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Sales and Marketing Special Coverage

Getting the Message Across


Marketing and communications in 2024 are evolving further, with no signs of slowing down. The year ahead promises groundbreaking shifts, from artificial intelligence revolutionizing marketing and user engagement to big brands capitalizing on social media’s bite-sized content for enhanced product exposure. Add to this the rise of immersive digital experiences, and you have a transformative landscape. Here’s what the experts at the integrated marketing agency 9Rooftops have to say:


Creative Shifts: Renewed Nostalgia and Inspiration

By Scott Seymour

Adaptable Personalization: With advancements in customization and AI workflows, new opportunities arise to resonate in ways we never thought possible. People will have the freedom to consume content tailored specifically for them. The ability to create adaptable creative to match someone’s current mood or their desired need state is worth exploring. Then, having the design expressed in a way that is completely in sync with their personal aesthetic preferences will be incredibly valuable.

Minimalism and Decluttering: Now more than ever, with massive amounts of information coming at us at any given moment, a movement toward simplification is welcomed. Reducing clutter throughout all aspects of our lives, including incoming communications, allows people to truly focus on what matters most without unnecessary distractions. Carefully curated content and purposeful design choices will genuinely deliver on the principle that less is more.

“With advancements in customization and AI workflows, new opportunities arise to resonate in ways we never thought possible.”

Fantastical Inspiration: Sparked by AI image generation and fueled by possibility, we anticipate an acceleration of surreal, fantastical styles that provoke a sense of wonder and escapism. A hyper-real utopian aesthetic blurs the lines between reality and imagination. With this extraordinary style of captivating imagery, surreal illumination, and dreamlike color palettes, they will continue to delight and defy reality.

Rise of Kindness: Acts of kindness uplift people when they need it most. Brands that tap into this concept will deepen connections with their consumers in new ways. This will promote empathy, fostering a sense of gratitude that can be contagious.

Nostalgia Reimagined: Fueled by a need for authenticity, optimism, and a desire for what’s next, a foundation of shared nostalgic cultural connections, themes, and designs will create stronger social bonds. Blending this charm with a modern twist will keep things fresh and interesting.


Social Media Shifts: Connecting Through Social-first Tactics

By Julia Repisky

TikTok: It’s no surprise that this social-media platform will continue to reign; in fact, TikTok is anticipated to increase its user base to 900 million, an 8% increase, so being active is more paramount than ever in 2024, especially as the audience continues to diversify beyond just kids.

Bite-sized Content: Short, easily digestible content led TikTok and Instagram reels to their huge success, especially as attention spans continue to shrink. People want content they can consume in seconds, and your brand should be able to deliver that in an authentic way.

SEO on Social: Gen Z and Millennials rely on social for more than entertainment. About 40% of young adults between 18 and 24 use social media like a search engine, meaning you’ll need to go beyond just hashtags to hit the right keywords to make your social presence known.

Hybrid, AI Content: The AI buzz won’t calm down anytime soon and will become an integral part of social-media content creation, whether to help with inspiration, optimize content, or create something completely new. Don’t be afraid to play around with what AI can help you do.

Raw, Authentic Content: Social media isn’t the place for polished product placement anymore. Users don’t want perfection, but a feed full of relatable, highly (or even completely) unedited content that feels natural. In 2024, aim for less overanalyzing and creating more content in the moment.


Customer Relationship Management: Emerging Patterns and Insights

By Jenny Brenner

Decisioning and Personalization Relevancy: This has always been a key driver in connecting effectively with prospects and customers, and with new AI tools aiming to decrease technical barriers, automate, and ease integration, anticipate an even higher baseline for personalized product offerings, content, and communications in the marketplace. Revisit your personalization capabilities to ensure you’re scoring and maximizing output across transactional, behavioral, and situational data.

Zero-Party Data Campaigns: They’re not going anywhere, gaining popularity in 2023 as an initial outcome of cookie-deprecation announcements. Expect brands to continue to take advantage of these for turnkey data collection and application, which are well-suited for on-the-fly personalization, situational and environmental touchpoints, and driving conversion-rate optimization results.

