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9 Ways to Design Inclusive Content

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Inclusivity is an important consideration for every business owner and content creator, and should be at the heart of your ongoing design efforts — not something you look at after a website or piece of content goes live.

Before we get to specific tips on creating this inclusive content, let’s go over key definitions and concepts.

What is inclusivity?

Inclusivity is about recognizing diversity. It ensures everyone can participate to the greatest possible extent. Other names for inclusivity include universal design and design for all.

Inclusivity addresses a wide range of issues, including:

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  • Accessibility for people with disabilities

  • Access to and quality of internet connectivity, computer hardware, and computer software

  • Computer literacy and skills

  • Economic circumstances

  • Education

  • Geographic location

  • Culture

  • Age (older and younger people)

  • Language

Understanding Usability, Accessibility, and Inclusivity

Purple icons on pink background: left, pointer finger clicking on something for usability; middle, wheelchair symbol for accessibility; right, globe symbol for inclusivity

Usability

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international standards organization that publishes guidelines and recommendations for web technologies, “Usability is about designing products to be effective, efficient, and satisfying.”

Usability factors measure the functionality of a product or design and the design interface’s ease of use. They assess how easy it is for users to learn the basic tasks of the interface, how quickly users can perform tasks on the interface, and whether users can remember how to perform those tasks after time away from the interface. Usability factors also consider whether the design satisfies users, and if there are errors in the interface, how severe those errors are, and the ease of recovering from those errors.

Think about Google’s search page design. When it first launched, it received considerable backlash. This was an era when internet users wanted their own “home pages” or “web portals,” each presenting their favorite news and links when the browser launched. But what did these portals all have in common? A search box. The fact that this simple (some still say ugly) design eventually became the homepage for billions of internet users speaks to the value of simplicity and how it enables inclusivity.

Accessibility

Designing with accessibility in mind means more people will be able to use a product, regardless of their abilities.

According to W3C, “Accessibility addresses discriminatory aspects related to equivalent user experience for people with disabilities. Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can equally perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites and tools.”

In other words, all users, regardless of ability or circumstance, should be able to:

  • Perceive all interface or document elements.

  • Operate the controls easily and intuitively.

  • Understand the content.

  • Use different assistive technologies, devices, browsers, and operating systems to interact with the content.

For example, using high-contrast colors in an app doesn’t just help people who have low vision or color blindness, it also helps people who use their devices in bright sunlight. Similarly, while improvements to usability, like using simple language and intuitive design, may allow people with cognitive disabilities to use a product or service more productively, they are also beneficial for people who may be busy or distracted, who are learning the language, or even people with slower internet access, because simple and intuitive sites may be faster to load.

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Additional resource: Accessibility Principles, W3C

Inclusivity

Inclusivity means representing people who have, until now, been underrepresented. Inclusivity issues affect people from specific populations within a community, as well as communities that have been denied the opportunity to participate fully in economic, social, or civic life.

Inclusive content should always recognize diversity in the functional needs and abilities of individuals. To make your content inclusive, think of peoples’ diverse abilities, ensuring your content can be accessed in a variety of ways.

Inclusive content should also encompass diversity in personal needs and experiences. We should all challenge ourselves to do better at including different communities, identities, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, cultures, and beliefs. We must take steps to avoid “othering” people. By ensuring that everyone feels welcome in our digital spaces, we can more accurately represent the world we live in.

Additional resource: What is Inclusivity?, Diversity for Social Impact

Why inclusivity is important

History has taught us about the struggles for equity and inclusion globally. Wars have been fought over human rights and the rights of enslaved peoples. Women have protested for suffrage. People of color have long fought for civil rights, and in recent years the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted systemic inequalities and the need for social justice. The Gay Revolution has sought to achieve equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Indigenous people have struggled to gain equality and receive meaningful reconciliation for the abuse and mistreatment suffered at the hands of governments. And the Disability Rights Movement has worked to change attitudes, promote integration, and ensure that all people, regardless of ability, have equal access to transportation, housing, education, and employment opportunities.

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While educational systems do teach us about these issues, they often present them as discrete events that have little real connection to the “dominant” society. As a result, most people are not comfortable speaking or writing about them. We simply do not have the vocabulary.

By making empathy an essential part of inclusion, business owners and content creators can improve their audience communications, build trust, and grow networks. Meeting the functional needs of all users creates a better reputation and improved word-of-mouth in more communities.

Nine ways to design inclusive content

Purple icons in white boxes on pink background representing the following nine tips.

Inclusive design should always meet the needs of as many users as possible. Use the following inclusive digital content tips when creating websites, mobile apps, e-mail, and documents.

