Ideas, musings and inspirations.

Have you noticed promoted pins showing up in your Pinterest feed?

Last month, Krystal shared how Pinterest boards and pins are being utilized to their fullest to attract, reach and inspire (Pinterest and your Business).

Pinterest is continuing to find ways to grow within their 100 million Pinner community.  They introduced a paid advertising feature called Promoted Pins. These are just like regular pins, only you pay to have them seen by more people. While this feature was initially launched last spring, it’s still in beta and only available to certain business account holders in the U.S.

Below is a snapshot of how baby retailer Carter’s is utilizing promoted pins to push their Christmas clothes while a Pinner is looking for baby toy ideas for Christmas.

Pinterest promoted pins

How can you use Promoted Pins?

A promoted pin is essentially a paid ad on Pinterest. You can geo-target by location, demographics and devices, to reach customers who are searching for or have shown an interest in what you offer. Promoted pins run on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. You pay only when someone clicks through the pin to your website or landing page.

Why use Promoted Pins?

Promoted pins can help draw attention to something you want to feature, such as an event or promotion. They may also help you get exposure to people who don’t yet follow your business on Pinterest. Promoted pins are also a great source for seasonal content.

Pinterest has been experimenting and testing frequently since the beta version launched last year. They last reported that they are working to roll out paid ads testing in their search and category feeds – a dream come true for b2b marketing! Stay tuned for more information as we follow official roll out.


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Aha!-ThankyouA gift. A donation. A lunch. A trip. Volunteering. An interview. They’re all grounds for a handwritten thank you note. To me, it’s a big priority.

It’s an appreciation I got from my father. Looming is the memory of my brother and I sitting at the dining room table, pens in our aching hands, scribbling thank you’s for everything you could think of, as he watched over our shoulders like a drill sergeant.

“That one doesn’t show enough appreciation! Did you appreciate that Highlights subscription from Aunt Maude?”

“Sir, yes sir!”

My memory tends to exaggerate. And my dad was nothing like a drill sergeant. And I don’t actually have an Aunt Maude. But I’m thankful for his caring. Because now, I really do think to send notes out, even for small things. And the one positive side of the handwritten note heading toward extinction is that people seem to appreciate it more when you write one.

With Thanksgiving a week away, I started thinking about how important saying thank you is in the world of higher education and non-profit marketing.

We work with organizations and universities who rely on alumni support, advocacy and patronage. It got me thinking. How powerful is the thank you in receiving further support? How well do organizations do at showing appreciation?

In a Bloomerang experiment, their team made a $5.00 donation to 50 individual nonprofits and kept attention on how each followed up:

  • 96% (48/50) sent an email receipt within 60 seconds of the donation, and 22 out of these 48 were sent from a payment processor;
  • 34% (17/50) sent a physical acknowledgement letter through the mail as the second response;
  • Only two out of these 17 were handwritten notes;
  • Zero thank you phone calls were made.

Do you think these nonprofits should have done something differently?

Development coach Shanon Doolitte writes, “Be a nice human. Say thank you, care deeply, and value kindness. Be unpredictable and unforgettable. Make your donors smile, celebrate their generosity, and tell them how they made the world a better place. Remember, the goal isn’t retention, it’s meaningful relationships.”

Shanon, I like your thinking.

As we lead our clients in marketing for capital campaigns, greater resources and further support, we will also hold true to my father’s principle that no gift should ever go unthanked.

Thank you isn’t the end of the campaign. Thank you is the campaign. It’s the entire relationship.

I regularly donate to a number of causes. And while I love my canvas NPR tote, and I love my World Wildlife Fund t-shirt, I’m not sure they were as meaningful to me as the little note that came with them.

And Dad, thank you for teaching me gratitude.

Almost two decades ago, I attended a lecture by an Internet engineering pioneer, Scott Bradner, justifying the Internet’s implementation of IPv6 (an IP address scheme capable of assigning an astronomical number of addresses per every square inch of our planet’s surface) to prepare for a massively connected world. I remember him offering pacemakers and toasters connected to the Internet as examples of what to expect. Two decades ago this talk solidified in my mind the then nascent Internet’s promise, to become the Internet of Things.

That was twenty years ago. And yet, my toaster is still not connected to the Internet and the world has yet to adopt IPv6, limiting us to IPv4’s modest 20 or so addresses per square mile. Many people think the Internet of Things is approaching quickly, but I wonder why it isn’t already here?

