True North

Triad Payroll Company Increases Mobile Engagement 97% with Responsive Website

Responsive Web DesignScott Jenkins, President of Payroll Solutions, knew his website wasn’t up to par. It was nearly ten years old, and his team realized that a responsive design would be vital to meet client needs. As a result, Jenkins contacted North Star Marketing in late 2016 and launched his new site in April 2017. Since launch, the company is already seeing indicators from the new website that positively impact productivity, sales, and client retention. A few of these include:

  • Increases in direct traffic to the site
  • Fewer visitors leaving the site (lower bounce rates)
  • And a significant increase in mobile visitor engagement

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See What the WordPress Gutenberg Update Means for Your Website

WordPress is an amazing Content Management System (CMS) that powers websites across a wide variety of industries.  In fact, more than 30 percent of the top 10,000 websites run on WordPress. It is open source, meaning that it is free to use and hundreds of developers donate their time to keep the platform safe, secure, and fast.  Our development team at North Star Marketing consists of a few developers that help give back to that community through volunteering time and speaking at WordPress Meetups and WordCamps all over the country.

Getting Ready for the New Gutenberg WordPress Update

North Star has helped hundreds of clients – from schools, colleges, and healthcare networks to banks, accounting firms, and manufacturers – reach key audiences through engaging websites that are built on the WordPress platform.  We’re making sure all of the websites we host continue to function seamlessly when the next major update to WordPress, Version 5.0, is rolled out in the next month. If your website currently utilizes WordPress, keep reading to learn what to expect with this latest update.

More Editing Flexibility

Version 5.0 features a new editing experience called Gutenberg.  Named after the inventor of the Printing Press, Johannes Gutenberg (1394-1468), the new content editor will take the place of the WYSIWYG editor in favor of a feature block content area.  This block system will give designers and developers a better editing experience that more closely matches the front end of your site. WordPress even gives you a great place to test out Gutenberg on their website.  

Many WordPress users may not realize Gutenberg is a fundamental shift in not only the publishing side of the CMS, but also the coding side of the platform. WordPress has always prided itself on being able to update without the risk of breaking features that might have been in the code for over 10 years.  That is wonderful for users, but very difficult for developers because WordPress hasn’t done the best job of keeping up with newer technologies. That all changes with Gutenberg. Developers and designers will now be able to come together to work on a simple editing experience that looks beautiful on the front end and back end of your site.

When you open Gutenberg for the first time, you will notice a complete shift in how the back end page editing is laid out.  The publish button is moved to a floating menu bar at the top, and you just click on the text to edit what you want. You click on the plus button to add a new block, and the settings for that block are found on the right side of the screen.

Once you are familiar with the block concept, you will notice that everything is a block and can be added very simply to your content. This will be taking the place of common shortcodes that we add to sites, such as calls-to-action, accordions, and testimonials.

Gutenberg Compatibility

Gutenberg is going to be great for websites moving forward, but if your site wasn’t designed and developed to take advantage of the new editor, it can cause some serious layout issues with your content.  

For North Star-hosted WordPress sites, we have activated a new plugin called Classic Editor to address the Version 5.0 compatibility issues.  This will allow your site to continue to use the current editing experience familiar to your website managers. You will not have to worry about any compatibility problems, and your site will keep running in its current format.  

Free Webinar to See Gutenberg in Action

The North Star Marketing development team is currently working on putting together a webinar to review some of the major features of Gutenberg. We invite you to sign up, and we’ll keep you posted on the particulars.  

Upgrading to Gutenberg

At North Star Marketing, we build custom websites that take advantage of the technologies that are available at the time of development to keep your site pages consistent and beautiful. Each site is different, and therefore each site will require different edits to become compatible with Gutenberg.  If you are a North Star client, the first step is to contact North Star Marketing and let us know that you would like a quote on updating your site to Gutenberg. We will then test your site and put together an estimate for the switchover. If you are not a North Star Marketing client and are considering either upgrading your WordPress site to Gutenberg or developing a new site, click here to start the conversation.

Gutenberg Webinar

Why VirCon6 is a Must for School Marketers

 

If you’re in education marketing or admissions, don’t miss this virtual conference.

I first became aware of Brendan Schneider through my friend, Rick Newberry (a.k.a. “Globetrotter,” a.k.a. “Selfie Samurai”), an enrollment consultant who has worked with hundreds of schools across the U.S. and beyond to help them boost their numbers in a sustainable way.

As I’ve followed Brendan over the years, I’ve come to appreciate why he’s a go-to source for so many marketing and enrollment professionals. He’s not speaking out of theory. He’s practicing his craft as Director of Advancement at Sewickley Academy in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. And he gets results.

