Google could be selling Boston Dynamics because even Google thinks these robots are terrifying

stop making me feel bad for a robot Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. isn’t happy with Boston Dynamics, its robotics subsidiary. According to a report from Bloomberg, Alphabet executives think that Boston Dynamics is unlikely to generate substantial revenue in the next few years and is hard to work with. Toyota or Amazon could be interested in acquiring Boston Dynamics for their manufacturing or warehouse operations. Read More

Google: Defeating Go champion shows AI can ‘find solutions humans don’t see’

Screenshot 2016-03-09 16.02.34 Much was written of an historic moment for artificial intelligence last week when a Google-developed AI beat one of the planet’s most sophisticated players of Go, an East Asia strategy game renowned for its deep strategic and thinking. Read More

How to Help Ecommerce Customers Avoid Buyers’ Remorse

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Part of running a successful ecommerce business is the ability to keep buyers coming back for more. Excellent customer service has long been a determining factor in a buyer’s loyalty, but you may be surprised to learn it’s not the only thing you can do to make sure your customers buy again. In fact, for a guaranteed return visit, you need a quality product, excellent customer service, and choice closure.

Choice paradox is that pesky psychological hangup that occurs when buyers have too many options available. Maybe those options aren’t all available from just one online store, either. With your products and those of your competitors, buyers can get overwhelmed.

In some cases, those buyers just won’t make a choice at all. They’ll experience choice paralysis and never end up making a purchase. You can help a buyer avoid this particular situation, but again, since your company isn’t the only one selling similar products, there is no way to guarantee buyers won’t still struggle with their choice.

What Is Choice Closure?

If you work hard to eliminate choices for a buyer, leaving them with only the most obvious products, then you’re sure to earn a purchase. That’s the very lesson learned with choice paradox. If you can’t or don’t eliminate all but the obvious choice, a consumer who makes a purchase anyway may suffer remorse later. They’ll agonize over the other options that were available and wonder if they made the wrong decision.

The decision they made doesn’t always revolve around the price paid, either. Yes, getting a great deal is important to consumers, but a quality product that will solve their pains is much more important. Consider a buyer on a cosmetics ecommerce site with 400 different shades of blush. Even after you help them narrow down the shades that match their skin tones, eliminate the brands that test on animals, and include only the options that have a blush brush included, the choices may still be overwhelming. 

After the purchase is made, that buyer might regret spending so much when another brand may have offered the same results. Or, she might regret choosing the cheaper option when the better brands give a more professional appearance. Without some way to reassure the buyer that she made the right decision, you leave that avenue open for regret.

How to Offer Choice Closure

In most cases, choice closure comes with a physical act. It might be testing the product in the store before making a choice. It can even be as easy as placing the purchase in a bag and carrying it to the car. That feeling of making the right choice ends the problem right then and there. For online shoppers, though, the closure isn’t there. Opening a box and removing the new purchase isn’t quite the same as doing the reverse: putting the purchase into a bag and calling the job done. In fact, opening that box and removing the new purchase could start a whole new series of regrets. 

How can you offer closure to a buyer? What can you do to provide that comfort consumers need? Keep three things in mind while you decide. First, the buyer has to perform the act of closure. It’s not something you can do for them. Next, the buyer has to know the act they perform is one of closure, of completing the purchase. Finally, the closure has to happen after they make the purchase.

How you can help buyers attain choice closure:

  • Ask consumers for a review or rating on the purchase
  • Provide space for buyers to flaunt their purchase
  • Wrap purchases to resemble gifts so that opening takes on new meaning

Using Choice Closure Against Competitors

It’s okay to assume that your competitors haven’t attempted to offer closure to their buyers. Just think of all those customers out there struggling with buyers’ remorse because there were just too many choices. What if you presented your products to that buyer again, while he or she is still considering the many other purchases they might have made instead? There’s a good chance you’ll have a new customer next time they need something.

Then, of course, you help them avoid choice paralysis and give them choice closure. When you do these things in addition to providing excellent quality and customer service, then you have a customer for life.

