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Marketing strategy

      Why you need to budget for a marketing strategy   As another year draws to a close, it’s time for businesses to get into planning mode. As you set your goals and parcel out your budget to meet them, ask yourself if you’ve properly accounted for a marketing strategy. Too often one of the first line items slashed, marketing isn’t an extra. The bottom line is a good marketing strategy will make you money—and it’s no longer the cost centre it used to be. Take a closer look at how marketing affects bottom-line growth for B2B companies, and plan your forthcoming budgets accordingly.  Why is marketing important for B2B companies?  Marketing is how your customers find you. It’s how they educate themselves about your services or products, and how they differentiate your business from your competitors’. Your marketing should give your customers the information they’re looking for, when they’re looking for it. Without strategic marketing—a fulsome marketing plan that accounts and plans for your company and your competitors—you’re leaving customer acquisition and retention to chance. You can bet your competitors are investing more.  Strategy vs tactics: What’s the difference?  A complete marketing plan will include strategy—the “why”—and tactics, the “how.” Your strategy is your unique approach, and it relies on information about your business goals.     Who are you targeting this year?    Where are they?    Which services or products do you want to promote most heavily?    What are your immediate to medium-term goals? These might include breaking into a new market, launching a new product, mitigating bad press or doing damage control on your reputation, or simply holding on to your current market share.    What are your competitors doing and saying?    Once you’ve hashed out the elements of your strategy, it’s time to look at tactics that correlate with the strategy. These are the methods you’ll use to meet your goals. Examples include posting on social media, running an ad, or having a customer event. Your marketing strategy should always inform which tactics you use. For example, one of our clients was largely focused on launching a new product line this year, so we agreed that 30% of our time and effort would go to the launch. We took that further by focusing on two buyer types in a small geographic area in order to make a big splash with the small budget. Those buyers are heavily influenced by radio (unusual in B2B) so that’s where a good chunk of the ad spend went. Without the clarity from our strategic planning (which went into far greater detail about how the product would be positioned, branded and more), we wouldn’t have spent our time and budget in the way that we did.   Why it’s important to have a marketing strategy  At Hop Skip, we insist on having a strategy in place before working with any client. Marketing should not be handled in a one-off, piecemeal way; your approach should be deliberate and thoughtful. Think of your marketing strategy in the same way you do your business planning.   You’re in planning mode—your clients and prospects are, too.  It’s the perfect time to think about how you will get your product or service into their consideration set. Developing a marketing strategy will help you make the big decisions like growth goals and also get you to work on other important tasks like key messages, how you will deliver those messages, and where you’ll reach your clients and potential customers.    Your marketing strategy will inform every marketing effort you make. Employing tactics without a strategy is just a waste of money. And yet nearly every company that calls us in to discuss marketing is employing a willy-nilly approach.   Case study: iCapital Financial Services  When we first started working with iCapital, we learned that the first question leads would ask them was, “Are you for real?” Today, they’re a leader in the Canadian small business loan space. How’d we get there? Strategy.   We realized the first thing we had to do was address their credibility. We worked with their brand to ensure they communicated legitimacy, and their messaging so it would resonate with buyers. This work was effective in allaying customer’s fears. Next, we addressed sales marketing funnel activity, starting with the top-end (awareness and lead generation). The tactics we used were to invest time and money in social media, ads, direct mail, and the lead capture process. Later, we moved on to lower-funnel activity, assisting sales in converting more leads through nurturing. We also introduced corporate social responsibility by way of an annual event for charity.    iCapital’s growth is a result of years of strategic marketing, which we refresh annually. Their industry has become extremely competitive so where our focus several years ago was on growing market share, today we’re wholly focused on maintaining our market share. Had iCapital not had the foresight to invest in marketing years ago—and stick with it—they would likely be a very small fish today.  Having a marketing strategy is not a “nice to have,” even in an uncertain economy. It’s the backbone to your business success and deserves the budget to hit the mark.  

Why marketing should be part of your business plan for 2020

As you lay out your goals and budget for next year, ask yourself if you’ve properly accounted for a marketing strategy. Too often it’s one of the first line items slashed in a soft economy. The bottom line is a good marketing strategy will make you money. Take a closer look at how marketing works for B2B companies, and plan your forthcoming budgets accordingly.

      The important number most small B2Bs aren’t tracking  Traditionally, marketing departments spent money on ads and campaigns that either yielded a return, or didn’t—but the days of operating as a cost centre are long gone. If you’re still using this outdated model, it’s time for a tune-up. When it comes to determining the success of their marketing efforts, many small B2Bs don’t know where to start, and often, they avoid the task altogether. If you want to stay in business, you’ll need to track to your metrics, and the customer acquisition cost (CAC) is a good place to start. Simply tracking the cost to acquire a customer will help you understand the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing efforts, and give you the baseline data you need to improve.   What is a CAC?   Put most simply, your customer acquisition cost refers to the amount of money it will take to convince a potential customer to buy from you. Understanding your CAC will help you determine the value of a customer, and therefore the amount that can be spent on attracting customers while still remaining profitable.   To calculate your CAC, you’ll need to divide your acquisition costs—marketing and sales tactics, for example—by the number of new customers in a given period. For instance, if your company spent $10,000 on marketing in a year and attracted 1,000 new customers, the CAC would be $10. An increase of 5,000 customers in the same year would be a CAC of $2.   Using your CAC  Once you have a dollar value to attach to your customer acquisition efforts, you can be far more strategic in your marketing and sales tactics.     Establish a baseline  You can’t effectively and strategically seek to improve if you don’t have an understanding of where you started. The CAC gives you a measurable metric and a number to beat.      Calculate return on investment (ROI)  Let’s say your CAC is $10. Next, you’ll need a sense of the average transaction size (total revenues divided by number of transactions). Of course, not all transactions are likely to be completed by new customers, so you’ll also have to determine your repeat customer percentage (a metric you should always be striving to increase). If your average transaction size is $300, that’s a good return on your $10 investment.      Optimize your return  Perhaps your return is weaker—or, even worse, less than your investment. By keeping a record of your CAC, you can make key adjustments to your strategy to achieve or maintain profitability.     Calculating and working with your customer lifetime value (CLV)  On the one hand, establishing your CAC is vital to understand your investment, but it’s only half the equation. Once you’ve attracted a new customer, it’s useful to be able to calculate their CLV—the projected revenue they will generate for your company over their lifetime. This number will let you measure the amount of time it will take to recoup your CAC investment.   Calculate your CLV by taking your average transaction amount and multiplying it by the average purchase frequency rate. This is the base customer value. Multiply by your average customer lifespan to get your CLV.   Boosting your profits  Once you’ve got a CAC and CLV in hand, you’ll want to start strategizing about how to boost your returns. The single best way is to focus on repeat customers. It costs five times as much to attract new customers as it does to keep existing ones. Put another way, “  it’s more than 350% more profitable to sell to an existing customer than to a new one  ”.   There are a variety of ways to boost your repeat customer percentage.     Capture customer loyalty   Publish highly relevant and useful content such as articles and webinars.     Nurture your customers  Customer relationship management (CRM) software can put data analysis to work for you in maintaining positive relationships.      Engage your customers  Use email marketing to stay in touch and engage your customers in the long-term.      Provide added value  Deliver feature enhancements to your product or service.     Incentivize  Everyone likes feeling like they’re getting a deal. Offer incentives, promotions, or loyalty programs to your customers.     Small B2Bs can’t afford to ignore their metrics. By calculating their CAC and CLV, they can begin making informed, strategic decisions about how to stay profitable while attracting new customers, and—more importantly—how to retain the ones they have. 

The important number most small B2Bs aren’t tracking

If you want to stay in business, calculating your customer acquisition cost (CAC) is a good place to start. Tracking the cost to acquire a customer will help you understand the return on investment (ROI) of your marketing efforts, and give you the baseline data you need to improve. 

      You be you: the importance of differentiation in your messaging   When it comes to marketing, it’s an unfortunate truth that competitors in an industry tend to adopt similar collateral. Think of banking ads in the last 10 years and you’re probably imagining a green easy chair or a pair of rain galoshes, both intended to symbolize the comfort and simplicity of their services. More recently, in the same sector, we’ve seen the rise of stylized animals or other creatures that act as friendly mascots. While the impulse might be to look, feel, and communicate the same as your competitors (but better), it’s far more effective to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.   About differentiation  Differentiation is the marketing strategy of differentiating your product or service from that of other competitors in the marketplace. We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of how this works below, but the idea is to showcase your unique selling proposition (USP) to appeal to your target audience.   The role of differentiation  Differentiation is crucial if you want to retain your customer base, generate repeat customers, or stay relevant over time—all of which are integral to your continued business success.   Let’s start with customer retention. Here’s an area that is often and easily forgotten in favour of trying to attract new customers but the fact is,   an increase of 5% in this area can translate to a profit increase of 25% to 95%  . Additionally, retaining existing customers is cost-effective; it can cost up to five times more to acquire a new customer. Obviously, if you’re going to capture repeat business, those customers will have to remember you, an impossible goal if you look, sound, and appear exactly like your competitors.   Building brand loyalty and equity (the way customers feel about and respond to your brand) is another key task for differentiation, one that can have positive effects on your market share, prices, and profitability. Think about the choice consumers make when they decide whether to buy an iPhone or Android. With prices and features being similar, this decision often comes down to brand loyalty. And, because these brands are effectively differentiated—Apple leverages design and a luxury feel while Android capitalizes on a DIY and independent ethic—both can charge high prices for their products. Another consumer example is butter.. How do you choose which brand of butter to buy? Many buyers don’t know what the different butter brands stand for, so they choose based on price. This is the same for B2B brands—if buyers cannot easily discern what’s better about you than your competitors, they’ll pick based on price.  The bottom line is that while we often see competitors in the same industry with similar marketing—everything from graphic design and imagery to copy and messaging—this is not an effective long-term strategy. It’s far better to be an innovator, not an imitator. Here’s how you can educate consumers about your offering while setting yourself apart from your competition.   How to differentiate your brand  By now you’re probably convinced that you have to differentiate your brand, but where do you start?      Define your positioning   Before you can communicate why a potential consumer should choose your product or service, you’ll need to identify your unique selling proposition. A USP is the factor that makes your offering different and better from the competition, and defining it can often take a bit of creativity. For the best results, you’ll need to understand your customers and what drives their buying behaviours, including their underlying reasons. You should be able to clearly articulate what your offering is, who your target customer is, and what benefit you offer to that customer. (Need help?  Email us!  We have a workshop just for this.)     Design your look   Everything from your logo to your website to packaging or marketing materials are opportunities to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Resist the urge to copycat and try to stand out.     Clarify your messaging   Key messages are main ideas about your brand aimed at your target customers. At their most effective, they are concise, strategic, relevant, compelling, simple, memorable, relatable, and tailored.     No matter your industry, it’s better to be a leader than a follower. Differentiating your brand is a necessary part of establishing your position and attracting customers—new and repeat—to your offerings.

