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Company Culture: the Not-So-Secret to Success


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I recently had the pleasure of joining the McKinsey Development (MKD) team as its Vice President of Client Services. I’ve been thoroughly inspired, enlightened and refreshed by my experiences here so far. Almost as soon as I walked through the door, I felt the palpable enthusiasm of an adaptive culture in which team members wholeheartedly embrace one another’s ideas and talents. This is the very same team-building ideology that propels companies like Google into a stratum of excellence that only a short list of businesses has ever achieved.

How is it that a company like Google, a multibillion-dollar organization with nearly 50,000 employees, is able to achieve a work culture where employees are innovative, productive and feel valued? The answer is simple: up until recently in the history of doing business, the idea that work can be enjoyable and satisfying has been assumed to be a rarity (and almost never a necessity). Google’s doctrines of a positive work culture changed all that when they caused a ripple of excitement across the business world. These are new ideas, even hopeful ideas, and they seem to be taking off.

We have good news for you, small- and medium-sized businesses—you don’t have to be Google to create a fun and innovative company culture.

Below is a condensed list of key characteristics that yield a successful company culture:

  • Encouraging creativity and brainstorming

  • Challenging the team to propose improvements on company processes

  • Placing trust in one another

  • Maintaining positivity in conversations and demeanor

  • Accepting leadership

  • Cultivating an openness to evolve and be educated

  • Allocating credit and praise to coworkers’ achievements, however small

  • Having a clear strategy behind the introduction of new information

  • Committing to being engaged in business practices that work

  • Having confidence in peers’ and co-workers’ capabilities

  • Being honest and receptive to positive criticism

  • Being reasonable with time constraints and obstacles that occur

This may seem complex and challenging to maintain, especially as your business grows. Do not be deterred from this big task. Like anything, a positive company culture will not materialize without action. Evaluation and assessment should take place at regular intervals--nurture your company’s culture as you would a living thing. The more these features are integrated into your attitude and actions, the more naturally your company’s culture will thrive.

You may even have fun.

Five Cubes of Cheese...and Marketing Madness

Marketing Madness

Five minutes before an internal business development team meeting this week, I found myself searching for a prop. I needed something visual to demonstrate a dramatic marketing shift that has been evolving over the past few years. A search through the kitchen in hopes of apples or oranges ending up producing a bowl of medium cheddar cheese cubes (which had clearly been in the refrigerator for quite a while...thankfully Lily organized an early spring cleaning this afternoon). But, cheese would do it!

The concept on the table was around the frustration business owners are facing making marketing decisions in a changing world. Just a few decades ago it was "The Big Three" in the advertising arena: print, radio and television. I lined up three cheese cubes at one end of the ping pong table for effect. Suddenly, enter two new types of cheese. Bigger, bolder and sharper: the Internet and the smartphone. A total of five square cheddar cubes now captivated the attention of our board room.

But, if it were as simple as two new advertising mediums entering the playing field, it would not be keeping business owners up at night wondering how they are going to reach new prospects.

No, these two new players (the Internet and smartphone) come with hundreds of new "channels" all vying for the same audience "The Big Three" once commandeered. The Internet "channels" range from pay per click, content marketing, Social Media and native advertising to geographically specific online publications, e-mail marketing and review sites (and that's just to name a few). Meanwhile, smartphone "channels" are competing for advertising dollars in ways ranging from apps, text marketing and live stream radio advertising to mobile web ads and push messaging (and yes, that's also just to name a few).

Audiences are engaged across all of these different channels (some simultaneously) and you, the business owner, find your fight, flight or freeze reflex kicking into gear.

Pile on the fact that our original three (print, radio and television) are also evolving to stay relevant by adding their own new "channels" and it's almost overwhelming. 

We're talking thousands of different advertising combinations, and hundreds of different advertising channels competing for your marketing dollars.

And if you aren't strategic in your decision making you could end up with nothing to show for your spend other than your invoices!

Don't panic.

