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Sales and Marketing

The Art and Science of Story Telling

The team at BRIGADE

The team at BRIGADE shows off the many honors garnered at the recent Ad Club of Western Mass. award show.    Photo by Stephanie Craig Photography

It was just a few weeks after Kirsten Modestow and her husband relocated to Western Mass. from San Francisco that she got the phone call that would ultimately change her life. The person at the other end was looking for someone to do some freelance work for a fledgling vodka brand called Svedka. As many people know, Svedka has gone on to become the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S. What they may not know is that, with that notable first client, Modestow created the marketing firm BRIGADE, one that has certainly built on that solid foundation in every way.

Kirsten Modestow says the branding company she would call BRIGADE (yes, all caps) was started on her kitchen table.

Which doesn’t exactly make it unique; many startups are blueprinted in such a setting. Which makes this one different is what happened after it was conceived.

For starters, that kitchen table would later become an official work station for one of the first hires, and soon other parts of the house were absorbed by additional team members as they came on board.

“The first person was in the living room, the second person was at the dining-room table, the next one was in the spare bedroom … then we all moved into the garage,” she explained. “When there was no room in the refrigerator for people’s lunches, we knew it was time to go.”

By that, she meant move into larger quarters, which the company has done a few times, but we’ll get back to that later.

The other thing that separates BRIGADE from other ventures hatched on the kitchen table is the pace of growth. Indeed, over the past 13 years, the company has expanded to 35 employees, most of them artists and designers who commute to the current home on Route 9 in Hadley from across Western Mass. and well beyond.

And their client list includes a number of prominent national brands, including Svedka vodka, the Wyndham Hotel Group, Black Box Wines, and Vertical Water, as well as some local businesses, such as Esselon Café, just a few hundred yards down Route 9.

Actually, Svedka wasn’t a national brand when Modestow was hired as a freelancer to help with a branding campaign. It was a fledgling vodka label looking to break out — and it did, big time; a few years ago, it surpassed Smirnoff as the top-selling imported vodka in the U.S.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

The team at BRIGADE designed packaging for Svedka strawberry seltzer.

“We’ve been along for the ride,” Modestow said, noting how the growth of Svedka and BRIGADE have mirrored one another. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them.”

But BRIGADE hasn’t outgrown Modestow’s kitchen table, then a space on University Drive, and then a totally renovated foreign-car sales and service shop further down Route 9 because of one client — although Svedka certainly has played a huge role in that transformation.

Instead, it’s been the company’s ability to work with clients to create branding that resonates, builds name recognition, and drives sales, Modestow explained, adding that this is what branding, the company’s specialty, is all about.

Elaborating, she said BRIGADE focuses on helping clients tell their story, and to do that, she and her team must first understand what that story is and then develop effective ways to communicate it.

“We get to know a client by doing an audit of their existing brand,” she explained. “We always see it as the client being the expert in what they do in their industry, and we bring in the branding piece, so it’s crucial to work with them as a partner.”

That was certainly the case with the new coffee bags the company created for Esselon Café. Coffee had long been a key ingredient in the restaurant’s recipe for success, said Modestow, but a while back, its leaders decided a new look was needed.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies. Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

“We worked with them to determine how to capture the heart of Esselon and capture who and what Esselon is,” she explained, adding that BRIGADE came up with new packaging that drew on the Western Mass. landscape — specifically the Seven Sisters portion of the Holyoke Range — as well as new language: “All roads, bike paths, and quests for the best cup of coffee lead to Esselon Café.”

Kirsten Modestow

Kirsten Modestow

“The whole idea is that they’re on the bike path and everyone comes to Esselon; the place is packed, and you have to park illegally,” she explained. “We decided to embrace all that — we have these bike paths and roads that wrap around the bag, and we told this café story, and it’s been awesome for them; the bag is loved by Whole Foods, and retail sales have tripled because of it.”

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how BRIGADE has moved well beyond that kitchen table and grown its own brand by delivering services that tell a story and generate results.

Seeking an Ad-vantage

Modestow told BusinessWest that the BRIGADE story really starts in Boston, where she worked for the acclaimed marketing agency Hill Holiday Advertising and such clients as Dunkin’ Donuts.

When the dot-com sector was at its pinnacle, however, the place to be was San Francisco, and Modestow went there and had the opportunity to join a firm and work with brands such as Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), the video-game maker.

Her firm eventually closed its doors, however, after losing one of its mainstay clients, and Modestow and her husband were at a crossroads.

“I could afford to live in San Francisco for about four and half minutes after that,” she joked. “I think we sold our house within seven days and left.”

The two then made a pact of sorts. They would relocate to wherever one of them found a job first.

“He beat me by a day; he got a job in Western Massachusetts — he’s originally from Worthington — and we came here,” she explained.

And it wasn’t long after they landed that she got that life-altering phone call.

“Someone called and said, ‘I have a freelance opportunity for you on this startup vodka brand called Svedka,’” she recalled. “Over the past 13 years, we’ve grown with them and helped them along the way; they’ve been really wonderful to us.”

As noted earlier, the company quickly outgrew Modestow’s kitchen table, refrigerator, and garage, and settled into that space on University Drive, above the popular Hangar restaurant. It wasn’t exactly a long stay, though, because the company continued to grow at a rapid rate, doubling in size from five to nine employees in a few years.

It then relocated to the foreign-car shop — a site that required a massive renovation effort — but outgrew that in just over a year, as Modestow recalled, adding that the next home is intriguing on many levels.

A portion of the 8,500-square-foot facility was home to a Registry of Motor Vehicles office, and even though it’s been closed for quite some time, people still walk in the front door looking to renew their driver’s licenses, said David Bosch, the company’s operations manager.

Another portion of the facility has home to Zoe’s Fish House, he went on, adding that, while BRIGADE renovated all the spaces into work areas, including a banquet facility that never became reality, it kept the bar intact.

The company doesn’t have a liquor license, obviously, but it does use the bar for company functions, said Bosch. Meanwhile, it’s an unusual decorative touch, and it give the company a chance to showcase many of the brands it has helped develop in what would be described as a natural setting.

The space is wide open, said Modestow, adding that this the desired environment for a marketing firm where people work together to create solutions for clients.

“We work in branding, and a lot of that is people coming together to solve a problem,” she explained. “So being in a very open space, one that’s conducive to gathering, is important.”

BRIGADE should be in this home for quite some time, because there is not only ample room to grow, but plenty of business coming through the door as the company continues to build strong word-of-mouth referrals.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

The new coffee bag that BRIGADE created for Esselon Café has helped spark a surge in retail sales.

Indeed, as noted earlier, Svedka has been a dream first client and solid foundation for BRIGADE. But the company has been able to build on that foundation, said Modestow, and for several reasons.

One is the large number of contacts she made from her previous career stops, and the experience she gained working for national and global clients, a tremendous asset in this business, as in any other.

“Having the exposure in Boston and San Francisco enabled me to work on some high-caliber clients and hone my skill set that I could then pass on to people here,” she explained. “We started off with an ability to work on those high-caliber clients; we’re really good at it, so we’ve attracted through our work the attention of others.”

Another factor is a growing willingness among corporations to work with agencies not based in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles, or whatever major metropolis the corporation was based in or near.