1. Assess points of bias in your content and design practices.

Does your content default to the pronoun “he,” or does it make equal use of “she” and “they”? Review your text content, stock photography, and illustrations. Look at both digital and printed materials aimed at internal and external audiences. Do they feature mostly white, male, straight, non-disabled people? If so, it’s time to switch up the terminology and create a new aesthetic – one with more diversity.

Additional resources:

Resources for Eliminating Bias in Design, UX Booth

The Bias Blind Spot and Unconscious Bias in Design, Interaction Design Foundation

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2. Use clear, simple, and thoughtful language.

Review words through the lens of inclusivity. Identify and remove all instances of othering and ableism. This boils down to respect. Avoid collective terms and labels, such as “females” or “the blind,” that group individuals into a category that promotes objectification. Always remember an individual’s disability, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, or heritage is just a single facet of their unique and complex identity.

Disability

A disability is something that a person has. It is not who they are. Use “person with [a disability]” or “person who has [a disability].” Put the person at the forefront. For example, say “a person who is blind,” not “a blind person.”

Many people with disabilities prefer people-first language. However, there are also people with disabilities who prefer identity-first language, and it is important to respect this preference and give every person the self-determination to choose. Never correct someone who refers to themselves using identity-first language. For example, don’t correct or change the reference when someone calls themselves a “blind person” as opposed to “a person who is blind.”

Avoid any language that suggests pity or hopelessness, or that disempowers people with disabilities, such as “suffers” or “victim.” Avoid words like “brave” or “courageous,” as these words can belittle or trivialize people with disabilities.

Gender

The male-dominated cultures of North America and Europe have created a biased vocabulary that should be adjusted for inclusion. It is common, for example, to refer to groups of people as “guys,” even when the group includes both men and women. Adult women are often “girls,” but adult men are rarely “boys.” Then there are the outdated words and phrases that have become problematic, such as “manpower,” “man-hours,” “man the controls,” or “man up.” Substitute these terms with “workforce,” “hours,” “take the controls,” or “step up.”

What should you do if you’re not sure how to address someone? Use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their when meeting someone for the first time. Here’s an inclusive way to introduce yourself, “I refer to myself as (she/her), what pronouns do you prefer?” or “My pronouns are (they/them), what pronouns do you use?”

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Race and ethnicity

Just like the vocabulary of gender, words associated with race, ethnicity, nationality, and heritage have been debated over vigorously in recent years. A central part of inclusion is adopting terms that are honest and respectful and being intolerant of terms that are disrespectful. Historic bias has permeated our culture, and as a result, problematic terminology once used to describe people who are not white has been applied to many different areas of life, including technology (whitelist/blacklist, master/slave devices). Always address people’s ethnicity, nationality, or heritage respectfully and without irony, racism, or satire.

Additional resources:

Diverse Abilities and Barriers, W3C

Inclusive Language Guidelines, APA

Gender Equality and Inclusivity, CSHA

3. Use responsive design that allows zoom and orientation changes.

Responsive design allows web content layouts to display well on many form factors, using “breakpoints” to define different widths. Sometimes app makers lock orientation or turn off the zoom ability. These are basic tools that we all need from time to time. Instead of disabling them, design apps to accommodate them.

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Here are a few responsive design and accessibility guidelines:

  • Use link text that describes the link destination.

  • Write meaningful and descriptive alt text.

  • Use semantic HTML – tags that clearly describe the purpose of page elements, such as <header>, <article>, <aside>, or <footer>.

  • Instead of fixed or absolute font sizes, use relative units for font sizes, such as percentage units, viewport width, or viewport height.

  • Label all buttons and fields.

Using responsive design and accessibility guidelines makes it easier for search engines to crawl and interpret websites. For example, sites with clear, descriptive headings – the same kinds of headings that also make navigation and comprehension easier for people for disabilities – are better optimized for search engines to do their work.

Because of this, Google rewards accessibility when ranking websites. In fact, their Webmaster Guidelines – which lay out the best practices that help Google to find, index, and rank your site – read very much like accessibility guidelines, and often correlate directly with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

By using accessible design, you are simultaneously improving the on-page experience, making your content more accessible to users with disabilities, and facilitating the work of search engine bots who are busy crawling, indexing your site, and assessing link equity between pages – all of which help boost your SEO ranking.

Additional resources:

Responsive Design, Mozilla

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How to Design a Large Scale Responsive Site, UX Booth

An Introduction to Accessibility and SEO, Moz

4. Take advantage of free resources.

Use freely available Microsoft, Apple, and Android accessibility attributes and accessibility test apps when developing documents, web content, or apps.

