Engagement Marketing in Team Sports:  Turning Fans into Fanatics


Engagement Marketing in Team Sports: Turning Fans into Fanatics

By Drew Lillie

Not terribly long ago, if you wanted to watch your local team’s game in real time you had to be sitting in the arena or stadium.  Regardless of how the game turned out, attending the event in person meant a variety of costs to you in terms of money, time and increased aggravation. Since more often than not home games were not televised, it meant driving through traffic to the venue, finding a place to park, queuing up to buy a ticket, elbowing your way through throngs of fellow fans at concession stands (for ridiculously expensive offerings) and restrooms, and eventually waiting in a long line of vehicles all trying to exit the after-game parking lot.  Would you want to do it again anytime soon?  Maybe.  Or maybe not. 

With today’s billion-dollar TV deals and gigantic but inexpensive HDTVs, you no longer have to spend money, time and sanity to see your favorite team play live.  Everything is ready and waiting to unfold on the 70-inch screen hanging on your wall. Just settle into your favorite chair, pull an ice cold beverage out of the fridge, and you’re all set.  There couldn’t be a better way to watch the game—right?! 

Well, while there’s certainly a lot to be said for the modern home-viewing experience, there may be something lacking.  Where is the energy of a live crowd that erupts when your club’s centerfielder makes a brilliant, leaping catch at the outfield wall?  Where is the deafening roar of approval when your team’s QB throws a perfect pass to a wide open receiver in the end zone?  Sure, HD and surround sound systems can mimic the experience, but it’s just not the same as being there in person.  Even the sometimes-annoying people sitting near you can offer an opportunity to exchange forceful high-fives when your star left wing fires a 100 mph slap-shot past a diving goaltender and into the net.  Everyone jumps to their feet simultaneously and screams with overwhelming approval.  There couldn’t be a better way to watch the game—right?! 

Certainly, each option has its pros and cons.  But, more and more, people are choosing the home viewing option, causing concern among team executives. Not only will the lack of fans in the stands lead to diminished “12th Man” support for the home team but, more importantly, there is likely to be a serious dip in revenue.  Big-money TV contracts can help fill some of this revenue gap, but the networks’ – and sponsors’ – deep pockets can’t compensate for the lifeblood of most sports franchises: revenue from the sale of tickets, parking, concessions and team merchandise. 

Not surprisingly, the big question on the minds of team management is:  How can we make the game-day experience so irresistible that fans would rather take an inconvenient path to come to the venue rather than stay home and watch on TV? 

Probably the most obvious – and critical – thing a team can do is develop a winning product on the playing surface.  People love winners and they’ll spend a lot more money to watch a winner than a loser, especially if it’s a matter of attending in person.  But when winning becomes the norm for a franchise, how can the team keep people coming out game after game after game over the course of a long season?  How can they provide an experience that outweighs the convenience – and lower cost – of staying at home?

The answer is that teams must do everything they can to make the game-day experience as inviting, entertaining and memorable as possible, time after time.  Team-fan interaction no longer can be just a single ticket-buying transaction.  Rather, the team must actively engage fans before, during and after the contest. Games must be perceived as entertainment being provided to valued guests, and the interactions need to be aligned with this view.  The possibilities are endless, but some examples of interactive engagement might include:

  • An email reminder before the game to print out tickets or to download a fan app that allows you to present your tickets digitally when entering the venue.
  • A text with recommendations for parking locations or food and merchandise options at the venue.
  • A text offering an opportunity to upgrade seats just before the game, or special discounts on fan shop merchandise purchased after the game ends. 
  • A special offer emailed immediately after the game for tickets to the next game, or even a season ticket package offer to secure the exact same seats for the rest of the season and playoffs

The primary threads that weave through the customer engagement process are technology and data.  When teams can accumulate preference/experience data, manage this data in a thoughtful and strategic way, and then communicate directly with customers through a variety of technology-driven media (email, text, apps, social media), it creates a personalized, interactive experience that turns a mere fan into a valued, long-term client.  Many professional teams have begun to engage with this process, either by investing in the technology and expertise necessary to expand and extend the customer experience or by collaborating with strategic partners wishing to leverage sponsorship opportunities. 

Upgrading and expanding mobile communications infrastructure in and around sporting venues is a critical component for enhancing the fan experience, as it allows teams to interact with a large number of customers simultaneously in real time across various communication platforms.  It also provides customers with the means to expand their knowledge, insight and enjoyment of the game with real-time access to player statistics, video highlights and player interviews, as well as the ability to interact immediately with other fans around the arena, city and world via social media.

Eventually, fans will be able to fully customize their game-day experience to suit their own, unique needs.  Teams will be able to take your food and drink order in advance, begin preparing it when your car enters the parking area, and have it ready to pick up or deliver to your seat shortly after scanning the digital-ticket barcode on your mobile device.  Teams will be able to push customized content, based on preference data, to your mobile device and make specific recommendations and offers for seat upgrades, merchandise, new concession items, fan/player interactions, post-game entertainment and uncongested driving routes.  What may have seemed like a challenging or frustrating game-day experience will become a truly unique and enjoyable experience that the engaged fan will look forward to sharing with others and repeating again and again. 

The bottom line is that teams must view the ticket buying fan’s single game attendance as just one stage in the customer journey, ultimately leading to repeat attendance, greater engagement with – and emotional attachment to – the brand, and higher revenue for the team.


