Building a Productive Relationship with a Marketing Consultant or Digital Agency

Today’s always on smartphone drenched word is putting significantly greater pressure on businesses.

Platform interoperability, content publishing, social channels, ROI and sales funnels, ad networks are all forcing infinite challenges on brands with finite resources.

Most of you cannot get to market with sufficient impact to get heard without additional hires.

Where’s the pain? What’s not working for your business in a marketing context?

Or, do you have some sense of brand malaise: we are not growing as fast as competitor X, leads are all from one source, etc.

Recognizing ideas are cheap, tactical execution is not - don’t go for “shoot the moon” campaigns, they are frought with problems.

Deploy iterative marketing steps that move you forward with baked in testing.

Egos Are the Death Knell of Many Relationships (on both sides of the table).

Know everybody has to check egos at the door.  Your biases are going to show; that’s cool but don’t let them run rampant across the relationship.

Your costing your business money if you do and probably blunting some of the effectivness of your agency.

Perfection is the Enemy of Tactical Accomplishments

Understand just getting some tactical marketing processes done or at least underway is much better than grinding the image, content, video, web site design, PR, etc. into the dust.

That doesn’t mean you want to put crap out into the marketplace. But, 3-6 months (which I’ve seen) on a simple 30 page web site means no good work is getting done.

Strive for perfection with your agency. But, know it’s a double edged sword and in markets moving as fast as a teenager’s fingers on a phone don’t get left in the dust. #gettomarket

Complexity is Always Going to add Risk to any Campaign or Marketing Activity

Don’t believe a proposal or words out of the mouth of any ad geek that tells you differently.

Don’t be Technical Road Kill - Join the Party: Tech Savvy Brands are Excelling in today’s Digital Economy

Tech is baked into every marketing platform and they do not work as advertised. You must have technical competency in your business or you are at a distinct disadvantage that can put you out of business.

And, if you can’t keep pace with your agency in meetings, discussion and managing projects, you are indirectly going to pay a lot more for services.

You don’t have to write code but someone on staff should at least have a working knowledge of server provisioning, what’s good community management, web site platforms, analytics, SEO best practices, cloud technology, sales funnels and CRM apps.

Be patient and know going in the agency or consultant is going to have a learning curve.

What’s reasonable? It depends on the complexity of your product and services. If they have a dazed look in their eyes 2-3 meetings into the relationship you may have made a bad choice.

Should you expect to pay for the learning curve? That’s an almost impossible question to address fairly.

Most of us are going to bundle in some time for getting up to speed. If the billing feels egretious, in most cases it is.

Stakeholder Love is a Good Thing

Give the stakeholders in your agency some leeway. If the design geek wants to use pink and black and your company colors are pastel you should hold your ground.

But, if you “force” all decisions in your favor and those good folks your paying to help you get to market may at some point may not invest as emotionally in your business.

It’s a delicate balance and there is no set formula. But, to generate more creativity nurture the relationship.

Collaboration is the Mother of all Creativity

Collaboration is really what is going to drive a great relationship, save you money and drive marketing strategy that makes a strong statement.

In today’s digital age collaboration can mean getting customers in the loop, sales, support and even shipping/receiving.

Relationship Killers on both Sides of the Equation

  • Rampant Unchecked Egos: it’s Friction vs. Flow
  • Not invented here syndrome paralysis
  • Endless Ad Campaign or Design Feature Creep
  • Ideas are Not Aligned with Staffing and Functional Capabilities
  • Not Listening to each other
  • Wrong Fit: the Size of Your Agency does not Map to your Company Size
  • No Honest Conversations about “cheap is not the same as quality”

Five Signs that tell You “It’s Time for a Change”

  • Revenue is on Idle
  • Your only talking with interns and the “Creative Director” is always busy.
  • You are not Feeling the Juice (#stale)
  • Too much Emphasis on Tech and not on Creativity
  • Too Much Friction and not Enough Traction

Perspective is a Moving Target and Essential to Marketing Success

Many of us on the agency side are increasingly finding it more difficult to share meaningful perspective with clients.

So much content is being pumped out about the magic of “growth hacks” and the mystical brand building social platforms provide.

Some of it is just bunk dressed up in shiny presentations and personalities. But, it’s confusing to many nevertheless.

None of us (self included) has a “silver bullet” for success in today’s digital eco system.

For many of you a less is more approach is a fundamental driver for perspective.

Pick and build a relationship with an agency partner that brings creativity to the forefront of your marketing strategy, with embedded tech where it makes sense.

Most importantly, recognize discernible behavior patterns require time and marketing expenditures to emerge from the mists.

Finally, know every technology you utilize, each marketing channel (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram) you select have inherent advantages and disadvantages.

And, everything is in a constant state of flux. It’s organized chaos. Fortunately, the risk reward scenarios are balanced.

Documents We Use that May be Useful (all are Dropbox accessible)

 Editorial Calendar (Excel format)

Informal Web Site Design Questionnaire

Digital Health Analysis (two page and detailed)





Why Under $5M Brands are an Endangered Species

It’s an old somewhat false truism: “a high tide raises all boats…”

That’s not always the case.

It’s noisy as hell out there in most markets: you must pick your channel(s) carefully and be prepared to compete with a lot of content fluff.

Curation standards (‘what’s good and what’s bad”) are under constant assault from social media neophytes and sages alike. See: “celebrification.”

We are all creating more noise trying to compete with each other.

The Interoperability of platforms, apps and marketing initiatives are making it tough for smaller companies to hire people with sufficient marketing and tech skills.

I spent two months working with the CEO of an established eCommerce company that’s doing under $10M in revenue. Probably 50% of billable hours was spent on “perspective” and education.

Tech is stopping many CEO’s or brands right in their tracks.

Can’t get out of their own way and don’t realize tech is drenched in every marketing process today.

Noise in the marketplace means you have to throw more and better (they go together always) content up to stand out.

