Unriddled: The Great Ride-Hailing Rush, the Latest Troubles for Facebook, and More Tech News You Need

“Unriddled” is HubSpot’s weekly digest of the tech headlines you need to know. We give you the top tech stories in a quick, scannable way and break it all down. It’s tech news: explained.

1. Ride-Hailing IPO Season

A day after ride-hailing app Lyft said that it had filed its S-1 last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s top competitor, Uber, had followed in its footsteps and filed for an initial public offering (IPO) of its own. While the timing of Lyft’s IPO is somewhat uncertain (some are predicting a spring date between late March and early April), Uber’s filing signals that the company could go public as early as Q1 2019.

Uber, meanwhile, has resumed testing and limited operation of its self-driving cars after a tragic accident involving one of its autonomous vehicles took place earlier this year. Read full story >>

2. British Parliament Publishes Internal Facebook Emails

UK Parliament last week published over 250 redacted pages of internal Facebook documents, including emails. The documents were previously sealed in California, where Facebook is being sued by a company called Six4Three — the founder of which put the materials into the possession of UK lawmakers during a trip to London. While the contents of the documents contain what some call “lacking in anything crazy damning,” they do point to Facebook’s approach to competition. Read full story >>

3. Amazon Will Crowdsource Alexa’s Answers

In a classic case of, “How could this possibly go wrong?”, Amazon says it will launch Alexa Answers: a program that invites a number of users to help Alexa answer questions for which the voice assistant might not have sufficient information.

“Once in a while, customers throw curve balls at us with various questions,” writes Alexa Information VP Bill Barton in an official blog post. “We’re involving the Alexa customer community to help us answer questions Alexa can’t quite answer yet.”

The program, which Barton says is “invitation-only,” will allow select customers to contribute answers and details to questions that Alexa has been unable to answer. Read full story >>

4. Amazon’s Go Stores Are Expanding

In other Amazon news, the company says that it will expand its cashierless Go stores in both size and location. Last weekTechCrunch reported that the ecommerce giant is testing the cashierless technology in larger store formats, leaving many wondering if it’s planning to bring this feature to Whole Foods — a natural grocery chain that it owns. Now, according to Bloomberg, Amazon is also exploring the possibility of opening Go stores in airports, “to win business from hungry, time-pressed travelers.” Read full story >>

5. Curated News From Google Assistant

As Google itself pointed out in a recent announcement, radio is almost a purely “in-the-moment” medium that allows users to tune into whatever the current programming might be, regardless of context. Now, the company says that it has partnered with a number of news organizations, ranging from local NPR stations to the New York Times, to create personalized news playlists for users. With the help of Assistant’s AI, the playlists will be created based on when the user asks for it to be played, as well as her listening interests. Google says it has built an an open specification for news organizations that want to create audio programming for this feature. Read full story >>

6. What Happened When Google’s CEO Testified Before Congress

Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified yesterday before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Here are the key questions he faced, and the themes that echoed throughout the hearing. Read full story >>

7. The State of Virtual Reality: Where We Are, and What’s to Come in 2019

Where do things stand with virtual reality, and the immersive technologies inspired by it? At VRX, here’s what the experts have to say. Read full story >>

8. Google Lens Comes to iOS

iPhone users, rejoice (maybe): Google’s Lens object recognition technology has finally arrived in the company’s iOS app. 

Lens first made its debut at Google’s 2018 I/O developer conference and was initially released on a number of Pixel devices, prior to becoming available on a broader range of operating systems. Read full story>>

9. What’s the Business Case for Virtual Reality? 

Also at last week’s VRX conference, after we got a taste for the state of virtual reality, we next examined how this technology can be used in business. Read full story >>

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Author: Amanda Zantal-Wiener

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YouTube Algorithm: The Constantly Updated Guide to YouTube’s Updates & Changes

Since marketers are at the mercy of algorithms on nearly every publishing channel, knowing how each of these unique algorithms work is crucial to attracting and maintaining an audience. Luckily, while some channels are rather reserved about the secrets of their algorithms, YouTube, the most popular video platform, has been remarkably transparent.

In 2016, YouTube published a research paper that provides a high-level overview of their recommendation system’s architecture, and they also launched a course for creators about getting discovered on their platform.

Naturally, we wanted to read the paper and take the course to help you understand exactly how to boost your rankings on YouTube. Read on to learn what we discovered and how you can bolster your presence on the video platform.

Unlock the one resource you need to start growing your YouTube business  channel.

How does the YouTube algorithm work?

YouTube’s algorithm serves the most relevant, personalized videos to their users on five different sections of their platform: search, home, suggested videos, trending, and subscriptions. By helping users find the videos they’re most likely to watch and enjoy, YouTube can keep viewers on the platform for as long as possible and get them to visit their site regularly.

To figure out which videos and channels that users are most likely to enjoy watching, YouTube “follows” their audience, which means they track their users’ engagement with each video they watch. More specifically, they pay attention to which videos each user watches, what they don’t watch, how much time they spend watching each video, their likes and dislikes, and their “not interested in” feedback.

Since their algorithm rewards engagement instead of vanity metrics like views and clicks, YouTube incentivizes creators to produce videos that they’re audience actually enjoys watching, discouraging them from trying to game the system.

But YouTube’s algorithm also uses different signals and metrics to rank and recommend videos on each section of their platform. With this in mind, let’s go over how the algorithm decides to serve content to users on their search, home, suggested videos, trending, and subscriptions section.


The two biggest factors that affect your videos’ search rankings are its keywords and relevance. When ranking videos in search, YouTube will consider how well your titles, descriptions, and content match each users’ queries. They’ll also consider how many videos users’ have watched from your channel and the last time they watched other videos surrounding the same topic as your video.

Home & Suggested Videos

No two users will have the same experience on YouTube — they want to serve the most relevant, personalized recommendations to each of their viewers. To do this, they first analyze users’ activity history and find hundreds of videos that could be relevant to them.

Then, they rank these videos by how well each video has engaged and satisfied similar users, how often each viewer watches videos from each channel or other videos surrounding the same topic, and how many times YouTube has already shown each video to users.

YouTube has also noticed users tend to watch more content when they receive recommendations from a variety of channels, so they like the diversify their suggested videos feed and users’ homepages.


The trending page is a feed of new and popular videos in a user’s specific country. YouTube wants to balance popularity with novelty when they rank videos in this section, so they heavily consider view count and rate of view growth for each video they rank.


YouTube has a subscriptions page where users can view all the recently uploaded videos from the channels they subscribe to. But this page isn’t the only benefit channels get when they acquire a ton of subscribers.

To determine rankings on their platform, YouTube uses a metric called view velocity, which measures the number of subscribers who watch your video right after it’s published. And the higher your video’s view velocity, the higher your videos will rank. YouTube also accounts for the number of active subscribers you have when they rank your videos.

How to Optimize Your Videos for YouTube’s Algorithm

To rank on YouTube, the first thing to consider is optimizing your videos and channel for popular search queries. To do this, place relevant keywords in your videos’ titles, tags, descriptions, SRT files (which are transcriptions), video files, and thumbnail files.

You should also check out the most popular queries guiding viewers to your videos, which you can find in YouTube’s Search Report. If these queries are slightly different than your video’s topic, consider updating your video to fill these content gaps and add the keywords to your metadata. If there’s a stark difference, consider making new videos about these popular queries.

The next thing to consider when ranking on YouTube is optimizing your videos and channel for engagement. To generate engagement, though, you first need to attract users’ attention. And one of the best ways to instantly grab users’ attention is by creating vibrant thumbnails for each of your videos.

