Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertiser Q&A: Microsoft Digital Marketing Center

Advertising Microsoft

Microsoft has been in the news lately. The tech company has expanded its Microsoft Digital Marketing Center, which provides small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with a central site on which they can manage, online, both advertising campaigns and organic content. Read on to learn more about the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your brand.

What is the Microsoft Digital Marketing Center?

The Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is a product from the company’s experimental project lab, Microsoft Garage. When it came onto the scene in October 2019, it empowered SMBs to use one interface to manage digital campaigns across multiple networks, from Microsoft to Google and Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In late June 2020, Microsoft announced a major expansion of the product, with additional features such as:

  • Social management inbox, which serves as a central hub for managing likes, direct messages, and replies on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Image ad suggestion, which allows brands to easily create their own effective image ads by choosing from suggested ads.
  • Improved tools for ads, such as a field for an extra headline. The benefit? Advertisers can include more information in their ads and subsequently enhance location targeting.
  • The ability to appeal disapproved ads from Bing and Facebook.
  • A new home page experience that combines social and ad metrics into one user-friendly dashboard view.
  • Twitter support, which is now enabled.

Who is the target audience?

SMBs are the target market. SMBs have captured even more attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. As McKinsey points out, SMBs face an even tougher road to economic recovery. They need all the help they can get.

Who are Microsoft Digital Marketing Center’s competitors?

Microsoft Digital Marketing Center is competing with platforms such as:

  • HubSpot, which is already positioned as a one-stop shop for SMBs. Though Microsoft Digital Marketing Center doesn’t have all the CRM features of a HubSpot, it brings its own advantages to the table. (It’s currently free, for one thing.)
  • Google, to some degree. As Search Engine Land explains, “Similar to Google Smart campaigns, which aim to simplify campaign set up and management for SMBs, Digital Marketing Center uses Microsoft AI to power ad keyword and audience targeting and bidding.”

But Digital Marketing Center gives customers more autonomy. Advertisers can build their own ads. They can also use automated ad copy or modify auto-suggestions.

Why did Microsoft launch this product?

Microsoft probably launched Digital Marketing Center to gain a toehold with the market of small-to-medium-sized businesses, which have more aggressively embraced digital advertising to acquire customers amid the spread of COVID-19. And as noted above, they are not alone in their efforts to win the hearts of this group.

What should I do next?

If you are interested in trialing the Digital Marketing Center, start here. The beta is open to U.S. businesses only at this point.

Is there a “gotcha”?

As with many free products, be aware that you get what you pay for. Digital Marketing Center is totally self-service: you’ll be on your own in managing this tool. In short, it invites self-sufficiency! Also, just because it’s free now doesn’t mean the features will remain free.

Contact True Interactive

Do you want to learn more about the Digital Marketing Center and what it might offer your business? Contact us. We can help.

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How the Hotel Industry Is Adapting Its Marketing and Customer Experience

How the Hotel Industry Is Adapting Its Marketing and Customer Experience

Marketing

As U.S. states re-open (in fits and starts) after the COVID-19 lockdown, many may have expected to see a return to “business as usual.” Interestingly, what these first few weeks have shown is that the way businesses are now operating is anything but “usual.” In fact, it is probably fair to assume that going forward, we will continue to see a shift in business practices and priorities. The hotel industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, is demonstrating how to be resilient both in its customer experience and marketing as times change. Let’s take a closer look at how hotels are evolving.

The Hotel Experience Has Changed

Many in the lodging sector closed for months during the lockdown, while others operated at a fraction of their maximum occupancy. In some cities where COVID-19 cases were rampant, hotels closed their doors to the general public, and instead offered up free lodging to essential workers so that they could be close to their workplaces and keep their own families safe from exposure.

Now that more and more hotels are beginning to re-open to the public, we are seeing some very interesting changes in the industry. Prior to COVID-19, most hotels relied on their list of amenities to attract potential guests. Pools, on-site dining, spas, room service, valets, bellhops and more were just a few of the luxury offerings that distinguished one hotel from another. But with a new focus on safety, many of those extras are no longer available.

