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Our brand story – The Beauty of All Things Connected

Our brand story con

From an early age, it has been my desire to see and spread beauty. This purpose has enhanced my love for nature and design and the appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things.

Connecting nature, beauty, and design is the key component of our brand story. It’s what makes me stop and take a picture in a city park, a foggy forest or a trendy restaurant. It has inspired interest in landscape design, interior design, jewelry, and fashion design. All the design things. Consequently, show me a clever graphic design on retail packaging with an inspiring brand story, and you’ve got an instant brand ambassador.

This appreciation of nature and beauty inspired me to pursue graphic design training and launch Connection Group, Inc.  As a result, for over two decades the Connection Group team has created beautiful logos, beautiful graphic designs, and beautiful publications that people pay attention to.

Connection Group Brand Story

Articulating beauty is our purpose, graphic design is our talent, and increasing connection is our mission.

“In nature, we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This partnership of beauty and nature and the belief that everything is connected was the inspiration behind our name. As a graphic designer, the patterns of nature and beauty in natural form have always captivated me. My morning dog walks remind me to be grateful and slow down and enjoy the beauty around me. These moments allow me to ease into my day with gratitude and clarity. I then bring to my work a creator’s mind and an artist’s eye.

Recently, a TED Radio Hour presenter on climate change expressed his belief that humans will outlive nature. Humans will live on but they will have to live without trees. No trees, no beauty. I began to wonder how much we take for granted the role nature plays in defining what beauty is?  What of living without beauty, without the beauty of trees? What kind of world will it be without the sight of a tulip tree in bloom, an apple tree at harvest time, a Michigan sugar maple aglow in October? Trees encompass all of the elemental rules of design; symmetry, color, organic line, patterns, textures, and placement. Like a beautiful design, they evoke a response.

#aTreeaDay

all-things-connect-a-tree-a-dayIn response, I have slowed my walk in my favorite parks and dirt roads. I started seeing each tree individually and as a connection to each other and all of us. I started connecting with them and photographing them. The beauty of nature, the beauty of a forest of trees, the beauty of that one special tree that makes you gasp every time you see it. We are celebrating nature’s beauty in the Connection Group #aTreeaDay posts. We want to share the wonder and variety and strength and power and fortitude that is the beauty of each tree. Each day we share a tree on our social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We encourage you to spread beauty and share #aTreeaDay to pages too.

People find beauty in many things; in other people, architecture, art, cars, shoes, a new Apple anything, the list goes on. If sharing a favorite tree of the day helps people remember to breathe and appreciate beauty, we have succeeded in our mission. I can’t think of a better depiction of our brand story, than honoring our personal practice to connect with everyone through recognizing and spreading beauty. This includes creating beautiful marketing materials for our customers and sharing posts of trees that remind you to slow down and take a long, beautiful breath.

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle

Stay connected!

Save 2% off postage IF You Stand Out From the Crowd

A Unique Approach to Direct Mail save 2% off postage

This holiday season is a great time to save money and capture attention by reaching people where they are. With the United States Postal Service direct mail incentive program for 2019 you can save 2% off postage for the following categories of mail:

  • Tactile and Sensory (think textured stock, embossing, …)
  • Interactive Mail Pieces (think unique folds…)
  • Emerging and Advanced Technology (think QR codes, etc.)
    Personalized color transpromotional mail (paycheck stuffer / message with billing)
  • Informed Delivery (think combing direct mail and email messaging)

Promote special events, fundraisers, and special sales with eye-catching invitations, not to be missed coupons, colorful calendars and holiday greetings people want to display. You can stand out from the crowd and save 2% off postage.  This is a winning addition to your 2019 small business marketing.  If you can combine another discount such as design, printing, or mailing lists, with the 2% off postage and plus a high rate of response – bonus!

