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5 Things I Wish I Learned About Marketing In College

Dear college student,

If you talk with any professional who has been out of college for a while and is working in a field that is roughly similar to what they earned a degree in, they’ll likely have a thing or two to say about what their alma mater didn’t teach them. I’m no different. In fact, I would even argue that colleges and universities really aren’t that cutting edge at all and in many fields, college curriculums are 2-3 years behind what is actually happening in the business world.

When I graduated college, I had the fortune of finding out that this was especially true in my field, search engine marketing. Consequently, I’ve put together a list of 5 things I wish I had been taught about marketing (my minor at Purdue University) while in school. You might think: “well obviously you eventually learned them.” To which I say: “I like being ahead of the curve.”

1) ROI is a real thing that businesses use and is basically the only thing that matters in marketing. You can talk about the 4 P’s all you want but at the end of the day everything will center around return on investment, which is what you get out of your marketing dollars. My advice is to learn how to calculate ROI and when to apply it to a situation.

2) Someone will hate your work. You can’t please everyone and in a world of 7 billion people, there are bound to be a few that just think your way of doing things absolutely sucks. Part of becoming a mature adult is accepting this as fact, but more importantly, it’s going to save you frustration if you can accept that your brilliant idea or creation won’t always be received as such by someone else.

3) The avant garde really only works in Europe. You may think you have some great ideas that will really blow minds, but in America, you’ll need to lower your tone. When I was a senior in college, I thought it would make a statement about my “creative genius” to make business cards that say: “I hate Steve Hill” to try to grab the attention of recruiters. Glad a professor talked me off the ledge in a relatively nice way.

4) Some of your peers are blowhards. At the beginning of your career it may seem like the kids who talk the big talk and draw attention to themselves get the best opportunities. If you’re a little more reserved, you may feel pressure to alter who you are and try to do the same. I’ve got good news and bad new for you. The bad news is that in the first 2 or 3 years you guys are all out of school, those blowhards often get cooler opportunities than you do. The good news is that rarely can they talk their way into delivering results, meeting quotas, etc. and by year 3, they’ve hit their ceiling. Just keep grinding away and it will eventually even out.

4.5) No one in the midwest knows what a blowhard is. I learned this one a few days ago. 

5) Pay close attention to bright spots. In college, you’re exposed to tons of case studies, stories, guest speakers, videos, textbook examples and more on organizations that have had success in various areas of marketing. Chances are you’ll be faced with challenges in your new marketing career that are best solved by turning to an example of another firm that solved a similar problem with a very specific strategy. The more things like this you are exposed to, the more techniques and ideas you can probably come up with to help you solve your issue.

So hopefully all that is helpful to you, the college student, looking for some marketing career advice. If you have any thoughts, comments, or concerns, drop me a line today!

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A Powerful Video Of Norwegians Helping a Boy Without a Coat

I love reading about (or in this case watching) social experiments. They challenge our thinking and beliefs; what we know to be true about the world, and force us to decide between shifting our mindset or putting up walls. That’s exactly what this new video coming out of Norway does. In this video you’ll see people react to a boy without a coat freezing at the bus stop. He tells them his coat was stolen. Those in the video react in a way that we all should: with a willingness to sacrifice for someone who is suffering.

I don’t think this video is meant to make anyone feel guilty or bad about themselves, but I do think that it should force us to be on the look out for opportunities to help others who are suffering.  As Paul writes in the book of Galatians, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Even though Europe is often described as post-Christian, it’s obvious that Judeo-Christian principles like helping one another are still alive and well.

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Some Thoughts After Reading the 2014 Gates Annual Letter

Bill and Melinda Gates just published their annual letter on poverty and as I was reading it this morning there were a lot of things going through my head. I think the letter is well-written and lays out some very good and very useful information, but there are spots where I think some additional clarification is needed; or at least places where I’d have more to say if it were my letter. Before reading my thoughts, I’d encourage you to check it out for yourself as I think it’s a good use of time. See: 2014 Gates Annual Letter.

