7 Marketing Trends for 2021: What To Expect

The year 2020 has shaken up different marketing trends, and with 2021 just around the corner, there are many things worth considering to stay afloat.

Social justice movements, the changing global economic landscape and of course, the pandemic, have made our world more connected than ever. These events have completely transformed the way we look at digital marketing and advertising. 

With every year’s end, it’s always a good idea to keep a close pulse on what’s on the horizon when it comes to marketing trends for 2021. 

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research phase - blog post

16 Tactics to Help Prospective Clients Find You in the Research Phase

When customers are in the research phase of the sales cycle, how will they find you? 

The research phase of the Buyer Journey is a stage that all customers will go through before making a purchase (we discuss this in greater detail in a previous blog post). It is a safe bet that many (if not all) of these customers are doing their research digitally. 
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Being Virtual: Top Virtual Business Tools We Can’t Live Without

Since its inception in 2002, Out-Smarts has been a virtual organisation.Being a Virtual Business | Out-Smarts We had a brief flirtation with bricks and mortar a few years ago but it wasn’t a good fit.

A virtual organization is an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication. Virtual organizations do not represent a firm’s attribute but can be considered as a different organizational form.

Or in plain English – a business that has no physical location that depends on technology to operate effectively.

Virtual Business Benefits

In 2018, a business like ours doesn’t need to have an office. The ubiquity of online tools makes that possible. These tools make it easier to start and grow a business since your overheads are much lower (which is especially important in a place like Vancouver where office space is at a premium). But big businesses are clueing into the benefits too.  Telecommunications giant TELUS has a goal of having 40% of their team members working on a mobile basis, 30% working within TELUS buildings, and another 30% working from home full time.

Not only does being virtual keep your costs lower but it’s also way better for the planet as well. Teams who work from their home office don’t have to drive or take public transit which means less pollution being emitted into our planet each day. It also leads to higher scalability. With a physical office, increasing your staff often requires moving into a larger office space. With a virtual team, you can scale up your business without worrying about the extra costs associated with the required square footage.

Even back in 2002, it was possible to run a business virtually as long as you had an internet connection (although those were a lot slower back then), good processes and communication channels in place. This still rings true, although it’s much easier now thanks to cloud computing, apps and social media.

More importantly, though, working for a virtual company is good for the soul. It gives your team more flexibility to put their lives and families before their work (which is the way it should be anyway), it gives them more flexible work hours and no commute time which makes them happier and more likely to stay not to mention more productive. Happy Team = Happy Company = Happy Customers.

Of course, no good thing is without its drawbacks. With a virtual business, there is a risk of isolation, less cohesiveness, and a lack of camaraderie amongst employees. In a virtual environment, there is much less opportunity for spontaneous conversations that could lead to collaboration or new ideas. There’s also the chance that things can get lost in translation or misconstrued in electronic communications. To tackle this at Out-Smarts, we make sure to stay on top of our social side, and even schedule it into our calendars each month. We have weekly update calls with our team members, take the time to ask about our respective weekends on Monday mornings, and get the whole team together for beers once a month.

We’ve come a long way since 2002 when it comes to optimizing our virtual business, but we’re always keeping an eye out for new ways to improve our company culture and create a rewarding experience for customers and team members. Along the way, we’ve picked up an arsenal of tools that have become mainstays for productivity and efficiency. Here are our favourite tools for running a virtual business:

Virtual business tools that we can’t live without:

We’ve never met our bookkeeper, she lives in the US but that doesn’t matter – online accounting and invoicing software (Quickbooks) allows us to easily share financials.

Teamwork – This project management tool has recently come to the top of our list of must-haves. Team members can see all ongoing projects, tasks, and deadlines at a glance which helps keep everyone on track. It also enables us to give clients an insight into what we do for them and lets us set deadlines, hours and stay on top of communications.

Boomerang for Gmail – This is a tool for anyone battling an overstuffed inbox! Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to be sent out at a later date, set reminders to follow up, and take emails out of your inbox until you need them.

Google Docs and Google Drive– We are able to share all of our documents and spreadsheets and it’s perfect for collaborating on a project in real time. We’re also able to categorize our projects and link back to Teamwork.

Google Calendar – The integration with Google Calendar and the rest of the G-Suite tools makes this an easy choice. We use it to schedule meetings, pencil in vacation time, and invite attendees to events. It also integrates with Google Maps which helps by calculating trip times and sending prompts for when you need to leave.

Office 365 – This classic suite of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive is a mainstay for creating content.

1Password – It took us a few tries to find a password vault that worked well for us. We found 1Password to be the right fit for our company as it lets us store documents, logins, and other confidential information in one place.

SquareUp – This is a free point of sale app that lets us accept card payments, manage invoices, and give digital and printed receipts.

