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So you’re working from home, spending too much time on Zoom calls, feeling a bit frustrated and that normal creative business – design workshops, ideation sessions, design sprints – has had to pause. Time to think again. As someone who leads a remote-first agency that specialises in service design and UX as well as web application development, I know first hand that creativity and collaboration don’t just happen in person.

And I can unequivocally state that running design sprints and collaborating with clients is entirely possible, even when you’re 100% remote. It’s just different. A strong design process helps alongside a ‘design thinking’ mentality. So do the right tools and professional experience. But we all need a little fun, too, to create those creative sparks, so here are six exercises that we use with our clients to inspire our design process. See our seven creative exercises that we have been using before and during the pandemic to successfully deliver products and services to clients.

Goal visualisation

A good one to start with, usually at our kick-off workshop, is goal visualisation. In this, each participant takes a moment to think about the difference the project could make.

You can do this in lots of ways – sketching, keywords, bulleted lists or an inspiring piece of writing (I haven’t yet seen it done in interpretative dance, but that day may come). It shows each person’s perspective on what the project should achieve and helps get people excited about the project.

Stinky Fish

Great name, great exercise, especially for your kick-off workshop. In the Stinky Fish exercise, participants share any risks about going ahead with a project. (The idea is that if they’re not aired now, they might fester and become, you guessed it, stinky!)

Stinky Fish is a great way to confront any obstacles or concerns, bring them out into the open and address them. (It’s also an opportunity to check if there is indeed a good reason not to proceed.)

Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights is a fun, fast exercise that gets participants to sketch eight ideas in eight minutes. All they need is a piece of paper (that you can later hold up to your webcam) and a pen (if you’re doing this remotely, something bold, like a Sharpie, shows up well on-screen). Divide your sheet of paper into eight boxes, start the timer – and go!

Because of the time constraint, Crazy Eights is an excellent way to get people to capture their ideas without hesitation. There isn’t time for self-editing or shyness – it encourages everyone in the room to get stuck in right away!

Sketching exercises

Lots of people think they can’t draw and might find sketching intimidating. But everyone can, certainly well enough for UX design workshops. Sketching exercises are fun and by sharing their sketches onscreen with tools like Miro, reluctant participants can gain confidence in bringing their ideas to life whilst creating documentation that will help drive the project forward.

Ideas pitching

Ideas pitching gives each participant a chance to pitch their concepts and designs to the rest of the group. Participants can then vote on the best elements (using show of hands voting if you’re on Zoom), or converge solutions together or in pairs in Zoom breakout rooms.

Replay

And the last one is really handy too – a Replay exercise runs through the key goals from your kick-off workshop, or refreshes your team on the personas and scenarios that have been developed. It’s a fun and quick way to bring everyone up to speed, or to ensure they’re back on the same page – we often use it at the start of a workshop.

Remote working tools

Now that you have the seven excercises its time to ‘tool-up’! You can collaborate effectively, even if you’re working remotely, with a pen and a few sheets of paper. But there are more sophisticated tools, too. At Cyber-Duck, we use whiteboard apps like Miro and Mural to collate digital post-it notes, perform card sorting and more. Tools like Sketch Cloud and Invision help us walk clients through design prototypes and get feedback, while Airtable makes sharing research data easy. (Get a full rundown of all our favourite tools in our remote-first design sprints white paper – it’s free.)

Conclusion

We’ve successfully storyboarded, mapped personas, and developed service design blueprints, all remotely, all in collaboration with clients. That’s why I can reassure you, from a company that’s worked remote-first for some years now, that remote creative collaboration isn’t just possible – it can be really effective. You just need to have proven process, the right tools – and a good idea of what you’re doing.

By

Danny Bluestone, co-founder, Cyber-Duck

Sourced from The Drum

The last decade generated a new category of digital-first, direct-to-consumer businesses that upended how consumer goods were created, priced, marketed, and sold. My company, Mack Weldon, is one of them. Brands like ours have touched nearly every consumer category from cooking pans to mattresses (and yes, even men’s underwear).

This generation of disruptive brands has been propelled by emergent social media, access to capital, and generational shifts in shopping habits and brand perception. It has been the decade of direct-to-consumer.

Then the coronavirus crisis arrived.