“People are more open to working with remote agencies,” she noted. “Before, it was a case where you went to an agency in one of the larger cities. Around 2006, when we started, there was a willingness to work with people who weren’t down the street, and that had a lot to do with our success.”

Getting the Message Across

But easily the best reason for the company’s success is the results it has garnered for its clients, said Modestow, adding that more important than the awards the company has gained for its work — and it has won many — are the gains registered by the companies looking for help with their brand.

Which bring us back to Esselon Café.

That new packaging has won a number of awards for BRIGADE, said Modestow, but the bigger story is that dramatic rise in retail sales at Whole Foods and other locations.

It came about through that art and science of storytelling and creating a brand that speaks to who they are.

When asked about the methods for gaining such results, Modestow returned to the subject of effectively partnering with the client to solve a problem or revitalize a brand.

The client knows their industry, their product or service, and their story, she went on. BRIGADE essentially takes that insight and uses it to create a brand that conveys the story in a way that resonates.

Steps include the brand audit she described earlier, and also creation of brand strategy.

“We would work through positioning statements with the client, help them figure out their key messages, how they’re different, how they talk about themselves, what their voice is, and more,” she explained. “And once we have that platform, then we would go into the visual component of all this — bringing it all to life visually through some kind of toolkit, which might be a refresh logo or packaging or a new website. We’re helping them see how this language and this new positioning can visually come to life.”

As the company creates these strategies and brings them to life, it does so not with a hard focus on targeting specific demographic groups — a mistake some companies make when marketing and branding — but building a brand that’s “authentic.”

“I don’t think you build a brand to speak to a specific group of people,” she told BusinessWest. “You build a brand that’s true to who the brand should be, and then it resonates with the right people.

“A mistake you see is when companies think the key to their success is going out and capturing the Millennials,” she went on. “Well, the Millennial doesn’t want to be captured — you have to find them because you have something compelling that made them want to believe in you. It’s about consumer experience and storytelling; people want an authentic experience with a company.”

As an example of how the firm partners with its clients, Modestow referenced the Wyndham Hotel Group and some of its specific brands, including one in particular — Travelodge.

“It was kind of an old brand with old, tired signage,” she explained, noting that, at the time, Wyndham hadn’t put much emphasis on branding, but has since changed that attitude. “We helped refresh the Travelodge brand, we helped them with an ad campaign, and we helped them with a new way to talk about themselves.”

Another example is work with Svedka to launch a new line of spiked seltzers. The company designed the cans in a way that were true to the Svedka brand but also resonated within the growing spiked-seltzer product category, said Don Magri, the company’s chief financial officer.

“They came to us with a good amount of research that they had already done on their consumer and who they were really trying to target,” he explained. “You go through iterations, but you’re really trying to creating a design that is true to the brand going into a new category, but also hitting the demographic they’re trying to reach.”

Looking down the road, those at BRIGADE said they look to continue providing clients with what they call ‘responsive branding,’ so that they are ready for the future and their brands are as well.

In short, they aim to do what the company’s done from the beginning — grow with its clients.

“We want to grow and create new opportunities for our employees and then for the people who don’t work here yet,” said Magri. “Growth for the sake of growth is not something we’re interested in, but growth for the sake of growing our skills and growing our client base and securing our client mix is our plan.”

Bottom Line

In other words, the company is going to continue doing what it’s been doing from the start, back when work was being done on Modestow’s kitchen table and her refrigerator was getting filled with employees’ lunches.

The company has come a long way since then — a quick tour of the facilities at 195 Russell St. make that clear — but the guiding principles remain the same.

And those are to tell the client’s story and create an authentic experience that resonates. When you that, it’s a lot easier to do what BRIGADE has done with and for Svedka and all its other clients — be along for the ride.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing

Putting the Focus on Innovation

The team at GCAi

The team at GCAi: from left, John Garvey, Quinn Garvey, James Garvey, Mary Shea, and Darcy Fortune.

John Garvey isn’t shy about noting that he never worked for a large ad agency, or a ‘traditional’ ad agency, as he calls them.

In fact, he’s rather proud of that background — as are the rest of the members of the team at the agency he formed more than 30 years ago known as Garvey Communication Associates Inc., who didn’t work for a traditional agency either.

They’re all fond of saying they didn’t follow any model in creating and then shaping the firm known as GCAi, but instead created their own model.

“None of us come from an agency background,” Garvey explained. “So we put this together on our own; we didn’t throw away the book — we just didn’t really know the book was there; so we invented our own book.”

“There’s a lot of misconception out there about how Facebook works, especially with regard to advertising.”

As they talk about this book, the company’s main players — Garvey; his son, James, the social-media marketing analyst; Mary Shea, vice president of Digital Strategy; and Darcy Fortune, digital PR analyst — collectively wear out the word ‘innovation’ as they discuss evolving technology, what the company can do with and for clients with regard to this technology and using it to reach targeted audiences, and, perhaps most importantly, how they do all that.

Indeed, they’ve all become involved with MassChallenge Boston, the group that helps accelerate startups, and they’ve also assisted Valley Venture Mentors (through donations of money and expertise) in its efforts to mentor startups and expand its mission. And such work has fostered a true spirit of innovation within GCAi itself as it partners with clients to help them navigate a changing landscape within marketing and with everything from understanding and maximizing social media to corporate reputation management.

“Innovation is a stick that you have to sharpen continually,” John Garvey explained. “You literally cannot be innovative unless you have your eyes wide open and you’re looking and you’re learning and you’re challenging yourself. Being around startups … that entrepreneurialism, that innovation, is absolutely contagious. So we find ourselves thinking and acting in new and different ways.”

Such an operating mindset is necessary for a marketing firm today, said Shea, because change is constant, it’s coming from every direction, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Also, in this era of conversion, marketing firms are increasingly being judged not on their ability to garner exposure, but on sales generated by a specific campaign or strategy.

Which brings Shea to the subject of data and access to it.

“One of the most profound changes to come to marketing is marketers’ ability to use data,” she said, while summing up how the landscape has been altered by technology and why innovation is important. “It’s a seismic change in terms of our ability to get our work done.”

James Garvey, seen here presenting at a MassChallenge event

James Garvey, seen here presenting at a MassChallenge event, says companies have more access to data than ever before, and they must take full advantage of that opportunity.

Elaborating, she said Google AdWords, Facebook, and other vehicles enable marketers to send specific messages to targeted audiences in ways that simply weren’t possible decades or even a few years ago.

James Garvey agreed.

“It’s a fascinating time to be involved in social-media marketing since Facebook is in the headlines daily,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s a lot of misconception out there about how Facebook works, especially with regard to advertising. We develop messaging for clients, and we use Facebook as a means of delivering the message in a way that people can consume it, but also delivering it directly to the audience we need to reach — meaning very specific groups of people.

“For example, you can reach men or women ages 25 to 35 who live within two miles of downtown Springfield who are interested in home ownership,” he went on while elaborating. “That’s how specific you can get.”

GCAi, which boasts clients across virtually all sectors of the economy, including financial services, healthcare, transportation, and more, is a certified Google Partner (the only firm in the region to gain such status), and its qualified AdWords professionals are independently tested and certified in several different aspects of online advertising each year.

