Small Business Marketing & Ecommerce Strategy(412) 228.0504


How to Avoid the Biggest Email Marketing Mistake


delete key, email marketing mistakes

“Our newsletter didn’t get any clicks.”  When the company first approached us, they weren’t sure why their first campaign fell completely flat. 

Reviewing the email, we quickly found the problem—they forgot to include any links to create a clear path to purchase and lead subscribers from the email back to their website.  Instead of using an existing template from their email marketing platform, they inserted a flyer as the main body of content and didn’t incorporate any links or clear calls-to-action that would have encouraged readers to engage with their content. As simple as it may sound, unfortunately it’s something we see all too often. How do you keep it from happening?

Identify Your Email Marketing Goals

When you’re mapping out your email marketing strategy, ALWAYS start with your overarching goal which in most cases is getting readers from the email back to your website. That way, they can more easily navigate your content including your products and services which increases the likelihood that they’ll make a purchase. Here are some of our favorite email newsletter examples.

If you want to highlight an article from your small business blog and include all of the content in the email newsletter, there’s no reason for readers to do anything else unless they wanted to share it with their social networks. Instead, try teasing the article with an image, opening paragraph, and call-to-action that points them back to your blog.

Use Design and Content to Engage Your Readers

Once you have a clear idea of what you want them to do when they open your email, you can then start to map out the right content and design. This is usually a case where less is more. You don’t need to include 12 articles and 24 calls-to-action or else you’ll wind up confusing your readers and burning through content way too fast. Focus on the 1 to 2 things you hope readers will do once they read your email and use your layout and copy to guide them in that direction.

With platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, it’s really easy to create an email with a professional look and feel that also matches your small business brand. Like these.  

Track Your Performance

After each campaign, review analytics to see opens, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes so you can start to identify opportunities for improvement for your next email marketing campaign. For example, if your open rate is really low that is likely a good indicator that either 1) your list isn’t great or 2) your subject line isn’t resonating.

Avoiding Common Email Marketing Mistakes

It’s easy to make silly mistakes like forgetting to include a link when you’re too close to the content. Before hitting “send” make sure you read over the email and can clearly identify the primary call-to-action (and most importantly the corresponding link).

[Image: Flickr user Pedro Serapio]

Meet Deep Varnish – A Strategic Marketing Consulting Firm


I’m really excited to share what we’ve been working on for the past few months.  Since I launched in 2010, our goal has been to help businesses dramatically improve their marketing effectiveness and grow their bottom lines. With the launch of Deep Varnish, we’re going push that goal even further.

Why the Rebrand?

I started as a solopreneur. As my business continued to grow, I soon realized I needed a brand that was bigger than just me—something aspirational, something that could develop in tune with my evolving professional dreams. That’s what Deep Varnish is.

In the coming years I want to grow the company to do what I’ve always loved doing—but on a much larger scale, with a bigger team, to tackle grander challenges. This requires changes that are fundamental to my business. And that’s why the rebrand was warranted: to provide a fresh new structure to jump into the future with.

My dream for Deep Varnish is to continue to help businesses create marketing that goes below the surface—impactful and results-driven marketing that captures the essence of your brand, resonates with your target audience, and turns curiosity into conversions.

What’s next?

We’re working hard behind the scenes on the launch of our new website which is targeted to go live in early 2016. There you’ll find case studies that highlight a small sampling of our client successes, our blog which will be chock-full of advice, insights, and our thoughts on the latest trends in offline and online marketing, along with a few surprises.

For a sneak peek at our new logo and brand identity, hop on over to Deep Varnish. While you’re there, you can also sign up to be one of the first to know about our official launch.

The Secret to Great Brand Storytelling


brand storytelling

"I walked through a hardware store last night and I came across 50 brands I didn't know existed. They may be great products, but they're not great brands."

-Scott Bedbury, former marketing executive for Starbucks & Nike

Great brand storytelling helps define great brands. It pulls people in and keeps them engaged. It captures the heart and soul of your business. It’s reflected in your products and your packaging. And it’s one of the things that will help you stand out from those 49 other brands on the shelf.  