Thumbnails, the small, clickable snapshots that viewers see when they search for videos on YouTube, can be just as important as a video’s title. They preview your video and entice viewers to click through. The brain is also programmed to respond to striking visuals, and this can help you differentiate yourself on a platform clogged with standard thumbnails all screaming for attention.

To create a striking thumbnail, consider including a talking head. People are naturally drawn to human faces because it’s an ingrained survival mechanism to help us quickly gauge someone’s emotions and determine if they’re a threat or friend. Research Gate also discovered that Instagram photos with faces are 38% more likely to receive likes and 32% more likely to receive comments. Additionally, consider contrasting the colors of your thumbnail’s foreground and background to really make it pop.

Once you’ve attracted users’ attention, you can engage them by creating a bingeable series or show. You can also create playlists about a certain topic that start off with the videos that have the highest audience retention rate. This will increase the odds that users will watch most of the videos in your playlists, boosting your channel and videos’ watch time.

Another way to refine your overall video strategy is measuring your videos’ performance against engagement metrics, like watch time, average watch percentage, average view duration, audience retention, and average session duration. If you can figure out which topics and videos generate the most engagement, and you solely focus on creating those types of content, you’ll be able to shoot up YouTube’s search results page and suggested videos feed.

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How to Create a Pivot Table in Excel: A Step-by-Step Tutorial (With Video)

The pivot table is one of Microsoft Excel’s most powerful — and intimidating — functions. Powerful because it can help you summarize and make sense of large data sets. Intimidating because you’re not exactly an Excel expert, and pivot tables have always had a reputation for being complicated.

The good news: Learning how to create a pivot table in Excel is much easier than you might’ve been led to believe.Click here to download our collection of free Excel templates that will make  your life easier.

But before we walk you through process of creating one, let’s take a step back and make sure you understand exactly what a pivot table is, and why you might need to use one.

In other words, pivot tables extract meaning from that seemingly endless jumble of numbers on your screen. And more specifically, it lets you group your data together in different ways so you can draw helpful conclusions more easily.

The “pivot” part of a pivot table stems from the fact that you can rotate (or pivot) the data in the table in order to view it from a different perspective. To be clear, you’re not adding to, subtracting from, or otherwise changing your data when you make a pivot. Instead, you’re simply reorganizing the data so you can reveal useful information from it.

An Excel spreadsheet creating pivot tables in action


How to Use Pivot Tables

If you’re still feeling a bit confused about what pivot tables actually do, don’t worry. This is one of those technologies that’s much easier to understand once you’ve seen it in action. Here are seven hypothetical scenarios where you’d want to use a pivot table.

1. Compare sales totals of different products.

Say you have a worksheet that contains monthly sales data for three different products — product 1, product 2, and product 3 — and you want to figure out which of the three has been bringing in the most bucks. You could, of course, look through the worksheet and manually add the corresponding sales figure to a running total every time product 1 appears. You could then do the same for product 2, and product 3, until you have totals for all of them. Piece of cake, right?

Now, imagine that monthly sales worksheet of yours has thousands and thousands of rows. Manually sorting through them all could take a lifetime. Using a pivot table, you can automatically aggregate all of the sales figures for product 1, product 2, and product 3 — and calculate their respective sums — in less than a minute.

2. Show product sales as percentages of total sales.

Pivot tables naturally show the totals of each row or column when you create it. But that’s not the only figure you can automatically produce.

Let’s say you entered quarterly sales numbers for three separate products into an Excel sheet and turned this data into a pivot table. The table would automatically give you three totals at the bottom of each column — having added up each product’s quarterly sales. But what if you wanted to find the percentage these product sales contributed of all company sales, rather than just those products’ sales totals?

With a pivot table, you can configure each column to give you the column’s percentage of all three column totals, instead of just the column total. If three product sales totaled $200,000 in sales, for example, and the first product made $45,000, you can edit a pivot table to instead say this product contributed 22.5% of all company sales.

To show product sales as percentages of total sales in a pivot table, simply right-click the cell carrying a sales total and select “Show Values As” > “% of Grand Total.”

3. Combine duplicate data.

In this scenario, you’ve just completed a blog redesign and had to update a bunch of URLs. Unfortunately, your blog reporting software didn’t handle it very well, and ended up splitting the “view” metrics for single posts between two different URLs. So in your spreadsheet, you have two separate instances of each individual blog post. In order to get accurate data, you need to combine the view totals for each of these duplicates.

That’s where the pivot table comes into play. Instead of having to manually search for and combine all the metrics from the duplicates, you can summarize your data (via pivot table) by blog post title, and voilà: the view metrics from those duplicate posts will be aggregated automatically.

4. Get an employee head count for separate departments.

Pivot tables are helpful for automatically calculating things that you can’t easily find in a basic Excel table. One of those things is counting rows that all have something in common.

If you have a list of employees in an Excel sheet, for instance, and next to the employees’ names are the respective departments they belong to, you can create a pivot table from this data that shows you each department name and the number of employees that belong to those departments. The pivot table effectively eliminates your task of sorting the Excel sheet by department name and counting each row manually.

5. Add default values to empty cells.

Not every dataset you enter into Excel will populate every cell. If you’re waiting for new data to come in before entering it into Excel, you might have lots of empty cells that look confusing or need further explaining when showing this data to your manager. That’s where pivot tables come in.

You can easily customize a pivot table to fill empty cells with a default value, such as $0, or TBD (for “to be determined”). For large tables of data, being able to tag these cells quickly is a useful feature when many people are reviewing the same sheet.

To automatically format the empty cells of your pivot table, right-click your table and click “PivotTable Options.” In the window that appears, check the box labeled “Empty Cells As” and enter what you’d like displayed when a cell has no other value.

Now that you have a better sense of what pivot tables can be used for, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to actually create one.


1. Enter your data into a range of rows and columns.

Every pivot table in Excel starts with a basic Excel table, where all your data is housed. To create this table, simply enter your values into a specific set of rows and columns. Use the topmost row or the topmost column to categorize your values by what they represent.

For example, to create an Excel table of blog post performance data, you might have a column listing each “URL,” a column listing each URL’s “Post Title,” a column listing each post’s “Views to Date,” and so on. (We’ll be using that example in the steps that follow.)

Excel data entered in three columns in preparation for creating a pivot table

2. Sort your data by a specific attribute.

When you have all the data you want entered into your Excel sheet, you’ll want to sort this data in some way so it’s easier to manage once you turn it into a pivot table.

To sort your data, click the “Data” tab in the top navigation bar and select the “Sort” icon underneath it. In the window that appears, you can opt to sort your data by any column you want and in any order. To sort your Excel sheet by “Views to Date,” for example, select this column title under “Column” and then select whether you want to order your posts from smallest to largest, or from largest to smallest.

Select “OK” on the bottom-right of the Sort window, and you’ll successfully reorder each row of your Excel sheet by the number of views each blog post has received.

Sort window of Excel sheet

3. Highlight your cells to create your pivot table.

Once you’ve entered data into your Excel worksheet, and sorted it to your liking, highlight the cells you’d like to summarize in a pivot table. Click “Insert” along the top navigation, and select the “PivotTable” icon. You can also click anywhere in your worksheet, select “PivotTable,” and manually enter the range of cells you’d like included in the PivotTable.

This will open an option box where, in addition to setting your cell range, you can select whether or not to launch this pivot table in a new worksheet or keep it in the existing worksheet. If you open a new sheet, you can navigate to and away from it on the bottom of your Excel workbook. Once you’ve chosen, click “OK.”