WordPress – We build all of our websites on WordPress. We love the versatility of being able to create beautifully designed custom websites on a trusted platform.

Hootsuite – We schedule, manage, and monitor social content for our clients through Hootsuite.

Grasshopper – Virtual phone systems like Grasshopper have helped us run our business through our cell phones. We can host phone extensions for everyone on our team, set up call forwarding, voicemail, and more.

JoinMe and Zoom – For a team to work together towards the same goal, there needs to be the occasional conference call. We like web conferencing tools like JoinMe and Zoom, and even use them for meetings with out of town clients.

Skype – For getting in touch with clients in the US, we rely on Skype for free online calls, messaging, and affordable international calling to mobiles or landlines.

Milanote is a tool for organizing creative projects into beautiful visual boards. By design, it feels a lot like working on the wall in a creative studio – visual, tactile and sometimes a bit messy – Milanote is a great fit for designers who work in teams remotely.*

With the use of the tools above, office communications are available to us from almost anywhere in the world. These technologies we’ve adopted not only streamline communication but provide practical services that empower our team to stay on task and stay engaged.

Need help growing your business? Contact us to find out what we can do.

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Top 10 Tips to Quickly Build Your Instagram Following

We were woefully late to Instagram as a company. Our team members had been using it for years and we’ve been building there for our clients but our corporate Insta feed was sorely neglected. In fact, we just launched it this spring, but in true Out-Smarts fashion, when we decide to do something (however late to the game we are), we do it right. We’d like to share with you some tips on how we went from 34 to 1034 followers in the space of 2 short months.

But first a little about the app, Instagram is a photo and video sharing app owned by Facebook. There are currently 800 million users on Instagram, and 51% of users access the platform at least once per day. Over 80% of accounts on Instagram follow a business, but two-thirds of profile visits to businesses come from people who aren’t following that business. The largest segment of Instagram users are aged between 18 – 24 with a pretty even split between men and women. With impressive stats like these, it’s no surprise more and more businesses are joining the Instagram game.

Tips to Build your Instagram Business Following

    1. Take time to craft a good bio that conveys what you do, who you do it for. Make it upbeat and interesting. You can also use the bio to link back to things you want to promote through hyperlinks, mentions, and hashtags. With a bio that speaks directly to your target audience, you’ll attract more quality followers who are more likely to become your customers.
    1. Post regularly – the best way to determine how often to post is by trial and error and will really depend on your audience. Test and try different frequencies and monitor engagement to help you decide. Once you have found a rhythm that works – stay consistent for the best results.
    1. Like and comment – the more you interact on Instagram, the more people will interact back with you. Be focused as to who you interact with – remember your target audience and hone in on that.
    1. Follow – to build your following you have to follow the right feeds. Get in the habit each day of following Instagram feeds in your target area. Keep an eye on your follower to following ratio. You can also use tools like Instazood that help automate this for you but be extra careful to monitor this often to ensure you don’t run into any issues that could get you banned.
    1. Share the love – despite all the selfies out there, your Instagram business feed shouldn’t just be all about you. Share the love and great stories of your clients and customers and tag them in your posts.
    1. Use hashtags, these are key to getting your content found. You can use up to 30 tags but 11 seems to be the optimal number (again trial and error will help determine this for you). Hashtags are a series of letters, symbols or emojis preceded by the # that makes them hyperlinkable. Choose hashtags that describe your business, the purpose of your account, your target market, and your location. We also recommend choosing hashtags that have between 50,000 to 200,000 tags so you have a better chance of standing out. …. You can use tools like Hashtagify me to help identify popular ones to use, then there are also hashtags that encourage reciprocation.
    1. How does your feed look – Instagram pages are quickly becoming the home page for many companies. While a matching feed isn’t necessary to grow your following, take the time to curate your page so future followers know exactly what to expect when they follow you. Be consistent and plan out the look of your Instagram feed before you post, using a visual planner like Later.
    1. Share with Instagram Stories – Posting to your Instagram Story as a business is a fun and creative way to connect with your audience, grow your engagement, build brand awareness, and drive traffic to your website. Since stories only have a 24-hour lifespan, it’s the perfect place to share your journey, community posts, behind-the-scenes shots, and sneak peaks.
    1. Take great photos – Curate your feed to be the best representation of your brand. Put your best foot forward and post relevant, high-quality photos to attract your target audience.
  1. Take advantage of captions – this is the space where you have an opportunity to share more about your brand and your story with your followers. This is also an area many businesses overlook, so take the time to write out an engaging caption and you’ll be rewarded with a more engaged audience.

