Imagine being alone and stranded for more than a year.
Now imagine you're alone and stranded on Mars.
That's the premise for the The Martian, a science-fiction best-seller written by former computer programmer Andy Weir and soon to be released as a movie starring Matt Damon. The Martian tells the story of NASA astronaut Mark Watney who must improvise with the tools and technology he has on hand to survive until, and if, the space agency can send a spacecraft to rescue him.
The movie, which will be released Oct. 2, merges science fiction with actual science about Mars, technology that NASA is working on and the space agency's plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s.
Jim Adams, NASA's deputy chief technologist, who has read the book, said he was impressed with the way the author represented the science and means of survival on Mars. "It stimulated a lot of my thinking about what we are doing and our plans on getting to Mars in the 2030s with humans."
The Habitat (from NASA)
NASA has been working not only on what will become a real human habitat for its astronauts to use once they reach Mars. They're also working on how to get it built before humans reach the planet.
Part of NASA's research has been focused on what's called the Human Exploration Research Analog, dubbed HERA, which is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
HERA is a three-story habitat that enables NASA to study how humans might react to living in close quarters -- 148-cubic-meters to be exact -- on a distant planet.
NASA also is working on robots that would go to Mars before the astronauts and to build out the habitat and resources that their human counterparts would need.
According to Jeff Sheehy, the senior technical officer for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, some of the robotics used on Mars will be in the form of autonomous machines.
"The power plant. The habitat. This stuff is going to have to be preplaced and up and running all unattended," Sheehy said. "These systems will have the ability to run themselves and detect when something is off nominal… and how to work around that to mitigate it."
A lot of the focus of the habitat is on the material from which it will be made. "The thing that created a vision for me was where our investment in fabrics is going," he said. "If you read the book, a lot depends on the tent and the fabrics and his ability to patch them. I gained a new vision for what NASA could be doing with fabrics and how that could enable us to create habitats."
2. Farming in space (the movie)
In a scene from The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, plants potatoes in a self-sustaining farm in the habitation module, known as the HAB.
Watney needs to figure out a way to keep from starving. "I gotta figure out how to grow four years worth of food here, on a planet where nothing grows," he says.
That's a tough challenge, but it helps that the stranded astronaut is a botanist and a mechanical engineer.
To survive, Watney figures out how to grow food in the hab from the few potatoes that were brought on the mission.
Farming in space (the NASA way)
Farming in space has become a reality.
To survive on deep space missions, astronauts will have to grow their own food, and NASA began the work of figuring out how to grow crops in space.
In early August, NASA reported that astronauts on board the International Space Station harvested and ate a crop of red romaine lettuce. The food was grown without soil, using a system of red, blue and green LED lights and root pillows containing seeds that the astronauts keep watered.
The first plants were grown on the space station last year but the astronauts onboard didn't eat them. Instead, the plants were returned to Earth where they were studied for food safety.
3. Water in space
People living on Mars will need to create their own water supply since the planet has no lakes, rivers or handy taps, and sending water would mean a nine-month trip from Earth.
In The Martian, Watney takes on the dangerous task of burning hydrazine to make water. Since hydrazine is a toxic and extremely unstable chemical, NASA scientists are looking for safer ways to get astronauts the water they need in space.
NASA notes that on the space station, nothing is wasted. Sweat, urine and water from teeth brushing can be recycled and turned into usable water. Using the Water Recovery System, water is caught and filtered until it is ready for consumption.
According to NASA, one astronaut said, "Yesterday's coffee turns into tomorrow's coffee."
Jeff Sheehy, the senior technical officer for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said scientists also are looking at how they can use the water that can be found on Mars.
"The elements to make water are on Mars, so we could do the chemical processing to extract and make water," he said. "In places we have explored on Mars there is evidence of subsurface water crystalized in the soil... And evidence suggests there could be quite an abundance of water ice on the poles."
In this screen shot taken from a Vine posting, astronaut Reid Wiseman fooled around with floating water and a fish-eye lens aboard the space station.
4. What to wear: The spacesuit
To explore the Martian surface, astronauts will need their own individual habitats -- or spacesuits.
In The Martian, Watney has to keep himself alive while stranded alone on the Martian surface. That means a lot of time outside the shelter, working on his vehicles, moving equipment and taking care of his habitat.
He wouldn't have been able to do any of that without his spacesuit. His suit, NASA noted, has to be flexible, comfortable and reliable.
The NASA spacesuit
NASA scientists are developing spacesuits that will help astronauts have freedom of movement while keeping them safe from the elements, especially dust, and supplied with air. Among them is NASA's Z-2 prototype suit.
NASA's spacesuit engineers are calculating the tradeoffs between hard composite materials and fabrics to find the right balance between durability and flexibility. Astronauts will need to be able to walk, bend and pick up rock and soil samples. They'll also need to be able to do mechanical work on robots, rovers or their hab.
NASA isn't the only agency working on spacesuits. MIT researchers said last year that they are working on a lightweight suit that would fit more like a second skin than traditional spacesuits.
