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Mack’s Musings

Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Uncategorized, Web Marketing | No Comments

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-5-09-08-pmThis year, Mack had the honor of presenting Evolve or Die: How Purpose and Authenticity are the Future of Brands all over the world— from Boston, Massachusetts to Vancouver, Canada; from Dublin, Ireland to Raleigh, North Carolina. What follows are the highlights of her talk that explores how companies need to evolve their marketing and what’s required to build a successful and durable brand in the digital age.


Imagine your company is competing in a fairly saturated and competitive industry like fast food. You’ve been around for a little while but you’re really just getting started. You have something new and different and you’re ready to take the world by storm.

Taking on the world

Now imagine that you’re up against companies like McDonald’s who spent $800 million on their advertising in 2013. Or Panera Bread who spent $55 million on their marketing efforts in that same year.

Imagine this is your competition and these are their marketing budgets. What would your marketing strategy be? How would your company contend?

How would your company compete?

Chipotle did. In 2013 they spent a fraction of what their competitors did — less than $10 million — on their advertising and marketing efforts and they had a much greater impact because they were doing things like this:

  • Creating videos like the Scarecrow that takes a stand and challenges how the fast food industry typically operates and sources its food.
  • Holding free festivals like Cultivate where people celebrate good food and music and connect with each other.
  • Sponsoring a “Food for Thought” column on the Huffington Post that is dedicated to creating awareness about how food is grown and the effects this system has on our world.
  • Investing in better ways of working that gives their employees more authority and empowers them to be better leaders.

All of these things that Chipotle has been doing aren’t just marketing campaigns. This is what they believe in as a company and this is authentically how they operate.

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And that is what has contributed to their durability and growth over the last decade.  From 2006 to 2015, Chipotle has grown revenue from $820 million to more than $4.5 billion.

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So how did Chipotle’s approach bring this much growth? And how can you learn from it to grow your business in the digital age?

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There’s no doubt that if you want to compete in the digital age, you must have a stellar product or service, and you have to provide a cross-channel experience that is unparalleled.

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Ultimately, these things must be baked into your DNA; this is the new status quo.

But competing today—for time, attention, and market share— is not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

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If you want to stand out from all the noise, you have to build from purpose and authenticity.

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And here’s why:

More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
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In that same Cohn & Wolfe study, the #1 behavior that people expect of brands is the fact that they communicate openly and honestly about their products and services. They don’t let their customers down, and that they act with integrity at all times. Because people want to relate to you, they want trust you and know you’re going to do what you say.

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Additionally, a BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions.

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And when people care about your company, they tell their friends. And word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

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The fact of the matter is, in this face-paced, digital world, if you want to earn and keep your customers, build a community of advocates who will support you and tell their friends about you, your approach to marketing must shift. It’s not just about how your company is packaged, it’s about who your company is.

If your company wants to experience growth in the digital age, your company, and your marketing, needs 3 very important things: 

  1. You need to clarify your purpose that so that you can effectively position around it and communicate it to your customers.
  2. You need to better understand your people so that you can remove their roadblocks.
  3. You need to use strategy and action to prove you’re worth your customers’ time and attention; showing them you are willing to keep your promise to them.

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Chances are, your company or the company you work for is in business because you want to make some money. You want to grow. So how will building an authentic brand help you do that?

Because authentic brands are built from purpose, and purpose is the key to their growth.

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Our world is changing so quickly, and that has changed how quickly businesses must react and it has also changed consumer behavior.

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Consumers know they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher for companies. Consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society.

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Not only that, but as far as employees go, people want meaning in their work and they want to work for better companies.

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Purpose is something that can help companies hurdle each of these challenges. It also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives.

In a Harvard Business Review study they found that companies with purpose make more money and have more involved employees, all because they’re operating from purpose.

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Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, and your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business. Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful marketing strategy that will connect with the right customers. When you’re talking to the right people and removing their roadblocks, those customers want to become part of your community, tell their friends, and drive your growth.

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The first step in building an authentic brand is positioning your company around that purpose. One of the ways we do this is by using an exercise from Ogilvy & Mather’s called the Big Ideal.

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It can take some time to figure out your big ideal (we’ll use Dove as an example from Arielle Jackson’s work on First Round), but essentially it works like this: combine two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address:

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with your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best:

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Dove’s big ideal is that the world would be a better place if women were allowed to feel good about their bodies. This purpose drives the focus for everything they do. Their job is not just to sell soap; it’s to create products that help women feel good about their bodies.

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This purpose and focus then comes out loud and proud in everything they do in their marketing strategy. Dove has been running the real beauty campaign for over a decade now and it’s still resonating and relevant because it’s coming from their purpose.

And from 2004 to 2014, Dove saw a $1.5 billion dollar jump in sales as a result of focusing on purpose to drive their business.

Because Dove’s purpose is so clear, it’s easy for them to resonate with the people who align with it. This isn’t a marketing ploy. They eat, live, and breathe this throughout their organization. Just like Chipotle does.

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Often times companies will disregard an authentic, purpose-driven approach to building their company and brand because they think it is only applicable to environmentally or socially responsible companies like Patagonia or Tom’s Shoes.

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A purpose-driven approach is not a social cause thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. It’s a people connecting with people thing. It’s focusing on the right things that will help you build a company that people care about, want to work for, and do business with. That’s what brings growth in the digital age.

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When you’re building an authentic brand, how do people fit into the equation? Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try; a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. Having a great product, building a great company, being authentic, and doing the work to find and connect with your people will.

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The biggest thing to remember about growth and building a community is that you’re not looking for everyone. You’re looking for the right people who connect with your purpose. And this takes time because you’re not just looking for numbers. You’re building a community of customers who will become loyal advocates who want to tell their friends.

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If you want to build your community and make a connection with your customers, your job is not to focus solely on selling your product. Your job is to figure out how to bridge the gap between the purpose of your company and the people who want to be a part of it. Let’s look at an example.

Traveling Vineyard

We have worked for a company called Traveling Vineyard for the past three years. They’re a direct sales company. They have several thousand people, or Wine Guides as they call them, who are mostly women, who sell wine for them.

before-purpose

Before we met Traveling Vineyard, that’s exactly what they were doing. Selling wine. And they were struggling to connect with their people.

We worked with Traveling Vineyard to discover they actually don’t exist to sell wine. Their purpose is to change lives by providing fulfilling (and flexible) work. This purpose has been driving the growth of their business. One by one, we have been looking for the people and organizations who align with this purpose and who are a match for their community and customer base. Clarifying, operating, and marketing from their purpose has helped them build a deeper connection with their customers and has brought a tremendous amount of growth to their company.

In the very beginning of our work with Traveling Vineyard, we began by identifying an audience that appeared to be 3 different types of moms: a stay-at-home-mom who loves her family but could use a little extra income without a lot of commitment. An empty-nester who’s looking for something new to consume her life now that her kids are gone. And an achiever; someone who is tired of just being a mom and wants something that’s just for her.

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But when we were building their persona, we didn’t just stop here by identifying these stereotypes.

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We wanted to make sure we were talking to the right people, so we took the step of matching these persona to real, actual people.

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Once we mapped the characteristics of the stereotypes to REAL people in their community, we honored them as ambassadors. This allowed us to build better relationships with their existing community and leverage that community to find more people outside of their community who are like them.

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One of the first steps we take when we’re building these relationships is to create a Customer Journey Map (adapted from an exercise from Adaptive Path) that helps us understand these women’s desires, roadblocks, and fears that keep them from converting to wine guides.

We then deconstruct this journey by starting with one persona or audience segment. Like Kirby, who represents nearly 60% of their customer base.

persona-segment
Through many surveys, group meetings, and 1:1 interviews, we’ve identified Kirby’s biggest challenges and goals.
biggest-challenges

goals

Once we knew Kirby’s greatest challenge and most important goals, we could break down what she is thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage in her journey in the lifecycle of becoming a Wine Guide for Traveling Vineyard.

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When we analyze what customers like Kirby are thinking, we look at the common questions that are holding them back. Stuff like: Is the company legit? Will I make money doing this? Do I have to be a wine expert?

Then we move onto how they may be feeling in each stage of their journey. These are the emotions that they are having that could also pose potential roadblocks like if they’re nervous about trusting the company, anxious to tell their friends they may do this, or even just excited to get started.

And then lastly, in the doing stage, we analyze their actions; the actions that the potential wine guides may take before they convert. Things like investigating other companies, talking to their friends and family, and watching videos or reading content on the website.

