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Move The Crowd


marketing engagement, move the crowd

I spend a lot of time doing competitor benchmarking for clients. And one of the first things that always jumps out is which companies are squarely focused on marketing.  

They understand their brand value

They’re able to clearly and concisely articulate why they exist and distill everything down into a few core themes that permeate all of the marketing messaging while also consistently reinforcing their brand value

Just the other day I was looking at marketing messaging for a company and was really impressed with how they were able to highlight their core themes throughout their website, videos, and all of their marketing content. If we asked people to describe that business based on their marketing materials, you better believe those same themes would come up time and time again.

They understand the importance of content marketing

It’s one thing to describe what you do—to talk about your products and services—but it’s another to actually get people excited about them. For that to happen, you’ve actually got to be excited about them.

Once you identify those core themes that are central to your business brand, you’ve got to look for opportunities to establish credibility, communicate value to prospective customers, and differentiate yourself from your competition. For example, you can “work with brands” or you can “partner with the world’s best brands.” Which one would grab your attention?

They align their marketing and business goals

What do you ultimately want people to do when they visit your website, read your brochure, or watch your video? I know it might sound obvious, but I’m always surprised at how many companies either don’t include a targeted call-to-action or bury it so far down on their website that it will never see the light of day.

If you want people to request a demo, make sure that’s the primary call-to-action on your website. That includes your top-level navigation and any relevant pages. Where it makes sense, incorporate any supporting materials you think would increase the likelihood that someone will take action including testimonials, awards, and screenshots (especially effective for SaaS companies).

They understand their competition

In most cases they have an intimate knowledge of who and what they’re up against. That way they’re able to quickly identify opportunities and gaps, and take action to stay ahead of the game.

If your marketing is going to get people to take action, you need to be able to understand your brand value, communicate that value through your content and messaging, align your marketing efforts to your business goals, and know your competition.

How will your marketing move the crowd?

[Image: Flickr user mike krzeszak]

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Want to Improve Customer Service? Understand the Customer Journey


how to improve customer service with customer journey mapping, map

39% of buyers continue to avoid mid-sized companies 2 or more years after a bad experience*. Let that one sink in for a while. 2 or more years. Does that make you want to rethink your customer service strategy?

The number of ways customers can engage with companies and brands almost seem infinite, doesn’t it? A visit to your website, a call to customer service, an interaction on social media, an email exchange, online chat support—each touchpoint along the way defines their customer journey and ultimately defines their customer experience.  

As company/customer interactions continue to get more complex as a result of emerging technologies, real-time access to product and pricing information, and increasing competition, understanding the customer journey will become paramount for all companies, regardless of size.

And it’s up to you whether that customer journey is an incredibly smooth and enjoyable experience that leaves them wanting to tell everyone they know how awesome your company is. OR one that leaves them incredibly frustrated—wanting to tell everyone they know they think your company is terrible.

Understanding Your Customers

It might sound simple enough, but to truly understand the customer journey you need to first understand your customers—who they are, what they care about, and how they engage with your brand. What are their expectations? What types of information are they looking for when they are considering making a purchase?

Whether you create full-fledged buyer personas or just spend some time objectively trying to define who you think your customers are, those insights will be incredibly helpful as you start to understand their customer journey.

Mapping the Customer Journey

Once you know who your customers are, then it’s time to start thinking about all the different ways they can possibly engage with your brand before, during, and after they make a purchase. Their journey begins the second they experience a touchpoint with your business (no matter how big or small) and continues throughout their entire customer lifecycle.

Here’s a quick video on how to get started on creating a customer journey map. I think you’ll find it really helpful.

At each and every point, you need to identify both the good experiences and the bad—looking for ways to make sure those good experiences continue to happen while also trying to eliminate any of those bad experiences.

That’s one of the reasons I’m hell bent on companies rethinking their use of automated call trees. Nothing says “We don’t care about our customers” like automated call trees. Stop and think about your own customer journey when you engage with other brands—do you get all warm and fuzzy when you navigate an automated call tree?

Knowing Where Your Customers Are On Their Journey

Just as important as understanding their overall journey is your ability to understand where they are on that journey at each point in time. Back to the phone tree example, if they are a prospective customer that could be a huge miss as it could be their first and only point of contact.

The key is personalizing each experience based on each unique journey. That means you need to differentiate first-time customers from returning or former customers. Power users from casual consumers.

That also means you need to engage members of your team from across your organization. Understanding the customer journey and creating a culture of customer service is going to require having the right strategy, content, technology, and operational and organizational structure in place.

*Zendesk survey of 1046 respondents on the impact of customer service on customer lifetime value

[Image: Flickr user David Bleasdale]


Ready to start mapping your customer journey?

Here are 4 questions about the customer journey every marketer needs to answer.

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Year in Review 2014


Year in review 2014, rearview mirror

How to reach more customers? When I think about the biggest challenge faced by small businesses this year, it was how to find a way to improve marketing performance so their products and services actually get noticed amongst all of the noise. 

There was continued talk about the decrease in organic reach for brands on social media. With a finite amount of space in news feeds, an infinite number of businesses trying to be seen, and social media platforms trying to make money by charging for sponsored and promoted content, it’s getting harder and harder for most businesses to get noticed by current and prospective customers than it was even 12 months ago.

