Getting Started with Holiday Marketing (in July)

Now that we’ve got you thinking and have told you should be thinking about holiday marketing in July, here are eight steps to get a jump on the competition (and maybe even have time left over for a summer vacation).

  1. Decide what products or services you’ll promote. The holidays aren’t just for retailers: service businesses such as salons, spas, cleaning services and catering businesses, as well as restaurants and bars, are also among the businesses that see more sales at holiday time. While you may not be able to pinpoint exactly which products or services will be hot sellers at your toy store this year, you can get a general idea of what you’d like to promote.  Remember – times are still tough for many folks in West Virginia. Even automotive service industry businesses may see profit in offering service gift certificates. Many people “gift” others with much-needed gifts, above and beyond the typical shirts and toys.
  2. Assess last year’s marketing campaign/s. What worked and what didn’t with last year’s holiday marketing efforts? Hopefully, you always track the results of your marketing using codes, website analytics or other tools to see which types of advertising are most effective. If you spent a chunk of change on a campaign that didn’t deliver big profits, scrap that approach this year and put more money into the types of ads that got results.  There are many ways to assess the success of your promotions, even if you didn’t track your marketing campaigns last year.
  3. Do market research. Consumer purchasing habits are changing rapidly, so don’t assume what worked last year will get the exact same results in 2017. Look at industry data and industry publications, market statistics and other information about your target customers’ purchasing habits. For example, retailers should check out the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Headquarters, where you can dig into projections for the coming holiday season as well as historical data about past years.  Also, use a focus group to find out what the hot items in demand this year are going to be.  Just like Spring’s fidget spinner craze – you don’t want to be blindsided by not having enough inventory.  Similarly, now that this craze has seemingly died down, you don’t want to overstock for something no one is looking for.
  4. Create a marketing plan. Sketch out your holiday marketing goals, areas of emphasis and a rough budget, both overall and for specific types of marketing, such as print, radio, and online.  Remember: marketing is more than just advertising – it’s finding the right product, setting the right price, positioning it correctly with the promotion that it needs to sell.
  5. Develop a marketing calendar. Timing is of the essence when it comes to holiday marketing. For example, last year Hanukkah started on Christmas Eve, which meant retailers had more time than usual to sell Hanukkah gifts. (This year it starts in mid-December.) Decide when you want your ads to appear or your publicity to hit. Then work backward to see when you need to start to achieve that deadline. For example, if you want to run a print ad in the December issue of a magazine your target market devours, find out when the deadline will hit. If you’ll be doing a direct-mail campaign, check out key dates and how far in advance you’ll need to get your mailers to the post office.
  6. Create your marketing materials. Get as much of your marketing and advertising materials as possible ready ahead of time. If you need to hire graphic designers, copywriters or other specialists, for instance, start looking now. You can also start planning holiday public relations, reaching out to media at publications or broadcast stations, and even plotting out some of your social media content for the holidays. Be prepared and you’ll be less frazzled during the busy holiday season.  By planning early, you also are ensuring you’re not risking any lost production time if your printer runs into a mechanical issue, or if winter weather hits early and causes some serious transportation delays.
  7. Take action. Don’t create a marketing plan and calendar and then stick them in a drawer. Assign responsibility for each action step and set deadlines for a certain number of items per week. By making slow and steady progress you’ll be sitting pretty come fall.
  8. Hire InSilico Media Group.

Now is the time to focus on your Holiday marketing

Put down the leftover hot dogs, sparklers, and souvenir American flags.

Yes, summer seems as if it has barely started—but if you’re a small business owner whose profitability depends on the holiday shopping season, it’s time to start planning your marketing strategy now.

We know – people are going to think we’re crazy. However, we’ve got three great reasons why you need to think about your holiday marketing – even if you’re still at the beach.

  1. Everyone else is doing it. Many retailers now launch holiday marketing campaigns in October (before Halloween!).
  2. Americans shop all the time. Remember when your aunt who started shopping for Christmas on December 26 was considered a kook? Now, she’s just average: Forbes recently reported as many as 40 percent of Americans start their holiday shopping well before Halloween.
  3. You might miss the boat. Even if your customers aren’t early bird shoppers, deadlines for advertising (especially print campaigns, direct mail or getting listed in holiday gift guides) will sneak up sooner than you think. Do you want to miss out on a great opportunity to advertise in the December issue of a magazine because you couldn’t get your act together in time?

If you’re still not convinced, look at all of the big box stores that use “Christmas in July” to boost sales while everyone else is struggling to make business grow during the “summer slump” (a term we not-so-lovingly throw around in our office).

