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what's your brand

What’s Your Brand?

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“Describe your brand.” It’s a simple request and one that we ask of every client.

Let’s start with one data point. Brand is more than a logo or a name; it’s the full representation of your company (tone, voice, look, values) and how it’s perceived out in the world.

So as companies grow how do they make sure everyone one understands and buys into the brand? Where is the stake in the ground against which you can measure any communication? Do you have one?

We work with companies of all sizes and stages; the first thing we want to know is what is the brand. We’re engaged to act and communicate on their behalf as part of their team so emulating their voice and tone is critical to the role they have asked us to fulfill. Being in lockstep with what the brand is and what it stands for drives everything. For companies that have a brand guide, that stake in the ground, it’s pretty easy. For those that don’t we lead them through an exercise we call Brand Clarity. It’s not a rebranding by any means, but it’s a useful way to gather the information to create the document a business can use as north on the compass and we can use to create more effective marketing communications.

Clarifying Questions

We start the process with some key questions. It’s always interesting because even though everyone generally has the same idea of their company’s brand, there are still nuances which need to be captured and discussed. These discussions are a great way to build understanding and consensus within the organization about the brand.

You don’t need us to do this you can do it yourself. Using Google forms or something similar create a simple online form and ask the primary stakeholders in the organization to respond; make it anonymous. Then compile the answers, share them with everyone and discuss the differences. Document the outcome and share it with everyone in the organization. Of course, a full brand book contains more than this, but that exercise a good starting point even for mature organizations.

Begin with these four fundamental questions and add others you deem valuable:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Name two or three brands that share a similar audience
  3. Why does your company exist?
  4. What makes your company unique?

We’ve never been through the brand clarity process without it precipitating excellent discussions about the value, voice, and tone of an organization. It’s a reliable process for getting everyone on the same page, and when done correctly the output can be an excellent onboarding tool for new staff at any level. The brand book says this is who we are; this is what we believe, this is how we treat everyone with whom we come in contact.

Moreover, if you want to take it to the next level, add information about your visual standards; colors, logos and proper use, fonts etc. There’s your stake in the ground. Something against which you can measure every communication to make sure is on point and consistent across the organization no matter who is telling the story.

helping small businesses with digital marketing

What Small Business Can Learn from Big Brands in Digital Marketing

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Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Grant Smith & Kristian Jennes

With the release of new technologies such as augmented reality over the years (or months) and the proven business usability of social networking platforms, the landscape of marketing strategies has evolved from cold selling to the use of digital channels. This new method provides a new experience for the customer, while contributing meaningful insights for organizations to utilize. A study done by Adobe interviewed a large group of marketing professionals from all facets to gain an understanding on best practices. One finding: Sixty-six percent of all marketers think companies won’t succeed unless they have a digital marketing approach. While larger organizations have multi million dollar budgets to invest in a digital strategy, small businesses feel left behind. There are many lessons that small businesses can learn from larger brands that can be implemented on a smaller scale to generate compelling content for consumers.

Although virtual reality is the more mainstream of the two, augmented reality has been embraced by the masses this past year with Pokémon Go, a mobile application which let’s users see characters in their own reality through their phone. This comeback of the 1990’s cartoon game shows businesses consumers are ready for the AR experience. In fact, over the past year, make up, furniture, and drug store organizations have heavily invested in AR to provide their customers with a new channel to view products. Walgreens has a mobile app called ‘Aisle411’ which immerses customers in new promotions and usually unseen products/deals while walking around the store. IKEA introduced an application that allows buyers to see what a certain piece of furniture would look like in their home. Sephora (cosmetics) now allows customers to see how a certain style of make-up would look on their faces simply by using their front facing camera. Within 8 weeks of the launch, Sephora’s application was bought over 1.6 million times.

Of course, larger brands like Walgreens have the resources to fund augmented reality style marketing strategies. But what about the small town brick and mortar shops- how can AR be utilized without breaking the bank? What they can learn from this craze is this: consumers are ready for a shopping experience that incorporates exploration through different channels other than walk in’s. Simple changes to websites such as including products that are not on the shelves or at a particular location can spark more time on your website and increased awareness of your brand. Augmented reality use by larger brands will also bring a vast amount of insights of consumer trends. Although actual augmented reality applications for organizations require heavy investments, the results and teachings that can be captured online are always free for small businesses to utilize.

Implementing a strong digital marketing strategy is crucial to any successful business, but in today’s cluttered online marketplace, providing consumers with an unforgettable experience can vault a company to the top of its industry. WestJet took the experience a step further, by blending a digital sharing element that guaranteed a large scope and huge awareness for years to come. By posting a video of employees granting passenger wishes, WestJet created a viral sensation that has racked up 41+ million views to date. The combination of an experience shared on a digital platform maximized reach while resonating emotionally with viewers, showing the value of taking a mixed approach to marketing.

Small businesses have not missed this trend and have already begun to take advantage of experiential marketing. One of the biggest ways that small businesses are capitalizing on this trend is by partnering with other small, local companies to provide consumers with a joint event that promotes both businesses and gives consumers a destination that will help the brand resonate with them. A common pairing is often micro breweries with local restaurants, both huge startup trends in large cities that a young demographic will flock to for live music, drink specials, or other events. Companies are utilizing their social media platforms as well as websites to help promote these experiences and gain brand awareness in the community.

One of the biggest hurdles faced in digital marketing is finding a way to resonate with consumers, while reaching the widest range of consumers as possible. When used effectively, contests can be a great way to address this challenge. Dove held an extremely successful contest that instructed users to post a picture of their friend with why their friend “represents real beauty” by filling in two reasons why they find them beautiful alongside their name.  This user generated content not only built the brand’s goodwill, but was free marketing material posted on millions of Facebook walls for viewers to see.

While larger brands often use Facebook as the host for their contests, small business often don’t have the name recognition or following to get these types of promotions to go viral. However, one good way for small business to take advantage of this tactic is to sponsor contests for local sports teams or at large local events. This demonstrates community involvement, spreads brand awareness, and allows consumers to connect on a more personal level. While this takes a much more experiential approach, it can be promoted and marketed using social media and web platforms, blending the two marketing plans into one actionable strategy.
Adobe’s research on digital marketing presented another eye opening result: ‘less than half (48%) of professionals who consider themselves primarily digital marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing.’ Although the digital strategy has shown success, it is a task that consists of significant resources, time, and constant change. Small businesses cannot be intimidated by this fact, with a clear direction for obtainable goals,consistent strategy, and the desire to constantly learn about consumers trends, one can implement a meaningful marketing campaign that models those of big businesses. While a new technology such as augmented reality can add value to an organization, it is unrealistic for smaller firms to have the ability to research and develop something this expensive and time consuming. Instead, small businesses can position themselves to learn. By gaining insight, one can change the layout of their store, add trending products to their shelves, and provide features on the their website catered to consumer needs while being cost effective. One of the most important aspects of digital marketing is sending a consistent message to consumers, regardless of how they are viewing content.  This means that a small company needs to ensure that mobile applications, web pages, and social media accounts are offering the same features, same information, and same usability. To grow a small organization into one with resources to fund large scale digital marketing strategies, owners/managers must stay up to date on trends and take advantage of the strong customer relationships that a small organization can establish. By truly understanding the target market one can decide which digital strategy to model.

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Marketing Qualified Leads: What You Need to Know to be Successful

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Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Ben Clodgo & Taylor Bleedorn

WHAT IS A MARKETING QUALIFIED LEAD?

Defining MQLs

In the ultra-competitive business world today, companies are looking for any way to gain an edge. Marketing Qualified Leads are quickly becoming a popular and cost-effective way to do so. Marketing Qualified Leads, or MQLs, point companies to those customers that are most likely to purchase their product or service. Finding these valuable leads will allow a company to be more successful in converting them to customers.

Why MQLs Matter

Companies don’t have the time or resources to sift through tons of potential buyers. Narrowing down the pool of customers allows you to spend more quality time and resources on those high-probability buyers. This translates into more revenue per lead and higher overall productivity.

