RepEquity® Blog: Digital Brand Management Distilled

Taking Home the Gold at Horizon Interactive Awards

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Last week, our client SemSem brought home the gold at the Horizon Interactive Awards. Currently in its 14th season, The Horizon Interactive Awards spans over 40 countries in its mission to “recognize, promote, and award the best websites, videos, online advertising, print media, and mobile applications.”

SemSem, a luxury fashion brand created by philanthropist Abeer Al Otaiba, was awarded the gold within the e-commerce / shopping website category, alongside international brands like True Religion jeans. It joins the ranks of Horizon’s other gold-winning websites, including brands such as Deutsche Bank, UNHCR, 20th Century Fox, and Al Jazeera.

Built on Drupal Commerce, SemSem.com is fully responsive and allows for seamless transactions on any platform. It also includes functions built to enhance the customer experience, such as allowing pre-orders of SemSem’s latest products. Since SemSem is a collection with a conscience – it supports charities that empower women and girls across the globe – we utilized compelling copy and content to focus on telling the SemSem story. The result is a beautiful online experience that is much more than just a vehicle for selling a line of luxury pieces.

SemSem wasn’t the only client to win distinction at the Horizon awards this year; our development also netted Silver awards for eBay Main Street and the Empire State Building websites, while PhRMA and the Island of Tenerife placed in Bronze.

We’re excited to see our clients’ work and our development recognized, but we know that a website is only one piece of a winning digital strategy. To learn more about our work, make sure to take a look at our case studies or drop us a line.

Why Developers Should Be More SASS-y

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Jessica Bell, one of our more SASS-y front end devs, showcased the awesome power of SASS at the inaugural Women in Tech Summit in Washington DC. In her session, she taught women technologists from all over the DC Metro Area all about what SASS is, and how it makes your life better as a front end developer.

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Our development team here at REQ is pretty SASS-y. SASS, or Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets, is a CSS pre-processor and a front end developer’s best friend. In layman’s terms, SASS allows front end developers to use programmatic functionality in their CSS as well as wonderful tools such as variables, nested CSS classes, and smaller, module style sheets for better organization of your styles.

SASS Overview

There are three main things to learn first to understand and use SASS: the folder structure, usage, and functionality.

Folder Structure

One of the awesome parts of SASS is the organizational aspect of breaking down your styles into smaller chunks. For a front end developer, this means instead of searching through a multi hundred or thousand line CSS file, they can name their SASS files to describe the section of the site that file’s style applies to. For example, a dev could have a header.scss file, and know that all the styles for their site’s header is housed in that file. Here is an example of SASS file structure:

  • Partials

    • Base (this is where the functionality comes in)

      • Vendor

      • Mixins

      • Variables

      • Extendables

    • Components

      • Smaller style sheets focused on sections of your site

    • Global

      • Styles that will be applied globally to the site

      • Typography

      • Form styles

Usage

SASS is a CSS pre-processor. That means that before the CSS (styles) are available for use, they must be processed in some form.  All the .scss files that live in your SASS folders need to be compiled and turned back into flat CSS and spit out as one HUGE CSS file to be included in your site. This is commonly done two ways: through a command line command (sass input.scss output.css) or through a task manager such as Grunt or Gulp. When a ‘SASS’ task or command is run, the program finds all files labeled .scss, rewrites them to be normal CSS and spits them out as a stylesheet.css file which your developers insert into their HTML!

Functionality

This is where SASS gets FUN! The Base folder in your SASS files contains 3 files full of awesome functionality: mixins.scss, variables.scss, and extendables.scss.

Variables allow a developer to store a piece of data in a named expression to be reused all over their stylesheets, then, if that piece of data changes, they only need to change the value of what is stored in the variable rather than EVERYWHERE that variable is used.

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Here we are using our variable of blue to set the background color. If we want that blue just a shade lighter all over the site – all we have to do is change the stored HEX code in our variable rather than every place in our code where we have set the background color to blue!

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Extendables are reusable chunks of code. For example if I want to have a button on my site, I know I will have the following code:

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Instead of writing this code over and over again, we can create an extendable and add it to any class we want that chunk of code to apply to.

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Then if our color on our button changes all we have to do is change the color variable in our extendable and that will apply to ALL buttons in our code where we have used the extendable of %button.

Mixins are dynamically generated chunks of code. Different from Extendables, which are static bits of CSS, Mixins allow developers to pass through a value and dynamically generate our CSS using that value.