Even Amazon just launched their “Black Friday in July” specials.

Now is not only the time to plan your marketing (product, price, promotion) for the holiday season, but also may be a great time for some quick blowout specials to boost your business revenue while everyone’s struggling through vacations, summer camps, summer breaks, and more.

Find an Agency That Leads By Example

Marketing is a fast-paced and perpetually evolving discipline. If an agency is vying for your business, it is an absolute must that they are current on today’s best practices and methodologies, that they practice what they preach, and that they have the processes in place to support those exercises. InSilico Media Group practices what we preach when it comes to marketing and website design.  We treat ourselves as a client.  What we suggest for clients, we’re already doing for ourselves.

So we’ve created this blog to help you with ideas to find an agency that works for you – and can lead by example.

Be sure that any contenders have a mobile responsive site that is optimized for SEO alongside strong presences on social media. Establish if the agency uses any marketing automation platforms for their own efforts. Research their content to determine the frequency of posts and if they are educational, compelling, entertaining, and if it speaks to their persona well. Ask to see some examples of reports that you would be presented with at various intervals of a campaign. If you are presented with a handful of vanity metrics that do not display a clear ROI, opt out immediately.

When you are vetting out agencies, be mindful of which ones did not respond to your inquiry, which got back to you with a pre-made template, which got back to you too late, and those that responded quickly with a customized answer catered to your original message.

During the selection process, be aware of which agencies are remaining steadfast in their communications and displaying a genuine interest in your company. You want an agency that will be dedicated to your brand; one that will answer questions, receive calls, reply to emails, and quell any concerns. Partnering with agency is a long-term affair that needs to be beneficial and comfortable for all parties involved.

Great communication is the foundation to any relationship. When selecting an agency to build a business relationship with, there needs to be expedient and constant contact to ensure that a campaign runs smoothly.

The marketing firm your company elects should be on-point with the standards of today and looking toward tomorrow’s cutting edge of innovation.

A marketing partnership is not a short-term relationship. Therefore, you don’t just want to partner with an agency that you like and does great work, but also an agency you can rely on to take your calls, answer your questions, and address your concerns. You can evaluate their level of commitment by paying close attention to the effort the agency puts in during the sales process. Are they quick to respond to inquiries? Do they follow up with you?

Finding the right marketing agency can be a lengthy process, but remember: settling for less is not an option. Your brand is the key to your business’ success and what distinguishes you from competitors, which is why you need a marketing agency that understands where you’re coming from. Finding the right agency might just be the most important business decision you make.

 

Finding the Right Fit For You

Marketing agencies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; each has its own unique philosophy, approach, personality, style and strengths. And each of these factors should be taken into account when making your final selection decision.

Over the last several years, the marketing industry has seen a blurring of the lines between ad agencies, branding agencies, strategic agencies, digital agencies and even PR firms — and most now proclaim to be “full-service”. Combined with the shrinking of geographic barriers made possible by the digital age, firms searching for a marketing agency partner can be faced with a seemingly endless list of options.  Many local options have utilized the digital age to find out-of-area clients, resulting in unrealistic prices for the local small businesses

So what should small businesses look for in a marketing agency?

Obviously, reputation, experience and portfolio are all important things to consider in the selection equation. However, having been on both sides of the fence – both as a client looking for a marketing firm, as well as a marketing firm employee working with businesses, our team has been able to create a list of “ideals” to help you make the right decision.

Here are a few thoughts on what makes a good fit:

1. Values that align with yours

Each agency has a unique set of values that drives its approach and impacts the work it delivers. Much like purchasing a car, everyone comes to the process with a different idea of what they’re looking for in terms of function, quality and price. So it’s absolutely critical for you to identify what you’re looking for and make sure you select an agency that has the same approach.

Are you looking for an order-taker or someone to proactively bring you new ideas and guide your marketing? Do you value high-end strategy, research and design or are you more concerned with budget and quick turnaround?

Ultimately, what you value most should be matched by the agency’s philosophy.

2. Core competencies that match your primary needs

Although most agencies consider themselves to be full service, each has a “sweet spot,” or a set of core competencies where they excel. To avoid disappointments with the outcome, it’s important to identify your primary marketing need and make sure you select an agency that can truly boast of expertise in that area. So it’s in everyone’s long-term best interest for agencies to be forthcoming with identifying what’s in their wheelhouse and what’s not.

In other words, what you need the most should be one of the things they do the most.

3. A common language

Industry expertise matters a lot, especially in business-to-business marketing and in highly technical and complex industries such as professional services and manufacturing.

