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ABCs & 123s of Your Business

And just like that, it’s school time. The most wonderful time of the year, as a memorably accurate Staples ad once put it.

I love this time of year, and not just as a parent. As a kid, I always looked forward to the return to the books, the excitement of learning new things, and even – wait for it – the report cards. #nerdalert

But seriously, there is something exciting about seeing your growth (or “areas for improvement” – ahem, sorry Mom for all those “needs to better apply herself” comments) on one neat, handy, at-a-glance chart.

I’ve taken my love for assessments with me into adulthood, and I find that quick-but-meaningful metrics are still the name of the game, especially in business. There are hundreds of ways to measure the progress of your business, and an equal number of platforms and services offering to provide them for you. Sometimes just wading through them all, or even learning what they mean, can seem daunting. Worse, you can actually get lost in all those numbers and not see the forest for the trees. So, although it’s important to have a handle on many measures of success, I’ve come realize that a consistent form documenting the most meaningful metrics at a glance is incredibly useful.

A report card, if you will.

And just as different subjects in school require different components of mastery, so too will your business’s report card require a level of customization for each subject. Because it’s my bread and butter, I’ve focused on Marketing and Sales here. Over time, I’ve come to favor these five metrics as the ones that most quickly impart the best information about my marketing efforts. Checked frequently, this report card provides me with a thumb on Spring Insight’s pulse.

Spring Insight’s Marketing & Sales Report Card

1. Web Visits & Conversion

Okay, so this is sorta two metrics, but I look at them as a pair, so let’s do that. Web visits = the number of unique viewers of your site, and conversion rate is the number of those who actually follow through and do what you want them to do on your site, whether that’s purchase a product, download an item of software or subscribe to your newsletter. Any ratio is just a division problem, so you get this number by dividing the number of conversions by the number of absolute visitors. If 500 people visit your site, and 10 convert, your metric is 10/500 = .02 or 2%.

2. Social media/email touches

Sometimes the lingo in online marketing cracks me up. Touches? I’m not sure how I feel about this word. But it does get across the idea of actually reaching a customer. This can be through email, an online advertising campaign view, social media views, blog posts and newsletters, or any other interaction you have with a potential customer. The question is, how many times have you interacted with – touched – the customer. This basic metric is akin almost to the attendance tally on a report card. It is important not just in terms of absolute number – i.e., I made 1,000,000 touches last month through my various campaigns – but also in terms of how many times each potential customer is touched. It’s important to know how many times you’re touching a potential customer before they convert to an actual customer.

3. Customer Acquisition Costs

Which brings us neatly to our third metric. This one is the culmination of the previous few. The CAC is the cost you spent to attain your customer – the cost of all those touches – including website development, blog posts, networking, billboards, and dividing it by the number of customers you actually attained. This one is much harder to accurately gauge than the prior ones because the inputs can be kind of wonky. (Does every networking event count? What happens when you meet someone at reunion? What all is counted as marketing?) I just create a “good enough” formula and keep using that.

4. Customer Lifetime Value

If you’re thinking, “But wait. My customers are actually long-time subscribers. Shouldn’t that factor into my measurements?” then you get an ‘A’! The Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is an incredibly important number. It’s also pretty easy to determine, thanks to CLV calculators you can find easily with an online search. The number reflects that the fact that one purchase doesn’t necessarily capture the relationship you have with a customer. If a one-time purchaser becomes a loyal repeat buyer, or even a monthly subscriber, the total value of their interaction has to be taken into account for you to determine whether your marketing efforts are worth it – whether your customer acquisition costs are worth it.

5. Pipeline Strength

Finally, I look at Pipeline strength. Again, with the funny terms. Google this and you’re as likely to learn about corrosiveness of lead as you are about your business. But this pipeline is about what your business has coming in down the road. Given your capacity now, the expected changes in your customer base moving forward, and factoring in some potential unexpected shifts, does your business have a healthy flow of business moving in and out? If you have the capacity for fifty clients, ten potential clients are in the last-stage recruitment phase, and you know that several will phase out over the next few months, your pipeline is probably healthy. If no new prospects are headed toward conversion, you know you need to devote more energy to marketing, to keep that pipeline strong. Like Customer Acquisition, this is one that doesn’t have a straight forward calculation. I am embarrassed to say that I have calculated this before by hash marks on a whiteboard.

Keep it in Context

These are the numbers I constantly evaluate – at least monthly, and when it comes to pipeline, weekly. Just as with those good ol’ report cards from high school, these numbers don’t stand alone. They’re only meaningful when compared against each other over time. That’s why the quarterly grades are all neatly lined up against one another on a school grade sheet, and it’s why you should always be referencing the past – and your goals for the future – when reviewing any numbers now. 5,000 website visitors sounds incredible – unless you had 10,000 last month. The numbers are also important in reference to one another. An increased Customer Acquisition Cost may be offset by an increased Customer Lifetime Value. By keeping these five numbers in my own tracking system and comparing them over time, I’ve had a better idea of where Spring Insight is headed and what steps to take next.

