Get Your Marketing Back on Track

Get Your Marketing Back on Track

As we begin to come out of the pandemic and return to normalcy, many small businesses are looking for guidance to get their marketing back on track. Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started:

1. Know Your Differentiating Factor: If You Don’t Know It, Nobody Will

What makes your organization unique? This can be a difficult question to answer, but if you want to be successful, knowing what makes your business different from others is essential. This will be a critical factor in the development of new messaging and an updated marketing plan.

a. What problems do you solve in a way that your competitors don’t?

b. What do your users think are your strengths?

c. Can any of your competitors’ weaknesses be turned into an opportunity?

d. What are some user needs (based on the common complaints they voice about the product/service) that can be turned into potential growth opportunities?

e. What are some market/industry trends that you could foresee and prepare for?

f. What can you offer that NOBODY else is talking about?

2. Identify Your Target Audience: “People with Money” Doesn’t Count

Identifying your target audience takes consideration and patience. The more you can empathize with the audience, the better. Which is why we recommend developing Buyer Personas and Buyer Profiles.

Regardless of the profile you build, be sure to ask yourself these key questions:

a. What motivates them to purchase from you? Do they have any goals?

b. What prevents them from purchasing from you? Do they have any fears or are they facing any challenges?

c. What problem are you solving for them? Do they have multiple problems?

 3. Revamp Your Marketing Plan: Something to be Excited About, Not Scared of

This is an opportunity to review your marketing budget with a fresh set of eyes. By doing this, you can eliminate the marketing efforts that aren’t measurable or reaching your target audience. Once you’ve decided what stays and what goes, you can focus your marketing efforts on measurable items that will both reach your new audience and drive home your differentiating factor.

a. Does your target audience use the same marketing channels as you?

b. Are you afraid to give up traditional forms of advertising that aren’t producing results?

c. Do you take advantage of digital advertising tactics and measure their effectiveness?

d. Are you spending marketing dollars on things that are unnecessary?

e. Is your marketing program being run efficiently and strategically?

Knowing what makes you different is what can make your organization great. And there is no better time than the present to confidently create a strategic marketing plan that positions your organization for growth in the years ahead.

Marketing Strategy Checklist

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Think Outside the Booth – Getting the Most Out of Your Trade Show Experience

Think Outside the Booth – Getting the Most Out of Your Trade Show Experience


by Paige Fuoco, Designer

Trade shows are a great way for your business to meet potential clients and build brand awareness. In order to maximize your return on investment you should develop a strategic plan, ensuring your business will be the one everyone is talking about.

Begin your strategy by mapping out your objectives, tactics, and anticipated outcomes. Whether you are looking to raise brand awareness or generate sales leads, you must plan with a purpose in order to reach your goal. If you aren’t sure where to begin, take a step back and look at where your business is headed and what your priorities are moving forward.

Remember to be mindful of a realistic timeline and budget before you dive in to your strategy. Not every company can afford all the bells and whistles that come with exhibiting at a trade show, and if you plan accordingly, you won’t have to. With a timely schedule, practical budget, and creative mindset you’ll be five steps ahead of half the companies you’re competing with.

So, I have a strategy. Now what?

As the exhibitor, one of the biggest struggles is standing out from other companies. If you’ve been to a trade show before you know that pretty much all booths look the same and everyone is fighting for attention. Sure, every now and then someone lets you spin a wheel to win a free consultation, but it’s safe to say that method isn’t necessarily impactful.

So, how do you make a lasting impact? Think outside the booth.

Trade shows are typically targeted at a specific industry, so a good number of people attending should be interested in what you have to say – or so we can assume. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your creativity and offer something that other companies aren’t. Our recommendation? Get with your creative team and figure out how to get some one-on-one time with prospective attendees. From our experience, this usually means taking them away from the crowded conference instead of forcing something to happen there. Maybe you take a group of five for coffee and bagels, or a group of thirty for drinks and apps.

Putting the Creative Pieces Together.

Trade shows allow you to put a creative twist on your brand. Work with your team to develop a theme for the event and stick to it. Consider concepts that people will relate to, and in turn, will remember long after the event. Is there a major sporting event coming up? Is the next season of Game of Thrones premiering? People enjoy making connections, and you’ll have better luck standing out if they can relate to your creativity.

