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Marketing Agency Since 1979

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Colorful Tips for Serious Marketers

Hey, Siri…is my website optimized for voice search?

Ever tell Siri you love her? Try it. 🙁

By now, most of us are talking to our electronic devices. I don’t mean the kind of brash insulting we sometimes resort to when our phones or tablets fail to do what we want them to, but the kind of talking that actually expects an answer. Personally, I find it a little unsettling. Perhaps that’s due to the “uncanny valley of communication” it presents. Talking to an near-sentient artificial being feels almost natural, yet still unnatural enough to keep me emotionally off balance. I have to confess to unplugging my Alexa for a sense of privacy immediately after thanking it for giving me an answer to a silly question. It’s all still so weird, man.

As weird as it may seem to me, nearly 60 percent of searches are now done on a mobile device, and more and more of these searches are done using one’s voice rather than engaging in the often tedious process of typing in actual words using the world’s tiniest keyboards. In fact, according to a recent Internet trend report, at least 50 percent of searches will be done “through image or speech” by the year 2020. Given the obvious, it’s high time we start regarding our searchable content in terms of how people “speak” as opposed to how they “type”.

Search engines were introduced – are you sitting down? – in the mid 1990s. Since then we’ve all gotten pretty good at inputing just the right keywords into our search bars to get only those results that come closest to what we want. Likewise, digital marketers have been carefully including those keywords into their web copy to attract search engine bots. And while we’ve been enjoying this electronically symbiotic relationship for decades, things are about to change. We’re going to have to start thinking with our mouths, so to speak. In other words, copy is going to have to become more conversational in order to compete for search rankings.

Does this mean that web copywriters are going to have to become proficient in memes and slang? Dunno, dude. Sorta? Actually, it means a few things that make a lot of sense. For one, conversational searches are generally longer than typical keyword searches. We’re talking more like 7, 8 and 9 words as opposed to 2 or 3. So, instead of typing “digital marketing help” into your browser, you might say “find me agencies that do digital marketing” ending with maybe a “please” or perhaps a “right now, dammit”. Easy enough to understand, but does it also suggest that marketers are going to have to swap out tight, succinct copy for something that reads like a transcript of two people talking over a beer? Not exactly.

The best way (so far) to add conversational copy on your website is through your FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions page. Don’t have one? Tsk, you should. Users expect FAQ copy to be conversational and new copy is very easy to add. FAQ pages are also fantastic for SEO and can be as long as we want them to be, expanding into deep, topic-heavy tomes of resource material. Simply add a search function and your visitors will not only find you, they’ll be happy they did.

And to all of those B2B industrial and manufacturing marketers out there who may be wondering if their more niche audiences are using voice search to find them and are now starting to worry that they may have to redo their website and/or add an in-depth FAQ page, I say “Bruh…chill”. Most searches are for learning to perform relatively mundane tasks like “how to boil an egg” or obtaining local, general content like “where can I get a good massage”. Still, make no mistake, eventually everyone will have to answer the call to some extent or another.


– S. Norton

Wading Into the Web: Transitioning Into Digital Marketing

As advertising and brand building goes from print to the web, many B2B companies are feeling increasing pressure to reallocate marketing resources towards the new digital frontier. The company website – once a place to promote the company’s message and capabilities – is now a dynamic and sensitive marketing tool. With the advent of search engine marketing (SEM), social media and Google Ads we now talk about a company’s web presence.  Words like optimization, maintenance, content, landing pages, analytics, and conversions have taken over the conversation, tempting marketers to dive into a rapidly changing landscape of selling and promotion before they’re in the right position to do so.

So how do we make the transition into digital efficiently, affordably and without hurting our brands? Well, I’m glad you asked. The first thing I would tell you is don’t dive, wade. For instance, if you cut off print display advertising completely and throw all of that money into Google Ads you are relying on a bidding war to maintain your visibility. Approximately 80% of a company’s web traffic comes from branded searches, meaning the customer was looking for them by name. They know the name through a legacy of print advertising and packaging that has built trust over time, but a regime change in a customer’s company could throw much of that trust out of the window. Having some print presence in the right books could make the difference when Internet searches have leveled the playing field and more market share is up for grabs.

