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  • What’s the difference between native and display advertising?

    When it comes to advertising, we marketers have been trained to strive for something that stands out from the crowd. The goal is to capture attention, and to do that effectively advertisers develop a visual and written message designed to “cut through the clutter.” Native advertising, in contrast to its flashier display ad counterparts, is designed to blend in with the organic content it’s surrounded by. A well-done native ad might not even be recognized as an ad at all if you’re none the wiser. Unlike an advertorial, it’s not overtly salesy, but rather focused on providing valuable, relevant content to the viewer, in hopes that the viewer might enjoy that content enough to click through to the advertiser’s own site. Even if they don’t engage by clicking, the brand can still begin to establish credibility as a reliable resource. How to recognize a native ad Since these ads blend in so well on the respective platform, it can be challenging to identify them immediately. Keep an eye out for words like “Sponsored,” “Paid Program,” “From our Partner,” or look for content that’s authored by a business that’s not the outlet you’re viewing the content on. Depending on the channel, native advertising can appear in any number of formats. Blog posts or articles. Craft this type of written content to cater to the channel you’re advertising on. Creating a seamless transition between organic content and your own sponsored content makes it more likely for audiences to engage with your article. Infographics. If you’re aiming for visual appeal, infographics can be the way to share your content. These work particularly well if you have statistics or other data to share that can be easily conveyed with numbers and simple visuals. Reports or guides. Native advertising can be focused on promoting highly-valuable content such as reports, primers or guides. This long-form content is meant for download, often in exchange for the user’s contact information which might be the catalyst for an automated nurturing campaign to stay in touch. Audiences find native content more engaging Consider the negative associations many of us have with ads interrupting our content. If the content you’re being served isn’t of immediate interest, it likely registers as no more than something to scroll past on your way to what you’ve actually come to the channel for. The goal of native ads is to provide content that stops the scrolling and provides value to the viewer. According to a Sharethrough study, consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads. Native ads registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads, and users spent a similar amount of time viewing native content as they did original editorial content. Native advertising is just one of many viable advertising options in a multimedia advertising mix. If your brand has an inventory of content that offers knowledge, resources and value to your audience, you likely have the foundation of a native advertising at your disposal. The next step is to identify your goals with a native advertising campaign, select an online advertising outlet or media partner that reaches your target audience, and build a test-and-learn plan.

  • Multi-Channel Marketing: How to carry strategic messaging across multiple channels

