6 Steps To Creating A Strategic Marketing Plan

It’s Called Strategy.

Everyone and anyone can market a brand or a product. Google can teach anyone the basics of marketing and populate an abundance of “How-Tos” and step-by-step guides. But there is only one effective marketing plan, one that can only be learned through experience and a long list of trials and errors – a strategic marketing plan. 

At CMG, we have been through it all with our clients. We have clients in various different industries and have seen what works and what doesn’t necessarily work for them. Even if in the same industry, no two companies will have the same marketing solutions for their goals. As we grow and add on new clients, we have learned that in order to set each client up for success we have to build a strategy that is unique to them. 

Building a strategy looks different from client to client, but the fundamentals stay the same. Here are 6 steps to get started on building your own strategic marketing plan.

What is your mission?

It’s time to get on the same page with your team. Go back to the basics: What is the mission and vision of your company? Not having a direction from the beginning will lead to chaos from the very start of trying to market your brand or product. Having a clearly defined mission and vision will lead to clearly defined goals you want to reach.

Define your target audience.

 Once clear goals are established based on your unique mission and vision, then you can work backward to create a strategic plan to achieve the goals. This involves breaking down everything from looking at who your target audience and consumer is to where to target geographically and on what platform. Marketing comes with many options, but usually, only a few actually make a difference with your audience.

Some questions to help define your audience:

  • What do they do for work?
  • What do they do on the weekends?
  • Where do they hang out?
  • Do they drive?
  • What decisions are they making right before and after they buy a service?

Set SMART Goals.

We’ve all heard this before – SMART goals. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely goals. If your goals don’t have these elements, then they will be impossible to track. Take some time to think about how your big picture goals can be broken down into SMART goals.

It’s time to think about messaging.

So you have clearly defined your mission and audience, and have trackable goals – now what? Cue the creativity. What the heck is your messaging going to say? Above all else, your messaging should match your goals – what you say should be reflective of your goals and relatable to your audience. Still stuck on what to say? Think through your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Taking time to think through these different pieces will lead to your key messaging.

Let’s talk tactics.

Messaging is established, now how do you get the message to your audience? There are hundreds of different ways and tools to start putting your message out there. It’s easy to get lost in all of the possibilities, but remember it isn’t about using it all, it is about thinking strategically and utilizing necessary tools based on your company and unique audience. When determining which tactics to use, think about time vs. money and what is actually worth the time. And remember, at the end of the day all the money in the world on marketing tactics is useless if your website is not running properly. 

Track your success.

The thing about strategy is that it never really ends. Tactics, messaging and goals will inevitably change as time goes on. Tracking metrics is the best way to see areas of opportunity or even where your efforts may not be worth the money or time being put into it. Track, analyze, adjust and keep going!

Ready to get even more into the details? We are marketing nerds who thrive off of coffee and talking strategy. Contact us today to get started building a strategic marketing plan.

How to Reinstate your Google My Business Account

Google My Business is a crucial component to any business’s SEO, but sometimes things go wrong and your account can get suspended. Don’t stress — we are here to help!

Why was my Google My Business account suspended?

Unfortunately, Google’s reasoning for suspending accounts is sometimes vague. In general, those reasons can include: someone logging in from a different location, too many users being added to your account in a short period of time, or not following community guidelines. 

Regardless of WHY your account has been suspended, it’s important that business owners quickly address this issue. Google My Business is crucial to a small business’s SEO — according to market research, the average business is found in 1,009 searches per month, with 84% of these coming from discovery searches via Google My Business. 

How Can I Reinstate my Google My Business Account?

First, get in contact with the account owner or administrator on the account. It’s at this step that you may realize it’s not actually you but does need to be. The business owner should always retain primary ownership and allow others to serve in a manager capacity. 

Here are the steps to take in order to reinstate your Google My Business account. 