Meanwhile, the company specializes in what it calls the ‘ideation’ approach to working with clients to identify needs and challenges, map out a marketing strategy, and determine the most effective methods of getting a message across.

To explain, Shea and Fortune pointed to the whiteboards on all four walls of the GCAi conference room. Over the course of an ideation session, they will become covered with writing in the form of answers to questions asked and thoughts about what to do, strategically, with that information from a marketing and branding standpoint.

For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with members of the GCAi team about marketing, technology, and social media — but mostly about innovation, and how it enables the company and its clients to stay on the proverbial cutting edge of progress.

Data Driven

On the day BusinessWest visited GCAi, the whiteboards in the conference room were covered with what amounts to a bullet-pointed chronology of the firm.

Noted milestones included everything from the elder Garvey’s first work in public relations, back in college for the U.S. Youth Games, to the arrival of each staff member (Shea started as an intern in 2004, for example); from the reminder that Garvey needed a loan from his grandmother to stay afloat after the dot-com bubble burst at the start of this century and business dried up, to his self-proclaimed 15 seconds of fame when he captured a dramatic photo of the tornado that tore through downtown Springfield on June 1, 2011, an image that went viral within minutes after it was taken.

“What social-media marketing and Google AdWords has done is essentially democratize the use of data for businesses across the board. So it is a seismic shift. This is profound data; it’s not just likes and clicks.”

Mostly, though, the walls tell the story of a company responding to rapid, constant change in technology, especially within the realm of digital marketing, and using innovation to help clients make sense of it all — not an easy task in any respect — and make the very most of their marketing budgets.

Indeed, the team likes to say that GCAi, unlike many businesses today, has social media figured out, and it has created a niche of sorts as it specializes in helping clients large and small figure social media out and put all that data that is now available to good use.

“There is a lot more data available today, there’s easier access to it, it’s instantaneous, and you can use it quickly and easily to make adjustments to a campaign,” said Shea, adding that, not long ago, companies would have to spend a lot of money to access such information, which essentially limited that access.

“What social-media marketing and Google AdWords has done is essentially democratize the use of data for businesses across the board,” said John Garvey. “So it is a seismic shift. This is profound data; it’s not just likes and clicks.

But having access to data is just part of the equation. Knowing what to do with it and how to present a message to the audience being targeted … that’s the other side. And the team at GCAi has become specialists in such work, handling both aspects of this work — creating content and a message (work that falls more to Fortune and John Garvey), and devising the most efficient, cost-effective means of disseminating it, work assigned to Shea and James Garvey.

And the watchword in all aspects of this work is relevance.

“That’s the church we go to pray at,” said John Garvey, referring to that team. “If the message isn’t relevant, meaning the target audience we spoke of doesn’t react to it in a positive way, find it useful, and find it interesting, then we get penalized as marketers; it’s the modern-day equivalent of hanging up a bad ad that no one gets.”

To keep clients and their messages relevant, the GCAi team focuses on innovation, said Fortune, adding that the company’s involvement with Valley Venture Mentors and MassChallenge has helped it in a number of ways, from getting in touch with what’s happening within specific business sectors to sharpening presentation skills, to mentoring startups on the best ways to reach their audience.

“We sit with them and talk with them for maybe 10 minutes, and you can see the light go off,” said Fortune. “They’re excited to have that tidbit of information from us on how to reach people. And you get to meet people from around the world; it’s very exhilarating.”

John Garvey agreed, and noted, again, that when you hang around entrepreneurs all the time, there is a trickle-down, or rub-off, effect.

“We’re much more attuned to new and different ways of getting results,” he explained. “Our secret sauce is comprised of ingredients like energy, innovation, and ideas, and the cake that we’re trying to make is to create really meaningful and measurable results, and the only way that’s possible is through a continual search of the means and methodologies of these platforms, but also an appetite for data, the ability to digest it, break it up, understand it, and make it relevant to the client.”

James Garvey agreed, and said his technical background — he’s a graduate of BWM of North America’s STEP program and has worked for both BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the Boston and New York City markets — has helped him, and thus the firm, grasp the importance of data and measuring results.

“Having that engineering background, or training, and working with data are very similar,” he explained. “They’re very precise, measurable, and granular.”

Together, those involved with content and those focused on dissemination work together to create an overall strategy, said Shea, adding that, collectively, the team works to find the right channels to get the message across.

“You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole,” she said, adding that each platform, or channel, is different, and it’s critical to devise content that is appropriate for each one and not ease into a one-size-fits-all mentality.

John Garvey agreed. “All those platforms are arrows in our quiver, and Mary and James help us figure out the right means and methodologies to take this to market.”

And finding the right ones is now critical, said James, noting that marketing firms like GCAi are now more accountable, if that’s the proper term, when it comes to sales — or the conversion of leads into sales — than ever before.

“Marketing firms are more responsible further down in the sales funnel than we were even a few years ago,” he explained. “Before, we were measured by our ability to generate top-of-mind awareness; now, our clients hold us responsible for a full and trackable conversion, meaning that we can prove that our campaign led to a particular conversion. That responsibility totally changed.”

The Last Word

There’s been a recent addition to the décor at the GCAi suite of offices in Monarch Place — an old manual Underwood typewriter that the senior Garvey found “somewhere.”

It’s an example of where technology and this industry were a long time ago, said Fortune, and therefore a reminder of how quickly and profoundly things change.

So quickly and profoundly that trying to project a few years, or even a few months, into the future is a largely futile exercise. There’s no better way to explain why an effective marketing firm today must, or should, have an operating philosophy grounded in innovation — in constantly finding new and better ways to do business and help clients succeed.

And there’s no better way to explain why GCAi continues to grow and prosper.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing

Taking Flight

Using drones, Bert Perry has captured compelling images of many area landmarks, including Mount Tom.

Using drones, Bert Perry has captured compelling images of many area landmarks, including Mount Tom.

Bert Perry says it started off as a hobby.

And it is still that, for the most part. However, it is now also a business, and one that, with each passing week, becomes more competition for his time and a source of questions about what to do about his day job.

‘It’ is a venture called Aerial 51 Studios, a play on words involving the highly classified U.S. Air Force facility in the Nevada Desert often associated with UFO folklore. But unlike its namesake, this business isn’t shrouded in mystery; for the most part, it’s a drone photography and video venture that is steadily adding clients across a broad spectrum.

They include everything from developers seeking photographs of their properties from above — as in well above — to marrying couples looking for some different photos to add to the album. He’s also shot footage used in some films, including some that have made their way onto cable television, including a Christmas story titled The Spruces and the Pines, a Romeo and Juliet-like tale about two families that own Christmas-tree farms.

Bert Perry says Aerial 51 started out as a hobby

Bert Perry says Aerial 51 started out as a hobby, but it has evolved into a growing business.

A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and a graphic designer and photographer by trade, Perry has worked for a number of advertising and marketing agencies in Springfield and other markets, including Boston and New York City.

His current business card — or his other business card, to be more precise — declares that he is creative director with Guardair Corp. in Chicopee, a maker of pneumatic tools and other products.

“I love photography and saw a huge opportunity from the sky, the different perspectives you can get — things you just can’t get from the ground.”

He loves his work and plans on staying in that job, but a fascination with both drones and photography gave life to a hobby and now a business, one where the sky appears to the limit, or no limit, as the case may be.