So, why am I telling you about Brendan? Two reasons:

  1. If you’re in education marketing, admissions, or advancement, you need to follow this guy.
  2. He’s asked me to speak at VirCon6 on Saturday, October 13, 2018.

What is VirCon6? I’m glad you asked. In brief, VirCon6 is simply one of the best bargains you’ll find in enrollment marketing. There’s no travel – you just dial in. You’ll hear experts address relevant topics that can help you drive enrollment and retention. And you don’t actually have to attend live on Saturday, October 13. You can watch and share the recorded content with your team at any time after the event.

My presentation is on strategic messaging for schools. The title is, “Telling Your School Story with Clarity, Consistency, and Confidence.” I’ll be sharing key findings from my message consulting work with private schools that will help your team become better aligned with the interests of prospective families.

There are eight other presenters who will be speaking on a range of topics, including ADA compliance, digital marketing, virtual teams, and video strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about VirCon6 or taking advantage of early bird special, just click here!

I hope to see you dial in on October 13, 2018, for an action-packed day of learning.

Never Sit on a Mediocre Chair: Advice from a Marketing Firm with a Commitment to Excellence


Think of a chair.
It may be a fairly beautiful chair; imagine its intricate carvings and a polish that reflects a flawless finish. But let’s face it… chairs are not for viewing; they’re for sitting.

At the crucial moment of trust, we place a significant measure of personal pleasure or pain, joy or embarrassment in the functionality of a chair. Unless, of course, you are the kind of impervious soul who enjoys ridicule, no one desires to come crashing to the floor due to a mediocre chair construction process.

No one strives for mediocrity.

We all know that mediocrity is the result (at best) of minimal effort. Striving is reserved for difficult things… valuable things. We see the value of chasing a dream or accomplishing a goal. Mediocrity simply accepts things as they are and does not push beyond normal desire to make anything better. Mediocrity, when accepted, is the acknowledgement that the goal isn’t truly worth pursuing and not valuable in the eyes of the pursuer.

Does anyone value mediocrity? Is there any honor or prestige that accompanies that level of effort? Should anyone feel natural pride or feelings of accomplishment from half effort? Quite honestly, one often feels a measure of shame in knowing that the effort could have been better and that it should have produced a more excellent result.

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Facebook Fears and How Your Business Should Respond

facebook fears for businessesFacebook seems to be making plenty of headlines lately. And for businesses that advertise, it’s concerning.  From algorithm changes that reduce brand visibility, to recent data breach accusations, it’s hard to ignore. Both issues have caused reactions among businesses and investors as stocks have fallen sharply in both circumstances. As with any news cycle, these issues won’t be the end of the story.

For businesses and content producers, this news should give us reason to pause. It should cause us to consider how this impacts the kind of content we produce, the kind of engagement we desire, and how to track our audience through social media platforms.

Yet Facebook isn’t the only reason we should be evaluating our strategies. In fact, focusing on any one specific external factor that is tied to our marketing can lead us down the wrong path. We should be looking at the broader picture.

Is a digital marketing strategy that involves digital ads reaching places where customers are spending their valuable time important? Sure. But I would suggest that if businesses are more concerned about reaching customers with Facebook, they’re focused on the wrong prize.

Creating brand advocates, developing incredible experiences, and delighting people should be priority one.

We should be evaluating how our digital strategies foster those priorities. Here are three approaches that will help you weather the storms of social media and stay focused on important, overarching marketing goals.

Reevaluate Your Goals

Ever since Facebook became a viable communication platform, businesses and marketers have been doing their best to leverage it to reach current and potential customers. Advertisers are able to segment their content to specific users, and this has been extremely valuable to boost audience engagement.

But your goals should always take precedence over your tactics. For example, if your goal is to increase enrollment in your school, increasing likes or shares on your Facebook posts is not likely to have any impact on leads or enrollment. It may increase visibility, but driving engagement toward an actionable step (i.e. phone call, email, visit, etc.) will provide a metric that directly connects to the goal of growing enrollment.

In this example, what drives enrollment for your school? Is it a family tour? Is it a conversation with teachers? What are the steps and actions that typically lead to an enrollment?

Reevaluating your goals will inform how you should be using social media to engage and connect with your target market. It’s possible that engaging your audience by asking questions is a better approach than positioning ads.

Additionally, goals are not a set it and forget proposition. We should constantly be evaluating whether specific social media goals, that are tied to broader marketing objectives, are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Is our goal to grow followers? Or, is it to increase engagement and interaction with our content? Each of our goals should directly impact our broader marketing objectives.