And there you have it, a brief intro to SASS! Devs, if you are interested in learning more, check out my presentation for the Women in Tech Summit. Also sign up for REQ’s events to learn more about front end development, digital marketing, and agency life!

The Presidential Report Card: Candidates and Digital Strategy

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When John McCain and Barack Obama were battling it out way back in 2008 for the White House, there was one major difference between the two candidates’ marketing strategies: Obama embraced social media and McCain chose not to participate on any online platform.

As we know now, Obama’s use of social media helped him connect with the younger generation, who came out to vote in numbers we haven’t seen in decades. Voters ages 18-29 turned out at a higher rate in 2008 than in 2004 in several battleground states. It marked the first time social media gave any sway to a political candidate, and it most likely marked the last time any candidate would neglect to use social media as a part of their campaigning strategy.

As such, our 2016 presidential candidates now have to navigate the online world of anonymous trolls, endless marketing gimmicks, and a loss of control over their message. Regardless of your party affiliation, candidates on both sides of the aisle have experienced a myriad of marketing gaffes and successes that have bolstered or deflated their campaigns.

Here’s a brief overview of each of the candidates and a report card for their digital marketing performances.

Democrats

Bernie Sanders – B+

Bernie Sanders learned a thing or two from Obama’s grassroots campaign and message of “hope.” He has applied these lessons to his own political platform and speeches. From continually defining how socialism applies to his beliefs, to taking advantage of a clever and succinct hashtag (#feelthebern), Sanders has used the power of social media to earn an unprecedented number of supporters. While he was expected to drop out of contention early, he has instead built and maintained momentum through his social platforms and energetic town hall meetings. By staying ahead of the media cycle, he is controlling his message and counting on his supporters to spread it organically. So far, so successful.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign:

  • When a bird flew into a town hall meeting and came to rest on Bernie’s podium, the crowd erupted into cheers and the chance encounter went viral. Sanders’ campaign quickly jumped on the bandwagon and created a number of relevant memes and social content that played off a new hashtag: #BirdieSanders
  • Aggressive male supporters of Sanders earned the nickname (and anti-feminist reputation) of “Bernie Bros.” Media coverage has been extensive and a number of female voters have been vocal about the negative influence of the “bros.”

Hillary Clinton – A

Purely in terms of social media adaptation and prowess, Hillary Clinton may well be leading the pack. She has run four separate campaigns during the course of her political career, but the launch of her 2016 presidential candidacy was without doubt her most concerted and well-orchestrated attempt to connect with a diverse group of people: she used Periscope, along with Facebook, Twitter, and even Snapchat to help share her first presidential rally with the world. Throughout the first months of the race, Clinton and her team have effectively used social platforms to spread their messages, and make sure they are on the cutting edge of any trending topics or viral campaigns. Some have even suggested Clinton’s marketing campaign mimics that of new media startups like Buzzfeed or Vox. With Obama’s digital wizard heading up her efforts, Clinton is pushing out original content (like quizzes, Gifs, articles, professional videos, and more) 24/7.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign:

  • A simple comment from “-H” herself on a Humans of New York Facebook post garnered over 100,000 likes. This allowed her to use grassroots methods to share an important part of her platform in a natural and endearing way.
  • The digital marketing industry had a field day when they realized a hidden Easter egg on Clinton’s campaign site: the 404 error page contains a personal family portrait with the cheeky saying “Oops, that link wasn’t what it was quacked up to be.”

Martin O’Malley – C-

While Martin O’Malley has since dropped out of the race, while he was still a contender, he was not quite as successful at controlling his message online as the other candidates. Instead of gaining momentum and followers on social media, most posts and articles about O’Malley centered on one of two topics: his looks and his lack of speaking time at the Democratic debates. Instead of propelling him forward, social media worked against his campaign, contributing to his departure from the race in early February 2016.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign:

Republicans

Ted Cruz – A-

In terms of traditional campaigning and earning supporters organically through social media, Ted Cruz is the strongest example from the red party. Throughout the course of the race, he has put in the effort on the ground and online to target specific audiences and states with his consistent messaging and voter outreach. His social stats support this idea of him connecting closely with the digital audiences—of the Republican candidates, his website has received the most news mentions and the most social media mentions. His social media prowess began back in 2012 when he announced his run for Senate via conference call, conservative blogs and Twitter. He learned from that campaign and has adapted the most successful strategies to 2016, including audience-powered polls and quizzes, and weekly calls with influential conservative bloggers.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign:

  • Just after his announcement for candidacy for presidency, Senator Cruz who has lambasted President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, announced that he and his family would be signing up for the exact same program, to cover his wife’s leave of absence from her job. The internet blew up with condemnations of the Senator flip-flopping on his beliefs and calling the move to Obamacare ironic.
  • Just as politicians can control their message on social media, competitors and those who disagree can disseminate their messages just as easily. Unfortunately for Ted Cruz, his ex-college roommate, Craig Mazin, has dedicated his social media presence to sharing stories and berating Ted Cruz.

