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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.

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.

Behind the Brand – San Antonio Philharmonic

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Robot Creative was honored to work with the San Antonio Philharmonic to help create an orchestra brand that embodies its mission and celebrates our community. Watch this video to hear the story behind the brand.


Which of these three scenarios best describes your marketing?

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An Expense

  • You use last year’s marketing expenses as a starting place to determine your marketing budget when planning for a new year
  • You cut back on marketing along with other business expenses when things need to be tightened
  • You include salaries, customer service costs, and sales-related expenses

An Investment

  • You know you need to spend money to make money
  • You regularly put money into activities that you think will be worthwhile
  • You know that sometimes there will not be a direct line between dollars spent and outcomes

A Machine

  • You know precisely what inputs are needed to generate specific outputs
  • You monitor the machine’s calibration and retool it as needed
  • You are in control - you can turn the machine on and off, speed it up or slow it down

If you are struggling to create a marketing machine, it may be time to enlist professional guidance to make sure you are putting your resources to the best use possible.

How Much Does a Small Marketing Team Cost?

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We provide outsourced marketing services, and clients often question what it would cost to build a comparable in-house team. This article provides research on salary ranges, technology costs and appropriate expectations for a small team, but let’s start with the big picture:

The cost of a three-person marketing team with average salaries would start at $255,000 per year.

What is included in this calculation?

This estimate includes a Marketing Director, a Digital Marketer and a Graphic Designer.

I have used the mid-range salary because employees will be required to wear multiple hats, and in my experience, small companies lack the internal training and leadership for an entry-level marketer to be successful in their role. I have included the base salaries and a 25% increase to cover taxes and benefits, as outlined in the chart below.

The cost of a small marketing team's salaries.


The estimate also includes the basic technology needed for this team to be successful: Apple Air laptops (3 yr lifespan, purchasing 1/yr), Microsoft Office subscriptions, Adobe subscriptions, two social media management subscriptions and a stock art subscription. This totals $6,748/year which is not a huge expense relative to the salaries.

Marketing technology prices

What can you expect from this team?

This team should be able to handle the basic marketing needs of most small businesses, including email marketing, social media, digital advertising, printed materials and ongoing website content management.

What isn’t included?

Advertising or Printing Expenses – This estimate is limited to the expense of the internal team to manage an organization’s marketing. All advertising, printing and third-party expenses would be on top of this calculation.

Web Development – While the Marketing Director and Digital Marketer should be able to update the content of the website on an ongoing basis, most websites require technical maintenance that will go beyond their skill level. This is one of the more commonly outsourced roles, because it is highly specialized and rarely required on a full-time basis (the common exception being a web-based business). For organizations with a large volume of ongoing content management, it might make sense to hire a Web Developer who can also maintain the technical side of the website.

Copywriting – The Marketing Director should be able to handle the copywriting for most basic advertising pieces (although solid writing skills are becoming increasingly more difficult to find). Organizations that require longer form writing or thought leadership for blogs, proposals, white papers or brochures will require someone with a more specialized writing background and possibly also industry-specific experience.

Professional Photography or Videography – This estimate assumes that employees will use their smartphones to capture digital photos and video, along with a variety of stock art. Professional photography equipment isn’t very expensive if there is a frequent need for it in-house. For infrequent needs, it can easily be outsourced to experts with specialized training and equipment. Videography equipment is much more expensive than photography equipment and quickly becomes dated, but it can be rented in many locations. The computers used for video production would need to be upgraded to include more RAM, storage and better graphics cards. The use of professional equipment for photography and videography requires specialized training and experience.

A Project Manager or Project Management Software – Most small teams do not have a professional Project Manager or a project management tool, so it is not included in this calculation. Having a professional project management tool and a trained staff member can help with organization, prioritization, estimating and productivity reporting. Sometimes, individual team members will either find a free version of a tool online or create their own system using everything from whiteboards to spreadsheets to post-it notes. These usually help with priorities and organization, but individual employees will rarely self-select time tracking or anything that produces performance reporting.

Training or Continuing Education – This estimate does not include the cost of any ongoing education. Digital platforms evolve so rapidly that it will be important to find staff members who are inherent learners who are self-motivated to stay abreast of the latest technologies. This is especially true for the Marketing Director and Digital Marketer. Many employees appreciate employers who cover the costs of certifications and ongoing education, some of which are “free” outside of the time commitment required.

What would a highly experienced team cost?

We also thought it would be fun to calculate the cost of a "Dream Team." This would vary from one organization to the next, of course, but here's a big number, with the breakdown below.

A six-person, highly experienced team would cost almost $1,000,000/year.

This team would include the following:

  • All of the staff and technology listed above with all staff at high-end salaries
  • A Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) instead of a Marketing Director
  • Additionally, a copywriter and a project manager, and a web developer along with their computers and basic software subscriptions

Medium team salaries

What does your organization need?

If you are trying to estimate the cost of a team, it's important to start with your marketing plan to determine the skills that will be needed to implement it effectively. While the teams we have described here might work for some organizations, you may have your own unique combination of needs that requires different or additional resources.

Would you like some marketing help?

If you would like to discuss outsourcing your marketing to an experienced and highly-specialized team, please reach out for an initial consultation. We have more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing marketing plans across a wide variety of industries and also provide fractional CMO services to work with existing teams.

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.

Strategic Planning Doesn’t Equal a Marketing Plan

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I'm a huge fan of planning and planning systems. We currently use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) for our strategic planning. We were a Scaling Up shop for a decade before we switched to EOS. I mentor and work with lots of Startups that use the Lean Canvas Model. Several clients work with other systems. As an Entrepreneur and Owner, I love all of this. I think having clearly defined goals, metrics and accountability is critical to running a business. As a Branding Expert and Marketer, I'm here to let you know that this strategic planning does not even come close to providing you with what you need to begin on a marketing plan (despite what your well-intentioned coach might be telling you).

What most strategic planning systems provide in terms of marketing:

  • Revenue and profitability targets
  • Product/service-specific shifts and goals
  • Key audience(s) or customer definition
  • Differentiators
  • Vision/Mission/Values

What a strategic plan is lacking when it comes to marketing:

  • Specific strategies and tactics to reach key audiences
  • Marketing/editorial calendar
  • Frequency recommendations
  • Advertising budgets
  • Marketing metrics (as leading indicators to revenue)

Additional things your marketing plan needs to include:

  • Evaluation of whether the budget will “get you there” or if your targets are even realistic
  • Consideration of industry benchmarks
  • Complex marketing programs require tools and technology
  • An implementation plan for how and when marketing passes off to sales (and probably more technology)
  • Regular review and adjustment

The strategic planning you do for your business every year should definitely be providing the high-level guidance needed to begin a marketing plan, but the marketing planning process can not begin in earnest until after that marketing strategy is completed and agreed upon by the leadership team.

If you don't have a formal marketing plan and would like help to jumpstart the effort for 2022, we have a workshop coming up on January 6, 2022. For more information and to register, visit our newsroom.

I have also written about key stakeholders who should be included in the marketing planning process. It's a wacky Halloween-themed blog.

Marketing Plan Horror Stories

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I have heard a ton of marketing plan horror stories in my 25+ years in this industry.

After all, what could possibly go wrong when you try to take historical information from multiple disparate systems? Combine that with industry research and the company's forward-looking goals. Then, build that into a tactical plan using all the latest-greatest marketing platforms and methods. Don't forget to establish a solid budget and tie your spending to predictable results. Of course, you will also need to collect feedback from both the sales team on the front end, and the customer service or implementation teams on the back end, to keep the plan continually evolving. Regular reporting and updates will be required to communicate results and roadblocks. Again, what could go wrong?

These horror stories range from mortifying to just plain silly, but across the board, they can be avoided by including key stakeholders in the planning process. Below you will find a list of people you should bring to the table while developing your marketing plan, along with what they bring to the table and what they will take away.

The horrors of excluding key stakeholders from your marketing planning meeting infographic

If you need help with a strategic marketing plan for your small or mid-size company, please contact us. We develop dozens of marketing plans every year across a variety of industries and also see them through to execution. We can help >>

Marketing Through COVID-19 – B2C Checklist

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How are you adjusting your marketing to deal with the coronavirus situation?
Whether you are dealing with shelter in place ordinances or still able to operate, ongoing marketing may not be top of mind right now, but in fact, it should be on your priority list. So, we have assembled a quick checklist of things to help you stay on track.