According to a recent article by Conde Nast Traveler, your hotel experience will feel different from the moment you enter the lobby. While the lobby has traditionally been a busy social hub of the hotel experience, it is very likely travelers will now encounter limits on the number of guests in the area, as well as paperless check-ins and digital room keys downloaded to the hotel app, replacing the previous key cards. Perhaps even before entering the lobby, guests may notice the lack of valet service or even bellhops. In order to reduce the number of touches exchanged between travelers and staff, hotels may opt to remove some of these services. so be prepared to park your own car and carry your own luggage.

Of course housekeeping changes will be at the top of the list when it comes to safety precautions. Many hotels are opting to put a “safety seal” on hotel room doors, indicating that no one has entered the room since it was thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. The room may also look sparser than expected, as items such as decorative pillows, notepads, and pamphlets, which can be hard to disinfect, may be removed. Cleaning protocols will be enhanced to include CDC-approved cleaning supplies and techniques, and a several-day buffer may be instituted between guest stays in a room. Some hotels may continue to offer room service, but it will be done using a contactless approach. Amenities such as on-site dining, pools, and spas will operate with more structure, limiting the number of guests and times of operation.

How Hotels Are Changing Their Messaging

To reflect this changing experience, hotels have needed to adapt their marketing strategies. For example, one True Interactive client, a luxury hotel chain, recognies that travelers will have a different set of priorities when booking reservations. So our client has shifted messaging to focus on a more flexible booking and cancellation policy. A deposit at time of booking is no longer required, and a more lenient cancellation policy requires only 48-hour notice for a full refund. While the hotel chain is doing everything they can to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay, they still recognize the pervasive sense of uncertainty experienced by many leisure travelers right now. The chain is making big changes to accommodate travelers looking for flexibility when booking: the option, in other words, to change their minds.

Our client’s actions are consistent with how many other hotels have adapted their online experience. If you visit most hotel websites today, you will find reassurance front-and-center that your health is their priority. The Radisson Hotels’ home page, for example, features a banner guests can click on for more information about Radisson’s flexible booking policy and health/safety protocols. The latter are spelled out clearly, detailing efforts like team member temperature checks, and the installation of protective screens at the front desk.

Holiday Inn’s home page also addresses COVID-19 concerns head-on. The hotel’s “book now, pay later policy” requires no deposit and includes flexible terms for cancellation.

A page dedicated to explaining the hotel’s cleaning philosophy is worded in friendly, reassuring language, as his example from a Cleveland-area Holiday Inn : “When you’re ready to travel again, we’ll be ready to welcome you.” Holiday Inn also highlights the hotel’s partnership with the Cleveland Clinic to develop best practices for “returning to work and keeping guests safe.”

Contact Us

To stay competitive, all businesses are wise to re-evaluate their policies and safety standards, ensuring they are aligned with what consumers now expect. Moreover, businesses need to communicate these policies clearly. If your business needs help navigating the digital landscape in this new world, contact us. At True Interactive we are experienced and ready to help you at every turn.

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How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

How Higher Education Can Adapt Digital Marketing Approaches

Marketing

COVID-19 has affected businesses across every vertical in different ways. Some are finding it nearly impossible to keep up with the demand for staple goods such as toilet paper and health-related products such as hand sanitizers and face masks. Others, ranging from hotels to restaurants, are struggling to find ways to keep employees on the payroll. The higher education industry is being affected as well. Let’s take a closer look based on our observations and client work.

Challenges for Higher Education

This pandemic has created several challenges for the higher education industry – some for which many were prepared for, and others which have left colleges and universities scrambling to adapt. Many of our higher education clients have robust online class offerings. In fact, many offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees that are 100 percent online. Those clients have experienced minimal disruption to their class schedules.

With that said, when we dig deeper into the data and examine marketing trends closely, we see some revealing details, such as:

  • When it comes graduate-level healthcare related degrees, we have seen a steep drop in overall demand (impressions and clicks are down significantly in Google) as well as a reduction in the number of people completing lead forms seeking more information about a degree program. These results are not surprising. We have all witnessed the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers over the past weeks, devoting countless hours to the point of exhaustion. They understandably need to put the rest of their lives on hold.
  • Conversely, we have seen a 5 percent lift in conversion rates from February to April for master’s in education programs offered by our higher education clients. Those programs are for people who possess education degrees and are looking to earn an advanced degree such as a master’s in education or a master’s in early childhood education. As K-12 classrooms around the country have turned to an abbreviated school day utilizing virtual learning, teachers are reclaiming a few extra hours of their day, and appear to be spending time looking for opportunities to further their own education and advance their careers.