Ameriflex and Acorda: Finalists for DFW AMA Marketer of the Year Awards


Ameriflex and Acorda: Finalists for DFW AMA Marketer of the Year Awards

Ameriflex and Acorda: Finalists for DFW AMA Marketer of the Year Awards

We are pleased to share that two of our clients, Acorda Therapeutics and Ameriflex were selected as finalists for the Dallas/Fort Worth American Marketing Association Chapter 2015-2016 Marketer of the Year Awards.

The American Marketing Association is one of the largest marketing associations in the world, and the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. The Marketer of the Year Awards recognizes excellence across the marketing spectrum.

Acorda Therapeutics sponsored a catalog to accompany the Raw Beauty Project NYC, an innovative visual arts project designed to celebrate the lives of women with disabilities, redefine beauty and unleash potential for all women. The catalog is a visually-arresting piece that reflects the beauty and inspiration of the photographic exhibit of women captured on camera in a variety of “unexpected” ways.

Ameriflex sought better understanding of the end user decision makers and the broker in the company’s target market space. We worked with them on an innovative and unique market research effort that produced key insights into its sales process and the customer buying process which led to revamping of Ameriflex’s entire customer service function.

Congratulations to both companies! We look forward to taking part in more strategic and marketing innovation in the future.



A Mother Muses about Innovation


A Mother Muses about Innovation

A Mother Muses about Innovation

Sitting alone on a quiet and peaceful Mother’s Day morning—with husband and older son out washing my car and my baby sleeping—I was able to do a little life reflection. Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to take an innovation methodology I work with in my job and apply it to life. It’s one of my favorites: one that takes any problem or situation and simply reframes it with the phrase “How might we?”

How might we? is a really powerful question. Making it as powerful as possible requires an answer that is as big as possible. If we articulate the answer in a way that removes barriers and limitations, then we increase the chance of generating a really innovative idea.

So I asked myself How might I have more joy in my life? Right away I saw a restriction: The word “more” is limiting. More is relative. What if I have a tiny amount of joy right now? If a little bit gets added, I do have more, but I just have a small amount more. We can do better than that.

So I rephrased the question to How might I have the most joy in my life? While that does sound a little better, I wondered if it could be even more expansive. What is the most? Again, we are in the realm of subjectivity. I can do better.

How might I have so much joy in life that it transforms me as a human being to operate at a higher level?  Now we’re getting somewhere. That one I really like. We’re taking the idea of joy and looking how it can be impactful.

I thought about it further. How might I have so much joy in life that it transforms me as a human being? What does operating at a higher level look like? These are really fun questions to dig into.

Before I could think of more juicy ideas, the baby cried. Quiet time at an end, off I went to my little bundle of joy—and I realized that I had found one of my answers.


22 Smart Marketing Tips for Small Businesses


22 Smart Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

22 Smart Marketing Tips for Small Businesses

Whether you are a new business owner or you have owned your own company for a while, finding ways to stimulate business is a universal and ongoing challenge. Here are 22 ideas that can stimulate growth in a variety of small businesses.

Establish and broadcast your brand. It is important to make your business and its offerings easily recognizable.

1.  Get a logo. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a professional designer to have one made but you do need to put very careful thought into one. A well thought out logo well make your company easy to recognize and can stay with your company for decades.

2.  If you are a brick and mortar operation, brand your physical presence. This may be the front of the building, or it could be the reception desk of the co-working space in which you operate. How can you express your brand from this point on? This could be signage, a brochure holder with copies of a marketing collateral stocked in it, or your business cards in prominently displayed in a key location.

3.  If you are a virtual company, make sure all your “virtual signage” is consistently branded. This includes your own website, social media channels, banner ads you purchase and any other avenue you use to reach your market.

4.  If you are both brick/mortar and virtual, get #2 and #3 nailed. Make sure you are recognizable and easily contactable wherever your company shows up.

5.  Invest in branded apparel for all employees. People sporting your logo on a shirt are the equivalent of human billboards.

6.  Put signage on all your vehicles. Be sure to include a way for people to find you, like a web address or phone number.

7.  Give away swag with your company’s name and logo on it.  Get creative with the type of swag you buy and where/how you give it away, the next section speaks to this.

Give prospects a taste of your offerings. Giving away some of your products or expertise is a great way to attract new business.

8.  Offer free samples. This is probably first nature to small business owners in the food and beverage industry, for everyone else this may be a novel strategy.  An apparel business, for example, can take what is readily available to engage customers by using extra fabric to make reusable bags, coasters or koozies and giving them away for free (or for free with a particular kind of purchase).

9.   Hold a raffle or giveaway. The prizes can either be your own products/services or branded gift cards and swag.

10.  Donate your products or services to charitable fundraising efforts. Many charities have raffles or silent auctions as part of their fundraising campaigns. Donating prizes for these activities can be a great way for your market to see you.

Network in your community. No matter how new or old your company is, you need to stay connected and interacting with your market.

11.  Join a networking group. Attending networking events is a productive and cost-effective way to keep your business top of mind. If you are a brand new business, this is a great way to meet other business owners and learn tips and tricks while at the same time spreading the word about your own business and offerings.

12.  Attend trade shows/conferences in your market area. Taking part in events like business conferences or trade shows is a great way to meet peers and prospects. There are even virtual conferences in which you can participate.

13.  Sponsor something. What you sponsor depends on what business you’re in. It could be a local Little League team, a local 10K run, a youth science fair or a business event. Match your sponsorship to the persona of your ideal prospect.

14.  Host a Meetup. Meetup.com allows you to join or host a casual, free event that anyone can attend. A Meetup is a great opportunity to grow your customer base and boost awareness about your company. You can even use one of these events to host your own grand opening, company anniversaries, or fun ways to celebrate national holidays. (To increase attendance consider having food trucks and other vendors set up at your event, many of them will usually do this free of charge as they will have the opportunity to sell/promote their own products.)

