Marketing Tips for Small to Medium Businesses

An interview with Sarah Falcon Marketing Consultant for B2B, B2C, D2C and Non-profit.

PATRICK: Why don’t we start off by just asking if you can just introduce yourself, who you are, and what you’ve been up to?

SARAH: Sure. I’m Sarah Falcon. I’m a marketing consultant based in Brooklyn.

PATRICK: Okay, and who do you work with primarily?

SARAH: I work with a bunch of different companies. I have the luck of working with like small indie beauty brands, big industrial companies, and I’ve done some work with digital agencies. It’s kind of all a range, all sort of focused on like brand-centric, customer-focused marketing.

PATRICK: Okay. How would you say you differentiate yourself a little bit from the competition?

SARAH: It’s a great time to be a marketer, like as you know, like the technology’s gotten so much easier. Like doing a video now is so much better than it used to be. It’s so much easier and so much less expensive, so there’s a lot of marketing tools available. Everyone has an iPhone and can take a photo, or a smartphone and can take a photo, so a lot of tools have made marketing a lot easier.

I kind of position myself as a creative pragmatist. I’ve done this for a while, and it’s been about 15 years. I started like in 2004 where it was really sort of bare bones, and so I understand a lot of the technologies and I understand the strategies and how to make something interesting, specific to companies and pragmatic, doable, like this is something we can do tomorrow, this is something we can do in six months and next year, and that’s really the position that I play in.

PATRICK: Yeah. Do you think that’s … it’s a good thing and a bad thing, which is technology, in the sense that, yes, it’s easier for people to do things, but because it’s easier, they tend to want to do it themselves, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to do a good job of it, right? Someone can go online and build their own website, someone can use their phone and create their own video, but is that going to be good enough for them to get the results that they’re looking for?

SARAH: Yeah. Yeah, technology, I always think of it as like you need some space for a balance. There needs to be a strategic plan, and you need to sort of think … like a website’s a big deal. You need to select the platform, you need to have a strategy, you need to have it integrated with all the platforms that you’re using, but there should be room to like play when the latest new chatbot comes out, so that you can see what happens, because we don’t know yet.

You know, I think it’s easy to get very distracted because there’s new technology every day, and so Pinterest comes out and everyone says like, “Pinterest is great for driving traffic to your website,” but it might not be the traffic you need or the traffic you want. You can expend a lot of energy kind of playing in all spaces and trying all technologies, but without really focusing on what your own ecosystem is that creates the customer experience you want for your customers, then it’s really easy to get distracted.

PATRICK: Yeah. I think people want to be everywhere, but sometimes being everywhere means you’re not really going anywhere, right?

SARAH: Right.

PATRICK: You’re just going to be too focused on trying to be on every channel, when maybe there’s only one channel that really is really relevant to what you do, where you’re going to get the most out of that one channel, right?

SARAH: Yeah. You know, there’s value in depth and expertise, and also just resource management. It just takes … you know, as we’ve all experienced, right, it takes a lot of energy to be on social media. It takes like a lot of mental and emotional energy, and it takes a lot of resourcing to do it really well. Figuring out like where you’re going to play and have expertise I think actually can be really beneficial, especially for like smaller and medium-sized businesses.

For big ones who have a lot of resources that can play in all these things, then it’s a little bit different. If you’re Gary Vaynerchuk and you want to push out to every channel at all times, and you have the people to do it, then you do that.

PATRICK: You go for it, but if not … now, would you say you tend to work more with that smaller, startup type, style company?

SARAH: Yeah.

PATRICK: Where you have to kind of figure out, “Okay, we have limited resources, so let’s be very strategic in the way that we use those resources”?

SARAH: Yeah. I work with like small and medium businesses, and generally like with a specific brand that they’re trying to have their customers experience. Maybe they don’t want to be in all places at all times. Maybe Snapchat is too young for the brand. Maybe Pinterest is just right because it’s a lifestyle wellness brand and you want to sort of give that like visual and educational focus, so it just really depends on the brand. I usually am in the small and medium business space.

