“Sell It, Girl”

Girl in Heels

Today’s blog is based on a conversation had with a colleague yesterday. It began like this: “Claire, I have talked with so many people who need you, and I tell them they need you, and they aren’t GETTING it. What else can I say?” He was talking with a number of entrepreneurs who own small-ish service companies, and they all have terrible marketing materials and websites. They also have something else in common: no marketing budget and no plan to turn their heads from time to time to look into that blindspot. And there is a big truck in that blind spot this April—as of the 21st, non-mobile friendly websites will begin sinking on Google rankings. What’s a little guy to do?

I love this kind of potential client: the “little guy”. Not just because I am one myself but because for them, a little marketing investment goes a long way towards success. So I engage in these conversations frequently, where one entrepreneur (who has invested in good marketing and reaped the rewards) is encouraging his compatriots to do the same. But even if you’re a trusted friend selling someone on a great idea, and for their own good, the pitch matters.

My colleague told me he opens his laptop and loads the unfortunate website in front of its unfortunate owner, saying “Look at this—what do you think this says about you?”  It’s a beautifully blunt maneuver, fitting the style of this beautifully blunt man. But it’s not really working. As we discussed the characters on the other side, I reminded my colleague of the first and most important question: Do they need more business? At least one of them did not; he was actually afraid that a decent website would give him more business than he could handle. So we crossed him off. But what about the rest of them? They mostly reported that they would if they could, but the cost is prohibitive.

Cost is a factor, of course. But it’s “Penny wise, Pound foolish” to look at your greatest marketing tool as an expense instead of an investment. If they answered “yes” to the more business question, the next question is this: how many jobs would it take to cover the cost of the website work you need? Have them make some quick mental calculations and go on to question three… the big one.

I advised my colleague-turned-salesman to then open his laptop to the substandard site in question, alongside a more worthy site from a competitor. Then ask “If you were your potential customer, which of these companies would you choose to provide a good professional service experience?” Every click for the other guy is a lost sale for you, and just a few of those lost sales would have paid for the website work that you currently can’t afford to invest in. The sales after those can pay for your next team member, your vacation, your kid’s braces, or your new fishing boat. Sure, there are a few entrepreneurs out there who don’t need or want more work, but they are a tiny minority. It’s usually just a case of the guy with the bad website not understanding how it’s hurting when it could and should be helping.

Many thanks to you for the chat, my friend. I love you for trying to help your fellow man succeed. And when you do finally get them to take a look into that big old blind spot—because I know you will—I’ll be here waiting.


The Web Angle on Age Old Marketing Wisdom

Visual Data

It’s a mystery to most small business owners: “What does a good website cost, and more importantly, what is it worth to my business?” While we at CLC love all the forms of marketing communications that we produce, we recommend that websites are the primary investment. Why? Because a well-planned and well-maintained website can connect and convince in a cost-effective way.  

Marketing images are effective communication because 90% of the information that the human brain processes is visual. But when consumers are awash in a sea of competing images, it’s a challenge to stand out. The concept of branding grew as marketers began to capitalize on the psychology of familiarity— humans gravitate towards what they know. Unfortunately for small marketing budgets, it takes 12-20 repetitions to create that familiarity. When those touches are made through traditional channels like direct mail, the costs add up quickly.

While most organizations now know that trying to be successful without a website is pure folly, they don’t always consider how that website can contribute to the necessary repetition of branding. Even a mostly static site will be consulted multiple times if it contains easy-to-access information that’s important to the target audience. If you want to get even more visits, kick it up a notch—by becoming a source of fresh information, making sure the site is accessible to people on whatever device they have handy, and making sure the experience is pleasurable. Attention to UX, both macro and micro, matters as much as the content. When a website is deep or multi-faceted and offers different levels of engagement, it gives visitors a reason to return. It delivers the multiple impressions necessary to build your brand.

As you connect, connect, connect, and connect again, you have many opportunities to convince. The relationship that your website builds will hopefully be the last non-human interaction between you and your potential customer, so be sure to make the most of this cost-effective member of your marketing team. Invest, assess, and adjust. And call us if you need a little help getting started or along the way.

