• Background Image

    The Communication Hackers Blog

    digital marketing

February 20, 2018

Our Four Favorite Productivity Tools for Busy Business Owners

Four Productivity Tools for Busy Business Owners

Thanks for joining us! This is a members-only premium article in our Favorite Things series. In this series, we share the digital marketing tools that we’ve discovered and actually use ourselves, after almost two years of testing and experimenting. We’ve done the research and test-driving, so you don’t have to. Today’s topic: productivity tools for busy business owners.

No affiliate or promotional links. We are committed to providing you with unbiased digital marketing advice. That means nothing you find in this, or any other series, will ever contain affiliate or promotional links. Rest assured that when we recommend something, it’s because we use it and like it. We never recommend products, companies, or tools because we get a kickback.

In this post, we’ll be sharing our favorite productivity tools

The thing about being a business owner is you’re always busy. Ever feel that way? Do you feel like your mind is always running in 5 different directions at the same time? Often wonder how you’ll fit everything in? For us, time literally is our most precious resource and as we juggle two side hustles and a full-time job. There are certain productivity tools that are total lifesavers. Without these tools, we couldn’t be half as productive as are and would certainly have lost our minds a long time ago.

The productivity tools

Evernote – searchable, shareable note-taking anywhere

You never know where you’ll be when great ideas pop into your head. Waiting in line at the grocery store, at the gym, waiting for your food to be brought out at a restaurant… anywhere. Without a tool to capture these ideas, you could lose them forever – maybe even the next million-dollar one! Evernote is our favorite mobile note-taking app. Huge portions of the ideas behind Communication Hackers were recorded in Evernote notes! With pretty sophisticated editing tools, you can even brainstorm, outline, and write entire blog posts directly on your phone in Evernote so you can be productive literally anywhere!! The coolest thing is that Evernote is available for virtually all of your devices: laptops, iPhones, Android phones, tablets… So you can start a note on one device, continue on another, and retrieve it on a third!

Evernote is perfect for teams too. You can share individual notes or entire notebooks and the sync function works pretty seamlessly and perfectly in our experience.

Finally, all of our notes are infinitely searchable, and quickly too. Wanna know when you wrote the phrase “killer idea?” Whether it was yesterday or last decade, the search function will serve it up in an instant.

If you’re a busy business owner, Evernote belongs in your toolbox.

Details: Evernote website. Free basic account. Minimally priced premium features including additional storage, priority uploading of images, and ability to sync more devices.

Grammarly – your very own copy editor

Few things make you look more like an amateur than poor grammar or spelling. Of course, the problem is, spell-checker only works in certain apps (like Microsoft Word) and who can afford their own copy-editor right? Well, the folks at Grammarly heard us loud and clear and gave us a powerful spelling and grammar-checking tool that works (almost) everywhere.

Want to make sure emails to clients look good so you don’t let dumb grammar mistakes erode their trust (or get misunderstood)? Grammarly has you covered with an Outlook plugin.

Need an extra eye on your blog posts so they make you look good? Grammarly works on just about any website you’re on. In fact, Grammarly is giving us helpful hints on our spelling and grammar as we type this very blog post (it just told us about the missing comma after “Of course” at the beginning of this paragraph.

Look your best across all of your digital marketing with Grammarly!

Details: Grammarly website. Free basic account including plugins for Microsoft Office products. Upgrade options for even more intelligent copy-editing (like editing for a specific style of writing).

Cloudapp – screen capture, video capture, & annotation too

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is that more true than when you’re trying to explain something to someone.

Ever wanted to describe something on your computer screen to someone and wish you could just snap a pic and mark it up or make a quick video of it? Maybe you even tried hobbling together a solution using your iPhone that didn’t work quite so good (not to mention the 5+ steps it takes). This is a problem when you’re trying share information with friends and family. When sharing info is part of your business, that problem starts to cost you money.

Cloudapp is our go-to solution to easily take screen grabs and even capture video so we can explain things really easily. We find ourselves using Cloudapp all the time – whether we’re collaborating with each other remotely and want to explain something real quick, working with a client and need to explain what we just found on their website, or are calling to customer service for some app we have and want to show them what we need fixed.