Poverty Is Not Solely A Lack Of Fiat Money

ugandan shillingsOne of the biggest mistakes I see well-meaning, but uniformed westerners make is to measure poverty only in the context of whether someone earns a certain level of income (measured in fiat currency) each day. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that just because a dollar is only worth as much as the goods and services it can acquire. Here’s a basic example: In 1970, $1 would have bought you almost 3 gallons of gasoline for your car. In today’s economy, you can buy roughly 1/3 of a gallon of gasoline with $1. So if someone where to tell you that the number of people living on less than $1 per day has decreased two-fold in the last 20 years, it really doesn’t mean much. Instead, I believe it’s better to measure poverty by more than just money.  Access to clean drinking water, nutritious food, primary schooling, and medical care have to be factored in. Life expectancy and infrastructure such as roads, telecommunications systems, and schools are important considerations in measuring poverty as well. The point being is that we shouldn’t look at poverty merely as a matter of dollars and cents. Bill and Melinda do a pretty good job of highlighting this in their letter.

There Are Two Types Of Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is dispersed in essentially two ways: directly to governments or directly to people in need. In the case of aid to governments we often see governments transferring funds, supplies, troops, etc. to governments of other countries or by transferring these things through an international entity like the United Nations or NATO. In the case of direct aid to people in need, local governments are bypassed and aid is handed out straight to the people who need it. While international entities do this as well, a large portion of foreign aid is channeled through NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and NPOs (non-profits). The reality is that corruption happens with both. Financial aid is particularly vulnerable to local leaders and agencies exacting “commissions” on the aid that is sent over from wealthier countries. While it’s not the norm, Gates does a good job of acknowledging the existence of this problem in the letter. I also wholeheartedly agree that the existence of corruption shouldn’t be used as an excuse for doing nothing. The reality is that the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of corruption. Furthermore corruption can be curtailed. I believe the best way to prevent it is to eliminate as many middlemen in the foreign aid process as possible. While it’s not practical for a concerned American to fly across the ocean to give a warm meal to a hungry child, that doesn’t mean that donating to a large agency via your cell phone carrier, who in turn, cuts a check to the US government who then cuts a check to an international governing body, who then cuts a check to an impoverished national government, who then cuts a check to a local precinct, who buys food from a farm and then hires a someone to distribute it is the best option either. Ideally, you want to research and support agencies who cut out as many steps to the aid process as possible.

Human/Sex Trafficking Is A Growing Global Menace

The Gates letter paints a fairly rosy picture of the world in the context of poverty. I don’t have a problem with that as I will certainly acknowledge that a ton of progress has been made in assisting those in need. However, glaringly absent from their letter was a discussion of human trafficking and the sex trade. Pinpoint whatever causes you want: a hypersexualized society, a shrinking middle class, desperation created by poverty, shrinking profits in drug smuggling, etc., the reality is that this is a growing menace to the human race. The reality is that poverty has created a disturbingly ample supply of people, particularly children and women, to be sold into modern-day slavery. Sometimes the head of a very poor household in a third-world country to sell a child into slavery to either be used for prostitution or hard labor. To put the magnitude of this problem in perspective, consider this: There are more people being trafficked around the world for commercial sex or forced labor today than the populations of Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia combined. That’s over 20 million people. Now I’m not here to smack you over the head with statistics, but I simply want to acknowledge that this is a growing problem that demands our attention and continue to do so until its confronted seriously.

Find Your Cause

I’ve said many times before that I don’t expect or demand anyone to join my cause. If they want to, I’m thrilled, but it’s entirely their choice. However, I do encourage people to find a charitable/missional cause they are passionate about and get involved in it. The reason for that is because I strongly believe that being involved with a cause takes our focus off of ourselves and directs it towards people in need. Often times, this process has a tendency of awakening people to other issues in our world that they can also become passionate about and/or invested in. My hope is that Bill and Melinda Gates’s letter and maybe even my blogpost, will encourage those who are currently sitting on the fence to get involved in something that tackles human suffering and makes the world a better place. If you’re reading this and have questions or want to bounce some ideas off me, leave a comment below or get in touch with me via my contact page. I’d love to help you.