Built out of a nickel-titanium shape-memory alloy, the new technology could be designed into spacesuits that are stretchy and form to an astronaut's body. MIT is working on the suits with NASA in mind.
5. Rover (in the movie)
If astronauts are going to spend a year or more living on the Martian surface, they need a vehicle -- a rover -- to get them around.
In The Martian, Watney has to take increasingly long trips in his rover, even adding solar cells and an additional battery to better outfit the machine.
Without a reliable and sturdy rover, Watney wouldn’t have been able to travel far enough to get the technology he needed and to eventually try to reach an extraction point.
Rovers have been a critical part of NASA's Mars exploration.
For more than 10 years, NASA's unmanned rover Opportunity has been working and motoring around the planet.
As successful as these rovers have been, they weren't made to transport humans and provide environmental protection.
Jim Adams, NASA's deputy chief technologist, said engineers are working on what astronauts would need for a rover.
“The idea is to someday have a habitation module on wheels,” he said. “It would look like a small Winnebago that they could drive around in.” (See above.)
NASA's Senior Technical Officer Jeff Sheehy said they would take designs from today’s rovers and reconfigure them for astronaut transportation.
"The rovers we would need [with] a human presence on Mars would need to move much more rapidly than the rovers on Mars now that tend to creep around at a very slow pace," Sheehy said. "Humans are going to want to move much more rapidly. And they're going to need radiation shielding. They'd need more power to run faster and run all those systems -- advanced battery systems."
6. Solar arrays
Since there are no power plants, oil depots and virtually no wind for turbines on Mars, human missions to the Red Planet will depend in large part on solar energy.
In the movie, the Hermes spacecraft uses solar panel arrays for power, and Watney uses solar panels to power his habitat and to give additional power to his rover for longer trips.
That is not a new idea.
Today, solar arrays are set up on the outside of the International Space Station, generating 84 kilowatts to 120 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power more than 40 homes, according to NASA.
The space station has been using solar arrays since 2000 when its first crew stayed onboard.
NASA also pointed out that Orion, the spacecraft that is being built to carry astronauts into deep space, will use solar arrays for power. The arrays are being designed to catch sunlight and store its power in lithium-ion batteries for times when sunlight is not available.
7. Ion propulsion
In the movie, Watney’s crewmates, who thought he was dead, evacuated the planet without him, traveling in a spacecraft that uses ion propulsion to move back and forth between Earth and Mars.
That too is not science fiction.
Ion propulsion works by electrically charging a gas, like argon or xenon. Once charged, the gas becomes an ion. Voltage is then added to the ions, which causes them to shoot out of the engine at high velocity, pushing the spacecraft in the opposite direction.
Ion propulsion has 10 times the efficiency of conventional propulsion. However, it doesn’t have the great power and initial speed that conventional rockets do.
The advantage of ion-based systems is that they don’t demand the great amounts of fuel that traditional gas systems do.
Ion propulsion is a technology for spacecraft that are traveling long distances. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft (artist's image shown above), which earlier this year became the first spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet, used ion propulsion to travel 3.1 billion miles.
"We’ve got to put a lot of tonnage on Mars. We’re going to have to land something the size of a two-story house on Mars -- the habitation system and the life support system. And the crew vehicle is going to be very large if you’re going to put three people on Mars for a year," said Jeff Sheehy, the senior technical officer for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate.
"With ion propulsion systems you can go very far on very little," Sheehy said. "These are called continuous thrust systems. It could go on for years. Over a very long time, you wind up building up your velocity beyond what you could with a chemical system. It is the most efficient way to move mass with these big missions to anywhere."
Look out, Tesla. Apple is speeding into your rearview. The Cupertino, Calif., colossus is gearing up to release an electric car by 2019 and it’s hiring 1,200 more employees to get the show on the road, reports the The Wall Street Journal.
Finally, after a year of weighing the possibility of its own branded wheels, Apple appears to have the green light to forge ahead. An earlier report had a new iCar (we’re guessing at its name here) slated to arrive in 2020, but it’s reportedly scheduled to debut even earlier. News hit yesterday that the company has just stamped the initiative a “committed project,” sources close to the matter told the Journal.
Apple’s ambitious shift from the consumer electronics market into the automotive fast lane comes on the heels of a meeting with officials at California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. On Aug. 17, an Apple senior legal executive talked with a Golden State autonomous vehicle expert, along with the DMV’s chief of strategic planning, according to documents acquired by The Guardian. The hour-long meeting fueled rumors that Apple is indeed serious about driving into the car market, just as Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak and countless others in and outside of Silicon Valley have long predicted.
As for Musk, he recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that Apple was tempting his Tesla employees to jump ship by offering 60 percent salary increases and $250,000 signing bonuses. “Apple tries very hard to recruit from Tesla,” he said. “But so far they’ve actually recruited very few people.” Whether poached from Tesla or not, Apple is reportedly tripling its existing 600-person team for the vehicle product program, which is said to be codenamed “Project Titan.”
Those hoping Apple’s first whip would be a self-driving machine will probably be disappointed. Sources familiar with the project say Apple is not looking to make its inaugural vehicle entirely autonomous, despite reportedly onboarding an unknown number of driverless car specialists. However, if individuals close to venture prove right, a self-driving option will likely be available over the long-term.
