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CONNECTION GROUP

Success in business starts with connections

5 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Local Brand Marketing Company

local brand marketing company

Are you, or is your boss a passionate entrepreneur who has worked tirelessly to ensure your business will succeed? Now that employees, additional products, services, or locations have been added, is it time to contact a local brand marketing company to get you to the next level?

A small business in the expansion mode will typically have a visual brand including a logo, business cards, and a responsive website. Now that growth is imminent, a marketing plan or social media campaign may help boost awareness or sales. If the company started with a DIY website design, it may be time ( for security reasons?) to have a professional website redesign. If there are no experts on staff, it’s time to reach out to a brand marketing firm. But, how can you find an affordable and local brand marketing company? We’ve highlighted a few considerations below.

How to find a local brand marketing company who can grow with you

1. Can you allow time to talk to more than one firm?

Your customers shop around for the best fit and price, so should you. Small business brand marketing services and costs vary. For instance, marketing consultations and complete marketing plan can range in price from $500 – to $50,000. Yes really— there is that big of a spread.

2. Do they consult, plan, and implement?

Some agencies offer marketing consultations and provide marketing plans that you’ll be responsible to implement. Other marketing agencies provide ‘the whole enchilada.’ From concept to campaign maintenance, including monthly meetings and digital reporting. What will work best for you and your staff right now?

3. Are they really a local brand marketing firm? Does it matter?

For instance, searching, ‘local brand marketing company in Lansing, Michigan’ will bring results from the firm on the next block and from agencies on completely different continents. If it’s important to work together physically, ask them if they are available to meet. If you don’t have a need for physical meetings, are Skype type meetings in order or will email correspondence suffice? Consider it working in different time zones or with different languages be challenging? (Spoiler: often more than you think!)

4. Do you have to start all over?

If all you need to do is add a blog, update content, and add a list of new services to your website can they help you? Or, does the prospective firm insist that you need a whole new website, logo, and brand campaign?

5. Are they curious about your company?

Do they know your industry, your geographical area, your customers? If they don’t know anything about your company do they ask the right questions? Do they ask questions that you haven’t considered? Do they sound like they care about you? Not just you as a new paycheck – but you as a person and company who they can help thrive?

All of these questions should result in answers you feel comfortable with. You should hang up the phone thinking – I am so glad I called them! Outsourcing one or all of your small business brand marketing services is a big decision and can be an expensive investment. When you begin your research, please give us a call, we love working with smart business owners!

New Year, New Social Media Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses on Facebook

strategy for small business social media marketing on facebook

A  strategy for small business social media marketing was turned upside down last week when Mark Zukerberg announced changes to the Facebook newsfeed. Aimed to enhance the user experience, Facebook will begin to prioritize newsfeed posts from family and friends.

A large percentage of users may not even notice the increase in cat memes or teenager selfies. Those who will be affected are small businesses and social media marketing strategists. As of 2016, there were 60 million Facebook business pages. For some Facebook just cut off their power.

A New Strategy for Small Business Social Media Marketing

Facebook pages with thousands of active followers will continue to be posted in their follower’s newsfeeds, just not as frequently. Active followers aren’t just liking a post they’re having a dialog with other followers on the post. A ‘like’ is not equal in value to actively commenting. Facebook wants to see engagement – the more people engaged the higher chance the business page will hit followers newsfeed.

Small business facebook followers mark see firstAnother strategy for small business social media marketing on Facebook is to ask followers to select “See First”  under the “Follow” tab.  This will help business pages continue to get into the newsfeed. Currently, Facebook users can only select 30 total people and pages to ’See First’. Small brands may have a hard time selling the “See First” option. If followers have selected family, friends, or other pages to see first already, new pages lose.

What options do really small business Facebook pages have?

Small businesses who have 300 or so followers who are lucky to even get likes on their posts – let alone dialogues – are going to lose the organic target they once received. So what is a small business to do?

social media strategist boost postSpend money. Facebook is a business, they’re going to continue to post advertisements in the newsfeeds. Boosting page posts, and investing in Facebook ad campaigns is another strategy for small business social media marketing. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. It can be time-consuming though.