Drive more revenue by acquiring and retaining more high value ecommerce customers with this on demand webinar series. Subscribe to the ecommerce blog

13 Valuable Skills You Can Teach Yourself for Free

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Ever wanted to become a master at Excel? Or learn how to negotiate effectively? What about coding, or become a better writer, or learning how to edit photos?

Thanks to the internet, where there's a will, there's a way. 

There's a whole lot you can teach yourself these days -- especially if you have access to an internet connection. You don't need to buy fancy equipment or sign up for expensive courses to learn skills that could be invaluable to your career and your personal life.

The key is finding the educational material that's high quality enough to be worth your time. Below, we've come up with a list of 13 skills you can teach yourself for free, along with resources to help you acquire those skills. Check 'em out.

13 Skills You Can Teach Yourself for Free

1) How to negotiate better.

Whether you're negotiating with your team to implement an idea or negotiating with your boss for a raise, negotiating skills will come in very, very handy. They'll help you become more confident, eliminate inequalities, gain a competitive advantage, and even preserve relationships by managing conflict more effectively.

There's a lot of reading material out there to help you become a better negotiator. If you're looking for a few quick reads, two helpful blog posts include "How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: 7 Tips for Having More Productive Discussions" and "The Introvert's Guide to Successful Negotiating."

If you're looking for a deeper dive, head over to the library and grab these two books: Ronald Shapiro's "Perfecting Your Pitch: How to Succeed in Business and in Life by Finding Words That Work," which explores the art of crafting a pitch and the importance of nuanced language, and William Ury's "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving," which serves as a guide to reaching mutually beneficial agreements in any conflict.

Want to take a class? There are a few free online negotiation courses you can choose from, too.

You can also practice negotiating for free by simply working on it in real life. Start by practicing being an active listener so that the person on the other side of the negotiation feels like you're not only hearing them, but also understanding them. Practice feeling out the other person's emotional state throughout the conversation and choosing your words, tone, and approach based on their emotions

2) How to use Microsoft Excel for more than just simple tables.

Most people have some experience with Excel, whether it's gathering ideas or making simple tables or equations. But if that's the limit of your Excel knowledge, you're missing out on a whole world of reporting automation that could save you hours upon hours of time.

Want to work more efficiently in Excel and avoid the tedium of updating your spreadsheets manually? There's a lot you can learn about Excel for free online. Actually, we've created a whole bunch of educational content about Excel here at HubSpot. Here are a few of the best ones:

3) How to invest your money.

Investing your money is intimidating for many reasons. First of all, the jargon is foreign. What are index funds? What's the difference between a 401(k) and a Roth IRA? If you aren't used to the vocabulary, it can seem pretty daunting. Secondly, the process seems super complicated and overwhelming -- not to mention, painfully boring.

At the same time, most of us know it's important to learn about savings and investment as early as possible, especially if you have a regular income.

There are a lot of helpful resources out there, but I've found Investopedia to be especially helpful. Those folks have a ton of free online resources, including this free stocks basics course. I've also found LearnVest's Knowledge Center to be particularly helpful. They have a ton of content about investing along with other personal finance topics like budgeting, saving, loans and mortgages, and so on.

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Image Credit: LearnVest's Knowledge Center

4) How to write better.

Everyone is a writer. This is especially true in our content-driven world, where we all partake in online communication of some sort on a regular basis -- from writing emails to authoring blog posts to banging out a few short tweets. Plus, it turns out that there are benefits to doing a bit of freewriting in the morning.

Do you want to cut down on spelling errors and grammatical mistakes? Find your writing voice? Author your first blog post? Get better at structuring your paragraphs? Name your writing goal, and there's probably a free resource for that.

If you're looking to improve your writing in a more general sense, start by watching this awesome, 18-minute talk my colleague Beth Dunn gave at INBOUND a few years ago on how to become a better writer. I have this video bookmarked when I need some inspiration.