While digitally-born and e-commerce-driven businesses are among the best equipped to survive this crisis, the catalysts that drove the DTC boom have changed. The assumptions made about the market, as little as five months ago, are no longer true.

What does the business landscape look like in the era after the pandemic? Here are four things you should hesitate to assume about DTC businesses.

A new outlook toward brick-and-mortar

DTC brands left their digital perches and started opening stores in the last few years. It was a boon both to brands looking to expand their reach and to landlords who were keen to place relevant tenants in their projects. This will all change.

Brands—whether legacy or digital—will be more cautious about when and where they open up doors. We at Mack Weldon opened our first shop last year at the Hudson Yards mall in New York City and had plans to expand through directly-operated stores and third-party partnerships.

Now, we’re looking harder at those plans. How will consumers respond to physical retail when the pandemic recedes and how permanent will those changes be? We’re being careful, but we also realize there will be timely opportunities for leases and new, more flexible formats in desirable locations.

Easy money to launch and expand

The DTC boom was largely driven by access to capital. Venture capital and private equity money fueled the formation and expansion of scores of new brands. According to data from CB Insights, consumer brands have raised more than $3 billion since 2012, and about half of that money was raised in 2018 alone.

But recent market trends and the pandemic have pulled the plug on easy money. High-profile flameouts, including WeWork and Brandless, coupled with an increasingly more expensive digital advertising landscape, changed the calculus for investors. Can new brands make enough noise in a competitive market? Can existing brands find both scale and profitability in this new environment?

Going forward, investors will be more circumspect about opportunities, valuations will come down to earth, and marketing and distribution strategies will be scrutinized. Financing will still find its way to high-quality brands and business models where the unit economics support profitability, but the volume of deals and subsequent valuations will be rightsized.

A return to the original marketing playbook

The digital-first, performance-driven marketing playbook that fueled so much success—ours included—needs an overhaul. Before COVID-19, ad rates on the major networks were climbing and price arbitrage all but nonexistent to support major growth. Once the pandemic took hold, some scale opportunities returned, but it’s clear that as demand comes back into the system, we all need new ways to drive cost-effective, new customer acquisition. For us, we are contemplating our first major video ad test including OTT and linear TV—as well as continuing to invest in channels such as podcasts and radio.

Further, the COVID-19 situation forced all of us to take a hard look at our marketing plans and make some major pivots. We heavily revised our marketing calendar and product launches in order to offer products relevant to our consumers facing drawn-out quarantines. Specifically, we revised the tone of our emails, ads, and social media to be authentic, empathetic, and human, and we prioritized imagery highlighting how our products work well in a WFH environment. What purpose can a brand such as ours serve at a time like this? The customer relationship must go beyond email campaigns and sales promotions. If you meet customers where they are today—they will reward you over the medium and in the long term with loyalty.

Lastly, the pandemic is shifting e-commerce demographics. According to First Insight, online shopping among baby boomers jumped 120% in March of this year as the pandemic finally forced these consumers online. Is there a new population for digital-first brands to access, and if so, how will we reach them?

Business leaders can use this time to adapt the cadence, tone, tactics, and audience focus of their marketing efforts.

There’s enough room for everyone

The first decade of the DTC period has come to an end, and the pandemic is accelerating the rules of its next chapter. We’ve already begun to see some high-profile bankruptcies in J.Crew and Neiman Marcus, and there will inevitably be more.  Consolidation is on the horizon—anticipate smaller companies joining forces and larger incumbents making acquisitions motivated by more rational valuations and opportunities.

Furthermore, incumbents will likely emerge with entirely new strategies around their retail footprint and need to build a more robust, digital-first DNA. Likewise, there will be successes in this space, as brands with sound businesses can capitalize on new market realities and new customer preferences.

At my company, we’re cautiously optimistic about the next phase of DTC, bullishly looking ahead. We’re executing on our strategic plan but also keeping an eye on the future as we prepare for limited retail expansion and investment in our digital footprint and product offering.

Direct-to-consumer brands were born of ingenuity and tenacity; the pandemic is once again demanding that of the marketplace as we determine new ways to meet the needs of our customers. The most nimble of us will author the new rules together as we enter this next phase of direct-to-consumer businesses


Feature Image Credit: [Photo: Warren Wong/Unsplash]

By Brian Berger

Brian Berger is the CEO and founder of menswear basics brand Mack Weldon, which he launched in 2012. Since 2012, Mack Weldon has become a leader within the men’s apparel industry, expanding its product offerings to cover other essentials of a modern man’s wardrobe. Before founding Mack Weldon, Brian served in several leadership positions in internet and media companies, including Comcast and WebMD.