Because of the vast difference in conversion rates between higher education degree programs, it is important to tailor your marketing approach. Now may be a great time to ramp up pay-per-click (PPC) spend for graduate-level teaching degrees, while pulling back on PPC spend for healthcare degrees.

Why Higher Education Needs to Stay Engaged Online

Although higher education is in a unique position with many already offering online learning prior to the pandemic, clearly there is still much disruption in campus programs. Colleges are struggling to complete the 2019-20 year in a virtual format. Many are offering pass/fail options versus a standard letter grade. There are virtual graduation ceremonies in the works,  and some are choosing to delay graduation until a later date in hopes there can be an in-person ceremony.

And a bigger question looms: will campuses will open on schedule this fall, and if they do, how many students will feel comfortable returning? This USA Today article speaks to the conflict being reported widely throughout the news media: students and their parents are going to be tempted take the 2020-21 school year off rather than return to an online format, especially if colleges and universities charge normal tuition rates for an online experience.

In this uncertain climate, all higher education providers must use digital to stay closely connected to current and prospective students as well as their parents. Doing so is especially important now as colleges and universities try to attract students to an experience that is radically different than the one that students signed up for. Right now, many schools are wisely investing more dollars in social platforms to keep students in isolation engaged during the 2019-20 year. They will need to do even more as the uncertain 2020-21 year approaches.

Be Ready to Pivot

Amid uncertainty, we are sure to see online learning play an even bigger role in higher education. Colleges and universities need to be ready to tackle the challenge. Competition is already strong resulting in high cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Currently we have seen CPCs range as high as $90 or more. As more and more colleges enter the online market, we should expect to see those CPCs increase further, and smaller colleges with limited budgets may be forced out by bigger players.

Contact True Interactive

It will become increasingly important to take full advantage of targeting options including geographic, household income, age, and interests to help make the most of your advertising dollars. The one-size-fits-all approach will quickly lead to failure. At True Interactive, we have extensive experience in the higher education field. We are happy to review your current marketing plan and work with you to ensure you are on the path to success. Contact us to get started.

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How to Adapt B2B Marketing during Turbulent Times

How to Adapt B2B Marketing during Turbulent Times

Marketing

Businesses that market to other business can and should keep engaging with their clients and prospects during the disruption we’re all enduring right now. Let’s take a look at why this is so and how a B2B brand should stay visible.

The B2B Customer Journey Is More Complex

The B2B customer journey is more complex, and the sales cycle is lengthier. The decision-making process for purchasing a product or service for a business requires more research and approvals. So in a B2B setting, it’s even more important for a brand to maintain frequent outreach to stay on a prospect’s radar screen. During a disruption of operations, your prospects may postpone their decisions, thus making the sales cycle even longer. But if you fall off their radar screens, it’s going to be harder for you to re-connect with them when they are ready to re-engage.

What You Should Do

So what should you do to remain engaged? Here are a few tips:

1 Examine Your Analytics

Your B2B customer is just like a B2C audience: likely stuck at home during a period of social distancing (unless their profession dictates otherwise) doing their jobs exclusively online. We’re seeing dramatic shifts in both desktop and mobile search behavior across the board while people practice social distancing. Now, dig deeper into your own audience behavior. For instance:

  • What changes do you see in click-through rates for different paid media campaigns you’ve been running and at what time of day? They’ve probably changed depending on the type of product you offer.
  • What changes do you see in the content your prospects are searching for?
  • Where is your audience spending your time? It’s quite possible they are engaging more on social than they ever have while they combine professional and personal priorities while they work at home. A social platform such as Facebook, which might not have been your natural choice to advertise, might make more sense right now.
  • In addition, if you are a global B2B brand, your mileage may vary depending on where you do business, as different countries are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of severity and with different recovery time frames.

2 Be Ready to Adapt Your Tactics

Depending on what your data tells you, be ready to adapt the nature of your campaigns, for instance:

  • Adapt your keyword strategy to be more in tune with the topics they are looking for right now. Carefully manage your keyword exclusions to avoid having your name appear next to COVID-19 content.
  • Be prepared to invest more into paid social media if your audience is navigating there. In addition, consider that Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s audience targeting tools make them ideal for experimenting with the type of audience segments you want to reach.

