Author Archives: Clare

About Clare

Clare is a copywriter at The Simons Group. A true word nerd, she knows the opposite of antonym and another word for synonym. However, she knows the real fun is in crafting messaging that is creative, unique and on target.

Marketing tips for startups

startup marketingA friend approached me recently for advice on how to use his startup’s first marketing budget. He knew the amount wasn’t enough to contract an agency, but he and the other executives are all scientists – not marketers – so they didn’t know what to take on first.

Startups and other small companies often struggle with how to market themselves. A year’s worth of profits may not afford them logos, let alone websites or other substantial branding materials. And when it could be another year before they scrounge up the funds to execute the next step in their strategies, it’s essential to make sure that their first step has legs.

Startup marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all, however. Every company has different goals and different resources to leverage so that they can allocate their budgets appropriately. For most, a functional website is probably a safe bet, but connecting with the right people is more complicated than buying a domain name. To be the most effective, start with the basics.

3 marketing tips for startups

  1. Tap your network. Successful entrepreneurs know the value of creating and maintaining relationships. Even if you’re not an all-star networker, you can ask friends, family or former co-workers for advice or to connect you with someone who could help develop your marketing plan. Take inventory of the writers, designers, coders, developers or agency professionals you have access to and reach out to see if they’d be interested in sharing some advice or joining your project. For the cost of a cup of coffee, you might receive valuable insights that could help you meet your goals.
  2. Think critically about your internal bandwidth. Many companies, large and small, try to save money on marketing by assigning tasks internally. While we always support involving thought leaders – particularly for technical or otherwise complex content – those members of your company may already have too much on their plates to devote the necessary time to marketing. Employees at startups are often stretched thin, with little to no spare time, so asking someone to take on a marketing project could mean something else gets put on hold.
  3. Identify your audience. Startup marketing audiences vary widely, from customers to media, investors and potential partners. The key to making the most of a startup-sized marketing budget is to identify the most important audience for the company’s current needs. From there, you can determine the best methods of contact, what you want them to know about your company and – most importantly – why they should care.

Once you’ve identified the resources at your disposal and the primary audience for your efforts, you can move forward with developing an outbound or inbound marketing strategy and the in-budget tactics to support that strategy.

What did you do with your first marketing budget? Let us know in the comments.

Make your brand stand for something

social responsibility, find your causeWhat about your go-to brands makes them your favorites? Is it the quality of the products? Is it loyalty to something you’ve known for years? Or is it that the brand cares about what you care about?

Social responsibility is a huge part of marketing strategies today – consumers want to see that your company cares about what they do.

Issues like cancer, heart disease, gender equality, gender identity, environmentalism, poverty and starvation need continual attention so that the messages around awareness and support can stay relevant. Many companies use strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations to get involved with specific causes and bolster their brand identities. This mutually beneficial relationship is called “cause marketing,” and can increase engagement with employees and consumers, alike.

Before choosing a nonprofit organization to partner with or support, however, companies need to make sure their brands align with the selected nonprofits. Employees and consumers need to understand why a company values a specific cause easily. No one questions why brands like TOMS or Warby Parker donate shoes and glasses to people in need. Patagonia has made clear that environmentalism and sustainability are at the core of its brand, so it’s no surprise that the company supports cloth recycling.

If you’d like to develop your brand’s social responsibility strategy, start here.

Look to the industry. Start with what you know and look at what causes relate to your work. You might find that your company already has a relationship with a related cause. Candle makers may donate to fire safety groups. Construction groups may volunteer services to build homes for the needy. Every industry has at least one obvious way to give back.

Look to employees. Ask leadership and other employees what they’re passionate about. Find out what boards and organizations you already have team members involved in – many of your employees’ concerns probably overlap with the company’s core values.

Look to consumers. Consumers are always on top of hot-button issues. Get in touch with your target audience and find out what causes resonate with them. If you have a diverse client list, you could support several causes with different events or a rotating list of relevant organizations.