Speaking of the right books, it makes sense to do a thorough review of where you’re placing print space and where that money might be better spent in digital. Call your reps (or have your marketing agency’s buyer call them) and put them through their paces. Let them sell you again on their circulation and cough up a few metrics. They may have other ways for you to take advantage of their own online presence and as we’ve explained before, they might even give you free stuff. Take it all in and carefully consider each option. It may also be wise to ask your customers where they search for new products. Do they still use print? Which books? How often? Their answers may surprise you and guide you in a new direction.

Deciding what portion of your resources to direct to digital should also be done carefully. These days, there are more digital marketing companies than you can count and some will charge a flat monthly or yearly rate for services that fail to justify the expense. If they’re asking for it all up front, be wary. They’re the equivalent of the startup vinyl fencing companies of a few years ago. The materials were relatively inexpensive to buy and all one had to do – or so one assumed – was dig a few holes and click the pieces together. Everyone was suddenly in the business…until they weren’t. I am almost positive that everyone reading this has seen at least one installation that has fallen apart and been left to decay over the ensuing millennia.

Not every digital program fits every company. Knowledge of a specific market is essential for making a Google Ads campaign, for example, work properly. And all landing pages should at least match your company’s look and/or website with copy that shares company values and puts the user first. A picture may be worth a thousand words but to Google it’s only worth the few in its tag. Content that reflects the ad and closes the sale is paramount. In fact, there are dozens of decisions that need to be made correctly to build a strong chain of ad-to-landing page relevance and once that chain is established it needs to be monitored, maintained and when necessary, repaired. This isn’t a slap-together job with a one-time fee but it also shouldn’t cost you the bulk of your resources to be successful.

All of this is to say: take it slow and get deeper over time. Digital marketing tools can be powerful but they still require the right blend and balance. That’s why SMS has designed three basic web management services programs that gradually increase in depth and complexity (to view, click here). We understand which services companies need most and we offer them a little at a time. We monitor the results and weigh all the choices. Some companies are ready to start with more, while others still need to take their first steps. In the end the goal is to get companies balancing the right initiatives so that they don’t hurt their brand or bank accounts as they make the transition.

By all means enter the digital pool, the water’s fine. The shock to avoid is the one that comes from diving in too deep and too fast.

B2B Branding: Values Over Bonafides

Before we get started, consider this perhaps oversimplified and playful adage that branding your company is like building a fort: no one really cares about the materials you used to build it, they just want to know if it will keep their parents out. Or maybe the bonafides are the fort’s solid construction and plenty of room for comic books and the greater value is being free of watchful, judgmental eyes and the shared love of said comic books. Hmm…getting closer but still not quite hitting the mark. Let’s try for real.

Many B2B websites like to talk about tradition, quality and excellence. They proudly brandish ISO certificates and show glamorous photos of clean looking products with headlines that boast of reliability. These are all good things, and once upon a time, they were enough. A smart logo on a box did most of branding’s heavy lifting, and attentive customer service did the rest. Again, these are all really good things for a company to be known for but today they’re more or less expected. Additional bonafides such as being open 24-7 to every country around the world and the ability to contact almost everyone at the company when it suits the customer is somewhat industry dependent but for the most part also par for the course.

So now that your competitors have as much opportunity to get in front of your customers and prospects as your company does with “never closed” websites that are accessible with handheld devices everywhere there is Internet service, how can a company truly set themselves apart? The answer lies in user-focused messaging that shares your customer’s values. To better understand what that means, let’s look at some key points about what branding really is or has become.

A brand is a company’s personality and represents its relationship with its customers.

Personality is most often expressed by a company look and logo, but it’s much more than that. Personality involves shared values in terms of not just excellence and dependability but also caring about things that go beyond our day-to-day routines. Harvard Business Review defines it as “a belief that both the brand and consumer have about a brand’s higher purpose or broad philosophy”. Do you manufacture your products to make a living and help others make theirs? Of course, but you may also make them to help the world become a healthier place or advance our knowledge about who we are and where we’re going. Think bigger picture and find a way to express it succinctly.

Good branding is about quality of interactions, not quantity.

I’ve heard many times that it’s important to “hit” your customers and prospects as often as possible in order to be there just when they need you. I would say it’s better to anticipate when they’ll need you and be there in the right way. If it’s obvious that your marketing initiatives are template based or “boilerplate”, you could be scaring business away. Everyone wants to feel special, so make sure your interactions with them are designed to do that. What really helps is to genuinely believe your customers (and, I might add, your customer’s customers) are special. If you don’t, you may need to rethink your profession. And here’s a doozy of a stat from HBR: 45% of consumers will unfollow a brand on social media if their platform is dominated by self-promotion. Whether your company is B2C or utilizes social media or not, there’s plenty to take from that.