The importance of differentiation in your messaging 

Differentiation is the marketing strategy of differentiating your product or service from other competitors in the marketplace. Differentiation is crucial if you want to retain your customer base, generate repeat customers, or stay relevant over time—all of which are integral to your continued business success. Here’s how to differentiate your brand.

      How to tell if your marketing is really working  Marketing is a complicated task. Many companies without a full marketing department will try one-off or on-a-whim tactics without having any sense of strategy or way to track their results. Even if they get lucky, they’re left without inside knowledge of what worked or how to replicate that success in the future. The result of this haphazard approach can be a very costly and ineffective marketing stab in the dark. Fortunately, there’s a fix. Simply measuring the effectiveness of your efforts through strategy, KPIs, and benchmarks will help guide your marketing success moving forward.  The elements of assessment  Checking in on the effectiveness of your marketing is no different from any other type of assessment: you need to define your goal, decide what variables indicate nearing that goal, and establish your starting point. Then you can go forth and test the waters, armed with the tools you need to measure your efforts. Let’s take a closer look at this process through a marketing lens.  Define your goal  Before you spend any time or money on any marketing tactic, it makes a lot of sense to look at  why  you’re choosing to do it. For example, you might be doing a social media campaign in order to increase awareness of your brand and to engage with customers. This simple statement not only defines your goals, to increase brand awareness and customer engagement, but it ties the tactic to the desired results. This kind of basic goal setting should be done first.    Choose your key performance indicators  Key performance indicators (KPIs) are measurable variables that offer you insight about how well your strategy or tactic is performing. This concept is simple but it can be tricky to choose the right KPIs.   Try to choose two to three different measures of success, indicators that relate directly to your business goals and provide insight into how your efforts are working. The best KPIs can show a change in performance; this will give you insight on how to proceed.  Here are some commonly tracked performance indicators:   Awareness   How well do your potential customers know your brand? How much is your brand associated with your product or service offerings? These are variables that relate to awareness, and can be tracked by measuring reach, mentions, and search data.    Interest   How interested are potential customers in your offerings? Interest can be measured by looking at the number of inquiries into your product: click-through rates on tactics like online advertising and email marketing, the growth of your database through name collection from opt-ins or newsletter subscriptions, and your conversion rate from visitor to lead.    Leads  Having and generating leads is crucial to sustaining your business. For 99% of our Hop Skip clients, lead generation is their top priority so tracking leads is a must. Impressions, or the number of times your message was displayed, and reach, the number of people it was displayed to, are preliminary ways to track lead generation. The click-through rate (CTR) refers to the number of people who click a link in the message divided by the number of times the message was shown, and it gives you information on the quality of the tactic. Finally, the conversion rate—the number of conversions divided by the number of clicks—can tell you how many people took action based on your marketing.   The idea is to identify a few appropriate KPIs to help you understand the effectiveness of your marketing, but in order to make a comparison you will need a point of reference. This is where benchmarking comes in.  Benchmarking  A benchmark is a standard against which your new data can be assessed. Having a click-through rate of 12% is mostly meaningless, but recording a click-through rate of 12% when it was previously 4% tells you a lot about how effective your marketing is. Record benchmarks for each of your KPIs at the start, before you begin tracking your progress. It’s fairly typical for a small- or mid-sized company to have a website but no Google Analytics account. This account is free, and it’s a great way to source your benchmarks.   Now that you’ve got a sense of the steps to take, let’s look at how this works in real life.   A client we've been working with at Hop Skip used to spend 90% of their marketing dollars on radio ads. We moved 50% of that money into Google Ads, which we can track down to the sale, and integrated a "How did you hear about us?" question into the sales intake sheet. This enabled us to determine the ROI of radio ads and compare them with another top-of-funnel tactic: pay-per-click ads. As it turned out, radio had good return for them, but only in one of three cities where they operate. Google Ads performed better in terms of ROI across the board. This gave us valuable knowledge about what works and doesn’t going forward with their marketing.   If you’re going to market effectively, you need rigour, testing, and tracking. Determining your KPIs and benchmarks at the outset takes the guesswork out of the process and helps you get the best results.

How to tell if your marketing is really working

Marketing can be complicated and costly if you don’t know what you should be doing. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will give you a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not. Measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts through strategy, KPIs, and benchmarks will allow you to guide your marketing success moving forward.

      Here’s How to Get "Google" Right  In 2019, no one would deny the power of the Google search engine. With more than three billion (with a B!) daily queries, the most-used search engine in the world has itself reached that holy grail of marketing: its name has become synonymous with its function. When people need information, the­y Google it. As B2Bs, we need to pay attention. The power of Google’s search function alone is awesome, but add to it other services like ads, alerts, and analytics, and you’ve got a toolkit that can either benefit or bury you—and the difference comes down to your marketing. Get up to speed on Google and learn how to harness its power.  Using Google to kickstart lead generation  The first step in the marketing and sales funnel is "creating awareness"—simply put, you can’t bring in more customers without first making them aware of your business. There are numerous strategies to stimulate awareness and a surprising number of them are in some way connected to Google.  Since its introduction in the late-90s, Google Search has absolutely dominated the market. According to Statista, the search giant has maintained close to 90% of the global market share since 2010. Perhaps even more impressive, more than 50% of searchers click one of the first three links on Google’s results page, according to 2018 statistics from Smart Insights. All of this is to say that if potential customers are looking for a product or service like yours, chances are they’re Googling it. Your job, then, is to make sure your business name comes up when they do so.  Getting to number one  Obtaining (and maintaining) a high ranking in search results is no easy feat, but there are tried and true steps towards achieving it:    Identify and integrate your keywords into your web copy.    Regularly publish high-quality content on your site to maintain expertise and freshness.    Make sure your website's metadata is complete and will be effective in helping people find your site.    Get high-quality websites to link back to your website—the more you have, the more your site is recognized as expert and valuable.    Optimize your design and page layout to be fast and mobile-friendly.    All of the above steps will help you boost your ranking organically, but in today’s highly competitive market it’s prudent to double down by paying for ads. As with all things marketing, this works best with a strategy. We’ve found that while running PPC ads can be costly and difficult unless you have an expert on-hand, the ROI with retargeting ads is high. These ads display as many (or few) times as you like over a certain window of time following a prospect visit to your site, which works extremely well for B2B purposes. We run them for most of our clients. Whatever your strategy, be sure to set aside some of your marketing budget for Google ads, which appear alongside search results, to ensure your place on the page.  Nurture those leads!   Don’t let all the hard work driving traffic to your page steal focus from the real task: nurturing your leads so they return again and again.  Modern buyers are internet-savvy and want to do their own research. And of course, websites are where they’re getting their information: The 2014 State of B2B Procurement Study by Acquity Group measured where buyers were getting their online information on products. The results? Supplier websites topped the list at 83%, followed by Google searches (77%), user reviews (42%), and third-party websites such as Amazon Supply (34%).  Getting your message into these spaces is critical, but even so, it's unlikely that a first-time visitor is going to buy from you on the spot. According to Invespcro, nearly 80% of new leads never translate into sales. But, companies that excel at lead nurturing can generate 50% more sales-ready leads at a 33% lower cost. Nurtured leads also make 47% larger purchases compared to non-nurtured leads.  Nurturing leads can take many forms, but at its simplest it means staying in touch with prospects and gently guiding them through the education, consideration, and selection process. There are numerous ways to achieve this. Let’s get started:    Ensure your website content and brand messaging are on point: consistent, impactful, and effective.    Educate your prospects by delivering quality and comprehensive education about your product or service.    Stay in touch with your prospects by sending them value-added content via social and email—the kind of content they can actually use.    Build a nurturing environment designed for customer feedback and continually responding with the right information.    It’s no surprise that buyers research online and in many cases eventually purchase products and services there too. With its massive market share, Google continues to play a significant part in the marketing and sales process. As businesses, we’ve got to be nimble. There is no single marketing tactic that will work for every business, every time, and this is why taking a comprehensive, multi-tactic approach to marketing and sales is imperative. With a little planning and patience, we can harness the power of Google to attract and nurture leads, boost our customer base and our annual sales.

Here’s How to Get "Google" Right

When people need information, the­y Google it. As B2Bs, we need to pay attention. The power of Google’s search function alone is awesome, but add to it other services like ads, alerts, and analytics, and you’ve got a toolkit that can either benefit or bury you—and the difference comes down to your marketing. Get up to speed on Google and learn how to harness its power.