Sourced from Fast Company

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The ‘new normal’ is a phrase that we are all currently being bombarded with from many sources as society starts to adjust to life under lockdown and people consider how life may be different once we come out the other side. As the everyday realities of their customers experience changes (some significant, others more subtle), brands are faced with the question of how, or indeed whether, to adapt their marketing to reflect these changes.

For many brands the idea of showing slick, aspirational advertising content in a time of global crisis is just not an appropriate option. Then of course there’s the more practical question of how new content is actually going to be created when most of us are confined to our own homes. The days of exotic location shoots and ensemble casts for TV ads are, at least temporarily, gone.

In its place we are seeing a seeing a significant rise in the use of user generated content (UGC) in marketing, featuring raw, hand shot footage from staff or customers which is designed to reflect our collective new reality and create an emotional connection with audiences. Examples include the likes of Apple, TSB, Tesco and Co-op, who recently replaced their original Easter campaign to promote the sale of Easter eggs for a new staff-led advert to highlight their support for food redistribution charity, Fareshare.

While many of these campaigns have been positively received, is UGC a form of content that is here to stay? Will it continue to be valued after this crisis has passed, or is it merely a temporary trend?

Here’s what two Mission Agency leads, themselves working with clients to adapt their marketing to the current climate, have to say on the subject:

Kate Cox, chief executive officer at Bray Leino:

”Creative comprising of user-generated content is clearly a practical way of getting around the physical filming restrictions during lockdown. Currently there is also an acceptance for ‘rough and ready’ content (be it commercials, programming, schooling, podcasts, radio shows). Plus, no brand wants to be insensitive creating extravagant production pieces or be seen to be defying official advice around social distancing, so UGC is a perfect workaround.

”Who knows what the future holds, but the chances are it will be a temporary trend. When the new normal comes, we will clearly have all learnt things, picked up new and effective ways of working and living, created new life habits etc, but we will also revert to some ‘old’ behaviours. Human nature and what drives us doesn’t fundamentally change, so it’s likely that marketing will continue to reflect this. The key is, we need great insight, variety in our ideas and our executions, one-size-fits-all is clearly not the way to go – it’s the opposite of standing out and having impact.”

John Quarrey, krow Group chief executive officer:

”UGC has offered a quick fix solution to the current production challenge for brands, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the only solution we find for producing new content in a socially distanced world. Stop-frame, 2D & 3D animation, professional stills, self-shooters, influencers, re-editing of existing content are all production approaches largely unaffected by the lockdown and offer a wide variety of executional styles.

”Just as we shouldn’t be restricted to UGC as a production technique, we also need to avoid making execution the defining factor at the start of the communication process. Rigorous insight that delivers stand-out creative work will always have the greatest potential to transform business performance.

”As for whether brands should reflect the new normal in their ads, there is no easy answer. For most brands, using ‘slice of life’ vignettes to reflect the lives of its audiences seems an obvious and logical way to establish an empathetic connection. But beware the ’brandwagon’ – brands that are too late to the show and lack originality run the risk of blending in and themselves becoming the new normal. And brands with strong advertising equities or fluent devices might find that more of the same is better than a quick attempt to join in. Aside from that, I’d imagine most people are well ready for a break from the omnipresent Covid-19 coverage. Aligning too closely could see brands being screened out, not standing out.

”As the veil of global lockdown is slowly lifting, advertising will continually evolve to reflect our new social norms. The big questions being, what will those norms look like and which brands will be doing it best? It’s an exciting challenge for our industry.”

Now, more than ever, brands are having to evolve their products, services and communications to suit the shifting tides of consumer behaviours, demands and expectations. While UGC is undoubtedly a popular way to engage with consumers at this time, as marketers maybe our task right now should not be to hold a mirror up to the people of the country, but to take time to understand how the world around us has changed in the past few months. And how what people want to hear from brands has changed too.

