4 Wedding Industry Insiders Share Their Digital Marketing Strategies

As someone who recently got engaged, I’ve realized there’s a lot I have to learn about wedding planning. And as a content marketer, I’ve noticed that wedding businesses are great at reaching me while I’m doing research online. From sponsored posts about wedding day survival kits on Facebook to the promoted wedding dress Pins I keep seeing on Pinterest, brands are everywhere.

To get a better understanding of how wedding businesses are capitalizing on digital marketing, I reached out to the following four wedding industry professionals:

  • Kaleigh Wiese, founder of MéldeenWiese founded luxury stationary company Méldeen in 2009. Méldeen creates custom save-the-dates, wedding invitations, ceremony programs, thank you cards, and more. In 2016, Wiese introduced PIXEL by Méldeen, a custom Snapchat filter design service.
  • Stephanie Padovani, co-founder of Book More BridesPadovani and her husband, Jeff, started Book More Brides as a part-time project that played to their shared interest in marketing. Their consulting business, which helps wedding entrepreneurs increase leads and revenue, now grosses over six figures a year.
  • Ariel Meadow Stallings, founder of Offbeat BrideStallings launched her Offbeat Bride site in 2007 to promote her book about nontraditional weddings. The website gained popularity thanks to its focus on inclusivity and empowerment and now averages more than 1 million visits per month.
  • Jennifer Stein, co-founder and Editor in Chief of Destination I DoStein was inspired to help start Destination I Do in 2004 when she was planning her own destination wedding and realized there weren’t any magazines covering the subject. Destination I Do is now an international magazine with digital components, including a blog and online planning tools.

Méldeen: Using Analytics to Reach Wedding Planners

For Kaleigh Wiese, success in digital marketing is all about focusing on the right audience. Because of Méldeen’s price points and minimums, Wiese has found that wedding planners are her best customers (although she gets some direct inquiries from engaged couples, too).  Wiese has a few major strategies for getting Méldeen in front of wedding planners:

  1. Research the keywords and hashtags wedding planners use when searching for inspiration.

  2. Explore relevant search terms that are getting more volume (e.g. foil, letterpress). Capitalize on those concepts in Pinterest content before they reach peak popularity (and saturation). Use Promoted Pins for high-value, relevant content.

  3. Use Google Analytics to identify where the most traffic is coming from and focus paid campaigns on those geographic locations.

Bonus Tip: Wiese also pointed out that digital marketing strategies can help with networking—something that’s especially important for a wedding business that works with other wedding professionals. When using Instagram, Wiese says that she always tries “to tag all vendors involved in the day-of event.” It’s something that not a lot of wedding vendors think to do, but tagging one another on social media helps to build network connections and leverage credibility with potential customers.

Book More Brides: Capturing Leads with Hot-Button Content

Stephanie Padovani isn’t afraid to speak her mind when it comes to writing content for Book More Brides. She shared the following recipe for attracting clients (in her case, wedding professionals):

  1. Identify a controversial topic your target clients get really worked up about.

  2. Write an article that proves the arguments for your prospects and makes them look good.

  3. Promote the article to your target audience and encourage sharing and republishing.

Padovani explained to me how she did this with one of her blog posts: 10 Things Couples Need to Know About the Wedding Industry That the Media Will Never Tell You. She wrote this post in response to common headlines that talk about “wedding markups” and “getting taken advantage of” when planning a wedding. In her article, she explains why those accusations are mostly false and how much behind-the-scenes work goes into being a wedding professional.

In addition to publishing the post on the Book More Brides blog, Padovani shared it with her email list and social media audience, encouraging readers to republish it and spread the word. In a few days, the post had received 3,000 page views and over 3,500 Facebook engagements and Tweets. To date, the post has received over 24,000 unique page views.

After getting the ideal audience to the site, Padovani recommends using multiple opt-in offers to generate leads. For example, the Book More Brides blog prominently displays an email template that visitors can download after they submit their email address.

Offbeat Bride: Listening to the Online Community

Ariel Meadow Stallings launched the Offbeat Bride website in 2007 as a way to promote her book (Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides), and since then the site has become an active online community and collaborative blog with well over a million readers per month. As the site has grown, the Offbeat Bride brand has evolved to reach a wider audience. In an interview on her site, Ariel said:

“My initial target readership was super weird people planning super weird weddings…It became clear within a year that the majority of my readership was not actually all that weird, nor were they especially tech-savvy. The majority were brides planning what initially appeared to be relatively traditional weddings, looking for creative and unique ideas to make the weddings feel personal.”

Stallings often gets ideas for content that will resonate with her audience by going straight to that community of readers. Until 2015, Offbeat Bride had a private online forum with members who were “super vocal, super engaged, and highly invested.” Stallings sometimes sourced content directly from forum members and followed discussions to get an idea of what issues were most popular with her readership. While the forum is no longer online, Stallings now uses native insights from Facebook and Instagram to listen to the Offbeat Bride community. When she and her staff develop content, the focus generally remains on material “that’s positive but also provocative, relevant to consumers as well as industry readers.”

Destination I Do: Adapting to Changing Landscapes

Destination I Do began as both a print and online magazine, and while the publication still includes both traditional print and online components, its marketing strategy has evolved to meet the needs of today’s readers. Co-founder Jennifer Stein told me that because so many engaged couples rely on online and mobile content when planning their weddings, Destination I Do has invested in increasing visibility and providing a great user experience. Stein noted:

“We invest marketing dollars in Instagram to generate a genuine engagement with our readers as well as leveraging idea inspiration platforms such as Pinterest. We also put our budget in areas like Facebook, Google AdWords, and SEO [strategies] to drive traffic directly to our site. Data is only one piece of the puzzle. Our goal isn’t just to get unique visitors on our site to bring product awareness, it’s to engage with our readers so that they can experience a helpful conversation with us.”

Stein and the rest of the team at Destination I Do are most interested in targeting a niche audience of engaged couples who are planning a destination wedding and honeymoon. Stein said that because a destination wedding is such a big moment (and one that requires a lot of planning), “we do our best to provide partner products, inspiration, and content that will help [couples] with that process and, in the end, make it fun and stress-free.”

Takeaways for the Wedding Industry

Although the four wedding professionals I spoke to are all targeting different audiences, I noticed a few similar strategies:

  • Pay attention to what your target audience is talking about in wedding forums, blog comment sections, and social media posts. This will help you develop content that effectively engages that audience.
  • Use Google Analytics (and other data collection tools) to get a better understanding of your site visitors’ behavior and interests. You may find that your site is appealing to different segments than you originally thought.
  • While search engine optimization is important, it’s equally important to optimize your wedding business website for your visitors. Provide the inspiration and information that will be most useful to your audience, whether they’re planning their wedding or assisting with the planning for someone else.

Are you a wedding business owner with an online presence? Let us know what digital marketing strategies have worked for you in the comments. And if you have any questions about how you can increase your traffic and conversions, don’t hesitate to contact Leverage Marketing directly.

40 Questions To Ask Before Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Maybe you’re planning to hire a marketing agency for the first time. Maybe you’ve been burned by a black hat SEO agency and have sworn you’ll be more particular about the next marketing partner you choose. Whatever the case, you know that when hiring a digital marketing agency, you need to do your research and ask all the right questions.

Not sure if you’re covering enough ground with your current list of questions? We can help with that. We’ve come up with a list of 40 questions to ask before hiring a digital marketing agency. Many of them are questions that our clients have asked us—or that we wish would come up more often!

