Category Archives: Communications

4 Key Benefits of Content Marketing for Startups

Chances are you’ve probably heard marketers throw around the phrase “content is king”.

While the phrase has joined ‘big data’ in the pantheon of overused marketing idioms, it remains true. Content marketing, defined by the Content Marketing Institute as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience”, can be one of the most cost-effective (and highest ROI) marketing tactics for startups. Content marketing tactics like blogs, white papers, newsletters, case studies, webinars, videos, amongst many others, are all great ways to ensure your startup has a consistent supply of inbound leads.

If you’ve been reluctant to dive into content marketing, here are 4 of the key benefits of content marketing that might change your mind:

  • Educated Customers Educating your customers and prospects should be a key goal of your marketing and sales strategies, and marketing content is one of the best ways to do it. Providing your customers and prospects with the key information and tools they need to make decisions helps build trust and credibility. Content marketing is especially well suited to B2B, as tactics can be closely tailored to each stage of the traditionally longer buying processes of B2B businesses. For example, you may write a blog post to catch a prospect’s attention by highlighting an issue important to them, publish a white paper to help them learn more about their options and the range of available solutions, and then produce a case study to highlight the quantitative benefits of your product or service.
  • A Framework for Decision Making I came across one of the best pieces of content marketing I’ve ever seen during a search for a marketing automation vendor. New to the subject, I was looking for a set of criteria to evaluate each solution on the market, and came across the Marketing Automation Buyer’s Kit from Marketo. The kit outlined different areas required for success with marketing automation tools (each listed criteria was, of course, subtly skewed towards Marketo) and helped me tailor my search. In the end Marketo was top of mind and was the first meeting I set up to learn more about marketing automation. Ultimately, great content can help establish selection criteria and a framework for decision making that favours your product or service over a competitor.
  • Subject Matter Leadership Perhaps the chief benefit of content marketing is that content can be the best way to demonstrate to your customers and prospects that you are the best at what you do. Sharing key insights and identifying ways to relieve customer pain points is the best way to paint yourself and your company as thought leaders and ensure success.
  • SEO It’s well documented that keeping your website fresh is a best practice for SEO, and a content marketing strategy will do just that. Content marketing also encourages active content sharing, which can help link building efforts. As Rand Fiskin of SEOmoz has said, “delivering an exceptional experience and building a true web brand are now essential to long-term SEO success.” Content marketing is the key.

Don’t forget that social media plays a key role in ensuring your marketing content reaches the people you need it to reach. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use different types of content marketing to sustainably generate inbound leads, feel free to contact me via email or over the phone.

Communication – The Key to Success

communicationBridging the gap between technical and non-technical people can be one of the most difficult challenges facing all of us. This communication gap can be the cause of projects failing, building software that does not meet the needs of the customer, or a lack of understanding about what technology can or cannot accomplish.

Communication is a two way street. You must hear the other person, and they must understand you. An intimate connection has to happen.

I am an extremely passionate person. I care deeply about all facets of my work. I learn from successes and failures. One of my greatest failures turned into a revelation that changed my view of business, of business relationships, leadership and success.

For most of my life I have been fascinated by electronics, computers, and the potential to make them do really cool things. I was passionate about bending software and electronics to do what I wanted; I knew I would always find a way. Early exposure to science fiction fed my enthusiasm and desire. I always wanted to be “one of the boys in the back room”, inventing cool stuff, writing new software and never interacting with a customer. The things we were making would be so fantastic, people would just want them. I wanted to be a “professional tinkerer”. My first ten years at RIM, this dream came true.

Then we became wildly successful. People depended upon the BlackBerry as a day-to-day tool that helped them live their lives. All of a sudden, customers were demanding that our software be more reliable, scalable, flexible, and above all stable. This meant that I was spending more time with customer issues, less time inventing. Not good for me. Yet, I began to wonder why there was such a gap between what we were making, and with what the customers did not like. An opportunity arose to bridge the gap between customers and development, so I took it.