PATRICK: Okay. If someone comes to you, startup, small company, business … and I think that’s something a lot of entrepreneurs go through is that start, right, like branding. It’s super important. Where do I start, right? You’ll hear that story of the entrepreneur who spends like two weeks designing the logo but completely forgot to develop their product, so they get trapped in that kind of like, “Oh, no, the `I’ has to have that dot instead of that dot,” and like, “Okay, great, but what about the rest of your business,” right?

SARAH: Right. Right.

PATRICK: How do you get someone started? What would you say is the time first step into developing your brand strategy?

SARAH: Right. Yeah, it’s like everyone wants a business card, right? The first step to starting a business is making a business card. There’s a lot of creative work that goes into starting a business, right, like figuring out the logo, figuring out the colors, figuring out the business cards. You know, I just take a sort of strategic plan, an action plan approach, so like what are we trying to accomplish, who are the people that we’re trying to talk to, and where do we want to talk to them?

How do you get started: a) what are you trying to accomplish, b) who are the people that we’re trying to talk to, c) where do we want to talk to them, and d) how do we build the technology and the processes to do that efficiently?

Where do we want to live? Is it mostly Instagram and email? Is it chat on our site and Snapchat? Like figuring out what’s sort of the marketing technology combination that builds the ecosystem that we want to have to create the customer experience we want. It’s a little bit convoluted, but it’s really about figuring out like who are we, what’s different about us, who do we want to talk to, where are they, and how do we build the technology and the processes to do that well and efficiently.

PATRICK: Yeah. I think that’s the question, is where are the people we’re trying to reach.

SARAH: Right.

PATRICK: They’re not everywhere.

SARAH: Yeah.

PATRICK: They’re not everywhere. Not all the channels are the same. I’m also curious to know, we’ve talked a lot so far about online marketing. Is there offline strategies that you also use in combination?

SARAH: Yeah.

PATRICK: A lot of people we’ve interviewed, there seems to be a trend now going a little bit back towards offline, because the online market is so saturated that you have to find creative ways to get noticed, and sometimes that involves offline strategies.

SARAH: Yeah. You know, there’s still conferences that can be really important. There’s a lot of event marketing that’s really interesting and really separating. We’re seeing a lot of brands that began as direct-to-consumer brands having storefronts now, especially in New York, right? Zola, which is a wedding registry website, now has a flagship in New York, so they’re trying to have an experience that they’re creating.

Yeah, I’ve done a lot of event marketing support and store retail marketing support, and it’s the same thought. Who are we trying to reach, and what are the technologies in this case? Is it a brochure, is it a backdrop? What are sort of the materials we need to communicate that?

PATRICK: I think also the human interaction, right?

SARAH: Yeah, exactly.

PATRICK: That’s something people forget. That’s maybe the most powerful thing of all, is having the ability to have a conversation with someone and to sell them in person on what you do, and that conveys a little more emotion, it conveys a little more reality, instead of just getting a brochure or a business card or a website.

SARAH: Right. I mean, that’s the influencer marketing, right? There’s a lot of noise in the influencer marketing and it’s becoming very sort of expensive and saturated, but there is always that like in-person relationship-building, and finding the people who are really key to be advocates of your brand or your service.

PATRICK: I think that’s where events … like you were talking about. I know some companies will organize panels, they’ll organize just … we did it. We had a panel maybe a month ago where we invited people in the B2B space and we asked them some questions, and we got it on film and we had a little audience, and it was a great way to connect with people.

SARAH: Yeah, and has been great for that. There are lots of … it’s a good way of tapping into local networks, and you can usually speak at events or attend events for a while and speak at events.

PATRICK: You can be very specific in the type of people you invite, and you can build a community around that, and I think that that’s just a great way to connect with people offline and then drive them towards your online efforts at the same time.

SARAH: Yeah, exactly.

PATRICK: What’s a mistake you see people make when it comes to branding, things that you see maybe companies are focusing too much in one direction or something, or they’re just not ready for this step, but they’re so eager to get there that they’ve skipped a whole bunch of other ideas, or is there something that comes up?