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The Power of Grace In A Prison Cell

For the last month or two I’ve been slowly making my way through the book of Acts on a self-study. Basically I wanted to re-read the book because I’m at the point in my life, spiritually and mentally, where reading the Bible is no longer a chore or obligation, but something I genuinely enjoy and want to do. I’m particularly interested in the parts where we get an idea of how early Christians lived out their faith, understood and appreciated God’s grace, and managed to grow in the face of extreme persecution and immorality. This morning I was in chapter 16 and read I a story I’ve heard in church a dozen times before, that of Paul and Silas in a Philippine prison.

Paul and Silas in Prison - Acts 16To give you some context, Paul and Silas were on a mission to reach the Greeks and other non-Jewish people called Gentiles with the gospel message. While in a Greek city called Philippi, they came across a demon-possessed slave girl whose owners used her to predict the future. This particular girl, who was entirely controlled by this demon spirit, followed Paul and Silas shouting about how the men were servants of the Lord and were preaching about how to be saved. We don’t know much else about the slave girl, but we do know that after a few days of this girl following them around shouting, Paul commanded the demon to come out of the girl. It did, the girl could no longer tell the future, and her owners lost their “business.” Consequently the owners were very upset with Paul and Silas, framed them as anarchists, got them stripped naked, beaten, and severely flogged in public, and then thrown into a dungeon and put into stocks. To say that it was a bad day for the two would be an understatement.

Paul and Silas, obviously were in bad shape. They were probably borderline hypothermic from a lack of clothing, they had deep wounds that were festering, probably had some broken bones or at least damaged body parts, and they were stuck in a smelly, disgusting, germ-infested prison cell. Basically death was breathing down their necks. Yet, in this dark moment, we learn from the story that Paul and Silas were spending the night fervent prayer and signing hymns. Now I know the tendency we have is to read a Bible story and think, “of course, they were praying, that’s what Bible characters do!” However, let’s think this through. Paul and Silas were human just like us. They felt pain and were just as, if not more, susceptible to things like disease and infection that we are. Now if we were really honest with ourselves, how would we do in this situation? If it were me, I probably would be screaming from the pain of my injuries and terrified at what might await me in the minutes and hours ahead. There’s nothing that says that kind of thinking didn’t creep into the minds of Paul and Silas either. It’s entirely possible that they were thinking that this might be it for them. But that’s where this story really gets interesting.

It the midst of this horrible situation the men are faced with, a massive earthquake strikes Philippi. Now the Bible doesn’t say whether this earthquake came as a result of Paul and Silas’s prayers or that it was just a random occurrence. I will note that there are many Christians who automatically assume that God caused the earthquake, but unfortunately that’s not what the Bible states. Generally speaking violent earthquakes are deadly and are not something that I feel comfortable saying are sent by God. Nevertheless, the Bible says that it was so violent that the prison doors were thrown open and the chains of every prisoner were loosened to the point where they could have escaped. Thinking that everyone did escape the jailer was overwhelmed and resolved to commit suicide. For whatever the reason, all of the prisoners stayed and Paul and Silas stopped the jailer from taking his life.

Being faced with one’s own mortality has led to a salvation experience for many and the jailer was no different. He recognized that Paul and Silas had a message that was so powerful and so different from anything he’d ever heard or experienced before that he begged the men to tell him what he had to do to be saved. That became Paul and Silas’s ticket out of jail (and to some medical care) and they went home with the jailer. The jailer fed them, cleaned them up, attended to their wounds and Paul and Silas led the jailer and his entire family to Christ. How’s that for living with mission?