After all, marketing strategy and tactics are not one-size-fits-all — each industry is different and requires a unique marketing approach. An agency with little-to-no experience in your industry can mean either a steep learning curve to be overcome or strategic marketing and creative decisions that don’t mesh with your audience or sales cycle.

The right agency will “get” what you do, whom you compete against and what matters most to your clients and prospects.

4. Chemistry matters

When you hire a marketing agency, you’re ultimately hiring the people that work at that agency. And you’re going to be interacting with these people regularly, spending a fair amount of time with them and working closely with them on various initiatives. Does their style mesh well with yours? Are the various personalities going to be conducive to a healthy working relationship with your team or an obstacle? Do they seem to like working with each other or do you sense interpersonal issues that could be problematic?

As with all relationships, chemistry matters. Part of determining a good fit comes down to selecting an agency that can operate as an extension of your team and roll up their sleeves and work with you, not just for you.

5. Who do you want to work with?

After identifying competent agencies that can do the work, all these other factors contribute to identifying the agency that fits best with your needs — today and well into the future. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a simple question: Who do you want to work with? Who do you want at the table helping your firm with your marketing initiatives?

It comes down to fit

Selecting a marketing agency partner is an important decision. Beyond capabilities and experience, it comes down to fit. Carefully considering the fit will greatly affect the long-term success and health of your client-agency relationship.

What to ask when hiring a marketing agency

Our team continually comes up to bat against other local agencies.  Though often seen as the “underdog” because we’re small, we often win these bids because we’re fierce and we have our digital ducks in a row.

Too often, while we’re going through the initial intake questions with clients, we often find that we’re asking questions they never thought to ask another agency.  Sometimes, this delays our proposal response time because these businesses need to go back and ask questions to the other agencies, because they’re unsure how to compared brands after we’ve raised some very valid points.

Here’s a list of what we think you should ask, so you get the best comparison, in the most time-effective way:

1. WHO ARE SOME OF THEIR PREVIOUS CLIENTS?

If you’re checking out some of the agency’s work and notice that all of their clients have been B2B manufacturing companies and you are a trampoline park, you might want to take notice. Not to say that agencies can’t be extremely versatile, but it’s nice to see proven results from previous clients within your industry, or at least within an industry reaching a B2C environment. At the same time, watch out for agencies that work exclusively in one industry – they may have conflicts of interest with your competitors.

If they don’t have recent work in your industry, find out how they will gain the knowledge they need about your company’s industry, revenue, and sales goals.

 

2. WILL THE AGENCY WORK WITH ME TO SET AND ACHIEVE COMPANY GOALS?

Every deliverable and action item should relate back to your company’s overall goals. Ask them how they tie marketing activities to site traffic, lead generation, and revenue.  Establish your goals with the agency and fully discuss how you both will achieve these goals as a team.  If you have an existing sales team, set boundaries early.

 

3. HOW WILL THE AGENCY MEASURE THE SUCCESS AND ROI OF THE MARKETING SPEND?

If you view marketing as a giant black hole where your company dumps thousands of dollars every year, this question is especially obvious. It can take months to test what works and then amplify these results, but the agency needs to be able to demonstrate the ROI from marketing campaigns and ad spend.

 

4. WHAT THINGS DID YOU LIKE ABOUT THE LAST FIRM YOU WORKED WITH, AND WHAT DID YOU HATE?

If this isn’t your first time at the RFP party, review why you’re looking for a new agency. Record the positives and negatives about the experience, and be honest about what kind of results you want with this new agency.

5. IS THIS AGENCY A ONE STOP SHOP FOR ALL OF YOUR MARKETING AND WEB DESIGN NEEDS, OR DOES IT SPECIALIZE IN PPC ADS?

The different services an agency provides is one of the most important factors to consider. Every agency is better at some things than others, so you’ll want to have a good idea of what your company needs to ensure that it’s the right fit.

A few capabilities that are important to consider include:

  • Web Design
  • Web Development
  • Website Hosting
  • Branding & Logo Design
  • Digital & Inbound Marketing
  • Video
  • Copywriting
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social Media Strategy
  • PR

It can be a huge advantage to work with an agency that can scale with you. As your marketing budget grows and you strive to compete in a digital world, can you add a video to your website without needing to hire another firm? Or explode your social media strategy without having to hire someone internally?

Another benefit of agencies who are all-encompassing is that the branding, web design, video, and digital marketing will all flow together cohesively.

Make sure the agency’s different offerings and capabilities match your company’s short and long-term goals.