Build an email database and use it for business building.  When you get permission from interested prospects to communicate with them, make sure you follow through with good offers and conversation starters.

15.  Get set up with an email marketing system. There are many options for building your email database and creating communications to send to all or part of it. Just a few examples include Aweber, Mailchimp and Constant Contact, and there are a number of others from which to select.

16.  Make subscribing easy. Capture email addresses from customers in the store with a mailing list signup sheet. Put a subscription widget on your website, and include a subscription link in the signature line of your emails.

17.  Send out a periodic newsletter. Use your newsletter as a relationship builder. Focus more on providing information and encouraging conversation rather than on selling.

18.  Create your own email marketing campaigns. Email marketing campaigns can be more about selling than newsletters. Promote a new product, announce a sale, send a discount coupon—there are many options for these campaigns.

19.  Set up a loyalty program. Acknowledge your most frequent customers with extra benefits and offers. Use a punch card for purchases or attendance (be sure to get an email address) or offer an incentive to pass the word about your business through a referral program. (Note: branded gift cards are a great reward.)

Create a strong online presence. Whether you are a brick and mortar business, a 100% virtual business, or a hybrid of the two, your company’s presence on the internet is a significant player in the business development arena.

20.  Optimize your web site for search engines. Search engine optimization is absolutely necessary in today’s world to increase traffic to your website. There are entire books written on this topic and much more information is available online.

21.  Claim your online listings. There are online listings for every kind of business now. Claim your online listing on sites like Google Maps, Yelp, Yellow Pages and the Better Business Bureau (and check listings in your local area as well). Monitor, daily if possible, to check and be responsive to customer feedback and reviews.  Claiming your online listings and participating in customer feedback lets visitors know that you are a real business that cares about its customers.

22.  Participate in the right social media channels. Figure out which social media sites your target market uses most and jump in. Develop marketing strategies appropriate to each site and make sure you are interacting at least on a weekly basis in some form, daily is best.

Finally, don’t be afraid to get help. Running a company is time consuming, so finding a marketing partner to help build business can be a big payoff. The right marketing partner will in fact give you a very good return on your investment by way of new business and increased revenues. Check out and meet with a number of marketing consultants and agencies in order to find one that fits your business and budget and with which you can have a lasting relationship.


Creativity Not Overlooked: The Pentagram Papers


Creativity Not Overlooked: The Pentagram Papers

I’m on the mailing list for Pentagram’s annual publication, “Pentagram Papers.” This year’s edition, called “Overlooked,” is by Partner Marina Willer. It contains 22 rubbings of street covers found throughout London.

With each sheet roughly 23" x 16" and printed with neon shades of orange and hot pink, this is a piece that can’t be overlooked. Pentagram’s intention is to provide a reminder that “a city’s beauty isn’t limited to art galleries or grand architecture, and that intricate design is everywhere.” An inventory page shows a photo of illustrator Hiromi Suzuki kneeling over a street cover in London making a rubbing.

Walking through any city, my designer’s eye is always drawn to street covers, partly because they provide a visual punctuation to a bland street, and partly because I have a secret fascination with infrastructure. This issue of “Pentagram Papers” elevates this utilitarian object (no pun intended) into art by changing the context in which we view it. These street covers have been collected and processed so that we may hold them in our hands rather than have them under our feet.

Flip the pages, and the front- and back- printed pages combine into completely new street covers. These combinations elevate the design of this piece to a whole new level. With a binding comprised of a simple black piece of elastic, you can take the whole thing apart and rearrange the pages, creating endless possibilities for pattern combinations. This versatility and the use of playful florescent ink make for a fun and creative interaction with the piece.

A bonus experience is the curiosity piqued by the stories behind the street covers. Each rubbing names the “artist” who designed the street cover (where known) and its location are noted on each sheet. The accompanying gatefold gives a tease of the origins and history of both the street covers and the rubbing methodology used to create them. In case you want to research a bit further, you can learn that:

• Taking rubbings of religious objects was a popular pastime of the nineteenth century in Britain.

• The geometric designs of Victorian-era coal hole covers provided a useful function — to keep pedestrians from slipping in wet and icy weather.

• Hydraulic covers are all that remain of London’s water-based power system of the Middle Ages — the old water conduits now house fiber-optic cables.

• Gas pipes throughout the city provided lighting to Londoners before electricity.

Just enough context to satisfy curiosity, but not enough to overshadow the intent of the piece — to be a work of art in and of itself.

Creativity and curiosity—and wonderful combination for sparking ideas of all kinds. And all from a collection of street covers.


Filling the Gaps – 8 Reasons for FB Report Discrepancy


Filling the Gaps – 8 Reasons for FB Report Discrepancy

Filling the Gaps – 8 Reasons Why Advertisers See a Discrepancy Between Facebook Ad Manager Report and Their Website Tracking Systems.

By Ekaterina Konovalova, Senior Marketing Manager at Ascend Marketing

Have you ever run a Facebook ad to generate website visits? Did you notice a discrepancy between Facebook reports and your own website tracking platform? It is not uncommon to see higher click numbers in your Facebook Ad Manager than your website tracking system such as Google Analytics or Adobe’s Site Catalyst.

Below are eight reasons why it could happen:

1. User is using HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) instead of HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol). Communications through an HTTPS server are encrypted by a secure certificate known as an SSL, which prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on communications to and from the server. As a result, if your visitors are browsing Facebook via HTTPS, the analytics provider will under report conversions from Facebook ads. The difference between these protocols has been known to cause up to a 40% discrepancy in reporting, as reported by a Facebook representative.