Successful branding boosts customer loyalty…and profits. 

Consistent branding that focuses on building an audience instead of simply direct sales pays dividends. According to desktop software publisher Lucid Press, there’s a 23% average revenue increase resulting from branding consistently. Think content marketing is a waste of time? Okay, but 91% of B2B marketers disagree with you. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute 89% of them think branded content is more important than sales and lead generation, and 72% think it’s more important than traditional print advertising. Customers want to be seen as more than just a customer. They want what the cool kids around the marketing cooler call “relatability”. In modern, colloquial terms – they want to feel you.

When I was a kid my friends and I had the greatest fort you could ever imagine. It even had running electricity and was located on the banks of an irrigation pond with actual fish in it. At first we built it for us so that we could be away from those oppressive, watchful eyes. Over time we realized we also built it to share with others, and while telling them all the cool stuff it had made them want to see it, it was their knowing that they could stop by anytime and be themselves that brought them back.

– S. Norton

For more information on generating an effective branding campaign for your company, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation or simply fill out the short form on our homepage.

Google Ads No. 1 No-No : Breaking the Relevance Chain

If you remember one thing about this blog post, it should be this: linking a Google Ads ad to existing website content is usually a costly mistake.

By now, most Google Ads users understand that linking ads to homepages will cost you quality score points. We can shake our fists at Google for forcing us to throw more bid money at them in order to compete, but we have no one to blame but ourselves if that good money is chasing a bad landing page.

So, what is a good landing page? Can such a thing be qualitatively defined? Doesn’t the efficacy of one’s marketing programs still depend on a better understanding of one’s markets? Surely, manufacturers and engineers know best when it comes to knowing what their users want to see.

Knowing one’s markets is still vitally important in the Google Ads game, especially when choosing keywords and search terms. We previously discussed how many users search with keywords that focus more on application than a specific product or solution. Users don’t always know what they need to fix their problem, but they definitely know their problem. Understanding their problems will lead to better keyword choices.

But when it comes to ads, we have to defer to the mighty Google and its search bots and algorithms. When deciding ad quality scores, Google seeks one thing and one thing only: keyword relevance. If an ad doesn’t share matching or very closely-related keywords, bots deduce that it’s a poor result for the search terms. Google knows its users want direct relevance, not a puzzle. Therefore, keyword inconsistency earns low quality scores which lead to poor ad positioning.

Landing pages are the big payoff for users and require not just keyword consistency but conversion optimization. A landing page that converts visitors into customers should consist of the following:

  • A headline that matches the ad’s headline and is suitably engaging
  • Copy that focuses on the benefits to the user, not the proud history of the company
  • A call-to-action that stands out
  • A short form that doesn’t ask for too much or require sensitive information
  • A strong image that instantly tells them they’re in the right place

Most company websites have content that reads…well, like website content. There’s a mix of product specifications, sales copy, self-described excellence assurances, and a standard run-on sentence or two. These elements in and of themselves don’t necessarily mean a website is bad, but they certainly don’t deliver conversions. More importantly, if the content doesn’t match the ad, Google will literally protect users from it by sticking it below more relevant competition or making it disappear altogether.

Some of you may be asking yourselves if you can optimize your existing pages by adding some relevant content to them instead of spending the time and money to create unique landing pages for (at least) each ad group. The partial answer is “yes”. The whole answer is “sure, if you don’t mind possibly damaging your brand”. When ads appear on SERPs, the majority of users will choose a brand they recognize and trust, not just the first ad. Highly relevant ad campaigns boost brand recognition, and brand recognition plays a significant role in all aspects of marketing. Therefore, it’s best to invest in it at every customer and prospect interaction instead of chipping away at your budget through visitors who immediately click away and never return.

It really is simple: if you’re investing in a Google Ads campaign, understand from the outset that you will need to allocate time and budget dollars to all three key elements: keywords, ads and landing pages. Like any chain that connects you to your customers, your campaign will only be as strong as its weakest link.

Want More Effective Google Ads? Focus On Application.