Essentially there is no more free ride for small business Facebook pages. But, this industry is anything but static. New platforms and new strategies for small business marketing may eliminate Facebook marketing.

I must admit when I heard of the changes I thought of the question I get most from small businesses: “Do I need a website, I have a Facebook page’. My answer is and always has been, invest in your brand, not somebody else’s. Using Facebook for your online presence is like having your customers call Facebook to reach your business phone. It’s time for small businesses to take back control of their brand. Find new ways to stay connected with your audience. If you need help, connect with us, we can help get your small business online.

Building A Purpose Driven Company

Identify Your Brand Purpose Begin with the following exercise.

5 Steps to Define Your Brand Purpose

What is your product or service and what does it have to do with your brand purpose?   Are you a product manufacturer? Do you have a retail store or online shop? Does your company provide property management services? Even if these questions seem very basic to you, you may be surprised what is revealed through this practice.

Taking a few moments to determine your purpose by penning a products and services list is invaluable whether you are a start-up company or an existing business. The list helps your customers know what products and services they can expect from you, plus helps your company identify its purpose and where you want to focus your energy.

Begin to identify your brand purpose with this product and service list exercise.

Consider what a customer may need when they are seeking your product or service. Do they just want yarn or do they need online knitting classes? If you are a product manufacturer, will you provide one complete product or replacement parts, will you create multiple models that offer unique features?

Below I have used Connection Group as an example. I began with core services and then added subcategory items under each as applicable. I have purposefully left some items off at the risk of creating a 20-page blog!

The main services Connection Group provides are:

  • Graphic Design – Including logo design, digital graphics, print collateral, publication design, web page design, signage design, display advertisements,
  • Printing – Including – offset and web press, short-run digital and large quantity print runs, proofs, delivery
  • Website Design and Development – Including website design, user interface design, navigation and content flow, digital graphics, website maintenance, hosting
  • Brand Marketing Management  – Including digital graphics, display and internet advertising, direct mail, brochures, event marketing, product marketing
  • Content Marketing – Including graphic design creation, blog writing and distribution, social media post creation and social media management

1. Create your product or services list.

Begin with your core product or service, then add the elements of each. After that step is complete, you can also break down tasks that are part of each service. For our example, we could add specific tasks required for publication design, or website design, etc.

 2. Read through your list.

Do you see some services repeated under multiple categories?

In our example, graphic design services are under all categories. Graphic design is our core service.  It makes sense that we have included it in all of our main service platforms. Although it may appear repetitive, we include a service under each applicable category because we want to communicate clearly to our customer what is available for them.

Graphic design created for print and digital graphic design developed for the web requires a grasp of each medium. Not all creative services firms have expertise in both areas. Adding it to all categories helps our customers know we can be a one-stop solution. Creating a full suite of branding services that helps our customer connect with their target audience is our brand purpose.

3. Could you make changes to increase customer satisfaction?

Can you be a one stop shop or is offering a specific niche a better brand purpose for your company? If another creative services agency did this exercise they may realize they need to bone up on their website graphics capability. Or, they may choose to focus on their print expertise and decide not to offer website design or web graphics at all.

4. How can your brand purpose list help you plan for the future?

Did you recognize you have some extraneous products or services that you are currently offering which do not offer value expected by your customer? Do you find some holes that you could fill in with new products or services? Sometimes companies can create entirely new divisions with a new product or service that utilizes core competencies or current staff, equipment capabilities, etc.

5. How will you serve your customer better?

Determining your core brand purpose is the first step in putting your customers needs first. Your company will also benefit because you can identify ways to streamline resources. Optimizing your equipment, raw materials, knowledge, and staff is key to a purposeful and profitable business.

Let us know if we can help build your company brand roadmap. From a purpose-driven brand assessment to a full blown brand marketing plan we can help you create a unified brand image and increase your brand recognition.

5 Steps to Effective Content Marketing

effective-content-marketing

Effective content marketing not only keeps your website current, it is critical to coming up on the first page of search results.