No time to read the list right now? Save it for later:

40 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Digital Marketing Agency

Jump to a section:

SEO

  1. How will you improve our search engine rankings? Get the agency to talk about their process. Watch out for agencies that use black hat techniques (such as buying low-quality links) or promise that they can get your page to rank number one for certain keywords.
  2. What’s your process for earning high-quality links? Does the agency have a database of relevant placement opportunities and a process for reaching out to bloggers?
  3. Do you follow Google Webmaster Guidelines? Your agency should always follow the Webmaster Guidelines to help Google find, index, and rank your site. Following these guidelines will also help your site avoid penalties.
  4. Have you ever helped a site recover from a penalty? Can you tell me about that process? Hopefully, the agency hasn’t gotten any of their clients penalized, but they may have had new clients come to them needing help recovering from a Google algorithm penalty.
  5. How long will it take to see results? The agency won’t be able to give you an exact date, but effective SEO campaigns should start positively affecting your site in about three to six months.
  6. What will I need to do to make the campaign successful? Find out what information you can give the agency to make your SEO campaigns as successful as possible.

Content Marketing

  1. Can you show us some writing samples? Any agency that offers content marketing services should be able to show you examples of their writers’ best work.
  2. How will your writers familiarize themselves with our business and industry? You need to know your agency can handle the amount of research needed to produce authoritative content for your business.
  3. How do you optimize your content for readers and search engines? Learn about the content team’s process for connecting with your target audience. Find out how closely they work with the SEO team and whether they optimize their content for relevant keywords.
  4. What types of content do you produce? Find out if the agency has experience producing not just website copy and blog posts but also infographics, video scripts, short animations, email campaigns, eBooks, and more.
  5. How many internal and external content pieces will you create per month? If your goal is to stay top-of-mind with your audience by publishing a new blog post every day, you’ll need to make sure your agency has enough bandwidth.
  6. Will you be publishing new content on our site? Find out if the agency can add images, format content to appeal to online readers, and publish the final product to your site. If the agency doesn’t handle publication, you’ll have to assign an in-house team member to stay on top of it.
  7. What metrics will you report on? The agency should go beyond just vanity metrics (traffic, social shares, number of comments) and measure how their content assists in conversions.

Paid Search

  1. Do you have a Google Partner Badge? If your agency has a Google Partner Badge, it means they have employees who are certified in Google AdWords, have access to their own Google Agency Team, and keep up with the latest AdWords innovations.
  2. Do you offer services across multiple PPC platforms (not just AdWords)? While Google is the most widely used search platform, it may be worthwhile to find out if your PPC agency also uses Bing Ads (especially since Bing has a 22% share of desktop search traffic).
  3. What tools do you use to optimize your paid search campaigns? The agency you’re interviewing might use paid search tools that would be too expensive for you to bring in-house. They may also have proprietary tools that you can’t get anywhere else.
  4. Will we be able to see actual spend within AdWords? Your agency should be transparent about how they’re spending your ad dollars.
  5. What metrics are included in your standard reports? CPC, CTR, ad positions, conversion rate of keywords and landing pages—your agency should deliver easy-to-read reports that make it clear how your paid search campaigns have been performing.
  6. Do you have experience managing paid campaigns on Facebook and LinkedIn? As organic reach on Facebook and LinkedIn decreases, it’s becoming more valuable to hire a marketing agency with experience in paid social media.

Social Media

  1. What social channels should my company be on? Chances are, you don’t need to be on every social media network in existence. Your agency should be able to recommend the channels that are most relevant to you based on your audience and business goals.
  2. What is your process for community management across platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.)? A good social media team should be prepared to respond to comments and facilitate conversations on all your social channels—and to look for ways to connect with customers across those channels.
  3. How will you ensure our social media presence reflects our brand? Your agency should be thinking of social media strategies that are consistent with your brand rather than just resorting to tactics they’ve used for other clients.
  4. What is your content development strategy? Find out how closely your agency’s social media and content marketing teams work together when it comes to producing social content.
  5. How do you measure ROI on social media efforts? Your agency should be able to describe how they’ll track campaigns and measure the results in relation to your goals (e.g. conversions, revenue, customer acquisition).

Web Design

  1. Can you show us some of the websites you’ve designed? Although your website obviously won’t look exactly like the others your agency has designed, it’s good to get a sense of their aesthetic before you commit.
  2. Do you custom-design websites or use templates? If you have a limited budget and your website isn’t a major source of sales, a template site might be enough. However, if you need a unique site that will generate leads or sales, you should talk to agencies that offer custom design services.
  3. How much input will I have in the design? Find out if you’ll be able to see the website and provide input as it’s being created. You should also find out what the agency’s process will be if you don’t like the initial design.
  4. Will you use responsive design? Any good web design agency knows that websites need to look good on all screen sizes, from smartphones to desktop monitors.
  5. Will my website be able to scale as my business grows? Your agency should design your website so that more products, services, navigation options, and other features can be added as needed without a complete site redesign.
  6. Do you offer ecommerce services? If you have an ecommerce business, you’ll want to work with an agency that can handle shopping carts, support for multiple currencies, updating prices to reflect discounts, and more.
  7. Do you offer ongoing maintenance once the site goes live? Will the agency be able to handle troubleshooting post-launch, or will you have to find another vendor to maintain your website?
  8. What role does SEO play in your site design? Will your web design agency also be able to produce keyword-optimized content, add title and meta tags, implement a crawlable link structure, and use other strategies to make your site SEO-friendly from the start?
  9. Do you set up Analytics tracking when designing a new site? It’s important to get Google Analytics tracking set up with your new site so that you can begin viewing behavior and performance metrics.
  10. What kind of security features do you offer? It’s a good idea to make sure your agency can set up a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate to establish a secure connection for traffic between the web browser and server.

General

  1. How will you help me stand out from my competition? Your agency needs to understand your target audience and what you can deliver to your audience that your competitors can’t.
  2. How will you improve my site’s conversion rate? The agencies you interview may talk about how they can improve your visibility and increase traffic to your site, but they ultimately need to increase conversions/sales to make your investment pay off.
  3. What experience do you have working with businesses in my industry? It’s nice to know if your agency has experience with other businesses in your industry, but it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if they don’t. You could also ask: What steps will you take to become an expert on my business and industry?
  4. How will we communicate? Find out who you’ll be working with on a regular basis and how often you can expect to talk with them.
  5. How will you report on our progress month-over-month? Will the agency deliver an easy-to-read report and summary every month? Will they walk you through the report in a monthly meeting?
  6. How do your different marketing efforts fit together? Ideally, you’ll find a digital agency that sees all its departments as working together towards big-picture goals, rather than existing in separate silos.

We hope these questions will help you in hiring a digital marketing agency. And don’t forget: Leverage offers all the services described above. Contact us to learn more, and subscribe to our biweekly newsletter to have helpful marketing advice delivered to your inbox.

Mother’s Day Marketing Secrets that Lead to Profitability

Mother’s Day is one of the biggest commercial holidays of the year. Thanks to companies like Hallmark and the power of collective guilt, in 2015 the average consumer spent $173 on Mother’s Day gifts. The holiday has expanded from mothers to wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers—women in general. The challenge, therefore, is figuring out how to develop Mother’s Day marketing ideas for this larger population.

Developing a Mother’s Day marketing strategy before the holiday is integral to your success. With an increased focus on online shopping, three in 10 shoppers will buy a Mother’s Day gift online this year, using mobile phones to research and purchase their gifts. By developing a mobile-focused and forward-looking approach to Mother’s Day advertising, your brand can succeed this year.

Marketers use conventional techniques around holidays like Mother’s Day to entice shoppers, including free shipping (55%), price cuts (44%), and coupons (41%).mother's day marketing techniques

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But beyond these apparent techniques, here are some of our Mother’s Day marketing ideas to help your business delight customers and the important women in their life this year:

Video Marketing

Mother’s Day video marketing campaigns like Proctor & Gamble’s 2016 Olympic Games’ ad employ emotional techniques, invoking the bond between mother and child. This Mother’s Day marketing strategy displays the strength of mothers and how they help their children succeed. Developing Mother’s day video marketing campaigns can be extremely successful, as videos like this can perform up to 20% better than similar as placements.