Once you’ve decided on a plan, go through the list of attendees expected to visit – which organizers will often provide to you – and narrow down who you are interested in meeting with. Once you have a targeted group of people you can get to work on invitations and other event materials. Here are a few things you should consider:

  • Ad placement – If you’re lucky, the conference host will run print or digital ads prior to the event, giving you the opportunity to showcase some assets from the branded theme your creative team put together.
  • Invitations – Now that you have a plan of attack, you’ll want to invite people to be a part of your exclusive get-together. The most effective way to do this is running an email campaign. We recommend this over snail mail because you can dictate the exact time of day your audience receives the invitation and review stats from each time you send. You can also include more photos, landing page links, and even video.
  • Day-Of Essentials – You now have a list of attendees who will be joining you for some one-on-one time and you want them to feel like they made the right decision. Put together a take-away packet with a company white paper and some event-branded materials. This is a great time to include an exclusive promotion and some items different from those at your booth.
  • Booth – Though you’ve already differentiated your company from the others, you can’t neglect your booth. Be sure to do something bold and eye-catching and to include the assets from the theme you created. And, please don’t give away another stress ball or company t-shirt, you can do better than that.

Measure Your Outcomes.

Now that you’ve wowed your guests and made a great impression for your brand, it’s time to measure the outcomes. If your goal was to build brand awareness, take a look at social media engagement – use of hashtags, increase in followers, growth in overall media coverage. If you aimed to bring back leads, ask yourself how they transferred back into the sales funnel – follow up with a phone call, plan a lunch meeting, or whatever method your sales model supports. The evaluation of your objectives is a critical component to your strategic process and will allow you to see what was successful and what new information you can learn from.

It might seem difficult to stand out at crowded events like trade shows but remember that you strategically and creatively planned your impact, and people appreciate thoughtful marketing.

What Netflix Taught Me About the Power of Customer Experience – The good, the bad, and the ugly

What Netflix Taught Me About the Power of Customer Experience – The good, the bad, and the ugly

By Molly Mason, CBO and Certified Brand Strategist


The Good

In my younger years, I spent a fair amount of time wandering around the racks at the video store, picking up plastic rectangle boxes to read the description of the movie it contained and then checking them out to take home and (hopefully!!) bring back by the due date given.

It has not been a characteristic of my life to be an early adopter. I prefer letting other people test things out with their own time and/or money before I invest my own. However, I was an eager early adopter of a little startup that would send me DVDs through the mail and not penalize me for failing to return them on time. Those little red Netflix envelopes floated all around our home for years until we could finally stream it through our computers on our nifty DSL connection. My, those were the days.

For the majority of my adult life, Netflix has been our only form of television. My children have grown up with Netflix. Which is why a recent event was truly memorable for me. It instantly deflated my confidence in and love for their brand. It tore down years of loyalty within the span of 5 minutes. It taught me an extremely valuable lesson on the incredible power brands yield in the minds and hearts of their customers.

The Bad

One evening I was pulling up my account. Suddenly, loud music began playing and an actress’s voice began asking her counterpart very personal and sexual questions – things it would be inappropriate for our kids to hear at their ages and frankly not something I wanted to hear either. I was more than a little irked. These are the questions that ran through my mind:

  • Why would Netflix think I would like this? (If it knows my viewing history, wouldn’t it know that I would not likely watch this type of show?)
  • Why is it auto-playing? Can I change that because it’s annoying no matter what it’s playing.
  • Is this auto-playing on my kids’ accounts? (Again, what about the algorithm?)

The answer? That show was auto-playing on all of our accounts except our youngest – who has a kids account. Through a brief chat with Netflix technical support, I learned that auto-play is a feature I cannot turn off. Further research showed that I was not the only one annoyed by this new feature. A quick internet search revealed articles complaining about the auto play feature for the past year. One writer, Kirk Hamilton, summed it up nicely. “We’re already paying for your service. You don’t need to advertise your own programming to us, and you definitely don’t need to advertise to us in such an aggressive and unavoidable way.”