Like Beth says in her talk, the best way to get better at writing is by practicing. Every day. You can certainly use good ol' pen and paper to practice, but there are also some great writing prompts apps that'll give you jumping-off points for a piece. While some of them cost a buck or two (like Prompts and Writing Challenge), there are some free ones out there. Grid Diary, for example, is good for folks who want to write something down in a diary-like format, asking questions like, "What did I do for my family today?" and "How can I make tomorrow better?" (For more tools, check out this list of 31 online tools for improving your writing.)

Looking for a deeper dive into improving your writing? Download our free ebook, "The Marketer's Pocket Guide to Writing Well," for free tips on how to become a better writer. You might also check out Macalester College's lecture series on writing well for full videos on topics like sentence structure, how to write intro paragraphs, how to engage readers, and so on.

Finally, if you're more interested in cutting back on spelling and grammatical errors, try out the free Hemingway web app. Once you've written something down, paste your text into this app and it'll assess how readable your writing is, as well as identify opportunities to make it simpler.

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Here are a couple more grammar- and spelling-related resources that might be helpful, too:

5) How to read faster.

Thanks (yet again) to our content-driven world, many of us find ourselves with a list of books we want to read, training we need to complete, and news we need to "stay on top of" every single day. For slow readers like myself, getting through all of this material -- and retaining the information from it -- can be a huge struggle. How on earth do I get better at skimming?

Turns out, reading faster often means changing the way you read. I, for example, have gotten into the habit of sounding out each word in my head. Without a concerted effort on my part, I'll never be able to get out of that habit.

Luckily, there are places online that'll teach you how to read faster and help you practice on a regular basis. Spreeder, for example, is a free online program that claims it can help people learn to to double, triple, or even quadruple the speed at which they read passages. Simply paste the text you want to read in the text box, choose your settings (like how fast words are flashed, and how many words are flashed at a given time), and press "play." From there, the app will flash one or more words on the screen at whatever pace you choose.

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Once you've gotten used to the app, you'll want to practice speed reading "in the wild," which you can also do for free using all the content that's out in the world already. (Remember, improving your reading speed will take time.) Start with easier reading material, like blog posts and short articles. If you're reading print, use your finger or a pen or index card to set the pace.

6) How to type faster.

If you don't know how to touch type (i.e. type without looking at the keys), then trust me: It's worth learning. Think about how much typing you do in a day, and then think about how much faster you'd get things done if you could speed that up. Overall, it's a skill that will make you much, much more productive.

I've spent far too much time playing online typing games and trying to beat my words-per-minute records. There are a lot of typing games out there, but Sense-Lang's Balloon Typing Game is one of the simplest. In the game, balloons with letters on them float down your screen, and your job is to burst them by hitting the right key before they reach the bottom. If you're looking for more of a challenge, check out their car racing game.

7) How to take beautiful photos.

You don't need to take an expensive photography course to learn how to take beautiful photos. In fact, you don't even need a fancy camera -- all it really takes is a smartphone camera, a good subject, and the patience to learn some specific photo-taking techniques.

For example, learning to place the subjects in certain parts of your photos can go a long way to make your photo appear more balanced. The rule of thirds says to break an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically (so you have nine parts in total), and then place points of interest in these intersections or along the lines.

To make this easier, turn on gridlines on your phone by following these steps:

  • iPhone: Go to "Settings," choose "Photos & Camera," and switch "Grid" on.
  • Samsung Galaxy S5: Launch the camera app, go to "Settings," scroll down and tap "Gridlines on."

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Image Credit: Lynda.com

Read through these 17 tips for taking great photos with your smartphone to learn more about how to line up your shots, find interesting perspectives, and take advantage of symmetry, patterns, "leading lines," and more. Then, get in the habit of taking photos on a regular basis to practice.

8) How to edit those photos.

Once you've taken a good photo, don't just call it a day. Learning how to edit those photos can take them from good to great -- and you don't need fancy editing software. There are plenty of free photo editing apps out there.