2. User has an Ad Blocker or another content limitation plugin installed. If you are using a conversion pixel or a special tracking code appended to your link, it might not “fire” if the user added an ad blocker to the browser. This will cause undercounting in conversions, hence, a discrepancy in reports.

3. Firewall. The user or their server might have a firewall interfering with the reporting.

4. URL shortener. If an advertiser uses a shortened link, some tracking systems might occasionally count redirects as “double clicks.” Also, even though redirects typically load pretty fast, it might still slow down the overall user experience.

5. User closes out before the web page was able to load. If a user clicked on your ad by accident or if it takes a while to load your page, most people typically lose patience and exit prematurely without seeing your content. Yet, Facebook will count it as a click and will charge you for it.

6. JavaScript. JavaScript errors on your landing page or disabled JavaScript on a browser might cause undercounting as well.

7. User is browsing without saving data. Incognito window/browser settings that prevent from storing cookies will most likely result in lower click counts in your website tracking system.

8. Cookies versus session data. Facebook uses cookies while many website tracking platforms use session data. A click on a landing page linked to your Facebook ad sends a request to access the page and all of the user’s cookies associated with the site. Cookies are saved on the user’s end within user’s browser.

Session data works similarly to cookies, but instead of everything being stored on the user side, it is stored on the server side. The only snippet of information stored on the user’s end is the session ID. Because session data is not stored locally, tracking web page activity can be volatile.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to achieve perfect reporting, regardless of the tracking method used. The good news is that Facebook is looking for ways to make it a fair game for its advertisers. For example, every time a user clicks on a URL linked to the ad, Facebook automatically pulls that user’s profile, and removes duplicates and robots. Facebook also periodically monitors the network for spammer accounts and fake profiles.

Hopefully these few tips shed the light on why a discrepancy might occur in reports and what causes it.


Have You Met Docker's Older Cousin Vagrant?


Have You Met Docker's Older Cousin Vagrant?

The technology industry has long accepted virtualization as a great idea, but it’s important to use the right tool for the job.

Containers as a virtualization approach have grown in popularity from a niche Unix concept to widespread use in the form of tools like Docker. Cloud computing makes it easy to load our software into prepackaged virtual environments that can pop in and out of existence as needed, which helps with everything from load balancing on a live production server to testing software against the experimental branch of our favorite libraries. Containers work really well for these examples. However, containers are not always the best tool for the job; sometimes a different virtualization tool is helpful. Virtual machines are another option, and Vagrant is an excellent choice.

In the words of Vagrant creator Mitchell Hashimoto, "Vagrant is for managing development environments." It doesn't get as much press as its cousin Docker, but Vagrant can make your job easier when correctly applied. It creates a fully encapsulated development environment useful in many different situations, such as aligning a team around a single development environment or performing a test update of a production website.

There are times when using Vagrant makes more sense than using Docker. My small team is currently developing a web application. When we first started, we were developing our software within a VirtualBox file we copied and shared across the team. It contained our application files (which we could refresh from a Bitbucket account) as well as a server environment similar to the one in which the app would be running. Whenever we changed something in our box, we had to communicate exactly what we did to all team members so each of us could update our own virtual machine instance. Our fallback option was to create a new virtual machine file to share across the network. While this got the job done, trading VirtualBox files and configuration instructions is one of those things a team only does when "kicking the tires" on a new project before switching to a more permanent solution.

Vagrant provides a much cleaner way to solve the inefficiencies we experienced. A single Vagrant text file and the Bash command "vagrant up" can produce an exact virtual copy of an application development environment. Just add some settings and tie it to a shell script or an automation solution to quickly get it going.

We added a similar setup to our own app repository. Now, the entire team can easily work against the same server configuration, and if that configuration changes, we just update the Vagrant file and the team can quickly provision a new box. This approach saves time and reduces human-based error.

From the viewpoint of a software developer, just one or two Bash commands are needed to use Vagrant. Vagrant setup is completely abstracted away, which is nice because many developers want the provisioning details to be a footnote in the development process. Behind the scenes a Unix shell script installs exactly the software that is needed, updates the application database to the latest schema, and starts a server daemon so the software runs once Vagrant cranks up. A developer on the project can pop open a browser and go to something like "http://localhost:1234" to find the running application without any knowledge of how the magic happens. Since Vagrant can share files between the host and guest machines, everyone can use whichever development tools are desired to get work done in the host while the guest runs the server and the application. Vagrant makes life so much easier.

There are other use cases I could share in which Vagrant is a great choice, but the key point is virtualization encompasses more than just containers. While a container is a valuable tool, it can be a hammer when you really need a saw. A virtual machine solution like Vagrant can be that saw.


3 Practical Tips for Successful Facebook Ad Campaigns


3 Practical Tips for Successful Facebook Ad Campaigns

3 Practical Tips for Successful Facebook Ad Campaigns


By Ekaterina Konovalova, Senior Marketing Manager at Ascend Marketing

In the past two years, I have managed over 100 Facebook campaigns for a Fortune 100 client. These campaigns generated over 8.2 million impressions, engaged almost 57,000 people and resulted in over 38,000 website clicks. Here are three practical tips based on what I've learned that will help your own campaigns run faster and jump higher.

1. Test your landing page

As simple as it sounds, you’ll be amazed how many advertisers forget to test the landing page that your ad will point to prior to launching an ad. You can use Litmus or a similar tool to see how your page is rendering in different browsers on most popular devices.