 

6. HOW MUCH OF THE WORK WILL BE OUTSOURCED?

A marketing firm might offer web design, but will these designs be outsourced, or is there a design team and marketing team on staff? It’s okay to outsource some things, but if you’re revamping your company’s website or doing a complete rebranding, it’s much more comforting to know that there are experienced designers or web developers on staff.

7. WHO WILL YOU BE WORKING WITH ON A REGULAR BASIS?

You probably know from different work experiences that the people you work with have a huge impact on your day-to-day happiness and success. When you hire a marketing agency, you’re essentially gaining new teammates. For marketing to yield any concrete results, the typical minimum retainer is from 8 to 12 months. Make sure these new co-workers are good people who you look forward to collaborating and communicating with over the next year or longer!

Start off by checking out the agency’s website – How approachable do they look? When you go in for a visit, ask if you can meet some of the team members who would be working on your project.

 

8. DOES THE TEAM FIT WITH MY COMPANY’S PERSONALITY?

You want to work with a company that has similar values to your own. Are they fun and friendly or cold and analytical? Maybe a bit of both is a great alignment to your own company culture.

9. WHAT PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLS DO THEY USE?

Now that you know what type of work they do and who’s doing the work, it’s time to take a look at the how. Not all tools and software are created equally.

For example, at InSilico, we use Zoho and Asana, as well as Basecamp, for project management and file sharing. It streamlines the communication process between the team and clients – which is important because you want your agency to be using your budget for actual marketing work and not 50% project management.

 

10. WHICH MARKETING SOFTWARE DO THEY SPECIALIZE IN?

If you already use marketing automation software and aren’t interested in switching, find out if the agency has experience with that particular platform.

HubSpot is an increasingly popular inbound marketing software. It ranks its 2,050+ partner agencies based on different tiers. An agency that has certified HubSpot marketers will clearly rise above those that do not.  However, if you can’t afford HubSpot, agencies like InSilico, that have marketing team members certified in other software tools can be equally as helpful.

11. HOW FREQUENTLY WILL WE MEET?

The tools and software used will play a big role in how they manage your account and report on progress. That being said, some clients like to meet once a week, others like a formal meeting just once a month. Be honest with yourself – Will you need someone to be on call if you have questions each day? Or do you feel comfortable handing over the implementation of the strategy to the agency’s team, and just want to check in with a bi-weekly call?

Communicate your expectations from the start so that the agency can assemble a team and schedule that meets your needs.

 

12. WHAT IS THE FORMAT FOR THESE MEETINGS?

If you are close enough to have in-person meetings occasionally, this is definitely a plus. Otherwise, can you hold meetings over the phone or video conference? Not everyone wants to make the commute every week or every other week for a meeting with their agency.

 

13. HOW AVAILABLE WILL I HAVE TO BE?

Most people ask if their agency will be available to answer their calls and emails, but what about the time you realistically have to approve designs and content? Hiring an agency requires a bit of account management on your part as well.

If you are too busy to be approving designs and collaborating on projects when needed, maybe there is someone else on your team who you trust to coordinate the bulk of communications.

 

14. HOW LONG SHOULD MY CONTRACT BE?

With inbound and content marketing, you are not likely to see a return until after 3 to 6 months. An agency should be able to understand your business and jumpstart your marketing campaigns, but it can take time to see substantial results – Don’t ditch them after the first month if you’re not seeing a return. If you need results on day one, consider dedicating some budget to running paid advertisements.

In order to provide you with a solution that focuses on company ROI, an agency needs to get a full view of the market, and you both need to be committed to your company’s long-term goals.

Another great point is that many businesses are seasonal. Therefore, a 3 month contract is not going to give you a very good idea of what results to expect. If you are a large construction company in New England, your website is not going to be pulling in as many leads in the winter season as it is in the springtime.

 

15. WHAT IS INCLUDED EACH MONTH WITH THIS CONTRACT?

Contracts from different agencies vary, and it’s essential for you to be aware of what deliverables are expected when. Is your contract for a digital marketing campaign every two months that includes one offer, four blog posts, social media promotion, and an automated email workflow?

 

Six Signs Your Brand Needs A Makeover

It might be time for a brand makeover—a re-think of your strategy and positioning, visuals and copy. Here are a few signs it’s time to take a fresh look.

