Ackman’s fund zooms ahead as he casts himself as corporate helpmate

Ackman's fund zooms ahead as he casts himself as corporate helpmate

BOSTON (Reuters) – For months, activist investor William Ackman promised to rebuild his record. Now he has some numbers to prove it.

FILE PHOTO: William ‘Bill’ Ackman, CEO and Portfolio Manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York City, U.S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Since Jan. 1, Pershing Square Holdings has gained 31.9 percent, making it the best start to a year in the firm’s 15-year history, Ackman wrote in a letter released on Monday.

More importantly, Ackman laid out how his hedge fund is essentially transforming itself into a holding company that owns stakes in public companies and offers a helping hand to struggling management teams to resurrect once-strong returns.

“We attribute our improved performance to initiatives that we have implemented over the last 18 months,” he wrote.

With his own transformation on firmer ground, Ackman said he can again help others. “Pershing Square, as a large influential investor with a track record for successful turnarounds, can provide management with the required runway and necessary long-term backing to succeed.”

For years Ackman earned billions for himself and clients while growing Pershing Square Capital Management into a roughly $20 billion firm. But in 2015 a soured bet on drug company Valeant paved the way for three years of losses, when investors ran for the exits, shrinking assets to $8 billion.

Now Ackman’s publicly traded fund, Pershing Square Holdings, makes up roughly three-quarters of the firm’s $8 billion in assets and the capital is stable because investors have to sell to another investor before exiting.

Permanent capital will help improve his own returns over time and let him become a helpmate to struggling companies, Ackman wrote.

To get here, Ackman went back to his roots and last year laid off staff, told his investor relations executives to stop raising new capital and re-dedicated himself to researching investment ideas instead of jetting around the world to visit with clients.

Ackman and his colleagues now own more than 20 percent of Pershing Square Holdings’ outstanding shares, he wrote.

His business, he explained to anyone who does not know about investments in companies like Chipotle and Canadian Pacific , is buying companies at a discount and helping them flourish again.

Over the last months, Ackman, once a fixture at conferences and on television, adopted a more low-key style, which he is translating to portfolio companies as well.

He said he has a lot of influence but prefers to use it “sparingly.” “Occasionally, we will ask a question, share an idea, or raise an issue. Most of the time, our CEOs rarely hear from us,” Ackman wrote, saying they call him. “We view our job as oversight, not day-to-day management.”

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Grant McCooland Leslie Adler

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SMX Overtime: 3 tips to maximizing visual search potential

SMX Overtime: 3 tips to maximizing visual search potential

Kristopher Jones, founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency LSEO.com, shared his expertise during the “Maximizing Visual Search Potential” session at SMX West. Jones offers tips for making budget-friendly videos and why indicators point to good visual design leading to higher search rankings.

Making videos is expensive. Please share some quick tips to make good effective videos at a lower cost.

Jones: Too many marketers fail to leverage video as a primary marketing tool because they mistakenly believe that making videos is expensive. The truth is that you can create quality videos with your IOS or Android device and use free or low-cost video editing apps like iMovie, Clips, or PowerDirector to edit your video for length and quality. You can also elevate the quality of your video production with an investment under $750 all-in by purchasing an HD camera ($400 – $600), tripod (under $30), and photo / video light and green screen kit ($150) from BestBuy, Amazon or a similar big box retailer. The key is to think through how and where you want to shoot the video. Consider space with natural light and that shows off whatever message you are trying to communicate (i.e., if you are talking about your business consider shooting video with your place of business as the backdrop). If you are a small business or solopreneur it’s not about how much you spend on your video production, but instead how you can outcompete larger businesses by leveraging video to produce as much high-value video as possible that more effectively communicates with prospective customers, while ranking well on search engines like Google, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Do you foresee “good visual design” becoming part of search algorithms?

Jones: Proper UI / UX design is central to SEO best practices. As Google’s machine learning algorithm becomes increasingly sophisticated, there is increasing evidence that good visual design leads to higher organic search rankings. Simple, responsive design coupled with fast page speeds leads to greater user experience and will kill it on mobile rankings.

How do you balance creating a site with a lot of images with Google page speed rankings that penalize slow sites?

Jones: First off, you can take a lot of the strain off your website and web browsers by reducing image sizes, enabling compression and using proper image formats. Images and page speed are both important to conversions so striking a balance can feel tricky. Fortunately, Google Page Speed Insights provides great tips to help you diagnose page speed problems related to images and other back-end elements. By following SEO best practices, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem developing a website that balances image heavy content with optimal page speed.


About The Author

Wendy Almeida is Third Door Media’s Community Editor, working with contributors for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. She has held content management roles in a range of organizations from daily newspapers and magazines to global nonprofits.

