How marketing firms help businesses rise to the top
In our increasingly digital world, the role of marketing looks drastically different than it did a decade ago. It’s never been easier for a company to market itself, but at the same time, the number of options to do so can be overwhelming.
This is why marketing firms still exist and why some local companies have made the investment to hire them. We spoke with these companies, and with the marketing professionals themselves, about their experiences working together and about what other business leaders can learn from them.
WHY IS MARKETING NECESSARY?
Most business owners know to invest in marketing of some sort but may not realize the vast importance of it, now more than ever. “Marketing is especially tricky today because, most of the time, you’re getting digital or non-physical results,” says Tyler Callahan of J2 Marketing in South Bend. “Because of this, there is often a tendency to underestimate or devalue the worth of something. You have to trust that marketing is, in fact, vital to whether or not your business will actually last longer than a few years.”
This is especially true because of the noisy world we live in, Callahan points out. “Every American is exposed to at least 6,000 branded messages each day. Everyone is trying to sell you something,” he says. “When you come to grips with that fact, and understand that your company doesn’t really differ from anyone else in that regard, the importance of marketing becomes abundantly clear.”
Callahan compares running a business to building a house—and marketing, he claims, is the foundation. “Your business will die if people don’t understand what you do in an efficient manner,” he says. “Marketing works.”
WHY HIRE A MARKETING FIRM?
While it can be agreed that marketing is vital to a company’s success, many organizations choose to tackle it on their own rather than employing experts to help. This could potentially be to their detriment, professionals say.
“So often, we find small, mid-level and even some larger companies that are still relying on the best guess of internal individuals that were not trained in marketing, brand building, or even social media,” says Michaline Tomich, owner of Mix Design in Schererville. She adds that these internal employees often have good ideas but execute them “without a big picture strategy in mind or a measurable goal that they are setting out to achieve.”
A firm also offers the benefit of a whole team of experts. Julie Olthoff, president of VIA Marketing in Merrillville, says, “You most likely can’t afford a talented team of seven people on your staff year-round.” A firm, on the other hand, offers multiple experts in multiple areas, she says, including “planning, public relations, media experts, copywriting, graphic design, digital expertise and programming.”
Much of marketing requires trial and error, which marketing professionals have already tried and tested, Callahan points out. “We’re the experts,” he says. “We have studied what works and what fails. We know what time on which day of the week to post on Facebook in order to get the most sales. We know how to create images that gain your customers’ trust, so they’re more willing to invest in your product… Marketing firms are full of people who devote their entire working days to doing marketing well so that businesses can thrive.”
It’s this expertise that led Geminus Corporation to outsource their marketing. Geminus provides support services for the Regional Mental Health Center and runs several programs to assist at-risk families and children throughout the community. After acknowledging that their in-house marketing efforts were limited, Nicholas Neal, director of family services at Geminus, chose to work with VIA Marketing to get the word out about their programs. “This is a five million dollar grant, so our marketing needs to match that,” Neal says.
VIA moved Geminus into a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy, particularly for their events. As a result, the organization’s Party in the Park event increased from about 700 attendees in previous years to 1,600 attendees this past year. “We had a line of people waiting to come in,” Neal says proudly.
Von Tobel, the locally owned retailer of building supplies and home improvement products, chose to use the remodel of their Schererville store (a large building on the well-traveled Highway 30) as an opportunity for rebranding and marketing. “We have been in the local market for over 50 years, but aren’t so sure that the younger market knows who we are and everything that we have to offer,” says Ken Pylipow, president and CEO of Von Tobel. “We wanted an outside team that could help us market ourselves to the next generation of customers while simultaneously maintaining our existing customer base.”
The team they chose was Mix Design, who assisted them with a brand audit. Mix Design’s Tomich says, “After realizing the potential that such a huge building could have on PR and marketing of that location, (Von Tobel) proceeded with an open mind and a fresh outlook on what a rebrand would bring.” This process opened up other conversations about a marketing overhaul for all of their locations. “We’re diving deeper into the habits and patterns of their current and future guests, being open-minded and learning how brand look plays a role in the new marketing,” Tomich says. “We’re helping them discover the strategic way to utilize social media… to shift their goals, build future marketing plans and include the whole team in the brand pride and engagement process.”