  1. Ask for reinstatement
  2. Hear back about reinstatement 
    • The team at GMB will review, investigate, and resolve most requests within 3 business days.
    • If it’s been more than 3 business days, reply to the email you receive. It is very much okay to be the squeaky wheel. 
    • If you have a storefront, attach a photo to your reply.
       
  3. Reply to a denial 
    • If GMB mistakenly denied your request (which happens all the time), reply to the initial report email. 
    • In your reply, include an eligibility justification and summarize how your business operates.
    • If you have a storefront, attach a photo to your reply.
       
  4. Fix issues after reinstatement
    • For the security of Business Profiles, Google can’t share specific reasons why any profile is suspended.
    • If you have issues with your reinstated profile, reply to the email with information on your problem, and Google will  investigate.

Still Need Help?

Sometimes working through web forms is both daunting and complicated. We get it.

Our team at Columbia Marketing Group is Google Certified and happy to help the small business owners of Columbia, Missouri and the larger Mid-MO region. If you are a business owner with any Google My Business issues, please feel free to call us at (573) 499-1830 or email us at info@columbiamarketinggroup.com.

Outsmart Them. Don’t Outspend Them.

So, you’re thousands of dollars down. You’ve paid top dollar to a reputed ad agency and yet you feel like you’re sitting in a casino playing roulette and seeing everyone else at the table winning. What could have possibly gone wrong?

There are two ways to approach this challenge: blame it on luck, just like an amateur gambler would, or find out the root cause and ensure that your advertising money is working hard for you and getting you the best returns. In a nutshell — you don’t need to outspend your competition, just outsmart ’em.

How do you ensure success when your competition spends marketing dollars like there’s no tomorrow? No matter how deep an organization’s pockets are, the most priceless asset for a brand is the content and messaging that defines it.

Search engine optimization is the name of the game. Every time a potential user searches for you online and finds your competition, you lose a customer, potential revenue, and brand equity. This can be avoided by being true to your brand and the content on your website. SEO isn’t a dark art; it’s simply a way to reinforce your messaging, communicate your product features effectively, and create relevant content that helps customers understand what your brand and product is all about.

A lot of agencies will talk about stuffing your website with keywords. When you hear keyword stuffing, take your bags and run in the opposite direction, because that agency doesn’t believe in your brand, doesn’t believe in research, and definitely doesn’t believe in winning the hearts and minds of customers.

For optimizing your website and increasing traffic without paying top dollar, it’s important to first create content relevant to the brand and the products offered. Maintain clear messaging and make it easier for the users to find the products and features offered. This step is unfortunately skipped by a lot of organizations as they try to make their website “cutting edge.”

Any marketer worth their salt will tell you that content is king. By using the principle of clear messaging, a digital marketing agency can fight a grizzly bear with a toothpick and win. Another important principle to be followed is to add nothing but relevant keywords once the web content has been created. The natural question is: how do you decide which keywords to use?

Option 1: Flip a coin

Option 2: Use digital analytics tools to research and find high volume branded and product-relevant keywords that can be integrated in the web content.

The operative word is “integrated” and not “stuffed.” Let’s assume that the digital marketer choses Option 2 (the sane choice). The immediate result is a website that is primed to succeed in time. Compared to truckloads of marketing dollars spent on creating new campaigns and fancy websites, adherence to the fundamentals mentioned above (and a pinch of common sense) can better set you up for success and return on investment.

At Columbia Marketing Group, we believe in the KISS principle — keep it simple, stupid. We specialize in multiple digital technologies including Facebook, Google, dynamic OTT, weather forecasted marketing automation, geofencingweb development & hosting, and email marketing, to name a few. But we always adhere to marketing fundamentals and create marketing strategies that set our clients up for success — not for a month, not for a quarter, but for years.

What is SEO and why do you need it?

What is SEO? If you ever want to hide anything, keep it on the second page of a Google search result. Even though this is a joke, it isn’t far from the truth. When was the last time you clicked on the second page of a Google search result?

You may have a great product, a mind blowing Unique Selling Proposition(USP) and an earth shattering differentiator, but if your website doesn’t appear in the first page of a Google search result, it’s all for naught.