  1. Talk to Customers - This crisis will definitely test the loyalty and the depth of the connection that every business has with its customers. If you or someone on your staff can take a few minutes to pull back from the operational challenges to speak with your customers, you might be surprised by what you learn from it. There might be ways that you can continue to operate or adjust to serve them. You might be able to strengthen your relationship by acknowledging the customer’s situation. It starts with listening and understanding.
  2. Outline Your Key Messages -  Make sure that you are communicating your most critical information. Do your clients know whether you are still operating and how things have changed? Start with a list of critical details and think about which communication methods you will be using to keep customers updated.
    • Location closures or adjusted hours
    • Ecommerce options
    • Best phone numbers
    • Curbside and delivery options
    • Reduced product offerings / limited services
    • Innovative packaging and bundling
    • Changes to ongoing or creation of new promotions
    • Gift cards and Pre-purchase discounts
  3. Use Your Email Lists - It’s fast, easy and practically free.  Do this now and do it frequently to keep customers up to date on the latest changes.
  4. Website Updates - Thankfully, the Internet is still working.
    • Update the header area or add a pop up to grab attention.
    • Do you need a whole page of information?
    • Newsrooms and blogs are easy places to add ongoing announcements.
    • Personalized messages or videos from the owner to customers brings a touch of humanity back into the situation.
    • Add a chat to your website and have it managed remotely to improve response times.
    • Add a pop-up with email capture or "follow us on social" links so customers can stay informed.
  5. Physical Signage - People are not out driving around much right now, but if your customers used to come to your location(s), do this just in case. If your brick and mortar location is temporarily closed, put up a simple physical sign with information on how to contact you and where to look for new and emerging details This will save you from having to continuously update the sign. If you're offering curbside or pick-up services, directional signage and process instructions will help your on-location team reduce verbal commands to each and every customer.
  6. Social Media - Social media will offer a lifeline for many businesses.
    • If you still have a strong business offering, pay to promote your posts to ensure that you are seen.
    • If you haven’t built a social presence before now, you still can! Did you know you can upload your email database to create a custom audience and lookalike audiences in Facebook and Instagram?
    • Update hours and information in your about us section and post about it whenever something changes.
    • Use profile graphics and cover images to promote critical information and major updates.
    • Look for fan groups, associations and news outlets that are building lists of businesses to support and join the conversation.
  7. Text Messaging - If you have a text messaging system, use it. Include quick details on offers or links to the website or to social media for longer messages.
  8. Google My Business - Update your google business hours and location information.
  9. PR and Traditional Media - Send a release with hours, locations and offerings to local media.
  10. Adjust prescheduled advertising campaigns -  Don’t let prescheduled campaigns run on autopilot without reviewing messages, costs and audiences. You may need to pause anything that isn’t relevant given the current situation. Also consider reducing brand awareness campaigns while beefing up ad spend on platforms that directly drive sales in a measurable way.

Need help putting an emergency plan and messaging together for your business? We can we help! Start a chat with us or fill out a contact form to schedule a free consultation.

Marketing Through COVID-19 – B2B Checklist

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As businesses struggle to adjust to the current shelter-in-place orders, most marketers are able to work remotely and to help push out critical business communications. But are you just hunkering down or could you adapt to keep your organization relevant through this process? Below you will find a checklist of considerations specific to B2B businesses that are trying to adjust their marketing strategies during the coronavirus crisis.

STEP 1 - Make Personal Contact with Top Clients 
Many essential businesses are still up and running and even non-essential businesses are able to operate remotely. Some are going to experience incredible demand, but many are struggling. Use the 80/20 rule (top 20% of clients who make up approximately 80% of your revenue) to identify top clients, and begin a one-on-one outreach campaign to understand how this emergency is affecting your clients’ business, their employees, their clients… and don’t forget them personally, because their families and friends may be affected. Truly listen to understand each unique situation.

  • Do you have a solution to help them?
  • Can you be a knowledge resource for them? Are there resources or is there information you have that might help them through this period?
  • Will it affect your business relationship? (project delays, pushed contracts, late payments, lost opportunities)
  • Would communication from you now be viewed as intrusive or unwanted?
  • Would a pause in your product/services be the right thing to consider for the longevity of the relationship?
  • Conversely, can you offer any amended terms to help clients keep services on track and your employees working?

