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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.