However, don’t rely only on automated tools. Run a test yourself on your desktop, phone, and other devices to experience firsthand what happens when a person clicks on your ad. Look for page load errors and time-outs, especially on your cell phone. If you run a Website Clicks campaign, Facebook will charge you as soon as a user clicks on your ad. If it takes several seconds to load your page on the user’s cell phone, they are likely to exit prematurely. Your analytics platform (like Adobe’s SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics) might not even register that click, but you will still be charged for it. If your landing page is not mobile friendly, you can always exclude mobile traffic from your ads, but remember that over 47% of Facebook users access the network solely on mobile devices.


You should also evaluate how easy it is to navigate and spot the information you will advertise on Facebook. Is your Facebook ad offer on your landing page? Does a user need to scroll down? Do you have competing offers on the same landing page that might confuse you page visitors? Make the page as simple as possible so that it is easy for your prospective customer to take the desired action.

2. Target Your Audience Carefully

Facebook offers extensive targeting tools. You can create a very focused target like “English-speaking female cat lovers over 35 years old living in Texas” and Facebook will give you an estimate of your potential reach (which in this example is 15,000 people). The narrower the target, the harder it is to reach your prospects. It might also drive your cost up.

An alternative to Facebook’s targeting tools is a custom audience and a lookalike audience. If you have/own a quality email list you can load as a custom audience. I’ve had great success with custom audiences: I doubled verifiable traffic on my landing pages and these users expressed more desirable online behavior than users selected through general Facebook targeting who clicked on my ads.

The downside of using an email list for building a custom audience is that you rarely get a 100% match. When you load your list onto Facebook, it searches for users who link these email addresses to their accounts. If your prospects registered on Facebook with a different email address or don’t use Facebook, the system won’t be able to match it. In addition, Facebook doesn’t disclose which email addresses were matched.

Creating a lookalike audience in Facebook allows you to mimic key characteristics of your current audience so that you can expand your reach. Like other choices, the tool has some limitations; for example, if you offer services in narrow geographic areas, it can still target Facebook users outside of your service footprint.

3. Determine Optimum Frequency

Is repeat exposure good or bad? Traditional advertising schools drilled down in our brain that repeat exposure is good and you pretty much need to “hit” your audience with the same ad as many times as possible. For example, a classic study by Mike Naples, a former President of the Advertising Research Foundation, concluded that optimum exposure frequency is at least three exposures within a brand purchase cycle.

Does it apply to Facebook ads? In most cases your ad’s relevance score will go down if your frequency goes up. Relevance score is calculated based on the positive and negative feedback an ad receives from its target audience. The higher the score with ten being the highest, the better. The tipping point for an effective ad frequency on Facebook is 3.4. Facebook marketing experts suggest keeping frequency at the 1-3 level which means you should serve the same ad to the same person up to three times.   

There are many ways to improve Facebook campaigns, but if you haven't included these three key tips, make sure you have them well-integrated into your process before trying anything else. They will make a big difference to your results.


9 Ways to Win the Small Business Email Revolution


9 Ways to Win the Small Business Email Revolution

9 Ways to Win the Small Business Email Revolution

By Victoria Milner

Between work and personal email, I receive 200 to 300 emails on average every day, and I doubt that I am unusual.  Email provides a relatively inexpensive way for small businesses to stay connected to customers and prospects to keep the relationship fresh and, if possible, personal. 

The destination for emails is now a moving target.  The inbox on your desktop is now also the inbox on your phone and tablet.  Just a few = years ago less than 20% of all emails were opened on a phone.  This year that number passed 50%. One-third of all emails are opened on an Apple iPhone with Outlook declining to only 6% of all email opens.   That means that:

·       Your email better be built responsively.   A static email that looks good on a desktop or laptop will not render correctly on a cell phone or tablet.  Emails now need to be optimized for a variety of smaller screens.

·       Your email better be worth opening. Think about the times you check your mail on your phone.  Are you at a red light?  In a store?  On a conference call or in a meeting? You glance at your emails and if nothing compels you to take a second look you ignore or delete it. Either way, that email is headed to never-never land.


Here are nine ways to make your emails worth a second look:

1.     Say something that is of interest to specific segments of recipients. 
All leads are not created equal.  Targeting your message to your list can be key not only to getting your message read, but to getting your prospect to respond.  It can be a better investment to send less emails and drive a higher response rate.

2.     Make sure your content is of value to the reader. 
What are you offering besides a sales pitch?  Is there information that the reader can use?  Be of value to your clients and prospects and they will be more apt to open future messages (and take action on them).

3.     Do not treat email like direct mail. 
Avoid the temptation to stuff too much content into an email.  Use attention-getting headlines and subheads, and move the details to a “click through to” landing page with your phone number and/or online ordering information.

4.     Don’t bury your call to action. 
The call to action needs to be clear, bold and easy to find.  Placing a phone number near the top of the message allows the mobile reader to touch the number and immediately call to order.  Bury the number in the bottom of that email and they may never get that far.

5.     Personalize whenever possible. 
Use the customer’s name in the subject line or even in the email copy if that works. Personalization goes beyond the use of a client or prospect name.  Consider using graphics that appeal to the target and the message.  Use the geography of the target base by using place names and images.  Reach out and grab their attention.

6.     Test your messages and creative.
Simple A/B testing can help you to create a cycle of continous improvement.  Group A gets creative 1, Group B gets creative 2.  The winner goes out in the next round against a new contender.  Continue to push for better opens, better sales, and happier customers.

7.     Measure your results and measure them again.  
Look for trends based on time of day, day of week, and time of year.  Learn the best times to reach out to your targets.

