5 Services Your Agency Shouldn’t Offer in 2017

The success of a marketing agency isn’t just tied to what you do (and do well) but also to the services you don’t provide.

The services we’re going to discuss today are — in our judgment — firmly in the “don’t” column. They’re either paths that have already been well-trodden by other big players, obsolete tactics that are starting to lose relevance, or services that don’t fit well into the modern marketing playbook.

If you’re thinking of adding any of the following four services in 2017, it might be time to change up your agency’s approach this year.

5 Services Your Agency Shouldn’t Offer in 2017

1) Facebook Killed the Video Ad

Video is touted as an excellent way to engage customers and convert leads, but it can also be relatively expensive and inconvenient to produce. If you agency hasn’t yet made the leap into video production, consider your next move carefully — investing in digital video capabilities is a high-risk, high reward strategy.

But how high is that reward, exactly? Late last year, Facebook drew ire when it revealed it had been artificially inflating video viewership statistics since 2014. If major video platforms have a history of inaccurately reporting views, it raises some big questions about the dependability of video ROI. 

If concerns about ROI don’t give you pause, think about this: specialized video marketing agencies have been doing video longer, know the marketplace better, and will have larger budgets. They’re also beginning to build in advanced features, such as interactive video, and 360-degree video ads. As a video neophyte, you’re unlikely to be able to offer these capabilities if you’re building a video service from the ground up in 2017.

2) Hang Up on Appointment Setting

Appointment setting has always been a weird fit in the marketing universe. Essentially, it’s like running a sales bullpen as a service (SBaaS?), which really has nothing to do with the typical content generation and placement duties of a traditional agency. Therefore, it’s going to be difficult and expensive for any agency to boot up an appointment setting service from scratch — and again, what’s the benefit?

The ROI of cold calling has always been low — and it’s been getting lower. A survey from the middle of last year shows that a large majority of sales professionals think that the effectiveness of cold calling has shrunk dramatically over the last several years.

A lot of people just don’t have phones at their desk any more, and most will simply hang up on numbers that they don’t already know. That’s why it’s probably a good reason to hang up on appointment setting in 2017.

3) Market Research: Don’t Compete, Collaborate

For your dollar, it’s nearly always going to be more lucrative to partner with an existing market research service than to build one of your own. As with video, the incumbents are going to rule — they’ve been around longer, know their subject better, and have more money to burn. In this case, however, it’s better to adopt that old maxim, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

There’s absolutely no shame in collaborating with a pre-existing market research agency. In fact, marketing collaboration has increased across the board. Last year, most client-side marketers (52%), collaborated with external agencies. The most common reason for this was a skills gap. If client-side marketers know that it’s okay to collaborate in the case of a skills gap, agencies should know it too.

4) Approaching the Link Building Apocalypse

Remember the “Mobilegeddon?” A new revision of the Google search algorithm set to raise the visibility of mobile sites at the expense of their desktop-bound competitors. The effect wasn’t initially epochal, but it did cause several major sites to drop in the rankings. Soon, link building may undergo a similar collapse.

Back in September, a new update to the Google algorithm known as Penguin went online. Its goal has been to find and penalize sites that operate in ways designed to game SEO. Link building isn’t shady by definition, but many companies have been using it in shady ways.

One example is by building private blog networks (PBNs) with no purpose except to link back to agency generated content. This Fall’s Penguin update — plus a secretive update that launched in February — appears to be specifically targeted at PBNs. Now, the black-hat link building community has been thrown into turmoil.

As with most of the services listed above, if you’ve been link building for a while, and you’ve been doing it in a balanced and organic manner, you’re probably in the clear. If you haven’t been link building at all, and don’t know where to begin, 2017 probably isn’t the best year to start.

Stick with What Works

To make it as a marketing agency, you don’t necessarily need to break new ground — but agencies should probably avoid the well-trodden paths. In the examples above, the marketplace of ideas is either so crowded that a new player can’t really get a toehold, or the edifice is beginning to crumble. Black-hat SEO tactics never have a great deal of longevity, and even venerable tactics such as cold-calling are seeing their last days.

With that in mind, the principles for agency success still haven’t changed. Iterate on successful strategies. Collaborate when necessary to aid in the success of your clients. Keep on like this, and when you find the idea that does put you over the top, Facebook-like success may not be out of reach.

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ICYMI: An Animated Guide to Google’s Biggest 2016 Algorithm Updates [Infographic]

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Sometimes, it seems like keeping up with a search engine’s algorithm is like learning a new language. Only, it’s a language that keeps updating over time and changing with things like technological advances, evolving topic interests, and constant improvements to user experience. And often, it seems like those changes are quiet — like there’s no way to find out about them unless you, say, subscribe to a blog that keeps you in the loop.

While many marketers make the time to do that — which is great — there are days, weeks, and months when constantly keeping up with Google’s algorithm is a task that gets pushed to the wayside. But SEO is more important than ever, and has many implications for inbound marketing, especially as mobile usage continues to rise. It’s not just about traffic anymore. SEO and its accompanying algorithm updates are soup-to-nuts measures of user experience.

But what pieces of the user’s experience are reflected in these algorithm changes? And is there a way to keep up with them in manageable chunks, as many people like to do when they’re learning a new skill? Yes — starting with the infographic below. >” src=”https://no-cache.hubspot.com/cta/default/53/bd685600-02f9-40f3-a4e7-18488a8d79ba.png”>

You see, some years, the algorithm undergoes more changes than in others, and 2016 was a big one. Luckily, the folks at E2M compiled the major Google algorithm updates from that year into this visual, animated representation. So relax — you’ve got this, with a fun, informative image to help.

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seo myths 2017

February Social Media News: Weather on Facebook, SNL on Snapchat & More

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We spend a lot of time on social media sites — globally, it’s around two hours per day. But for all of that time spent social networking, we may not always know what’s going on behind the scenes with the sites themselves.

To help you save time while staying informed, we’re launching a monthly social media news roundup.

This month, we’ll discuss Snapchat’s growth and content diversification, Google’s step into live-streaming, and other changes worth knowing about. The list isn’t exhaustive, but you can expect to learn the major highlights in the social media space this month — what was launched, what changed, and what these stories could mean for marketers.

10 of the Biggest Social Media News Stories This Month

1) The Washington Post starts curating content for Snapchat Discover.