You may not be the rare bird like me, who eagerly anticipated parent-teacher conference night. But if you want your business to stay on track, take a cue from your old teachers and create a report card specific to your business, to highlight your progress, and those pesky areas of improvement, in one easy-to-digest compendium.

Looking for more great website and marketing tips? Follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: The Cost of Freebies

So, here at Spring Insight, we’ve discussed how to harness the power of FREE! as a marketing tool. Free offerings are effective marketing tools, and their clarion call can be hard to ignore for business owners as well as customers. Further, samples, trials and demos can be a great way to entice and convert prospects. If you’ve ever enjoyed the Costco sample buffet, only to find yourself checking out with $300 worth of frozen taquitos, you know the principles at work here. But when it comes to your business, it’s important to realize that a $0 price tag doesn’t always mean cost-free. Having waded my way through my fair share of freebies, I’ve come to see that free doesn’t always quiiiiite live up to its name. Look, it isn’t that there is no such thing as a free lunch, it is just that sometimes free isn’t so free.

Working as I do in the digital realm, many of my default assumptions – and probably yours, too – are that certain products and services should be free. Where I’d react with suspicion if I showed up at Target and was handed a free shirt, I full on expect a software service I am checking out to let me have a free taste before I start my subscription. Based partly on this mindset, and based partly on my natural inclination to seek out a bargain, when it came to starting my company, I sought out free services.

Free project management software? Check. Free conference calling?  Check. Free cloud storage, even though it came with limitations? Check, checkity, check, check. Heck, we still use free products in the day to day operation of Spring Insight… We love you Slack!

The Costs of Free

So take it from me, a freebie veteran, when I tell you I’ve learned some things along the way. If you’re making the determination of whether to go with a free service, make sure you take into account some costs that might not be immediately apparent.

Cost #1 Your Time

Free services differ pretty dramatically, some (typically the “have a taste” version) are great, others not so much. There is one thing that all free versions have in common: Customer service… or actually a lack of customer service. Of course you aren’t going to get friendly customer service with a product for which you aren’t paying. That means that when you are factoring the cost, you need to factor in your time. No one is going to train you on how to use the product. No one is going to give you pointers on best practices. You are on your own. It is tempting to forget the value of your time when determining the “cost” of a product but don’t. Every minute you spend figuring out a product is a minute you aren’t doing the job you actually started your company to do.

Cost #2 Tailoring 

Free services are basic services. They are the off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all services designed to basically meet the needs of a broad swath of people – which means they actually meet the needs of almost no one. When we started shopping for my daughter’s bat mitzvah dress, a friend offered to let us have hers. It was a couple years old, not quite my daughter’s color, and it had sleeves, which wasn’t really what my daughter wanted. But because it was free, we took it gratefully and she wore it happily for one of the events. (If you’re not aware, the bat mitzvah industrial complex is beginning to rival that of weddings, and we were game to shave off costs where we could). The same principle is at work for digital services. WordPress, the service we use to create websites is a great example. It is open source and free… Yay! But for every client, we have to build it out to meet the needs of our client – very Not Free. When we looked into the cost of tailoring the friend’s dress to fit, it nearly matched the price of a brand new dress! Now we were in the worst of all worlds – a product we wouldn’t have chosen at the outset – for nearly the price.

Cost #3: Lost Revenues

Products that force you into a framework that doesn’t work for your business are a problem not just because they may not match your vision. A poor fit or lower quality product could result in real lost revenue. There’s a reason those basic free services are accompanied by a premium upgrade option. Providers start at the lowest possible level, enticing you to access pay levels by offering higher quality and features you probably want and need for your business at those levels. What’s beyond the pay wall? A wider range of services? The ability to segment your audience well? The possibility of really producing revenue?

 Cost #4: You are a Billboard

A favorite quote of mine is that on the Internet “if you aren’t the customer, you are the product.” How do you pay? Much of the time, you pay by promoting the service you are using by showing their branding. A free Wix or Weebly website isn’t just promoting your brand, it is promoting theirs as well. Free conference calls are great, but can be sometimes wonky, and the fact they’re free is announced at the start of every call. I was in a coffee shop recently where ads came on over the Pandora station. My first thought was, really? It wasn’t worth $5 a month to create a seamless, ad-free listening experience? (Is that a first world problem? Yep. Are those kinds of problems the kinds your customers are in tune with? Probably).  In other words, these free services aren’t just forcing you to do their advertising for them: The freeness of these ads may telegraph something to your customers — about how you feel about quality control, user experience, or even your finances, which you don’t necessarily want to telegraph.