And even though Kirby won’t be thinking/feeling/and doing these things in a linear fashion, deconstructing her customer journey this way helps us understand what her overall experience must be likecustomer-journey

Now once we understood all of these things about Kirby, we can address all of her thoughts/concerns/fears/challenges through a content strategy that helps reach goals for the company.

content-strategy-to-remove-roadblocks

Let’s say we’re breaking down the CONSIDER phase in the funnel and identify roadblocks for potential Wine Guides who have been comparing Traveling Vineyard with other direct selling job opportunities.

So for example, let’s say we wanted to address Kirby’s fear of whether Traveling Vineyard is a legitimate company:

thinking-stage

We created some content around the concern of pyramid schemes and how Traveling Vineyard isn’t one.

model-example

We asked their existing Wine Guides (who Kirby can relate to) in order to help us create content so that they could tell potential Wine Guides about how Traveling Vineyard’s business model actually works and isn’t a scam.

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We even asked direct selling experts to provide an unbiased view on direct selling to address this roadblock.

expert-insight

Then we built content to address Kirby’s ‘feeling’ behaviors; being unsure that this job will add stress to her family:

feeling-roadblock

We interviewed Jonelle, an existing Wine Guide who someone like Kirby would resonate with, to talk about what a day in the life is like with Traveling Vineyard and how she balances it all.

day-in-the-life

In this video, Jonelle shows talks about her schedule and how she fits Traveling Vineyard into her family routine. Again, more real people (and user generated content) from the Traveling Vineyard community addressing these common roadblocks.

day-in-the-life-schedule

Finally, we addressed Kirby’s ‘doing’ behaviors — the actions that someone like Kirby might want to take in order to become a Wine Guide.

doing-behaviors

Each week, Traveling Vineyard provides a webinar which is an opportunity for potential Wine Guides like Kirby to better understand the business. It’s also a chance to ask questions about what it’s really like to work for Traveling Vineyard and learn that it is in fact possible to be a Wine Guide and keep your family in tact. 

weekly-webinar

Doing this work to understand Kirby (and the other persona segments) and give her what she needs throughout her customer journey with Traveling Vineyard has helped to increase lead form submissions (one of Traveling Vineyard’s key performance indicators) by more than 298%. This growth has contributed to a more than 40% revenue growth in the company (year-over-year).

growth

Clarifying your purpose, understanding your people, and removing roadblocks brings sustainable growth. This is an iterative cycle of getting to know your people, understanding them, figuring out what they need, and helping them solve their challenges.

people-purpose-growth

This doesn’t require any of your content to “go viral.” This is simply a slow build of trust that has brought tremendous growth to the company.

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Over the last year, Chipotle has been having a rough go of it. And for a brand that is supposed to be synonymous with “FOOD WITH INTEGRITY” being associated with words like Norovirus, E.coli, and Salmonella is pretty bad news. Even worse, when people are talking on social media about puking and pooping and going to the hospital because they’ve eaten your food, it is not so good for business.

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But in true authentic style, Chipotle has spent the last year reacting to this stuff from authenticity and purpose. So they’ve not only been telling their customers that they’ve blown it, but they’re doing what it takes to make it right.

Chipotle has been transparent about how the outbreaks most likely happened. They’ve taken apart their current food safety systems and put them back together. They’ve provided their customers with a plan for action to pioneer and become a leader in food safety. Chipotle wants to make sure that this not only doesn’t happen again in their restaurants, but also inspire other fast food restaurants to operate the same.

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But had Chipotle not built such trust with their customers over the last 10 years, their runway for error would have been quite short and this whole fiasco could have ruined them. But because Chipotle had built such trust, their customers were willing to have faith that they will make it right because that’s who they are as a company.

And that’s what’s kind of remarkable about Chipotle’s community is that their customers were willing to give them a second chance. Even as their stock prices fell and the media chewed them up, their customers were still with them.

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And even though Chipotle is projected to have a 65% earnings loss this year due to the outbreaks, next year in 2017, their earnings are projected to jump 125%. And even over the next many years, Chipotle is still projected to have a higher growth in earnings than McDonald’s and their big ol’ marketing budgets.

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But Chipotle did not build a durable brand from the money they spent on their marketing. They built it through continued, strategic action every day as a company.

strategic-action

For Traveling Vineyard, we used a framework like this to build their durable brand. 

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It’s a 90-day framework for driving growth. It includes three, 30-day cycles that will help you focus on building from purpose and do the right things to reach your goals as a company.

phase-1-purpose

In the first phase, you’re working on either identifying or clarifying your company’s purpose. Just like we looked at with Dove and also with Traveling Vineyard. This purpose will provide your business with focus.

purpose-strategy

Once you’re clear on your purpose, then you can move into the second phase which is continually clarifying and evolving your brand’s foundation. This is not a set it and forget it. This is a constant iteration of testing and learning and refining your brand over time. 

When setting your brand foundation in this second phase, you need to be very clear about the goals you have for your company—both for your business —your financial benchmarks—and for your brand—the company you want to become.

You also want to make sure that your company is relevant in the world, so understanding your cultural tension along with the value you offer that is unique to your company is imperative. Even more imperative is that it is effectively communicated at every touchpoint with your customers.

Then, you need to do the work of deconstructing the customer journey for each of your persona so that you fully understand their behaviors and what they are thinking/feeling/doing at every stage throughout their customer journey.

The final part of Phase 2 of this framework is developing an agile marketing strategy. In this strategy you’re identifying the things that your team will focus on accomplishing over the next 90-days in order to reach your goals. Strategy needs to be complete with action, so we break pieces of the strategy down in Google Docs all the way down to tactics and then we assign accountability to the appropriate people on the team in Basecamp.

phase-3

Then you’re ready to execute your strategy in Phase 3 of this framework. Maybe your focus is on increasing conversion from paid ads so you’re building custom landing pages. Or, maybe you want to increase brand awareness so you’re working on training the Ambassadors in your community to create user generated content. The most important thing is that everyone on your team has clear direction on what they’re executing and there is no mistake in who is accountable. Hold weekly stand-ups to remove roadblocks and ensure you’re staying focused and building momentum.

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And at the end of each 30 days, do a scrub before moving on to the next 30 days in the cycle. There’s a lot of things that are happening in the company that can cause a change in direction, so the scrub helps to be mindful of the things that have moved in the business over the last month that may cause you to re-prioritize your efforts. You then adjust the next 30 days accordingly without wasting any planning and then again, break down and assign accountability for all of the tasks inside of that cycle, and assign them to your team.

phase-3-c

And that process repeats itself over each 30-day part of the cycle. And then during the final 30 days of the entire 90-day cycle, since you’ve had nearly a quarter worth of work go by, it’s time to look at the 30,000 foot level at realigning the bigger priorities in your strategy as a whole. Is one channel performing better than another? Is there something that has happened in the business that changes your direction overall? Typically during the last 2 weeks of this final 30-days you’re looking ahead to identify strategic priorities for the next 90-day cycle; locking in and delegating tasks, actions, and accountability to your team for the 30 days in front of you.

And that’s the framework for building a durable, authentic, purpose-driven brand. All you have to do is do the work, be consistent, and you will find momentum.

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If you’re considering building an authentic, purpose-drive
brand, remember these things:

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Building your company from purpose gives people something to connect to and believe in. Even more, building from purpose gives your business focus. Focus that will bring growth.

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If you want to earn the right customers who will support you and stand by you through the good and the bad, you’ve got to bust your ass, hustle and do the work to connect with people. The people who align with your purpose.

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And lastly, as a company, you need to have a killer product. You need to provide a stellar experience across all channels. But remember that growth comes from a deeper place than that. It’s not about how your company is packaged, it’s about who your company is. And your job is to continually prove —through your actions — that you’re worth your customers’ investment.

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When it comes down to it, building and marketing a company and brand in today’s world requires a different path than traditional marketing, advertising, and quick-fix tactical approaches. It’s not about how much money you spend on your marketing.

Technology is going to continue to change. Google is going to continue to change. We need to use technology effectively and also build brands that transcend this technology.

These are all very simple things. They just take time and iteration and focus. Many companies aren’t committed to doing the diligence of this work. They are doing the same things that every other company is doing. They are creating content for the sake of content. They are adding to the noise. 

If your company is ready to triumph over the next many years, it’s time to evaluate and evolve your approach to marketing.