  • VSCO Cam (free on iOS and Android) is a great choice for editing photos on-the-go, especially if all you want to do is slap on a filter. Their filters have more of a softer, authentic look that resembles real film, as compared with the over-saturated looks of many Instagram filters.
  • Snapseed (also free on iOS and Android) is another solid app for doing some basic image enhancements like tuning, cropping, and straightening.
  • You can also do wonders for an image simply by editing it in the Instagram app -- which is also free. (Read this blog post for step-by-step instructions on how to edit a photo using Instagram.)

Want to edit your photo using Adobe Photoshop? If you don't already own Photoshop, you can try it for free before you commit. And if you want to learn how to use it, you can also do that for free.

9) How to code.

Nowadays, learning the basics of coding is a huge advantage for marketers, entrepreneurs, and other folks in the business world. Even if you don't have to do a lot of hard coding yourself, knowing the basics will help empower you to make quick fixes, and help you communicate effectively with developers when you do need help with something.

While there are plenty of coding courses and bootcamps out there that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there are plenty of free online resources you can use to teach yourself.

If you're just looking for a quick overview of how HTML, CSS, and/or JavaScript work, start by reading this blog post that covers the basics of how these three programming languages work.

10) How to implement inbound marketing.

Gaining some real, in-depth marketing knowledge definitely doesn't require signing up for an expensive marketing course. There are tons of free resources out there that'll teach you about everything from the basics for developing a customer-centric inbound strategy, to detailed instructions about how to build an optimized landing page.

Start by heading over to HubSpot Academy, which has a wealth of free resources. The inbound marketing certification course, for example, is a free marketing training course that covers how SEO, blogging, landing pages, lead nurturing, conversion analysis, and reporting come together to form a modern inbound marketing strategy. There are also a whole bunch of helpful training videos on topics like buyer personas, content creation, and more.

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You can also get a Google Analytics certification for free by taking Google's GA proficiency course online, and then passing the Google Analytics IQ exam.

To stay on top of marketing trends and news, you might also subscribe to a handful of marketing blogs. Some of our favorites include Unbounce, CrazyEgg, KISSMetrics, Content Marketing Institute, CopyBlogger, and Search Engine Land. (And HubSpot, of course.)

11) How to read and speak in a foreign language.

While it might take years to become totally fluent in a foreign language, you can get pretty close simply by teaching yourself regularly over a long period of time. And you can do it for free.

If you want to learn the old-fashioned way, you might go to your local library to look for language instruction books you can take out and use without having to buy them.

If you prefer going the app route, DuoLingo (free on iOS and Android) is a language-learning app that actually makes the process fun. Each lesson is short, painless, and super visual. Slate even called it "the most productive means of procrastination I've ever discovered." Plus, the listening components make it great for learning pronunciation -- even on-the-go.

Another simple hack to keep that new language top-of-mind? Simply change your phone and computer interface languages to the foreign language you're learning. (Just make sure you know how to navigate to change the settings back.)

  • iPhone: Open the "Settings" app, and choose "General." Choose "Language & Region" and tap on "iPhone Language." Then, select the language you want to change the iPhone to, and confirm.
  • Android: Open the "Settings" app and select "Languages & input." Select the "Language" option and select the language you want to change your Android device to.

Teaching yourself language skills will only get you so far, though. If you want to practice with other humans (and you live in a city), consider joining language-specific gatherings via Meetup.com, which are volunteer-driven and therefore totally free.

12) How to become a better public speaker.

Did you know that public speaking is the number one fear in America, beating out heights, bugs, and snakes? Whether you share that fear or just want to become a better public speaker, I have good news for you: There's a lot you can do to improve those skills for free, without textbooks or public speaking classes. Here are a few places to start:

Want to see how you look when giving a presentation? Knovio is a cool, free app that lets you upload your presentation slides and then record yourself giving the presentation using the camera on your computer or smartphone. You can either review the video yourself, or share it with coworkers or friends for feedback by posting your Knovio presentation to YouTube, Vimeo, or simply emailing it out.

As with learning languages, teaching yourself public speaking skills will get you to a certain point. Try joining a public speaking group via Meetup.com to practice in front of others.

13) How to meditate.

You might be thinking to yourself: Meditation isn't a business skill! Not so fast, my friend. Turns out starting your day off with a quick meditation session can make you more productive throughout the rest of the day. According to a 2012 study, people who mediated "stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance."