      Hop Skip makes Clutch.co list as top marketing and advertising agency   At Hop Skip Marketing we’re not just a digital marketing agency, we’re a marketing consultant team. The difference might be subtle, but our approach is successful enough to have landed us top spot on the Clutch.co list for marketing and advertising agencies.  Clutch.co is a third-party B2B review site that reviews a company’s website, portfolio, case studies, and awards—and most importantly, it conducts client interviews.  This means that it was the feedback from our clients that secured us this recognition.   “Overall, [Hop Skip’s] efforts improved our position as a leader in the market. The launch of a thought leadership program, a re-brand, video and digital marketing have helped us penetrate new market segments… Hop Skip’s team has taken the time to understand our business and specific challenges, so they can provide customized, creative outputs.” – Jeff Sommer, Vice-President of Business Development, Lorpon Labels   What’s the secret to our success? We make life a little simpler for our clients. We take marketing tasks off our customers’ desks and deliver proven results that improve business and increase engagement while taking advantage of the newest trends and tools of the trade in our industry. From our  PPC management services  and branding chops to web design and media planning strategies, we know the ins and outs of marketing like the back of our hand. Of course, no amount of leading edge jargon can replace hard numbers.    “Hop Skip’s efforts have almost doubled our sales each year and set a record last year. The website they built has become one of our greatest tools… They’re extremely organized, proactive, and always meet their deadlines. There are no excuses; it’s all results-driven.”  – Domenic Sgambelluri, Sales Manager, iCapital, Co-Founder   In addition to this acknowledgment from Clutch.co, sister companies The Manifest and Visual Objects also recently recognized our work. The Manifest, a business news and insights website, named us one of the  top digital marketing agencies in Toronto , while Visual Objects, which showcases the industry experience of top creative agencies, now features our  portfolio  on its site.  We are very proud to have earned these accolades, and we look forward to continuing to build our legacy of success through more successful collaborations. Interested in hearing more about our previous work or have a project that you need a hand on?  We’d love to help!

Hop Skip makes Clutch.co list as top marketing and advertising agency

At Hop Skip Marketing we’re not just a digital marketing agency, we’re a marketing consultant team. The difference might be subtle, but our approach is successful enough to have landed us top spot on the Clutch.co list for marketing and advertising agencies.

      Want more leads? Try sales and marketing alignment  To be successful in business, you must understand the buyers’ journey—that is, the steps a potential customer takes from awareness of your product or service through to eventual purchase. Typically, the marketing team is responsible for generating leads and the sales team for turning these leads into clients. Using this model, the teams work on separate tasks at different times. Key to this, though, is that the sales and marketing teams collaborate. Take a look at how these two departments should work together to ensure on-going success.   The marketing-sales funnel     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     The easiest way to map your buyer's journey is by plotting it along  the marketing-and-sales funnel . If you follow our blog you'll know this funnel is fundamental to B2B marketing. Each step to eventual purchase is represented as a layer of the funnel. Generally speaking, marketing is responsible for the early steps—the lead generation and nurturing—and sales takes the lead role in converting the lead to a deal. Let's look at the six steps in the funnel and how alignment between departments tends to happen during each.   Awareness: How to raise awareness of your business   Marketers use advertising, PR campaigns, social media and other tactics to make people aware of the company and its products/services, and once aware, keep it top of mind.   Alignment is collaborating on the buyer targeting for the campaigns, and keeping the sales team informed of the campaign activity. For small and mid-sized B2Bs this can happen during a standing monthly meeting.   Interest: How to nurture relationship so that people might buy from you in future   Leads that show interest need good information to learn more. It's the marketers' job to provide this, and typically it happens through a nurture process. This is where a drip (aka automated) campaign can be very useful. At this stage, marketing is developing a relationship with the potential buyer.  Alignment at this stage is working with the sales team (or at least informing them about) the development of educational content and the touch points, including lead capture (getting someone's name and email so you can stay in touch).   Consideration: How to interact with potential buyers as they research the best solution   The potential buyer is actively considering making a purchase. At this stage, the lead is usually thought of as a sales-qualified lead and the sales team takes on the responsibility of nurturing the relationship.  Alignment is ensuring a smooth hand-off and marketing supporting the sales team with ongoing touch points, events or collateral.   Intent: What marketing and sales can do when it’s clear a purchase is imminent   Marketing and sales are looking for signs that a purchase may happen. The buyer is still conducting research, so providing content is key here, as is communicating reasons to buy from you.   Alignment is typically communication about the content being provided, ensuring both departments are using the same key messages about the company and product/service strength.    Evaluation: How to help close the deal when buyers are down to the final decision   The potential buyer evaluates the product, price, and offer. This is the final stage before making a purchase and there could be a few decision makers reviewing the information.   Now the sales team is likely taking the lead, but alignment ensures both teams use the same messaging, collaborate on content and collateral, and everyone knows what touch points are happening when (should marketing send that person a mass email, or leave them to personal touchpoints by a sales person, for example).    Purchase: What communication needs to happen when the deal is closed   The result—a sale! The sales team gets the customer across the line, but marketing may be supporting with a welcome package or other new customer information.   The teams align by communicating anticipated and recent deals, and continued joint communication to that person.    Steps toward alignment   When marketing and sales are aligned, the conversion happens more easily because both departments are making a joint effort, and sales can have more meaningful, impactful conversations because they are equipped with better information and tools. Also, there is more transparency surrounding lead and deal tracking so the team is able to be more effective in the future.   Getting your sales and marketing departments aligned requires its own strategy. Consider these best practices.   1. Create top-down involvement   It’s crucial that your alignment goals come from the teams themselves, and possibly with some of the executive team. It may also be worthwhile to hire an intermediary to bridge the two departments.   2. Foster collaboration and document processes   Traditionally kept separate, your sales and marketing departments need to learn to work in an open, transparent, and collaborative environment. Document your hand-off process from marketing to sales. Anticipate sending leads back up the funnel to marketing and document the process.    3. Define leads and focus on quality   It might seem obvious but both departments need to be on the same page. Go back to basics. Standardize jargon. What exactly is a lead? A market qualified lead? A sales-qualified lead? Some see sales as a numbers game, more concerned with quantity over quality leads. But when departments are aligned, marketing can hand off leads to sales along with a deep profile about their needs that helps get the purchase result.    4. Rethink ROI   Once the funnel numbers are being tracked the teams can improve the rates of conversion from stage to stage. It's a great starting point to tracking marketing effectiveness, which we find most companies we work with haven't ever tracked.   5. Use a CRM and leverage dashboard reporting   A busy sales and marketing team will have numerous projects moving up and down the marketing funnel at any given time. Consider using a CRM to track projects, and build a dashboard for real-time reporting. This will give you access to data about what’s working and what isn’t.   Although their work is inextricably linked, marketing and sales teams often work in silos. This is an outdated structure. And it’s a mistake because it’s better for your buyers—and your business—to have an allied, collaborative marketing and sales team. Luckily, it’s not that difficult to make the shift. At Hop Skip Marketing we do this for many of our clients and it is typically up and running well within six months. With a few tweaks, you can streamline your internal processes and be on your way to lasting marketing and sales success.

Want more leads? Try sales and marketing alignment

In B2B companies alignment between sales and marketing is a continuous process of growth, communication, and commitment that will generate high-quality leads and sales. We’ll walk you through the benefits of aligning the two departments in each of the six steps of the funnel and how to get your two teams working closer together.

      Lead generation ideas for B2B tradeshows  You may not know this, but marketers are one of the toughest buyer groups to reach. So when vendors spend thousands to have a booth at a marketing conference, they’ve got to bring their A-game.   Looking for an idea to get show attendees to your booth? We’ve got your back: here are exceptional booth experiences we saw recently at a big North American marketing conference. And best of all, these ideas are simple and inexpensive to repeat, yet they increase traffic, create buzz and result in qualified leads.   Candy store  Everyone loves giveaways especially when they speak to your sweet tooth. This clever vendor included a postcard with an empty treat bag inviting attendees to visit “Candy Lane”. At the booth you could peruse the colourful candy buffet while chatting with the vendor.      

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Mystery key  Sometimes it’s not the location of the booth that drives traffic but the a clever pull strategy that attracts them, like a mystery key in the attendee bag that literally makes you go out of your way to find out what the key is for. Here’s how it worked: in our  conference bag we found a key with a note attached. The note directed us to a tiny, simple booth at the back of the hall where we inserted our key in hopes that it would open the box. If it did, we could take one of the juicy prizes inside, like an apple watch or tablet.   Of all the small booths, this one definitely saw more traffic because this activity piqued people’s curiosity. Our keys didn’t work, but Liz was there when an attendee’s key opened the box. She literally jumped up and down screaming. How’s that for drawing attention to your booth?! Plus, the vendor rang the bell so everyone in the hall knew there was a winner, then they took pics with her and posted them to the conference app and their social media. Well played, right?!     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Hashtag photos  Everyone who posted a photo on social and used the conference hashtag had a shared destination: Lustre’s booth. The Lustre sales people printed off the photo  (with their branding and the conference name at the bottom) and attendees could take their photos home. Months later, Liz still has her pic in her wallet. #NailedIt     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Interactive pixel board  Interactive elements capture people’s attention as they move through the hall. This live pixel board was a great conversation starter. The pixels move with you as you move in front of the tiny camera. Check out this outline of Liz. It isn’t the  best   rendering of her, but it caught her attention and was a conversation-starter.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     The Ball Pit  We’ve saved our favourite for last. Those of us with kids are all too familiar with ball pits. But when it’s just for adults, it’s a lot more fun. Here’s how this one worked: attendees got a ball in their conference bag, which piqued their curiosity (what could it be for?). When they entered the vendor hall the ball dropped (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves). Front and centre was a ball pit in the brand colours, orange and white. Attendees wrote their name and company name on the ball and threw it into the pit for a draw at 6pm that day. Those who wanted more entries could answer a short survey or take a photo of themselves inside the ball pit and share it on social. At draw time a huge crowd formed around the booth.  The biggest influencer at the conference dove into the pit to select the first winning ball. Then, the vendor drew several names and those people took home prizes like a Nintendo gaming system, Apple watch and other tech devices. This booth drew the largest crowd in the vendor hall and was undeniably the most fun. They also built a solid list through their survey.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Many companies question the value of attending tradeshows. But like any tactic, you don’t know if it will work until you try it. Shows are a good place to connect with clients and past clients, too. Setup one-on-ones or offer them a VIP gift for popping by the booth. Even a simple email to your list telling them you’ll be at X conference keeps you top of mind. Plus, there are follow-up opportunities to your broad list such as a show synopsis or a value-add blog like “3 takeaways from XXX show”.  Whatever you do, go with a well-thought-through plan to generate easy conversations with attendees, capture leads, qualify them, and follow-up.