Why Content Strategy Isn’t Enough

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | One Comment

Mack recently had the honor of speaking at SearchLove Boston 2016 where she presented on Why Content Strategy Isn’t Enough. What follows is a recap of her talk about how companies need to evolve their approach to marketing in order to survive in our ever-changing world.

Technology has changed our world

There’s no doubt that technological advances have made our world faster, smarter, and more connected. Where it took the phone companies 89 years to connect 150 million people, it took Facebook only 8 years to connect 8 billion.

technology-advancing

The problem is, even with all of the remarkable technology that we have, companies are failing to make authentic connections with their customers. Although our world, business, and consumer behavior has evolved, there is an approach to marketing that’s fundamentally broken and it’s not helping companies earn the relationships they need with their customers.

 

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Competing on content and experience alone won’t do it anymore. Great brands and companies already have these things baked into their DNA.

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Being stellar at every touchpoint is the new status quo. And yet this, alone, is not enough for companies to weather the relentless evolution of technology, earn customers, and experience growth.

Earning customers and experiencing growth has to come from something bigger and deeper than content marketing or content strategy; it comes from building a company from purpose and earning the trust of your customers through authenticity.

Building an authentic brand is not a social cause thing. It’s not a non-profit thing. It’s not a B2B or a B2C thing. It’s a people connecting with people thing. And it’s about building a company that people care about and want to do business with.

In order for your company to succeed, you have to continually strive to build a better one. And from that, comes your marketing.

Over the next 5 years, authenticity will win

Every day it seems that there’s some new marketing tactic to try: a new piece of technology that will magically help you earn customers faster. But technology will not earn customers. If your company wants to make it through the next 5 years of content saturation, noise, and technological advances, you must build an authentic, human brand.

cohn-wolfe-study

Here are the facts:

  • More than 63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic over the competition.
  • That same Cohn & Wolfe study shows that the number one behavior that people expect of brands is open and honest communication about their products and services. The second behavior is that they don’t let their customers down, and the third behavior is that they act with integrity at all times.
  • A BBMG study shows that when people are trying to figure out who to buy from, 73% of people care about the company, not just the product, when they’re making purchasing decisions.
  • When people care about your company, they tell their friends. Word of mouth is responsible for more than 50% of all purchasing decisions.

In today’s face-paced, digital world, it’s not about how your company is packaged. It’s about who your company is.

not-about-packaging

about-who-you-are

How to evolve your marketing

How does your company evolve in this digital age so that you can experience sustainable growth?

Start from purpose

Building an authentic brand starts from purpose, and from purpose comes growth.

purpose-growth

Purpose is also what solves these common challenges in our world:

  • Businesses are challenged with unrelenting change. And because our world is changing so quickly, that has changed consumer behavior and how quickly businesses must react.
  • Consumers expect businesses to play a larger role in changing society. They know they have the upper hand. They know they have a choice. So the bar has been set a lot higher. Consumers want companies to do more than just make money.
  • Employees want more meaning in their work. And they want to work for better companies.

Purpose helps companies hurdle each of these problems and also helps them stay relevant in their customer’s lives. Even more, “purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees, and are better at innovation and transformational change.”

purpose-driven-company-benefits

Building an authentic brand comes from purpose and that purpose drives everything.

purpose-drives-everything

Purpose drives your products and services, the people you hire, your culture, your marketing. Most importantly, it gives focus that drives the whole business.

Once you have purpose and focus, you can develop a much more effective and powerful marketing strategy that will connect with the right customers. When you have a great product or offer great services, and you’ve done your diligence to learn about your customers and how they align with your purpose, those customers want to become part of your community and support your growth.

Positioning around your company’s purpose can be done through an exercise called the Big Ideal from Ogilvy & Mather.

the-big-ideal

Your Big Ideal is the soul of your company. It’s also your point of view on how the world should be. Identifying your company’s purpose comes from the combination of two things: your cultural tension—which is the problem in the world that you’re looking to address, and your brand’s best self—what your company actually does when you are at your best.

big-ideal

One of our clients, the Traveling Vineyard, addresses the cultural tension that people are looking for more meaning in their work and also in their lives.

cultural-tension

At their best self, Traveling Vineyard provides the resources and training necessary to build a successful career in direct sales.

best-self

Traveling Vineyard believes that the world would be a better place if people could change their lives with a fulfilling job. This is their Big Ideal.

world-is-better-place

Traveling Vineyard’s Big Ideal then drives their purpose. Traveling Vineyard exists as a company so that they can change lives by providing fulfilling work.

purpose

This purpose then powers Traveling Vineyard’s marketing strategy that is centered around the theme of living a richer, fuller life. Any content that is generated addresses the questions, concerns, thoughts, and feelings that their customers have at every stage in their journey with Traveling Vineyard.

content-strategy-theme

Build an ecosystem

Once your company has clearly identified its purpose, that will drive everything. Essentially, your marketing strategy will be born out of this ecosystem:

marketing-ecosystem

  • Identifying and understanding the people who align with your purpose so that you can talk to them
  • Developing the strategy that will help you use the right channels to reach that audience
  • Creating the right content that will connect with that audience, taking care to solve their problems
  • Getting that personal and customized content in front of the right people with customized outreach
  • Assessing data (and intuition) to determine whether what you’re doing throughout this cycle is bringing growth.
  • Finally, showing your purpose through action: having that stellar experience; having that stellar content; following through at every touchpoint and simply being human

Ultimately, your marketing strategy is only powerful when it’s connected to the purpose of your business as a whole. Your marketing efforts then become an iterative cycle of getting to know the right people, understanding them, figuring out what they need, and helping them solve their challenges. This is a slow build of trust. You must work to be authentic and personal in order to earn a community and grow your business.

personalization

Why isn’t content strategy enough?

There are two reasons that content strategy isn’t enough to build a sustainable company and brand:

durable-brands

 1) Content strategy alone won’t build a durable brand
If you want to earn the right customers who will support you, tell their friends about you, and stand by you in good and bad, you’ve got to do the work to connect with people. Yes, you need to create 10x content and provide a stellar experience across channels, but growth goes deeper than that. It’s not about how your company is packaged; it’s about who your company is.

brands-transcend-technology

2) We need to build brands that transcend technology
Remember that technology can’t build relationships with your customers. That’s what humans are for. Building an authentic brand will help you weather technology, the saturation of mediocre content, competition, and Google. So no matter what the trend is, or how the algorithm is changing, you will have built a brand so durable that people will talk about you, they will hear about you, and they will come looking for you.

time-to-evolve

It’s time to evolve our approach for durability and growth

Just like building a business, a purpose-driven and authentic approach to marketing is hard. It takes a lot of time and effort and care. Perhaps it’s time to assess whether what you’re doing now in your marketing is really working. Maybe you’re feeling stuck. Maybe you’re not getting results from what you’ve been doing for many years. Maybe your audience growth has plateaued. And maybe all the tactics you try don’t seem to get traction.

It’s time to do things a little differently. It’s time to build from purpose and build authentic, human relationships with customers.

Mack Web is now Genuinely

By | Business Stuff, Events, Mack's Musings, MISSION: Authentic | No Comments

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If I were to ask my dad who the greatest influences in his life have been, I’m confident he would put Oprah Winfrey at the top of his list. It’s not that he’s ever wanted to meet her, or that he would even admit this out loud, but when going through one of the darkest times in his life, she became his therapist. Every day at 3 pm he’d watch her show. Over the course of a year, 60 minutes at a time, he became a better man.

Oprah had kind of a rough go of it when she was a kid. In an interview she was once asked if she could go back, would she change anything about her life? With conviction, she told the journalist that she wouldn’t trade any of it. All of those experiences — the bad and the good — have made her who she is today. It was all part of her journey.

13 years ago when I started this company, I had no vision for what I was building. I had quit a junior high teaching job, completed graduate school, and endured many, many failed attempts at achieving employment. I needed a job, so I started building websites in a home office just down the hall from my bedroom.

Over the years, my vision for this company has materialized from a great deal of contrast. So many questions asked. So many words read. So many conversations had. So many projects released. So many ways of working adapted. So many sharp stones beneath my feet. And so much clarity gained. Read More

How Our Culture Shaped Our New Office Space

By | Events, Mack's Musings, Miscellany, MISSION: Authentic | 3 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Summer is by far my favorite time of year.

otterpops Mmmmm. Otter Pops.

The urban trails are full of people running or biking. The weekends are spent by the pool, hiking, or visiting friends. There’s always an opportunity for good food and free concerts in the park. The daylight lingers to afford us all some much needed play time. Rigid routines fade and it’s finally time for a change of pace. And Otter Pops are always on standby.

