Business 2 Community

How Scaling Companies Lean on Content to Grow, Engage and Entertain Customers

I’ve been a content marketer for a whopping two and half years. That’s not a lot of time. In my past life, I considered myself a journalist. I wrote fashion and beauty news for ELLE, and then moved to writing branded content for Mashable — which became my launching pad for a career in content marketing.
As it turns out, there isn’t too much different about a branded content article on a site like Mashable or Buzzfeed or Forbes or Fast Company — nearly everyone is doing them these days — and writing article copy for an actual brand. At least, there really isn’t that much different in theory.
After all, public perception of your brand is your brand. There are plenty of stats that tell us that:
70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated
80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service
8% of people think these same companies deliver “superior” customer service
Americans tell an average of 9 people about good experiences, and tell 16 people about poor experiences
This is why it is so crucial that brands be efficient in speaking to their customers on social, in blog posts and, yes, on sites like Mashable, Buzzfeed, Forbes and Fast Company. Wherever your audience is, whatever it is that they are reading, your content –– i.e. your brand’s voice –– should be there too.
And what if it isn’t? What if you opt to do display and banner ads instead? What if you sponsor ads on Google? What if you retarget and follow your customers all around the web? What if you do all of these without providing any context or enabling any other connection point between your customer and your brand?
Well, then you’re a stalker.
Let’s take that very same idea, and drop it into a different scenario. What if you hosted a party, and someone attractive came. You didn’t speak. There was no verbal connection and they may not have even made eye contact with you. After the party, though, you begin to show up everywhere they go. Your OKCupid profile picture pops up on their Facebook feed. You begin going to their church or their yoga class or their business presentation (or all three!). You want them to be interested, you want them to feel the same connection you do — that one you never actually created. What are you?
You’re a stalker. A relatively innovative one, but a stalker nonetheless.
Now, just as for actual people, your presence doesn’t make an immediate connection — and even if it does, its fleeting. What people remember, what your target audience, what your prospective customer, what your next possible date, will most remember about you — and this applies to brands — is what you say, how you say it and how well you prove that what you said is true, honest and human.
Content doesn’t just control your brand then. Content is your brand, because customer perception is your brand — and customer perception is shaped most significantly by your content.
Now, content is everything. It is your tweet, it is the LinkedIn article your CEO writes, it is what your sales person says to close a deal, it is even what your sales person says when a deal suddenly falls through and the person on the other end of the line is being insanely rude. Content is every single aspect of tone, charisma, thought leadership and engagement that your brand participates in in one way or another.
This sounds like a lot to manage — and rest assured, it is. But the trick isn’t to be perfect. The trick isn’t even to be identical in how you talk to customers, as if every single person that works at your company is a clone of the next. The trick is to be human, it is to be honest, it is to be true to what you say.
That’s how you make friends in real life — and that’s how you win loyal customers for your brand.
OK — so, you don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be strategic. Brands aren’t people. Brands are a conglomerate of many, many agile and intelligent minds all working toward a similar and agreed upon goal.
People on the other hand are not conglomerates. People are free agents acting according to their own individual goals — or often just whims. Brands need more guidance than that. Brands need to ask, they need to double check, they need someone at the executive level to sign off (depending on your org chart). And that’s not a bad thing. What it is, though, is a lot of work for a content team.
The Hubspot Content Model
Let’s take Hubspot for example. I’m sure most of you, perhaps even all of you, have read a blog post or two from them. They manage three different blog verticals, at least that’s what a reader can see. Likely, because they are Hubspot, they segment much more once you fall into one of their nurture streams. Speaking of nurture streams, more content is needed in there to push warm leads to becoming hot leads — or at least engaged members of the Hubspot readership community. To get those warm leads, they first have to pull in completely cold leads and they do this through their social channels.
Ah, yes, more content.
They tweet, post and share their own blog posts as well as that of other brands and publishers. Their editors and content team members also tweet, post and share blog posts they worked on. All of that is Hubspot branded content — even when it is coming from an editor’s personal account. That message needs to be on brand — but fitting for both the editor and Hubspot.
Then, when you actually talk to Hubspot, like actually get into their sales funnel, these guys are great! They talk to you about blog posts, they send you blog posts, they reference blog posts, they make you feel like if you aren’t reading their blog posts — well, what are you doing online?
All in all, these guys are zipped up. The sales team knows their content and they know that content is their brand. And, everyone at their company knows it, too.
So, let’s wrangle all of this down a bit. Few of us are at a Hubspot business level. How does a scaling company implement this content is the brand philosophy? Well, you first put in place a cross-organizational content team. This means that every single person at your business can and ideally will be a content contributor. This doesn’t mean they have to be the best writer in the building. That’s what you hire a content marketer for — to do the edits, to rewrite when necessary, to make sure everything going out is on-brand, even when the tone varies based on the author.
For most content teams, the best way to do this is by working closely with your sales, campaigns, support, product and BI teams. For more information on exactly how a business, like Bigcommerce, puts this to work, stay tuned for a future blog post.