Regardless of where you find your inspiration for a social responsibility strategy, remember that authenticity and transparency are the most important. Consumers should be able to see what you care about, why you care about it and how it fits into your brand’s identity. Sincere efforts to support a cause that aligns with your brand can reinforce core values with good deeds.

Does your business practice social responsibility? Let us know in the comments.


Your guide to having style

style guide image

Is it “don’t” or “do not”; “can’t” or “cannot”? Can a subhead be a question? Is the hyphen necessary in “non-essential”? What’s the plural possessive of your company name? Is it even OK to modify the company name? These questions – and more – can pop into a writer’s head within minutes of working on your content.

The fastest way for writers to get the answers they need is to develop a thorough style guide. It ensures consistency throughout your materials – regardless of who writes or edits them – by providing quick and definite answers to common questions. Don’t have one yet? Follow these steps to create a style guide that will keep your copy consistent.

  1. Establish a baseline. Creating a style guide from scratch would burn through massive amounts of time and resources, so we suggest letting someone else do that work for you. Fortunately, you can pick from several existing guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, The Columbia Guide to Online Style, Microsoft Manual of Style, The Yahoo! Style Guide, or – our go-to – the Associated Press Stylebook. Certain style guides are better for specific content or formats, so do a little research to see which one matches your needs.
  2. Break the rules the right way. Once you have a good starting point, create a list of your company’s exceptions to the style guide and preferences that aren’t covered. Note all spellings, hyphens, contractions and punctuation that contradict your chosen style guide. For example, do you use “adapter” or “adaptor”? “Percent” or “%”? By listing only exceptions to an established style, you’ll be able to keep your company’s style guide concise and easy to reference.
  3. Define rules around trademarks. Company names and trademarks don’t always conform to standard grammar. List constructions of your company’s trademarks to use or avoid so that issues don’t creep into your copy. Be sure to cover how you want writers to handle possessives, plurals and modifiers. For example, if you were working with Best Buy, would you say “multiple Best Buys” or change it to “multiple Best Buy locations” to avoid the plural company name? How would you choose to handle the possessive in “Amazon’s Prime subscription service,” versus “Amazon Prime’s subscription service” or “Amazon Prime subscription service”?
  4. Run through different formats. Common projects, such as newsletters, quarterly reports, presentations, brochures and postcards, might require separate style sheets to let writers know any differences or preferences that apply only to those formats. If you want to make sure that every bullet point in your brochures starts with a verb, put it on the style sheet. Don’t want to see any questions in your newsletter headlines? Put it on the style sheet so that your writers know what you want to see.
  5. Use it! Accessibility is key for keeping a style guide in use and updated. Make sure your writers have access to your baseline style guide, whether in print or online, as well as whatever style sheets apply to their assignments. Writers will love having a quick reference guide, and you’ll love not having to make the same changes repeatedly in the review process.

Are you happy with your company’s style guide? Let us know in the comments below.

Top trends for fast-growing companies

market-1237889They might not be the biggest, but the companies on the Inc. 500 are the fastest-growing privately owned businesses in the country – and what they’re doing on social media matters.

According to “The 2015 Inc. 500 and Social Media,” conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, today’s fastest-growing companies value social media as an essential tool to build brand awareness and generate revenue. Here’s a peek at the latest trends:

  • LinkedIn reigns supreme, but likes and followers are growing. Companies continue an almost habitual use of LinkedIn, while Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are drawing engagement to gain likes and followers. Regardless of what accounts they hold, however, executives continue to rate Facebook the most effective social media platform for the third year.
  • Blogging decreases despite its unique potential. We saw it in 2015’s top social media trends, and for the second year running, blogging declined across the board. Fast-growing companies continue to “out-blog” the Fortune 500, however, noting its unique potential for improving thought leadership.
  • Tracking effectiveness extends to sales. Almost all executives who were interviewed considered social media an effective tool in building brand awareness and creating relationships with customers. Interestingly, 74 percent of executives identified their social media efforts as effective in generating leads and sales.
  • Executives are still uncertain about the investment. Forty-one percent of company executives are concerned with how to manage the amount of time their employees spend working on their social media. Similarly, 36 percent have concerns about the return on their social media investments.