Lead generation ideas for B2B tradeshows

When vendors spend thousands to have a booth at a marketing conference, they’ve got to bring their A-game. Here are the booths experiences we loved the most right now.

      The ins & outs of brand architecture  At its simplest, brand architecture is the way that a company presents its products/services. Selecting the best architecture for your company's offering is a strategic move. So understanding your options and the strategic reasons for choosing one over another is an important part of your overall marketing strategy—and, it’s not just for big business. We've helped several clients figure out their brand architecture. For the most part, this question has arisen when we were launching a new product/service. Here are the basics we have shared with our clients as we worked through their brand architecture.  Brand architecture and how it affects your business  Brand architecture is the strategy behind and implementation of a structure for a company’s products and services, brands and sub-brands. It creates the structure of your offerings, which can affect practical concerns like whether a service or product can be sold without changing the name, and the story, which will be a key part of how you communicate to your customers and potential customers. More on this to follow, but first, let’s look at why brand architecture is so important:    Builds general awareness and clarity of your offerings    Allows you to segment messaging    Anticipates and prepares for strategic growth    Anticipates eventual sale/acquisition of that service/product    Can reduce (or increase) marketing costs    Let’s look at the three major ways brands are structured.    Masterbrand, endorsed, or freestanding: Which works best for you?  There are three common ways companies build their brand architecture, each with their own pros and cons.  Masterbrand  Also referred to as "corporate" or "branded house", this structure can be understood as one main brand that contains many sub-brands or products. For example, Volvo's truck offering organizes each model with Brand + series number. Compare this to how it brands its consumer car lines like VW, Jetta, Tiguan and Passat.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     GE is another great example of this architecture.      

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     With this masterbrand approach, each product/service is inextricably linked to the main company (in brand-speak the "parent" brand). This is a good structure for those who want to build on the cache of the parent brand, existing customer relationships and loyalty. We find this approach works well for SMBs in B2B because it is much more cost effective than needing to develop unique brands (and collateral, websites, etc.) for each product/service. Also, because budgets are small we can achieve better results with this architecture.  Endorsed  This model associates a sub-brand or product with the main brand without completely linking them. Quite literally, the product appears to be "endorsed" by the main brand, which gives it some credibility and name recognition, but it maintains its own profile. PlayStation by Sony or Speed Stick by Mennen are two consumer product examples. Leveraging the reputation of the main brand is valuable, but it can give the product a lot to live up to.  Freestanding  In this brand structure products/services don't have any discernible connection to the parent company—they stand on their own (have their own website, marketing strategy, budget and tactics, etc.). Obviously this architecture foregoes leveraging the power of the main brand, but on the plus side it is extremely flexible, allowing, for example, for a product to be sold without having to change much of the customer-facing messaging. This approach costs a lot more, but it works great when you have a few products in the same category, or if you have many products and each targets a wholly different audience. Proctor & Gamble is a perfect example. They're one of the largest corporations in the world, but their products stand on their own. You wouldn’t know they own Crest, or Always, or Mr. Clean by looking at the packaging or marketing of those products. A local SMB example is Barrie-based  product design company Humanscope . They are the whole owner of  Menopod , which is a freestanding brand with its own website, sales and marketing strategy. This architecture poises the products for acquisition, and also fits well because of the drastically different markets their products target, and how these products are sold.  As you can see, your brand architecture clarifies how much or little you want to leverage your parent company’s name and reputation.  What brand architecture is best for your company?  Understanding how brand architecture works is one thing, but strategizing and implementing is another. Most SMBs don't have the in-house expertise to determine this, so they bring in a marketer with experience in brand architecture. They analyze the offering through questions about your existing brand architecture, target market, price points and business objectives. By understanding what you have, they can determine where you might need to make changes. They'll show you the architecture by sketching it out like an org chart.  When your brand architecture is complete, you can begin to implement the elements of your brand—taglines, logos, colours, and so forth—across all products and services.  Building your company’s brand architecture requires thought, research, and planning, but the results will serve your company’s—and your customers’—interests now and into the future.

The ins & outs of brand architecture

Building your company’s brand architecture requires thought, research, and planning, but the results will serve your company’s—and your customers’—interests now and into the future. Here are the nuts and bolts of different brand structures and the importance of choosing the right one.

       Is your brand messaging in need of an update?   Your brand messaging is directly linked to lead generation. Wondering how? Your messaging helps prospective buyers figure out if your product and company is the right choice for them. This is why most businesses spend considerable time pinpointing the exact messages they will convey.   Once the messaging is set, a business can move on to other issues, right? Wrong. There are situations—perhaps more than you’d expect—when your brand message deserves an update. Let’s dig in.   What is brand messaging?   Brand messaging refers to a set of phrases that communicate what you’re offering. In a quick scan, they articulate product/service category, points of difference and key benefits. In a nutshell, this messaging helps buyers understand why they should choose to buy from you rather than your competitors.   Taglines or slogans are one of the most obvious aspects of brand messaging. When you hear the phrase, “Just do it.”, you think of Nike. Taken a step further, you might think about dedication, ambition, and competitive spirit. These associations are intentional. Similarly, 3M’s slogan is “Science. Applied to life.” and their personality traits are  reportedly : free thinking and creative; sharing and trusting; fascinating; high-energy, optimistic and confident.     According to recent research  , messaging that’s focused on features, functions and business outcomes results in a 21% increase in perceived brand benefits, on average. Compare this to messaging focused on social and emotional benefits, which boosts results by 42%.   It may surprise you to hear that new messaging can be developed pretty quickly. At Hop Skip Marketing, we get all of the key stakeholders together in front of a whiteboard and develop it as a group in a few hours. The beauty of this type of approach is that you have buy-in, and the leaders of all the impacted functions appreciate how the messaging was developed.   Do’s and Don’ts of developing your brand messaging   DO: Convey what you offer and which category you are in.  DO: Articulate what makes it different (better) from the other options buyers will be considering.  DO: Compare your draft messaging to that of your competitive set to ensure you aren’t saying the exact same things they are. (Remember, you are trying to help buyers understand why they should choose to buy from you.)  DO: Quantify your messages to make them more believable. For example, citing “deep experience” is not as compelling as “25 years’ experience and 22,000 customers served”.  DO: Test messaging with a sample audience before launching.  DON’T: Promise things about your product that aren’t true today. Misleading promises can quickly tarnish a good reputation.  DON’T: Hang your hat on things that your buyers don’t value.  DON’T: Launch your messaging without first introducing it internally and explaining why you have settled on this particular set of messages.   Rolling out brand messaging   Brand messaging goes well beyond your website. It should be used frequently and consistently inside and outside of your organization. And it should be known by everyone at the company from your CEO to your front desk employees. Seem like overkill? Not at all. We just finished rolling out brand messaging for a client. During the workshop to develop their messaging, the management team agreed that their overall customer service and production process are par-none. We explored all the ways this is true throughout their process, including a 10-step quality program. In the end, we landed on the tagline “Exception. Every step of the way.” with sub messaging such as having a 10-step quality program for product excellence. Before taking this messaging public, we first rolled out with the sales and production teams, then to the entire company in an all-company townhall. Not only did we explain all of the messaging and how each department would ensure it is living up to these public promises, we also showed them how it would position us ahead of the competitors who had nothing like this. Just last week, the production team started moving a 10-step checklist along with each unit to ensure the team signs off on each step as it is completed.  Once internalized, it’s time to take your messaging public. Plan to update as much (if not all of) your public-facing collateral as you can at launch time. If this isn’t feasible, create a rollout plan.   Reinforcing your messaging with imagery and colour   Visual elements like images, colours and fonts are often used to reinforce brand messaging. For instance, many companies whose Canadian ownership is a key differentiator include “100% Canadian” or “Canadian owned and operated” into their messaging. This is often reinforced by Canadian imagery or symbols, and a brand colour palette that includes red. This is the approach we took with one of our clients who is in a category alongside many US-owned companies.  Messaging should be reinforced through experiential aspects too, like customer service, hiring, and corporate policies. For example, if a company hangs its hat on being the category leader for innovation, a slick up-to-date website designs with best-in-class user experience would make their messaging much more believable. Or, if a company says they treat customers like gold, all departments should have set ways that make that happen, like responding to inquiries within 15 minutes, or sending a gift if the service is in some way sub-par (ever received a free Starbucks drink because they messed up the order or took too long?).   Does your brand message need a review?   Once rolled out, a brand message can seem immovable—and indeed, a great message will resonate over time. But there are several events in the lifetime of a brand that should trigger a message review.   Introducing a new innovation   When there are new innovations in your sector you should schedule a messaging review to ensure that you remain relevant and at the forefront.   When you do a rebrand or refresh   Brand elements like design and logos should be refreshed periodically. If you are shifting to demonstrate new personality traits or to resonate with a different buyer group, your messaging may need tweaking.   During a new product launch   When introducing a new product, you will need to develop messaging for the product line and buyer. This work should include an audit of the competitors’ product messaging.   Entering a new market or when there’s a shift in the market   Reviewing your overall messaging when entering a new market is crucial. Perhaps less obviously, it’s a great time for review if there has been a change in competitor activity, an economic shift, or a change in consumer buying behaviour in your existing market. If you are in an industry that’s growing, you’ll have to revisit messaging and position frequently.   When developing your annual marketing plan   Times change, which is why each year you need to engage in strategic marketing work. Consider a messaging and brand review (your messaging and that of your top competitors) as part of that work.   Your brand messaging checklist   There are numerous opportunities throughout the year to check your messaging, but what should you be looking for? Here are the three important questions to ask:   1. Does your core messaging offer anything different from your competitors?   Be honest! If your messaging has become repetitive or indistinct, it’s time to reach for something new to differentiate yourself.   2. Do your messages reflect reality?  Your brand messaging might be excruciatingly clever, but if it doesn’t reflect reality it won’t land the way you want it to. Make sure your communications are grounded.   3. Do your messages still resonate with your target audience?   Changes in products or price point, new competitors, or shifts in customer behaviour can all affect your business landscape. Review your target audience, and make sure your messages still resonate. A customer survey is a great way to do this.  Your company works hard to create relevant, resonant brand messaging. Don’t let the effort go to waste. Keep an eye on industry trends and take advantage of the natural opportunities for review that arise throughout the year. Regular brand messaging checkups can help you grow and prosper.