Testing is an integral part of developing accessible and inclusive digital content. Fortunately, tech companies have created a range of tools and resources to help ensure your documents, websites, and apps can be accessed easily by all users. For example, Microsoft Office applications – Word, PowerPoint, or Excel – have the Check Accessibility feature, which resides in the Review menu. From there, you can choose the ‘Check Accessibility’ button and follow the instructions to remove accessibility problems, rechecking as you go until all issues have been addressed.

An example of the check accessibility function in PowerPoint.

Additional resources:

Design for Inclusivity, Microsoft Design

Accessibility for Developers, Apple

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Developing for Accessibility, Google

9 Best WordPress Accessibility Plugins for 2022, HubSpot

5. Structure documents using headings.

Use simple, hierarchical headings to organize documents, web pages, or emails. This allows all users and their technology to interpret the main ideas of the content and find the information they’re looking for. Graphics should be secondary and should never contain critical information. Provide equivalent alternatives for any image that contains text.

Also be sure to include a link to the web version of any HTML message right on top, in case of e-mail client issues with layout or graphics. If you’re using HTML messages, then follow basic, semantic HTML best practices. E-mail is the only technology where tables for layout is still acceptable, but even there, CSS is now preferred.

Evaluate your content without graphics or with the graphics turned off. This will ensure your content can be accessed on low-fi devices, over bad connections, or through a screen reader.

Additional resources:

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Web Accessibility – Headings, Yale University

Page Structure – Content Structure, W3C

6. Provide text alternatives for non-text elements, such as images and forms.

Purple mountain icon in white box on pink background next to an example alt text tag for the same image.

Use simple, descriptive language as alt text for images. If the image serves a specific function, the alt text should explain what that function is and describe the contents of the image. The goal is to ensure that everyone has access to the same information about the image.

If the image contains a chart or graph, the alt text should include the data. If you’re using a creative photo or a photo as an illustration, the alt text should describe the elements of the image in detail.

If the document or content includes images that are not important, are used for layout, or do not serve a specific function, use null alt text (alt=“”). This will keep them hidden from assistive technologies.

Labels for form fields and options are also areas where inclusion and accessibility should be addressed. Every field and button should have a label, written in plain language. If button labels have icons or images, the alt text should describe the function of the button, rather than its appearance.

When creating contact forms, label all fields visibly. Include formatting hints to reduce errors. If you use a placeholder, ensure that it stays visible.

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Additional resources:

The Ins and Outs of Image Accessibility Standards, AudioEye

Alternative Text, Accessible Social

7. Take advantage of freely available accessibility checkers.

A screenshot of the AudioEye accessibility dashboard.

Check your content regularly to keep it inclusive and accessible. Every time you make changes to your website, you run a risk of making content inaccessible to people with disabilities. This is why ongoing monitoring is important. 

AudioEye, a digital accessibility platform, offers Active Monitoring to help site owners keep their content accessible and inclusive. It checks for accessibility issues every time a site visitor loads a new page, and also tests for new accessibility issues, gathering information across all users and pages, and then automatically fixes the majority of common errors. The platform displays all accessibility issues found and fixed in an Issue Reporting dashboard (pictured above), along with details on how these issues affect users with disabilities and how to fix unresolved issues that require manual intervention. You can start by trying AudioEye’s Accessibility Checker.

Additional resources:

Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List, W3C

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Testing and Checking Content, Accessible Social

8. Check your color scheme.

The eyedropper color selection icon in purple and white on a pink background.

Assess the color scheme for contrast and distinction. White text on a black background is high contrast, while white text on a pale blue background is low contrast. Many people with visual disabilities rely on high color contrast to view digital content. And because visual acuity and the ability to distinguish colors also fade with age, high color contrast ensures older users can access your content.

Common color choices, such as buttons colored red and green, can make content inaccessible to people with color blindness, which affects 13 million Americans and 350 million people worldwide.

Additional resources:

What is Color Contrast and Why Does it Matter For Website Accessibility?, AudioEye

Deuteranopia – Red-Green Color Blindness, Colblindor

Color Contrast Checker, AudioEye

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9. Make social media posts accessible.

Social media is used to convey messages or ideas quickly, usually in just a line or two of text, using a single image or a short video. To meet accessibility requirements for social media, ensure that all images and video clips are described in detail. Include voiceovers, narration, and song lyrics in the description. Don’t forget to include the emotion the subject may be trying to evoke. This also helps low-bandwidth users participate in social media. Please see an example below.

Screenshot of a Knowbility instagram post on how to make the internet more accessible.

Assess the cast of your videos. Do they feature mostly white men? Look for ways to feature a broad cross-section of society, including different genders, people of different ethnicities, and people with disabilities.