HOW TO GET MARKETING QUALIFIED LEADS?

Techniques Employed

Knowing the general concept of what constitutes a Marketing Qualified Lead will only take your company so far. An in depth understanding of how to obtain and implement MQLs is imperative both to the success of a company and to yielding positive results. There are four variables that are foundational to recognizing the leads: Profile, Channels, Actions, and Undesirables. Every company is unique, which means profiles of their MQLs will differentiate as well. For a profile to be completed, the basics and needs of what is being sought out must be outlined. Along with the profile of what the MQLs should look like, the channels must be agreed upon. Channels can range from direct forms to forming one-on-one interactions to even hosting events. Overall, choose the channel you believe the leads will respond best to. Which leads into actions, the third variable in obtaining Marketing Qualified Leads. The actions an individual takes can be some of the most vital information to your business, since it is what allows you to figure out how an individual becomes an MQL, and the development it took for that change. Throughout the whole process of employing techniques to achieve more Marketing Qualified Leads, keep the last variable in mind: undesirables. Undesirables are exactly that, the ones who are unsuited to become an MQL for your company. This does not mean that that consumer is inferior, but they are simply not likely to purchase what you are selling. For every positive profile, channel, and action that emerges, a focus must also stay on the opposite of those. This will guide your company away from the undesirables, and towards the desirables, thus leading to more MQLs.

Lead Scoring

Lead scoring is taking the four variables of your MQL and having the ability to score any lead that presents itself. Your business must be able to determine whether or not the lead is qualified enough to fit the company’s needs. Every business already knows that one of the most vital parts of staying successful is converting investments into revenue. Think of lead scoring MQLs as your company’s newest investment –  it must be worth spending the money and resources to see a valuable outcome.  The measurements used can be split by your business into two main categories: Explicit and Implicit. The explicit scores are the ones that can be defined through the MQLs profile such as demographics, budget, timeline, or firmographics. Whereas implicit caters more towards the online actions taken by MQLs through site browsing, clicks, shares, and engagements online.

This measurement tool can dramatically shape your company’s outcome with revenue and conversion rate. You may think that having a myriad of MQLs is the goal, however, those leads will accomplish nothing for your business unless they are refined to the best quality. Hence the purpose of lead scoring, which funnels the leads that have both the intent to buy, and a profile that lines up with your company’s overall target market.

Implementation

In all of the focus on obtaining marketing qualified leads, don’t forget the end goals of your business. When used successfully, MQLs will streamline your company and let you begin to churn out customers. It is important to remember that every company will look different and will target different consumers. By remembering a few key steps, you will be well on your way to gaining the competitive edge.

Research who you want to target.

Score potential leads.

Act upon the information.

 

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Brands & Politics: A Conversation Worth Having?

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Editor’s Note: Shout Out Studio has partnered with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for shoutoutstudio.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity.

By: Daniel Kuperman & Sean Hynes

When an increasingly complex business environment collides with a decidedly unconventional political landscape, the only certainty is disruption. Although, to many, this bizarre interplay became most visible during Britain’s exit from the Eurozone and the ascendancy of Donald Trump, keen observers noted signs of change well in advance. The prevalence of social media helps facilitate the adoption of oxymorons like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ somehow becoming mainstays in today’s vernacular. These developments point to a deep uncertainty that pervades social interactions, political conversations, and the markets alike. For some brands, this new standard presents a unique opportunity to connect with a targeted audience.

As exemplified by the immigrant-centered Anheuser Busch ad featured during Super Bowl 50, the growing impact of increasing political divisiveness can be clearly seen. It is also no coincidence this commercial — and others like it — were aired during the single most-viewed television event of the 21st century.

Officially, Anheuser Busch played off the immigrant focus as a coincidence. Amidst the contentious debates that followed Mr. Trump’s proposals for deportation, it was quite the timely opportunity for this ad to air. Delving deeper into the elements of this industry leader’s client base and competition lends useful context to this marketing effort. It is no secret that behemoths like Anheuser Busch have been seeing market share erosion for years due to increasingly popular craft beer brands. A common criticism is that such a massive firm adapts too slowly to diverging consumer preferences, whereas its more nimble competitors were founded upon these new tastes. Perhaps this political gesture intended to rebuy the support of millennial consumers using an unapologetically current ad, costing AB as much as $15 million.

Not all companies choose to align with any specific political ideology or movement, but rather embrace a broader theme such as unity seeking widespread appeal. Coca Cola’s #AmericaIsBeautiful campaign aims to evoke a powerful, albeit safer, reaction among their customer base. The ad seems to make the case that despite our differences, we can bond together and enjoy the ubiquitous experience of a Coke. Compared to AB’s commercial, what Coke lacks in boldness it makes up for in mass appeal. For a country appearing to be growing apart on political and social fronts, this may be a wise approach.

The less audacious brands are perhaps in the best company, opting for a neutral stance instead of venturing into potentially hostile social arenas. Well-recognized (and more often than not, publicly traded) companies chose to respond in ways that would not commit them firmly to either support or opposition of Mr. Trump’s actions. A longer-term outlook reveals a danger of staying out of the conversation, however. While this more guarded course of action makes sense from a shareholder-centered perspective, if social tides turn and increase pressure on corporations to take a stand, those who stayed neutral will be first in the line of fire.

As the powers of social media continue to grow at a seemingly exponential rate, this pressure will continue to creep up on corporations. Public relations nightmares have gone from a minor inconvenience to becoming a major catastrophe overnight, with recent occurrences involving Pepsi and United Airlines coming to mind. Whether it was a company releasing the wrong politically charged ad or having employees’ actions reflect poorly on their employers as a whole, companies must be wary of the powers behind making the wrong move, especially with growing pressure to step out of the neutral zone and take a stand. For United, a single failure in PR crisis management resulted in a $250 million net loss in market value.

Individually, these examples are anecdotal at best; extrapolating on any single situation would be ill-advised. Deciphering a best practice may be impossible for industries as a whole, but by engaging with one’s unique audience, companies can aspire to connect on a more profound level with end users.

 

Goodbye to Google

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Over the holidays I had a chance to catch up with an old friend whom I’ve not seen in months. He is fairly highly placed in the technology sector and of course we wound up talking “geek” ad nauseum. One of the things we discussed was his take on Google. Here is what I got.

There is absolutely no privacy when it comes to Google; there may be some last vestige of anonymity, but there is no privacy. Google knows when you’re in your car, who you communicate with, and now, with the acquisition of Nest, what you do in your home, thus rendering the phrase “in the privacy of your own home” meaningless. The amount of data they collect, examine, and use is staggering and is an absolute assault on the right to privacy.

That being said, yes, I opted in. But now I’m opting out. It will take a while, I’m guessing at least a year, to get away but I’m going to do it. And yes, I’m going to miss the effectiveness of Google as a search engine. Plus I’ll be giving up an email address I’ve had since 2004, but I have to draw the line somewhere and this is it.

While all of what my friend shared is already public, hearing it put together with his perspective, which I greatly respect, has led me to one conclusion: my 2015 resolution is to separate from Google. That means dropping Chrome, Gmail, Google+, YouTube, the whole shebang. Can I actually do it? I don’t know, but I’m going to try.

To get a real sense of what Google does and does not do/know/plan/collect/sell, check out these articles:

“4 Ways Google is Destroying Privacy and Collecting Data”

“Privacy concerns? What Google now says it can do with your data”

“Google concedes that drive-by prying violated privacy

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

Social Media Success Summit – Part 1

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This month we’re participating in Social Media Examiner’s 6th Annual Social Media Success Summit. The online conference focuses on all things social media with more than 45 of the world’s leading social media pros. Last year’s conference drew in 3,000 like minded marketers. Since we’re halfway through the conference, we thought we’d share a few highlights from some of our favorite sessions.