Alternatively, you can highlight your cells, select “Recommended PivotTables” to the right of the PivotTable icon, and open a pivot table with pre-set suggestions for how to organize each row and column.

Creating a pivot table under the "Insert" option in Excel

Note: If you’re using a version of Excel earlier than Excel 2016, “PivotTables” may be under “Tables” or “Data” along the top navigation, rather than “Insert.” In Google Sheets, you can create pivot tables from the “Data” dropdown along the top navigation.

4. Drag and drop a field into the “Row Labels” area.

After you’ve completed Step 1, Excel will create a blank pivot table for you. Your next step is to drag and drop a field — labeled according to the names of the columns in your spreadsheet — into the “Row Labels” area. This will determine what unique identifier — blog post title, product name, and so on — the pivot table will organize your data by.

For example, let’s say you want to organize a bunch of blogging data by post title. To do that, you’d simply click and drag the “Title” field to the “Row Labels” area.

Adding row labels to a pivot table in Excel

Note: Your pivot table may look different depending on which version of Excel you’re working with. However, the general principles remain the same.

5. Drag and drop a field into the “Values” area.

Once you’ve established what you’re going to organize your data by, your next step is to add in some values by dragging a field into the “Values” area.

Sticking with the blogging data example, let’s say you want to summarize blog post views by title. To do this, you’d simply drag the “Views” field into the Values area.

Adding values to a pivot table in Excel

6. Fine-tune your calculations.

The sum of a particular value will be calculated by default, but you can easily change this to something like average, maximum, or minimum depending on what you want to calculate.

On a Mac, you can do this by clicking on the small i” next to a value in the “Values” area, selecting the option you want, and clicking “OK.” Once you’ve made your selection, your pivot table will be updated accordingly.

If you’re using a PC, you’ll need to click on the small upside-down triangle next to your value and select “Value Field Settings” in order to access the menu.

Changing the field options of a pivot table in Excel

Digging Deeper With Pivot Tables

You’ve now learned the basics of pivot table creation in Excel. But depending on what you need your pivot table for, you might not be done.

For example, you may notice that the data in your pivot table isn’t sorted the way you’d like. If were the case, Excel’s Sort function can help you out. Alternatively, you may need to incorporate data from another source into your reporting, in which case the VLOOKUP function could come in handy.

To take a deeper dive into the world of Excel and learn about its various functions, download our comprehensive guide, How to Use Excel.

Want more Excel tips? Check out these design tips for creating charts and graphs.

free excel templates for marketing

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What Happened When Google’s CEO Testified Before Congress

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today appeared before members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, in a hearing titled “Transparency & Accountability: Examining Google and its Data Collection, Use and Filtering Practices.”

Some topics dominated lawmakers’ questions for Pichai more than others, with some viewers experiencing a sense of déjà vu and seeing some parallels  April’s hearings with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In both hearings, the subject of how likely users are to truly understand terms of service or privacy policies — or whether or not they would even read them — arose. In both hearings, there were allegations of bias in the way each company handles content. And in both those hearings, many observers called into question whether or not those conducting the hearings were prepared with the best questions to ask.

Here are four key themes from today’s hearing.

1. Dragonfly

In August, The Intercept reported on plans within Google to launch a controversial new search engine in China: an internal project that was codenamed Dragonfly.

The reason for the secrecy and controversy around the project was likely due to the fact that this search engine would be censored, so as to align with policies in China to block websites and search queries pertaining to topics like democracy, human rights, and protest.

Questions about Dragonfly were asked by several members of the committee today, with Pichai reiterating the same answer every time: that Google has no search engine product, and has no plans to launch in China … “right now.”

Every time Pichai answered a question regarding Dragonfly, it seemed, he was sure to use the words “right now,” perhaps implying that the company could have future plans to build a search engine product in China — although the company did at one time have over 100 people working on one.


Issie Lapowsky of Wired transcribed one particular exchange on Dragonfly between Pichai and Representative David Cicilline, highlighting the definitive language used by the former to describe Google’s potential plans to launch a search engine product in China.

2. Alleged Bias in Search Results

As was the case with many of the year’s hearings with tech executives, several lawmakers today asked questions and made accusations of Google’s “anti-conservative bias.” At times, certain representatives alleged that because employees within the company might have left-leaning political views, that it would motivate them to tamper with search results to suppress content from conservative outlets. 

At the same time, other lawmakers from the opposite side of the aisle made reverse accusations of Google, such as Representative Steve Cohen, who pointed to a search for his name yielding results mostly from known conservative outlets.

At times, accusations from right-leaning lawmakers alleged that search results for their names or legislation yielded nothing but negative coverage, sometimes labeling critical news reports of these topics as “attacks” on or “trashing” of their politics.

Pichai repeatedly denied that Google’s search algorithm is programmed to lean in one political direction or another — with many journalists pointed out throughout the hearing that this algorithm is designed to prioritize quality content from reliable sources.

Representative Ted Lieu was arguably the most vocal with his take on the questions regarding Google’s alleged “anti-conservative bias,” calling it a “waste of time” and remarking, “If you want positive search results, do positive things.”

3. Content Moderation

While the topic wasn’t as front-and-center as others, Google’s approach to content moderation was on the minds of some representatives at today’s hearing.

Many asked about the company’s approach to curbing the spread of both misinformation and violence-inciting content on its platform, often with an emphasis on conspiracy video channels and content creators on YouTube (which is owned by Google).

Pichai noted that “it’s our [Google’s] responsibility” to control and curb such content, but provided few other details on how the company will do that — blaming the difficulty of stopping the spread of such content on the high volume and rate of video uploads (about “400 hours of video every minute“).

4. Data and Location Tracking

Finally, one area of concern that seemed to resonate among representatives from both parties was the type of user data collected by Google, the extent to which that data is collected, and how much control users have over it.

One idea that seemed to repeatedly arise in lawmaker remarks was the possible option of requiring users to proactively opt-into data collection — rather than making that collection the default setting, then giving users the option to opt-out.

Not only does the question arise in light of not one, but two security breaches taking place on Google+ this year — but it also follows yesterday’s New York Times report that explores the extent to which a plethora of apps, even beyond Google, collect location data. 

This data, according to the report, is sometimes provided it to advertisers to boost targeting. That story follows one from earlier this year where it was revealed that Google recorded location data on some users, even after they had turned off Location History tracking on their devices.


When asked about the possibility of building a system that did not automatically enroll users in data tracking, Pichai remarked that he believes in a system that that provides “transparency, control, and choice and a clear understanding of the choices they need to make” to consumers.

At present, Google does offer a somewhat comprehensive Privacy Checkup to users, which guides them through the step-by-step process of turning certain controls on or off, such as recording search and location history.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 3.58.49 PM

However, it was also this line of questioning where the lack of knowledge on the tech industry became more salient, with many lawmakers asking about features and tracking capabilities on their iPhones, which Google does not make.

iPhones are manufactured by Apple and run on the same company’s iOS operating system, whereas Google makes the Android operating system that runs on non-Apple phones, as well as its own Pixel mobile devices.

At one point, Representative Ted Poe demanded a “yes or no” answer to the question of whether or not Google could track and obtain information on his location from his iPhone if he moved from one side of the room to the other.

That question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” as — again — Google does not manufacture iPhones or their operating system. Rather, the answer the question depends largely on whether or not the user has Google apps installed on his or her iOS device.

Looking Ahead to 2019

Looking ahead, it’s likely that this hearing is not the last we’ll see of those involving high-profile tech executives. As new members of the House of Representatives (as well as the Senate) assume office next month, it will be particularly interesting to observe any shifts in these lines of questioning.