    “Marketing” is a broad term that some define as anything you do to promote and sell your products or services. As a marketer, I try to educate clients that marketing isn’t exactly anything related to business development and sales but there is certainly a relationship. One of my agency’s most visited blog posts entitled “What’s the difference between marketing and business development” (which by-the-way quickly earned page one search results; obviously it’s a commonly searched phrase) discusses that in my opinion, while marketing and business development do overlap, and actually depend upon one another, that doesn’t make them the same. To sum it up, marketing is about identifying your audience and delivering them a strategic message. Business development is about creating relationships and ultimately converting prospects into consumers and brand loyalists. With the rapidly changing digital environment, marketing tools are seemingly impossible to keep up with. There are numerous platforms for the distribution of brand messaging. Many businesses excel at identifying their strategic priorities for the year, or for a particular initiative, but tend to jump right to the marketing tactics they either know and love, or to the ones that have been mainstays of their marketing program. To truly reach the broadest audience and meet your prospects where they spend time consuming content, multi-channel marketing is the blending of different distribution platforms for the greatest impact. There’s an art to developing an effective integrated marketing campaign that recognizes each individual marketing channel as just one facet of a comprehensive plan. A multi-channel marketing plan can give your brand the boost it needs, engaging audiences across channels, capitalizing on content, and ensuring visibility and a wider awareness of your strategic messages. Before you can get tactical, you need to understand the differences between the categories of marketing channels: paid, earned, owned and shared media channels. Paid Media Any type of paid advertising falls into this category, which revolves around paying to leverage brand visibility on a third-party channel to reach that channel’s existing audience. Think TV spots, newspaper ads, boosted Facebook posts, programmatic ad placements, radio spots and Google adwords campaigns. For many, paid media is an entrance into the world of marketing, if not the bulk of their entire marketing program, offering an easy exchange of marketing dollars for a specific advertising message that your business controls and signs off on. Earned Media Also known as public relations, the earned media umbrella is all about distribution through credible third party media. This includes press coverage, speaking engagements or panelist opportunities and word-of-mouth awareness. Unlike paid media, while you may pitch a story idea about your product, service or an industry trend to a journalist or influencer, you don’t necessarily have oversight or control over what gets published in the finished piece. However, earned media is commonly viewed as more valuable than paid media because the message is coming from a trusted source, not being bought. These days, having (unpaid) influencers or bloggers talk about your brand can also fall into the category of earned media. Owned Media Anything you create or control falls into this category, including your website, brand and/or sales materials, blog posts, webinars, podcasts, email marketing and other educational materials. If you created it and manage it, you own it. Most organizations invest heavily in their website, social media channels and brand and marketing materials used to support sales. Significant resources are spent on the development and ongoing oversight and management of owned media. Shared Media Your presence on social media and organic social posts fall into the shared media category and are a great way to leverage content that falls into the owned, earned, and sometimes paid categories. Shared media can also be a relationship-building tool to help connect with other brands or target media influencers. Now that you understand the types of marketing channels, think strategically about how to release and reinforce your messaging across channels, keeping in mind that each of your efforts should be working toward aligning goals. Here’s how to get started: Step 1. Consider which audiences can be reached via each channel Even if you lack a comprehensive marketing plan, you know that different segments of your target audience receive your messages from different channels. Your direct customers may be most easily reached on social media, while your stakeholders and industry professionals are more likely to encounter your messaging via trade publications and business news outlets. Your owned media can be a great resource for reaching multiple audiences with carefully curated content. If applicable, your website should house various sections that make it easy for your top audience segments to find exactly the type of content that’s applicable to them with minimal searching. While one audience segment may engage with organic social media content, other segments might respond best to targeted email campaigns that more directly address their relationship with your business. Owned media is also an ideal starting point for an inbound marketing strategy designed to engage web visitors with useful, educational content in exchange for their email address. From there, the nurturing of the brand to user relationship begins. Spend some time mapping out your audience segments and use any previous metrics and industry data to determine the most effective channels for each audience. Think of the various marketing channels as an ecosystem, keeping in mind that your initial budget or resources for implementation may limit the size or complexity of the channels within your ecosystem. For our agency, we look at audience segmentation by industry and target legal (law firms or related services such as M&A brokers, exit planners or wealth managers) finance (banks, credit unions, accounting firms, etc.), healthcare and business related services (broadband, data/cyber security, etc.). We also look at the decision maker within those segments. Finally, referral sources would be other marketing professionals who do not provide our scope of services or other vendors to those organizations. Given that our audience consists primarily of other business professionals in service related industries, we develop case studies that help decision makers better understand our approach and results. We also blog and provide industry related resources via monthly emails to an opt-in list of subscribers and existing clients. Step 2: Determine the types of media that are the best fit for each outlet In addition to utilizing your existing metrics, it can take some trial and error to see what your audiences respond best to. One way to do that – and to keep them engaged long-term – is to think critically about what types of content are most appropriate for the outlets your audiences are reading. A CEO interview or op-ed might be the best fit for reaching investors that are reading your industry trade publication, while creative, eye-catching digital ads might be the best way to catch the attention of consumers on social media. Multi-channel marketing isn’t a “set it and forget it” solution to your marketing needs – and that’s partly the beauty of its power. The goal is to reach audiences across multiple channels with varying types of content that all work toward your overarching strategic message. You want to remain on their radar without creating the brand fatigue that can result from seeing the same messages over and over everywhere they turn. For Fluent’s brand visibility, we use earned media (including speaking engagements and contributed articles), paid media (a mix of LinkedIn sponsored content and occasionally Facebook ads), owned media (our blog, email newsletter and case studies on our website) and use social media mostly to disseminate the owned content and stay top of mind with our online community. Step 3: Map out your messaging The goal here is to identify at least one overarching key message that aligns with your corporate strategy and serves as a basis for your campaign. While we certainly want to steer clear of creating a single ad that appears on repeat across every channel, there’s a brand visibility benefit to keeping things consistent. Consider overarching themes that all of your brand messaging falls under, and that can be traced back to aligning with your strategic messages. Larger campaigns that utilize numerous channels may even rely on a hashtag to weave all messaging under one theme together. Smaller campaigns may simply utilize the same headline or tagline for brand consistency. Step 4: Build a media flowchart Don’t neglect the importance of staying organized as you build out your marketing campaign. Consider the different channels you’re looking to utilize, which messages are the best fit for each channel, and how they might overlap or alternate over the lifetime of the campaign. For tracking purposes, we often like to alternate the channels that are live. This results in ongoing exposure across channels, but can also be beneficial in tracking any spikes in traffic when a specific campaign is running to determine what efforts are the most effective. This type of outline can help ensure you’re reaching the widest audience through a variety of channels, and can be helpful in scheduling specific time- or region-sensitive messaging. Step 5: Plan your metrics for each channel Before you launch your marketing campaign, be sure you have a plan in place for tracking its efficacy and achieving your desired results. In some cases, this might mean creating a landing page that you’ll be able to track traffic to. To further the value your ads are providing, you might consider a call to action on the page that requests information from the visitor. This might be something like “Enter your email address to download our new guide” that will provide value to the visitor as well as supplying you with their contact information for future follow up. Reviewing Google Analytics is essential to better understanding which efforts are driving traffic. Understand your top sources, keep track of boosts in traffic that align with specific advertising efforts, and note which pages are getting the most traffic to leverage consumer interest in future advertising efforts. Multi-channel marketing is an ever-changing pursuit that requires planning, experimentation, testing and refinement. It’s a blend of strategy, analysis, creativity and psychology that has exponential benefits for brand visibility and lead generation results.