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Ackman’s fund zooms ahead as he casts himself as corporate helpmate

Ackman's fund zooms ahead as he casts himself as corporate helpmate

BOSTON (Reuters) – For months, activist investor William Ackman promised to rebuild his record. Now he has some numbers to prove it.

FILE PHOTO: William ‘Bill’ Ackman, CEO and Portfolio Manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York City, U.S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Since Jan. 1, Pershing Square Holdings has gained 31.9 percent, making it the best start to a year in the firm’s 15-year history, Ackman wrote in a letter released on Monday.

More importantly, Ackman laid out how his hedge fund is essentially transforming itself into a holding company that owns stakes in public companies and offers a helping hand to struggling management teams to resurrect once-strong returns.

“We attribute our improved performance to initiatives that we have implemented over the last 18 months,” he wrote.

With his own transformation on firmer ground, Ackman said he can again help others. “Pershing Square, as a large influential investor with a track record for successful turnarounds, can provide management with the required runway and necessary long-term backing to succeed.”

For years Ackman earned billions for himself and clients while growing Pershing Square Capital Management into a roughly $20 billion firm. But in 2015 a soured bet on drug company Valeant paved the way for three years of losses, when investors ran for the exits, shrinking assets to $8 billion.

Now Ackman’s publicly traded fund, Pershing Square Holdings, makes up roughly three-quarters of the firm’s $8 billion in assets and the capital is stable because investors have to sell to another investor before exiting.

Permanent capital will help improve his own returns over time and let him become a helpmate to struggling companies, Ackman wrote.

To get here, Ackman went back to his roots and last year laid off staff, told his investor relations executives to stop raising new capital and re-dedicated himself to researching investment ideas instead of jetting around the world to visit with clients.

Ackman and his colleagues now own more than 20 percent of Pershing Square Holdings’ outstanding shares, he wrote.

His business, he explained to anyone who does not know about investments in companies like Chipotle and Canadian Pacific , is buying companies at a discount and helping them flourish again.

Over the last months, Ackman, once a fixture at conferences and on television, adopted a more low-key style, which he is translating to portfolio companies as well.

He said he has a lot of influence but prefers to use it “sparingly.” “Occasionally, we will ask a question, share an idea, or raise an issue. Most of the time, our CEOs rarely hear from us,” Ackman wrote, saying they call him. “We view our job as oversight, not day-to-day management.”

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Grant McCooland Leslie Adler

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Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization Search Engine Watch

Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization.

Five ways SEOs can utilize data with insights, automation, and personalization.

Constantly evolving search results driven by Google’s increasing implementation of AI are challenging SEOs to keep pace. Search is more dynamic, competitive, and faster than ever before.

Where SEOs used to focus almost exclusively on what Google and other search engines were looking for in their site structure, links, and content, digital marketing now revolves solidly around the needs and intent of consumers.

This past year was perhaps the most transformative in SEO, an industry expected to top $80 billion in spending by 2020. AI is creating entirely new engagement possibilities across multiple channels and devices. Consumers are choosing to find and interact with information by voice search, or even on connected IoT appliances, and other devices. Brands are being challenged to reimagine the entire customer journey and how they optimize content for search, as a result.

How do you even begin to prioritize when your to-do list and the data available to you are growing at such a rapid pace? The points shared below intend to help you with that.

From analysis to activation, data is key

SEO is becoming less a matter of simply optimizing for search. Today, SEO success hinges on our ability to seize every opportunity. Research from my company’s Future of Marketing and AI Study highlights current opportunities in five important areas.

1. Data cleanliness and structure

As the volume of data consumers are producing in their searches and interactions increases, it’s critically important that SEOs properly tag and structure the information we want search engines to match to those queries. Google offers rich snippets and cards that enable you to expand and enhance your search results, making them more visually appealing but also adding functionality and opportunities to engage.

Example of structured data on Google

Google has experimented with a wide variety of rich results, and you can expect them to continue evolving. Therefore, it’s best practice to properly mark up all content so that when a rich search feature becomes available, your content is in place to capitalize on the opportunity.

You can use the Google Developers “Understand how structured data works” guide to get started and test your structured data for syntax errors here.

2. Increasingly automated actionable insights

While Google is using AI to interpret queries and understand results, marketers are deploying AI to analyze data, recognize patterns and deliver insights as output at rates humans simply cannot achieve. AI is helping SEOs in interpreting market trends, analyzing site performance, gathering and understanding competitor performance, and more.

It’s not just that we’re able to get insights faster, though. The insights available to us now may have gone unnoticed, if not for the in-depth analysis we can accomplish with AI.