This P&G ad has over 22 million views at the time of publication. The ad shows Olympic athletes’ mothers helped them in their journeys to the Rio games, comforted them in times of struggle, and supported them through everything.

When creating Mother’s Day video advertising ideas for your product or brand, attempt to play on the feelings of the audience—the connection between mother and child, or wife and husband. By utilizing emotional advertising techniques, you can capture market share and increase your sales around Mother’s Day.

Contests and Giveaways

No matter the season or holiday, consumers love contests and giveaways. You can utilize sweepstakes and giveaways around products you’re promoting to drum up excitement for your Mother’s Day sales and marketing efforts. Tie your special or contest into the items you’re trying to sell, such as beauty products, chocolates, or flowers for mom.

Offering a high-value prize, like a spa day or a vacation package for two, can get customers talking about your brand. This type of Mother’s Day marketing strategy can be an excellent way to get email sign-ups for your mailing list as well.

Gifts and Mother’s Day Specific Products

When creating Mother’s Day marketing, focus your deals and promotions on specific gifts for Mother’s Day. Remember that Mother’s Day goes beyond gift-giving for mothers–to aunts, sisters, grandmothers, wives, and even daughters. You can create Mother’s Day packages targeting specific segments of the population, as well as those to whom they want to give the gift.

Nostalgia is a powerful factor in driving customer engagement—whether it’s a child buying their mother a gift that’s reminiscent of a good time in their lives or a husband giving his wife a gift reminding them of how happy they are to be parents. Utilize social media to promote your Mother’s Day gift packages—Pinterest and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms for Mother’s Day.

Email Marketing

Before beginning an email marketing campaign for Mother’s Day, it’s important to segment your email lists and create email content that speaks to your individual customer bases. As Mother’s Day is a diverse holiday, create well-crafted emails targeting those who plan far in advance—in addition to emails for last-minute gifts will allow you to maximize your email list.

Simply starting email subject lines with “Mother’s Day” will also increase your success, as titles that start with the holiday phrase have a 16% higher engagement rate than those that include the phrase later in the line. By segmenting your lists, using Mother’s Day-front loaded subject headings, and writing original emails, you can succeed in capturing market share during the holiday.

Mother’s Day PPC Campaigns

mother's day flower image

To make an impression this Mother’s Day, work with your PPC team to create a campaign several weeks before the holiday. Make sure to update relevant ad copy for Mother’s Day product categories and talk to your team about prioritizing bids for Mother’s day product categories, including popular gifts and presents.

A smart Mother’s Day PPC marketing strategy would be to start with low bids on broad queries and then segment and monitor engagement to accurately remarket to likely customers. Advise your PPC team to save ad dollars for last-minute Mother’s Day shoppers as well.

By using these techniques and other Mother’s Day advertising ideas, you can increase your sales and build goodwill towards your brand. Mother’s Day grows each year, with spending reaching $21.2 billion in 2015. Grab a slice of the pie by utilizing these marketing strategies.


If you need help with your Mother’s Day advertising strategies, the Leverage Marketing team can help you develop a plan to increase your sales and website reach. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest news in the digital marketing world from Leverage.

 

6 Unique Ways to Use Video in Your Marketing

Scroll down your Facebook feed, catch up on Twitter, or rummage through Instagram, and you’ll notice immediately the use of video in marketing. Visit a major retailer or electronics developer’s website and you’re likely to stumble on how-to and explainer videos.

Why use video in marketing? Because leverage green computer with mock facebook on screen and videosopportunity exists to market your goods or services within those channels to customers who need and want them with a bit of clever video creation.

It’s no simple task to learn how to use video in marketing, but there are some rarely traveled avenues for video that your competitors probably haven’t explored yet. The following unique ways to use video in your marketing all require only a basic video setup with a microphone and some free space.

Attention-Grabbing GIFs

Animated GIFs don’t just have to come from your favorite TV shows and movies – you can shoot a custom video and turn it into an animation that will pull your website visitors’ attention immediately.

eric promotion highlight animation pointing at text to the leftUse GIFS to:

  • Draw attention to a CTA
  • Make an offer
  • Enhance branding
  • Inject personality

You can use GIFs on your website, in your emails, on social media, and in presentations. Just don’t overdo it – too many GIFs in inappropriate places will hinder your professional credibility. If you don’t have software like Adobe Photoshop to make custom GIFs, use Giphy’s GIF Maker to assemble your animations.

Video Email Signatures

Give prospects, business partners, and clients a chance to look through another entertaining and enlightening window into your business by adding a crafty signature video to your email signature block.

 

The video should exhibit your individual personality and include some elements of your work culture. There’s no one format, and you can film it anywhere at any time. Like most videos, keep it short – it should be fun for the viewer and heighten their goodwill and respect for your company.

Weekly Broadcasts

leverage purple computer showing weekly broadcast showWeekly, monthly, or even daily broadcasts uploaded to YouTube are beneficial to your SEO and can also be easily posted and shared through major social networks like Twitter and Facebook. If your site garners a healthy amount of traffic, you can also feature them on an exclusive part of your website and encourage visitors to register for other special content that you provide.

Assemble short videos to:

  • Display new products
  • Update customers on upcoming products
  • Announce new services
  • Provide industry tips

If you haven’t addressed them in a while, you can also just say hello to your audience. Your broadcasts are most likely to catch views if you share them on social media and encourage others to share as well. However, you can still get some traction by recording periodical videos to create a library of company news and events as well.

Interviews with Influencers

leverage green computer showing interview with influencer

Influencers hold phenomenal authority in the world of social media, which gives them the ability to direct customers to a product or service they deem worthy of their fans’ attention. If you’re using influencer marketing as part of your marketing plan, you’re already on the right track to reaching your target audience and bringing your product or service to the people that are currently looking for it.

 

Influencers and video both currently dominate social media. Combine these trends to multiply the results of your efforts.

Broadcast and record live chats and interviews with influencers about your product. Do it question-and-answer style or just spend some time thanking an influencer for his or her endorsement and reinforcing the reasons that your product or service is worthy of attention from influencers and their followers. You can then turn your live videos into exceptional testimonials for your website.

Unscripted Testimonials

leverage purple computer showing video testimonialVideo testimonials exist scarcely in the deep recesses of the Internet – but that’s not because they aren’t effective. Text-and-photo testimonials still dominate because they are easy to make and post. But by employing only a small amount of additional effort, you can collect a few video testimonials that will tell more than text ever could.

Coordinate with happy customers and offer them an incentive if they don’t seem to have time to fit you in. A one-off free service or product offering is an incredible price for a video testimonial. Prepare a short list of questions to ask to get organic responses and provide the list to the customer beforehand.

Try some of the following questions:

  • What do you like about our product or service?
  • Can you tell me a story about a time when our product or service helped you or your business?
  • Why do you plan to continue to buy or use our product or service?

Bring customers or clients in for a shoot (don’t forget to ask them their name and company while recording), send them on their way, then do a quick edit for a 30-second testimonial and you’ll capture a new level of trust from your audience.

Offline Customer Service

leverage green computer with hammer and wood showing offline service videosCustomer service representatives often have a script from which they read to help customers solve their problems. Save your customer service team some time and eliminate the troubleshooting script with a video or series of videos that attempts to show customers and clients how to solve basic problems without human guidance.

Draw from an available Frequently Asked Questions database or start collecting information from your customer service department. Then draw out a script with step-by-step instructions on how to fix problems. Give the videos a single, cohesive format and brand them so your customers know that it’s your company that cares enough to give them a hand solving their problems.