Do the websites which appear on the first page of a Google search merely get lucky? No. It likely means that they have a dedicated digital ad agency like CMG working the wonderful magic of SEO.

Let’s address the most talked about, and mysterious to some, term called SEO. SEO means search engine optimization. You cannot increase traffic to your website and improve your Google search result position without implementing an SEO strategy.  

You may hear a lot of chatter about digital marketing, but we at CMG would love to simplify it for you. Digital marketing analytics can be split into three pillars:

Acquisition

Covers all channels through which a customer decides to come to your websites, namely:

  • Organic
  • Paid
  • Referral
  • Direct

Behavior

Covers all the activities and habits of the customers when he/she is on the website.Such as:

  • Average time spent on the website
  • Total pages visited
  • Exit rate

Conversion

Covers metrics which determine if the customer ends up meeting any of the predetermined goals like purchasing a product or filling out an inquiry form or some other planned activity. For example:

  • Total leads
  • Total products purchased
  • Revenue generated

Search Engine optimization is essentially a process for increasing traffic to the website in the acquisition pillar. This is done using a number of different steps which are as follows:

  • For any website, content is king. It is important that not only do you have a great product, but the content on the website is relevant to the product you are trying to sell. 
  • The content on the website has to be in alignment with the keywords that your customers are using to search for your service or product. 
  • The website should be easy to use with high loading speed.

Why are the above steps important? The answer is in one word: Google!!

Google measures any website on the above factors and provides a quality score to the website, which in turn determines the position of your website in the search result.

If these terms seem complicated, fear not! Our digital analytics experts at CMG have a great deal of experience in optimizing websites using the steps mentioned above, in addition to other technical innovations. 

If you would like CMG to review your SEO strategy at no charge, request an appointment with our team.

Verify Your Business with Google Guaranteed

Trust is the foundation of any relationship, especially when it comes to businesses and their clients. Any client expecting a service trusts that their choice is qualified to do so, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. So, what’s an easy way to earn that trust? Become a Google Guaranteed local business. 

What is Google Guarantee?

Google launched a new service in July 2020 to help users connect with qualified local businesses. Google Guaranteed businesses go through a thorough screening process to verify that their employees and services are legitimate and trustworthy. Once the screening process is complete, your business will receive a green badge of honor next to its name and appears at the top of a Google search above all of your competitors that are not Google Guaranteed. Once you’re certified, Google will guarantee your company’s work for up to $2,000. This means that if a customer is unsatisfied, they can file a claim with Google to make it right.  

How can Google Guarantee help my business? 

Being Google Guaranteed launches your business to a higher level of trust with your clients.  This screening is ideal for businesses in the home service industry such as plumbers, electricians, HVAC, and pest control, but it is growing to include industries such as law and real estate. To enroll, you must undergo a company background check, owner background check, and field technician background checks. Once this is complete, leads will come to you with confidence that your service is the best in the area.  

How can I get Google Guaranteed? 

Obtaining the Google Guarantee badge is a great first step to getting your name in front of potential customers. You can receive this badge through an upgraded subscription of your Google My Business listing for $50 a month or run it through a Local Services Ad. Verification through Google’s Local Services is an easy way to obtain the badge and track incoming phone calls — especially if you’re already running Google Ads.  

The Google Guarantee program is new and ever changing, but CMG is on top of it. If you want to take your business to the next level, contact our team to help you get started! 

Redesigning Masonic Outreach

Cassidy Shearrer - Graphic Designer - Columbia Marketing GroupI am a loud extrovert who loves bright colors. My favorite movie is Point Break (the old one, obviously), and I’ve never met a pink I didn’t like. If it has aliens, glitter, or a crazy costume, I will be interested. So, the shocker of my career at the Business Times Company thus far has most definitely been that I LOVED redesigning a Masonic magazine.

