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Creativity

Better than Hawaii: Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Social Media, The Quest for Quanlitative Measurement, Web Marketing | No Comments

Because why gloat over your vacation pictures when you could be catching up on the genius you missed?

Summer is a time for many wondrous things: swimming lessons and blockbuster movies, amazing thunderstorms and vacations to exotic locations, backyard barbeques and entirely more ice cream than can possibly be healthy.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 5.23.07 PM

You know what summer is not a great time for? Reading anything other than ridiculously fluffy beach-worthy books, with titles like Cream Puffs by Starlight or The Undead Llamas Ride at Dawn.

Which is why, with the crisp hints of fall just around the corner and the kids shuffled back to school, we decided to make your lives a little easier. You don’t have to go back and catch up on everything the Mack Web team wrote this summer (though we wouldn’t blame you if you did; we are just that amazing).

Instead, we’ve put together the list of Mack Web best summer blog posts, the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

You’re welcome.

We’ve also provided a quick word on why we think each of these posts is emblematic of what Mack Web stands for, why they’re important in the general scheme of things.

And hey, if you think we missed a crucial read, let us know. We’ll add it to the list.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.16.01 PMHow To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

Our favorite post of the summer was this contribution from our designer extraordinaire. Natalie Touchberry is brilliant with all things design and this post gives you some amazing insight into her tricks of the trade.

We think this is an important one to share not only because it’s a wonderful, practical creative process from a master of her art but also for of its place in the broader spectrum of the Mack Web belief system. (Yep. Slide decks are part of our corporate religion, along with heart, passion, desire, excellence, and llamas.)

Our devotion to slide decks is twofold. First, we are firm believers in using different formats to convey our messages. And here’s the thing about slide decks: a slide deck devoid of meaning stands out a lot more than a fluffy blog post. In other words, to do the slide deck format well, you really have to know what you want to say and why you want to say it. We are all about the intentional content.

The second reason we love slide decks is because they are symbolic of a key part of digital marketing that is often overlooked: offline efforts. Frequently used as a visual aid for public speaking, slide decks are a great reminder that building relationships and reputation in the real world is a huge part of an integrated marketing strategy.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.48 PM Hashtag Series: Ally or Enemy? (Pt. 1) & A How-To for Success (Pt. 2)

We were really pleased with this collaboration by our Social & Community Management Strategist Ayelet Golz and our Account Coordinator Rebecca Gilmore. It’s not only a fantastic walk through of how, when, and why you should use hashtags in your social media marketing but also a practical guide to creating meaningful hashtags, based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

We’re featuring these posts because, while not overt, they so deeply express one of Mack Web’s most fundamental principles of digital marketing: everything starts from goals.

So we say ‘Don’t use a hashtag unless it serves your purpose in creating the social media campaign in the first place.’ And then Ayelet tells you when that might be. ‘Choose or create a hashtag that actually achieves what you want to achieve.’ And then Rebecca gives you a process for doing just that.

That’s Mack Web to the core.

Also, there are frolicking hashbrowns and Gandalf jokes. So, you won’t want to miss that.


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.55 PMHow to Dominate Google+ Hangouts on Air

Our shining star of the summer, our Team Member of the Season was, apparently, Ayelet.  This post of hers was a big favorite for its sheer practicality as she tells you everything – and we do mean everything – about Google+ Hangouts.

Google+ Hangouts are a fantastic way to convey valuable information, host a gathering of experts, and build relationships with your peers and audience alike. (Mack Web is big on the personal touch.)

We’re also big on sharing what we know. Sometimes that’s theory: the why behind the methods we use. But sometimes that’s application: the methods themselves.

Because, hey, you’re going to have plenty of work to do figuring out the topic, the guest list, the promotion, the follow-up of your Hangout. We can make the actual, manual steps a little easier. Why would we make you suffer?


Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.15.41 PMConversion Rate Isn’t Everything in Digital Marketing

Yep, that’s right, our final Not-To-Be-Missed post of the summer is another Ayelet classic. This one uses our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities as a mini case study for the varying definitions of content success in digital marketing.

We chose this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a part of our Quest for Quanlitative Measurement: our ongoing journey to fully exploring, understanding, and optimizing the various ways to measure integrated marketing efforts. The Quest weighed heavy on our minds this summer and we didn’t want the season to pass without a mention of it.

Second, well, we love that guide. Arthur, as we call him. So figuring out how other people felt about him was important to us.

Third, we work hard to prove the value of our efforts to our clients. We know you do, too. Our experience with Arthur just proved to us that the narrow focus on conversion rate discounts so much great stuff that goes on in the background. So, in true Mack Web spirit, we provide you with some practical alternatives.

And finally…well…we had to include this post. Otherwise Disappointed Turtle might have scowled at us. And that’s not a fate lightly to be borne.


Alright, so it’s not quite Hawaii…

So we may not have been strictly factual when we said Mack Web’s Best Summer Blog Posts were better than Hawaii. But we figure you would only know that if you actually went to Hawaii. In which case, you got both, so why are you complaining?

If you, like us, didn’t spend the summer sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the crystal blue waters, we want to know: what did you learn this summer? What made your Best Reads of the Summer List?

How To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

By | Creativity | 4 Comments

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

– –

Here at Mack Web, we’re all about creating processes to make our lives easier. In fact, our love of process-making is so great, we even have one in place for designing the slide decks Mack uses at her speaking gigs.

That’s right, a fully developed process that only sees the light of day a handful of times a year. We just…really love processes.

A benefit of this process is that I can easily fit a slide deck into my existing to-do list. I give myself a week to create the slide deck design and within that week I spend four hours (at most) designing Mack’s deck. This frees up the rest of my time for all the other work I have on my plate (like eating cupcakes, making tea, chatting with the team about the history of nunchucks. Y’know, important stuff).

Because here’s the great thing about slide decks: they’re not just for speaking gigs. Slide decks are a wonderful and highly visible way to share your knowledge, creating a pretty great and very, very shareable asset for your business.

The final reason I wanted to share our process is because it’s quite simple. In fact, it’s only 5 steps.

That’s right. You’re only one delightful 5-step process away from creating your own brilliant slide decks. Highly valuable and beautiful resources don’t necessarily have to be difficult to create.

You’re welcome.


Step 1) Stuff Your Brain with Inspiring Stuff (a.k.a. do some research).

This first step is crucial because I need to find design inspiration that makes me want to make a beautiful slide deck. This step doesn’t take long (about 30 minutes) and it’s worth it in the long run. Sometimes, rather than a deliberate hunt and gather, I check out things I’ve stockpiled as I come across them in the course of my everyday life.

Either way, finding creative and inspiring things beforehand speeds up my creative process and makes my slides look better (trust me, when I don’t do research and jump straight into design I always ended up scrapping my initial work and starting over).

There are many resources (online and offline) where you can find inspiration. When it comes to my personal preferences I use Pinterest. Here’s why:

1. I can find an array of design ideas quickly.

2. I can find high quality stuff. I usually start with a search term like ‘typography’, ‘packaging design’ or ‘label design’ and find ample material from there.

