The Agency Record Blog

Asking Tough Questions About Your Marketing Strategy


Warning: This post may make you extremely uncomfortable. Read at your own risk.

Today, there is virtually no reason not to have your pulse on the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Data abounds, and to even the most casual business owner, this data can open up keen insights into where your marketing time and money is working for you, and where it is not.

To illustrate, I want to describe a strategy we are deploying on a web site right now, and this approach is saving us hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars normally wasted in the startup phase of any business model. The philosophy and steps behind this strategy is the same as you would read in practically any college marketing textbook: Devise, Implement, Test, Interpret Data, Revise and Repeat.

The real difference with what we are doing (across multiple marketing and advertising channels, such as Social, AdWords, SEO, Content) involves close micro-step evaluations of key drivers. Quite simply, rather than wait for an abundance of data, we are making swift course corrections based on tightly prioritized goals, using tiny-yet-measurable data samples.

This strategy requires that we ask difficult questions about our assumptions, letting none of them remain as sacred cows. Instead, we rather assume that we know nothing about what may work, and rigorously test every aspect of a business model, from messaging to offer to price point. And we are doing this rapidly.

Here’s the kicker: We are able to do this based on almost real-time data, in increments of fewer than 100 visitors to our web site.

It’s pretty exciting, and I believe it will lead us to circumvent the normally expensive and time-intensive process new businesses must endure when launching something new.

So the question I have for you is: What do you think you know about your business marketing metrics? Do you know what is working and what isn’t? How do you know it? And how long and how much is it taking you to find out?



Infographics: Visual Storytelling that Connects

I thought I’d share some of our recent work in support of Stress Awareness Month this April.  (see below, and click the image for a full-size view) Infographics are a great way to share statistics and key information with your target market, and because of the easy share-ability of these images, the likelihood of them going viral is much greater.  It’s become a very popular way of communicating on the web.  Whether this is a passing fad or a durable trend is yet to be seen, but why not take advantage of it while it’s hot, right?

Current Social Media Trends

If you are a small business owner, you have probably heard this line a thousand times: “Are you utilizing social media yet?” If you’re not, you probably roll your eyes, wondering why there is so much emphasis on it these days. After all, it has been difficult to actually quantify its effectiveness. I recently found an article on that just may shed some light on why you need to be looking into using social media if you aren’t already doing so. Here are some of the current social media trends:

  1. The benefits are continually on the rise. As business owners and marketers have continued to increasingly use social media, the benefits have become increasingly clear. Rather than counting on it for lead generation, marketers and businesses are seeing it as a way to create brand awareness. While it is not easy to quantify the ROI on this, brand awareness is no less crucial to a business.
  2. More businesses are investing in their social media marketing. This means that you risk being left behind. The good news is, however, that many businesses are not using it as effectively as they could, which means that you still have time to get in and leapfrog your competition.
  3. Businesses and marketing agencies view the value of social media differently. As I’ve mentioned above, it is typically quite difficult to measure ROI. However, marketers are finding an increased correlation between social media engagement and getting found online. With more and more people using Google instead of the Yellowpages to find businesses, it is easy to see how important it is to be found online.
  4. Having an integrated social media plan will make you more money. Several surveys have found that there are still a lot of businesses that have not fully integrated social media into their marketing plans. However, the ones that do are seeing a greater financial reward for their efforts. In short, it pays to engage your potential customers.

While I won’t come close to saying that social media is the great panacea for your business’ marketing woes, I will say that it is a very important cog in the machine. When evaluating your marketing budget, take the time to see how social media can fit into your overall plan. You won’t regret it.

Finding and Perfecting Your Inner Storyteller

Anyone who has been engaged with us for very long at all knows how passionate we are about telling stories. To our way of thinking, a good story has the power to make a brand, but even more importantly, it can connect us as human beings and perhaps even change the world.

So when I watched this video over at, I knew I had to share it with you.

If you are tasked with telling stories about your brand, or if you want to brand the world with an idea you have, you owe it to yourself to watch this video.

The Age of the Do-It-Yourselfer

How the Internet is ruining the business of specialized skills.

“Google it.” We’ve all said and done it. In fact, in May 2011, Google had over 1 billion unique visitors. Google is such a major part of our culture that it has recently been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a transitive verb. (Note: I had to use the Merriam-Webster dictionary shortly after this to look up transitive verb)

Because we have the ability to Google any information at anytime on our PCs, laptops, smart phones, and tablets we can virtually obtain any knowledge we desire. Savvy Internet users have been taking advantage of this for years in order to learn anything from the ingredients in hollandaise sauce to step-by-step instructions on how to knit. This is an incredibly powerful tool that creates a sense of cohesion throughout the world as well as allows us to broaden our sense of understanding on a variety of topics, no matter how mundane. But this powerful tool is not without its concerns…

Google creates a “jack of all trades,” out of every person, and this can throw a wrench into the plans of many small business owners. Just the other day my husband Googled instructions on how to replace a tail light in our foreign car to avoid going to the auto mechanic. Across the globe, Google users are finding out how to bypass specialty service businesses in order to save money. From fixing a computer at home to avoid a repair fee to booking a vacation online to negate the need for a travel agent, specialty shops everywhere are taking a hit.