By

Cat Davis, group marketing director at The Mission Group & Krow Group

Sourced from The Drum

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Whether or not you’ve embraced it, voice search is here to stay and it looks like it will be the next biggest trend in social media. In 2014, 41% of adults surveyed said they use voice search at least once a day. By 2020, 50% of all searches will be by voice search.

Google controls the lion’s share of the search engine market and it is essential to optimize your website.

Speech and type patterns are different

Think about how you perform a search when you’re typing your query rather than speaking. When you’re typing, you’re more likely to use a shorthand and leave out superfluous words. Conversely, when you speak, you’re more likely to speak in a complete statement.

For example, when searching for the best restaurants in New York. In Google, you will type “best restaurants NYC”. However, with a voice search, you will ask “What are the best restaurants in New York City?”

Google and other search engines have been working on improving the programming and machine learning that pick up speech patterns. What this means is that while you may need to enunciate to get Google to understand you at first, it should soon become familiar with your accent.

Long tail keywords are crucial

While the days of short tail keywords are well behind us, voice search makes targeting the correct long tail keywords more important than ever.

Marketers can optimize both types of search by using conversational, long tail keywords. The new keywords are very specific because they are being searched by people further down the buyer’s journey.

Instead of writing a blog post called “10 Home Decor Trends for 2018”, write for a more targeted audience with the post “10 Vintage-Inspired Home Decor Trends for Small Apartments”.

How to use Google voice search SEO Strategies

With regular search SEO, being within the first ten results and displayed on the front page of the search engine results was enough. Voice search makes this game more competitive because now all SEO and SEM marketers are aiming to have their content returned as the featured snippet that is displayed above the first organic result. The featured snippet typically displays the text from your site answering the question and an image.

How is the featured snippet generated?

There are two parts to how Google builds the featured snippet to display at the top of the search results.

Part of it is based on the same elements dictating your position in a search engine results page regardless of the type of search being conducted. This includes your domain authority, backlinks, social media engagement and more. This is to say that building a high-quality site that is fast and secure is still important.

The other half is based on how Google reads the content on your website. It ranks the text on your website based on the size of the font. Titles are the most important and then subheaders formatted in H2.

When performing a search, Google is looking for pages with the relevant keywords in the titles, subheaders and URL along with an authoritative, speedy and secure website for delivery as the featured snippet.

Use trigger words in your long-tail keywords

Keep in mind that people who are searching by voice are either in a rush or on-the-go. To get your content into that answer box, you need to use these popular “trigger” words when creating content. These phrases should appear not just in your post title, but in subheadings, the URL and meta descriptions as well. The most popular trigger words in voice searches are “how”, “what” and “best”.

Use tools like Google Trends and Google Suggest for ideas about what content you can generate based on these trigger words and keywords that apply to your site. When creating your posts, try to answer a question up near the top of the post and then follow it up with a relevant, well-researched, easy to read and informative post.

Think about how and where you want Google to display your content

Google prefers that voice search results are short and easy to read. At the same time, it seems to prefer long-form content (over 1000 words) as opposed to short-form content. Confusing, I know.

It comes down to the type of questions that are being asked. For search queries that have a simple or clear answer, Google wants something that is brief and accurate.

In order to catch both the Google Home and Chrome users, think about how to structure your posts so that Google can find an answer users can click to find more detailed information. Stick with simple vocabulary and shorter sentences to maintain readability.

It may be daunting to hear all the digital marketing pundits talk about how voice search is going to disrupt everything we know about search engines. It’s important to remember that voice SEO is still just SEO.

Now you know what Google is looking for when choosing what to select for its answer box and how to use Google voice search will put you be in a better position to take advantage of this new trend.

By

Jason Hall, founder, FiveChannels

Sourced from The Drum

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Quick! What’s the difference between a positioning statement and set of brand values?

Or a value proposition and a brand’s DNA?

What about a brand promise and a brand essence?

If you answered ‘er’ to any of the above, then you are not alone.

Week long workshops have been spent parsing out the distinctions between ‘DNA’ and ‘purpose’. Cut through the froth, however, and we are talking about positioning.

But whatever we call it, positioning is central to what marketers do. Yet, here’s a scary New Year’s thought: is it time to reposition positioning?

When Ries and Trout first proclaimed the arrival of positioning in the late 1960s and early 70s, simplicity was at the heart of their thinking. ‘Positioning compensates for our over-communicated society by using an oversimplified message to cut through the clutter and get into the mind.’