STEP 2 - Adjust Your Marketing Strategy 
Once you are armed with information, and better understand your clients' needs, it’s time to take action.

A. Keep clients and prospects informed:

  • Announce operational changes
  • Update website
  • Post on social media
  • Send email newsletters
  • Think about physical signage

B. Adjust active messaging campaigns & advertising strategies:

  • Scheduled/planned marketing campaigns and events may not be appropriate
  • Make sure you are promoting relevant and timely offerings
  • Specifically, consider if the tone of your messaging is appropriate in this climate
  • Adjust PPC and search settings (and budget)
  • Don't forget to review and update social media post language

C. Some additional tactics that you might consider:

  • Train sales teams and CSRs to be sensitive to the situation - even outline sensitivity scripts for your team to include in their outbound emails and calls
  •  Add a chat feature to your websites
  • Create a triggered pop-up on your website to capture email addresses
  • Set up e-commerce
  • Build stronger digital sales presentations
  • Rework customer journey
  • Create and use branded Zoom backgrounds
  • Deploy company-wide email signature advertising for key messaging
  • Create video presentations & demonstrations
  • Create webinars and other digital opportunities to connect

Do you need help?
If you need to fill staffing gaps on the marketing side - our team is all working remote and able to help. Please contact us if you need assistance.

Tips for teams working remotely from the remote ROBOTS.

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We at Robot Creative have been remote working for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a team, we’ve noticed some challenges and also some opportunities while working from home. Here are some tips and tricks we’d like to share to keep things running smoothly while sheltered in place.

  1. Over communicate!
    The best way to find out what process and channels are best for communicating, you may have to go through about a week of communicating over and over on many channels. The one thing you cannot do is expect others to see your message without getting confirmation. Next, as a team, it’s helpful to share what works for some or doesn’t for others. Then, a leader should lay down rules for the best means to communicate moving forward. Remember to be patient. Rules are reinventing themselves right now, but you may find better ways to communicate through this that you might elect to continue after the quarantine is over.

    At Robot Creative, we found it best to use organized channels in a chat tool called Slack to communicate on specific topics like IT issues, general work announcements, and even a fun channel to keep spirits up. Then we use the messaging function in our project management tool, Pro Workflow, to update each other on projects and even pass documents back and forth with edits and notes. Relying less on email and more on these mediums has cut down our need for Zoom video calls (which we do still use for some meetings when needed). We may very well continue these messaging practices and will cut down on face to face meetings in the future.

  1. Environment is key
  2. Do NOT work from bed or the couch if you can avoid it. Set up an area that will be your dedicated workspace. You can use the kitchen table or coffee table. Just take the time to get it set up each morning for work by removing the usual objects, so you have a clear space. You can also change up your surroundings during the day to freshen your perspective and inspire creativity. We are encouraged to do this in the office, but it can also be done at home. Finally, at the end of the day put the work stuff away and put things back to “normal”. This allows your space to be your home again, and no longer a place of work for the day.

  1. Save your back and eyes
  2. Ergonomics has been around for a while, and it’s true that sitting with improper posture takes a toll on your body. Sit in an actual office chair if you have one. You may want to ask if you can pick up the one from your office. This will save your back from agony after sitting for hours on furniture that is designed more for lounging. Also, protect your eyes and invest in blue light blocker glasses. We are all staring at screens now more than ever. Whiteboards, presentations, meetings, are now all done digitally. Plus, we are entertaining ourselves at home with all our devices. You can get prescription and non-prescription lenses sent to your house through affordable resources like Zenni Optical, Felix Gray and even Amazon.

  1. Suit up!
  2. Ok, maybe don’t wear a suit – unless that is what is expected for a video conference call. The point here is to get dressed. It’s tempting to work in your pajamas. When you dress up like you’re ready to work, you’re more willing to get to work. This might seem silly, but most of our team noticed they felt less motivated when they weren’t work-ready.

  1. Stick to a schedule
  2. Not only is this helpful as a part of communication to others when you are available, it also helps you differentiate work time from downtime. Set hours for your workday, and even better, segment hours- blocking out time for certain tasks. Make sure your online calendar is updated for others on your team to see. That way they know the best time to get ahold of you, and when to leave you alone. This will help you and your team better separate personal time from work time.