Emojis make social media posts fun, but they can also pose problems for people who can’t see them. Because screen readers use words to describe the emoji, a series of smiley faces and hearts added in the middle of an Instagram caption becomes “grinning face, smiling face with smiling eyes, smiling face with heart-eyes, red heart, red heart, red heart.” Limit your emojis to two or three, and put them at the end of your text, so they don’t get in the way of the information in the post.

Hashtags are an essential part of social media posts: highlighting key words and phrases with # makes it easy for users to find posts. Making hashtags accessible is simple: capitalize the first letter of each word in the hashtag (also known as CamelCase). That helps screen readers separate the words correctly (#SuperBowl, not #SuperbOwl) and to say them as words, rather than as separate letters.

Additional resources:

How to Make Your Social Media Content More Accessible, Western Oregon University

6 Ways to Make Your Social Media Posts More Accessible, Flagship Social

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Hashtags, Accessible Social

List of Emojis, Emojipedia

Designing inclusive content is an ongoing effort.

As you start applying these best practices, remember that building accessible, inclusive, and usable content takes dedication and continuous improvement. Ask your site visitors and customers for feedback on a regular basis. Pick the right tools to make your efforts more sustainable and effective.

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5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

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5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

Welcome to Creator Columns, where we bring expert HubSpot Creator voices to the Blogs that inspire and help you grow better.

I’ve tested 100s of psychological tactics on my email subscribers. In this blog, I reveal the five tactics that actually work.

You’ll learn about the email tactic that got one marketer a job at the White House.

You’ll learn how I doubled my 5 star reviews with one email, and why one strange email from Barack Obama broke all records for donations.

→ Download Now: The Beginner's Guide to Email Marketing [Free Ebook]

5 Psychological Tactics to Write Better Emails

Imagine writing an email that’s so effective it lands you a job at the White House.

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Well, that’s what happened to Maya Shankar, a PhD cognitive neuroscientist. In 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs asked her to help increase signups in their veteran benefit scheme.

Maya had a plan. She was well aware of a cognitive bias that affects us all—the endowment effect. This bias suggests that people value items higher if they own them. So, she changed the subject line in the Veterans’ enrollment email.

Previously it read:

  • Veterans, you’re eligible for the benefit program. Sign up today.

She tweaked one word, changing it to:

  • Veterans, you’ve earned the benefits program. Sign up today.

This tiny tweak had a big impact. The amount of veterans enrolling in the program went up by 9%. And Maya landed a job working at the White House

Boost participation email graphic

Inspired by these psychological tweaks to emails, I started to run my own tests.

Alongside my podcast Nudge, I’ve run 100s of email tests on my 1,000s of newsletter subscribers.

Here are the five best tactics I’ve uncovered.

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1. Show readers what they’re missing.

Nobel prize winning behavioral scientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky uncovered a principle called loss aversion.

Loss aversion means that losses feel more painful than equivalent gains. In real-world terms, losing $10 feels worse than how gaining $10 feels good. And I wondered if this simple nudge could help increase the number of my podcast listeners.

For my test, I tweaked the subject line of the email announcing an episode. The control read:

“Listen to this one”

In the loss aversion variant it read:

“Don’t miss this one”

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It is very subtle loss aversion. Rather than asking someone to listen, I’m saying they shouldn’t miss out. And it worked. It increased the open rate by 13.3% and the click rate by 12.5%. Plus, it was a small change that cost me nothing at all.

Growth mindset email analytics

2. People follow the crowd.

In general, humans like to follow the masses. When picking a dish, we’ll often opt for the most popular. When choosing a movie to watch, we tend to pick the box office hit. It’s a well-known psychological bias called social proof.

I’ve always wondered if it works for emails. So, I set up an A/B experiment with two subject lines. Both promoted my show, but one contained social proof.

The control read: New Nudge: Why Brands Should Flaunt Their Flaws

The social proof variant read: New Nudge: Why Brands Should Flaunt Their Flaws (100,000 Downloads)

I hoped that by highlighting the episode’s high number of downloads, I’d encourage more people to listen. Fortunately, it worked.

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The open rate went from 22% to 28% for the social proof version, and the click rate, (the number of people actually listening to the episode), doubled.

3. Praise loyal subscribers.

The consistency principle suggests that people are likely to stick to behaviours they’ve previously taken. A retired taxi driver won’t swap his car for a bike. A hairdresser won’t change to a cheap shampoo. We like to stay consistent with our past behaviors.

I decided to test this in an email.

For my test, I attempted to encourage my subscribers to leave a review for my podcast. I sent emails to 400 subscribers who had been following the show for a year.

The control read: “Could you leave a review for Nudge?”