Cost #5: Gotcha Charges

My absolute least favorite cost out there is, unfortunately, coupled with my favorite way to take advantage of free services. I’m a big proponent of free trials. They make a meaningful introduction to your products and services, making it likely your customers can choose the best fit for them. What I really don’t like about a lot of free trials is the gotcha ding if you fail to cancel a free trial it in time. So many services offer free trials for potential customers – but these trials require your credit card info, and a paid subscription kicks in automatically if you fail to cancel your trial period in the time and in the manner prescribed. The automatic subscriptions that result if you don’t cancel remind me of that Up high! Down low! You’re too slow (ha ha ha) high five game kids play at recess. It’s all fun and games until you forget to cancel and end up feeling like a fool. I despise these gotcha fees, and find myself beginning to distrust the companies that rely on them. Even the most scrupulous of business owner may miss a deadline, especially when they’re in the market for new services and have lots going on. Be sure to factor in, up front, the costs if you do. And calendar exactly when and how to cancel any trials you do use!

Cost #5 Transaction Costs 

Then there’re the transaction costs that come with free. These are no trifling matter. If you’re doing the trial period musical chairs thing, you’ve got to actually monitor when services end, cancel old ones, sign up for new ones, and occasionally jump through hoops to do either. For example, many services allow you to enroll in services via email, but you have to make a phone call to unsubscribe – during business hours, of course. If you’re trying to cobble together a bunch of free services into a smoothly operating machine instead of paying someone to build a customized offering or to manage your services for you, you’re spending time on that which you could be spending on your business. All of this time, to beat some poor horse here, is NOT free. More than that, it takes mental energy and adds a source of stress. It adds another set of balls to those you’re juggling, and you’re already juggling quite a few balls.

The Upshot

None of this is to discourage freebies entirely. Free services are a benefit of the golden age of the internet, and many are a great addition to your technology plan. Spring Insight still uses Slack (which I mentioned above) and freeconferencecall.com, and I find it works well and doesn’t alienate any of my colleagues. I also make use of free trials – but for their best and intended purpose – to test drive a product. As it happens, I’m in the process of making over some of Spring Insight’s web tools right now (stay tuned!), and have been using free trials to winnow down my options. (And I find it quite fun!) But not everything “free” price-wise is costless. When you’re calculating your monthly budget, be sure to factor in the ancillary costs that may come from leveraging free services.

Want to chat more about free versus paid marketing opportunities? Let’s talk!

Looking for more great website and marketing tips? Follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +.

First One In, Last One Out

Hello everyone! I’ve been spending a fair amount of this month relaxing poolside, cocktail in hand, celebrating my birthday with loved ones in Hawaii. Lest you think I was completely idle during that time, let me assure you: I was.

But occasionally, I devoted some quality clear-headed time to thinking critically about Spring Insight. As we’ve been tailoring our packages for a number of small businesses, some of our clients have asked why we recommend a particular suite of digital strategy options over another.

It seems now is the time to discuss the length of your sales cycle and how it impacts your marketing decisions.

Sales Cycle 101

The sales cycle is the entire process a company undergoes when selling a product to a customer. It is all of the activities associated with closing a sale. Simply put, customers just think longer about making some purchases than others. It turns out that the length of the cycle itself impacts your marketing strategy.

In general, the shorter the sales cycle, the more important it is that you’re the first option potential customer sees. And the longer your sales cycle, the more important it is that you remain relevant. 

Let me explain.

Say you’re a dentist. Someone looking for your services is going to make a decision whether or not to hire you pretty quickly. This is intuitive: Someone Googling around for a root canal is in something of a hurry. Even in a non-emergency situation, you can see that there’s a pretty short period of time between when someone decides they need the services of a dentist and when they choose which dentist to see (which in this case is the “closing” of the sale).

So which marketing strategies are best for the short sales cycle businesses?

Short Sales Cycle: Be the First in the Room

To capture these types of customers, a marketing approach should focus on being found and seen first. In the digital world, this is all about search engine marketing – think Google ads – and
search engine optimization (SEO – the art of directing unpaid search traffic). If someone’s searching crown repair in greater Milwaukee, and you’re an oral surgeon in the Milwaukee area, it is critical your office pops up in the client’s initial search.

The relative immediacy of the need impacts the types of research a customer undertakes. For short cycles, this is why reviews are so important. A person looking to satisfy immediate needs will be looking for quick, pre-packaged information. Reviews are so important for a business with a short sales cycle that businesses regularly offer incentives to customers to encourage them to share their feedback.

So if you have a short sales cycle, focus on a paid and unpaid search strategy that provides visibility when your customers need you. As an added layer, incentivize your customers to share their experiences, so that future customers can quickly and easily access information about your business – and quickly and easily decide to hire you.

Long Sales Cycle: Be the Last in the Room

Of course, many business transactions do not operate on such a short sales cycle. My own business – digital strategy – operates on a much longer timeline. Someone who is pondering a website overhaul or considering the next steps in their marketing strategy is likely to deliberate, and will rely on different types and sources of information than someone looking for more immediate help.

This is where you want to be the “last person in the room.” You’ve probably heard that, when policy decisions and other big controversies are at play, the person who manages to catch the boss’s ear last (be they the CEO or president) is the one whose viewpoint will carry the day.