Let’s do a little paid traffic marketing review, starting with the basics: Google Ads (a.k.a. Google AdWords, Pay-Per-Click programs) are designed to drive traffic to commercial websites to help sell their products and services. To do this, a significant portion of that traffic needs to land on pertinent and engaging content that’s been optimized to convert paid leads into sales. That’s the main idea, complemented by a little brand recognition that hopefully drives brand searches somewhere down the line. But many industrial marketers who have decided to include Google Ads campaigns in their marketing budgets are frustrated with their programs because they seem to be more work and expense than they’re worth. Brand recognition is vital but can be difficult to measure, and lead conversion can be similarly hard to define. With this in mind, let’s look at a simple tweak we can make to our existing campaigns that could make a big difference in terms of direct conversions.

Many websites in the B2B industrial markets have been designed to tell and explain with perhaps a little sales punch mixed in for good measure. Few are organized to accept users who demand that their ad clicks lead to direct matches for their search terms. This is not a small point. Search engines and data marketing on social media platforms have further conditioned us to expect precise recompense for our time investment. We want what we want and we don’t want to waste our time figuring out how a web page satisfies our needs. But optimizing all or a large portion of a company’s website for multiple ads can be costly and time-consuming. And nothing kills marketing initiatives faster than dragging revisions, which is why landing pages were invented.

Landing pages that are optimized to respond to traffic from specific ad groups are an added expense but can easily pay for themselves if done correctly and monitored carefully. However, some companies don’t sell their products directly, opting to work through distributors. Sales happen, but it’s difficult to determine ROI on your Google Ads expenditures without pausing and restarting campaigns to test the drop in traffic and subsequent sales numbers – a radical practice that isn’t recommended as it can hurt revenue and customer confidence. So how can a company without 1) a budget for multiple landing pages, 2) a shopping cart feature, and/or 3) a website that’s freshly optimized for Google Ads campaigns still use them to improve sales?

One of the answers is by selecting keywords and generating ad copy that focuses on your products applications rather than just its identifiers and benefits. Users who are searching for solutions because they’re not sure what product(s) they need are really doing “research”. That’s a mindset that is prepared to take the time to learn and perhaps seek an expert who can help them decide on which product is right for their specific application. A quick – albeit oversimplified – example would be a company starting a campaign to sell “hammers”, but instead of bidding for that keyword and words like “stainless steel” or “comfortable grip” bid for the application-focused (and likely less expensive) “nail drivers”. Of course, just about everyone knows they need a hammer to drive a nail, but not everyone knows the latest and best way to, say, vent volatile gases from a storage tank safely or extract blood samples without contaminating the organic material.

This shift to a more content marketing perspective – from B2C benefits mode to the more complex B2B research mode – can create softer landings on our websites. This isn’t to say we should neglect optimizing them to be as user-friendly as possible or ignore elements that drive quotes. Industrial B2B websites should always be closing the sale but they should do so in response to their unique demographics which are often plant and product line managers seeking new and efficient solutions that will match their innovations, improve plant safety, and enrich their bottom lines. If they land on a web page that offers well-organized and simple product solutions to their often disorganized and complex problems, their lives got that much easier. And don’t worry about a lower amount of impressions. What you want are qualified impressions, so try not to stare too hard at low search volumes.

Google Ads feels primarily designed for B2C brands to sell products to consumers – which is why they focus on lots of impressions to reach a wider demographic – but it could be for everyone, even companies with websites that are light on shopping carts and heavy on industrial content aimed at tighter, B2B audiences. And while varied applications for a single product can spread the offense around a wide array of markets, we may still want to establish more effective user expectations by employing an applications focused, content marketing approach to the tools at our disposal.

– S. Norton

For more information on generating an effective Google Ads campaign, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation or simply fill out the short form on our homepage.


The Three Most Important Web Marketing Moves for 2019

Over the past year, this blog has covered many digital marketing methods and concepts for the high-tech, industrial and manufacturing marketplaces. With the new year upon us, I thought I would identify the three most important for growing your business in 2019.

Website Optimization. Without question, a responsive website with your company’s key message and value proposition “above the fold” is the most essential design element for competing in the digital marketplace. Remember all those discussions about short attention spans when your company was redoing its website? Well, they’ve gotten shorter. Are the conversations about needing to make your website user-friendly for mobile devices still fresh in your memory? I hope so. The percentage of visitors that will use mobile devices to access the Internet will increase from from 57% to 63%, with time spent on mobile devices increasing from 40% – 49%. How you look on the small screen will determine how an increasing majority of your customers see you. Make sure they like what they see, find what they want, and can contact you as simply as possible.