Twitter

Amy Schmittauer, founder of Savvy Sexy Social, hit home three key points: Be Human, Be Relevant, Be Giving, during her session on “How to use Twitter to Build Relationships that Lead to Business.” On the surface that may just seem logical in the realm of social media, but it’s how you do it that makes a difference.

Conversations are crucial. Amy advised “Listen and talk to people. If you do nothing but this, you’ll find success.” It shows people that you DO talk to people, and you’re listening and interacting. People judge a follow on how much you engage with your community. The nice thing is that Twitter discussions don’t take up the news feed, like tweets on your timeline, because its just a dialogue between two people. So go ahead and carry on.

How do you get more engagement on Twitter? Go find conversations!! Everyone who wants to have conversation isn’t necessarily looking for it. Find conversations you can be a part of, and tweet with people you follow. Or tweet with people who are following you, but maybe you haven’t followed them back yet. Check out their timeline, find out what they’re talking about, and if there’s something that interests you.

We’ve mentioned before how much we like Twitter lists, but Amy recommended taking it a step further for engagement and consider utilizing for a specific event, such as a conference. You can list speakers or acquaintances that you want to connect with before or after the conference.

Visual Content

Another presentation that caught our attention was, “How to Use Visual Content to Drive Massive Social Media Engagement,” by Kim Garst. The statistics that Kim provided on visual content were staggering:

  • Visuals are processed 60 times faster by the brain than text
  • 90% of all info that is transmitted to the brain is visual
  • 40% of visual content is more likely to be shared
  • 46% of people think website design is #1 in deciding if a company is legitimate
  • 65% of people are visual learners

With statistics like these backing up her presentation, it’s clear that companies who aren’t capitalizing on visual content are missing out. Kim also mentioned three key things to consider when creating visual content: 1) It’s not about you, it’s about them. 2) Consider what your audience cares about, outside of your product or service. 3) Your visual content has to appeal to your prospects’ lifestyle. Most importantly – Be Real! So many companies out there put out content that isn’t authentic. Kim advises that you post a photo of your co-workers ‘behind the scenes’ rather than stiff stock photos.

LinkedIn

Lastly we couldn’t resist the chance to check out Viveka von Rosen‘s session on “LinkedIn Prospecting Gold! 5 Steps to Finding, Engaging and Closing Leads with LinkedIn.” LinkedIn has huge applications from a B2B perspective, but many users seem to still struggle with how to get the most benefit out of it. Here’s a look at some of the advice that Viveka shared:

Like Google your profile must be optimized if you want to be found by prospects. Check your connections’ skills sections, and those are great keywords. For premium users, utilize the new keyword tool to incorporate keywords into your summary section, interests, and experience description. When you add keywords, add them to CONTENT! Two to one people will find you through the keywords in your content.

Save your searches. Once a week LinkedIn will send you an email of three leads that fall into that category from your searches. Seems kinda like a no brainer, right? When you search company pages don’t forget to click on “People You Know,” to see who you’re connected to. Find out what groups they’re in and you can join and look for an opportunity to connect. For a little extra help on any additional information you need, use an eGrabber Account Researcher tool to get phone numbers, email addresses, and public company information about a prospect.

Utilize LinkedIn Connected. It allows you to tag people or create lists according to what they are to you. And, because tags are private, you can send messages to a group of people. Viveka said it’s a little time consuming to set up, but worth it. You can also add private notes right on their profile. For example, a note about where you met someone or specifics of your conversation. You can also set up reminders to follow up with them.

Lastly, use messages as opposed to email because email can sometimes get caught up in spam filters. You’re 20% more likely to have your message read than an email.

We’re looking forward to the upcoming sessions covering video, content and Instagram marketing. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our highlights of the Social Media Success Summit.

 

 

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Website Woes: What Not to Do

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Whether you’ve just launched your website, looking to redesign, or perfectly content with it’s current performance, it still requires continual maintenance and should evolve over time. Sometimes though, best intentions can actually be bad practices. We’ve compiled our list of website woes to guide you on what NOT to do.

Colin Smith

Don’t over-complicate your website. While keeping up with trends in web design and user experience are positive and keep your site looking fresh, it can easily be overdone. Trying to include too much can lead to clutter, confusion and chaos. Make sure your site is easy to use, looks up to date, and delivers your content in a clear manner. This will keep your visitors happy, and they will be more likely to stick around or visit again. You’ll also be happier in the long run, and avoid a month’s worth of headaches if something goes wrong.

Gretchen Ardizzone

Designing for desktop only. You’ve heard us say before that if you think your visitors are only using a traditional desktop for viewing your site, you need to reconsider. 50% of people use mobile as their primary Internet resource. I can tell you personally, the experience of trying to purchase a product from an eCommerce site that is not mobile compatible is painful. And if you’re driving traffic from a social media source (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) often viewed on mobile, your visitor is going to expect a seamless transition from the platform to your website.  You don’t need to go to the extent of developing an App, but at least consider making your site responsive to mobile and tablet users.

Also, make your message clear on your homepage. Think of it as a cover to a book. You wouldn’t want multiple titles to confuse the reader what the book is really about would you? You may have the flexibility to communicate a couple messages with a call to action on your homepage, but don’t go overboard. If you’re presenting ten different messages all speaking to the visitor at the same level, something important is bound to get overlooked. Prioritize your key messages and have those drive traffic further into the site.

Lastly, it’s easy to think everything is working fine on your site until someone tells you otherwise, but put yourself in their shoes, navigate your site, test buttons, links, and forms every once in a while to make sure things are working as they should be. It’s not every day that someone will take the time to tell you something is wrong, they may just walk away in frustration. Spot the problem before they do.

Luke Pierce

You know what really grinds my gears? Moving chat boxes. When I am a first time visitor to a site and I have to play “hit the tiny little ‘x’ to close the chat box moving target game” I immediately get annoyed and often times leave the site right away. Don’t get me wrong, live chat can be great. I love how useful live chat can be when I actually have some questions to ask, but when your chat box is moving back and forth across the screen blocking my view of the content I actually want to read it drives me nuts.

Instead, utilize a tab that can easily be clicked upon to open a chat dialog or place it somewhere else in the site that is easily accessed. Just don’t force your chat feature on every visitor. Focus on creating great content that gets people excited to talk to someone first. When someone wants to chat, make it easy for them to do so and they will.

Shannon Blair

Please, I’m begging you people, STOP asking me for my email address and other information before you even let me see what you can offer me. There is a rather well-known website that offers you good products (clothing, home decorations, health items, etc) for good prices and the one thing that drives me absolutely insane is that every time I go there I have to log in to see what they offer. I understand the need for information but there is a time and place to ask for such things. Acting like a private club isn’t going to get you far in the online world, and it is definitely not going to help you gain an audience.

Photo Credit: MarcDubois

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Business Basics: Why They Matter

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We work with a variety of different clients, and within each company each individual we work with is unique. When working with an outside partner though there are a few basics to constantly be working to improve and build on so that your relationship with each other has the most potential to grow. These might seem very basic, but in the cluster of everyday life they are most often forgotten, yet the most important:

Staying Organized

Being organized within your own company will do wonders when you work directly with other companies. Utilizing tools such as Asana, Box and social media schedules, as well as personal calendars can help significantly. When a client or even members within your own company ask for information, images, files, or reports they can be easily accessed. Another benefit is if the company shares the file, you don’t have to ask for it. It’s at your fingertips.

Communication

Whether you communicate through email, Skype, phone calls or even sending a quick text – nothing is more important than responsive communication. If there are any issues or problems they should be addressed immediately through whichever method your partner is most comfortable using. An important aspect of communication that is often ignored in business is follow up. If a company or individual reaches out to you with a question or a comment, it’s a good idea to get back to them as quickly as you can. Consider scheduling a task reminder to follow up if you know you’re not available to respond in the moment. That way you don’t forget items that need addressed, and it allows you time to provide an appropriate response when you can.