The Washington Post announced it would become Snapchat’s first editorial partner to provide breaking news updates on the platform. The Post will publish multiple times per day as headlines break in its print and online newspaper editions so Snapchatters can easily consume the content in a more visual way. Snapchat is all about innovative visual content, and this step moves Snapchat in the direction of becoming a content destination site instead of just a content sharing site. Here’s what it will look like on the Discover tab (when a Snapchat user swipes to the left):

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Source: The Washington Post

2) Saturday Night Live produces its first skit exclusively for Snapchat.

NBC’s Saturday Night Live produced its first short comedy sketch published exclusively on its Snapchat Story. Snapchat plans to produce a series of shorts from Saturday Night Live and other shows on the network. To watch the next short, add Saturday Night Live on Snapchat (@nbcsnl).

SNL is a viewewship juggernaut — almost 11 million people watch it each week. If it sees success with posting original content on Snapchat outside of its regular distribution strategies on YouTube and other social media platforms, marketers might consider producing their own “shorts” on Snapchat and seeing how they perform.

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Source: Saturday Night Live via Snapchat

3) Snap Inc. files for $3 billion initial public offering (IPO).

Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., filed for a $3 billion IPO on February 2nd. After rebranding as a camera company and launching Snapchat Spectacles in September 2016, marketers eagerly waited to hear what they would do next.

Snap Inc. now faces intensified competition from other social media platforms with larger user bases that have adopted features similar to Snapchat’s. For example, Instagram launched its own version of Stories last year, and it currently has more users making Stories than all of Snapchat’s total user base. Marketers should keep an eye on how Snapchat evolves and which platform is better suited for ephemeral content for their audiences.

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Source: Securities and Exchange Commission 

4) Snapchat launches first original reality show on A&E Network.

Snap Inc. announced its forthcoming partnership with A&E to produce “Second Chance,” an unscripted reality television show about breakups on Snapchat. The show will diversify audiences for both Snapchat and A&E and get existing Snapchat and A&E audiences on the other platforms. Marketers who aren’t already advertising on Snapchat may want to start doing so as it grows its audience even further with original content.

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Source: Deadline

5) YouTube launches mobile live-streaming for creators with 10,000 subscribers or more.

YouTube took a big step toward competing in the live streaming video space by launching mobile live video recording for users with over 10,000 subscribers at the beginning of February. YouTube hopes to beat out the competition — Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, and Instagram have similar live streaming features — by providing higher quality to the thousands of creators already publishing frequently on the platform. Given the searchability of YouTube videos in Google Search, marketers might consider broadening their video strategy to include live video on YouTube, too.

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Source: YouTube

6) Facebook adds a weather tool to desktop and mobile apps.

In early February, Facebook started rolling out its in-app weather tool that lets users see five-day forecasts on their Facebook News Feed. Additionally, users can receive notifications about weather alerts at specific times — like before they leave the house in a rainstorm. Facebook continues to make the site a destination, one-stop shop for users, so marketers should make sure to dedicate strategy and budget toward producing content and ads for the platform with a massive, engaged user base.

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Source: TechCrunch

7) Facebook cracks down on discriminatory advertising.

On February 8th, Facebook updated its advertising policies to explicitly prevent discrimination on the platform. Previously, it was possible for advertisers to target based on race, ethnicity, and other demographic traits. In recent months, Facebook has taken steps to be more responsible to its community of users — by starting the Facebook Journalism Project in part to prevent fake news, for example. Marketers should make sure to review the new advertising policies to ensure that ads aren’t potentially discriminatory against users.

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8) Instagram users can publish photo albums.

At the beginning of the month, Instagram started testing the ability to publish up to 10 photos in a single post on the platform. Soon, the Instagram news feed will start looking more like Facebook’s if users start publishing photo albums, or galleries. If your audience is highly engaged on Instagram, or if you market physical products, galleries could be a unique approach to generating engagement. Here’s what uploading looked like in one user’s app:

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Source: Twitter

9) Medium announces new subscription service.

Medium CEO Ev Williams announced that Medium would launch a subscription product to develop additional revenue streams apart from simply advertising. This news came shortly on the heels of the layoffs of 50 Medium staff members to move toward a model where storytelling quality is prioritized over clicks and shares. Medium publishers should keep their eyes peeled for updates on any algorithmic changes coming with this new direction that could impact their readership.

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Source: TechCrunch

10) Pinterest adds Visual Discovery to search through your camera.

Pinterest launched new visual search tools that will enable users to point and shoot their camera and receive suggested Pins based on photos they capture. Users capture photos through Pinterest Lens, the in-app camera, and the app starts suggesting Pins related to their search. For example, Pinterest says that if users take a photo of a pair of shoes, the app will suggest clothing Pins that could work as an outfit with the shoes. This tool makes visual discovery much easier, and users might be more willing to purchase from the app when their ideas have context from suggested Pins. Marketers and sellers on Pinterest should improve Pinterest strategies to fully take advantage of the ability to be found as a result of this update.

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Source: Pinterest

Did we miss any big social media stories? Share with us in the comments below.

Social Media at Every Stage of the Funnel

How to Learn Excel Online: 13 of the Best Resources for Excel Training

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Like many marketers, I have a bit of experience with Microsoft Excel. I’ve used it to organize events, plan meals, and sort data — but I don’t have nearly the advanced knowledge I wish I did. And thanks to those limited skills, I’m constantly subjecting myself to the tedium of updating my spreadsheets manually.

I’m well aware that I’m missing out on a whole world of reporting automation that could save me hours of time. But when asked where they picked up their knowledge, even my most Excel-savvy colleagues told me things like, “I mostly learned from colleagues and friends,” or, “When I have a specific question, I ask someone or search on Google.”Fair enough. But as a beginner, I probably have a few too many Excel questions to rely on colleagues — or Google — to answer every one. Download our free Excel guide here for more tutorials to help you master the essential Excel skills.

I can’t be the only one out there who wants to master the world’s most popular data analysis and visualization solution — or at least learn how to create charts and graphs that’ll impress my manager. So in the spirit of becoming a more productive, data-driven marketer, I scoured the internet for the best online resources for learning Excel. Most of these are free, and the ones that aren’t might be worth the investment . Take a look, bookmark your favorites, and get that much closer to working more efficiently in Excel.