I met with leaders of many major companies in Canada and USA. I was simply blown away by the experience. Their perspective on how things should work was so different than mine. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server Administration console was a simple interface, which works well for me; I like my interfaces clean and simple. Accustomed to Microsoft and IBM administration consoles, ours looked like a backroom project, an afterthought. This made me believe, initially, that all we had to do was make ours look “prettier” and they would be happy. Simple answer! Then I dug a little deeper, listened more to their actual pain points, saw the flaming rings they had to jump through to provision a new employee, and learned that the real problem was that we did not integrate into their new employee provisioning workflow.

We implemented a programmatic interface to our user control functions, and people were happy. Had I not taken the time to listen beyond their words, we would not have done this. The key was listening and understanding beyond what they were saying, hearing their emotional response.

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As time went on, I learned many different styles to communicate with our customers, to empathise with them, to really connect on various levels. Equally important was how to speak with them so that they would understand what I said. Again, this required connecting on many levels. I worked with my colleagues to enhance their skills, to not be defensive about our software, but to acknowledge the customer’s perception even if the software “worked as designed”. These communication skills benefitted many of them in their careers, perhaps one of the best skills I helped them acquire. Trust, honesty, integrity, humility and genuine passion were all the characteristics that enhanced the relationships.

Ironically, this special power I had with our customers did not materialize within our company. Most of our large enterprise customers told us that line of business applications was the game changer and could drive BlackBerry sales throughout their organization. We had a solution in place that would make development of apps and data synchronization simple. In 2005, years before the iPhone had apps. We actually had multiple solutions in place.

blackberryoldYet, we fumbled the ball. The technical team (me) did not explain the technology that we had developed, and how it met the needs of these customers. I assumed that our product team understood what had been built, its power, and potential uses. More importantly how easily it solved what our customers were looking to do. I knew it! I heard our customers, I understood our technology. It was at our fingertips, and we could not get our product team to understand it! Rather we did not connect with our internal teams the way we did with our customers.

The result is part of the reason that BlackBerry went from the creators and market leaders of a new class of technology to number three.

The product team was every bit as important a customer to software developers as the people who bought our BlackBerrys and Servers. Customer service – communication – is vital at all levels. To all groups of people internal and external to the company. Take the time to make connections, enhance them, and grow them. Understand the motivation of internal teams as much as you do external groups and you will build solid relationships based on trust.

I take this lesson seriously, and work hard to embed it into the DNA at Mabel’s Labels. There was a serious disconnect between IT and the other departments, there was a sense of arrogance and “I know better”, from IT that caused a great deal of friction. Mabel’s is known for fantastic customer service. It is one of the hallmarks of the company. Yet this level of service did not exist between IT and the internal groups. Lesson learned from RIM, this became a mantra of mine, to provide excellent service to our internal customers, to interact with honesty, integrity, humility and passion. Every member of the team possesses these skills.

We continue to work on these relationships everyday. Front of mind is the need to understand, to connect, to listen and to look beyond the words to the motivations behind the requests. We seek to understand, and to be understood.
Build relationships and your business will build itself. Truly understand what motivates your customer, internal and external. Communicating on many levels is vital to building that relationship. Learn the nuances and differences in communication styles and you will be successful.

Can milkshake marketing help your business?

After spending some time cleaning up my desktop recently, I stumbled across an old folder of articles from a marketing strategy class I took while studying at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Despite a few painful memories of long nights spent reading lengthy HBR articles, I flipped through a few and came across an old favourite. Finding the Right Job for Your Product, originally published in 2007 in the MIT Sloan Management Review, is an article that resonated with me as a marketing student and still strikes me as being particularly poignant as a practicing marketer.

In brief, the article contends that traditional marketing segmentation schemes miss the mark in today’s marketplace. The authors argue that while companies tend to segment their markets along product or customer characteristics, customers “just find themselves needing to get things done” and “hire a product or service to do the job.” Few could disagree with the premise.

For example, the authors highlight the case of a fast food company that wanted to increase sales of its milkshakes (hence milkshake marketing). Traditional marketing wisdom meant the company segmented the market for milkshakes based on product or customer categories, and subsequent product variations based on these segmentation insights didn’t impact sales.