Today, the Things market is about $30 billion, so the Internet of Things must have arrived for someone. Until recently, industries have been the main consumers of Things. The Internet of Things world has arrived, just not yet for retail consumers. This, of course, is now changing as more consumer products make their way to the retail market, as standalone products or added features to existing products. Even still, my expectations of the pace of the Internet’s evolution to the Internet of Things over the last 20 years is that it would have been more rapid.

There have been real roadblocks slowing the pace of its evolution:

For one, while the protocols supporting the Internet are based on open standards developed through collaboration among knowledgeable stakeholders, the Internet of Things is not. Already, the industries and organizations making Things have developed over 400 protocols, many of them proprietary and siloed to their specific products. Some Things do leverage the sturdy Internet HTTP/REST/JSON paradigm, but many manufacturers rely on protocols developed specifically for their suite of products. Until more open standards are embraced, the evolution is going to veer more toward an Internet of Silos.

Another roadblock is security. The success of the Internet is in part due to the transparent collaboration to build secure protocols. These protocols, of course, are not perfect and require constant tweaking to keep up with the latest threats. Building secure protocols is not a trivial task and it is easy to inadvertently expose exploitable vectors. However, relying on a large international community to maintain the protocols, and the widely accepted Open-Source APIs behind them, has proven to be a robust and flexible response for the open standard community to uncovered defects.

Organizations and companies have their reasons for developing their own protocols and APIs. SInce the Things may not always have power (batteries rationing, solar powered or RFID tags, for instance), running a REST web server on the Thing may not be practical. The technology they develop may simply have requirements not met by open solutions, for instance more opportunistic Thing-to-Thing communication. But without the benefit of a large collaborative support community, it easy to see how a Thing can have a security defect for a long time before detection.

Security would not matter as much to retail consumers if it were not for privacy. Many would-be Thing consumers are concerned about other people and institutions, either maliciously or seemingly benign, gathering data from and about us. I suspect that many consumers, at least in the U.S., are wary of having a toaster and refrigerator communicating their frozen pizza consumption data back to the appliance’s manufacturers. This is a more of social rather than technological obstacle and is part of a much larger ongoing dialogue between individuals and those collecting data about them.

If the dam built of standardization, security and privacy finally come down, we will have another problem: a flood of data. Our Data is already Big, but releasing the torrent from massively connected devices will make it Enormous. It is likely the Internet of Things will finally deliver the IP-to-square-inch ratio we disserve and require a much wider adoption of IPv6. Even with motivation of being the Internet in the Internet of Things, it will take some time for ISPs to adopt IPv6 and provision the additional bandwidth required to collect Enormous Data.

So, when wilI the Internet of Things arrive in my world? All sorts of retail consumer Things can now be consumed, from automobiles to thermostats. If I wanted, I could now buy an Internet-connected toaster after all. But the problem is I don’t want to. I don’t need a kitchen appliance with a web server that compares notes nightly with my toaster and a data center on the other side of the world. Well, at least I don’t think I need one.

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In looking at the B2B world of marketing, trends are indicating that Millennials are now very much in command of B2B research and decision-making. Who says? [1]Google partnered with Millward Brown Digital and conducted a B2B Path to Purchase Study in 2014. It’s a really interesting study chock full of information that indicates that these Millennials are fast becoming B2B influencers. What the study discovered is that a significant demographic shift has occurred from 2012 to 2014 as shown below:

blog_graphic 201511








Knowing this, will that change what you are doing to market your products and services?

Reading or watching?

Watching video. Period.

For many B2B researchers, video is preferred for information gathering more than visiting a website. One of the most interesting statistics pulled from the Google/Millward Brown study is that that video has exploded as a medium, let me rephrase that, video has exploded as the medium that B2B researchers prefer throughout their search. Wait for it — 70% of B2B researchers are watching videos for their research — a 52% increase from a similar study done just two years ago.

How are you found?

YouTube. Period.

If you aren’t posting on YouTube, you are not getting noticed. More than 70% of B2B researchers surveyed begin their search on a generic query and watch video throughout their entire purchase path.

What makes you interesting.

Your stories. Period.

You have a story, now tell it, show it, move it, sing it, speak it, and add a little music too if it works. There are creative and compelling ways to bring your offerings to life.