Many confuse cost with quality or think squeezing cost out of marketing investments will pay off.  It does not, you are going to get what you pay for.

Disintermediation to many means some young (sorry geezers) techy is going to come down the pike and look at your traditional model and flip it on its head.

90% are not going to make it. But, if you are lucky enough to have one or two in your market, get ready they are going to shake up the market.

Oh, and once they raise capital a mezzanine round is a fait accompli.

You remember the old line Butch kept saying: “who are these guys…..” Think about it.

Retail is drying as we all once knew it. When is the last time you were in a Abercrombie and Fitch, Radio Shack or Best Buy store here in the U.S.

Not to pick on these storied brands.

But, traditional two step distribution retail models are downwind.

You gotta make your own branded merchandise and an integrated social element a la Toms is not a bad idea.

Manners are falling by the wayside in this always on honey I just need to phone in the bedroom with us tonight world.

What do manners have to do with marketing strategy.  There’s a reason Nordstroms is still in business and Sears, JC Penny and KMart are in negotiations with Google for an M&A deal.

Your customers, business partners and/or “others” are too damned busy to get back to you. Brands that figure out how to jettison “no worries” for something of value will generate more revenue.

Offsetting Marketing Strategy for Content Smogged Brands

1) Expect your going to have competition next year from sources not on your radar screen. Be paranoid. Andy Grove was right.

2) Either hire young or train and “savvy up” your existing staff. Whether we boomers like to admit it or not, these awesome young Turks are redefining our world.

3) Technical competency for businesses is no longer something you may need to think about. It’s gonna kick your ass if you don’t get ahead of it. Spend money on tech, at least 20-30% of your marketing budget.

4) Risk and reward live together in this new world as never before. Yes, it’s a high tide world but there are significant opportunities for smaller business who can live/work/run/breathe on their feet. #nimble

5) Be authentic. It’s the new coin of the realm. No, I am not going to link out to some celebrity $1B valuation exec du jour.

Show some warts now and then and spend 20% of your time asking your customers how you are doing.

Authenticity Drivers

  • Customer Reviews
  • Trust Signals on a Site (Copyright, BBB, Privacy, Contact with Phone, Chat Integration, Blog, Social Connectivity)
  • Transparency (not self promotional fluff)
  • Quality Images & Video
  • Social Engagement
  • Content Structure: Headlines, SEO “best practices” and “on page content”
  • Forms with informative content (brevity)

6) Know no sage (self included) has all the answers. Whether your outsourcing, working with a PR or digital agency (big or small) know that none of us has all the answers.

These are in the digital tea leaves: data, customer feedback, your staff, partners and maybe BOD members or investors. Collaboration is key to success as never before.

7) Today’s always on noise means focus determines success or failure. Pick one or two social channels and build a meaningful presence that is demonstrated by engagement.

8) Even if you have $30-50M in the bank or a line of credit, then buying eyeballs, followers, likes, etc. is still a dumb idea. Find customers, make em happy and forget about the $1B valuation based on bogus numbers. Fads come and go; customer driven brands do not.

9) Content gives your business digital oxygen. If your business can’t create stellar content then you are wasting money on advertising. You must have an organic content strategy to succeed in today’s digital world.

10) Understand news and information cycles are compressed more than ever. Hours, not days or weeks.  Your potential customers have the attention span of gnats (they are all distracted).

When you got the shot take it. Hit em over the head with everything you got.

You may not have the opportunity later.

Static is not winning any Darwinian Digital Battles. #goforth




Creating a Basic Marketing Plan from Scratch

If you ask most small business owners or managers what their budget is they blanch on the spot, start to stammer and/or pull out their “smartphone.”

Most have no real budgets of any kind, don’t know how to create one or where to start.

Five things your business needs to know about marketing budgets and where/how to start.

Many consultants, agencies (big and little) have no real clue either about what’s the right budget for your business. We are guessing too; or, at least filling in some blanks.

Uh, “insert pregnant pause” in conversation: “what was your revenue last year?”  We are simply working back from last year’s revenue and how much your business wants to grow this year.

Nothing absolutely wrong with this analysis as a starting point for some businesses.

You have a revenue number, you factor in head count costs, operational costs, cost of goods, competitive forces, and call the Shaman.

It’s not always a great way to start. But, it’s better than the dart board method.

Every $Billion or Euros start-up learns how to say very early on in the process “customer persona” or “growth hack.”

You should too. One term refers to what was called in the Don Draper typewriter era days as a demographic profile and the other is just a fancy way of saying how do we create more revenue so we cam move to San Francisco?

Every budget can/should start with how many more customers do we want this year or incremental sales. What is this number? Start here and work back.

Then overlay competitors, market growth, historical trends, cost of sales/goods and start with some kind of a SWOT Analysis (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats”).

Put rough cut numbers on a grease board and leave them there for a week or two and hammer them 3-4 times with your management team. And, know you are not alone, even if you’ve never seen this in Inc Magazine.

Here’s the basic formula for defining the attributes that define who your customer is.

  • Age
  • Income
  • Location (GEO, Country, Region)
  • Martial Status
  • Pain points (“they are buying our product/service because…..” (top three). Or: “motivators.”

Once you have these issues defined then create a picture of this individual (this can be the “buyer” in the biz you are selling to) and throw it up on the wall.

Now, you know who you want to sell to in at least a “fill in the blanks” manner.

What kind of content do you need to attract this type of customer?

Content can be blog posts, videos, social media status updates, images, infographics. Just about anything your can write or create.

What does one single piece of marketing content cost and then run this analysis out via a spreadsheet or grease board.

How much content do you need to create to effectively reach some finite number of customers? And, where do you need to share the content across what digital platforms. Web, social, etc.

How do you focus your marketing expenditures to reach some finite number of customers.

You are still in the voodoo magic phase of developing a marketing budget at this point.

But, it gets easier as you move forward and just like any marketing process, iteration and refinement are critical success drivers.

If it’s any consolation to you, these big billion dollar brands you read about can spend months on creating marketing budgets. Some take years, not that you can afford this luxury.