With over 1 billion active monthly users, it’s no surprise that getting more Instagram followers is a big priority for most businesses. We hope these tips serve as a helpful start for anyone hoping to grow their Instagram following. Not sure how to implement these strategies for your business? Learn how Out-Smarts can help you achieve success on Instagram.


How to Use Google Grants and AdWords for Non-Profits: Important Changes You Should Be Aware of in 2018

Did you know that Google offers ad grants for non-profit an charity organizations in Canada, allowing them to run their AdWords with a budget of $10,000 per month? If you run a charity or non-profit, this is something you have to take advantage of – it’s free advertising and drives targeted traffic to your site (if you set it up right!).  

  • First, you need a Tech Soup account  and registration – which verifies your non-profit status and eligibility
  • Once that is approved, you can then set up your new Google account and apply to manage your grants ads.

Google Ad Grant Changes for Non-Profits

Over the years, 35,000 non-profits have set up Ad Grant AdWords accounts, and it has been a popular offering, but recently though, Google has been rolling out a slew of changes that govern how ads are set up in the Grants program.

Out-Smarts: How to Use Google Grants and AdWords for Non-Profits: Important Changes You Should Be Aware of in 2018
How to Use Google Grants and AdWords for Non-Profits

I am guessing these changes are because many organizations were lax about maintaining their ads –  setting up accounts, campaigns and groups and then not maintaining their accounts well or keeping up with the new features Google has rolled out over the last couple of years like ad extensions. It could also be because some non-profits didn’t set up their accounts properly in the first place (for example not using geographical audience targeting).

As a result of these changes which were announced in December and went into effect earlier this month, non-profits are scrambling to review their ad campaigns and make them compliant – if they don’t, they risk having their ad account cancelled.

The good news is that there will no longer be the USD 2 ad bid cap which means that non-profits can bid more competitively and show up higher than ever before. There are some caveats though.

The New Google Grants AdWords Rules for 2018:

  • The two dollar bid cap has been removed
  • Advertisers must use maximum conversions bidding – this automatically sets your bidding so that you maximize the conversions of your campaign given your budget (for non-profits that about $333 per day). This means setting up conversions on Google and tracking them using two snippets of code that get added to your site and to the page you want to track.
  • Advertisers must use geographical targeting aka geo-targeting – this simply means that your ads must be targeted to your geographic area and not blanket targeted to broad geographical areas where you don’t operate.
  • Each campaign must have at least 2 Ad Groups that are live.
  • Each ad group must have at least 2 ad variations running.
  • Each ad must have a minimum of 2 site link extensions – site link extensions are links and titles that show up below your ads highlighting important aspects of your business and encouraging people to click through to specific web pages on your site.
  • Your account must show a CTR of at least 5% or your account could be cancelled. This is the rule is the one that everyone is panicking about, but if your campaigns are set up properly with keywords that are tight (specific to what your non-profit does), and you’re not bidding on words that don’t relate to your ad text, you should see your CTR increase.

Ten Tips to Help Non-Profits Comply with the Google Ad Grant Changes:

  1. Have specific campaigns for each component of your non-profit business using specific keywords, both in the keywords themselves and in your ad text and landing pages.
  2. Stop using keywords that are too generic – low-quality keywords.
  3. Conversely, don’t have ad groups that only have one keyword.
  4. Work to create better, target keyword centric ad copy.
  5. Make sure that your landing pages map back to your ad campaigns and groups and that everything works as it should on the page so that visitors convert once the land on your site.
  6. Set up conversion tracking and make sure that you are tracking conversions after people click through to your site.
  7. Use Google Analytics to understand campaign traffic, keywords that are driving visits from people who engage once they land on your site, and bid adjustments.
  8. Don’t use keywords that mention your competitors or other companies.
  9. Implement your changes now, if your CTR is less than 5% for two consecutive months your account could be suspended.
  10. If you don’t have the expertise in-house to make these changes, or the budget to hire experts then consider switching to AdWords Express.

Google Grants can be a great asset to a cash-strapped charity or non-profit organization. Done right, your campaigns can drive targeted traffic to your site, but your site has to deliver too. It is worth taking time to create great landing pages that convert once your visitor lands on them.

If you’re one of the non-profits that have neglected their campaigns over the years, this is the perfect time to restructure them and to take advantage of some of the great enhancements Google has been rolling out recently.

If you are concerned about your non-profit ads and don’t know where to start, we’d love to review them for you and make some recommendations. Get in touch with us here.

 


Marketing Predictions and Digital Trends for 2018

Ten years into the great social media experiment and 2017 was the year we saw Facebook hit the 2 billion user mark, the proliferation of real-time video across social platforms and the continuing email renaissance. With 2018 coming up fast upon us what better time to reflect on the past year, to dust off the crystal ball and to predict what 2018 will bring for marketers.