Why Buyer Personas Are Crucial To Inbound Marketing Success

Good morning/afternoon/evening/middle of the night. I would like to grab your attention briefly to talk a little bit about buyer personas and how they fit into your inbound marketing efforts.
When it comes to developing your marketing and branding strategy, there is nothing more important than having a clear understanding of your target audience. In order to market successfully, you must first understand who you are marketing to.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization. As a result, you will be able to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.
Usually your buyer persona is a short, single-page summary of one type of person in particular within your target market. It includes information such as:
Demographic Information
Headshot (recommended)
Details about Employment
Educational Background
Values and Goals
Problems Faced
Day in the Life
Common Objections
Main Sources of News and Information
Have you created buyer personas for your ideal customers?
Buyer personas can be created through research, surveys, and interviews of internal stakeholders as well as real customers. Also, you can utilize your contact database and other online tools to identify trends and patterns in the way leads are consuming your content online. Lastly, don’t forget to talk to your sales team when constructing buyer personas. If anyone if going to be able to tell you about your prospects’ and customers’ concerns, questions, and pain points, it’s your sales team.
Tip: If you are lacking data for a characteristic that would be beneficial towards segmentation for marketing purposes, add new fields to your web forms that will capture important persona information. If you want to segment based on job title for example, be sure to add “Job Title” as a field on your web forms.
To learn more about creating buyer personas, check out this infographic!
How can you leverage your buyer personas throughout your inbound marketing campaigns?
Messaging
If you have successfully created your buyer personas, you should have a fairly accurate sketch of the demographic information, educational background, problems faced, common objections, and motivations of each audience segment represented by your personas. It is crucial to leverage all of the information gathered when cultivating your messaging. You should create unique messaging targeted toward each buyer persona, and then consistently apply it throughout key marketing touch points such as website content, email campaigns, and social media channels.
Website Structure/Content
Build your website with your buyer personas in mind. For example, you may have two distinct buyer personas that need to consume different information before they are ready to buy your products or services. If that is the case, it may be a good idea to think of your website as having two divergent tracks. One persona might be interested in using your product in a completely different way than another. Your website should be tailored to both of those personas and feature messaging/content that reinforces the unique pain points each persona is experiencing. Make sense?
Tip: If you have a blog, be sure to write articles that target and attract each of your buyer personas. Don’t just write blogs for the sake of writing blogs. Within your master editorial calendar, I suggest including a column titled Buyer Persona. Before each post is conceived, it should be determined who the target audience for that content is.
Email Marketing
Email is one of the most powerful tools for building and sustaining customer relationships. In order to connect with your buyer personas via email, segment your distribution list based on characteristics within each buyer persona, and implement the messaging that speaks to each personas’ pain points and motivations.
Keep in mind, the amount information in your database determines your ability to target and segment. If you want to send an email to C-Suite employees only (key decision makers), you need to first make sure you have that information in your contact records. If so, create a new distribution list for these contacts and use the messaging that best pertains to this group of people.
Tip: If you are using HubSpot, you can segment lists based on contact information such as job title. Therefore, you can make a list that includes anyone with the job title CEO, CFO, etc.
Also, I encourage you to use content personalization if possible. People love to feel like brands are reaching out to them personally; try including the contact’s first name, company name, job title, or any other information throughout the email to see the impact of personalization.
Social Media
Social media is another avenue to connect with your buyer personas. Similar to blogging, be sure to create social posts that target and attract each of your buyer personas. Don’t just post on social media for the sake of doing it.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to take advantage of certain groups on social channels such as LinkedIn groups. You may find that specific groups are in sync with your buyer persona; this is obviously a great place to take advantage of targeted messaging.
Takeaway
It’s simple, really. Without first creating buyer personas for your brand, you are never really sure who you are marketing to. If you aren’t sure who you are marketing to, how the hell can you successfully create inbound marketing campaigns that attract and compel visitors to convert to leads, and leads to convert to customers? I’ll tell you the answer: you can’t.

