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      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.

       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.

      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.

      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.

      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.

      5 ingredients for ranking first on Google  One questions we often get from new clients is how they can rank first on Google, just like their competitors.   They ask because they know that showing up on Google's first page of results makes a big difference to the numbers of leads and deals they get.   Here's what we tell clients about search engine optimization (SEO)—including what we steps we take to improve our clients' search engine ranking.   What are keywords?  The starting place to ranking on Google is thinking about the words people type into Google (or other search engines) when they're looking to hire a business like yours. These words are referred to as keywords. In competitive industries you'll likely focus on a phrase or multiple words; for example rather than "widget supplier", "+widget suppliers in Toronto" or "aluminium widget suppliers".  When search engines crawl your site, they pick up on commonly used words as a way to rank your site pages. So, when crafting new content for your site, consider the phrases associated with your business, and the keywords that people are already using to find you. These can be obtained with free website analytics tools.  After identifying your priority keywords, integrate them into your web content. Then, when a user searches for a phrase that includes these words, the search engine will look for pages that include prominent mentions—like yours. Where should you include these key words to ensure your content is seen? Headings and section titles, link text, page titles and descriptions, image files names, throughout the page’s written content and in the URL. With regards to written content, make sure the keywords fit naturally within your text; avoid "stuffing" and overusing them.  How to use content marketing  Producing high quality content on your site can result in many positive SEO improvements: your site will be useful to readers, generate repeat visitors and other sites will want to link to you. Key to this is keeping your web content fresh. Search engines love new pages! Try to add new articles, photos and videos regularly; frequently updated sites are more often indexed by search engines. Without fresh content and updates, it could be months before search engines find you. And if you continue to produce content that people read, your web traffic will be quickly recognized. Search engines strive to provide quick, quality results to users. So, if you’re already making headlines, you’ll be rewarded in the rankings.  What kinds of content resonate best? Aim for web pages with at least 300 words, but 500 or more will rank you better. Even though some content is better than none at all, pages with fewer than 100 words won’t gain much traction. Further, having two or more pages on your site with identical content (or close to it) isn’t valuable for users, and search engines will filter this from their results.  The role of pay per click ads in B2B marketing  In #1 keywords and #2 quality content above, your work will generate traffic naturally or "organically". But if you are paying attention to the results shown when you search for something, you'll notice there are also a handful of "ads" that come up. In addition to ranking organically, it's wise to pay for ads too. In the beginning when you aren't ranking for particular keywords, your ads will ensure your business is coming up on the first page. Later when you are ranking you may still want to come up twice to increase the likelihood that a potential customer will pick your link over your competitor's.   With pay per click ads, the idea is to write ads that will tempt someone to click and also ensure that they are reflecting what you're selling so that you don't pay for their click and loose them the minute they get to your website and realize you don't offer what they're looking for. Just think of the number of times you have searched for something, clicked on one of the search results and immediately realized it was not what you wanted at all.   Why links are important to your search ranking  Backlinks, or links that redirect from other sites to your own, can greatly improve your SEO. A few backlinks can assist the search engine in finding your site, but numerous links will indicate that your site is an important resource. The more incoming links you can obtain from pre-existing high-ranking organizations, the higher you’ll be listed in search results. Consider your stakeholders, professional organizations and business directories; is there an opportunity to bounce links off each other?    While backlinks from other websites are integral to your SEO strategy, they’re not the only type of link that matters. Links on your own website make a difference, too. If you have an underperforming page on your website, drive more links to it from other sections of your site to gain more traction.  If you already have existing social media accounts for your brand, add your URL to your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to enhance your link trail. Then, when you add new content or pages to your site, be sure to Tweet them and share them with your social networks. “Search crawlers” visit these sites, too, so this can further increase your ability to obtain a higher search ranking.  How the design of your website impacts your search ranking  The detailed structure of a website can also affect your search engine rankings. Ensuring a responsive design, one that is optimized for smartphones, tablets and PCs—as well as various web browsers—is rewarded by search engines. A responsive website has the same URL for both the mobile and the main site, which avoids the confusion of separate URLs depending on a user’s device. This can greatly improve and simplify your external backlinks, as discussed above.  With regards to your site’s coding, ensure it’s as clean as possible for the spiders to crawl through. If you're not familiar with coding or HTML, consult web developer.  How page layout influences your search ranking  The actual content on your site can be optimized in a way that will also enhance your SEO. While images and graphics can make your page pop, keep the file sizes less than 100 KB with a resolution of 72 dpi. Large images will make your site load slowly, which won’t resonate well with users. In each image’s alt-text, include your identified keywords.  Ensure your content is logically organized for the user. Break up long blocks of text into bulleted lists and smaller paragraphs, and incorporate headings and sub-headings. Tag your headlines appropriately, using <H1> for titles and <H2> for subtitles, to maintain structure.  When laying out your content, ensure it starts above the fold (the point on your screen where a user has to start scrolling down to see more content). If your website dedicates a lot of space above the fold to ads, users may not scroll down to get to the good stuff.     After all your SEO work, stay on top of your efforts by monitoring your results. Google Analytics can track your page views for free, along with other useful SEO statistics. Be sure to monitor items like bounce rates and the amount of time users spend on your site(s) to measure the effectiveness of your content. High drop-off rates combined with little time spent on your page could be a sign that your content isn’t relevant or engaging. Evaluate your metrics to see what's working (and what's not), then revisit your content and design strategies to make adjustments. A winning combination of quality content plus logical design is sure to get you noticed