Search engines look for keyword rich content on your website related to your industry, products, and services. Adding new information to your web pages, blog posts, service, and product descriptions, promotions, video, branding visuals, are a few examples of digital content.

You can’t just rely on search engines to bring people to your website though. Distributing content to new audiences helps you get in front of many more prospects.

Where does your target audience hang out? Look for outposts where you can share content, discover niche forums, social media platforms, news websites, blog sharing websites and more.

1. Identify your audience(s) and topic(s)

Allocate your content distribution.

  • If your top sales are in one product or service, allocate 60% of your content to that product, 25% to your second producer, 15% to your third…
  • Or focus on lead generation and dedicate 50% for prospecting, 25% to current customers, 25% previous customers.

2. Create a Content Calendar

Effective content marketing begins with planning.  This shareable resource helps the whole team visualize how content will be distributed throughout the year.

  • Plan content around events, product releases, holidays, etc.
  • Be realistic on the time commitment you’re capable of each month/quarter/year…
  • Divide up the person hours with staff, partner with colleagues, or budget to outsource content creation.

Download our free content calendar.

3. Take stock of your content assets

You may have a lot of content already. Presentations or training session slide decks, e-books, videos, infographics, old blogs, etc. You can also partner with colleagues to share their informative videos, photos, transcribed interviews, blog posts, etc. Have them do a guest blog posts or a series of them. These content assets might take the form of:

  • re-purpose content – update old blog posts with current information
  • interview colleagues, local leaders for audio or video content
  • how-to videos, videos just for fun, introduce new staff

4. Schedule, publish, promote

We find it works best to set a specific day each week to work on content. Blocking time out on your schedules gives it the importance it deserves.

5. Track, and tweak your content

Compare stats from tracking systems of posts or pages viewed, during key campaigns or time frames. Assess which types and posts have proven to be the most effective content marketing.

  • Install Google analytics or other tracking software on your website. Follow visits, engagements, and sales.
  • Track feedback, insights, etc. from chosen social media platforms,
  • Review email campaign reports

Need an extra boost to get started?

We can help you determine what the most effective marketing content is for your business with a brand content consultation. You’ll get one-on-ones with us, an entire year roapmap outlining the most effective marketing content to capture your audience. See list of features for your personalized content roadmap.

You can choose to develop all of your content from there or we can help you with as little or as much of it as you would like. Contact us today!

[Tip] How To Stop Fake News Posts

Stop making fake news real!

From ‘Reality TV’ to ‘Alternative Facts’, it is hard to determine fact from fiction today. If you have family or friends who are professional journalists, you know citing sources and reporting facts is a sacred creed not to be broken. Legitimate news sources may not share news we all like to hear, they may inflate circumstances, they may be guilty of focusing on ratings. Yet, making up stories to intentionally deceive is not a laudable option to this group.

It is primarily the internet, blogs, and social media sites that have proliferated this unnerving practice of fictitious or fake news. Because of the viral nature of the digital and mobile platform, fake news stories are posted and shared many times over, without question of the source.

8 ways to determine if an article is fake news:

  1. Domain Name: Examine the domain name of the site that posted the news. Scams often use a similar name to reputable media. For instance abcnews.com.co is a known fake news site attempting to trick people to thinking they are abcnews.com
  2. Fact-Checking: Run the story through known fact-checking websites. Try the search engine Hoaxy currently in Beta. Or try recently acquired by Facebook, Snopes.
  3. Read quotes: Does the author use  “sources say…” instead of citing true numbers, studies, officials or industry professionals?
  4. Who is the author: Research the author of the story. Fake news writers won’t have other information in browser search engines. Real media reporters and writers have online brands and recognition. Even interns will have the beginnings of a personal online brand.
  5. Who runs the website: Check if there are links that will lead you back to who actually runs the website where the article was posted. Is there an About Us page, or references? Reputable news sites will always include contact and marketing information.
  6. Photos and graphics: Do the graphics and photos look accurate? Could Photoshop tricks be at play? Have stock photos been used? Do they lead you somewhere else off the story?
  7. Videos: If there are videos embedded, check their original source and date. Look for any splicing, videos can be manipulated as easily as graphics.
  8. Posted elsewhere: If you don’t find the video or the actual news story in question anywhere else online that is a strong clue it is fake. News media spread stories far and wide, not just on their own sites. Fake news stories rely on others to share it.
  9. Self-Hosted: Check if the website is a self-hosted Weebly design or WordPress site. Not that all WordPress sites are cause for concern, but WordPress is an inexpensive simple option to post quickly and take down down.
  10. Grammar and Spelling: Real news stories go through many steps of editing and seldom contain errors, especially blatant ones.