As the fastest-growing companies in the country, the Inc. 500 are an inspiration to many privately owned U.S. businesses. Maybe even more than the big players, the smaller companies need to adapt constantly to keep pace with their own growth, so this report offers insight into the hungriest corporate social media accounts.

Do you have any unique social media tactics? Let us know in the comments below.

Engage your customers with a real voice

talking-guys-1428187Just like in consumer marketing, the voice of a B2B company is an essential component of that brand’s identity. It steers all company communication – in person, in print and online – and gives the brand consistency across multiple messaging platforms. Consistency isn’t the only goal, however. Your brand’s voice should resonate with your customers.

So, when your customers are other businesses, do you have to keep your messaging “corporate”?

Read more…

‘Click-bait’ headlines won’t help you in the long run

MockClick-baitWe’ve all been there. You’re scrolling down a page, and there it is: a cryptic headline that promises to reveal something shocking, life-saving or unbelievable … all you have to do is click.

Sadly, the content behind the link is usually as disappointing as the headline was mysterious.

As marketers, we know that measurable results are key to any strategy, so anything that drives clicks – and potential advertising revenue – is very tempting. But there is a big difference between a good headline and “click-bait.”

A good headline incites a click with accurate, relevant information that attracts readers to engaging content. “Click-bait,” however, refers to any sensationalized or mysterious headline that misleads or provides irrelevant content for the sake of driving traffic to a website. If you don’t have the content to support what your headline is selling, getting a lot of clicks won’t matter in the long run.

3 ways click-bait will kill your numbers

  1. High bounce rates. Exciting, click-worthy headlines are great for driving traffic, but if they’re misleading or the content doesn’t live up to visitors’ expectations, they’re not going to stick around. High bounce rates are a surefire way to get flagged by search engines as untrustworthy.
  2. Low engagement. Page-rank algorithms are increasingly favoring websites with more than just high time-on-site. Even if a click-bait headline is enough to get a visitor to read the content, the page needs links and shares to prove the quality of the content.
  3. Bad reputation. Sensational headlines are bound to get clicks at first, but every misleading link is a chance to make a bad impression. Eventually, potential visitors will just ignore anything they think will disappoint.

In the age when relevant content is king, marketers have to make sure that the right audience is visiting their sites and engaging with their content. If you feel like you’re in a rut, try refreshing your approach to content marketing or spicing up your messaging. Just don’t fall victim to headlines that overpromise and content that underdelivers.

Have you seen click-bait from any surprising sources? Let us know in the comments below.

Plant some evergreens in your marketing landscape

colorado-ski-slope-1379643Oktoberfest is over. Leaves have begun to fall. We’re preparing for the end of another year – and ramping up to our busiest season. As we deal with expiring budgets, rush projects and holiday travel schedules, creating content for regularly scheduled marketing pieces can get pushed to the back burner.

With a little bit of planning, however, blog posts, newsletters and website content can stay fresh even when other projects demand most of your attention. The solution: evergreen content.

Evergreen content stays relevant no matter when you publish – or when someone finds it on your site. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it could be the key to drawing more consistent traffic.

Read more…

3 keys to selling your big idea

light-bulb-1057035Last year, we discussed the importance of shaping your environment to foster innovative thinking. But what do you do once you’ve struck idea gold?

You can get exposure to peer leaders at local entrepreneurial tech hub 1871 and other “co-working spaces,” where small businesses and freelancers share office space to cut overhead costs and encourage collaboration. Annual competitions like RedEye’s Big Idea Awards and the Chicago Innovation Awards streamline the path to bigger and brighter things by offering mentorship and other support. Crowdsourcing sites can get the ball rolling on development. Or there’s always “Shark Tank.”

No matter which path you choose for your idea, at some point, you have to get someone else’s buy-in. You have to sell it.

