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Content Marketing Made Simple

Not long after Ted Leonsis bought the Washington Capitals in 1999, he hired a freelance sportswriter who happened to be a good buddy of mine. Nothing strange there; reporters get pulled into corporate life all the time—usually as PR staffers.

But Leonsis had other ideas: he wanted my buddy to keep reporting. On the Capitals. As a team employee. And for nearly 20 years, that’s exactly what my buddy—Mike Vogel—has done.

Leonsis saw then what the business world sees now: content is the best marketing. Mike would no doubt cringe at being labeled a marketer, but he’s a content producer extraordinaire. (If you’re a local hockey fan and don’t read his stuff, Google it up and change that.) Leonsis understood that a direct, consistent connection with your audience is incredibly effective and builds loyalty.

What Leonsis did then is common now: it’s tough to find a sports team (or large organization, for that matter) that doesn’t self-publish. Blogs, podcasts, videos, social media feeds that deliver it—it’s direct connection from source to audience. It’s content marketing. And if you’re in business, you can probably benefit from it.

Start by figuring out what you know or have access to that can inform and/or entertain. Then, figure out ways to deliver that information on a regular basis.

A blog is a great start. In Mike’s case, he covers the team like a reporter—he’s at every practice, game, and draft, and even hits the minor-league affiliates. He gives fans insight that they don’t get anywhere else, and he’s been doing it for far longer than any other reporter covering the team. The content is valuable—and free—to his audience.

You don’t have to hire a reporter to write about your organization. But you should take an outsider’s look at what you do and figure out what would be of value—or at least of interest—to share.

If you run a winery, don’t just talk about your tasting schedule. Share insight into why you choose the grape blend you do, or how to keep an open bottle fresh for a few extra days. Post short behind-the-scenes videos of neat processes, like tending to vines post-harvest.

Once you have some ideas, develop a simple content calendar, and start cranking stuff out.

Share your content far and wide, and don’t sweat the small stuff, like Oxford commas or shaky videos. Just go forth, convey what you know, and strengthen that connection between you and your fans. It’ll be the most effective marketing strategy you’ll ever have.

A version of this post first appeared the Times Business section of the Fauquier/Gainesville/Prince William Times papers.

How To Not Suck In Your Next Media Interview

by Sean Broderick

So you received a call from a reporter and she wants to talk to you about your latest big project. Time to panic?

Hardly.

Earned media—articles written about you or what you do—remains one of the most effective public relations tools in the communicator’s toolbox. The key to capitalizing on these opportunities is understanding a few basic tenets about reporters and your ability to shape a story.

Reporters are people too.

First off, shed any misconceptions about reporters being anything but what they are: people with jobs to do. And most people like help doing their jobs. So think of media interviews as mutually beneficial opportunities to get what you want—your narrative in the reporter’s hands—while giving reporters what they’re after, too.

What’s your plan?

The most important thing you can do before an interview is to establish a plan. At the very least, know the publication and its audience, and tailor your messages to fit. A local magazine doing a human-interest story on your success will have different questions than a business publication that wants to cover your latest expansion. Anticipate what they want, and prepare your core messages–and related facts and figures–accordingly.

Background is your friend…

One tool that can help with almost any story (so long as you’re not live on camera, that is) is speaking to reporters on background. The concept of being “on background” is commonly understood among reporters—it means they can use the information a source gives them, but they are not to attribute it to that source. While it’s often used when the source wants to help but does not want to be quoted, it can be used during an on-the-record interview. Simply tell the reporter that you wish to speak on background and—once the reporter agrees—proceed. Once the background discussion is done, tell the reporter you are back on the record for attribution.

PR 101 media tips

(Important side note: Unless someone specifies otherwise, assume you are always on the record when talking with a reporter, no matter the setting.)

Background is useful for providing context that is central to understanding a story. It’s also very useful for reporters, who usually don’t understand the intricacies of a story you’re involved in like you do. If you do enough interviews, you’ll inevitably be asked questions you’d rather not answer. Resist the urge to offer the classic “no comment,” as it almost always leaves too much to the reporter’s (and reader’s) imagination. Instead, consider a response along the lines of, “I can’t offer details on that, but what I can tell you is…,” followed by something that adds to the story.