How to Learn Excel Online: 13 of the Best Resources for Excel Training

1) Microsoft’s Excel Training Center

Price: Free

When it comes to learning a new application, why not start at the source? After all, no one knows Excel better than the people at Microsoft.

In fact, they’ve done a great job putting together the Office Training Center: A resource hub for all Microsoft Office applications and services. The training center for Excel has a whole bunch of free tutorials, videos, and guides on Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone that cover the latest version of Excel, as well as older ones.

Once you click into a platform, you’ll find resources divided by Excel ability: For beginners (like basic math and creating a chart), intermediate users (like sorting and filtering data, conditional formatting, and VLOOKUPs), and advanced users (like pivot tables, advanced IF functions, and how to password-protect worksheets and workbooks).

Source: Microsoft

2) The Spreadsheet Page

Price: Free

Here’s a very well-organized site that’s chock full of helpful Excel tips, collected by an expert named John Walkenbach. Over the past thirty years, he’s written more than 60 Excel books for users of all levels, and around 300 articles and reviews for magazines like InfoWorld, PC World, and PC/Computing. At one point, he wrote the monthly spreadsheet column for PC World. In other words, the man knows his stuff — and he knows how to present it.

The most helpful part of his website is probably the Excel Tips tab, which has a long list of useful pointers on formatting, formulas, charts and graphics, and printing. The tips themselves include everything from working with fractions, to unlinking a pivot table from its source data, to spreadsheet protection FAQs.

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The Downloads tab is another particularly helpful section of Walkenbach’s site, where he’s added free, ungated download links to files he created, like free Excel workbooks and add-ins. For example, there’s one Excel workbook available for download that gives examples of custom number formats, which you can play with and tweak on your own time, and get familiar with them without having to start from scratch.

3) About.com’s Spreadsheets Page

Price: Free

Many of you are likely familiar with the content website About.com, but did you know it has its own spreadsheets subdomain — much of which is devoted to Excel? There are likely thousands of instruction sets on that site, most of which are illustrated, how-to posts. Plus, fresh content is added regularly.

Each piece of content is categorized according to everything from formulas and formatting, to videos, tools, and templates. If you want to stay up-to-date on the latest spreadsheet news and tips, you can sign up for a free newsletter. There’s just one caveat, which is that the site contains a good amount of ads — but if you can stand them, the content is worth it.

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4) Chandoo.org

Price: Free

Purna “Chandoo” Duggirala, Chandoo.org‘s founder, says he has one goal: “to make you awesome at Excel and charting.” He started the blog in 2007 and, today, it contains over 450 articles and tutorials on using Excel and making better charts. He’s built the blog as a community, citing values like humility, passion, fun, and simplicity. He also works to make it a valuable resource for the folks for whom English is not their first language.

Most of his tips stem from forums, where people ask questions about Excel — about formulas, formatting, shortcuts, pivot tables, and so on — and anyone can answer them. Chandoo then uses some of the more helpful forum questions to create articles and tutorials.

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Source: Chandoo.org

But it’s not all so formal. For example, Chandoo once created a digital Easter egg hunt for a blog post, which included a downloadable Excel workbook containing seven hidden pandas. Readers were challenged to locate the pandas using clues, Excel techniques, and even “I-Spy” skills.

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Source: Chandoo.org

While the articles, forums, and other parts of the site are free, you can pay to join one of Chandoo’s structured training programs, like Excel School ($97 – $247), or VBA Classes ($97 – $347). Plus, there’s aways the option to buy one of his books — The VLOOKUP Book or Excel Formula Helper Ebook.

5) HubSpot Excel Reources

Price: Free

Seeing as Excel is one of the most in-demand skills for data-driven marketers — and because we want marketers like you to succeed — we’ve created some of our own educational content about Excel here at HubSpot. From free ebooks, to templates, to video tutorials, we aim to cover a wide range of Excel-relevant topics.

Here are a few of our best:

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6) MrExcel.com

Price: Free

Here’s a resource that puts we mere mortals in touch with Excel experts. MrExcel.com‘s claim to fame is its interactive message board, which is constantly monitored by its community of Excel gurus.

The board is organized according to subject, like general announcements, questions, and MrExcel.com products. When a user posts a question, a member of the MrExcel.com expert community will reply with an answer. The questions range from simplifying an Excel task, to solving urgent inquiries.

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Not a native English speaker? You can ask questions in your native language.

Aside from posting questions on the message board, you can also browse Mr. Excel’s “Hot Topics” — found on the left-hand side of its homepage — which includes things like finding the cumulative sum of even or odd rows, or removing the leading zero within a text field. The site also has a library of helpful Excel books and ebooks, and if you need help with problems that are more complex, you can even hire an Excel consultant directly from the website, for a fee.

7) Annielytics Video Tutorials

Price: Free

Annie Cushing, a web analytics data expert, created the Annielytics blog and YouTube channel to share her knowledge with the world. Don’t let the punny name fool you — both are chock full of really good, specific, and in-depth web analytics tips.

While the content here isn’t all Excel-related — much of it is about Google Analytics, for example — it does contain some great Excel video tutorials. Even better, they were created with marketing and web analytics in mind, so they’re directly applicable to things like marketing data reports. The Excel-specific videos can be found here, or by searching her YouTube channel for “Excel”.

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The Excel topics vary widely, from how to create interactive pivot tables, to how to add a scrolling table to your dashboard using the INDEX function. The videos also vary in length depending on topic complexity, ranging from two-and-a-half-minutes, to those over half an hour long. To give you an idea of what the videos are like, here’s one of our favorites, which covers a comprehensive overview of Excel charts:

8) Lynda.com’s Excel Training Tutorials

Price: Membership starts at $19.99/month | 10-day free trial available

If you’re willing to invest a little cash in your Excel training, Lynda.com is a worthwhile place to spend it. Members have access to thousands of courses on business, technology, creative skills, and software that’ll help you work toward your personal and professional goals.

Included are over 100 courses on Excel, and over 4,000 video tutorials covering every version of the program, at any level of expertise. They cover a broad range of topics, from something as general as “Statistics with Excel Part One,” to more niche topics, like “Data Visualization Storytelling Essentials.”