It could also be important to note if lawmaker focus on the tech industry shifts to a harder line on the possibility of regulation, with many leaders within the tech sector calling for regulation themselves.

We’ll see what 2019 holds.

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Author: Amanda Zantal-Wiener

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The Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing

If you’ve ever came across Tim Ferriss’ iconic book on how to just work four hours per week, you’ve probably dreamed of sipping a Mojito on a beach while your money worked for you in the background while you sleep. One of the main ideas he constantly talks about is the concept of passive income.

After all, having an income chart like this is the main goal of many online entrepreneurs:

For many entrepreneurs looking to build an online business, or marketers looking to monetize their web traffic, affiliate marketing is often how they got started with generating income.

Affiliate marketing is one of the world’s most popular methods of generating passive income online, and there are many tried & tested strategies when you are just starting out.

If you’re looking for a complete guide to affiliate marketing, read more to find out how you can promote products as an affiliate to create an additional source of income.

There are typically four parties involved in affiliate marketing:

  • The affiliates – the promoters of the product
  • The product creators – the creators of the product
  • The networks – the networks managing the affiliates
  • The consumers – the end users of the product

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 5.00.57 PM

Image via Digital Ads Online

You don’t always need a network to become an affiliate, but the other three parties (the affiliates, the product creators, and the consumers) form the core of an affiliate program.

Who are the affiliates?

An affiliate, also known as a publisher, can be an individual or a company. Typically, these are other bloggers or content creators operating in the industry of the product they are creating.

They help promote the product or service by creating content like blog posts, videos or other media.

They can also promote their content to get transactions by putting up ads, capturing search traffic from SEO, or building an email list.

When one of their visitors creates a transaction, which could be a purchase or submitting a lead form, the affiliate gets a commission. How much commission is structured depends on the affiliate program terms.

Who are the merchants?

A merchant, also known as the product creator or advertiser, is typically the creator of the product or services. They offer revenue sharing and commissions to people or other companies (affiliates), which have a significant following on their brand.

The merchant can be a company like HubSpot, which offers a commission to every affiliate who’s able to get their visitors to make a purchase.

Or it can be an individual like Pat Flynn, who offers an affiliate program with his podcasts.

The merchants can be anyone from a solopreneur to a big company, as long as they are willing to pay their affiliates to help them gain a transaction.

Sometimes the merchant does not even have to be the product creator, as in the case of the Amazon Associates Program.

Who are the affiliate networks?

An affiliate network acts as an intermediary between the merchants and their affiliates. In some cases, a network is not necessary, but some companies choose to work with a network to add a layer of trust.

The network manages the relationship and provide third-party checks and balances. Third-party checks can be important because they bring down fraud rates.

Some popular networks include ClickBank and ShareASale.

Some merchants choose to work with an affiliate network because they lack the time or resources to track, report, and manage payments to the affiliates. They might also choose to work with multiple affiliates or publishers within the affiliate network.

Who are the consumers?

The consumers or the customers are the one who makes the transaction. They are the ones who purchase the product or submit the lead form in order for the affiliate to gain the commission.

How does affiliate marketing work?


Image via Digital Ads Online

As an affiliate, you are typically paid whenever your visitor creates a transaction. The transaction could be anything from a click, lead form submission, or a sale. In the majority of cases, affiliate marketing is performance-based, which means you only get paid as an affiliate if your visitor takes an action.

Here are some common affiliate marketing models:

Pay-Per-Click (PPC): The affiliate gets paid for all clicks that were generated, regardless of whether a lead or sale happened. This is fairly rare, since all the risk is on the product creator.

Pay-Per-Lead (PPL): The affiliate gets paid for every lead they generated. This could be an online form submission, trial creation, or any pre-purchase. This is a shared risk on both the merchant and the affiliate.

Pay-Per-Sale (PPS): The affiliate gets paid for every sale they generated. This is the most common model, since all the risk is on the affiliate.

To become an affiliate, you first need to sign up for a program like the Amazon Associates or HubSpot Affiliate Program. After signing up, you will get an affiliate link which contains a unique ID. You can then use this link in your promotional content.

Whenever your visitor clicks on your unique affiliate link, a cookie is inserted in their browser to track actions.

When they make a transaction that is a qualified action (could be a sale or lead form submission, depending on the terms of the program), the merchant is able to record this action and attribute it to you as an affiliate so they can make a payout.

There are different structures when it comes to payout, which varies based on affiliate program terms.

Commission payouts by the company are usually given on a monthly basis, but this varies depending on the affiliate program terms.

It could be a weekly payout or a monthly payment for all the leads or sales you’ve made.

You’ll want to pay attention to the payout structure when choosing an affiliate program to join, which ultimately depends on the goals you have.

Do you need to pay to join an affiliate program?

There are typically no upfront costs when it comes to joining an affiliate program, but your variable ongoing costs will depend on how you want to promote the products.

When it comes to affiliate marketing, most people think it’s a process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s or company’s products.

While affiliate marketing can seem straightforward — just find a product you love, promote it, and earn a piece of profit with every sale you make — there are actually a few moving parts you need to take note of.

For instance, you might want to understand the commission structure of the company or product creator. Are you looking for commission per sale or commission per lead generated? Are you looking at recurring commission or a one-off payment?

Depending on your goals, this will affect which product you choose, how you plan to promote the product as well as how much time & resources you want to invest.

For instance, if you choose to promote your content via paid ads, then that’s a cost you have to account for. You will have to compare how much you’ve spent to promote each piece of content or to generate each purchase against how much commission you’re getting for each referred sale.

Or, if you have a blog and website, then you will have to pay for hosting. In this case, this should be a flat fee spread out across all your referred sale.

Use this marketing plan generator to calculate how much you need to invest to get a basic marketing plan up and running.

How much can you make from affiliate programs?

You might be wondering, what are established affiliates earning? (established affiliates are those working full-time.)

A poll was held on the STM Forum on “How much do you earn in a year?”:

Almost 20% of established affiliates report making more than $1 million per year. While this seems like an unattainable figure, reporting on revenue is only one side of the story.

Making money from an affiliate program is more about the profits than the revenue you’re getting.

An affiliate making $5000/day might be worse off than another affiliate making $500/day with no cash outflow because the former might be spending most of his revenue on paid acquisition.

At the end of the day, before becoming an affiliate, you have to align your expectations to your earning potential. What kind of industry or niche you operate in, and what kind of work you do depends a lot on how much you want to make.

If you focus on ads like Adwords or Facebook to promote your affiliate products, how much money you invest is as important (if not more) as how much you make.

How do you choose an affiliate program?

I commonly hear two misconceptions when it comes to affiliate marketing.

  1. Affiliate marketing is dead.

    It seems like every year in the world of online marketing, people have mentioned some variant of X is dead (SEO, Ads, Mobile). The test of time is a pretty good test — if something has stayed around for a while, there’s a better chance of it still staying around for a while.

    Everything evolves, and there are tactics that don’t work the exact same way as they did before. Affiliate marketing, of course, is no exception to that rule.

    Affiliate marketing has evolved from a get-rich-quick scheme into something that requires affiliate to build real trust with their audience in order to reap the rewards of the work that’s been put in.

  2. Affiliate marketing is easy to do.

    According to Three Ladders Marketing, only 0.6% of affiliate marketers surveyed have been around since 2013, which means that affiliate marketing takes time and effort to build and make money.

    Choosing the right product to promote, working with the right company, fostering relationships and updating content are all core essentials of excelling at affiliate marketing.