  • How to: prepare for your interview with a journalist

    You have an interview with a journalist coming up. You know you need to be prepared to answer all their questions with authoritative knowledge and confidence. Some questions might be difficult, which means you’ll definitely need to be ready. To best prepare, put yourself in the journalist’s shoes. Here are our tips to get you thinking about how a journalist may formulate questions so you can go into your next interview feeling confident. Think of the Fundamental Five – who, what, where, when, why Who is/are the subject(s)? What is the story about? Where is the story based? When did the story take place? Why is the story important? When interviewing someone, journalists are likely doing their own preparation by considering what questions they can ask to get at the answers to these five basics, so considering them in advance can help ensure you’re able to answer their most basic requests confidently. Consider the angle It’s not unreasonable to assume that in many cases when you’re about to be interviewed by a journalist, you’ll know in advance what the angle (aka the viewpoint or perspective) is going to be. Whether they’re responding to a story pitch or reaching out for a piece they have in the works, journalists will typically be upfront about why they want to interview you, what the purpose of the story will be, and what it’ll be about. Armed with this information, you can navigate your interview prep by considering what questions you might have if you were to write the same story from that angle. One example from a journalist’s perspective might be, “We’d like to interview you about your company’s upcoming groundbreaking ceremony.” The story of course would be about the ceremony, but there could be multiple angles: the history of the company, how the opening came to be and why it’s significant, and plans for the future. Consider all possible angles of the story prior to your interview. Be prepared for reporters who do their homework To approach any interview, it’s incumbent upon the reporter to do as much research as possible. This research can help prep the reporter for their conversation, but it also helps inform any questions they might ask. After all, sometimes answers lead to more questions. One of the great moments in any interview is when the reporter brings something up that they discovered in their research, and the subject responds with, “Wow! You really did your research!” It demonstrates diligence on the reporter’s end. Assuming the journalist has done their research, consider that he or she might already know quite a bit of information about you and/or the business or organization you’re representing as the interviewee. You might even be surprised by how much they already know. Take this situation for example. You’re the founder of an upcoming local brewery and your grand opening is just weeks away. You land an interview with a reporter that will help promote the opening. The reporter might look into how many other breweries there are in the area so he or she can ask how you plan to compete in such a saturated market. Or maybe the reporter would research the style of your beer, the history of the building you choose to host your brewery in, or contact other relevant subjects, like the director of the state’s brewers’ guild, to get their take on the industry. While some interviews are more in-depth than others, and the level of pre-interview research on the reporter’s part will vary from person to person, you should enter your interview assuming that a reporter has thoroughly researched the subject matter and is prepared with information you might be surprised to find they already know. Ask what questions you can expect Asking doesn’t guarantee you’ll get them ahead of time, but some reporters will share their questions in advance, depending on the nature of the interview, the content, the subject, and the story. Likewise, if there’s a specific point of interest related to the interview topic that you’d like to be sure is mentioned, you can make the journalist aware of that in advance so that they can work it into the conversation when appropriate. Ultimately, you’re not writing the journalist’s piece for them, but often a little advance prep work can ensure a more productive interview and a more thoughtful finished product. In addition to these steps to prepare in advance, the following tips can help lead to a smoother interview: Aim for brevity. A reporter might ask a question that calls for a long, detailed answer, but it’s not always helpful because then the reporter will be forced to spend far more time “separating the wheat from the chaff” than they ordinarily would have to. It’s great for a reporter to get as much information as possible for their story, but consider that every journalist has a word count limit for their stories. Sometimes long, detailed answers turn into garrulous, rambling nonsense. Aiming for brevity with succinct responses that convey the right and relevant information makes the journalist’s job easier and keeps the interview on track. Don’t talk off the record. This is a fairly fundamental principle to any interview. Journalists are present to receive all relevant information pertaining to their story, damning or not. They’re not interviewing you for the sake of conversation. Plus, if you speak off the record, you risk saying something that could put you at risk because sometimes a journalist will publish your remarks anyway, whether it’s a questionable practice or not. In addition, speaking off the record can lead to a nebulous place; after all, if it’s never communicated, how do you know when you’re back on the record or not? Misunderstandings about on- and off-the-record can lead to a myriad of blunders, so it’s best to keep all your comments on the record. You don’t have to answer every question. Sometimes you’ll be faced with a question that you won’t be able to answer for several reasons. You might not be the best person to answer it, as someone is more qualified or has more authoritative knowledge on the subject. And that’s okay! You don’t have to pretend to know the answer. You also may not be able to answer for legal reasons, or because it could mean trouble for you or who or what you’re representing. In this case, it’s better not to say, “No comment,” since this comment raises suspicions. It could still raise suspicions, but it’s better to say, “I can’t answer that at this time,” or, “I’m not in a position to answer this question,” or something similar. If applicable, explain why you can’t answer the question. Avoid saying “like” – especially too many times. We’ve all seen this before, especially in high school and college lectures. And it never gets less painful to hear. Imagine you’re quoted in a newspaper article that has “like” three times in one sentence, or worse – in a video interview, where the reporter can’t even edit out your “likes.” It can make you look unprofessional, less-than-qualified, or unpresentable. It’s even worse if it makes you look inarticulate. A similarly wicked habit is saying, “You know?” at alarming frequencies. Avoid these rhetorical mistakes at all costs! #interviewprep #journalism #reporting

