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The 7 Deadly Sins of Branding

5 Dec


hillmanGuest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

You have a great product, great service, great people, great materials—and your brand still sucks. Competitors in the building products marketplace keep racking up sales while you struggle to get by. It feels like you’re trying to scramble up a muddy hill, expending time and resources with little-to-nothing to show for it. How does this happen?

Over the years, despite the emergence of game-changers like mobile devices, social media, and other innovations, most of the issues around branding still seem to fall into seven distinct areas—consider them the 7 Deadly Sins of Branding, and any one of them can sink your brand.

Wrong Message

Too many marketers rely on what they already know to build their messages. This echo-chamber effect reinforces what’s familiar and “safe” and can actually keep you from gaining the ah-ha moments you need. Think of it as trying to steer your car down the highway while looking only in the rear view mirror, more about where you’ve been than where you’re headed. Instead, you need to be continually surveying your customers—and your prospects!—for the fresh insights needed to build a message that’s relevant today, not just yesterday.

Wrong Audience

This might seem like a near-impossibility, but it can happen. Marketing your brand to the wrong audience is most often the result of marketing and sales teams not communicating effectively, with marketing working toward where sales should happen and sales focused on where they can happen. Having a clear, agreed-upon marketing plan is essential to having your brand pointed in the right direction. Yes, these are fundamentals that should be self-evident, but all it takes is for your brand to be strong with architects but being marketed to builders instead, and your brand isn’t going anywhere.

Wrong Tactics

One of the best cautionary tales comes from experience marketing to building products dealers. When offered the option to select their preferred method of receiving marketing communications, what do you think topped the list? Email? Direct? Text? How about…fax. That’s right, in our world of high-speed connectivity and mobile devices, the lowly fax was the leading way dealers wanted to receive information. Why? Because it fits how most small- to mid-sized dealers operate, with the fax machine right next to the main bulletin board. Again, surveying your audience will provide the insights to get the right tactics in play and to avoid wasting effort on the wrong ones.

Wrong Voice

If you’ve followed social media the past few years, you’ve probably heard of (or witnessed) the notorious sass of Wendy’s social media accounts. While some might think this was a bold or daring move, it’s actually highly calculated, the result of Wendy’s assessment of what brand voice would resonate best with their target. Where other fast food companies played the usual safe game, Wendy’s connected with their audience with a salty dialogue that not only aligned with the brand but helped share it more broadly online. Again, research was the key to cracking the code and connecting with customers.


One way to think of branding is simply a single message delivered consistently and aligned with customer experience. And yet, time and again we see brands shift their message as if chasing sales trends, or worse, repeatedly reinventing the message to push an idea that doesn’t match the customer experience. If your name is One Day Printing and service takes two days, that’s a brand problem. Similarly, if you say your customer service is superior and then leave customers on hold for minutes at a time, that’s a brand problem. Determining what your brand is—and isn’t!—and sticking to that is critical to developing a strong brand over time, and over time is exactly how brands happen.

All About The Product

The brands that see the greatest strength in the marketplace are the ones that offer more than just a product or service—they build relationships with those who select and purchase them. Through content offerings, customer experience design, website functionality, social media strategies, sponsorships, and other interaction-based methods, the strongest brands take on a personality well beyond something being sold to buyers. These brands can have conversations with the public, growing and evolving through the choices made in messaging and positioning—all without changing what’s being produced or delivered.

No Differentiator

In the film Field of Dreams, we hear the iconic line: “Build it and they will come.” Unfortunately, all too many companies have followed this same advice when developing their brand—and have paid a heavy price for it. It is not enough to simply be available for purchase, there has to be a reason your target would take notice, have interest, and be willing to abandon their current relationship to gain one with your brand. And just as it is with products or services, your brand needs a unique selling proposition, too, something to make it different from the others. Is it more innovative, less complicated, focused on quality, easier to do business with? Identifying what sets your brand apart—and staying true to that differentiation—is critical to finding an audience that appreciates it. Trying to be all things to all audiences or simply showing up isn’t enough to get noticed.