5 ingredients for ranking first on Google

Here's what we tell clients about SEO—and what we do to improve their search engine ranking. 

      Enhance your brand with earned influence  What is earned influence, and how does it relate to public relations? The concept was recently discussed by PR Council Chair Chris Graves on PRcouncil.net:  "If we dive deep into the core of what public relations can be, at its most meaningful and most competent, it is a powerful differentiator from advertising and other marketing disciplines. Because at our essence, we understand the art and science of building relationships. When successful, those relationships allow us to engage others with purpose and respect, to share, educate, inform and entertain. Through these relationships, we earn the right to try to join conversations and maybe even change minds. We earn that right to influence others. Call it earned influence."  But how can you use the concept of earned influence to enhance your brand? It's all about genuine relationship-building. Here are five factors that help you create valuable audience engagement in today's crowded digital marketplace.  1. Locate your audience  Once you've determined who you're trying to reach (your target audience), it's time to find out where they are. Which online or social platforms are they using to communicate? Researching your audience's demographics and socio-graphics can provide insight into the digital spheres where they gather.  Knowing your audience's preferred method of communication means you can tailor content specifically for that platform, instead of taking a blanket approach and trying to haphazardly cover it all. Keep in mind quality versus quantity; top-notch content where it needs to be, versus generic, duplicate content across every platform.   2. Produce content that's valuable  Your audience will be more likely to engage with you (and, in turn, create earned influence) if you have information they're looking for. Ask yourself: Am I answering their questions? Am I providing added insight to their interests? Do your research to find out what information gaps are out there, then fill them with unique, meaningful content.   3. Determine the best timing  Once you've determined the type of content you will deliver, and where, consider how to stay up to date. If you know what time frames, holidays or events drive your user engagement, take advantage of this insight to provide timely content. Maintaining your brand's voice online is a much more onerous task than posting updates to your personal Facebook page. Invest effort in ensuring your corporate content provides intelligent insight and accuracy. Commit time to the task and results will follow.  4. Be consistent  Now that you've put in the work to engage and influence your audience(s), keep it up. The way to maintain a loyal following is through consistent content that continues to be unique and meaningful. Be sure to monitor your engagement stats so you can gauge when your interaction rates are at their highest. Then, follow through on providing content around these times. A content calendar can help you to plan your content and posting schedule, as well as track your engagement metrics.  5. Converse with your audience  With great content comes great engagement, but are you responding to it? Online communication is a two-way street, and the best way to earn your influence is to engage with your audience to create a meaningful relationship. Just as often as you curate your own content, you should be listening and responding to your audience's conversations. As you review and engage, you'll be able to gain raw feedback, something you can't garner from other forms of communication (think: print ads, billboards, newsletters). Be social, and keep the conversation flowing.   Incorporating these five factors together, you'll be putting considerable effort into relationship-building with your audience, and earning a true influence. And, as you keep up your efforts, you'll be able to earn trust and create brand advocates for your business.   