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9) Coursera

Price: Individual courses start at $79/each

While Lynda.com asks for a monthly all-access membership fee, Coursera charges on a course-to-course basis. Partnering with top universities and organizations worldwide, the site offers online classes on a number of topics, ranging from music production to coaching skills.

There are only a few courses pertaining to Excel, but if you’re looking for one that’s on a formally academic level, they could be a good fit for you. In fact, many of the Excel-related courses come from Duke University, such as “Excel to MySQL: Analytic Techniques for Business Specialization.”

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That said, these courses don’t come cheap — after all, they’re the same ones that are taught at top universities around the world. And like many real-world classes, each includes video lectures, interactive quizzes, peer-graded assessments, and the opportunity to connect with fellow students and instructors. Once you finish a course, you’ll receive formal recognition, along with an optional course certificate.

10) EdX Excel Courses

Price: Free

Here’s a more budget-friendly option for those in search of a more formal course, rather than a one-off tutorial. EdX is a nonprofit that provides free education for people around the globe — with an interesting model.

When users enroll in a course that’s marked as “Verified,” they have the option to pay a fee in exchange for an instructor-signed certificate with the institution’s logo, to verify the achievement and increase job prospects. Those fees are used to fund the courses, giving you the option to take them for free if you don’t mind foregoing the certificate.

Otherwise, there are some courses offered at a “Professional Education” level, for which the fee isn’t optional. One example is the Business and Data Analysis Skills course, offered for $60.

To help you choose the right one, each edX course includes reviews (with a rating up to five stars), and information on length and amount of effort, usually measured in hours per week. There are also details on the level of knowledge required, along with video transcripts.

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11) Khan Academy

Price: Free

When visitors arrive at the Khan Academy website, they’re greeted with two simple but powerful lines of text: “You only have to know one thing: You can learn anything.” And from algebra to astronomy, this resource offers a plethora of free courses on, well, almost anything — for free.

That includes a few video tutorials on Excel. Most of them are part of larger, multi-installment courses on broader topics, like statistics. A general search for “Microsoft Excel” yields what might look like limited results, but they actually explain some fundamental parts of using Excel, like distributions and fitting lines to data.

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12) Udemy

Price: $15

If you had six hours to spare, how would you use them? “Sleep,” “clean the house,” and “bake something” are some of the things that come to the top of my mind, but try this on for size — what if you could become an Excel expert in that amount of time?

That’s what Udemy promises in its “Microsoft Excel – From Beginner to Expert in 6 Hours” course — for only $15. Udemy is one of the most bountiful online learning resources out there, and its Excel courses certainly don’t end with that single option. In fact, when I return to the homepage, it displays several additional lessons on the topic, in case I want to explore my options.

Those options are many. In fact, just typing “Excel” into the search bar yields dozens of results, each one displaying a star rating, price, length, and level.

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13) Intellezy.com

Price: Free to Try / $14.95 mo.

Big believers in microlearning, Intellezy’s videos fall in the 3-5 minute range. These nuggets of knowledge are organized into beginner through advanced courses, covering Excel 2007-2016 and Office 365. Plus, mobile apps for iOS and Android make it easy to learn on the go.

Intellezy’s videos are really engaging. There’s always an instructor on-screen showing you what to do. And because they’re wired for face-to-face interactions, Intellezy’s instructors really hold your attention. Their courses also include assessments and exercise files so you can see how you’re doing and follow along with the instructor. You can give Intellezy a spin with a free 10-day trial.

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Excel in Your Field

Ready to get started? With these tools, you’ll be using Excel with little-to-no-sweat, in no time. Plus, practice makes perfect — that’s why there are so many tiered levels of courses available. Start where you can, and as you begin using more functions and commands, you can continue to expand your knowledge.

What are your favorite online resources for learning Excel? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

free guide: how to use excel

14 of the Best Brands on Instagram Right Now

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For a while now, it’s been clear that Instagram isn’t just a social network for selfies and brunch pics. In fact, Instagram has a whopping 600 active monthly million users as of December 2016, the last 100 million of which joined in the prior six months.

In a world where visual content remains a crucial part of any business’ marketing strategy, Instagram presents a unique opportunity to visually represent your brand, celebrate its personality, and keep it top-of-mind for all those users who scroll through their Instagram feeds every single day.

Although they’re few and far between, there are some brands out there — in every industry, and with every type of target customer — who are doing really, really well on Instagram. Hear what experts have to say about using Instagram for business at our YouTube Live event on Feb 23. Sign up here. 

Ready to get inspired? Check out this list of brands that are thriving on Instagram right now, and what about their posts sets them apart. For each of these brands, we’ve included examples of their best posts. For some of them, we’ve also included their most popular Instagram post of all time in terms of engagement (i.e. combined total of likes and comments) thanks to data from Instagram analytics and management platform Iconosquare, along with an explanation of why it’s so engaging.

14 of the Top Instagram Business Accounts

1) Califia Farms

Califia Farms natural beverage products have some of the most attractive packaging we’ve come across. In fact, it’s so iconic that it won top honors in the global packaging design category from Beverage World Magazine.  Instagram is a perfect platform to showcase that cool, curvy bottle, and the folks at Califia don’t shy away from doing just that –most of the brand’s posts feature the beverage’s containers in some way, whether they’re the main subject of the photo, or more of an accessory in the context of the active, healthy lifestyle Califia’s buyer personas love.

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Something Califia does really well on Instagram is create fun, playful videos and GIFs. Check out this one, which they used to teach viewers how to used steamed non-dairy milk for coffee cocktails:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKLibrsBiVv/embed/captioned/?v=7

And this one, which is just plain fun to watch:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BKJQsjRhMdk/embed/captioned/?v=7

2) #FollowMeTo

Ever seen those photos of a woman leading a man by the hand in all different parts of the world? That pose was made famous by a couple named Murad and Natalia Osmann for their #FollowMeTo project. Their Instagram account is a mix of stunning images of the classic #FollowMeTo pose that have been edited beautifully, as well as some really interesting behind-the-scenes photos of their world travels — including some fun photos of the “making of” the famous pose.

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3) Lorna Jane

If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality? Australian activewear company Lorna Jane has done an awesome job answering this important branding question with its Instagram content. Spend just a few seconds scrolling through these photos, and you’ll quickly be able to name the target Lorna Jane buyer: a young, sporty, twenty- or thirty-something woman who values looking good while maintaining an active lifestyle.