Since then, I have increasingly noticed that the shows Netflix recommends for me really don’t match my preferences at all. I have begun playing the game of trying to scroll faster than Netflix can auto-play so I can get to our recently watched and continue viewing our new favorite show with no annoying disruptions.

The Ugly

I reflected on what I loved about Netflix and what had changed.

  • It used to understand me. It showed me things I might like based on my history. Promoting their own shows now seems to be more important than helping me discover new shows that might actually fit my taste.
  • I didn’t have to worry about annoying commercials. Now they are showing me annoying previews of shows I would never watch.
  • It was a place my kids could explore within boundaries. Now I have to be concerned that it’s showing my kids things that are inappropriate for their ages.
  • I trusted them and loved them. I am now a skeptic and eager to find a better option.

This experience left me feeling abandoned by a brand I loved and trusted. I am a number. I am a part of their revenue stream. It killed my loyalty faster than any other mistake they could have made. Netflix has made it easy to turn me into a former customer. Instead of touting my love for them to my friends and family, I am more likely to share my growing dislike.

What does this mean for a brand? When other things become more important than understanding, loving, and providing value to their customers, the brand is starting down the path of mediocrity and opening the door to its competitors. It’s easy to take customers away from a service that is annoying. It’s hard to steal customers away from brands they love.

“You are not important. You are not of value to me.” Brands say this every day to their customers. Restaurants say it to their patrons through mediocre service and poor hiring and training practices. The government says it by implementing new systems that promise greater efficiency but really just add ten steps to processes that used to take two (I’m talking to you Michigan Secretary of State Department). Netflix says it through auto-play and recommendations that are not about their customer’s preferences and don’t enhance their experience with the brand.

Put your customers last and they will eventually return the favor.


National Organization Announces Michigan’s First Certified Brand Strategists

National Organization Announces Michigan’s First Certified Brand Strategists

Sarah Stanley (left) and Molly Mason (right)

March 13, 2019—The Brand Establishment Managing Partners Russ Cornelius and Jacquie Francisco recently announced the newest team members to their core group of talented and strategic thinkers, Sarah Stanley and Molly Mason of Hoyden Creative. Stanley, the Chief Executive Officer and Mason, the Chief Business Officer, founded Hoyden Creative in Adrian, MI nearly five years ago and serve the greater Detroit and Toledo markets.

Hoyden Creative is Michigan’s first agency to have Certified Brand Strategists through the Brand Establishment. While strategy has always been a part of Hoyden’s work, the Brand Establishment offers a peer network across North America to support continued learning and best practices. With this certification and continued training, brand strategy will take an even more prominent role in projects.

“Five years ago, we started projects with a heavy design and communication focus. Now we are partnering with our clients on their biggest business challenges,” said Sarah Stanley, CEO and co-founder. “We are providing brand strategy to clients seeking funding, mergers, or reinventing themselves.”

The Brand Establishment’s Certified Brand Strategists specialize in delivering services to align business strategy with the internal and external brand. Organizations that have worked with these strategists can build their businesses beyond expectations with increased sales, improved communications, and stronger employee loyalty. Their marketing investments yield greater efficiencies and ROI.

The process to receive certification requires hours of book work, a case study, and a presentation to peers. “It wasn’t long after working with both Sarah and Molly in the training process that I realized they would be a perfect fit for our group of like-minded agency principles. We all approach brand strategy and marketing with the same strategic emphasis,” said Francisco.

“Our certification strengthens the strategic brand development and marketing work we were already doing,” added Mason. “With the new research and strategy tools from The Brand Establishment, we are already helping businesses and non-profits identify the brand strategy that will not only improve their external marketing efforts but more importantly strengthen their brand by focusing on internalizing the brand strategy to improve culture, operations, customer service, and communication.”

Stanley and Mason have a combined 40 years experience in the area of communications, marketing, design, and brand strategy. Their team works with B2B, B2C, non-profits, and economic development organizations throughout Michigan and Ohio.

About The Brand Establishment
The Brand Establishment’s mission is to clear up the decades-long misconceptions surrounding branding and brand development, as well as provide new tools and smart brand-building strategies to small and mid-sized agency owners. The organization also helps to advance brand strategy’s increasing importance and recognized value in growing and sustaining profitability for companies, organizations and businesses.