Half of the managers are looking at “historical” documents and legacy information and then working back from there.

Competitive analysis is pretty easy to do on the social web.

We use SpyFu to assess what, where and how a client’s competitors are advertising.

This will give you another good datapoint for your SWOT analysis.

Also, your competitor’s career pages will give you some sense for growth, what they are paying, where they are hiring, etc.

Every business has unique attributes. There is no magic formula for creating a one sizes fits all marketing budget.

Start with a 1.0 plan and move forward from there.

If you are hazy on some of the facts, then just work on a 90 day budget and refine it downstream.

It gets easier.



Designers Rule the World for Good Reason

Why savvy execs are falling in love with designers (and we don’t mean Ralph Lauren).

Today customer experience defines your business: how prosumers engage with your business and in some cases make “Darwinian” decisions about buying your products/services.

In the “ancient day’s” designers were geeks who were kept in closets, fed fast food and just trotted out for “design review meetings.”

That’s brand suicide in today’s device driven world.

Design is no longer just about making pretty real world objects and maybe carrying this over into marketing.  Design is baked in to just about every part of marketing strategy.

It permeates every aspect of how you engage with your customers: events and tradeshows (booth, literature, hands outs), PR (format and images) and of course digital interactions: web, social, video, mobile.

Your customers expect and want a a remarkable design experience across all engagements with your business. Sophistication in design or lack of permeates customer touch points.

What a Good Designer Can Teach you About Marketing.

1) How to look at the market through the eyes of your prospects, suspects, customers and others.

2) Provide your business with context about design. You’ll have a better understanding of what a user experience is and how it shapes sales. Context rules the world as never before.

3) How to setup testing methodology using the cloud or a web site for high speed and frequent testing: “why are people buying or not buying.”

4) Help you brainstorm about what options that touch on design need to be baked into all of your marketing processes.

5) Inject a design perspective into meetings and discussions about any revenue or lead generation your business is undertaking.

6) Design is the prism for how your customers “see” and “experience” your company. Not involving design on business strategy is foolhardy (Google “Apple Newton” for perspective).

7) Richard Dyson should be the 3D holographic image for why every good company needs to learn from designers: it took him years and lots of trial and error. But, in the end, his design trumped every vacuum cleaner on the market. (Savvy marketing helped too.)

8) Every business must have visual as part of their DNA. Text and content frequently take a back seat to visual. A great designer is a shape shifter, moving your business in ways no others can. Think about it.

9) A great designer softens your look and makes it more attractive. Look boys, whether you like it or not there’s a reason why feminine colors rock, drive back end conversions and resonate. Harsh, masculine “Clint Eastwoodesque” colors are outdated.

10) Just one word: speed. If you can’t get to market fast your competitors will eat you for lunch. You need speed baked in to every aspect of your business and design is an enabling skill for speed to market.

Why Great Marketing and Design are Forever Joined at the Hip

Great Marketing has Two Critical Deliverable

  • Attraction
  • Relationship Building

Every marketing message has a sense of urgency in it: images help to drive the recipient into the message

Great marketing makes an emotional connection - images provided by designers are an integral part.

No successful brand today can create and share high value content without quality images, videos, infographics.

High impact marketing is visual. Today, a “selfie” can be worth a thousand words, not that “selfies” will define your business.

A great design is always going to reinforce your marketing message. Visuals (as above) evoke a message.

Key Takeaways for Smartphone Engagement

Embracing and inculcating design into your business starts with knowing you have an issue. It’s like sobriety, until you admit you have a problem, you are not going to find the promised land.


Speed to Market is Essential for Success in the Digital Age

There’s an old Gypsy saying heard around the campfire: “speed can be a friend or your enemy.”

This is so applicable to small to mid sized companies today.

Rapid change and global markets are defining how business grow and compete.

Speed to Market Necessitates Competitive Analysis (Darwin Was Right!)

  • It’s truly a spy vs. spy world and don’t think it isn’t.
  • Don’t take your competitors for granted. They may be bigger, smarter and much more sophisticated than you think.
  • If your biggest competitor(s) are big don’t assume they are “dumb” - their internal bureaucracy may be slowing them down.
  • Paranoia can be a good thing (see Andy Grove). Use it to keep you focused on what’s going on around you.
  • The old saw about not belittling your competitors is still germane in today’s blurred lines world. Don’t fall into this trap.
  • Global markets are volatile and what you don’t see on the radar screen can kill you faster than what you do see.

Four Great Services for Competitive Intelligence Monitoring

Rival IQ: Good Competitive Insights  Monitoring with plans from $99. to $399.

BuzzSumo: shows you the most shared links and key influencers for any topic or website.

SpyFu: stellar service for doing a deep dive into when, where and how direct competitors are advertising.

MailCharts - the only and best way to monitor what your direct competitiors are doing with email marketing.

SiteAlerts provides basic web site, keyword and social media monitoring; cost effective plans with under $100. USD per month.

Finding, motivating and retaining great people is a challenge for many of you.

Most of you are operating cost-driven lean business models.

Outsourcing, virtual assistants and/or using freelancers are growth drivers for small business. But, non disclosure agreements give you little protection with most freelancers or smaller agencies.

So, pick and choose carefully and know offshore is not always a good idea.

Noise is Everywhere in today’s Digital Din Driven World

Brand (what makes you special) and positioning or the lack thereof, can make or break your business.

Grasp “intersection marketing” to build a digital brand: where do your targeted consumers make buying decisions and how do you reach them?

All content has to be published with a rinse and repeat cycle. Envision a crowded intersection in rush hour. Getting heard is tough but doable.

Social media has a high cost for every business: it can be distracting for your staff and exec management team.

Remember one bad customer review on Yelp (or anywhere) can and does drive negative perception of your brand. Use social listening monitoring tools and address any all issues as soon as they percolate up to the surface.

