed how results appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs). With every Google algorithm update following Hummingbird, Google has become more intuitive and better equipped to provide the most accurate results, at the top of the page, as quickly as possible.

Google has implemented the following search engine features to display the most relevant results:

  • A Knowledge Graph to display direct answers to simple queries
  • A Carousel to display recent articles, blog posts and videos from authoritative websites
  • A Local 3-Pack that displays a map and highlights business details at the top of the page for the top three local results.

In 2016 and beyond, organic traffic will be shaped by Google’s ability to interpret “meaning” and context in results. Below is an excerpt from Sparxoo’s “2016 Digital Marketing Trends: Your Guide to Be Badass on how organic search is being redefined, and how website rankings are likely to take a hit as a result:

As Google continues to change the way search displays, in an effort to bring a better search experience to users, brands must be able to keep up. Search engine optimization’s importance will continue to be prominent, however, how the search works, will inevitably change. These significant changes in organic search could likely cause your brand’s rankings to change, and in most cases, decline.

Inevitable as they may be, digital marketers can prepare for algorithm updates via website optimization and diversifying ways to be found by searchers. Correct website optimization, and an assortment of relevant, authoritative data that points to the website, tells Google that the business or brand is trustworthy and important enough for a Knowledge Graph panel or inclusion in the Local 3-Pack. The Knowledge Graph typically displays direct and factual answers from Google’s own knowledge database and/or select trustworthy sources, or displays “featured snippets” of information for more complicated queries. These featured snippets are small pieces of content — often in list format — pulled from web pages that have semantic relevance, and include a link to the web page for more information. To improve the likelihood of being included in one of Google’s intuitive search engine features’ results, here are some actions to be taken:

Create Profiles on Wikimedia Websites

Google pulls information from websites such as Wikidata and Wikipedia to populate the Knowledge Graph. Wikidata and Wikipedia are free and open for anyone to register, but proceed with caution — both websites have strict guidelines and will be quick to remove any biased or overly commercial listing. Ensure that all third-party source data for your profile is accurate, and provide a few different opinions or angles to prevent any obvious bias. If done correctly, listings on Wikidata and Wikipedia indicate to Google that a brand is important enough to trigger a Knowledge Graph panel and be put at the top of the SERPs.

Optimize Google My Business

Brick-and-mortar businesses benefit from an accurate Google My Business listing. Ensure that all business details — address, phone number, hours of operation, etc. — are accurate. Page activity, such as customer or client reviews and regular page posts, improve a business’s chance of appearing in the competitive Local 3-Pack. A strong Google My Business following and an active profile also implies to Google that the business or brand generates interest.

Generate Search Demand from High Authority Content

Websites that are considered high-value and authoritative are more credible in the eyes of Google. A robust content marketing strategy increases brand awareness, and also boosts organic search results and direct traffic. Conduct keyword research and look for opportunities to become a content expert on a long-tail keyword that relates to an industry trend, but has low competition. Low-competition keywords are easier to rank for than competitive keywords because there aren’t as many organizations trying to reach the top ten results. When a user searches for the selected low-competition key term, the odds of your website appearing in the Knowledge Graph or Local 3-Pack are much better.

Implement Schema Markup

If a Knowledge Graph panel is successfully triggered for a business or brand, it can be optimized with markup from Schema.org. Similar to metadata, schema markup helps search engines understand what a web page’s content is talking about. “Organization” schema markup allows brands to specify the logo that should show up in the Knowledge Graph–as well as where the logo link leads to if clicked–and displays business phone numbers and up to five social media profile links. The more phone numbers and social profiles that are optimized for the Knowledge Graph, the larger a Knowledge Graph panel will be, which helps distract searchers from looking at other results.
The undeniable truth is that most websites will take a hit in rankings as Google algorithms become smarter and smarter. For more of Sparxoo’s suggestions on keeping websites at the top of the SERPs in a changing digital landscape, be sure to check out “2016 Digital Marketing Trends: Your Guide to Be Badass.

5 Effective Ways Nonprofits Can Engage Donors on Facebook

If you’re a nonprofit organization, utilizing Facebook is a must. It’s an exceptional tool for connecting with current and potential donors by sharing your organization’s message. In fact, a recent Waggener Edstrom survey stated that 55% of people who engaged with causes via social media have been inspired to take further action. Facebook is a great tool to use for an organization operating on a tight budget, like a nonprofit.