Meanwhile, Tesla, the undisputed electric car market frontrunner for the moment, is still working out the kinks on an autopilot semi-driverless software update for the Model S. Musk has publicly teased the feature for months. The upgrade will merely assist drivers, not entirely replace them. Google, for its part, is potentially driving in a different direction, per an executive at the search giant, who recently said her employer is considering selling its driverless tech directly to existing automakers.
As for how much an Apple car might cost, that remains one of the many unknowns surrounding Apple’s pivot into the luxury electric car race. We imagine the term “sticker shock” won’t even begin to cover it.
Knowing how the human mind processes information and images—and putting that knowledge to use—can help you become a more engaging and effective marketer.
Researchers in a new(ish) field of study are trying to figure out how our hard-wired preferences affect the decisions we make. Neuromarketing research is “the systematic collection and interpretation of neurological and neurophysiological insights about individuals using different protocols, allowing researchers to explore nonverbal and unconscious physiological responses to various stimuli for the purposes of market research,” according to the Neuromarketing Science & Business Association.
Put simply, neuromarketing is the study of how our brains respond to marketing and how it affects our behavior—consciously or unconsciously—explains Andy Crestodina, co-founder and strategic director of Chicago web design and development agency Orbit Media Studios, who speaks and writes about the topic.
“There are ‘cognitive biases’ built into all of us,” he says. “We can’t help it. Marketing either works with or against the cognitive biases.”
It’s critical to understand these predispositions, to know how our minds process information and images. “The competition for attention is fierce, so knowing what lights up our brains gives marketers an edge that can help them win,” says Grey Garner, vice president of marketing at Emma, an email marketing provider based in Nashville, Tenn.
So let’s take a look at some secrets of the human mind you can tap into from a marketing perspective.
Secret 1: We all have a primitive brain. The amygdala controls our reactions and emotions, and it works much faster than our conscious, rational mind, Garner says. In fact, we experience gut reactions in three seconds or less. Emotions make a more lasting imprint than rational thought.
Marketing takeaway: Aim for a gut reaction, and pay special attention to how your materials look when scanned quickly (as opposed to deliberately considered—because no one has the time or inclination to do that anymore).
Pay attention to the things people see first. In email marketing, your subject line and pre-header (that bit of text you read most prominently on a mobile device, above the body of the email) should grab readers and speak to their pains, wants, needs and emotions. In blogging or other online content, pay special attention to headlines. (You should spend as much time writing the headline as you do the rest of the piece.) In website content, make your pages welcoming and easily grokked.
Secret 2: Our brains love images. Our brains process images much faster than text. Approximately 90 percent of all data that the brain processes is visual. We remember pictures with text more than we remember text alone.
Marketing takeaway: Use images, of course—but make them special, and lay off the stock shots. I like the way Loews Hotels & Resorts integrates candid guest images into its “Travel for Real” ad campaign, and the way men’s clothing company Chubbies uses hilarious GIFs in its email mailings. You can also use a web tool like Canva or mobile app Over (madewithover.com) to create custom images.
Secret 3: Our brains love images of faces. Research suggests that natural selection favored humans who were able to quickly identify threats and build relationships. As part of that, we are wired from birth to recognize and prefer human faces. The part of the brain that processes human faces is right next to the part that processes emotions.
Marketing takeaway: Use real people in your marketing materials, and consider putting faces on landing pages, in emails or on web pages designed to drive a desired action.
Eye-tracking studies show that our brains will default to first look at human faces on a web page. What’s more, we’ll look where the faces are looking. So entice by adding, say, a photo of a face that looks toward a call-to-action button or crucial bit of text.
Secret 4: Colors inspire specific feelings. There’s more to color choice than what looks good. Different colors cue different signals in a brain. In fact, research has shown that 62 to 90 percent of our feeling about a product is determined by color alone. Yellow activates the anxiety center of the brain. Blue builds trust. Red creates urgency. And that’s just the start.
Marketing takeaway: There’s a science and art behind color choice—especially as it relates to marketing fundamentals like call-to-action buttons. “Don’t choose colors arbitrarily,” Crestodina says.
What colors work best for your company will depend on your brand, positioning and audience. The best approach, as always, is to test how color affects response before choosing.
Secret 5: Names change behavior. What something is called affects our reaction to it. A recent study by David R. Just and Brian Wansink of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found that calling the same portion of spaghetti “double-size” instead of “regular” caused diners to eat less.
Marketing takeaway: Carefully consider how your wording might influence attitude as you name products, describe models or options and create customer messaging.
Secret 6: We crave belonging. We have an innate desire to conform. “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other,” said philosopher Eric Hoffer.
Marketing takeaway: Remove anxiety, signal belonging and build credibility with an audience by using social proof and signals—in the form of endorsements from well-known influencers in your market; badges or awards from McAfee, TRUSTe or Norton; media logos (from outlets that have quoted or referenced you); customer testimonials woven throughout a site (not exiled to a specific page); and social widgets and shares, assuming you have a solid social media program in place.