3. Pinning everything to the same board helps my workflow and keeps me focused because I don’t have to open multiple windows or search for my reference materials after I’ve saved them.

These were images I pinned to my board when I was creating Mack’s slide deck for Search Love San Diego.

Pinterest Board for SearchLove San Diego

Once I had a decent collection put together, I distilled my board to a handful of pins I wanted to use.

Here’s what that selection looked like:

My distilled pins

Just to give you some idea of the criteria I used when narrowing it down, this is what stood out to me with these pins:

  • I liked the various font pairings that were happening, and used these graphics to guide my font choices for Mack’s deck.
  • The textured backgrounds (I’ve found that backgrounds are a great way to add visual interest to slides while keeping things clean and easy to read).
  • The solid geometric shapes behind specific words were ideal design elements for a slide deck (they add visual interest, and emphasize the selected text without making things too crowded).

Once you’re satisfied that the creativity is brewing in the back of your brain, it’s time to get practical.


Step 2) You Gotta Make a List

After you distill your reference materials to a handful of graphics, there’s one more thing you have to do before jumping into design. You have to make a list of the types of slide templates you’re gonna need.

This step is important because it prevents you from:

1. Creating the same slide design again and again.

2. Spending time creating unnecessary slides that your presenter doesn’t need.

3. Designing a whole bunch of kinda-okay slides rather than a handful of really awesome slide templates.

4. Making the design the #1 priority of the slide deck. While it’s nice to have a beautiful slide deck, remember that design should play a supporting role to the actual content. Creating a list of templates your speaker needs will ensure that your design fits around their content (not vice versa).

If you’re the designer AND presenter, you likely have a good idea of the content you’re speaking about, so just set aside 5 minutes to jot down the types of templates you’re gonna need. Here at Mack Web, I do the design and Mack does the speaking, so this step requires a 10-minute meeting between the two of us to list out the types of templates Mack’s gonna need. (15 minutes if we drift over into reminiscing on adorable kitty photos from previous slide decks).

We’ve created an ample number of slide decks over the years, so our list doesn’t change that much anymore. Nowadays, our meeting is more of a brief chat about the existing list of slide templates. In case you were curious, here’s our working list of the templates we’ve found to be the “building blocks” of a good slide deck, allowing for both versatility and consistency within your deck:

A cover slide that includes the title of the talk and the name of the presenter.

cover slide


A slide with room for text and an image.

Slide with text and an image


A slide for screenshots (remember to leave room for text and stats on this slide).

slide for screenshots


A slide with text that sits over a background image or pattern.

text and background image


A slide for quotes or short statements.

slide with a quote


A slide that you can use as a section divider.

section divider slide


A slide for a bulleted list.

a slide with a bulleted list


A slide that allows for an ample amount of text.

text heavy slide layout


A closing slide with your information (we like to include a link bundle, URLs for our blog and community building guide, and our Twitter handle).

closing slide


Depending on your speaker’s content and needs, this list may look slightly different for you. Once you have your list of templates created, it’s time to move on to the fun part of the process: actually designing your templates.


Step 3) Start Designing: Tips and Best Practices

Before you design each template, be sure you’re familiar with the following best practices in order to ensure your designs are beautiful and functional.

(Many of the best practices mentioned below are things I learned from Ian Lurie’s slide deck: 30 tips for awesome presentations. Ian covers a lot of tips in his deck that I’m not covering in this post, so you really should read it).

I’ve grouped the pointers I frequently use into 4 guidelines. When I’m designing and feel that I’m stuck or that my design is cluttered, I step back and check if my slides are hitting these 4 highlights.

Guideline 1) Make Sure Your Content is Easy to Read

This means:

  • Your text should be large enough for your audience to easily read. If you’ve gotta squint to read what you’ve placed on a slide, that’s usually a sign that you need to make your text larger, even if that means paring it down or separating it into two or more slides.

Don’t do this.

small text that's hard to read

Instead, do this.

Text that's large enough to read


  • You’re using script and decorative fonts sparingly and making sure they are legible.

Don’t stylize all your words in a script typeface.

slide that's hard to read

Instead, select one or two words and stylize them with a script (or decorative) typeface.

slide that uses a script font correctly


  • Your color palette should make your slides easier to read, not harder.

Don’t use background colors (or textures) that make it hard to see your text. In this case, the blue background makes it harder to read certain parts of the slide.

color palette that makes things hard to read

Instead, use background colors (and textures) that make content super easy to see.

slide with dotted lines


Guideline 2) Make Your Content Part of the Design

The content you place onto each slide shouldn’t be an afterthought. Rather you should treat it as another design element in your deck.

  • Choose fonts that allow for numerous styles, the better to add voice to your text (for example, does your font include various weights like hairline, light, bold and black?).

I’ve been on a Lato kick lately because of all the options I have within this one font.

Lato Font Family - an example of a font with an ample number of styles.

  • Use contrasting font sizes, weights, styles, or color to emphasize pieces of your content and draw more attention to it.

This is okay, but note that even though there is an orange bar to highlight “keep in mind” all the text is the same size and color, which tends to make the slide look boring.

okay exapmle of text styling

This is better. Now there’s a difference in text size between the two statements, which adds more visual interest. However, there’s still more you can do…

Better example of text styling

This is best. If you do this, you deserve a gummy bear. Maybe two. “Keep in Mind” is not only a different color, it’s also bold. Further visual interest (and emphasis) is added to the bottom statement by using a light, italic style for the word “more”.

Best example of styling text


Guideline 3) Make Sure Your Images Don’t Interfere with Your Content

When you incorporate images, you want to leave room for text and ensure that your slide is still easy to read. Here are some ways you can do that:

Place a shape with a slight transparency behind the text so it stands out from the background.

example of a slide that uses a transparent square to separate text from the background image.

Create a shape and use it as a frame for your text (look up ‘label design’ on Pinterest; you’ll find a lot of creative shapes you can use for a slide like this).

example of a shape used to frame text on a slide.

Place images to the side of your content. This can tend to look a little boring, so an easy way to add more interest to a slide like this is by placing a border around the image.

example of text next to an image

Guideline 4) Keep It Simple

Remember, you’re limited on the space you can design within, so keep each slide simple. There are additional design elements I like to use in order to give Mack’s slide decks a polished look without causing unnecessary clutter:

Use shapes or banners to highlight text.

Example of a banner highlighting text.


Incorporate lines to add visual interest to a slide (and help separate text for readability)

slide with dotted lines


Use textured backgrounds, like this subtle textile, to create interest without causing clutter.

Example of a green linen texture used as a background.

And of course, at the end of day, the most important rule to keep in mind is readability. (In case you hadn’t picked up on that yet). If people can easily read your slide deck your content is going to get, well, actually read.

Once you have your slide templates created, it’s time to move on to the hand-off. 


Step 4) The Hand-off

The way our process works, it’s up to the presenter (or you, if you happen to be the presenter) to use said templates and create the actual presentation. I’m lucky because Mack has a great design eye (and attention to detail), so the hand-off is pretty easy.