5 Lessons I Learned from Building My First Website

I do not have a web development background. I studied marketing in college, and all of my past jobs and internships revolved around marketing. So, in an attempt to branch out and develop some new skills, I volunteered to work on a website redesign for a client.
It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of Google searches, endless questions to our developers, and lots of reading, but with the help of my team, we were able to put together a site that I was proud of.
The whole project was very much a learning experience, so in this rambling, I’m going to be listing the 5 biggest lessons I learned from building my first website.
Use generic CSS styles instead of inline styles.
This was the biggest mistake that I made and probably took up the biggest chunk of my time. Instead of styling all of the fonts, headings, links, and colors in a CSS stylesheet, I applied inline styles to each element on the site. What would have been much easier is if I had gone through the theme settings and set predefined colors, fonts, etc. and/or written custom CSS that would apply throughout the whole website to save me some time and ensure consistency.
Think responsive.
In the first version of my site, I realized that I had built it to look great on my 13” Macbook Pro. What I didn’t realize is that the site looked weirdly stretched out on my coworker’s 17” monitor and very squished on my iPhone 5S. This is a very common mistake to make, but luckily is avoidable mostly by planning ahead and thinking about how your site will break down across different screen sizes. And if you don’t think that responsive design is important, some stats to convince you:
Over 20% of searches in Google are performed on a mobile device.
25% of Internet users in the U.S. access the Internet only on a mobile device.
If a user lands on your mobile website and doesn’t easily find what they are looking for, there’s a 61% chance they will leave immediately and go to another website (AKA your competitor).
If a user has a positive experience on your mobile website, they are 67% more likely to buy your product or service.
(more stats here)
If it’s taking you a long time to build it, there’s probably an easier way.
This is one of our project managers, Nick’s favorite saying. If a relatively simple task is taking you more than an hour to build, there’s probably a much easier way to do it (think shortcodes and plugins). Chances are, what you’re trying to build has already been built, and there’s probably a plugin for it.
Along with this, it’s important to know when to ask for help. Sure, it’s a ton of fun to figure things out on your own, and that’s the best way to learn. Plus, the sense of accomplishment you feel when you figure out how to build out a really cool functionality all on your own is unparalleled. But if there is a point where you’re stuck and can’t make progress, ask for help or do some Googling. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Similarly, it’s important to look for better and more efficient ways to do things. The way to do that is simply by communicating with your team and asking them for ideas. There are usually several ways to reach the same end goal, but one way might save you a few hours. It’s important to talk with your team before you take on a project and get their input.
Chrome Developer Tools are awesome.
Prior to building this site, I had never really used Chrome Developer Tools (right click anywhere in Chrome > Inspect Element; F12 on PC; Command + Option + I on Mac) except to try to find out how something was built. But Casey, a member of our development team, showed me two really cool features that proved to be really useful for me.
The first was a great feature that lets you see how your site looks in different devices and on different screen sizes. All you have to do is hit “toggle device mode” in the Developer Tools menu and select the device you want to preview your site on. It’s not always 100% accurate due to differences in how browsers and operating systems render HTML and CSS, but it’s robust enough to be able to point out any glaring issues.
The other useful feature is being able to see how long it takes for your site to load and what elements are causing it to load slowly. When I first built the homepage, it took more than 15 seconds to load! Using the “Network” feature in Developer Tools, I could see what was slowing down the site (mostly large images) and make changes as needed. Just make sure to clear your cache before you run this test if you’ve been working on the site a lot (and voila, Chrome Dev Tools has a button for that too. Hit Settings > General > Disable cache).
There’s a ton more you can do with Developer Tools, but these two proved to be the most useful for me.
It’s not going to look exactly how you envisioned it.
When I first put together a strategy for the site (and yes, this is something you have to do for every site, no matter how big or how small), I imagined the site to look completely different than the way it actually turned out. And that’s okay. As we were building the site out, we found better ways to do things, added in some functionality that we hadn’t originally included in the strategy, and took some unnecessary sections out. Your site does not have to be exactly the way you outlined it would be in the strategy. Naturally, you’ll want to expand on some sections and add in cool features that maybe you hadn’t thought of before you started. Just make sure everything you’re changing is consistent with the original website goals.

With the Not-a-Tablet iPad Pro, Apple Aims for the Enterprise

The iPad Pro is a biggie.
No, really. It’s big both in size — the latest iteration of the tablet (if you can even call it that anymore) clocks in at 12.9 inches in screen size — and in sheer power; it’s equipped with an A9X chip, which, according to Apple, “delivers up to 1.8 times the CPU performance and double the graphics performance of iPad Air 2.”
Why is it so huge that the iPad is so huge?
On the one hand, its size and power mean that it’s not really a tablet, but it’s also not a laptop due to its lack of a built-in keyboard. With devices like this that many dub as “2-in-1,” the lines are thus blurred between laptop and tablet. They create the perfect storm for enterprise users who require both: power to be productive on tasks other than email and mobility for modern-day users who are rarely behind their desks 40 hours a week.
The iPad Pro joins the 2-in-1 devices field as stiff competition for Microsoft’s Surface Pro. While the initial generation of Surfaces were a commercial flop, the third iteration of Surface Pro is seen as a laptop killer by many, and has garnered sterling reviews. Even still, Apple joining the mix now could justifiably put Microsoft on edge.
Regarding his thoughts on the iPad Pro and its impact on business users, Aberdeen Group Senior Research Analyst Jim Rapoza sees the device as a boon for business users, though as a company-provided luxury, unlike iPhones which have been the BYOD darling of the enterprise.
“I actually don’t think it’s a spur for BYOPC. I think as much as people are resistant to letting IT put stuff on their phones, they will be even more resistant to letting IT put stuff on their personal PC,” said Rapoza. “That being said, I do think these types of 2-in-1 devices are already gaining popularity as business machines, and, with Apple finally joining in as a latecomer, it will just help accelerate the trend.”
And while Apple’s machine may be at odds with an overwhelmingly PC enterprise, Apple is pulling no punches when it comes to making the device productive for business users. According to CNET, on Wednesday, Microsoft announced updates to Microsoft Office that will be useful for iPad Pro owners — by using split-screen view in the Pro, one “can see two apps side by side, which comes in handy for Office users who may want to run Excel and PowerPoint together.”
Beyond software designed to make enterprise users productive, the iPad Pro features two optional add-ons: an attachable smart keyboard for $169 and a stylus, the Apple Pencil, for $99. Yes, followers of Steve Jobs. You read that right. A stylus.
Time will tell if the iPad Pro takes hold in the enterprise, but with “productivity tablets” filling up the market in the Surface Pro and Apple’s latest device, the future looks bright.
The iPad Pro hits shelves in November.
For more information on how leading organizations are tackling company-provided mobile devices, check out the free research report, Enterprise Mobility Management: Changing it Up With CYOD, available 100% free of charge to Aberdeen community members.