You’ll want to add Cloudapp to your toolbox for sure. It will make your life much easier anytime you need to explain something digital to anyone.

Details: Cloudapp website. Free basic account. Upgraded accounts offer longer video capture length, more storage, and more bandwidth.

Slack – team collaboration at its best

Communication. Where would we be without it? Just about everything in business revolves around good communication.

In the digital age, communication often means email. Email might be fine for customers, old roommates, or people you’d like to keep at a distance but it downright sucks for communication between teammates. Attachments can be clunky, privacy is a nightmare, send delays can result in your teammate down the hall cursing you and yelling “where’s that file again?” and don’t even try to do anything useful with the search function.

We’ve entirely jettisoned email for team communication and use Slack instead. Slack is one of the biggest growing players in the small business and entrepreneurial scene and it’s no wonder. Think of Slack as secure, infinitely searchable, highly organized instant messaging. You can easily attach images, video, URLs, or just about anything else you can think of to your Slack conversations so you can get more work done! Oh, and the list of Slack integrations is endless. For example, we use a Drift Bot on our website to be as responsive as possible to our customers and the Slack-Drift integration allows us to answer Drift messages right in our Slack stream. It’s like magic!

If you haven’t migrated your team communications to Slack yet, you’re really missing out on some huge productivity gains and super cool integrations.

Details: Slack website. Free basic account. Upgraded accounts for unlimited archiving/searching, guest access, screen sharing, and more.

Here’s to more digital productivity!

There you have it. Our favorite digital productivity tools! These tools will have you doing much more in less time and staying sane in the process.

We’d love to hear from you! Have you tried any of these tools? What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorite productivity tools? Let us know in the comments or come drop us a line on our Facebook page.

February 1, 2018

How to Use Storytelling to Make a DIY Video Like a Marketing Pro

How to Use Storytelling to Make a DIY Video Like a Marketing Pro

If you’re a small business, you’re likely feeling the pressure from the world to create more DIY video. In fact, I bet that’s why you are reading this article. Video is so hot that 2017 statistics revealed one-third of online activity is spent watching video. Whether you’re a 10-person small business or a solopreneur, you can make DIY video easily and affordably. Honestly, you can.

Because there is so much to learn about DIY video, I’ve decided to break this up into a 5-part series. After years of researching DIY video, investing in dozens of DIY video-making software programs and mobile apps, and using them in my own small business, I want to share what I have learned with you. After all, Communication Hackers is all about learning the “hacks” and sharing them with you— so you don’t have to painstakingly figure this all out on your own.

The Breakdown of This 5-Part Series

Today, as part 1 of this series, we’re going to focus on storytelling, the foundation of a good video. Every DIY video must begin with a compelling story– otherwise, why bother? Here’s what the rest of this series will contain:

  • In part 2 of this series we’ll talk about DIY video-making tips for the leading social media platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn).
  • Then in part 3 we will discuss the hottest types of DIY video that small businesses can incorporate into their online marketing strategy.
  • For part 4 I will share my favorite five DIY video tools, such as super-affordable DIY video creation software and mobile device apps.
  • Finally, we will wrap up part 5 with practical tips for making DIY video (think lighting tips, best practices for audio and music, the ins and outs of using captions, and video editing tools we use and recommend).

The First Question to Ask Yourself

As I mentioned, you need a compelling storyline. Each time you create a video you are, in essence, a storyteller. We’ve seen effective storytellers take an otherwise boring topic, yet turn it into a compelling video because they were able to expose an interesting vantage point about the topic. For example, blenders. Yes, kitchen blenders. They’re boring. However, when Blendtec came out with the “Will it blend?” marketing campaign, it soon went viral. I still can’t get my kids to shut up about Blendtec blenders destroying everything from baseballs to silly putty.

Before we create anything— whether that’s a video, article, some web copy, whatever— the first thing we must ask ourselves is, “Is this interesting, compelling, or useful?” If the answer is “no,” then I wouldn’t waste my time creating the thing from the get-go. Because, in the words of my 13-year old kid, “#NobodyCares.”  That’s right, your story isn’t much of a story if nobody cares.

What Topics Suck for DIY Video?