…and so is silence. ‘No comment’  — not so much.

There will be times when reporters will press for information they want. Some savvy reporters use silence to coax you into carrying on. Be savvier—once you’ve completed your response, wait as long as necessary for the reporter to move on.

They will; they have a job to do.

A version of this post first appeared the Times Business section of the Fauquier/Gainesville/Prince William Times papers.

Is Your Website Delivering Your Message?

By Sean Broderick

Getting your message to the right audience is key to successful marketing. As you’re rolling out your marketing strategy, the first step should be ensuring what you’re already doing is effective.

Where to start, you ask? We have a few ideas. At the top of our list: your website.

Harness your website’s power

Marketing messages aren’t just found in ads—they’re in everything that represents your business. For most of you, your most powerful, most consistent messages are on your website.

But a website only works if people are using it. How does your site’s readiness to work for you measure up to what Google considers useful content?

While Google’s algorithms are constantly changing (500+ times a year, in fact), there are some big-picture rules of thumb that your website’s content should follow. The biggest: regularly post original, useful content that relates to your product, service, or mission.

Put another way, use your website to spotlight your expertise.

While few marketers have disputed this tactic as part of a strong web strategy, Google codified it in November with the first-ever full release of its “Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines,” written for the company’s own team of search evaluators.

Search Engine Journal has a solid summary of the document’s content-related tips.

What should your main takeaway be? If you’re not adding regular, valuable content to your site—through blogs, a “news and updates” section, articles in a virtual library, etc.—-consider working it into your strategy.

Search factors that matter

Great content is important, but it’s just one factor in creating an effective, highly-ranking site. The gurus as Moz surveyed marketing and SEO experts to determine what helps sites get found. Check them out and see how your site stacks up.

A few spoilers:

  • Organic inbound links remain the biggest factor in boosting your site’s visibility. Make sure you’re leveraging opportunities, such like online directories for organizations you belong to—chambers of commerce, business associations, etc.–to maximize your backlinks.
  • Content quality is a close second. This is where your content strategy comes in.
  • Social links and shares are important, but not as valuable as what’s noted above. Sure, they drive traffic–and that’s always good. But the anonymity of social media makes likes, shares, re-tweets, and the like less valuable than solid, organic links from reputable sites.

Want a quick overview of where your site stands and what you can do to improve it? Use one of the many free website grading tools (like Woorank or Hubspot’s website grader) and get to work on making sure your website is pulling its weight.

Questions? Drop us a line!

Warby Parker: 5 Reasons To Love (And Emulate) Its Marketing

By Rachel Samlall

These days, big businesses aren’t the only masters of marketing. In fact, when brands make it to megastardom (think GE, Starbucks, Microsoft), the connection they’ve established with a target audience can go stale after decades of success, or may be interrupted by a new phase in an ever-evolving social consciousness.

 

Trending in marketing right now is the cultivation of authentic appeal by embracing and reflecting the values of a modern audience. If you’re wondering what your business can do to get an edge in this modern world, take a look at the business model of Warby Parker (WP), a largely online prescription eyewear company founded in 2010. Here’s why their marketing is the stuff of legend:

  1. Their philosophy is wholesome. WP was created in order to solve a widespread and largely ignored problem. Glasses are a basic necessity – lots of people need them, but not everyone can get them. WP was troubled by the high costs of prescription lenses, so their vision to serve the visually impaired materialized when they came up with an alternative to traditional methods of eyewear production. Their desire to address the lack of access to glasses helped them springboard into additional philanthropic channels, but more about that in a sec.
  1. They’ve identified their target audience. WP markets to an online generation. They’ve tapped into what matters most to their audience by being the first company to solve a specific and pervasive problem. On top of that, they manage to make us feel indulged. If you see a pair of glasses on their site that you love but aren’t sure how they’ll look on, no problem – they have home try-on. You get five pairs of your choice in the mail, keep the pair you like best and send the rest back. In other words, they tell us their shopping experience is fun and easy and back it up with actual proof. Plus, you don’t have to spend the equivalent of a mortgage payment to look and feel good.
  1. They carve out a culture. The people in this company serve their community by supporting local events where they have retail stores. They also create a fun and engaging workspace, make fair and safe working conditions a priority for their factory employees, and use environmentally responsible materials in their product. Theirs is a culture of transparency, a culture of people who are unashamed because they do the right thing, even though they don’t have to.
  1. They engage. WP crafts a playful but sincere tone that reflects the personalities of its founders. Their site tells the company’s story in a way that makes you feel like you’re part of the Cool Kid Club. Its founders even introduce themselves in an open-armed style, revealing quirks like their karaoke picks and happy places. Five minutes into reading their content, you can picture yourself sharing a nerdy joke and a coffee with any one of them. Brilliant.
  1. They’re philanthropic. In addition to creating opportunities for employees to contribute to the greater good individually, WP stays true to its original mission, which is to provide glasses for those who have difficulty accessing them. They have a program called Buy a Pair, Give a Pair, where nonprofit partners accept a monthly donation from WP that helps foster education and build sustainability in developing countries. The program allows people in need to earn a real living by giving basic eye exams and selling glasses in their communities. WP understands the true spirit of philanthropy, which is not to put a Band-Aid on a bad situation, but to heal it.

We at McKinsey Development believe the attainment of success is an ongoing education for all of us. Anyone can grow an idea or a business with the right support. Sometimes the best way to find inspiration is to look around and learn from others whose principles resonate.

Three Content Marketing Tips For Success!

By Crystal McKinsey

#1: Think Beyond the Written Word

Get creative with your content and think beyond the standard 250-300 word blog post. You can diversify your content marketing plan by incorporating:

  • Infographics
  • Short videos
  • Photographs
  • Downloadable case studies
  • Guest blog posts
  • Podcasts
  • Memes

These are just a few ideas to help you get started. Add in one or two and track engagement. You’ll be glad you did. See you tomorrow.

#2: Create a Content Marketing Plan

A documented content marketing strategy is an essential part of your success. Rather than simply winging it as you go along, set aside some time to write a content marketing plan. The plan should answer the following questions:

  • Why am I launching a content marketing strategy?
  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What will I write about?
  • How will I define success?
  • When will I post?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, put your plan in calendar format. It can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet with columns for date of publication, topic and keywords to include in each post.

Note, sixty-one percent of marketers list not having enough time as their key content marketing challenge. Having a plan in place in advance will save you time and keep you on track.

#3: Market your content marketing!

Writing great content is just the first step in a solid content marketing plan. Getting it seen is the next step. Here are several ways you can share your content with others:

  • Add your blog headline to a “What’s New” or “Newsfeed” on the homepage of your website.
  • Share your blog via Social Media outlets (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Add a blog link to an e-newsletter.
  • Add a link to your latest blog post in the signature line of your email.

Remember, great content unread is, well, great content unread. Happy sharing.

10 Things Marketers Can Learn From Politicians

By Crystal McKinsey

Do you know what the best political campaigns have mastered? The power of integrated marketing. For the purposes of this blog, I’m simply talking about the positive campaign strategy tactics that serve to introduce potential voters to a particular brand (candidate).

Here are ten campaign marketing tidbits that will help your business succeed:

1.) Be consistent.

If there is one thing politicians have figured out, it is the importance of message consistency. This applies to where they stand on issues, how they interact with the media and how they present themselves on a day-to-day basis with the general public. We can all think of epic political fails where inconsistency or waffling has cost public sentiment. How does that apply to your small business or brand? Simple (in theory at least): make sure you are presenting a consistent brand proposition and message on the ground and in the cloud.

2.) Utilize multiple marketing channels.

A campaign media mix will typically include everything from T.V., radio and print advertising to sophisticated social media outreach, website optimization and regular content marketing. Campaigns are appealing to diverse and multi-generational audiences and they understand that they need to be where their constituents are. If your business serves a diverse audience base, take note of the multi-channel marketing approach campaigns employ–they invest in integration for a reason.