Content Marketing. SMS advises more and more clients to consider balancing their AdWord campaigns with content marketing programs in order to make the most of their search engine marketing (SEM) budgets. Industrial B-2-B companies usually have very clear demographics, so seeking content that interests them requires a simple climb up the application tree – from your root products to the many markets that utilize them. Taking a deeper interest in where your products end up and how they integrate into the world will generate a motherlode of content from which to mine. Dig out interesting topics and put your company’s spin on them. The copy will include many keywords that match the searches of your customers and prospects. Google will love your resource-oriented approach and you may even get some regular readers. Most importantly, you’ll be found on SERPs that are too often dominated by ads that hoard PPC keywords with unlimited budgets and frequently limited search relevance.

Security. Not only is it wise to protect your website from hacking and viruses, top level website security improves search rankings and for good reason: Google doesn’t want to lead you into a trap. Hackers work tirelessly trying to penetrate server vulnerabilities and it’s up to your hosting company to keep the doors and windows shut. Choose your hosting company carefully and make sure your website is linked to secure destinations. HTTPS has become a household acronym in web marketing but not everyone feels the same urgency to employ it so it’s important to audit your inbound and outbound links regularly. Keeping your software up-to-date, enforcing strong password policies, encrypting login pages, deleting old files, and backing up your data are some of the most important things your web development partner can do for you. Being able to deliver fast loading, flat page designs is great, but being able to protect your web clients is the higher calling.

Finally, SMS would like to thank our clients for their trust in our services in 2018. We’ll continue to select just the right mix of affordable, effective, and proven traditional and digital marketing methods for each and every one of you in order to help you grow in 2019. As always, we do it because we know your markets, speak your language, and don’t believe in charging for anything that doesn’t end up working in the marketplaces you serve. It was our promise in 1979 when we began, and it remains our promise 40 years later.

– S. Norton

For more information on updating your website for 2019, feel free to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or, simply fill out the short form on our homepage.

Mining for SEO Content? Dig Into Your Customers.

As has been previously established on this blog and practically every other SEO resource in existence, the best way to improve the search rankings of your company’s website is though adding and refreshing its content. There can be multiple reasons why your website is improving its position on SERPs including an increase in traffic driven by auxiliary brand recognition activities such as the placing of banner ads and the development of print and remarketing campaigns. Well targeted AdWord groups can also drive traffic through smart bidding and links on well-crafted landing pages. Press releases are also an affordable way to boost visitors, and if all activities remain current and consistent, they should return.

Generating repeat traffic for websites that primarily exist to describe your company’s products and services and declare its central marketing message can be very difficult. If you sell your products online, repeat traffic is almost a guarantee but few B-2-B companies actually do that. Most utilize distributors and try to build mutually beneficial partnerships in order to get them to specify their products. So how does a company add content that isn’t just another sales pitch for their products or services (also known as content marketing)?

The most important adage in marketing is to begin every promotional decision by asking what’s in it for your customers. If possible, every word should interest them. Unfortunately, the questions that ask “why” and “how” are too often answered with “because it increases our revenue and decreases our expenses”. Well, as vital as those decisions might be they rarely interest your customers. They will sympathize to an extent, but not for long.

Initially, the idea that you must always try to see the world through the eyes of your customers and that their perspective must always inform your marketing activities seems a daunting proposition. We’re all constantly inundated with the immediate concerns of our daily responsibilities. Because of this, we begin to think our unique challenges are as important to our customers as they are to us. Content that reports the expanded square footage of your manufacturing facility is certainly newsworthy and almost writes itself, but the information is only useful content if it relates to making your customers’ lives easier or their decisions more successful. That said, content doesn’t always have to relate directly to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day business.

For example, if you manufacture lab products, write (or hire someone to write) about what interests the people who use them. Scientific discoveries and breakthroughs are fascinating in and of themselves, so keeping an eye on what’s happening in the science and research world will ultimately lead to common ground. At that point, it’s easy to work in your company’s message by perhaps sharing similar research and development philosophies. Your company exists to make money by selling products and services but it also exists to further some manner of improvement in the study and exploration of real life solutions. Researching the extended roots down the main application tree will not only alter the way you look at what you do, it will make conversations with your customers livelier and more productive.