The consistency variant read: “You’ve been following Nudge for 12 months, could you leave a review?”

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My hypothesis was simple. If I remind people that they’ve consistently supported the show they’ll be more likely to leave a review.

It worked.

The open rate on the consistency version of the email was 7% higher.

But more importantly, the click rate, (the number of people who actually left a review), was almost 2x higher for the consistency version. Merely telling people they’d been a fan for a while doubled my reviews.

4. Showcase scarcity.

We prefer scarce resources. Taylor Swift gigs sell out in seconds not just because she’s popular, but because her tickets are hard to come by.

Swifties aren’t the first to experience this. Back in 1975, three researchers proved how powerful scarcity is. For the study, the researchers occupied a cafe. On alternating weeks they’d make one small change in the cafe.

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On some weeks they’d ensure the cookie jar was full.

On other weeks they’d ensure the cookie jar only contained two cookies (never more or less).

In other words, sometimes the cookies looked abundantly available. Sometimes they looked like they were almost out.

This changed behaviour. Customers who saw the two cookie jar bought 43% more cookies than those who saw the full jar.

It sounds too good to be true, so I tested it for myself.

I sent an email to 260 subscribers offering free access to my Science of Marketing course for one day only.

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In the control, the subject line read: “Free access to the Science of Marketing course”

For the scarcity variant it read: “Only Today: Get free access to the Science of Marketing Course | Only one enrol per person.”

130 people received the first email, 130 received the second. And the result was almost as good as the cookie finding. The scarcity version had a 15.1% higher open rate.

Email A/B test results

5. Spark curiosity.

All of the email tips I’ve shared have only been tested on my relatively small audience. So, I thought I’d end with a tip that was tested on the masses.

Back in 2012, Barack Obama and his campaign team sent hundreds of emails to raise funds for his campaign.

Of the $690 million he raised, most came from direct email appeals. But there was one email, according to ABC news, that was far more effective than the rest. And it was an odd one.

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The email that drew in the most cash, had a strange subject line. It simply said “Hey.”

The actual email asked the reader to donate, sharing all the expected reasons, but the subject line was different.

It sparked curiosity, it got people wondering, is Obama saying Hey just to me?

Readers were curious and couldn’t help but open the email. According to ABC it was “the most effective pitch of all.”

Because more people opened, it raised more money than any other email. The bias Obama used here is the curiosity gap. We’re more likely to act on something when our curiosity is piqued.

Email example

Loss aversion, social proof, consistency, scarcity and curiosity—all these nudges have helped me improve my emails. And I reckon they’ll work for you.

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It’s not guaranteed of course. Many might fail. But running some simple a/b tests for your emails is cost free, so why not try it out?

This blog is part of Phill Agnew’s Marketing Cheat Sheet series where he reveals the scientifically proven tips to help you improve your marketing. To learn more, listen to his podcast Nudge, a proud member of the Hubspot Podcast Network.

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The power of program management in martech

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The power of program management in martech

As a supporter of the program perspective for initiatives, I recognize the value of managing related projects, products and activities as a unified entity. 

While one-off projects have their place, they often involve numerous moving parts and in my experience, using a project-based approach can lead to crucial elements being overlooked. This is particularly true when building a martech stack or developing content, for example, where a program-based approach can ensure that all aspects are considered and properly integrated. 

For many CMOs and marketing organizations, programs are becoming powerful tools for aligning diverse initiatives and driving strategic objectives. Let’s explore the essential role of programs in product management, project management and marketing operations, bridging technical details with business priorities. 

Programs in product management

Product management is a fascinating domain where programs operate as a strategic framework, coordinating related products or product lines to meet specific business objectives.

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Product managers are responsible for defining a product or product line’s strategy, roadmap and features. They work closely with program managers, who ensure alignment with market demands, customer needs and the company’s overall vision by managing offerings at a program level. 

Program managers optimize the product portfolio, make strategic decisions about resource allocation and ensure that each product contributes to the program’s goals. One key aspect of program management in product management is identifying synergies between products. 

Program managers can drive innovation and efficiency across the portfolio by leveraging shared technologies, customer insights, or market trends. This approach enables organizations to respond quickly to changing market conditions, seize emerging opportunities and maintain a competitive advantage. Product managers, in turn, use these insights to shape the direction of individual products.

Moreover, programs in product management facilitate cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing. Program managers foster a holistic understanding of customer needs and market dynamics by bringing together teams from various departments, such as engineering, marketing and sales.