Crowd-funding Works But it’s not a Panacea

On Kickstarter only 11% of projects finished having never received a single pledge, 79% of projects that raised more than 20% of their goal were successfully funded.

But, don’t believe the hype in the marketplace about how easy it is to micro finance your company on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. It’s not. If you get traction, it’s a good way to test pre-sales of any produc; but, getting scale on these platforms requires savvy marketing like any other social community.

Expect to spend 20-40 hours setting up a campaign. Be aware, customer support can be challenging and the platforms don’t work as advertised. If your brand/business has no social profiles in place it’s going to be much more challenging, requiring paid ads and PR.

Think of rewards based crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter as the wild wild west, with no regulatory issues overshadowing capital raises/revenue generation.

Great Content Not Heard is Content Not Written

Make sure Your Business Makes the Distinction Between Publishing and Syndicating Content

So much is written about how to write great content, self included. Yes, if your content is funky it’s not going to get traction. But, if it’s never seen, you’re losing the battle.

Syndicate and publish your content aggressively - 20-30% of your time and marketing budget should be spent on syndication and publishing activities and channels.

Once it’s been uploaded to your own site and indexed (attributed to your brand) by Google then syndicate the hell out of it, with rinse and repeat cycles.

  • HootSuite: Very popular content syndication platform & supports Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn and even WordPress; good for scheduling but can be a bit challenging for Team Collaboration, incorporates good baseline functional analytics; but, for Facebook “can’t access Liked pages” requiring toggling.
  • Sprout Social: Only supports 2-3 Channels, on-board analytics are good; bit pricey for the functionality.
  • IFTTT:  Not pure play syndication platform; uses “channel” building blocks to create “triggers” and “actions” – think of this as a cool “DIY” platform for building custom ways to move content around.
  • Zapier: Same functionality as IFTTT: User Interface is a bit more polished than IFTTT and supports 30-40% more web apps; no onboard “recipes” and expect to pay $15-30. per month for achieve real productivity.
  • Buffer: Supports all top tier social channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn), great for scheduling updates; has over 50 apps integrated with the platform that drive competitive advantage; great TOS, pricing is reasonable and c/service is excellent; have now integrated Google Analytics with platform.
  • Outbrain: Brands can syndicate content (sponsorships) across other top tier sites as “sponsored” or “suggested” – solid platform for publishers and bigger brands. Paid content syndication. Taboola is a direct competitor with similar terms of services.
  • Content Blvd: supports submission of sponsored or guest posts to blogs and third party sites your brand approves of; utilizes their own dashboard for managing content publishing.
  • Gravity: Promote your content to targeted audience demographics (has built in API for publishers) across several hundred thousand sites, has nifty “Chrome” browser plugin for consumers to personalize content.
  • OneSpot: Owned or “earned” content is converted to optimized “spots” (think very targeted ads) on third party sites and social networks. Hybrid  publishing/content syndication platform.
  • ShareThis: Create account via web site (free and paid up-sell) for brand analytics tracking; the absolute best way to share “one off” content via a browser (plug in), with built in “automation” for LinkedIn Groups, which is cool.

Putting Speed to Work for  Your Business

Your infrastructure (domain name setup, hosting, server, email, marketing platforms, forms, apps) are critical assets and drive competitive advantage.

Organize your Content Marketing and Team with an Editorial Calendar (download and go link). 

Go through a formal Customer Review Persona Analysis and turn this into a poster and put it in major room in your office.

Use Visual Content to Reach Clutter Connected Consumers

Most small businesses have insufficient raw data to make good marketing decisions.

A/B testing, landing pages and analytics are all part of the equation. But, it takes transaction volumes to make really informed decisions.

Be prepared to make “on the fly” decisions about marketing strategy and tactics.

Have some idea of what your direct competitors are doing: site, social accounts, content strategy, media spend. Then, adjust your marketing tactics accordingly.

Know the difference between publishing your content (other sites, newsletters, mentions, etc.) vs. syndicating content (using marketing platforms or paid syndication).

Make sure you tactically execute and don’t forget to do a dive into where your direct competitors are advertising and publishing.

Create smart persuasive content for connected consumers: use high impact images, build in facts, links and data and integrate calls to action.

Know distraction rules and smart small businesses have to target their marketing as never before to get heard.

Googlize your marketing when/where you can: you are never confused on Google’s site, for good reason.

Invest 75% of your marketing expenditures with digital assets where you have “command and control.

Grasp Renting vs. Owning in a Marketing Context

Your renting on social media platforms. But, you own your web site and content (intellectual property). Budget marketing expenditures accordingly.





Four Critical Marketing Strategies for Growing Your Business

Digital Oxygen starts and ends with design, with smart content woven into the mix.

What’s on your critical short list and what can you pushback till later?

One key takeaway that should drive everything.

Invest in assets you control (site, content: text, images, video) - your renting on social and never forget this.

Sounds mundane, but everything starts with a web site with these hallmarks: loads in under 3 seconds, 30% of your design budget was spent on images, it’s smartphone ready, has functional menus, working Google Analytics and Webmaster tools, has multiple calls to action on all pages.

Don’t think consumers or professionals are buying your product or service by itself - they want a brand experience and a web site is the front end.

What you can expect to pay: $3-5K for a standard twenty page web site, $5-10K for over a hundred pages, anywhere from $35. per hour up to $125. for HTML work.

Yes, you can get custom programming cheaper; but all markets are crowded and your web site look and feel is a key determinant of branding and customer perception.

WordPress is the go to industry standard web site dev platform for good reason  it’s free, scales extremely well, has 10K+ plugins that extend it’s functionality, has a huge community of pros dedicated to it, is updated frequently, stable and bulletproof in a design context.