Name + Logo = Brand

“We have a brand,” the marketing manager will say, pointing at a logo. “It’s right there.” Actually, no. The worn-down vehicle with your logo on it: that’s your brand. The customer left waiting hours for a delivery with no updates: that’s your brand. The defensive response to a highly critical customer review on Yelp: that’s your brand. The product that arrived dented: that’s your brand. Identity is all about a name and logo; brand, however, is about expectations and experiences. The strongest brands find success in designing and crafting the brand experience for customers, both new and current, and making sure everything aligns with that design. If it doesn’t align, it’s analyzed, adjusted or removed—why spend time and effort on something that only undermines your long-term efforts?

If you recognize any of these 7 Deadly Sins associated with your brand, have hope: Every one of them is escapable and repairable with honesty and effort. The common element to all of these brand issues is to take nothing for granted: conduct research and be willing to accept that your buyer isn’t who you think and may not think of your brand the way you do. But with focus and time, virtually any brand can find its own salvation.

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Speaking Creative: 6 Tips for Efficient Revisions

2 Nov



Guest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

If you’ve been a building products marketer for long, chances are you’ve worked with “creatives,” those writers and designers—and even developers and programmers—who make the marketing materials that help sell your products. And if you’ve worked with them, that means you’ve likely had to review work and provide feedback.

It’s a safe bet that at some point you’ve needed to look over a document or a layout and given feedback and experienced one or more of the following:

  • resistance
  • arguments
  • eye rolls
  • temper flares
  • passive-aggressive remarks
  • confused looks
  • crying
  • something different than what you asked for
  • the complete opposite of what you asked for

For many of you, this is confusing. The creative process is supposed to be collaborative and part of that collaboration is making the materials as accurate and impactful as possible. So why are the people who need the feedback and revisions so resistant to making them?

Presuming you have the right people in the right roles, and everyone is a mature professional—and if that’s not the case, you have bigger fish to fry—it basically comes down to providing the right inputs. Armed with clear, concise information, it’s amazing how quickly your creative team can solve problems and get your materials where they need to be.

Here are six ways to improve your feedback for more efficient revisions:

  1. Consume it before you critique it.

If the review process finds you immediately grabbing a pen and marking “what’s wrong,” you’re missing an opportunity to understand the work like the audience will. You’re also creating a mindset where you’re presuming something is already broken. Reading or looking it over twice is key—once as the audience, once as the reviewer. This gives you the context you need to better understand the intent of the work rather than jumping immediately into the mechanics of it.

  1. Consolidate inputs.

A common process for most creative work is an initial draft followed by 2–3 rounds of revisions. Unfortunately, many changes come to creatives in bits & pieces, resulting in significantly more rounds and increased inefficiency. And as revisions can often come from multiple sources, it’s also normal for one person’s revisions to counter those of another. To avoid this, for each round of changes, consolidate and prioritize feedback from the team into a single list.

  1. Avoid one-person focus groups.

Sometimes large-scale projects, like campaigns, warrant getting reactions from the target audience—and for good reason. Actual feedback from those we’re trying to reach can be invaluable. Unfortunately, what happens more often is “I shared the logo options with my wife and she didn’t like any of them” or “The barista at Starbucks didn’t care for your cattle vaccine tagline.” Outside inputs can provide needed perspective, but unless it’s the actual target, it usually just sows confusion.

  1. Something is better than nothing.

A phrase every creative has heard at some point (sending a shiver down our collective spine) is “I’ll know it when I see it.” This is essentially creative skeet shooting, simply tossing one idea after another and waiting to see what doesn’t get blown away. Not only is it demoralizing, it’s a serious waste of resources, costing you time and money as your team essentially tries to read your mind. At minimum, tell your creatives two things: “Make it less ____ and more ____.” With those two simple blanks filled in, they’ll arrive at what you want faster—even if you’re not sure what it is yet.

  1. Set the goal, not the solution.

All too often, well-intentioned marketers will “help out” by providing painstaking how-to instructions or actually doing the work themselves (e.g., “I’m not a writer, but I wrote two pages that you can use”). Few things will disengage your creatives faster, because your underlying message is “You’re another pair of hands to me, not a mind.” If you want their best work, point out the problem you’re trying to solve and let their unique skillsets provide the appropriate way to get there.