SARAH: Yeah. There was a lot of hype in sort of the past couple of years about Facebook advertising, but it’s pretty opaque to see what’s converting. I’ve just talked to businesses who’ve dumped a lot of money on it and haven’t seen the returns that they were expecting, and I’m not … you know, you have to understand. If you’re spending money on Facebook as a brand awareness campaign, just know that you’re competing with like your nieces, like really cute niece photos, and like whatever news is designed to like agitate you, right?

It’s a really hard space to play in, so if you have a lot of money, if you want to build brand awareness, then maybe that’s a place that you want to play in. If what you’re saying is, “We spent all this money, we’re not seeing the sales,” then that’s a mismatch of expectations and platform.

PATRICK: Yeah. I think Facebook’s a good example, where in the beginning it was extremely attractive because it’s so hypertargeted, right?

SARAH: Yeah.

PATRICK: It can be these people with these key words, in this specific location with this age group. I want women, I want … and you think, “Wow, this is an incredible tool.” Like you said, more and more, and as they change the way that they allow to you connect with people, right … you’re not in control, they’re in control, and they’re going to make you spend more and more and more in order to potentially reach those people. Even if you get to that person you’re trying to reach, like you said, you’re competing with cute kitten pictures and you’re competing with everything else that they’re being bombarded with. Even if you get to them, it doesn’t mean you’re really connecting with them, right?

SARAH: Yeah, and that can be okay if it’s part of a marketing mix and that’s one of your touch points, and you have the resources to manage it and the span to do it. Then it can work really well.

I bought a product from an Instagram advertisement. It was the first time. I was … I don’t know. I was pregnant and I was going to have a baby in winter, and it was like, “Oh, they have like a panel.” It was a maternity coat, but then it had a panel. If you had a baby in a carrier, you could add the panel and zip up, right? It hit me at like exactly the time where I was like, “It’s about to get cold, I’m about to need a coat, and look, I’m pregnant and I’m going to have this baby.”

For me, that was the first time I’ve seen Instagram marketing. It wasn’t an influencer, it was a paid ad, but it was very targeted. It was very good, and it was a really good product, and I evangelized it. Obviously people asked me about it. I’ve given the address out 10 times, literally, to like men and women, who were like, “That coat makes sense.”

There is a way to do it. If you have a hero product, if you have the timing really right, if you have the audience really right, that you can really … you can make that switch all the way through to purchase or kind of the action that you want. Otherwise, I think most of the time it’s really a brand awareness problem.

PATRICK: Yeah. That’s interesting, because you bring up the point, that yes, there are people you study. You’re in marketing, you’re a marketer, but you’re also a consumer, right?

SARAH: Right.

PATRICK: When you end up on the other side, when you become the consumer, the first thing you’re thinking is, “Wait a minute, how did they get me? How did this work? How is it that I’ve purchased this thing that I saw on Instagram? How did that happen?”

SARAH: Right.

PATRICK: Then you start thinking strategically. “Oh, okay, they did this, they did this, they did this,” and then that probably helps you to then take that information and use it in your own strategies, right?

SARAH: Right. Right. You need that kind of empathy with your customer of trying to see like where they’re going to be and where they’re going to play. This is where AI is getting so interesting and smart these days, is that … you know, I started email marketing in 2004 when we did like cutting segments by hand, right? Like you had to have this Excel list, you had to chop it down. You had to kind of try to figure out what could try and what you could target, and now AI is making that kind of marketing so much smoother and easier and smarter. It’s really … it’s nice.

PATRICK: Yeah. I think especially the way that it can follow you everywhere now, right? You know, you search something on Google, and the next thing you know you’re on YouTube and videos for that are popping up, and then you’re on Facebook and there’s an ad for that same thing.

SARAH: Right. Right.

PATRICK: No matter where you go, it just seems like you’re being followed by that thing, and I think for companies it’s extremely attractive, but it requires strategy. You have to really make sure that all of those channels are developed and that your product is well presented, and that the visuals are there and that everything’s in place, yeah?