Pay Me, I’m Irish

St. Patricks Day

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to salute one of the greatest (and longest-running) marketing campaigns of all time. In the name of dear old St. Patrick, Americans throw parties, march in parades, and buy approximately $5 billion in trinkets, decor, beer, whiskey, etc. This celebration of all things Irish has the greatest economic impact right here in America, and it’s due to the American mastery of marketing.

I’m Irish, and I love being Irish. But the reality is that the Irish is one of many immigrant populations that found new life in America. Why is St. Patrick’s Day so special? New York City invests in a mammoth parade (the largest civilian parade in the world), Chicago dyes its river green, and there are major celebrations in at least 30 other american cities (especially here in Alexandria, where we celebrate all month). But it’s a good bet that only a fraction of revelers can tell you who St. Patrick was, or much about Ireland’s history. So what makes this day so special, what are we celebrating, and what are we really buying?

The magic of St. Patrick’s day can be symbolized by one iconic button, worn proudly by the Irish and non-Irish alike: “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” This simple marketing capitalizes on inclusion of EVERYONE in the fun, and taps into what everyone wants—to be happy and feel like they are a part of something. No matter your ethnicity, chances are that you (or “your people”) have overcome hardships and deserve a break to celebrate yourself. The modern marketing of St. Patrick’s Day provides just that sort of inclusion.

I know there are some Irish who are ashamed of the evolution of the Holiday. But think about how different things would be if St. Patrick’s Day had continued to develop as a private, Irish-only affair. There certainly would not have been $5 billion flowing. While not all the profit goes into Irish pockets, clearly it was enough to make the day worth sharing. And smart marketing made it wildly successful by finding the connection between what the product offers and what the people want.

So that’s how St. Patrick’s Day has grown to mean something more in America. Folks seeking camaraderie will wear green, patronize Irish bars and restaurants, grapple for green beads, buy green hats and trinkets, drink the approved beverages, make/buy/eat piles of green cookies, and more. And if you’re wondering whether it is in fact lucky to kiss an Irish person, know that Ancestry.com reports DNA test results reveal that 2 of 3 people have at least 5% Irish in them. So apparently the Irish do get lucky a lot.

No matter what your DNA says, enjoy the celebration this St. Patrick’s Day. Kiss, smile, toast, and get home safe so we can do it all again together next year.

The Levels of AMAZING

Levels of Amazing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with a new client who blew me away. They’ve invented something that will revolutionize their industry and have a positive effect on almost every citizen of every first world country. Over the course of several weeks, we have come to understand this product, and it’s not simple. Neither is our mission: SELL IT.

The challenge, of course, is explaining the nature of—and need for—this amazing product in a complete but captivating way. We’ll be helping to define the target audiences and considering the different info they crave, the ways they want to digest the info, and what language and imagery speaks to them. We’ll determine how to carve the audiences into divergent user paths, and we’ll provide layers of information so they can choose to learn they way they want in the time they have available.  

In the end, we’ll have created layers of information for each of the audiences: images that speak in the blink of an eye, scannable text that motivates, deeper explanations for the more patient types, and ordered resources for the true researchers.

And while we’re creating “just” a website right now, CLC will be creating messaging that goes far beyond a website. We’ll have the images and words ready to deploy across print media, social media, and however/whenever the client needs for years to come. We’ll be here to edit the content and messaging as the clients’ needs change.

Take a moment to think about how your website communicates with your target audience. Do the images, organization and verbiage come together to capture and captivate? If you have any doubts, let’s talk it through. After all, if you have the ability to change the world for the better, we want to help.

“In your FACE!”


Unless you run the only coffee stand in Grand Central station, or have a similarly located and needed business, you need to be reaching out to potential customers on the internet. Your first step was a great website, and your next smart online investment needs to be driving people there. But how? SEO services (and promises) are bewildering… and you certainly paid attention to organic SEO when developing your website, right? Social media also certainly deserves some focus in the ever-shifting marketing landscape, especially if that’s where your target market lives, but it’s clear that more people access email than social media.

One of the key factors in the lasting efficacy of email marketing is the ease of use and measurability. While SEO and Social Media are important and quickly developing tools, even the biggest companies are still trying to perfect their use. Those of us outside the Fortune 500 are generally looking to invest in more proven marketing methods, and email marketing is a good one*.  

Email marketing has been a known quantity for almost 20 years. Constant Contact started the same year we did (1998) and we’ve used it, watched it change, and seen it be challenged by Vertical Response, MailChimp and others. But no matter which (reputable) company you choose, marketers still rate email at the top for ROI*. Why? Because done right, it delivers relevant and wanted content directly into the hands of interested parties.