First things first:

1.) Seek professional help. If you don't have a trusted marketing adviser or agency with demonstrated results navigating through these channels with you--find one. You are a busy business leader focused on delivering premier products or services. Bring someone on who is focused on helping you be in the right places, at the right times in an engaging and compelling manner.

2.) Don't abandon what's working for you--supplement it. There's a lot of pressure to make the marketing leap to digital and social. That being said, if you have tried and true traditional advertising strategies that work for your business, keep them! Supplement the traditional with the progressive to make sure you are remaining relevant without jumping ship completely on strategies that are delivering for you.

3.) Double your marketing budget. Yes, this is a bold statement and there will be instances when this recommendation is not applicable to your specific type of business. But, most small businesses are not allocating enough money towards marketing. As the wise adage goes, you must spend money to make money, and you have to do more than dip your toe in the water to see results "in a world with a thousand channels." A good rule of thumb for measuring success is a double return on your marketing investment. If you invest $50K in marketing over the course of the year, you should increase your revenue by at least $100K (note that this will vary by industry and your respective profit margin--ask the professional help referenced in the first point). If you are just starting out and you don't know how much to allocate towards marketing, use an objective-based budgeting approach. If you are aiming for a million dollar year, budget according to SBA marketing spend recommendations for your industry as a starting point (typically 7-8% of your revenue goal). In the case of the million dollar year, that would put your marketing budget in the $70k - $80k range.

Revenue Marketing Budget
Less than $5 million  7–8%
$5–10 million  6–7%
$10–100 million  5–6%
$100–300 million  3–5%
More than $300 million  3-4%

Back to the cheese.

It proved good for effect, but I'm contemplating alternate props before taking the show on the road. Any suggestions?

Does Print Matter Anymore?


The Intimacy of Print

Originally written by Lorrie Bryan for Connect Daily magazine.

Does Print Marketing Matter?

Something old, something new.

Social media has transformed birthdays into big deals. It’s not unusual for friends and family you actually haven’t spoken with in years to join the birthday frenzy, posting wishes, songs and photos on your Facebook or Instagram pages. But most people still find birthday cards that arrive in the mail far more engaging than a hasty social media message or e-card. In fact, despite all of the recent changes in the way we communicate, most of life’s more cherished messages are conveyed in print, and perhaps tucked away to be held and admired over and over again.

Wedding invitations are no exception. Despite the popularity of Evite and other online invitation sites, when it comes to the big day, nothing says “big” like a beautifully engraved invitation. Casual weddings and wedding websites are on the rise, but formal wedding invitations – with their cottons, foils and multiple envelopes – are more popular than ever.

The much-loved wedding website “The Knot” reports that the average cost for wedding invitations in 2013 was $450. Prices range from about $2 each for digitally printed invitations available through online websites, to $10 or more for beautifully engraved invitations from a storied stationery retailer like Crane & Co.

Why does this pricey tradition persist?

“When the recipient holds it, he or she can feel the richness of the paper and the detail that went into the printing,” says Katie Lacey, president of Crane Stationery. “We live in an instantaneous, electronic age, and so knowing someone took the time to put a personalized piece of paper in the mail leaves a lasting impression no email or text message can compete with.”

The fact remains that, while digital messages often are fast and fleeting, print done right lingers to engage again and again. Marketing experts say the key to using print effectively is to use it creatively.

“While print is in a rapid state of evolution, it remains an essential part of most integrated marketing plans,” says Crystal McKinsey, founder and CEO of the integrated marketing communications firm McKinsey Development. “You can touch it, feel it, distribute it and share it in a way that is more tangible than digital outreach. The key to successful print inclusion in marketing plans today is creativity. Print pieces that are unique, interesting and on brand with the rest of your integrated plan are more likely to gain response. Instead of sending out a direct mail piece with push messaging, consider mailing an invitation to visit a personalized URL that hosts content enticing enough to inspire the next user action, for example.”