Positioning was a strategic exercise, informing everything from distribution, to product innovation, and marketing communications. By analyzing competition, consumer, and company in question, brands could clearly define themselves against rivals with a strong positioning. Ultimately it was about ‘where’ and ‘how’ a brand should ‘play’ against competition.

As a result, the primary goal of the advertising agency morphed from (tactical) creativity, for its own sake, into the (strategic) management of brands.

Yet, as the synonymic inflation around the word ‘positioning’ suggests, this has become an increasingly complex exercise, cast adrift from the original intent.

We now spend a great deal of time ruminating over the finer points of brand personalities, or carefully delving into semantic nuances. We build pyramids, diamonds, and peel back layers of brand onions (weeping, often, in the process), while flicking through thesauruses for synonyms of ‘inspirational’.

More worryingly, positioning is increasingly detached from its original strategic intent. It has become too concerned with marketing communications, and is often treated as a story which should be told (directly) to the consumer. This is a long way from what it should be. Moore and Helstein in a 2007 article on positioning tersely noted ‘a positioning statement is not an advertising strategy, a slogan, or a tagline. It is an internal document, and is often very dull and straightforward.’

The lack of strategic thought is also evident when it comes to understanding of the competition. Competitor analysis is all too often overlooked, and palmed off on someone more junior, with the results filed away and never used. This leads to the weird sense of déjà vu between a lot of brand executions, born, one suspects, from positionings that didn’t pay attention to, or distinguish themselves from, the competition.

All this distracts from an exercise that was originally intended to focus strategy. Positionings have become a pick-and-mix of Big Words that agencies often struggle to execute against.

And positioning faces an even bigger challenge. Jenni Romaniuk of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute has pointed out that the way we think about positioning is back to front.

Unlike marketers, the brand is the last thing consumers think about.

For consumers, brands are not the fixed platonic ideals that brand onions suggest they are. Instead they are a mess of mental cues, recalled to solve certain problems throughout the day.

Romaniuk refers to these situations that induce brand recall as ‘category entry points’ (CEPs).

For example, you might feel hungry at lunchtime (CEP) and several brands will pop into your head to solve this problem.

You might need a mid-afternoon pick me up (CEP) and Starbucks, Coca-Cola, or the godawful stuff in the canteen might mentally appear.

CEPs can be linked to things like hunger, the time of day, a sporting event, or a type of weather. This makes sense because brand considerations are context specific, and different contexts – or CEPs – evoke different brand options. (If you are considering lunch you might not be considering Burger King. But, if it’s 3am, or the morning after the night before, it might be at the top of your mind.)

This is a big challenge to traditional positioning and the 3Cs that inform it.

After all the consumer (or at least consumer mindset) varies depending on the situation. The competition varies too. If you’re Coca-Cola you might be competing with a coffee mid-afternoon, and a beer at 6pm.

And the brand itself is perceived differently in each situation. It’s not, in other words a ‘fixed’ idea. (That’s why it makes little sense to ask consumers what situations come to mind for specific brands – the answer is it depends on the situation. We should instead be asking what brands come to mind for certain situations.)

In short, different CEPs should logically produce different positionings.

So how do we adapt?

For a start, it should prompt marketers to consider what CEPs they are currently linked to, and if they should expand this number. The most successful brands are linked to wide a range of different situations, and smart brands actively seek to expand them. A simple example of how this works is from McDonalds, which went from simply answering a ‘fast food’ situation, to also answering a quick and easy way to get breakfast and a decent coffee.

We should therefore not be afraid of embracing positioning(s) plural. This does not mean that every brand should document a bewildering array of every potential CEP, and position against each. Some CEPs are more common (and profitable) than others. CEPs also seem to have practical limits. Fizzy drinks or fast food chains might have quite a few, but realistically how many does toilet roll really have?

All this suggests that positioning should cease to be the distant, lofty, and totemic PowerPoint it often feels like today. It was, after all, originally intended as a battle plan, rather than a religious text. Positioning should once again act as a practical and powerful tool to help focus thinking, and compete with the competition across (a range of) different consumer cues.

That positioning often feels more like an exercise in semantic acrobatics or character creation suggests it’s long-overdue a repositioning.

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Sourced from THEDRUM