According to Pat Flynn, one of the pioneers of creating passive income through providing value to his audience, there are two important rules when it comes to affiliate marketing:

  1. Only recommend products as an affiliate that you’re extremely very familiar with. If you are not confident in the product and do not feel it will help people, do not promote it.
  2. Never tell anyone to directly buy a product. Always recommend products based on your experience and in the context of what you’ve done.

When it comes to choosing the right products, David Gonzalez — founder of an affiliate management agency, suggests that you should think about these 3 components when choosing a product to promote:

  1. Your audience – will the product resonate with them and make them grateful you promoted it?
  2. Product quality & value – would you advocate your best friend buying it?
  3. Profitability – does the offer have highly competitive conversions & payouts?

At the end of the day, become successful at affiliate marketing requires you to nail down the fundamentals of marketing. Authenticity is hard to fake, especially when it comes to building your own personal brand.

A brand that promotes products incessantly without any regard for bring real value to its audience will find affiliate marketing to be a short-lived source of income. Choosing the right products to promote, stemming from a true passion for what the product does, forms the basis of all your promotional activities.

While there are many tactics to scale your promotion, the golden rule of affiliate marketing stays the same: only promote products you love & treat your audience like humans.

Build your own brand, choose products that you love, create authentic content and you will be on your way to building a real source of passive income.

In the past year we’ve really invested into our solutions to make it worthwhile for solo-bloggers, solo-preneurs to tap on our software and educational content to grow their audience and business.

For instance, we’ve introduced a free tier as well as a $50/month option for people who are just getting started to utilize email marketing, forms on top of their blog.

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17 Recruiter-Approved Skills for Your Resume That’ll Help You Get the Job

When I graduated college, I didn’t have much prior work experience, besides a high school gig at a chocolate shop and a college internship at a publishing firm.

However, I had something I believed made up for it — hard and soft skills.

Admittedly, some of these skills likely didn’t stand out to recruiters as particularly impressive. “Facebook”, for instance, is probably a skill I didn’t need to include, seeing as I wasn’t even applying for a social media position.

Use these marketing resume templates to create a killer resume. 

However, other skills, like “ability to work under pressure” and “proficient in Adobe Creative Suite”, did help me, particularly when I tailored my skills to fit the job description.

It’s critical you provide applicable and exceptional skills in your resume to show recruiters you’re an ideal candidate. 

To help you create an impressive resume and demonstrate your unique qualifications, I spoke with HubSpot recruiters to consolidate 17 recruiter-approved skills (and useful tips) that’ll help you get the job.

The Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills

There’s a difference between soft and hard skills, and most recruiters I spoke with emphasized the importance of hard skills in a resume. Hard skills are skills required for the job, and are acquired through education, training, or experience. They are quantifiable skills that can be measured or tested, such as web design, computer programming, or finance.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are more abstract and less easy to measure. They are attributes and personality traits that demonstrate how you’ll interact with others within the company. For instance, “strong communicator”, “detail-oriented”, or “self-motivated” are soft skills that are not necessarily required for the role, but could nonetheless help you succeed in the role.

I spoke with Johanna Fleming, a Services Recruiter here at HubSpot, about hard and soft skills and which are more critical for a resume. She told me, “Mostly, hard skills stand out. Soft skills don’t add a ton of value to resumes because they can be very objective. For example, many people add that they have things like ‘strong communication skills’ … but it’s a bit fluffy because who is evaluating their communication skills? That said, hard skills definitely are more important to highlight — especially technical skills and experiences. If someone is familiar with certain platforms or applications, it’s also definitely important to highlight those!”

Additionally, to demonstrate the validity of the skill, it’s important you incorporate real metrics. Holly Peterson, a Senior Recruiter here at HubSpot, told me it’s critical you include “a track record of metrics-driven performance, and/or the impact you’ve had in each role. This could be something like, ‘Increase sales leads by 25%,’ or ‘Drove new users in thousands’.”

Noah Gilman, a Recruiting Team Lead at HubSpot, agrees. He said, “If you claim to have done really well in your last role but don’t put any numbers behind it, that really weakens your message.”

Along with including metrics in your work experience section, Noah suggests sticking to hard skills as much as possible — “Stick to … things that you can answer questions about from a recruiter, like ‘What have you built using java?’ or ‘Talk to me about a cool report you built in Tableau’, instead of something a recruiter would never ask … like ‘Talk to me about when you had strong communication skills'”.

Additionally, Glory Montes, an Associate Campus Recruiter, mentioned a few other hard and soft skills that stand out as particularly impressive, including “presentation skills — it’s a big green flag if a resume mentions a time the candidate had to present to senior managers or present on work they did. I also look for collaboration skills, like if a candidate mentions they worked with co-workers in other departments. Being able to communicate across disciplines shows adaptiveness and strong communication skills. Finally, showing project work outside of your day-to-day responsibilities shows me that you are passionate about your discipline.”

It’s also important to avoid vague or general statements, which could seem untrue, particularly if other applicants often use the same phrases. To avoid this, Roshan Shah, a HubSpot recruiter, told me specificity is key — “I don’t think many recruiters like seeing general statements like, ‘improved X process’ or ‘built relationships with stakeholders’. I strongly prefer more explicit details, like how much you improved a process or how you built relationships, and with which stakeholders.”

How to Add The Right Skills to Your Resume

Each time you send your resume to a company, you want to slightly alter or tailor your skills to match the job description or the requirements for the role.

To create a role-specific list of skills, begin by looking at the job description itself. For instance, take a look at this role description for the Senior Communication Designer position on HubSpot’s Careers page:

From these sections, we can glean a few hard and soft skills you’ll need to include.

I’ve highlighted the soft skills you’ll want to emphasize in yellow — including an ability to work under pressure, strong time-management skills, a desire to learn, and an ability to collaborate well with diverse team members.

Alternatively, the hard skills you’d want to emphasize are in green — including fluency in Adobe Creative Suite, proficiency in UX design, and an ability to design products for both web and print.

Of course, it goes without saying — don’t list any skills you don’t actually have.

Roshan Shah echoes this, telling me, “Candidates should use their actual skill set as the barometer for how many things to list on their resume, rather than just the job description. They should list things they’re actually proficient in — if you say you’re comfortable using AdWords because it’s on the job description, but then we test you and you end up being pretty novice with it, that’s going to look much worse than if you’d just left it off your resume in the first place.”

After you’ve looked at the job description, do some research on job sites like Glassdoor or Monster to see qualifications other companies include for similar positions. This enables you to include skills the hiring manager hasn’t listed, demonstrating your potential to bring something unique to the role.

Paulina Valdez, a Senior Recruiter at HubSpot, told me, “It’s important to highlight the technical skills that the role requires. For my Spanish Translator role, I look for CAT tools in a resume, like MemoQ and SDL Trados. Soft skills are more buzz words than anything, so I prioritize hard skills related to the role.”

Finally, consider a list of soft skills you believe truly reflect your personality and work ethic. Include these if you believe they’re relevant for the position to which you’re applying. For instance, in my skills section of my resume, I’ve included “passion for learning”. While this attribute might not be listed for a specific role, it’s an authentic description and highlights in which type of work environment I do well, so it felt necessary to include. 

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Author: Caroline Forsey

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24 Little-Known Google Drive Features That’ll Boost Your Productivity [Infographic]

Odds are, you store all of your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations for work in Google Drive. As a cloud-based tool that lets you access any of your files from any device, it’s arguably the best digital asset management system out there.