If your presenter doesn’t have a design eye, you should sit down with her (or him) and review each slide template so she (or he) knows where things belong and how to edit stuff without losing all the styling you’ve worked so hard on. (Just to be extra safe, I’d recommend handing off a copy of your slide deck file so you have an original which stays intact).

And never fear, step five is quality control, so you’re gonna have an opportunity to get back into the deck and polish everything up so it looks nice and shiny and beautiful.


Step 5) Quality Control

Once the presentation is created you (or the designer part of your brain, if you happen to also be the presenter) should go through and do a quality control check. I’d suggest looking for the following things:

  • Are the correct fonts and text sizes used on all the slides?
  • Can you easily see (and read) the content?
  • Are the design elements and content aligned correctly on all the slides?
  • Are all the colors correct?
  • Are some slides too crowded? If so, adjust them so they have enough white space (sometimes this means splitting one slide into two slides, etc.).
  • Do you need to create a unique slide for certain piece of content (‘cause sometimes your templates just can’t cover everything).
  • Are images high quality and given proper credit in the form of a link back to the image source?

Of course, the amount of work you’re going to have in this step depends on your presenter’s eye for design and details, so make sure you allow yourself a sufficient amount of time for this part (after you go through this step with a few slide decks, you’ll get a good idea of the time you need).


Bonus Step: Celebrate

Success! At this stage, you should have a beautiful slide deck created. Eat gummy bears, have a drink, do a dance, whatever you need to do to celebrate (just make sure you celebrate).

We’d love to hear other approaches you and your team have when it comes to making slide decks. Let us know in the comments section below.

Be Inspired: 3 Awesome Resources to Kickstart Your Creativity

By | Creativity | 6 Comments

There’s an endless list of websites, apps, and blogs that you can find to aid your creative process. With the number of resources out there, the problem isn’t finding sources for inspiration, it’s figuring out which ones you’re going to use.

I’ve found that there are three specific resources I reference for all of my creative projects here at Mack Web . More importantly, I figured out why these are the resources I favor.

Each one addresses one of the specific challenges I face in my role here as a graphic designer:

1) I need to learn new skills from professionals in my industry.

2) I don’t have time to scour the internet for creative and inspiring things. I want an easy way of finding a bunch of creative sources in one place.

3) When I start creating I want my reference materials on one page, so I spend more time creating and less time looking for them.

Now, the resources I’m sharing have been  around for a while so you’ve probably heard of them already. I simply want you to know how I use them and the challenge each resource solves for me, with the hope that you will find them just as useful to your creative process. Let’s get started!


Challenge # 1

I need to learn new skills from professionals in my industry.

The Solution: Skillshare

The Details:
Skillshare provides classes for a multitude of subjects (advertising, business, design, etc.,). Wanna know the best part? Classes are taught by professionals in the industry, allowing you to access their processes, technical tips & tricks, and golden nuggets of wisdom in one class.

Yes, you do have to pay, but it’s on a per class basis (I’ve found that it’s never more then $25 per class), and it’s worth it. The skills I’ve gained from each class have  more than justified the cost. For example, I’ve always admired the work of letterer and illustrator Jessica Hische (she’s done work for Wes Anderson, Tiffany & Co., and Penguin Books). Lo and behold she’s on Skillshare. As a designer, I’m going to jump at the chance to take a class taught by a leading letterer and illustrator in the industry, no question about it.

How I Use it:
As a designer, the classes on Skillshare keep my design skills current, and introduce me to new techniques I can use in Photoshop and Illustrator.

For example, earlier this year I took a character illustration class taught by illustrator Matt Kaufenberg (Character Illustration: From Concept to Final Artwork). Upon completing the class, I promptly put my newly acquired skills into practice and set out to illustrate a few awesome characters for a client:

thief

nerdy-guy

I also improved my digital illustration skills thanks to Sara Blake’s class, Creating Full Color Digital Illustrations From Your Hand-Made Drawings. I ended up using the techniques in this class for a school art project and had so much fun, I’m planning on making more:

cat

How You Could Use it:
Use it to get your feet wet! Learn something new or glean tips from a professional in your industry (or in an industry you’re unfamiliar with). While I use Skillshare to sharpen my design skills, you certainly don’t have to be a designer to use it. If you are in any way creative, or just want to learn something new, I’d recommend giving it a try.

Some of their other classes include:

If you really want to get an idea of the breadth of classes they offer, I’d suggest looking at their list of classes.


Challenge # 2

I don’t have time to scour the internet for creative and inspiring things. I want an easy way of finding a bunch of creative sources in one place.

The Solution: Flipboard

The Details:
Flipboard is an application that you can use to read and collect the topics that most interest you. You can create collections for music, photography, design, health, history, DIY, and more. The application is flexible enough to allow you to save everything from articles and photos to audio and video. Even better, Flipboard is free. You just have to download it  to your device ( it should work for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Kindle Fire, and NOOK).

How I Use it:
I search Flipboard to find design inspiration. The beauty of the application is that you can easily bookmark all your creative findings into magazines that you can access later. Flipboard is where I go when I need to brainstorm or think of design approaches that fall outside of my normal design style.

At the moment, the work of Caras Ionut, which I discovered on Flipboard, is turning out to be a consistent source of inspiration. I find myself going back to his work quite often because it’s amazing and inspires me to keep working on my own artistic endeavors.

Caras Ionut Art

How You Could Use it:
Find innovative ideas to jumpstart your own “big idea”, keep-up-to date on news in your industry, or use it like I do: find areas where you need constant inspiration and create collections to refer to for new ideas and techniques.


Challenge # 3

When I start creating I want my reference materials on one page, so I spend more time creating and less time looking for them.

The Solution: Pinterest

The Details:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with Pinterest at this point. If you’re not, Pinterest is a photo-sharing website that acts much like an idea board, allowing you to pin images and sort them into particular boards.

How I Use it:
I like to collect images on Pinterest, and use them as reference materials for design projects. Before I found Pinterest, I did things the old school way – spending lots of time searching for images on the internet, and then pasting them into my own idea board (i.e. a Word doc). Pinterest easily cuts my research time in half.

Whenever Mack asks me to put together a slide deck for one of her speaking gigs, I go to Pinterest and create a collection of graphics to reference while I make her slide deck.

For example, for this slide deck:

slide deck

slide deck 2

I was collecting and referencing images like the ones below on Pinterest:

pinterest board

How You Could Use it:
I use Pinterest as a reference for all my creative projects (graphic design, painting, drawing etc.), however, if you’re not a designer, I think the possibilities are still endless. Maybe you want to build your own longboard, find New Year’s Eve party ideas, or do some llama farming (seriously, Pinterest has quite a collection when it comes to this last one).

Whatever your interest may be, my bet is you’ll be able to find some fantastic reference materials on Pinterest.


What’s in Your Creative Toolbelt?

This list is simply the core tools that I’ve selected for my “creative tool belt”, but creative processes come in many shapes and sizes. Let us know what websites, apps, and online tools you use to jumpstart your creative process in the comments section below.

On Processes and Predictability

By | Building Community, Business Stuff, Creativity | No Comments

For a while I was against formal processes. They just seemed to get in the way. I’d worked in big companies where an overabundance of processes often led to extra work and boredom. To me, all these rules and regulations were impersonal. They were the roadblocks that must be overcome. They were there to shepherd the incompetent, but they often seemed to just get in the way.