The images posted by Lorna Jane, which often show the brand’s clothing and accessories, as well as images of women who embody its target buyer persona, are colorful, playful, and inspirational, which is a perfect representation of the brand’s essence — in other words, its heart, soul, and spirit.

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4) Letterfolk

Letterfolk is a small business run by a husband-and-wife team who create and sell beautiful, handcrafted felt letterboards. Each letterboard comes with a full set of characters so people can personalize the walls of their homes, which means endless room for creativity. Instagram is the perfect platform for them to inspire customers and aspiring customers with real customers’ boards, as well as ideas they’ve come up with and staged themselves. Their Instagram content is funny, thought-provoking, and relatable — all recipes for shareability.

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Most engaging post of all time:

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[Click here to see the post.]

Why it’s engaging: Not only is this photo showing a funny and clever message, but it’s also very, very relatable for parents of young children — a very large audience and also one of Letterfolk’s target customers. It’s also a very taggable photo, so the comment section is rife with Instagram users mentioning their friends’ usernames so they can share in the fun.

5) Paris Opera Ballet

The city of Paris is known for many lovely things — wine, cheese, and art are just a few. But that last one, art, is photographically captured on the Instagram account of the Paris Opera Ballet, or Ballet de l’Opera de Paris.

The account captures candid images of the ballet’s dancers during performances, rehearsals, and backstage, giving viewers an artful glimpse at what goes into the ballet’s productions. It also makes use of something called banners on Instagram, when larger photos can be divided into multiple pictures to create a tiled banner of smaller photos. (There are several apps available to pull that off, but to start, check out Tile Pic). 

The way this account highlights performance venues is noteworthy, too. The lower-right photo below provides a look at the theatre when it’s completely empty, conveying a calm-before-the-storm feel that can generate excitement for productions.

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6) Tentsile

“Stunning” is the first word that comes to mind when I scroll through Tentsile’s Instagram photos. The company sells tree tents, what they call “portable treehouses” that will “literally take your camping experience to a new level.” Their Instagram is full of shockingly beautiful scenes of their product in use in all matter of terrain: rainforests, mountains, beaches… you name it. The best part

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Most engaging post of all time:

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[Click here to see the post.]

Why it’s engaging: Contests draw engagement: It’s as simple as that. In this particular case, Tentsile used an Instagram contest as a co-marketing play with a few of their partners by asking followers to follow three partner accounts to be eligible to win. In addition to following those accounts, they also asked people to Like the photo and “tag your 3 best adventures buddies in the comments below.” That’s a great way to expand reach and do co-marketing on Instagram.

7) Desenio

Look at the colors of any well known brand and you’ll notice that they use the same colors over and over again — in their logo, on their website, and in their social media images. Using the same colors over and over again is a great way to establish brand consistency and help consumers become familiar with your brand. That’s what the Swedish online art print company Desenio does beautifully on their Instagram account. They use a lot of blues, greens, greys, and blacks, which evoke senses of calm, healing, luxury, and trust.

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Most engaging post of all time:

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[Click here to see the post.]

Why it’s engaging: At first glance, this post doesn’t seem to stick out much from Desenio’s other Instagram content. But what’s unique about it is the universally relatable subject: a really beautiful, comfortable-looking bed in a beautiful bedroom, combined with hints of life like a laptop and some munchies. Many of the comments included exclamations of how beautiful and inspiring the setup is and how it’s the commenters’ “dream bedroom.” To increase your comment rate, follow Desenio’s lead by posting images of things and situations your followers aspire to in their own lives.

8) No Your City

The folks at No Your City produce a documentary series that captures the fascinating stories of people all over the world, but mostly in New York. The brand’s Instagram account, though, is less about these stories and more about showcasing gorgeous images from the city itself.

What we love about these photos is how closely they follow the best practices for taking great photos with your phone. Each one of No Your City’s photos seems to follow at least one of these recommendations, whether it’s focusing on a single subject, embracing negative space, playing with reflections, or finding interesting perspectives. The photos are consistently stunning, and as a result, the brand has built a solid following.

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9) Divinity LA Bracelets

Here’s an example of a small business performing very well on Instagram. A beaded bracelet could have any theme. 

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Most engaging post of all time:

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Why it’s engaging: Caption “Each Sea Turtle and Hatchling bracelet sold helps a Hatchling make it to the ocean.” People tagged their friends to show them the cute sea turtles, or to say “WE NEED TO SAVE THEM!”

10) WeWork

WeWork provides shared office spaces in cities and countries all over the globe — so it only makes sense that they should post a lot of photos showcasing their beautiful co-working communities. They do an amazing job photographing the spaces in ways that make followers like us wish we could jump into the photos and plop down with our laptops and a coffee.

They don’t stop at posting photos of their shared workspaces, though. WeWork uses Instagram to capture and share moments from some of the largest branded events that members (and their friends) look forward to all year, like WeWork Summer Camp. Hashtags are used to label these events — like #WWCamp — and to encourage customers to share their own photos of the spaces, using WeWork’s memorable slogan: “Do what you love.”

Our favorite is the #DogsOfWeWork hashtag. Not only is it awesome because, well, dogs, but it’s also a great way for the company to promote their laid-back culture while also inviting customers to interact with their brand on social. Near the end of each year, they actually choose the best photo submissions to the #DogsOfWeWork hashtag on Instagram and Facebook and put together a calendar for the following year.

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Most engaging post of all time:

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[Click here to see the post.]

Why it’s engaging: For all their beautiful photos of people and office spaces and dogs, some of you might be surprised that their most engaging photo of all time is a picture of a simple quote. This goes to show the power of motivational quotes on Instagram, which tend to perform very well. Instagram is, after all, a platform for inspiration — and simple quotes that are inspiring and easy to digest are often welcome in a user’s feed. Use free design tools like Canva, PicMonkey, or even PowerPoint to create these images easily.

11) Finfolk Productions

Ever wanted to be a mermaid? You can come pretty close, thanks to companies like FinFolk Productions. Believe it or not, silicone mermaid tails you can put on and swim around in are actually quite trendy in certain areas and for certain age groups — typically young girls, which is one of Instagram’s most . Finfolk Productions’ Instagram feed is full of beautifully shot photos that play into the mermaid fantasy by looking more like mythical art than real people.