At first, I was skeptical. Aren’t all Masons stuffy traditionalists? Would they be willing to try anything new with their design? I had no idea what to expect from the client, and I hoped to find some common ground so that I could enjoy the process while reviving their brand.

One of the challenges of being a designer is that I’m not making art for myself. Instead, I solve visual communication problems for other people. I have to take off my, literally, rose-colored glasses and look through the lens of the client. What colors work best for their content? What font is best to reach their target audience?

Happily, I found a great partner in the ladies at the Masonic Home of Missouri. We shared a passion for history and generosity. It was very exciting to work for the charitable branch of the organization, knowing my work would help provide financial assistance and health information to people in need.

And best of all, they wanted to revive their brand and give their magazine a facelift to reach a new, younger demographic. Queue up the hot pink! Just kidding. But I did get to use illustrations and develop a brand that gave some structure to their content and made their articles more accessible. We were able to provide them with some top-notch photography and a cohesive brand that makes both Masons and myself proud to display the magazine on coffee tables. Creating strong brands that our clients are proud to show the world is just as exciting as designing in my personal style.

Check out the before and after:

Masonic Outreach - Spring 2016 Cover - Masonic Home of Missouri
Before

Masonic Outreach - Summer 2017 Cover - Masonic Home of Missouri
After

Three Little Ways We Show Our Clients Appreciation

Gratitude goes a long way inside and outside of your office.

We aren’t challenging any Emily Post fanatics’ positions on the handwritten thank you note, but we do favor a few other ways to show gratitude to clients.

What’s Your Love Language?

This is a personality test office. Myers-Briggs to the Enneagram. We’ve tested it. We have the chart hanging in our kitchen.

One of our newer personality assessments centers around love languages. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the five love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, gift giving, physical touch, and acts of service.

Love languages can be used for personal, romantic, or business settings. It’s all in the application.

Does your client have quality time as their top language? You may want to schedule a longer meeting complemented by lunch.

Is gift giving more their jam? Keep Your clients preferred alcohol and snacks in office. Nothing says ‘I appreciate you,’ like having their favorite drink or snack waiting for them. Not even our spouses do that anymore.

Physical touch is trickier in the work environment, but can still be extended through high fives and handshakes.

Hey, Just Thinking of You…

Our staff loves helping small businesses grow. We think small business is the backbone of a community.

We don’t stop thinking about clients when we leave the office. Our clients are always on our mind, so whenever we see something that reminds us of their business or personal hobbies, we make sure to send it their way.

It’s one of the small ways to say, “Hey, I thought of you.”

See an article or book that might help a client, why not send it over? Who doesn’t love to be thought of?

Consistency is Key

One of the best ways we show appreciation to our clients is being consistent. Consistency lets our clients know they are as appreciated today as they were the day they signed on for our services.

How can you show consistency to those you service?

How do you show your clients you care? As a client, what has an agency done that made you feel appreciated?

Write to us on Facebook or Instagram about how you show your clients love.

 

Jingling All the Way to Post Engagement- How Holiday Content Can Boost Your Brand

The stockings are hung, Santa is at the mall, holiday hits are on the radio… Christmas is here! But I thought this was a blog about marketing, why are we chatting about the holidays? Because seasonal posts may be the answer you need for engaging audiences all over social media. If you are experiencing low user engagement through typical posts on your brand’s social media, fret no longer, we’ve got a solution that might just do the trick.

Here at Columbia Marketing Group we try to implement the 3 E’s when creating content for social media. These E’s are Entertaining, Emotional, and Educational, so ask yourself when you post 1) Is this entertaining? 2) Will this cause an emotional response from the user? 3) Is this educational? If you can get at least one of these E’s in your post, you are likely creating quality content that will help build your brand. Ideally, you would strive to get 2 or even 3 E’s, if possible.

So how do posts about the holidays fit into this equation? Not only do the holidays elicit an emotional response from users, typically excitement or nostalgia, but they are also entertaining, timely, this content is usually easily generated, and often gets higher engagement than a typical post. There’s something about snow on the ground, presents under the tree, and classic films on the silver screen that make you relish in anticipation for what’s to come. When fans and followers see these yuletide posts come across their news feed it allows them to feel these emotions.