8.     Try animated images.
You need the reader’s attention in order to get the message across. Using a gif at the top of the email provides movement that can be attention getting. 

9.     Last but absolutely not least: Pay close attention to your subject line.
I have already mentioned using the prospect or client’s name in the subject line. Avoid use of “spam” words like Free and Save.  Instead, intrigue the reader by hinting at the content to come while still staying in line with the email content. 


And there is more to come: Automation is on the horizon and drawing nearer.  Automated marketing creates an opportunity for greater personalization and stronger relationships.  Using adaptive and rules based live content allows campaigns to become smarter and more relevant to each recipient.

Automation also generates additional useful data to drive your campaigns. Responses to your message generate a knowledge base of deep dive analytics that help create profiles for your products and services and allow you to look for prospects that match your best customers.

No more one-size-fits-all.  Live content and intelligent capabilities make email an even more effective and a more agile channel for communications.  Welcome to the small business email revolution—which could be a bigger marketing revolution.


How to Make a Great Title Sequence


How to Make a Great Title Sequence


Marketing: Science – Art – or Something Else?


Marketing: Science – Art – or Something Else?

Marketing: Science – Art – or Something Else? 


There is a perennial argument in business over whether marketing is a science or an art.  Those that fall on the side of science will tell you that the best marketing takes place when the targeting is well researched, propensity models are built and the key performance indicators (KPIs) are firmly planted.  The art proponents rail against this “too static” stance, and claim that it is only when a finely nuanced voice, combined with the correct color palette and the specific imagery that speaks to the target is presented, that success can be had.

And then there is the “something else.”  For quite a while, fans of the “throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” school of thought led this category.  Mail everyone, email everyone, be clever, add the words NEW and IMPROVED, and customers will flock to your product or service.


So what is the correct answer?  Is it science, art or something else?  The answer is yes – it is science and it is art, and good marketing is also something else: It is process. 

Without process, you basically have is non-repeatable chaos.  You may be successful in your endeavors, but you will be hard pressed to understand what created that success, you very likely won’t be able to make it happen again, and—very important—you sacrifice efficiency and scalability. 

Good marketing is a continuous loop with each cycle starting at the end of the last cycle.  You must plan, execute, track and then measure your results in order to effectively plan, execute, track and measure the next initiative. And so on.


Let’s look at the marketing process:

Step 1 –The Plan

Planning is crucial. It impacts every part of your marketing.  Who is your target? What is the message that will motivate that target to take the desired action? What tactics should be implemented?  Will your budget allow use of multiple tactics to boost the impact of your message? How will you track and measure results? Do you have the resources to successfully execute your programs as well as track and measure the results? 

Specific objectives need to be clearly identified during this step. Without clear objectives it is difficult to create the scientific side of marketing, such as creating KPIs.  A sales message is very different from a brand enhancement communication. Knowing the goal sets your feet on the right road going the right direction.

Target audience identification and segmentation key to this step and to your overall success. Once the target and segments are determined you can begin to build  in the art of marketing with communication strategy that creates a view of each segment and identifies key benefits that motivate purchase of your product or service.

Once you begin to segment, you can create needs-based models to help craft the messages to be delivered to each target group. 

All of these pieces – the objectives the target and the segmentation – are key elements of your plan, and they will help define your performance metrics.


Step 2 - Execute

The best plan is only words on paper without strong execution. The plan is the guide—the treasure map with “x” marking the spot. Execution requires a timeline, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and communication with the channel.  Client buy-in is a must – whether the client is internal or external.  Each milestone should be reviewed and approved by your client.

Your plan is the blueprint; your execution makes the blueprint a reality.  Your execution must be on point to insure that accuracy to the plan is enforced. In addition, clear and accessible records must be kept in order to “fuel” the next step.


Step 3 – Tracking

How many calls did your messaging drive?  How many sales were converted from those sales?  Did version “A” drive a greater response than version “B.”  What call to action resonated the most with your target groups.  In fact – where did your sales come from?

When your records are complete and accessible, you can accurately report on the results that will allow you to measure and analyze. 


Step 4 – Measure

When your plan was built, you developed the KPIs that would determine the success or failure of your campaign.  Once the results are tracked you can compare the actual results to your projections.  Historical trends based on results from prior campaigns will allow you to see how “tweaks” to your programs have influenced the numbers.


Step 5 - Analyze

Finally, we analyze.  This is where the hard work and adherence to the process can pay off.  It is at the analysis step that the effectiveness of the message as it relates to the target can be assessed.  The results of your efforts taken in context provide direction and better understanding of your market.

If there are tests within the target groups, adherence to process and solid execution allows visibility into the results that will help your shape future marketing efforts. 

And now we are back at the beginning of the never0ending loop of the marketing process. Next, we plan, execute, track, measure and analyze—and repeat.

Yes, marketing is science. Yes, marketing is art. But you can’t get optimally effective in your marketing efforts without the additional “something else:” the process. It is the best way to improve your marketing and in turn improve your results.


Marketing to Business: The Force Awakens


Marketing to Business: The Force Awakens

Marketing to Business: The Force Awakens


No business truly sells to another business; we all sell to people. ― Ann Handley


When a well-known international technology company recently launched a marketing campaign designed to build awareness for its mobile content management services, most observers expected the same statistics-filled messaging that’s been a common part of B2B marketing for years.  Some might refer to this as Joe Friday Marketing: “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Who needs sizzle and spice when stats and specs are all that’s needed when selling to businesses? 