“I love photography and saw a huge opportunity from the sky, the different perspectives you can get — things you just can’t get from the ground,” said Perry, adding that images from above have always been dramatic and effective from a marketing perspective, and drone technology makes them more accessible and affordable.

But one has to know what they’re doing, when it comes to both the drone and the camera, he told BusinessWest, adding that both are certainly acquired skills.

And in the case of drones, at least when they’re used for commercial ventures, one must have a pilot’s license, he explained.

“I went on the third day that they offered the test,” he said, adding that, to gain such a license, one must study everything from FAA rules and regulations to weather to how to communicate with air-traffic-control towers.

“There’s a lot to it, and it was all very new to me, so I studied for about three months,” he said, adding that he has to retake the test again soon to keep that license.

Perry said he launched (that’s another industry term) his business three years ago. He had been practicing drone photography for some time, he explained, and as people saw his work, which he was proud to display, many became intrigued by the possibilities and hired him for assorted jobs.

Over the past few years, Perry has used positive word-of-mouth referrals and a social media presence on Facebook and other platforms to consistently add many different types of clients.

For example, he’s done some work with the operator of a large go-kart operation. Several of the photographs and much of the video has been taken from several dozen feet up, but there have been many requests for images from eight to 10 feet off the ground, a height that provides a different and often powerful perspective.

“A lot are from above, but I’m getting a lot of requests for lower shots where I move or wrap around a subject,” he explained.

He’s also done a good amount of work for developers, photographing everything from malls to former manufacturing facilities that have come onto the market. He’s also photographed a number of high-end residential properties as well, providing images from different altitudes to help grab and hold the attention of potential buyers.

And then, there’s weddings. He’s handled a few of them, including one at Springfield Country Club (also a client) where he captured the outdoor ceremony from above.

“I’ll get some unique photos of the bride and groom,” he explained, adding that shots from a few hundred feet up can provide a unique perspective. “One couple wanted me to fly during the ceremony; I was off in the background, it buzzed a little bit, but it didn’t interfere with anything.”

Perry works mostly with drones, but he’s also taken footage while hanging out the window of a helicopter in areas where drones can’t be flown.

He said he benefits from possessing a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration that enables him to fly drones at night, and also a background in graphic design that helps him devise ways to imaginatively frame his subjects and use visual images to convey messages.

He said most of his work has come outside the Greater Springfield market, but he’s hoping to add more local work to his growing portfolio as companies in this area realize the full potential of drone photography to help get a message across.

Looking ahead, he said he’s not sure where this venture will land (still another industry term). He knows only that this isn’t a hobby anymore, and hasn’t been one for a while now.

Rather, it’s a business seeking to reach new heights — in all kinds of ways.

— George O’Brien

Cover Story Sales and Marketing Sections

Getting the Message

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Marketing was never an example of a simple exercise, but in today’s multi-media landscape, it is even less so. To help business owners and managers with this critical assignment, BusinessWest asked four area marketing firms to discuss the art and science of getting one’s message across in today’s world. Slicing through their commentary, one point becomes clear: it’s at least as important to focus on the message as it is on the vehicles used to deliver it.

 

It’s All About Storytelling

By Darby O’Brien
Focus more on the message and less on the delivery system   More …

The Name of the Game

By Michelle Abdow
Get their attention, and you needn’t worry about attention span   More …

By Any Measure

By Meghan Lynch
To boost profits, appeal to the heart, not the head   More …

Rock Relevance

By John Garvey
In this age, a relevant message is everything   More …

Sales and Marketing Sections

Rock Relevance

By John Garvey

John Garvey, second from right, with his team at Garvey Communications Associates

John Garvey, second from right, with his team at Garvey Communications Associates: from left, James Garvey, digital marketing analyst; Darcy Fortune, digital public relations analyst; and Mary Shea, vice president, Digital Strategy.

There are two things to remember when you are trying to get a message out to your customers.

Thing one: make sure your message is relevant.

Thing two: focus on thing one.

Seriously, in this new multi-media, digital world, a relevant message is everything. You have to figure out what is valuable to your core customers. The good news is that they will tell you if you ask. In this article, we will propose the keys to building and carrying a relevant message directly to your customers.

Start thinking about relevance this way: you own a business or are managing the marketing for a business; otherwise, this article wouldn’t be relevant to you. Your business is clearly successful because someone is buying something from you. You need to figure out why. Answering that ‘why’ is critical because, in order to be relevant, you need to know more about your customers’ needs and their challenges than you probably do right now.

Traditional business messages are familiar to us all because we see them every day. They go something like this: “ACME company is great. We have great products. You need us.” A customer-centric message digs a lot deeper and is based on a simple pain-solution formula: “we know these are your needs, and here is how we can help.” Most businesses focus on the former because we all like talking about ourselves, but, from a digital-marketing perspective, that is fatal.

In this new multi-media, digital world, a relevant message is everything. You have to figure out what is valuable to your core customers.”

Here is why a relevant message is so important in digital marketing. As you know, computers run the Internet, and computers are run by software. So, for digital marketing, software can determine if your ad runs efficiently or not. The amount of media spend does not hold the same weight as it does in traditional media because the software (an algorithm) was built to serve information that people are looking for. That pretty much sums up how Google AdWords works. The more relevant your message is, the more success you will have in search, display, and video advertising through Google AdWords.

Social-media marketing is a new and incredibly powerful advertising channel for businesses, and relevance is still key. Software still plays a slightly different role in social-media marketing than it does for Google AdWords.

While the AdWords platform offers a variety of targeting options that will make your ad spend more efficient, the targeting ability of social-media marketing platforms like Facebook and Instagram is quite simply profound.

Here’s why: Facebook buys user data from data brokers like Oracle. If you’re a consumer, you might find that creepy. But if you are a marketer, you’re jumping up and down because you now have access to big data. Using this data, you can not only target geographically and by gender, but also behaviorally.

Like the Google AdWords network, social-media marketing platforms know what you have been up to on the Internet. So if you have been looking at cars, clothes, or mortgages, the platforms have that information. Behavioral targeting through social-media marketing platforms uses that data to serve you ads that are relevant — because you have been searching or reading related information. Therefore, behaviorally speaking, you could be considered in-market for those products.

Here’s a news flash, though. The digital ad dissemination systems don’t dictate everything, but instead are programmed to respond to your customers. If your customers like your ad and engage with it (e.g. click on it, share it, or comment on it), your ad will perform better. Your customers ultimately determine a large part of the success or failure of your ad. If they find it relevant, it will perform better. Remember thing two?

One more thing that the platforms do not control: creativity. Your digital-marketing ads still need to be inventive, particularly for the Google AdWords display and video networks and for Facebook/Instagram advertising.

People (customers) and platforms like things that move — video and animation, for instance. Sure, people like to read interesting information, but they like to watch it more. Short-form video performs amazingly well on digital-marketing platforms and serves as the perfect top-of-sales funnel introduction to the rest of your relevant pitch, just a click away on your website. Longer-form video (in the digital world, this is video that approaches two minutes in length) should be reserved for your website. Unless you are creating ‘how-to’ content, the best practice is to keep your videos short.

We introduced a new term in the last paragraph. Did you notice? Website. Oh, but we are not talking about your father’s website anymore.

