Category Archives: Advertising Strategy

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.

Cure ‘Uberization’ anxiety with these 4 digital strategies

digital-dream-2-1456675The internet and mobile have turned the way we do business on its head. While digital transformation opens up exciting opportunities, it also strikes fear into the hearts of many business leaders, who worry that more digitally savvy competitors might come along and wipe them out.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise dubbed it “Uberization” anxiety syndrome, named after Uber’s gutting of the taxi industry. By developing a more efficient, customer-friendly model that relies on smartphones and cloud computing power, Uber has revolutionized the way we get around. Business and IT leaders across every vertical worry their industry could be next.

From a marketing perspective, digital transformation offers unprecedented insight into our customers and prospects. We can see how they interact with our emails, nurture leads with the click of a button, and track how many times they mention our brand (or a competitor’s) on Twitter. With the proliferation of marketing channels and products, though, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to find and execute the right mix.

That’s why many small and mid-size businesses are still struggling to adopt a digital strategy. According to a recent report by LeadPages and Infusionsoft, nearly one in five businesses don’t use any form of digital marketing, and nearly half don’t know if they’re marketing effectively – while another 14 percent know they aren’t.

Do you worry that your competitors are swaying prospects with sophisticated email campaigns while you’re still sending faxes? Here are a few steps for developing a solid digital marketing strategy.

  • Start with processes, not tools. All the technology in the world won’t help you without a solid process in place. What types of customers are you targeting? How will sales handle the leads once they come in? Develop your funnel, then use digital tools to accelerate it.
  • Don’t get sucked into what others are doing. So many factors go into choosing the right software, including your average sales cycle, customer demographics and the size of your sales team. If it takes a year for a lead to turn into a prospect, you probably don’t need a marketing automation platform to keep in touch with them twice a week.
  • Think like a customer. Many businesses get overwhelmed by maintaining an online presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and countless other platforms. To prospects, it’s all part of a single wrapper: their smartphone. They don’t need a different message on every channel; repurpose content to get more mileage out of your efforts.
  • Measure and adapt. The beauty of digital marketing is the built-in data and insight. Are people constantly bouncing off of one of your landing pages? Try reworking the call to action or page layout.

Which digital marketing tactics does your company use? Let us know in the comments below.


How to get the best work from your agency


Getting the best work from your agency and promotional efforts requires trust and time. Both sides need to communicate needs and goals and understand the give and take that is required to make a business partnership thrive. It’s a bit of a tightrope act — much like Nik Wallenda’s this past weekend — but successful public relations campaigns depend on it.

Here are some tips to help you get great work from your agency consistently:

  1. Discuss expectations openly and honestly. There are rarely any guarantees in public relations, because agencies rely heavily on the editorial decisions of journalists, editors and their staffs. Earned media coverage is a continuous process, where sometimes you win coverage and other times, you learn lessons for the next round of execution. Let your agency know what your goals are and what you would consider to be a successful outcome for each project. At that point, have an open conversation about whether or not it can be done in the allotted time and if you could measure success in a different way.
  1. Set realistic goals. Whether you’re planning an event or pitching a story, it’s important to remember that other news may push your story to the back burner. Was there a big election in town? Did the weather affect a large festival? Things that are outside your control may take the spotlight. When this happens, keep your eye on the big picture. Some campaigns will do better than others, but your long-term promotional efforts will pay off.
  1. Stay in the know. You may not have worked with an agency before and don’t know what happens behind the scenes. Go over the plan step by step to better understand when to expect calls from editors and understand how long the pitching process can take. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A great way to stay informed is to ask for weekly progress reports. Ask your agency for a detailed accounting of their activities and responses from journalists and editors. The more you communicate your brand to prospects and clients, the better your chances of success. With so many moving parts, it’s important to stay informed so that you can learn from past experiences and prepare for future successes.

How do you define a successful PR campaign? Let us know in the comments below.

Storytelling: It’s not just for kids!

cute kid

Storytelling and public relations go hand-in-hand. It’s a huge part of what we do. How do you tell your story in a compelling way? It’s difficult to explain what makes a story “sellable,” but there are many ways to tell a great story. Whether you’re pitching to the media or selling your marketing director on a new campaign idea, you must present your case in a way that resonates with your audience.

Using suspense is one way to intrigue your audience. Don’t give away all the answers right away. Build your case and leave some key points for the end of your pitch. Wrap up your presentation with a strong closing argument and your audience will be happy to hear the answers.

Another strategy is to use emotion to convince your audience. Have you seen the commercials that feature pets that look after us and make our lives better? Do they stick with you? If so, it might be because they tug at your heartstrings, and for a moment, you slow down and connect, whether with a memory or with the characters involved.

Those feelings and situations connect us because so many of us can relate to those stories. We want to stick around until the end in hopes of a happy ending. Don’t be afraid to connect with your audience by adding emotional elements to your pitch.

What do you think is the key to telling a great story? Share your tips in the comments below.

The value of a great illustration

Illustration is one of the most effective tools for enhancing designs, but marketers and clients often overlook it. They’re missing a great opportunity. When used effectively, illustration is one of the best ways to give your marketing materials a unique personality and make them stand out from the crowd.