It’s mid-July and Mack Web finds itself more than half way through our 12th year of business. Lucky for us, this summer started with a bit more excitement than the usual change of seasons: a move to a brand new office space that we were fortunate enough to customize to match our collaborative culture.

I’ve got all the photos (and even a super awesome video) to share with you. But first, indulge me with a little history. Read More

How to Lead with Meaning in Your Marketing

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

brian-solis

There are a whole lot of companies who have been changing the face of business, and our world, with a very simple approach: prioritizing meaning over money. Rather than just make a profit, they recognize they’re here to do something bigger. They want to use their businesses to be agents for change and to build durable, worthwhile companies that leave a mark on our world.

Often referred to as mission-driven, companies who value purpose over profit experience a number of advantages. Their employees are happier and more engaged; they stay longer and make bigger contributions. Mission-driven companies also have a better understanding of their value and how to use it to retain a strategic advantage over the competition. As a result, they attract much more passionate customers.

The biggest caveat to this concept is that it can’t be just for show. To reap these benefits and connect people to your brand, your company must genuinely communicate your meaning beyond money with an authenticity that comes directly from your core.

The trick is to lead with meaning while, at the same time, effectively marketing your product. The best way to do this is by completely intertwining them so that no one thinks of your product without considering your meaning, and no one ponders your meaning without connecting it to your product.

This can be accomplished in a few ways. Read More

Using Focus to Build Long-Term Momentum in Responsive Companies

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | 2 Comments

focus-mack-web

If you take all of the lessons we’ve learned over the last 11 years, add them up, and extract the most telling insight, the biggest realization is this: the clients who have been most successful are those who are willing to focus.

Focus is the ultimate challenge. We have a finite amount of time. How do you spend it on the right things that will grow your business?

Many of the companies we work with are Responsive or inherently become more Responsive as they work through our approach to marketing. Where traditional companies often allow their long-term planning and projections to drive the direction of the business (and their marketing), Responsive companies embrace the unpredictable and rapidly changing world we’re living in.

Responsive companies are a different kind of animal. They learn, respond, and advance. They utilize a more progressive method to build their businesses, one that is dedicated to constantly evolving and iterating — both their organizational structure and products or services. They also spend a lot of time investing and listening to their customers and their employees.

It’s definitely more work to be Responsive, but these companies are using their businesses to change our lives and leave their mark on our world.

Responsive companies run on operating systems that allow for agility. They move quickly and respond to unrelenting change with grace. They have different values and cultures and support flexible work environments that many companies envy.

Responsive companies hold themselves to a higher set of performance standards and expectations and actually achieve them. They work to communicate and collaborate. They honor transparency and community. Most importantly, they prioritize meaning ahead of money.

Responsive companies are remarkable and they build their organizations, and ultimately their brands, differently. And that requires a very different approach to marketing. Marketing that will provide focus so that goals are accomplished. Marketing that constantly evolves just as quickly as their company does, but without adding to the chaos.

If you want to be a Responsive company, you have to do it through and through, including your marketing. Every part of a Responsive company’s marketing should align with everything that makes the company Responsive. This requires a focus on two fundamental things:

[1] A Focus on Core
Especially as you grow, there must be a sustained focus on the core of the company and the stuff that makes you authentic.

[2] A Focus on an Adaptive Marketing Process
In order to accomplish company-wide brand and revenue goals, you need an adaptive process that lives and breathes within the company’s operating system.

Doing both of these things will keep you on target and add to the durability of your company. Even more, it will provide the focus and necessary momentum toward achieving the company’s long-term vision.

Here’s how it works.

A Focus On Core

As a Responsive company, your marketing is going to follow the same paradigm as your overall perspective: it focuses first and foremost on your core.

This, by far, is the most admirable characteristic of Responsive companies because at their core lives their higher purpose. Something truly authentic that propels the organization and transcends their desire to exist solely for the sake of profit.

Prioritizing meaning over money doesn’t mean your company has to lead an environmental cause, put shoes on people’s feet, or glasses on people’s faces. It can be as simple as encouraging young girls to develop an affinity for science or helping stay-at-home moms find more satisfaction in their lives by building a successful business.

Focusing on core and valuing meaning over money doesn’t mean you’re disregarding the importance of financial benchmarks. It means you’re investing in the long game. From the core meaning of the company you derive the marketing goals that are going to make you the company you want to be.

At the top are your Visionary goals, driving the 3-5 year bigger, hairier, audacious vision.  These goals are then broken down into approachable Business and Brand goals that share equal weight. In other words, the financial benchmarks you want your company to achieve are certainly important, but so are the Brand goals that will ensure you’re continually working toward realizing the company you really want to become.

Finally, Campaign goals are what initiate the necessary steps toward action and bringing everything to fruition (which I’ll explain more about in a just a bit).

Meaning Beyond Money | Mack Web

When a company has the courage to focus on their core and build an authentic brand from meaning, they have clarity about why they exist.  They’ve identified their heartbeat, the real thing that makes them go, and they choose to infuse that in everything they do. This is what drives their marketing and it’s also what makes their marketing go a little differently.

When a company operates from core meaning, marketing momentum starts at the source and naturally works its way out through integrated strategy. On the inside, the company is aligning all tactics and deliverables with their meaning, goals, and vision. On the outside, customers and community get to taste that authentic core first-hand, connecting them fully to the brand.

Just like building a Responsive company, marketing from your core is hard work as it is an ongoing challenge in self-awareness. Companies don’t have to be perfect, but they must be real, authentic, transparent, and above all, human.

When you can do that, people will genuinely respond to you. When you respond like a human who cares about something, you provide a better user experience. Your customers remember you. You stand out. They return. They tell their friends.

By focusing on core in your marketing,  people become your momentum. Before you know it, you have a community of loyal advocates and an inexplicable strategic advantage over the competition.

Over time, the organic velocity becomes unstoppable.

Improving, Not Just Promoting

In order for your marketing to align with everything that makes you Responsive, there must be a continual focus not only on defining your core purpose but on ensuring that everything you do — the marketing campaigns you execute; the user, customer, and employee experience you provide; the way you operate and communicate internally — aligns with the vision, mission, and goals that make up your brand’s foundation.

Ultimately, for marketing to bring momentum, there has to be a willingness to improve the business, not just promote it.

This requires continuous evaluation, improvement, and a willingness to be self-aware in the business. It’s doing what sometimes may be harder or take longer to experience ROI because that’s what’s best for your employees and for your customers. It’s putting an emphasis on important stuff like improving internal structure, team communication, fostering your internal culture, and investing in the personal growth of your employees as well as the external culture you have with your customers.

You must continually work on your company’s value and own what truly makes you different from your competition. The authentic vision that you’re driving toward needs to be revisited from time to time, not just put on auto-pilot. You’ve got to hold your entire company accountable for living your mission and values every single day. All of that stuff sounds great, but it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and work.

There’s an important marketing framework to developing your brand’s foundation, too, that improves the business and contributes to the success of your marketing. Persona must be developed and remain dynamic so that you’re attracting those customers who align with your approach, values, and over time will become loyal advocates. Communication loops must be built in and feedback applied so that customers and employees know you’re listening. Critical (yet simple) questions must be asked and answered so that resources can be developed for your audience and provided at every point in the lifecycle.

Investing in your core requires building meaningful relationships one by one. It’s seeing your goals through even when you don’t think you’re going to reach them.  It’s intentionally selecting priorities and spending time executing integrated strategies that strive for consistency and integrity across channels. These are all of your building blocks and they’re what place your responsive company on a solid foundation.

Momentum Comes From Building Blocks

No matter how long a company has been in business or what stage they’re in, momentum towards realized goals and fulfilled benchmarks comes from focusing on all of these core, foundational building blocks. Over time then, and through your marketing, you’re able to radiate your authenticity and the internal work you’ve been doing on your core, outward. This may seem fluffy, but in actuality, all of this work is what builds an ideal experience with your brand that you can actually measure.

Time spent on the brand’s foundation ensures that no matter how someone connects with your company — a referral from a friend, on social media or your website, clicking through on an ad, attending an event, speaking to customer service, or picking your product off the shelf in a big-box store — you present the same message, meeting and exceeding their expectations. You’re real, you’re human, you are the company you said you would be because of your investment on improving your business and in your core.

This level of commitment to core focus certainly requires a level of diligence and intention. It’s also something that can be managed with an adaptive process.