After careful market analysis, the company eventually realized that 40% of milkshakes were being sold in the morning and customers were buying them because they helped to relieve the monotony of morning commutes, not just because they’re a tasty beverage. Understanding the milkshake’s true ‘job’ and its true competition (any other product that solves the boring commute job, like a bagel or a donut) allowed the company to tweak its products to do the ‘job’ better. As a result, the company gained market share.

Ultimately, as the article’s authors’ note, the benefits of segmenting by ‘job’ and milkshake marketing can be readily applied to the 4 P’s of any marketing plan:

    • Promotion Segmenting by ‘job’ allows for the creation of purpose brands that decrease advertising costs for early stage businesses, as purpose brands “link customers’ realization that they need to do a job with a product that was designed to do it”.
    • Product Understanding the true ‘job’ your product does will help you design your product or add features that actually improve customer experience, rather than superfluous fluff that you think your target customer might value.
    • Price Understanding your product or service’s ‘job’ and your true competition will help you set the right price for the right customers (who may not be who you initially think they are).
    • Place Understanding the ‘job’ of your product or service can help you tailor your distribution strategy and get your product to the right place at the right time.

As a growing business, choosing to segment by ‘job’ rather than traditional methods can increase the size of your market, help you to understand your true competitors, tweak your value proposition, better target your products or services, and help you “escape the traditional positioning paradigm”. Always be sure to perform situational case studies, such as the milkshake marketing example outlined above, to gain actionable and practical sales and marketing insights.

If you’d like to understand more about how milkshake marketing could apply to your business, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Venture Accelerator Partners.

 

Three Important Brand Management Lessons

Managing your brand is of vital important in a world of increasingly commoditized products and services. A well developed brand differentiates your business, communicates your value proposition, and conveys important information about what you do and who you are.

Here are some important startup brand management lessons to remember:

  • Focus on Creating Experiences I recently finished reading B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore’s paradigm shifting book The Experience Economy. Pine and Gilmore contend that to realize success in the modern economy, companies should focus upon creating innovative and enduring experiences rather than products or services. The authors credit the creation of compelling experiences for the growth and terrific success of onetime startup’s Apple and the Geek Squad. The book got me thinking a lot about the importance of branding, since I’ve always believed that a company’s brand is a summation of customer touchpoints; it’s the experiences you are able to create, the conversations you are able to foster, and the feelings you are able to elicit. To build your startup’s brand, be creative in how you design an experience. As Pine and Gilmore point out, Apple was able to enhance its brand through innovative retail stores by analyzing the hospitality experiences of boutique hotels. The Geek Squad created a great brand by embracing elements of theatricality in its operations. Focus on designing great experiences for your customers and your brand will come naturally.
  • Be Your Brand A simple Google search on ‘branding’ will turn up a great deal of information on the merits of ‘living your brand’. Solid brand management principles should be ingrained in every company’s culture, but startups are in a unique position with regard to this philosophy. For a new company with a small number of employees, branding is as much about you as it is about the company. You’re the driving force behind your startup, so act as if it’s an extension of yourself. Brand building is as much a question of your company’s culture as your external efforts, so train yourself and your employees to channel the brand in all interactions with customers. Remember, your brand is your reputation.
  • Design Matters First and foremost, it’s important to remember that good design cannot make up for poor branding. A creative logo or beautiful website become meaningless when not integrated into a cohesive brand management program. However, don’t under appreciate the positive impact great design can have upon your brand. Creative and well thought out design elements help communicate key characteristics about your brand, which will increase the attractiveness of your startup, help foster engagement and start customer conversations.   

A solid brand management program is crucial to the long-term success of your company. Focus on creating great experiences for customers, understand that your brand is an extension of your company’s culture (and by extension, yourself), and embrace the power of quality design to build a brand that resonates with your customers.

What are some other important factors you feel are important when building a brand?

If you’re looking for help building your company’s brand through the creation of great customer experiences, check out how VA Partners can help or feel free to contact me at any time.