3.) Print (still) works!

Speaking of multi-channel marketing…campaigns are traditionally strong advocates of both direct mail and print advertising. Direct mail offers a brand the opportunity to communicate directly with an end recipient in a way that is both personal and tactile. Done right, direct mail is a proven way to garner brand action and awareness. This is particularly true in smaller markets where there is limited access to T.V., radio and other means of outreach.

4.) Be human.

Campaigns understand that winning candidates must be likeable and engaging. They must speak in their own voices and respond to campaign questions in a manner consistent with their values and beliefs. The same applies to businesses and brands. A likeable brand typically has a unique personality that is human, approachable and, in some cases, even a personification of the actual product or service itself. Consider Apple’s Siri, for example. The iPhone has been brought to life by the lovely and feminine Siri button. While Siri herself is clearly not human, Apple has provided Siri with human answers to common questions. I asked Siri this morning if I should have a second cup of Starbucks. She said, “I’m afraid I don’t know what you should do.” I like her.

5.) Go grassroots.

The social media sphere has opened the online playing field for social networking and interaction. In most cases, however, this is not substitute for the on-the-ground, door-to-door, campaigning we are so familiar with in the political arena. Hosting small business gatherings, putting up posters, setting up informational tables at exhibits and simply getting out and networking with your community is a great way to stay in touch with your audience and bring your brand to life.

6.) Play nice in the sandbox.

Just a gentle reminder. A candidate who runs on pointing out where his or her opponent is lacking has said nothing about why he or she is more qualified for the position. The best campaigns (and businesses) focus on educating their audience about what makes them worth investing in—be it with your votes or your money– instead of focusing on what makes their competition less capable.

7.) Know your target audience.

Campaigns thrive on information, details and data. Candidates map out target geographic areas and know, down to the household, past voting preferences and behaviors. They study demographics, psychographics and geographic information. Getting to know your audience helps you make good decisions and analyze how, when and where to reach them most effectively. Do you have strong data about the audiences you serve?

8.) Take it outside.

Tired of seeing campaign signs in yards throughout your community? Fortunately, campaign seasons pass and so will the yard signs. What remains is a lesson for businesses regarding the power of outdoor advertising. Billboards, banners and storefront signage is very important. It creates awareness. It works. If you are a business owner with limited outdoor exposure, consider sponsoring events and happenings in your area that allow for the placement of a banner promoting your business. Just like a voter is unlikely to say to a candidate, “I voted for you because you had a cool yard sign,” a consumer is unlikely to tell you they are buying from you because of a banner they saw at a Twilight Polo event. But awareness and exposure matter—and help lead to conversions. So put the banner out anyway. Though not as trackable as an online sale that can be sourced back to, say, a Google AdWords campaign, outdoor advertising is an extremely important part of your overall integrated marketing communications strategy.

9.) Open the lines of communication.
Speaking of communications strategy, campaigns are really good at this too. Candidates make themselves available for events and forums and typically offer up multiple ways of reaching them directly via phone, email, social media and direct mail. The best candidates respond to feedback quickly and personally, whenever possible. (Even the President has a verified Twitter account now: @POTUS.) The same strategy should be employed by businesses and brands. Have you provided your audience with multiple ways to reach you and provide feedback? And once they have provided feedback, who is tasked with engaging, responding to and interacting with your business audience?

10.) Track everything.

A final campaign learning point is in the metrics arena. Good campaigns track everything. They regularly poll audiences and course correct when necessary to ensure they are on the right path. They review and study metrics across all platforms and take an active interest in percentages, behavior and results. We know that knowledge is power. In our new media world, data is power. Are you effectively tracking, evaluating and adjusting strategy when needed as result of your businesses metrics?

While politics and marketing your business may superficially appear to be worlds apart, consider the fact that a new business outreach strategy designed to shape sentiment or attract new customers is referred to as a marketing “campaign.” And, campaigning in and of itself, doesn’t have to be a dirty game. See #6 above….