When it comes to these longer sales cycles, there are many tactics to help you be the last guy or gal in the room. One of our favorites is content marketing. Content marketing focuses on building trust, rapport and brand loyalty, rather than on individual direct sales. To do this, an effective content marketing strategy will provide something truly valuable to a customer – say blog posts, newsletters, infographics, quizzes, or how-to guides. In exchange, your business can gain a little bit of info about your customer – most commonly, his or her email address. Now you can stay in touch, and remain top of mind.

Further, when customers are in the market for your business’s products or services, they already have the information about your business – the information you’ve been providing, along with the trust you’ve building – that they need to make a purchase decision. For products on a longer sales cycle, this source of information can be more valuable than a 3.5/5 star rating.

Determining the Length of Your Sales Cycle

You probably have a pretty strong intuition about the length of your sales cycle. In general, a decision process that lasts two weeks or less would be considered a shorter sales cycle. Anything outside of that is a longer sales cycle. Urgency is one factor which determines a shorter cycle, but there are others. The more customized your product or service, the longer your sales cycle is likely to be. If a customer is looking for something requiring a big investment or some customization – a new car, a wedding cake, or a digital communications strategy – the sales cycle involved is going to be more complex, rely more on the development of a relationship, and, in general, be longer, than for an off-the-rack or low-investment item.

The scope of your sales cycle is just one aspect of targeting your marketing dollars effectively. If you’re curious about your options and want to discuss strategy, contact us. And be sure to never miss a tip-packed blog post by signing up below! (See what I did there ?!?)

Looking for more great website and marketing tips? Follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +.

Our Summer Reading List

It’s summer!

Every year I like to provide a summer reading list for you, my loyal reader. I thought I would mix it up this year and ask the women who form the Spring Insight marketing team to share with me a notable read – either that they’ve read or that they plan to – and now I want to share those suggestions for you!  These books are great reads if you ever do get to the beach, or into a particularly humid waiting room somewhere.

The Handmaid’s Tale By: Margaret Atwood

Let’s start with the most zeitgeist-y. This one is as au courant as they come, but hey – our marketing team is in the know, y’all. If you’ve never read the classic Margaret Atwood novel, now’s the time, thanks to a new Hulu original series based on the book, and some certain unsettling parallels with our current political trajectory. But even if you have read it, now’s the time to pick it back up.  Two of our team members, Kate and Sam, reread the book in anticipation of the television series, and both report that its story is as compelling as ever. The political tragedy, of a society in which women wake up to find their rights have been stripped away, is scarier now– less alternate-reality than it once seemed. But also, both of these mothers report, the human tragedy is achingly haunting. No one is going to call The Handmaid’s Tale the feel-good read of the summer, but we can’t recommend it strongly enough. (Also, it’s free on the Kindle for Prime members right now!!)

The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time By: Brooke Gladstone

The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time, by On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone, attempts to answer the million dollar question: How the heck did we end up here?  Like The Handmaid’s Tale, this is not one we’d call uplifting. But it should be required reading (and it is, in a way, for team member Sam’s book club). It used to be that we talked about viewing things from different perspectives. We could disagree, but we could attempt to see things from “where the other person came from,” and that learning about that viewpoint could prove productive and useful. Now, it often seems as if those on either end of the political spectrum aren’t even looking at the same landscape. If that’s the case, how do we ever find common ground? Gladstone delves into the forces that brought us “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and lies disguised as truths. With excerpts from Brave New World and 1984, and a discussion on which one our current reality mirrors more (really!), Sam is finding it to be a fascinating but accessible look into the state of our political discourse.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing By: Maria Kondo

And speaking of the trouble with reality: Your growing pile of unpaired socks (Where do they all come from?!? Where do the other ones go?!?). If The Handmaid’s Tale evokes the terror of having your life taken out of your control, and The Trouble with Reality drives home that feeling of helplessness, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the antidote. The author, Marie Kondo, is a Japanese wiz-kid in the world of organizational self-help, and her slim book, aimed at helping you take the reins over all the stuff in your life, has taken the frazzled set by storm. If you’ve seen Rachael Ray gushing about her new method of folding clothes, or overheard people thanking their belongings for their service before relegating them to the donation bin, you’ve seen Kondo’s influence. This summer, our own Brittany plans to read the book and give her home a little makeover. Brittany’s expecting her third child, and though she’s pretty disciplined about ditching the clutter, she’s heard the siren call of “magic,” and she’s game for some life-changing doses of it.  Or at least, her nesting hormones have heard that call, and they’re in charge these days. Brittany’s got another nursery to get ready, but even if you’re in a more stable time in your life, we whole-heartedly recommend this book. It’s a short read, and it’s empowering. Kondo writes with a soothing cadence and makes you think that this time, really, you can take control.

Half of a Yellow Sun   By: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And finally, my own recommendation. This too is an aspirational read – I plan to read it this summer.  I was very moved by the TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” In the talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer, warns against extrapolating from a single person’s story onto an entire culture or experience.  I won’t encapsulate the talk here because I would rather you listen to the full story in her words. The talk convinced me that I should read more books about people in different places — by people in those places. I have not read much by African authors and so am planning to read her book, Half of a Yellow Sun. And bonus points, if you want to take Adichie’s advice and read more about lived experiences: Her more recent novel, Americanah, is a stunning, moving and fascinating read, about a Nigerian immigrant in America, and recently was chosen by NYC readers as the first city-wide book club selection. Do like the cool kids in New York do and read Adichie’s work!