Is your brand messaging in need of an update?

Your company works hard to create relevant, resonant brand messaging. Regular brand messaging checkups can help you grow and prosper. Whether it’s new innovation, shift in industry trends, or creating your annual marketing plan a review of your brand messaging should be on your checklist. Let’s dig in further….

      How a 30-year-old manufacturer solved its market share problem  Every company wants more market share. What many struggle with is how to get it. In the face of fierce competition and other internal and external challenges, figuring out how to grow market share can feel daunting. It’s a beast of a question. What helps—a lot—is having an experienced marketing team at the table. We say this from experience.   There is no one way to gain market share. It is commonly done by innovating, improving customer experience, strengthening brand, and making acquisitions. Today we’ll shed light on how we helped a manufacturer increase its market share and enter two completely new markets resulting in bottom line growth, as well as the growth of its sales and customer service teams.  Updating a tired brand can create a high ROI   When we first started working with this B2B manufacturer, their top priority was reducing risk by diversifying their client base. They aimed to go from a few very large accounts to multiple small and mid-sized accounts. They were in a position to service new clients well, and their product was solid. The main issue was attracting leads and getting them to a point where they were ready to speak with sales.       
   
     “ 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy. ” 
   
   — Gleanster Research 
 
     Our marketing team had one big goal: to resonate with and convert new buyers. We also had one big problem: the main reasons to buy from this company were their innovative solutions and top-quality service, but these were not reflected in their dated brand and vanilla website copy. It’s hard to claim you are innovative and committed to quality when you look like a relic from bygone era. And potential buyers look for a certain amount of product information before they are willing to speak with sales. The company needed a virtual rebirth to achieve their goals.  Over six months, we completed a comprehensive rebrand, including a new logo, tagline, photography, messaging and website. We carefully crafted the website to provide detailed product information potential buyers were looking for, and communicate the company’s strengths so that buyers were able to understand the benefits of working with this manufacturer over the others. We also produced a video and created basic sales collateral, to further help educate buyers and assist the sales process.  The change was drastic. And the industry and buyers took notice. Their website traffic grew from 1300 website visitors in 2013/14 to 14,400 visitors over the same 12-month period in 2015/16.  By fall 2017, two years into working with us, the company had to increase the sales team’s headcount to respond to the requests for quotes and manage the additional jobs. The customer service team also expanded. The company, which had long prospered thanks to a few large clients had now acquired dozens of small- and mid-sized accounts within the same industry. We were growing market share!  Bottom line growth by entering a new market   With our first big goal achieved, it was time to set new marketing and sales goals. We agreed to expand into the craft beer and distilling industries, which were booming and a great match with their fortes.   The launch involved two large initiatives: tradeshows and direct mail. We also wrote monthly articles, daily social media posts and ran Google Ads. These all fit neatly into a trademarked umbrella campaign we called Own the Shelf. (Search the #owntheshelf hashtag to see the social media rollout!)  This campaign further increased the website traffic and earned the company some headlines, too. As for bottom line growth, the direct mail campaign was a major contributor. The mailer was sent to decision makers of 70 Canadian distillers. A whopping 68% of them engaged in the campaign, and 7% converted into net new customers.  Our multi-faceted multi-year marketing work yielded excellent results for this B2B company. The website doesn’t just look and sound (way) better—it has become a lead-to-conversion machine. Today, a whopping 40% of web leads convert to clients. And we’re continuing to bring in new clients, in old markets and new.  Don’t shy away from a goal of increasing market share. It is complicated and won’t happen overnight, but equipped with a strategy, tactical plan and experienced marketing team, it is definitely do-able.

How a 30-year-old manufacturer solved its market share problem

One of the most talked about challenges today in business is gaining market share. We shed some light on how we helped a manufacturer increase its existing market share and enter two completely new markets— resulting in bottom line growth, as well as the growth of their sales and customer service teams.

      Why you should never choose between brand awareness and lead generation  Much has been said about brand awareness and lead generation as they relate to marketing, but we find the two are often framed as competing imperatives. In truth, they’re both necessary for healthy sales and growth. In this article, we’ll look at these concepts and explain how—and why—a sound strategy includes both brand awareness and lead generation.  Brand awareness vs. lead generation  In its simplest term,  brand awareness  is recognition of your brand or products and services.  Lead generation  is the initiation of a potential buyer’s interest in your product or service. Often we hear people suggest that a focus on one necessitates the expense of the other. The reality is they are both essential to maintaining a healthy stream of business. Without brand awareness there are far fewer leads. Without a proper lead gen process, fewer potential buyers move from the awareness stage to making a purchase. They are both steps in  the marketing-sales funnel .   At Hop Skip Marketing, we break down the marketing and sales process into a series of steps. Brand awareness and lead generation are two of several steps, and they have to happen simultaneously to keep sales flowing. Here's an example:  An example of increasing brand awareness  A few years ago we were approached by an interior design and decorating business looking to set up shop in northern Ontario. They were entering an already competitive marketplace. Luckily, we found that none of their competitors had invested time or money in marketing, so it was easy to show how they were different—and better—than all the other well-established businesses in town. This was our starting point.  We created imagery that looks distinctively theirs and messaging that explains how they’re different from the other businesses in town. Then we spread word about them far and wide through social media, digital advertising, signage, event sponsorship, Chamber of Commerce emails, and more.  The beauty of operating in a small community is advertising is inexpensive and very effective. For this client, it wasn’t long before the website’s traffic grew substantially and they had people entering their lead generation process.  An example of increasing lead generation  When potential customers are starting to do their research, your lead generation process should kick in to answer their questions, help educate them, and get them ready to speak with your salespeople.  For our design client, we wanted to pinpoint that moment when people in our database began preparing to renovate or build their home. We looked for signs like someone visiting the services page of the website to see the pricing and service offering, downloading an ebook or read other material on the site. At that point we start to follow up with relevant educational material and encourage them to book a consultation. This is when the sales conversation begins. For this client, the lead gen process is pretty simple, but for others it is far more complex. This is where marketing automation software can be a huge help.   So now you know that instead of worrying about whether to put your marketing resources into brand awareness or lead generation, you need to ensure your strategy fosters both. Neither need to be overly complex, but the work hand-in-hand to drive sales. 

Why you should never choose between brand awareness and lead generation

Brand awareness and lead generation are often framed as competing imperatives. In fact, they are both necessary for healthy sales and growth. In this article, we’ll look at these concepts and explain how—and why—a sound strategy includes both brand awareness and lead generation.

      Hop Skip Marketing named leading agency on Clutch.co  Clutch.co, an on-line data driven field guide for B2B buying and hiring decisions, recently named Hop Skip Marketing one of the leading  digital marketing agencies in Canada . It’s always great to have our work recognized, but this is an extra-special acknowledgment. Clutch arrives at its rankings through in-depth research of a company’s website, portfolio, case studies, and awards—and most importantly, it conducts client interviews. This means our clients’ feedback is directly responsible for our success on the Clutch list.  So just how did we manage our success on Clutch? There was a clue—even for us—when we looked over our clients’ responses. Consider this feedback from the president of Backbone Technology: “They provide good results, and we have a good working relationship. They understand our business well, which can’t be said of all marketing firms. They’re responsible and professional, accomplishing all of the work given to them. They keep us up to standard and ensure our software and tools are working properly.”  Though we’re listed under “digital marketing agencies,” at Hop Skip we consider ourselves to be a marketing consultant agency. The most pronounced difference is that we act as your company’s marketing department. That means we're in your office weekly to look after your entire marketing strategy and implementation, just like an in-house marketing department would. It's a model that offers companies like Backbone Technology the best of both worlds: the scalability of outsourced marketing, with the deeper relationship and familiarity of in-house staff.  Of course, it’s all just semantics unless you can prove results. Look at what the sales manager at iCapital had to say to Clutch: “Hop Skip's efforts have almost doubled our sales each year and set a record last year. The website they built has become one of our greatest tools; we receive lots of applications through the site and clients are actively enjoying its features.”  You can see these and all our reviews, as well as our 5-star ratings on  our Clutch profile . And while you’re at it, surf over to Clutch sister site The Manifest, where we’re listed as one of their  top digital marketing agencies in the world .  These accolades are awesome, but more importantly, they set us up for success in our growth goal. Next up, we’re looking to be the go-to marketing solution for B2B companies in Toronto, GTA West, and the Halton/Hamilton region.   