Get creative with your videos, and no matter how you’re doing them, make sure:

  • Your brand is clear
  • Your actors are recurring
  • Your video fulfills a need
  • Your video’s content has not been done before

Follow content marketing best practices (provide useful information, don’t manipulate your audience, etc.) when creating and sharing videos to increase their power. When executed correctly, videos can enhance almost every part of your digital marketing strategy. Try to find new ways to integrate video into multiple marketing channels at once to take your brand or company to the top – fast!

Leverage knows video marketing. We stay up to the minute on video trends to keep our skills sharp and share information with trusted readers and clients like you. Stay afloat in the video information flow by signing up for our newsletter today. It’s easy, free, and loaded with marketing magic.

How Do Customers See Your Brand?

It doesn’t matter if you think your brand has the potential to be the next Apple or Nike—what matters is what your target audience thinks of your brand.

Understanding brand perception is essential to succeeding in a competitive marketplace, according to Brian Woyt, founder of the branding agency Wolf & Missile. “Ultimately, your brand is what the marketplace says it is,” Woyt says, “Not what you think it is.”

To be long-lasting, your brand must form a connection with your audience. That connection is based on trust, and your brand earns trust when it remains true to what your audience expects of it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remain true to your customers’ expectations when you don’t understand those expectations in the first place.

You need to research how customers view your brand so that you can develop resources that meet your audience’s expectations.

Brand Discovery: When You’re Starting from Scratch

If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll be able to use real customer feedback to understand your audience’s perception of your brand (more on that later). But if you’re new on the scene, you won’t have any marketplace feedback yet. Instead, Woyt recommends performing a brand discovery exercise:

  1. List the attributes or features of your product or service. (e.g. The FidoVac 5000 has a power rating of 8.5 amps.)
  2. Determine the consequences of the attributes (With the power of FidoVac5000, pet owners will be able to suck up pet hair from all surfaces).
  3. List the benefits of your product or service. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy the appearance of a cleaner home and won’t have to worry about pet hair getting stuck to their clothes when they sit down.)
  4. Determine the value of your product or service to your customer. (FidoVac5000 owners will enjoy greater peace of mind in their clean home.)

This exercise should help you move from the features of your product (which you already know) to the value of your product (which is what customers care about). Once you’ve identified the value your product or service offers, you can use this to define your brand. Your value should stay front and center of your traditional and digital marketing branding.

Positioning: How Your Customers See You vs. Your Competitors

Your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Like it or not, most of your potential customers are weighing you against your competitors. To stand out, you’ll need to determine what makes your brand different from similar brands. Ask yourself: What does my audience want that I can deliver but my competitors can’t?

Woyt suggests taking the following steps to position your brand:

  1. Research the competition.
  2. Create a four-quadrant map of the competition’s positioning, as in the example below.
  3. Add your brand to the positioning map.
  4. Ask yourself what you need to do to minimize overlap or set your brand apart.

Next, you should write a brand positioning statement. This can be a sentence or two that states your brand’s unique value in the marketplace. To write this statement, ask yourself:

  • Who do my products/services appeal to and why?
  • What are the people at my company passionate about?
  • What promise is my brand making to the customer?

Understanding Brand Perception

If you’re an established business, you should be talking to real customers (and potential customers) to better understand how they see your brand. Conduct surveys by phone and email, and organize focus groups if possible. Questions to ask your customers include:

  • What attracted you to our brand instead of a competitor? Or, if you chose a competitor, why did you go with them?
  • What are the biggest frustrations you experience when trying to do business with companies in our industry?
  • Have you ever recommended our brand to another person? If so, who? And why?
  • What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear our brand name?

In addition to interviewing customers directly, you can also use social monitoring tools to see what kind of online reputation your company has on social media and review sites.

There are dozens of social monitoring tools on the market, and you’ll have to do your due diligence to determine what’s best for your business. Here are just a few of the most popular tools:

  • Google Alerts: Lets you set up email alerts for mentions of your brand and other keywords in online publications
  • Hootsuite: Lets you view brand mentions (on social channels, blogs, and news sites) in real-time and gauge brand sentiment
  • Talkwalker: Lets you track mentions across all major social channels, print publications, and TV and radio broadcasts globally
  • Buzzsumo: Lets you view social shares of your brand’s content and identify specific users who have shared your content

Pay attention to both positive and negative sentiment. Looking at negative sentiment can help you identify what you need to change to improve your customers’ perception of your brand.

Your Customers See Your Brand Differently Than You Thought—Now What?

If your research reveals that brand sentiment is largely negative, it may be time to rebrand. As part of your rebrand, develop buyer personas. Identify buyer needs and pain points. Think about how your messaging can better connect with your customers. Work through the brand discovery exercise (if you haven’t already) to make sure you’re focusing on the value you bring to customers, not just the features of your products or services.

If brand sentiment is largely positive, but your customers think of your brand differently than you do, it’s still worth making some changes. Ask yourself if your brand’s actions and interactions are aligned with your positioning statement. If they’re not, think about how you can better tailor your marketing resources to your audience’s expectations.

Need help positioning your brand in a crowded marketplace? Leverage now offers digital marketing branding services—contact us now to learn more.

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Should You Axe Your Comment Section?

Small business blogs struggle to get their readers to comment on their posts.  Meanwhile, larger online publishers have a different problem: comment sections are dominated by trolls who are more interested in picking a fight with the writer and other readers than in having a conversation. Whether it’s an issue of too little engagement or too much of the wrong type of engagement, many bloggers have decided it’s time to say good-bye to their comment section.

Many major online publishers (such as Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, Mic, NPR, and Vice) have already shuttered their comment sections and shifted their conversations with readers to social media. Of course, these are news sites that were getting hundreds of thousands of comments per month—their position is a little different than that of the typical business blog.

So what if you’re one of those business bloggers who is getting some well thought-out comments on each post but is also having to wade through spam? Should you soldier on with your blog comment section or shut it down?

Before making your decision, you should consider some of the challenges that comment sections create, the benefits (and limitations) of social media comments, and your blog’s audience.

Keeping Up with the Vocal Minority

One person speaks into giant megaphone, representing the vocal minority in comment sections

In a perfect blog world, the comment section would include remarks from a representative sample of readers. These readers would take the time to think about an article and share resources or ideas that add to the conversation. In reality, most blog comment sections are dominated by a small number of (often angry or combative) readers who don’t represent the views of the majority.

Let’s take NPR as an example. In an NPR commentary piece from August 2016, editor Elizabeth Jensen noted that while their website had 33 million unique visitors in one month, comments came from just 19,400 users (less than one percent). And of those users, just 4,300 were responsible for two-thirds of all comments. Digging deeper, NPR found that an estimated 83 percent of commenters were male, while an estimated 52 percent of all NPR.org users were male. It’s clear that their commenters were not a representative sample of the NPR audience.

The unrepresentative nature of the comment section isn’t the only issue. Many sites allow users to post anonymously, which means commenters can say incendiary things without worrying about their words being tied to their real-life identity. Not only can this be exhausting for writers and site moderators to keep up with, but it can also affect the way a site visitor views the article they’ve just read. One study found that people who read a scientific article accompanied by insult-laden comments were more likely to have polarized views of the technology described in the same article than people who read the article accompanied by civil comments.

Moving the Conversation

Social media icons in speech bubbles, indicating social media comments

Turning off their comments and shifting the conversation to social media has been a natural move for many publishers. After all, their readers are, for the most part, already on social media. And with many sites now seeing more than half their traffic coming from mobile, communicating over social media just makes more sense. Mobile users frequently access news and blog posts through apps like Facebook and Twitter, and they’re more likely to add a comment within one of those apps than they are to go to the publisher’s site, create an account, and add a remark to the comments section.