Interactivity: In an increasingly digital environment, it’s even more challenging for brands to break through the clutter in inboxes and experiences. Increasing the interactivity of your digital touchpoints, from email to MMS/SMS, can help significantly boost engagement and results. Make interactive features and formats, like GIFs, quizzes, and countdown clocks a regular part of your digital brand experience to engage customers and deliver offers and content in a unique and memorable way.

Experiential Rewards: Engaging loyalty-program members requires a blend of transactional and emotional benefits. While transactional benefits — discounts, offers, points — can drive direct replenishment and purchase retention, incorporating experiences, whether gamified or as exclusive rewards, can drive brand differentiation, preference, and loyalty. Pilot a gamified or exclusive experiential element in your loyalty program to spark member interest and engagement.

“In an increasingly digital environment, it’s even more challenging for brands to break through the clutter in inboxes and experiences.”

Prioritizing Customer Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Increases in consumer privacy policy will continue into 2024, and as key platforms and providers decrease the amount of data shared back to marketers, brands need to find alternative measurement solutions across digital ecosystems. Prioritize defining, regularly calculating, and placing weight on customer-centric metrics alongside campaign KPIs in 2024 to provide a bigger picture of your campaign’s impact on ultimate goals: changing key behaviors and growing customer lifetime value.


Experience Marketing: Transformational Engagement

By Kate Bradbury

Immersive Digital Experiences: The introduction of the Sphere in Las Vegas has sparked a ton of excitement around the power of immersive artistic experiences where visual, sound, and physical form all come together in awe-inspiring ways. Advances in technology have made production more flexible and affordable for smaller-scale events. Moreover, discussing experiential marketing ROI through data science remains a way forward to measure results for a diversity of experience marketing strategies.

Scalable and Reusable: Efficient execution and long-term thinking around event assets will be critical as larger economic trends put pressure on marketing budgets. Creating event platforms that can scale up and down and reusable assets can help stretch marketing dollars. Plus, reusable assets help make events more sustainable.

Tech-powered Personalization and Customization: AI has seen a rapid technological increase and adoption rates. We think AI will enhance targeting and customization exponentially, allowing marketers to build dynamic experiences precisely tailored to their consumers from beginning to end. AI will also allow for consumer-driven, personalized experiences.

Exclusivity: FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, and post-COVID consumers are again placing an emphasis on gathering once-in-a-lifetime-style memories and experiences. Highly curated events with a level of exclusivity are a perfect fit for the right brand and can be magnified via an influencer approach.

“Online shopping is more convenient than ever, so if people are going to spend time going to a store, they want something special.”

Experiential Retail and Pop-ups: Online shopping is more convenient than ever, so if people are going to spend time going to a store, they want something special. Creating unique experiences with the full transformation of spaces or launching memorable pop-up shops are ways for brands to stand out. These dynamic and bespoke experiences help drive social sharing, additional brand impressions, and customer loyalty.


Digital Experience: Advancements in Personalization and AI

By Patti Mulligan

Hyper-personalization: As the practice of being treated as a unique individual increases loyalty, the demand for personalized experiences will continue to grow. AI will be increasingly reliant on analyzing customer data to facilitate these experiences. In fact, AI will offer real-time personalization of user experiences, which may result in immediate data analysis. An AI algorithm will immediately analyze a user’s actions on platforms, including clicks, navigation, and internal search queries, and adjust the website page’s products.

Sustainability: Developers will focus on improving performance of digital solutions, requiring less from servers and networks. There is a general concern across the spectrum of designers, developers, users, and customers who are committed to social responsibility and the environmental impacts of their experiences and products.

AI Integration: This is an obvious trend that is only gaining traction from development tools for more efficient coding to image generation and behavior insights. In fact, by 2030, the global revenue forecast for AI is projected to reach a mind-numbing $1.3 billion. Every big brand is traversing the AI landscape, including Google’s generative AI search experience. In theory, this will result in more data-driven designs that revolve around user insights.

Immersive Experiences: AR and VR will grow in usage and popularity and will be used increasingly to enable product interactions that are key to encouraging customer loyalty. Future evolutions will allow for virtual stores, enhanced product visualizations and experiences, and interactive product demonstrations. AR already enables virtual try-ons, which allows users to see how products look on them with their smartphones, helping encourage more confidence in the purchase process. Moreover, AR personalization allows you to see if that sofa looks right in your living room, or if that hat you found online will match your sport coat. Expect all these examples to evolve and expand into more consumer use cases.