  • Brands that are doing digital advertising right

    We like to bookmark brands and digital ads we enjoy as we come across them. This sometimes serves as inspiration for ad campaigns we work on for our own clients, but often it’s just to share visuals of what we like, what stands out, and what might fall into the category we like to call “aspirational brands.” Maybe you’re working on an ad strategy for your own brand, or perhaps you’re really trying to narrow down the message you want your brand to convey, and the way you’d like to be perceived. We’ve pulled together some digital ads we’ve come across recently that have caught our eye for various reasons. We hope they serve as inspiration for you as well. Why we like it: Text above the ad is short and to the point. The image itself uses minimal text and places the focus on a customer testimonial paired with a picture of a woman smiling. Not only is the woman relatable looking to the brand’s target audience, the positive imagery conveys a key benefit: better quality of life and happiness with improved hearing. Why we like it: This display ad stood out with its mix of color and whitespace. The text is kept to a minimum, focusing on only a few key messages and the CTA button stood out against the blue background. Again, the use of a relatable face catches the eye – which isn’t just coincidence. Why we, as viewers, feel more connected to products when advertising includes a face we can relate to has actually been studied. Some call it “the smile appeal” and it’s been proven that using a smiling model in advertising can elicit more joy in consumers and increase how much we like a product. Why we like it: Simple utilization of a before and after. Their audience can quickly see what the product does and the clear difference the app provides in helping to improve and preserve memories. The lead in copy conveys what the product does, and the imagery pinpoints the type of memorable moments many audiences can relate to wanting to preserve. Why we like it: Text above the ad focuses on benefits of use quickly, clearly, and concisely using language that the target audience will relate to immediately. The accompanying video of rain falling on water is simple, without distractions, and conveys the message that Noom is calming. The overlay text features a testimonial so no sound is needed when playing the video (something that’s key as many audience members are often scrolling by without their sound on). It’s also a simple use of video content which is more engaging on social channels, even if you don’t hear the audio. Why we like it: Similarly, Headspace focuses on the positive benefits users will experience with its product. “More smiling. More relaxing. More you.” conveys not only the desirable outcomes the user will achieve with the product, but also the idea that using it will generally help them focus more on who they want to be. The ad uses fun, colorful imagery and conveys happiness that stands out in the newsfeed. The bright vectors and illustrations catch the eye and the entire brand is centered around this look vs. stock photography. Why we like it: Another quick video shows the product in use for an easy to understand visual that gets straight to the point. Rather than focusing on discussing product features, the viewer gets to see how the product works at first glance. Copy emphasizes quality and popularity, while enticing viewers with an opportunity to click through to take advantage of a sale. A few take-aways: short engaging videos, color and clear benefits are winning digital advertising components.

  • Fluent Q+A with Becky Gauthier

    I originally started in traditional advertising helping with tv/radio and print media buys. Digital was a growing space at the time so when an opportunity came in a previous agency to shift in that direction, I was excited for the chance to grow into an expanding field, one that is constantly changing and offering new opportunities. Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your work/digital advertising as a whole? For the most part, clients without a physical location seemed to be less impacted as a whole. One of the biggest changes we noted for our clients during this time was having to tailor creative to focus more on remote/virtual messaging. For some clients, this was when they were the most active, serving as an informational resource for customers on how to navigate legal, financial, health and technology decisions during the pandemic. Q: What challenges have your clients faced during the last several months? Clients with brick and mortar locations have found COVID-19 particularly challenging because they have had to make more adjustments to accommodate not being able to have as many people visiting their location(s). For example, holding open houses virtually rather than on campus. Or re-thinking approaches to fundraising by holding virtual events. Q: What is your advice for anyone looking to capitalize on digital advertising this holiday season? Digital advertising during the holiday season tends to be less expensive than traditional mediums, but is still higher than other times of the year. If you feel that advertising during the holidays is the right fit for your business, my advice would be to start advertising early to get some presence in before all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday advertisers start taking up more space. Also, make sure that your ads stay relevant – don’t try to force creative that is holiday-themed if it doesn’t fit with your business. Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do? One of the things I enjoy the most about what I do is the flexibility it provides, I can help clients from anywhere and at varying times of day. So it’s not just a typical 9 to 5 in the office. This was particularly important during the COVID-19 lockdown when I needed to make adjustments between work/family needs.

  • How to: Increase brand visibility via digital advertising

    It’s impossible to open your laptop or turn on your phone these days without seeing various forms of digital advertising, and if it’s a channel you haven’t yet worked into your marketing strategy, you could be missing out on reaching your key audiences. Where to start As with all of our marketing efforts, we like to start by setting goals. Identify a key audience segment you’d like to reach with your advertising, define a target number of new users to your website, or set a goal for number of impressions. If you’re new to the world of digital advertising and are looking to get started in house, boosted Facebook posts can be a good jumping off point. Many organizations are already familiar with posting to social media, and boosting a post is taking that effort just one step further. This content will be seen by your existing fanbase, and you have the opportunity to customize the new target audience you’re hoping to reach as well. Once you get your footing, Smart Display campaigns on Google are a great way to branch out. Google makes it easy to adjust targeting based on your goals. Best channels for building brand awareness Beyond boosting, Facebook can also be a great medium for either a brand awareness campaign or a traffic based campaign aimed at driving visitors to your website. We often recommend leaning toward the latter since you have the added value of getting audiences to learn more about your brand via your website in addition to gaining brand visibility with the ads. Develop a schedule A consistent presence is ideal for building brand awareness, but if you don’t have the budget to support a continuous campaign, running your campaign for a few weeks each month enables you to maintain some presence and stay top-of-mind among your audience. This might also be the time to consider a retargeting campaign to complement your initial digital campaigns. These are the campaigns you see after you visit a certain website or search for a product, and then you see their ads over the next several days. Retargeting allows you to run your initial campaigns for a shorter period of time and then rely on retargeting so that you can stay in front of previous site visitors longer. This is where we like to give a reminder that your ad campaigns are customizable – you can set retargeting ads to only appear if someone is searching on specific pages of your site, or limit the time frame for which ads continue to appear after the initial search. Get creative You might see a lot of ads for products, but digital ads can be a valuable tool for promoting brand visibility as well. Look at ways your creative can stand out; utilize color or images to capture attention. If you have existing video content, or the ability to produce video that is decent quality, it might be a good option to incorporate into your campaign. Keep in mind that your ad should have minimal text and a call to action. Sometimes it’s appropriate for this to be as simple as “Learn More.” Creative can also be a good opportunity to address concerns or questions that your potential audience might have. Since you’re keeping text to a minimum, you might try providing tips (like “5 Ways to Engage Your Audience and Meet Your Fundraising Goals”) or asking a question (“Is Hospice Right for You and Your Family?”) and directing viewers to a landing page that addresses those questions/concerns. Why digital? Digital advertising via Google Ads and Facebook Ads allows you to add additional layers of targeting to get really specific and more closely target your desired audience. This can narrow your targeting by selecting things like specific interests or by reducing geography to zip code levels or down to a 1-mile radius around a specific location. You also can exclude placements (remove specific websites, channels and topic categories so that your ads don’t appear among that content) from Display and YouTube advertising to help improve your click through rates and lower costs if needed to drive more people to your site. Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.

