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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.

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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]

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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]

digital marketing audit

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, 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.

[Image: Silicon Prairie News]

digital marketing audit

The Best Way to Grow Your Email List at Events


best way to grow your email list at events

Growing your email list. One of the most effective ways to create a direct link between prospective customers and your business.

But while it’s easy to fixate on collecting more email signups solely from your website, you definitely don’t want overlook opportunities at events such as trade shows, sales presentations, and industry conferences.

When I was promoting my first book, I thought it was enough to just give people a handout about—you guessed it—my book. But what is the likelihood that someone would take that handout with them and then refer back to it to visit my website and then find my email signup form and share their information? Needless to say, you can’t assume handouts will automatically help you grow your website traffic or your email list. Handout or not, once people leave your event the chances of you capturing their email can drop like a lead balloon.

Paper signups can be effective, but they’re time consuming for everybody involved. If you have a strong turnout at a trade show, there’s a chance people could end up waiting in line to sign up—and that might not be a good thing. And once you get those paper signups, that means somebody is going to have to enter all of that information in—and that typically eats up time you just don’t have.

And then there’s the fishbowl. Beyond having to buy an actual fishbowl and get it to the event without breaking it, similar to paper signups—you’re still left with entering or scanning all of those business cards into a database, email marketing solution such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or salesforce Marketing Cloud.

I think we can all agree that all of the above have their share of limitations.

Enter smartphones and text messaging. Most (if not all) of your current and prospective customers have them, use them, and can’t live without them. Instead of wasting time and missing opportunities to grow your email list by relying on handouts, paper signups, you can capture an email address from any phone in seconds.

Join By Text, an email sign up web app from Pittsburgh-based JA Interactive, has helped businesses and non-profits capture more than 50,000 emails via text messages in the first year of their rollout—eliminating the need for paper signups and saving organizations a substantial amount of time by completely automating the signup process.

If you’re already using an email marketing service such as MailChimp, Campaigner, or Hubspot to connect with your subscribers, that’s even better. Join By Text integrates with more than of the top 10 platforms which means you’re able to save even more time uploading your email signups.

Best of all, they have plans starting at as little as $19 per month—or what you would spend on 3 fishbowls.

As a consumer, I used Join By Text to signup for the Pittsburgh Tweetup email list and the process couldn't have been quicker or more seamless. Definitely something I'd recommend to businesses looking for a more effective and more efficient way to collect emails offline.

So, if you are looking for the best way to grow your email marketing list at events, be sure to check out Join By Text. You can also watch this quick video to see how it works...

Already a Join By Text customer or using a similar platform? Share your feedback in the comments below.

[Image: Death to the Stock Photo]

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"When we first started working with Shawn we had 20 clients and have since grown to over 50 clients worldwide."

Nick End, Shoefitr

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