You want to appeal to a niche market. Your branding (business card, website, flyers, social media, advertisements) may need some tinkering to identify and connect with the right niche. Pretend you’ve realized you love working with physicians—and you’d like to start advertising to reach more of them. Your brand—the images and the voice of your copy—needs to shift to focus more pointedly on the needs of your M.D. niche. If you’ve filled your marketing pieces with images of construction-oriented workers, your branding will not appeal to this new niche.
You’ve created a thrilling new _______(service, program, book, product) and are in search of the right audience. This can be a time when you need a pivot: not quite a 180, but more than a tinker. Your new fill-in-the-blank might be designed not for your current clients, but more for the people who can’t afford you yet. Your marketing pieces may need to be given a more polished, sophisticated look.  Or it might be a deeper dive into a narrow portion of your expertise. You’ll need to make sure your branding, your positioning and all of your collateral works for both audiences well.
You’re busy talking about you. The days when marketing was all about advertising your talents are O-V-E-R. You want to “speak” to your client—on your website and in your social media and marketing pieces—as though you were having a conversation. How are their lives different after you’ve worked your magic? What concrete results can they expect? What will the experience feel like? Show them what’s possible instead of giving them a laundry list of your services and awards.
Your competition looks—and reads—better than you. Or, their new branding pieces look too similar to yours. When’s the last time you web-surfed your competition? Take a look: how do your message and visual touch-points compare to what’s out there? And be honest with yourself—how you pitch yourself to clients must match up with how you look and read. If you’re pitching the high end of the food chain then you darned well better look like you’re worth every penny. You deserve to occupy a unique space that speaks to your DNA and your sweet-spot clients.  Be sure that your competitors have not revamped their materials to look too similar to yours.  This happened to InSilico Media Group, so we’ve worked hard on a new website that will stand out from our competitors yet again.
You’re hard to find. This will be your online death. It happens when your name or point of view is forgettable (or difficult, like InSilico!)—just another “me too” message that gets lost (think: “innovative solutions through technology”). Or maybe your name is too similar to someone who’s already staked their claim on your industry’s Google rankings (A-1 Services, for example)—in that case, only new brand positioning is going to get you a break-through. Invest in building and maintaining your presence so you own your niche.
Your brand is stuck in time. Your website, your images (and especially photos), look like they’re from 1997. (Unless you’re doing a #TBT (Throwback Thursday for our less tech savvy friends) Your clients will sense it even if they don’t (or can’t) articulate it. Overly formal copy, stiff head shots and multiple old-style fonts are the first signs that you’re out of touch. Images that scream bad stock photography or are interchangeable with your competitors do you no favors (if I see one more financial advisory site with happy senior citizens strolling the beach, I might gag). Review your site and marketing collateral at least annually and make modern updates at least every couple of years—more often if you’re making the kinds of changes in #1 and #2 above.

 
A brand makeover requires some grit and a dose of courage. Don’t commit until you’re ready to set your stake in the ground—to claim a piece of territory as your own and commit to building (and defending) it.

 

Does Your Brand Need A Makeover?

One thing we have learned in the Mid-Ohio Valley is that brands are reluctant to modify, or at least freshen up their stale, dated brand.  A prime example of this can be seen while driving down Route 14 from Williamstown to Vienna. There are many signs along the road that have faded, causing a potential customer to not notice them.  There are many brands that have poor color choices, as well as poor font choices as well. Some brands even have poor name choices, or go by an acronym that makes zero sense, or unfortunately spells a slang term.

Like dating, branding begins with a first impression. Think of your ideal prospect – that one person or company that you would love to land as a client. If you had the opportunity to hand that person a business card or send them a link to your website, what would their very first impression of your company be? Would they see it as smart, forward-thinking, and capable? Or would it give them the feeling your company is amateurish, tired, or antiquated?

Many business owners believe their logo is their branding. Not true. While your logo is certainly a part of it, your brand is actually comprised of much more. Take a look at your business card. Yes, you have a logo – but what else do you see? What colors are being used for the logo and the type on the card? What font is used and what does it communicate (modern, old-fashioned, etc.)? Do you see a tagline or positioning line (such as Coca-Cola’s “It’s the Real Thing®”)? Is your card printed on just one side, or is it two-sided? Does it fold? Is it unique? Every single one of these elements is related to your branding, and each one plays an important role in shaping a first impression.

Go through the same exercise with your website. Look at each individual component and ask yourself, what does this color, design, phrasing, font, etc. communicate to my ideal prospect?

Realistically, completely revamping a brand can be a time-consuming and expensive process, but it’s one that will often pay off in dividends by boosting business significantly. If your business is not in a position to undertake a full re-branding – or simply doesn’t need one – consider a brand re-fresh. This approach is typically less costly and less involved, and can bring noticeable results.  Just because the CEO’s nephew designed it while working as a summer intern 10 years ago, when the company started, doesn’t mean it does a good job of representing the business today.

Want to chat about a re-branding or brand re-fresh? Contact us at info@insilicomediagroup.com.