Not sure how to meditate? There are a slew of resources online that'll teach you how to meditate for free. My personal favorite is Headspace, an app that gives you 10 free guided meditation sessions. If you'd rather not pay the monthly subscription fee after that, then try the free guided meditation sessions on UCLA Health that range from three minutes to 20 minutes in length. Here are some more free guided meditation sessions from Fragrant Heart if you can't get enough.

What other skills can you teach yourself for free? Share them with us in the comments.

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How to Calm Your Brain During Conflict [Infographic]

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Want to become more emotionally intelligent? Then you need to learn to control your negative emotions.

Even the most mild-mannered among us experience conflict every once in a while, whether it's with co-workers, friends, family, or even strangers. And most of the time, we simply don't have control over what happens, and/or how our peers react.

What we can control is how we react to what happens. Recognizing, acknowledging, and managing our negative emotions effectively is a big part of increasing emotional intelligence. Why? Because it helps us resolve conflict more quickly, calmly, and effectively -- without letting it cloud our judgment or ruin our whole day.

So, how do we calm our brains during conflict? Check out the infographic below from CashNetUSA to learn how conflict and confrontation affects us psychologically, along with helpful tips for keeping your cool and handling these situations rationally and effectively.

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Why You’re Doing Your To-Do Lists All Wrong (And How to Fix Them)

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We all know that person. The one who runs tons of projects at work, hangs out with family, preserves personal relationships, gets to the gym daily, and still manages to have time to open up that home brew kit.

Would you believe me if I told you that these hyper-productive individuals aren’t actually working 10X more hours?

Charles Duhigg, author and Pulitzer-winning journalist for The New York Times, has spent years investigating what makes some people and teams more productive than others. Duhigg revealed these findings in his latest book titled Smarter Faster Better, which we had an opportunity to discuss with him on this week’s episode of The Growth Show. (Full episode below.)

So what's the secret to building a happier and more productive team, career, and life? Well, let's start with a story ...

How Hyper-Productive People Manage Their Time

For Duhigg, it all started with an attempt to schedule a conversation with a well-known author. Unfortunately, the author -- who was also a Harvard surgeon and writer for The New Yorker -- couldn't find the time to meet with him. That made sense. He's really busy. However, a later conversation with a mutual friend revealed the truth: The author couldn’t chat because he was taking his kids to a concert and then going on a vacation with his wife.

What kind of wizardry was allowing this guy to make time for his profession, hobbies, and family life -- all while dishing out a relaxed persona? What was he doing differently?

In short: A lot.

“They [productive people] govern their own minds in a way most of us don’t. They see these choices that most of us don’t even know are there. They get more done with less stress and waste,” explains Duhigg. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in Duhigg’s explanation of why these types of people are succeeding. (For a deeper dive, check out Duhigg's interview with The Growth Show.)

In search of some actionable insights, we asked Duhigg to come up with one thing that non-productivity experts could start doing today to work smarter, faster, and better.

His answer? Make better to-do lists ... because you are probably doing them all wrong.

The Right Way to Write a To-Do List: A 3-Step Process

Already writing to-do lists? Kudos to you. You’re on the right track. We just might need to switch lanes to get you to your optimal level of productivity.

While there are plenty of strategies and tests out there to help you master to-do list creation, Duhigg's research-backed approach suggests that we might be looking at them the wrong way.

You see, the way that most people write to-do lists is by starting with low impact, low maintenance tasks, and saving the daunting tasks for last. They want to cross items off the list as soon as possible. Why? Because it makes them feel good (thanks, dopamine!).

As a result, most people put easy items at the top -- or even add items they’ve already completed -- in hopes of gaining some instant gratification. Psychologists refer to this as using a to-do list for mood repair. And according to an article by Timothy Psychyl in Psychology Today, putting off tough items and saving them for last actually increases the amount of negative feelings we experience later on.

To combat this, Duhigg suggests the following process.

Step 1: Think of your stretch goal for the day.