But I was wrong.

The first time I seriously considered processes valuable from a business perspective was when I read The E-myth by Michael Gerber. If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it. For creatives and entrepreneurs, it makes a great case for implementing processes in your company. His argument in this book was that processes are imperative for a business to grow. That a business needs to be able to operate at the lowest level of talent possible and set processes makes this possible.

In a sense, this is true. If you’re building a fast-food restaurant, you want the most incompetent person to be able to easily complete the task. But what happens when you build a great team? What happens if the people on your team are all A-level players with their own motivations, thoughts, and goals? Isn’t it enough as a leader to just set the vision, then encourage and guide as needed? Processes would naturally form, but making them official guidelines seemed so limiting. Do you really need processes for the high performance team players?

Yes. You do.

It’s Personal

But it is personal. That’s what I didn’t get at first. I always looked at processes as impersonal. They were rules, guidelines, boundaries, and limitations. If anything, they often got in the way of serving my client or customer in a way that was effective for them. Last week I finished this podcast by Andy Stanley further digging into processes. And his argument was one of the most profound that I’ve heard regarding processes.

You see, good processes are actually very personal. They are personal to the customer. To the person on the other end of your customer service line, good processes show consistency. They give us guidelines to ensure that situations are handled the same way every time. They give us a framework with which to operate.

Take the example of a fire drill at a school. When parents entrust their kids to the school, the existence of a process becomes incredibly personal. Parents needs to know that there is a plan in case of an emergency. A well executed emergency plan helps ensure everyone stays safe and no one is forgotten. If there was no plan, there would be mass chaos when the fire alarm sounded.

But there is a plan. Everyone knows what to do. Everything is systematic and orderly. And everyone stays safe. Parents get their kids back safe at the end of the day. Now that is personal.

As marketers and creatives, we rarely (ok, never) work in settings where someone is physically at risk. Yet we work with companies and organizations who trust their brand to us. Many owners, operators, and managers have poured their heart and soul into their business and building their brand. As a result, they care about how they are treated, what they get, and how they are represented.

To these company owners the brand is personal. Having systems and processes in place to ensure things do not get missed or dropped is obviously a great part of customer service. It is also very personal to customers.

Evaluating Processes

But just because you have a process doesn’t mean it’s a good one. After all, your telephone or cable company has processes for their customer service. You’re probably thinking, “I HATE calling customer service for my cable company.” But the problem here isn’t that they have a process. It’s that they have a poor process. The never evaluate their processes. They don’t care. The process was put in place so it was just good enough to get by. Unfortunately, this is where most corporate processes live. They do just enough to get by.

This is why processes need evaluation. Process aren’t set-and-forget. They take work to refine. Chances are, there is always a better way to do something than the way you are doing it. Evaluation gives you the opportunity to change things. It gives your employees and volunteers a voice. These people are the ones who are in the trenches everyday, so they know how to do their job better than anyone else. Let them take part in the creation and evaluation of the system.

You also need to evaluate with the right metrics. Customer service lines are seen as an expense by companies, so they do everything they can to minimize that expense. In reality this should be an investment. It’s how they retain customers and drive customer loyalty. Rather than measuring customer happiness, they are purely looking at dollars and cents in the short term – missing opportunities in the long term.

If I look at the businesses where I’ve constantly had a positive experience – companies like Chick-fil-a, Disney World, Sweetwater, and many, many others – they are all based around systems that are constantly refined and evaluated. Each of these companies is a leader in their industry and for good reason. The experiences customers have with these brands are usually far better than the experiences customers have with their competitors. In the case of Disney World, it’s even described as magical.

Creativity and Process

thecreativeprocess

Which brings us to the final question: How can you capture this magic in your processes? How do you build magic into a system that is a bunch of forms and rules? In other words, how do we become predictable in our behavior but unpredictable in our creativity? We talked about this a little already in our post on building a creative process, but there’s certainly more to be said.

The magic comes when we go above and beyond. Getting your burger at a fast food restaurant isn’t magical. Nobody is impressed by that. But getting a burger and free fries – for no particular reason – is something that people talk about. Great customer service, in every industry is magical. Companies that go above and beyond what is in the contract, those are magical places.

You see, building an efficient process doesn’t take away the magic. It simply makes sure you get done all you’re supposed to get done so that you can then go above and beyond. It’s no good if you order a double cheeseburger and you get three burritos. Sure, the burritos might be worth more and even taste better, but if you were expecting a burger, you’re not going to be happy. Start by building a system that allows you to do the basics flawlessly, then build on that.

An Inside Look

chickenprocess

At Mack Web we are redoing our processes to help ensure that everyone gets what they ask for. Not only is this what clients expect, it’s also what we should be doing anyway. Once we’ve taken care of all the basics, then and only then can we go above and beyond to really impress our clients. Processes allow us to be predictable on our tasks but unpredictable in our creativity.

So what does this mean for you? First, make sure you have processes in place in your organization. Do you have systems that ensure nothing slips between the cracks? If not, start building them today. If you’re part of a business that has been around for a while, your systems may need an update. Are your systems in place just to do the bare minimum or do you have the flexibility to allow your team to delight your customers? At the very least, pose these questions to your team. If you don’t know the answers, they will.

Our Guide to Building Online Communities is Finally Here

By | Building Community, Creativity, Events, Online Community Building Videos | No Comments

The Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities is Here

We are proud and excited and overjoyed (and just a little bit exhausted) to finally reveal our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities to the world.

We worked really, really, really hard and firmly believe that this product of our blood, sweat, tears, and countless visits to the petting zoo is an enduring addition to the universe’s knowledge on effective and sustainable integrated web marketing. (Which is why we went ahead and called it the Truly Monumental Guide and not just Metaphorically or Figuratively Monumental).

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Perceived Risk in Marketing

By | Creativity, SEO, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

If you’ve ever done any investing, you’ve undoubtedly been asked about risk. Do you want more guaranteed investments (like bonds or other government backed securities)? Or do you prefer an investment style that is more risky. Say, startups or technology companies?

Most portfolio managers begin any interview by asking those questions. The idea is that, ultimately, more risk brings more reward (hopefully).  But, of course, with more risk also comes more risk. There is always the chance that you could lose some or all of what you’ve invested.

The exact same is true in the marketing space. Now more than ever, there are more ways to engage with customers. In the old days you had billboards, print, radio, and TV and the choice was a fairly simple numbers game. TV was the most expensive and often gave you the greatest ROI, but if you were a small business, billboards, print, and radio were great secondary options.

Today, we’ve kept all these “old” mediums and added dozens of new ways to engage. Each one comes with its own sliding scale of risk and reward. How is a small business marketer to know where to start?

Even “the internet” doesn’t refer to a single medium, but dozens of channels and broadcasts intertwined. Social media alone can be broken down into a dozen different networks that each require their own unique blend of personality and content.

Deciding which channel to use and when is, among other things, a game of balancing the risks, whether the effort expended will return satisfactory results.