Donald Trump – A+/F

At this point in the race there is almost too much to say about Donald Trump. From his surprise candidacy announcement, to his off-the-wall comments and non-stop offensive tweetstorms, whether you love or hate Trump, his ability to grab the media’s attention and hold it is undeniable. While his campaign is not being run traditionally, and the candidate himself is responsible for 99% of the content published on his social media platforms, he has still seen great success from both positive and negative coverage. Unlike other candidates in the race, Donald Trump has earned consistent coverage from all news networks and has inspired an endless stream of opinion posts and conversations about what constitutes a real candidate and how the United States would change with Trump as president.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign

  • In every instance where a social media fail seemed eminent (think the failed #AskTrump Twitter convo), Trump has ignored the criticism and continued a seemingly endless stream of offensive and startling comments (looking at you, “haters & losers”), which keeps him chiefly in charge of the unusual and unique news cycle that surrounds him.
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver used the main segment of their hour long show to debunk all of the common talking points that Trump has used to propel himself to the top of the pile. At the end of the segment, Oliver launched a new campaign to #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. The clip went viral, broke every HBO viewing record, was shared hundreds millions of times, and started trending on all social platforms. Since that broadcast in February, the media coverage of Trump and his antics has not slowed down, proving once again that for Trump, any attention is good attention.

Ben Carson – B

When Ben Carson entered the presidential race, he started from a place of respect and support as a professional, and began a long battle to keep his momentum up and his candidacy alive. Carson launched his political journey with the most Facebook followers of any candidate in the field (yes, more than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump!), but the smallest list of donors. But, through the combined efforts of his online marketing strategies and fundraising campaigns, Carson pulled off one of the most successful social media fundraising campaigns, ever. He raised over $30 million in just one quarter, purely through social media fundraising. As his campaign manager Barry Bennett said, “We’ve dominated the process of converting likes to donors.” As the primary results came in, Carson was lagging in the polls and as his campaign lost steam, so did his social media support.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign

  • During an otherwise quiet night from Carson, when asked about how to vet Supreme Court nominees during a Republican debate, Carson replied by saying “The fruit salad of their life is what I would look at.” Social media took off immediately after the fruit salad comment and endless memes made the moment a huge part of the online discussion for the rest of the night and following days.
  • Ben Carson’s campaign took to social media to share a map of the United States where over five states (mostly in the New England area) were placed in entirely wrong locations. The tweet was later deleted, but not before countless media outlets and social media users had screenshotted and shared the mistake across all platforms.

John Kasich- C

The Ohio Senator comes about as close to not utilizing social media as you can get for a political candidate these days. While he has a presence on the most popular platforms and posts on them regularly, he has never harnessed the power of the platforms for the betterment of his campaign. His team has gambled that he will be able to bring together Republican voters who value authenticity over religious disaffection and unity over aggressive divisiveness. It’s a hard line to follow, but as Kasich’s political advisor has said before: “Anger is a hard thing to sustain.” An ironic statement, considering more and more people are looking into Kasich’s angry past as a governor and senator—making the “warm & fuzzy” image he has built for himself a harder pill to swallow.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign

  • He remains the only candidate in the race who has not gone negative when discussing opponents in either party. While disagreeing with their stances, he has not yet stooped to the level of attacking another candidate. He seems to be hoping that campaigning against the grain will be a successful method of earning voters trust and respect.
  • Op-ed pieces, like this one from a Cleveland columnist, wondered if John Kasich is “too much of a jerk to be President.”