A Focus On an Adaptive Marketing Process

This authentic approach to marketing is a long, organic game. The inherent challenge with a Responsive company is that there are always so many opportunities along the way. So many shiny things that you want to embrace with enthusiasm as they provide another chance to iterate and try something new.

The problem is, this is also what perpetuates campaign-centric-shiny-thing marketing that makes it difficult to integrate across channels and teams, accomplish company-wide brand and revenue goals, and experience long-term progress. That’s why you need a process that helps you identify and focus on the right strategic priorities to stay the course,  but also gives you room to adapt.

It’s easy for Responsive companies to struggle with process because it can be difficult to implement and utilize one without feeling suffocated by it. Without allowing it to drive or sacrificing flexibility. Rather than stifle, process should provide guardrails for momentum.

Responsive companies may be drastically different from month-to-month. The challenge becomes making the commitment to slow down so that they can also speed up. As companies pass through different stages of growth, priorities become a moving target. This lack of focus impedes momentum. When it comes to marketing, Responsive companies need an iterative process — a cycle that ebbs and flows with the rhythm of the business — to help them identify and prioritize areas of focus and then provide the necessary structure to see them through.

Something like this:

 Responsive Process | Mack Web

Focusing and Adapting: 90 Days at a Time

When you’re aligning your marketing with your core and using an adaptive process to drive it, strategic priorities — and the tasks required to accomplish them — will ultimately fall into three categories: acquisition, conversion, and retention. Your focus may fall more heavily in one of these areas at any given time.

Let’s say your company is just starting out with this approach and you’re carefully placing the building blocks of your core (going back to identify your meaning beyond money, your values, your mission, vision, and goals).

Focusing on Core | Mack Web

Before you jump into your first 90-day cycle, you’ve identified your strategic priorities for accomplishing your Campaign goals (that stem from Business and Brand Goals), and for this time period, your strategic priorities lie in acquisition (and awareness) and retention.

Strategic Priorities | Mack Web

So, for this first 90 day cycle, 75% of your marketing resources and bandwidth will be spent executing deliverables that drive acquisition. You may be making the necessary adjustments to the copy on your website and on social media to better align with your authentic voice and communicate your meaning beyond money, focusing more heavily on the value you provide for your customers and community.

You may be creating additional copy on your website and blog to answer the questions your actual customers have (based on your persona research) as they’re experiencing your brand through the variety of phases and channels on which they interact with you.

The other 25% of your marketing efforts for this time period may be spent focusing on retention and the customers you already have. Listening and learning from them, understanding what they need, and then driving strategic priorities from there. Maybe, as part of a test phase, you’re curating content and talking with your community (both on and offline), using targeted social campaigns to test and gather information about what really speaks to them.

All of these efforts are essentially iterations that take place in 30-day increments. Your focus is on executing, testing, and collecting data that will help you better identify how to accomplish those goals you’ve set, and to make informed decisions about direction moving forward.

Iteration- Mack Web

As you go about your merry way, executing on these strategic priorities and associated deliverables, at 30-day intervals, your team will work through an exercise called Catapult where they will review data and also consider intuition to identify red flags, challenges, and opportunities. Most important, during Catapult, the pulse of the company is evaluated in order to determine whether deviations from tactics being executed need to occur. Then your focused efforts continue as planned, or are adjusted, and the cycle (and your momentum) continues.

At approximately the 60-day mark in the 90-day cycle, strategy is scrubbed at a deeper level:

  • What is generating the most momentum?
  • What has become a larger priority during this cycle because of what you’ve learned through testing and iteration?
  • Do you need to adjust the balance between Business and Brand focus during this cycle?
  • Based on what you’ve learned and what’s changed in the business, in the 90 days ahead of you, does acquisition, conversion, or retention take the largest precedence?
  • Ultimately, are you accomplishing the right things in the short-term to eventually (in many cycles) reach your long-term goals?

Responsive Process Scrub | Mack Web

The more cycles completed, the more momentum that builds and the more the process becomes ingrained in the natural routine and flow of the company. Every 90 days, strategic campaigns get better at integrating together and becoming more seamless, building continuity across teams and channels.

Then, as you accomplish the smaller Campaign goals each cycle, you’re slowly chipping away at achieving bigger Business and Brand Goals, and eventually, reaching the Visionary goals and mission you’re working toward for your company overall. Over time, all of the efforts build on each other, not only bringing momentum, but long-term value and durability to the company.

Responsive Process | Mack Web

The most important thing to remember about focus when using an adaptive process like this is that it doesn’t mean you just put your head down and drive. This is where self-awareness comes in. This is where you’re being accountable for aligning with your core and your meaning beyond money. It means getting to know your business better so that you can make better decisions. It means spending more time listening to your customers and your employees, all the while learning and adapting as you work your way up the mountain.

Mountain of Success

Playing the Long Game

Responsive companies are powerful, world-changing entities. They are bold, agile, and lead with authenticity and meaning. Their approach to marketing should most certainly follow suit.

But this kind of approach isn’t easy and it takes companies who have the diligence to be intentional. Companies who are committed to investing in their core and the foundation of their brand even when they’re not brand new. Companies who can be alive, self-aware, and present, and also see the value in taking the time to focus so that they can strategically play the long game.

By really focusing on conveying their central meaning to their very human audience, responsive companies light the spark of connection and interest and real, solid value that will ignite the engine of their growth. By following a reliable, adaptable, cyclic process, they can keep that motion going, meeting both Brand and Business goals.

Most important, they can effectively communicate why they exist, from their very soul, which will foster communities full of advocates, continue to shape a durable foundation, and sustain a strategic advantage in the marketplace. All it takes is a little focus for the momentum to build and the company to continue to thrive.

Getting to the Good Stuff – Mack Web’s Year in Review

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Data and Analytics, Mack's Musings, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement | No Comments

I remember reading some advice on Mark Suster’s blog at some point a year or so back about how important it is to record the stuff you’re doing in your company on your blog — good or bad — so that it becomes a historical record.

That way, some day you can look back and uncover key turning points and gateways of your journey, and also see how extremely far you’ve come.

Initially this post was going to be a curation of the best stuff on our blog this year. But as I looked back at the posts that would fill the list, I realized the story of what we really learned this year was living behind them. Mack Web has made some big leaps over the last 12 months. Here’s a look at the discoveries that surfaced for our company this year (with blog posts in tow).

The Start of Changing the Way Companies Build Their Brands

At the very beginning of 2014, Mack Web was enjoying the success of our Community Building Guide, a guide we had launched in October of 2013 documenting a community-building process we had developed and were testing both on Mack Web and with our clients.

The guide was 147 pages and although we were receiving extremely positive feedback, it was a lot to digest. So I kicked off the year with the Essentials of Community Building, a webinar and accompanying slide deck that aligned with the key takeaways in the guide (page numbers and all) so that we could offer a more truncated version.

Essentials of community building Mack Web

I didn’t see it at the time, but looking back after all that has transpired this year, our guide was not only full of tips and suggestions for building community (and effectively building relationships with social media), but it was also the start of a fully integrated marketing approach that, by the end of the year, would evolve into our core method for helping companies change the way they build their brands.

It’s hard for me to believe that in just one year, we would go from here:

then

to here:

now

So although Mack Web started the year out with a strong focus on community and how to get started building one, there was a much bigger mission that we would end up pursuing.

And it all began with measurement.


The Start of Changing the Way Marketing is Measured

In the first quarter of 2014, our entire team resolved to change the way marketing is measured. Here we were: a highly dedicated team who was taking so much pride in all of the little pieces we were putting into place to grow our clients’ companies. The problem was, we weren’t just helping these companies build communities. We were helping them build the solid foundation of their brand. We were helping them set goals for their entire organization. We we were digging deep into the core of their companies and revealing weaknesses that we would then help them address and conquer. We were helping them transform their businesses from the inside out and even forge the right relationships one by one.

We were doing great things. But we were doing a terrible job of communicating the return on their investment.

Our work was highly qualitative and our clients wanted to see the results in quantitative metrics. They wanted to see their ROI in numbers, in black and white. And we had a whole lot of work to do in order to make that happen.