Enhance your brand with earned influence

What is earned media, and how can you use it to improve your brand? Discover five elements to successful PR here.

      Using content marketing to improve your SEO and drive leads  Think back, if you can, to the pre-Internet days. Remember when businesses relied solely on TV, print and radio to market their message? There was no opportunity for interaction, and consumers were forced to receive commercial messages whether they wanted to or not. Insert the Internet, and that all changed. Now, consumers don't have to listen to commercial messaging if they don't want to hear it; they can leave your webpage, visit a competitor or turn their device off completely. When it comes to modern marketing, it's all about directing users to your avenues, keeping them there and encouraging return visits. And the best tool for this is publishing content (think blogs and infographics), a.k.a. content marketing. Not only will great content improve your SEO, it can also generate much-wanted leads.  Best practices for content marketing  1. Frequent original content  Put simply, content marketing is a marketing method that centres on creating and distributing applicable, quality content on a consistent basis. The goal is to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, which can, ultimately, drive sales and increase your brand's visibility. Focusing on publishing this original content is what will set you apart from the sales pitches and spam from some of your competitors.  2. Smart, varied distribution  When it comes to your communication method, go where your prospects are. Depending on your industry and consumer base, this might include publishing content on your website, third-party sites, launching email marketing or newsletter campaigns, utilizing social media platforms and more. But don't try to do it all. Choose a few avenues to focus on (in time you’ll figure out which ones work the best). This way, you can target your specific audience when they want it, and in the medium that they prefer to consume it.  3. Engaging content  Because there is so much content being published daily, it's unrealistic to simply post a few paragraphs on your website and expect it to go viral. Take time to understand the behaviours, needs and interests of your consumers, and how you can get your content into their hands and have them come back for more. Experiment with your publishing schedule, topics of interest and communications methods until you see results. Then stick with what works.  Enrich content to generate leads  If you consistently develop applicable, quality content that resonates with your consumers, you’ll easily have them coming back for more. And when it comes to web traffic, a returning visitor means more to your business than a new one who never returns. If you regularly create content for your consumers, and let them know that it’s available (via a cross-channel mix of communication methods), you can out-market your competition.  Your content will quickly become a social object that your customers (and potential clients) can interact with; bonus points if they share it with their friends and colleagues! Your online material has the potential to ignite interaction in different ways, and plays a crucial role in the decisions consumers make.  Optimize content for SEO  Search engine optimization (SEO) means affecting how your website (or web page) ranks in a search engine's unpaid results. In other words, it’s the race to first position on Google. To influence your ranking, the most important rule of thumb is to frequently publish top-notch content on your site. This encourages visits, and keep users coming back. Original and engaging content is what will set you apart from competitors, and give search engines something to index that can’t be found anywhere else.   Further, consider the longevity of your content. A timely news article might perform well in Google while it’s topical, but your SEO results will drop soon after. To deliver long-term traffic, focus on creating content with useful information that is likely to perform well in a search over the long term. From there, higher search rankings will result in more visits to your content, more links and improved rankings.  When developing content, try to avoid using jargon or too many technical terms in your writing. This may supersede what searchers are looking for. Instead, incorporate the keywords your customers use to describe your offering. These are the same keywords they’ll type into Google when looking for alternatives. If you need to do some research to figure out your keywords, there are free online tools like keyword.io and Google’s own keyword tool.   As you progress in developing your content marketing strategy, remember to focus on quality over quantity. Avoid pumping out content just for the sake of it, and instead create genuine content that resonates with your readers. Incorporate keywords relevant to your business, as well as images and videos that are likely to hold your readers’ attention for a longer period. For the same reason, ensure long articles are broken up into easy-to-read sub-sections with headers and bulleted lists, where appropriate.  At the end of the day, the quality of your content is what will drive traffic. Don’t let your content marketing strategy become consumed by SEO goals. Ensure you meet basic content demands first, and strive to achieve SEO results through quality material for readers. Knowing how to create effective content (and how to get it in from out your target audiences) should be the goal of your business’ content marketing strategy, with leads and improved SEO as the desired results.

Using content marketing to improve your SEO and drive leads

When it comes to modern marketing, it's all about content marketing. Not only will great content improve your SEO, it can also generate much-wanted leads. Read on for content marketing best practices.