Having the power to Google allows us a virtual world that should be milked for every drop of information. Specialty shops and small businesses may have taken a hit, but the advent of the Internet causes so many facets of business to evolve. It will be interesting (and telling) to discover how specialty service shops and businesses deal with ongoing trend of the do-it-yourselfer.

Catching Up With Taylor Hill, Part 2

In this final part of my conversation with Taylor Hill, we discuss the ROI of SEO, and what type of questions companies should ask when shopping for SEO services.

Jonathan Sanders: Why do you think people or companies have a tendency to cut costs in web/SEO work?

Taylor Hill: It’s human nature to not pursue what you don’t understand.  Most people understand getting traffic, but they don’t get the work that has to be done or understand why it’s not an instant solution. SEO is no different then any other part of a business plan, it takes work and commitment to the process to see the change.  Companies will spend big bucks to get 1 to 2% ROI (return on investment) with traditional marketing because they know what to expect and can count on the return pretty much every time.  With the Internet, knowing search engines change the algorithms every time you turn around, you can be on top today (on the front page of an organic search) and 10 pages into the search tomorrow.  I think this frustrates many companies and they either toughen up and pay for SEO, pay to learn it or they will eventually give up.

JS: What are some suggestions you have for people or companies who are about to look into SEO? What questions do they need to ask?

TH: Well, the very first question I would ask is this; can you tell me if anyone is looking for what I do?  You would be amazed at how many people are trying to get business from areas that have little or no potential in the first place.  If people aren’t looking for you or what you do, you are in trouble and no matter how much money you sink into the site it will be an uphill battle.  Now I say this as a general rule as there are times when something brand new comes along and it breaks through.

I can also tell you what not to ask; is there a guarantee that this will put me on the front page?  I could truthfully answer this question both yes and no.  I can get people on the front page of Google in no time at all for keywords and phrases that will bring in some (little or no) traffic.  I’ve actually seen SEO companies market phrases that they can get you to the front page.  The problem with this is it’s smoke and mirrors.  These are very low search phrases.  You can read enough free SEO forums to do that yourself because it’s relatively easy.  However, companies want returns on investment (ROI).  If a company pays thousands and all they get are a couple of front page listings for a couple of long tail phrases, they will be disappointed.  When you go for valued (high searched) keywords, normally, you are in a battle for position and it takes a lot of effort and time to get on the front page of an organic search.  That translates into money or time or both, if you learn SEO yourself.  Because it’s a battle, there are no guarantees for the main keywords and phrases.  And that’s before you add in the unknown, which is the algorithm changes from the search engines. There is no way anyone can really give a guarantee for that.

What I believe to be the most valued question that every company or individual should ask is: do you understand ROI and if so, can you show me what SEO can do for my company’s ROI?  If a company is not on the Internet to boost their ROI, why are are they spending money here?  The first thing I would want to see from a SEO person or company is an analysis of my business on the web.  A projection of sorts showing me what the potential is for my business model, whether that be ecommerce, leads or simply branding.  You show me potential (or lack thereof) so I can make a good decision and I’ll always remember you!  On my end, if you remember me as the guy who either saved you money by telling you it was a bad idea or helped you make money by showing you the potential; I’m either working for you now or will be soon.

Catching Up With Taylor Hill, Part 1

I was speaking with a friend the other day, and an interesting question came up: how does someone get started in SEO/SEM (Search Engine Optimization/Search Engine Marketing)? I figured the best person to ask would be our very own SEO guru, Taylor Hill. If you are familiar with Taylor, you will know that he is a man of many interests and talents. Taylor recently sat down with me to answer some questions about SEO.

Jonathan Sanders: How did you get started? Was it necessity or interest?

Taylor Hill: I created a website for a business I was in and paid a lot of money for the template to build the site.  There was some SEO associated with the site and when I got started doing the things that were recommended, I saw a little movement but not much.  It was after that experience I thought there has to be something else because I see where other’s are getting on the front page of Google.  It was after that thought that I jumped down the rabbit hole.

JS: What are common misunderstandings about SEO work?

TH: I think the most common misunderstanding still today is that if you build a pretty, expensive website, people will eventually find you.  It’s not that you shouldn’t build a website, but you will need to either learn or find a good SEO person or company to help build it (or modify it, if already built) to make sure it has the elements to get picked up by the search engine spiders on the site itself.  This is called on-page SEO.  There is a lot of off-page work that will need to be done, but if the on-page work is not correct, it doesn’t matter what you do off page.  The other thing I would say people should know, if they are paying attention, is your site will need good original content.  If you don’t want to create it or pay someone to create it… well, it will sit there looking pretty.

JS: Why do companies need SEO?

TH: That’s easy – traffic.  The Internet is no different than a brick and mortar store, location is key.  The location is the front page of a search engine after someone does an organic search.  The goal is the front page of Google since it’s the dominant search engine today.

I have more with Taylor in my next post. Stay tuned!

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