Assessing Risk

So let’s start with a couple assumptions about marketing and perceived risk. Now understand that in this article we’re talking almost exclusively about perceived risk. There are way too many variables to talk about actual risk.

After all, one company might spend $4,500 to make a video that gets millions of views while another company spends ten times that amount and gets 5,000 views. Marketing is inherently unpredictable, so analyzing real risk accurately is far beyond the scope of this post. That said, perceived risk is much easier to understand. To do this, you just need to understand the point of view of your client, manager, or customer. So perceived risk is what we’ll be working with for the rest of this post.

How Risky Do You Want to Be?

So let’s boil it down a little bit. We are going to make two assumptions with regards to perceived risk:


The harder it is to track the exact ROI of a marketing effort in the short run, the riskier it is perceived to be.

The more expensive a marketing effort is, the riskier it is perceived to be.


Let’s look at a couple examples. For instance, say that you work for a national company that sells car tires. You go and spend $1 million on a TV campaign and sales across the nation rise by about 3% over the previous month. A million dollars is a lot of money, and it’s difficult to tie that increase directly to that campaign. How do you know that sales increase did not come from the radio ads or print ads you’ve published? How do you know that people are not just getting their ties on their cars changed before winter? This marketing can very easily be perceived as risky. Say that $1 million was around ⅓ of your total marketing budget. That’s a lot of money! Because this campaign is both difficult to track and rather expensive, it is perceived as high-risk.

With this in mind, before you start proposing marketing strategies and designing campaigns, it is important to understand the willingness to take risks of the organization you’re working with. Are you working with a bunch of risk averse business folks? Do they much prefer the predictability of PPC to the less predictable content marketing? Are they all about maximizing trackable ROI and minimizing the costs? If so, you’ll want to find a methodology that caters to their wants.

On the other hand, do you have a company that is willing to take risks? Even if they don’t have huge, Budweiser-sized budgets, are they willing to think outside the box and create content that may win big (or totally flop)? If they are, then by all means, do that!

Ironically, many companies are highly averse to taking risks online, but are more than willing to burn through thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars on traditional advertisements. They will pay for full page ads in industry publications (where they can’t track any direct ROI), but do not want to spend a dime online unless they know exactly how much they are getting back.

And part of this is our fault. We’ve promised things that we can’t always deliver. In the early days of the internet (before social media) when display ads were the go-to type of marketing online, we promised businesses lots of metrics. “Track everything!” is what we screamed from the rooftops. And yet, in an age of social media and content, we are now forced to begin thinking long-term again. These types of marketing defy easy tracking – despite our best efforts.

So it’s helpful to think of your marketing mix as you would a portfolio. If you have a young company that is able (or needs to) take some drastic risks, then do something brave. Be bold. Turn heads with your content. If the company is much more conservative, they may prefer to simply sit on their PPC ads to generate additional sales leads. But it’s helpful to understand their mindset upfront, before you come up with a grand strategy that is at the opposite risk spectrum that they should be operating in.

In order to build out your portfolio, it’s helpful to think of marketing in terms of four quadrants. Let’s illustrate:

Costs

In this quadrangle we are tracking two primary metrics. The first is cost. How much does it actually cost you to do your marketing? And don’t just look at literal and direct costs. For example, people who haven’t really had to do social media marketing generally think, “Social media is free! Why not just use that?” In a sense they are right, the tool is free to use. Nobody is going to charge you to use Twitter. But there are additional costs associated with using Twitter. Do you use any tracking tools? Do you pay for a subscription to Hootsuite or Buffer?

In addition to the tools, the real cost of social comes from the time it takes to do it well. You need to invest in strategy. You need to create graphics. You need to update (or pay someone to update) your feed and respond to users. These should all be included in your costs.

Ability to Track ROI

The challenge with many marketing efforts is the ability to track a solid return on investment. We discussed this pretty in depth a couple weeks ago. There are also a bunch of other great posts across the web so start searching!

Marketers (as well as CEOs, CMOs, and especially CFOs) really, really like to know if their investments are getting a good ROI. And really it’s only sensible for them ask. After all, there are many companies spending lots of money on marketing, and they want to make sure it’s worth it.

Communicating Perceived Risk

So that a neat little graph, but how does it help us?

It’s a communication tool. Clients (or your bosses) want to know what they are paying for. They want to know (dollar-for-dollar) what they are getting from the investment they are making. This is a very fair request, but if they need to know this exactly, you’ll generally only end up investing heavily in the efforts on the right side of the graph.

SEO, PPC, and email marketing are by far the easiest metrics to track. Using Google Analytics (or some similar platform) you can build an entire campaign and report the return of virtually every single dollar that you invest. CFOs and marketers love this.

The problem with these forms of marketing (generally) is that you get a diminishing return on your investment. Eventually you get to the point where more investment does not equal more sales.

Furthermore, most of these efforts (with perhaps the notable exception of email marketing) do not help you develop a long-term relationship with your customer. Your relationship (if you can even call it that) is purely transactional. As soon as something new or shiny pops up, they’ve left you for someone else.

The most uncomfortable quadrant for most marketers is the top left. This category is dominated by things that cost a lot of money, but don’t have a very easily measurable ROI.

Funnily enough, this is also primarily where traditional marketing resides. TV ads are the pinnacle of this quadrant. Think of all the money Budweiser and Pepsi spend on Superbowl (or am I supposed to say “The Big Game”?) ads. They pay millions of dollars just to air the ad. That’s not even considering the costs of pre and post production. It’s a lot of money!

Understand Your Client’s (or Customer’s) Willingness to Take Risks With Marketing

We created the above illustration to serve as a guide to help marketers engage with their clients in meaningful discussion before strategies are developed. Each unique channel brings it’s own risks and costs, so finding the right marketing mix will be important for your brand.

Sit down with your client and talk to them about the risks that they are willing to take. What does their budget look like? Just as importantly, are they willing to live with some vagueness in their marketing efforts – at least in the short term? If you can’t give them a 100% accurate dollar-for-dollar report, are they going to be frustrated?

If they want exact figures, it might be helpful to point out how they are (likely) not getting such reports on their other marketing efforts either. Do they know exactly the ROI of the latest full page ad they put in the big industry publication? Probably not. At best they are just making educated guesses. The new era of internet marketing relies heavily on this educated guessing.

You may also want to point out the longevity of great content. A full page ad in an industry publication is done in a month. A great piece of online content about a relevant topic may last for months or even years.

So, next time you bring on a new client, talk to them about their marketing risks. How much budget do they want in each category – understanding that with great risk comes the opportunity for even greater reward. Get on the same page, then build out their strategy based upon their risks. If your primary focus is on content marketing, but they only want low risk and exact reports on ROI, maybe you’d better pass them off to your display ads team. It’s probably going to be a better fit.

Don’t Get Lazy

What I’m certainly not advocating is that we give up trying to track ROI on our social media and online efforts. We should always be doing what we can to gauge our ROI, but sometimes this is difficult at best. And clients need to understand this. So we recommend that you discuss risk with them. Some companies will be perfectly fine living in their little, happy PPC world. But brand building involves perceived risk. Are they willing to take those risks?