3 Mind Your Tone

B2B audiences are experiencing the same feelings of doubt and uncertainty that B2C audiences are. Re-examine the tone of your content. Be prepared to tone down overly salesy, chipper content that will come across as tone deaf. Use phrases and images that emphasize that you are here for your customer and seek to partner with them during a difficult time.

4 Invest in Thought Leadership

Sharing thought leadership (such as blog posts and white papers) is a great way to augment your digital advertising with top-of-the-funnel awareness. Why? Because during a slowdown in operations, it is not uncommon for B2B customers to brush up on professional knowledge, and they’re also going to be more receptive to practical ideas for managing their businesses during trying times.

Contact True Interactive

True Interactive knows how to create and execute digital marketing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business clients. We’re here to help you. Contact us to learn more.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

Don’t Go Dark During the Coronavirus Crisis

Don’t Go Dark During the Coronavirus Crisis

Advertising

As businesses scramble to adjust to the spread of COVID-19, some are halting their online advertising, according to Search Engine Land. But pausing online advertising could be a big mistake. Instead, businesses should consider how they might need to change their online advertising approaches.

In fact, people are engaging online more than ever as practices such as social distancing take hold. For example, as discussed in Digiday, at least one agency reports big upticks in online engagement with Instagram content as people spend more time online. Vodafone reports internet usage surging by as much as 50 percent in some countries. And audience engagement online will only increase.

Our advice to advertisers:

  • Don’t go dark during the COVID-19 outbreak. Do adapt your content to be appropriate for the times we are living in (see our tips below). But going dark will hurt you in the long run, especially after the crisis subsides.
  • Navigating a fast-changing environment. Your customers’ lives have changed dramatically. But don’t assume that they want to ignore you as they manage that change. Depending on what kind of business you are in — online streaming, say, or online commerce — they may welcome hearing more from you as they practice social distancing. (In fact, when it comes to getting the news during COVID-19, people are more likely to trust a company over the government or media, according to Edelman.)

Considerations for Advertisers to Keep in Mind

The irony of the current coronavirus upheaval is that people, social animals at heart, are being asked to maintain distance just when they need to feel connected, even reassured, the most. Brands that continue their outreach will want to think about the following as they pursue their campaigns:

  • Look at the content you are sending and be prepared to adapt it. Are your offers in sync with what people need right now? For example, it makes sense for a restaurant to ramp up advertising about the speed and effectiveness of its delivery services.
  • Mind your tone. People don’t want to hear more gloomy reports of disruption. But an overly salesy message will flop. And any ad that seems like it is capitalizing on a health scare will backfire spectacularly. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. As Kristen Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group, wrote recently in Adweek, “If people are afraid, now is not the time to pretend they aren’t. Additionally, it is also not the time to market to a state of fear or panic.” But do be as re-assuring as you can. It is OK to let people know you are there for them, and it is OK to talk about steps you might be taking to help in a time of crisis. In addition, be careful about your use of visuals. By now your audience is already overwhelmed by news media stories with photos of people wearing face masks.
  • Think ahead. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when consumers shift their behaviors again as the current disruption subsides. And subside it will; not knowing when is different from not knowing if.
  • Adapt to a new normal — for now. Every day brings changes that affect consumer behavior. As brick-and-mortar stores have elected to close their doors or reduce hours, consumer spending has declined. But as PMG reports, “Online traffic increases help pick up the slack against store closings, work from home operations, and social distancing efforts. We’ve seen upward ticks between six to 18% depending on the scenario.” Similarly, according to eMarketer, digital media consumption is expected to increase: “The spread of coronavirus is likely to boost digital media consumption across the board as people spend more time at home and communicate in person less.” Platforms such as YouTube are likely to experience a surge in use. How well are your online campaigns suited for viewing on these media platforms? How well is your brand suited to online shopping, period? (For a deeper perspective on how one business has adapted to disruptions over the years, read this Advertising Age article about how Walmart learned from disasters such as Hurricane Katrina to change the way it does business and markets itself.)

Contact True Interactive

As you wrestle with questions and the inevitable changes coronavirus brings to daily life— and the rules of engagement — don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help.

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