The thing that strikes me about this story is that Paul and Silas could have been completely fixated on the magnitude of their circumstances. Instead, they chose to use their time of suffering as an opportunity to pray and worship. Furthermore, when someone else was in a deadly situation of their own, as the suicidal jailer was, they took it as an opportunity to minister and share the gospel message. I don’t know about you, but I find this very convicting. I hate to say it, but there are a lot of times where I become preoccupied with my suffering rather than turning to prayer and worship. In those moments, I can’t say that I’m particularly focused on the well-being of others around me either. Now, if you’re in the same boat as me, don’t mistake what I just said to mean that I’m dogging on you. Paul and Silas endured years of hardship and persecution to develop the faith shown in this story. While it may be impossible to replicate those kinds of experiences, here’s what I think we can take away from this story. Paul and Silas, both understood the magnitude of what they had been given in grace through the shedding of Christ’s innocent blood. Consequently, they both knew that regardless of their present circumstances, their eternities were safe thanks to an act that came to them undeservedly. This produced the joy that we see lived out in the midst of suffering. That same joy is something that we too experience when we’re fixated on the cross rather than our struggles. It might not feel like it sometimes, but the reality is that by the power of God’s grace, we too can have the same dedication to prayer and worship and the same intentionality around people who suffer that Paul and Silas did in this story.

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9 Things To Stop Doing With Your Online Marketing in 2014

So here’s my thinking. There are going to be hundreds of internet marketing articles published between now and mid February that will promise to provide you with magic bullet for success. Rather than bore you with another cliche marketing post, I figured that it would be both fun and useful, to do a post about all of the things people have wasted their time on in 2013. Obviously, this list is not just a recap of wasted activities, but it’s also a menu of things that I think as a professional Internet marketer, you should seriously consider scrapping.

1) Stop worrying about how many Twitter followers you have

Follow Me on TwitterNews flash: your competitor probably has more followers than you, Korean pop group B.A.P. has way more followers than you, and a parody account of Kim Kardashian has more than you. It’s time to stop worrying about a number on a screen. The number of people that follow your business on Twitter is a relatively meaningless statistic by itself and it certainly shouldn’t be the first thing you think about. Now I realize that we all want to be loved and acknowledged, so there’s a natural human tendency to gravitate towards something like a follower count. However, let me stop you and suggest considering some of the following questions. Can I specifically attribute sales/revenue to my Twitter account? Are the people that are following me getting something useful? Are my followers interacting (favoriting, retweeting, mentioning, etc) with thing things I tweet? Is this the most effective use of my time?

2) Stop banking on your content

Baby Kangaroo CuteOver the last 3 years, I’ve seen a lot of marketing consultants go on and on about content. Quite frankly it’s incredibly annoying to hear someone who calls themselves a marketing expert but has never been accountable for a marketing dollar in their entire life, try to tell a business owner that they need to turn their website into Viral Nova (which is way better than BuzzFeed by the way). Content marketing has been positioned as an SEO tactic meaning that the goal is to have your content indexed by the search engines. So when someone googles “cute marsupial photos,” they see your HVAC company’s blog post entitled Top Ten Baby Kangaroo Photos. The main problem here is that you’re at the mercy of algorithm updates, which happen quite frequently. I’ve been a professional marketer long enough to see several rounds of these updates and their respective fallouts. I’ve seen several businesses get absolutely killed by said updates because put all of their eggs in one basket. The secondary problem is that most content you’re going to produce really isn’t that useful or original and there’s a good chance someone else has already published something similar.

3) Stop believing everything your marketing consultant tells you

gullible oranges funnyAs a tie in to number 2, I believe it’s really important for business owners, particularly those with limited budgets, to maintain a healthy level of skepticism towards marketing consultants. The thing you have to keep in mind is that marketing consultants really aren’t accountable for anything other than their billable hours. Even then, they can chalk their mistakes and bad advice up to externalities and move on to the next business. The best internet marketers have worked with fixed budgets and have had to demonstrate an ROI. This is probably easiest to do in the case of pay per click (PPC) marketing, but can also be done with SEO, social media, etc. assuming that billable hours and ROI are being tracked closely. Asking tough questions and demanding ROI information can really help you as a business owner or decision maker weed out the bad marketing consultants from the good ones.