This could be anything from coming up with a new promotion strategy to organizing your kitchen. Think of the larger picture.

Step 2: Write your goal at the top of your page.

By keeping the stretch goal at the top of the page you never lose sight of your top priority. This helps keep you on track to ensure tasks you are completing are moving you towards the end goal.

Step 3: Break your goal down into actionable/measurable steps.

Large goals can seem intimidating. By breaking them down into small, approachable pieces rather than one big ominous mass, it becomes much easier to make progress.

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To start, try to determine what are you are capable of accomplishing in a particular time frame, and then evaluate how are you going to measure your progress. For example, Charles uses SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) to help set these next steps. (Here's a helpful template to help you set marketing SMART goals.)

The lesson? If you want to get closer to your stretch goal faster, take an extra minute to re-work your to-do list. This small step could help you not only boost your productivity, but also eliminate that anxious feeling you get when you procrastinate. (These 10 to-do list tools won't hurt either.)

Want more advice on how to be productive? Check out the rest of our conversation with Duhigg on The Growth Show on iTunes.

(P.S. Don't hesitate to leave a review! We are always looking to hear from listeners like you.)

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Indians and Pakistanis use new Facebook feature to swap cricket team colours before World Cup T20 clash

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Numerous Facebook users from India and Pakistan are getting ready for the India-Pakistan ICC World Cup T20 clash on Mar. 19 with a unique gesture of peace. Rather than supporting their respective teams, they are changing their profile picture frame to sport the team colours of the other country.

Facebook had launched the new feature for the T20 World Cup that lets people change their profile picture frame to support their team. Taking advantage of this, several users have revived the #ProfileforPeace online campaign started last year, with Indian fans putting the Pakistani frame on their pictures, and vice-versa. Read more...

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Apple looks to Google’s Cloud Platform as it diversifies its infrastructure

google data center Rumors are flying today that Apple is moving part of its cloud business from AWS to Google’s Cloud Platform. We did some asking around and yes, it does appear that Apple has made some moves to diversify its iCloud storage, tapping Google for some of that business. This is another huge win for Google and a — at the very least perceived — loss of ground for AWS, which… Read More

Why Marketing ROI is Never a Guarantee

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The ROI Hang Up

In a professional landscape of annoying jargon, ROI (Return on Investment for anyone who’s taken shelter under a rock for the past few decades) might be the most overused acronym of all. Everyone from CEOs to Directors to entry level associates understand the need and importance of determining just how much you can expect to “get back” from an expenditure of time, money or resources of any kind.  And by no means is the concern misdirected- any business with a focus on growth or profitability can’t just blindly spend its resources. 

Developing metrics for measuring ROI is not only a productive exercise, but a necessary one.  But this is where the conversation gets a bit hairy, because ROI is rarely guaranteed.  There are no magic crystal balls that give businesses the ability to assess the probability or levels of ROI.  If there was, the business world would be nothing short of predictable, stable, and quite frankly, maybe a little boring!

That said however, ROI is still the buzzword du jour and because investable resources are limited and must be spent wisely, it’s a concept that continues to hold significant importance and priority in consumers’ decision making processes. To illustrate, let me share a personal experience about a flooded basement that has been the bane of my existence over the last two months.

The Great Flood of 2016

Earlier this year, January 5th to be exact, I discovered a flood in my finished basement.  It was 7:30pm, my husband was away at a conference in Miami and I was sitting on the couch watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my  2 year old- just moments away from heading upstairs to start her bedtime routine. And that’s when I heard it- a gushing noise coming from my basement. My heart sank.  I jumped up, raced downstairs and saw a flood of water pouring from the basement ceiling,  down the walls and into the carpet which was a sopping, soaking, mushy mess.

Drywall was crumbling, the ceiling was sagging and my furniture, tables, technology- all ruined.  Long story short, I quickly turned off my home’s water supply and called my insurance company to submit my first ever homeowner’s insurance claim. I'll refrain from mentioning any names to protect reputations but I’d like more than anything to tell you the name of this company so you stay far, far away from them!.  