Sticking To A Timeline

Sure this seems elementary, but it really can play a significant role in your co-working relationship. Collaborate with your team and client to come up with goals, and create a timeline to stick to as a benchmark. It’ll help keep both sides of the party on point for what needs to be done and when. Be transparent with your partner about the past week’s activities and planned initiatives ahead. You can’t assume they know what you’re working on, and this also can creates an opportunity for conversation should priorities need to shift. Lastly, start the work day with a list of goals. You’ll find monitoring daily will help you see that they’re completed by the end of the week, or help you determine what needs to take priority the following.

Image via Guy Sie

Graduates

Advice to Future Digital Marketers

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It’s the time of the year that many college students reflect on the years they’ve spent in school and prepare to enter the workforce. At a recent marketing meeting we were discussing this as a couple of our very own team members recently donned the cap and gown and took the proud walk of achievement. Thinking about this got us on the discussion of what advice would we give to future digital marketers…

Nathaniel: “Change it.”

My advice for the future digital marketer….it’s tough to think about considering how fast the digital landscape is changing and how different companies interact with consumers today versus 10 years. But if I’m simply putting my best advice foot forward I would say this one thing:

“If you don’t like the state of your marketing universe, change it. In fact, be prepared to.

There are guidelines being created every single day but guess what, big picture, we’re all still pretty new at this digital marketing thing. These rules aren’t set in stone. Each new breakthrough in social technology creates a ripple that will and should impact the way we as marketers help companies connect and engage with their audience. It’s ok to not play by the rules if you don’t feel those “rules” are in the best interest of your clients and their customers.

Shannon: “Stay Organized!”

So here’s the thing… with anything new you are going to have an “oh crap” moment when you don’t really know what’s going on. It happens to everyone. It especially happens when you are new to something such as digital marketing. Staying organized when you work on a computer all day is going to help you out a ton.

  • Embrace Tools: Having tools such as Evernote and Asana is going to help you have checklists to get you through your day.
  • Write Notes: Not just on your computer, but in a physical notebook as well.
  • Take Timeouts: Seriously, you have to step away from the screen now and then to gain real perspectives of tasks.

Gretchen: “Have a voice and don’t be afraid to fail.”

When I first got out of college I was quiet, listened to what my co-workers had to say, but for the most part I kept my opinion to myself. I had this idea that due to my lack of extensive, real-world experience, what did my point-of-view have to offer? Turns out, a lot. Luckily I had great mentors who challenged me to share my insights and ideas. It’s just as valuable for you (young graduate) as an individual as it is for those that have years of experience beyond you. Through you they will also have an opportunity to learn!

Try things, test things, know that not every time things will come out on top, but through failure you also learn. There was a period of time that I let a fear of failure stifle my willingness to act, and if I did, I pushed for perfection. It was daunting, and realistically not practical. Some of the most successful business people have had great failures before achieving success. It is sometimes then that you can truly find greatness. Digital marketing is ever-changing and always evolving. Don’t be afraid to test something new before it’s been truly proven. The key thing is to learn what works and what doesn’t, adapt and evolve.

Colin: “Go back to school and become an engineer.”

If that isn’t an option I would say to look until you find the company that fits you best. I know there is a lot of pressure to find a job right after you graduate, but if you take to time to find the firm where you will learn and grow the most, you will be better off in the long run. Making money is important, but so is being happy and passionate about what you do. Don’t waste your own time and continue to fight to accomplish the goals you have been working on for the past four years.

It’s an exciting and unsettling time right after you graduate, but you also have the choice to make the most of it and set the pace for the rest of your career.

Sonya: “Be resourceful & never stop learning”

The tools and platforms of a digital marketer are changing constantly. Being an expert in specific software programs or web languages can only get you so far. Learn how to look for information, and if you can’t find it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. And continue to look for ways to add to or sharpen your skills. Pay attention to what new technology is trending, and decide what you should and shouldn’t spend your time learning. And don’t be afraid to walk away from the computer. Use whatever keeps you curious to harness new information and skills.

What advice would you give to a future digital marketer? Drop us a line in the comments, we’d love to hear.

Photo Credit: j.o.h.n. walker

Tables and chairs

Keeping the Office Creative

880 461 Colin Smith

The ever changing landscape of business today is full of opportunity, risk, and the constant need to stand out in the crowd. Whether it’s a small business or a large corporation, the goal is the same: stay innovative and unique. This doesn’t only apply to products and services but also to problem solving techniques, new ways to increase productivity, and creating experiences that are fresh for both clients and employees. A company that is desirable to work for will result in a company that is desirable to work with. So how are companies staying innovative? By promoting creativity.

Creativity can be hard to sustain on a daily basis, but a good place to start is the environment where employees will be working every day. Looking at the offices of successful and creative companies, there are things they do that break the mold of a standard office building. The first thing you will notice is how open they are. While you may see desks with individual work spaces adorned by personal pictures and objects, the rows and rows of grey cubicles are nowhere to be found. Having open work areas promote communication, interaction and community which all lead to a more productive and social workforce. Fluorescent lit rooms used for one specific purpose are also not very conducive to a creative environment. Instead, there is a move towards open offices with a lot of natural light, color, and space.

An office is a reflection of the company and people who work in it. It is a reflection of the brand, culture, and work produced by the company. Having examples of work, indicators of a companies values, and items that reflect the brand are great ways to make the office more than just a place to clock in at the beginning of the day. Innovative companies are moving towards office-zones: spaces with different intentions. An area of movable and comfortable furniture promotes co-workers to work together, solve problems, and discuss ideas freely. Areas to write and doodle are also common in these areas. Whiteboards where people can ask questions, draw ideas and provide insight are all great ways to promote productivity and creativity. Other “zones” designated for employees to work in a quiet area without interruption are also great for individuals to get away from the more social parts of the office. While collaboration and conversation are great for inspiration, a place to focus on an idea is also necessary for it to come to fruition. The idea is to create an environment that creates a community of people who enjoy where they are, the people they are with, and what they do.

Aside from forming inspiring and inviting offices, companies are also providing employees with opportunities to grow and explore new ideas. These opportunities go beyond an occasional work trip, and occur much more frequently. Another reason they work is employees get paid while taking part in these activities. Here are three companies who have different approaches when it comes to allocating time to experiment.

3M

3M has been creating products we use on a daily basis since 1902, and now produces more than 55,000 products. Innovation has been key to their success and is the reason they have been able to continue to grow for over a hundred years. One of their ideas has been adopted by many tech companies today, including Google. 3M allows for employees to spend %15 of their time to create, experiment, and pursue their own ideas. This paid free-time has led to products that they still make today, including the Post-It Note. They feel it is well worth it to give employees this paid opportunity to pursue ideas, as it has led to thousands of patents and ideas from which the company has greatly benefited. The key to this free-time is to be supportive and open to new ideas.

Foursquare

Foursquare and their “Friday Afternoon Art Hour.” As it suggests, every friday at 5 p.m. a group of Foursquare employees gather for an hour. Each week someone purposes a new exercise, problem to solve, or a goal for the individuals to work on. They each spend a few minutes brainstorming, after which they draw their final solution. While the activities aren’t necessarily related to ways to improve Foursquare, they are a way to stretch the imagination and problem solve in a stress free environment. Besides, everyone is a little fried by the end of the week, and this gives them a chance to shake off responsibility and think outside of the box.

Google

It’d be near impossible to talk about innovative companies without bringing up Google at least once, for a variety of reasons. A company that started as a search engine has become one of the most innovative corporations in the world with recent releases such as Google Glass, Google Fiber and autonomous cars. One way they promote thinking outside of the box is a space that is accessible to all departments of the company, from legal to design. It’s called The Garage, and its sole purpose is to promote creativity. The name is an ode to Google’s roots, and the culture of silicon valley where start-ups are born in the garages of the next-big-thing’s home. The Garage’s main purpose is collaborative creativity and boasts everything from laser cutters to 3D printers so employees are able to create anything they think up. By making sure the space is flexible, accessible, and open to everyone, Google gives everyone a chance to contribute. In a sense it is an adult’s playground where teamwork leads to productivity.