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Most engaging post of all time:

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[Click here to see the post]

Why it’s engaging: One of the reasons this post was so popular is because it was accompanied by a long, heartfelt caption written by the company’s founders — which prompted an outpouring of supportive comments from their loyal followers:

Wish you could be part of our world? The good news is, you already are- just by being here! We might not always have custom silicone slots or Mythic tails readily available, but it’s only because we are busy constantly creating and making mermaid tails for every type of mermaid, in every size or color, gender or nationality. Our company focuses exclusively on providing the highest quality mermaid tails in the world. Some companies may tell you they can make you something faster, or cheaper, but you will never find a more perfectly crafted mermaid tail than right here at Finfolk. A tail is an investment of time, money, and emotions- each one is unique and beautiful, just like you. We’re here to make sure the end result makes it all entirely worth it.

So whether you’re just swimming by to enjoy the art, or grab a pair of leggings, or maybe you’ve invested and are patiently waiting to become one of the select few in the world with a fully custom silicone mermaid tail from Finfolk Productions, we love you and want to thank you for being part of our world. Stick around, we’ve got so much more to show you still. A&B

#finfolk #finfolkproductions #thelittlemermaid #littlemermaid #ariel #partofyourworld #mermaid #mermaidtail #disney #mermaidlife #finfolkmermaid

Commenters wrote that they love the founders for their dedication to beauty and quality, that they love the designs, and that they can’t wait until they have a tail of their own. What it all comes down to, though, is brand loyalty

12) Shiseido

Shiseido started out as Japan’s first Western-style pharmacy 140 years ago and has since developed into selling high-quality brightening and anti-aging skincare, makeup, and fragrance products. Their company mission is to inspire a life of beauty and culture — a mission they portray beautifully through their Instagram content. If you take a look at their feed, you’ll notice they post three images at a time so the posts appear in a row pattern on their larger feed — a very clever and original way to organize their content.

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Most engaging post of all time:

 

A post shared by SHISEIDO (@shiseido) on Jan 26, 2017 at 4:32am PST

Why it’s engaging: Back in late March 2016, Instagram started rolling out the ability to upload 60-second videos — and we’ve seen some amazing Instagram videos from brands ever since, like the one above from Shiseido. But don’t be intimidated by highly professional Instagram videos like theirs. You can post highly engaging videos on Instagram without a huge video team or a bottomless budget. Here’s a step-by-step guide for making great videos on Instagram without breaking the bank.

13) Made in Sephora

Made in Sephora’s brand personality is playful, colorful, feminine. They do a wonderful job of characterizing this personality in their Instagram content, using bright colors, patterns, and fun captions. The caption on the second photo below, for example, reads: “An easy-peasy smoky eye anyone? 😉 #madeinsephora #smokyeyes #makeupaddict”. They also diversify their feed with a lot of fun Instagram video content that gives off the same playful vibes.

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Most engaging post of all time:

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Why it’s engaging: Similar to Tentsile, Made in Sephora used an Instagram contest to expand their reach and increase engagement on their post. In this particular case, the contest was part of the company’s “Monday Giveaway” series, and it offered followers the chance to win a prize by tagging two friends in the comments with a specific hashtag. (Learn how to run your own Instagram contest here.)

14) Staples

The folks at Staples do a lot of things right when it comes to Instagram content, but there are two that particularly grab our attention — engaging with followers by asking questions and including calls-to-action in captions, and staying true to the brand’s playful-yet-practical personality.

When it comes to engaging Staples’ followers, it’s all about asking questions in the photo captions. For example, check out the second photo below featuring a series of emojis — its caption reads, “That’s pretty much our day. How about yours? Tell us in emojis.” Scroll through the comments on that photo, and you’ll see followers had a lot of fun responses. The caption paired with the first photo below — the one with the cupcakes — asks users to tag someone who they want to thank.

Staples does a great job staying true to brand by posting fun photos such as the “2016” shot written in office supplies and using the #OfficeHack hashtag to engage their following.

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The folks at Staples also use Instagram to post cute videos and GIFs, like the one below that promotes its Office by Martha Stewart line:

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Which are your favorite business-run Instagram accounts? Share with us in the comments.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Instagram Experts Answer Questions

15 Inspiring Examples of Small Business Branding

Taking on a branding project for a small business can be a valuable opportunity for agencies and freelancers to develop experimental creative work without the intense pressures and restrictions associated with larger accounts.

While big businesses often have multiple decision makers with very specific ideas and guidelines to keep their existing brands consistent, smaller companies are usually more open to exploring new creative directions, and can move faster to implement them.

If you need some more convincing that working with small businesses can result in some stunning creative work, we’ve put together a list of 15 small business branding examples to get you inspired for your next project.

15 Examples of Small Business Branding

1) Elo Soap

When traditional Greek soap manufacturer Elo needed a fresh look for their new Greek god-inspired line of olive oil soaps, they turned to designer Mike Karolos at Smirap Designs to create something that would stand out in a sea of touristy Greek gift shop items. 

“The biggest goal was to be different, unique, and eye catching,” Karolos said in an interview with The Dieline. “Although the Greek god theme in tourist shops here in Greece is very common, by using my illustration signature style we managed to give a different take on an overused theme. The result was a modern, fresh, and at the same time kind of traditional packaging due to the theme we chose.” 

Images via Mike Karolos on Behance

2) AND UNION

These craft beer cans from German brewery AND UNION balance minimal design with a complex, unexpected texture. The team at AND UNION designed the unique cans in-house with the goal of breaking through the idea that only cheap beers come in cans.

“There is still that stigma, even though many craft brewers before us have done such a great job in educating the consumer, we want to do our bit too,” co-founder Rui Esteves said. “We wanted to create a can that you hesitate to throw away after you’ve had the beer. I end up leaving stacks of these empty cans in my kitchen because I feel bad throwing such a beautiful thing in the recycling.” 

Images via The Dieline

3) Folklorious

Barcelona-based designer Quim Marin developed this stunning branding for online accessories boutique Folklorious. Marin incorporated excerpts of classic artwork, illustrated design, and photography with modern graphic elements and typography. The end result is an eclectic, stylish, and truly unique brand identity. 

Images via Quim Marin on Behance

4) EAT MY SHORTS!