One more tip is to use inclusive, specific language on any call to action to signal what Crestodina calls a “call to conform.” Rather than having a sign-up box for a newsletter, say something like, “We are the nation’s leading resource for home heating and cooling information and supplies. Subscribe now.” You might invoke belonging by saying: “Join more than 35,000 contractors and homeowners who seek weekly heating and cooling tips and supplies.”
Ever get the urge to rate your friends and colleagues like restaurants, stars and all? Exposing their strengths, but more likely their flaws, for all to see on the unforgiving and unforgetting Internet...forever?
Sadly, there’s an app for that. It’s called Peeple and it’s scheduled to go live in the Apple App Store in late November -- that is, if the bitter backlash swirling virally around it doesn’t torpedo the catty reputation tool first.
Spun by its makers as “a positivity app for positive people,” Peeple lets users rate their friends, family members, neighbors, employees, bosses, BAEs -- anyone! -- without their consent. To use the controversial free app, you have to be 21 and have a Facebook account, and there’s no cowardly hiding behind anonymity. You must use your real name. You also need to know someone’s cell phone number to add them to Peeple’s database, which is straight creepy in our book.
Rating people -- real, live human beings with real, vulnerable feelings, mind you -- involves assigning them between one and five stars, just as you would your neighborhood car repair shop or taco stand on Yelp. You can also write essentially whatever you want about your victims, er, we mean the lucky individuals you review. Naughty or nice, it’s up to you, though certain red flag no-nos are off limits, like profanity, sexism and dredging up someone’s “private health conditions.” You wouldn’t want your employer knowing about that ick you contracted that one night, right?
Can you smell the job offers lost? The relationships ruined? The cyberbullying accusations? The defamation lawsuits? Yeah, we thought so.
Oh, but positive Peeple ratings publish right away, reports The Washington Post. Negative ratings (those with two stars or fewer) are held in a private inbox for 48 hours to allow time for potential beefs cool off between raters and rate-ees. Bad news: If they can’t come to an agreement to nix the negative review, it posts anyway. “If you cannot turn a negative into a positive the comment will go live and then you can publicly defend yourself,” Peeple writes on its website. For now, it appears the only way to avoid not having your reputation potentially trashed on the app is not to register to use it in the first place. That way, only positive reviews about you will appear. Huh? It’s all a bit murky.
Worse, unlike a similar app named Lulu, which allows women to rate men they’ve dated -- or, let’s be honest, hooked up with -- removing bad reviews of yourself is not an option. Anyone can rate you on Peeple and there’s not a damn thing you can do about, barring tipping Peeple off to "inaccurate" reviews. Big deal. Here’s to hoping you’ve behaved impeccably every moment of your life -- professionally, personally and romantically. Those are the app’s three rating categories.
Basically, imagine if Tinder, Facebook and LinkedIn had a snarky stalker baby and you’re there. Terrifying, isn’t it?
The best friends who co-founded Peeple don’t think so. CEO Julia Cordray and creative director Nicole McCullough, are making publicity lemonade out of a nonstop barrage of criticism and, ironically, vicious attacks against their characters on social media. Only hours ago, Peeple claimed on its Facebook page that its founders would appear on Good Morning America earlier today, presumably to defend (and, of course, promote) their product, which they say they created to publicly lift people up, not to tear them down. We tuned in to the show this morning and didn’t see Cordray or McCullough.
"As two empathetic, female entrepreneurs in the tech space, we want to spread love and positivity," Cordray told the Post. "We want to operate with thoughtfulness."
To that end, Peeple’s FAQ reads:
Your network lifts you up and says positive things about you so that you can have a strong online reputation and get job opportunities, access to more networking opportunities with like-minded people, interact with other single people, and have the ability to search others to make better decisions around your greatest assets such as your family.
Amazon.com will drop sales of the Apple TV and Google Chromecast, devices that compete with its own streaming media hardware, the company said.
"Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime. It's important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion. Roku, XBOX, PlayStation and Fire TV are excellent choices," said a spokesperson for the company.
Amazon told sellers it will not allow new listings and will remove existing inventory later this month, a report from Bloomberg said.
Amazon's Fire TV and Fire TV Stick connect to televisions and let users stream videos, photos, music and apps. Amazon also has a digital video platform that works on some competing devices, like the Roku set-top box, but not others.
The move likely is no different from Apple or Google denying space in their app stores to apps with competing services, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.
"If this were to go ahead it might be more of an issue for Google, than Apple simply because Chromecast is more a mass market product than Apple TV is currently," she said.
In the life of a business owner, we all get to the point where we need to ask the question…
Should I rebrand my business?
Perhaps your business has gone through some changes lately, or you feel that your brand is no longer appealing to your audience, or you just think a general refresh could generate some fresh interest in your marketing. Either way, most businesses will find that they need to do some level of rebranding work every couple of years to ensure that they stay modern, in line with their current goals, and responding to their audiences’ changing needs.
Before you start updating your logo, website, and a whole lot of other (potentially) expensive and time consuming tasks, it’s a good idea to plan ahead for how the rebrand might affect all the different areas of your business.