If you’re an avid Google Drive user, you probably know your way around the tool. But even if you use Google Drive more than Elon Musk uses Twitter, the tool still has some relatively unknown features that you can leverage to boost your productivity.

To help you find and use these features, NetCredit created a handy, bookmarkable infographic that you can reference whenever you’re on Google Drive. From translating a document to another language to creating a QR code in a spreadsheet, this infographic will show you the little-known features that will help you become a power user of the tool.

Need more hours in the day? Download our complete workplace productivity guide  here.
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7 Types of Organizational Structure & Whom They’re Suited For [Diagrams]

The following article includes an excerpt from our free resource, An Illustrated Guide to Organizational Structures. If you’d like to download the full resource, click here.

Choosing the best organizational structure for your company, division, or team is a lot like picking out a new car.

At the most basic level, you’re always looking for something road-worthy — something that can take you (and your passengers) from point A to point B without a hitch.But beyond that, there are a lot of options to consider. Automatic or manual? Four-wheel drive or two? Built-in GPS? Leather interior? Flux capacitor? (Only if you’re going back in time, of course.)Click here to learn how to structure your company for success.

In the world of organizational structures, the options you have to choose from include things like chain of command (long or short?), span of control (wide or narrow?), and centralization (centralized or decentralized decision-making?), just to name a few.

What’s the point of an organizational structure? As a business leader, do you even need one? As I said, org structures help you define at least three key elements of how your business is going to run. Here’s what each of those elements means to an organization:

Chain of Command

Your chain of command is how tasks are delegated and work is approved. An org structure allows you to define how many “rungs of the ladder” a particular department or business line should have. In other words, who tells whom to do what? And how are issues, requests, and proposals communicated up and down that ladder?

Span of Control

Your span of control can represent two things: who falls under a manager’s, well, management … and which tasks fall under a department’s responsibility.


Centralization describes where decisions are ultimately made. Once you’ve established your chain of command, you’ll need to consider which people and departments have a say in each decision. A business can lean toward centralized, where final decisions are made by just one or two entities; or decentralized, where final decisions are made within the team or department in charge of carrying out that decision.

You might not need an org structure right away, but the more products you develop and people you hire, the harder it’ll be to lead your company without this crucial diagram.

(To dive deeper into what all of these different organizational structure components are, check out my earlier post, “The 6 Building Blocks of Organizational Structure.”)

Structure Your Company for Success

In this post, we’ll explore how you can combine those components to form different types of organizational structures. We’ll also highlight the benefits and drawbacks of different structure types so you can evaluate which is the best option for your company, division, or team. Let’s dive in.

Mechanistic vs Organic Organizational Structures

Organizational structures fall on a spectrum, with “mechanistic” at one end and
“organic” at the other.

Take a look at the diagram below. As you’ll probably be able to tell, the mechanistic structure represents the traditional, top-down approach to organizational structure, whereas the organic structure represents a more collaborative, flexible approach.

Mechanistic vs organic organizational structure, compared in two diagrams side by side

Here’s a breakdown of both ends of the structural spectrum, their advantages and disadvantages, and which types of businesses are suited for them.

Mechanistic Structure

Mechanistic structures, also called bureaucratic structures, are known for having narrow spans of control, as well as high centralization, specialization, and formalization. They’re also quite rigid in what specific departments are designed and permitted to do for the company.

This organizational structure is much more formal than organic structure, using specific standards and practices to govern every decision the business makes. And while this model does hold staff more accountable for their work, it can become a hindrance to the creativity and agility the organization needs to keep up with random changes in its market.

As daunting and inflexible as mechanistic structure sounds, the chain of command, whether long or short, is always clear under this model. As a company grows, it needs to make sure everyone (and every team) knows what’s expected of them. Teams collaborating with other teams as needed might help get a business off the ground in its early stages, but sustaining that growth — with more people and projects to keep track of — will eventually require some policymaking. In other words, keep mechanistic structure in your back pocket … you never know when you’ll need it.

Organic Structure

Organic structures (also known as “flat” structures) are known for their wide spans of control, decentralization, low specialization, and loose departmentalization. What’s that all mean? This model might have multiple teams answering to one person and taking on projects based on their importance and what the team is capable of — rather than what the team is designed to do.

As you can probably tell, this organizational structure is much less formal than mechanistic, and takes a bit of an ad-hoc approach to business needs. This can sometimes make the chain of command, whether long or short, difficult to decipher. And as a result, leaders might give certain projects the green light more quickly but cause confusion in a project’s division of labor.

Nonetheless, the flexibility that an organic structure allows for can be extremely helpful to a business that’s navigating a fast-moving industry, or simply trying to stabilize itself after a rough quarter. It also empowers employees to try new things and develop as professionals, making the organization’s workforce more powerful in the long run. Bottom line? Startups are often perfect for organic structure, since they’re simply trying to gain brand recognition and get their wheels off the ground.

Now, let’s uncover more specific types of organizational structures, most of which fall on the more traditional, mechanistic side of the spectrum.

1. Functional Organizational Structure

One of the most common types of organizational structures, the functional structure departmentalizes an organization based on common job functions.

An organization with a functional org structure, for instance, would group all of the marketers together in one department, group all of the salespeople together in a separate department, and group all of the customer service people together in a third department.

Blue diagram of functional organizational structure

The functional structure allows for a high degree of specialization for employees, and is easily scalable should the organization grow. Also this structure is mechanistic in nature — which has the potential to inhibit an employee’s growth — putting staff in skill-based departments can still allow them to delve deep into their field and find out what they’re good at.


Functional structure also has the potential to create barriers between different functions — and it can be inefficient if the organization has a variety of different products or target markets. The barriers created between departments can also limit peoples’ knowledge of and communication with other departments, especially those that depend on other departments to succeed.

2. Product-Based Divisional Structure

A divisional organizational structure is comprised of multiple, smaller functional structures (i.e. each division within a divisional structure can have its own marketing team, its own sales team, and so on). In this case — a product-based divisional structure — each division within the organization is dedicated to a particular product line.

Green diagram of product-based divisional organizational structure

This type of structure is ideal for organizations with multiple products and can help shorten product development cycles. This allows small businesses to go to market with new offerings fast.


It can be difficult to scale under a product-based divisional structure, and the organization could end up with duplicate resources as different divisions strive to develop new offerings.

3. Market-Based Divisional Structure

Another variety of the divisional organizational structure is the market-based structure, wherein the divisions of an organization are based around markets, industries, or customer types.

Pink diagram of market-based divisional organizational structure

The market-based structure is ideal for an organization that has products or services that are unique to specific market segments, and is particularly effective if that organization has advanced knowledge of those segments. This organizational structure also keeps the business constantly aware of demand changes among its different audience segments.


Too much autonomy within each market-based team can lead to divisions developing systems that are incompatible with one another. Divisions might also end up inadvertently duplicating activities that other divisions are already handling.

4. Geographical Divisional Structure

The geographical organizational structure establishes its divisions based on — you guessed it — geography. More specifically, the divisions of a geographical structure can include territories, regions, or districts.

Yellow diagram of geographical divisional organizational structure

This type of structure is best-suited to organizations that need to be near sources of supply and/or customers (e.g. for deliveries or for on-site support). It also brings together many forms of business expertise, allowing each geographical division to make decisions from more diverse points of view.


The main downside of a geographical org structure: It can be easy for decision- making to become decentralized, as geographic divisions (which can be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from corporate headquarters) often have a great deal of autonomy. And when you have more than one marketing department — one for each region — you run the risk of creating campaigns that compete with (and weaken) other divisions across your digital channels.