EAT MY SHORTS! (Yes, that’s an intentional Simpson’s reference) is an independent, gender-neutral clothing line by fashion designer Malena Blas, who worked with Mexico City-based designer Tomás Salazar to create a contemporary brand identity and packaging solution.

The company’s shirts are packaged in pastel-colored metallic pouches with no reference to gender, and the trendy cotton candy hues are used throughout the brand’s promotional materials.

Images via Tomás Salazar on Behance

5) Zonzo Estate

Swear Words, an Australian design firm, was tasked with creating a sophisticated, energetic rebrand for Zonzo Estate, a winery, restaurant, and popular wedding destination in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley. 

The redesign is surprisingly modernistic for a rustic winery. The work is centered around a versatile, floating-letter logo that looks classic in gold foil, and youthful and fresh when printed in outline on a menu cover. 

Image via Swear Words

6) Qoñi

This small artisan community in Peru was branded head-to-toe by Leo Burnett Design, the design department of Leo Burnett’s Canadian branch.  

“We created the brand’s identity from top to bottom, giving it a name, wordmark, brand story, lookbook, promotional material, and retail tags,” the Leo Burnett team writes on their website. “Qoñi, meaning warmth in the region’s native language, was perfectly suited to the brand’s line of cozy alpaca goods.”

Image via Leo Burnett Design

7) Lune Croissanterie

Lune is a futuristic bakery with a serious, scientific commitment to perfecting their signature pastry. It makes sense then that their branding — developed by Melbourne-based agency A Friend of Mine — combines science and baked goods in the form of a croissant-tailed spaceship logo. 

“The packaging we designed features diecut ‘hyperdrive’ ventilation slots in a galactic theme (taking cue from the name Lune) which acted as ventilation for the pastries, paired with a subtle glitter print for a further cosmic touch,” writes the team from A Friend of Mine on their website. “We also redesigned their much loved rocket motif, and we couldn’t resist adding a little croissant in our update.”

Image via A Friend of Mine

8) Tenth Muse Botanical Fragrance

Thanks to Studio MPLS, this botanical fragarance startup has a charming, Victorian-inspired brand identity that still manages to look modern. Tenth Muse creates custom perfumes from natural, sustainably sourced ingredients, and their packaging and promotional materials elegantly “combine[s] clarity and beauty with intrigue and mystery.”

Image via Studio MPLS

9) Bombay Electric

Bombay Electric is a upscale fashion select store located in Mumbai, and their vibrant, kaleidoscopic new branding was created by Paris-based designer Michael Thorsby.

When approaching the work to put a new image on the company I knew that there was no way around colors and vibrancy,” Michael writes of the project on his portfolio website. “Framed by a rather minimal typography and grid, the intense color gradients are drawn to look like blurry abstract photographs, as if taken inside an Ann Veronica Janssens installation.”

Image via Michael Thorsby

10) Glorioso Super Nutrients

These seed packet-inspired supplement packages from Spanish superfood company Glorioso Super Nutrients are simple but delightfully whimsical, each featuring an abstract circle motif representative of their contents. 

Glorioso’s entire brand identity, which includes a range of colorful business cards, was developed by Barcelona-based agency Requena. The circle motifs are used throughout the brand’s website and other promotional materials. 

Image via Requena Office on Behance

11) Notel

This decidedly unconventional hotel demanded some especially bold branding choices, and agency Self Titled definitely delivered. Notel consists of six reconditioned Air Stream trailers parked on a roof, and Self Titled was brought in to provide art direction and develop a strong brand concept for the entire operation. 

As the agency explains on their website: “The name and logo explicitly express the idea that this is ‘not a hotel’, with a subtle nod to the slashed ‘no symbol’. Celebrating the best of Melbourne, reframing both high and low culture, Self-titled created the brand positioning — ‘reflecting and reframing Melbourne’. This helped inform the reflective surfaces, cut-out logo and a website design which reveals and reframes layers of content.”

Image via Self Titled

12) Marte Estudio

Classical art, bright colors, and modern design elements come together in the branding for this Mexican hair and makeup studio. Created by design agency Bienal, the eclectic physical space and promotional elements were developed to reflect the bold, vibrant personality of Marte Estudio‘s creator, Mariana Abraham.

Image via Bienal

13) Robinson’s

When you think of an auto body workshop, great branding probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But thanks to agency Parallax, Robinson’s Accident Repair Center has a sleek, retro-inspired logo, minimal branded materials, and interiors to match. 

Image via Parallax

14) Sneaky Veg

Mandy Mazliah created her blog Sneaky Veg to chronicle her family’s experiences eating healthy food. When she needed some clever, stand-out branding for the blog, designer Vicki Turner cooked up these designs.

“I was asked to create Sneaky Veg’s brand identity that captured the sneaky yet good intentioned methods of making wholesome fruit and veg recipes into firm kid favourites,” said Turner on her website. 

Image via Vicki Turner

15) Doctor Manzana

Doctor Manzana is a technical support shop for smart phones and tablets located in Valencia, Spain. They wanted a way to attract a new audience for their services and products, so they reached out to the folks at Masquespacio Design to create a new brand identity.

The Masquespacio team explains on their website: “A brand was designed to attract different kind of customers from fashionistas to geeks, traduced here into several kinds of colors through a brand image that plays continually with the angle of 54 degrees formed by the reflection of the mobile phones’ screen.”

Image via Masquespacio Design

creative-brief-cta  

How to Become a Household Name

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“Google it.” “Can you pass me some Kleenex?” “Let’s take the Jet Ski out.”

These are just a few examples of how brand names have been worked into our common vocabularies. When people ask for a Kleenex, they usually just mean they want a tissue, but because the Kleenex brand is so popular, we’ve started conflating the popular brand name with the object itself.

It’s every brand marketer’s dream for their product, service, or website to become so ubiquitous it replaces the name of the original concept. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the stories of four brands that turned product names into verbs that then replaced the generic terms, along with lessons for marketers on how it was done.

What Is Verbification?

Anthimeria is the rhetorical term for what we’re discussing here: It’s the linguistic term for when we use one part of speech as another part of a speech, such as a noun for a verb. When it comes to branded words, there isn’t an exact formula to explain why some brands become “verbified” and others don’t. For example, why has Super Glue been “verbified,” but Gorilla Glue hasn’t?