This blog has also covered the use of online surveys as useful and affordable tools to direct your marketing activities. Expanding their scope to discover the kind of content that interests your customers is another great way to utilize their power. Instead of guessing what content they’re seeking, ask them. What trades are they reading? What websites do they frequent? Where do they get their industry news? Getting the answers to these questions means the keywords they’re using to sift through online content will become your keywords. Slowly but surely your website will begin to reflect an essential perspective: not only do we share your interests, we work for you. And working for your customers means more than just assuring them that you manufacture the best tools for the job at a fair price, it also means believing in their goals as much or more than they do.

The fact is, increasing page rankings is becoming the key marketing focus of all small to midsize B-2-B industrial and manufacturing companies. If your marketing department is having trouble mining content about your company and its interests to add to your website to improve SEO, that could be a good thing. It could force you to ask your customers about their interests instead.

– S. Norton

For more information on generating useful site content that will improve SEO, feel free to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or, simply fill out the short form on our homepage.


Media Buying: Only Getting What You Pay For?

When it comes to integrated marketing services, the range of programs can run the gamut depending on your company’s budget and its primary markets. For the high-tech and industrial B-2-B community, the mix of traditional and digital marketing methods continues to hover somewhere around a fifty-fifty split. This is partially a result of the narrow market niches for which many companies manufacture their products, as they know who and where their customers are and more or less how to reach them.

OEM cut a similar profile. Most are engineers and product line managers with long tail careers that tend to stick with what works for them in terms of data collection, idea sharing and methods of communication. Online advertising has definitely increased, but for all the shrinking printed publications have done, engineers are a stubborn demographic and many still like their catalogs and tech briefs in hand so they can flip through them and, I dunno, roll them up and smack flies around the plant floor. So yes, digital marketing methods continue to steal large chunks of budget dollars from the more tactile forms of industrial product promotions, and even though many ads are reproduced in the form of landing pages, digital communication hasn’t yet rendered printed materials totally obsolete as many had predicted.

SMS places both print and online space for a number of our clients and has done for many years. We work closely with them to customize message to the medium, write product literature and reviews, determine ad schedules and make insertions well within strict deadlines. We also work closely with space reps who appreciate the repeat business and are willing to tack-on significant freebies. When we say we’ve been around for forty years, this is one of the areas where that kind of longevity pays off for our clients. In fact, the value-add from our long-held relationships with space reps pays off in real dollars. A significant portion of client ad budgets work double-shifts, conditioning online marketplaces which keeps brand recognition extra healthy and drives coveted branded searches.

SMS media placement specialist Anita Nicolo has this to say:

“Display advertising can be expensive. To be a player in the industry, your participation is essential to building your brand. The question you need to ask is are you leveraging your space dollars to give you the most comprehensive presence possible. Do those same advertising dollars provide you free banner ads? Free email blast sponsorships? Free new literature or product reviews? Most companies don’t have the time to handle basic space placement duties let alone field space rep calls and work their contacts. Luckily for them, we do.”

We say it around here all the time: marketing partnerships are still, in their essence, all about people. Like any relationship, it’s important to maintain strong bonds of loyalty, dependability and consistency. So if you’re placing space and only getting what you pay for, maybe you could use an agency that knows quite a bit about precisely those things.

– S. Norton

For more information on media buying in your marketplace, simply contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation or fill out this short form on our homepage.

*image: Shutterstock


Technology and The Value-Added Partnership

When SMS was founded by Bob Norton in 1979, it was partially built on the idea that a full-service agency that understood the language and unique challenges of the B-2-B scientific and high-tech industrial marketplaces would more efficiently turn marketing budgets into increased market share. Most agencies at the time (and now) operated from a central salesforce that supplemented their limited in-house services by utilizing outside vendors to complete projects. This resulted in cascading markups and unavoidable inconsistencies in the quality of work, which led to costly redos and unhappy clients.