Ayelet started the conversation with Social Media Engagement Metrics: Taming the Elusive Beast in an attempt to reveal some relevant and useful qualitative metrics to complement the quantitative ones we had already been working with. At the time, we thought this disconnect and gap in communication with our clients was social media related. That our clients didn’t fully understand the value of social media and how it supported the building of their brand and ultimately their community.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, I wrote the slide deck Why Follower Count is Bullshit to shed some light on social media metrics that communicated real value. Turns out the deck struck a chord (it hit the front-page of SlideShare and was picked up by Hubspot) and had a lot of people looking at social media metrics differently. The thing was, this was just one part of the equation. We had so much further to go.

why follower count is BS

By May, our clarity in terms of how to effectively measure and then better communicate the value of our efforts was starting to get stronger and when I spoke at WistiaFest I was able to talk about the importance of an integrated strategy and how Mack Web had been using that, plus some scrappy low-budget videos (with eggs and fairy wings), to build our brand and community.

wistiafest

At this point, we were still testing a ton of the metrics I was talking about (take a look at slides 67-80) but it was a solid start. This time I wasn’t just focusing on social media metrics. We had started identifying and conveying the difference between metrics that showed how effectively we were building the brand and metrics that showed how our efforts were affecting bottom line revenue.

Each time I speak at a conference it gives me a chance to really digest what we’re doing as a company and also to see where we need to go next. A few weeks after I returned from WistiaFest, the team started working on the hurdle of reporting. We hadn’t yet found all of the metrics we needed to communicate both qualitative and quantitative efforts, but at the time, some of our reports were 16 pages long. The narrative of our efforts was way too much for our clients to take in and although we were making progress on the metrics front, we were gaining no ground on how we were communicating them.

Over the summer months, slow progress would continue to be made with the way we were measuring marketing and how we were reporting, but the most important growth would be made with our team.


The Turning Point

In September, we hired Mike to be our Director of Client Strategy. This meant that we would have someone in our company who was solely focused on the growth of our existing clients so that I could focus more on driving the vision of the company (as well as speaking and blogging which are a huge passion).

It was a gift to have Mike join our team when he did. After months of struggling with balance, I was elated to have someone sharing the load, but I also knew that we were on the cusp of making some significant gains with our two big goals: changing the way companies build their brands and also the way marketing is measured.

Having Mike on our team would provide me with the space to find clarity, give the team a fresh perspective, and supply us with some long overdue feedback that would catapult us ahead.

At the time that Mike started, I was preparing for two important conferences: one for Conductor in New York City and one for Distilled in London. Simultaneously, he was getting his feet wet. He was observing. Asking questions. Collecting data. Lucky for us, all the work the team had done all year (and the years preceding), Mike’s external insight, and the effort I put into these talks, would bring the long-awaited clarity that would define who were as a company.

In October, Moz launched a post on their blog that I collaboratively wrote with Mathew Sweezey. 4 Ways to Build Trust and Humanize Your Brand talked about many of the things we were helping our clients do. We were asking them to be real companies. To care about their customers. To live up to their customers’ expectations. To focus on reaching big goals for their business (not just their marketing). To do the shit that doesn’t scale.

Then I gave the talk in New York — Playing the Long Game: Growing Your Business Through Community and Integrated Marketing — which provided a step-by-step walk through the integrated process (formerly our “community building” process) that we had been evolving (by leaps and bounds) at Mack Web ever since the beginning of the year.

C32014-MACK FOGELSON.001

Two weeks after New York, I took a plane across the big blue ocean to speak at SearchLove London. The talk I gave in London — The Measurement Behind Your Integrated Marketing Strategy — was a continuation of the conversation I started in the States.

In NYC, I talked through all of the detailed steps of our integrated process. In London, I dug deep into our approach and metrics side with how to actually communicate the value of integrated marketing — telling the story of progression over time. The story of those valuable and essential building blocks that we were working so hard to put into place — one stone at a time. The story of the long game. The story of all these integrated pieces and channels working together to drive success in order to show both qualitative and quantitative value for both the business and the brand.

Measurement-Behind-Integrated-Strategy-SearchLove.001


Definitely Something of Historical Record

When I got back from London and had a chance to breathe, I had a big realization.

It was the culmination of everything the team had been struggling through and learning. Everything that all of us had worked to communicate all year on our blog and to our clients. From the process we had unveiled in our community building guide last October, to the evolution it made for WistiaFest, and then finally coming together for my talks in New York and London.

What I finally realized was this: Mack Web isn’t just a community building company.

We’re a full-blown integrated marketing team who wants to build great brands and communities full of loyal advocates who truly love the companies they so selectively choose to support.

And it’s kind of funny that we did this almost backwards. That we came at our USPs, the core meaning of Mack Web almost by accident, at the end of a very natural (though somewhat painful) course of evolution.

Because, as you know if you’ve read any of the posts that led us here, the very first thing we do in this integrated marketing approach we’ve created is to sit down with our clients and ask them who they are and who they want to be. What do their products and services add to their customers’ lives? What do they care about, beyond making money? What sits right at the heart of their company?

From those answers, we’re able to help them articulate multi-level goals for their brand and their business. Everything else — the metrics and the social media and the content and the ROI and even the reports — springboards from there. We can’t tell you if you’re succeeding until we know exactly what you’re aiming for and who you really want to become.

These are questions Mack Web has struggled to answer for ourselves. Not because we didn’t take the time to ask. Not because we didn’t care. But because we started all of this during the evolution of an ever-changing industry that sits on the shifting sands of Google’s algorithm. Our company, among so many others in our industry, has been growing and redirecting so rapidly that we’ve been reaching half-blind. We’ve been running on all the knowledge we could get our hands on, as well as sheer intuition, to anticipate the changes.

So we answered the questions as best as we could at the time, with what we understood, and each time it was enough to carry us just a little bit farther, a little bit closer.

And then, in the midst of all the hard days, the disconnects, the gaps in ROI communication, the speaking engagements and slide deck creation, without anyone noticing it was happening, all the pieces slid into place. It had nothing to do with Google (and everything to do with sustainability). And we were looking at the whole picture of what Mack Web had always wanted to become all along, and it felt like home.

After nearly three years of effort, we were able to articulate — with clear examples and case studies — not only how our approach was different, but why it mattered. Why all the things we’d learned along the way were important and how they fit together.

Community building led us to authenticity. Authenticity led us to brand. Brand led us back over to goals and meaning. Goals and meaning led to progress and measurement. And everything together put a spotlight on all the channels, pointing back to community and relationships.

With all of those parts and pieces we finally had an approach that worked and that drove success. And, most importantly, it’s an approach that makes us proud to call this our work.

There’s More in Store

It’s been one hell of a year and I’m so incredibly proud of this team for what we’ve accomplished. We’ve been pushing really hard which means we don’t always post on our blog as much as I’d prefer. It’s really important to me that we’re not just putting something up to meet a designated frequency.

What’s important is that we’re sharing our journey and making your lives easier in the process. That everything on our blog is a window into the struggles and victories of this responsive company who is using integrated marketing and communities as a way to transform businesses.

This year has truly been a gateway. It took us 11 years to get here, but I finally feel like we’re getting to the good stuff. It’s not like it’s all rainbows and ice cream every day, but the mountain we’re climbing doesn’t seem so steep. We intentionally said no to new clients for nearly 9 months. And now we’re ready. We’ve selected some new clients and now it’s time to grow this team again.

We can’t wait for what’s coming in 2015. Thank you so much for your unconditional support of Mack Web. We hope you’ll stick around for the next part of this ride.

Something More to Achieve

By | Mack's Musings | 2 Comments

When I was 24 I found myself in grad school. My two-year stint as a junior high English teacher had run its course and I figured going back to school to find a new career would be a good next step.

To help pay my tuition, I took a Teaching Assistantship where I taught Freshman Composition. My Assistantship awarded me unlimited classes, so for some reason I felt inspired to sign up for a ballet class in the CSU Dance Department. I had danced recreationally when I was a kid, but I certainly wasn’t in any kind of shape to be standing at a barre, in a black leotard and pink tights, next to those 18-year-olds who’d been dancing their whole lives. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to level up if I had any chance of avoiding pure and total humiliation.

Picking up a ballet class turned into a full-blown obsession and within two years I had earned myself a spot on the local ballet company. For the next six years, I trained relentlessly. I took five to six classes a week. I rehearsed for and performed in three shows each season. All while freelancing as a web designer to pay the rent. I was newly married to Jon and I didn’t have Ryan, Easton, or Mack Web, so all I did was ballet.

mack-ballet

With ballet, there’s always something more to achieve. Your extension can always be higher. Your technique can always be cleaner. Your feet can always be faster. Your stage presence can always be more captivating. Your stamina can always be greater. Even the most talented ballerinas in the world never quite reach perfection. There will always be more to work on and improve. And that’s what keeps you coming back, even when you’re physically bruised and utterly exhausted.