Machines are helping us analyze different types of media to understand the content and context of millions of images at a time and it goes beyond images and video. With Google Lens, for example, augmented reality will be used to glean query intent from objects rather than expressed words.

Opportunities for SEOs include:

  • Greater ability to define opportunity space more precisely in a competitive context. Understand underlying need in a customer journey
  • Deploying longer-tail content informed by advanced search insights
  • Better content mapping to specific expressions of consumer intent across the buying journey

3. Real-time response and interactions

In a recent “State of Chatbots” report, researchers asked consumers to identify problems with traditional online experiences by posing the question, “What frustrations have you experienced in the past month?”

Screenshot of users' feedback on website usage experiences

As you can see, at least seven of the top consumer frustrations listed above can be solved with properly programmed chatbots. It’s no wonder that they also found that 69% of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication with brands.

Search query and online behavior data can make smart bots so compelling and efficient in delivering on consumer needs that in some cases, the visitor may not even realize it’s an automated tool they’re dealing with. It’s a win for the consumer, who probably isn’t there for a social visit anyway as well as for the brand that seeks to deliver an exceptional experience even while improving operational efficiency.

SEOs have an opportunity to:

  • Facilitate more productive online store consumer experiences with smart chatbots.
  • Redesign websites to support visual and voice search.
  • Deploy deep learning, where possible, to empower machines to make decisions, and respond in real-time.

4. Smart automation

SEOs have been pretty ingenious at automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks such as pulling rankings reports, backlink monitoring, and keyword research. In fact, a lot of quality digital marketing software was born out of SEOs automating their own client work.

Now, AI is enabling us to make automation smarter by moving beyond simple task completion to prioritization, decision-making, and executing new tasks based on those data-backed decisions.

Survey on content development using AI

Content marketing is one area where AI can have a massive impact, and marketers are on board. We found that just four percent of respondents felt they were unlikely to use AI/deep learning in their content strategy in 2018, and over 42% had already implemented it.

In content marketing, AI can help us quickly analyze consumer behavior and data, in order to:

  • Identify content opportunities
  • Build optimized content
  • Promote the right content to the most motivated audience segments and individuals

5. Personalizations that drive business results

Personalization was identified as the top trend in marketing at the time of our survey, followed closely by AI (which certainly drives more accurate personalizations). In fact, you could argue that the top four trends namely, personalization, AI, voice search, and mobile optimization are closely connected if not overlapping in places.

Across emails, landing pages, paid advertising campaigns, and more, search insights are being injected into and utilized across multiple channels. These intend to help us better connect content to consumer needs.

Each piece of content produced must be purposeful. It needs to be optimized for discovery, a process that begins in content planning as you identify where consumers are going to find and engage with each piece. Smart content is personalized in such a way that it meets a specific consumer’s need, but it must deliver on the monetary needs of the business, as well.

Check out these 5 steps for making your content smarter from a previous column for more.

How SEOs are uniquely positioned to drive smarter digital marketing forward

As the marketing professionals have one foot in analysis and the other solidly planted in creative, SEOs have a unique opportunity to lead smart utilization and activation of all manners of consumer data.

You understand the critical importance of clean data input (or intelligent systems that can clean and make sense of unstructured data) and differentiating between first and third-party data. You understand economies of scale in SEO and the value in building that scalability into systems from the ground up.

SEOs have long nurtured a deep understanding of how people search for and discover information, and how technology delivers. Make the most of your current opportunities by picking your low-hanging fruit opportunities for quick wins. Focus your efforts on putting the scalable, smart systems in place that will allow you to anticipate consumer needs, react quickly, report SEO appropriately, and convey business results to the stakeholders who will determine budgets in future.

Jim Yu is the founder and CEO of leading enterprise SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge. He can be found on Twitter .

You might like to read these next:

Related reading

How to speed up SEO analysis API advantages for SEO experts (with bonus)
Common technical SEO issues and fixes, for aggregators and finance brands
faceted navigation in ecommerce
marketing automation for SEOs, five time-saving strategies

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Morgan Stanley holds top spot as activist defense firm: data

Morgan Stanley holds top spot as activist defense firm: data

BOSTON (Reuters) – Morgan Stanley was ranked as the top adviser to companies targeted by activist investors publicly for the third straight year in 2018 while Goldman Sachs vaulted past two competitors to the number No. 2 spot, according to Refinitiv data published on Thursday.

A sign is displayed on the Morgan Stanley building in New York U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In 2018, Morgan Stanley advised on 22 campaigns, working with Akamai Technologies, SandRidge Energy and Cigna when those companies faced pressure from prominent agitators such as Elliott Management and Carl Icahn, the data showed.

