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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.

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