I danced all through my pregnancies and went back to the company after Ry was born, but once I had Easton, I couldn’t justify the level of commitment to maintain my status in the company, so I decided to move on. Looking back on it now, I can see how seamlessly my passion and drive with ballet shifted right into growing Mack Web.


There’s eight of us now. And we move fast around here. Lately, every month seems like a new chapter. We continue to stumble, but at the same time, we’re winning. Every day I’m re-learning that people are what makes all of this so great and, at the same time, so incredibly challenging. I’m seeing the significance of culture in motion. And I’m getting better at making decisions apart from emotion.

In the last three months we’ve figured out a lot of shit about who we are and why we’re here. We continue to pull through the tough stuff and now I can see that we’ve passed through a gateway and into the next big phase of the company.

For more than two years, I’ve been assuming many more roles than I would like. In addition to my spirit breaking and my personal balance slipping, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of justice to all the stuff I was taking on. I knew that I was holding the company back.

I recruited over many, many months for someone who I could trust to scale the business with. Our new Director of Client Strategy has been a colleague and friend who I’ve respected for several years. He has strengths where I fall short. He’s been teaching me to listen and ask questions rather than react and be the one responsible for finding the solution. He has years of experience leading a team and he gets that managing people means empowering each of them to be leaders in their own way. He’s slowly working on earning the trust of the team and we’re strategically plotting world domination.

It’s a wonderful feeling that I’m not the only one responsible for the direction of our clients or this company. I now have someone who can help me carry the load. I’m slowly starting to feel the weight lifting and I’m ecstatic about the promise that I will very soon return to things in the company that I really love to do and that drive my passion. This also means big things for Mack Web as this can only help our growth.


We’ve been quietly observing the rapid change in this industry over the last few years and slowly working our way onto the scene. It took a little while for the pieces to fall into place, but now I can see our opening and that this is our time to move. I don’t know how else to explain it other than we’ve become more brave. Really, we’ve had this courage all along, but finally I feel like we’re saying, Fuck it. Let’s go!

So we’re not going to do marketing like everyone else is doing it. We’re going to change the way it’s measured. And we’re going to change the way companies build their brands. We’re going to prove that the stuff that really works is the shit that doesn’t scale and isn’t easy to measure, and we’re going to make that accessible so that companies can build better businesses.

Every few months I gather the team in our tiny little excuse for a conference room and I give them little pep talks. I hang a bunch of colorful, oversized post-its on the wall with motivational sayings.

contrast-breeds-clarity-mack-web

And even though they’ve heard me say it before, I tell them again how contrast breeds clarity. That in order to win we need to get comfortable walking through adversity and conflict. Not that I always want things to be hard, but when we find ourselves up against contrast over and over (especially in our individual relationships on the team), it sheds light on what’s important for us to change and motivates us to handle it quickly so that we can move ahead. Doing what we’re doing isn’t easy. But this shit should be hard; we’re paving a path and the first guy through the wall always gets bloody.

never-get-it-wrong-mack-web

I continue to tell the team that we will never get it wrong and we will never get it done. None of us will ever have the answers, so we need to continually embrace a culture of experimentation. We’ve got to fail to find the path. And once we get there, there will be somewhere else to go. There will always be more work to do, so we’ve got to work on what’s important and find the meaning and purpose in everything we do.

And after I’ve told them all of that, I tell them how we’re actually going to do all of these things to change the face of marketing. I tell them that we’re already doing it and that we’ve already come so far. I get all excited and energetic and worked up. I say the F word a lot. When I finish my talk they look up at me from their chairs like I’m crazy (even though they always clap at the end). But then they show up the next day. And so far, every day after that. Because they believe it, too.

I remember when we would rehearse for a corps piece like Snow during Nutcracker season. That’s basically the equivalent of running a sprint, as hard as you can go, for eight minutes straight. During one rehearsal we may run that same piece four times. I wasn’t the most talented dancer on the company, but I had the drive, strength, and endurance to outlast the 14-year-olds. I always knew I could make it just a little farther. Just 30 seconds more. And then I’d get up the next day and push that hard again.

I’ve got that in me. And the team has it, too. And that’s why we’re here now. We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way. We’ve got something more to achieve.

Solving Operational Challenges with Four Helpful Lists

By | Business Stuff, Mack's Musings, Miscellany, Web Marketing | 3 Comments

I remember leaving the hospital with my daughter Ryan just a few days after she was born. She was my first child and Jon and I had absolutely no idea what we were doing. But still I was released from the hospital with a tiny, helpless infant. No quick-start guide. No instructions. No nurse in tow.

mack holding ryan hospital

Fast forward 6 years. Ryan is growing and so is Mack Web. As with my lack of innate skills as a mom, I’m no natural born entrepreneur. I’m just a rookie with no formal business training who’s learned everything about building this company from the kindness of mentors, books, blog posts, and trial by fire.

Sometimes I’ve managed to stockpile the right info to help me handle a rising situation like a champ. But more often than not, just like with raising the kids, I have to stumble through it. Somehow, I manage to make it to the other side, failing faster every time, emerging with more hard-won character.

As I pocket this wisdom along my business-rearing journey, I am slowly gaining contrast and clarity. Agility. Experience even. I’m still pretty much writing the Mack Web manual as I go. But sometimes I am gifted with tools along the way.

Most recently, there’s a simple exercise that has been helping us solve some common operational challenges:

  • How do we do stuff better?
  • How do we resolve gaps in communication and collaboration with the team and our clients?
  • Who do we hire next?

For the last year, Mack Web has been working with a Strat Ops facilitator to help us set goals, initiatives, and move the company forward. She introduced us to an exercise called Four Helpful Lists and lately it’s been working like a charm.

We’ve applied the Four Helpful Lists exercise to every one of the challenges above (which I will provide in detail below). The great thing about it is that the outcome isn’t just a list of problems. It’s a conversation of solutions. So instead of spending thirty minutes talking about all the things in a situation that are broken, we’re focusing on how we’re going to fix it. It provides us with a place from which we can take action.

How it Works

Below I’ve provided some specific examples of how we’ve used this tool at Mack Web, but first, here’s how you would run Four Helpful Lists:

1. Assemble Your Team for 30 minutes
Depending on the challenge you’re looking to address, you’ll want to invite a few key people on your team who are directly involved or affected by the issue. We’ve had success with just 3 of us, or even 10  in the room at once. We try to keep these meetings really focused at 30 minutes.

2. Get a Whiteboard
On a whiteboard, or one of those big wall post-its, make 4 columns; one with each of these questions:

  • What’s right?
  • What’s wrong?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s confused?

3. Pose a Question
This is the prompt that gets the conversation of solutions going and the way you frame the question is one of the most critical steps of this exercise. You’ll need to pose the question so that your team can get to the underlying issue. So for example, if we’re using this tool to determine who we’re going to hire next, I wouldn’t ask, “Who are we going to hire next?” Instead, I would ask, “How is the team functioning?” You’ve got to frame your question in such a way that the four lists (what’s right, wrong, missing, and confused) make sense as a reply.

4. Fill out the Stuff
Then, under each column, ask your team to contribute the answers related to the question you’ve posed; the situation or challenge you’re working to resolve.

It’s great if you can start with what’s right? as that will help you to avoid a gripe session. And then, as you move along to the rest of the columns, avoid putting everything into the what’s wrong? column. Really think through what belongs in the what’s missing? column (like things related to systems, processes, tools, resources, communication, trust) that could be the root cause of the issue. And many times, what’s confused? will be things related to communication and expectations (that haven’t been properly addressed).

5. Identify and Prioritize Places of Action
After you’ve exhausted your lists, now go back and look for patterns and places of action under each column.

I’ll go into more detail on this in the examples below, but you’ll notice that there are things in each column that will relate to each other or the same root cause. So circle those (and perhaps draw lines or arrows to connect them). Then prioritize those items. Will you need to address and resolve something on your list before you can address another? If so, number them accordingly.

6. Assign Tasks
Now that you know what needs to be addressed and in what order, determine the next steps and assign tasks (and due dates) to the members of your team. Designate a follow-up date for getting the stuff done, and have one person in the group be the facilitator (to keep everyone accountable for their deliverables).

We run this exercise quite often. And now that we know the power of it, we are starting to recognize when exactly we need it. Mostly it’s when we  find ourselves stuck . Either we’re frustrated with a problem that keeps resurfacing in different forms, or we’ve done the same thing the same way for several times and realize that we’re still not getting a different result.