Hop Skip Marketing named leading agency on Clutch.co

Clutch.co recently named Hop Skip Marketing one of the leading digital marketing agencies in Canada. It’s always nice to have our work recognized, but this is an extra-special acknowledgment.

      How does Google rank you, anyway?  You don’t need a marketing diploma to know that where you rank in Google's (or Bing's) search results matters. In fact, over 50% of people click on the first listing Google serves them, according to these  2018 stats from Smart Insights . This varies by industry and how many words someone uses to find what they're looking for.  If you want to get the coveted top spot, you need to do some work to reach—and stay—in that first Google search position. This article will help you understand how Google ranks sites and how you can improve your position.  Understanding Google's algorithm  No doubt you’ve heard the word "algorithm" in reference to your web presence. And you may have some sense of what it does. But, really, what  is  an algorithm? Simply put, a search algorithm is a set of factors (more than 200 of them, in Google's case!) designed to establish two things: authority and relevancy of your website. Though human-made, the algorithm is computer-run, and it is also constantly changing in an effort to improve results. We should also tell you that Google's exact algorithm is a closely-guarded secret; akin only to KFC's chicken recipe (which, btw, may have been  accidentally revealed  last year).  The reason Google’s algorithm (and that of other search engines) is so often talked about is that it determines how you rank in search results. The algorithm decides who is listed first—you or one of your competitors. And  as Neil Patel points out , "Given that Google handles over  2 trillion searches  per year (that's about 40,000 every second), even the smallest changes to their algorithm can have a massive impact on any given site."  How can I make my website rank better?  Entire careers are built on this question. Even though we don't know the recipe for their secret sauce, we do know the key ingredients. While no one knows Google’s exact algorithm, we have a good sense of how to get a site ranking better. We’ve had several clients come to us who were concerned about their poor ranking. Fixing this problem isn’t rocket science, you just need to roll up your sleeves and give it at least a few months to take effect. Here’s how we’ve turned around poor rankings for our clients:   1.    Evaluate your website  Before you can improve your site, you’ll need to know exactly what you’re dealing with. Be sure to document this baseline so you have a comparative later. Bearing in mind that whatever the algorithm, Google is searching for sites with authority and relevancy, take the time for a comprehensive review. This article can help you  assess your website’s performance and correct weaknesses .     2.    Is your content comprehensive?  For some time, in an effort to beat the algorithm, people infused their content with specific keywords that were alleged to drive traffic. Over time, though, this resulted in the web being over-run with poorly written, difficult-to-understand or off-topic articles. It became clear that what reads well for computers doesn’t necessarily work for human users.  More recently, Google tweaked their algorithm to measure content more qualitatively. Using keywords in your website copy is still very important but first and foremost, your site needs to work for your customers and buyers. So think about the keywords your audience uses to find you, and ensure they are included in the headlines of your website.   But it doesn't end there. It's also widely known that Google favours websites that are regularly updated with good quality content. For this exact reason, we produce blog posts for 100% of our clients. Generally speaking, we aim to publish a monthly post, which even the smallest of companies can pull off. Not only does the blog tell Google you are a subject matter expert, it's also instills a greater sense of credibility to buyers visiting your website. Plus, it gives you something to talk about on social media. Win-win-win!   3.    Check your metadata  This one’s a bit counter-intuitive. Metadata doesn’t directly improve your rankings anymore (it used to). What it does do is help others, both robot and human, find and navigate your site. And the resulting traffic (ie. people visiting your site) contributes to your ranking. So it's a round-about thing.  What you should do is check your the page title and description you have for each page, all image descriptions for visually-impaired site visitors and robots, and the content structure to make sure you’re in tip-top shape for your visitors. To check your website's page titles and page descriptions (or lack thereof) simply enter your URL.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Here is an example of a good listing:     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      4.    Increase the number of sites linking to your website  Inbound links—especially from reputable websites—tell Google that you are an authority on that subject matter. The more "referral" links from reputable sources on that topic, the better you’ll rank for that very subject when people search for it. Another thing that can improve your ranking is to get highly regarded websites to link to your site. The higher their domain authority, the better the juju they'll give you. You can  find out a website's domain authority using Moz's awesome free tool . (See what we did there? We just gave Moz a little juju by linking to them—not that they needed any more.) Just beware that savvy websites use something called a "no follow" link, which gives you zero juju. If you suspect they are sufficiently advanced, ask that they give you a "do follow" link. There's no harm in asking, right?  Unfortunately, even being the best in your category isn’t going to attract these sweet inbound links. Just like in the real world, you’re going to need to do a bit of networking and sales. Note that the emphasis is on quality, so skip the link farms and look into outreach, targeted PR and offering to pen guest posts for industry blogs (perhaps for an industry association or digital publication).   5.    Take a look "under the hood" of your website  Though this is probably the least sexy task of the bunch, it’s crucial that your site is technically up-to-snuff. Do your pages load quickly? Are you optimized for mobile browsing? Is your site up-to-date with the latest Google guidelines so it can be crawled and properly indexed? Search engines like Google want to give searchers a great experience. If your site doesn’t deliver because it is frustratingly slow, or isn’t optimized for mobile, they won’t send traffic your way for long.     Now that you have an overview of what it takes to woo the algorithm, dig a bit deeper starting with our blog  5 ingredients for ranking first on Google . And if all this seems a bit overwhelming, we can help you. Improving your website's ranking is definitely do-able—it just takes some strategic TLC.

How does Google rank you, anyway?

You don’t need a marketing diploma to know that where you place in a user’s search results matters. In fact, a full 95% of people click on the first listing Google serves them. This article will give you the basics to understand how Google ranks your site and how you can improve your position.

      When your business needs deep understanding of human factors, turn to the robots  What is s entiment analysis & how does it relate to artificial intelligence (AI)?   Mention artificial intelligence (AI) in a business setting and you’re likely to send your staff into a panic fostered by decades of speculation about robots making human labour obsolete. To be sure, the potential range of applications is enormous and indeed, some eagle-eyed folks may have already noticed AI and robots showing up in some industries to handle menial, repetitive, or promotional tasks. A new trend in human resources (HR), however, may have identified the best use yet for AI—sentiment analysis. Here’s why in this case, the robots may well be the best people for the job.  Sentiment analysis is a jargony term that refers to a type of contextual data mining intended to get at subjective thoughts or feelings. By measuring positive and negative language in a survey, from call centre agents, on social media, or from any other source, sentiment analysis can provide deep insight into how your audience truly perceives your business or product.  The collection, measurement, and analysis of enormous amounts of data is always more efficiently handled computationally rather than by hand, but resource allocation is not the most compelling reason to bring in the AI. Indeed, it is the very fact that the intelligence is artificial that fosters an environment of anonymity and veracity.  B2B use of sentiment analysis and AI  There are multiple ways B2Bs can use this type of data. Consider an employee satisfaction survey. Having a deep, rich, and detailed sense of what does and does not work in your workplace culture is extremely valuable to any business owner. After all, satisfaction is connected to productivity and growth, and a lack thereof can be extremely costly. Satisfaction surveys are intended to address this by uncovering problems, but they are less effective if they don’t include sentiment analysis. After all, how can an employee speak out about something that bothers them, especially when they suspect it is their employer who will analyze the results? Most hesitate to be the squeaky wheel for fear it might impact their chances of advancement. Would you be prepared to speak candidly about your workplace experience under these same conditions? And even if you could capture the true opinions of your employees, would you trust human operators to properly interpret the data?  For businesses, there are also external applications. Customer feedback forms or surveys are one great example of this. The real, unedited thoughts and feelings of a customer toward a business or product are extremely valuable as they can identify trends, drive improvement, and help foster deeper engagement.  However, in addition to the problems identified above, companies struggle with low response rates and with uncovering the true root causes of customer issues. This is where AI comes in.  Let’s return to the issue of staff surveys. A business owner looking to capture employee sentiment has a few options. You can use traditional methods but even at best, results will be limited by the closed, cursory responses of the survey design. You can offer anonymity and encourage participation by outsourcing survey management to an external outfit, but this will not eliminate human operator bias or failure in interpretation. Or, you can work with sentiment analysis where respondents can give long-form feedback, and look to AI—robots—to collect and interpret the data, thus closing  the major gaps in your existing process .  The benefits of sentiment analysis in a nutshell  Using AI for sentiment analysis can be a great value. You can realistically foster trust around anonymity, as literal robots are reading the responses—the results of individual staff members never need cross management’s desk. This encourages more participation, which gives the AI more data to analyze. Increased data points translate to better analysis of the true meaning—the sentiment or opinion—being expressed, which will result in more specific, actionable strategies for management. Best yet, these benefits apply whether you’re surveying employees or collecting feedback from customers.  There is some irony in the situation—that AI may well be the best way to access the most human of emotions—but isn’t this the kind of improvement the technology was built for? If a robot analyst is what it takes to make workplaces happier, healthier, and more profitable, I’d say AI is living up to its promise.

When your business needs deep understanding of human factors, turn to the robots

A new trend in marketing communications and market research is the use of sentiment analysis, powered by AI. Here’s the scoop on how B2Bs are putting this new technology to use.