3 Tips for Growing Your Business with Email Marketing

Grow your business. It’s what every business owner and employee wants. But how does email marketing fit into the picture?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Email marketing provides an easy way to stay in touch with your audience and engage new prospects – whether you want more customers to purchase your products/services or more readers on your blog. And when you have an opportunity to get your message before the eyes of your subscribers every day, every week, or once a month, you can make a personal connection with each individual.
In addition to the warm fuzzy feelings, email marketing is simply an effective way to influence others to take a desired action. In fact, 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email.
So the question now is, how can you get that?
If you’re just getting started with email marketing for the first time, don’t worry – setting up is a breeze. Here are the first three steps you can take towards growing your business with email.
Grow your subscribers.
Before you can begin sending out emails, you first need an audience of subscribers to send to.
Above everything else, your email list is the most important part of your email marketing strategy. These are the people with whom you’re going to build relationships via email. They’re the audience you can potentially turn into loyal, repeat customers.
The first step to growing your subscribers? Add an email sign up form to your website. Ideally, this should live on pages that receive a lot of traffic, such as your homepage and/or blog page.
In your sign up form, be sure to tell people what kind of content you’ll be emailing them. Will you be sending them product discounts or new featured blog posts? Be sure to tell your site visitors because people want to know what to expect by signing up to your email list.
In the example below from Social Media Examiner, the sign up form introduces the incentive offer and explains that subscribers will receive article updates.

In addition to adding a sign up form to your website, consider situations where you could add email subscribers when you’re on the go. This might include an event or conference, or even at your cashier register if you own a brick-and-mortar store. Simply download an email sign up form app to your mobile device, and ask people you meet to sign up to your email list.
Tip: Consider using a pop up form to grab the attention of your website visitors. While they have a bad reputation, if used correctly they’re really effective at converting visitors into new email subscribers.
Write and send compelling emails.
The second most important aspect of email marketing? Your emails.
This is what makes or breaks an email marketing strategy. In order to attract people to sign up to your email list, you need to send emails that will bring value to them. If your emails don’t do this, your subscribers will be more likely to unsubscribe, or worse – mark you as spam.
The first place to start with your emails is by creating an autoresponder welcome email.
The welcome email is an email that is automatically sent to every new subscriber who signs up to your email list. It arrives after a new subscriber confirms that they want to receive your emails.
By sending an autoresponder welcome message (meaning that it gets sent automatically to each subscriber after they get added to your email list), it not only creates a “welcome to the family” feeling, but it also keeps you top of mind with your subscribers. Otherwise, if they don’t hear from you for a coupe of weeks, they might forget they signed up to your list. As a result, they might ignore your message, unsubscribe from your list or worse, mark you as spam.
In the welcome email below, Courtney Slazinik of the photography blog Click It Up a Notch, does a great job welcoming her new subscribers. She also uses this opportunity to deliver the incentive she offered on her sign up form.

Once you’ve written your welcome message, you should also consider other types of emails you want to send to your subscribers.
A broadcast email, which is a one-time email you can send to all of your subscribers at once, is perfect for sharing timely information. This includes newsletters, recent blog posts, and event or company updates.
Check out the email newsletter sent by The Prairie Homestead:

For the homesteading blogger, Jill finds the most value out of creating a newsletter with links to her blog posts to share with her subscribers.
In addition to sending a broadcast email message, you could also consider expanding on your autoresponder welcome email to include a series of autoresponders. This might include a few emails that introduces new subscribers to your business, such as key pieces of content they might find relevant to help them understand your value.
Whatever you decide to write about, your emails should always put the subscriber first.
Tip: To help you identify what to write, tap into your own expertise and common questions you receive from your audience. This is a great place to pool email content ideas.
Measure email performance and make improvements.
Aside from building relationships and turning your subscribers into loyal customers through the awesome content you email them, you’ll have the ability to instantly see how your emails are performing.
While there are a number of insightful analytics you can check in your email account, the key reports you want to review to determine how people are engaging with your emails are open rates, click-through rates, web traffic, and unsubscribes.
By reviewing each of those reports, you can determine what’s working and what isn’t working with your emails. Are your open rates low? Then maybe your subject line isn’t doing a good job of capturing the attention of your subscribers. Once you’re aware of that, you can try new techniques for creating a subject line that stands out in the inbox.
Or, if your click-through rates for a particular email were much higher than another, you can infer that your audience really likes the content you shared with them. For future emails, consider ways in which you can send similar content.
Tip: To get an accurate sense of what works for your audience, create an A/B split test with your emails. Test one thing at a time, such as the subject line in the same email.
Get started.
If you liked the tips you just read, be sure to download our free guide, Growing Your Business with Email Marketing. It covers each of the three tips in greater detail, in addition to other things you should know when getting started with email marketing.

When the Butt Stopped Here: What Banning Tobacco Has Meant for CVS

It has been a year since CVS Health banned the sale of tobacco at its stores, and retail marketers can learn much from this risky shift. But sales tell only part of the story – the bigger challenge involved aligning the brand to its values with a clear strategic direction.