For us, Four Helpful Lists resolves so many challenges that anytime we’re feeling angst about anything: a process, a common client deliverable, a team member, or even a client, we use this tool.

The great thing about the Four Helpful Lists in action is that, regardless of the problem you’re trying to solve, you never come away empty handed.

Here’s what I mean.

Four Helpful Lists for Doing Stuff Better

There’s a whole lot of stuff we’re handling every day at Mack Web. And because we’re working with a small (but mighty) team, we are continuously looking for ways to be more efficient and, certainly, more effective.

Lately (and by lately I mean for almost a year), we’ve been working on improving our reporting. Not only do we spend a great deal of time on them, but they’re too long and they don’t communicate our value to our clients as clearly as we’d like. After the reports had gone through their most recent evolution, we decided to determine how to make them even better using Four Helpful Lists.

So when the team got together, the question posed was:

How do we make our reports better?

4-helpful-lists-a

What’s right?
The team had a few positive things to say about how we had been currently communicating value in our reports. We were getting better at identifying the metrics that really mattered for each client,  the way we were presenting the information was easier to digest, and the collaboration among the team was helping us to take action on the data that we were collecting. Lots of good progress had been made in the recent months and certainly over the last year.

What was wrong?
The biggest problem is that we were pretty sure our clients weren’t reading them. To make matters worse, we were spending a significant amount of the team’s time each month preparing these reports (even though we were learning a great deal from them). We were also finding some hangups with data collection and the automation of that process. Especially for social media.

What was missing?
What we realized was that we needed to have a conversation with our clients about what was most useful to them in the reports we provided. We were making all kinds of assumptions about what we thought they cared about, but we had not taken the time to verify their expectations. We wanted to make sure we guide them with the most important data (vs. just showing them metrics like follower count), but what do they really want to see?

We also had not asked our respected colleagues what their challenges were with reporting and how they had resolved them. Do they provide a one-page report or is it 20?  Do they hold a meeting to discuss the data, or just send it via email with key takeaways? Maybe they would have some great ways of presenting important data to their clients that we could learn from. They also might have some automation tool suggestions that would help save some time collecting and aggregating all of the data.

We realized that we had a ton of information that was missing which meant we had a place to start filling in the holes.

What was confused?
We definitely knew that our reporting process could use some work. And as we had defined in the missing column, we really needed to get to the heart of what our clients were expecting. Ultimately, could we really say, without a doubt, that what we were providing in our reports was valuable to our clients? Having all of this confused meant we definitely had some work to do, which means we knew where to take action.

Prioritizing and Taking Action
So once we worked through each list, there was a lot that we needed to focus on. We identified the most important of the items that were wrong, missing, and confused. Some of those were related to other items so we matched those up.  If we prioritized the core of those issues, we would essentially be solving the others, so we assigned action items from those.

We knew that our first and most important priority was to talk to our clients, so we circled that and identified it as #1. There were a few items in other columns that were related, so we matched those up, circled them, and drew connecting arrows.

Simultaneously we knew we could ask our colleagues about their reporting processes and also what tools they were using to automate the data (so we prioritized that as #2). Ideally, we would have feedback both from our clients and our colleagues around the same time and then we’d have our next action steps.

4-helpful-lists-b

Over the next several weeks, the team will work individually on their assigned tasks and report to the person we designated to keep everyone accountable. When we meet as a team at Strat Ops in the late fall, the team will communicate how they’ve decided to move forward in our reporting based on what they found and the action they took after we ran Four Helpful Lists.

Four Helpful Lists for Communication and Collaboration

This tool has worked so well for the Mack Web team that we’ve even used it with our clients. We run a pretty collaborative environment around here and require a whole lot of integration with our clients’ teams. Sometimes there are breakdowns in the communication and collaboration between our teams so we need to figure out why we’re having trouble getting on the same page.

After we’ve worked through the execution of the first strategy with a client, we use Four Helpful Lists to get to the root of any roadblocks we may have stumbled across.

Running the Four Helpful Lists exercise works best when everyone is in the same room, but since our clients aren’t in Fort Collins, we improvise with a Google+ Hangout and a Google spreadsheet.

4-helpful-lists-c

Our team in Fort Collins still works through each list with our client, but because it’s difficult for them to read our whiteboard from the other side of the web cam, we send a Google spreadsheet before we start the exercise. As we run down each list, we take notes in the spreadsheet so that our client can see what’s being written on the whiteboard as it’s being written. Once the exercise is over, we send a photo of the whiteboard to the client.

Using this tool, even just with the Mack Web team, requires a sometimes-uncomfortable level of honesty about what isn’t working. Using it with a client requires a lot of bravery. If we’re not willing to conflict and commit to get to the root of the problem, we’ll never be able to start working together toward a solution.

It should be pretty simple to identify where to take action based on the results of the Four Helpful Lists exercise. Especially when using Four Helpful Lists with clients, we are very diligent about assigning action items. We are specific about what the action items are and which team is taking action so that a solution can actually come to fruition.

Four Helpful Lists for Hiring

One of the  most significant challenges that Four Helpful Lists has solved at Mack Web is hiring.  As our team has grown, it has been difficult to prioritize who we need to hire next. We’re not a funded company, so we hire as we have the revenue to support new team members. Many times we have the resources just to fund one position, so it’s really important that we choose wisely.

Earlier this year we had an unexpected change in the members of our team. So before hiring to replace for that exact role, we took a step back to determine what the company really needed. We got the whole team together to hash out Four Helpful Lists.

But instead of asking the team, “Hey, who do you think we should hire next?” we addressed the question: How is the team functioning?

Once we completed the exercise, we noticed that, despite the departure of a Strategist, it wasn’t a lack of strategy that was missing on our team. It was the time spent on grinder tasks that was slowing down existing key personnel.

What we needed to do was pull weight off of some of our existing team members so that they could have some headspace. Giving them this much needed room would allow them to operate in a more strategic frame of mind. This would help them get out of the weeds a bit, really benefit our clients, and help bridge the gap to our next hire.

After compiling all the items from the wrong, missing, and confused lists, we were able to define a new role: Team Support .  We could see that we needed more than just one person to take on all of the tasks in this new support position, but we determined that some of those efforts could be outsourced as we acquired the revenue for the additional person.

support-role

Over the last six months this decision to hire a Team Support person rather than another Strategist has really paid off. Within weeks of the hire, the team was quickly rebounding from hurdles that we had been stuck on for months. Using this role to take away some of the team’s stress has helped us to be more connected and collaborative than ever. It has pushed us forward with great momentum and we’re well on our way to our next hires (which we will determine by running Four Helpful Lists).

Give it a Try, Kids

If I’ve learned anything about being a mom and running Mack Web it’s that I almost  never have the answer. And sometimes, that can feel pretty paralyzing. Four Helpful Lists gives us a place to start and also puts the responsibility on the team (and not just me). It’s a really simple tool for figuring out what’s not serving us well and what we all need to do to make it different.

Give it a try with your team and let me know how it goes.

An Integrated Approach to Video (Mack’s Slide Deck from #WistiaFest)

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

An Integrated Approach to Strategy

Video is an incredibly powerful tool that is integral to creating a connection with your customers. But it takes a whole lot of channels and a whole lot of effort —in addition to video—to build your brand and your community and to accomplish goals for your business.

Like social media, email marketing, search, other forms of content, and offline efforts, video is just one tool that needs to fit into a larger marketing strategy.

This slide deck is a case study of the first time that Mack Web used video in our integrated marketing strategy. Inside you will find our roadmap. Our process. What we actually did: the goals we set, the strategy we followed, what we measured, and how it all turned out in the end.

(Feel free to walk through the deck yourself – it’s pretty self-explanatory – or have Mack walk you through it by watching the video of her WistiaFest talk.)

The Videos

If you’d like to see the actual videos that we created, take a peek at these. Each video provides a community building tip and a little Mack Web personality. Creating the videos this way really helped us to build brand awareness and a connection with our audience and to earn sign-ups for our community building guide:

Why Build a Community

Building Community Takes Personality

Building Community is a Team Effort

Make Friends with Other Communities

Our Guide to Building Online Communities is Finally Here

But Wait, There’s More

If you really want to experience the power of video, check out these speaker intros that Wistia created for each of the speakers at #WistiaFest. What a great way to honor each speaker and raise the energy level in the room before taking the stage.

I bet you can’t name anything that rhymes with Fogelson.