Product managers also play a crucial role in this collaborative approach, ensuring that all stakeholders work towards common goals, ultimately leading to more successful product launches and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Dig deeper: Understanding different product roles in marketing technology acquisition

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Programs in project management

In project management, programs provide a structured approach for managing related projects as a unified entity, supporting broader strategic objectives. Project managers are responsible for planning, executing and closing individual projects within a program. They focus on specific deliverables, timelines and budgets. 

On the other hand, program managers oversee these projects’ coordination, dependencies and outcomes, ensuring they collectively deliver the desired benefits and align with the organization’s strategic goals.

A typical example of a program in project management is a martech stack optimization initiative. Such a program may involve integrating marketing technology tools and platforms, implementing customer data management systems and training employees on the updated technologies. Project managers would be responsible for the day-to-day management of each project. 

In contrast, the program manager ensures a cohesive approach, minimizes disruptions and realizes the full potential of the martech investments to improve marketing efficiency, personalization and ROI.

The benefits of program management in project management are numerous. Program managers help organizations prioritize initiatives that deliver the greatest value by aligning projects with strategic objectives. They also identify and mitigate risks that span multiple projects, ensuring that issues in one area don’t derail the entire program. Project managers, in turn, benefit from this oversight and guidance, as they can focus on successfully executing their projects.

Additionally, program management enables efficient resource allocation, as skills and expertise can be shared across projects, reducing duplication of effort and maximizing value. Project managers can leverage these resources and collaborate with other project teams to achieve their objectives more effectively.

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Dig deeper: Combining martech projects: 5 questions to ask

Programs in marketing operations

In marketing operations, programs play a vital role in integrating and managing various marketing activities to achieve overarching goals. Marketing programs encompass multiple initiatives, such as advertising, content marketing, social media and event planning. Organizations ensure consistent messaging, strategic alignment, and measurable results by managing these activities as a cohesive program.

In marketing operations, various roles, such as MOps managers, campaign managers, content managers, digital marketing managers and analytics managers, collaborate to develop and execute comprehensive marketing plans that support the organization’s business objectives. 

These professionals work closely with cross-functional teams, including creative, analytics and sales, to ensure that all marketing efforts are coordinated and optimized for maximum impact. This involves setting clear goals, defining key performance indicators (KPIs) and continuously monitoring and adjusting strategies based on data-driven insights.

One of the primary benefits of a programmatic approach in marketing operations is maintaining a consistent brand voice and message across all channels. By establishing guidelines and standards for content creation, visual design and customer interactions, marketing teams ensure that the brand’s identity remains cohesive and recognizable. This consistency builds customer trust, reinforces brand loyalty and drives business growth.

Programs in marketing operations enable organizations to take a holistic approach to customer engagement. By analyzing customer data and feedback across various touchpoints, marketing professionals can identify opportunities for improvement and develop targeted strategies to enhance the customer experience. This customer-centric approach leads to increased satisfaction, higher retention rates and more effective marketing investments.

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Dig deeper: Mastering the art of goal setting in marketing operations

Embracing the power of programs for long-term success

We’ve explored how programs enable marketing organizations to drive strategic success and create lasting impact by aligning diverse initiatives across product management, project management and marketing operations. 

  • Product management programs facilitate cross-functional collaboration and ensure alignment with market demands. 
  • In project management, they provide a structured approach for managing related projects and mitigating risks. 
  • In marketing operations, programs enable consistent messaging and a customer-centric approach to engagement.

Program managers play a vital role in maintaining strategic alignment, continuously assessing progress and adapting to changes in the business environment. Keeping programs aligned with long-term objectives maximizes ROI and drives sustainable growth.

Organizations that invest in developing strong program management capabilities will be better positioned to optimize resources, foster innovation and achieve their long-term goals.



As a CMO or marketing leader, it is important to recognize the strategic value of programs and champion their adoption across your organization. By aligning efforts across various domains, you can unlock the full potential of your initiatives and drive meaningful results. Try it, you’ll like it.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business: Part 2

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2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business: Part 2

2 Ways to Take Back the Power in Your Business

Before we dive into the second way to assume power in your business, let’s revisit Part 1. 

Who informs your marketing strategy? 

YOU, with your carefully curated strategy informed by data and deep knowledge of your brand and audience? Or any of the 3 Cs below? 

  • Competitors: Their advertising and digital presence and seemingly never-ending budgets consume the landscape.
  • Colleagues: Their tried-and-true proven tactics or lessons learned.
  • Customers: Their calls, requests, and ideas. 

Considering any of the above is not bad, in fact, it can be very wise! However, listening quickly becomes devastating if it lends to their running our business or marketing department. 

It’s time we move from defense to offense, sitting in the driver’s seat rather than allowing any of the 3 Cs to control. 

It is one thing to learn from and entirely another to be controlled by. 