What’s the secret to great brand storytelling?

It all starts with understanding why your company exists in the first place. I know that might sound simple, but understanding and being able to effectively communicate it are two entirely different things.

Apple’s brand story was built around being rebels in the garage—something that helped immediately differentiate the company and the brand from the likes of IBM and all of the other “big corporate” tech companies for decades to come.  That story helped define who they were and what they were all about.

Only rebels in the garage would have had the guts to sign off on this now iconic commercial…

But being able to articulate the motivation and story behind your business is only a small part of the equation.

Great brands use storytelling to encompass so much more.

Your customers have a story

No, not just your typical case study where you talk on behalf of your customers about how great your products and services are and how they’ve helped them achieve their goals and objectives—I’m talking about giving your customers a chance to tell their own stories.

One of the best at this is I’m a huge fan of their blog overall but really like how they pull their customers in to share their own stories in their own words.

After a quick introduction from intercom, Kevin Rocci from Magoosh dives into how they’ve been able to use intercom’s Message Goals and A/B testing to successfully get more students to engage with their learning materials.  Powerful stuff.  Check it out.

Here’s another great example of a customer story from Fitbit.

Your products have a story

As a consumer and a marketer, I have to say this is one area where a lot of businesses really miss the mark. They talk about products without any personality or passion. They list features and specifications instead of linking their business story and their brand voice to their descriptions.

Just take a look at this example from ESP Guitars. Right out of the gate, you know guitars are their passion. That immediately helps to set the tone and elicit an emotional response.

brand storytelling for products, ecommerce product description example

You also they’ve got decades of experience and pride themselves on building some of the finest instruments on the planet—not just in their city, state, or country—the entire planet. That’s big. So much bigger than “We make guitars.”

You can find that same attention to detail around product descriptions for luxury sports cars like this one from Lamborghini.

Your employees have a story

If you can find a better way to tell your employee stories than this example from 4moms, I’d seriously like to see it.

They created a digital yearbook with photos and blurbs for every one of their employees. Are you kidding me? They also had some fun with it (see the photo spread for their legal team) which reflects their brand vibe and their corporate culture.

I also really like this employee spotlight from the folks at Schell Games.

What’s the secret to great brand storytelling?

It all starts with understanding the story of your business—why you exist and what makes you excited to spring out of bed in the morning—and permeates its way through all of your marketing messaging and consumer touch points.

It’s what creates an emotional connection with your audience and helps your business stand out from those 49 other brands on the shelf.

Who are your favorite brand storytellers?

Share your thoughts in the comments below including what you think makes them stand out.


[Image: Death to the Stock Photo]

Competing with Amazon for B2C Businesses


competing with for B2C businessesFree shipping. Deep discounts. Virtually unlimited product selection. Going toe to toe with the likes of around anything to do with price or delivery is next to impossible. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways your B2C ecommerce website can compete.

Packaging inserts are a great way to build brand awareness and generate revenue and something I’ve written extensively about in the past including this post on delivering exceptional customer service and this post on using product packaging to create amazing customer experiences. Here, we’re going to disect another really effective example from Tory Burch that will give you tangle ideas and tactics that will help you deliver something current and prospective customers will love—something they can’t get from Amazon.

Anytime you shop online, your order typically comes in a bag in a box. Am I right? Every once in a while, you might find some  inserts pushing other products or services but nothing that’s going to get you excited about your order—or make you more likely to keep coming back.

Instead of trying to compete on price or delivery, focus on customer experience. In this case--what happens from the second they get your package until they’re holding your product in their hands., a site for women’s designer apparel, definitely has packaging inserts figured out. When you open the cardboard box, the inside is branded with the Tory Burch logo. A nice touch. And a great way to reinforce brand awareness.