Critical Design Issue takeaways for your Grease Board or Dinner Napkin

  1. For good function web site design, think in iterative processes: 1.0 then 2.0 – don’t get bogged down into feature creep. It’s a time killer and 60 day project can easily turn into 3-4 months, costing you much more in the long run.
  2. Give your designers (in house or agency) enough leeway to give them buy in to the project. You have to balance your business objectives with the creative process.
  3. Build your site on a test server first and assess all functionality; then, move to your standard server.
  4. Hosting is now almost all generic and the biggest “gotcha” we see with hosting is crowded servers. You need FTP (“file transfer protocol” for uploading) and CPanel Access - 99%  of most web hosts provide this functionality.
  5. Don’t stand up a web site without some kind of sales funnel with at least “crude A/B testing for product or service sales and an integrated newsletter list.
  6. Recognize 30-50% of your traffic is coming in via mobile – let this be one of the key determinants of your design: less is more.


Traditional SEO should not even be discussed in any meeting about marketing strategy.

It’s s a myth to think you can and should be manipulating search engines with back links, page keyword stuffing, duplicate content development, etc.

Save your money!

It’s old school and much of these processes are no longer relevant to Google or any other search engine.

Today, SEO rankings are a primarily combination of creating and sharing great content, building a web site that works for your visitor, coupled with basic on page SEO best practices we’ve outlined below.

  • Think of Twitter as Google’s new SEO discovery engine - use Twitter to tell Google what new content has been added to your site, with hyperlinks embedded in your Tweets to the blog post or page.
  • The Yoast plugin (free or paid) replaces a lot of old school heavy lifting and SEO agency fees.
  • Make sure your page construction HTML “score” is correct - use the W3C Validator to check your code by pasting in a URL and checking.
  • Write shareable smart copy: well written copy, educates and informs your audience.
  • Don’t have a slow web site! Google penalizes sites with poor load times: checkout Pingdom’s site to understand your critical load times for a page. You want to be less than 2.5 to 3 seconds of load time per page.

Great content builds lasting impressions and pays for itself many times over.

Don’t ever substitute quantity for quality.

Your business will need both moving forward. But, don’t confuse the two.


What you need to know to be effective with a content marketing strategy

  • Start slow: content marketing is a marathon process that is inherently iterative: you learn as you go.
  • Establish benchmark measurements at the outset: social engagement, revenue, email subscription, eBook download. Is your traffic converting?
  • Keep moving forward: don’t get bogged down in the proverbial trenches.
  • Align content marketing with other strategies.
  • Involve your entire organization whether it’s five or fifty people: great content ideas come in all shapes and sizes: sales, customer service and/or exec staff.
  • Probably 50% of the content across the social web “newsjacks” (see: any reference to pop culture any writer can dream up). Do it carefully.
  • Mix and match snackable short form (images, under 300 word blog post, videos) with long-form “evergreen” high value content.
  • “Chunk” and repurpose and syndicate content to leverage costs. An image curated and sourced for your web site should be featured on your pinterest board, shared on Twitter and recycled via multiple blog posts.
  • Use an Editorial Calendar (download sample), it will help you organize and leverage downstream content marketing initiatives. 

Lists may sound as boring as toast. They are not! 

Your readers have an attention span of a gnat. - lists help to pull them into the content.

  • Your readers, visitors are preconditioned to engaging with content that uses lists.
  • Lists drive immediate engagement and move visitors into a sales funnel.
  • People want evidence, perspective and answers in your content and lists help to convey all.
  • Lists facilitate updates – there is no shame in cutting and pasting updated content via a list.
  • You can brand jack your biz into a list. Is this self-serving. Yes, but done frequently.
  • Lists facilitate content re-purposing via other content forms (email, other blog posts, social content) which is a fundamental “tool” in any content marketer’s toolbox.
  • Every good blog post starts with a list: those scatter-shot ideas can then be fleshed or “listed” out, no pun intended.
  • Brands can be creative with lists: use them as a shorthand way to poll your staff, customers, partners, BOD members and any other stakeholders for company, product, customer wins and content marketing topics.
  • See texting as a way of life for many today. These people “live” on lists (stretching the metaphor a bit)- so, map your content accordingly.

Rent vs. Own Digital Strategy Takeaways

Remember your business is renting on social media and presence, content shared and more are all subject to change.

You have “command and control” capabilities with a web site and content.

And, you are investing in digital assets that will appreciate over time.





How to Survive and Thrive in a Tech Drenched World


Today’s shiny markets wrapped in social media and buffed with billion dollar valuations are not what they seem.

No business can thrive or grow in today’s tech drenched world without some technical competency and savvy marketing.

Digital has replaced traditional marketing.

To be successful, you must be proficient in creating and growing a digital “footprint correlating with your business objectives.

Brands: It’s Noisy Out There - Your Strategy has to be Spot On

  1. Have a customer feedback loop and analysis baked in to your brand strategy from day one for course corrections downstream.
  2. Attention is expensive in this market; it’s a fools game to assume high growth across the social web means unlimited opportunity.
  3. Ideas are cheap in our world today. Tactical execution trumps everything else.
  4. Niche in and find a foxhole to defend and ignore the false promises on the horizon. In most markets you’ll have one or two market leaders (see Google and Yahoo) and over time this is probably going to distill down to one.
  5. Every market has competition. End of story. Brands that delude themselves by ignoring and/or not doing competitive review will get their heads handed to them on a platter.
  6. Web site design drives your overall strategy: its’ the foundation that all of your tactical marketing and excruciatingly painful to rebuild a web site after it’s been launched and fraught with peril.

A viable digital marketing strategy is today much more than a web site, great graphics and baseline content.

One of your greatest challenges is grappling with “you don’t know what you don’t know” - your facing a bewildering mix of technology and process and with little framework for perspective.

  • Data is exploding at an unprecedented rate, projected to be ten times greater in the next six years.
  • Content sharing is now platform agnostic: it’s anything (text, comments, images, videos, ebooks, social shares) and anywhere and there is so much more of it.
  • Consumer demographics are shifting rapidly from one social platform to another - brand loyalty is hard to come by.
  • Bigger brands are leveraging their marketing muscle (social influence) to reach high value customers in multiple ways and outspending smaller brands.
  • Native advertising is on the rise and helping to blur the lines of how consumers perceive “real” content vs. ads.
  • Every business small or large is by necessity of changes in the digital landscape (more platforms and higher content volumes) being forced to become a publisher.
  • The demand for greater levels of technical expertise driven by platform proliferation and inter connectivity of data is overwhelming the ability and resources of small businesses.