I’ve put together a plan for you to follow with some of the steps you might take when planning and executing your rebrand. Of course, every business is different, so your rebrand might not follow this exact path. However, if you follow the steps below for the most part, you will find that your rebrand is more likely to go down successfully, with a smoother transition for all areas of your business into the new branding.
Steps to Rebrand Your Business
1. Research and Plan Ahead
Before you make a move, it is important that you back up any of your rebrand with some research. For a detailed look at different types of research, check out this article from Inc.com. Talk to your customers and audience and listen to their suggestions. You could run a survey to find out exactly what their preferences are in terms of colors, style, fonts, and specific areas of your business operation.
It’s also a good idea to brush up on your competitor research while you’re at it. Take a look at what your closest competitors are doing to ensure that your rebrand fits the industry standards. It is good to be different – but your branding should still tell a clear story of what you do.
If there is a particular big brand that you believe has a similar style and values to your business, you could also use them as inspiration for your rebrand. For example, looking to Apple, Google, Nike, Microsoft, McDonalds, Nandos, or whichever big brands you admire as inspiration will help to guide your changes in the right direction as they spend millions of dollars to get their branding just right (and it doesn’t hurt to think big).
2. Know Your Brand Promise
Your brand promise is what it means to work with your business or buy from you. Knowing and defining this accurately before you do your rebrand will ensure that your changes make sense to your audience and are consistent with the very essence of your business. Some examples of brand promises could be the following statements:
- To inspire moments of optimism and uplift. (Coca-Cola)
- To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. (Nike)
- Think different. (Apple)
Talking to your customers and finding out what they love about your business or what they really want more than anything from your business will help you come up with the right brand promise. Write your brief statement, then keep it in front of you as you plan the rest of your rebrand.
3. Identify Core Values and Drivers
Knowing your own personal mission in the business, and the overall goals of the business are extremely important to ensuring your branding is the right fit. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you really excited to do business? Make a list of the core values of your business. Some examples of these could be:
4. Review Your Business Model
If you haven’t recently thought deeply about your business model (that is – the core systems, plans, and processes behind your business), now is the time to do it. Your business model affects the kinds of products or services you are selling, the specific audiences you are targeting, and therefore, the type of branding that is going to fit your business. It will be much simpler to make changes to your business model now, before you execute your rebrand, than after.
It is important that you make a note of anything in the way that you conduct business which might affect your rebrand. Things that really set you apart from the competition can be great to draw attention to with your branding.
5. Create a Branding Guide
In most businesses, multiple staff and contractors will play a role in a rebrand. It is up to you to ensure that the information they receive is consistent so that the content they produce is exactly in-line with what you want. Creating a branding guide that states your research and desires from the previous steps and distributing this to your branding team will help them work together and create a consistent look and feel (also saving you time and money!). The following elements are handy to include in your guide:
- Information on your business model (target audience, key products/services)
- Your core values
- Your brand promise
- Your research on preferred colours, fonts, styles
- A list of your competitors
- One or two large business whose branding you like
6. Note Branding Touch Points
Ideally, when your rebrand is officially launched, you should try to ensure that all of the changes are made consistently across all areas of your business. Make a note of the areas that apply to you so that you don’t miss anything (it isn’t a good look when you have different logos, colors, and styles scattered throughout your branding). Different branding touch points could include:
- Reception and phone answering (may require staff retraining)
- Business Cards
- Employment ads
- Email signatures
- Online directories
- Print ads
- Office fit outs
Flying Solo has also put together a great list of marketing collateral and branding touch points in their article here.
7. Create Your Branding Package
Branding packages will vary depending on the kind of help you have engaged to design the visual and written elements of your rebrand. At this point, they should be ready to provide you with your new branding to use in your business. The elements you might expect to receive include:
- Color swatches
- Logos in varying sizes and specifications (make sure you receive the source files, vectorized versions of your logo, and web-ready versions, as these are all different file formats that you will need)
- Copy for your updated brand promise
- Copy for different pieces of branding and marketing
8. Order and Print Your Physical Branding Items
Once you have your new branding package, you can start ordering all of the physical products that are a part of your rebrand. This includes any print marketing (brochures, business cards, etc.), signage for your offices and vehicles, and uniforms if you require them. Getting things printed and produced can often take some time, so allow at least a month or so to get this organized before your official relaunch.
9. Update Your Digital Platforms
Just before your relaunch, you will need to get your digital platforms ready with the new branding. Create new profile pictures for social media in the right sizes and dimensions, and draft some changes for your website. Do not make these live until you are ready to do your launch. Instead, keep the files ready to go so that you can make all of the changes within a few hours of your official rebrand.
10. Communicate with Stakeholders
Now is the time to organize a meeting with your employees, shareholders, and any other key stakeholders who are involved with your business behind the scenes. Let them know about the plans for the rebrand, why it is happening, and how it will affect them. According to this article from Rebrand, local teams, internal departments, and external stakeholders are all essential parts of this process. It is important to brief them so that they feel comfortable with the changes that are coming up and can answer any questions they might get from customers and clients.
