About the Author: Carter Harkins

Carter Harkins

Carter Harkins is the Chief Storyteller at Harkins Creative. When asked how one can know whether the story being told about a brand is the right story, his response was, "You know it's the right one if it's authentic, transparent and profitable." He spends his days obsessing over the small stuff in every clients' story.

Recent Posts from Carter Harkins:

Asking Tough Questions About Your Marketing Strategy


Warning: This post may make you extremely uncomfortable. Read at your own risk.

Today, there is virtually no reason not to have your pulse on the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Data abounds, and to even the most casual business owner, this data can open up keen insights into where your marketing time and money is working for you, and where it is not.

To illustrate, I want to describe a strategy we are deploying on a web site right now, and this approach is saving us hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars normally wasted in the startup phase of any business model. The philosophy and steps behind this strategy is the same as you would read in practically any college marketing textbook: Devise, Implement, Test, Interpret Data, Revise and Repeat.

The real difference with what we are doing (across multiple marketing and advertising channels, such as Social, AdWords, SEO, Content) involves close micro-step evaluations of key drivers. Quite simply, rather than wait for an abundance of data, we are making swift course corrections based on tightly prioritized goals, using tiny-yet-measurable data samples.

This strategy requires that we ask difficult questions about our assumptions, letting none of them remain as sacred cows. Instead, we rather assume that we know nothing about what may work, and rigorously test every aspect of a business model, from messaging to offer to price point. And we are doing this rapidly.

Here’s the kicker: We are able to do this based on almost real-time data, in increments of fewer than 100 visitors to our web site.

It’s pretty exciting, and I believe it will lead us to circumvent the normally expensive and time-intensive process new businesses must endure when launching something new.

So the question I have for you is: What do you think you know about your business marketing metrics? Do you know what is working and what isn’t? How do you know it? And how long and how much is it taking you to find out?



Infographics: Visual Storytelling that Connects

I thought I’d share some of our recent work in support of Stress Awareness Month this April.  (see below, and click the image for a full-size view) Infographics are a great way to share statistics and key information with your target market, and because of the easy share-ability of these images, the likelihood of them going viral is much greater.  It’s become a very popular way of communicating on the web.  Whether this is a passing fad or a durable trend is yet to be seen, but why not take advantage of it while it’s hot, right?

Finding and Perfecting Your Inner Storyteller

Anyone who has been engaged with us for very long at all knows how passionate we are about telling stories. To our way of thinking, a good story has the power to make a brand, but even more importantly, it can connect us as human beings and perhaps even change the world.

So when I watched this video over at TED.com, I knew I had to share it with you.

If you are tasked with telling stories about your brand, or if you want to brand the world with an idea you have, you owe it to yourself to watch this video.

How to Get Reviews Using Google Hotpot

This video outlines a free way to get your local business to appear higher in Google’s search results by having a Google places page, and asking your customers and clients to review your company there.  By the way, we are practicing what we preach here, too. If you are a satisfied client, would you please review us?

How Twitter Makes Me a Better Writer

Words. I love them. Sometimes too much. I have been known to string together sentences with upwards of 60 words. I habitually gravitate to 4- and 5-syllable words. This is for my own enjoyment, not yours. I just love words. I think I love them because I love ideas. And words are nothing if not elegant conveyors of ideas.

But then I started Twittering. And the imposition of 140 characters was a real tough one to embrace. My earliest tweets lamented this fact frequently.

Then something happened. The limitation made me wrestle with words in a new way. I started looking for conciseness. I had to have faster, clearer, better ways of expressing myself. In the process I discovered that flowery prose is not always the best way to communicate, after all. In fact, the 140 character discipline has made me a better writer, by reigning in those tendencies, and reminding me that comprehension is more important in the message than getting to use that shiny new abstract metaphor.

I still love them, though. Twitter hasn’t changed that. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let it.

HTML 5 and CSS 3: The Game is Changing… Again.

Much has been said about HTML 5 and CSS 3 lately. While this post is not seeking to add revelatory statements to those made elsewhere, I am seeking to aid the average layperson – people like our clients – in understanding why this updated code stuff is so important, and how it represents yet another sea change in web site visitor expectations.

You may remember a time a few years back when you couldn’t go an hour without someone using the buzzphrase “Web 2.0”.  Many of us felt it was a kind of hyped up way to say that the web was changing, and with it people’s expectations.  As with any mass hysteria, you have to wait for the dust to settle before real meaning and understanding can be gained.

What Web 2.0 was then is exactly what Web 3.0 and 4.0, etc. will be about: Evolution. The gradual change that takes place along a continuum.

What was touted as a destination by those caught up in the hype has turned out to be the next logical step in the evolution of web technology and computer-aided human interactivity.  Whatever Web 2.0 was about, it wasn’t a stopping place.  There are no real stopping places on the internet.

We have been pushing the limits of our web since the first day two computers could talk to one another.  Big surprise then that we would continue to rearrange the virtual furniture.  We will never be completely done decorating the spaces within our browsers. (And that’s the big lesson for any business that wants to remain relevant.)

Whereas the previous wave of disruptive technologies centered mostly on the cool stuff you could build and run on web servers (those glorious and all-but-invisible computer boxes that fueled the growth of countless social startups), and to a troubling extent a “glassy button” graphical look that almost supplanted the actual advancements being made, this upcoming wave of change seems to have as its beach the browser itself.

And that’s as technical as I am going to get.  Why?  You’re busy making your company work for you.  You don’t need to know the difference between server-side and client-side actions.  What you need to know is that as this new wave gathers strength and presses inexorably toward landfall, your web site visitors – the people from whom you’d like to extract a measure of value while providing the same in return – are about to get even more sophisticated in their expectations of what a web site should be and do.

So if this article is seeking to add anything to the conversations happening around the release of new web standards, it’s this: You cannot afford the luxury of a set-and-forget web strategy.  You must continue to invest and innovate in order to keep pace with the evolution of your market.

The Next 365 Days

The end of the year always makes me think differently about my business. Perhaps it’s the little bit of down time I afford myself with family during the holidays, the free-flowing wine and food, and the reflection that so easily comes with both. Or maybe it’s the realization that an entire year has just flown by me, a thought that always leaves me a little breathless.

Either way, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is usually one spent thinking critically about what I have accomplished in the previous 12 months, and thinking strategically about how I plan to spend the next 365 days. I write. I chart. I plan. I get very intentional about every area of my business, to make sure I understand what is working and what isn’t.

As we go into 2011, I hope you are thinking as strategically as I am about your own business. Evaluating your marketing. Examining where your time is going. Determining if what you have been doing is going to be the thing that gets you where you want to go, or deciding that you need to try something new. I hope you’ll stretch yourself. Find new opportunities for growth. Prepare yourself to become the business you want to be in this coming year.

I thoroughly enjoy helping our clients realize business success. I take great pride in the work we do each year that contributes to a bigger bottom line for your businesses, practices, and shops. Rest assured that as you think hard about what you want to accomplish in the coming year, we are primed and ready to help you get there.

Here’s to continued success and growth in 2011! Happy New Year to all of you!

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