But what I love most about their packaging is the notecard embossed with their logo that starts by saying “Thank You.” Such a simple thing. But something I know I hardly ever see when I order anything online. The note goes on to say they “hope you found exactly what you were looking for” and “that you love it.”

ecommerce packaging insert example

Let that marinate for a second. They could’ve just thrown a catalog in the box pushing some of their other products. But they didn’t. Their messaging was about 1) saying thanks and 2) making sure you found what you were looking for and 3) that you love your purchase. They also took the time to attach the note with a really nice gold seal (also embossed) which, given their focus on women’s designer apparel, really fits their brand.

Even their packing slip, receipt, and return label was neatly tucked away in a white envelope with—you guessed it—an embossed logo.  

But even without the fancy gold seal or embossed card, you can still create an amazing customer experience—one your customers just won’t get from the likes of Whether a handwritten note or something you print off, including a nice, non-salesy message with each purchase will go a long way towards building customer loyalty.

What would you want to say or want your customers to know the second they opened your package?

Picture yourself having a face-to-face conversation. What could you say to get them even more excited?  

How can you reflect the unique personality and brand of your business with your packaging?

This could be anything from the packing materials you use, to how you wrap your product, to the tone of any messaging. Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it.

What other messaging might be helpful?

For example, who I’ve written about in the past, included a diagram of their workflow process from the second you place your order online until your order arrives. They’ve also used their packaging to highlight their sustainable printing practices. Both of which were really nice touches.

Competing with Amazon? Instead of focusing on price or delivery, start with creating an unforgettable customer experience.

Picture your target customers.

Identify a few unexpected touches you can incorporate with your packaging that will bring a smile to their face as soon as they crack open the box.

Something more than a clear plastic bag in a cardboard box.

[Image: Flickr user Public.Resource.Org]

How to Get the Most Out of Every Conference Presentation


how to get the most out of conference presentationsHave you ever been to a conference presentation that felt really flat? One where the speaker seemed a little nervous walking on stage and the audience was in a lull from sitting in sessions for hours on end or not having enough coffee? I know I’ve definitely experienced both as a presenter and as an attendee.

Getting the most out of every conference presentation typically means you need to find a way to inject a high level of energy into the crowd and, most importantly, the presenter.

And that’s where the “Big Omaha standing ovation” comes in. If you’re not familiar with concept, it was started by Dave Hasuer, co-founder of virtual business phone system, at the Big Omaha Conference in 2010—and continues to be a big part of the event each and every year.

Instead of holding your applause until the end of the session, with the Big Omaha standing ovation everyone is asked to give a standing ovation at the beginning of the session. I’m not talking about a conservative golf clap or a sporadic round of applause that sounds like the last 15 seconds of popcorn popping in the microwave, I’m talking about a standing ovation with people shouting, jumping, and clapping uncontrollably.

Talk about a great way to get people engaged and bring out the best from the speaker. Having watched a few presenters come out to the Big Omaha standing ovation, you can see the immediate reaction on their faces. Instead of being nervous, they’re smiling from ear to ear. Their posture is different. They’re more relaxed. And they’re more likely to deliver the best speech you’ve ever heard.

Check out this video below from the 25 - 45 second mark to see the reaction to the welcome from one of the speakers.

The crowd is also a heck of a lot more engaged. They’re up and moving around. They’re not sitting on their hands. They’re more likely to ask good questions. I don’t know about you, but if I’m spending 45 minutes or longer in a session, I’d much rather make the most of it instead of dozing off in the back row.   

If you are organizing a conference or plan on presenting anytime soon, give the “Big Omaha standing ovation” a try and let me know how it goes. I think you are going to find it brings out the best from the presenters, from the audience, and adds a lot of value to the entire conference.

Thanks to Kit from Fygment for the reminder about how awesome the Big Omaha standing ovation is. I can't wait until my next conference.

As a disclaimer, I use affiliate links for some of the products listed. They are all products I absolutely love and trust and would recommend regardless of whether they have an affiliate program.

[Image: Silicon Prairie News]

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