In addition to the convenience of social media platforms, many bloggers have found that conversations stay more civil when they move away from the comment section. There are still trolls on social media (especially on Twitter), but in general, there’s more accountability for social media users than anonymous commenters. Facebook and LinkedIn users are encouraged to set up accounts that are associated with their real-life identities, so anything they say through that account appears under their name.

For some publishers, the decision to ditch the comment section and focus on social media comments is also about visibility.  Kara Swisher, the executive editor of Recode, told Nieman Lab that Recode is focusing on social because they are more likely to have well-known people or industry influencers retweeting or liking one of their posts than going to their blog and leaving a comment.

Of course, social media conversations aren’t without their drawbacks. For one thing, sharing a post across several different social media networks can lead to fractured conversations: someone might make a great point on Facebook that doesn’t get picked up in the conversation on Twitter, or a helpful resource that someone shares in the comments on LinkedIn might not make it to Reddit.

Another potential issue is that not all readers are on social media. However, this may not be a noticeable setback for bloggers, since two-thirds of U.S. adults—and 90 percent of people ages 18 to 29– now use social networking sites.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re still unsure whether you should keep or deep-six your blog’s comment section, ask yourself the following questions:

Is anyone leaving comments? If they’re not, your comment section isn’t doing you much good. You might as well disable it and encourage readers to connect with you on social media.

Are the comments thoughtful and productive? Some niche websites, like SEO-focused blog Moz, get lots of meaningful comments on each post because of the nature of their audience. In Moz’s case, the audience is largely made up of SEO professionals who are interested in sharing their knowledge and gaining new insights from their peers, which makes the comment section a valuable resource.

Are you prepared to moderate? If you do have an active comment section, you (or your writers) need to find the time to participate in the conversation with readers. When writers engage with their readers in the comment section, it helps keep the conversation thoughtful and lets the readers know they’ve been heard.

Whether you decide to keep your comment section, shift the focus to social media, or find some middle ground, be prepared to start a dialogue with readers—not the trolls, but the people who find value in your content and want to be part of the conversation. Engaging with site visitors or social media followers in this way helps to build trust, and that established trust will make you stand out from competitors when your readers are searching for the products or services you offer.


Leverage still has a comment section on our blog, so feel free to share your thoughts below. However, we’d also love to take this conversation to social media—share this post and your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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9 Free SXSW 2017 Interactive & Networking Events

2017 is a unique year for South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX. Fresh visual technology and virtual reality will play a larger role than ever in the interactive sections of the event, and emerging mobile app capabilities are likely to dominate the floor. The ever-revolving marketing sphere turns on the axis of new technology, so wise marketers are already looking for free events that will upgrade their digital marketing game for the rest of 2017.

Enjoy these free SXSW 2017 Interactive & networking events and share the info with your fellow entrepreneurs, marketers, and friends. These events are accessible at no charge with a free guest pass unless otherwise noted.

Treehouse Old School Happy Hour

DateTimeRSVP
March 86:00 PM – 9:00 PMYes

Treehouse is not only hosting a happy hour with free drinks, food, and music at Old School in Austin, they’re also giving away free one-month memberships to Treehouse for Business. The happy hour will unfold crawl-style, and you’ll get the chance to experience both Austin’s most unforgettable food and drinks as well as some of the most influential speakers of SXSW.

treehouse old school happy hour shot of crowd enjoying drinks

Austin Tech Happy Hour

(Note: This event allows entry by ticket. Free tickets are likely to run out fast, so reserve your tickets right away, or you may have to pay for tickets or cash at the door.)

DateTimeRSVP
March 95:30 PM – 7:30 PMYes

The Austin Tech Happy Hour has been running for ten years, and it’s stronger than ever in 2017. Admission gets you two free drink tickets so you can loosen up with Austin’s tech crowd before the SXSW truly kicks off. The emerging technology community will be there ready to make friends online and offline.

austin tech happy hour logo

SX Create

DateTimeRSVP
March 1011:00 AM – 6:00 PMNo

SX Create dives into the world of emerging technologies and the ways they can be customized and manipulated. Kids and adults alike can take in the wonder of 3D printing, drones, robots, biohacking, and whatever other secret projects with which inquisitive minds have been tinkering.

sx create r2d2 droid

Decoded Fashion: Content Is Still King

DateTimeRSVP
March 123:30 PM – 4:30 PMYes

Decoded Fashion wants to explore new and exciting ways to bring original content to fashion-hungry audiences. Even if you aren’t in the fashion industry, you’ll have the chance to learn a thing or two about PR, influencer marketing, and the very personal journeys that lead customers to relevant content.

decoded fashion house logo

Amazon Web Services ATX Startup Crawl

DateTimeRSVP
March 135:00 PM – ?Yes

Amazon Web Services is pulling together Austin’s hottest startup businesses for a bar crawl that entrepreneurs and job-seekers alike won’t forget. The crawl is offering free drinks and pulled in a whopping 12,000 registrants last year. Guests can enjoy free drinks, check out local office spaces, share résumés, and talk with ambitious startup owners and employees.

atx startup crawl logo

Digital Media Women: Burgers & Bubbles

DateTimeRSVP
March 133:00 PM – 7:00 PMYes

Women are a powerful force in digital media, and the leaders of Digital Media Women want everyone to know about it. This is your chance to talk face-to-face with existing and upcoming digital media leaders as well as find out the secrets of women who are innovating at the forefront of technology. Plus, there’s food and tasty beverages.

digital media women sxsw 2017

Women in Digital Meetup

(Note: This event is already waitlisted, and the event coordinators are attempting to reserve an additional tent for those who want to attend. If you’re interested, register right away.

DateTimeRSVP
March 134:00 PM – 7:00 PMYes

It’s no secret that women are playing incredible roles in digital media and marketing, and this SXSW Meetup is set to celebrate the success of Women in Digital as it exceeds 450 members. This event is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet some of the most astounding minds in digital marketing and media and join a powerful network of hard-working women.

women in digital homepage screen grab

Pet Rescue Lounge

DateTimeRSVP
March 135:00 PM – 1:00 AMYes

Pets are near and dear to the dog and cat lovers of Leverage Marketing, a sentiment shared by nearly all of Austin. Meet like-minded individuals that can’t get away from their preoccupation with pets, and help find homes for deserving dogs and cats while enjoying unique entertainment from famous pets and free pet swag!

pet rescue lounge event logo

Local and Vocal

DateTimeRSVP
March 154:00 PM – 11:00 PMYes

Local and Vocal is an event that focuses on local Austin talent in entertainment. If you’re a marketer, you’ll have a rare opportunity to find talent to which you can offer your unique services. This event includes free drinks for those who are over 21 years old – which, of course, lends itself to some serious networking.

local and vocal sxsw 2017

Even though the events are free, we welcome you to support the event coordinators, participants, and local businesses by enjoying an extra drink or dish. Network, learn about new technology, and hone your marketing skills at these free SXSW 2017 Interactive & networking events coming your way very, very soon.

 

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Brand Marketing at SXSW: How to Make Your Brand Stand Out

South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media and music conferences that take place in Austin, Texas. With increasing attendance and new attention-grabbing tech displays each year, brands struggle to get noticed at SXSW. How can your brand bring a unique experience to SXSW that translates into something unforgettable? It’s increasingly difficult to get noticed when every consumer-facing company gives out free swag, throws parties with free beer, and shows off the latest technology.

SXSW is known for helping to launch Foursquare and Twitter, and the conference regularly screens excellent films and television shows, many of which go on to great acclaim. Marketing at SXSW is an increasingly complicated endeavor, as getting noticed above all the buzz is difficult enough. Brands struggle to tie in product releases, navigate consumer trends, and figure out how to draw attendees to their events.