While creativity and innovation can’t be taught, they can be given the chance to flourish. By creating an office with an environment that promotes free thinking, productivity and community, companies can be sure they have employees who want the company to grow. Secondly, companies who provide employees with the opportunity to grow as individuals will lead to creative thought, new ideas, and progress. The final part to ensuring innovation is by being open to new ideas and different ways of thinking as a whole. The ability to step back and approach ideas from a different angle will give a company the upper-hand on it’s competitors. Companies full of passion and creativity will be the companies with the brightest future.

Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary

Tips For Business Road Trips

776 415 Shout Out Studio

Did you know that Columbus, Ohio is within 500 miles of 50% of the United States population? We are within a 5-hour drive of many major cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and several others. As a result, we travel a lot for business via car.

Day trips to see clients could be costly, not monetarily but productivity wise. To have as many as 4 of 7 employees to be out of our work environment for 6 hours of travel time could set us back big time on other projects if we let it. We have done this enough times to know how to avoid losing half a day to travel. Here are our tips to stay productive during a business road trip:

Have a Project Meeting

Often we use the first bit of time in the car to catch everyone up on all projects that are going on with other clients. It’s a great time to update people who may not be working on the same project as you, as well as plan for the upcoming week with people who do work on the same project.

Turn on Your Hot Spot

Having wifi on the road can be tricky and it doesn’t always work, but when it does it is a life saver for productivity. The back seat of a car isn’t a great desk, but with a laptop and wifi you can still get a ton done such as replying to e-mails, writing blog articles, and working on various company projects online.

Brainstorm

Unfortunately I get sick as a dog when I try to look at a screen and read something in a moving car, so I usually divert to this tactic. I find that some of our best ideas come when the team is brainstorming in the car. We brainstorm copy, project strategies, blog ideas, and anywhere else our mind takes us. Where this would be digressing from any other regular meeting, we embrace it in the car and get fantastic results.

Schedule Conference Calls

We often schedule our conference calls with other clients so they line up with our travel time. It is a great way for everyone to be able to jump on a call and talk through whatever project needs addressed. No screens, reading, or internet connection required so even the driver can participate.

Stop for Lunch

The few times that we have tried to do a trip and skip lunch have not been great. As pressed as you are for time, make sure you stop for lunch. It gives everyone a chance to decompress and refuel. If you don’t, everyone in the car is going to lose energy and ALL productivity for the day will be lost no matter what.

I’ll admit there are times when I dread a company car trip, not for lack of good company, but for lack of productivity. But now that we’re no strangers to the client visit day trip, we have really dialed in how to stay productive. Remember you will probably never be as productive as you are from your regular work environment, but you can still get stuff done. Oh and if you have the chance, make sure you stop at the Warm Glow Candle Outlet. Best bathrooms on I-70.

 

Photo Credit: wwarbycc

Child playing piano

Most Important Thing I Learned This Week

880 461 Shout Out Studio

Quite often you hear people say the common phrase, “I learned something new today.” With each of our team members unique in their own way, this is something you’ll quite often hear us say. But what’s great is that learning new things doesn’t just end with our team, but we find that through the process of working with our clients and partners we’re frequently learning something from them too. As the team reflects on this week, here are some of the most important things we’ve learned.

Marsh: “Sometimes you can help someone help themselves”

A few years ago we had a client who was really heading down the wrong path on some things. The client team we worked with knew it was the wrong path but that’s what they were told to do by their senior management. From our perspective, they were going to hurt their brand, plus waste money, time and effort ¬– and our immediate client representatives knew this – but they were going ahead because they were told to and their organization did not/does not embrace “Truth to Power.”

When I got some time with our primary contact I asked him about this. His assessment was, “You’re making a big mistake. Don’t try to help us help ourselves.” I responded that we didn’t know how to do that. We both laughed about it and moved on, but I’ve always carried that with me.

Don Quixote, Pollyanna, whatever, our goal is to guide, to coach, to transfer wisdom when we can, and most of all to help clients reach their goals. Yeah, I get that this sounds like so much blah, blah, blah. But today I saw a client who was willing to learn and grow to reach a significant goal, and we were able to help them do that.

So what’s the most important thing I learned this week? Never give up on doing the right thing. Never say yes because it’s easy. And always stick to your guns when you know in your heart you’re right. When you can help someone else reach their goals and learn from each other in the process it’s a beautiful thing.

Gretchen: “Use Your Words”

Driving from a client meeting the other day we passed a billboard stating “safe” then showing a car and the words (dot) com. Marsh asked what did I see? As if I were playing an old-school game of concentration, my response was “safecar.com.” Clearly I would’ve lost because the correct response was safeauto.com.

My lesson is relatively simple. You hear people say an image is worth a thousand words, well sometimes an image alone isn’t enough. Don’t rest on the fact that you can use a visual to convey your message. With the popularity of social media platforms like Instagram, we have certainly become a more visual society, but you might need to do more to tell the whole story. In the case of the billboard, they may not have been able to tell a story per se, but I’ve encountered instances were the same thinking has been applied to digital marketing. Don’t expect visuals to communicate what you mean and especially when the subject is complex. Give your message justice and use your words.

Colin: “Know when to just ask”

Being a recent college graduate I find myself running into situations where I don’t have the solution right away. This isn’t a bad thing, and can often lead to a good learning opportunity. And while being resourceful and putting in the time and effort to find the right answer is both beneficial and shows initiative, it can also be time-consuming. This week I learned that sometimes just asking someone for the answer can be the better route. Being efficient and effective trumps a learning opportunity in certain situations.

Even a problem as small as getting your email to work can create a timely search for the answer. I spent more time than necessary re-entering, searching for answers, and getting generally frustrated trying to get my email to allow me to send messages. Eventually, I gave in and took it to the geniuses at the Apple store. I walked out fifteen minutes later finally able to respond to the emails that I could have been responding to earlier had I just know when to ask for help.

Sonya: “Look back more often”

I reward myself for making healthy choices by buying $15 items on Amazon. This week it was the Retrobit Nintendo 64 game controller for Mac. Plugged it in, and started my first favorite game, The Legend of Zelda. The music, and even holding the controller, quickly transported me back to my parent’s house where I grew up. Somewhere in 1987, staying up late with my dad and beating the game for the first time.

Trends like on Twitter and Instagram have had me searching through old albums and photos looking for images to embarrass my sister with. It had been years since I’d gone through those photos. And it reminded me of the foundations I had growing up. I was blessed with a great family, and have great memories that have helped shape me. So often, with technology, and business, and marketing… we look to move forward. To not dwell on the past, but to leave it where it is. And while I think it’s important that we not be discouraged by past mistakes and regrets, there is still value in our memories. Looking back can be a reminder of why we are the way we are. It can help us determine, the things we are good at, and what we can get better at. And maybe most importantly, it can allow you to recognize the people who helped get you where you are and to thank them for just that.

 Luke Pierce: “Unwritten Goals Mean Nothing”

We are finishing up a big contest project this week for a client and everyone involved couldn’t be happier with how it went. But I can’t seem to shake this dubious feeling I have. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the project we talked internally about what we thought we be successful for the project, we even quantified it with the team that was working on it. Then during the initial meetings with the client, we asked, as we always do, “what will define a win on this project?” We got an answer and great direction to take the project in. However, we never actually put metrics around our goals and we definitely never wrote them down.

We reported metrics every week to the client and were totally transparent about all happenings in the project. We knew we were on track the whole time to hit the goals we had talked about in the beginning, but now that the project is over, it doesn’t feel real. They were false goals because we never accurately communicated with everyone involved about what they were, and we never wrote them down.

This week I learned to make sure everyone involved in a project can be confident in the project’s outcome, one must accurately define and communicate goals, quantify them, and WRITE THEM DOWN!

