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      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.

      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.

      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?

      2 website security basics every B2B should know  Website security breeches are on the rise in Canada. Thirty-three of 125 Canadian companies who took a recent Malwarebytes survey had paid ransoms ranging between $1,000 and $50,000 to have the cyber attackers release their data; 11 of them temporarily closed down to cope with the breech.  Regardless of whether you store data such as customer contact info and credit card information, you should be doing everything in your power to secure your site because downtime while you try take back control of your site, and fix the mess the hacker may have made, is costly.  Here are two easy ways you can enhance security of your website:  Get an "SSL" certificate for your website’s URL  A cheap and easy way to add a level of security is to buy a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate for your website domain. An SSL helps protect your website from attacks, and lets your visitors know your content is reliable and secure. Here's how it works: when you add an SSL to your website, a user’s connection to it will be encrypted, which prevents hackers from intercepting any data.  It's possible you already have an SSL; here's how to tell: rather than your website address beginning with http:// it will begin with https:// and you will see a padlock icon in the URL bar.   And some good news: an SSL is easy and cheap to set up. Contact the company you buy your domain (URL) from and they'll have pricing and setup instructions. To give you an idea of the price to expect, Go Daddy currently offers an SSL for under $100 per year.    Choose your CMS carefully  Security is a huge pro for building your site on a closed-source platform such as Squarespace or Shopify. These platforms have professionals responsible for keeping the system safe. Plus, they are liable if a security breech happens. If you build on open source platform like WordPress then security is your responsibility to setup and maintain.   You likely already have a site, so if it is built on open source, you'll want to ensure you are protected by working with a professional who understands security. They will likely keep a close eye on your login page, PHP code, temporary files, plug-ins and old web applications (all the places hackers usually find their way in).     This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to web security, but get an SSL and do your best to secure your CMS, and you'll be well ahead of many other B2B companies. Once you have taken care of these two steps you'll be ready for more advanced security measures.

2 website security basics every B2B should know

Two ways you can enhance the security on your website. And some compelling reasons to do so.

      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. 

      4 website best practices that boost organic search traffic  If your website is easy to discover, and easy for search engines to index, you’ll get better traffic than a competitor whose site is not. This type of web traffic is called "organic" because people are finding you naturally by typing their keywords into Google (or Bing or Explorer) and responding to the search results that pop up.  If you want to  rank first on Google  and make it easier for potential buyers to find your website, make sure you are following all four of these simple best practices:   1 \ Write strong page titles  Page titles should be no longer than 50 - 60 characters, without repeating keywords. Be descriptive and intentional with the words you use. This is what people will see in their Google results and will make or break whether they come to your site. Page titles also impact your search ranking.   2 \ Craft smart meta descriptions  This is the line of information that displays beneath the link in a search result. It describes the contents of your page, should be no longer than 155 characters and should be topical. A well-written meta description might earn you a better click-through rate (CTR), which in time  might  translate into an increase in your search rank.      

  

    

       

         

           
               
             

             
             

           

         

        
         
           

            

            
                This screen capture illustrates how page titles and meta descriptions are displayed on a search engine. The blue text is the page title, the black test is the meta description.    
            

            

           
         
        

       

    

  


    

  

    

       

         

           
               
             

             
             

           

         

        
         
           

            

            
                By contrast, here is a company that has entered the page title, but no meta data. In place of he meta description is "No information ... "    
            

            

           
         
        

       

    

  


      3 \ Be intentional with your headlines   Headlines (versus paragraph copy) distinguishes headings from page content. This helps search engines to know what your webpage is about (and thereby serve it to people when they are searching for that material). Headlines also help visitors to scan and find the information they're looking for.   Your website will have a few headline styles. H1 (headline one) will be the largest and most bold, whereas an H3 or H4 will be smaller. Use your H1s and H2s to explain what's on the page. Be sure they include keywords. Use H3s and H4s to introduce sub-sections, and make them descriptive rather than one or two words in order to help your page to rank.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      4 \ Publish frequent blog content  Finally, tick a few SEO boxes with the other content on your site. Having a blog is important for SEO (Google sees companies with lots of fresh quality content as more relevant than a stale 4-page site. Plus, it builds credibility with potential customers.   How often should you blog? Weekly would be great, but most of our clients tend toward monthly. Even quarterly is better than nothing. The more blogging you do, the more traffic you get. You'd be surprised how dramatically a blog can impact the number of people visiting (and revisiting) a website. One of our clients saw the number of visitors coming to their site skyrocket to 300% over the same 6-month period in the previous year. This was the result of publishing several articles and a white paper, and sharing them via email and social media.      Though these four best practices are simple, many organizations aren't employing them. If you and your competitors are among this group of laggards, it won't be hard for you to pull ahead. Start with the simple stuff: spend a couple hours in the back-end of your website and fix your page titles and meta descriptions. Next edit your headlines. Finally, address your blog content. Don't have one? There's no time like the present!

4 website best practices that boost organic search traffic

If you aspire to ranking first on Google, and want to make it easier for buyers to find your website, are are four simple best practices you'll want to follow.

      3 tools to evaluate your website  Trying to generate more qualified leads?  Need to improve your lead conversion rate?  Want to increase awareness of your business?  Your website is key to all of these. It has to look good, but there's more to it than this. A lot of information is hidden in the backend of your site. At Hop Skip Marketing, one of the first things we do for clients is run tests on their website to see what, if anything, needs to be fixed. These tests tell us how the site performs overall, is it "Google friendly" (aka search engine optimization, or SEO), does it look good on a smartphone? Today we're sharing some our favourite free website audit tools so that you can ensure your website is doing its job.  3 free tools to audit your website   Website Grader  This is one of our go-to tools. All you have to do is submit your website address and email and you'll get a robust report and grade. Expect key metrics like page load speed, mobile friendliness and security.      

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      Nibbler  Another excellent tool, Nibbler provides you with a report on several key metrics including accessibility, SEO, social media and technology. It gives you an at-a-glance grade out of 10 so you can prioritize your fix-it list.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      WooRank  WooRank is a fast, easy-to-use SEO audit and digital marketing tool. They look at your site through Google’s eyes and generate an instant audit of your site’s technical, on-page and off-page SEO.     

  

    
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


        Any one of these free tools will give you insight you can't otherwise ascertain. Pick one tool, or try a couple and compare the results. Once you've pinpointed what isn't working well, you can prioritize the repairs and hand the tasks to your website designer to address. Don't be daunted— often minor changes are all that's needed to turn around a failing website grade. Run this test once a year to keep your website running like a well-oiled (marketing) machine. 

3 tools to evaluate your website

Is your website doing as good a job as it can to generate leads? Here are practical tips and free tools for evaluating and improving your site.