While every SXSW is different, last year some successful brand activations made their mark on attendees and marketers. Creating SXSW marketing that stands out sometimes means doing something a little different than what everyone else is doing (or what you think they’re going to do).

Each of these SXSW brand activations highlights a unique aspect of their product and communicates that to the audience—something every brand needs to do. While you may be successful by just following the current marketing trends– whether that’s virtual reality, make-your-own soda, or just giving out free stuff—doing something that conveys your signature SXSW brand image will likely be more successful.

American Greetings

american greeting sxsw branding

credit: @mullenloweus

It might seem odd for a greeting card company to even come to SXSW, let alone do a brand activation. But American Greetings wanted to disrupt the mold of disruptive digital technology by bringing in the analog. Their three-day 2016 promotion was entitled #Analog and allowed festivalgoers to do DIY printmaking and pop-up cards. They could learn letter-making techniques from an American Greetings artist, fill in a coloring book mural, and even get a selfie stitched with thread. American Greetings’ message is not to say that digital communication is not important or analog can replace digital communication, but rather that they’re complementary. Many people don’t slow down to send paper cards, and American Greetings’ SXSW marketing message is that analog still matters, and we should slow down to appreciate it.

Suicide Squad

Another unique brand activation at SXSW 2016 was Suicide Squad’s tattoo salon. Although the movie didn’t come out until Summer 2016, Warner Brothers started promoted it early through this special Harley Quinn-inspired experiential marketing. Instead of just doing a sneak peek of the film, Warner Bros transformed Affinity Tattoo and Body Piercing into Harley Quinn’s Tattoo Parlor—and offered free real (and temporary) tattoos. This brand activation got people excited about the film, created a unique SXSW marketing angle, and involved artists and fans in an innovative way, without using virtual reality or alternate reality to do so.

Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot, a techie show that launched at the 2015 SXSW festival and won the SXSW Audience Award, wanted to come back in 2016 and make a splash. The show’s marketing team figured there was no better way to do way to do that than to bring their iconic “Wonder Wheel” Ferris wheel to Austin. In one of the largest SXSW brand activations to date, USA Network designed the Ferris wheel to look like the Coney Island Wheel in the show, complete with nearby carnival games. The Mr. Robot cast and crew even visited SXSW to pay homage to the success the festival helped them garner—and of course, see the Wonder Wheel in real life. By creating SXSW branding that directly references the television show and allows the audience to experience a piece of their world—Mr. Robot succeeded in their SXSW marketing.

Mophie

If you have a smartphone, you’ve probably heard of Mophie. They make external batteries and cases to charge your favorite devices. As you can imagine, at SXSW, battery life gets eaten up pretty quickly. Between all the tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, and interactive brand activations and events, your smartphone may be dead before the day is half over. But Mophie is here to rescue you—with adorable St. Bernards. At 2016’s SXSW, Mophie partnered with the National St. Bernard Foundation, Glympse, and a motorcycle company to bring you a fresh phone battery when festivalgoers needed it. If someone tweeted using the hashtag #mophieRescue, the company would send one of its fleet of St. Bernards straight to them with a Mophie battery pack to charge up. This cute SXSW brand marketing makes Mophie look good, helps people out, and helps a good cause—dog rescues.

The Takeaway

SXSW is a brand marketing war. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different companies competing for attention from festivalgoers and consumers. Many companies try using the tried and true techniques of giving out free swag, throwing parties, and utilizing the latest technology trends. But these aren’t enough to truly make your product or company memorable. Take note of the uniqueness of the SXSW branding campaigns mentioned in this article—they all did something that was integral to their brand identity and helped their core audience in some way. If you can harness this mentality for your SXSW marketing, you can succeed in the crowded marketplace.


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4 First-Rate Examples of Storytelling in Content Marketing

Which of these sentences is more compelling?

Our hotel offers day-room rates.

Don’t spend that 8-hour layover propped up in an uncomfortable plastic airport chair—book a day room at our hotel and spend that time lounging on a private balcony.

You were probably more interested in what was going on in that second sentence, right? Humans crave a good story, and we’re drawn to the specific over the general. Specificity in a story allows us to imagine ourselves in different scenarios. In fact, studies of fMRI scans have shown that while reading straight data activates just the language centers of our brain, reading a story activates the language centers and the parts of the brain we would use if we were actually experiencing what we were reading about.

This is useful information not just for novelists but for digital marketers as well. Using specific storytelling in content marketing can help your brand forge an emotional connection with a niche audience. And, as much as we like to think that our product or service descriptions are what draw a potential customer to our brand, research shows that, when evaluating brands, consumers place more emphasis on emotions than information.

In addition to building an emotional connection, using storytelling in your content marketing can make you stand out. Let’s say you own a flower shop and decide to write a short, very general blog post titled “The Best Flowers for Spring.” Let’s take a look at some of your competition in the search results:

Google search engine results page for best spring flowers

Clearly, a lot of major publishers have already written about the best flowers for spring, and you’re not likely to stand out or rank anywhere near them with your blog post. But if you write a blog post called “How 5 Spring Flowers Starred in an Unconventional Wedding,” you’ve got a topic that’s unique to your brand. Your content might appeal to a smaller audience (in this case, people who are trying to get unique floral arrangement ideas for their wedding), but that audience will be more qualified than the average person entering general search queries about spring flowers.

So how can you incorporate storytelling into your digital marketing in a way that resonates with your audience? Let us show you using some examples of storytelling marketing from brands who nailed it.

ModCloth

When I started thinking about digital brands that have mastered storytelling, women’s fashion retailer ModCloth was the first company to come to mind. Creative storytelling has infiltrated every part of their site, even their product names and descriptions. Check out this page:

Modcloth product page with a model in a floral dress

Let’s zoom in on that product description in case you didn’t get a good look:

Modcloth product description provides example of storytelling in content marketing

Is the product description a little cheesy? Yes. But is it also memorable? Definitely. The descriptions may not directly apply to most of the site’s shoppers—I know I’m not currently completing an internship that allows me to drift around an art gallery—but you can imagine yourself in that situation, wearing an outfit from ModCloth.

The ModCloth blog also allows shoppers to imagine themselves in new situations inspired by clothes from the retailer. For example, a recent post called “Valentine’s Day Looks Inspired by Our Favorite Love Stories” recommends outfits inspired by books like Atonement and The Price of Salt.

The Takeaway: It’s not about the product, it’s about how the product makes you feel.

With its vintage-inspired clothes, ModCloth is targeting women who might frequent consignment shops or occasionally shop at fast-fashion stores like Forever21 and H&M. ModCloth’s prices are (generally speaking) higher than those you’ll find at consignment stores and fast-fashion retailers, so to win over customers, they focus their content marketing storytelling on the experiences a shopper might have while wearing ModCloth clothes.

The stories that ModCloth tells are aspirational but not out of reach. Shoppers can picture situations in which they would wear the clothes, which makes it easier to push that ‘Add to Cart’ button.

Tom’s of Maine

Tom’s of Maine is a personal care company (think toothpaste, deodorant, body lotion) with a focus on sustainability. Like ModCloth, Tom’s of Maine is slightly more expensive than some of their bigger name competitors, but they’re not trying to compete on price point. Instead, they use their website content to attract consumers who care about sustainability and responsible manufacturing.

Check out some of the content on their homepage right now:

Tom's of Maine homepage highlights their community involvement

This page encourages readers to:

  • Meet the winners of two recent community contests
  • Learn how companies can reduce their environmental footprint
  • Learn about using recycled materials for product packaging
  • Watch a music video encouraging kids to brush their teeth
  • Explore Tom’s of Maine products, knowing that 10% of profits are donated to charities

That’s obviously not just one story (in all honesty, it’s probably too many calls-to-action for one page) but it paints a clear picture: Tom’s of Maine cares about their community.