Is it Fake? Stop it from spreading!

Once you discover it is most definitely a Fake News story or a fake photo, flag it. Slate has created a Chrome extension, called This is Fake, that you can click if you discover a fabricated news story. The tool allows you to identify a fake story and then report it to your friends.

This is our chance to take back the internet and return some integrity to the real news media. When you connect “This is Fake” to your Facebook account you can flag the fake stories to the Slate “This is Fake” moderators.

Be a good citizen – stop making fake stuff famous!

Learn more about “This is Fake” here.

Tips source Lifewire.

#tuesdaytip

Small Business Responsive Website Design is Easy

 

Free website design Michigan

We all see the ads in our feeds and on tv,  commercials from GoDaddy and WIX and others, with claims to build a small business responsive website design… in a day… for free. We get the business calls and emails daily from companies that say can build custom websites for less than if we shop local.

Thus far this year, 83% of new small business responsive website design orders have been from entrepreneurs who tried building their websites internally.  Some customers have bought into monthly payment plans with a local media outlet promising do-it-yourself training, regular updates and local SEO.  Six months later, the local business owners website is out of date, they can’t  fix it, and they don’t even own the website they paid thousands of dollars for! A quick glance at reviews could have saved them money and time.

Small business responsive website design , tired of pushy sales people? Check online reviews ...When small businesses know it’s time for a professional website design:

  • Website is out of date and there is no time to make updates.
  • Business has grown but the professionalism of the online presence has not.
  • When their “free” website gets hacked and they can’t access it anymore
  • When their customers experience confusion or frustration when visiting the site
  • They have spent more of their time attempting to build a functioning site instead of building their business.
  • Junior or Intern or ____ gets a life and can’t be bothered to keep it current.

There is no easy button to create a fully functional, attractive, and responsive website design. It takes an understanding of graphic design, color, website navigation, user interface, marketing and coding — yes, knowing a bit of code is a lifesaver!

All content management systems (CMS) are not equal.

Some CMS, like WIX, are proprietary and can’t grow with you, or  take them with you if you go. There are some online registrars with CMS responsive website builders that limit features depending on your monthly budget. You can’t make custom changes or additions. And just try and get them on the phone.

Our customers have come from these examples and more. Our own research  landed us on WordPress as the most comprehensive website CMS choice for us and many of our customers.

Why is WordPress a good choice for responsive website design?

  • Wordpress logo Plethora of plug-ins available to customize and automate features
  • 1,000s of responsive website design  themes
  • Features targeted to e-commerce and events
  • Features connecting social activity and news
  • Attractive user interface (UI)
  • Popular format for developers
  • Ease of updating
  • Hours of YouTube WordPress How-To videosLastly, the ease of training customers for DIY edits is invaluable to those who invest time in keeping content current. For those who choose monthly website maintenance, WordPress administration is fairly standard and  experienced staff can quickly implement most changes and updates.

What are the drawbacks to choosing WordPress for a small business responsive website design?

With all of the capabilities and features offered for small business responsive website design today, the more you add on a limited budget some

  • Software needs to be updated
  • Can be susceptible to hacking if software is not maintained and updated when required
  • Plug ins don’t always play well together
  • Custom plug ins can add one -time or monthly fees
  • Pre-purchased themes do not include support or troubleshooting
  • Can load slow on shared servers

If you’d like a professional website design, shoot us an email or call today.  Let’s connect, you won’t be overwhelmed by the process.