As usual though, “just doing it” isn’t as important as doing it right. You don’t want readers to see one issue, delete, and unsubscribe. Even more so, you don’t want them to associate your company with spam or poor quality (bad graphics, writing or content). Think about “relevant and wanted content” and “interested parties”: getting this right creates an email that doesn’t just survive, but might be forwarded to other potential customers. Find the sweet spot of being in front of people’s faces without being so “In your FACE!”

Who is on your list? Keep in mind that reputable companies will shut you down if you attempt to spam recipients. Embrace this as a good thing: they are protecting your customers from spammers and demanding better from you.

What’s your vibe? Free education will always get you farther than “BUY NOW.” If you connect and convince, people will remember you when they need you.

What are you really saying? With each email, you’re reaching out and reminding people not only that you’re there, but who you are. Be the best you in the fewest words, and give people a taste of the expertise and quality that they can expect when they call.

If you want to keep your focus on honing your skills and operations, you can leave the eNewsletters to us. Just CONNECT with us and we’ll work with you to create an email outreach program you can be proud of .

*Ascend2/MarketingCharts.com, September 2014.

We at CLC support (and provide) SEO and Social Media services and would be delighted to help assess your needs in these areas. This blog is a response to small business owner questions about eNewsletters and financial triage for online marketing.

One, Please


Recently we’ve had occasion to replace two segments of our crucial business operations. In sorting out all the options for vendors and services, I was bombarded with information that I had to try to match up with my list of needs. Of course, there was much more available than what I thought I needed, new ways to do everything, and related price tags that were not what I expected. All this, in operations realms that are not my strong suits, on top of daily “business as usual” was exhausting.

Suddenly I recognized a feeling that I usually see from the other side: “I just need ONE person I can trust to do, oversee, or assess this area of my business’ needs.” I said to the next vendor I spoke with, “I want someone who can be to us, what we are to our clients.” I explained how we cover a range of related services, how we expand or collaborate with a few select, trusted partners, and only as related to the main goals, and how we coordinate/manage workloads across our agency and others (even client-hired) to make sure we’re all working together and in the client’s best interest. We even get called in behind the scenes to do quality control checks for competitors, and there’s no “competition”, just a “let’s get it right” attitude. And then I knew what I was looking for from my vendors for these crucial business operations, and that it was not too much to ask.

It’s a safer bet to be one of those people/companies that performs their portion of talent and then yells “NOT IT” when there’s an integration problem. But busy businesses and nonprofits need better, and that’s what we are about. This January begins the 17th year of C. Liston Communications, and we’ve grown and changed in response to what our clients need. We hope to continue to be the one for clients for many years to come.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/31142-8 — Before the term “virtual assistant” was ubiquitous, I used it to describe my range of marketing tactics for the PR professionals and marketing strategists I served. Here’s an article about me in Entrepreneur magazine from FIFTEEN years ago. And no, there’s no photo. 🙂

‘Tis the Season

Buy Small

‘Tis the Season to be… BUYING? Alas, it certainly is. In December, Americans tend to show their love by purchasing gifts. But while you’re buying your remembrances for family, friends, neighbors and associates, we’d like to remind you to show small businesses some love too. Look to buy from small, family and/or local businesses wherever possible. The benefits are not just warm fuzzies, but investing in the strength of communities and reinforcing the American Dream. Now that’s a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN gift.

Many big companies practice the “Doorbuster” method of marketing in November and December. They know that one ridiculously good deal will get you into their store, and you’ll probably pick up a number of other items while you’re there. Smaller businesses may not be able to offer such a huge loss leader, but they have other perks that don’t scream from advertisments. It’s a huge perk to shop where someone cares about your needs and addresses them personally. You can get hand-made or unique items, of course, and pre-packaged products are often competitively priced, with less of the purchase price going to advertising, layers of middlemen, or expensive store decorations.  

If you’re an online shopper like me, don’t forget that many online stores (or physical stores with an online presence) are also small businesses. I get a wave of glee when I call about an online order and get the owner or a family member. They have the product, the price and the service, and they got my attention. You don’t have to be huge to compete, you just have to be good and GET NOTICED.