 Shannon Blair: “Always back up your computer”

Here’s the thing… even all the way back in middle school my teachers were telling me to save my Word doc. in case something happens. I always took it kind of lightly and just thought people were a tiny bit obsessive. When I came to Shout Out my team mentioned backing up our computers and my thought was, “but everything I use is online?” Well folks, then the Coffee Incident of 2014 happened to me. Starting my day off right, with blog reading and a hot cup of coffee, I set my coffee down on the corner of a stack of papers and it took a tumble right into my keyboard. Now, I sit mortified at how stupid the decision had been to never back up my computer because let me tell you, I had documents on that bad boy I hadn’t thought about in over a year that now I miss dearly.

Nathaniel Seevers: “Sometimes the problem is the solution.”

My contribution to this post is a few days late. While not ideal it has been a reminder of something important; sometimes the problem is the solution. When I sat down to write my part for the post, on-time with the best intentions, I blanked. It wasn’t that I didn’t learn anything over the course of the past week. We’re all constantly learning every single day. It was that when I tried to rehash the lessons I’d recently gathered I came away with a paragraph of forced, uninteresting, borderline trite…. whatever. I questioned how it was useful to our readers and so, I stopped. I trashed what I had down and I politely bowed out.

As I read back through the contributions from my team I realized not contributing is what I had learned. Sometimes you have to not do anything to move ahead. You can be too close to what you’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes the problem is the solution the whole time.

Photo Credit: Jackson Latka

road

Instagram: Who To Follow

880 461 Shout Out Studio

What started as a smartphone app has quickly grown into one of the major social media platforms with over 200 million users. And with the 2012 purchase by Facebook, the popular photo and video sharing platform, Instagram, shows no plans for slowing down. The visual element and simplicity of use are undeniably attractive for businesses and consumers alike. Check out some the brands and people we love to follow and why.

Luke Pierce – Homage

Homage is one of my favorite home grown Columbus companies. They started with a simple shirt sold throughout some stores along High Street in Columbus, and grew it into a indie clothing empire, partly because of their social media marketing savvy. Their Instagram account is no exception to their awesomeness. Terrific photography coupled with throwback photos and Instagram exclusive deals keeps me a dedicated follower.

Marsh Williams – Our Open Road

I tried showing Instagram to a friend a while ago and the only response they had was, “why would I want to see someone else’s pictures?” I was hard pressed to provide an answer that wasn’t akin to “are you *&^%$#@ kidding me.”

I love Instagram, most mornings it’s how I start my day. Sitting down with a cup of coffee and my iPad. Seeing things through the eyes of others is amazing and the range of content and subject matter is extraordinary. One of my most recent “follows” is Our open Road. A family that took off from California about a year ago and has been documenting their nomadic adventure via their website and Instagram. The images and stories of adventure range from sublime to the ordinary, but the entire experience of following along is peerless.

As for companies on Instagram, I don’t know. I was not happy when advertising crept in but that’s just me.

Other people I follow just because I enjoy what they are doing are:

Luidanole—a very talented photographer who works long enough to fund his next photo journey and then hits the road (private profile).

JethroMullen—great nature and city scales.

Paulyvella—wonderful nature photography.

Kiwiboy—a true HDR junkie with a great eye.

Instagram takes me back to the great Life Magazine days. Later this year I plan to take off for a week or so and hit the Natchez Trace for my own adventure.

Gretchen Ardizzone – Sweetgreen & Nike Running

Brand consistency is huge thing for me when it comes to marketing, and what you put out on social media is no different. Many brands can perfect their tone of voice on Twitter or creatively craft the post that everyone will share on Facebook, but when it comes to Instagram, the visual aspect seems to sometimes present a challenge. So the brands that I love to follow manage to effortlessly showcase the epitome of their brand in true form.

Sweetgreen, the farm to table fast casual kitchen, is passionate about the food they create and the community relationships they cultivate. With a healthy mix of artful ingredients, drool-worthy food, and fanatical Sweetgreen followers you start to understand what living the “Sweetlife” is all about.

Nike’s branding has always aimed to empower you to “Just Do It,” and their Instagram equally delivers the motivation to move. Still photos show strength, and their 15 second videos capture a glimpse of aspirational activities. As a runner, I find NikeRunning the most inspiring. I can almost picture myself in their shoes with the wind at my back and my feet pounding the pavement.

Colin Smith – Go Pro & Taco Bell

The great thing about Instagram is the variety of content available. From the everyday photographer documenting their life, to professional photographers featuring their work, to brands promoting their products, you have a broad opportunity to look through someone else’s eyes. Instagram is a growing social media platform with a lot of potential for companies to connect with their customers in a different way. As they say, seeing is believing. So, my votes for the two brands who are doing Instagram right are as follows:

GoPro – When you claim to make “The World’s Most Versatile Camera,” Instagram should be a showcase of your product’s capabilities. Luckily, GoPro lives up to their slogan. They feature their photo of the day, chosen from user submissions, which gives a unique look at just how versatile GoPro really is. The photography is definitely worth the follow.

Taco Bell – A fast food chain may come as a surprise, but Taco Bell sure knows how to use their social media to engage their customers. With a variety of photos ranging from mouthwatering shots of food, to pictures of people brought together through their product, they take Instagram and build their brand through it. They even featured fan photos with the Doritos Locos Tacos in their television advertisement. Taco Bell sees Instagram’s potential, and they plan to take full advantage of it.

Honorable mentions: While these aren’t brands, they deserve a follow as well. Janske has some of the best landscape photography on Instagram. The awe-inspiring pictures are more than refreshing to see on your newsfeed. In Contrast, AdamSenatori is a pilot and photographer. The aerial shots of cities coupled with shots of attractions from around the world are truly beautiful.

Sonya Palmer – Sharpie & TrevLee

Despite my desire to be all digital. I have a serious crush on office supplies. File folders, binder clips, post it notes, I love it all.  And after years… YEARS of searching for the perfect pen, I found it in Sharpie’s Fine Point Pen. I love following their Instagram because they feature the people who use their products. Their Instagram consistently provides a break from my creative processes, while also inspiring me. When your head is buried in code and content all day, it’s nice to see what the outside world is doing with just pen and paper.

We had a rough winter in Ohio. Heck, we had a rough winter everywhere. Trev Lee is a photographer in Northwest Ohio, who spent a year in Yosemite. I cannot tell you how often his amazing photos of Yosemite reminded me that, yes… the outside is beautiful, yes…. Snow is even beautiful. There is life outside this house, there is life outside Ohio. He often made me want to climb rocks and trees and, well anything that was vertical!

Nathaniel Seevers – Steve Rodia and Hotel Lincoln

One of the best things about social media for me is the way we all build brand personas for the random strangers we cross digital paths with. Steve Rodia is one of those strangers that in my mind I’ve built into his own lifestyle brand. Steve’s Instagram glows of his interests; travel, great food, great bourbon. His is always the account I look forward to checking as I love to admire the places he visits, his panache southern attire, his appreciation of fine pork products and, of course, the fine bourbon he drinks. To me he is a lifestyle brand and blogger. To others he’s staff engineer at Honda.

Here’s where the duality of my taste comes into play. Aside from my love for a slower pace, grilled meats and bourbon neat, I do also love the urban pulse of certain cities. Few cities do I love as much as Chicago. During a long weekend stay for business last spring my wife and I decided to try out Hotel Lincoln as a change from our standard hotel stays. Right from check-in we felt welcome and quickly realized their friendly, eclectic disposition carried through social media. Their Instagram runs the gamut of shots of the funky interior decor of the hotel to neighborhood events in Lincoln Park to the occasional sighting of honest Abe himself.