To the surprise of many (and perhaps to the chagrin of its competitors), the company took a very different approach.  Instead of just delivering the facts, the firm produced a highly entertaining series of videos with a Star Wars theme to coincide with the launch of Stars Wars: The Force Awakens.  The result?  A record number of shares, likes and comments in social media plus a 22% open rate and 5% click-thru rate on emails sent out just a week before Christmas.  And while sales performance hasn’t been evaluated fully yet, the awareness-building benefits from the campaign are undeniable.   

What’s the insight here?  People are people, whether they’re buying for themselves as consumers or buying for a business they may own, operate or work for.  And people generally respond better when they receive communications that are engaging and maybe even entertaining. 

When marketing to a business, you’re marketing to people who have feelings, preferences, and personality.  You must not only capture their attention but also give them an immediate reason to care about what it is you’re trying to say.  If you can’t reel them in within the first three to five seconds, they’ll move on to something more urgent, interesting or compelling and leave you wondering why your engagement and response rates are so low. 

Here are some key points to remember as you develop your B2B campaigns:

1.     You’re communicating with people: Engage with them. 

2.     Time is money. Capture their attention quickly and decisively.

3.     Content must be relevant. Providing some fun is useless unless it delivers the payoff message.

4.     Keep the dialogue going.  Give your target something more to look forward to in order to extend the consideration phase and keep you top of mind.  

5.     Clearly state your call to action.  A relevant, engaging communication effort is worthless without a simple, straightforward way to respond.

6.     Measure your success.  Track results and always look for ways to improve performance the next time around.

If you keep these points in mind as you craft your next marketing strategy, you might just find that you already have the Force to be a successful B2B marketer.


What it's like to attend a Hackathon for the first time


What it's like to attend a Hackathon for the first time

This week I went to my first ever hackathon.

What is a hackathon, you might wonder? Well, if you Google it, you’ll get something like “an event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.”
You might have an image of a bunch of nerdy guys in a dark basement, hunched over brightly lit screens and furiously typing away some Matrix-esque code comprised of zeroes and ones. This is definitely not the case for this hackathon.

Happy hour was held at the Atlassian Austin offices.

Enjoying drinks with the group at the happy hour!

Quite a big turn out for the happy hour on Friday.


This was the first ever Austin Diversity Hack, hosted by Women Who Code.

Women Who Code is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women get into tech and promoting diversity in the tech industry. Individuals from all backgrounds invited to come create something great together. In just one short weekend, we aspired to create a minimum viable product—a working application of some sort.
On Friday evening, September 11, 2015, we first met at the Atlassian offices here in Austin, TX. I have to say, their space is absolutely gorgeous! Here, we mingled and formed the teams we’d work in through the weekend.
There were individuals with all levels of experience: some experts, some totally new to tech. Designers, coders, business folk, and volunteers who were just eager to watch us work.
We talked tech, we talked team work, and most importantly, we had fun! The night closed with a few pitches from a small number of individuals, just a taste of the great work to come.


Early Saturday morning, about 8:00am or so, we were to begin planning and working on a product that we would complete roughly 30 hours later.

The actual event took place at Capital Factory, on the 16th floor of the Omni building. Capital Factory is a coworking space, accelerator, and incubator that is hugely popular in Austin. They’re almost always at 100% capacity! Their space is state of the art and very fun to work in.

Holly Gibson keeping spirits and energy high!

Holly Gibson keeping spirits and energy high!

The Transgender Health team hard at work on their app.

JP, giving his final presentation for his team's app. 

JP, giving his final presentation for his team's app. 

I formed a team with my friends Leah and Dennis Bartlett, and with Erica Forget, who we met at the happy hour. Our collaboration would create Co.Nomad – an app for people to find other people to cowork with, anywhere. It uses geolocation to allow people to “check in” onto a map. From this map, other people can see where you’re at and that you’re available to cowork. At the coffee shop, the library, even sitting outside at the park!


As of right now, you can see a conceptual prototype of our app online! Check it out.

With Dennis and his 17 years experience as our coding mentor, we built our idea as a mobile app using the Ionic Framework. Ionic is built on something called Cordova, which allows you to build mobile apps for iOS and Android using web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Ionic also uses NodeJS, AngularJS, and MongoDB.
This may sound like complicated code stuff, but it was really a lot of fun! We spent Saturday getting ourselves familiar with Ionic and getting our code setup on Github. Github enabled us to work on the same files simultaneously without overwriting one another. It also allowed us to make our code public and utilize versioning.

Sunday morning, we started racing towards the finish line.

Beginning again at 8:00am, we completed our app and created an awesome presentation. At 2:30pm we stopped working and pushed our code into Github, then began preparing for our final presentation at 4:00pm. Drinks and snacks were had in celebration as the afternoon came to a close.
The presentations were incredible! All of the teams worked really, really hard and accomplished some really great work over the weekend. We had some awesome sponsors like Google, GoDaddy, AT&T, and IBM. Teams created all sorts of different applications—like a mobile app for bird watchers, and a website to help transgender individuals find medical services.

From left to right: Holly Gibson (organizer), Jacquelyn Chastain, Erica Forget, Dennis Bartlett & Leah Barltett


My team won best UI/UX for our app, Co.Nomad!

All of our hard work paid off! We won for Best UI/UX against over a dozen very talented teams. Prize was $100 cash to split between us and a tiny GoDaddy remote controlled drone—something I had my eyes on since they announced it. I still haven’t figured out how to fly it…
Overall, the experience was insanely fun and really valuable to me. I really look forward to taking on this kind of work in the future. I’ll definitely be going to future hackathons!