11. Relaunch Campaign
Congratulations! All the prep-work is done, and it is now time to set a date for your official relaunch campaign. From this day onward, you need to have all of your old branding replaced with your brand new look. New uniforms, signage, website updates, and online profiles should all kick off at the same time (or as close to the same time as possible).
Communicate with your customers and clients through an email newsletter, blog article, press releases, social media posts, and other platforms to ensure that they are aware of your new brand. Don’t be surprised if you see renewed interest in your business over the next few weeks – expect to be busy! Listen and respond to any feedback on your rebrand (people tend to have an opinion on these things), and keep coming back to your brand promise. Your audience will want to do business with you if they see that you are consistent, trustworthy, and open.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Google’s algorithm updates over the past several years, you know that it’s beginning to look like a veritable petting zoo out there. In addition to the many Panda updates that Google has rolled out, we also have the Penguin, Pigeon and Hummingbird.
While it may seem like these numerous updates are just the ramblings of a company obsessed with making things difficult for SEOs, it’s a bit more than that (or at least they would have us believe it is).
Aside from making it difficult for SEOs to guess what the search engine end zone of the future will look like, these updates also seek to make the web a better place, filled with better content that is easier for users to access.
The Google Pigeon update, however, went one step further and sought to make the web a bit friendlier for small businesses and the practice of local SEO.
Read on to learn more.
The Post-Pigeon World
When Google Pigeon launched on July 24, 2014, it changed local SEO forever. Suddenly, the layout of local SEO ran parallel to the traditional web search ranking results that Google users were used to. This change was right on point, however, because the goal of the Pigeon update was to provide more relevant local search results that were designed to look similar to traditional ranking signals.
Additionally, the new algorithm was meant to improve Google’s distance and location services in order to help customers find local businesses. The update affected US English search results first and, although Google didn’t give a specific number of queries that would be affected by the Pigeon update, it’s clear that the update affected many local search results for many users.
But, how, specifically?
Well, for starters, the update gave better search rankings to local businesses in a move that proved it was going to favor local businesses over local brands. Many SEOs assume that this was an effort to give small businesses a boost and they’re probably right.
Before the pigeon update, a person searching for pizza restaurants in Missoula, MT was likely to find themselves with a search results page listing all of the major brands like Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s, in the area. After the Pigeon update, however, that same user and the same search is likely to produce a list of small, local pizza shops to choose from. In addition to helping small businesses get found, this update is a great way to integrate community ties and help customers discover new establishments.
Secondly, the update allows establishments that have a Google+ presence to fortify their online search results with accompanying menus, reviews and user photographs that show up in the SERPs. In addition to being a great way to encourage customers to interact with local establishments, this update also encourages companies to interact more heavily with Google+, a win for the search engine giant itself.
Additionally, the Pigeon update changed the search results page format from the traditional 7-pack format to a new 3-pack format. This means that, while searchers who goggled “pizza places in Missoula” used to see 7 results (a so-called “7-pack”), they’ll only see a pack of 3 in the post-Pigeon world.
Additionally, when searchers want to learn more about one of those top 3 results, they’ll need to click through the Google link to the businesses’ website or Google Maps page. This also means that addresses and phone numbers will be squirreled away on another page while store hours and reviews will feature more prominently in the SERPs. Additionally, the links to a company’s Google My Business page will be removed and Google users will see a warning notification if a business listed in the SERPs is closing soon. Aside from the notification, a company’s store hours will not be displayed unless the website offers the proper markup.
For searchers who want more than 3 results, it’s possible to expand the results page listings to feature up to 20 results per page. There has been some concern over what the new 3-pack format means for desktop users. Because the new 3-pack format caters perfectly to the screen of mobile displays, it’s obvious that Google is moving its local SEO updates to cater to its growing numbers of mobile users and, as a result, many SEOs are concerned that desktop users will miss local listings that don’t make it into the top 3.
4 Ways to Stand Out in Post-Pigeon Local SEO
For people who are worried about disappearing into the 7-pack Paleozoic era along with the primitive fish (which are notably not one of Google’s “P” updates), take a deep breath. This update, just like the rest of them, simply requires some alterations and there are plenty of ways to stand out in the new 3-pack format.
- Make Use of Social Media: As has been true forever, interacting with customers and producing great word-of-mouth interactions is a fantastic way to promote more business. Because the post-Pigeon Internet climate features customer reviews prominently, interacting with customers via social media can also be a great way to produce more positive reviews.
Customers rely heavily upon reviews when making purchasing decisions, so consider using your social media accounts to ask dedicated customers to give your business a good review. In addition to helping you show up more prominently in search listings, getting more reviews will also serve the purpose of helping you stand out from the competition.
- Optimize Content for Local Signals: The Pigeon update didn’t alleviate companies of the need to create high-quality content, but it did require that they begin to optimize it with local signals. By creating content that is targeted, informative and designed to rank for your local listings, you can help yourself compete for those pesky 3-pack spots.