Unlike announced mergers and acquisitions, many companies that fend off activists do so quietly and do not want their advisers making the situations public. This can create discrepancies in the data gathered in the league tables.

Goldman Sachs advised on 18 public campaigns in 2018. In 2017 Goldman advised on six public deals, trailing Morgan Stanley, Lazard and Raymond James, claiming the fourth spot, Refinitiv data shows.

Lazard dropped to the number three spot in 2018, advising 16 companies. In 2017, a less busy year overall, Lazard advised 14 companies.

Spotlight Advisors, founded by Greg Taxin, a lawyer who worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Banc of America Securities, made its first appearance on the list, capturing the No. 4 four spot ahead of UBS, Citi, Raymond James, Credit Suisse and Moelis & Co.

Activists were busier than ever last year and launched 500 campaigns, 5 percent more than in 2017. They pushed companies to spin off divisions and asked for board seats, among other demands.

Consumer cyclical companies were the most heavily targeted last year, Refinitiv said, with 90 campaigns in the sector. One prominent campaign was at Campbell Soup Co, where Daniel Loeb’s Third Point tried to replace all directors and initially pushed for a sale of the company.

Elliott Management, which launched campaigns at BHP Billiton Ltd, Qualcomm Inc, Bayer AG and Pernod Ricard last year, was ranked as the busiest activist, having launched 27 campaigns in 2018.

It beat out GAMCO Investors for the top spot.

Starboard Value, ranked as the third-busiest activist with 11 campaigns in 2018.

Innisfree and Okapi were the top proxy solicitors, firms hired to gather shareholders’ votes, while Olshan Frome Wolosky beat out two competitors to rank as the busiest law firm with 101 mandates working for activists.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Dan Grebler

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How to Clearly Articulate What You or Your Brand Do

How to Clearly Articulate What You or Your Brand Do

“You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in.” (Or, for that matter, write that label from the inside). Those words of wisdom come courtesy of Steve Woodruff, a “clarity consultant” at Clarity Fuel.

People don’t buy what they don’t understand, which is why Steve’s work is so important: He specializes in connecting people with their purpose, their message, and with other people—in order to create new business opportunities.

I invited Steve to Marketing Smarts to talk about his book Clarity Wins: Get Heard. Get Referred, and to share tips on how you can let go off the jargon and make it easy for people to understand what you do, which audiences you serve, and what makes you different.

Essentially, I wanted to ask Steve how you can proactively write the label that appears on the jar you’re in!

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Clearly articulating what you do (and for whom you do it) is a differentiator, because so few companies can communicate that simply (01:02): “Many companies have a vision and a mission statement. That’s way up there at the 30,000-foot level. And then, often, they have the sales messaging, the marketing messaging, the various playbooks. But there’s this missing layer—what I call the ‘keystone layer’—the Articles of Clarity, where anybody from the top of the organization down and anybody on the outside can see in clear, plain, human speech exactly what the company stands for, what their audience is, what their offerings are, and what the message is. The vast majority of companies do not have a good, clear, simple way of articulating themselves.”

Create a “verbal business card,” a 15-second explanation of what you do (01:55): “It often comes down to the first ‘moment of truth,’ when somebody asks you in a networking meeting, ‘Hey, what do you do?’ Everybody’s been asked that question. What often comes out of people’s mouths is a bunch of jargon or something that really gives no clear idea of exactly what we do and who we do it for.

“What that means is, number 1, we lose the audience if, in 15 seconds, they don’t have a clue what we do. But that also undercuts what I call ‘the second moment of truth,’ which is, If that person understands me, I can refer them to the next person. But you’ve got to give me a verbal business card, a word package, so I can have in my mind a picture.

“Then, when I run into somebody and they say, ‘We’re real worried about the legal issues of social media,’ I go, ‘Ah, that’s Kerry Gorgone; let me make a referral.’ And as we all know, referrals are the best way to get business. So the point of this book is, How do we make people and businesses ‘referral-ready?’ How do we make that first ‘moment of truth’ so effective that the second ‘moment of truth’ can happen.”

To create a “verbal business card,” simplify your message using snippets, stories, and symbols (04:05): “There’s three ways to boil down our message. You use snippets, which are very short, succinct, plain statements. You use stories, because the brain is hard-wired to absorb stories, so we have to tell people stories. People will remember them. And then: symbols.

“Symbols is when we talk about…Mercedes, Walmart—all the different things that use an existing memory hook. Because if I can get a concept in your head on an existing memory hook, you’re much more inclined to remember me and be able to pass on my name then if I say ‘here are the five different bullet points.’ Nobody’s going to remember five bullet points.”