Lots of brands have cracked the code for becoming a household name (or verb), and we’re diving into how we think a few technology brands accomplished it in this blog post.

Four Brands That Replaced Product Names

1) YouTube

What it Replaced:

Video streaming website YouTube replaced phrases like “search for a video” or “watch a video online.”

Used in a Sentence:

“You should YouTube the latest Saturday Night Live monologue, Kate McKinnon was hilarious in it.”

Why it Caught on:

A huge part of YouTube’s widespread popularity is its first-mover advantage — it was one of the first video hosting sites ever founded, and after Google purchased it in 2006, it started growing rapidly. Today, YouTube has more than 1 billion users worldwide, and it accounts for more than 15% of all internet traffic globally.

YouTube has maintained its popularity over more than 10 years with a variety of innovative advertising techniques. Because YouTube is a subsidiary of Google, the biggest search engine in the world, it has the advantage of being one of the first search results when users conduct Google searches for videos. Check it out: When you conduct a Google search for “cooking tutorial videos,” YouTube is the first search result:

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Instead of only advertising YouTube online and on social media platforms, in the past several years, YouTube started advertising video creators with billboards, TV ads, and print ads to broaden its reach.

Another factor that’s played a role in YouTube’s popularization is the decline in cable TV subscriptions, especially among younger video viewers. Now that so much video content is available for free online, more viewers are heading to sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu to consume videos, TV shows, and movies they enjoy.

Takeaway for Marketers:

Mix up your advertising strategies to keep exposing your brand to new audiences. A healthy blend of advertising on social media platforms, search engines, and print publications could help generate more interest and recognition of your brand. Here’s our guide to getting started with social media advertising if you need inspiration.

2) Photoshop

What it Replaced:

Adobe Photoshop software replaced any and all terms related to photo editing and manipulation.

Used in a Sentence:

“That picture was definitely Photoshopped.”

Why it Caught on:

Like YouTube, Adobe Photoshop benefited from first-mover advantage: It was one of the first digital photo editing software programs of its kind when it was released in 1990. Because it was first on the scene, other photo editing software created later were judged against Photoshop, which helps spread word-of-mouth recognition further.

Additionally, as other Adobe software was created, the new products were integrated seamlessly with Photoshop, making it easier for designers and visual content creators to do their jobs within the Adobe Creative Suite of products. It’s easier to use a product that works well with others you need to use for your job, rather than piecing together a system that requires multiple programs and types of documents to work together.

Takeaway for Marketers:

Help make it easier for your audience to get things done during the workday. Could you integrate with larger companies, social media platforms, or APIs to make customers’ lives easier? It could be something as easy as partnering with a video hosting company to embed high-quality videos in blog posts, or providing easy links to embed social media sharing buttons on your website that could make the difference in your brand’s stickiness and popularity. Try our Website Grader to see where you could improve the health of your site.

3) Google

What it Replaced:

Search engine Google replaced generic terms for searching for information online.

Used in a Sentence:

“Just Google it.”

Why it Caught on:

Unlike YouTube and Photoshop, Google wasn’t among the first of its kind. There were numerous search engines already available, such as Yahoo! Search, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista, which Google Search has since come to dominate. 

Its simple homepage is easy to use and navigate and doesn’t bombard visitors with a ton of ads or images. Here’s a comparison of how Yahoo! Search and Google Search homepages appear to see what we mean. Which site would you prefer to use?

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Google’s algorithm delivers arguably superior results for searchers with the help of different ranking tools and signals. Because search engine optimization (SEO) has become a must-have part of any content marketing strategy, more marketers are trying to get content to rank in Google Search. This helps searchers find the information they’re looking for faster when brands optimize website content according to how people try to find information.

Like other search engines, Google built an array of complementary apps and services, such as Gmail, Google Maps, and others. Google also made sure to do it right and launch a successful rollout of these newer products after its technology had been completely nailed. Google scaled when it was ready, which resulted in great products people loved to use and share with their friends.

Takeaway for Marketers:

Two lessons marketers can implement from Google? Design a simple, easy-to-navigate website, and don’t start scaling up too quickly. We have a guide for redesigning your website the right way here. As for the second piece of advice, don’t grow too quickly if your brand starts expanding its scope. In 2011, the Startup Genome Report determined premature scaling was one of the biggest predictors of startup failure, so make sure your primary product — software, goods, or advising — is perfected before you start growing your business further.

4) Skype

What it Replaced:

Video calling and chatting app Skype replaced the term “video chat.”

Used in a Sentence:

“Skype me when you’re in Europe.”

Why it Caught on:

One of the most appealing aspects of Skype is how affordable it makes an essential thing (phone calls). Skype eliminated the need for calling cards or international phones — with one app, Skype made phone calls cheaper and video calls easier.

A less scientific reason for Skype’s success is the name — it’s catchy and easy to say. Let’s face it, “make a video call” or “call someone internationally” are unwieldy to say, Skype has the advantage of having a short, pithy brand name that is easier to say than the generic term. Shorter names are also easier to remember, which likely helped Skype gain a foothold in the crowded world of messaging apps.

Takeaway for Marketers:

Marketers can learn from Skype that it’s important to have a clear value proposition for your brand’s product or service. If your brand makes something cheaper, easier, or more efficient for people, make sure your audience knows about it so they can start using it. Make the value of your product clear and easily understood in all messaging, from your website to your social media posts. We’ve even designed templates to create your own calls-to-action (CTAs) to add to your web assets to get the ball rolling.

Everyone Wants to Be Popular

There are varied opinions on if brand names becoming verbs is good or bad for business. There’s potential risk for the terms becoming generic as time passes, or for product copyright to be infringed upon. Even Google specifically warns against using the trademark term as a noun or a verb on its website. But isn’t all press good press?

We’re not saying if you follow by Google or Skype’s example, your company’s brand name will become the next big verb. Let’s face it — that’s pretty rare, and it’s especially challenging unless your brand is the first of its kind in a particular industry. For now, until your brand becomes the next big thing, try some of the strategies that made these brands so successful for greater brand visibility and recognition. If you’re looking for ideas how to get started, check out our guide to social media and public relations branding.

Do you have a lot of brand names in your vocabulary? Share with us in the comments below.

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