Long story short, my insurance company decided not to reimburse my expenses which after water and mold mitigation, plumbing repairs and reconstruction were upwards of $20K.  They have these people called Adjusters whose sole purpose in life is to screw over homeowners and protect the insurance companies from actually having to pay policyholders when something like a basement flood happens.  

So here I am, $20K in the red with a flooded, now unfinished basement.  I’m also a full time working mom with a demanding career, 7.5 months pregnant, caring for a toddler and have a husband who travels most of the week.  Who has time to deal with insurance claims and headaches?  Not me!  

I needed help so of course, I turned to my long time friend Google and as expected, Google delivered.  I learned that in unfortunate circumstances like mine homeowners have options in the form of Public Adjusters who basically fight with the insurance company on behalf of homeowners, negotiating better reimbursements, advocating for the fair treatment of people like me and championing a positive financial outcome for us.

But as with anything else in life, there’s a fee associated with their services and some are more qualified than others.  I came across a local public insurance adjuster called The Claim Guide, read some reviews and called them.  On their homepage, right above their phone number is the following message:

"No Charge Unless You Receive Funds

MAXIMUM settlement. SHORTEST time. LOWEST fee."

That enticed me so I called them, but I had a few questions.  I’d never heard of a public insurance adjuster before and I wanted to know:

  • How much money could they really get me back?
  • Would the settlement they got me be enough to cover my damage and repairs?
  • How long would it take before I’d see the actual cash money?
  • Was this whole public adjuster process actually legit or was I getting my hopes up?

I wanted to understand what my ROI would be.  If I was going to invest my time, optimism and hope in this company, I wanted my questions answered.  But they couldn’t exactly answer my questions (at least not in the way I had asked them). They couldn’t tell me with certainty how much I’d get back and how long it would take.

Those outcomes were based on unknown variable beyond their control, things like the mood of the insurance company representatives at the time of negotiations, how many other claims were ahead of mine in the insurance company’s queue, and whether or not my mortgage company would demand the settlement funds be deposited into an escrow account (I really hope you never have to deal with any of this- it’s such a hassle!!).  

When my ROI based questions weren’t met with guaranteed responses, I became skeptical, and then I realized I was asking for answers that simply couldn’t be known at that stage in the process.  I then sheepishly realized I was no different than the marketing prospects I talk to every day who ask me questions like:

  • If we invest $10K/month in a marketing retainer with Stratus, how many new customers will we get this year?
  • If we need to increase revenue by 20% this quarter, how many email campaigns do we have to launch?
  • How many times a week do we need to blog to increase our website traffic by 4K visits each month?

It’s not that these aren’t fair concerns and questions, but they’re not realistic.  There’s no way for me to know what a client’s results will be before implementing their marketing strategy.  If I could promise ROI, prospects would be flocking to our door, knocking it down and begging Stratus to be their agency.  But it’s just not that simple.  Just as The Claim Guide couldn’t make promises to me due to unknown variables beyond their control, marketing agencies can’t either.  

The Letdown of an ROI Guarantee and A Better Alternative

Why don’t we know how many email campaigns it will take to generate a 25% lead generation increase? It’s because we have to dive in begin piloting the strategy- in the case of email initiatives, we have to experiment with A/B testing subject lines, messaging and Calls to Action (CTAs) to see what resonates with a particular audience.  And while our approach to “experimentation” is not only calculated but also guided by experience expertise and best practices, marketing is not a one-size-fits-all-approach.

Sure I can tell you that for a similar client in a similar industry, we saw the most success using a question-based, personalized subject line with a text-based CTA and generated a 30% open rate with a 40% view:submission conversion rate, but that certainly isn’t going to guarantee you’ll see the same results.  And wouldn’t we both feel pretty disappointed at the end of the year if we made promises to you based on past results only to discover that your buyer personas are more skeptical, less willing to work with a new vendor and generally don’t respond well to emails as a marketing tactic?  