SARAH: Right. Right, and this company that I bought the coat from, they know that in a year I’ll have a one-year-old, more or less, right? Everyone who buys maternity clothes, you know. With that segmentation and that knowledge of your product ordering history, you can target in the future. That ability to do that and sort of the structures to do that smoothly, easily and on a very individualized level, is really, really exciting. It’s what makes marketing really fun these days.

PATRICK: Yeah. Thinking of your customer in a long-term way, right? Yeah, it started with maternity, but maybe they’re thinking, “Okay, well, this person eventually is not going to need maternity clothes anymore, but how else can we continue to build our relationship with her, with the consumer?”

SARAH: Exactly.

PATRICK: How would that work in B2B, right? Is it a similar approach, because obviously you’re trying to create a long-term relationship with your customer?

SARAH: Yeah.

PATRICK: Where do you think there’s the difference there between the B2B and the B2C? Where are the similarities in the way that you use those platforms?

SARAH: Yeah. I mean, with B2B, there’s just the depth of customer information that you have. I mean, the sales team and the accounts team, they know the people they’re talking to, right? They know who’s having babies. They know who’s going to be retiring. There’s a wealth of information, so figuring out how to get that information into tools that you can then use to market to is really the opportunity.

You know, they’re really building those processes so that you capture that information and you have kind of a systematic way of doing that easily and quickly. It gives you really, really powerful tools, and there’s also sort of the learning that goes along. You know, the merchandising, the product upselling that bots and recommenders can really help do on the B2B side.

PATRICK: Okay. Nice. What’s something coming up, like a trend that you see coming up maybe in the next year or so, that maybe we’re not focusing on too much right now but that you think is going to start gaining in terms of importance in the way that companies use different marketing technologies or maybe offline ideas or strategies?

SARAH: I think, along with in that AI piece, there’s the chatbot and having really helpful chatbot tools. I just ordered something from Amazon. It never arrived there, so I went on the app and it went to the customer service bot person who said like, “Oh, I can help you?” I said, “Yeah, I have an issue with my order,” and they said, “Oh, the last order?” I said yeah, and they said, “Did it not arrive?” Like there were a few selections, it didn’t arrive, it was broken or something. I said it didn’t arrive, and they said, “Okay, we can either credit your account or we can resend you the order,” so I selected resend the order and that was it.

It was like a minute-and-a-half transaction, and Amazon has figured out that’s like worth their money to automate this, so that they don’t have to have resources spending the time doing this whole customer service transaction process. It was a great experience for me. I am totally confident that if I order again from Amazon and it doesn’t show up, like if I’m not home, whatever happens, I know that the friction to resolving this problem is so light.

I think that, and especially in B2B where you have those touch points and you have all that customer service, figuring out like what are the conversations and how to do that in a friendly way, that’s automated and smooth and easy, that reduces that friction and delights your customers and is not extremely expensive. I mean, it costs whatever. It was a $15 item, they reshipped it, but it saves them so much effort. I think figuring out those moments of making the customer experience smoother and easier in a way that serves your business and your revenue and your margins is really the opportunity.

PATRICK: Yeah. We had another person we talked to who was saying how in the software space, he was exploring this software that he was thinking about using for his own company, and while he was on the website … and this was later in the evening, he was at home, just kind of searching through some stuff … and then this chatbot popped up and is like, “Hey, do you have any questions,” and he’s like, “Yeah, actually I do.” Because of the smoothness of that interaction, he went on to purchase that software, because he wasn’t … it wasn’t them trying to hard-sell him.

It wasn’t, you know, some person he had spent about half an hour trying to get to on the phone. It was just this very simple, “Hey, can I help you with something,” and having that person know whether that’s an AI behind that interaction or an actual person, I think there’s good and bad for both, but yeah. I think there’s more and more. I think what you said was really smart, is just making it as smooth as possible to have that interaction, right?

SARAH: Right. Yeah, and then the business can focus on sort of the deep relationships, right, the in-person events, the deep relationships, the high-level strategy, the sort of plans and processes to grow the business, and less on sort of the like actual roll your sleeves up, customer service marketing, like, work.