Don’t Fear the Cloud: Embrace it to Lower Costs and Get to Market Faster

Most of you don’t really have an idea of what the cloud is and the impact on their business.

Dig in to the technology.

Primal Fears Most Businesses have about the Cloud

  • Are worried: ‘is my data safe, secure and readily accessible?”
  • Concerned about adding another layer of complexity to their business.
  • Uncertain about staffing needs and/or how to outsource getting the technology in place.
  • Eyes glaze over when marketing tech geeks start throwing around confusing buzz words.

In most cases you’re just moving digital assets to distant servers with providers who probably have Servers as safe, if not safer than what you are using now.

Why Your Business Should Embrace the Cloud

  • Most businesses are in the cloud already with web site hosting, GMail usage, Skype or LinkedIn.  Deeper cloud integration is just a step in the right direction.
  • The cloud offers much better security, with lower associated costs and much less hassle. Your getting access to IT Services at a low monthly cost vs. staffing up for IT and Technology management.
  • If done right, your business will get access to world class infrastructure from a vendor like RackSpace for a few hundred dollars a month or Amazon’s EC2 Services for $5-10. a month.
  • The cloud makes a small business smarter and better connected by driving collaboration with the staff, customers and vendors in the cloud using basic chat functions or virtual conferencing via Skype or Join.Me.
  • Access to tens of thousands of web applications that are low cost/high value via SaaS (“Software as a Service”) vendors and products.
  • Greatly enhanced CRM (‘Customer Relationship Management”) insights, customer reach and an awareness in real time of what’s going on us social connectivity and or via stellar real time apps like Mixpanel.

We use this standard two page word doc for assessing a client’s digital infrastructure and it should be helpful for assessing your digital assets and more.

How Not to Get Run Over by Tech

Know apps, services, marketing platforms are not going to work as advertised (ever!).

Iterate Technology Deployment with Clearly Demarcated Digital Touchpoints

1.0 Startup

  • Domain Name Server (“DNS”) Provider and Settings
  • Hosting Provider
  • Server Setup and Provisioning
  • Content Structure (on page)
  • Basic Web Site (Apps, Forms, SEO best practices, Plugins, CRM Integration, Analytics, basic Sales Funnel)

Downstream 2.0 Migration

  • Web Site Redeployment or Redesign
  • Standing up a Content Marketing Platform & Syndication
  • Deeper Sales Funnel Integration: Realtime Reporting
  • Dedicated Server (Rackspace is our defacto recommendation)
  • Cloud Apps Layer with more robust services
  • Content Publishing Platform Integration like Outbrain or Taboola
  • Marketing Stack Development

Takeaways for Busy Execs

This is a very basic outline above and by no means should be used more than just a quick reference point for “grease board notes” for a staff meeting.

Critical takeaway for this type of blog post is just to make you as an exec aware of some of these “tech gotchas” - tech is now baked in to every aspect of marketing.

E.F. Schumaker, the distinguished British Economist wrote the best seller, Small is Beautiful in the 70’s - it’s as applicable today as it was then, especially for smaller more nimble businesses.

Your greatest strength is your ability to reinvent your business using technology as a competitive driver.



How to Use Google Trends and Alerts for Product Marketing & Brand Monitoring

Google Trends and Alerts are two wonderful horizontal “Swiss Army Knife” tools that drive tangible value for any business.

Both are free, cloud based services with a significant amount of data, easily sliced and diced for adjusting marketing strategy and tactics.

Using Google Trends for Powerful Product Marketing Research

All great product marketing starts with analysis of terms, trends and labels.  Savvy brands have to understand the language, terms and related frequency of terms used that define a market and what’s popular and what isn’t.

Google Trends gives you an immediate big picture snapshot over time of trends and dynamics for any emerging market using keywords, terms or phrases.

Start with a search for a specific keyword or terms, use broad categories initially and then tap into more quantitative data with more specific phrases or terms.

Categorize your searches by region or even use direct competitors product press releases, annual reports, social sharing and even trademark or patent applications to discern meaningful patterns and trends.

These all contain a huge trove of category labels that can be collected, collated and analyzed for meaning market insights. For a deeper dive, use specialized textual analysis software that will help you extract category labels used in each document.

Think “smartphone” versus PDA or the more generic “communications device” term - there is implicit high value in identifying trends, terms and phrases used that define a market as it unfolds.

SEO firms have been using Google Trends as a companion tool for high value keyword analysis and competitive intelligence for years. Once you grasp the categories, terms and labels popularity and usage patterns, you’ll have meaningful data for tactical marketing adjustment.

Using Google Alerts for Brand Monitoring and More

Google alerts are a brands best friend for monitoring topics relating to your business, tracking what your competitors are doing and a front end source of curated news.

You can use it to front end load an Editorial Calender, generate ideas for your blog, news source for sharing content via Twitter and Facebook.

Setting up an alert can be done in under two minutes

Identify your keyword or phrase for monitoring and reporting. The more specific the better.

  • Google gives you Dropdowns for Selecting
  • How Often: As it Happens, Once Per Day or Week
  • Language
  • Region (which really functions as a country)
  • Only Best Results with a broader “All the Results
  • You’ll even get a prevent snippet at the front end of the process after you’ve plugged in a phrase at the top of the form
  • Add your email address and you’re good to go and expect inbound alerts with the frequency you set up.
  • Remember you are getting a fire hose feed of news that is filtered by the phrase you are using. It takes some skill to review the data and interpret it.
  • This data is somewhat raw and unrefined; so exclusion terms may be needed for broad topics: “San Francisco organic food providers - Alice Waters” (excluding Alice Waters)
  • You can also track whats being said via other sites like Google Plus with this structure as an example: “Name of your Biz in Quotations”
  • Set up an alert for a client (company or individual) you are about to work with to get a 30K foot picture of the company.
  • Quotation marks limit your search to specific terms.
  • If you add an * at the end of the search term Google will broader the search out to other relevant topics.