Your digital-marketing site should be integrated into your business. Users (think customers) want to take action. They want to research and transact. So, does your website have videos about your products and services that allow customers to learn more and that encourage them to buy? Can they check prices or inventory, make an appointment, or, for god’s sake, buy on your website? Help your customers help you. Give them the ability to move into your sales funnel while you sleep.

Best of luck in 2018.

John Garvey is president of Springfield-based Garvey Communication Associates Inc.; (413) 736-2245.

Sales and Marketing Sections

By Any Measure

By Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch says emotional campaigns ultimately outperform rational campaigns. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Craig Photography.

Likes and leads.

Most marketing professionals love to be able to show these statistics as proof of their effectiveness, and most business owners love to receive news that they have gone up. But marketers’ preoccupation with these short-term indicators is counter to what will drive the long-term effectiveness and return on a marketing campaign.

The Institute of the Practitioners of Advertising, a London-based trade association dedicated to marketing effectiveness, has analyzed the results of almost 1,000 long-term case studies, and finds that marketing campaigns with emotional appeal have a much stronger effect on market share and profitability than the more standard ‘features and benefits’ advertising.

The study found that rational, lead-generation advertising provided a short-term sales uplift, but provided no long-term increase in sales and no reduction in price sensitivity. The effects of emotional branding campaigns grew stronger over time, leading to volume increases and decreased price sensitivity at double the rate of rational campaigns when used for three years or more.

Emotional campaigns ultimately outperformed rational campaigns on a number of critical business measures: sales, market share, profit, penetration, loyalty, and price sensitivity. While social-media likes and leads might be feel-good statistics to read in a report, these other measures are of more bottom-line importance to CEOs and boardrooms.

In a way, these findings are more predictable than it might appear at first. Research, such as the work of Francesco Gino at Harvard Business School, shows that human decision making is largely affected by our emotions, even when we believe it is rational. Examples of these effects range from positive uplifts in the global stock markets on sunny days to video clips affecting people’s ability to properly weigh advice they were given.

Therefore, when customers have an emotional connection to a brand (positive or negative), it follows that this ‘emotional priming’ will affect the way that they respond when presented with a rational decision to make about that brand, i.e. whether to purchase or not. The prospective customer will be predisposed either to respond favorably to the sales pitch or to ignore it. Emotion centers of the brain are also critical for imprinting memories, leading to longer-lasting recall — a critical success factor for branding and marketing effectiveness.

It is important to note that the IPA findings do not recommend a total abandonment of lead-generation campaigns, but to a ratio that favors an emotional branding campaign, with the ideal mix being 60% brand campaign and 40% lead generation. Over time (a span of three years or more), this mix has been shown to provide the highest level of effectiveness.

The study found that rational, lead-generation advertising provided a short-term sales uplift, but provided no long-term increase in sales and no reduction in price sensitivity. The effects of emotional branding campaigns grew stronger over time, leading to volume increases and decreased price sensitivity at double the rate of rational campaigns when used for three years or more.”

Running multiple large-brand campaigns in conjunction with lead-generation activity has been shown to reduce price sensitivity among customers and prospects by 11 times the rate of companies who do not run significant branding campaigns. This integration has also been shown to double the efficiency of marketing budgets, again with three years being the critical threshold for that return.

Applying this philosophy means a drastic shift not only in the minds of marketers and agencies, but also in the demands of CEOs. For many businesses that feel the pressures of day-to-day cash flow or a sales team demanding leads to feed their pipeline, a long-term approach can sound like a cop-out, especially when the short-term effects of emotional brand advertising are particularly difficult to measure. At the same time, most businesses bemoan the intense pressure to compete on price, and see it as a huge impediment to business success and growth in the long term.

The idea that this effect of emotional priming and an emphasis on strongly emotional branding might be an antidote for customer and prospect price sensitivity should be one that causes CEOs to seriously reconsider what reports they are requesting from their marketing departments or agencies. Brand-loyalty and market-share metrics are more directly correlated to profitability than standard success measures such as impressions, social interactions, and even brand awareness.

“A lot of clients, especially in the U.S., are schooled in the rational USP [unique selling proposition] — finding a product difference and then using advertising to convey a message rather than building a relationship. They don’t understand the power of emotions,” said Les Binet, co-author of the IPA report, in an interview with Ad Age.

Treating emotional marketing as an essential component of the marketing mix can give businesses owners a true advantage in an increasingly crowded and competitive environment.


Meghan Lynch is president and CEO of Springfield-based Six-Point Creative; (413) 746-0016.

Sales and Marketing Sections

The Name of the Game

By Michelle Abdow

The team at Market Mentors.

The team at Market Mentors.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Microsoft Corp. and reported by Time magazine, most Americans’ brains are hardwired with an eight-second attention span.

If this is true, then your company’s marketing message is more likely to resonate (or at least be retained by) goldfish, who can focus longer: nine seconds. In the information blur last year, you may have missed another study, this one conducted by the research firm Zenith, which found that, in 2016, people consumed, on average, 456.1 minutes of media each day. With these findings, how, then, can a company possibly effectively communicate with an audience that doesn’t have capability to process or — worse — retain the message?

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once declared the idea of an attention span a misnomer, professing, “people have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.” Fellow comic Steve Martin offered a similar sentiment: “be so good they can’t ignore you.” While advertising is no laughing matter, judging by the success of both men, there has to be some truth to their declarations that can be parlayed into effective messaging. Capture someone’s attention, and you need not worry about their attention span.

Say It Quickly, Say It Well

It’s been established that effective messaging needs to capture the attention of your desired audience. To accomplish this, the message itself must be memorable, relevant, and authentic. More than that, it must be inextricably linked to your company and brand so the messaging can’t mistakenly be attributed to a competitor.

Some might be tempted to jam-pack their advertisement with imagery and text to ‘make the most’ of the opportunity. A word to the wise: putting 10 pounds into a five-pound sack won’t work; customers will be apt to skim right over it — the opposite of your desired result.

Finding the right mix of messaging (print, digital, or otherwise) for the right price and in the right placements is perhaps the most challenging aspect of marketing or advertising communications, and it shouldn’t be left to chance.”

At its very core, advertising is easy: with compelling imagery, catchy headlines or taglines, a strategically placed logo, and a clear call to action, the advertisement should compel viewers to do just that: act. Right? Consider Super Bowl commercials. Perhaps you’re one of the roughly 110 million people who watch the game each year and among the working adults who congregate around the water cooler the following day to compare, contrast, and, more likely, rank the commercials. Why are some spots successful, running throughout the year, while others disappear as quickly as they first appeared during the game?

What You Say Is As Critical as Where You Say It

A commercial for sugary cereal with a prize in the box is likely to resonate more with the Saturday-morning cartoon-watching crowd than late-night talk-show viewers. A print advertisement for skateboards is unlikely to reach its intended audience if it is placed in Forbes or BusinessWest.

Therefore, it’s important to consider where your customers are consuming media so your messaging can be appropriately placed and leveraged. While you may not see your own advertisement, wouldn’t you prefer it that way if it means your potential customers are seeing it instead?

Mixing Things Up

Most businesses have a set dollar amount allocated for promotional activities. How can you find the right combination of messaging strategies to garner the best results? After all, isn’t that the desired result of promotions, to garner results, preferably the measurable variety — cash-register rings, new-client attainments, sales growth over time, competitor acquisitions, and the like?