Building a Creative Process

By | Creativity | 6 Comments

At Mack Web, we’ve spent a good deal of time over the past month asking ourselves how to integrate creativity into our process. After all, the foundation for much of our community building work is great content. And great content takes a lot of time and a lot of creativity. So we know that we need to be creative.

But we also love processes. As a business, we need predictability. We track our time and our budgets carefully. We try to ensure we are being as efficient as possible. The more efficient we can be, the happier our clients are. And with more efficiency comes greater opportunity to take on even more clients and do more cool stuff.

So we’ve set off on a journey, a journey with a threefold destination: to learn how to inspire creativity, to work out the best ways of maximizing our creativity as a team rather than a set of individuals, and how to find a balance between creativity and process.

Thus far we’ve…made some progress on the first one. We’re still working on the other two. But rather than write a dissertation on the whole thing when we get there, I thought I’d share some of the amazing things we’ve learned along the way.

 creative-brainstorming-process

“This is quite a three pipe problem…”

Sometimes creativity comes in a flash. It’s that spark of inspiration where two ideas suddenly collide like a thunderclap. And we should never underestimate those flashes of inspiration. But many of the great ideas we’ve had as a team have been the result of just taking the time to think through a problem.

When you log your time and know exactly how many hours you’ve been spending on a project, it can seem like thinking is just a waste of time. And who really has time to sit down and think? You have e-mails to send and meetings to attend.

But that time to think is invaluable. You need to understand the client, the culture, the customers, the products, and how they all fit together. Thinking gives you time to put yourself in the shoes of the customers and experience their pains and challenges.

Once you understand the problems, you can then begin thinking of solutions. This all takes time and brain power. Although it may be difficult to justify, you will be less efficient and more wasteful if you don’t think through the problems up front.

So plan time to think. If you can’t do it during work hours, do it on your commute. Take a walk around town looking for inspiration. Wrap your head around the problem and possible solutions.

If you don’t believe us, take some advice from one of the smartest men out there. When trying to sort through a particular knotty case, Sherlock Holmes, though known as much for his frenetic bouts of activity as for his incredible mind, would set aside the necessary time for introspection. He once told Watson, “This is quite a three pipe problem and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

Even geniuses need time to think.

Oh, and Mack Web does not endorse smoking.

Three-pipe-problem

Ask the Right Questions

This could be an entire blog post in itself. Often we’ve found that asking the right questions up front leads us to getting very different results in the creative process.

For example, when we develop content we always start with the keywords, personae, and market research data to really get a sense of who we’re trying to reach. Then we ask the question, “What can we create that would benefit this audience?”

This is a fundamentally different question than asking, “What can we create to help our clients sell more products?” Although the desired outcome is still the same (to sell more product), the method of getting there is very different. And we always create better content faster when we think about the customer instead of the sales goal.

Part of what makes Mack Web unique is our unwavering pursuit of community. We don’t just ask, “How can we sell more?” Instead we always ask, “How can we build a lasting community around this brand?” Ultimately they lead to the same goals (brand recognition and increased sales), but the strategies, tactics, and KPIs are fundamentally different.

Early on, we discovered that asking the right questions led to better content, more creativity, and less wasted time.

asking_questions

Think About What’s Possible, Not What’s Already Been Done

Too often our temptation is to simply emulate what we’ve seen others do successfully. This leads to (lame) guest blogs, half-hearted blog posts, and a plethora of top 100 lists.

Those default creative efforts can have value, and they certainly have their place in online marketing. But the real winners, the things that set your company apart from other firms, is the unique content you can create. This comes from your people and from allowing them to work within processes that draw out their creativity rather than squelch it.

So we ask “What’s the best way to reach customers?” We don’t start with budgets. We don’t start with what we’ve done before. We start with the ideal, the holy grail of content and advertising. Then work backwards from there.

Now we’re not a huge company with a million dollar budget, but many times there are cheaper, more efficient ways to do things. So we decide on a goal, and then figure out how to get there. Call it bootstrapping. Call it being creative. Call it efficiency. We really don’t care what you call it, but just get it done.

In a fast paced business environment, it is tempting to just fall back on what you know. And sometimes that’s OK. But when real creativity is required, think about what is possible, don’t just look at what others have done.

Creativity

Build It, Ship It

We like to plan something until it is perfect. But the truth is that turning your initial ideas into something real and tangible is a complicated process. The initial idea comes quickly, but it requires a lot of work to take it from an idea to a full content piece. And we can never predict some of the problems we’ll run into until we’re actually building it.

By all means, take time to plan, but once you have a solid plan in place, start building! No plan is perfect. No plan can ever account for all the variables. Even if you did, by some miracle, create a flawless plan, things change quickly. Something is always going to slip or alter or require adjustment between dream and execution. Go with it.

We’re big fans of Distilled around here and we like to abide by the Distilled mentality. Once it’s done: ship it! Don’t sit on it. You can tinker with something until the end of time (and we strive for excellence here at Mack Web Solutions, so we know all about this temptation).

Along the way there are hiccups and challenges. Sometimes the ideas that we thought were the greatest don’t pan out the way we’d hoped. And other times we kill it (in the good way, that is).

But we don’t get to decide that. The customers and the users decide that. And we’ll never get their decision if we don’t ship it. You miss every shot you don’t take.

 tumblr_md2vbjvgiQ1qfk1jq

Continued Learning

So that’s where we are. We’re not perfect, but we’re learning. We don’t just want to be a company with a great personality (which I think we have), but we also want to be a company known for creativity. And in order to do that, we need to find ways to draw out and leverage the maximum creativity of our entire team. The creative sum is greater than the individual parts. (And our individual parts are already pretty great). We’re only going to get better from here. Keep your fingers crossed on our behalf as we try to figure out the rest of this creativity business.

What have you learned? Any tips to share how you’ve formalized the creative process?

 

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

By | Creativity, Events | 4 Comments

The Good Stuff

I know, I know. Typically this is an assignment undertaken at the end of the summer and not before it technically begins. (Although, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been assigned this essay. Not even in elementary school when it was more of a crayon-based operation than an actual paper).

But this (almost) summer, Mack Web Solutions is getting to the good stuff early and we want to share.

(Also, we want to explain, in advance, why you won’t be able to reach us in the latter half of this week. Because we know you’d worry and, frankly, we don’t want to have to deal with the aftermath of the missing persons’ reports. The Ice Cream Break Debacle of 2011 taught us that).

So consider this your official notice…this Thursday and Friday, June 13 & 14, Mack Web Solutions will be out of the office and out of your grasp because we will be in…

STRAT OPS!

(I know, I know. When Mack first announced it, I was desperately hoping for Hawaii, too).

Better Than Hawaii! (If you hate sun, sand, surf, and fruity drinks with umbrellas)

Okay, so it’s no island paradise, but we actually are really excited for this chance to take this time away and make good on something we promised ourselves to do: treat Mack Web like a client.

It’s been a goal that we’ve been working toward (with no little success) for the last year or so but, as with every client, it’s time to move on to the next phase of our growth.