When I speak about the dangers and unrealistic nature of ROI promises in marketing terms, it all sounds perfectly logical, however when I was wearing the hat of a consumer (in my case, a homeowner in distress), I immediately wanted The Claim Guide to promise results. Instead of making guarantees however, they did the responsible thing by talking with me about things within their control:

  • Their expertise and experience getting homeowners the money they deserve
  • Building trust with me by explaining my options, my rights, and educating me about their process
  • Providing me with references to other satisfied customers they had helped
  • Showing me documented success stories, not as an indication of what I should expect but as proof of their ability to help clients
  • Delivering unbelievably empathetic, responsive and proactive customer service

Rather than telling me what I wanted to hear just to “sell me”, their approach to answering my ROI-driven questions was transparent, factual and authentic.  In turn, realistic expectations were built from the onset of our relationship. So how does this story about a basement flood and a stressed out very pregnant chick end?  Glad you asked.  I chose to work with The Claim Guide.  

I put my confidence in their capabilities and today, less than 6 weeks later, I have a check in hand that will cover the full cost of restoring my basement to its pre-flood condition.  I won’t be paying a penny out of pocket.  

As a business or professional in pursuit of marketing support, you should expect and demand  the same transparency.  Agencies like Stratus can’t (and SHOULDN’T) promise results, but here’s what they should be able to guarantee:

1) A collaborative strategic partnership that is focused on achieving defined goals- in many cases, the strategic capabilities of your agency partner will make or break your marketing success

2) Deep internalization of your company, goals, products and services, culture, buyer personas, industry and competition- Without this a marketing plan is only skin-deep

3) Constant testing and measuring of implemented initiatives- this enables agility so resources are allocated to the right places

4) Ideas- you hired a marketing agency to be the expert right? They should constantly bring you ideas and recommendations for optimal marketing ROI, not the other way around!

5) Transparency- you should never have to wonder what your agency is up to, what they’re working on, how they’re spending their time or even worse, if they’re actually spending time on your account (yikes!).  

All marketing activities should be tied to measurable and defined goals so there’s nothing esoteric or unknown about your plan.  Tools like Tickspot, Basecamp, HubSpot and Google Docs are designed to keep you on the same even playing field as your agency.  You are the client, and you deserve to be “in the know”.

6) Expertise- you can analyze relevant expertise in many ways but the most important factor is actual marketing know-how and experience. An agency may not have expertise within your specific industry, product or audience and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  

A capable marketing team can quickly ramp up on need to know industry knowledge (see our point about deep internalization above) but years of marketing experience (successes, failures, and all the lessons learned in between) can’t be faked or obtained overnight.

7) References that speak to dedication- Any agency will tell you they’re dedicated to your success (could you imagine the reaction they’d get if they didn’t claim this??!!) but here’s where asking to talk with some existing and past clients proves beneficial.  

Often prospects want to talk with references about results and ROI but as I mentioned above, past results don't guarantee future outcomes.  Instead, a better way for a prospect to leverage references is by finding out how dedicated the agency is to achieving success for their clients.  

Do they go out of their way to try something new and innovative? Do they quickly and consistently respond to calls and emails?  Do they put in necessary extra hours or resources to meet a deadline no matter what, no matter when?

What To Do If A Marketing Agency Guarantees ROI

Easy- run far away.  I’m not kidding.  Unless you’re in the market for a basket full of dashed hopes, disappointments and unmet expectations, pick up your ball and go home.  Choosing a marketing agency is a huge decision and you deserve to know the truth about what you should expect from the process.  

If you could guarantee ROI (not just in business but in life!) everything from hiring a marketing partner to choosing the right public insurance adjuster to help with a flood claim to ordering the most delicious menu item at a new restaurant would be easy, fool-proof and risk-free.  Because that’s not the case and decisions of any kind carry some level of correlating unpredictability, you should do your research and be as empowered as possible in your decision making process.  

For anyone reading this who might be in the process or beginning stages of hiring a marketing partner, we developed a checklist of objective tips called 7 Tips for Selecting the Right Marketing Agency that will help you standardize your search and choose an agency that’s truly right for you.  Good luck and don’t forget to hit the road at the hint of ROI promises.

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