Finding the right mix of messaging (print, digital, or otherwise) for the right price and in the right placements is perhaps the most challenging aspect of marketing or advertising communications, and it shouldn’t be left to chance.

While you may have relied on word of mouth to initially launch your business, your company will not remain top of mind if messaging is not consistently delivered. The desire should be to move customers through a sales funnel, advancing their awareness to interest, interest to evaluation, evaluation to decision, decision to purchase, and, if you’re lucky, repeat purchases.

Consistent messaging is the only way to accomplish this. One impactful advertisement will simply make your customer aware of your existence, if they notice your ad at all.

Don’t Just Take My Word for It

While Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, he did shift people’s perception about owning them. Through efficient means of production and effective messaging, consumers began to understand, desire, and ultimately purchase his Model Ts, more than 15 million of them and over the course of 20 years. How? Ford not only understood the importance of advertising, he understood how to adapt messaging to evolving customer wants and needs and, moreover, a shifting media landscape.

The takeaway? “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” Do this in your advertising, in what you say, how you say it, and where you say it, and your messaging will be memorable.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

Michelle Abdow is President of Market Mentors; a full service marketing, advertising and public relations firm headquartered in West Springfield; 413-787-1133

 

 

 


 

Sales and Marketing Sections

It’s All About Storytelling

By Darby O’Brien

Darby O’Brien

In this age of countless media platforms, Darby O’Brien says, bold and creative messaging is more important than ever.

In today’s multimedia environment, there are countless platforms — and a hell of a lot of clutter. That means the bedrock of strong advertising and marketing — bold, creative messaging — is even more important, whether it’s a billboard or a banner ad.

As marketing agencies, we’re expected to sell our clients on viral content, social-media approaches driven by hashtags and Snapchat filters. Lots of buzzwords. It’s important to keep current and explore all available options to get the word out. But it’s also important to have a strategy and not disregard the enduring power of traditional media such as television and print.

We need to dig down and get to know our clients, what makes them unique, and what specific strategy works for them. It’s not our job to sell clients on the latest trends just because it’s something they’ve been told they should have. It’s our job to give them the tools they need to succeed.

We believe in powerful brands with a strong look and message and making sure that stays consistent through all representations: website, business cards, letterhead, social media, advertising, even the design of the office. This business is all about storytelling. A company advertises to differentiate themselves, to set themselves apart from the pack. We need to focus less on the delivery system and more on the message. Branding campaigns that work are the ones that connect. They are memorable and successful because they truly represent the client. Sometimes it’s done through humor; sometimes it’s emotion. Sometimes it’s subtle; sometimes it’s a kick in the pants.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.”

Once there’s a strong identity and story, one must consider the current media options and figure out a combination that works. If we want to capture an audience attending an event, we geofence the event and hit ’em with ads on their phones. If you sell a product that needs multiple touches, it’s best to re-market to visitors to your site and keep top-of-mind awareness until they pull the trigger.

General brand awareness usually requires a broader mix of new and traditional media. Basically, putting together the media plan is the easy part. Coming up with something that people are going to care about — and talk about — is the challenge.

People aren’t going on Facebook or Instagram to be sold. That said, it is an incredible platform for doing just that. Restaurants, fashion, beauty, and other lifestyle brands have the easy leg up on being consumer-based and can benefit from the bragging rights associated with people liking their page. Those are the easy promotions on social media. Take a food-porn shot of your top-selling entrée, appetizer, or cocktail, boost it, and watch the likes and shares come in.

It gets tougher if you are a growing company that is not in a sexy category. Try recruiting talent from a pool where the audience doesn’t have cable or read the newspaper. That is where strategy, message, and delivery come together. We have seen great success with recruiting campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, even for companies that you may not associate with social media. In this case, the strategy is to sell the lifestyle that working for said company could afford them instead of just throwing up a ‘now hiring’ post.

Unfortunately, we’re living in what I call an ‘eggshells environment.’ We need bold, creative messaging more than ever, but people seem more cautious than ever. There’s too much of a focus-group mentality. When you try to please everybody, you don’t appeal to anybody.

Our most successful campaigns have been when we dealt directly with the decision maker, the person whose reputation is on the line and knows that you have to roll the dice to win. Those campaigns and concepts have rarely made it through the groupthink filter of committees, play-it-safe marketing directors, and company boards without being dumbed down and rendered ineffective.

As marketing agencies, we need to make it clear what exactly we’re good at. Today, everybody thinks they can do it themselves. It’s great that media has been democratized by new technology, but just because a client can shoot a web video or a TV spot on their iPhone and cut it together on their laptop, doesn’t mean they should. Now more than ever, concepts, quality production values, and consistency are key if you want to make an impact.

One thing I’ve always stood by is that you don’t win when you underestimate the audience or treat them like a bunch of rubes. Today’s audience is media-savvy, sophisticated, and appreciative of quality and style. Look at what’s on TV. Look at the food world. Things are being executed on a higher level than ever before.

Businesses need to think big and not be afraid to take a risk.

Darby O’Brien is a principal with Darby O’Brien, an independent, family-run branding, design, advertising, and public-relations firm headquartered in South Hadley; (413) 533-7045.

Client Stories Sales and Marketing Sections

Diving into the deep end once again.

inspired-marketing

(Left to right) back row: Lauren Mendoza, Kristin Carlson, Noelle Myers, and Lynn Kennedy; front row: Nikia Davis, Amanda Myers, Jill Monson-Bishop, and Crystal Childs
Photo by: Seth Kaye Photography

A new year is marked by many traditions: the ball drops, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ chimes, people kissing; but for local marketing agency, Inspired Marketing, 2018 started with the biggest ‘Splash’ yet. Inspired Marketing is ecstatic to announce the recent acquisition of Splash Marketing & Creative.

“ I have wanted to continue to grow the team,” shares Monson-Bishop, “and doing so through acquiring a company like Splash was a natural fit. I had been watching Crystal Childs for a while; impressed with the company’s work, commitment to the community, passion for helping businesses grow, and her desire to be a marketing educator. I truly believe our like-mindedness make this a perfect match.”

The objective of this addition is to provide the region with cutting-edge, customized solutions all under one roof. The Inspired Marketing team is now eight members strong including Splash founder, Crystal Childs, and her colleague, Amanda Myers.

Crystal Childs will be Inspired Marketing’s first Creative Director. She brings a vast array of experience to the team including graphic design, creative direction, social media skills, and management. Childs began her career as a graphic designer before transitioning into the world of social media in 2009. She’s trained at organizations such as Twitter and Facebook in California along with both the New York and California Google offices. Throughout her career she has learned all the various aspects of marketing; spending ten years in automotive marketing with the mega-dealership Balise Auto Group.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of the Inspired Marketing team,” Childs shared, “I am excited to continue offering my clients the outstanding customer service and creative Splash Marketing is known for; with the ability to now offer additional resources such as media buying and public relations. As Creative Director I can’t wait to work with the team to generate award-winning work on behalf of our clients.”