Even though we’ve been around now for ten (that’s right, count ‘em: ten) years, the company has undergone such an evolution in the last 12 (er…16) months, that we really felt like we were re-setting the clock.

(Which is not going to stop us from having a celebratory blow-out worthy of the decade mark later this year).

So, appropriate to the re-genesis, we set some goals for ourselves last spring and we’ve spent a good part of the last year really trying to accomplish them.

The return on that investment has been beyond what we expected and, if we’ve talked a lot about it, it’s only because we’re so giddy-happy with the results of what started, essentially, as an experiment. A well-conceived, carefully-considered, painstakingly-researched experiment, but an experiment nonetheless.

Mad Science

That experiment, of course, was a little thing we like to call…Innovation Friday.

If you’ve worked with us, heard of us, chatted with us at all, you probably know a thing or two about Innovation Friday.

From 12-5 (almost) every Friday, we stop checking our email or answering our phone. We bar the doors and sequester ourselves in our offices with a plentiful stash of paper, smelly markers, and chocolate, and go about the business of making Mack Web the company that we want it to be.

This takes different shapes based on the stage of evolution we’re in at the time.

Sometimes we get to laugh and dream and throw candy wrappers and get a little high off fruit-scented markers and indulge our inner creatives.

Sometimes we just take the time to offer kudos, air grievances and frustrations, secretly psychoanalyze each other, and really, truly communicate.

Sometimes we have to knuckle down and slog through the hard, painful, punctilious work of sorting out the details of the model we want to build.

Every time we learn new things, whether from Mack, from each other, from our industry idols, or from our interactions with you lovely people in our community.

No matter what kind of Friday it is, the overarching aim is always the same: a sacred time and space where we can focus on us, so that we can

a) become this company that we’re proud to be part of and
b) become the version of our company best able to serve our clients.

What’s coming up this week is just a continuation in that grand tradition of deliberate growth and cultivation. (Including, but not limited, to the unquestionable cornucopia of comestibles).

Egg? Chicken?

Our Mack, in case you hadn’t picked up on it, spends a lot of time pondering ways to guide Mack Web Solutions down the path that our love of just, plain old doing things right necessitates.

It’s a beautiful trait of hers and one that we, her (almost always) adoring employees appreciate. But there comes a time when even one so grand as Our Boss Lady doesn’t have the knowledge or resources to carry on alone.

So when she was setting resolutions for the company this year, she laid out, in black and white, that she would not be afraid to ask for help.

She has followed through on that in two ways so far this year. First was in bringing in an HR consultant to help us find the right team members (a stunning success so far, but more on that coming soon).

Second, she got in touch with a strategical operations consultant. Which brings us, full circle, back to our plans for summer vacation.

(And to the ever-unresolvable question: Did our desire for excellence lead us to Strat Ops or did Strat Ops feed our desire for excellence?)

Operative Strategery

I know, I know. Strat Ops sounds so very espionage-esque (and if I’m harboring secret hopes that our consultant will turn out to be Sydney Bristow in disguise…well, that’s just between you and me), but it’s actually a huge planning session for the future of our company and (indirectly) maybe some of yours, too.

So here’s the nitty gritty:

  • two days
  • six team members
  • one consultant
  • ten years in review
  • three to five years in projection
  • ten brand new smelly markers (it would be a sin to forget those)
  • approximately a metric ton of chips, popcorn, dried mangoes, and various forms of sweet, seductive tooth-rot-in-a-wrapper

That’s the summary.

The long-version involves a lot more heart-to-hearts about dreams and goals, candid talk about roles within in the team, uncomfortable chats about financials, and the laying-out of a concrete strategy for moving forward.

We’ll be re-examining who we are as a company and as individuals in relationship with each other, re-establishing what we do, and re-defining who we do it for.

We’ll be revisiting our mission, vision, and values. We’ll be putting absolutely everything about ourselves under the microscope and seeing what we see.

Behold…

I figure it’s going to end in one of two ways.

  1. Either we’re all going to come out of this thing a collective bundle of paranoid, traumatized neuroses in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis, OR
  2. We’re going to come out better, stronger, faster, with a definite plan for the future.

Obviously, the hope and plan is for the latter.

To that end, we’ll be practicing what we preach and setting the next set of big goals for ourselves.

And from those goals we will be developing a solid, defined strategy that will sustain and accelerate the momentum we’ve been building this year.

Because THE GOAL, the big daddy of what we want to accomplish, remains unchanging:

We want to help companies who align with our values and culture to build their brands and their communities and to accomplish big goals for their businesses.

(Also, we want to discover if it is actually possible to eat your body-weight in gummy bears).

Pardon the Mess

So don’t mind us as we duck out of your lives for a few days. We know it’ll be a wrench, but we have confidence in your ability to get by.

And don’t worry about us too much either. We’re not strangers to change and we’re more than willing to do the hard work.

After all, we constantly tell our clients that you can’t rest on your…laurels…if you want to be great. What kind of company, what kind of people would we be if we didn’t apply that to ourselves?

(Bad, lazy, hypocritical people, on par with those who talk in the theater, that’s what).

But hey, coming soon to a cafe-proximal office near you…the new and improved Mack Web Solutions.

Keep an eye out. You’re gonna like what you see.

(Unless we go with Ending #1. In which case, we’d appreciate it if you call the nice men in the white coats. We won’t be in any state to do it).

 

 

We Are Iron Man: An Introspective Pause, With Popcorn

By | Creativity, Miscellany, Web Marketing | 4 Comments

Just go with it for a minute…

Everybody loves a process. And for good reason. Processes make things clean and simple. They ensure that things don’t get missed, that you can consistently deliver the same proven steps and, hopefully, get the same proven results.

And if you’ve paid attention at all, you know that here at Mack Web Solutions, we really love a good process. We research and test and put the steps together and shuffle them into the optimum arrangement. And then we share them with all you lovely people.

Because in addition to loving processes, we also love helping people.

(And ice cream. We love ice cream almost as much as being helpful and slightly more than processes).

But there is a very important piece to the business of web marketing that we try to keep sight of through all the processing and systematizing that we do.

We call it: The Human Element.

The Man in the Suit. (Which is entirely different from the Man in the Iron Mask).

I’m sure that sitting in a movie theater is hardly the strangest place to have an epiphany.   (We took a poll here in the office and decided that the actual strangest place to have an epiphany would be Disneyland or Six Flags. Because between the overstimulation and the sugar high, who has the concentration for soul searching?)

So, no, a theater isn’t that odd. All kinds of deep and meaningful can happen in a movie:  It’s A Wonderful Life and Shawshank Redemption and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Great Mouse Detective. (What do you mean a talking mouse who tracks down missing people and foils regicide attempts isn’t meaningful? It’s clearly symbology for the mysteries of the cosmos. Just ask Douglas Adams).

An epiphany in a movie theater in the middle of a summer blockbuster (and a sequel, at that) is a little odder.

Nevertheless, an epiphany is what I had, while thoroughly enjoying the charmingly irreverent Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man 3.

It was a very small epiphany but worthy of the name, nevertheless: We are Iron Man.