This post is divided into five sections to mirror the disciplines Out-Smarts focuses on websites trends, SEO – getting found when people search online, email marketing, social media and overall marketing strategy.

Website Design Trends

We know that Google is going to continue to emphasize the importance of mobile in 2018 so expect to see function taking precedence over form with a focus on usability and minimalist site navigation and content proliferating. It’s going to be interesting to see how the content is king crusaders balance their obsession with publishing content with minimalism and mobile. Expect to see more valuable content related to buyer intent rather than simply content for the sake of putting something out there.

Will 2018 be the year when small businesses finally catch up? 50% of small businesses still don’t have a website; we’re hoping this new year will be the one the laggards finally catch up. It is interesting that social media adoption for small business is much higher than website adoption. The popularity of social media is likely because of a low barrier to entry of social platforms. However, it is important to consider that you don’t own your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter pages (or any other social media presence you might have) the social media company owns it. What happens if they switch directions or go out of business? A website belongs to your business, not to a third party.

Watch out for more animation (logos in particular) and websites that incorporate GIFs in 2018 too – hopefully, they’re less cheesy than their Flash predecessors. Artificial Intelligence is going to be everywhere in 2018 too as enhancements make Chatbots get better and better at answering questions and simulating conversations with website visitors.

Search Engine Optimisation

Don’t let anyone tell you that keyword research is no longer important. It is and will continue to be, but there will be a shift in 2018 to focus more on semantic search, buyer intent and topics rather than specific keywords. SEOs will focus more on having their site show up at the right time when people are actually considering a purchase, rather than having the site show up to attract particular personas.

Another aspect that should be on your SEO radar in 2018 is voice search which means you need to hone your long tail keywords, i.e. keyword phrases that are hyper-specific to what you are selling.

Image search will continue to grow in 2018 so now might be the time to make sure all the images on your website have well thought out and optimized alt tags.

Email Campaigns

The email renaissance will continue in 2018. Get ready to watch videos embedded directly in email campaigns. Technological enhancements in email clients will continue to lead to more and more email apps that support embedded video. Right now less than half of all email clients can play embedded videos but thanks to Apple mail, iOS and Samsung this is changing. Up until now, most senders have opted to embed a fake play button in the email with a link to the video on a separate site or by GIF.

Including video in emails can lead to big increases in open rates – Campaign Monitor

Watch for more sophistication in list segmentation too. Segmenting campaigns so that specific audiences receive emails that contain content tailored to their unique perspective.

Social Media

2017 was the year of streaming video in social media; LinkedIn In and Twitter followed Facebook Live’s lead and began supporting live streaming video content. In 2018 watch out for growing adoption of these technologies and more creative live streams.

Over 8 billion videos or 100 million hours of videos are watched on Facebook every day (TechCrunch, 2016). – via Buffer

Not doing short video is not an option – Kat Hahn

In 2018 we will also see the increased adoption of short-lived content, content that’s only available for a short period of time before it disappears, – like Instagram stories and Snapchat. Marketers must start developing strategies to maximize the reach and impact of ephemeral content as well as considering tactics to get this content noticed.

On platforms like Instagram and Facebook, only a tiny percentage of followers actually see the content you share on your page. To get noticed in 2018, you will need to invest in ads on these platforms. Consider video ads to spice things up a little.

Social media analytics, measuring tools and management solutions will become more sophisticated in 2018 with an emphasis on enterprise social marketing integrating all platforms.

How Marketing Strategies will Evolve in 2018

2018

I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that 2018 will be the year that our obsession with all things digital and only digital will end. It’s also going to be the year we’re going to start calling our discipline marketing again (rather than digital). Marketing in 2018 will encompass all aspects of the marketing mix, both online and off and marketers will use the means most likely to help them attract their target audience.

Consider this, there are 65 million business pages on Facebook, 90% of businesses use social media. These are substantial numbers, but for marketers this means that it is becoming increasingly difficult, not to mention more expensive, to get noticed. If you want to attract your target audience’s attention in 2018, then widen your horizons and consider sending them a direct mail piece (depending on the audience) in a nice coloured envelope with handwritten wording. It will likely be the only physical mail the recipient gets that day (or maybe that week or month!), they’re going to open it, and if your copy is effective they will act on it!

Conclusion

2018 is going to be an interesting year; technological advancements will continue to speed up. To be effective as marketers, it’s going to be important not simply to jump on the bandwagon of the next big thing but to consider options strategically and with your target audience in mind (rather than from a product or service-centric perspective). That said, video popularity has been growing year over year and won’t stop. Cisco predicted that video would account for 80% of internet traffic by 2020. So if you do nothing else, consider how you might incorporate video into your digital approach in 2018.