So, with little rhyme or reason, we present to you Spring Insight’s summer reading suggestions. If you’ve read these, have thoughts, or think we missed some big ones, let us know in the comments!

The Business of the Brain on the Internet: Get Tone(d) for Summer

Let’s talk about that most elusive of goals: tone…

Nope, I don’t mean your wobbly upper arms.  If your business has a digital side, you’ve probably seen or heard discussions of tone of voice. In person, tone is a relatively easy thing to suss out, describe, and hit. If you’ve ever gurgled to a baby, deepened your voice and shortened your sentences in salary negotiations, or found yourself using the word “totes” while at dinner with girlfriends, you know that tone changes depending on the context: your audience and your role in a conversation.

But when you take all that context and shove it into the confines of a QWERTY keyboard, you’re suddenly faced with the real problem of communicating your tone, digitally.

Engaged, as I am, in the business of marketing, I’ve been watching tone trends with a keen eye. First things first: there is a ton of toneage out there. In my research for this piece, I saw resources break down tone of voice into the expected – “friendly,” “professional,” – and the less-expected: “salesy.” Let’s just say at the top that I don’t think anyone should strive for a “salesy” tone.

But how should you sound? Tone of voice, like everything else, has changed with the times. Though we still have classics – your black blazer, akin to your professional tone – we now have some trendy tones to consider. Your, ahem, choker. (I can’t believe chokers are back. Again).

As I see it, these are the main tones of voice to consider for your digital side, in descending order of formality:

Expert. You earn your clients’ business because you’re the best in the biz, offering real knowledge and insight. Based on your expertise, your client may choose your dental services, enlist your help in decorating their office suite, or sign up for your monthly newsletter on the latest machinations in Washington. If you are a selling yourself as an expert, you want to write with a tone that conveys authority. Use industry-specific language (always being sure to be clear so that the uninitiated can understand you, of course), write in a straight-forward, direct manner, and use a relatively formal tone. Emojis need not apply for your webpage, and though you use social media to share noteworthy articles or relay your opinion on pertinent news and research, you probably don’t need an Instagram feed. For a great example of an expert tone of voice, check out Spring Insight favorite TalentFront. Recruiting expert Marcia Call makes clear she knows the ins and outs of her business, using industry lingo and clearly communicating with the human resources professionals in her audience. At the same time, she doesn’t make the lay people break out the dictionaries or try to decode spreadsheets.

Trustworthy.  If you stand out from the crowd based on your ethical standards, or your ability to keep you clients’ data safe, or the rigorous background checks you require of your database of childcare providers, you want to exude trustworthiness. You’re still striving for a level of formality, but unlike experts, your number one goal is to make your clients or customers feel comfortable. Don’t make them feel like you’re hiding the ball, or talking at a level above their heads. Provide your information in easy-to-access language, alongside graphics or step-by-step instructions, if needed. You might be the best in the biz, but assuring members you’re the “most trusted” will communicate your reliability. Check out care.com for a good example of a trustworthy tone of voice. From the language, to the photos, to the reassuring checklists, this company has worked hard to let you know that your loved ones are safe with it.

Friendly. A friendly tone is less formal. As the tone suggests, you’re being friendly. You trust your friends — but you also have a relaxed, casual air. Friends are in your in-group, so you use language that is light and casual. Contractions, abbreviations, even well-known internet slang and abbreviations – think “BTW” – are all possibly okay here. I find this tone to be particularly effective when the business or organization is providing something personal to my life. I don’t necessarily mean lingerie, but lingerie certainly falls into this category. These days, we outsource a lot – from dinner prep to handy man services – and a friendly tone sets the stage for a cozy relationship. It says to your customer: I might see your skivvies (when I wash and dry them – get your mind out of the gutter!) but that’s cool: we’re all friends here! A beautiful example of a friendly tone can be found at Letote. This great site curates a monthly wardrobe box for clients, and allows clients to return items they don’t want. To trust that a stylist will be able to put their thumb on the pulse that is my fashion style, I need to think of them as my friend. A bottomless closet I can borrow from, fun banter, and assurances that they won’t demand commitments, unlike your “needy ex” – Letote is a friend I want to have.

On-trend. Friends are great. But if you’re looking for someone to push you to your limits, you’re looking to be on-trend. An on-trend tone stays up on the latest #hashtags, uses the fanciest and newest internet acronyms, and references of-the-moment memes and cultural zeitgeists. An on-trend tone cultivates exclusivity. Selling clothes or trendy shoes? Bingo. Are you a lifestyle blogger convincing readers you’re in the know? On-trend is your #tonegoal. To achieve it, you create a feeling of the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria, and make readers crave an invite to pull up a chair. My favorite example is Thinx, the purveyor of period underwear that’s making it easier to be a woman – and to raise one. They’re talking about a pretty personal topic, and you can tell. It’s all girlfriend chatter, all the way. But I don’t classify it as “friendly,” because it’s also very, very hip and now. This makes sense if you think about what Thinx is selling: an entirely new way of thinking about a period. If you want people to start truly acting differently, you have to get the cool kids to act the way you want. And if you want the cool kids to act the way you want – well, write like Thinx. The site screams that young, hip, in-the-know women are ditching their grandmothers’ pads and not looking back, and it’ll make you want to do the same.