Communicate Your Value:

It’s tempting to assume that our target audience is on Facebook looking specifically for our content while scrolling through their feed. The reality is that the customer journey is filled with many stops at many different stages. To truly bring value to our audience, we must be constantly listening to and responding to their needs.

Sometimes we should step back before we can step forward. We achieve this by gaining a better understanding of what our customers value through asking and observing. Market research can take time. But the result will give you and your business incredible insight. Inevitably, you’ll find that your customers value different things at different stages. Sometimes they will want advice and other times facts and data.

“…the secret to appealing to customers, stakeholders, audience members and anyone you care about is to understand who they are and what they want.” Alison Davis

Once we have a solid understanding of what our customers value, we can develop content and communication that will speak directly to the customer need.

Reconsider the Buyer Journey:

The buyer journey is something that has been discussed in marketing circles for years. But have we invested time and resources into evaluating the way our customers use Facebook to influence their purchase decisions at these various stages?

Let’s first explore the foundations of a buyer journey. In its most basic form, the buyer journey is comprised of the stages before, during, and after a purchase. Those stages are usually identified by your customer as:

  • Being aware there is a problem
  • Considering what products or services will meet their needs
  • Making a decision, or purchase
  • Becoming an advocate/repeat customer

Your audience is at various stages of this journey. The value you provide through digital channels like Facebook should consider these stages and meet the right need. For example, if your audience is not aware they have a problem that your product/service solves, how do you educate them? If they have already purchased your product/service, are there benefits they would be willing to share with their friends?

Your customers use Facebook for a variety of reasons. It’s imperative that we walk a mile, or two in our customers’ shoes to understand their journey. Not only the problem they are solving, but how they use social media to meet those needs. What information are they looking for? Do they rely on specific resources or people to help inform their decisions?

The Ultimate Goal: Bringing Value to Customers

Platforms like Facebook will continue to change; however, you’ll be able to weather changes and develop a smart social media strategy with these three tactics. Ultimately, you want to bring value to your customers in a truly meaningful way.

Is your business using Facebook to reach your marketing goals? Has it made a positive impact on your business? What metrics are you tracking that are impacting your goals? Share your thoughts and ideas. We’d love to hear from you.

Making the Switch to a Responsive Website

Responsive Website Development: More than just Geek Speak

How many times have you said to a friend, “just Google it,” or used your smartphone to quickly find the answer to one of life’s pressing questions? Whether you’re looking for local businesses, store hours, or need to know how far Earth is from Mars, the mobile web has you covered. But how often do you find yourself frustrated by websites that just aren’t built for access on-the-go? Pinch-to-zoom gets old quickly when you’re trying to read tiny text. Thankfully, there is a solution – responsive website development.

Whether you’re familiar with the term or not, you’ve probably used responsive websites on your tablet or smartphone. In a nutshell, responsive development is the implementation of multiple design layouts for a single website to account for the various screen sizes people use to browse the web. The width of the screen on individual devices determines the actual layout of the design – it “responds” to the user’s screen preference.

In most cases, you’ll see the same same content that you would find on the desktop version of the site, but organized in a format which is easily accessible from any device. As a result, you get a web experience that displays effectively regardless of the device you’re using. When done right, it can be just as easy to navigate the site on your smartphone as it would be on a desktop computer.

Here’s a quick video displaying how responsive design actually works based on the device size:

Why is responsive design so important?

In early 2014, the Internet landscape saw a massive shift when mobile web traffic exceeded desktop traffic. This means that more people are searching online from phones than computers.This shift isn’t a just passing fad – mobile Internet usage continues to climb and shows no sign of slowing down.

In April of 2015, Google (the industry leader with nearly 74% of all website search traffic) began penalizing search rankings for websites that are not mobile friendly. In an attempt to provide users with more relevant content and better search experiences, Google changed its algorithm to automatically display mobile-friendly sites higher in rankings than those sites that are not yet upgraded to a responsive design. This transition impacted many businesses, as they saw their search traffic drop significantly.

Perhaps you’re wondering if this is an issue for your website. You can start by pulling up your website on your phone. If it feels clunky, difficult to navigate, and hard to read, you probably need a responsive website conversion. Also, if you have Google Analytics set up on your site, you can see the breakdown of devices that are accessing your site. Most likely you’re seeing your mobile website traffic grow. (Click here for a step-by-step overview of how to look up this information.)