Many communications firms and consultants claim to be “brand experts,” though they have no formal training or credentials in this area. Through the certification process and on-ongoing training opportunities, The Brand Establishment develops brand strategists who can lead any brand to greater success. For more information, visit

How to Improve Your Hiring Process with These Four Changes (Hint: It has Everything to do with Brand Strategy)

How to Improve Your Hiring Process with These Four Changes (Hint: It has Everything to do with Brand Strategy)

By Sarah Stanley, CEO of Hoyden Creative Group and Amy Bergman, President of Insight HRM

If you have been involved in hiring, you’ve surely seen some bumpy rides for both the new hire and the organization. Ready to do better? Call in the HR reps, you might think. Yes, but here’s when two heads are better than one. If you also call in your brand strategist, you can make some real magic happen. Allow them to work side by side so that your brand is alive and well throughout the organization, obvious to a new employee the very first day on the job. It’s good for you, the new hire, and the success of the organization as a whole.

There is so much that can be done. What’s not working for you, and how can you turn it around? Here are four areas where you can start making high-impact changes in your hiring process.

What’s Not Working: You are Hasty in Creating a Job Description

A quickly slapped together job description with pieces borrowed from many different sources will feel like just that. It leaves you with a hodge-podge of listings that lack the consistency and flavor of your organization. Absence of a fluid and accurate job description sets everyone up for failure from the get-go. You won’t be able to spot a well-qualified candidate because you don’t have the right baseline for evaluation in place.

Change it to a Job Description that Works

Take time to think about the role for which you are hiring. How does this role support the organization’s strategic initiatives? How will the new hire feel and contribute to the company culture? Identifying with the culture is how they will know they are engaged with the corporate brand, and employee engagement with the brand is critical for the brand’s external success. To evaluate for culture fit you need to define it. To do so, start with identifying your core values then create descriptions of what they mean. Define the behaviors that demonstrate what living your core values looks like. With these defined behaviors and values, you can engage in dialogue with candidates that provides them an opportunity to talk about examples from their lives that relate to your core values. Behavior-based interview questions designed with this in mind should produce the information you need to determine fit.

What’s Not Working: You are Making it Inconvenient to Apply

Is your hiring process stuck in the 1990s? Paper applications or cumbersome online forms are a thing of the past. If your candidate can’t upload a resume and have most of their data parsed into an applicant tracking system, then you’re going to lose qualified candidates who don’t want to be bothered with an organization that still operates in the dark ages.

Change it to an Engaging Experience

The application process is the first impression of your company for the candidate. Think about what you want that experience to be and align your process to reflect your culture. As a candidate searches for more information online, what are they finding that will create interest? Consider adding video clips to your recruiting pages on your web and social media pages to give a little more insight into who your company really is – even better, have some testimonials from your team on video. Make the application system one that won’t burn out the interest they have just built. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just easy to understand and efficient to use.

What’s Not Working: Your Interview Process is Lackluster

If the interview process is a burden to you, it will show to your candidates. If it is haphazard, it will disguise important cues from the candidate. If it is not an indication of your culture and vision, it will sabotage opportunities to find a match in someone beyond technical skills. Just as much as first impressions matter, remember that the entire process is like a first date. Please don’t tell someone you will be in touch and then ghost them. Ouch. That is not the kind of move you want associated with your brand.

Change it to Make a Strong Impression

Even if you are in a hurried spot, take a chance to walk through the process. Literally. Set up the interview area. Rehearse the interview questions. Be intentional with who will be in the room and objective with how you are ranking candidate responses. Know how you are going to greet the candidate and how long they will continue conversations – as well as what conversation triggers indicate the end of the interview. Have a plan for how long you will need before responding to the candidate and what that will look like. Pro tip: It’s better to re-interview a person for confirmations than it is to hire and quickly fire the wrong person.

But, focusing on the interview going well, remember this: if you love the candidate, others will too. You have to move fast in today’s competition for talent. Build your process and timelines upfront, keep them tight and don’t stray from them. Multiple levels of interviews can be too cumbersome and take too long. Your hot candidate could be stolen out from under you.