Pylipow says that his employees receive positive comments about their new look “every day,” a sign that their goal of increased awareness is being met. “The process has definitely created excitement with our employees, customers and vendors,” Pylipow says.
Not all marketing projects need be as large-scale as Von Tobel’s, however. A firm can help with just one or two initiatives. The South Bend-based Goodwill Industries of Michiana chose to rebuild their website, and hired J2 Marketing to help them do so. “The old website was a mess,” says Guy Fisher, executive vice president for Goodwill Industries of Michiana. “It didn’t flow right and was too busy… The website shouldn’t give every single detail of what Goodwill is doing; it should get the user to want to know more and reach out to us.”
The staff at J2 helped streamline the content on the new site and moved it to a mobile-friendly platform. Fisher says that while the new site was rolled out fairly recently, “I expect engagement to increase dramatically.”
WHAT MAKES IT WORK?
Once a company decides to partner with a marketing firm, they have a responsibility to see their investment through, according to the businesses and marketing firms interviewed. The relationship between the two entities should be one of mutual respect, effort and expectations.
“Understand when you hire a firm that the onus for success still rests upon you as a business owner,” says Fisher. He and the others suggested the following practices to make the most of the marketing experience:
Establish a budget
Neal of Geminus suggests having parameters in place ahead of time, including how much money is budgeted for each project, and then communicating those parameters. Olthoff says the marketing budget should be within a range of 3 to 10 percent of the company’s sales, depending on your industry, name awareness and competition. Once a budget is established and communicated, the firm can accommodate the company’s needs accordingly and without any surprises.
Trust the experts
“If you want effective, tangible results with a marketing firm, you have to listen to them,” urges Callahan. “If you’re working with a good marketing firm, then you have to trust them to do what you hired them to do.”
Pylipow agrees. “Business owners by nature are going to be defensive of their businesses,” he says. “They have to let the marketing team give them their honest feedback from an objective, outside perspective. Some of the feedback may not always be easy to hear, but you need to remember that you hired them to help you.”
Do the work
While the marketing experts are skilled in their industry, only you know the ins and outs of your business. So at some point, they will need you to contribute, whether it’s specific information, input or legwork. “You can’t hire a firm and say, ‘Off you go,’ and not spend any time in the process,” Fisher says. He recommends identifying someone in the organization who is detail-oriented and can help with the more tedious tasks. “Any firm needs that kind of engagement,” he says. “If you don’t give them the whole story, you’re going to get what you give. You have to be willing to invest the time and resource on the business end to get what you need.”
Starting tips for stepping up your marketing
Michaline Tomich of Mix Design in Schererville offers the following tips for taking your marketing efforts to the next level.
Create brand consistency.
Before you roll out your marketing, make sure your brand is solid and your story is real. Everyone in your organization needs to be looking in the same direction and with the same goals. A brand audit, which helps redefine your ideal customer and determines your campaign direction, should be done annually with monthly or quarterly checkpoints. In addition, make sure your brand is handled consistently and creatively by all departments.
Talk about your target customer, even their habits and patterns.
Learn everything you can about your ideal customer. The key is “ideal.” Not all businesses can afford to market to every single type of customer in every age group. Hone in on your ideal customer. Then, market to them as much as possible and in as many outlets as possible. If you do that well, their spouses, parents, kids and friends will likely hear about you as well.
No one way of marketing will work solely.
Simply gaining traction in one medium alone will not suffice. Oftentimes social media (or just Facebook) is the means of a small business’s marketing. Know that it takes multiple customer touch points not only to hit multiple targets but in different dayparts.
Leave them wanting more.
If you give away the whole story, they have no reason to call. After you create your marketing piece, look at it and ask yourself, “What can I delete?” Take out the details that the user should get from a phone call, a visit, or when they get to your website. Find a way to engage them first and allow them to seek more. It will be a much more thought-provoking process and opens up the door for a good customer experience.
It’s not just a logo.
Your logo really should act as a reminder of the feeling your customer gets when they interact with your brand. Some of the emotional connections your logo should spur are: relief (finally someone that helps me), gratitude (thank goodness they make this product I needed), pride (they help me achieve my goal), and fun (I love the excitement I feel when I represent this brand). If customers have a bad experience that generates a negative emotion such as anger, being ignored, not helped, or neglected, your logo will be the symbol that sparks that feeling again. Make sure there is so much more to the training and operational exercises that create your brand and thus your marketing.