5. Process-Based Structure

Process-based organizational structures are designed around the end-to-end flow of different processes, such as “Research & Development,” “Customer Acquisition,” and “Order Fulfillment.” Unlike a strictly functional structure, a process-based structure considers not only the activities employees perform, but also how those different activities interact with one another.

In order to fully understand the diagram below, you need to look at it from left to right: The customer acquisition process can’t start until you have a fully developed product to sell. By the same token, the order fulfillment process can’t start until customers have been acquired and there are product orders to fill.

Orange diagram of process-based organizational structure

Process-based organizational structure is ideal for improving the speed and efficiency of a business, and is best-suited for those in rapidly changing industries, as it is easily adaptable.


Similar to a few other structures on this list, process-based structure can erect barriers between the different process groups. This leads to problems communicating and handing off work to other teams and employees.

6. Matrix Structure

Unlike the other structures we’ve looked at so far, a matrix organizational structure doesn’t follow the traditional, hierarchical model. Instead, all employees (represented by the green boxes) have dual reporting relationships. Typically, there is a functional reporting line (shown in blue) as well as a product- based reporting line (shown in yellow).

When looking at a matrix structure org chart, solid lines represent strong, direct-reporting relationships, whereas dotted lines indicate that the relationship is secondary, or not as strong. In our example below, it’s clear that functional reporting takes precedence over product-based reporting.

Teal diagram of matrix organizational structure

The main appeal of the matrix structure is that it can provide both flexibility and more balanced decision-making (as there are two chains of command instead of just one). Having a single project overseen by more than one business line also creates opportunities for these business lines to share resources and communicate more openly with each other — things they might not otherwise be able to do regularly.


The primary pitfall of the matrix organizational structure? Complexity. The more layers of approval employees have to go through, the more confused they can be about who they’re supposed to answer to. This confusion can ultimately cause frustration over who has authority over which decisions and products — and who’s responsible for those decisions when things go wrong.

7. Circular Structure

While it might appear drastically different from the other organizational structures highlighted in this section, the circular structure still relies on hierarchy, with higher-level employees occupying the inner rings of the circle and lower-level employees occupying the outer rings.

That being said, the leaders or executives in a circular organization aren’t seen as sitting atop the organization, sending directives down the chain of command. Instead, they’re at the center of the organization, spreading their vision outward.

Multi-colored diagram of circular organizational structure

From an ideological perspective, a circular structure is meant to promote communication and the free flow of information between different parts of the organization. Whereas a traditional structure shows different departments or divisions as occupying individual, semi-autonomous branches, the circular structure depicts all divisions as being part of the same whole.


From a practical perspective, the circular structure can be confusing, especially for new employees. Unlike with a more traditional, top-down structure, a circular structure can make it difficult for employees to figure out who they report to and how they’re meant to fit into the organization.

That concludes our exploration of different types of organizational structures. Keep in mind that what we’ve just looked at are simply archetypes — in real-world applications, organizations often use hybrid structures, which can borrow elements from multiple structure types.

Want to see some real-world examples of marketing team org structures from companies like GitHub and Rue La La? Download the complete resource, An Illustrated Guide to Organizational Structures.

To learn more about working on a marketing team, check out the 6 Building Blocks of Organizational Structure [Diagrams].

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What’s the Business Case for Virtual Reality? Here’s What the Experts Say.

Around here, we give a lot of thought to the question, “What is the business case for VR?”

Last week, I had a chance to attend VRX — an annual virtual reality (VR) industry conference and expo, where I was able to hear insights and reflections on the state of VR — and where it’s going next. On day two, the focus shifted to this question.

We’ve written about success stories with this still-emerging, immersive technology — about experiences that could make even the biggest VR skeptics a bit of envy, about what it was like when our own team had a chance to play around with a VR headset, and about potentially game-changing hardware.

And yet, the question for many still remains: How is VR really going to benefit me, my business, and my customers?

Here’s what the experts have to say.

Removing Barriers and Distance

Anjney Midha is the co-founder & CEO of Ubiquity6: an augmented reality (AR) platform with a mission to build experiences that bring people together in an immersive (albeit digital) way.

And when it comes to making the case for AR or VR, he said at VRX, the emphasis should be on an experience “that doesn’t isolate you [and] allows you to interact with the world and people around you.”

It’s something that Midha said occurred to him when he become a student in the U.S. after growing up overseas. Now, that distance is one of the most compelling points in the case for VR: to remove barriers and distance between friends, family, and colleagues.

“Can you bring the people I care about,” he asked, “into the spaces I care about?”

As a growing number of workplaces are adapting to remote employees, the idea of building a virtual workforce becomes more prevalent — of creating an immersively digital environment where those who work elsewhere can meet and collaborate with colleagues in a way that makes it feel like they’re in the same room.

“The jump from conference calls to video conference calls was a huge leap that allowed us to pick up so much context from watching someone’s facial expressions, but video conferencing has struggled to scale that interaction,” says HubSpot Senior Marketing Manager Janessa Lantz, who’s also a fully remote employee. “Where I see the potential for VR to impact my day-to-day would be to make large meetings more closely mimic real life.”

That more natural approach to conversation and collaboration could be one thing that allows for a more immersive, virtual workplace.

“It’s nearly impossible to run a good meeting with a big group of people on a video call,” Lantz says. “The audio makes conversation awkward and you lose so much relational context by not physically sharing space.”

It’s that idea of a more immersive, virtual community that feels more natural — whether professional or recreational — that many businesses within the VR industry, like Facebook-owned Oculus, see as an end goal.

“We’re all really interested to see how Oculus Quest changes not only how people play games and people build games,” Allison Berliner — a product marketing manager for the Oculus Quest — told me at Oculus Connect earlier this year, “but also how people learn and communicate, and connect with each other.”

The Case for Data

“Before your conscious kicks in, your eyes actually tell you what you’re going to do. That’s important to keep in mind when building a [VR] experience,” explained Vinay Narayan, VP product and operations at HTC Vive, during a VRX panel discussion.

His point: Eyetracking technology is something that, in recent years, has become more feasible and scalable with VR. Having that type of data — and knowing where the user’s eyes are going and where they pay the most attention — can not only help VR content creators build more engaging experiences, but also, help businesses understand customer needs.

Eyetracking, then, can let businesses know if a user even saw the key part of the experience to which they were hoping to draw attention, Narayan said. “Looking at the data layer helps you figure out where you can solve your business problems, or even give you insights.”

Take the example of Tobii Pro: a tech company that pairs VR with eye-tracking technology to help retailers learn where a shopper pays the most visual attention and plan store layout accordingly. I took it for a spin at SXSW in March:

“Very similar to an in-store shop-along or in-depth interview research, this is another tool that can be added on top of that,” Amanda Bentley, Tobii Pro’s Director Of Commercial Sales (whose voice can be heard in the background of the video above), told me at the time.

“You can get another layer of understanding not only how shoppers feel … but also, what information do they actually process?” Bentley continued. “What are they attending to as they’re making the decision to purchase products?”

Immersed in Education

VRX opened with a presentation from SuperData’s VP of Strategy and Head of XR Stephanie Llamas on “What’s really happened with VR & AR in 2018,” where — among other topics — she discussed the highest points of supply and demand VR within enterprise settings.


As this slide shows, VR and AR opportunities aren’t wholly occupied by gaming and entertainment. Much of the time, it’s about partaking in an immersive experience to learn something new.