- Make Use of Your Google My Business Listing: To add extra heft to your local SEO results, optimize your Google My Business Doing this can help you stand out and perform well in local search results.
- Ramp up Location Pages: Location pages can help you appear in search results for multiple listings. By optimizing your location pages, you can increase your chances of being found in local search results for more than just your given area, which can help you increase your customer base and reach more people.
What Not to Do
Just like there are several small tweaks that can help you show up in local search results, there are several things you shouldn’t do, lest they bump you from the now more competitive ranking pages.
First of all, say goodbye to focusing your efforts on city search queries. When Penguin was implemented, it changed the way cities were indexed and, instead, divided them into specific neighborhoods. Because of this, it’s become tough to rank in city search queries thanks to redefined boundaries and the new division of neighborhoods. Thankfully, you can increase your chances of featuring in search results by focusing, instead, on your target neighborhood. Be sure to make use of any neighborhood synonyms in your SEO efforts.
Additionally, ensure that you’re not just going for any directory. Instead, it’s important to target top-ranked directories. This is due to the fact that, thanks to new Google updates, some directories are important while others simply aren’t. This means that the days of adding your company’s name, address and phone number to any directory for an index boost are done.
According to SearchEngineJournal, this is because it’s nearly impossible to outrank certain directories. Local results have top precedence now and, as such, it’s going to be difficult to gain yourself a top spot in local SERPs. With that in mind, focus on targeting directories instead. For example, if you were in the restaurant business, you may choose to target directories like Yelp, Open Table, Trip Advisor and Urban Spoon. Doing this can help you dominate local search results and come out on top every time.
Finally, it’s becoming clear that it’s now important for local establishments to dedicate themselves to content marketing and link-earning in addition to the old standbys of NAP, directories and reviews. Content creation is one of the best ways to ensure good ranking and companies can give their local SEO a boost by focusing some more attention on their content and links.
Because ranking in the new 3-pack format is often the result of organic traffic, it stands to reason that companies can boost their local SEO results by focusing on content output and general SEO.
“If your 7-packs have shrunken to 3-packs, striving to build greater organic authority may help you more than purely local signals like citations and reviews.”
The Future of Local SEO
While local SEO has undergone some serious changes in the post-Pigeon world, not all is lost. Companies can still boost their rankings and compete well in their industries by completing a series of easy changes. By focusing more on organic traffic, content creation and directories, local businesses stand a good chance of landing themselves a position in the competitive top slot of the new 3-pack structure.
Content marketing is currently at the height of its prominence. But there is one big problem plaguing a large portion of today’s content; it’s all the same. Nearly every piece of content created these days has been covered again and again by various sources.
This creates a massive dilemma considering that most folks will only be willing to look as far as the first page of Google for the information they are searching for.
A 2014 study by Moz concluded that the top 10 results in Google acquire more than 71% of all organic search clicks. This means that your content needs to stand out among the crowd and offer a different narrative than what has already published.
And how does one offer a unique voice to an already well-covered subject? By taking a controversial stance. People love controversy; it piques interest and incites memorability and intrigue. Even if the piece outrages the individual, it will likely still be commented on and shared to invoke the responses of others within their community. You, of course, never want to be overtly offensive, but if you’re trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, you are no one’s shot of whiskey.
The key for businesses to produce controversial materials is to strike a balance in expressing strong opinions supported by facts so that it doesn’t backfire on your brand. If you can manage to accomplish this, controversial content can increase site traffic, social shares, comments, links, and email shares.
Let’s take a look at some of the other highly beneficial aspects of generating content that stirs controversy.
Strengthen Consumer Relationships
When contentious content is published, some of your viewers will not agree with your point of view. A small percentage may even choose to abandon your brand entirely. But truthfully, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
The upside to this, however, is that those who agree with the stance your company has taken will feel more passionate and enthusiastic about your brand than ever before. This can be viewed simply as losing those who aren’t engaged and bonding more deeply with those who are. These folks you have fortified a relationship with are your biggest advocates and promoters.
Content with a stance is by its very nature more easy to engage with. Controversial content is a massively effective way to generate discussions, which are critical in building and maintaining a social presence. The opinionated articles you post will end up attracting many more comments and shares than any other piece of content that partakes in the same viewpoints of a dozen others around the web. If you get your audience talking, it will not only draw more attention to your brand, but it will also make the crowd involved feel more invested in your company.
Expressing a strong opinion through your publications provides businesses the opportunity to exhibit knowledge around a subject and help your brand to become an authority figure in the industry.
Just do be sure that your opinion is backed by factual research. This way, even if many disagree with your point, it is obvious that your brand is well-versed and has heavily researched the topic at hand.
If you’re choosing controversy simply for its shock value, the tactic can have a dramatically reverse effect. It’s essential that this mixture of fact and interpretation is in balance, or your credibility will be in question.
By taking a strong opinionated stance on a subject, you are showing that your brand has conviction. This type of content shows audiences that your business has certain beliefs that you are committed to and willing to stand by. This helps to cultivate loyalty to a brand through the perception of authenticity.