  • Fluent Q+A with Marnie Grumbach

    Q: How did you come to start fluent? Q: Why did you choose the name fluent? When I launched fluent, I was primarily targeting clients that wanted to reach buyers of highly-valuable services. They were essentially selling their expertise. After floating a couple of other name ideas to my friends and industry peers (I was leaning toward a variation of the word “visible”), I happened to catch myself saying something along the lines of “my clients want to be known for their fluency in law/finance/etc…” I had also been seriously considering enrolling in a graduate program in IMC (integrated marketing communications) which introduced me to a couple of other agencies that used imc in their brand name. Our client base has expanded over the years but I’ve been pleased to see that even a non-profit or a more B2B focused client usually wants to be known for their expertise in a certain area. It’s widely applicable. Q: What are the biggest challenges you’re facing as a business owner due to the pandemic? Fortunately the pandemic didn’t result in any lost business for fluent, but we certainly have clients that needed help with abruptly adapting their entire marketing or communications program. Now that we’re nearing the end of the year, it’s challenging to figure out how to plan for 2021 because the pandemic certainly isn’t over. Clients need guidance on finding their way and staying relevant in a “new normal” and we all have the same amount of experience with something this huge and life-altering — which is none. It’s all new and we’re all using our best instincts and professional talents to find a way through. It’s not easy for anyone. Q: In what ways is fluent best positioned to help clients through this difficult time in history? I think the nature of our approach is to always be coming back to a big-picture strategy and not staying too lost in the tactical weeds. That was absolutely necessary back in March and it’s more important in Q4 2020 than ever before. We’re very strong on the strategy side and we always look at how a program can be fully integrated. The benefit for clients is that our programs, by design, leave room for a business to shift and move from one channel to another without a lot of disruption internally or externally. Q: What’s on your wish list for 2021? I think everyone is eager to say good-bye to 2020. As hard as it has been, we’ve been very fortunate to have stable ongoing client relationships. That model has served us and our clients well, but it doesn’t always feel welcoming to a smaller organization that isn’t ready for an ongoing agency relationship. We want to be as accessible and helpful as possible, so we’re working on launching training programs for in-house marketers and communications professionals. We’ve seen numerous situations where in-house coordinators, specialists and even some managers are hired as generalists and then suddenly are expected to be handling strategic marketing planning, media relations or more specialized skills. We’d like to offer our expertise in those areas by stepping in, teaching the skills that the particular team desires over a series of sessions, coach and mentor and then step out and let them succeed with a stronger set of skills. Aside from that, I’m wishing for less Zoom and more in-person meetings and coffees when it’s safe. I miss real human interactions!

  • Agency life: tools of the trade

    One of the perks of our job is that no two days are ever the same. We might be spending much of our day at a desk, visiting clients for regular check in meetings, supervising a video shoot, or coordinating press at an event. Over the years, we’ve developed a toolkit to keep things running smoothly. These tools shift from time to time, as technology changes and our needs expand, but here are some of the tools that are currently in our belt: Asana: Communication & task tracking As we’ve all become intimately familiar with while working remotely, it’s important to keep teams organized and on task, even if they’re not in the same space. We’re longtime users of Asana, a program that allows team members to collaborate on projects, assign tasks to each other, and house all information in one place. Simply put, if the project and tasks aren’t in Asana, they may as well not exist. We also use Google Drive and Dropbox for client file sharing and document storage. Meltwater: Media outreach We know that as the media landscape continues to evolve, journalists move around or change beats. As a PR firm, we spend time researching the best journalists by reading, listening and watching media coverage. When it’s time to build a wide reaching list of journalists or outlets that cover your industry, media databases like Cision and Meltwater can be crucial in widening your reach. In addition to building media lists, they also offer distribution services that allow you to track who has opened your press release. Adobe & Canva: Graphic design For big creative projects, we have relationships with some amazing designers that we like to collaborate with. For the smaller tasks, we flex our own creative skills with programs like Canva or Adobe Creative Suite. Canva is our go-to for simple email headers, social media images, and many other in house projects and it’s a bonus that it’s a user-friendly tool for clients to make their own simple or time-sensitive edits. Swydo & Google Analytics: Digital analytics We can put all the effort we want into marketing and PR, but without a way to measure our efforts, our work doesn’t seem very meaningful. In today’s world, certain analytics are more trackable than ever as we shift to more digital platforms. It’s never been easier to see just how many people viewed your social media post, clicked your online ad, or tuned into your podcast. To track online marketing, we use Swydo, which allows us to create comprehensive reports that include exactly the information our clients are interested in on their online campaigns. Google Analytics can’t be beat when it comes to tracking all things pertaining to your website. PR has always been a tricky thing to measure. There are various programs like Cision, Meltwater, and CoverageBook that can search for media mentions and give feedback on data points including audience size and AVE (ad value equivalent) in each article that mentions your keyword (or, likely, client name). Freshbooks & Bench: Accounting If you’re a business that needs to bill your clients, you’re going to need a way to create invoices and accept payments. In our case, we use FreshBooks for this task. It also doubles as a time tracker (to keep us on task and update our clients on where we’ve been focusing). We recently made the move to Bench for bookkeeping, which is a huge time saver. Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications.