Not everything we find interesting is actually interesting to the outside world, particularly your customers. If you’re going to make a DIY video about a mid-level promotion of a staff member, an award, internal changes, or something similarly uninteresting, I beg you to reconsider. A good story must suck in the viewer, make them feel connected to your brand, and evoke emotion from them.

Criteria for a Compelling DIY Video

Occasionally unexpected videos go viral causing nearly every awkward teenager, exhausted mother, and jovial grandpa to views/share/like the video. Sometimes these outrageously popular videos don’t even seem to fit the mold for good cinematography. But life is weird and unexplainable, so… whatev. Thankfully, just like criteria for judging a breathtaking piece of Renaissance period art, there are criteria we can use as a guide to make a DIY video that will help you raise brand awareness and build trust with viewers.

Here are some DIY video criteria:

  1. Opens with a Strong Hook. The hook (the first 5 seconds of the video) literally suck your viewers in and compel them to keep watching. (More on this in the next section of this article because I really feel like this is the #1 most important criteria [criterion??] for making a DIY video that people will actually watch in its entirety.)
  2. It’s Brief. Appropriate length varies some depending on the use and which platform it will be hosted on, but typically a video to promote your brand and gain trust from your “tribe” should be less than 2 minutes. Pretty short, ay? In fact, 60% of online viewers will stop watching a video after 2 minutes. Hubspot has got a 3-minute read here providing specifics for the ideal length of a video for each of the major social media platforms. It’s a bit scary that our attention spans really aren’t much greater than that of a goldfish. In part 2 of this article series, I’ll go into tons more detail about what works for each of the leading social media platforms, far beyond just length specificity. So stay tuned!
  3. It Uses a Full Story Arc. What’s a story arc? Have you ever watched a movie and at the end you were like: “What’s the point?” Yeah, me too. I hate those. Since the dawn of time, man has craved stories. And many intellectuals claim that every story follows one of the six basic story types (plots). Rather than get into the weeds of historic literature (I have an English background and could really geek out on this topic), let’s think about storytelling in general. The story arc is the progression of either events (or emotions) from the hook, to the climax, to the ending. In a bit more detail, a good story requires an emotional hook, rising action (like conflict), a climax (where the tension is highest), a falling resolution (where the solution to the conflict is employed), followed by a resolution (the triumph at the end).

How to Craft an Engaging Video Story Hook

I could tell you that there are dozens, no hundreds, of hooks you can use to start a video. But that would no doubt be overwhelming and might make you hate me. Instead, what if I told you that we’ve got two hooks that we use all the time for Communication Hackers videos. These are our go-to hooks. Like a pair of tried-and-true aces up our sleeves.

Try These Two DIY Video Story Hooks

  • You’ve got this problem, I’ve got the solution. This might sound obvious, but it’s actually a great way to begin a video. Think about how often you yourself visit YouTube. You’ve broken something (perhaps it’s a 404 website error, or a broken do-dad around the house)— so you visit Dr. YouTube and begin typing “How to…” You’ve got a problem, and you’re desperately seeking a solution. A good video will suck your viewers in because they can identify with it. Perhaps they can identify with the frustration you’re highlighting. Starting with a problem and quickly letting your audience know that this video is gonna provide the solution is perhaps the #1 way to score an audience. Here’s a “problem —> solution”  example video by Mailchimp, where the problem isn’t explicitly stated, but rather implied. In this 30-second video, Mailchimp identifies with people who run online businesses who struggle to get it all done with “just one brain.” Between doing ads, sending emails, and communicating with customers, the video explains that the struggle is real. However, Mailchimp’s video here provides the solution— their Mailchimp marketing automation platform.
  • Imagine a world where… Everybody likes make-believe. But what is even better is true magic in the making. Sometimes your product or service isn’t addressing a gaping problem at all. Sometimes your product or service is visionary or your customers don’t even know they need it yet. Want a concrete example? Here’s the ultimate “image a world where” storyline: Apple’s unveiling of the first iPhone. You see, people weren’t sitting around with a problem on their hands waiting for someone to develop a solution. We already had laptops. We already had cellular phones. Our needs were met. But then along comes Apple with this visionary product that suddenly had nearly every American (okay, nearly every person with a pulse on planet Earth) lined up for hours prepared to trade their first-born for this device. Apple introduced the first iPhone with an “imagine if” scenario. The scenario came across as: Imagine a world where you can have the power and functionality of a computer in a device so small that literally fits in your hand….introducing the iPhone. Not only was the product great, the marketing of the product was great too! If you’re selling a good or service that you know people need even though they might already seem content, this hook might be your best choice.