Google Alerts are a Great Tool for Monitoring your Brand

I’d recommend setting up these kinds of Alerts for your business

  • Formal name of your business and any variances (separate alert for each) that others may be using.
  • The branded Names of your Products or Services.
  • Topics that map to the local area you are in that might be newsworthy: “best pizza in San Francisco”
  • Personal names of all of your key execs, BOD members, individuals speaking at conferences or tradeshows.
  • Questions being asked that may identify an opportunity for a blog post or to address and position your business as a thought leader.

Staying on top of your direct competitors

  • Group these by direct competitor of course with this subset below.
  • Name of the competitor,
  • Their Product or Service Names.
  • Key phrases or hashtags they may be using for branding purposes.
  • Their stock symbol if public, which will give you broader news about them.
  • Names of their key executives, product managers (if bigger company) or others who are actively speaking at conferences.

Industry News and Trends

  • Who are thought leaders in your biz. You can also correlate and/or triangulate if you will people you have created lists for via Twitter and Tweetdeck.
  • Topics (seasonal, local, national) that are occurring in your industry.
  • Networking events. LinkedIn Groups are a good source for names of events.
  • Use a search phrase and Site:

 Critical Takeaways for Smartphone in Hand Execs

Google alerts almost died during the last 2-3 years but after a strident hue and cry across the social web Google pumped resources back into the services.

Your getting a fire hose of information so you will need to adjust what your pulling back with exclusions or specific terms and may also want to adjust the frequency.

Google Alerts are a great way as mentioned earlier to use as a source for an Editorial Calender (that link has a downloadable  Execl format sample).

Yahoo offers an alternative and their are paid applications services like Mention, which is Google Alerts on Steroids and it may be worth a trial.

Consider using Twitter on Tweetdeck as an alternative or in combination with Google Alerts.

Tweetdeck enables you to set up column feeds based on keywords, lists you have created and hasthags.

Google Alerts coupled with Twitter notifications will give you broad coverage of topics, competitors, industry trends and much more.




Three Critical Digital Strategies for Business Growth

Marketing has shifted from a static PR driven world to digital.

Your biz has to be digitally competent to survive in today’s tech drenched world.

The web is littered with lousy domain names: how to avoid this fate.

Great domain names blend creativity and have finite attributes.

  • A brandable domain has to work across social media accounts
  • No hyphens: people on smartphones hate them for good reason
  • Concise – shorter is better (under 12 characters if possible)
  • Easy to Pronounce and Spell
  • Not similar to another Domain
  • No Trademark Violations
  • Passes Phone Test – grasp spelling and wording quickly. You don’t want “what was that domain again” on a call.
  • If commercial business .com is the only way to go.
  • GoDaddy is the market leader for good reason. Don’t waste your time on anyone else.

Content defines your business and you should spend 50% of your time promoting your content. It’s noisy out there.


Today’s “prosumers” (professional consumers) have the attention span of a gnat.

Noise levels are high everywhere and your content has to stand out.

Great content and cool images are prerequisites of digital strategy with these hallmarks.

Remember to write with your ears.

  • A great blog post is between 700-1,500 words, has three images, with a conclusion section, integrates calls to action to drive a desired action leading, uses lots of “white space” and font size is from 10-12 points.
  • Mobile usage is driving 30-50% of content “consumption” (be mobile savvy) but “brand stories” may drive significantly more engagement: mix and match the size of your content (long or short form).
  • Content syndication is critical in today’s “technology drenched’ world: use rinse and repeat cycles to reach today’s distracted consumer and professional. (Note: embedded link will take you to a post with a list of the top 25 platforms & more).
  • Personalty still drives content engagement for both B2B and B2C brands and it’s becoming increasingly more important to use imagery that gets attention in the marketplace.
  • Content Measurement is Critical: have a finite grasp of these ROI drivers: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Return Visits, Time on Site, Bounce Rate, Engagement, Virality: (ReTweets, Shares, Likes, Comments, Revenue or Lead Generation.
  • Mix and match “snackable” short form content (images, video, infographics) with “evergreen” high value content to drive brand engagement, incremental traffic and revenue.
  • Build in cross platform marketing on all top tier platforms: Tumblr, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook using plugin like Snap to automatically “push” content to other platforms or pure play content syndication cloud based services.

Standing out in today’s crowded markets is difficult and challenging.

No agency, consultant or “other” can tell you how to do this.

It’s about creating and listening to the market. How it engages (or not) with your content.

As below, self educated buyers are driving engagement and revenue.

  • 50% or more of your customer engagement will be on smartphones #bemobile
  • The “Google Effect” determines how consumers find you via smartphone, device or web search.
  • Nothing is new forever: product life cycles are shorter and more compressed.
  • We are seeing a shift to self educated buyers; this goes for consumer focused brands and B2B.
  • Content is everywhere and anything: your brand voice gets heard via content creation and syndication.
  • It’s a 6-8 second click of death competitive world. Image trumps content early in the sell cycle.
  • Technology is embedded in every marketing activity. Tech savvy brands are winning in the marketplace.
  • It’s an iterative virtual global economy and don’t be the proverbial frog in the water.

Picking the right social media channel is another prerequisite of digital intelligence and tactics.

The landgrab phase of social media is gone.

Whether your business to business or consumer focused, any social media channel selection should be built on a Persona Profile Analysis.

Blogs still rock: don’t think about embracing social until or unless you have 30-50 blog posts to share. Blogging is still one of the best ways to generate web site traffic, SEO and connectivity with “prosumers.”

Facebook is a must for consumer facing brands. But, it’s crowded, competitive and many of these consumers have the attention span of gnats. So, create stellar content and advertise to generate ROI.