      Why you should refresh your marketing annually  For better or worse, the business world changes constantly. Your company goals shift from year to year. And your marketing strategy should change along with them. The same plan of attack just won’t work year-over-year, because every year you’re marketing a different version of your company to a different version of the marketplace.  In fact, since a good marketing strategy is specific, this is  even more true  if last year’s marketing was excellent. The specificity that gave it power won’t apply anymore. You’ll have new growth goals to attain. And maybe a new product, or initiative to launch, too.  So, what do you need to remember when you’re refocusing your marketing?   Keep track of the state of marketing today, both in form and function    In the past, the methods of B2B marketing were completely different, because people chose their suppliers differently. Consumers gathered information primarily from brochures and trade shows. Their sales relationships started earlier, and they were more loyal to the brands they selected.  Potential buyers don’t speak with sales until they’ve done their online research. So you have to provide the lots of information up front. This has made more intentional, active marketing a necessity. Gone are the days when marketing was a cost centre; today it’s a revenue centre.  Customer relationships are affected by marketing, too. Customers are more fickle when it comes to brand loyalty.  Simultaneously, there are changes in what buyers expect aesthetically and function-wise on your website. Perhaps we need to count the life of a website in dog years! If your site is more than 5 years old, it isn’t impressing anyone. If you are claiming to be innovative and your site is old ... well, as Donny Brasco says fuhgeddaboudit.     These changes don’t happen instantly—they’re composed of micro-trends that come and go. Faster than you can say fugazi, buyer expectations, new competitor tactics, and linguistic tics sweep the market and then disappear. Keeping abreast of these developments can be the difference between your brand dominating, and your brand falling to the back of the pack.   Responding to environmental shifts and positioning against competitors   Different market conditions can call for completely different approaches to selling the same product.  Let’s say you’re selling video conferencing equipment, and you’re advertising at a time when the economy is booming. Given the economic abundance, it might be the time to sell your equipment as a prestige good. Focus on the lustrous quality of your images, your comprehensive feature set, and so on.  But then, the market takes a downturn. Even prosperous companies are tightening their budgets. What do you do then? Focus on the budgetary advantages of your product. Talk about how it facilitates more efficient meetings, which will save companies money. Share statistics about its reliability, making it clear that you’re offering a sound investment.  And this is just one example of the kinds of change that you need to navigate. New innovations, political shifts, and regulatory changes can all be a big deal. For example, in our past work with Canada Cartage part of our marketing strategy and plan focused on attracting and retaining drivers because of the shortage of truck drivers in Canada.  Accounting software company Auvenir, which we built a strategy for in 2017, needed to covey its know-how in machine learning and AI in order to prove it is the most innovative, progressive brand in its saturated category.  This brings us to the fact that you’ll have to plan around competitors, too. Obviously, you’re better at some things than they are, but your customers don’t know that—unless you communicate these differences. Every single company we’ve worked with has needed to better articulate how it stands apart from the competition.  This involves studying your competitors—knowing about their brand, messaging,  marketing tactics, and more, so that you can actively differentiate from them, and achieve your goals.   Alignment and goal setting are crucial to ensuring your marketing pays off    But hey, what are those goals again? Surprisingly, some companies ignore this question. The reality is most companies we work with don’t have the expertise or bandwidth to develop a marketing strategy and plan. So any marketing they are doing is off the cuff.  Marketing should always align with goals, priorities and what departments like sales and customer service are doing. Marketing is a function that supports most functions in the business: product innovation, regulatory compliance, sales, customer service. Even the front desk staff.  At Hop Skip Marketing, we insist on refreshing the marketing strategy, tactics and budget annually. And every year we update the key performance indicators (KPIs) for marketing too. These goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. For more on this,  read this blog we wrote  about how to set relevant and SMART goals every time.   The Upshot   It might seem like a chore to revisit your marketing plans on an annual basis. But it’s the only way to avoid wasting money and falling behind competitors.  Refreshing your marketing every year is how you maintain your brand’s relevance and success in a fast-changing world. Ultimately, it’s the way into your customers’ hearts—and, of course, their wallets.

Why you should refresh your marketing annually

For better or worse, the business world changes constantly. Your company goals shift from year to year. And your marketing strategy should change along with them. The same plan of attack just won’t work year-over-year, because every year you’re marketing a different version of your company to a different version of the marketplace.

      The benefits of outsourcing your marketing  As recently as a decade ago, only a few services were likely to be outsourced. Indeed, the very word—outsourcing—was sure to evoke enormous impersonal call centres. Suffice it to say, things have changed. Due in no small part to the advent and improvement of internet tech, the popularity and diversity of outsourced services has grown. According to  data recently published by Statista , in 2010, the global market of outsourced services represented just over 45 billion U.S. dollars; seven years later, it has nearly doubled, amounting to $89.9 billion.  Now that outsourcing has become a viable option for IT, finance, and sales services, it’s worth asking whether your marketing should be done in or out-of-house. The  website Entrepreneur  lists content marketing as one of five tasks for small businesses to outsource. Hop Skip takes this a step further. We believe that no matter the size of your shop or the services required, you can benefit from outsourcing your marketing. Here’s why.   Benefit #1: More time to run your business   We often see marketing sitting with the company admin person or (following off) the desk of the VP of sales and marketing. VPs cobble it together as time allows (which it usually doesn’t). Admins, on the other hand, have time and interest, but lack the strategic insight to get tangible results.  In  a report  on content marketing based on feedback from 600 respondents, 51% listed finding the time to produce quality content as a challenge, and you can add to that the time necessary to strategize and plan, build budgets, execute, and report. Let’s look at an example. For every client at Hop Skip, we build an updated marketing strategy annually. This work is necessary for an informed and effective strategy, and has to be done prior to writing articles, creating sales collateral or posting to social media. Marketing is not a side-project, and successful marketing takes time.  When it comes to marketing staff, outsourcing is obviously not the only solution. Your business might hire an in-house marketer. This brings us to the second benefit.   Benefit #2: Cost-effectiveness    If you’re thinking of making a hire, your first choice is probably a mid-level or senior marketer. This will cost you, not only in salaries, but also in recruitment and interviewing, benefits, and signing bonuses. On the other hand, cutting costs by hiring a junior marketer will necessitate training, daily directions (i.e. strategic and tactical know-how by their manager) and oversight. And they may well move on in a year or two, taking your investment with them. Salary-wise, in Ontario a mid-level marketer as a small company will be paid between $50K and $70K, plus benefits, whereas a junior hire will range from $35K to $50K, plus benefits.  It’s for these reasons that hiring a fractional marketing department becomes even more attractive. An outsourced team is scalable, doesn’t need direction or oversight (it’s our job to report to you) and generally costs the same as a junior-hire.   Benefit #3: As-needed expertise    An internal marketing team may well be expert in your industry, products, or services, but are they up-to-date with the latest trends? Do they come with breadth of experience and lessons learned from other sectors?  When you outsource your marketing, you’re gaining access to a team that has worked for multiple clients across sectors—and they have knowledge of best practices, industry trends, and proven results to show for it. When you outsource your marketing, this means that there’s no oversight required from you, and you will always be kept up-to-date through frequent reporting including data on return on investment (ROI) derived from your key performance indicators (KPI) and focused on business growth.  A solid, actionable marketing strategy is integral to the health of your business. If you are looking for cost-effective ways to engage top experts who can take your marketing plan from concept to completion and save you time in the process, outsourced marketing may be the right option for you and your business.   

The benefits of outsourcing your marketing

We believe that no matter the size of your shop or the services required, you can benefit from outsourcing your marketing. Here’s why.

      Ready or not, GDPR has come; here’s what Canadian B2B business owners need to know  As a Canadian business owner who depends on B2B interactions, you probably remember the commotion surrounding  Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)  coming into effect in 2014. Those four letters had many B2B businesses in a frenzy as they tried to understand the rules and update their communication consent practices.  Just when you thought you were in the clear, you have four new letters to worry about. You’ve likely heard received several emails from other companies about GDPR compliance in the last month or so. But do you have you considered the impact it could have on your business? Are you in compliance?  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) represents a huge shift in the way businesses are required to handle customers’ data. It came into effect May 25, 2018. And, unfortunately, doing nothing is not an option. If your business isn’t compliant with the new regulations, you could face serious consequences, such as a fine of up to $20 million Euros or four per cent of your annual global turnover.   How does GDPR compare with CASL?   This European legislation was designed to harmonize data protection laws across the European Union (EU). It wasn’t intentionally designed to make a business owner’s job more difficult. Instead, it was created to enhance consumers’ rights regarding their personal data. Here’s how it compares to CASL:     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


        How do I ensure my business is obtaining proper consent?   Under GDPR, it’s not enough to just claim that individuals have given you their permission to be contacted and/or collect their information. Instead, you must prove it. This involves keeping a detailed record of the following:    Who consented? What is their full name, company name and job title?    When they provided consent? Record the day and time.    What information was provided by your company? This should include a copy of your data-collection form, as well as your privacy policy.    How did they provide consent? Be sure to retain a date- and time-stamped copy of your data-collection form.    In addition, should a person request that their personal information be deleted from your database, it’s imperative that you keep a record of this request along with its completion date.   How do I create a compliant opt-in process?   Under GDPR, you need to present information clearly to individuals when inviting them to opt in and give you their consent to be contacted or have their data collected. Here are a few tips to remember when writing copy for your opt-in web pages and documents.    Use simple language.    Avoid technical words or jargon.    Write concise statements without ambiguity.    Under these new regulations, people will no longer be overwhelmed with unwanted communications materials. Instead, they’ll receive only the content they opted in to receive. This puts greater control in the hands of consumers, and confirms that every interaction with your business is a desired one.  For more information on GDPR, and to view the legislation in full, visit the  EU GDPR Information Portal

Ready or not, GDPR has come; here’s what Canadian B2B business owners need to know

Just when you thought you were in the clear, you have four new letters to worry about. You’ve likely heard received several emails from other companies about GDPR compliance in the last month or so. But do you have you considered the impact it could have on your business?