Understanding your objective and your message and taking the appropriate marketing approaches are key. “Our main goal is not to sell more presentation folders,” says Vladimir Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders, an online presentation folder boutique that has thrived since inception more than a decade ago. “Our goal is to educate our customers and help them effectively meet their marketing objectives. Print offers engagement opportunities that other marketing tools cannot.”

Gendelman says that all messages feel the same when you touch them on your iPad screen. Print has the capability of engaging on another level through touch. “You can effectively use print to convey your style and distinguish your brand through the sense of touch by varying elements of the paper and the ink. Holding something in your hand is an experience that cannot be replicated digitally. Many of the high-quality folders we make are repurposed or held on to, keeping the message alive on a subconscious level.”

Business-to-business marketers are finding that good, old-fashioned “snail” mail is becoming one of the most effective ways to get their printed message in front of the right people. Studies indicate that, while the average businessperson receives in excess of 100 emails a day, he receives a personal mail piece once every seven weeks. This underutilized medium can serve as an invaluable way to garner the attention of prospective clients. And advances in print technology offer new ways to get your message across.

“Print today is more versatile than ever,” McKinsey says. “In fact, with the advent of 3D printing technology, a brand can print on almost anything. Print pieces can also be more personalized than ever before. Variable data printing, for example, allows a marketer to customize and personalize brand messaging by criteria ranging from industry to gender, brand purchase history, and more.”

QR codes continue to be an effective bridge from print to digital marketing, and many people are using QR codes as part of an integrated messaging campaign – even brides. A classic engraved wedding invitation (a mingling of gold and copper inks on pearl white, 100 percent cotton paper) that displays a QR code (that links to a website with gift registries, videos of the bride and groom, and directions to the wedding venue) is the perfect melding of something old and something new.

Crane & Co., which has been evolving and thriving for more than two centuries, prides itself on impeccable hand craftsmanship and celebrating the tradition of classic correspondence. They are one of the first major invitation retailers to offer wedding invitations with QR codes that link to a wedding website.

Says Lacy, “I think the most successful communicators find a way to combine the two, whether it is by including a letterpress printed QR code on an invitation or an engraved Twitter handle on a business card.”

Download a PDF of the article as it appeared in Connect Magazine.

Should I hire a marketing agency?


McKinsey Development team[Some of the McKinsey Development team pictured on what will now forever be known as "blue hue day". Any similarities in the apparal choices above were legitimately happenstance.]

A Modern Agency.

Last week a client mentioned something to me in conversation that really stuck. The client was commenting on the unique nature of our agency structure in that we have a diverse and talented resource pool of team members available to scale and adapt quickly to client business needs. I've never considered our agency model all that unusual or groundbreaking. But the client was right in commenting on the fact that we consciously trend away from the billable hour model towards a value and deliverable based model that is a win-win for client and agency.

How does it work?

When you engage with McKinsey Development, we take a look at your overall goals and objectives in several areas, including revenue, market share, and brand sentiment—both actual and desired. We work with our clients to develop an overarching strategic marketing and outreach plan that includes identification of all deliverables needed to accomplish the goals. We then divide the investment it will take to reach these goals over a fixed amount of time—usually 12 months—and voila: You have a fixed monthly retainer you can count on. No more wondering how many "billable hours" you've accumulated over the course of the month, if that web edit took 1 hour or 4 hours, or if a quick phone call is going to be reflected on your next invoice. So long as the activities being performed by the agency relate back to the agreed-upon strategy and deliverables, you'll always be within scope.

If I hire your agency, what happens to my in-house marketing manager?

We thrive when working with client marketing managers/directors and team members. In fact 90% of our clients have an internal marketing resource in addition to the resources provided by our agency. Our job is not to replace an internal marketing resource, our job is to give your internal resource a team of integrated marketing communications experts and implementers for a fraction of what it would cost to hire an entire department. (Go ahead—price it out!)

Why should I hire a full service agency?