 

Create a More Engaging Email Marketing Newsletter

Email newsletters are one of the most commonly used marketing tactics by organizations of all sizes. A highly efficient and scalable marketing tool, its popularity among businesses shows no signs of slowing down as 67% of businesses plan to increase their usage of the tactic this year. When done right, newsletters can be great vehicles for engaging with your target market and establishing yourself as an industry thought leader. Here are 6 easy tips to help you create a click-through behemoth:

1. Etiquette It goes without saying that spamming is bad. Sending your newsletter to as many people as possible may seem like a great idea to increase your reach, but there’s no better way to feed the junk mail monster than by sending your newsletter to those who haven’t explicitly asked for it. Spamming might get you a few opens in the short-term, but over a longer period it will hurt both your subscription and open rates. Remember – a small, engaged audience is immensely more valuable than a large, apathetic one.

2. Study Your Target Audience This applies on several levels. Of course it’s important to target your newsletter to specific customer groups, but making an effort to understand these groups’ daily habits is crucial too. When are they most likely to open and read their daily email? How do they structure their workdays? What is the nature of their relationship with what you offer? Ultimately, a lot has been written on the mythical best time to send your email but really there is no one best time – only a best time for your audience.

3. Leverage Your Existing Content Chances are you’re already producing great content for your startup or small business using a blog, website, or social media tool. Your newsletter is a great opportunity to leverage the hard work you’ve already put in. Link people to your blog posts that are relevant to the topic of your current newsletter, pull great content from your social media tools, and offer opportunities to download your existing marketing content, such as brochures, fact sheets, or case studies.

4. Design for Success Never underestimate the power of great design. There’s nothing worse than an ugly or boring newsletter. Luckily for those of us who aren’t coding wizards, free or inexpensive newsletter management tools like Constant Contact and MailChimp have great free templates. When designing your newsletter, remember to stay on brand and integrate photographs and other rich media like YouTube videos. A recent campaign for one of our customers averaged almost a 10% increase in opens and click-through rates following a newsletter redesign that incorporated YouTube videos as content.

5. Conciseness + Consistency At the end of the day your newsletter is another marketing tool competing for your customers’ attention, so keeping things concise, to the point, and consistent is key. Let your audience know exactly what they’re in for by taking the time to read your content. Research has shown that shorter subject lines get more opens, but longer subject lines result in more click-throughs. Find a happy medium between the two. Click-throughs are more important to create engagement, but they won’t happen if no one opens your email.

6. Be Clever Most newsletters have open rates between only 13% and 23%, so to grab and maintain your viewers attention, be clever with your subject line and content. Don’t title your monthly newsletter “Widgets-R-Us Monthly Newsletter”. It’s just poor marketing communications. It’s dull, feels like a sales pitch, and won’t start many conversations. Instead, use impactful keywords, intuitive calls-to-action, or lead with your best content.

Follow these 6 tips to increase your newsletter’s open and click-through rates and ensure that your target audience no longer dreads receiving boring emails. Email marketing can be a great first step to closing more B2B sales. If you’re new to email marketing and would like to learn more, subscribe to our monthly startup and small business newsletter.

 

Copywriting for Your Audience – How to Create Great Content

Having clear copywriting practices is a very important aspect of your marketing strategy. Copywriting is the part of the marketing strategy that is used to by companies to communicate the right messages to the right audience. It is important to be able to keep track of all things you are communicating in print across all mediums, whether on your website, in your newsletter or with your social media platforms. In order to formulate good material for all of your marketing outlets there is one important thing to keep in mind – your audience.

  • Who is your target audience? Before beginning to develop the content for your marketing platforms, do research on who your target audience is. Who would be the ideal person to buy your solution? This will help formulate content that will appeal to the right prospects.
  • What are your platforms? Now that you know your target audience, figure out where they get information from. Different types of marketing tactics get the attention of different types of people. Are they more or less likely to be engaged in social media? Will they benefit from a monthly newsletter?
  • What kind of language are you using? The types of words and the way in which you phrase your sentences can make big difference in reaching your target audience. For example, you may use professional discourse on Linkedin and more casual words on Twitter. Formulate your content so that your target audience will be more interested in reading what you have to say.
  • What will your audience take away? Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to creating content is to encourage your reader to take action; this can include visiting your website or contacting a team member. Make sure that you leave then with a clear statement about what to do next.

As you can see, there are a number of things to consider when it comes to creating content that is engaging to your ideal audience. Once these questions are answered you are well on your way to creating a great copywriting strategy.