Accessibility: A timeless requirement rather than a trend, accessibility should never fall out of the limelight. With one in four Americans having a disability, it is imperative for all users to be able to access websites. By implementing ADA guidelines, the benefits to companies are great as accessibility fosters inclusivity and quality, expands audiences, builds brand image and reputation, and prevents costly litigation.


The Creator Economy: New Influences

By Pamela Pacheco

Brand and Influencer Collaborations: Influencer marketing has become an integral part of brand promotion. In a 2023 Influencer Marketing Hub survey, an overwhelming 83% of respondents said they believe influencer marketing continues to be effective. Now, brands are taking it a step further by collaborating with influencers to create new products. This approach enables brands to leverage the influencer’s creativity and knowledge of their audience, resulting in more authentic products for their target audience. It also generates greater engagement and loyalty among consumers. This mutually beneficial collaboration between brands and influencers has proven to be effective in enhancing the overall success of marketing campaigns and will continue to evolve during 2024.

Social Commerce: In 2024, the alliance between influencer marketing and social commerce is set to rewrite the rules of online shopping. As the annual average social commerce sales per buyer is projected to grow 21.3% (according to an eMarketer report) this year and social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube continue to incorporate shopping features, influencers will act as the center, providing first-hand product reviews, live demonstrations, and real-time purchasing guidance to their audiences. This trend will enhance the shopping experience and offer brands a dynamic way to reach and convert consumers directly within their favorite social platforms.

“In a fun twist, employees are stepping into the spotlight as new influencers, leveraging their connection to the brand’s values and culture to cultivate deeper trust and engagement with consumers.”

Brand Employees Become Influencers: As this industry continues to evolve, brands are recognizing the potential within their staff. In a fun twist, employees are stepping into the spotlight as new influencers, leveraging their connection to the brand’s values and culture to cultivate deeper trust and engagement with consumers. Employees turned influencers will be encouraged to share their experiences, opinions, and knowledge about the brand to create authentic content that fosters deeper connections with consumers. So how are brands selecting these employees? They look for employees who are active on social media, have a considerable following, and possess strong communication skills. Now, anyone from the CEO to a sales associate can become a brand ambassador.

Macro- and Micro-Influencers Combine: The combination of macro- and micro-influencers will become a popular strategy for brands looking to diversify their audience reach and engagement in the world of influencer marketing. Macro-influencers typically have a larger following and higher social-media reach, while micro-influencers are more relatable and have a more niche following, which can result in higher engagement rates. By combining both types of influencers, brands can create a marketing campaign that appeals to a wide range of consumers and generates a higher level of engagement and loyalty.

Community-centric Influence: Influencers will shift their focus from chasing follower counts to nurturing social communities. This trend emphasizes meaningful engagements, discussions, and immersive experiences within niche communities, reshaping the influencer landscape.



Scott Seymour is executive vice president and chief creative officer, Julia Repisky is senior content and social media strategist, Jenny Brenner is group director of digital strategy and CRM solutions, Kate Bradbury is managing director, Patti Mulligan is vice president and director of digital experience, and Pamela Pacheco is senior social media strategist at 9Rooftops.

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

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.

Cover Story Sales and Marketing Sections

Getting the Message


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 …

Custom Content Sales and Marketing Sections

Diving into the deep end once again.


(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].


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]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Today’s Direct Mail Offers Great Opportunities

Tina Stevens

Tina Stevens

I often write about digital marketing technologies, but it is a great time for your business to take a fresh look at the direct-mail marketing channel.

I often hear people dismiss mail as ‘old school,’ and many seem to consider it ineffective. Two points on that. First, have you noticed how little mail you now receive in your mailbox? You may interpret that to mean ‘everyone knows mail doesn’t work.’ But research shows that mail does work when used intelligently as a component of your marketing plan. And that uncluttered mailbox means there is a bigger chance that your mail piece will be noticed.

Second, data shows that direct mail generates a higher response rate than e-mail. Consider how many promotional e-mails you receive versus direct mail in a given day. That large volume of e-mail makes it difficult for e-mail to penetrate your attention and grab your interest. Once that e-mail scrolls by, it is pretty much gone forever in terms of the recipient. The response rate for direct mail is 4.4% compared to 0.12% for e-mail, according to data from the DMO Council.