[2]From B2B Story Telling, “Yin, yang and your brain”:

In his 2005 bestseller “A Whole New Mind”, Daniel Pink writes about the differences between left-brain thinkers and right-brain thinkers, and how the future merely belongs to the latter ones: the creativists, the designers, the storytellers, …In the 21st century, storytelling is a skill that every business — and individual — need to master, and even down-to-earth left-brain executives will rely on right-brain storytellers to place, promote and pitch their company, products and services.

OK then, tell me a story.

[3]Great stories are told every day, and according to YouTube, about 100 hours of video are posted every minute on YouTube’s site. Here are videos of two great B2B stories told in two completely different flavors. So then, what is your story?

GE Capital: What we know can help you grow

Caterpillar: China Shop



[1] Kelsey Snyder, Pashmeena Hilal, “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing”, 2015,

[2] B2B Story Telling, “Yin, yang and your brain”, 2013,

[3] Monica Anderson, “5 facts about online video, for YouTube’s 10th birthday”, 2015,

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Businesses spend money on marketing channels to attract right-fit prospects and take a desired action on their website, e.g. make a purchase, request information, download a pdf, sign-up for newsletter, etc… Each of these actions when completed is counted as a ‘goal’. However, most visitors to the website find their way to the goal after interacting with various marketing channels. Google Analytics (GA) provides a way to help understand and evaluate these encounters. All this digital touch-point information is captured during each website visit but standard GA reports do not provide this information without some additional setup.

Using the ‘Goals’ feature in GA helps measure the above engagements and understand their contribution in meeting the business objectives. Setting up goals is easy in GA profile admin. There are existing templates to choose as well as the ability to create new ones.


The goals overview report under the conversion section is the starting place to check goal completion trends, compare relationships between various goals or track goal performance over time.
The best part of a goal setting exercise is the Multi-channel funnels report. This is where all the digital touch points prior to goal completion are reported.
The online ‘goal completion’ behavior report addresses important questions like;
1. How do different marketing interactions affect your business success?
2. How do different channels help move users towards a goal?
3. How many touch points are accessed before goal completion?
4. Which channels play a role in assisting the goal?
5. Which channel triggered final goal completion?
6. How long does it takes to complete a goal?


The dividend gained by investing a little time in defining and creating ‘goals’ in Google Analytics are the insights that help in making important decisions related to website content and effective use of marketing and advertising resources.

One of the best gifts that I ever received was a copy of the book How to Take the Fog Out of Writing by Robert Gunning. At the time, I was just Fog Book Imagetwo years out of college with a tendency for verbosity, $10 dollar words and copy that often well exceeded my allotted word count, much to the dismay of our graphic designers.

My writing lacked precision; I was indulging my whims as a writer at the expense of my readers.

Two decades later, I’m still a work in progress, but that book transformed the way I wrote and made me a more effective copywriter in far fewer words than I ever thought possible. Sometimes less really is more.

Today, writing clear, concise copy is more critical than ever, thanks to character limits, short attention spans and the limited screen size of our pervasive digital devices.

Fortunately, there are tools to determine if your writing is clear of fog, readable and written at a grade level appropriate for your audience.

The best known are the Gunning FOG Index, the Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score.

Both the Gunning FOG Index and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score assess the U.S. grade level that a reader needs to be for comprehension.

According to experts, a score of 7 or 8 is ideal if you are writing for a general audience (think of an insurance company or a consumer products brand). However, reading ability is only part of the equation. Research shows that regardless of level of education, completion, comprehension and retention decline as the grade level of material rises. Why?

Even the most educated among us appreciate plain, easy-to-understand copy that requires less mental work to comprehend. The longer a sentence or paragraph, the longer it takes to reach the point where the words make sense together.

The Flesch Reading Ease Score, considered the most accurate checker and the most widely used (it is even built into Microsoft Office), assesses copy on a 100-point scale based on the speed and ease a reader can get through the material. For most business purposes, a score between 60 and 70 is a good target. A higher score indicates text that is more readable with shorter sentences and fewer multi-syllabic words.

As a frame of reference, Reader’s Digest has a readability index of 65; Time magazine is a 52 and the Harvard Review scores in the low 30s.