So, which is right for you? Don’t get swept up in the hottest blog language trends. Think about your business. If you’re trying to dispense financial advice, you want to impart that you’re adept at doing so. Opt for an expert tone. If you’re engaged in a more intimate function of your consumer’s life- – offering to cook them dinner or fit them with a bra — your optimal tone is friendly. Of course, these tones shade into one another. You may want to be both chummy and trustworthy, both expert and trendy, and that’s fine, if you do it well.

Need help choosing your tone and infusing it throughout your digital content? I’m here for ya’ baby! Contact me today to make sure you’re saying what you want to say, just how you want to say it.

I can’t help you with your flabby arms. I don’t even particularly want to. But I’m happy to dish about tone over a dish of ice cream. Oh, and if you’re curious, Spring Insight’s voice tends toward friendly, with a healthy sprinkling of sarcasm. Because the best advice on selecting your tone of voice is long tested: To thine own self be true!

I Virtually Never See You…

Often when I describe the work that Spring Insight does with organizations, I talk about how we take small businesses with a strong offline culture and translate it online. Last week, we flipped that formula on its head and took the strong Spring Insight online culture offline. The Spring Insight team was created as a virtual team and for me “seeing” a team member meant looking out through the tiny camera of her computer during a video conference. To be sure, in some ways, that often feels more intimate than a traditional meeting. I always know the countdown taking place in one of my team members kitchens (4 days until grandma & grandpa visit!), I regularly get to see toddlers waddle through meetings in diapers and can keep track of decor changes in dining rooms. But, there are limits to what can happen virtually. We get a lot done for our clients but it never feels like there is time to focus on the growth needs of Spring Insight. So for a couple of years, I have wanted to have an in person Spring Insight meeting. This was the year to make it happen and here is what I learned from the process:

  1. Structuring content in a way that includes others in the conversation is way harder than just presenting and no matter how fluid you want the conversation, you can’t spend too much time planning how it will go. Did I have inside jokes and slide splitting laughter on the agenda? Nope, that wasn’t part of my original plan, but watching my team members connect in a new way and help our company grow by inserting their own ideas into my presentation was incredible (and the jokes were really, really funny!).
  2. Being in person gave us the flexibility to talk more in-depth about all our processes than we would ever have the opportunity to do on a conference call. One of my favorite moments from the meeting came when my web team learned about a tactic my marketing team uses for client engagement and decided to adapt it to their workflow as well.
  3. The company’s goals truly became “our” goals. In order to come to DC from all over the country my team had husbands take off work, dogs boarded, and grandmothers shipped in so that they could join me to plan Spring Insight’s future. The commitment they showed to this company was astounding and I never been prouder of our new goals, knowing that they represent our entire company.
  4. I like my team even more in person than I do over video conference (though I miss the countdown categories.)

-Erika

P.S. Want to gain some value by hanging out with me in person? I’ll be speaking at the Greater Bethesda Chamber of commerce on May 9th from 8:30-10:30. Free breakfast! Click here to register and I will see you then.

Trend Hype Panic: How to Turn Down the Heat and Plan a Marketing Strategy That’s Right for Your Organization

Is email marketing still relevant in the golden age of social media? Is marketing automation an efficient tool or an impersonal, lazy waste of money?

How do you know when the next hot marketing trend is hype or the very thing you need to take your sales or membership numbers to the next level?

It’s easy to be swept up by experts breathlessly touting “The Top 3 Marketing Trends to Jump On Now or DIE!” Nobody wants to be left in the dust while competitors cozy up to customers and rake in the bucks. If you get swept up in trend hype panic, know there’s an effective antidote: a calm, clear-eyed assessment of what’s right for your organization.

First, ask the million dollar question: Does the marketing trend align with your strategic goals?

What is the strategic vision for your company this year? What are your quarterly/annual goals? Will the marketing trend move you closer to either? Social media, for example, is a perennial hot topic. It’s also an undoubtedly powerful marketing tactic. But you must choose wisely or risk an ineffective, scattershot approach that wastes your time and energy. If your corporate security clients aren’t hanging out on Facebook (the largest social platform) or Instagram (the fastest growing channel), who cares if they’re hot? Posting an article on LinkedIn isn’t as sexy as a viral YouTube video…until that article raises your company’s profile and brings in hot leads that convert to customers.