  1. Take breaks, and give yourself one too
  2. Something to remember, you aren’t just working from home, you are working from home during a pandemic. This is a very uncertain time and stress is high. There’s a lot of change, but you still need to get work done. And you might feel the pressure to overperform to keep your job, or because you feel a sense of guilt for still having yours when so many people in the world are losing theirs. Despite these feelings, to keep your mental health, you need to take breaks. Go outside for a walk. Get up and stretch. And forgive yourself for this learning curve. This is going to take some getting used to, and who knows how long it will last.

  1. Keep it casual sometimes
  2. There’s a lot of seriousness, and work is serious. However, it’s good to keep a channel open for some light and fun conversations. Even just chatting during breaks with co-workers to see how they are doing. Ask about their family, share struggles if you can, and share good things coming out of this situation. Our team started a weekly newsletter that highlights general announcements, and also features some of the shared photos, ideas and fun facts that we shared throughout the week. This has helped overall morale and has given us some great ideas to try with our families.

These are just a few things our team has learned in the past month of remotely working. If you have any ideas, feel free to share them with us through our social media channels, or contact us here.

The Security Measures Every Small Business Should Take to Protect Their Website in 2019

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At Robot Creative, we've been doing small business websites, marketing and branding for 22 years. We've seen the evolution of security for small business (SMB) websites from the very early days of the Internet, including a rise in hacked SMB websites which we have had to help recover and lock down. Small businesses do not have access to the same staffing and financial resources that a large corporation does. There is no CTO or CISO, and they probably can’t afford security tools (and wouldn’t know what to do with them in any case). But the good news is, SMBs usually have very simple website security requirements.

Unlike large corporations, small businesses are rarely hand-picked to be attacked by hackers with creative and relentless methods. Rather, they are subjected to automated attacks, and those are relatively easy to protect against using a few straightforward guidelines and tools.

Content Management Systems Come With Security Risks

One of the most vulnerable aspects of a website is the content management system (CMS) itself. Since the vast majority of small business websites are built in WordPress, they are highly vulnerable to automated attacks. But, other content management systems have similar concerns (and recommendations).

  • Start with where it is hosted. A hosting company that is specific to WordPress will have automated security patches and updates. Other content management systems will have similar hosting and security options.
  • Shared hosting can pose a risk because any one site on a shared server might be exploited, providing access to all of the other sites as well. However, the expense of a dedicated server just isn’t worth it for most SMBs. The hosts are pretty good at monitoring their server traffic and addressing breaches, and with proper backup procedures, you can always restore a site.
  • Speaking of backups, this isn’t a security feature per se, but we do recommend using a host that stores nightly automated backups. This allows you to roll back to a version that isn’t exploited to recover your site, if needed. The alternative might be rebuilding a site from scratch because it’s almost impossible to “clean” a site that has been exploited. The cost can be as much or more than building a new site. Here at ROBOT, we always store a backup of the original website on our local servers as an extra precaution.
  • Keep the CMS software up to date. Yes, you do want the latest version, always. Almost all version updates include critical security releases. Don’t wait on these even if the upgrade is costly, a hacked site will be far more expensive.
  • What's the biggest exploit we have seen? Simple password attacks. It’s amazing how few people heed the advice to use strong passwords, but it’s critical. Passwords should also be unique to each product/service instead of using the same password in several places. It’s also important to truly understand all of the places that passwords are used on a website: 1) the domain management (typically where you purchased your website URL or name), 2) the hosting account, 3) the content management system might have a system owner and several content editors.

Functionality Increases Risk

Once you get a content management system on lock down, a typical marketing website has minimal security risk, but as you add functionality, the security risk increases. To be more clear: basic words and photos on the page do not make a site vulnerable. It’s things like forms, calendars, search fields, and plugins that “do” cool things that make a site more vulnerable. Anything that includes a button or allows “input” from the users of the website is probably a functional item that should be given some security consideration. Some of the most common issues we have seen, and how to resolve them:

  • Almost all websites have some kind of content form, and a captcha on all forms, requiring the user to select photos with certain images or to type in scrambled numbers or letters, can prevent many automated attacks (and also reduce spam). Find those annoying and worried about user experience? There is something called a honeypot method that hides form fields on the page that users can’t see. If a bot fills it out, the software recognizes the attempted exploit and blocks the submission. Although the honeypot method boasts the best user experience, it may not provide the same level of protection as a captcha.
  • Plugins are a regular source of trouble. Most plugins are third-party tools that add new functionality to a basic website. These can be visible to users, like calendars or social media feeds, but they may also be invisible, running silently in the background to support video integrations or increase page speeds. When selecting plugins, look for widely used, well-supported plugins that are endorsed by the content management platform itself. Make sure the tool is developed by a company and not “some dude” in Ukraine. We also avoid plugins that call out to other sites for any type of information. This requires a code review or scan to ensure that no external URLs are baked into the plugin.

Really Small Business or Limited Resources?

If all of the security is too overwhelming for smaller businesses, click-to-create website services (Squarespace, Wix) can provide a great framework without any of these headaches. These types of services have been around forever, but as the Internet evolves and matures, more and more of these options are becoming available. They are affordable, safe, simple to use and can be packed full of features that would be expensive to assemble for a custom site, especially with security and maintenance considered. If you have strong branding, you can easily overcome the “template” look and feel.

Monthly Subscription-based Websites Can Offset Risk

Most SMBs have fairly straightforward marketing website needs, and the website carries very little risk. However, for those needing more functionality or managing more risk (like e-commerce, customer portals or collection of sensitive customer data), businesses really need to consider the level of technical and security risk they are able to handle in-house. If there isn’t a C-level position for technology, small businesses should look to SaaS solutions for their functional needs. These might be third parties to their marketing website (where visitors leave the site to visit a portal or shopping site) or they might be fully hosted solutions like an e-commerce website in Shopify or Squarespace. There are also industry-specific solutions for most common industries. You pay higher monthly costs, but the upfront cost is typically minimal and leaves security issues to the provider, not the business.

Websites vs. Web-based Applications

We should also differentiate between a website and a web-based application. What we have described up to this point are websites. Web-based applications are software applications that have web access. A business sophisticated enough to be developing web-based applications should have security in mind as they are writing their first lines of code. Companies doing significant software development should have an in-house security expert or work with an outsourced partner to ensure that their software, network and data are all secure.

Understand Your Risk

No matter the scale or scope of a small business website, any project should begin with an understanding of what is actually at risk. If the website is compromised, will you just need to reinstall an older version, or will you have business operations, sales and customer data at risk? While news of ever-increasing attacks can cause fear and doubt, it is relatively easy to assess your risk and plan accordingly. When in doubt, hire a security consultant.

At Robot Creative, we have been building and maintaining websites for over 22 years. Please reach out to us if you have concerns about your website security or would like to discuss a new website.

5 Tips about Web Design from Together Digital Meetup with Lara August

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In additional to being founder and CEO of Robot Creative, Lara August also leads the website division of the business. Her 20+ years of experience building websites for a wide range of clients and industries has given her a knowledge base full of technical savvy and a toolbox of solutions to address a variety of business challenges.

Lara was interviewed about web design by Brielle Insler at an event for TogetherDigital (a group of women in tech and digital jobs in San Antonio). Key takeaways included: setting goals for your site, the importance of research as a first step, whether to use a website builder or design a custom website, the important of analytics, and what goes on a landing page. Watch these quick highlight videos below to learn more.

The Importance of Research

You don’t want to start anything without the first step- research. Lara explains why.

Planning for a Website- goals!

You’ve done your research, now create goals! This will help you determine the function you want your website to perform.

Template vs Custom Website

Your website goals will inform the best type of website for your organization. Lara explains the most effective use of your budget when planning for a site, from custom website design to point and click builder options.

The Importance of Analytics

How can you tell if your website is performing the way you planned? Analytics. Record, measure and analyze how to move forward, and you will be successful.

What goes into a Landing Page

Landing pages are an important component of most digital marketing campaigns, with a specific message and specific function. Watch this video for the key elements found in good landing page.

If you need help with a new website, ongoing website maintenance or online marketing, we can help. Contact us to schedule a consultation.


TogetherDigital, formerly Women in Digital, is dedicated to accelerating the advancement and growth of women in digital fields by giving women the most powerful tool in their arsenal: one another. To learn more about Together Digital, click here.


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