CVS stopped selling nicotine products at its 7,600 stores on Sept. 3, 2014. The surprising move won the praise of health advocates and the White House but had many loyalty marketers wondering: Was the nation’s No. 2 pharmacy chain abandoning a sizable segment of its loyal customer base? A review of its public records reveals the answer, and what retail marketers can learn from the shift.
First, it is worth considering the importance of CVS’ loyalty program, ExtraCare, launched 14 years ago. It is one of the largest such initiatives in the country, with more than 70 million members at the time it cut tobacco sales.
With an estimated 44 million Americans smoking in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was likely CVS’ decision would affect some of its loyalty members.
Cigarettes, health care don’t mix
CVS, however, was resolute in its decision, saying the move was in sync with broader efforts to evolve from a traditional drugstore chain to a health care merchant.
“Now more than ever, pharmacies are on the front line of health care, becoming more involved in chronic disease management to help patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” Mike DeAngelis, CVS spokesman, told loyalty publication COLLOQUY at the time. “All of these conditions are made worse by smoking, and cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.”
More than $6 billion
A year later, CVS has reinforced its health focus in many ways, from changing the company name from CVS Caremark to CVS Health to agreeing to acquire Omnicare, a move that will expand its presence in the senior health care market. Its sales performance, meanwhile, has not suffered at all, based on a review of public records and reports.
At the time of its decision, CVS projected the elimination of tobacco products would cost the company about $2 billion in 2014 sales (the estimated total of its tobacco sales). Instead, sales rose, to $139.4 billion from almost $126.8 billion in 2013. In 2015 sales continue to climb: Net revenue for the first six months of this year advanced by more than $6 billion, to $73.5 billion from $67.3 billion.
This is not to imply that the removal of tobacco had a direct correlation with increased sales. Store expansions, promotions and other efforts very well could be credited for the gain. In fact, I am sure CVS realized the risk involved in making such a big decision – one that could affect sales volume and customers. However, that risk can be more than offset if it is part of a holistic practice of aligning a brand to its values with a clear strategic direction, which we will explore next.
Pressure’s on
The decision by CVS put pressure on other retailers to follow suit and eliminate tobacco sales, but so far none of the major merchants has done so. Target had quit selling cigarettes in 2006, but Walmart, Walgreens and others have not followed suit. They may, in fact, have benefited from CVS’ cessation.
CVS and Target, meanwhile, have since become retail partners, as Target has agreed to sell its pharmacy business to CVS. As I wrote in June, the two merchants have much to gain from their alignment, expected to be complete in 2016. Shifting the pharmacy brand from Target to CVS improves the opportunity to attract more customers and foot traffic through Target stores, while unloading what was for Target a well-regulated distraction.
It also enables the two retailers to benefit from sharing the data derived from each one’s loyalty programs that have not been abandoned by smokers.
What can retail marketers learn from CVS’ shift away from tobacco? I note three important features of the decision:
It was a partnership: Among CVS business partners and clients are health plan providers and physicians. Many of these physicians have been trying to get their patients off of tobacco, while health care providers are interested in ensuring their members take their medications and improve their health, Chief Financial Officer Dave Denton told analysts in June 2014. By removing tobacco products from its aisles, CVS is supporting its clients, a commitment that will likely pay off in dividends.
It was part of something bigger: Once CVS decided to stop selling tobacco products, it aligned the entire company behind its commitment to the mission of healthy living. I suspect that many of its high-value, target customers are similarly focused on healthy lifestyles, and if so, CVS is in essence tailoring its offerings to the preferences of its customers.
It relied on data: CVS knew it stood to lose $2 billion a year in tobacco sales, but it clearly also knew what its best customers value and aspire to. The company’s ExtraCare and MyWeeklyAd customized coupon programs are designed to help CVS connect directly with customers, CVS wrote in its annual report. This means it has a clear line of sight to what influences their purchase decisions – for example, the basket size and frequency among smoking and non-smoking customers.
With tobacco off of its shelves, CVS is reporting higher sales and profits and signing substantial partnerships with major retail partners. Few people complain they are worse off after quitting smoking, and the same may very well apply to CVS.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

Is Big Data Too Risky?

Currently only 13% of companies achieve full-scale implementation of their in-house big data projects, and currently only 27% of executives describe their in-house big data initiatives successful. Such a low success rate should be concerning for executives considering adopting big data technology, such as Hadoop or Spark. This is especially true since many businesses are choosing to adopt big data without a clear understanding of what the ROI will be. Big data requires experimentation to discover where it can best be used to yield significant ROI, but experimentation requires a risky up-front investment. Given the amount of risk involved, increasing time to value is crucial. Here are five factors businesses should consider to ensure they see timely ROI from their big data investment.

5 Crucial Considerations for Big data adoption from Qubole
1. Time to Deployment
The amount of time required simply to deploy a big data solution can vary significantly depending on the type of implementation. An in-house solution, built and installed on internal servers, can take anywhere from 6-9 months to build the necessary infrastructure required. A cloud-based solution requires no internal infrastructure, so average time to production will be a matter of days or weeks.
2. Scalability
The ability to scale a project up or down is crucial. Many organizations underestimate how quickly their dataset will grow, or fail to take into account varying usage levels. Spikes in data usage or temporary projects can quickly create latency issues if a project isn’t easily scalable. For in-house deployments, this means either having extra capacity on hand to handle extra workloads or building out infrastructure as needed which can delay a project for weeks or months. Cloud-based systems will offer more scalability, allowing businesses to increase or decrease usage as needed.
3. Connecting Tools
The Hadoop ecosystem is made up of many different engines and tools, each with a unique use case. Businesses will need to evaluate which engines and tools it wants to use. Hive and Spark, for example, both offer SQL-on-Hadoop, but Spark is much better suited to handle real-time data. Compiling and mastering each of these tools requires significant time and expertise. Organizations without internal expertise will have to rely on external experts or seek training for their internal teams.
4. Infrastructure Management
Once the big data infrastructure is in place, Hadoop still requires a significant investment into management. From cluster sizing and configuration management to health and monitor performance, the tools will require a dedicated team that manages and maintains the clusters. Hadoop as a service offerings can ease the management burden for companies by offering their own internal expertise that handles the majority of management requirements.
5. Accessibility
Finally, big data is only useful if it is accessible to the people who can actually learn something from the data and implement it into everyday business practices. Currently 57% of organizations cite skills gap as a major inhibitor to Hadoop adoption. Once again, ease of accessibility will vary based on implementation, so selecting a vendor that matches your internal capabilities will be crucial. Consider the time and investment it will take to train teams when calculating time to value and overall ROI.