This holiday season, Santa is checking his list, not once but twice, so make sure you dot your I’s, cross your T’s and incorporate the 3 E’s into your winter social media strategy. Happy Holidays from the team at Columbia Marketing Group!

 

 

Millennials: Changing the Marketing Game One Day at a Time

Millennials – you can’t go anywhere without hearing about them, including this CMG blog! But, why? Millennials make up 23.3% of the US population right now and companies need to start marketing to this group before it’s too late! Your great aunt on Facebook may say that millennials are lazy, self-righteous, unwilling to work, and self absorbed. Now that may be true for some, but this demographic makes up a huge part of the US workforce and accounts for $65 billion in consumer spending per year. And this will only continue to grow.

Some of you may still be unsure of who actually fits in this generation, you may actually be a millennial yourself.  Millennials include anyone born between the years of 1983 and 1999. These people are highly aware of what images and advertisements they let affect them. They spend much of their day behind a screen, whether computer, phone, or other. So, businesses –  take note!

 

Want to learn more about how to appeal to this stakeholder generation? Here are a few tips:

Avoid “hype” and “fake news”

With so much content out there, advertisers are fighting for digital space, and if you’ve got it, you better make it worthwhile. Millennials aren’t going to waste their time on an ad or site that has low quality images, out of date text, misspelled words, or other errors. They want to get the information they need and get out. Use professional design tips and tricks, incorporate high quality images, and modern fonts and colors. These strategies will increase credibility and attract those hard to get clicks.

Be on the right apps

 

via GIPHY

With so many platforms out there it is easy to misstep when planning on where to advertise. Although Facebook was created to cater towards college students, millennials spend their time elsewhere. Facebook has become increasingly popular for women aged 50+. Millennials still have FB accounts to keep up with extended family or use the popular Facebook Messenger feature, but their time on the platform is scarce and decreasing as other apps become increasingly popular.

Instagram and Snapchat are the winners in the game for millennial attention. These platforms create small bits of information and allow for more creativity and customization for the user. You can check in multiple times throughout the day, you’ll likely never see duplicate or recurring posts, and you are able to keep up with friends 10 seconds at a time. On the other hand, 32% of millennials use Twitter, this is down from years past but this platform is still holding strong for many users. Social media is exceedingly popular not just for millennials but for many age groups. Being present on these outlets is essential for any company striving to have a strong online presence.

 

Cohesive branding is key

Millennials are less likely to follow through with brands that are not cohesive. Companies that have different messages, logos, colors, and images are confusing. Your marketing components should have a common thread that forms a connection in the minds of consumers. If the content that you release is visually related, targeted millennials will form a positive brand image in their minds and are more likely to interact with these companies in the future.

Invest in the right kind of advertising

Millennials are getting force fed information through every outlet they spend their time on. Typical ads are being overlooked all the time, so how do you avoid this? Eye-catching, trendy advertisements such as interactive video are more likely to catch the attention of millennials and others alike.

Avoid something like this!

A few great looking ads make a greater impact than a large number of ads that look “spammy” or like clickbait. Professional ads can leave a lasting impression. Low quality ads that come up and follow you everywhere can leave an even stronger impression in a bad way. Retargeting is a great way to get the attention of potential customers, but these buyers don’t want to see a cheap advertisement. A professional, attractive ad may be all it takes to turn a first (or second, or third!) impression into a lasting relationship. By investing your money in the right ways you are able to form a positive relationship that can turn into future sales.

 

Millennials have a huge amount of buying power, the time to start getting their attention and brand loyalty is now. By following these recommendations, you will start seeing a return from this influential demographic!

If you need to rethink your branding or advertising strategy, contact Columbia Marketing Group today!