Next, evaluate the marketing trend with this three-tiered “if not, then” test:

1. How quickly will the marketing tool pay for itself in ROI?

Email and marketing automation are both examples of investments that can have a big pay off…but not necessarily right away. Email is still one of the best ways to deliver customized, relevant content to your list of carefully curated addresses. Don’t be surprised, though, when you need to keep up a steady stream of compelling content over time before your email readers decide to bite.

Marketing automation can help you synchronize your efforts across social media, blogs, email, and more. But it’s not a “set and forget” operation. You need to track audience engagement and possibly adjust your strategy for optimum effect.

With both email and automation, there may be a delay in bottom-line benefits as you tweak your tactics for best results.

2. If there’s not an immediate ROI, how quickly will the marketing tool earn its keep in saved man hours?

If you can’t see the payoff right away, do you save yourself some labor costs? Marketing automation illustrates this point. When you automate the tedious tasks required to reach the right people at the right time, you free yourself and your staff to focus on running your organization.

3. If it doesn’t save time, does the marketing trend make you a better brand? Does it inspire customer loyalty or increase people’s belief in you as a strategic partner?

Video content is the rage right now and for the foreseeable future. Gurus warn that if you don’t ride this trend, your brand will end up alone in the wilderness. But even with technology costs dropping, a well-produced video can be a stretch for a small organization’s budget.

It may be worth the expense if your company is not well known and you want to create a high-impact introduction to the market. Sales may rise if potential customers see a video that explains how to use your product or shows satisfied customers giving positive testimonials. If video is a prime avenue to reach your target demographic, consider becoming part of the trend.

Remember this when you start to sweat over missing out on THE latest and best trend–there is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. The best strategy takes into account your product or service, staff and budget, and target market. No matter what is trending now, there are plenty of effective, creative approaches to choose from. With thoughtful analysis, you can always choose the one that works the best for your organization.

Still not sure which tactics are right for your marketing strategy? Contact us to help you hit the sweet spot with a customized plan to attract your target audience. In the meantime, you can cut through the overheated hype for some sane, sage advice on 4 Marketing Trends Your Association Can’t Afford to Ignore.

The Business of the Brain on the Internet: Go Big on a Budget

Production values worthy of Hollywood, celebrity endorsements, sexy shoots in exotic places…the bigger the marketing budget, the better the buzz over your product, right?

Not really.

From Budweiser and Buick to Instant Pot and HelloFlo, the fundamentals of a viral marketing campaign remain the same.

First and foremost–now and forever–it’s all about them not you. “Them” in this case are the potential purchasers of your product. Keep them upmost in your mind at all times:

1. Who wants or needs your product or service? How does it solve a problem or make your target audience’s life better?

2. Where does your audience hang out? Are there particular websites, blogs, publications, or stores (online and/or brick and mortar) favored by your target buyers?

3. Are you fluent in your audience’s “language?” Will you reach them best with words, pictures, videos, or a combination of all three?

Now, about the money. A modest budget should not deter you from developing a kickass marketing campaign. Small businesses with solid products do it all the time.

Exhibit One is Instant Pot. Three months ago, I hadn’t heard of this product. But all of a sudden, it seems like I am seeing references everywhere. Everyone from foodies to the sling-this-hash-and-git-‘er-done crowd is snapping up Instant Pots like hot cakes. The product’s marketing campaign has gone viral without one red cent spent on TV or print advertising.

What made the marketing magic? The Canadian company that created the product gave away 200 Instant Pots to popular food bloggers and cookbook authors who specialize in a variety of cuisines. The product’s claim to fame is its versatile ability to solve a fundamental problem of modern life–how to get yummy, healthy meals on the table ASAP. The company claims that one Instant Pot can replace your slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker, and stockpot–and cook food significantly faster than a regular slow cooker.

The rest is viral marketing history. Instant Pot now has a cult following among bloggers, authors, and their followers, (plus me!) complete with hundreds of recipes and tips traded fast and furiously among devoted online communities. Cooks see that their trusted sources recommend the product. Blogs give advice on how to make it work in real life. Voilà–not only does the purchase practically make itself, but product information is easy to pass along through cyberspace to uninitiated friends.

What does cultivating brand ambassadors and word of mouth on social media do for company sales? Instant Pot is currently the #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Kitchen and Dining Department. People bought 215,000 Instant Pots on Amazon Prime Day alone. How did I come to purchase the product? Well… I just kept seeing it appear on friends’ Facebook feeds and the peer pressure got to be too much!

A second example of the power of small business viral marketing is HelloFlo. The company is an ecommerce source of menstrual products and other content and services for women at a variety of life stages. HelloFlo’s hilarious, viral videos (First Moon Party and Camp Gyno) prove that as long as you have the internet, you don’t need no stinkin’ TV ad–big budget or not. You can talk freely to your target audience and keep it real with content that would never fly on TV.

There’s nothing like an entertaining, relatable story line (or whatever tone works for your audience) to draw a crowd. HelloFlo’s videos have a combined 50+ million YouTube views. Their irreverent, snarky take on first periods have an obsessive following among tween and early teen girls.