If you go to a firm that specializes exclusively in pink widgets, you're likely to be pitched on the merits of utilizing pink widgets to propel your business. In fact, you may even be advised to spend your entire budget on pink widgets (because pink widgets are fantastic of course). That is great, so long as your return on investment with pink widgets warrants abandonment of all other widgets available to help you grow your business.

When you work with a full-service agency whose core expertise is strategy, you'll be presented with the pros and cons of all available widgets, and guided towards the selection of the mix that will produce the most impact. When the agency is also equipped with expert resources in a broad range of integrated marketing areas, the firm can also implement these strategies for you.

So, how much will it cost?

Our agency retainers are straightforward and easy to understand. Dedicated firm resources of 10-15 hours per month would put a starting monthly retainer at $1,500, for example. Our average retainer for a mid-size company with full service strategy and implementation is approximately $7,500 per month.

What is included in my retainer?

Retainer deliverables vary based upon the uniquely identified needs of each client. Some clients bring the McKinsey Development team in solely to consult on strategy each month. Others prefer our expert team members implement strategy for them in our areas of core competency, including: marketing, public relations, advertising, branding, copywriting, ghostwriting, social media, graphic design, marketing collateral, web design, email marketing campaigns, direct mail campaigns, mobile marketing, apps, PPC and videography.

Any other benefits?

Yes, a big one if you are concerned about working with an agency that is not working with your competition... we don't. McKinsey Development has a long-standing policy of not representing competing entities in a retainer capacity in the same market. It’s not uncommon in our business, but we think it’s worth pointing out.

Interested in knowing if we are accepting clients in your vertical? Send us a note.

Our Recap on Facebook's Local Awareness Ads


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According to a recent study, Facebook is still the leading active platform among Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. That being said, Facebook shared some good news earlier this week for business owners wishing that there was a digital solution for replacing promotional storefront signs and even roadside billboards for their prime target markets.

This week, Facebook announced a new ad feature: local awareness ads. This new feature will allow businesses to quickly and easily grab the attention of potential customers who have recently been within a certain radius of their location. A “Get Directions” button can also be included in the ad.

This feature is different from location targeting, currently available on Facebook. The new method of ad targeting will allow advertisers to target Facebook users who are in the physical vicinity of a business.  

Facebook shared in a post that local awareness ads will roll out to U.S. advertisers in the coming weeks and globally in the coming months.

It’s important to note that, as a user, sharing your location with Facebook is nothing new.

“Local awareness ads were built with privacy in mind. Advertisers select locations, not specific individuals, for local awareness ads. People have control over the recent location information they share with Facebook and will only see ads based on their recent location if location services are enabled on their phone.”

Take a look at your Facebook ad strategy. Would including nearby users in your target audience be beneficial?

The Importance of Design


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In a day where your client doesn’t have the time or the attention span to read more than a tagline for your company, the importance of an arresting visual is vitally important to the success of any marketing strategy.

Visual marketing (a.k.a. design) is like a first impression of your company. Whether it seems fair or not, what you look like when meeting someone for the first time communicates a lot about you to that other person. If one of your designs was the only thing a future client knew about your business, would they want to work with you?

Design is also how you tell your story. In college I had a friend who went into a Barnes & Noble and captivated an entire audience of ADULTS with his reading of The Cat in the Hat. He was vibrant, had strong inflection and infused emotion into the story – I doubt that the Visine Dry Eye Guy would have the same results. Your goal with design is to create a memorable first impression and an intriguing story.

Chances are, the story you want to tell isn’t boring! So let your design reflect that. I used to consult for a company that knew its marketing success was poor, yet they refused to change their design strategy because of tradition.  Don’t fall into this trap. Just because something was successful before, doesn’t mean it is successful now.

How do you, then, create “good” design? You must, must, MUST know your audience. You’re not designing for yourself. You’re designing for your audience. For example, if you’re marketing to women 18 – 35 years old, just look at Pinterest. Millennial women are searching for natural clothing silhouettes, organic recipes, burlap crafts, timesaving organizational tips, etc. This generation wants chic, wholesome, simple, quick. If this is your audience, your designs should reflect that.