What’s Not Working: Your Onboarding Process is a Hot Mess

Hello, new person! Welcome to the team. Here’s your stuff and get to it! While that might fly in a few cases, don’t count on it as a way to go. Employees thrown into the fire with zero guidance might get put there with good intentions of letting them write their own ticket or spread their wings. Faith and freedom quickly mask the lack of a real plan for the role to be filled, though. Yes, the employee is there to contribute and solve problems. No, they are not there to be a mind reader and magician.

Change it to an Organized Integration as a Valued Team Member

Starting a few steps back with the job description, think about what tools the person needs to start their role successfully. More than hardware, software and SOPs, it’s access to the team and introductions beyond the team. By paying close attention to candidates’ personalities in the interview process, you’ll be able to build out a launch plan for their success. In fact, you could take it so far as having good indications of what the first 90 days of employment should look like. What better than to share the same expectations for that first official review. Consider pairing the new employee with a mentor – someone who can integrate them into the culture, familiarize them with the organization and its’ norms. It will help them to feel connected to the company right from the start. Also, get them on a team or committee right from the start so they can build relationships, start contributing, and feel a sense of belonging.

Once you have your new team member on board and in the swing of things, the final step to your hiring process is to get feedback. Circle back with your new employee within 60 days to gain feedback on their overall experience. Ask questions such as “is the job what you expected,” “what was your overall impression of the hiring and on-boarding process,” and “who has been especially helpful in your on-boarding and why.” You can tweak your hiring process based on the feedback received to become an even better hiring manager. Always be evolving!

Don’t Play with Fyre

Brand lessons from binge-able documentaries

Winter has returned with a vengeance in our neck of the woods.  Last month, we were enjoying unseasonably warm days, wearing hoodies, and doing yard work like fools, and not appreciating what we had.  This month, school has been cancelled so many times that it has become a rare occasion to actually have school.  Weekend and evening activities have also been cancelled and we’ve been stuck inside our house like something out of the Shining.

When the Fyre Festival documentaries dropped on Netflix and Hulu, I watched them immediately.  I observed the craziness of the initial #fyrefail happen on Twitter in 2017 and I was gleefully ready to soak in some drama to distract me from the cabin fever.  I was not disappointed.

I was also not alone.  Social media is ripe with people reacting to the documentaries.  There are countless articles about which documentary is better.  There is also quite a bit written about influencer culture, millennial marketing, and the ramifications of social media marketing.

But what stuck with me were a few different truths that everyone can take to heart.

Marketing cannot function outside of operations

Brand and marketing strategy is part of your greater business strategy and everything must work in tandem in order to be successful.

Every touchpoint with your customers or target market is part of your brand.  Sales, service, accounting, and even human resources not only need to be fully informed on the brand strategy, but need to work in constant contact and communication with the marketing team to execute these goals.

If you hire an agency, you can’t keep them at arms length from the rest of your organization.  For example, the social media team is often asked customer service questions– they need to be able to respond to these immediately or your brand value will suffer.

Event planning is not for amateurs

As someone who has frequently planned and executed large events, this was something of a horror movie to watch unfold.

They started with an idea and ran with an unrealistic timeline.  They set a budget based on guesses.  And when the experts told them they were wrong, they said they would do it themselves, which is never a great idea.

And this part is what kills me – no one on their internal staff told them no.  Why?  It’s best to leave the event planning to the professionals and listen to them when they tell you what they need (either time or money) to execute your vision.  Or adjust your vision to what is realistic. 

Trust your gut

Listen, the world is full of shady people, even in business.  These documentaries are full of people who knew this was headed towards a dumpster fire, kind of suspected that Billy McFarland wasn’t always telling the truth, and didn’t say anything.  And they stayed.

You have to draw your own ethical lines in life and as soon as your employer, partner, or investor crosses those, decide what you are going to do about it.

Doing nothing is a choice and that choice has consequences.  McFarland is not the only one being sued or facing judicial penalties.  Trust your gut and do what you know is right, otherwise you could end up in big, big trouble.