Consider this Tiffany & Co. campaign. Illustrator Minna May adds so much charm and life to the company’s marketing materials. In turn, the entire campaign has a solid identity.


The Pollenize website also demonstrates a great way of using illustration. Instead of using predictable photographs of the candidate, the designer chose stylized illustrations of trains, planes, buses and other vehicles to infuse the site with personality.

A few other notable campaigns that use illustrations effectively include:







The next time you’re starting a marketing campaign, consider using an eye-catching illustration to grab your audience’s attention.

What do you like about illustrations? Have you used them in your marketing? Let us know in the comments below.

Adventures in the wild, wild West (Side)

young scared woman in bed

Have you taken a risk and were surprised by the outcome?

Not anything crazy, but definitely an outside-your-wheelhouse moment?

It takes a lot of nerve to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. Who knows what could happen? It feels scary, but even if something goes haywire, you will still wake up tomorrow. The sun will still rise and the Earth will continue to spin.

But you’re afraid.

You’re afraid of the unknown, so you imagine a million what-if scenarios that may never come to pass. You’re afraid of failure and that relentless voice inside that says, “I told you so.” You’re afraid of giving up the devil you know for the one you don’t.

And staying in your safe zone has its benefits. You get a predictable (often boring) outcome. You’re reasonably safe from failure. You don’t have to deal with naysayers. So you hunker down and tell yourself you’re doing the right thing.

Not so fast.

It turns out that smart risks can be richly rewarding. You never know what you’ll discover along the way.

When people find out I bike to work through the city’s Big Bad West Side, they look at me like I have three feet sticking out of my head. Although my route is the road less traveled, drivers who bypass the city’s West Side every day are missing an eye-opening experience.

Take “K-Town,” for example. The 16-block area of North Lawndale is known for its streets that start with “K,” and it gets a bad rap for crime. But the flip side is that part of K-Town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district features hidden treasures, including stunning commercial and residential architecture.

If flying buttresses, towering greystones and gleaming gargoyles aren’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer exquisite flowers, rare tropical plants and awe-inspiring trees. You’ll find this eye candy at the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the United States. It’s open year-round, and while admission is free, you won’t leave without putting something in the till.

Chicago Blackhawks fans probably know about Johnny’s IceHouse West, because it’s the team’s state-of-the-art practice venue. Adult and children’s leagues play there, too. The rink also offers ice skating lessons. I used to think the rink was a beer distributor, thanks to Icehouse from Miller Brewing Co. Tommy Hawk on the side of the building should have been a dead giveaway, but I didn’t notice that on my early commutes to work.

Two weeks ago, the kindness of strangers in the Not So Great part of town totally saved my rump. Leaving work, I faced such a nasty headwind, I felt like one of those cartoon characters running in place. It was mind-blowingly exhausting. Halfway home, I gave up and jumped on a bus.

The only problem was I couldn’t figure out how to work the contraption you’re supposed to place your bike into on the front of the bus. The impatient driver was yelling and pointing, but I couldn’t hear a word he said or understand his confusing hand signals. Maybe it had something to do with the wind roaring in my ears or the honking, cursing motorists stuck behind the diesel-belching beast.

A man waiting for another bus saw me struggling and took pity on me. He lifted my bike up onto the front rack, secured the measly looking tire-holder and sent me on my way. I thanked him profusely, but it felt inadequate. I’m not sure what I would have done had he not been there. The same thing happened when I got off the bus. I tried to wrestle my 50-pound steel Schwinn free without success. Yet another stranger came up and helped me.

See, there’s more to the West Side than you thought, so why not try it? Isn’t it better to go through life enjoying the ride rather than having a so-so experience and regretting what you didn’t do?

It’s not easy to conquer your fears. But envision what could happen if you let go and bust out of your rut every now and then. You might experience life. You might realize your dreams. You might even have fun along the way.

Now, if I could only overcome the terror of singing on open-mic night …

Have you taken a smart risk and done something that scared you? What convinced you to take the plunge? Were you successful? Share your story in the comments below.


Use humor sparingly in your marketing or the joke will be on you

SONY DSCHumor can help your marketing stand out from the crowd and show your company has a personality – if you do it right. Consider these tips before putting your brand on the line:

  1. Tailor messaging to a specific audience. What’s funny to one group of people might not be funny to another. Rather than using a scattershot approach, narrow your market and focus. For example, if you want to reach lawyers, use “insider” humor that would appeal to them. Here’s an example of a humorous, targeted ad.
  2. Show some personality, but not too much. The humor should be a good fit for the products and services you’re promoting.
  3. Keep it relevant. Don’t make your audience struggle to figure out what you’re promoting. Use humor to reinforce your message and brand, but don’t make them laugh so hard they forget who you are.
  4. Hire a pro. You might have a natural funny bone, but it’s still a good idea to rely on a professional when launching a humorous campaign. A pro will know what works best for your demographic and won’t offend or annoy your potential customers. If you can’t afford one, get a second opinion from someone outside your company in your target market.