Shannon Blair – WorldWanderLust

Similar to Marsh, I start my day with a cup of coffee and a good Instagram scroll. The person I follow that uses Instagram the way it was meant to be used, and with the most inspirational and amazing photos is WorldWanderLust. This gal was awarded as Skyscanner’s travel blogger of the year, and for good reason. Just this morning she’s in South Africa on a Safari. Last week? She was wandering around Lisbon. Seriously, she is one of those people who has built up her individual brand using the power of Instagram and by doing so she is able to travel around the world and take photos – just living her dream. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Photo Credit: Dirk Dallas

mail slot in door

Email Marketing Etiquette

880 461 Gretchen Ardizzone

I sign up for emails from a lot of  businesses and service providers. Why? Not necessarily because I’m looking to purchase something, but because its a good way to study communications from a variety of brands. Recently though, I’ve noticed some of the basic mechanics of email communication seem to be missing. And if that doesn’t seem like a big deal then consider the fact that 122,500,453,020 emails are sent every hour (source: Madison Logic). So a subpar email is bound to get ignored. Here are my tips for email marketing etiquette:

Introduce Yourself

I’ve received emails from a variety of people that I know I never subscribed to their email. I imagine they acquired my address from a third party resource or just simply found my contact info published somewhere online. And while I guess I appreciate the resourcefulness, your first communication shouldn’t be the same that you send to every other contact or subscriber in your database. Introduce yourself and explain why you feel what you have to offer is relevant to me. Getting a blind email is extremely confusing and often leaves me wondering why I received the email in the first place, even if your offer could be something of interest. Set the framework with whom you’re communicating, and you’re more likely to gain traction.

Humor is Okay, But Don’t Be Cheesy

I recently received an email from someone who was obviously trying to get my attention the subject line titled, “Eaten By Alligators.” Of course my interest was peeked and the email went something like this…

Hi Gretchen,

I’ve attempted to reach you, but have had no success. Either you’ve been eaten by alligators or you’re just plain swamped. If you have been eaten by alligators, my deepest sympathy goes out to your family members. If you’re still alive, one of the following is more likely to have happened. I hate to keep pestering you, but I do want to express my desire to chat with you more about whether or not our work management system may be a fit. Please pick one response and let me know what our next step should be.

_____ Yes, I’ve been eaten by alligators. Please send flowers.

_____ No, I haven’t been eaten by alligators, but you may wish I had been, because I have decided I have no interest in your service. Sorry, you’re sunk. (Thanks for your frank honesty. I can handle it.)

_____ Yes, we have some interest in learning more about (Company Name), but here are my challenges…

_____ Yes, we have some interest in leveraging (Company Name) to manage our work better. Call me to set a time for us to meet.

_____ I’m not the right person, please contact ____________.

Kind Regards,

(Contact’s Name)

Okay, so they achieved their goal of getting my attention, but to be honest I don’t recall receiving any other messages from this person prior to this. Also, the email left me so fixated on the element of being eaten by alligators I had no real grasp of what the company does or what they have to offer other than the brief mention of a “work management system.” Make sure you don’t get caught up in the act of being funny and forget the purpose of your email. This could be your one chance to get your recipients attention, don’t lose sight of that.

Watch Your Tone (of voice)

We’ve written several posts about how important it is to identify your company’s voice, and that same tone of voice should be utilized in your email communication. Whether it’s one email or a larger email to a segmented group, the tone used should convey an expression accurate to your brand. For a recipient receiving an email for the first time its an introduction to who you are and for someone who’s received emails from you in the past the language should be consistent with what they would expect. For example, if you’ve ever received an email from anyone at Shout Out you can expect there might be reference for a casual conversation over coffee. Why? Because we believe everything starts with a conversation, not a sales pitch. Throwing numbers at you is not our style, we genuinely want to discover what your challenges are and how we can help you achieve them, so that often starts with coffee.

Don’t Just Repeat The Past

If you’re seeing that your email open rates are not improving, you’re getting more opt-outs, or not successfully driving traffic to your website, don’t just keeping doing the same thing. We all know the famous quote from Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It could be time to evaluate your message. Try A/B testing campaigns to see what resonates with people and use the data to make changes. Explore your call-to-action. Do you have one? Personalize the email. Open rates increase significantly just by addressing the recipient by name. Create a captivating subject line that conveys the point of your message. The subject line is the first barrier to overcome in getting someone to open your email.

Extend The Conversation Beyond Email

Your email is just one vehicle to communicate with your audience, but why should the conversation stop there? Make sure you provide contact information where your audience can learn more about your company. It’s amazing how many emails I’ve received that don’t provide a simple link to their website. Make it easy, don’t make them hunt for you. And don’t forget to utilize social media links to encourage them to follow you on the various platforms where your brand is active. It could be an easy way to get your customers into the next stage of an engagement process.

 

Have any email marketing tips of your own? Leave us a line in the comments, we’d love to hear what works for you.

Photo Credit: loop_oh

Vian’s Axiom: Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience.

776 415 Marsh Williams

I have a great friend, Marty Vian, who has always said that “Marketing is what you promise, but Brand is what you experience.” I’ve named this Vian’s Axiom.

Now take that to heart for a moment and apply that to your customer’s experience. How much time to you spend extolling the benefits/virtues/outcomes of your product? How much time do you spend trying to cut through the noise and get potential customers to at least be interested or aware of your product?

If you’re like most companies this is the entire focus of your marketing and advertising effort.

Now take everything you know about your marketing and throw it away for the next fifteen minutes. Forget about all of the effort you’ve put into positioning, promotion and communications.

Make yourself a customer and do the following.

  • Respond to your own marketing offers.
  • Click on social media link, go to your website and pretend you know nothing about your offering
  • Post a question to your company on Twitter, Facebook, Etc and see who’s listening
  • Contact your customer support with an issue
  • Call your customer support phone number and see what happens
  • Call the main phone number of your company and see what happens
  • Send in an email inquiry through the website
  • Fill out a contact form on the website.

If you do these things the response/result you are experiencing is your brand: as Vian’s Axiom goes this what you’re actually delivering to your customers therefore it is your brand.

You probably know where to go from here, but make sure the response from these experiences matches your marketing…that’s real brand alignment.

Here are a few things we’ve worked with our clients to align, all the company names have been replaced with Green-Widget.

Do Not Reply

Don’t send emails out to anyone, under any circumstances, with a return email address that starts with “donotreply@gree-widget.com” all this tells the customer is that you don’t really care about what they have to say and you are making them look for a way to respond if they need to.

If you have to do this because your IT department is making your marketing decisions then provide a contact email in the body of the message. Never, ever make your customer have to hunt for a way to contact you.

You’re Valuable, but not That Valuable

Do not send an automated reply to a customer service inquiry that says

**This is an Automated Message to confirm that we have received your inquiry.**
Thank you for contacting Green-widget Support.
As a valued customer of Green-widget, you will receive support within 1 business day

How’s that for mixed messaging.

Setting expectations is a good thing but try something like, “Thank you for contacting us. We want you to know we have received your request and are reviewing it now. It may take us up to a day to review it and respond. However, If your matter is urgent please contact us at 123-123-12345 or urgentsupport@green-widget.com and we’ll get on it immediately.

To contact us…aww we’re only kidding

Recently we encountered a firm whose website contact page had no email address or contact form. It simply listed Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube etc

We sent them a question via Twitter…no response.

We sent the same question to them via Facebook…no response.

We looked up their Chief Operations Officer on LinkedIn and send him an InMail…no response.

We looked up their VP of North American Sales on LinkedIn and sent him an InMail…no response.

That’s their brand you hear talking, very loudly.

In Summary

If you want your customer to love you and what you’re doing listen to them, engage them, applaud them…but do not ignore them; what you say is marketing, what you do is brand.

 

Photo Credit: aldenjewell

Backstory on Photo

The Chevrolet Corvair was an entirely new approach to car design, fun, fuel efficient, inexpensive: a marketer’s dream. Then reality set in when Ralph Nader published Unsafe at any Speed. It crushed the Chevrolet Brand for years. Thus a great case for Vian’s Axiom.

Someone Was Listening

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So a couple of weeks ago we blogged about social listening and it’s power to help connect with people. Well it works, or at least it worked for Liquid Web. Last week our major hosting provider Bluehost had a major outage and we Tweeted about it to our clients and followers.