Since the advent of Internet technology, agencies have ridden the supposition that electronic communication would mostly remove these inconsistencies and the tactical and creative worlds were now connected enough to be considered “in-house”. In part, that’s true. It’s rare that a designer needs to “mock up” a look and walk it over to a client representative for review, and files are far more easily shared with clients via downloading applications. I still remember waiting at the door for envelopes of photo transparencies and in some ways I miss that. You knew the work was checked dozens of times and you rarely felt apprehensive about what was inside…

…which acts as a segue to what I’ve been wondering: has the quality of work and professional service suffered with technological expediency, offsetting the value-add? While it’s much easier to break creative barriers and supply something new, simple follow-through and planning can just as easily slip away. When human interaction was necessary, the warm press of the palm was frequently the only guarantee a client or prospect needed. Professional pride in one’s ability to service a client – or an employer/employee – was always in check. Having a team around your project kept things running smoothly, especially as the team grew together. Convenience wasn’t a subject of conversation, although speed certainly was as deadlines loomed. Still, the long-form focus on client needs maintained synergy and strengthened professional bonds, with the resulting sense of trust catalyzing the innovation of ideas.

All this is to say that it feels like there is a diminishing return to increased isolation while casting one’s net as wide as the earth with the push of a button. The promise of unlimited reach, extended to all regardless of intent, has perhaps reaped a chaotic marketing environment that has wounded professional trust. At SMS, we strive to customize our approaches to prospects so that they feel understood and know we share their values. However, it’s become harder to prove that when the mediums of communication have become tainted with spam, viruses, phishing, AdWord wars, and global piracy. Where it once felt that anyone could compete, with it emerges a sense that anyone can become lost – not just interpersonally but also in your marketplace.

So what are we doing to combat this creeping ennui? Well, in some ways we’ve been doing it for 40 years by remaining a cohesive team that gives a damn about our clients. If you reach out to any one of us, you get a speedy reply. If you call, we pick up. If you have a question, we’ll talk about it until we arrive at the right answer. If you want to sit down and go over your marketing activities, we’ll clear our schedules, our desks, and our heads. We take the time because we believe our experience as a full-service, in-house, hands-on agency adds real value to our partnerships. We do all of this for free because the scope of your marketing activities shouldn’t be reined in by the hidden limits of technology or a running meter.

And it all starts with a handshake.

– S. Norton

For more information on planning your marketing activities, simply contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation or fill out this short form on our homepage.

Online Surveys: Letting Them Tell You What They Want

A shorter one this week as it’s Halloween and I have to hit my neighborhood up for candy. Maybe I can use the holiday as an analogy and hopefully it’ll be a treat for everyone.

When it’s time for a client to update the design of their website, collateral literature or some other marketing tool, they often ask us to show them “something different”. As a creative team that loves to be pushed out of its comfort zone, we relish these opportunities as it lets us exercise our chops. Of course, such wide open direction can lead to lots of wasted hours, especially if there are a number of decision makers and they all have to agree. Taste varies not only from person to person, but sometimes mood to mood.

To save time, we like to put together online questionnaires that allow us to ask the right questions, receive some examples a client may have seen that they liked, and combine the results among any number of decision makers. Not only does this give our designers clear parameters to work from, it also forces clients to really consider their ideas. Requiring someone to put their answer down on a form that will be shared usually leads to long periods of revaluation. Ultimately, decisions strike a balance between daring and practical, with more careful consideration given to customer needs. Once goals for a new design are set (i.e. value proposition above the fold, product image-heavy, three clicks to purchase) the time required to present a few looks is shortened considerably. More importantly, the time is well spent.

So, where’s the clever analogy? Hmm, right, okay…remember how it felt to go trick-r-treating and how anxious you were about the kind of candy each house might give you and how much you might get? It was a really big deal. You spent lots of time choosing or making a costume, and walking up to all those front doors got pretty tiring after awhile. Then, when you got home, examining your loot was always fraught with the possibility of disappointment. “More fruit rollups?! I wanted MILK DUDS!!!”

Well, what if you were able to fill out a survey that asked you to input exactly the kinds of candy you liked and hoped to receive?  Houses wouldn’t waste their time and money buying the wrong stuff and kids would be put more at ease. Sure, some of the fun from being surprised would be removed, but I’m sure your parents – likely the people funding the entire operation – wouldn’t have been too bothered. And there’s nothing like sifting through a bunch of your favorite candy to make up for any fun missed.

Want to take a survey and try it out? Click here and let us know what kind of website you might like for your company.

Happy Halloween!

– S. Norton

For more information on developing your own online questionnaire, feel free to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or, simply fill out the short form on our homepage.