The point of using humor in marketing is to be remembered. If you bring a smile to your customers’ faces, you’ll get even more mileage from your efforts. Use cute, tasteful, and lasting humor to engage your customers and they’ll keep coming back for more.

How have you used humor in your marketing? Let us in the comments below.

Create a killer ad campaign and make your business irresistible with this 7-step formula

In any business, ads are important for brand awareness, engagement and survival. Even with a small adverting budget, you can maximize your customer reach by reinforcing your message. The key is to repeat the overall theme or tag line throughout your marketing program.

The more you repeat your advertising message, the stronger it becomes – and the more likely your customers will remember you when they’re in the market for your products and services. You can’t expect customers to flock to your business after placing one advertisement.


Follow this easy, seven-step formula for a successful ad campaign:

  1. Make it memorable. Creating a memorable ad that stands the test of time means developing an epic theme and tag line that showcase your company’s personality. Remember Nike’s “just do it” campaign?
  2. Write a benefit-driven headline. If you can address a common problem and tell people how your products and services solve that problem – meaning how they’ll benefit – you’ll be miles ahead of your competitors.
  3. Include a striking photo. The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, especially when it comes to advertising.
  4. Get to the point. Less is more with advertising. Don’t crowd your ad with a ton of copy. For a print ad, be sure to include your company’s contact information. For an online ad, include a link to your website.
  5. Create a sense of urgency. If you’re promoting a product or service for a limited time, include the deadline. Action words, such as “get it now” and “don’t wait” are also effective, particularly if your offer is open-ended.
  6. Include a strong call to action. What does the reader do next? How do they contact you? What are they supposed to do if they’re interested?
  7. Make your logo prominent. If your audience gets only one thing from the ad, you want them to remember who you are.

Now that you have the ingredients for creating phenomenal ads, develop a placement schedule and stick to it.

What’s your process for delivering a killer ad campaign? Let us know in the comments below.

Create a following with copy that sticks

Letter pressTraditional advertising still does volumes in boosting brand awareness, but the influx of flashing lights, bold fonts and “Click here!” buttons leaves us all feeling bombarded by messaging that screams “Buy me! Buy me!”

We adapt to it like we do to any constant frequency, and accept it as ambient noise.

The remedy: content marketing. Content marketing, by definition, attracts, acquires and engages a clearly defined and understood target audience through generation of relevant and valuable content.

So, what does that have to do with writing?

Copywriting is the delivery system for all content marketing. It’s the SEO keywords that improve your search engine rankings. It’s your latest tweet or status update. It’s your quarterly newsletter. It’s every message that your company deliberately puts out into the world.

Generating the right audience-specific messaging is critical to the success of your content and showcases your company’s knowledge and accessibility.

Having a reliable, trained writer on your side will help your company stand out as a thought leader and a friendly information authority. How? Copywriters know how to connect with your audience.

Here are some pro tips you can use today:

Engage with content: Your audience is tired of hearing about you; start listening to their stories and use that as inspiration for content. Use a mix of traditional and topical information to show that your company is both knowledgeable and up-to-date on new trends.

Hook with headlines: In content marketing, the headline is your first call to action. Entice readers with headlines that quickly explain the content and get readers to follow your link. Good headlines will get your audience to check out all your forms of content – written, audio and visual.

Inform with body copy: Body copy could be a white paper, infographic notes or a video script. While it may seem contradictory, the purpose of this copy is not to directly sell your company’s products or services. Instead, prove to your audience that you not only care about their interests, but also that your company is an approachable authority on those subjects.

Build relationships with calls to action: Content marketing calls to action aren’t your standard “Buy now!” buttons, but they’re still critical to your success. Get your audience to take the next step in your relationship. Ask for their feedback. Link to related content so they can dive into your site. Use your analytics, your social media and your creativity to make your audience feel involved and heard.

Do you have writing tips for generating or promoting compelling content? Let us know in the comments below.

Ad analytics: What you need to know

question-markMany online publications have ad space for sale. If you do it right, advertising in a popular publication can be a great opportunity to increase your business.

Before buying ad space, be sure to ask the publication the following questions:

  1. How many subscribers do you have?
  2. On average, how many people open the email?
  3. How did ads in that position perform in the past?
  4. If people click on my ad, will you provide their email addresses and/or other contact information?

Use this information to decide if the publication is right for you. For example, if you find out the pub in question has only 32 subscribers, you may want to look elsewhere.

After you purchase a spot and run an ad, it’s important to know if your ad is working effectively. To do this, the publication should provide you with accurate, reliable analytics. Be sure that you receive the following:

  1. How many people opened the email?
  2. How many people viewed your ad?
  3. How many total clicks did the ad receive?
  4. How many unique clicks did the ad receive?

These are the numbers you really need to gauge how the ad is doing. For example, if you are receiving a high amount of views, but a low number of clicks, you may want to realign your strategy.

It’s also helpful if the publication reports the best-performing ad, as well as how many clicks that ad received, so that you can gauge how your ad is performing compared to others.

Have you advertised in online publications? If so, what was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.