  1. SCORE it.

News flash: “I don’t like it” isn’t valuable feedback. Step into the paint department of any big-box building retailer and there are hundreds of paint chip colors offered. That’s because taste is completely subjective—even among professional marketers and skilled creatives. One person’s “love it” is another person’s “disgusting.” Instead of providing feedback in terms of what you like or don’t, use the SCORE method to more objectively review creative work:

Strategy – How well does it deliver to the objective/intent?
Creativity – How unique and distinctive is it (vs. others in marketplace)?
Ownability – How easily will you be able to claim it as your own?
Relatability – How well will the audience connect with it?
Extendibility – How well will it work with variations?

By utilizing the SCORE method, you’ll not only be able to judge the value of the creative work more objectively, but the answers will assist your creatives by providing them with actionable feedback.

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Clearing Up Content Confusion

28 Sep

Human hand working with laptop networking technology


hillmanGuest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

September 2017 was the fifth anniversary of my first visit to the annual Content Marketing World conference in Cleveland. Back then, content was a term that was showing up more and more frequently at all levels of marketing, but there was still confusion around some of its most fundamental elements—and as I work with clients, I still witness a certain degree of blank looks and furrowed brows when talking about what content is and what it can do for a brand.

So to mark the five-year anniversary of my own immersion into content marketing’s biggest event, here’s a quick review of three content fundamentals to help building materials marketers better understand content—or at least feel less lost in content discussions.


There are many, many definitions available to explain what content is, and while I have my favorites—not to mention my own definition—let’s start with what content isn’t. Content isn’t about selling; it isn’t sales collateral, spec sheets, features & benefits, or anything else that drives the audience to buy. Instead, content is about informing and sharing what you know. Content drives the audience to understand what you know as a subject-matter expert—and that, in turn, makes them more comfortable buying from you.

So whether it’s a blog post, ebook, video, Slideshare post, infographic, podcast, or any other vehicle for sharing thought leadership, that’s what we mean by content. And content can be something you create yourself or that you curate from other respected sources, demonstrating that you’re plugged in to industry information and trends.

Content Strategy

Like a strong brand, strong content doesn’t happen by accident. It begins with deliberation and is sustained with discipline—and that means planning. Content Strategy is simply the plan you put in place to determine what your content will say, who will create it, and how frequently it will be shared.

Having a written strategy—and this is key, it must be captured and shared with everyone who will be contributing—is step one. Look at what you are qualified to speak to, what your audience is interested in consuming, and what else is out there on those topics; what comes out of that is your strategy. At the heart of a content strategy is a curator who makes sure what’s being created, referenced, and shared aligns with the plan—if it doesn’t, throw it out. Focus and consistency are critical if your content is going to get recognized.

Content Marketing

Once you have content, now you need people to find it. Sure, you have it available on your website or on YouTube or in that monthly newsletter, but that’s passive content. What you need is to connect your valuable, information-rich content with the people who want to consume it—that means marketing.

Getting content to your existing audience is easy enough through emails, newsletters, and blog posts. Getting it in front of new audiences takes more effort. Organic web searches will help, so having SEO keywords and phrases woven into your content is important so that Google and Bing will offer it in search results. But to really charge your content game, look at social posts—LinkedIn is an especially good place to find to your B2B audience—pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, as well as services that specialize in distributing content across multiple platforms.

The Key Takeaway

Most importantly, remember that despite data being a critical element to charting your content, content is an art, not a science. Chances are you won’t get it perfectly right on your first try—or even a few after that. So do your research, make a plan, and then be ready to bob & weave as you learn what works and what flops with your particular audience.

Content is about a conversation and building trust, and trust doesn’t happen overnight. Being the consistent, reliable, relevant provider of valuable thought leadership for the building materials industry is the immediate goal, so think long-term and plan ahead, and in time, you’ll find more and more leads are coming from people who tell you, “I saw your video on YouTube” or “I’ve been reading your blog for a few months.” That’s the ultimate power of content.

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Behind The Mind’s Curtain: Part 2

31 Aug

Car Engine



Guest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

As mentioned in my previous “Behind The Mind’s Curtain” post, it’s hard to truly understand what it’s like to be someone else, to see things from their perspective. But as marketers, we’re all bound at the very least to try.

With resources like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the team at Personality Hacker—two practical examples of Jungian psychology at work—we can dive deeper into personality matrixes to better understand what makes this person tick where others might tock. What might energize or engage one set of personalities might, in fact, be toxic to another.

Where the previous blog touched on “Judging functions” of Jungian psychology—true/false vs. right/wrong—we’re going to explore the “Perceiving functions.” These are the ways our psyches literally perceive and process information, whether it’s based on sensory inputs to determine what’s real or based on ideas to determine what’s possible.

(Again, it’s important to note that human psychology is complex, and even people with same personality types don’t share the same environments, experiences, and opportunities, so while the following concepts are true more often than not, they are still generalizations and should not be used as substitutes to research and personae-based insights.)

GROUP 1: The Realists

Function: Extraverted Sensing

For Realists, the world exists as it is. They take in information with the senses and deal in the here & now, typically not distracted by “what if” and “it might.” Their minds are drawn to the concrete and the known, valuing facts and empirical evidence.

Look for: pragmatism, reference to statistics, seeking additional inputs

Promote: data, evidence, immediate results

Avoid: possibilities, metaphors, “gut feelings”

Weakness: “it is what it is” fatalis

GROUP 2: The Traditionalists

Function: Introverted Sensing

Think of the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and you’re thinking of Traditionalists. What has been gathered through experience, what is truly known, is what matters most. As a result, life’s certainties are not only predictable but comforting.

Look for: deliberate action, careful consideration, leveraging experience

Promote: proven results, comparison, history

Avoid: improvisation, interpretation, “change for change’s sake”

Weakness: resistance to new ideas or systems

GROUP 3: The Dreamers

Function: Extraverted Intuition

With Dreamers, everything contains possibilities, whether it’s found in systems, situations or people. The idea of “what if” is pervasive and irresistible, and it drives them to seek new approaches and consider information in different contexts.

Look for: rapid-fire ideation and brainstorming

Promote: possibilities, exploration, potential

Avoid: practicality, statistics, “tried & true”

Weakness: inability to stay focused on single issue

GROUP 4: The Perceptives

Function: Introverted Intuition

Working mostly in the subconscious, the Perceptives are always searching for meaning behind the ideas—connections and patterns—that often lead to “a-ha!” moments. They build and explore complex mental models to better understand the world around them.

Look for: heavy use of and appreciation for metaphor

Promote: connection, pattern, symbols

Avoid: details, dwelling on past experiences

Weakness: presuming mental models can provide all necessary insights

Understanding how and why your audience processes information is the first step to better connecting with them through your marketing—don’t expect Dreamers to respond to spreadsheet data and don’t ask Traditionalists to “imagine a world of possibilities!” Providing a variety of formats is the surest way to get your message through a broad set, but when space is tight and time is a premium, knowing what type of information your particular audience prizes most can help your marketing cut through the clutter and get noticed.

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Better Manage Your Metrics

24 Aug

White desk with notes, coffee and laptop


Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 9.57.08 AM


Guest Contributor: Wade Callow, Digital Marketing Specialist

Fair warning, I find my job very interesting, so this article can be a bit technical.


Understanding Cost-Per-Click in Your B2B Paid Search Campaign

There are a variety of important metrics to consider when optimizing your B2B paid search campaign, each with its own meaning and optimization techniques. One paid search metric that is often highlighted – no matter if you’re using Google or Bing, your B2C or B2B, or if you are client side or agency – is the Cost-Per-Click metric, or CPC. Perhaps because it directly correlates to the dollar amount spent on each keyword, CPC is often seen as one of the most important factors in a paid search campaign, and as a result, CPC improvement is often pursued by paid-search managers.

To truly understand how to improve CPC, a paid search manager must first understand how CPC is calculated. For the sake of this article, let’s first describe major factors that go into Cost-Per-Click and then we’ll provide a few tips on how to improve it.

The Elements of CPC in your B2B Campaign

Maximum Bid

Bid is the first and easiest factor to understand. It’s as simple as inputting a single number to an ad group or a keyword, and AdWords won’t rise above it. So, if you set a max bid at $2, you won’t get an average CPC of $11. Setting a maximum bid is easy, but determining a max bid that meets your goals can be a bit of a challenge, especially in the beginning when you don’t have the data to justify your decisions. You want to have significant clicks without overspending; you want a balanced max CPC that’s going to give you ROI without breaking the bank. For more on determining your max CPC read here.