So how does your writing measure up? provides an easy way to plug in copy and evaluate your content using the above-mentioned tools, along with a few others like the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook, otherwise known as the SMOG Index.

According to, here are the stats for this blog.

  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease:     60.9
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:      9.4
  • Gunning FOG Index:               12.6

If you want to reach more people and improve the retention and comprehension of your ideas, here are a few simple strategies to keep in mind the next time you sit down to write your next sales letter, article, white paper or brochure.

  • Write how you speak
  • Turn passive sentences into active sentences
  • Avoid clichés, hyperbole and buzz words
  • Eliminate unnecessary words, including qualifiers
  • Avoid long, complex sentences
  • Swap out big words when simple words says it better
  • Say exactly what you mean
  • Aim for a word count
  • Use bullets, short paragraphs & graphics

In this information age, content may be king but brevity, clarity and readability rule.

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marketing tools for higher education

Snapchat is big … I mean really big. In over the course of two years I have noticed my Facebook Newsfeed instead of being filled with spontaneous photos of my friends having fun to being filled with serious world news or invitations to sign up for events. My friends gradual decline in Facebook activity to other social media such as Instagram and Snapchat is probably because Facebook is a victim of its own success. With our parents and close relatives on our friend list, Facebook is no longer a place for reckless status updates about Friday night “activities”, but only a necessary communication tool that millennials and generation Z use because everyone else is doing too.

Enter Snapchat, students (high school and college student) have flocked to Snapchat for one simple reason. They have realized *finally* that Internet is forever and anything they post can be dug up in the later future for a collective social shaming by friends. Their move to Snapchat allows them to share their spontaneous activities (sometimes embarrassing or straight up weird) with their private network in an ephemeral manner and they can choose who sees what!

Snapchat and Instagram are definitely going to be the hottest platforms in higher education due to an incredible student engagement rate. With such an active target market (potential students, current students, alums) it makes sense for institutions to jump on-board to keep their audience engaged and updated to all things happening.

Here are a few ways higher ed institutes can use Snapchat with their student audience:

  • Use the Snapchat geofilter creation tool to get your institute a classy geofilter. Student love to show off what they are doing and where they are doing. A cool looking geofilter (essentially visually striking design that represents the institute and reveals the location the user is at). Not only will students share their snaps with fellow students but also with people outside the student body, resulting in increased brand awareness
  • Add Snap stories so that everyone following the institutes account gets to see it. Show off cool university events that are happening (it’s all about being in the moment). Show behind the scenes of upcoming events to build up hype and keep students updated on what is about to come.
  • Use the stories feature creatively and offer students exclusive discounts on football tickets. Not only will it increase the word of mouth for the event but also build your account a loyal fanbase. Snapchat is an amazing app for crowdsourcing user-generated content. Snapchat brings content to you from all over campus (maybe collect all these submissions and make a cool montage).

Just like with other social media outlets when they were first launched, there is hesitation in higher education institutes to join this “newest and greatest” platform. But keeping up-to-date with what’s relevant and what’s not in social media is essential and Snapchat certainly is pretty hot right now among the younger crowd. Institutes should understand their student lifestyle, college culture and discover what differentiates them from the rest.

Dive in now and impress!

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I’m an average guitar player. Some might say very average. But I can play in a support role to almost anyone. Why? Because I have enough basic knowledge about music theory that if someone says to me, “We’ll be playing this is in the key of C,” I know that I’ll be safe playing a basic C-F-G (I-IV-V) chord progression. Or if I really want to impress someone I could possibly add the minor 6 (Am) for a C-G-Am-F (I-V-vi-IV) progression. And I can do this same thing in any key.

But of course, none of this makes me a musician. Far from it, I’m just a guy who can get by playing in my neighbor’s backyard with friends. But the cool thing is, it also makes me part of the band whose members are all way better than me. They are the musicians.

They’re musicians because they have gone beyond the basic knowledge of scales and chords – and through effort, sweat, and time, have learned the art of using simple progressions to create unique harmonies and melodies. 10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell said.

So what does this have to do with brand and the clients we serve? Well, at Elliance we are the band. We’ve been building brand positions for a long time in a number of different industries – education, finance, manufacturing and others. We bring credibility, expertise, intuition, and time – way more than 10,000 hours – to our client’s problems. And because we’ve got the chops (to stay with the musical vernacular), we know how to turn simple strategies into integrated and harmonic brand platforms.