When customers visit the company’s website blog, they find information about sexuality, mental health, legislation, and other hot topics in a frank, direct way that appeals to the broader demographics for HelloFlo’s complete product line.

Speaking of hot topics…bars and restaurants often try to generate buzz by naming dishes and drinks after celebrities or the headline du jour. Sometimes the offerings become classics–think oysters Rockefeller and peach melba. Sometimes they make a deliciously scandalous temporary splash.

In the case of Community diner in Bethesda, MD (a Washington, DC suburb), the eatery generated a buzz and landed an article in Washingtonian magazine showcasing the Golden Showers Burger. The dish capitalized on January’s controversy over reports of President Trump’s affinity for…well, the burger name says it all. It features self-tanning cheddar, a very small pickle, and lemonade. The buzz may be temporary, but it grabbed a headline for Community in one of DC’s best-read publications.

What’s the moral of these stories? You don’t have to hire a big-name PR firm or ad agency to launch a successful marketing campaign. You need to know your audience, where to find them, and how to speak their language. When a product has a relatable story–in whatever form that takes–it catches legs.

Need some help getting started with your next marketing campaign? Contact us or follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +.

Forward Movement is the Antidote for Uncertainty


“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

There’s plenty of good advice out there about setting a goal before you take action. At Spring Insight, for example, we wouldn’t dream of launching a marketing campaign without a clear idea of the target audience(s) and the results our client expects. Goal setting is crucial and part of a concrete, familiar process.

A much bigger challenge is to steer a campaign or move a company forward when all you can see is the patch of road directly in front of you. It’s tough to take a next step when you’re not sure where it will lead. In many ways, this business dilemma reflects our national landscape: unprecedented initiatives launched with goals in mind, but anxiety among many Americans over where we’ll end up.

Uncertainty can paralyze a business if it shuts down forward motion. Creativity and progress grind to a halt when doubt freezes your ability to start the trip without a clear pathway to the destination. The thing is, fearful paralysis is guaranteed to derail your project or business. There are practical strategies to break out and get moving:

1. “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.”

So says Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher familiar with moving forward in uncertainty. You are not clueless about your situation. You’ve gathered the best information you could find to launch your project. You know enough to get started…so get started. Then see what things look like from your new vantage point and calculate your next best move. Repeat until you reach your destination.

2. Open your mind to all input as you take your next steps.

What if you can’t see far into the distance because the path will only become obvious en route to your goal? Perhaps you need to lay a foundation before you can develop the best plan. It might involve actions that you can’t dream up until you gather the results of your first steps. You might even need to tweak your original goal on feedback you gather as you move forward. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open and adjust accordingly.

3. Keep heading in the right direction–forward.

Once you’ve broken the spell of uncertainty, your actions and feedback will steer you more and more clearly in the right direction. You’ll get confirmation that your actions are moving you toward your goal. The fog will lift and you’ll get a broader view of the best way to proceed.

But none of this is possible until you take that first step. Determine the right direction as best you can and just start walking. There’s no other way to put your uncertainty in check and move forward.

Are your organization’s marketing efforts headed in the right direction? Follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, or Google + and we can talk about the best route to meet your goals.

The Business of the Brain on the Internet: Single Super Star or a Solid Team to Succeed

Imagine that you must pick between a competent team of marketers or a mediocre team with one or two brilliant standouts. Which would you prefer? This question came to me when I listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating podcast about strong link/weak link theory. Gladwell applies it to higher education, but I think it has interesting applicability in the business sphere.

The book that launched the strong link/weak link phenomenon analyzes what makes a successful soccer team. A former professional goalkeeper and a behavioral analyst posite that soccer is a “weak link” sport. That means it requires a base of skilled teammates to bust all the right moves that result in a goal. A striker relies on backfielders, midfielders, wingers, and attackers to move the ball into just the right position to score. No matter how good that striker is, he can rarely win a game without a solid team behind him advancing the ball down the field.

By comparison, the authors classify basketball as a “strong link” sport. One LeBron James can blaze down the court and score, score, score. The team can succeed with LeBron even when the rest of the players are mediocre.

So, what kind of marketing strategy works best for your small organization? A strong-link stable of alpha, high-achieving superstars or strategies? Or a weak-link network of competent, interdependent people or approaches that support each other to reach a goal?

There are times when the answer might be a strong link approach. Perhaps you are introducing a new fitness club. In that case, an endorsement from the local NFL team’s star quarter back might be all you need to drive in traffic in droves.

For most small businesses though, a weak link strategy of a competent team and multi-channel marketing will always work better than a single superstar.

How do we promote Spring Insight and the services we offer? We have a solid team that creates content that circulates via our blog (Hi!), our email newsletter, a robust marketing automation program, social media, and networking. Our team members and strategies layer on top of one another to create our irresistible sales approach.

Speaking of our irresistible sales approach, are you a busy entrepreneur with a crazy schedule that leaves no time for you to ponder the right marketing mix for your small organization or business? Contact us and we’ll help you build a marketing strategy that gets the results you’re looking for.

Looking for more great website and marketing tips? Follow Spring Insight on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +.