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The Top 20 Software Tools Your Marketing Team Needs

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Are You Providing Your Marketing Team With The Tools They Need?
I’m often shocked to see how some marketers are being forced to use free tools and workarounds to get their job done. It makes me wonder if the owners or managers understand the difficulties they are creating for their team. In this article I highlight the top 20 software tools your marketing team needs, along with some of the alternative tools and workarounds that I see people using.

Tools the Entire Marketing Team Needs
These first few tools are things that the entire marketing team should have access to, regardless of their role.

1. Password Management Tool
At this point everyone should be well-versed in the need for secure passwords, which a password management tool can help with, but there are additional benefits of a password management system. If you need to manage access to various accounts for several team members or share passwords among your team, this is the easiest way to do it. I’m not going to lie – these are a major production to get set up, but it’s a game changer once you do. 1Password is a great tool for teams.

2. Project Management Software
If you have more than one marketing employee or multiple freelancers, whoever manages them will need a way allocate work, track progress, ensure deadlines and balance the workload. While it’s possible to function without one, having a project management system will ensure that you are getting the maximum potential out of the resources that you have. Some of the more common tools used by in-house teams are:, Asana, Trello and Jira.

3. 4. 5. Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Presentations
Your whole team will probably need a Microsoft subscription for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, but Google’s collaboration features seem to have them gaining ground among SMBs. We are actually seeing an increase in teams using a combination of both Microsoft and Google.Excel and PowerPoint still reign for their more advanced features.

Tools for Your Designers
A tool alone will not make a great designer (that will require design theory education and several years of experience), but the right tool in trained hands will definitely lead to increased productivity. People expected to produce compelling visual designs will need the best-in-class tools.

6. 7. 8. Page Layout, Illustration and PhotoEditing

The Adobe Suite (for Professionals)
There is no replacement for the Adobe Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign). These programs have been the industry standard for almost 4 decades. They are incredibly complex to learn and take years to master. Designers early in their career should focus on mastering these programs, and businesses should provide them with access to the best tools available and training to get the most out of them. This requires both a financial and time commitment, but both the company and the designer’s career will benefit from the decision.

Canva (for Everyone Else)
What about Canva? Canva is a web-based platform that is currently a top choice for amateur designers, non-designers and micro-businesses with small staff and limited budgets. They have a free version with loads of templates that have fueled the tool’s growth. To use your own custom-branded graphics within Canva, you will need to upgrade to a paid account, and serious designers will find the software very limited compared to Adobe products.

9. Font Libraries
Many people don’t realize that fonts require licenses. Even the free fonts require a license agreement (when you download them, you are agreeing to their terms, which may prohibit you from modifying and selling the font, for example.) While the volume of free fonts has grown, many of the most enduring, highest quality fonts are still protected, and to use them you will need either individual licenses or a subscription. Adobe has made it very convenient to access their font library as part of the creative cloud subscription. If you aren’t using Adobe products or you are looking to purchase individual fonts, look to popular sites like FontShop, MyFonts and FontSpring.

10. Stock Art Subscriptions
Most teams who regularly produce content will need access to graphics that they have permission to use. Denying your team access to a stock art library will most likely lead to them using images that they do not have permission to use. Stock art companies have made this easier with affordable subscriptions that you can scale to the quantity you need on an ongoing basis. Outside of the Adobe platform, some of the top stock art sites are: iStock, Getty Images and Envato.

Tools for Social Media Managers
Social Media Managers have some specific tools they need for scheduling and collaboration, but they will also need access to the same suite of design tools as designers and video editors to be visually effective. They may be able to generate content using photos and video taken from their phones, but they will not have the ability to truly manage a professional brand online without more advanced graphics and editing tools.

11. Social Scheduling and Reporting Tools
To produce a regular schedule of content for multiple social media channels is challenging. As a result, there have been tools to help with this for almost as long as the social channels have existed. Some of the features include planners, advance scheduling, reporting, listening, and approval workflows, to name just a few. HootSuite and Sprout Social are the industry leaders.

12. Graphics Editors for Social Media
I have referred to these tools as graphic editors and not graphic creation tools. Due to the speed and volume of what is required for the production of day to day social media posts, most people now turn to basic graphics editors instead of the using the Adobe suite. Canva has become increasingly popular. The paid version allows you to upload brand elements, and I’m going to make a case for this instead of Adobe’s competing product, Express (formerly called Spark). Spark used to be part of the subscription plan, but they have recently made a free version of Express, probably to address Canva’s free growth. I will advocate for Canva here in terms of features and ease of use for a non-designer meeting to spit our quick social posts.

Tools for Digital & Marketing Team Members
The following tools may be used by internal team members or you may have the activities outsourced to specialized companies (SEO, for example, is commonly outsourced to the high level of specialized knowledge required to be successful). I always recommend getting tools set up in your company name wherever possible, so that you always have access to your own historical data. Some vendors will not allow this, so you should always ask before engaging.

13. SEO Management Tool
Basic analytics tools will show you top search phrases, but if you are actively trying to get listed for specific words, you will need a tool to monitor the keyword rankings and their movement up and down over time, and that will require a reporting tool. If your team is devoting any amount of effort to SEO, these tools are a requirement to assess performance. Here are some of the more popular SEO tools: SEM Rush and Moz. You will also find plugins and tools available that are specific to the website platform that you are using.

14. Analytics Tool
Google Analytics is very powerful, and I would still recommend setting up the basic tracking code on EVERY website for use with integrations with other tools, but I’m going to have a hard time advocating for use of the tool that has become so difficult. The latest version requires so much training and set up that it’s going to be difficult for anyone who isn’t in a full-time role at an agency or web firm to use. For small in-house teams wearing lots of hats, you will probably want something easier. This article has a great list of alternatives.

15. Email Marketing Platform
Sending mass emails directly from your email inboxes runs the risk of having your corporate emails accounts shut down for spam violations. Using a third party email platform will minimize that risk and also provides a additional tracking, reporting and management tools (not to mention better looking emails.) Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Emma… take your pick. They are all affordable and easy to use.

16. Client Database / CRM
Salesforce is the 800lb gorilla, but there are other smaller companies who have great platforms. HubSpot has great introductory offers, in addition to offering a marketing automation platform (see below), but pricing is based on list size, and it becomes very expensive for large lists after the introductory period ends. If you have a sales team, they will likely make the decision on which CRM is used, but the marketing team will need access to be able to effectively collaborate. They will need to set up workflows and run reports on leads and leads by source.

17. Marketing Automation Tool
Marketing automation can be beneficial for businesses that need automated follow up with prospects, especially over longer buying cycles. They can either be freestanding tools or work in conjunction with a CRM to help track the effectiveness of email and digital campaigns, and also to send automated campaigns based on the prospect’s point in the sales cycle and interactions with your marketing campaigns and sales team. Hubspot is widely used, but SalesForce users will likely stick to Pardot, which is native to the SalesForce platform. There are others, such as ActiveCampaign, all of which have different feature sets.

18. IP Tracking (for B2B sales)
IP tracking tools provide data on companies that are visiting your website. This can be essential for sales-driven B2B businesses with long sales cycles to better understand the consideration and decision-making activities of their prospects. IP tracking can also help provide an extra layer of data to validate marketing efforts, allowing you to track specific users from campaigns through to their behaviors on your website. Our favorite lead tracker is LeadFeeder by Dealfront.

19. Survey Tool
Surveys can be powerful tools for both market research and measuring client satisfaction. I am seeing Google Forms used more frequently for surveys, but this all dumps into a basic spreadsheet. People familiar with data analysis and survey design will want a tool with more advanced segmenting capabilities. Survey Monkey provides a simple and affordable platform that still packs some punch.

Tools for Video Producers
The term video production has taken on new meaning with the rise of smart phone usage for social media-quality video editing, but for the purpose of this article, let’s assume I’m talking about higher end requirements.

20. Video Editing
High quality video files are very large. As a result, advanced video editing requires not just specialized software, but also specialized processing power and increased storage. If your company is making a commitment to in-house video production, you will want to invest in the right equipment and tools to help your team. There is no bigger waste of time than waiting for a video to render on an underpowered device. Adobe Premier and Final Cut are the industry standard for video editing.

What do you consider essential? Have I forgotten something or is there something you use that I haven’t mentioned? Please share your thoughts.

Do you need help setting up your internal marketing department or hiring for marketing roles? Tap into our 25+ years of expertise with our fractional CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) service.

What is a CMO and Why Do You Need One?

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What is a CMO? 
CMO stands for Chief Marketing Officer. They are a member of the C-suite and report directly to the CEO or COO.

What is the function of a CMO?
The CMO participates in top-level strategy and planning as part of the executive team. They are responsible for the brand, positioning, marketing and advertising.

They are in charge of critical top-level KPIs for the organization

  • generating awareness
  • generating leads
  • improving lead quality
  • shortening the sales cycle
  • reducing the cost of acquisition

They are responsible for

  • developing a marketing plan and budget to help the business meet its goals
  • monitoring your competition to make sure that your positioning isn’t slipping
  • keeping your branding and messaging relevant to your audience
  • researching and setting pricing for the company’s products and services
  • launching campaigns for new products, services, geographic locations
  • overseeing specialized vendor areas such as media buying, PR, SEO, and more
  • supporting the sales team with collateral, event marketing, drop campaigns, demos, and more
  • recruiting, hiring and growing your marketing team
  • developing tools, systems and processes to run marketing
  • and so much more…

What is the background of a CMO?
CMOs can come from a variety of educational backgrounds. They will typically have an undergraduate degree in business, marketing or something related. Many will have an MBA or Masters degree in marketing. They will definitely have 10+ years of experience in a variety of roles where they have had the responsibility to develop marketing plans, build the marketing team and oversee the marketing vendors.

Why do you need a CMO?
In short – they are the major force behind the awareness creation and growth of the business. You may ask, “Isn’t everyone focused on the growth of the business? What about the CEO, the COO, the VP of Sales?” It’s possible to operate a company without a CMO, and many small companies do. However, you won’t find a middle market company without one. Most small businesses are missing this dedicated person with a specialized background and education who is focused 100% on the growth of the business.

The most common thing we see in smaller organizations is a VP of Sales and Marketing. While this combined title may require oversight of both sales and marketing departments, the background and experience of the person leading is typically coming up through the the sales career path. They rarely have the experience to effectively lead effective marketing campaigns, run a marketing department or to update branding and customer experience.

How can you find a CMO?
You can hire a full-time CMO, but if your organization isn’t in a position to bring someone on full-time, there are other ways to gain the marketing guidance and experience that your organization needs. Here are some ways to grow your marketing without hiring a CMO:

  • Fractional CMOs (part-time availability)
  • Create an Advisory Board
  • Industry Peers may share Marketing Insights
  • Consultants – Hourly or Project-Basis
  • Give a Marketing Director Opportunity, Access and Training

Do you need help?
Robot Creative has been providing fractional CMO services for more than 25 years and has created hundreds of marketing plans. If you are looking for marketing help, please reach out for a consultation.

Tips for Working with Writers

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I recently had a client ask for advice on working with writers. If you are considering hiring a copywriter (either freelance or in-house), here are some leadership pointers to help you get the most out of the engagement:

Review Portfolios Carefully
Make sure you find a writer who has experience in two things: writing the same types of content and writing for the same types of audience. A consumer-focused retail blog is very different from a technical B2B white paper or an email campaign series to onboard a software client.

Manage Your Brand
To ensure brand consistency across all of your company messaging, you should establish brand voice and tone guidelines. These guidelines should be documented and include examples. This can start simple and evolve as you gain experience. Things that you correct or edit out can be added to the guidelines.

Share Your Marketing Plan
You should have a marketing plan and goals that you can clearly communicate to your writer. In particular, the audience and your differentiators will need to be clearly communicated to a writer. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of sharing the big picture with them.

Develop an Editorial Calendar
It helps to establish an editorial calendar, at least on a quarterly basis, so that everyone is on the same page about what is going to happen and when. This can also help with big picture thinking as a writer gets to know you and sees what is on the horizon.

Establish a Workflow and Timelines
You will want to establish a workflow and timelines for expectations on what the process will be. For example, working backward from the publish dates on the editorial calendar – do you need 1 week for a rough draft, one week for your review and 2-3 days for final revisions? If you have employees these timelines are under your control. With external vendors you need to work with them to establish timelines and make sure that they feel they can commit to them.

Get Clarity on Pricing and Estimates
You will want to clarify how long it takes to write certain kinds of content. Sharing clear examples in advance will help make this estimating process more accurate. Will this be a fixed budget or will it be hourly, and what is the hourly rate? Will it include a certain number of rounds of revisions? What would trigger a change order or cause the project to go over the initial estimate?

It Gets Better with Repetition
Working with the same writer will ensure consistency and help shorter the learning curve for the writer so that things get better over time. If you work with a freelance platform or service and change writers frequently, you may feel like you are starting over with each piece which it might suck the life out of you from a management perspective.

Evaluating the Process
It’s a true pleasure to work with gifted and experienced writers. They don’t procrastinate, they add tremendous value to the process and make your organization shine. Working with a poor fit or inexperienced writer can mean the quite the opposite. While you will probably always need to provide some feedback and revisions, you should know by the very first draft whether they are elevating the process or if you will need to pull the project across the finish line yourself. Look for the writer who lightens the load.

If you are looking for help identifying a copywriter please let me know. I can help establish voice and tone guidelines, screen candidates and you set your engagement up for success. 

Top 20 Ways CEOs Wreck Their Marketing

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Over the past 25 years, I have had a front-row seat to some of the biggest marketing mistakes that business owners and managers have made. Sometimes, it’s well-intentioned. Sometimes, it’s ill-informed. Sometimes, it’s downright meddlesome. Check out this list to see if you catch yourself saying any of these phrases.

1. Well, I like… or I don’t like…
It may not be about what the owner likes if the owner doesn’t match the buyer profile. Basing marketing decisions on personal preference and not really understanding the audience profiles, preferences and behavioral traits is a common mistake.

2. I just heard/saw/read… or What about Tik Tok?
We see some business owners change on a dime every time they read a new book or hear a new podcast. We often see this come down as an order backed by very little experience and lacking judgment. We definitely encourage all questions and challenges from the owner, but I would recommend you at least have a discussion to make sure that the decisions make sense in the context of the marketing plan!

3. We have worked with Judy (radio sales rep) a long time.
Sometimes long-term relationships with sales and media reps can lead to a lapse in judgment and complacency on the marketing front. It makes sense to measure success against third-party benchmarks and regularly re-evaluate your strategy.

4. What about a billboard? or We really need a billboard.
Some people really want to see their logo (or face) giant on a billboard or in outdoor advertising. Owners should challenge themselves to evaluate the marketing goal they are trying to achieve and only run billboards as part of a multi-pronged campaign with clear tracking available through other channels or point of sale.

5. Everyone is a potential customer, or We don’t want to turn away business, or I don’t want to lose out on… 
Marketing to a specific group is the equivalent of using the right lure to catch a specific kind of fish. It can make all the difference. It doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to catch any other fish that decide to bite. Fear of positioning and clearly speaking to specific audiences can lead to a lack of connection with any audience.

6. I “know” who our customer is, I “think” what they really want is, or I “believe” we are about 60% x and 40% y.
We see a lot of off-the-cuff responses to really critical questions. Many small businesses fail to use concrete data to make important decisions. Sometimes the questions haven’t ever been asked. The data is often challenging to pull or requires manual clean up or re-coding. The analysis may give you a one-time snapshot, but ideally it will be the beginning of a new infrastructure to help better manage your business moving forward.

7. Lisa (Marketing Director) can’t take us to the next level… 
We see shocking expectations from owners about what their solo in-house marketing person should be capable of. A single person should not be expected to design, write, plan, budget, analyze, promote and lead your organization to success, especially if you aren’t providing: ongoing education/training opportunities, time to participate in industry trade organizations/peer groups and the option to enlist additional experts/resources.

8. David (Marketing Coordinator/Manager) thinks we need to be focusing on Twitter followers.
Sometimes, we see owners taking the advice of the internal marketing person even when that team member lacks the experience to be developing the strategy. Owners may not hear the advice and recommendations of other experts because they don’t want to upset the internal team. It’s important to make sure that you are always evaluating the mediums you select based on the target audience profiles.

9. We are really a sales-driven organization, and advertising hasn’t ever really worked for us.
For some businesses who have had success with direct sales, there is often a misunderstanding about how marketing activities can provide awareness and generate warm leads, data and credibility to convert leads faster, sales support to shorten the sales cycle, aid retention, etc.

10. We don’t really have a plan… or We don’t really have a marketing budget… 
It’s surprising how many businesses are lacking a marketing plan and don’t even have a line item for a marketing budget. It’s real hard to improve your marketing program when you don’t have it documented or have a way to compare year-over-year performance.

11. Well last year we spent about 220K… 
The majority of established businesses are simply running off of last year’s budget as a framework for the marketing decision-making instead of basing the marketing plan on a strategy that is expected to generate results.

12. We have always… 
Many business owners cling to antiquated marketing methods because that’s how the business was originally built, or something that worked in the past even if it is no longer working. Meanwhile, competitors and startups are capturing market share with modernized methods and tactics.

13. I know my friend Johnny (business owner) got great results from… 
We hear a lot of owners who think that a program a fellow business owner bragged about is 100% accurate and will work for them as well. They cling to the idea of a silver bullet despite the businesses, audiences and positioning being entirely different.

14. They always think the owner is always the best spokesperson… 
There are some owners who make the perfect spokesperson for the business. There are others who do not resonate with the audience, don’t realize it and don’t seek useful feedback. Owner-spokespeople should use impartial methods to solicit feedback from the target audience to ensure they are resonating.

15. I know, but… or What you have to understand is… 
Sometimes business owners don’t heed the advice of experts or internal team members. These CEOs are usually struggling, unable to clearly process the information from the expert, struggling to trust, and not willing to listen with an open mind. If you find yourself using these phrases with experts, take a deep breath and practice listening.

16. We are known for our quality, or We have the best customer service in the industry.
Our follow-up question is always, “why?” or “how so?” A lack of differentiation is a typical problem among small companies. It takes work to fully understand the competitive landscape and to authentically position your company to appeal to specific audience(s), but it will lead to more effective marketing and sales.

17. I saw the XYZ company is doing…
Some small businesses focus too much on the competition, playing follow the leader or reacting to their advertising. Instead, they should be developing their own unique positioning and memorable branding.

18. We don’t really have any competitors… 
Sure you don’t… Even the status quo and complacency are competitors to be addressed.

19. We can’t change the logo…
Failure to do a regular brand audit to ensure that the branding/positioning is appealing to the target customer and unique among the competition will catch up with you eventually.

20. We hear all the time… 
Using anecdotal information to make critical business decisions instead of surveying your audience to make sure that you are using a data-driven approach. Yes, the squeaky wheel on social media needs a response, but it would be a mistake to adjust your entire business to appease them.

Are you guilty of any of these?
If any of these phrases sound familiar, I would encourage you to take a 10,000-foot view to try to identify where the behavior is coming from. It is most likely a mindset that is rooted in a past experience or belief that may or may not be accurate or informed.

When in doubt, solicit advice from a business advisor that you can trust to deliver impartial and even ruthless feedback. Your business (and your marketing team in particular) will thank you.

7 Ways to Level Up Your Marketing Team

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SMB leaders are continually looking for ways to level up their marketing. They often turn to the latest expert, a bestselling book or a new platform, but the best way to level up might be by investing in your current team. There are some concrete actions you can take right now to give your marketing team an injection of new ideas and energy.

Time and money for training
Training is going to seem obvious, but you need to be proactive about planning it, because it isn’t just going to magically happen. Investing in training will help young marketers learn from more experienced professionals and will help seasoned marketers stay abreast of the ever-evolving technology and tools. Each year, I recommend you do these three things:

1. Identify critical training needs
2. Determine a specific budget for training
3. Actually put dates on the calendar or block it off by quarter

Formal training can range from $3500 or more to attend a conference to $50-250 for an online course. There are also tons of free resources on the internet for people who are good at self-based training (not everyone is good at this, and not all free training on the internet is good…so beware!)

Training courses can also differ significantly in their time commitments. They might be over the course of a three-day weekend, every Tuesday night for months or a one-hour lunch and learn.

The training may include intermittent assessments, final exams, projects and even certifications. If you are working with a new employee, I would recommend finding training that has an assessment component to evaluate how well they respond to these opportunities.

I like people to be excited about their training, so I coach them on specific company goals or needs, but then have them do their own research to identify training opportunities. I ask them to find a variety of options in terms of both time commitment and cost. This empowers them to take control of their own advancement and leads to a higher level of commitment. I listen for enthusiasm or sparks when they go over the options. More than once that has swayed me to buy into longer or more expensive programs.

Training isn’t the only way to help your team grow and develop. There are several additional ways to get help by simply encouraging staff participation in certain types of “outside” activities.

Industry trade organization membership
Industry trade organizations are also great resources for your marketing teams. They usually include monthly meetings with timely topics and educational speakers, the opportunity to build a peer network to share ideas and challenges, competitions and awards to help benchmark and level up, as well as leadership opportunities.

There are too many organizations to list here, so I’ll just start with the ones that I participated in when I was starting out: American Advertising Federation (AdFed), American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and American Marketing Association (AMA). These are large, national organizations with local chapters. You will also find smaller, local groups that vary from place to place.

It is also worth looking into industry-specific groups, some of which may have marketing-specific opportunities.

Mentors are another great way to help your team grow professionally. While mentor relationships can be a naturally evolving arrangement, there is a lot that business owners can do to encourage staff members to find a mentor.

To begin, talk to your employees about mentorship, what it means, and how it works. Describe any mentor relationships that have helped you grow and evolve in your career. Then encourage or aid them in identifying possible mentors and allow them time to meet with their mentors on a monthly basis.

You can help your marketing team look for mentors both within the company and outside the company. An internal mentorship can help a new or less experienced person get to know your company, your culture, your brand, your operation and your team. They don’t need to be in the same department. There is great value in helping someone ramp up quickly. If your team is large enough to have junior and senior roles, providing a junior team member with a senior team member (who is not the direct manager) can help them more quickly advance in their role-specific skills.

External mentorship becomes more valuable at higher manager and director levels because it helps your middle management leaders gain access to outside perspectives. It provides them with a sounding board to talk through the more challenging aspects of management, as well as a seasoned second opinion on tactics and programs.

Peer groups & meetups
There are a variety of industry-specific, design-specific and marketing-specific peer groups. They typically meet monthly and have anywhere from 6-12 members. If you can’t find a local group in your area, you may be able to find one online that offers virtual meetings.

This places your people in a group of peers to share challenges and grow. It helps them build a network and provides an extended team to share tools, training, tactics, and experience. Over the years, I have solved numerous business challenges with a quick email or slack message to one of my peer groups.

Meetups vary in their attendance from one to the next, and attendance isn’t mandatory, so you won’t have an instant network the way you would with a peer group, but for a personable person with interpersonal skills, meetups can be a great way to develop their own peer network.

Peer groups vary in cost depending largely on the host organization. Meetups are typically free or very affordable. The gift of time to attend these is critical from employers.

Encouragement to volunteer on a nonprofit marketing committee or board
For mid-level marketing employees, another great opportunity to develop leadership skills and gain extra experience is to serve on a nonprofit board or committee. Marketing and communications committees are regularly seeking volunteers, so these opportunities abound.

By encouraging this participation, which may require time during business hours, you can strengthen a corporate relationship with a nonprofit that you support as a business, or you could allow the employee to serve an organization that is deeply meaningful to them personally. Either way, you are strengthening important bonds both with your employee and the community.

At the board level, your employees will gain a front-row seat to the interworking of an organization from finance to HR to marketing and strategy they will have the opportunity to expand their leadership skills, preparing them for deeper levels of participation in your business.

With committee-level participation, your employees will have the chance to develop peer connections and will also typically have more hands-on tactical opportunities. If they have limited work experience, this can help them grow exponentially. They can get double the hands-on experience, expand their skillset, refine existing skills and have twice the data and reporting to compare and contrast. They will also be learning from their peers on the committee.

Budget to hire experts
With limited budgets, it can seem like a good idea to keep as much as possible in-house. If you have a seasoned team or can devote time to learning and experimenting, this can work out just fine. However, if you need results quickly, give your team permission to work with outside experts. They will get a front-row seat to the processes and tools. They will get the chance to interact with people who they can learn from.

Permission to experiment and fail
This last one is hard. As a business owner, you NEED to have an expectation of results, but new marketers experience a learning curve before they can consistently return repeatable results. They will need to have coaching to continually test, evaluate and improve their performance. Starting out, consistent management is key to their growth.

Once marketers have solid experience, they should be able to operate more independently. They should also be able to clearly communicate whether initiatives should have predictable outcomes (and what they are) or whether there will be a trial or testing period. Owners should be able to manage risk during testing periods with clear up-front communication. If you can establish some agreed-upon budgets, benchmarks and review periods, everyone should start and remain on the same page.

How many of these opportunities are you providing to your marketing team? Are you investing in their growth and seeing a return? Do you have creative ways you are inspiring your teams and helping them advance? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

About Robot Creative
Robot Creative provides fractional CMO services, marketing plans, branding, an outsourced marketing team and consulting advice to small and mid-sized companies. If you are looking for leadership or staff augmentation, please reach out for a consultation.

About Lara August
Lara August is the Founder and CEO of Robot Creative. She writes, speaks and consults with clients to improve their branding, marketing and marketing team development with the ultimate goal of business growth.

Understanding Different Marketing Roles: CMO, Marketing Director and Marketing Manager

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I see business owners confused about what to expect from people in different marketing roles. Most often they are complaining that there is a deficit in some area of their performance, when really, they are doing a fantastic job given their educational level and experience.

Here is an overview of what different levels of marketing staffing typically look like, along with their salary ranges and a simple explanation of the various expectations you should have for each level.

CMO – Chief Marketing Officer

$100,000 – 160,000+ annual salary

  • The C means participation at the leadership level
  • Entrepreneurial contribution at the highest level of company goal setting
  • Peer to other departments at the leadership level
  • Should not require management
  • 20+ years of experience
  • Background in both marketing and business
  • Got there by doing high level consulting, by investing in significant education (MBA), working with a startup or by amassing experience through job switching
  • This title, and even this position, is rare within companies under 50M in revenue. Less than 12% have a CMO.

Marketing Director

$75,000-130,000 annual salary

  • Requires big picture input from the leadership level on company vision and goals
  • Manages others, but also requires management and performance feedback
  • 10+ years of experience
  • Develops plans and marketing budgets
  • Runs programs
  • Can do several different aspects of the work (depending on background, might be more into data, writing or graphics)
  • Often worked their way up from a manager level within the same company
  • May have switched jobs and companies a few times, amassing education and experience

Marketing Manager (various titles… these are the doers)

$45,000-75,000 annual salary

What to expect:

  • Requires management and mentorship from an experienced marketer
  • Can run select programs based on specific training and experience
  • Often focused or specialized in one or two of these areas: social media, SEO, Google Ads, email marketing, content marketing, graphic design, copywriting, etc.

Do not expect them to:

  • be GREAT at more than one thing
  • be GOOD at more than two things
  • succeed without additional training and mentorship
  • develop a marketing plan
  • develop a marketing budget
  • manage people – they manage marketing activities
  • contribute at the leadership or strategy level

The most common frustration that we see from business owners is disappointment with their marketing managers. They are often expected to be operating at the director level or higher, but don’t have the training or experience to be able to contribute at those levels… yet! Use these general guidelines as a framework to fairly evaluate your marketing staff, and please love on your marketing team for their capabilities — not their shortcomings, especially if it’s your expectations that are not set correctly.

In my next post, I will share concrete steps that you can take as a leader to help your small marketing team advance.

How Do you Start an Online Presence?

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We get asked all the time, “how do we get started with an online presence?” We hear this from new businesses, established businesses, nonprofit organizations, and even individual experts or thought leaders hoping to develop their personal brand online. This article walks through the basic steps to building an online presence and helps provide strategies for managing an online presence.

Set up the infrastructure first

It goes without saying, you are going to need a website. There are very few organizations that can get by without one, but the level of effort applied to the website should depend on the audience and how they are likely to interact with the organization via the website.

There are a wide range of technology options to consider:

  • Simple and affordable DIY web site builders (Squarespace & Wix)
  • Easy ecommerce (Shopify & Squarespace)
  • Fully custom websites (WordPress)

Some website pointers:

  • Choose an easy to spell and memorable URL
  • Make sure the website is SEO-ready, fast-loading & mobile-friendly
  • Set up a Google Analytics account & submit the sitemap through Google Search Console

Social Media Platforms
It’s important to focus on the platforms that are frequently used by your audiences. You may have more than one audience and they might use different social media platforms and engage in very different ways! Start small with just a few channels—what you can afford and can manage.

You will probably also need to set up paid advertising accounts in each social channel you plan to use. Organic business reach is very limited for businesses on social media with the current algorithms, and you will need to pay to run ads to specific audiences. This is another reason to carefully consider how many audiences you will go after and how many channels you intend to use.

Review & Referral Sites
For some types of businesses (restaurants, hospitality, homes services, etc.), reviews are a critical step in the consumer decision-making process and should be given as much consideration as the company website. It may even be the place that your potential customers go first. If you aren’t sure which review sites you should be considering, google “____insert your industry____ review” and see what comes up. This is what your potential customers are doing when they are researching.

What You will need to get set up online

You will want to ensure that you are communicating a consistent message and positioning to your audience across all of your online channels. If you are adding new channels or doing a review of your online reputation, take a minute to step back and review all of your sites for consistency.

To get a solid presence set up online, you will need branding. This includes several visual components such as logos, colors, fonts and graphics as well as a basic description of the business.

Products & Services Descriptions
Additionally, most online sites will have the option for you to include products and/or services descriptions and related imagery.

Photos & Video
In addition to photos, video is now widely supported on almost every platform, and with reason – they tend to preform very well.

Following those simple steps will help you build the infrastructure to get started with your online presence, but just because you build it does not mean people will come to these sites. You will also need some ongoing strategies to drive people back to your online properties.

Ongoing Marketing Activities to Build an Online Presence

There are lots of marketing strategies to drive awareness, engagement and visitors to your online properties on an ongoing basis. You should select your marketing activities based on your specific audiences, goals and budgets.  Here is a list of some of the most common online strategies that can be used to create visibility for your organization.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If there are people actively searching for your organization, or even more generally for your products and services, you will want to take some time to do some basic search engine optimization, which you may also hear referred to as organic search and SEO. This requires a website to be SEO friendly from a technical standpoint, and to follow best practices for the use of specific keywords and copy length on each page. This type of SEO setup would require researching the most commonly used search phrases, comparing that to the content on your site, updating site content to better match the keyword data and creating new content based on key search phrase that will appeal to both your intended audience and the search engines. This tactic requires some up-front work and ongoing adjustment as search patterns shift, but if you can put in the time for regular content creation, this tactic will pay off over time.

SEO is not for everyone, however. You may be in a heavily saturated market that makes it hard to rise in the search engine listings, or you may even be in an industry that is new or has very little search volume. In those cases, you will need to use some of the other tactics listed below.

Paid Search Marketing
If you are in a highly saturated industry for organic search, you may be able to use paid search advertising to rise to the top of the search results. Paid search bypasses the need to optimize your site for organic search and can help you appear at the top of the search results as soon as you turn your ads on. However, if your site is not optimized for the keywords you’re buying, your performance may be less than what you would like. We almost always recommend combining your paid search and organic search efforts to make sure they are aligned and work well together.

Digital Marketing
Digital marketing is a very broad term used to cover a whole lot of ground. Digital marketing involves placing ads or content in front of people to create awareness and drive interest back to your properties. Unlike with search, in digital marketing you are targeting people based on a variety of triggers even if they aren’t actively looking for what you are selling. A few examples: Google Display ads, social media advertising, streaming audio/video advertising, native content placement, etc.

Content Marketing
Content marketing is a great opportunity for businesses who have the ability to generate new pages on their website on an ongoing basis. Most commonly, this takes on the form of newsroom posts, blogs, videos or other resources. Most content marketing programs involve the creation of this content as well as shares on social channels and in email marketing. It might also include an ongoing SEO strategy to optimize each new page of content that is created.

PR / Earned Media Strategy
Using PR and earned media mentions can be a great way to create visibility for your organization. When popular and high-ranking sites post articles that mention you and your business and link back to your website, you have a two-fold benefit. You will be reaching a new audience through the publication, and you will receive “cool” points from Google (also known as building backlinks to boost your page authority in technical marketing jargon).

Email Marketing
If you have a clearly defined list of people that you have permission to email, this is a very affordable way to create regular engagement and traffic back to your website and any of your digital properties. Almost any organization capable of collecting emails with permission should develop this strategy, because unlike the other mentioned tactics, it is 100% under your control, and the costs are practically free. An email marketing strategy includes two parts: 1) growing the list and 2) creating engaging and meaningful content that your audience want to receive.

Social Media
Social media can be a great way to drive ongoing awareness, engagement and traffic to your various online properties. This requires ongoing posting on a regular basis. The guidelines on frequency will vary by industry and audience. Done really well, social media will also include engagement strategies to interact with your audience, monitor competitors and your own reputation. Also, as previously mentioned, for most organizations an effective social media strategy will also require ongoing paid advertising.

Review Management
Last but not least, those review sites you set up will require monitoring and responses. If customers are happy, you should be thanking them for their business and harnessing the power of their positive words. If they are unhappy, quickly responding to any issues is important. Most platforms allow the complainers to adjust their reviews once an issue has been settled. Even if that is not possible, the world will see your attempts to quickly remedy the situation.

Every business, nonprofit and brand is different. A solid marketing plan can help identify the best audiences and market opportunities, which will in turn guide the infrastructure decisions and marketing tactics. Contact us if you need help establishing an online presence. We have more than 25 years of experience helping businesses grow and hit their goals.

What is GA4, and What Does it Mean for your Business?

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Whether you’re savvy with Google Analytics yourself, or you’ve delegated your website analysis, it’s important to understand how Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will affect your website reporting. GA4 is a new version of Google Analytics that launched in October 2021 in anticipation of the previous version (Universal Analytics) being discontinued in July 2023. If you’re wondering why this matters, it’s because when Google sunsets the former platform next summer, all your historical website data will be erased. So, if you haven’t already transitioned your analytics to GA4, we’ve got the cliff’s notes on what’s changing, why it’s important and what to do now to be ready for next year. And yes, you need to get ready now… don’t let it sneak up on you.

What is Different in GA4?

  •  Say “Goodbye” to Old Data

    As of July 2023, Universal Analytics (UA) will quit collecting data on your site and you will have access to your historical data for only six months thereafter. That’s why Google recommends you do a backup of at least fourteen months’ worth of data before July 2023. So, if you’re wanting to compare site engagement during an annual promotional campaign to data from years past, you’ll want to make sure you have those backups. (Instructions on backing up data can be found here.)

  • Tracking Traffic Differently

    Universal Analytics tracks traffic by session. In other words, if I come to your website by clicking on a social post, then go to another website to check my email, but come back to your site by typing in your web address in the URL, those site visits are counted as two separate sessions. GA4 uses “event-based” tracking. In GA4, those two website visits would be combined into one session with separate events. This means your session numbers will look much lower, but inevitably your engagement rates will be much higher. This presents a challenge in comparing data between UA and GA4. They are like comparing apples to oranges. That’s why it’s recommended you go ahead and start using GA4 Google Analytics alongside Universal Analytics for the next year to generate side-by-side reports. This gives you and your team the chance to learn how to interpret the data for an entire year before relying solely on the new platform.

  • Customer Journey Intel

    Event tracking in GA4 is also going to give us a much better picture of the user experience and customer journey while on our sites. There are various types of events that will be tracked. Each tells part of the overall story of how a user got to your website and what they did once they got there.

    • Automatically Tracked Events

      To make things easier, Google set up GA4 to track things like clicks, downloads, first visit to a web page, page scroll and so on. These are extremely useful and the fact that you don’t have to have your web developer add various tags on numerous pages throughout your site to capture these more standard events is a time and money saver.

    • Enhanced Measurement Events

      If you want to take tracking further, with GA4, you can. There are enhanced measurements. For example, you can track more than a page scroll, like the percentage of the page that was scrolled. These give a more complete picture of the customer experience.

    • Recommended Events

      Google has listed some suggested events for businesses or organizations based on common website needs for specific verticals. For instance, e-commerce sites have a list of recommended events like “add-to-cart” and “refund” or “generate lead.” These recommendations can be found in the events report.

    • Custom Events

      Despite the upgrade in pre-established event tracking that Google is introducing, you still might want to track something unique and Google still allows this within custom events. For instance, if you want to track when a person makes a “donation” to your organization, which is different than a standard e-commerce purchase, that would require a custom event. Visit here to learn how to set up custom events.

  • Ramped Up Security

    With online security and personal privacy concerns, GA4 makes it easier to stay in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). With GA4, IP addresses are anonymous (called IP Masking), relying on artificial intelligence (IA) to infer geography and context based on past behavior. While IP Masking is an opt-in feature in Universal Analytics, it’s now mandatory with GA4.

  • App and Web in One

    A big advantage of GA4 is the consolidation of analytics profiles. If you have an app and a website, in Universal Analytics, you have to track them separately. In GA4, they are tracked together. So, if someone clicks from your site to your app and then buys something, that entire customer journey is tracked within one analytics profile.

Why does the Google Analytics Change Matter to Your Business?

You may wonder why any of these changes matter. The truth is, if you don’t consider your website a part of your marketing strategy, then this really won’t change much for you. However, if you rely on your site to play a role in gaining new customers, leads or sales, the switch to GA4 is critical. Understanding who comes to your website, how they get there and how they engage with your site are all important steps in assessing how well your website supports your goals.

What Do You Need to Do Now?

  1. Your next steps should include setting up your GA4 account alongside your current Universal Analytics account. Thankfully, the initial setup for GA4 isn’t too complicated. It’s only taken us a few minutes to do this for each of our customers. There might be a little more time to set up any custom events if you require those to track what you need. Otherwise, you can connect GA4 to your Google Ads and Tag Manager accounts seamlessly. You can find complete instructions here.
  2. Next, you will want to download backups of your data (instructions here).
  3. Be sure to finish migrating your conversion goals and set up event tracking and audience groups.
  4. Finally, play around with the reporting templates and see how the new platform shows insights compared to Universal Analytics reporting.

If you need help transitioning to GA4 or setting up custom reports, or want an independent review of your website and its current state of performance and tracking setup, contact us today.

Professional Headshot Tips for 2022

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New Trends in Profile Pictures

Gone are the days when a cold, black suit on a bland gray background would do. Now, you will find personality, color and life added to headshots. While there is no exact formula, the trend is to add some form of individual expression to your photo. If your headshot is looking a little stale, check out this list of professional headshot tips that can help you breathe some new life into your profile.

WFH is Here to Stay – Go Casual with Your Headshot

The range of what is considered an acceptable work attire has dramatically changed as a result of COVID-19. More casual clothing has become acceptable across a variety of industries and professions, and this is carried into profiles that are more casual in attire, choice of background and pose. Consider showing a little more of your relaxed self in your photo by wearing what you usually wear “to work” instead of dressing up.

Show Self-Expression with Clothing in Headshots

As many remote workers returned to the office, they went retail-wild and showed up wearing a burst of self-expression. You will find the range of personalization in headshots has taken a similar turn. Both men and women can now embrace things long-considered taboo in the realm of professional portraits, such as bold makeup, statement earrings, big necklaces, standout hair accessories, hats and patterns. Don’t dress so wild that it doesn’t look like you, but do dress in whatever equates to your version of ‘bold.’

A New Trend in Headshots is to Embrace Color

As we mentioned earlier, the gray is gone. Photos have become bolder. There are two areas you can adjust to create a bold photo: the foreground (you) and the background. Try wearing bold colors, use a vibrant color for your background or go really big and create a strong contrast between the two. Your headshot will literally pop out from the competition.

More People are Taking Their Headshots Outside

Some employers require a specific headshot format for the corporate website, and that may require a studio shot. However, “on-location” photos showing some office environment or an outside landscape are definitely on the rise. A background that helps tell more of a story about where you work or your personality can be a great way to build human interest and connection. If your company requires that good, old-fashioned studio photo, consider some of the other tips included in this article to spice it up, or ask for a few shots for different uses; what you use on LinkedIn doesn’t need to match the corporate website.

Taking the “Posed” out of Professional Portraits

If the endless zoom meetings have become more cold and impersonal, the headshots certainly have not. A trend has emerged to convey approachability and personality through online profiles and digital correspondence, including headshots. Photos have begun to appear with people looking off-camera, laughing and in more casual poses. To follow this 2022 headshot trend, some photographers use candid shots. It can be as simple as picking what was formerly considered an “outtake” during a studio shoot or having a professional photographer capture you “in the wild” away from your desk, interacting with people, speaking in front of a crowd, or even at a networking event.

Check Your Fit

In this case, we aren’t referring to your wardrobe. ‘Fit’ also applies to the intent of your headshot. If your company has a certain look they are shooting for, we don’t suggest bucking the system. If it’s not appropriate to wear a t-shirt in your office or industry, wearing one for your professional profile may not look as ‘approachable’ as it does  ‘unprofessional.’ In the same way, if your job is to relate to college applicants and you are profiled in a three-piece suit, your image might create an unapproachable vibe for the students before you get a chance to meet with them and show off your magical personality. Make sure the image you convey fits the intent and purpose of your headshot.