And just when you thought there wasn’t room for another social media platform, early adopters were abuzz over a new social media platform called Ello. Dubbed the “Facebook killer” back in October, after only 2 months it seems like the initial excitement has started to wane. 

Given the saturation (and frustrations) of businesses vying for attention on social media, you started to see an increase in email marketing. However, as was the case with social media, once more and more businesses start to double down on email marketing, there’s a good chance consumers will start to tune out.

Creating an Integrated Marketing Strategy

In looking at the businesses we work with and follow, those that were most successful were able to find the right mix of online and offline marketing tactics.

Having an integrated marketing strategy allowed them to reach customers where they are while also avoiding an overreliance on trying to find the “next big thing” in online marketing.

Making Marketing a Priority

The businesses that were most successful also made marketing a priority. Not a “when I have time” thing but a core focus area for their entire organization—with a seat at the table along with accounting, operations, and IT.

With the start of the new year right around the corner, we wanted to take a look back at 2014 and celebrate the success of some of our current and former clients and the exciting things that happened this year.

Client Success

Pittsburgh-based startup Diamond Kinetics successfully launched their first product—SwingTracker—which helps baseball and softball players improve their performance using motion sensors , real-time analytics, and interactive data visualization accessible via a mobile app.

In the spirit of being a startup, they stayed incredibly busy throughout the year participating in pitch competitions including being 1 of 9 startups selected for the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, building out their website and mobile app, and finalizing designs for their product packaging.

diamond kinetics swingtracker, Pittsburgh startup

A Boston-based technology client that will announce a major deal in early 2015. The news comes on the heels of some incredibly strong momentum they were able to achieve throughout 2014 as a result of a website revamp (including carefully identifying and being able to articulate their unique value proposition), countless meetings with prospective corporate customers, and a lot of hustle from their team. I’m really excited to see what 2015 has in store for them.

First Insight, a predictive analytics company that helps retailers and manufacturers design and select the right new products at the right price, announced partnerships with Abercrombie & Fitch and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology as well as the launch of InsightPlanning—a predictive analytics platform that harnesses consumer insights to allow businesses to make more informed decisions on product production and inventory quantity.

PumpPeelz, an ecommerce business specializing in personalized insulin pump covers and diabetes accessories, was able to triple their sales over the previous year. The company worked hard to increase their online presence, continue to establish new relationships within their industry, and provide top-notch customer service to their customers. In addition to the spike in sales, it’s no surprise they also saw similar trends with their website traffic.

pump peelz, ecommerce

Resume Deli, a New York-based career coaching and resume writing service, was able to secure mentions by regional, national, and global news outlets including U.S. News & World Report and New York Daily News. Having successfully helped more than 4,000 satisfied clients, Resume Deli has some deep industry insights to share with job seekers ranging from executive to entry level. It’s been great to see their continued success on the public relations front.

Visibility is crucial for any brick and mortar storefront. Clay Yoga installed new eye-catching signage which is now much more visible to the hundreds of cars that pass by every day. The new signage, along with changes to their website and updates to their business listings in online directories including Yelp, will really go a long way in helping to increase their brand awareness.



Zenith Acupuncture was able to grow their client base over the past 12 months to a point where they will be able to add a second location which will go live in early 2015. Huge news and the result of lots of hard work.

Gretta’s Organic Tees continued to expand their growing list of retailers in Pittsburgh, Delaware, South Carolina, and Florida. You can find their awesome shirts locally at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Jules among others. Gretta, the creative force behind Gretta’s Organic Tees, hand-draws each of the designs for her line of organic toddler tees—a must have for any little one in your family. She’s also expanded into custom orders for organizations and businesses.

Marketing Consulting By The Numbers

Here’s a quick snapshot of our work with small- to mid-sized businesses this year.

  • 4285 miles traveled for 61 face-to-face meetings with local clients, business owners, and contacts; 87 cups of coffee consumed
  • 7. The number of workshops and presentations including a standing room only session on LinkedIn for Lead Generation at the Pennsylvania Business Technology Conference as well as Google for Entrepreneurs Week, Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture and Public Relations Society of America-Pittsburgh
  • 4. The number of Pittsburgh startups that participated in the second Marketing Sparks event hosted at AlphaLab Gear. It was great being invited back by the team at MARC USA and having a chance to join colleagues to share actionable marketing strategies and tactics with a talented group of start-up entrepreneurs
  • 11. The number of states including Pennsylvania where our clients were based in 2014. Although we’re based in Pittsburgh, PA and continue to work with an ever growing list of local businesses,  we continued to see strong growth from around the country including California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia 
  • For more numbers and client success stories, check out our marketing case studies

[Image: Flickr user Massimiliano Calamelli]

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Communicating Value To Your Customers


craftsmanship, communicating value to customers, luxury products

Why is your product or service worth X amount of dollars? How would that answer differ if you asked current or prospective customers?

There are an infinite number of choices out there. No matter how narrow your niche or specialized your offerings are, there’s a pretty good chance you are competing for the attention spans of your target audience along with countless other competitors. All the time. 