“VR has the potential to be an incredible tool for connecting the most curious, passionate and collaborative individuals together,” says HubSpot Academy Senior Manager Christopher LoDolce. “The trifecta of learning is knowledge transfer — typically teacher in front of the classroom — an application like homework or something learned at work, and then, discussion. If you are able to simulate an in-person experience with VR and incorporate the trifecta, it would break down barriers.”

“We believe people that learn together grow together. VR will take the asynchronous learning experience and flip it on its head.”

– Christopher LoDolce, Senior Manager, HubSpot Academy

Pair that with the highest area of growth for VR, which Llamas predicted to be location-based: the concept of bringing a VR experience to users where they already are, to introduce them to the technology without requiring a purchase.

Taking a location-based approach to educational VR in a setting where people are already in attendance to learn something — such as an industry conference or educational event — could be one of the more promising business use cases for VR.

Education is a no brainer for VR. The ability to have an immersive educational experience could really enhance on the top training and adoption of new skills,” says HubSpot VP of Marketing Jon Dick. “You could imagine teaching about a concept like workflows in a more immersive way that highlights the journey a user is going on prior to diving into the software.”

Where to Begin

Undertaking a VR use case could seem like a tall order for some businesses, considering the fact that it still has yet to go mainstream and many people are still learning about the benefits it could offer.

To address that, Narayan suggested a step-by-step approach to businesses building a VR experience, no matter what its purpose.

“Small incremental tasks go a long way, because it’s low-risk,” Narayan explained. “Map a customer journey. What do they want to do? What’s important to them? You can solve sub-steps for that.”

Started with the big picture and breaking it down into a smaller pieces, said GE Power Product Architect Connor McCollough at a VRX panel, has the potential to be a sustainable approach to successfully building a business-focused VR experience.

“Sometimes, the business just doesn’t have an appetite for that big, light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel vision,” McCollough explained. “Break it down into smaller chunks, and solve the business case for each of those pieces — and tie them back into a [bigger] vision.”

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Author: Amanda Zantal-Wiener

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5 Pro Tips for Creating a Window Display That Sells [+ Examples]

Creating a window display is a lot like creating web content. If you write a formulaic blog post packed with clichés, it won’t resonate with your audience. Similarly, if you plop a standard mannequin dressed in a seasonal outfit in your window display, it won’t persuade anyone to shop at your store.

To engage an audience, you must stick out from the crowd. But what’s the best way to do so?

A powerful way to differentiate your brand is by telling stories. Even though it’s a buzzword as old as the advertising industry, storytelling is a timeless skill. Neuroscience proves that it’s the best way to capture people’s attention, bake information into their memories, and forge close, personal bonds. We’re programmed to pay our undivided attention to a great story — that’ll never change.

And for this very reason, we’ve decided to highlight the window displays that tell some of the most captivating stories in retail and teach you how to tell them through your own window display. By leveraging storytelling, you can pull people into a narrative and evoke warm feelings and emotions they associate with your brand, driving them to not only visit your store but also buy your products.

Click here to take inspiration from the most remarkable marketing and ad  campaigns we've ever seen.

5 Pro Tips for Creating a Window Display That Sells [+ Examples]

1. Make sure you understand your target customer.

Even if your window display tells an incredibly vivid story, it won’t resonate with your audience if they can’t visualize themselves in that narrative. In other words, you need to make sure your window display is relatable and relevant to your target customers’ lives.

For instance, check out this display window from French fashion house, Isabel Marant.

Image Credit: Pinterest

Connection, especially love, is the ultimate life goal for most adults. We’re biologically hardwired to search for it. And by draping their dresses from pictures of happy couples embracing each other, Isabel Marant is able to sell the feeling of love, along with their clothing, too.

 If Isabel Marant’s target customers were teenagers, though, this window display probably wouldn’t resonate with them. Most teens can’t relate to this display’s story.

That said, you don’t want your window display to get so targeted that it alienates people who aren’t exactly best-fit customers but still want to buy your products.

For example, when Sessions Music, an education company, discovered that 75% of their students were under the age of 15, they designed their display windows to grab young students’ attention. But this decision made people think Sessions Music only offered music programs for children, and a bunch of people started asking them if they offered music programs for adults, even though Sessions Music has offered them for their entire existence. Unfortunately, their window display didn’t make that clear.

Sessions Music’s display window mishap teaches us a valuable lesson when using data to understand our customers. Data, in its raw form, is just a bunch of numbers packed into a spreadsheet. The actual value of data are the insights that lie within. But to truly extract those insights, you must think critically about the context your data was generated from.

2. Be refreshingly original.

In a world where countless brands fight for a limited amount of attention, the only way your window display can grab people’s attention is by being original But that’s easier said than done.

In retail, especially during the holiday season, it can be tempting to leap onto the latest marketing trend that all your competitors have already pounced on. If everyone else is implementing the latest tip or trick, it must work, right? To captivate passersby, though, you must resist this urge.

Cliches repel attention. They sap your window display’s creativity and can’t activate the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for experiencing emotions.

But how exactly do you create an “original” window display? Consider Cole Fox Hardware’s window display during Halloween below.

Image Credit: Jun Belen

Instead of displaying their best-selling products with a standard crew of ghouls and goblins in their window, they cleverly framed one of their products, brooms, as a witch’s broomstick, which helped them tap into people’s Halloween spirit in a refreshing way.

By taking an unexpected approach on a popular theme, Cole Fox Hardware could separate themselves from the pack and appeal to people who were tired of seeing ghosts or jack-o-lanterns in every other window display.

3. Sell a better lifestyle, not a better product.

Most people aspire to transcend their current identity and lives — that’s why everyone loves superheroes. Spiderman and Wonder Woman are normal people during the day, just like us, but when night falls or duty calls, they transform into someone much greater — a powerful being who can fend off the evilest of criminals, protect their city, and save their fellow citizens’ lives.

Bertuli, a menswear retailer, understands our desire to transcend our current selves. And by displaying an outfit with a Batman shadow, they’re communicating that wearing their clothes will enable their customers to channel their inner-Batman.

Image Credit: Pinterest

If you want to evoke the same type of emotions in your customers as Bertuli does, start thinking about the ideal lifestyle your customers want and use your window display to convince them that your products can help them live it.

4. Make sure your window display’s focal point is at eye level.

To capture people’s imaginations through your window display, you need to make sure it physically grabs their attention. One of the best ways to do this is by placing the most visually engaging element of your window display at eye level.

The most visually engaging element of your window display is usually the key feature of the product you’re showcasing. For instance, check out this exhibit from Seneca College’s annual fashion show called Redefining Design.

Picture Credit: Pinterest

By hanging this stylish outfit’s key feature, a jacket that resembles a suave professional strolling through the airport, on his way to catch a flight for an important meeting, at eye level, the display can draw people in and plant this exact image in their heads. Eventually, these people will start visualizing themselves as this suave professional, which stimulates their desire to buy the entire outfit.

5. Measure your window display’s performance.

Historically, a huge advantage digital marketing has had over visual merchandising is that you can easily gauge your content’s performance or its impact on website traffic and lead generation. At a brick and mortar store, it can be hard to measure a window display’s performance. You could tie sales back to your display, but, in all honesty, your store experience, sales people, and merchandise influence revenue much more heavily than your window display does.

To really gauge the value of your display, you need to track the metrics that align with its main purpose — getting people in the door. But how do you do that?

In recent years, vendors have released software that can measure your store’s foot traffic and, in turn, help you understand which window displays bring in the most store visitors. Once you collect enough of this data, you can leverage proven window displays to boost foot traffic and even test new ideas and concepts.

Now — who says visual merchandising can’t be data-driven?


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