      When will we see leads?  Many organizations making their foray into a formal marketing program aren’t sure what to expect in the way of leads and ROI. Recently, two separate CEOs we spoke with talked about requiring an 800-point return on marketing in year one. What’s realistic?   Most companies we speak with have a sales function, so their expectations for lead gen are informed by what is already happening in sales. This is good, but paints only a partial picture. If you are trying to estimate the number of leads you’ll see from marketing, try the formula below.    Start with what you know now: sales to deal time   Even if you haven’t been keeping track of your lead-to-deal numbers, you will probably have a good sense of how long it takes to go from the first sales call to closing the deal. During this point in the buying process people have done a lot of research and are posing unanswered questions, and possibly feeling you out for personality fit or requesting a demo. While this stage can be broken down further, for the sake of simplicity we leave it as one big chunk of time that we refer to in our formula as “S” for sales time.   This if the final stage in the marketing-sales funnel; now let’s look up-funnel.   How long is the buyer’s research period?   Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a massive change in buyer behaviour. The latest stats show that a lead will visit your website several times before they’re open to speaking with a sales person. Because the buyer is in the driver’s seat, every company needs marketing in place to ensure the buyer gets every bit of information they need to make an informed decision on which vendor to do business with.   Coming back to the lead gen calculation, the question is in your industry how long does the typical person take to do their research? Let’s call this amount of time “R” for research. If you don’t have tracking mechanisms in place to give you this data, an unscientific way to measure this is to ask leads you speak with, or clients who sign on with you, how long they spent researching.   Accounting for stages of buyer readiness   According to Vorsight, at any given time, only 3% of your market is actively buying. 56% are not ready, 40% are poised to begin. This means we have to market to people at the three stages of readiness.   To engage active buyers, marketing’s job is to ensure they discover your company during their research, then provide them with the information they need to be open to speaking with sales.   For the remaining buyers, marketing must nurture them in a way that is relevant and beneficial to them today, to increase their likelihood of buying from you when they are ready.  Marketing will have to have several tactics in play to make this happen, likely including running digital ads and producing and disseminating content through social media and email, all of which sends people to your website.  Consider this the quiet period of lead generation, or “Q”. How long does Q take? Different tactics take different amounts of time to have effect, and some will be more effective or have better ROI than others. The name of the game is to put your eggs in a number of baskets to reduce risk, and to optimize for better ROI over time. You should expect ROI reporting from your marketing team so you can understand what effect each tactic is having. In the meantime, you can try setting up goals in Google Analytics to get a rough idea of Q (Google will cookie visitors to track how many people came in from your various types of marketing, and how many times they returned before calling or filling out your lead form).      A simple formula to estimate time to move a lead through your funnel   Most companies can take an educated guess at the durations for Q, R and S, which together amount to the time it takes to move someone through your funnel, aka “T”. Q might be a rough guess for now, but that can be resolved in time by implementing a lead tracking tool such as Hubspot.    Q + R + S = T    Quiet phase + research phase + sales phase = total time in funnel      Here’s an example:  Q: By your best guess, people not ready to buy today will buy within the next three years, and past clients tend to return within two years. Q=3  R: Your buyers currently spend four months actively researching their options before they speak with you. R = 4 months  S: On average, sales take 2 months to convert buyers. S = 2 months  3y + 4m + 2m = 3.5 years  In this scenario, on average a new lead today will turn into a deal in 3.5 years; however, those who find you when they are already in their research phase will convert in six months.  If you need a new website or marketing collateral before going to market, be sure to add time to develop those assets.   If you are wavering as to whether to make the investment, these three stats make a compelling case:      
   
     “ 95% of buyers chose a solution provider that ‘Provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process.’  ” 
   
   — [Source: DemandGen Report] 
 
     
   
     “ When sales and marketing teams are in sync, companies became 67% better at closing deals. ” 
   
   — [Source: Marketo] 
 
     
   
     “ Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. ” 
   
   — [Source: DemandGen Report]  
 
      The appetite for immediate return on marketing in year one is understandable, but a quick analysis of your lead gen funnel will tell you how realistic this is. Plan to invest in getting up and going, and rest assured that the reward will come.   

When will we see leads?

Many organizations making their foray into a formal marketing program aren’t sure what to expect in the way of leads and ROI. What’s realistic? The answer lies in this simple formula.

      Why emerging technology has us so excited about the future of marketing  As modern-day marketers, we currently rely heavily on social media, advertising,  SEO , direct mail,  content ,  videos , podcasts and more to create winning connections with potential customers. But, what’s modern now, may be passé tomorrow. It seems that with each day that passes, a new trend and a new way of reaching clients emerges. As much as we need to stay up to date with current trends (#priorities), we can’t help but look ahead to what technology has in store for 2017 and beyond. At HSM, it’s got us crazy excited! #NerdAlert  While some trends may seem like elements of a sci-fi movie now, building them into our future marketing strategies is what will propel our skills from good to great, and give our clients that competitive advantage over their closest competition. #Winning! Below are just three of many  emerging technologies  on the horizon in the marketing world.   Virtual reality immerses us in a whole new world (magic carpet not required)   Let’s admit it, we’ve all been at a trade show where you see “that guy” wearing giant googles, wobbling from side to side, and flailing his arms about. OMG, he looks ridiculous. With your head down, eyes averted, you pass on by. Am I right? …or are you, in fact, intrigued? Umm, we are! On second glance the man is at a travel agency’s booth that has a promotion on all-inclusive trips to Hawaii this month. With the goggles on, he’s trying out one of the resort’s surf lessons—something that intrigued him from the brochure. Next to him, his wife (also wearing goggles) is smiling ear-to-ear and slowly spinning in circles. She’s standing on a beach in Maui taking in the sights and sounds of her dream vacation.  With its high-quality video, virtual reality goggles capitalize on the “show; don’t tell” method of marketing, by creating a three-dimensional, immersive experience. Virtually transporting these customers to Hawaii created a state of “try before you buy,” and showcased to them an interactive vacation that no brochure can compete with.  Consider other marketing in other industries: hotels allowing brides and grooms to visualize their weddings, instead of touring an empty banquet hall; sports teams sealing trade deals by allowing players to immerse themselves in the experience of a locker-room victory party or walking out onto the field amid the cheers of thousands of fans. Allowing prospective buyers to come as close as they can to experiencing a reality and create an emotional connection, without actually being in it, is introducing a whole new wave of marketing. We think virtual reality may have only scratched the surface in 2016; we can’t wait to see how immersive this technology becomes in the months ahead!   Augmented reality adds a new layer (literally!) to digital marketing   Have you ever wandered through a busy shopping mall with a to-do list in hand, plus screaming children and hefty shopping bags in tow? You need sunglasses for your upcoming vacation, a bold lipstick for tomorrow night’s gala and—eventually—you and your spouse need to agree on a sofa set. Your hands are full, your mind is preoccupied; you can’t try anything on, let alone visualize various furniture configurations for your living room! *Deep breaths*  Augmented reality (AR) is on the rise in a number of marketing sectors, including cosmetics, eyewear and—yes—furniture, just to name a few. AR enhances what you currently see by overlaying virtual elements over it using something as basic as your smartphone’s camera. Imagine being able to point the camera at yourself and swipe through various sunglasses or lipsticks until you find the perfect fit. Or, point the camera in your living room and swipe through furniture sets. (O.K. that last one was a little boring, but you get the idea!)  But, as marketers, we need to remember that AR is not based on creating a completely new reality; it’s about enhancing what already exists, and creating value from it. In 2017, we don’t expect to see a world where customers are scanning every product in the cosmetic aisle to see how it would look on them. Instead, as marketers embracing AR, we must focus on the value of adding another layer of information in an already saturated digital marketplace. At HSM, we’ll be considering the contexts in which B2B customers can leverage this, and where it will enhance a customer’s experience with ease, enjoyment, convenience and—of course—fun!   Artificial intelligence unlocks deeper marketing insights…and robots, too?   When we first mention artificial intelligence (AI), it’s hard not to think of a future where human activity has been completely replaced by machines. We’ve already seen the rise of automation in the automotive industry (and thank goodness for that, because if a computer doesn’t parallel park my car, I don’t know who will!) But what about other industries? Could you imagine this article being written entirely by a robot? Would his writing be any good? Would he understand SEO? Would he work so fast and so diligently that he’d put us all to shame?! Okay, okay, let’s slow this down.  AI is about supplementing our knowledge and experience, not completely replacing it. Phew! Here’s an example… Every customer in the marketplace can be identified with a cluster of data (age, gender, location and about 100 more characteristics that we won’t list here). Data is everywhere, and while we love analyzing it, the problem is there’s so much data for us to sort, process and act upon that it can be oftentimes overwhelming. Instead, imagine a world where intelligent marketing software could analyze data sets for us, and then provide us with real-time updates, recommendations and appraisals for campaign success. Now we’re talking! With this type of up-to-the-minute data, we could spend less time turning numbers into words, and more time acting upon them to create personal, relevant connections with your customers. Robots FTW!  Our goal at HSM, is to end 2016 with a solid strategy for capitalizing on these digital technology tools of 2017. The three trends above are just a few that we have on our radar, with many more to be discovered. With any new form of technology, some may or may not reach their full potential in the next year, and some may fizzle out completely. Unfortunately, while we can’t predict the future, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t plan for it. So, as  B2B marketing consultants , we’re keeping our clients in mind by gauging the effectiveness of several new technologies and how they can fit into our  marketing programs .

Why emerging technology has us so excited about the future of marketing

While some trends may seem like elements of a sci-fi movie now, building them into future marketing strategies will be part of your competitive advantage. Here are three emerging technologies you should be keeping your eye on.