Area businesses will now benefit from affordable, user-friendly websites built in-house with the addition of Web Developer, Amanda Myers. Myers is a graduate of Roger Williams University where she majored in Web Development and double minored in Graphic Design and Marketing. She combines creativity and savvy technical skills to build or redesign websites for clients; improving the aesthetic, functionality and overall usability of a brand or company’s web presence. In addition to agency-life, Myers has built websites for several industries including non-profits, manufacturing, and higher education.

 

Many Years of Hard Work

It is remarkable to think how much Inspired Marketing has grown over the years. Starting as a sole proprietorship with a part-time employee and growing to an S-Corporation with a full-time team is no easy feat. All while becoming a Certified Women Owned business, adding a Connecticut office, becoming an award-winning agency and expanding services, client portfolios and geographical reach.

In addition to all of this excitement, the last six-months Inspired Marketing has promoted from within and added key new team members.

  • Lauren Mendoza was promoted to Operations Manager and oversees all the HR, finances, and traffic for the agency. Mendoza had previously worked for Inspired Marketing when it was just a team of three, but needed the opportunities afforded by a larger company. Fortunately, when the company got bigger Mendoza was in the position to come back.
  • Kristin Carlson was promoted to Intern Supervisor. Carlson has been with Inspired Marketing since graduating Fitchburg State University in 2014. Her role now includes overseeing two interns per semester from colleges all over New England. In addition, she handles media buying; digital and social media; and analytics.
  • Lynn Kennedy joined the team as an Account Executive. Kennedy has an extensive history of marketing experience including 15 years of retail marketing with Yankee Candle and Pyramid Management and a decade of global marketing knowledge as well.
  • Nikia Davis has joined Inspired Marketing as Graphic Designer. Davis had a long and outstanding career in design with BusinessWest and The Healthcare News. Her creativity and passion produces some truly unique options for clients.
  • Noelle Myers also joined Inspired Marketing as Marketing & Event Specialist. Most recently she was the Director of Marketing for The Arbors Assisted Living. Prior she was the Director of Chamber Management Services and the Vice President of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. She brings to the team a plethora of media and C-Suite relationships, a vast knowledge of event management, and a creative flair to writing.

 

Out of Sadness Came the Spark

An entrepreneurial idea typically stems from a personal moment in one’s life; Jill Monson-Bishop, founder of Inspired Marketing, is no exception. After a long career as a deejay on radio stations such as WMAS, Rock 102, and Mix 93.1; it was 2009 and she was selling advertising and seemingly content. All of that changed on June 2nd, when her Mom passed away suddenly at only 55-years-old.

Monson-Bishop pictured at her college graduation, with her mother, Sue McCormack

Monson-Bishop pictured at her college graduation, with her mother, Sue McCormack, the company inspiration.

The next day, Monson-Bishop was walking up the stairs to the family home and encountered a blue butterfly floating along next to her. Surprised by its appearance, she felt it had deeper meaning, “It was such a powerful symbol and message, like my Mom was saying I’m still here for you. Now it’s time to follow your dreams!”

In addition to the immense shock of losing her Mom came a realization that tomorrow is promised to no one. It was a sobering idea – one she pondered for days. “If I only get 55 years on this earth, how do I want to spend my time, and what do I want to be remembered for?” Those questions lit the spark for Monson-Bishop and, inspired by her Mom’s legacy, she began mapping out this new adventure – Inspired Marketing. The butterfly was incorporated into the logo as a reminder for each of us to always follow our dreams.

 

A Butterfly Takes Flight

In December of 2009 Inspired Marketing officially launched as a sole proprietorship. Like many start-ups, Monson-Bishop also held a full-time position as the Director of Marketing for Adam Quenneville Roofing and Siding for the first year. Throughout 2010 the business basics were developed, including the company Vision & Values Statement. This process is usually difficult for new businesses, for Monson-Bishop she used her Mom’s rules:

  • Don’t lie.
  • Respect others.
  • Be a team player.
  • Live with no regrets.
  • Always do what you say you’re going to.
  • Laugh often.
  • Listen.
  • And make your bed! (They don’t make beds, but they do have great coffee!)

In 2011, Monson-Bishop took the leap into the deep end of the pool. With $1,500 from her personal bank account and a rented desk at a friend’s office, she became a full-time solopreneur. In 2014 the company was proud to relocate to its current downtown Springfield office space and become a part of the city’s renaissance.

 

Our Story Is Just Beginning

Inspired Marketing is a full-service marketing agency specializing in creative services, digital and traditional marketing, and public relations. Working over the years with some of the region’s best companies including American International College, Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding, The Good Dog Spot, Fuel Services, Square One, Bob Pion Buick GMC, Smith & Wesson, Deep River Plastics, Bounce Springfield and Bounce NY, PayLess For Oil, and MGM Springfield. Their objective is to make your business stand out with customized solutions to increase revenue. If you are ready to stand out in a cluttered world and really make a splash give Inspired Marketing a ring at 413-303-0101 or [email protected].

inspired-marketing-logo

Facebook: GetInspiredMarketing

Instagram: InspiredMktg   

LinkedIn: Inspired Marketing 

Twitter: #InspiredMarketing

 

 

 

Sales and Marketing Sections
Six-Point Creative Works Is Doggedly Determined to Help Clients Grow

Meghan Lynch

Meghan Lynch, president and CEO of Six-Point Creative Works, and her colleague, Dexter

If there was ever a time when effective marketing meant a snazzy brochure and not much else, Meghan Lynch said, that time is long past.

“You can create a brochure, but if it’s created in a vacuum, it’ll be used in a vacuum,” said Lynch, president and CEO of Six-Point Creative Works, a seven-year-old advertising, branding, and marketing firm in Springfield that goes well beyond that simple description. “You want to make sure you’re giving people the tools that will serve them well in the field.”

Elaborating, she noted that “lots of companies tend to think of marketing in terms of the physical item that is produced, or a website. But the jobs that really excite us, and I think the jobs where we bring the most value, are open-ended questions like, ‘we are trying to enter a market we’ve never been in before; how do we tap into that?’ or ‘how do we make sure this product launch is successful?’ or ‘we’re going through a merger; how do we make sure we don’t lose the value of our brand while getting new value from this new business?’

“Very rarely is the answer to those questions a brochure,” Lynch went on. “It’s usually a complex strategy and a lot of different messages hitting at different times and in various ways.”

And that means becoming a true partner with its client businesses.

“I think we work really well with clients who either don’t have their own marketing department, or might have one or two people in marketing, but don’t have a full, large department, and feel like they need some creative support,” she explained. “For companies with no real marketer or just a small, limited marketing department, we can almost serve as their marketing department.”

Moreover, she added, “we like to think of ourselves as part of the company, which means we can get into aspects of their business that aren’t usually our business. We’ve helped industrial companies spec and source products; we will help companies design products, get into their product development, how does something feel in your hand, how is it packaged on the shelf? Companies trust us to collaborate with us on all aspects of the organization.”

That’s pretty serious business for a firm whose mascot is a cute, exuberant cartoon dog, and an office where every day is take your dog to work day; while she spoke with BusinessWest, Lynch occasionally petted her brown mixed breed, Dexter, who had curled up on a chair next to her. Nearby, another employee’s dog, a black Swiss mountain mix named Quincy, wandered about, occasionally sniffing at the visitor.