To learn more about copywriting for your business download the VA Partners whitepaper Copywriting 101 or visit our website.

 

YWCA Hamilton’s Bridging to Information and Communications Technology program

YWCA Hamilton in partnership with Mohawk College offers the Bridging to Information and Communications Technology program designed to prepare Internationally Educated Professionals (IEPs) for employment in Canada’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. It offers technical upgrading and sector communications training, including interactive workshops, followed by support in creating pathways to employment opportunities.  The participants of this program are highly qualified individuals with more than 2 years of ICT work experience and a minimum of 3 years post secondary degree obtained outside Canada.

YWCA Hamilton wishes to connect with ICT professionals and ICT companies that would be willing to engage in work exposure opportunities for participants of the Bridging to Information and Communications Technology program.  Here are some opportunities to participate as a representative of the ICT sector:

  • Give a guest speaker lecture about your work in the ICT sector
  • Give an informational interview to a program participant
  • Mentor a newcomer to Canada
  • Enable a newcomer to job shadow you for a day
  • Offer a newcomer a volunteer position with your organization
  • Take on a newcomer for an unpaid work placement

Take this opportunity to host a qualified immigrant with the technical and soft skills to succeed in your organization.  If your organization is interested in providing any of the above opportunities, please contact Jupiter Deveau at jdeveau@ywcahamilton.org to get involved.

 

The medium may be the message, but the message still applies

Last September, I wrote a blog titled “The Medium is the Message” and how it applies to our social media efforts. As mentioned in my previous blog, McLuhan’s theory was not made for the internet and social media, however, his theory applies none-the-less. When stating “The medium is the message”, McLuhan believed that it was not what we said, but the way we said it that mattered most. Although McLuhan was right in saying that the way we send our message is important, we cannot neglect the message itself; this is where the importance of copywriting comes in.

Copywriting is essentially the value of your company, its services and products in writing. In order to ensure you accurately portray your brand to your customers, prospects and even competitors, here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  1. Assign someone to do the task. Startups and growing organizations suffer from inadequate resources to get things completed. Find the person in your company that handles the majority (or all) of your Marketing efforts. This person will have some prior insight into how your company should be communicating with your audience.
  2. Prep yourself before writing. We won’t all be superstar copywriters at first, but a bit of help can lead to success. Attend webinars, read whitepapers and even take a copywriter in your neighbourhood out for a coffee to pick their brain for an hour.
  3. Make a copywriting plan for each medium. Put a copywriting plan in place for your Social Media outlets, Whitepapers, Email Newsletters and Website. Having copywrite for each medium put into a plan and templated will make it easier to pass it on throughout your company. It will also serve as a back-up source of information in case any of your employees need a refresher.
  4. Keep a content calendar. A content calendar can be done on something as simple as Microsoft Excel, or it can be done on Google Docs. Either way you choose to track this information, make sure your entire team is on the same page. This way, the timeline and expectations for each source will be known by all your employees. Mark Evans speaks also speaks on the importance of content marketing and how it applies to our Marketing efforts; check out his website for more information.

If you’re looking for help on your copywriting efforts, or simply looking for resources on Copywriting techniques, reach out to myself or sign up for our monthly newsletter filled with great information, suggested readings and events on Sales and Marketing.

 

Twitter Guide for Small Business: A Great Read!

Originally posted on CanuckSEO.com

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. You are a small biz owner and you’ve heard that this “Twitter” online service is pretty much anything BUT business….and so why should you even consider adding this media outlet to your marketing mix?

So….with time being the major constraint in your world….why indeed?

Well, answer is….there’s more – much more to Twitter, than simple personal revelations like “I had Cheerios this morning” and “Didn’t like John Carter very much…” and to combat that thought alone you are in luck!

And the Guide itself, available here….offers up much in the way of rationalizing your foray into social media via Twitter. You see, as they put it so well, “…a Tweet is a powerful tool. Every week billions of Tweets flow through Twitter about every imaginable subject. A wide variety of people, organizations, businesses — big and small, local and international — all use Twitter to make their presence known. And this guide is intended to help small business owners understand how to use Twitter better. Twitter can help your company connect with customers, amplify your message, and ultimately, grow your business.”