Jeb Bush – D-

Poor Jeb Bush. Perhaps no other candidate faced harsher criticism from the media and online audiences than Jeb. Right from the start of his campaign, he got negative feedback across the board for his campaign slogan “Jeb can fix it” and the negative media coverage only got more intense from there. For example, after an eagle-eyed person spotted that JebBush.com was up for grabs, the eponymous URL was forwarded directly to DonaldTrump.com, bringing a media frenzy and endless tweets about the unfortunate mistake. From misuse of social media, to flip-flopping on his positions, to endless mocking by online audiences and political pundits, Jeb faced an uphill battle to the candidacy that eventually ended in late February of this year.  Political campaigns have changed drastically since Bush last ran in 2002, and his rustiness showed early in his presidential campaign. There are literal lists of awkward moments that Jeb endured during his presidential campaign. ‘Nuff said.

Noteworthy Moments of the campaign

  • After posting a playful image to Twitter of Bush learning how to give a weather forecast in front of a green screen, the internet went to work and published hundreds of Photoshopped responses to the images. Instead of taking offense to the doctored images (including Bush pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa, holding a sneeze in for Obama and connecting with ET), he joined in on the fun and retweeted his favorite one.
  • At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, Jeb Bush was giving an impassioned speech to a seemingly uninterested group. There was an awkward silence after he paused for audience reaction, prompting the former Florida governor to ask his audience to “please clap.” It was a cringe-worthy and excruciating moment that just so happened to be captured on video and then shared far and wide once it hit the internet.

As we have seen, some candidates have embraced the digital age and sprinted ahead, while others have hit more than their fair share of hurdles. Still, the race marches on and as we get closer and closer to each party’s convention, keep your eyes peeled to get a clearer view of just how the remaining candidates take advantage of and/or fumble with the world of digital marketing.

 

Instagram Advertising is Becoming More Mainstream–Don’t Get Left Behind

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Approximately three and a half years after Facebook acquired Instagram, the photo- and video-sharing social network received the “spare key” to Facebook’s robust ad buying platform. Beginning at the end of September 2015, advertisers were able to launch campaigns on Instagram through Facebook’s Ads Manager and Power Editor with all of Facebook’s audience data at their disposal.

Flash forward to February 2016 and there are over 200,000 Instagram advertisers serving ad content to over 400 million users. While Instagram had a 0.23% growth in December 2015 (higher than Facebook and Twitter), organic follower growth and engagement is declining, creating a “pay-to-play” ecosystem. This is all good news for advertisers. Since the click-through rate on Instagram ads is a strong 1.5% compared to 0.84% on Facebook, it already serves as a healthy pairing with your current paid social media campaigns.

Regardless of Instagram’s proven success in its early stages as an ad network, it also has a major differentiator – its users and their behaviors. Instagram users are deeply rooted in their personal relationships, connecting and sharing with close friends and family. We have seen that reaction (in the form of post comments) and engagement has been overwhelmingly positive compared with the trolls on Facebook and Twitter. Couple this with a higher engagement rate on Instagram (8x higher) and this leads to an overall positive feeling with scroll-happy users.

It makes sense. I may be gun-shy when it comes to posting my own content on social media, but I get a variety of niched uses for each platform. Think about what and who you connect with on Facebook and Twitter, compared with Instagram. I’ll take you through my experiences.

On Facebook, I like the latest Tasty video, scroll past a new picture of my sophomore year lab partner, and read a headline from Complex about the Kendrick Lamar-J. Cole collaboration.

On Twitter, I get insider info about my Carolina Panthers, tune in to the reaction to the latest Game of Thrones episode, and occasionally send out a witty tweet that a maximum of two of my followers will understand.

Then there’s Instagram. Outside the clutter of memes, Instagram models, sneakers and athletes/celebrities, I connect with my closest friends and family by engaging with their trips to Spain or their new puppy. Even though a lot of users, including myself, get a unique interaction with consumer goods on Instagram, the main utility is hanging on to those relationships. After all, my mom didn’t ask me to set up an account for her to push knock off sneakers.

Another difference that advertisers have found is Instagram’s cost efficiency. Compared to Facebook, Instagram costs less while delivering similar, if not improved, click-through rates. Recently, our team tested Instagram ads within the same campaign as Facebook ads and monitored the results.

We spent 159% less with Instagram, and we were pleasantly surprised to see:

  • Over 6.3 times the likes on our posts
  • Almost 4 times the comments
  • A 22% bump in the clicks-to-website rate
  • A -17.7% cost per website click
  • A -25.8% cost per 1,000 people reached

These numbers are all very appealing to anyone, but let’s not forget about Facebook. “One in five minutes on mobile is spent on Instagram or Facebook. That’s more than the next 10 mobile platforms combined.” The real advantage for agencies and brands is the scalability that this integration has allowed for. All it takes is a simple checked box as an advertiser to connect your Facebook campaign to Instagram. According to Facebook, once MVMT Watches started running ads across both platforms, they saw a 45% lower cost per conversion.