It doesn’t have to be a complicated process to convert your website a mobile-friendly format. If you need guidance or help getting started with making your website mobile friendly, contact a North Star Marketing team member today to learn more about the process. (You can even contact us from your phone through our responsive website!)

The Power of Pantone – How We Make Sure Your Brand Always Matches

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon. This historic journey required countless tasks of impressive intellect and skill, perhaps the most significant of which was simply not missing the Moon altogether. Four days before the monumental landing, the crew of Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the Earth orbited the sun at a speed of over 66,000 miles per hour, with the goal of ending up on the Moon, which was orbiting the Earth at over 2,200 miles per hour. It was like trying to shoot a quarter from a moving vehicle into the next county over. A miscalculation of just a single degree could mean completely missing the Moon and hurtling into the vastness of space. While one degree may seem insignificant at first, it can quickly escalate to wasted resources, diminished credibility, and a failed mission.

While your business may not be concerned with space travel, a minor variation in your brand can still spell a failed mission for your marketing efforts. The focal points of brand engagement for many businesses has been redirected from traditional media like billboards, trade publication ads, and brochures to a website strategically connected to a constellation of social marketing platforms. This transition has enabled color standards to be more forgiving (it’s a much faster and inexpensive to fix an inconsistent color on a web page than it is on a billboard), but given the number of design files, the different sites they’re distributed to, and the number of hands they pass through from concept to delivery, color shifts can easily occur, and the uniformity of a brand can quickly unravel.

How Colors are Identified

To ensure your brand colors have a solid foundation of standardization, one of the most common and reliable solutions is the new Pantone Plus Color Bridge system. As the only internationally recognized color system, Pantone provides uniform guidelines to convert colors into an easy-to-duplicate CMYK process color code, which can be shared with vendors to ensure consistent results.

The Pantone system begins with a physical color book, where colors are assigned codes that become the universally recognized building blocks of your brand. This allows business owners to see how a specific color will reproduce when printed (using process or spot color) and plan in advance to minimize potential color shifts in different printed media forms. It’s also the way to obtain a concrete reference for ensuring a desired color matches the source of its inspiration.

Color Selection in Action: A Case Study

Let’s say a gardening enthusiast wants to start a business entitled Verbena Garden and Supply Company. Knowing the client’s passion for verbenas, we could use that information to construct the new color palette by recording the exact colors from the actual flower by physically matching them with the Pantone swatch book.

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By matching the colors to the original desired object, the following Pantone CP colors are obtained:

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Out of the 1,677 colors available through this system, our design team ensures that the colors selected have the minimal potential for color shift, resulting in a greater degree of accuracy when reproducing color for all media types and print methods.

With these color codes secured, the colors are then translated to the CMYK used for typical print materials, RGB for all web-based media files, and HTML colors (commonly referred to as “hexadecimal codes” when applied to web programming).

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Launching Your Brand

With a reliable color system now in place, the business owner knows exactly what to communicate to properly reproduce her new logo in all subsequent brand elements.

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Learn more today

Interested in learning more about the branding process and how North Star Marketing can take your brand to the next level? Call us today at 336-229-6610 or request additional information here. We look forward to partnering with you!

Post script: The science of color construction and reproduction has been evolving for centuries. Click here for a monumental attempt to develop an analog system in the Netherlands in 1692. 

The Difference Between a Good Brand and a Great Brand? Consistency.

Every company has a brand, whether they make it a priority or not. Simply defined, a brand is what people think about you – the impressions they have when hearing or seeing your name. In most cases your brand is reflected initially in your logo mark, then supported by your messaging. These experiences influence attitudes and opinions about your company, nonprofit, school, product, service, etc.

A good brand is built over time and requires thought, strategy and consistent implementation. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you have a “good” brand, or at least the beginnings of one. But hopefully you want more than just a good brand.

To take your good brand to the next level, let’s take a look at a great one.

Coca-Cola is a great brand.

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In 2010, Coca-Cola spent $2.9 billion on advertising. By 2013, with a budget of $3.3 billion, their CEO began laying plans to increase that amount to $4.3 billion by 2016.

He called it “Brand Building Initiatives”

From the name to the logo, from the product to the messaging, everyone knows Coca-Cola. It has been said that “Coca-Cola” is one of the most widely recognized terms worldwide, eclipsed only by the word “okay.”

Interestingly, their logo has remained largely unchanged since the 1900s. The script font and classic red are recognizable all over the world, even when displayed in different languages. Even with a massive ad budget, the sheer scale of this branding phenomenon would be unsustainable without an unwavering commitment to consistency.