10 Ways to Alleviate Your Pre-Interview Jitters

Nobody really likes job interviews. They’re stiff, stressful and it can often feel like your entire future is riding on a dozen impossible decisions. Should you wear the black pants, or the blue? Should you revamp your resume one more time? Switch the font? Get a new headshot?
All that worrying, of course, can have the opposite of its intended effect, if you’re so wound up that it shows in the interview. Here’s how to shake off those pre-interview nerves and make sure you show up on game-day in prime fighting shape.
Go for a Walk
How many times have we all heard that exercise relieves stress? You know why that is? Because it’s true. Studies have shown that even a short workout releases a flood of feel-good chemicals which translate directly into a more relaxed mood. In an interview, that conveys an impression of health and confidence.
The day before your interview, go for a two-mile walk. On the day of the interview, take a quick spin around the block and do a pushup or two. By forcing your body to get rid of all its excess nervous energy, you’ll go a long way toward settling down and setting yourself up for success.
Get Plenty of Sleep
If this one sounds painfully obvious, that’s because it is: Lack of sleep has been directly correlated to increased levels of stress. When you don’t sleep enough, your body reacts, and your cognitive performance is impaired to a degree that’s even worse than being drunk.
Would you show up drunk to a job interview? Of course not. So turn off the Internet and get some sleep, hotshot. Twitter will still be there in the morning.
While we’re on that note …
Avoid Stimulants; Eat a Banana
The temptation to down a travel mug of coffee or Red Bull before an interview is understandable, but misguided. Interviewers are looking for passion and interest, not an artificial level of excitement. Overindulgence in stimulants – particularly caffeine – can cause hand-shaking, muscle-twitching, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and elevated anxiety. Do those sound like hirable qualities to you?
If you do need a cup of coffee or two to get going in the morning, take the advice of baristas on mitigating the negative side-effects: Eat a banana.
Do Your Homework
There’s nothing more stressful than blanking on a question. It makes the interviewer feel awkward, it sets a bad tone and it can lead to a kind of internal panic which ruins the rest of the interview.
The best way to nip that problem in the bud? Do your research ahead of time. Get to know the company. Develop a sense of its mission and corporate philosophy, so you have a better idea of what you’re walking into. To paraphrase Mr. Lovecraft: The only real fear is fear of the unknown.
Role-Play It
“Role-play the interview with a friend” is a piece of advice often found in job-related blog articles, and it can produce a lot of skepticism. Role-play? Honestly, who actually does that?
Science bears out the logic behind it: In a 2013 study weighing the effects of tabletop role-playing games on cognition, researcher Tsui-Shan Chung found that of the 170 participants, those who had played tabletop role-playing games for “eight hours or more” scored better in all categories on creativity and personality tests. They showed increased language fluency, flexibility and stronger divergent thinking.
Pop quiz: Do you know what personality traits more than 400,000 professionals say they’re looking for in an interviewee?
Answer: High energy, confidence and intellectual curiosity – skills that have a lot of overlap with those highlighted by Chung.
Role-playing doesn’t have to mean an awkward kitchen-chair interview with your spouse, or an evening of basement D&D. All it really entails is the exercise of visualization. Using skills of creativity and empathy to put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer, imagine the questions that would be asked and the answers you would give if you were at your best.
Prepare Smart Questions
“Is there anything you’d like to ask me?” asks the interviewer. “Nope,” you say, blinking stupidly at him. “Great,” he says, “I hate questions. You’re hired! Do you want a Ferrari or an Escalade?”
That’s not a conversation you’ll ever have in the real world, because most interviewers actually like a few questions. Don’t take it from me: Mira Zaslove, vice president of recruiting at Quora, writes: “A good interview is a conversation, where both sides are engaged. The purpose is to discover if the position is a match. If the candidate asks no questions, it’s a red flag. It appears that either they aren’t interested, or believe they already know everything to know about the position.”
Asking good questions – say, about points of concern in negative reviews from past employees or customers – shows that you’re engaged and thinking about the job in a serious way. It gives interviewers some fun mental legwork, and it puts them in a position where they’re pitching the job to you.
Think About Your Personal Brand — But Don’t Be a Jerk
Listen carefully now: Hiring managers are not marks. You’re not trying to sell them a car. You are not a car. You are a person. The job of a hiring manager is not to judge your safety features or net-worth; it’s to find the person most suited for a particular job. As a result, an interviewer’s bread-and-butter skill is to detect and weed out canned responses.
A canned response is the blandest possible answer to any given question, equivalent to not answering the question at all. Ask yourself if these sound familiar:
Q: What’s your biggest skill?
A: I’m a fast learner.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: Reading and hiking.
Q: Do you prefer working alone, or as part of a team?
A: I like one, but I can also do the other.
Getting away from those kinds of responses requires you to do some serious introspection. Figure out who you are, what you can do, where you’re at in your career, where you’re headed and how this job fits in. Once you’ve done that, strong off-the-cuff answers to interview questions will bubble to the surface on their own.
Don’t Plan for an Interview, but a Conversation
The format of an interview can lead you to prepare like you might for a Q-and-A session. “If they ask X, I’ll answer Y.” However, good interviewers ditch that format and do their best to engage you in a conversation, where the topic just happens to be your employability. The best interviews are those which flow the most naturally, where neither party is particularly concerned with ticking check-boxes or watching the clock.
Treat a job interview like you would treat meeting your significant other’s parents: Be polite, be professional, but relax.
Get There Early
This one goes without saying, doesn’t it? Showing up late to an interview is about the worst faux pas you can commit, and stressing about your tardiness is a recipe for disaster. So don’t let it happen. Plan your route ahead of time, get gas the night before and give yourself time to account for traffic.
Work Out Vocal Tics
My dad used to have a saying when I got too overexcited: Stop, think about what you want to say and then say it.
Speech and communication instructors agree, and that’s why they generally target vocal tics first. These are the ums and ers and other filler words that populate the speech of most Americans – even our president.
We use these words and sounds to avoid the dreaded awkward silence, but there’s a difference between an awkward silence and a pregnant pause, implying something more is to come.
Practice avoiding filler words. Don’t panic if it takes you a couple of seconds to respond to a question. Get good at taking a moment to think before you reply, and you’ll be light years ahead of most other applicants.
Above All, Remember: Be Honest
Employers get it: The job market is tough right now. People are hungry for work, and it makes them nervous in interviews. When your job is terrible, or when you don’t have one, an interview can feel like your entire life is on the line.
Here’s the thing, though – it’s OK to be nervous. It’s even OK to briefly admit or apologize for your nerves. What’s important is that you don’t let nerves get in the way of what you’re there to do: Demonstrate that you can hold a simple conversation, and explain to someone interested in hiring you exactly why they should.