Although Facebook has made it easier on advertisers by integrating Instagram metrics into Facebook, most of us want to compare and analyze Instagram performance on its own. If you are wondering how to see the performance of your current Instagram placements, simply select the Placement option under the Breakdown tab at the campaign, ad set, and ad levels. Another alternative measure to assist with your reporting and housekeeping would be to create separate campaigns for Instagram ads.

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It should be noted that Instagram announced last Tuesday that they will begin testing an algorithm-driven feed, much like Facebook did years ago. This news has been met with both praise and protest (by way of hashtag), but it will be interesting to see what comes of this change if it does stick since there are such stark differences between the two social platforms.

If you’re not already testing Instagram ads, now is the time to find out if Instagram is the right platform to build your brand. The number of advertisers colonizing Instagram’s users is growing month-by-month. Before you know it, it will be the holiday shopping season and even more advertisers will flood Instagram, causing prices to inflate. Better to test this powerful platform now while it is still cheaper than the other social advertising platforms.

Other Sources:

The Sky’s the Limit for Facebook Inc.’s Instagram

Instagram Becomes a Force for Mobile App Advertising

These Are The Ways Facebook Advertising Is Improving

Instagram Advertising: What’s Working?

Instagram Analytics: 6 Metrics That Matter For Marketers

Marketers’ Facebook, Inc. Ads Are Getting a Boost From Instagram

Instagram Is Now Fully Open to All Advertisers as It Pushes ‘seamless’ Integration with Facebook

Living in a Post-Right-Rail World

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What to do as an advertiser during the latest search apocalypse?

Remember this date: February 17th, 2016; or the day Google no longer served ads on the right-hand side (also known as right rail) of the search engine results page (SERP). If you are an avid on-the-go/mobile searcher, you won’t notice this news as the change only affects desktop searches.

Before this decision, you would see as many as 11 ads on the first page of a desktop results page. Today, you will see a maximum of 7 ads for high-volume, commercial search terms like “used cars,” “NCAA tournament tickets,” or “PPC agency.” Comparatively, searching for long-tail and niche phrases, such as “ice cream sandwich delivery,” should produce minimal search results.

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What will Google do with this new space?

With no ads on the right-hand side, the desktop search results page will have more room for Product Listing Ads, Knowledge Panels, Google Business profiles, Google Maps, and newly announced Google “posts.” My conspiracy theory is that Google’s employees are staying up for countless hours every night to come up with game-changing features to fill this real estate. The simpler/more boring answer to this is Google wants to make the user experience similar across all devices as mobile activity continues to surpass desktop activity.

How will this affect my account’s performance?

It’s going to be important to review your account’s performance after this news. The easiest way to do this is to segment your data by Top vs. Other in AdWords and compare data before and after the change:

  • If costs are going up, this means ads are showing in a more prominent position. Side ads always had very low interaction and mostly drove impressions. In fact, bottom ads have always had a higher click-through rate than side ads.
  • If you’re seeing incremental clicks and conversions, then this is an opportunity to increase budget to take advantage and cash in more leads.
  • If you’re not seeing any improvement, manage/adjust bids and/or budgets to compensate. Consider increasing your bids if you typically show between positions 5 and 11.

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Most importantly, check your Quality Scores and make sure they are fully optimized. The top 4 spots will become even more sought after since organic search results will be pushed down (almost below-the-fold) and there will be less ad positions above-the-fold.

At this point, it’s too early to tell what this will mean for your costs. Some believe that less ads on the first results page will drive up costs (supply/demand). Others believe that advertisers won’t be as willing to target their bidding as high for bottom ads as they were for ads on the side, driving overall cost-per-clicks down.

My prediction? At least for the short-term, we will see inflated CPCs due to advertisers overreacting to this news and the lower clickthrough-rates in the top positions. My gut tells me this change will have a more lasting effect on organic search and whatever Google has planned for the right side of the SERP.

To-Do list:

  • Monitor performance by using Top vs. Other segmentation and comparing date ranges before and after the change
  • Make note of bids and positioning as we move further from the change
  • Enable as many extensions as possible to take up more real estate
  • Write ads that stand out from the top 4 and tailor them to customers already in your funnel (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads and Customer Match)
  • Manage ROI, not CPCs

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