Here are five high-impact ways nonprofits can use Facebook to engage with donors:

1. Network with Organizations

With Facebook, you get what you give. That’s why it’s important to promote community engagement by interacting with other organizations, followers and brand loyalists. Sharing compelling stories that your audience can identify with not only reinforces a positive social presence, but also, plus it encourages engagement. This will help to develop mutually beneficial relationships with other organizations.

Global Green NOLA’s, a nonprofit with the mission of creating a more sustainable future, Facebook post below demonstrates the power of networking. As shown, the nonprofit commends Friends of Lafitte Greenway, another local nonprofit, for adding recycling bins on Lafitte Greenway:

Global Green NOLA interacting with another organization on Facebook

Remember that users join Facebook to stay connected to friends and family, not companies. It’s important to show the human side of your organization and stay connected with the community. By sharing Friends of Latfitte Greenway’s news, Global Green NOLA is reinforcing the impact both organizations have on the community.

An effective method for creating Facebook posts that drive engagement is called the 7/20/10 rule. This rule splits every post into three categories and denotes how many Facebook posts should go into each. It’s recommended that nonprofits use the 70/20/10 rule to share:

  • 70% intriguing stories, videos and photos
  • 20% of other organization’s content
  • 10% promotional content from your organization

2. Be Responsive

The point of social media is to be social, right? Ensure current and potential donors are heard by answering their questions or comments in a timely manner. Doing this will humanize your nonprofit and give it a voice. Research UK Race for Life, a nonprofit event dedicated to raising funds for cancer research, does an excellent job of communicating with the community. Many event fans share personal stories about how they or a love one were affected by cancer. Responding quickly and sincerely helps form a bond between the nonprofit and donors.

Here’s an example of Cancer Research UK Race for Life’s quick and friendly response to a Facebook comment:

This nonprofit has the perfect response to their Facebook fan

Unfortunately, negative comments are inevitable. And, all comments merit a response. Make sure your organization devises a response strategy so there’s a plan in place before a controversy occurs.

3. Post Share-Worthy Content

Nonprofit organizations share inspiring content. The more engagement a Facebook post receives, the more viewers it will reach. Business Insider states that over 350 million new photos are uploaded to Facebook everyday. It’s critical your organization stands out from the rest. Use original photos that capture the message of your organization so users can understand its mission and empathize with the cause.

Below is an example of a post by Project AWARE Foundation, a nonprofit focused on ocean conservation, that received more than 600,000 views:

Post share-worthy content, like Project AWARE Foundation's post

Posting content like the example above will help increase shares and the likelihood of new users seeing your organization’s social posts.

4. Add a Call-to-Action

Another great (and free) tactic is to add a “donate” button on your organization’s Facebook cover photo. This call-to-action appears at the top of an organization’s Facebook page. When a visitor clicks on this button, they’re directed to a page where they can enter any desired donation amount. This encourages users to make a quick donation without even scrolling through your newsfeed. Check out Doctors Without Border’s, a nonprofit that helps people worldwide in emergency situations:

Use the 'Donate Now' button to gain quick donations

5. Imagery is Everything

Donors support organizations that they believe in. A great way to form an emotional connection is by sharing imagery that captures your audience’s heart. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the world’s leading environmental conservation organization, does an exemplary job at this. WWF’s cover photo, of two elephants interacting, gives visitors a sense of their mission and what WWF is trying to achieve, which is protecting the world’s species.

WWF uses great imagery on its Facebook page

Videos also perform strongly on Facebook, collectively attracting billions of daily views. It’s essential for your organization to share videos that promote your brand’s story and seamlessly connects users with the cause. Learn more about the benefits of Facebook videos here.

Your organization’s Facebook page is truly your second line of defense when it comes to communicating with the public. Maintaining an active social media profile, generating share-worthy content and producing dynamic imagery is a great way to gain exposure and engage with your audience. Integrating these five tactics into your organization’s Facebook strategy will not only help your brand reach a larger audience, it will also help you connect with the right audience: your supporters and donors.