When you visit their blog, you’ll find that this thread of community caring runs through all their articles. Topics include healthy living, natural products, DIY projects, and parenting tips, all of which tie into the story Tom’s of Maine is trying to tell.

The Takeaway: Don’t just be a seller—be part of your audience’s community.

People like a story that they can relate to, so when you’re marketing through storytelling, look for ways to align your narrative with the things that matter most to your audience. This approach will help you build trust and position yourself as a member of your audience’s community, rather than just a seller.

BoutiqueHomes

BoutiqueHomes is a short-term vacation rental company, much like Airbnb or HomeAway. However, unlike those larger competitors, BoutiqueHomes carefully curates short-term rentals with interesting architectural features, luxury amenities, and spectacular views. They cater to a niche audience of travelers who are passionate about home design, and the stories they tell on their website are tailored to that specific segment of customers.

BoutiqueHomes’ blog, which they call their Journal, highlights some of their properties but also includes posts on design trends, films made in interesting locations, unusual furniture, and more. They also feature interviews with some of the homeowners with whom they partner, which helps them put human faces to their brand.

BoutiqueHomes' interviews highlight their storytelling in content marketing

The Takeaway: When you’re going up against big competitors, tell the story of what makes you different.

BoutiqueHomes can’t compete with Airbnb and HomeAway when it comes to the number of vacation properties on their site, so they’ve made their story about something different—the care they take in selecting architecturally significant properties. Since they’ve focused their digital brand storytelling on their passion for home design and travel, it makes sense that their blog content aims to reach an audience that shares those passions.

Mint

Mint is an app that lets you track your spending, set budgets, and manage your bill payments. To use Mint to track your personal finances, you have to submit sensitive banking information—something that can understandably be a hard sell. Mint’s marketing team recognizes that they have to win their users’ trust, which is why their website content focuses on stories about finding solutions to financial problems.

The MintLife blog has become a valuable resource for young professionals who are trying to become more financially literate. Topics range from navigating student loans to identifying tax deductions, and every post includes actionable advice that readers can apply to their financial life. MintLife even has a monthly Money Audit post, in which a financial expert helps a real Mint user analyze their current finances.

Mint blog solves problems for real Mint users

The Takeaway: Identify your audience’s pain points and tell stories that offer solutions.

Mint uses content marketing storytelling to walk site visitors through common financial dilemmas and their solutions. By identifying the biggest money-related pain points that their audience members face and offering actionable tips, Mint has established themselves as a trustworthy financial advisor. It’s a strategy that has paid off—Mint now reaches over 10 million users.

Final Notes on Storytelling in Content Marketing

Although they operate in different industries, there’s one thing that all four of the brands described above have in common: they have a deep understanding of their target audience. The key to getting specific with your digital brand storytelling is to develop detailed buyer personas based on data, not just what you think your audience is like. Once you know what kind of consumers want or need your products or services, you can start creating the types of stories that will appeal to your specific audience.


Not sure where to begin when it comes to buyer personas or storytelling in content marketing? Contact Leverage Marketing to learn how our team can develop SEO-friendly content that connects with your audience.

How to Make an Explainer Video

An explainer video describes a product or service in a short time with simple language. It is designed to provide potential customers and clients an overview of your offerings as directly and concisely as possible and help interested viewers decide whether to purchase. Short and simple videos are popular in marketing because they carry effective messages to customers with little resource investment.

 

 

 

You can start making your own explainer videos with an affordable setup and just a little bit of basic video knowledge, and we’ll show you how.


What Do I Need to Make an Explainer Video?

The setup for explainer videos is straightforward. There’s no need for expensive jibs and advanced sliders. Cover the basics and you can start learning how to create explainer videos right away.

Must-Have Shooting Equipment

The following items represent the bare minimum equipment needed to shoot the footage for an explainer video:

Camera

Two types of cameras cover the essentials of shooting for explainer videos: Smartphones and prosumer digital cameras.

Smartphones now record video at shockingly high resolutions and output quality video files when you prepare your shooting space correctly. They are a perfectly viable option provided you can steady your shot by propping the phone against solid objects on top of a flat surface.

If you want more advanced control over your shoot than what is offered by smartphones, you can opt for a prosumer camera. Prosumer is a portmanteau of professional and consumer, so called because it combines the features of professional products with consumer-friendly functionality. Most prosumer digital cameras shoot video in 1080p, even premium compact cameras, and they usually perform advanced functions like shutter speed adjustment and iris control automatically so you can focus solely on getting the right shot.

Microphone

Your microphone captures the subject’s voice, which is essential to explaining your product or service. Unfortunately, the on-board microphone that comes with your camera is usually omnidirectional, which means it picks up sound from every direction. Omnidirectional microphones are great for recording ambient sound, but they also pick up echoes that will distract your viewer and lower the professional quality of your video.

cardioid audio pattern graphTo capture clean audio, make sure you have a lavalier or shotgun microphone that is directional, which means that it only records sound in a single direction and within a limited span. Cardioid microphones, which capture audio in a heart-shaped pattern, are also effective, affordable, and wildly popular.

Must-Have Editing Equipment

The items below represent the minimum equipment needed for editing.

Desktop or Laptop Computer

Desktop computers tend to house more power than laptop computers, but if you work on the go, a laptop can still help you fashion a formidable explainer video.

Ideally, you’ll operate with a computer that has a video card inside. Video cards provide exclusive memory for video-related tasks, which allows your computer to process and handle visual information at a higher speed. If you don’t have a video card, modern graphics chipsets such as the very common Intel HD Graphics chipset will provide slow but functioning power for basic graphics tasks.

sd card reader with small and large 16 gb sd card insertedMost modern cameras use an SD card to store video information, so your computer should have a port for an SD card if you’re using it to edit. If not, you can email slightly compressed videos from your smartphone to any device that connects to the Internet, but you’ll be sacrificing video quality.

Optional Shooting Equipment

The following are items that will make your shoot look more professional, but are not needed to create a basic video.

Tripod

The tripod is the three-legged device that holds and stabilizes your camera. If you have one, you can steady your shot and adjust much more easily than you could with a smartphone and a stack of textbooks. The most rudimentary tripods start at about $10, but professional-grade tripods can reach $10,000 or more.

Most tripods will fit most cameras if they have the right baseplate. When shopping for tripods, you won’t need to worry too much about whether your camera and tripod are compatible – just make sure that when you get a baseplate, it fits both the camera and the tripod.

Lights

Setting up lights is the fastest way to turn the look of your video from grainy home movie to glamorous silver screen film. Lighting has become astronomically more affordable in the last 10 years. The base price for an entire lighting kit now starts around $50. Even two well-placed standard lights can breathe new life into dull, flat video sets.

explainer video shoot subject with white background no lights

No lights – tough to see, not much dimension, fades into background

explainer video shoot subject with white background key and fill lights

Key and fill lights – easier to see, separated from background

How Should I Set up for a Shoot?

The shoot is all about the subject. If you want a great performance, make your subject comfortable by creating a fluid studio experience.