Without spoiling the movie for you, let me sum up the lesson learned in this third(ish) installment in the franchise:

The fancy (and it is hella fancy) suit isn’t what makes Tony Stark Iron Man. It is Tony Stark who gives the suit its name.

(Or something like that. The movie, entertaining though it was, didn’t do a particularly awesome job at closing all the emotional loops).

But the idea is there, all the same. He needs the suit to do all the high-flying, boat-exploding, damsel-rescuing stuff he does.

But is Robert Downey, Jr. himself…er, I mean, Tony Stark – with his ingenuity, his determination, his charm, and his charisma – who actually drives all of these accomplishments. And even when stripped of the armor, he manages to win the day.

(Uh…that might have been a little bit of a spoiler. Sorry. But it is fairly standard fare for the hero cycle, right?)

Processes are the suit.

So when I say that the Mack Web team is Iron Man, I don’t mean that we’re genius billionaires with alcohol dependencies and a ‘saving people’ thing. What I mean is that we’ve managed to find the balance between the magic suit of awesome and human anima that truly drives progress.

(And we did it without blowing anything up or spiraling into a self-destructive morass of booze and egotism. So take that, Tony Stark).

Yes, we love and use the processes that we’ve developed and we put them front and center in most of our public outings.

But inbound marketing (and Mack Web Solutions, in particular) is about more than the tools. What sits right at the heart of our company and our team is the understanding and knowledge of what we call ‘The Three Rs of the Human Element.’

(Well, sometimes we call them that. Sometimes we just call them, ‘that stuff. Y’know, the good stuff.’ An eloquent bunch here at Mack Web Solutions, I tell you what).

So, the three Rs: Roles, Relationships, and Reasons.

A quick note on the Three Rs.

As we talk about the three Rs, you’ll notice they’re all quite different in how they fit into the big picture. But the thing they have in common, the thing that ties them all together, is that they are all driven by people.

By being a person among people.

Which is the one thing we never want to forget to do. Be a real, live person with a soul who remembers that they live in a world driven by other such people, flawed and fantastic as they are.

So. There. That’s that. Note over. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Roles: Working with the right person.

AKA, If Your Archnemesis Has Developed Regenerative Technology, Make Sure the Guy At Your Back Doesn’t Have an Amputee Grandchild. (A bonus lesson, courtesy of Iron Man).

In most of the internal processes we’ve developed and shared, there is at least one portion that deals with assembling and training your team. Getting the necessary buy-in and priming them for success.

The Human Element (can you hear the appropriately dramatic echoes?) is an inescapable part of this. Because your team is made up of people, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, enthusiasms, and prejudices. And you have to be prepared to make allowances for that simple fact.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t train and educate and motivate and, when necessary, scold.

It does mean that you can’t just arbitrarily assign the roles to people on your team. Just because your 22-year old intern is the only one who knows how to use Facebook doesn’t mean that they should be running your social media.

It means that you need to be deliberate about how you assign the roles on your team. Web marketing has a lot of moving pieces and most of them you shouldn’t hand them out willy-nilly to whoever has a free moment. Instead, figure out who they’re best suited for and then find a way to make the balance work.

Some of that is obvious. You don’t ask the girl from whom crayons run away in terror to do your design. You don’t ask the introvert to run your social.

If that means hiring more people or different people, then that’s what you do.

That’s the dream anyway. To be able to maneuver the exact right people into the exact right positions.

But drastic personnel shifts aren’t the only, or even the first, solution.

Take the time to approach the team as if they were real people. Explain what you hope to accomplish with inbound marketing. Take the time to tie it to your real company goals. Don’t hesitate to offer training and time to get up to speed.

Be a person among people.

(See how that ties in? Nifty, right?)

Relationships: Much like Soylent Green, the Internet is people.

AKA, If Your Flying Suit-Robot Mistakenly Crashes You in the Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee, It’s Not a Good Idea to Alienate the Weirdly Tech-Savvy Kid With the Potato Gun.

This one is kind of a duh to anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent trends in search. Automated link building and mechanical SEO aren’t enough.

To really harness the power of the Internet, you need to capture the hearts and minds of the people who surf it.

This means reaching out both on and offline to the influencers in your industry. If they know you and like you and respect you as a person representing your brand, they’re a lot more likely to share and promote your stuff, wielding their influence on your behalf.

They’re also a lot more likely to share their wisdom and insight with you. Almost as if you were a friend or a mentee or something. Crazy, no?

It also means knowing what drives the people in your customer base audience. What do they really want from you? What resources are missing from the vast cacophony of the Internet? What is about you and your brand that calls a response from them?

You know how you find out honest answers to those questions? You develop relationships with the actual people who buy your product or use your service. And then you ask them.

And how do you develop these relationships? Be a person, of course. Be transparent, be enthusiastic, be humble, be generous. Take the time to listen as well as talk. Put yourself in their shoes and then act accordingly.

(But don’t forget to give the shoes back. Nobody wants to be friends with the guy who left them barefoot in the mud).

See how that works?

Reasons: Find the Why.

AKA, You May Have Built Suit Number One to Rescue Yourself from Afghanistan, But Once You Get to Suit Number Forty-Five, There’s Clearly Something Else At Work.

This is probably the single most important factor of The Human Element.

It’s not enough to go from day-to-day, following the processes, and reacting to everything that comes your way.

If you really want to do the inbound marketing (or, really, anything) right, you have to figure out why you care. What part of it is exciting to you? What do you want to do? What stirs your soul?

As many wise souls have pointed out, it can’t just be about the money.

It needs to be about more than building the tools you need in the moment.

You need to have some bigger vision, some overarching goal to drive you forward. Otherwise, you’ll always lag a step behind.

When the big names in, well, just about any industry talk about their journey to success, they rarely talk about the individual products they developed.

They don’t wax lyrical about the killer app they built (or discovered) and how it inspired them. They don’t talk about their fantastic breakthrough in spreadsheet usage.

They talk about their vision, about the world they wanted to help build, about the lessons learned, about the characteristics they developed in and of themselves.

These human lessons are what drove their successes.

But more importantly, if you don’t understand the why of what you’re doing, you’ll probably go nuts.

As someone who has been here at Mack Web Solutions for a while, through the internal testing of a lot of the processes and systems we use and share…let me tell you this, quite frankly: if I didn’t believe in where we were going, I probably would have quit in the middle.

Ironing out processes, shifting gears, backing up to see the bigger picture: this stuff can hurt. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and you’ll spend some time feeling like a failure.

Without a clear destination in sight, the journey itself can be enough to make you turn around and go home.

So, figure out the why.

And then share that why with your team, with your customers, with your community. Your genuine passion and enthusiasm will be what draws them to you and sparks their interest.

You Are More Than an Arc Reactor.

So, that’s it, really. My rambling, ranting little reminder of why summer blockbusters about handsome, muscular, egotistic men with savant-like knowledge of robotics and an arsenal of quips are relevant to life.

Because they remind us that it’s not the tools that define us. It’s the spark of ingenuity and the ability to dream big for the future, the ability to connect with other living souls, that makes us great.

So, find your inner genuis, billionare, playboy philanthropist.

And then remind yourself: I. Am. Iron Man.