In Part 1, we explored how knowing what we want is critical to regaining power.

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1) Knowing what you want protects the bottom line.

2) Knowing what you want protects you from the 3 Cs. 

3) Knowing what you want protects you from running on auto-pilot.

You can read Part 1 here; in the meantime, let’s dive in! 

How to Regain Control of Your Business: Knowing Who You Are

Vertical alignment is a favorite concept of mine, coined over the last two years throughout my personal journey of knowing self. 

Consider the diagram below.

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Vertical alignment is the state of internal being centered with who you are at your core. 

Horizontal alignment is the state of external doing engaged with the world around you.

In a state of vertical alignment, your business operates from its core center, predicated on its mission, values, and brand. It is authentic and confident and cuts through the noise because it is entirely unique from every competitor in the market. 

From this vertical alignment, your business is positioned for horizontal alignment to fulfill the integrity of its intended services, instituted processes, and promised results. 

A strong brand is not only differentiated in the market by its vertical alignment but delivers consistently and reliably in terms of its products, offerings, and services and also in terms of the customer experience by its horizontal alignment. 

Let’s examine what knowing who you are looks like in application, as well as some habits to implement with your team to strengthen vertical alignment. 

1) Knowing who You are Protects You from Horizontal Voices. 

The strength of “Who We Are” predicates the ability to maintain vertical alignment when something threatens your stability. When a colleague proposes a tactic that is not aligned with your values. When the customer comes calling with ideas that will knock you off course as bandwidth is limited or the budget is tight. 

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I was on a call with a gal from my Mastermind when I mentioned a retreat I am excited to launch in the coming months. 

I shared that I was considering its positioning, given its curriculum is rooted in emotional intelligence (EQ) to inform personal brand development. The retreat serves C-Suite, but as EQ is not a common conversation among this audience, I was considering the best positioning. 

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She advised, “Sell them solely on the business aspects, and then sneak attack with the EQ when they’re at the retreat!” 

At first blush, it sounds reasonable. After all, there’s a reason why the phrase, “Sell the people what they want, give them what they need,” is popular.

Horizontal advice and counsel can produce a wealth of knowledge. However, we must always approach the horizontal landscape – the external – powered by vertical alignment – centered internally with the core of who we are. 

Upon considering my values of who I am and the vision of what I want for this event, I realized the lack of transparency is not in alignment with my values nor setting the right expectations for the experience.

Sure, maybe I would get more sales; however, my bottom line — what I want — is not just sales. I want transformation on an emotional level. I want C-Suite execs to leave powered from a place of emotional intelligence to decrease decisions made out of alignment with who they are or executing tactics rooted in guilt, not vision. 

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Ultimately, one of my core values is authenticity, and I must make business decisions accordingly. 

2) Knowing who You are Protects You from Reactivity.

Operating from vertical alignment maintains focus on the bottom line and the strategy to achieve it. From this position, you are protected from reacting to the horizontal pressures of the 3 Cs: Competitors, Colleagues, and Customers. 

This does not mean you do not adjust tactics or learn. 

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However, your approach to adjustments is proactive direction, not reactive deviations. To do this, consider the following questions:

First: How does their (any one of the 3 Cs) tactic measure against my proven track record of success?

If your colleague promotes adding newsletters to your strategy, lean in and ask, “Why?” 

  • What are their outcomes? 
  • What metrics are they tracking for success? 
  • What is their bottom line against yours? 
  • How do newsletters fit into their strategy and stage(s) of the customer journey? 

Always consider your historical track record of success first and foremost. 

Have you tried newsletters in the past? Is their audience different from yours? Why are newsletters good for them when they did not prove profitable for you? 

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Operate with your head up and your eyes open. 

Maintain focus on your bottom line and ask questions. Revisit your data, and don’t just take their word for it. 

2. Am I allocating time in my schedule?

I had coffee with the former CEO of Jiffy Lube, who built the empire that it is today. 

He could not emphasize more how critical it is to allocate time for thinking. Just being — not doing — and thinking about your business or department. 

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Especially for senior leaders or business owners, but even still for junior staff. 

The time and space to be fosters creative thinking, new ideas, and energy. Some of my best campaigns are conjured on a walk or in the shower. 

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Kasim Aslam, founder of the world’s #1 Google Ads agency and a dear friend of mine, is a machine when it comes to hacks and habits. He encouraged me to take an audit of my calendar over the last 30 days to assess how I spend time. 

“Create three buckets,” he said. “Organize them by the following:

  • Tasks that Generate Revenue
  • Tasks that Cost Me Money
  • Tasks that Didn’t Earn Anything”

He and I chatted after I completed this exercise, and I added one to the list: Tasks that are Life-Giving. 