Ethnography: The Evolution of Social Recruiting for MSP Programs

Reshaping business culture through the eye of the beholder
Ethnography, though not a common term in the staffing industry, is a pivotal and deeply observational approach to marketing in the business world. It didn’t start that way, though. Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures. It’s designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study. From its origins in anthropology, ethnography evolved into a popular practice within the social sciences: sociology, communications, history and any field in which people study human behaviors and interactions from specific cultural perspectives.
As Julie Wittes Schlack of C Space discusses in her fascinating Harvard Business Review piece on ethnography: “When it comes to discovering unmet customer needs and innovation opportunities, there’s no substitute for in-the-moment, in-context observation for making meaning out of the complex weave of emotion and rationality that drives consumer behavior.”
With the ongoing rise of social media, wearable smart devices, and apps for recording and sharing information, MSPs have a virtually untapped goldmine of valuable workforce data they can use to improve processes, innovate new solutions, streamline staffing efforts and propel program performance to new heights.
Ethnography: a new way to humanize Big Data?
One unique aspect of ethnography is the manner of its data collection. Researchers explore cultures from the vantage point of a society’s members. Think of it in terms of contemporary journalism. Rather than receiving military communiques from the frontlines of conflicts, today’s reporters are often embedded with troops to record the unfurling details from the perspective of the soldiers themselves. In a business context, the use of ethnological methods has led to groundbreaking results.
In the 1920s, for example, 3M engineer Richard Drew pioneered the company’s flagship product by observing automobile assembly workers. At that time, dual-tone cars were all the rage. To paint them, workers struggled to shield the finished portions of the vehicles from the next coat of color by using newspapers. It was a problematic and inconsistent solution. Drew immediately identified the need for an easier, more effective process and came up with the concept for masking tape.
However, as Shlack points out, traditional ethnographers “follow subjects around or even temporarily move in with them to note the compensations, workarounds, and rituals associated with some specific product, task, or routine.” Today, that approach isn’t practical. Another issue comes from a sort of Schrödinger’s Cat conundrum: the presence of an observer can sometimes influence the observation. In other words, when a person is conscious of being watched, some level of behavioral change is likely to occur. If a researching were tailing you around, would you watch bad TV in your underwear or would you dress sharp and read a book?
“At the same time,” Schlack writes, “technologies like selfie sticks, Fitbits, and wearable video cameras are making people comfortable monitoring their own calorie consumption, sleep patterns, heart rate, friends, family, and daily experiences.” More than that, digital sharing technologies and social media offer three significant advantages: they’re just as revealing as in-person ethnographers, they’re less intrusive, and they either provide or integrate with tools for data analysis.
The virtualization of ethnography
By next year, according to studies, nearly two billion people worldwide will own a smartphone. With that naturally comes unprecedented levels of access to apps that encourage information sharing — both personal and professional. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a surge in social media usage. More people consume videos, post intimate details about their aspirations, review businesses and connect with others through these platforms. Beyond facilitating interactions, these media are really aggregators for ethnographic data.
Consumer insight specialists are already using these technologies to enhance their research. Social media allows them to delve into the minds of shoppers and analyze their reactions to products — what confuses consumers, pleases them, surprises them, captures their interest or turns them away.
When launching an initiative to improve its collection of Secret deodorants, as Schlack explains, Procter & Gamble created a mobile ethnography app where women could upload photos, videos and narratives that illustrated the types of scents they found most pleasing. Researchers received interesting and unexpected results: images of Play-Doh, freshly painted birdhouses and trimmed lawns. The team at Procter & Gamble incorporated this feedback into a new product line that reached the market in record time and exceeded anticipated sales forecasts.
“The stories accompanying these pictures highlighted the ways in which, over the course of an ordinary day, the women appreciated the power of scent to fleetingly elicit other times and places,” Schlack notes.
Using social media for ethnographic recruiting
This type of virtualized ethnography isn’t just reserved for retailers and product manufacturers. Hootsuite’s #FollowTheSun campaign capitalizes on social media to augment hiring efforts. A few months ago, the social networking company decided to use a video sharing service called Periscope to showcase its employment culture to prospective talent around the globe. Workers of all levels across the enterprise used streaming video to highlight the business culture, environment and colleagues.
“Sites like Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat currently share billions of active users,” Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes wrote when describing the inception of #FollowTheSun. “More importantly, those users have grown used to broadcasting details of their lives. Sharing intimate, personal moments through photos and videos has become an accepted form of mass communication. In other words, the culture of social sharing has matured to the point that something like Periscope is viable.”