Take a hard look at your design strategy. Are your designs successfully catering to your audience? If not, what needs to change?

Let's Talk about #Gen-X Marketing


Gen X-- Lord of the Rings

The general ground rule at McKinsey Development (MKD) as it applies to blogging is “blog when you have something you are passionate about saying.” This is two blogs in two weeks for me. Clearly I have something to say about marketing to diverse audiences. Last week, I commented on Millennial generation outreach, as it applies to brands. This week, I want to talk briefly about Generation X (Gen X). 

Here's what's on my mind as it applies to Gen X marketing: 

Gen X is special.

In today's day and age some will argue that we are all special. But, hear me out. Gen X is legitimately a special market constituency. 

Let's start on background. Gen X is typically defined as the generation born between 1965 and 1979 (with some margin for inclusion). We don't hear a whole lot about Gen X (think: Lord of the Rings), compared to the Millennial (think: Harry Potter generation) and Baby Boomer (think: Gone with the Wind) conversation.

Why? Well, there are a lot of opinions about this. One could argue that it is simply sheer number. The Baby Boomer population weighs in at 77 million and the Millennial population around 83 million. Gen X on the other hand is a constituency of about 65 million. 

While Gex X may be less distinct, the child of the Baby Boomer and the parent of the Millennial is extremely influential. The Gen X'er is the navigator. He or she takes in information, sorts through the fluff and shares findings with parent and child. 

Nothing you do and nothing you say as a brand is going to convince a Gen X'er to trust you enough to make a recommendation to their parent and/or to their child. This generation requires demonstration. This generation also remembers the days before digital marketing and still appreciates traditional outreach. Samples, tours, demonstrations, special events, one-on-one meetings and phone calls, evidence-based publications...Gen X appreciates "tried and true". Your website, social media efforts and digital strategies peak interest and engagement with this group--but they may not tip the boat. You have to let them in, hold that open house, produce the key people behind the brand and demonstrate authenticity.

And when you do earn a Gen X fan, you may earn a fan for life, as this generation is known for having the highest brand loyalty.

Are you considering Gex X in your marketing outreach efforts? If not, why? 

Marketing to Millennials


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It seems there is much ado about Millennials these days in the marketing arena. Rightly so, given that the generation of individuals born between 1980 and 2000 now makes up around 25% of the U.S. population. Business owners and marketing leaders must shift our mindset when it comes to communicating with this influential market segment. In fact, let's remove the word "marketing" from our vocabulary altogether when it comes to Millennials. Millennials don't like "marketing". They (and I should say we) pick out and discard push messaging at lightning speed, moving through multiple browsers simultaneously while silencing ads and invasive messaging. It's difficult to get our attention and even more difficult to keep it.

So what's a brand to do when it comes to Millennials? Here are some ideas:

1.) Stand for something. In a world where everyone has awesome friends, fabulous vacations and the perfect #ThrowBackThursday picture each week (according to my Facebook feed at least), the Millennial generation is craving authenticity. In fact, take a look at the reaction a Millennial receives from the social media sphere when he or she admits their day isn't going too well or they've experienced some form of personal loss. Their tribe rallies and steps in with social support in the form of likes, shares, messages, stickers and eCards. Millennials are sensitive to the world around them and want to contribute to the greater good. We're used to documenting our lives and we trust brands who do the same. Have you seen the new Under Armour commercial with Misty Copeland? Prime example of a brand stepping up, telling a story of perceived injustice and celebrating the perseverer. We'll even pay more for a product we believe in. Tom's is a great example. $60 slip-on shoes? Sure! One for me and one for a child who needs a pair. What causes does your brand support? What values does your brand hold dear? Are you talking to your millennial audience about your brand mission as it relates to social responsibility and the greater good?