For more information, visit SteveWoodruff.com or follow Steve on Twitter: @swoodruff, and be sure to get your copy of Clarity Wins: Get Heard. Get Referred.

Steve and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by GoToWebinar:

GoToWebinar makes it easy to produce engaging online events. Whether you want to connect with your prospects, customers or employees, GoToWebinar has the tools and analytics you need. Start creating interactive and educational webinars your audience will love.

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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China refuses to concede on U.S. demands to ease curbs on tech firms: FT

China refuses to concede on U.S. demands to ease curbs on tech firms: FT

FILE PHOTO: Chinese staffers adjust U.S. and Chinese flags before the opening session of trade negotiations between U.S. and Chinese trade representatives at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Ahead of fresh high-level trade talks this week, China is not conceding to U.S. demands to ease curbs on technology companies, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing three people briefed on the discussions.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are scheduled to travel to Beijing for talks starting on March 28, the White House said on Saturday.

The FT report said Beijing had yet to offer “meaningful concessions” to U.S. requests for China to stop discriminating against foreign cloud computing providers, to reduce limits on overseas data transfers and to relax a requirement for companies to store data locally.

China made an initial offer on digital trade that the United States judged as insufficient, the report said, citing a source.

China then retracted the offer after the United States demanded stronger pledges, the report said, without giving further details.

The White House and China’s Commerce Ministry did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment on Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the talks aimed at resolving the trade dispute were progressing and a final agreement seemed probable.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Neil Fullick

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Leveraging data driven marketing to gain a competitive advantage like retailer SpearmintLOVE

Leveraging data driven marketing to gain a competitive advantage like retailer SpearmintLOVE

Before SpearmintLOVE became a powerhouse brand offering children’s clothing and accessories, it was a blog with a devoted social media following. Founder Shari Lott launched the SpearmintLOVE brand in 2013, capitalizing on the audience she’d amassed (much in the same way Glossier founder Emily Weiss used her blog audience at Into the Gloss as a launching pad for a line of beauty products.)

Since then, we’ve seen brands across many different verticals taking a similar approach in pairing content with an e-commerce component, and that content and commerce trend is continuing to grow.

But in the unique case of SpearmintLOVE, the marketing genius didn’t stop there.

When Shari’s husband John came on board and brought along his expertise in finance, optimization and improved return on investment (ROI) quickly became a top priority for the business. John knew he wanted to put their customer data to work, so he started using a cohort analysis leveraging the brand’s advertising data to study customer behaviors, trends, and patterns over a set period of time.

What is a cohort analysis?

Cohort analysis is a subset of behavioral analytics that takes the data from a given data set (e.g. an e-commerce platform, web application, or online game) and rather than looking at all users as one unit, it breaks them into related groups for analysis. These related groups, or cohorts, usually share common characteristics or experiences within a defined time-span.

Cohort analysis allows a company to “see patterns clearly across the life-cycle of a customer (or user), rather than slicing across all customers blindly without accounting for the natural cycle that a customer undergoes.” By seeing these patterns of time, a company can adapt and tailor its service to those specific cohorts.

Read more here.

With this rich customer data, SpearmintLOVE was able to deliver better, more relevant marketing materials to their audience because they had a clearer idea of what different customer groups needed and when.

The approach paid off in a big way: They saw a 47% decrease in cost per purchase, lowered cost per conversion down to $.11, and started earning an average 34% return on their Instagram ad spending over a 60-day period. Their data-driven approach was so effective that Instagram even went on to feature it as a remarkable success story on the company website.

Data driven marketing success SpearmintLOVE-min
Image source.

So what does this tell us?

In short: Rich customer data is what lives at the heart of any optimized and highly-functioning marketing strategy.

In this post, we’ll look at how you too can build a data driven marketing approach and ensure you’re leveraging testing and experimentation for an effective and fully-optimized strategy.

Building a data driven marketing approach

When it comes to building a data driven marketing approach, the first step should be planning and documentation. The surprising thing is: Many marketers skip this part completely.

Research shows that less than 50% of marketers have a documented marketing strategy—which means that even fewer have benchmarks or reporting metrics in place that help gauge their efforts. As a result, marketers often end up making decisions based on assumptions, estimations, and guesswork, rather than data and hard numbers. This leads to underperformance, poor ROI, and wasted resources in the marketing department.

Documented marketing strategy stats
Image source.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Thanks to advances in technology that make it easier to collect, visualize, and leverage data, you can create a data driven marketing approach and make decisions based on real customer data. Pairing customer data with experimentation, you can generate actionable customer insights that lead to optimized conversion rates, more relevant, effective marketing materials, and an increased bottom line.