Beyond promoting Hootsuite to potential talent through a slick campaign driven by employees-as-brand-ambassadors, the company also culled vital ethnographic data about its audience. These sharing apps can map onto existing social graphs, link to networks like Twitter, immediately tap into existing audiences instead of building them from scratch, and collect data that can be analyzed. Twitter, Facebook, Periscope and others include enough information to measure likes, shares, impressions, profile visits, followers and more. They also allow administrators to delve into the characteristics of engaged followers — genders, age brackets, educational levels, regions, interests, career goals and so forth. This information proves essential when marketing positions to ideal candidates and for tracking diversity efforts.
Transforming workforce data into ethnographic data
To remain competitive in today’s evolving labor market, forward-thinking staffing companies have already invested in social media to recruit millennial workers. Each day, sourcers and recruiters enter a digital space in which passive and active job seekers have already shared or collected massive amounts of information on a daily basis. They’re also relying more on video-based interviewing and communications. As ERE noted: “Video, combined with the Internet, is a game-changer for recruiting. Used together they create a better candidate experience and raise the likelihood of a better hire. They also enrich recruiters by giving them a much deeper perspective on a candidate, in less time, than has ever been possible.”
MSPs are constantly gathering metrics and worker data to enhance their programs. Yet they and their staffing partners could find a wealth of new ethnographic information by focusing on the details found in the social media they’re using for recruitment efforts. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Instagram, Snapchat and the latest breed of Tinder-esque recruiting apps are more than just momentary tools for socializing and connecting with talent — they’re untrodden frontiers of rich ethnographic staffing data. Now, combine that with the rise of wearable smart accessories.
According to new research published in the report “The Human Cloud At Work (HCAW) A Study Into The Impact Of Wearable Technologies In The Workplace,” employees with wearable devices increased their productivity by 8.5 percent and their job satisfaction by 3.5 percent.
• Social media become virtual suggestion boxes that help MSPs and hiring managers identify issues, potential innovations, productivity increases, pain points and areas that are thriving.• Social tools enhance visibility into the current employment culture, empowering MSPs and hiring managers to refine and reshape processes to bolster engagement, morale and adoption.• Social media and smart devices show where talent are spending the most time at work, the tasks they are performing well, the managers and colleagues they’re interacting, and their performance peaks and valleys.• They can be used to measure time and attendance.• They can be used to improve communication.• They help ensure safety and health. About 90 percent of companies offer wellness programs, some of which encourage use of devices such as Fitbit. With workplace stress a leading cause of health problems, these tools serve as proactive means for eliminating risks before they arise, saving companies money in related care costs and maintaining the wellbeing of talent.• They provide motivational tools to track progress and help sustain worker engagement.• Ethnographic data enable MSPs and their staffing partners to identify the four essential talent types that drive business success, as defined by best-selling author and staffing expert Lou Adler: thinkers, builders, improvers and producers.
MSPs and their staffing partners can use ethnographic techniques to humanize data, optimize employment brands, boost performance and satisfaction, refine recruiting strategies, strengthen retention and productivity, increase diversity utilization or identify challenges, and build more targeted talent pools. In the second part of this series, we’ll look at some of the wider benefits ethnography brings to staffing.

Michael Moore Asks How America Lost Its Way In Where to Invade Next

It has been a while since a controversial film from Michael Moore. In fact, six years. Now, the filmmaker unveiled his latest documentary “Where To Invade Next” at the Toronto Film Festival last night to rave reviews saying it is his best since his glory days of “Bowling for Columbine” and “Sicko”.
The film reportedly has a surprisingly optimistic outlook as it explores social programs and policies in other countries and contrasts the U.S. approach with those. It is said to be more cheekily humorous and less lecturing in style than his previous efforts, according to DarkHorizons.

Buyers reportedly are competing for the project and not just specialist studio distributors but streaming giant Netflix as well due to worldwide rights for the film still being available.
EW said about the film:
“Moore has made a film that takes a hard look at America and wonders aloud how we’ve lost our way. How has the greatest and most powerful country on Earth fallen so far behind to the rest of the world when it comes to happiness, dignity, and how we treat our workers? Moore travels across the globe (mostly Europe, but also far-flung places like Tunisia) and, with an air of mock astonishment, shows us how much better other countries treat women, minorities, and families. In each case, he talks to locals and after hearing how simple their prescriptions for happiness are, he plants an American flag on their soil and argues that his invading documentary team wants to colonize these ideas (more humane prison systems, corporate family-leave rules, college tuition policies, even what they feed their children at lunch in school) and bring them back to America to fix what’s broken at home.”
What did you think of the trailer? Sound off below.