  • Fluent Q+A with Emily Broadbent

    New on the blog – interviews with our own team. A quick look at how we got to where we are now, and what we love about our industry! Always the quiet observer, it might not have been the obvious choice that I’d pursue PR – an industry known for big personalities and tenacious attitudes. Early on in my college days, I ended up in a media & society class where I became enthralled with the concept of storytelling and perception. Through various internships over the next few years, I grew to appreciate the true value that marketing and PR can provide for a business, and have enjoyed raising awareness for a variety of clients since then. Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your work? As an agency, we were well positioned to transition to a virtual environment because we worked partially remotely before the pandemic. Logistically, there wasn’t much to work out, but I do miss the days of brainstorming new ideas around the office table. Zoom gets the job done, but, as I’m sure everyone can agree at this point, it’s not quite the same. Q: What are the biggest challenges your clients are facing due to the pandemic? Like so many businesses, our clients are learning to adapt to new ways of operating. Many of our clients provide services that have proven to be critical over the past several months. We are proud to help tell some of their success stories of helping others in need during this time. Q: What’s the biggest misconception about the value of public relations and the services you provide? I don’t think people understand what public relations means. You hear negative terms like “spin doctor” and there’s the assumption that we’re making up content to paint our clients in the most favorable light, which just isn’t the case. I frequently explain my job as, in the simplest terms, helping businesses tell their stories. We get to intimately know and appreciate what our clients do, and we think of creative ways to help the public better understand what they do as well. Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do? I touched on this in the previous question, but I really enjoy getting to learn about different industries and helping to spread that knowledge more broadly. One of the earliest clients I worked with was a company that manufactured ATMs, which as a 20-year-old, wasn’t anywhere near the realm of subjects I’d count among my interests. That job sparked a lifetime of “Did you know..” conversation starters and a deeply rooted interest in finding the most interesting aspects of every industry I’ve worked with and making sure they don’t go untold. #publicrelations #marketing #remotework #storytelling #branding

  • Annual Planning – The Key to a Successful New Year

    We know many people are ready to say goodbye to 2020, but don’t rush the year away before planning for 2021. After everything this year has brought, it’s more important than ever to spend the time budgeting and planning for success moving forward. In our line of work, that means we’re working with clients to develop meaningful marketing plans for the new year. Your plan for 2020 may have gone up in flames sometime in March thanks to COVID-19. And while it’s certainly been a tough year for many, this unusual year also offers the opportunity to apply lessons learned to your 2021 plan. We’re big advocates of having a strategy and plan in place before moving into marketing tactics. While 2020 has taught us that things can change rapidly, developing a proactive plan and implementing it lays a baseline that keeps things on track, even if you need to make adjustments along the way. We’re bringing back one of last year’s popular blog posts to help you prioritize your planning as you prepare for the year ahead. Don’t start off a new year aimlessly. Plans can fall apart, but starting the year without one is much worse than having to redirect later. Just the exercise of planning forces your leadership team to take a detailed look at your target audience and organizational goals as well as the effectiveness of your current marketing efforts. Taking this time to come together, reflect, plan and brainstorm is critical before jumping to tactics. It might be fun to jump in the car and just drive, with no plan or map, but realistically — who has time or gas to waste? Reflecting on the past twelve months has perhaps never been more important. The state of the world today is much different than it was a year ago. How has this changed your goals? What about your audience? Are they looking for the same things they were last January? Getting your team to evaluate how the events of 2020 have affected your goals, audience, and overall performance is a crucial step in setting your business up for success in 2021. Whatever you come up with, get it on paper. This ensures that everyone on your team and any outside consultants are aligned on marketing objectives and efforts. It will also give you clarity and a framework for answering advertising, sponsorship, or marketing requests throughout the year. 1. Goals: Big-Picture and Short-Term Different organizations have different goals and it’s important for every strategy to clearly define what these goals are. Ultimately, your audience and tactics are tied to reaching these goals. Working with a number of professional service clients, we can safely say that these goals vary broadly. All goals should have a solid connection to the firm’s bottom line but vary with the maturity, industry, and culture of the organization. For example, we find more mature professional service firms are focused on staying relevant, brand awareness, and client retention. Smaller, fast-growing firms often have very specific financial and business development goals, such as reaching a specific level of revenue or obtaining a specific amount of leads per quarter. Others want to break into new geographic markets. Some simply want to clear up confusion about their brand in the marketplace. Some goals are “big-picture” and may take years to achieve. Others are shorter term and can be met quickly with the right tactics. The decision of what types of goals you will focus on is up to you and your team. Just be careful of overdoing it. It’s better to work toward achieving two to three goals, instead of starting out with a list of 10. Setting up too many goals can not only feel overwhelming but can also make it seem like you aren’t making any progress. 