4) Stop begging for Facebook likes

facebook like hand iconIf there was a group of people I’d send to Mars it would be these folks. I can’t begin to describe how annoying it is to be asked to like a Facebook page. Perhaps it’s because I’m “over” Facebook; I am still in my twenties after all. More than likely though, it’s because there’s never a value proposition tied to doing so. Don’t ask people to like your Facebook page without giving something to them in return. No, “tips and updates” do not count as something in return. People need something tangible like a free sample or some contest entries. Furthermore, people need to be told why you are after Facebook likes. Begging for likes makes your business seem like its run by an egotistical maniac who can’t go a day without a pat on the back by a complete stranger. Stop begging. just stop. please.

5) Stop making SEO your main focus

focus binocularsOptimizing your website for search engines is quickly becoming a futile endeavor for most small and mid sized businesses. Why? Well for one Google changes its algorithm every six months which is extremely disruptive for any ongoing SEO effort. And two, Google, which has a 91% global market share, is encrypting organic search queries that would normally allow you to see what keywords are important to bring traffic to your website. You need to keep in mind that Google, as well as Yahoo! and Microsoft, are publicly traded companies. These companies have shareholders with expectations for profits. So, these search engines will do whatever they can to increase their revenues. Since Google makes 95% of their money from PPC, they’ll do whatever they can to push marketers towards using Adwords. I do thing that at some point within the next 5 years organic results on the first page of a Google search engine results page (SERP) will be phased out so that you’ll only see app results (map listings, news articles, etc) and paid search ads.

6) Stop saying that you are “figuring things out first”

Rubik's Cube Puzzle“We’re just trying to figure things out first to see if this is something we want to do.” That’s a line I hear way too often from business decision makers when asked if they’re going to invest into Internet marketing. Things move very very quickly in the internet marketing industry. What’s relevant one day may not be relevant the next. You don’t have time to wait for some magical good feeling to show up in your stomach before pulling the trigger on an Internet marketing investment. If you aren’t sure where to spend your money, I’d suggest looking for realistic bright spots. Try to find out what successful business your size and in your industry have done to market online. Chances are it will be a good investment for you too.

7) Stop ignoring PPC marketing

Kenny Rogers Portrait Drunk

Imagine two scenarios for a second. Scenario 1: You could spend $4,000 at once on SEO to possibly generate free traffic. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get traffic and your investment could be a waste after the next algorithm update. Scenario 2: You could spend $500/mo ($6,000/year) on paid search that will guarantee you clicks, but they just aren’t free. Which would you do? Well assuming you aren’t on a train bound for nowhere with Kenny Rogers, you’d probably go with the paid search option. You’re guaranteed clicks and you don’t have to worry about losing an investment to an algorithm change. That, in essence, is why you probably ought to start paying closer attention to PPC (in addition to the reasons I stated in number 5). While there’s so much I can say about PPC, let me just dispel a few myths about PPC. A) People do click on the ads, 65% for keywords with a high intent to buy. i.e. “hire a plumber” B) PPC isn’t that expensive. A valuable click can cost as little as $0.25. Assuming you get 1000 at that price and 5% buy a digital download for $10, you’re making a pretty good profit.

8) Stop spreading yourself thin

Stretch Armstrong FigurineI think its awesome if it makes sense for your business to be on every social network and you have the bandwidth to do so effectively. The fact of the matter is that if that is you, you’re in a very small group of people. Don’t feel like you need to be everywhere on the internet just because some blow hard at a small business fair said so in his speech. You don’t need to be all over Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, YouTube, Yelp, Foursquare, Google+, and LinkedIn all at once. Pick a couple and focus on those. Having trouble deciding? See if you can trace some sales data back to specific networks or marketing tactics. That can really help you decide what’s worth your time and what isn’t. Hopefully someone is breathing a sigh of relief right now.