7 SEO Tips For Your Business to Appear on the First Page of Google

When you are searching the internet, how often do you go to page 2 or 3 on the results list? I almost never go past page one, and I don’t think I’m alone. So how do you get your business’s website on the first page or even at the very top of search results? The answer is the art and science of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short. Here’s a few tips to improve your shot at being #1, give them a try and see a difference in your monthly organic (SEO) traffic!

  1. Keywords

If you ask any SEO expert or web designer they will tell you that keywords on your site are one of the best ways to improve your spot on any search engine result list. Keywords include any text that is able to be read by the mysterious “google bots”. These bots crawl on web pages and pick out content so you get the most relevant results when you search. Having accurate information on your web pages is critical to being found by the average Bing or Google user.

Pro Tip: Avoid keyword stuffing. These bots are no dummies, if you are advertising a car wash business and every other word on your site is either car, wash, or car wash, they know what you’re up to. Keep it conversational while still getting relevant keywords into your featured text.

 

2. Headings

Headings are the titles on your site, like keywords these hold a lot of power when it comes to optimizing your search engine position. Make sure you are making the most of your headings – this is what website visitors are going to see first, after all. Include your company name and major page descriptors in your page or section headers. Good headings increase your chances of being seen on search engines and help your site visitors find the information they need quickly to avoid frustration.

 

3. Responsive design

We’ve all been there, trying to visit a website on your mobile device and having to scroll back and forth in order to find the information you need. It’s 2017 people! The average person is going to be on their phone anyway, make sure that your site is mobile friendly. The site crawlers can tell if your site only has a desktop version, when they see this they automatically take you out of the top search results because they know it is annoying for consumers.

Via GIPHY

4. Links

Linking in and out of your site is a great way to improve your SEO. What does that mean? You can link from one page on your site to another, this is building connections within your site, something Google likes to see. You can also link to other sites, maybe link to your client’s pages, and encourage them to link to yours, this mutual linking is beneficial for everyone. Another way to incorporate links on your site is to link out to your social media pages, that’s what they are there for, right? This can draw your website viewers to your facebook page and vice versa, that way you can get more likes and a better position on the results page.

Pro Tip: In general, when it comes to backlinks, Google rewards quality over quantity. It’s better to have 5 quality backlinks from websites with high domain authority than to have 50 low quality backlinks from websites with low domain authorities. Websites like Facebook have a high domain authority whereas a website that was built last week is likely to have a lower domain authority.

 

5. Correct info across search engines

Have you heard of NAP? No, not the thing we are all begging for come 3:00pm – it stands for Name, Address, Phone number. This is the information listed on search engines when someone types in your business name. If the information is not correct or the same across all search engines it can hurt your chances of being seen by Googlers. Make sure that when you search your business the right info comes up, if not, fix it fast! These bots can see when the information is not correct and only the businesses with accurate NAP profiles will end up on Page 1.

CMG has a service called business power listings, we clear up any issues with your NAP listing across all search engines, this is a simple way to improve your search engine position and generate new customers monthly!

6. Site speed

Is there anything worse than a slow loading webpage? Well, yes, but it is really frustrating especially if you are trying to get information quickly. The site crawlers know what people like and dislike, and that includes slow site speed. One way to improve your site speed would be to compress any large images on your site. By compressing your pictures down to a more manageable size, you can still have that amazing image quality you want while increasing your download speed dramatically.

7. Changing content

2010 seems like yesterday, but in reality that was 7 years ago! So having content from then or from even before on your site is not a great way to get the attention of these bots. Google loves new content, so change up your site yearly at the least, update your information, switch out old pictures for new ones, anything to keep your site fresh. An updated site will not only appeal to customers, but it will likely get you closer to that #1 spot on the search results list.

Search engine optimization is a tricky game and there are countless ways to optimize your site to be more visible and show up in search results. These are just a few strategies to get on Google’s good side and increase your organic traffic.

Want to know how your website is performing? Need help doing some hardcore SEO? Let us audit your website and discover opportunities for you to capture your fair share of Google’s search space. Contact us today.