The coolest thing about working at Elliance is that we invite our clients into our process. At first, they may not always understand the elements we recommend, or why they are structured in a particular manner. But together, we attempt to build a base of communications starting with foundational strategies, messages and visuals (scales and chord progressions), then maybe introduce different ways of delivering the messages (alternate scale patterns, sharps and flats), and eventually tie everything together through tactics can range from web to traditional print to video to social. This is both effective and affective.

For me, great brand communication is like great music – more emotional than technical. It affects you with its melodies, its harmonies, and its beauty. But the emotional must rest upon the effective use of intro, verse, and chorus – that’s what holds everything together. In music and in brand.

No single chord progression ever won a Grammy and no typeface ever won a Clio. But none can doubt their influence on the final product. Just for fun, the simple I-V-vi-IV four-chord progression I referenced above, has been the foundation of more songs over the years from pop to rock to country than you can imagine. Check out the list here.

Learn more about the strong brand positions Elliance has established for organizations and companies around the country through its disciplined, and simple, process in branding services.

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Woman_Business_iStock_000003177152_LargeTwo weeks ago, I received a call from the alumni office at my alma mater. A friendly and an upbeat voice greeted me. He was a freshman at the School of International Service. I thought to myself, “is this a donations call?”

Slowly but surely the call evolved into a conversation reviving a sense of belonging that motivated an action from my end… a donation pledge. But it also inspired me to think about the strategies higher education marketers use to solicit donations.

With my alma mater as a case-and-point example, here are a few things to keep in mind when drafting an alumni call script.

In most verbal exchanges, we look for clues and signals that somehow help us relate to the other person. A phone conversation is no different. When I learned that my caller was a current student, I was immediately more empathic, thinking about how he is walking the same path I took years ago. A fellow alumnus calling would have inspired a similar feeling— a big contract from, if say, an alumni office staff member was giving me a call.

When devising a call strategy, consider how an alumnus will relate to the caller.

Instead of the usual summary of why it’s important to contribute followed by a dry ask, I found myself engaged in a real conversation. The student shared a bit about what he is studying, his plans, and said he wanted to get an alumni insight on a career after graduation. With a few smart questions, I was prompted to tell him about my work and how our school had prepared me.

By sharing a bit about himself and seeking my thoughts, the caller encouraged a more genuine and engaging conversation.

The usual advice on formulating the ask, focuses on sharing the intent of the call immediately and ending with an ask for a precise donation amount. My experience makes the first part of this advice debatable. While my caller had pre-empted the ask indirectly by the mere merit of our conversation, he did not explicitly state that the reason for his call was to solicit a donation. He firstly established a genuine connection, and then organically reached a point where the ask felt appropriate and expected.

Regardless of when the explicit intent of the call is shared, building an emotional and personal case for why one should contribute will benefit the outcome.

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Touch devices have quickly overtaken traditional mouse and keyboard devices (device sales, mobile usage). The current landscape is such that we can confidently assume our visitors will be experiencing our web pages on their phones first and then on their desktops second… if we are lucky.  The tricky thing is, when we speak of touch devices, we are not only referring of small screen devices (like phones and tablets) but we are now talking about all device sizes.

The large device market has been quickly incorporating touch capabilities into large tablet, laptops and desktops. Recently Apple introduced the iPad Pro, joining Google Chromebooks, and Microsoft Surfaces and laptops as large format (typically  11-13” and above) touch enabled devices.

Commonly in Responsive Web Design both designers and developers have used arbitrary size (usually around 750px) for the breakpoint between touch devices and mouse and keyboard devices. This commonly segregates styles and functions giving assumed desktop sizes more robust elements and ignoring considerations for touch.  This practice was not reliable, and is becoming increasingly problematic.

We should avoid hiding content behind hover states that can be finicky on different touch browsers. Ensure that links, buttons, and form elements have a large enough “touch target”  (Luke Wroblewski has a great reference). Interactive elements (like carousels) should accept touch gestures by using plugins like hammer.js and others.  And form fields should utilize specialized virtual keyboards on mobile operating systems whenever possible.
Mobile First Design has become an important part of how we think about the conception of our web pages. More and more we need to remember that these lessons do not end at a certain widths… they are continuous throughout the experience no matter the screen size or device.