Here’s a quick look at the contents….

    • 1. GET STARTED
      Your customers are already on Twitter. Don’t miss the opportunity to be part of the conversation. Learn how to use Twitter effectively to meet your business goals.
    • 2. ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE
      Make sure your voice shapes the online identity of your business. Tweet about the ideas, principles and value of your business. Share links and pictures with your customers. Let them see what happens behind the scenes.
    • 3. AMPLIFY YOUR IMPACT
      The more people who talk about your business on Twitter, the more followers (and customers) you’ll get. Focus on activities that promote your @username and expand your business.

While the advice is top notch over the complete 22 page Guide, there are a couple of standouts that I especially love, the first of which deals with the mantra to “listen first” before going out and tweeting…and that’s a spot-on rationale!

Too often I see or read about firms who have made a total mess of their online reputation via Twitter by “posting first” and then comes the denouement! Like your Dad used to say – “listen first…then talk!” and that is well covered in the Guide!

And while there’s no mention about those folks who try to “impersonate” someone else or another firm for whatever reason, but a quick Google for same shows millions of hits on that bad mistake – one that you can avoid by following the great advice in this Guide! In our own Canadian online marketing practice, we already preach that our clients should & must be totally transparent and honest, something to remember, eh!

Further there is another great section that deals with how to Amplify your media positioning and the tips there are pretty darn good! Read closely on the section that deals with “working with others” and on “how to measure your impact.”

Twitter is here. You need to use it to get some social media online reputation traction. Honest you do…and the Twitter Guide for Small Business can get you started, eh!

 

Tips for Starting a Linkedin in Group

Recently VA Partners launched a group on Linkedin called “Sales and Marketing for Canadian Startups”. Linkedin groups have a number of benefits for member such as sharing content and making connections, as outlined in a previous blog post. However, from the perspective of a group owner there are different things to consider when it comes to Linkedin groups.

When I was doing research on how to start a Linkedin group I came across a number of resources with great guidelines. These include articles from Hubspot and Social Media Examiner.The recently published article “How to Run a Successful Linkedin Group” featuring Sourov De and Chris Hebert has some great tips as well.

Below are some tips I have gathered:

Marketing:

  • Develop a digital marketing strategy to gain momentum in attracting members. Use social media platforms such as twitter to spread the word. Other outlets can include the use of your newsletter. You can use these platforms to not only present the launch of the group, but to also provide continual updates on the group’s progress.
  • Use connections that individuals have on Linkedin to send out personal emails encouraging them to join the group to by outlining what benefits it could offer them. It’s important to only invite people who will actually consider joining.

Content:

  • Since the group is encompassing both sales and marketing it’s important to vary the topics of the content that is being posted as well as the sources that they are being drawn from but still maintain the overall topics of sales and marketing.
  • Formulate questions and post them as discussions to allow members to engage in conversations.
  • Comment and like discussions that are posted by other members in order to show that you are involved in the group’s discussion board.

Monitoring:

  • Decide whether an open group or a closed group is more appropriate for the goals of your group. Some factors that play a part in making your decision include:approving members, approving discussions or allowing updates without any approval. The decision to have an open or closed group will alter the amount of time you will regularly spend on the group.
  • Set up group rules for members to refer to. This also shows that this group is meant to facilitate only relevant discussions. It indicates to members that the group managers are involved in the group’s progress and are committed to making it one that will be beneficial to its members.
  • Develop a way of addressing spam and other promotional material. First, it’s important to create guidelines on what is considered spam and what isn’t.Utilize the personal message feature in Linkedin to connect with anyone who is posting things that aren’t relevant to the group

It’s important to realize that once the group has been launched many of your pre-planned ideas may need to be adjusted. For example there can be lot of activity on the group’s discussion board so you may reduce the amount of content you post.Continue to develop your plans to cater to your groups demographic.

Take a look at the group “Sales and Marketing for Canadian Startups” to see the results of the efforts that are put into creating a Linkedin group. For more information about how you can make the shift in Marketing for your team, or for help getting your Marketing efforts off the ground, take a look at how we can help.

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