Customer data fuels experimentation
Customer data generates insights, and experimentation helps you validate those insights. It is an ongoing process.

It works, too. Insights-driven organizations are seeing this approach pay off. E-commerce retailer and manufacturer weBoost, for example, saw a 100% lift in year-over-year conversion rate by optimizing their site through experimentation. What’s more: this process also produced a 41.4% increase in completed orders for homepage visitors.

Your marketing team can do this too, but it takes a willingness to experiment and break from the ‘this is how we’ve always done things’ mentality that so often stunts growth and limits opportunities for businesses.

Next, let’s talk more about experimentation and look at a few key elements of a strategy that takes a data-driven approach.

Key elements of a data driven marketing strategy

Not all data driven marketing strategies are created equal. In our experience, the most effective approaches tie in a few signature elements.

1. A process that promotes the Zen Marketing Mindset

Yin and yang of marketing
The Zen Marketing Mindset embraces both the creative and scientific sides of marketing.

Order of operations can be tricky when you’re working to make your customer data actionable. However, with experimentation, you can feed data into hypotheses and actually validate whether or not your ideas work.

To do this, we recommend leveraging a process that marries data and creative thinking with validation. At WiderFunnel, we use the Infinity Optimization Process™, which is a structured approach to experimentation strategy and execution. This multi-step process helps add structure and logic to testing efforts and minimizes false assumptions. That means more accurate experiment outcomes and more validated marketing messages that translate into bottom-line impact.

WiderFunnel Infinity Optimization Process
The Infinity Optimization Process™

The approach is highly effective because it covers the two main sides of marketing: the intuitive, qualitative, exploratory side that imagines potential insights, as well as the quantitative, logical, data-driven, validating side that backs up outcomes with hard numbers. Paired together, they provide meaningful insights that boost marketing efficiency.

2. Exploration to power experimentation

Exploration in this context refers to information gathering and data collection. It is a major part of any successful marketing strategy, as it can help marketers find and develop the most impactful insights.

For exploration to be effective, it’s important to be sure you are considering both qualitative and quantitative data sources. Again, this is where the Infinity Optimization Process comes in handy.

IOP Explore components
The Infinity Optimization Process Explore phase.

The Explore phase focuses on gathering information through many different sources and then prioritizing this information for ideation. In this process, all information collection is centered around the LIFT Model®, which is a framework for understanding your customers’ barriers to conversion and potential opportunities.

In the case of SpearmintLOVE, the insights derived from their cohort analysis would be considered in Explore.

Workbook

How to turn your customer insights into revenue driving experiments

Categorize, organize, and put your customer data into action with this 28-page workbook. Dig into the Explore phase and learn how to translate your data and insights into experiment hypotheses.

How SpearmintLOVE leverages data driven marketing

We see an example of data driven marketing in action when we look at SpearmintLOVE’s use of cohort analysis, wherein quantitative data is paired with qualitative data to inform experiments.

By testing different products, messaging, and imagery based on the customer lifecycles they’d uncovered via cohort analysis, SpearmintLOVE was able to improve the effectiveness of their efforts and lower costs associated with marketing. By constantly testing and improving their marketing strategy based on real customer data, they’ve found success with customer-centric marketing that both resonates and produces meaningful results.

Bonus: this approach also helped them solve a major problem.

John noticed that within customer cohorts, there was a recurring drop-off in advertising ROI that he couldn’t explain. After studying the data, the answer occurred to him: Their audience’s needs were changing, but the marketing was staying the same.

“Data showed us that our customers were changing,” John Lott told BigCommerce. “We learned that our customers were evolving into different life stages. It took us six months to figure that out. Insights are funny that way.”

So what was the issue?

The young parents SpearmintLOVE initially attracted had newborn babies…but eventually those babies grew into toddlers. Which meant shoppers needed to be shown products for older children with different needs. But because SpearmintLOVE was still promoting products and messages for new/first-time parents, they were seeing dramatic drop off in marketing effectiveness as babies got older and the parents’ needs changed.

What we can take from this lesson: Illustrative data and a structured approach helps brands build stronger emotional connections with customers and get a deep understanding of what they both want and need.

Making data driven marketing work for you

When we look at brands like SpearmintLOVE who are seeing incredible success, we see common themes around what’s happening behind the scenes: Customer obsession and data-centric decision-making.

And it’s working. By leaning on data and giving customers what they want, SpearmintLOVE was able to grow its revenue by a whopping 1,100% in just one year.

The question is: What’s keeping you from doing the same?

In future editions of this series, we’ll continue to explore how different brands are executing customer-centric experiences via feedback collection, customer support insights, analytics, and experimentation.