9) Stop putting off a new website

Moldy PizzaIf the last time you redesigned your website was 2009, you’re overdue for an upgrade. In fact having a website design from 2009, is like eating a pizza from 2009. Do you really want to do that? There’s some great new technology that can prepare you and your website for the future of Internet marketing. Pay close attention to responsive design as well. It’s a website technology that automatically adjusts how the website is display on a screen depending on the screen itself. With this technology you don’t have to worry about having multiple copies of your website for specific devices.

So that’s all for now. Got questions? Post them in the comments below. Good luck in 2014. May your business grow and prosper!

 

 

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Never Stop Exploring by The North Face

“All you have to do is to look at a newborn child and watch their eyes move around. We want to see. To explore; we as human beings, we need that. I wasn’t one of those absolute naturals, but since childhood I’d seen pictures of the great explorers and I felt that, you know I’d like to plant the flag. The three of us we were very fiery people. The bug was on our back to perform. We really had with the backpacks what we needed to survive. There’s a little bit of danger, uh, in the unknown but human beings I find just aren’t apt to back away from something that is a challenge. It took 8 days all together. Yeah, we barely made it, but we did make it. We were pushing the limits pretty close. Feelings are not something we have recorders for. People will always have a desire to explore what they haven’t seen whether its above us, on the surface, or down in the depths of the ocean.” – Dr. Buzz Aldrin, US Astronaut via “The Explorer” by The North Face

The North Face put together, what I think is the most powerful commercial of 2013. I’ll let you make your own judgements about it, but to me it’s pretty incredible.

 

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Being the Banana Man

Uganda is a very tropical country that has rich soil and plenty of rain so agricultural activity really thrives there. Throughout the country, particularly in the more rural areas, you’ll see banana and plantain farms everywhere. When I was in Uganda last August, I commonly saw men pushing bushels of bananas/plantains stacked up on their bicycles along the side of the roads. Every day, these men would get the bushels from the farms and push them several miles into the local markets. It wasn’t uncommon to see these men pushing between 70 and 100 pounds worth of bananas strapped to their bicycles. Usually the roads weren’t great, there were plenty of hills, and the bicycles themselves sometimes lacked critical parts like tires or the right sized wheels. Each day the men would load up, walk in, unload, head back, and repeat the process.

banana man uganda

A frequent sight in Uganda; men pushing bicycles full of bananas and plantains along the side of the road. From: Flickr

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about these banana men. They do the same exact job, over and over, every single day of their lives. Sure they see different things being out and about each day, but there’s little variety in what they do. Obviously in Uganda, there are few choices most people have in terms of what they do to generate an income and survive. There’s no long term outlook. Everything is simply done in the context of the present. That’s not the case in America. We have choice, we have a long term outlook, and we have a desire for variety in what we do. It’s not good or bad, it just is how life works. The interesting thing to me is that even with all of that choice and variety, we usually can’t be satisfied. Discontent and frustration are commonplace.

I wonder what it would be like to do the same thing every day and have no idea about things like opportunity, choice, and the future. Would I be happier? Would there be more uncertainty? Would I have stress? You get the idea. In some ways, I’m jealous of the simple life of the banana man. I’d imagine that for many of them, they’ve found a sense of contentment and satisfaction in what they do for a living. Far too, often I can’t say the same for myself. I long to believe in my heart that if I just continue to do X, I’ll make it, I’ll be satisfied, I’ll be happy. Perhaps, you are the same way.

We’re constantly slammed with messages, ideas, and concepts from every imaginable source. So many people have their ideas on what we should be doing, thinking about, worrying about, and knowing about. We get it from the media, our friends, our family members, our leaders, our bosses, our coworkers, the Internet, books, magazines, (this blog post!). It’s exhausting. You know it, I know it. Does the banana man have to deal with anything like that? I doubt it. So for those of us who are tired and weary, we have to each ask ourselves, how can I be more like the banana man? How can I be happier, more content, and less burdened by the ideas of this world? Quite frankly, I don’t really know what that looks like yet, but it’s something to consider.