Friends — if we are running empty, exhausted, or emotionally depleted, our creative and strategic wherewithal will be significantly diminished. We are holistic creatures and, therefore, must nurture our mind, body, soul, and spirit to maintain optimum capacity for impact. 

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I shared this hack with a friend of mine. Not only did she identify meetings that were costing her money and thus needed to be eliminated, but she also identified that particular meetings could actually turn revenue-generating! She spent a good amount of time each month facilitating introductions; now, she is adding Strategic Partnerships to her suite of services. 


ACTION: Analyze your calendar’s last 30-60 days against the list above. 

Include what is life-giving! 

How are you spending your time? What is the data showing you? Are you on the path to achieving what you want and living in alignment with who you want to be?

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Share with your team or business partner for the purpose of accountability, and implement practical changes accordingly. 


Finally, remember: If you will not protect your time, no one else will. 

3) Knowing who You are Protects You from Lack. 

“What are you proud of?” someone asked me last year. 

“Nothing!” I reply too quickly. “I know I’m not living up to my potential or operating in the full capacity I could be.” 

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They looked at me in shock. “You need to read The Gap And The Gain.”

I silently rolled my eyes.

I already knew the premise of the book, or I thought I did. I mused: My vision is so big, and I have so much to accomplish. The thought of solely focusing on “my wins” sounded like an excuse to abdicate personal responsibility. 

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But I acquiesced. 

The premise of this book is to measure one’s self from where they started and the success from that place to where they are today — the gains — rather than from where they hope to get and the seemingly never-ending distance — the gap.

Ultimately, Dr. Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan encourage changing perspectives to assign success, considering the starting point rather than the destination.

The book opens with the following story:

Dan Jensen was an Olympic speed skater, notably the fastest in the world. But in each game spanning a decade, Jansen could not catch a break. “Flukes” — even tragedy with the death of his sister in the early morning of the 1988 Olympics — continued to disrupt the prediction of him being favored as the winner. 

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The 1994 Olympics were the last of his career. He had one more shot.

Preceding his last Olympics in 1994, Jansen adjusted his mindset. He focused on every single person who invested in him, leading to this moment. He considered just how very lucky he was to even participate in the first place. He thought about his love for the sport itself, all of which led to an overwhelming realization of just how much he had gained throughout his life.

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He raced the 1994 Olympic games differently, as his mindset powering every stride was one of confidence and gratitude — predicated on the gains rather than the gap in his life. 

This race secured him his first and only gold medal and broke a world record, simultaneously proving one of the most emotional wins in Olympic history. 

Friends, knowing who we are on the personal and professional level, can protect us from those voices of shame or guilt that creep in. 


PERSONAL ACTION: Create two columns. On one side, create a list of where you were when you started your business or your position at your company. Include skills and networks and even feelings about where you were in life. On the other side, outline where you are today. 

Look at how far you’ve come. 

COMPANY ACTION: Implement a quarterly meeting to review the past three months. Where did you start? Where are you now? 

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Celebrate the gain!

Only from this place of gain mindset, can you create goals for the next quarter predicated on where you are today.


Ultimately, my hope for you is that you deliver exceptional and memorable experiences laced with empathy toward the customer (horizontally aligned) yet powered by the authenticity of the brand (vertically aligned). 

Aligning vertically maintains our focus on the bottom line and powers horizontal fulfillment. 

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Granted, there will be strategic times and seasons for adjustment; however, these changes are to be made on the heels of consulting who we are as a brand — not in reaction to the horizontal landscape of what is the latest and greatest in the industry. 

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In Conclusion…

Taking back control of your business and marketing strategies requires a conscious effort to resist external pressures and realign with what you want and who you are.

Final thoughts as we wrap up: 

First, identify the root issue(s).

Consider which of the 3 Cs holds the most power: be it competition, colleagues, or customers.

Second, align vertically.

Vertical alignment facilitates individuality in the market and ensures you — and I — stand out and shine while serving our customers well. 

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Third, keep the bottom line in view.

Implement a routine that keeps you and your team focused on what matters most, and then create the cascading strategy necessary to accomplish it. 

Fourth, maintain your mindsets.

Who You Are includes values for the internal culture. Guide your team in acknowledging the progress made along the way and embracing the gains to operate from a position of strength and confidence.

Fifth, maintain humility.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of humility and being open to what others are doing. However, horizontal alignment must come after vertical alignment. Otherwise, we will be at the mercy of the whims and fads of everyone around us. Humility allows us to be open to external inputs and vertically aligned at the same time.

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Buckle up, friends! It’s time to take back the wheel and drive our businesses forward. 

The power lies with you and me.


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