Resort and Vacation Rental Website Designs

 

Love of travel and web savviness had us viewing resort and vacation rental website designs long before it was the standard that it is today. As timeshare owners, we search resort and vacation rental websites regularly for new travel experiences. We seldom stay at the same venue twice – not even our home resorts. Why bother when of timeshare exchange companies like RCI and Interval International and vacation clubs such as Global Connections, offer web portals and we can view thousands of resort and vacation rental website designs all in one spot.

In addition to our timeshare travels and online vacation planning, we list our own vacation rental property. Our vacation property guests book online through our Michigan cottage rental website. We are not in a highly-sought Up-North Michigan location. We are not on any of the Michigan Great Lakes. Lake Michigan is at least an hour and a half away from our rental cottage. Our rental is just a kitschy one bedroom cottage on a small lake in mid-Michigan. Yet, each season we have to turn people away because we get booked up so early.

Amateur or professional, when it comes to resort and vacation rental website designs seeing is believing

Responsive website design for resortWith resort reviews, beautiful photos of every suite, villa, view, and amenity offered, finding a premium vacation rental is just a click away. Sadly, many very desirable resort destinations neglect to present their property and amenities effectively. When resort and vacation rental websites show views of a pristine beach or bright lights of the city with luxury designer furnishings, travelers feel confident booking their stay. When another beachfront resort has a website that doesn’t function on mobile devices, lacks standard features, or has outdated content and photos, visitors are not as confident and they search other options.

Many vacation properties and resorts assume listing with RCI, II, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Homeaway, AirBnB, etc. can serve as their online marketing. When travel or vacation rental referral sites suggest a property, visitors will still visit the actual resort and vacation property website. Even when photos and property descriptions are posted on the referral site, vacationers practice due diligence.

vacation rental property website designRecently, we were seeking a resort destination for spring break. We searched for a resort within driving distance and planned to use some of our RCI points. I searched through RCI and found a resort with availability. When I showed the photos and the resort website to the 13 year old she was mortified. “Look how old the furniture is! Ewww they probably have bedbugs!.”

Granted we stretch our points and seldom stay at 5 star resorts, but this kid has never stayed at a resort where there was a concern about cleanliness, let alone bugs. I share her response only to demonstrate how important visuals are in this world of internet shoppers. Even if resort furnishings aren’t top-of-the-line updating your resort and vacation property website designs can go a long way.

Work with a company who gets you.

It’s time to take charge of your online brand and improve your resort and vacation rental website designs. Give us a call today and let’s review your current website design and functionality. We can put together a cost effective, timely solution, within budget that exceeds your goals.

Connection Graphics is Now Connection Group (CG)

Connetion-Graphics-Name-Change-Connection-Group-old-schoolhouse-building

Why change the name to Connection Group after 20 years?

In addition to the award winning graphic design and web design specialties, marketing services have increasingly been added to bring additional value to our customers. As these marketing services continued to answer the needs of an ever changing business climate, customers and prospects consistently remarked that the name did not indicate the many benefits they received.

From administrators, to designers, to writers, to website and app coders, Connection Group staff and contractors are unified in the effort to achieve the highest results in the most efficient manner. We are dependent on each other and appreciative of each others skills and talents. The new name, “Connection Group” better represents the company mission to help customers reach their goals.

How will the name change to Connection Group impact existing customers?

Connection Graphics, LLC will be retained as the corporate name and we will be doing business as (DBA) Connection Group. The name change will not impact established business relationships. Pricing and agreements will not change.  Payments can still be made to Connection Graphics.

Essentially there will only be minor changes to note:

  • new website address is www.connection.group (connectiongraphics.com will be retained also and will point to connection.group
  • new name will be placed on correspondence and marketing items
  • company email addresses will be forwarded from the old address

What else can companies expect from the new Connection Group?