2.) Don't tell us what to do. Don't tell a millennial what to buy or where to buy it. "I'd never do that," you say? If your primary messages and brand communication strategy revolves around sales, promotions and bullet point lists of why someone should buy from are doing that. Millennials want to discover things on their own time at their own pace. We like doing our own research and being the first to tell our tribe we've discovered a great restaurant, winery, clothing line or experience. We like to be asked for our opinions and input, and we love it when you listen! Ask a Millennial to help you craft your next ad, commercial or engagement strategy. They'll not only want to contribute, they'll want to share the end result.

3.) You come to us. The Mad Men era advertising trifecta of TV, radio and print is no longer relevent when it comes to capturing Millennial interest and enthusiasm. We're streaming Pandora while strategizing our next play on Micromon or Minecraft, pausing only to keep up with our text messages, chats and news feeds. We are the ultimate multitaskers and if you want to communicate with us, you have to be where we are. 

Take a good look at your brand outreach plan. Do you have a specific strategy for reaching and engaging with the fastest and most influencial group of our consumer population? If you don't, why not?

Is ‘Proper’ English Obsolete?


Some argue that the average reader is completely indifferent toward grammatical accuracy. An opportunity to contribute to a virtual conversation, some observe, can cause a linguistically deranged frenzy that knows no bounds. Recently, while idly scrolling through my Instagram feed, it was hard to ignore the total and complete grammatical anarchy on some of those longer threads. It occurred to me that the art of conversation has inarguably gone from a physical experience to a virtual one; it’s only natural that the formality of writing has entered a new phase. So the question becomes: are the once widely accepted rules of ‘proper’ English a thing of the past?

There are conversations being had amongst those hip scholars on TED that report that the casual written speech of texting, blogging, tweeting, et cetera, is a  “miraculous...energetic…emerging complexity.” Texting, linguist John McWhorter argues further, it is not writing at all. It’s…talking!

While “sharing ideas at the speed of talking” has become the new norm, and no doubt has had a critical impact on the way news spreads in modern society, writing still ought to remain a conscious process. From a marketing standpoint, writing well is intimately linked with reaching target audiences well. When we lose this consciousness, it can mean the difference between Rachel Ray finding inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog and cooking her family and her dog. It is the difference between inviting our grandfather to sit down and graze at a family meal (“Let’s eat, Grandpa!”) and serving him up as the main course (“Let’s eat Grandpa!”).

Has proper grammar joined the lost arts of handwritten letters and cursive handwriting, or will it become the ultimate differentiator between "good" and "great" marketing?

Bringing Your Inner Child to Work May Be Invaluable

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I remember sitting in a tent made of bearskin (well actually, under the shade of a curiously aromatic old sheet) on a boiling summer evening. Ignoring the heat, or perhaps relishing it, my hunting partner (my 10-year-old playmate) and I tore into the carcass of a deer we had just taken down (a piece of London broil her mother had given us as a snack) with remarkable expertise. The blood (ketchup) stained our hands as we proudly licked our fingers.

I’m all grown up now, and yet here I sit, gazing back in the other direction. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the formidable creative streak that was as much a part of me as my sweat or my heartbeat. As we age, advance in our careers, and take on a great number of responsibilities, we forget one very important thing: how to play. In the world of psychology, it’s widely accepted that children possess a purity and energy that unlock the creative process. We are now in an age of some of the most innovative companies the world has ever seen, and these companies are changing the culture of business by embracing this very notion—that the kids have it right.

Think of it this way: a child’s mind easily conceives of a thousand ways to fill the hours of a sluggish afternoon, so couldn’t an adult whose joy and spontaneity has been nurtured conceive of a number of productive ways to launch a company into infamy? Google knows it! The company’s whole philosophy stems from the fact that stressful and uninspiring work environments don’t produce collaborative innovation.

As a result, Google’s employees are happy, productive, and enthusiastically contribute to the success of the company. In businesses across the world, let us not only embrace our inner-child, but invite her to come to work with us.

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