Competition is another huge determining factor on CPC, and because AdWords is an auction based service, competition can vary from keyword to keyword and market to market. Simply put, the more advertisers bidding on a single keyword, the more competitive it will be. The more competitive a term, the more expensive it will be, driving up your CPC.

Higher-volume keywords will be much more competitive, and thus, more expensive. Most high-volume keywords also convert at a higher rate, justifying the cost. If a high-priced keyword is converting and providing significant ROI, it’s probably worth the price.

Quality Score

The final factor for determining CPC is the Quality Score. Quality Score allows for the most manipulation in your AdWords account. Google rewards high Quality Scores with lower CPCs, so improving QS is imperative, especially if you don’t have the daily budget to force your way to the top of the page.

What Determines Quality Score:

  • How relevant your keywords are to your ad group
  • How relevant your ads are to your keywords
  • How relevant your landing pages are to your keywords and ads
  • Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
  • Historical AdWords performance

Tips for Improving Your B2B Campaign

Keywords: Keyword research is the foundation of paid search and finding the right keywords is how a successful campaign begins. When looking for keywords, you need to find ones that are relevant to your goals. If you’re selling garage door services, the “DIY how to install a garage door” term isn’t going to get you anywhere because that is the users intent is not to get their garage door serviced, but to service their garage door themselves. Finding keywords that match your audience, have a relevant amount of search traffic and a justifiable competition level are where you should start. Don’t neglect high competition keywords or low volume keywords if you think they fit, you can always remove them later down the road if they aren’t performing the way you’d like.

Structure: Once your keyword research is completed and you have an extensive seed list, organize those keyword into similar groups. Try to match a common term or common theme. If you have keywords that don’t fit any group, make them their own group and watch your search terms report closely to add more as they appear.

Ad Copy: Once you’ve placed your keywords into ad groups, ad copy should reflect your keywords, either by dynamically inserting keywords into the headline or by reflecting the theme of your keyword. Just make sure that your keywords are reflected in some way on the ad. Since Click-Through-Rate is important to Quality Score, placing the keyword in the headline has proven to be the most effective for good click-through rates.

Landing Pages: Similar to ad copy, your landing page should reflect your keywords. If your landing page isn’t focused to your ad group your quality scores will suffer. Landing page speed is also a factor, so even you have a great page, if it isn’t loading quick enough for Google – or even worse, your customer – it will cost you.

Ad Rotation: Make sure you have several variations of ads running on a constant rotation. If one isn’t performing the way you’d like, pause it and replace it with another. Do this until you find ads that have high CTR and convert well.

Negative Match: Too often, an underutilized aspect in AdWords, negative matching allows you to point out certain keywords to Google that you don’t want your ad to show up for. This is especially important when using broad match and broad modified keywords as Google will show an ad to anything it associates with your keywords. Removing irrelevant terms through negative matching eliminates wasted spend and improves CTR.

Low Competition/Long Tail Keywords: Finding low competition keywords through keyword research and the search terms report is another way to help your CPC. Low competition keywords, while generally lower in volume, are almost always lower in cost. Finding low competition keywords that are relevant to your campaign and still produce a decent amount of traffic is a great way to balance out your overall CPC. Long Tail keywords (keywords longer than 2 – 3 words) are great low competition keywords as the people searching them generally know exactly what they are looking for, leading to higher CTRs.

Summing Up

Cost-Per-Click is easy to manage in any paid search campaign but optimizing it is often much more complicated than it seems, especially within the nuances of the B2B market. A manager must first understand everything that goes into the metric before they can improve it and even then it can be difficult to get it where you’d like. While they are all similar, B2C, B2B and E-Commerce all have their own auctions and search landscapes, so understanding your market is just as important as understanding your metric.

It’s also important to know that, while CPC may be important, it’s not the only metric and shouldn’t be treated as such. Once CPC has decreased, another metric may dive into the red and you’ve to fix it. It’s a teeter-totter effect that can be remedied by paying attention to all of the metrics and how they correlate. Every AdWords manager should be working towards improving everything for every metric, not just one. Always work to better your keywords, your ads and your landing pages. Always be testing for something better. Paid search campaigns are never over. There’s always room for improvement.

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