Founder and President, Connie Sweet said “We know small business owners are busy running their business. Keeping their website updated, designing leave behind materials or determining what marketing and advertising methods offer the most value is not an efficient use of their time.” In answer to this challenge, Connection Group has developed affordable packages that combine design and marketing services to keep small businesses current and connected to their customers. From brand design packages to quarterly or monthly website maintenance, customers can select one package, multiple packages or customize packages dependent on their goals.

How will businesses benefit from this change?

Any business, from start ups, to established businesses, large and small can take advantage of new services. With over 20 years of design and marketing experience, Connection Group dedicates efforts to increase brand image and maintain brand presence affordably and efficiently. From logo design to brand and website maintenance, each business message can be streamline to get noticed.

In 2017, Connection Group will update their marketing materials to reflect the name change. To keep clients up-to-date on industry changes and mandates a monthly e-newsletter, regularly posted content to connection.group, social media outlets, and regular published blog posts will help keep customers informed. Sweet says, “The name has changed but the commitment to bring the highest level of service while continuing to stay connected to our customers and the communities we serve remains.”

A Fresh, Smarter Website On A Safer, Friendlier Internet ?

A Safer, Friendlier Internet AND Discounted Website Maintenance

WordPress rocks as a responsive website solution that non-coders can update easily, the challenge is that, it eats up space. It’s popularity also leaves it susceptible to hackers when it is not maintained properly. New website hosting features, discounted website maintenance and website security solutions are affordable and necessary solutions for small business websites.

Safe surfing for everyone 

Earlier this year we penned a blog about Google’s plans for a safer, friendlier internet. In short, member-based websites, e-commerce sites, any website that requests customer log-in or visitor information will be required to have a secure website (https vs http).  Beginning in 2017, Google will begin putting warnings on all non-secure websites that request log in information or websites that offer items or services for sale. As a result, these warnings will effectively shut down website visitors.

Google prefers all sites be trusted and certified.

Finally, after the initial phase, the plan is to target other websites in an effort to increase security across all of the internet. As a result, it is recommended all websites include an SSL certificate and choose secure website hosting.

Cost for SSL Certificates and Set up

Secure Security Socket (SSL) certificates for small business websites vary from 128/256 bit to 2048 bit encryption. If your website doesn’t retrieve personal information you could choose a lower level of coverage and see a cost savings. If your website accepts payments, customer or member information, and if you have a large amount of visitors monthly we recommend the highest security level.

Additional Benefits of Secure Websites:

  • Higher search engine rankings
  • Increased credibility and relevancy ratings
  • Referrer data – creating more accurate website analytics

Discounted Website Maintenance for Hosting Customers

Website hosting means your website and domain emails are stored on web servers. Web servers share your website content with the world. That is all basic website hosting is. If you would also like to reduce susceptibility to hackers, have regular back ups, and assistance with website updates and staff emails, a website maintenance plan should be added .

Connection Group offers our hosting customers  an exclusive quarterly maintenance plan . Small business customers who do not need a lot of updates or who don’t receive 1000s of visitors each month are eligible for the discounted website maintenance. Small website hosting customers can receive the benefits of website maintenance with all of the services listed in our basic plan for $100 per quarter ($400 annually) instead of paying $75 per month or ($900 annually). Please review the quarterly plan to see if it suits your company.

Benefits of Website Maintenance

  • Increased search engine placement (SEO)
  • Current content on your website helps your visitor stay informed
  • Website updates show visitors that your company is progressive (and still in business!)
  • WordPress version updates helps to keep your website running smoothly
  • Google Analytics integration and access helps you see website visitor trends
  • Daily back ups help protect you in case of unforeseen issues
  • 3rd party plug-in updates keeps your website safer from hack attacks and compatibility issues
  • Email control allows you to create, delete, back up all company email or ask us to help you

Reap the benefits and savings of discounted website maintenance. Websites that have current information instill visitor trust. The majority of websites that get hacked are those that are not maintained. In conclusion, take precautions, maintain your website, have staff check it regularly or outsource the service. The time to clean up a hacked website can take many hours or days. If you sell directly from your website the cost in lost sales alone can be devastating.

Please give us a call today. We’re here to help.