If you’re curious about how to step up your company’s customer experience strategy and get on the level of brands making waves (and money), stay tuned and sign up to get future editions in your inbox.

Author

Kaleigh Moore

WiderFunnel Contributor

Benchmark your experimentation maturity with our new 7-minute maturity assessment and get proven strategies to develop an insight-driving growth machine.

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Skittish investors pull more than $20 billion from stocks, rush into bonds: BAML

Skittish investors pull more than $20 billion from stocks, rush into bonds: BAML

LONDON (Reuters) – Global equity funds saw massive outflows this week, a sharp reversal from last week’s inflows as pessimism over economic growth gripped investors once again, driving them instead to search for yield in credit and buy safer assets like bonds.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Some $20.7 billion was pulled from equity funds in the week to March 20, while $12.1 billion was ploughed into bond funds, the biggest inflows since January 2018, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) strategists said on Friday citing data from EPFR.

Despite big gains for stocks globally this year, positioning is decidedly negative with $66.8 billion outflows from equity funds year-to-date.

This week’s heavy outflows showed investors remain skittish, having re-entered equities with $14 billion inflows last week.

Investors are hunting for yield, the strategists said, noting the ninth straight week of inflows to investment-grade bond funds – $6.6 billion this week – while high-yield bond funds drew in $3.2 billion and $1.2 billion went into EM debt.

The market is struggling to digest a rapid about-turn from the U.S. Federal Reserve on interest rates as economic growth disappoints globally and fears of a deflationary environment return.

“Extraordinary abrupt end to central bank hiking cycle & Fed paranoia of credit event are uber-bullish credit & uber-bearish volatility,” the strategists wrote.

“Inflows to ‘deflation assets’… continue to trounce inflows to ‘inflation winners’,” they added.

Overall the bank’s “Bull & Bear” indicator of investor positioning and sentiment held at a neutral level of 4.7 out of 10, signalling investors’ uncertainty over where the market might go next.

By region, the U.S. saw the biggest outflows with $13.2 billion, while $4 billion was pulled from European equities.

“Short European equities” was named by investors as the “most crowded” trade in a BAML survey on Tuesday, prompting some contrarian buying of European stocks, but not enough to move the needle in terms of flows.

Japanese equities also suffered outflows of $700 million, the sixth straight week of outflows. Emerging market equities have had outflows four of the past five weeks, and lost $400 million this week.

Investors turned on technology stocks, pulling $700 million from the sector. Defensive real estate stocks were the most favoured, attracting $400 million.

Cumulative flows into tech stocks, long-standing investor darlings, have stalled, BAML strategists noted, as doubts over their status as market leaders grew and sluggish economic growth weighed on performance.

Reporting by Helen Reid; editing by Josephine Mason

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Cognitive biases: How to get people to prefer your business

Cognitive biases: How to get people to prefer your business

Most of us like to believe that we’re inherently logical people, especially when it comes to purchasing decisions. However, we’re not computers. No matter how logical we try to be, emotion always influences our decisions to some extent.

Psychologists refer to these emotional factors in our decision-making processes as “cognitive biases.” Without even realizing it, we make most of our decisions based on these emotional biases and build our logical arguments for doing or buying something around justifying our emotions.

This is good news for marketers.

If you understand how cognitive biases work and how to use them in your marketing, you can make people feel like you have a better product, service or company. At that point, it almost doesn’t matter whether or not you are better; people will buy from you because that’s what feels right.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of powerful cognitive biases you can use to make people view your products or services as superior to the competition.

The mere exposure effect

Back in the 60s, Charles Goetzinger was teaching at OSU and decided to run a social experiment on class. Before the semester started, he contacted one of the students and asked them to wear a giant black bag over their entire body during class – for the whole semester.

Now, putting aside the fact that he was actually able to convince a student to do this, this experiment resulted in some fascinating observations.

As you might expect, the initial response to the black bag was very hostile and derogative. However, as the semester progressed, people’s response to the unexplained bag softened and the student began actually to make friends.

Why? Familiarity makes us comfortable.

As humans, our brains are wired to identify potential threats. A sudden change in the ambient noise could represent an impending attack, an odd taste in your water could mean that it’s contaminated…to our brains, “new” often means “danger.”

However, if we’re around something new for a while and nothing bad happens, our brains relax. The new thing becomes part of our “normal” experience and our brains move on to evaluating other, newer unknowns for potential danger.

How to use the mere exposure effect

Unfortunately, most businesses can’t afford to spend a semester waiting for someone to get comfortable with their brand. Long-term, building familiarity with your customers is a great idea, but often you need them to buy within the next few days-to-weeks.