“We found that having dogs as part of the work environment is really a positive thing,” Lynch said. “If somebody’s having a stressful day or dealing with some stuff at home, they might just need to hug a dog or need somebody to show them some attention; it’s definitely a good balancer.

“And if you start to get too caught in your own head, a dog will do something funny and pull you out of it,” she added. “It reminds you that life is short. Marketing, while certainly important, is not the Baystate ER. It helps you keep things in perspective, keep that work-life balance I also think is so important in having a happy, productive team.”

For this issue’s focus on sales and marketing, we visit an agency that has gone to the dogs in all the right ways while helping its clients reach the audience they need to succeed and grow.

Shedding Expectations

Speaking of going to the dogs, the economy was about to do just that when Lynch joined co-founders David Wicks, chief creative officer, and Marsha Montori, chief creative strategist, in launching Six-Point in 2007.

“We felt like, if we can make it when things are bad and companies aren’t spending money, then when things turn around, we should be OK,” Lynch said. “Even though it was a risk to start a business, it was something we felt so strongly about, and something we were so excited about, that it didn’t seem like a risk to us; it felt natural.”

All three founders came from both strategic and creative marketing backgrounds, “and we wanted to have an agency that was a perfect balance between strategy and creative, instead of prioritizing one over the other, because they really go hand in hand,” she explained. “We had a few loyal clients in the beginning — most of whom are still with us — and we really grew from there.”

Six-Point’s cartoon canine mascot

Meghan Lynch says Six-Point’s cartoon canine mascot reflects the loyalty, exuberance, and energy the company wants to bring to its clients.

In fact, Six-Point soon outgrew its original space on Bridge Street in downtown Springfield and relocated to larger quarters nearby, with a Hampden Street storefront. Lynch said it has always been important to have a Springfield address and identify with a city the partners believe is on the rise. “We’ve had a really good experience down here, and I we have a good neighborhood that provides a good working environment for our employees, even though much of our business comes from outside the area.”

The six points in the company name are based on six basic stages of creating a strategy for clients: rapid ramp-up and coming to basic decisions about goals and strategy; creation of a detailed communications action plan; creative development and turning goals into effective concepts; execution of the plan; tracking return on investment; and future evolution of brand strategy.

Most of Six-Point’s clients are nonprofits, consumer brands, and industrial or business-to-business companies.

“Once in a while, the discussion comes up, ‘do you specialize in a certain market?’ I think sometimes there’s a certain power in that, but with the team we have in place, our clients really benefit from the fact that we work in a number of markets,” Lynch said.

“If you only do nonprofit work, or only do industrial work, or only do consumer work, you can get tunnel vision and don’t become an asset to clients,” she went on. “They’re already in that industry; they already have that expertise. They’re counting on us to bring that outside perspective … we get people to think outside of their day-to-day environments. We’re not caught up in their jargon or other things unique to their market.”

For example, “consumer marketing tends to be on the cutting edge, pushing the envelope, and we bring some of that mentality to industrial companies, bring some of that emotional branding, which can be really powerful and not usually seen in those industries,” she explained.

“A lot of those clients want to talk about features and benefits, and sometimes forget that, at the end of the day, the decision to do business with a company is an emotional one. It’s about trust, and not always a logical argument, but a gut feeling — ‘I like that company; they look like they have their act together. I want to do business with them.’ We work hard to create those emotional connections, regardless of industry.”

Paws and Effect

When it all clicks, Lynch said, it’s a gratifying feeling.

“Whether it’s renaming a company or creating a new logo or doing a product launch,” she went on, “when you see the client start to feel that energy, we know we’re hitting it right, and we don’t have to convince them of it.”

Six-Point’s recent work with Hot Table, a small but growing chain of panini restaurants, is a good example. The firm designed the eatery’s new logo — a simple, stylized sandwich with the signature grill marks of a panini press — in addition to other branding and marketing services.

“That was really fun because [owner John DeVoie] came in with a big vision,” she told BusinessWest. “He has the bones of greatness in his company, and a very clear vision about what he wants Hot Table to mean; he wants to make it synonymous with panini.

“It’s really fun to work with somebody who comes in with energy and a big vision and just trusts you to execute it with him,” she added. “I showed him a lot of logos, and when he saw the grill marks we created, he said, ‘that’s it.’ He sees the potential that has as a brand mark. He got excited, we took his vision seriously, and we also see his potential.”

But marketing isn’t only an outreach to potential customers, Lynch stressed; it’s also a process of buy-in from employees of the client company.

“One thing a lot of companies are realizing is that they have an internal audience as well, and in order to create a successful brand, you need your employees to be on board as well,” she said. “Brand launches and product launches that aren’t internally launched properly do not do as well as those where everyone internally is on the same page, speaking the same message, excited about what’s happening.”

Take Bay Path College, another long-time Six-Point client, which recently became Bay Path University.

“They’re an example of a well-kept secret that’s starting to get out,” Lynch said, adding that university President Carol Leary has long had a clear vision for what becoming a university would bring to the table. “There’s a lot going on there, and not everyone grasps the good work they’re doing.”

So Six-Point created an internal video shown at a recent convocation of professors.

“We interviewed students on what they felt like as freshmen and what they feel like as seniors and the changes these women have undergone; some started out as shy and unsure and are now successful, confident women,” Lynch said. “I left the interviews thinking, ‘I need to keep track of these women; I might want to hire them.’ They were changed, and the stories they told were amazing.”

The video was powerful, and an effective marketing piece in its own right, even though it would never be seen outside the campus community, because it inspires people to be ambassadors for their own organization, and empowers them to better articulate the importance of what they do.

“It hones the power of the brand and storytelling to make people feel good about the work they do every day. They get a strong sense of why they show up for work every day,” Lynch said. “Sometimes it takes somebody from outside to remind you, ‘holy cow, we’re amazing.’ When you get into the day-to-day, you can lose that excitement.”

Telling Tails

Lynch enjoys the “rush” of hitting the sweet spot in a marketing campaign or branding effort, and credited her staff with those successes.

“We have a group of very like-minded, curious, creative, and really brilliant people,” she said, noting that only about half the agency comes from an advertising-agency background; everyone else comes from other industries. “Even though we all have marketing in common, we’re not lifetime agency people. And the whole team shares that sense of excitement when we hit it right. I don’t feel like I have to rally the team; we do that for each other. It’s just a really, really nice environment to work in.”

A literature major in college, Lynch said she considers herself more analytical than creative, but added that Six-Point has several people in each category. “What we have in common are a love of good work and a love of problem solving. We bring our different skills, and there’s room for both here, which I really appreciate. There’s not a sense that the creative types, the artists, get special recognition. All are important for who they are and what they bring to the client.”

The idea, she said, is to come up with concepts that fit the client’s needs, not the personal taste of the team. “There’s no ego here, which makes me happy. I feel like we truly foster collaboration and appreciation of the good idea and the right solution over my point of view or my creative preference.”

It makes for an energetic, upbeat environment that any dog — real or cartoon ­— would appreciate.

“Our mascot reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously,” Lynch said. “We try to embody that loyalty and exuberance a dog brings to everything; he’s always excited to see you, always brings energy to whatever he’s doing. Every time he sees a tennis ball, it’s like the first time. We want to bring that to the client, that sense of refreshment and enthusiasm. That’s often what people count on us for.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]