I like to think the USPS has developed this incentive for mail items to be more attractive. This makes receiving mail is a treat again. Imagine receiving a direct mail catalog or sales brochure that felt like leather or linen. Or opening a mailing with unique folds that unveil an elegant invitation or special customer coupon. Guaranteed you will spend more time with that mailing than all the plain white #10 envelopes in the pile.

Give us a call or email, before the promotion ends to save the 2% off postage.

A phone consult can cover:
  1. end result you desire
  2. best mail category to reach key targets
  3. how it will look and feel to get noticed

Did you know that Connection Group offers a discount for non-profit organizations? Depending on the project, quantity and frequency non-profit design discount range from 3% – 10%.

To be fair to for-profit businesses too – if you’re ready to step out of your marketing comfort zone and put out a memorable and impactful marketing promotion contact us today. We’ll apply our non-profit discount to your project. Mention this post and receive 3- 10% off design and still save 2% off postage.

USPS Every Door Direct mailing incentive can be another option for specific marketing goals – especially if you want to capture your own neighborhood.

Increasing Sales and Improving Marketing Results Top Goal

Connection Group - Improving marketing results

Every year, the majority of business blogs and articles in January focus on business goals. One of the biggest goals identified by business is improving marketing results. As a marketing and design firm, we hear this a lot this time of year. Full disclosure, we say it ourselves!

If improving marketing results is on your 2019 business goal list we hope the resurfacing of Connectivity, Connection Group’s monthly newsletter can help you.  Although it can take a fair amount of time to create valuable content each month, resurrecting the e-newsletter achieves multiple goals:

  • Offering valuable timely information helps our customers grow
  • Connecting with our existing customers and prospects regularly increases awareness of our services
  • Finally, connecting regularly through email is less intrusive than cold calling and it is one of the actions we have identified to help improve our marketing results.

If improving marketing results is one of your company goals for 2019, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why do I want to increase my marketing results?

  • improve awareness of services
  • increase sales
  • capture more followers / prospects / customers
  • other: ___________

2. What marketing and advertising efforts have worked in the past?

  • direct mail 
  • emails
  • cold callls
  • billboards
  • presentations / webinars
  • print ads / internet advertising
  • other _______-

3. Where do your customers hang out?

  • Facebook? Instagram? Linkedin? ….
  • do they watch local news?
  • gamers, YouTubers, Snapchatters ….?
  • local events?
  • subscribe to publications or podcasts?
  • what are their interests?

4. What demographic are you targeting?

  • how old are they?
  • where do they work / live / shop
  • how much money do they make?
  • what education level have they achieved?
  • does your product or service help a specific gender or race?

5. What sets you apart from you competition?

  • have you identified your unique value proposition?
  • what do your customers always say they love about working with you? (Don’t know? Ask them!)
  • is there something you are doing right that your competition is missing?
  • or, what could your company easily implement in 2019 that your competition excels at?

These are just a few of the questions to consider when you begin to develop a marketing plan that can bring results.  If you are serious about improving your marketing results in 2019 subscribe to our monthly newsletter. We will continue to provide tips on SEO, graphic design, website design, social media marketing, content development digital advertising and the many tasks and details related to effective marketing and design.

If you find yourself overwhelmed or procrastinating taking those next steps, a marketing consultation may be beneficial. I offer a free half-hour phone consultation with existing customers. Because I also still enjoy designing and meeting with my customers personally I limit consultations to three per week. Consultations are by appointment only – so call early to get in the queue! For businesses who are not current customers a 45 minute to an hour consultation is recommended for the cost of $150.

Cheers to a new year, new goals, new successes, for all of us hard working small businesses. Please let me know if there are any specific tips or marketing questions you would like us to address in a  blog entry or in Connectivity, Connection Group’s monthly e-newsletter. We are committed to helping you connect with your target audience!

CG staff is also working diligently (between customer projects and in-kind donations that is…) on a fresh new website design for Connection Group! We can’t wait to launch our new updated website design. We will keep you posted. And as always…

Stay connected!

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