DIY video

Here’s the Bottom Line

Behind every successful marketing video, storytelling has been strategically crafted and weaved into the fabric of the viewer experience. Although not always obvious or blatantly stated in the video’s dialogue, I find that most videos follow one of these two hooks I shared above. The first connects to peoples’ fears and frustrations, while the second example evokes excitement and imagination. Both are timeless emotions that can form a solid foundation for a compelling DIY video. As I’ll explain in part 3 of this series, there are dozens of different types of DIY video that small businesses can use to tell their stories so be sure to read that one when it comes out. Sure, you’ll have to decide for each video what style would be most appropriate (such as explainer video, how-to video, whiteboard animation, or perhaps a testimonial video), but before considering the style of video, I suggest you first consider your story and then craft a hook that will appeal to your viewers.

November 9, 2017

What Airbnb and Uber mean to your business

Have you been paying attention to the Airbnb revolution?

A recent article on what has been termed the the Airbnb revolution caught my eye.

Essentially Airbnb has totally disrupted the hotel and hospitality industry. With its killer platform it has revolutionized the way people travel. Some hotels have tried to ignore Airbnb (or have complained to regulatory authorities about them) and they are suffering. Others have adapted and have become more competitive in the digital space.

Of course Airbnb is just one of many examples. We can talk about Uber, Avvo, Betterment, etc, etc.

Have you thought about what this all means for your business?

Well, unless you have some rare business that cannot work better on a completely digital platform, here are the key takeaways.

  1. You’d better be building a digital brand. You’d better be spending an inordinate amount of time learning the digital landscape and figuring out how your business will stand out there. Those businesses and professionals that don’t have a digital brand won’t be in business in 2020. Digital brands aren’t built on credentials either. So leave your MBA, PhD, or JD, etc at the door when you’re building your online reputation. People are realizing that these letters don’t necessarily translate into value. Instead, they’re focusing on what kind of content you produce, your reviews from other customers or clients, and what your social media presence looks like.
  2. Make use of the platform. Avvo.com has completely revolutionized the legal industry. It has given consumers unprecedented access to crowd-sourced reviews about lawyers, has massively incentivized lawyers to give out lots of free advice and to change their fee structures (read: flat fees) and, most importantly, it has given lawyers a platform to reach LOTS more clients. Problem is, many lawyers resent Avvo because of how it has disrupted the legal industry and refuse to advertise there or even to claim their profile (which exists regardless). These are the lawyers who are probably complaining to the state bar associations about Avvo. These are also the ones who are bleeding red when it comes to revenue. You can’t stop the digital train and as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Be open to using platforms that are made available to you.
  3. Build platforms, not products. Are you the more enterprising type? Wanna build something digital? Well learn from Uber and build a platform, not just a product. With Uber, the individual drivers are offering a product (and some are even doing pretty well doing so). However, the clear winners are the owners of Uber since they created the very platform where all this business takes place. Platforms beat products every time.
  4. Keep looking for opportunities to be the first on scene for new digital and social platforms so you can build attention there. Attention is the #1 most important commodity in the digital world (thanks for teaching me that Garyvee). The first people to build huge followings on Twitter were huge winners in their fields. Same goes for Youtube and Vine (even if the latter was short lived). Now it’s Instagram’s heyday and soon to be Snapchat. Understand that platforms come and go and that the risk-takers who take the time to build enterprises early on the successful ones win. Bigtime. Be willing to capitalize on the next one to come along and let go of ones that no longer work. That means ditching your Myspace account (finally).

Want some free training? Before we wrap up: are you ready to add Instagram to your digital marketing plan? If so you’ve gotta check out our FREE “Instagram for Small Business” training. Access this on-demand webinar here!

Bottom line. The internet is changing EVERYTHING and it isn’t slowing down. Be smart and strategic and the world literally is your oyster. Just don’t be the one who thinks “this tech thing” is a fad. Otherwise you’ll be working for your competitor who realizes it isn’t.