Quick New Headshot Trend Checklist

To recap, here’s a quick checklist to make sure your new headshot looks like it belongs in this decade. You don’t necessarily have to incorporate all these elements. Consider the mix that will best convey your unique story when someone looks at your headshot.

  • Dress down, not up
  • Show individuality in your attire
  • Use bold colors
  • Consider shooting on location or outside
  • Go candid, less posed
  • Make sure your image fits your industry and intended use

Robot Creative specializes in Branding, Marketing Strategy and Outsourced Marketing for emerging middle-market businesses. If you need help with branding for your company or top executives, we can help. Call for a consultation.

If you need a new headshot soon and are located in the San Antonio area, join us for Headshot Day on Friday, July 22, 2022. Click here for details.

Should Your Organization Advertise on TikTok?

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Some of our clients have been asking, “Should we consider advertising on TikTok?”

Short Answer: 
If your target audience is Gen Z, then yes. If they are older, then you should consider other platforms for advertising to start.

Long Answer:
Our partner Sprout Social, Inc. investigated this recently. They found, according to Statista, that the largest age group of TikTok users in the U.S. in 2021 was 10-19. Millennials and Gen Xers weren’t terribly far behind. However, Global Web Index (GWI) reports that 30% of Gen Zers use TikTok for product research; compared to 16% of Millennials, 9% of Gen Xers and 2% of Baby Boomers.

Since a majority of users seek entertainment from TikTok content (GWI reports), companies could benefit from social listening on this platform to keep abreast of trends or to create a content strategy to start reaching younger audiences. However, unless targeting young Gen Zers, your ad dollars would be better spent elsewhere for now.

Have any other questions about your Social Media advertising strategy? Contact us for a consultation.

Do You Have a Brand or Just a Logo?

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Often, I hear people refer to their logo, colors, fonts and images as their “brand.” These are all components of a brand, but there is much more to it than just the visuals.

What is a Brand?

Branding has evolved over the years, and you will find several different definitions of the word. What began as simply a name or symbol to identify a product or service has expanded to the more current definition that most modern strategists, marketers and brand builders use. In current terms, a brand revolves around the more broad idea of “perception.”

Brand: The perception one has about a company, product or service.

This simple definition encompasses everything a company does and all of the touchpoints the company has with its audience. From internal values and culture, to how you communicate in your advertising and to your in-person experience, this includes all of your marketing materials and everything in-between. It’s the complete experience created by your company as it engages with your audience. These elements influence how people think about your company and affect the perception they develop. This is your brand.

How does the logo fit into the brand?

Your logo is often the first impression of your brand, and it’s what most people will immediately associate with your company. With that lofty status, the logo is an important part of the larger brand picture, but it’s not the sole representation of your brand. Your logo, color palette, fonts, images and graphic assets all fall under the visual identity system of your brand.

Visual Identity: The visual components of a brand.

A great way to understand the difference between visual identity and brand is to think of a company as a person. The way that person dresses would be the visual identity system. A person’s personality, choice of words and tone of voice, combined with how they carry themself and interact, is the perception (or brand). The clothes someone wears may influence the overall perception you might have of that person, but it’s only one small part of the bigger picture.

If I have a logo and colors, do I have a brand?

The reality is, that every company has a brand. Whether you have hired someone to develop a brand for you, you have developed it in-house, or it’s just something that has evolved organically over the years – you have a brand. It might not be very intentional, but it exists.

In today’s competitive landscape, brands have become much more sophisticated and strategic in the development of their brand experience. A pretty logo and some colors are probably not enough to get you where you want to go anymore. Those core elements alone don’t paint enough of a picture to help your target audience decide whether they will go with you or a competitor.

Crafting a Better Brand

When developing a new brand or refreshing an existing brand, it helps to start with a brand strategy, which is a plan that clearly defines the brand and how to communicate it effectively. Using this more strategic approach, you can go beyond the visuals and create a brand that influences the perceptions of the intended audience to make your company more appealing to that audience.

Once a strategy, or direction, has been determined, branding choices can become focused and intentional. Here is a list of the most common brand assets:

Name, Logo, Tagline/Positioning Line
These combine to form the face of your brand and serve as the first impression for most people. The combination of a unique name, logo mark and sometimes tagline can set the tone for everything else that follows. It’s not possible to tell your entire story in a logo, but if done well, the rest of the brand will complement, it and all of the parts will work together to deliver a more comprehensive brand experience.

Visual Identity
This encompasses all of the graphic assets, color palettes, fonts and imagery used within your branding. This portion of your brand has the power to quickly communicate a world of intangible information. Color plays a significant emotional role in how your brand is perceived. Fonts may be more modern or more traditional to convey your style. Your imagery selection might complement or contrast these other assets. A shift in any of these can change the perception slightly or dramatically. All of the parts of the visual identity work together as a whole.

Voice and Tone
An important, and often overlooked brand element, is your brand voice or how you deliver your message. The brand voice can have a powerful impact on how memorable your brand is. The voice is the consistent personality that you apply to all your messaging – regardless if it is written or spoken. Does your brand have a casual and witty voice, or is it more informative and buttoned-up? Choosing a voice that works for your brand and resonates with your audience can create a solid connection. To add more complexity into the mix – while the voice of your brand should always be the same – the tone can vary to accommodate different types of messaging. For example, how would your brand voice communicate excitement vs. condolences? Whatever the tone of the message, it should still sound like it’s coming from the same brand voice.

A Brand Encompasses All

The complete experience a person has with your company or organization is what creates brand perception. It’s not just how your logo looks or the colors you use on your website. When all your brand components align and work together, they can communicate your story memorably and authentically, making all your marketing decisions focused and future projects more straightforward. You will want to be intentional with your brand choices to achieve the best results.

Do you have a brand or just a logo?
If you need help evolving or developing your brand, we can help. Learn about our branding process here.

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