So, how do you use mere exposure to get people comfortable enough to buy in a reasonable time frame? Here are a few options to consider.

Retarget

When done right, retargeting is all about familiarity. There’s a reason why retargeting campaigns have a better CTR than most display campaigns. Retargeting ads remind people that they are interested in what you’re selling and help them feel comfortable buying from you.

Also, retargeting is a great way to address potential concerns your customers might have during their buyer journey. Remember, on a primal level, “new” is scary because it’s a potential threat. If you can build familiarity while decreasing the perceived threat level of doing business with you, your potential customers will feel more comfortable buying from you than anyone else.

Repurpose

Repetition and re-exposure are a fundamental part of how we learn and become comfortable with new things. This principle is just as important to an adult making a purchasing decision as it is to a kid learning how to walk.

For example, lots of myths, trends and fads get started when something goes viral on social media. People read, hear and see something so many times that it simply becomes a part of their belief system – regardless of whether what they believe is actually true.

In essence, repetition creates reality.

This principle works just as well for honest businesses as it does for fad diets. If you’ve come up with a great marketing message, why not turn it into a blog post, podcast, infographic, video, slide presentation, etc.?

Repurposing your content this way will increase the number of ways and times that people encounter your message. As a result, when they see your actual ads, they’ll instinctively resonate with your messaging – even if they don’t remember why.

Risk compensation theory

Back when the governments started really paying attention to automobile safety, Sam Peltzman discovered something interesting. Although safety features like seatbelts made people safer, the benefits of these features to the general public were lower than the government’s safety tests had predicted.

Why? The safer people felt in their cars, the more risks they took when they drove.

Again, this gets back to how our brains are wired. Every decision carries some sort of inherent risk and we are constantly trying to decide whether the risk is worth the reward.

However, this decision isn’t a matter of pure math. Our internal risk-benefit analysis isn’t based on hard data; it’s based on the perceived risks and benefits.

So, if someone is considering cutting in front of a semi and they aren’t wearing their seatbelt, the perceived risk is pretty high. If their timing is even a little bit off, they could be thrown from the car and die. But, if they think that their seatbelt will protect them, the perceived risk is a lot lower, so they’re more likely to decide that the risk of being in an accident is worth the benefit of saving a few seconds on their commute.

This same principle applies to marketing. No matter what you’re trying to get people to do, your customers will associate some level of risk with it: loss of money, loss of time, loss of privacy, etc. Your job is to increase the perceived benefits and decrease the perceived risks so that people feel safe doing what you want them to.

How to use risk compensation theory

If you do it right, people should feel like there is more risk in not following your call-to-action (CTA) than there is in following it. Essentially, this flips the risk-benefit equation on its head.

Of course, achieving that is easier said than done, but here are a few ways to maximize the perceived benefits and minimize the perceived risks of your CTA:

Use social proof

Social proof is one of the best tools in the online marketer’s toolbox. These days, people instinctively distrust marketing (after all, you’re getting paid to promote your business). However, people trust other people, so including testimonials and reviews is a great way to tilt the risk-benefit equation in your favor.

That being said, simply having testimonials or reviews isn’t enough. You need social proof that makes people feel like giving you their money, time or information is a safe bet. If the reviews you share don’t inspire confidence (or worse, feel fake), they can actually work against you.

Use someone else’s halo

A similar, but a different way to decrease perceived risk is to associate yourself with a third party your audience already trusts.

The classic example of this is getting certified for a trust seal from a third-party business. However, this tactic has been used for so long that it’s become an expectation. These days, having a trust seal might not decrease the perceived risk of doing business with you, but not having one can certainly increase it!

If you want to use someone else’s trustworthiness to build trust in your business, one of the easiest approaches is influencer marketing. Unlike testimonials – which are usually placed on your marketing materials – influencers advocate for your business to their loyal following.

Because influencers already have a high level of trust with their audience, their endorsement of your business feels far more credible and meaningful than anything you could ever say about yourself. It’s a simple, but highly effective way to use someone else’s halo to build trust in your business.

Conclusion

Honestly, the mere exposure effect and risk compensation theory are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other cognitive biases that you can use in your marketing to encourage people to choose your business over the competition.

The trick is understanding how different cognitive biases play into the purchasing decisions of your target audience. Once you understand that, it’s usually fairly easy to influence those biases in a way that favors your business.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jacob is passionate entrepreneur on a mission to grow businesses using PPC & CRO. As the Founder & CEO of Disruptive Advertising, Jacob has developed an award-winning and world-class organization that has now helped over 2,000 businesses grow their online revenue. Connect with him on Twitter.

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