2. Target Audience/Market Do you know your audience? Are there segments? How many decision-makers? A useful strategy includes a clear and concise description of your target audience. Some clients truly believe that because they are willing to sell their services to anyone, they shouldn’t limit themselves. We believe that being specific is the most effective. Tailoring your efforts to the interests of your buyers is a much more powerful way to engage, educate, add value, and ultimately sell your services based upon credibility and trust. Like we noted in the intro, it is possible that your target audience or market has shifted their priorities during this last year. Do not assume that what you knew about them before is still relevant. While planning for 2021, take time to reevaluate what your audience finds important. Where are they located? What are they looking for? What has changed about them since you last checked in? One way to stay focused on your audience is to use Personas — fictional characters that represent your ideal target market, their interests, their pain points, and why they need your services. They help you quickly remember and relate to your audience. Once you have your audience, it’s time to understand their needs and how your service is going to meet those needs. 3. Positioning Statement This step may seem insignificant because it’s inward-facing. However, a positioning statement brings it all together into one powerful statement to serve as an ongoing guide. The formula for a positioning statement is made up of four distinct parts: the target market, the point differentiation, the frame of reference, and the reason. Embrace the effort and reflection it takes to deliver a high-quality positioning statement. It’s likely that any positioning statement you created last year, or have used in the past, needs a little updating. We may be getting a little redundant here, but this was no ordinary year. Many brands and businesses have reevaluated their priorities or overall mission. Take a moment to check-in with what it is you stand for, care about, and want to accomplish. We included target market is as our second component to creating a positioning statement for a reason. The point of differentiation is what sets your product/service offering apart from the competition. This is what makes your product or service unique. The frame of reference is the specific market the company is competing in. And, finally, the reason (or reason to believe) is the reason people should believe the other parts of your positioning statement. 4. What’s Worked (and What Hasn’t) + What to Aspire To Before you spend time developing new marketing campaigns and creative, it’s important to have a baseline of your competition, to see what’s out there, what’s working and what isn’t. We do this by identifying a client’s top competitors, reviewing their brand assets, and reviewing non-competitive “aspirational” brands in similar industries, but in other markets. Depending on the industry or the size of your company, benchmarking may be useful. This involves evaluating the data of successful companies within the same industry as yours and comparing their successes (and failures) to your own efforts. The data you’ll be interested in can often be found in the Annual Report of publicly traded companies. These reports provide a wealth of information for entrepreneurs and businesses to utilize such as gross and net income, financial margins, and operating budget expenditures. While no two companies are financially the same, this can give you a starting place to help you calculate how best to invest your revenue. It might seem strange to include what hasn’t worked. To us, it’s common sense to be honest about past efforts and potential pitfalls to avoid. If you don’t document what hasn’t worked, it’s possible you’ll make the same mistakes in the future. Another tool to measure how your business stacks up to competitors is Share of Voice. This is calculated by taking overall mentions of your brand, along with your competitors and measuring the portion of those mentions that belongs to you and each of your competitors, individually. We use this to get a sense of the biggest players in our clients’ industries, and to see where they fall in that ranking. Next Steps So now that you have a solid strategy in place, you’re ready to get tactical. For every tactic, you should be able to justify its importance by revisiting how it fits into the annual strategy you’ve worked hard to create. Be sure to include measurable objectives for each goal and plan to check in on your progress by reviewing analytics at least quarterly. If your team could use some outside input as you plan for the future, get in touch by using the form below! What is your name and organization? What is your email address? Tell us briefly about your business. Who is your audience? Are you looking for long term support or a short term campaign? What are your top objectives in working with a marketing agency? For example: brand awareness, media coverage, lead generation Do you have experience working with a marketing agency? What is your estimated annual marketing budget for hiring an outside agency? Anything else you want to share with us? Would you be interested in a free 30 minute integrated marketing brainstorm session over the phone? CAPTCHA Name This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged. Δ Fluent IMC is a Maine marketing agency specializing in integrated marketing communications. Our expertise ranges from brand strategy and marketing planning to digital marketing and online advertising to public relations and communications. #annualplanning