For Coca-Cola maintaining “brand consistency” is a strategic commitment that is in many ways just as vital to their success as their secret formula. In fact, exporting their messaging is so important to Coke that they spend more on branding annually than Apple and Microsoft combined – all so we, the consumers, will prefer their brand. This consistency extends across every medium, every advertisement, every package, every bottle, every aluminum can.

Does consistency matter to you and your brand?

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that there are probably two rules at Coca-Cola that, upon being broken, would result in a very bad day for the offender:

  • Don’t change the formula.
  • Don’t change the brand.

I assume your marketing budget is slightly smaller than Coca-Cola’s. However, as you evaluate your brand – your logo, your messaging, your reputation – what can you learn from Coke’s commitment to consistency? Here are a few insights from this designer’s perspective to get you started:

  • Consistency helps you manage perceptions. By thinking carefully and deliberately about your brand you can shape how people perceive your organization. Consistency connotes professionalism, purpose and stability.
  • Consistency conveys your outlook and attitude. A focused effort to establish and maintain consistent branding will deliver a very specific set of impressions: Are you serious? Are you intentional? Do you follow through? Are you focused?
  • Consistency eliminates issues surrounding brand confusion. For many companies, their branding is actually more of a hindrance than a help. A consistent brand should instill confidence rather than engender confusion.
  • Consistency protects your investment. Without established brand standards, many organizations spend thousands of dollars crafting a logo and building a message, only to have it degraded by inconsistent, sloppy application. Build equity in your brand by being consistent.
  • Consistency builds upon previous successes. No one has to guess, “I wonder what this Coca-Cola will taste like?”

Bear in mind your brand is not for everyone. It’s intended to be effective with only a specific segment of the market. These are the people who value what your organization does, makes, delivers, etc. These people will sit up and take notice of organizations that value consistency. They care about the promises your brand makes to them. They make buying decisions everyday based on their perceptions of brand quality. For these reasons and more, it’s easy to correlate the significance of brand consistency.

“Draw the Coca-Cola logo,” I said.

I asked every member of the North Star team to draw the Coca-Cola logo as best they could from memory. I wanted to see for myself how well their investment in branding was paying off. The results were interesting.

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  1. I immediately knew which of my friends were artists and which were not. Clearly some do not have a future in graphic design whatsoever. (Don’t worry, we won’t let them work on any of North Star Marketing’s client logo projects…)
  2. Without exception, everyone knew and recognized the brand. No one asked me, “Now, who is Coca-Cola, and what do they sell?”
  3. Interestingly, despite a $3.3 billion budget and probably having seen the logo thousands of times, no one drew the logo perfectly (though, one was very close).
  4. The majority of people could recreate the brand in a fashion that was generally recognizable.

All of these responses are a direct result of intentional, purposeful brand initiatives. If consistency is that important to Coca-Cola, then surely we can learn some valuable lessons from this global brand that executes with remarkable precision.

A few helpful tips to help you maintain brand consistency:

  1. Don’t read “consistency” as “boring.” Do you think working on Coke ad campaigns is boring? Consistency actually paves the way to creativity with impact.
  2. Communicate to your team the importance of your brand. Start the conversation by asking them to name a few companies they admire and why.
  3. Create a “Brand Standards Guide” – the guidelines that map out how your logo, fonts, colors, tagline, etc. will be used. Make it visual with proper and improper usage examples. It has to be simple and easy to follow, or it won’t have the intended impact.
  4. Go through the Brand Standards Guide with your entire team and provide print and PDF copies for them to reference as needed.
  5. Provide access to the proper logo file types to anyone who needs them. Your team members shouldn’t be  recreating your logo on the fly.
  6. Hold your people accountable and retrain if necessary. It’s okay to appoint some team members to be the “brand police” who flag down offenses and keep the peace.

Consistency is a crucial step towards brand success

When something works well, you almost don’t notice it – sort of like the best referees. You’re so into the game that you can almost forget they’re on the court or field. However, when something doesn’t work, doesn’t fit, everyone feels it. It’s the same way with your brand. You can cause yourself and your team a lot of long-term problems simply by not paying attention to brand consistency.

So, protect your brand. Set in motion a structure for keeping it sharp and consistent. Value what it represents for your organization.

Coca-Cola’s tagline in 1993 was “Always, Coca-Cola.”

You don’t have to be in marketing (or spend $3.3 billion annually) to recognize the value and importance of that.

Does Your Brand Need Direction?

Designing, developing and managing a brand can be a daunting task. If you need help getting your brand in place or just need some direction, contact us North Star Marketing today. Our team of creative professionals can help keep your brand on the path to success.

 
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