  1. explainer video shoot subject with white background no lightsPlace Your Subject – Using a stand-in (you, a friend, or a coworker), find a comfortable place for your subject to stand or sit that is at least a few feet away from your background. In any video, keeping the subject separated from his or her surroundings will make your video less claustrophobic and distracting to the viewer.
  2. smartphone in studio on book ready to shoot videoPrepare Your Camera – If you have a tripod, place your camera securely on it and place it far enough away from the subject so that the bottom of your shot ends at chest-level or mid-thigh. If you don’t have a tripod, stack books on a table and balance your camera or smartphone on a flat surface. For an explainer video, place the camera as close to the height of your subject’s eyes as possible.
  3. explainer video lavalier microphone sound checkTest Your Audio – Ask your subject (nicely) to count down from ten slowly or to try an enunciation exercise such as, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” while you record the audio. Play it back to make sure that reverb (echo) is minimal and each vowel and consonant sound is clear enough for your audience without popping.
  4. explainer video with optional key and fill lightingCreate a Lighting Scheme (Optional) – If you have lights, set them up so you have at least a key and fill. The key light is your main source of light that you place in front of and slightly to the side of your subject to create dimension. The fill light is a subtler light placed in front of your subject and slightly to the opposite side to soften the harsh shadow created by the key light.
  5. explainer video subject test shot with hand motions and speechShoot a Test Shot – Once your subject is framed, lights placed, and microphone tested, try a full single shot while your subject practices enunciation again. Ask him or her to do another countdown or exercise with a bit of facial expression and movement so you can ensure that your camera is focused. Review the footage and correct any errors.
  6. explainer video subject comfortable on chairSeat or Stand Your Subject – Bring in the real subject to either sit in a backless chair or stand in front of the camera. If you’re doing an interview-style video, let the subject know that you’ll be asking a few questions and that you would like for him or her to repeat the question in his or her response. For example, if you ask the subject “What is your favorite color?” the subject should respond with “My favorite color is green.”

Once you’ve prepared and your subject is in place, you can begin your shoot. The events of each shoot will vary, and it’s best to learn how you work with your actors to find out what process will work most efficiently for your sessions.

Remember these tips for your explainer video shoots:

  • If your subject is reading from a script: Try to begin and stop recording at the end of each section of speech. Unless your subject has memorized the entire monologue, it will be easier to scrub through takes than to try to pick out usable lines from one long, continuous shot.
  • If your subject is answering interview questions: Record the entire interview without stopping – you never know when your subject will say something unexpectedly profound or pertinent. Give yourself an audible cue before you begin a new question to make the editing process more fluid.
  • Keep water around for your subject to drink between takes. Even in the middle of an interview, a dry throat makes lines of monologue and answering questions nearly impossible.
  • Be ready to adjust lighting. If your subject is blinded by your lights when facing the camera or the interviewer, the lights are probably not properly placed. Maintain the dimensions created by your lights while improving comfort for your subject.

What Do I Do Once I’m Done Shooting?

Immediately after shooting, turn off your camera and microphone, shut down all lights, thank your subject for participating, and place your equipment safely away. Remove the SD card or DV tape from your camera before storing it.

Your next step will be importing video to your computer. The process will differ depending on your recording medium.

  • SD Card – SD cards store recorded information as ready-to-use digital video files. Most operating systems provide an importing wizard for you as soon as you plug an SD card into the port. If they don’t, you can use the Finder on a Mac or Windows Explorer in Windows to locate your SD Card and click and drag the files onto your hard drive.
  • DV Tape – Digital video (DV) tapes are an older technology, but if you have a camera around from the early 2000s, you might still be using them. You’ll have to use the Capture feature in your editing program to get DV tape data from a tape deck to your computer.

Your microphone audio may be attached to your video files, saved as separate files on your SD card, or may need to be imported from your smartphone or audio recording device if you’re using an external audio recorder. Pull them onto your computer before beginning to edit.

Once your footage has been converted to digital files via the Capture tool or imported from an SD card, you can bring those files into your editing software. Most video editing programs now have a click-and-drag feature that allows you to pull footage from your folders directly into the application by clicking and holding your footage, then dragging it into the application window. If not, your software should include an Import option that will open a Browse window where you can locate and import your footage.

Prepare Additional Assets

To make your video look ultra-professional, you may want to whip up or purchase some graphical assets. Consider grabbing some of the following, depending on your needs:

Logos

leverage marketing logo

Short Animations leverage monster suspicious animationIcons leverage guy flat icon

Buttons

green 3d button example

 

Make sure the assets you use are not copyright protected under a copyright that is not your own. Lots of companies offer royalty-free images and icons for a small up-front price or subscription fee. You may even be able to find free assets from graphic designers who are looking to garner a more elite reputation.

Organize your video and assets into distinct folders under a parent folder with your project’s name. Your editing process will benefit in speed and accessibility if you organize before you edit.

How Do I Edit?

Editing is the process of piecing your shots together into a seamless video. It’s where you get to see your video come to life.

Operating systems these days come with basic editing software that has a surprising number of features:

Mac: iMovie

iMovie becomes more powerful with each iteration, and its interface closely resembles that of professional video editing software. It includes templates for animations, trailers, and entire videos. Use a template if you wish, or customize your edit by clicking and dragging footage on the user-friendly timeline provided.

PC: Windows Movie Maker

Windows Movie Maker has come bundled with the Windows operating system for many years, and though it has been discontinued as of January 10, 2017, those who still have the software on their computers can use it without software support from Microsoft. It has significantly fewer features than iMovie, but can still help you perform fundamental edits.

Editing your video is a 6-step process:

  1. Choose the shots you like – Find the shots with the best audio and video combination and pull them into your timeline, the area of your editing software in which you make cuts, inserts, and changes.
  2. Arrange your clips – Make your clips fit the flow of your script or the goal of your interview. Remove questions from the interviewer so that only the interviewee’s answers remain.
  3. Trim the beginning and end of each of your clips – Give your video a distinct rhythm. Make sure any pauses at the beginning and end of lines of monologue or answers match as closely as possible between clips.
  4. Add an intro and outro – You can put your company logo or a title card at the beginning and end of your timeline. Editing software has tools that help you make quick and easy title cards. You can also import your logo graphic and plug it in.
  5. Add transitions – Apply a dissolve or fade to your cuts where appropriate. It makes the transition between clips smoother. At a minimum, you should apply a transition between your intro and the body of your video, then another between the body of your video and the outro.
  6. Export your video – Each application handles exporting differently, but most will have an Export option with default settings that make Internet-ready videos.

Your files will work best in AVI, MP4, MPG, or MOV format for web use. If you know how to compress your video, do it slightly so that when your page loads, your video will load quickly as well.

How Do I Use My Explainer Video?

Once your video is done and exported, it’s ready for use on the Internet. The easiest way to get your videos onto your website is to attach them to a video hosting service first, then embed them using a special code.

youtube official logo flatYouTube is owned by Google and is a fantastic hosting service since it’s likely to boost your SEO efforts as well. If you haven’t already, you can create an official account for your business or agency, then begin uploading videos directly to YouTube. Each one has an embed code that you can add to your website’s HTML built into the YouTube page that displays your video.

wistia official logo white backgroundMany businesses also use Wistia to host their company-related videos since the Wistia platform offers comprehensive analytics and open-ended APIs that allow video to integrate into many different platforms. You may need a plugin to place a Wistia video on your site, but installing one is usually free and takes only a minute.

still image of video from leverage comprehensive digital plan landing page

Using either your YouTube or Wistia embed code, find an attractive home for the video on your website and implement the ready-made player that comes with the code.

The most potent ways to use your explainer videos once you know how to create them are:

  • On Your Service Pages – When you offer a complex product or service, it’s tough to find an audience that wants or needs it. Make it easy on those searching for your solution by creating short videos that fully explain the broad concepts of what you offer.
  • On Your Landing Pages – Help your audience make the right decision about whether to take advantage of your product or service by providing fast-paced, to-the-point videos on your landing pages that will save them time and clinch their decisions.

As you get better and faster at creating video, you can find more ways to implement video into your marketing. You can start using video in blogs, articles, social posts, and even in the background of your website. Learning how to make an explainer video is an easy first step into the world of video, and there’s no better time to start creating videos than right now.

 

No time to make videos? No problem – your friends at Leverage Marketing have the know-how and the tools to make professional-quality videos that go well beyond the explainer video. Start a conversation with us about video marketing – there’s no obligation, just powerful marketing knowledge and friendly faces.

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