Well, lo and behold, about 3 minutes later we got a follow from Liquid Web and a request for us to follow and get a direct message. They had “heard” our Tweet about the Bluehost problems and were asking us to give them a try. So we have. We set up our first Liquid Web account and are trying it out to see if it’s a possible alternative.

For the record, we think Bluehost has some of the best support in the industry, but this was their second major event in a year and even great support can’t overcome issues with reliability.

At any rate, Liquid Web was listening and this is just meant to be a very quick example of how this all comes together to create new customers.

Photo Credit: Philippe Put

Smart Long-Term Goals for Startups

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Starting a new business is no piece of cake. You put your blood, sweat, tears, and I’m sure a bit of money into it, but the reality is that all that hard work isn’t done once you’ve launched your business. Setting long-term goals is the only way you can plan for success. If you’re starting up a business, here are some smart long-term goals to consider:

Nathaniel Seevers

The long-term vision for your startup might be grand. That’s perfectly ok. Think big. But to get to grand you have to be able to sustain the marathon that is building a business. One important long-term goal should be cash flow consistency. Now you might think cash flow is an important short-term goal and you’re right; maintaining the right balance of cash flow against expenses over time, as you grow, is where sustainability happens. When you’re hitting new levels of revenue is often when it’s easiest to overspend. You can help yourself hit cash flow control goals by frequently reviewing expenses and calculating how new costs and investments will contribute to increased revenue.

Gretchen Ardizzone

Long-term goals should not only gratify you as the founder of the company, but your employees too. Meaning, you can’t just up and decide one day that you want to sell X, because you see potential in the market, when what the business was originally created to do is to sell Y. Not sure how employees would’ve felt if Steve Jobs had announced Apple was going to sell irons. Yes, they’d probably be the coolest irons in the market, but I’d call that jumping the shark for brand, and employees probably would agree.

You need to make sure that your employees are aligned with the direction of the company from the very beginning and as it continues to grow. They will be the ones to help you achieve the short-term goals along the way that get you to reach the  overall company goals. I’m not suggesting don’t change direction or expand upon your offering, but make sure you get buy-in from employees and the changes you make are relevant to your brand.

Shannon Blair

So you’ve started a company, and now you want a few long-term goals to go along with the short-term ones. A long-term goal should be to understand your potential for growth. Clients, employees, and office space should be a few on the top of your list. To plan for growth in clients –  you need to plan for more employees, to plan for growth in employees – you need to plan for a bigger office space. You have to plan accordingly to this growth and set a few short-term goals to reach this over-all long-term growth.

What long-terms goals would you recommend to someone starting their business? Share your advice in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Roxanne Elise

person typing on a keyboard

How To Find Your Blog Writing Confidence – Part 2

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Part one of this post I wrote last year, and I discussed finding your blog writing swagger. After over year of contributing to our blog I’d like to add build upon finding that swagger. When I first started writing for Shout Out Studio I struggled to find the confidence to sit down and write down my thoughts. Now, I find my confidence in other ways:

1) Read. Write. Plan. Repeat.

These steps, in this order, might not work for everyone but if you haven’t tried it – now is your time. It’s important for me to do these three things on a regular basis to stay inspired to share my opinions in the digital marketing world. How can you write if you aren’t inspired? Pick up that book that everyone has been telling you to read and take an afternoon to get started – it will be beneficial in the long run for you, and your blog.

2) Climb out of that suffocating, inspiration trap, that you call your office. White and beige don’t rev-up my inspiration. I’m writing this blog from my back porch for a couple of reasons: First, because its 52 degrees outside and I think that means summer is close. Second, because it’s new, fresh, and my mindset is inspired by it.

3) You should never let yourself get to the point where you feel pushed to write a blog post (in a bad way). Be pushed by inspiration, motivation, and maybe too much caffeine. However, don’t be pushed by time, pressure, and the need to keep up. Reading, writing, then planning throughout your week will allow you to stay ahead of that time crunch, which can also crunch your writing. Keep in mind there is a difference between time and goals when it comes to blogging. You can control goals, you can’t control time.

4) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…keep your voice genuine. You’ve heard that when you communicate via online mediums it’s important to keep your voice – funny, informative, cool, classy, trendy – whatever it is, keep it. Don’t be afraid to add some sarcasm in your posts, if that’s who you are. More often than not, being true to who you are will gain more real listeners than a large mass of followers. Quality over quantity.

Have other tips for finding your blog writing confidence? Share them with us in the comments section below.

Image via klepas

broom

Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Business

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In business a new year often means new goals and a plan to achieve them. Next thing you know, several months go by and sometimes that means things get a little cluttered or you might even find yourself slightly off track. Spring is always a refreshing turn of the season, because it not only signifies that you have survived the less than desirable winter, but it’s an opportunity to organize your enterprise. From the collective crew at Shout Out, here are a few Spring cleaning tips for your business:

Nathaniel Seevers

When a company has a product or service they’re passionate about they want to tell the world; tell them everything, every feature benefit and scream it from their homepage mountain. It’s understandable but what can often result is a bloated, busy, confusing first impression when someone hits your site.

For a spring clean homepage purge consider:

  • Reducing the number of slides in your slider. Online attention spans are short. Few visitors stick around to see more than 2, 3 slides at the most. Getting more concise with your benefit statement helps you in other areas as well. Even challenge yourself to reduce to one static main image. Get really good at being captivating.
  • Attracting your visitors to specific click-throughs for diving deeper into content versus telling the whole story in one spot
  • Implementing a heat mapping tool like Crazy Egg to see what people are clicking on, hovering around and ignoring. This can help you better understand what’s working and what you can cut.

Gretchen Ardizzone

To many businesses a customer email address is like a golden ticket. But how much is that ticket worth if it’s extremely out of date? My tip is take time to clean up your email lists. Why waste time and energy communicating to a vast group of people who hardly even read your stuff, can’t remember when or why they subscribed, or frankly they may question how they ended up on your list to begin with. Spend your time communicating with those who want to read what you have to say or see what you have to offer.

If you have an old list, don’t start re-engaging by sending them a promotional email, instead consider a quick reminder email to make sure they remember who you are and want to continue to receive your communications. And if it’s been a little while it doesn’t hurt to include an opportunity to opt-in again. Give them a couple of chances to opt-in before finally removing them.

If your email list raises some questions to begin with, you might want to check out this MailChimp article titled “Is my list ok to use in MailChimp.” While this may be intended for importing lists into MailChimp, I think many of the questions they ask are still applicable in evaluating the quality of your list. If you’re anything like us, you’ll enjoy the humor and appreciate the advice.

Shannon Blair

Ah, Spring… you begin cleaning out cars and closets – but what about social media? Yep, there are quick and simple ways to clean that up too.

Twitter: Go through your Twitter lists and followings and clean those up by unfollowing the ones that are inactive or who aren’t posting content that’s relevant to you or your company.

LinkedIn: Have you updated your resume, done some networking, or moved positions in your company? Dust off those cobwebs and update all that information and connect with new contacts!

Pinterest: You can comb through your Pinterest boards and tidy up by creating new boards or deleting old, irrelevant ones.

Google+: Clean up those circles, people!

Facebook: Get on Facebook and check on your information and update content that needs it – also give your Facebook a facelift by adding a new photo or header.

Luke Pierce

This winter was a tough one in central Ohio. It is easy to let the clutter accumulate in that kind of weather, not only around the house, but digitally as well. For whatever reason, I let my desktop on my computer get overcrowded, hardly emptied my browsers cache, and let hundreds of things pile up in my downloads folder. This week I decided my spring cleaning was going to take place on my lap top. I cleared my desktop, getting everything in organized folders to where it needed to be. Emptied my browsers cache. And cleared out my downloads folder. Not to my surprise, my laptop started functioning loads better. It always amazes me how easy it is to make things better and it makes me wonder why I don’t keep up with it all the time. Next up: properly back up my laptop on a regular basis.

Do you have a Spring cleaning list of your own? Share your tips in the comments below.

Photo Credit: kaiton

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