Why should they buy from you?

It all comes down to value and your ability to articulate that value to consumers. I’m not talking about deep discounts or everyday low pricing—in fact far from it. There’s a reason why people are willing to spend $100,000+ on an S-Class Mercedes when they can choose between hundreds of other less expensive cars or pay a premium to buy their groceries at Whole Foods.  

Value transcends price

Whether you spent 2 minutes, 2 hours, or 2 years bringing an idea to life, you can’t automatically assume that customers are going to appreciate the true value of what you have to offer.  That’s one of the things brands like Mercedes Benz, Apple, and Whole Foods really have figured out—they are able to align the things their customers value the most with the value of their offerings.

I’m talking about capturing the essence of what makes their products and service truly unique and communicating that essence consistently with their messaging, positioning, and their brands.

Value transcends products

Don’t get me wrong, you have to have a great product.  If not, it’s going to be very hard to convince customers to give up their hard earned cash to buy whatever it is you’re selling. And even if they do, there is a pretty good chance they’re going to be very price conscious since they won’t have ways to differentiate your products or services from other like businesses.

But beyond the product, it’s really about the customer experience—packaging, product design, features, and the ability to address their need better than all of the other options they might be considering.

Articulating value

Be objective. You’ve got to have a thorough understanding of how your products or services are different from those of your competitors. Is it your design? Your attention to detail? Quality standards? Customer service?

Get specific. Trying to communicate value by saying you offer a “quality” product probably won’t be enough. In most cases, that’s assumed. You have to take it further. Dig until you find those 2-3 core things that make your offerings unique.

Once you understand the value, think about how you can educate current and prospective customers with your messaging. What would you like them to know? What is going to be most important to them? Why should they get really excited about your latest product offering? How will it help them fulfill and make something better in their lives?

The higher the price for your products and services, the greater the need for alignment between the values of your customers and the value you’re bringing to the table.

Back to the Mercedes example, customers expect impeccable design, world-class performance, and incredible craftsmanship.

That’s what’s important to them. That’s what they value. And that’s what they’re paying for.

[Image: Flickr user col_adamson]

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Make Google Search Results For Your Business Stand Out


search engine marketing

Every business wants to be at the top of the search results page. That’s a given. But what will prospective customers find when your business listing actually shows up. Do you know? 

You don’t have to be an SEO expert to figure it out. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. All you need to do is Google the name of your business to find out. And if you’re like a lot of businesses, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be surprised.

There are foundational elements that are core to any good business website. Unfortunately, all too often website designers either don’t tell you about them or they don’t include them as part of the build. And good or bad, those foundational elements are what’s going to show up in the search results.

Start with your page titles (the text that appears in the tab of your web browser when you scroll over). They’re one of the many signals that search engines look for to determine what that particular page is about and whether or not a page is relevant to a particular search query.

Effective page titles can increase your click-throughs (which is ultimately just as important as where you show up in the results, if not more important) and help drive traffic to your site. Check out this video to learn more about page titles and why, in some cases, Google changes page titles in search results.

If you leave your page titles blank, you’re really at the mercy of your site design. For example, I was Googling a business today and the first thing that appeared was “Home Page Category.” That was followed by the name of the business listed twice which not only served no purpose, but was also a total waste of invaluable real estate in the search results.

Just take a look at Apple, for example. No “Home Page Category.” No duplicate company name. Just Apple. Just the way it should be.

organic search result example for a business, page title example

Next, check your meta description—just a fancy name for the short blurb of content that appears right under your link in the search results. Meta descriptions are really, really, really, really important. They’re what can convince someone to click on your link versus all of the other search engine results. You can be first on the list, but if your meta description isn’t good you’re not going to be there for long.

If you don’t create unique meta descriptions, search engines will pull text from your site they think best represent the content on that particular page. It’s definitely better than nothing, but in most cases content it’s going to be difficult for a search engine to pull 160ish characters worth of content from your website that captures the scope of your offerings and the essence of your brand.

At the very least, you should look at creating unique meta descriptions for your core pages. Then, use Google Webmaster Tools to track any changes in your click-through rate and adjust as necessary. Check out this helpful guide from Moz on meta descriptions and SEO best practices

Back to the Apple example, notice how they’re able to capture the essence of their business, their brand, and their products—all in under 150 characters. If they can do it given the complexity of their business, you can do it.

effective meta description example

You could spend years trying to figure out how and why Google generates the listings that appear in search results. You could spend thousands of dollars every month on an SEO firm that claims to have Google all figured out. But first things first.

Google your business and what information comes up. Focus on the foundational stuff—the page titles and the meta descriptions—just as much as what page your business appears in the search results.

Want to know how your business listing is doing in search results? Request a free search engine marketing check up.

[Image: Flickr User MoneyBlogNewz]

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Shawn Graham

Over 10+ years as a marketing consultant, Fast Company blogger, and university director, Shawn has worked, interviewed, and partnered with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and senior executives from innovative and highly successful businesses. Continue reading

"Within three months of working with Shawn our sales tripled."

Scott Imblum, PumpPeelz

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