With every gift you give this year, give twice. Shop small.

Comin’ @ Ya!

Information Overload

Most of us wake up to a daily rush of helpful tips in our inbox that sends our brain spinning. From eNewsletters, sales pitches, and advertising techniques to the latest social media trend, “Information Overload” is the simplest way to describe this phenomenon.

Business owners struggle with having to attend to the day-to-day operations, but wanting to embrace new opportunities for growth. It doesn’t help that most get flooded with the latest and greatest marketing options and strategies, all promising to be the right one for your product or service!

Don’t let a good idea get lost in the flood of spam. When considering what course of action is right for your organization, a few questions to contemplate are:

  • How does the strategy relate to your company image, product, and target audience?
  • What message are you presenting and how does your implied call to action relate?
  • What is the cost of implementation and estimated return on investment?

Sifting through an ever-changing sea of options to find the right tactic for your company can be time consuming and overwhelming. You could use the power of the delete button and ignore all, or be driven crazy by all the things that COULD be done. Or curve the frustration and confusion by contacting C. Liston Communications for help analyzing, embracing, and implementing the right marketing strategies for your company.


Tchotchke: Trash or Treasure?


As the holiday season approaches, many companies are considering adding an “ad specialty” to their outreach to clients and potential clients. Choosing the right one, of course, is more complicated than jumping at what’s new, cool, or on sale. But if you get it right, the whole project can pay for itself.

CHOICE of item is fundamental. What represents you, is useful or otherwise engaging to your client, and will stick around to show off your brand repeatedly? Candy is dandy, but something with more staying power will yield the multiple impressions you need.

MESSAGING matters. You generally have very little space to work with on an ad specialty item, so how you fill it is important. Do you promote your main brand, a sub brand, or a product? What’s the call-to-action? Making everything tiny isn’t the answer; making smart choices is.

DELIVERY also has significance. While most ad specialties come from the factory in plastic bags, you can often add a presentation box for a little extra. You can also imprint the box with your logo, add a message card inside, or even get your logo printed on ribbon or gift wrap. To your recipient, what might differentiate a “freebie” promo item from a gift?

QUALITY has implications. While better quality and/or “Made in the USA” items tend to be more expensive, they might send a message that is very powerful. More simply: envision your target client reaching for a handy tool with your logo for years to come, or getting frustrated and chucking your logoed item in the trash.

Need help brainstorming your ad specialty adventure? We’d be happy to both share our resources and help with your messaging.


Why a Good Website is Key

Thankfully, competent business people no longer ask “Do I need a website?” That was a rough decade for CLC. Now anyone tasked with building business knows that whether you are selling a service or a product, locally or internationally, your website is the keystone in your marketing plan. (In fact, a growing number of individuals are also building personal websites to leverage the massive outreach possibilities of the web for their careers. But that’s a separate column.) Potential customers crave information 24/7 and a well-formed website helps them educate themselves while you focus on other things. Websites help consumers, in both B2B and B2C realms, to make a decision about you before you even have a chance to say hello. And that’s exactly why you need a good one. But what makes a website good?

Without boring technical details or writing a missive on great design, here are the broad strokes:

WORDSMITHED: Good websites are thoughtful ones. They know their target audiences and speak directly to them. They know the company they represent and focus on key differentiators that will sell specific products and services. They repeat or reprise messaging that is being delivered through other channels for brand consistency. And, of course, they do all of the above with creativity, flawless spelling, and good grammar.

RESPONSIVE: 2013 was heralded as the “Year of Responsive Design”. As 2014 comes to an end, it’s high time to know what that means. PEW research from early 2014 yielded some heavy numbers: the average American spends at least two hours a day looking at a mobile screen; one in four online searches are conducted on mobile devices; and 57% of users WON’T recommend companies with poor mobile sites. “Responsive Design” means that a website works on mobile devices… does yours?

FRESH: Making a great first impression is important, but your web dollars go farther when your site is viewed again and again. Theories of “Effective Frequency” claim different rates of how many times your info needs to be seen before the customer is ready to buy from you, but NONE of them claim that it’s just once or twice. So make sure to offer your target audience something that’s worth returning to see: education, connections, or freebies. Build a plan to “keep it fresh” into your site plan from the beginning.

If your website doesn’t set you up for success, connect with us now to see how we can propel it to the next level.