PATRICK: Yeah. I think you’ve got to be careful, though, and not overdo it on technology, because once in a while people get frustrated and they’re like, “I need to talk to a real person now,” right? Like, “This is a problem, this isn’t working,” so I think companies have to be careful a little bit with that. Yeah, chatbots are great, but make sure there is someone available somewhere if the person’s not getting the solutions that they’re looking for.

SARAH: Yeah, for sure, and that’s really the question that I’m always asking, is like, “What’s the customer service experience you’re trying to create, then how does the technology serve that, and what technology doesn’t serve that?” Maybe you’re a business that’s like a family-owned business that prides itself on having personal relationships, so what you want is not a chatbot. You want a phone number that pops up and says, “Having a problem? Call us anytime. Someone will pick up the phone, or if we’re busy, we’ll call you right back.”

Maybe thinking about what the tools are and how they really actually serve your business and trying to let go of an expectation of this is what everyone is doing or this is what is needed or wanted, but really focusing. Spending some time and thought on figuring out what it is that you’re trying to do.

PATRICK: One last question that I usually like to ask people, because we do use video quite a bit, is how does video fit into your strategy? Is it something that you use regularly, and if so, how do you, because we talked a little briefly before about how you can go from a super high-end, polished, almost television-quality video all the way down to someone with their own iPhone creating something.

SARAH: Right.

PATRICK: Do you use it, and if so, what are some of the ideas that you have in terms of video?

SARAH: Uh-huh. I worked recently with a digital agency that worked … an e-commerce agency, and the president is very sort of dynamic and loved doing video. Fantastic, so we did a lot of video, and what we developed was a really … like a 30-point process of getting from like conception through to having something that we could put on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn. What we did is we really built out a strategy for video and a process, so that anyone could jump in and take over pieces of the process. I think video is hugely important. I think it’s really impactful.

I think for brands looking to do it, I call it like eating every part of the buffalo, so that you’re making the most of the effort of making a video, because it does take effort. You know, like you have the lovely studio, you have like time and effort and the effort of editing, so thinking strategically about what is the video we’re going to do, what are the platforms it’s going to show on, how do we need to structure it and how do we need to use it. Where do we put it on the web? Where do we put it on third-party sites? How do we use it on social media? Building out that process and that calendar for making the most of that video.

PATRICK: I think that’s a really good point, and that’s something that we try to make people understand in video is that, great, you have this one video that you spent so much time producing, wonderful. What are you going to do with it, right? Because we’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars on this super well-done video, and then it sits on their website and they don’t drive any traffic to it, and they’re expecting it to somehow miraculously be seen by everyone, but no one sees it, right? Or if people do see it, they’re like, “Oh, that was wonderful, but I don’t really get what I’m supposed to do now.” There’s no call to action. There’s no strategy behind the video, right?

Or then you’ll have people who, on the other side, they create smaller, less highly-produced videos, but they do it consistently. In the beginning they’re not seeing great results, but then over time they realize like, “Oh, look, that video I released a few months ago is getting some traction now,” and then suddenly they have a much better strategy. Though the video quality maybe isn’t the same, the strategy behind it is so strong that it almost makes the quality of the video a little less important because the message is clear, the storytelling is clear, the consistency is there. I think it’s that balance, right, in between those two. Have some decent quality to your video, but also make sure that you’re using it strategically and in the right way.

SARAH: Yeah. It’s like we talked about that mix, right? There needs to be a space to play, for like you have an idea and you want to shoot something quickly, and then for more produced, more expensive videos. Every platform can be optimized, and being curious about what it takes to actually optimize is really important in marketing, right?

It keeps shifting. What it means to optimize keeps shifting, but understanding what optimization looks like on Vimeo is different from YouTube, which is different from your website, which is different from Facebook, which is different from LinkedIn, and like it’s a lot. It’s a lot to do, but the more you can define what optimization looks like on each platform and build a process for achieving that for your brand, the faster it gets and the smoother it gets, and the more you can do.

PATRICK: That’s awesome.

SARAH: Sure.

PATRICK: Thank you so much for coming by.

SARAH: Yeah. Thank you. It’s been great.

Sarah Falcon


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