Now to you. What do you think about the Airbnb revolution? Has this article made your day? Made you mad? What are you doing for your business’ digital marketing? Let me know in the comments or come sound off on our Facebook page!

October 8, 2017

4 Ways a Customer Persona Saves you Time and Money

A good customer persona saves you time and money. Here’s how.

Want to save time and money with your digital marketing? One of the best ways is to take the time to build a detailed customer persona.

A customer persona (also known as a “customer avatar” – popularized by such blockbuster movies as “Avatar”) is a detailed profile of your ideal customer. We’re not just talking about their demographics either. A useful customer persona goes as far as to include how your customers think – something known as “psychographics.”

How does having a good customer persona save you time and money? Here are four ways:

1. A customer persona reduces your competition.

Want to actually reduce the number of other businesses you compete against? A detailed customer persona will do that.

Imagine you’re in the fitness business. If you didn’t have a customer persona, you’d have to spend precious time and money on marketing to compete against everyone in the fitness business. That’s over 34 thousand fitness centers (in the US) not to mention the thousands of online competitors.

If, instead, you had a detailed, and precise customer persona, you’d cut down that field significantly. For example, if your customer persona is a middle-aged professional who works sitting down in an office most of the day, eats too much fast-food, strives for longevity so he can enjoy life with his kids and wife, and makes $95,000 a year, you could create a business around this persona’s specific needs and significantly reduce your competition.

Use a customer persona to reduce your competition.

2. A customer persona helps you attract attention.

Relevance is the best way to get attention. A detailed customer persona helps you be relevant.

Want an example of how this works?

Imagine you are a person who’s into luxury SUVs. That’s what you’ve driven for years, you feel like your job and station in life demands this kind of a vehicle, and you think this is the best kind of vehicle for your family.

You’re scrolling through Facebook and two sponsored ads pop up in your stream. The first one is just for “used cars” at a local, nondescript dealership. The second one is for luxury used cars from a dealership that focuses on Cadillacs, Audis, and BMWs. Which one will get your attention? In fact, will you even notice the first ad at all?

The same goes for your marketing. The more you know about your ideal customer, the more you can target them with relevant content and ads that will actually get their attention.

The quicker you can get your customers’ attention, the more money and time you will save.

3. A customer persona helps you earn trust.

Trust is huge for anyone with a business. Not only is it the most important component of first impressions, but it is also a determining factor in building customer loyalty.

Here’s the problem. If you’re selling something, you’re already at a disadvantage. One recent marketing study found that people trust salespeople even less than lawyers!! That’s not good. Anything that can help you build trust will help you strengthen your brand and ultimately build customer loyalty.

Getting to know your customers really, really well is one of THE best ways to build trust.

We all like and trust people who take the time to get to know us and want the best for us (like our mothers, for example). You want to be that person to your customers.

Consider what this article in Inc.com had to say about building customer trust. Four of the nine suggestions (numbers 2,3,5, and 7) all either revolve around getting to know your customers well, or are only possible if you do know them well.

Get to know your customers really well (get to know what they want, dream about and fear better than they do) and they will trust you more.

4. A customer persona helps you avoid wasted conversations.

Consider this scenario. You’ve just given a keynote at your local chamber of commerce to promote your brand and you feel pretty good about it. A few people come up to talk to you which you think is a good sign. One particular person asks you lots of questions and you end up talking for 20 minutes. When she gets ready to leave, she tells you that she is the Executive Director of a local nonprofit and is really interested in your consulting services.

Only one problem. You don’t provide services to nonprofits.

If only you’d been more specific in your message.

If only you’d had a specific and definitive customer persona.

Just like that brand-building keynote, if you develop a good customer persona you’ll attract less attention from people who have no interest in buying from you and attract more from those who do.

A customer persona will help you avoid wasted conversations – online and offline. That will save you time and money.

Ready to build your own customer persona?

What do you think? Do you use a customer persona in your marketing? Would you like to market directly to people who are interested in your business and avoid wasting time with those who aren’t?

Every digital marketing plan needs a great customer persona.

Watch for our upcoming blog posts where we will talk about exactly what a customer persona should include, and how you get that info.

In the meantime, check us out on our Instagram page where we share daily digital marketing hacks, tips, and wisdom!