Twitter is best B2B platform along with LinkedIn. It’s a tech savvy, geeky water cooler great for brands marketing to other businesses.

LinkedIn is great for biz focused brands (company and profile pages for all staff): it’s getting crowded and publishing content is now a must to stand out. But, having said that, I’d recommend cross posting your content. You probably don’t need to create original content.

Google+ is starting to get traction; best place to share content and drive SEO results (it’s Google). Gorgeous interface that makes it easy to share content and interact with others.

Pinterest rocks for any brand targeting consumers and the female demographics are stellar. Like other social channels, its morphing to a full blown eCommerce platform and with broader (mainstream and male) demographics.

Instagram is getting waylaid by SnapChat and other apps/services that appeal to younger more fickle demographic; but, it’s “fighting back” with an increase in functionality. Great for targeting millennials, boomers, not so much.

Critical takeaway for success with social media. You need to advertise, especially on Facebook, to really get traction on these channels.

Know going in social traffic is very fickle. We see conversion rates of anywhere from under 1% (depending on the offer) to 5%.

Referral traffic via any search engine is always going to trump social traffic. It’s been that way since the dawn of the web.

30K Foot or Meters Perspective

Digital strategy defines your brand.

Success will be determined by sharing stellar content across the right social media channel.

The land grab days are over via social media marketing.

At least 20% of your overall marketing budget should be used for social media marketing


Great Web Site Design Incorporates These Unique & Specific Attributes

Too many businesses fail miserably at good web site design.

Every web site is a living/breathing digital asset and has to be developed accordingly.

Your business is just homesteading on social media platforms but you own your web site. Invest accordingly.

Don’t even think about developing a web site until you’ve done a deep dive customer focus.

In start up “billion dollar” speak this is called a persona profile. It’s an exercise you want to go through.

  • Has a dedicated customer profile exercise been done?
  • How has the customer journey been mapped?
  • Who tests usability issues within the company?
  • Who owns the customer experience?
  • Who responds and/or addresses questions from customers via social media?
  • Is a customer relationship technology or platform being utilized?
  • Do you have an internal FAQ and external that addressed common customer issues and questions?
  • How do you ensure a consistent high quality experience for the customer across all digital touch points?


Don’t think about web site design as a “bolt on” to your business strategy.

In the end it’s going to cost you money and waste a lot of time.

Work on your marketing strategy and marry left and right brain issues: branding, design, User Interface, content structure, lead generation and sales funnel integration.

Once you really know who the customer is you can map out other critical marketing strategies that should be baked in to your design.

  • No web site should be launched without Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools in place, with some baseline understanding of key metrics.
  • Knowing quality and frequent content updates drives meaningful SEO value, not funky link building and questionable SEO manipulation services provided by low cost providers.
  • What’s the product or service going to sell for and how to you communicate this to the market?
  • How do analytics and sales funnel metrics tie into the web site; what’s a lead or desired outcome for a visitor other than perusing the site.
  • What’s your content marketing strategy and how does it mesh with your web site?
  • Sense of urgency drivers for the web site. What calls to action are desired for the visitor?
  • Legacy content and information; how will this be archived in a meaningful way to continue to drive traffic.
  • An understanding of the importance of great Titles and Section headers. These drive the visitors into the web site and help to generate revenue, sales leads and engagement.
  • Does your design team understand how to build a web site that piques the interest of and engages this target? This is much more than functional design: it’s an understanding for your customer focus, baked in sales funnel and content requirements.
  • Cloud integration: apps, third party services, appropriate server and/or hosting vendor.
  • Understanding users “read” web site content in F Shaped Patterns.

 Tactical Web Site Design Gotchas that Must Be Addressed

  1. For good function web site design, think in iterative processes: 1.0 then 2.0 – don’t get bogged down into feature creep. It’s a time killer and 60 day project can easily turn into 3-4 months.
  2. Give your designers (in house or agency) enough leeway to give them buy in to the project. You have to balance your business objectives with the creative process.
  3. Build your site on a test server first and assess all functionality; then, move to your standard server.
  4. Hosting is now almost all generic and the biggest “gotcha” we see with hosting is crowded servers. If your not using a dedicated Server like RackSpace who you use (assuming standard CPanel access is in place) makes little difference who you use.
  5. Don’t stand up a web site without some kind of sales funnel with at least “crude A/B testing for product or service sales and an integrated newsletter list.
  6. You get what you pay for. The web is loaded with funky looking web template sites where “price” was the overriding factor and many of them reflect what was invested. These markets are crowded and your web site look and feel is a key determinant of branding and customer perception.
  7. Recognize 30-50% of your traffic is coming in via mobile – let this be one of the key determinants of your design (UX/UII): less is more.
  8. Using Pingdom to check functionality: it’s the best tool on the web for assessing details and provides actionable reports: free and works great.

Here’s a link to a standard two page informal questionnaire we use on all web site design projects that should be helpful in Word format.

You can Synthesize every Web Site Down into these four Steps: You Need to Own Them All to Succeed

  • Content Strategy: what’s the purpose of the web site and how does it pique the interest of the visitor?
  • Information Architecture: what’s the structure of content on each page (text, images, videos, menus)?
  • Visual Design: how do images or video work with the content and enhance the information architecture?
  • Development Process: making the content, information architecture, lead gen system all work together seamlessly.

Smartphone Summary for Time Challenged Execs

Don’t think of a web site as an asset you invest in and then ignore. You’re wasting marketing resources if you do. Great web sites are dynamic, with frequency updates to the core content and of course your blog.

Remember, you “get what you pay for” with design and images. Getty images are much higher quality than most of the low cost dreck that passes for quality images used via many sites. Cheap is never the same as quality.

Last but not least. Infrastructure is so often overlooked as an integral part of web site design. Your server provisioning, hosting provider, integrated apps and forms and even your Domain Name provider settings are all critical parts of great web site design.