Selling a big, bold innovative idea is all about good decision-making. Once you have a solid business plan to sell, start executing marketing moves. Here are three steps for selling your big idea:

  1. Highlight the benefits. Anyone who is going to invest time, money or energy into your idea wants to know exactly what it’s going to do for his primary interest. Financial investors want to know the hard numbers on the return on investment. Co-developers ready to build sweat equity need to get behind how the idea is going to improve the industry, the market or people’s lives. Get messaging in place so you’re always prepared to demonstrate the logical and emotional ways your idea will connect with everyone who touches it.
  2. Feel it out. Odds are that, if you’re the one who’s pitching, your personality is going to drive the idea’s brand. Focus on how you describe the primary benefits. Find people inside and outside of the industry so you can practice explaining your idea with different levels of technical understanding. If you’re comfortable and confident, it will be a lot easier for the idea’s value to show through.
  3. Get a “look.” If you’re starting from scratch on branding, keep it simple. Develop just a few leave-behinds that keep your idea top of mind for potential supporters. A unique logo or design can help, but don’t lose your core idea in materials that don’t match the overall presentation. Once you get to the point of formal presentations, simple consistency will keep your audience focused.

Do you have a plan for when creativity crosses into innovation? Let us know in the comments below.





‘Brief’ breaks help you stay on target

attachment-2-1240615Businesses today face constant pressure to keep up with the pace of their customers and competition, so it’s no surprise when a big project gets squeezed into a too-tight timeline. Even with compressed schedules and the temptation to find shortcuts, marketing teams have to be sure not to skip important project management steps like developing a solid creative brief.

Creative briefs explain, in detail, the project goals, client expectations and relevant brand standards so that all team members can check their ideas against it along the way. It removes ambiguity at the start of a project, so midstream issues can be resolved quickly and every decision has a clear purpose. Without this defined reference point, it can be difficult to critique how well creative work fulfills project needs – and how well the project fulfills brand objectives.

Worried that your creative might get off track? Check your brief to make sure it covers the essentials:

  • Where does the company/brand stand now and where should it be?
  • What is the competitive advantage of the product/service?
  • Who are you trying to reach? Through what media?
  • What voice/tone and messaging is consistent with the brand?
  • What information does the project have to include?

Every project will have its own way of fitting into the brand, but the easiest way to stay on target is to create a clear, comprehensive guide that team members can reference periodically as they work. Implementing these “brief breaks” will go a long way in ensuring every project stays on target.

What tips do you have to keep your creative on track? Let us know in the comments below.

All right, people: Let’s talk turkey

It’s the end of November already, which means that Chicagoans are nearly ready for hibernation. Before we settle into our assorted layers of winter weatherproofing, however, we’ll warm Thanksgiving, turkey, talk turkeyourselves with the gratitude, love and tradition that come with our annual turkey feast.

Thanksgiving is a time of reflection; a time for us to look at our lives and appreciate all that we have. It can be a challenge for many companies, including ours, to take a step back at this time of year. Rush projects need to be complete by year’s end. Holiday gatherings double as launch parties. Budgets threaten to expire and the days feel increasingly shorter.

That’s why we at The Simons Group make an effort to keep a balance of creativity, convention and chaos throughout the holiday season. In all this year-end craziness, striking that balance allows us to be grateful for our looming deadlines and long hours. It means we’ve spent another year doing what we love to do.

As always, we’d like to take this time to show our appreciation for our clients, co-workers, family and friends. All of you help to keep our projects successful, and we truly wouldn’t be the same without you.

Whatever your plans are for this Thanksgiving, we hope you have time to step back from the daily grind and acknowledge the good things in your work, home and community.

Our favorite way to show our appreciation during our busiest time of year is to work on projects that involve the whole office. From brainstorming to production, each one of us has a hand in the holiday cards we send out. So, while you’re waiting patiently for the feast to begin, watch this free full episode of “TSG: Holiday Files” to find out what our turkey is up to this year.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at The Simons Group!