Photography credit goes to Women Who Code. Images were pulled from the Facebook page for this event.


Using Data to Build Trust With Your Customers


Using Data to Build Trust With Your Customers

If you are like me you are always looking for ways to build trust with your customers.

A recent report from EY and Forbes Insights advises marketers to harness their data to do just that.

The report is entitled, Building Trusted Relationships Through Analytics and Experience.

Forbes.com also has a great summary article about the report.

The report reveals that companies are realizing that their ultimate goal is building relationships and trust with customers. They also know they need to leverage real-time data and analytics to be predictive, to know what customers want even before they do.

Key insights include:

  • 91% of CMOs feel that building trusted customer relationships is a significant focus of their departments’ strategic and competitive vision. 87% of CMOs say their strategic vision includes the customer experience, and they recognize that they need to embrace the latest data and analytics technologies in order to build credibility and long-term relationships with customers.
  • Most CMOs struggle to understand where trust is eroded with customers, and only half are able to address negative experiences at the customer touch point. Less than a third (30%) say with full confidence that their department or company has a full grasp of where in the customer life cycle the trust is breaking down. Yet 38% of respondents strongly agree that they are leveraging analytics to understand where trust is being eroded in the experience life cycle.
  • Over the next two years, 81% of CMOs say that data and analytics will be an important tool with which to build and measure trust. And almost three-quarters (73%) of marketers say they use analytics to check if the brand promise is being kept throughout the customer’s interaction with the company.
  • Most executives (51%) believe that there is a significant opportunity in the use of analytics for customer insight and in expanding the use of external data sources. Just 37% say they have the capability to use analytics to tailor communications and outreach to the customer. This is a low number considering that many marketing executives see personalization as the next big trend in marketing.
  • Marketers at the executive level are collaborating more across various business units to manage and improve the customer experience. Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the customer experience requires collaboration outside of marketing. By having a better grasp of data and analytics, marketers may be able to take more control of the customer experience.


How to engage with your customers via content marketing


How to engage with your customers via content marketing

Contemplating adding content marketing to your marketing mix? Or do you already have a content marketing strategy in place and are looking to take it to the next level?

Here are some informative articles and resources I’ve found loaded with insightful tips and best practices:
Article in Forbes.com entitled, “What is Content Marketing?” by Russ Alan Prince – insightful information on the basics of content marketing, “the mercantile of thought leadership.”

A key takeaway for me in this article – there are two key elements of content marketing:

  1. Developing content that your desired audiences are very interested in.
  2. Effective distribution of that content.

Prince quotes Bruce Rogers, Chief Insight Officer at Forbes and one of the world’s foremost authorities on thought leadership on his thoughts regarding distribution of content:
Aside from great content, the ability to get the material into the hand of clients and prospects is absolutely essential. There are usually a number of different channels that can be used. And, often disseminating the content though as many channels as possible is a good idea. Often when developing high-quality content, the way the material will be distributed is simultaneously determined.

There is a whole institute devoted to content marketing, aptly titled the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) whose mission is to advance the practice of content marketing. The site is full of practical, how-to guidance, you’ll also find insight and advice from the experts, and an active community for discussing the latest news, information, and advances that are moving the industry forward.

The CMI’s definition of content marketing is spot on:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Excellent article in Business2Community.com by Annemaria Nicholson entitled, 3 Must-Dos to Master Content Marketing that contains insights on how to:

  1. Get specific
  2. Create an experience
  3. Inspire anticipation

My favorite real world example in the article - The LEGO Movie, held up by CMI’s Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose and many others in the industry as an instance of content marketing at its best.

A recent Huffington Post article by Matthew Collis provides informative details about 5 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing More Effective:

  1. Think about the right format
  2. Be concise
  3. Incorporate stories and examples
  4. Make it scannable
  5. Incorporate visuals

My key take away in this article:
Great content is more important now than ever. In order to be successful and achieve your content goals, you need to be aware of how to craft compelling communications that resonate with your audience.


Get To Know the Team at Ascend - Mark Lambrecht


Get To Know the Team at Ascend - Mark Lambrecht

We’d like for you to get to know us! Welcome to the next in our series of “Get to Know Us” blog posts about the team at Ascend!

We recently caught up with Mark Lambrecht, Partner, Account Director and Group Leader at Ascend. Mark was one of the first to join the firm, in 2004.

We’d like to thank Mark for letting us get to know him!

What was the most memorable part of your day today at work?  
ML - Helping new team members assimilate their roles, set expectations and generally help guide them to become successful contributors.
What’s the best advice you ever received? 
ML - Lots to think about here.  Probably from my dad; always treat people like you’d want to be treated yourself.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?  
ML - Shoot in the 80’s again!  (golf)
What is something you have always wanted to try?  
- “Bucket List” type stuff; hang gliding, fly a plane.
If you could win a 'life-time supply' of anything what would you want it to be?  
- Green fees at my favorite golf course; Kapalua, Hawaii.
What do you like to do on your birthday?  
- Enjoy a nice dinner with family; skip the cake.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?  
- “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  I love to watch what I call “sleeper” movies; those that don’t always pop-up on the radar screen but are amazingly entertaining.
Favorite quote? 
- "It's déjà vu all over again!" (Yogi Berra)
Latest book you read? What did you like about it?  
- “The American Sniper”, by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Read this before seeing the movie; deep insight into an American hero and the passion that drove him to be successful.

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Mark! To learn more about him visit our People page or his LinkedIn profile page. You can contact Mark at mlambrecht@ascend-marketing.com.

We invite you to read the other posts in our “Get to Know Us” blog series!