  • Event marketing nay-sayers: is it time to rethink virtual events?

    Here we are, five months into a global pandemic, and virtual meetings are our lifeline to keeping business – and arguably life – running somewhat as usual. Webinars and online events aren’t new to marketers. They’re tested mainstays of a content marketing or lead generation strategy. For organizations that put thought leadership and valuable content distribution above collecting leads, events are perhaps even more beneficial to raising brand visibility. The downside is that any event or presentation is time consuming to prepare and heavy on logistical planning. We’ve heard from many clients that the time commitment seems to outweigh the benefits, particularly for those who lack a marketing department to do the heavy lifting. Recently, I chatted with an event planner who had been hired in early 2020 by a media organization to launch a series of small, local networking events at breweries and pubs in select cities. Obviously, the strategy for in-person events was immediately shifted to a virtual series featuring guest speakers from across the country. The silver lining? The virtual events have been attracting 3-4x the number of attendees from rural pockets of the state. These rural dwellers can’t make the case for driving an hour or more to a live networking event. But virtual? There are few barriers to participation at a time when people are longing for ways to connect and talk about something other than COVID. Is transitioning to virtual events a smart choice for your business? First off, it’s a safe bet that your clients and industry peers are looking for ways to re-connect, whether that’s through professional development, continuing education or networking. Creative webinars, educational conferences and featured keynotes serve as not only a touchpoint with current clients, but as value-adds. Better yet, promoting your virtual event can help connect your brand with new audiences in expanded geographic footprints. Before you decide to jump in, consider a few critical planning steps: Develop a meaningful topic We always start by making a list of the FAQs from clients. If a handful of clients are concerned about a topic, you can bet there are many more in their industry or position interested in the issue. Start with the top 3 questions you’re asked the most and build from there. What about email blasts you receive that capture your attention? Can you revamp a topic to fit your profession or industry? Also, how are you helping clients plan for the future? We’re still hearing from companies we work with that tackling COVID-related challenges is a top priority among their clients. Of course we’re all fatigued by COVID talk but that doesn’t erase the need for businesses to deal with a wide range of issues that spin off from the pandemic. A meaningful topic is one that audiences will find enough value in to register, attend, ask questions and engage in the topic. Think strategically about guests and co-presenters The purpose of this step is two-fold. Of course, you want an engaging, knowledgeable guest that your attendees will be excited to tune in to, but the right co-branded event can benefit both speakers by offering opportunities to reach each other’s audiences. Think of the people you refer clients to on a regular basis as well as other industries your clients might be turning to for various services. Chances are, their clients may be interested in what you do as well, and seeing you featured with a speaker they already know and trust gives you instant credibility and an opportunity for them to see you in action. When thinking about a guest strategy, you might also invite a well-known speaker with name recognition that will attract a wider audience. Think about local political figures, big business names, “celebrities,” or individuals who will appeal to your audience and be able to contribute to a conversation on your selected topic. Build an invitation list There’s a lot of room for experimentation when you’re inviting and attracting attendees. This step will be highly customized to your strategy. While trade associations typically invite members only, you might start small with a client-only invite and build from there. Another silver lining of virtual events is that you’re not typically limited on size. And with cost effective geo-targeting tools to promote your event, you can target attendees based on audience interests and geographic location. Don’t neglect the Q&A session Leave plenty of time at the end of your event for audiences to ask questions of you and your guests. This is a great way for attendees to feel engaged, and to get a deeper sense of additional topics your key audiences are concerned about. You might opt to give them the chance to submit questions in advance, so you can prep your answers and go more in depth on a topic if there’s an overwhelming interest. Be prepared for lack of participation In a perfect world, audiences will be jumping for their chance to contribute to the conversation. But we’ve all been at an event (behind the scenes or in the audience) where the audience is just not that engaged. Have some backup questions prepped in advance, so that if you’re hearing crickets from your virtual audience you can still keep the conversation flowing. For inspiration, think about common questions you’ve been hearing from clients, or use these questions to help address certain points you want to be sure don’t get missed. Poll your audience for feedback after the event Even as we shift back to more in-person events, the past several months have opened a new world of virtual connectivity, and with virtual events up 1000% since COVID-19, they’re not going away any time soon. Give your attendees the opportunity to share their thoughts after an event so you can find out what’s working, what’s not, and how to better engage your audience the next time around. A simple survey within a thank-you email is a thoughtful touchpoint that provides attendees with a chance to offer feedback. Keep in touch There’s a networking opportunity after every event. If nothing else, find the attendees and invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Keep in touch by adding them to your list but be cautious about email fatigue. Remember, the initial strategy was to provide valuable, helpful information at a time when your audience truly needs it. Don’t get spammy with unnecessary email blasts. Reflect, repurpose, repeat? Your first event will likely have some bumps or glitches but take a deeper dive into your event’s performance before you decide how to proceed. Consider the number of attendees, the quality of their engagement and questions during the event, and their feedback. Did you receive direct responses after the event? What about new connections or introductions to new people or markets? It’s tempting to write off an event as a bust because it didn’t draw hundreds of people. For most professionals, the highly-qualified prospect is the one who came, engaged, asked questions and truly reaped the benefits from your content. Look holistically at the event’s performance against your original strategy before you take the next step. And if nothing else, your content can surely be repurposed into numerous other marketing initiatives. #Eventmarketing #virtualevents

  • First steps to developing an engaging B2B email newsletter

    We’ve talked about hearing from companies that they struggle with marketing their self-proclaimed boring business, and a lot of these concerns come up when we talk about B2B email marketing. Email fatigue is real. Many emails or newsletters don’t provide value, engage audiences, or are just dull. Our inboxes are all overflowing and many professionals don’t want to spam their audiences. With all of those negatives working against an email marketing strategy, are there positives? Our answer is almost always yes, and the numbers support it. According to Hubspot’s Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2020: 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention So where to begin? You need to be sure you’re sending out the right content to the right audience. Think about why you’re in business. Your clients use your product or service for a reason, and the right content will help keep them engaged and opening your emails in the future. Start by determining who your audience is Depending on your business, you might have audience segments to consider. Perhaps you have your clients, who you serve directly, and you have your referral sources, who might be responsible for some of your new business leads. B2B email marketing requires some initial organization to be effective. If you have numerous audience segments, you’ll want to keep them separate so that you can send each one appropriate content, customize or personalize email subject lines and also so you can track which audience segments are most receptive to your email campaigns. To build your email list, make sure you have an email signup form on your website, so that the engaged audience who’s already coming to you as a resource can subscribe to stay in touch. Whatever you do, don’t buy a list to boost your numbers. Follow the rule of “quality over quantity” when building your email marketing audiences. Those who opt in will be more engaged with your content, and your list will grow over time. Figure out what content is most useful to them This is the step that can seem overwhelming, but it’s actually something you can probably answer fairly easily. Think about the following: What questions do you hear from clients on a regular basis? Is there recent news or other timely announcements that affect your industry? Do you have a big business announcement to make? What engaging content have you read recently – would your audience benefit from sharing something similar? Showcase your services. Case studies and testimonials can highlight projects you’re proud of. Remember – your emails should provide value and inform your audience. Set an objective You can’t measure the success of your efforts if you don’t know what your goals are. Email marketing may be used to grow your client list, increase sales with existing clients, or generally raise awareness of your brand. Defining your objectives can also help determine the type of content you send out. Regular reporting can help measure the success of your campaigns. Once again, why should you bother with email marketing? We believe in an integrated marketing approach that utilizes a number of channels, staying top of mind with audiences who are already aware of you and getting in front of new audiences who might benefit from your services. Email marketing is the easiest, most direct way to land in front of audiences who have already expressed an interest in your business and serving up valuable content positions you as a resources they’ll continue to utilize. On top of those benefits, email is cost effective. Aside from nominal subscription fees for most email platforms, most of your investment is your own time developing the content of each email.

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