Brands that never take a stance on any subject appear to not be trustworthy, or seem to be overly conservative, or just outright untrustworthy. Through taking a stance, you are offering your audience a level of transparency; and transparency is something that is highly valued among consumers in today’s shrouded corporate world.
While generating controversial content can be a massive driving force to increase engagement, site traffic, and other metrics in the social realm, do keep in mind that there are certain issues where taking a stance is inappropriate. Be sure to approach controversy with a discerning eye for what can improve your standings and what could severely backfire. All the same, by producing strongly opinionated pieces backed by facts, your brand is likely to attract more attention, clicks, likes, and comments than almost any other piece you have published thus far.
Breaking new ground on the Internet, invading homes through Chromecast and being involved in countless other projects just isn’t enough for Google.
Tuesday, during a press event in San Francisco, the company unveiled its foray into the tablet market with the Pixel C. The Google-built tablet is meant to boost slumping tablet sales and, of course, allow consumers to take Google everywhere.
“We try to push the state of the art and push the next generation of computing forward,” Sundar Pichai, Google’s incoming CEO, said on stage, reported CNet. “And to do that, we build hardware … so we can guide the ecosystem forward.”
That guiding system — that being the Pixel C — is 10.2 inches and features an Android operating system with a quad-core processor with 3 gigabytes of memory.
The tablet will also feature a keyboard that docks with the tablet and holds it like a laptop. The keyboard is easily detached to convent the Pixel C to a classic tablet.
Google, of course, has sailed the rocky seas of tablets in the past, but only in a partnership format when it joined with Asus to create the original Nexus tablet. Later partnerships with HTC also had devices with Google hardware but this marks Google’s first go-it-alone approach.
The Pixel C is expected to be available just in time for the holiday season.
Mobile devices are one of the most powerful and widely used tools in modern society. Today, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a Smartphone. The number of individuals who access the Internet through mobile devices have surpassed desktop users. Yes, you keep hearing it, but it bears repeating: Mobile truly has taken over.
In the mobile era, convenience becomes absolutely critical as people are often on the go or searching quick and easy answers. That is where click-to-call buttons come into play. While they may not seem like it, these small little buttons can have a massive impact on the amount of business that a company receives. In a recent Google survey it was revealed that 95 percent of small- to medium-sized businesses are not utilizing this feature, however, nearly half of all mobile searchers state that they would look elsewhere if a company did not support a click-to-call feature. As you can see, this under-utilized tool holds incredible benefits for those savvy enough to employ them early on.
With all of the hype around mobile marketing these days, many overlook the original function of mobile devices; to make phone calls. In an attempt to better integrate the foundation of the mobile products, let’s take a look at some of the other reasons that your brand should implement the click-to-call- feature immediately:
Reason 1: Customer Satisfaction
Despite the continual growth of online use to research answers and gain information, the majority of customers still prefer to speak with real live individuals. In fact, a study from NewVoiceMedia revealed that 75 percent of consumers truly prefer to contact a businesses by phone because it is easier to speak to an individual for assistance rather than digging around online for answers. When a company does not have the simple click-to-call feature, 47 percent of people are happy to move on and provide their patronage to another company. For many smaller, local companies, this would spell the death of the business. It is essential for local brands to not only employ the click-to-call buttons, but also a map of where the business is located, store hours, and any other quick and useful information. Simply place the info where it can be easily found, test that the functionality works, and make sure someone is standing by to take those calls and provide an optimal customer experience.
Reason 2: Happy Customers = More Sales and Brand Loyalty
The happier your customers are, the more they will continue to shop with your brand; it’s really that simple. As was stated earlier, customers expect businesses to supply the click-to-call option, and if the business doesn’t, a significant number of customers will happily shop elsewhere. For certain industries, the click-to-call function is absolutely necessary. Services such as locksmiths, plumbers, or tow trucks must implement this technology because the customer either may not have access to a desktop computer or are in a rush to get help with their situation immediately. When it comes to local businesses, 73 percent of customers state that they will typically call a business to reserve an appointment. Even e-commerce and m-commerce sites should be utilizing these buttons as 20-45 percent of potential customers prefer to buy over the phone as opposed to online and another 25-35 percent are at least trying to place an item on hold for future purchase. Click-to-call buttons drive so much business across various marketplaces that not having this option has truly become detrimental to business practices.
Reason 3: Identifying Leads
Even if the consumer is not contacting your company to make a purchase, 45 percent of individuals will call an organization to request more information about your products or services. The click-to-call action is a fantastic tool for identifying inbound prospects who could potentially be a great fit for your company. These folks who choose to call are hot leads who can then be converted into customers. If you are not making it easy for potential prospects to contact your business, you are missing out on a significant number of possible sales opportunities.
Most all businesses should implement this customer-convenience feature. Not only does it reflect poorly on your company by not providing this option, but it is damaging your brand’s sales and reputation in the process. This point will only become more emphasized as the rate of mobile use continues to rise and grow ever more important. But your mobile strategy should not end here as there are various ways to increase your mobile presence and establish meaningful connections through mobile. Ensure that you are doing everything that you can to protect your business and its future by taking the simple step of adding the click-to-call button to your online listings.