Direct Mail Is Effective

Direct mail is the original big data channel. Direct mail is where marketers began to segment, customize, target, and measure the results of their actions when sending catalogs, magazines, postcards, etc.

We have been refining, improving, and utilizing these processes for a long time. Today’s software programs have added even more power to data management and manipulation. The amount of data that is available for direct mail is extensive, and it is very accurate, especially when compared with some of the consumer data gathered online.

Your house list of customers, prospects, and contacts is your big data. You should be carefully growing and managing your house lists; they are a valuable component of your marketing efforts. When using direct mail, you can analyze and segment your internal lists based on the data you have collected about customer preferences and purchases. You can use your software to clean up your lists by removing duplications and identifying addresses that need to be completed.

You can also have your list run through a National Change of Address update for further accuracy. For small and local businesses that have a very targeted audience, direct mail can be highly effective when used with your house list.

Purchased mailing lists are also a viable option when using direct mail for prospecting. They let you reach out to potential customers that are located in the vicinity of your retail location and share similar characteristics with your customer base. Working with a mail house or list company, you can use a data-profiling program to review your customers and then create a model for your best prospects. Most consumers have many e-mail addresses while they have just one mailing address, which helps make direct mail more efficient for prospecting.

People Like Direct Mail

We continue to hear that we need to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. Just as important, we need to deliver that message in the recipients’ preferred media.

A study by Epsilon noted that consumers trust some marketing channels more than others. You may be surprised that it also found that 50% of U.S. consumers prefer direct mail to e-mail. This preference also includes 18-24 year olds, so you should not assume that a younger audience will ignore your direct mail.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Postal Service, 98% of people retrieve their mail daily, and 77% of people sort it immediately. That means there is an excellent chance that your recipient will at least touch and see your mailing. It is up to you to ensure that your mailing is timely and relevant to the recipient so that you capitalize on this valuable opportunity.

Integrating Direct Mail into the Mix

Using direct mail alone can be successful for your retail business when utilizing your house lists and quality prospecting lists. It can be more effective when combined with other marketing activities to enhance and strengthen the results of your marketing efforts.

Direct mail can be used in conjunction with e-mail to improve performance, heighten engagement, and provide new creative opportunities. When well-combined, they can provide a 10% to 30% uplift in conversion, according to Epsilon. You can also link print with other online actions to increase response. Your direct mail can include a PURL (personalized URL) or a QR (quick response) code to easily send the mail recipient to an online message that reinforces the print message.

In addition, you can also utilize variable data technology to provide customized messages and unique PURLs or QR codes for a totally customized experience. These PURLs and QR codes are very trackable so you can measure and test the response to your mailing. Consider creating a first impression with direct mail, reinforcing it with e-mail, and using your website to expand on it and encourage response.

Tina Stevens is president of Stevens 470, a full-service marketing, advertising, and design firm in Westfield; (413) 568-2660; [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Partners at chikmedia Say Marketing Shouldn’t Be Stressful

Meghan Rothschild, left, and Emily Gaylord

Meghan Rothschild, left, and Emily Gaylord, partners at chikmedia.

Meghan Rothschild was taken aback by how Bob Lowry, owner of Bueno y Sano, described her new marketing firm’s work: “zany things that make lasting impressions on people.”

“I said, ‘wow … that’s the best endorsement I’ve ever heard of our company since we started,’” said Rothschild, who partnered with Emily Gaylord to launch their business, chikmedia, about six months ago.

Perhaps some agencies would recoil from a word like ‘zany,’ but Rothschild and Gaylord embrace it.

“When we started, we made this silly video dancing in a frozen-yogurt shop, and we posted the thing on Facebook,” Gaylord said. “We figured, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to be ourselves from day one. Our clients know, from the first meeting, that this is who Meghan and Emily are — and that it’s going to be fun. That’s a huge part of our business. Being effective is the other part.”

Rothschild has been in marketing for eight years, first as marketing and promotions manager at Six Flags, then development and marketing manager at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and, later, as director of marketing and communications at Wilbraham and Monson Academy (WMA). She and Gaylord worked together at those last two stops and found they hit it off in more ways than one.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild says chikmedia caters to women-run businesses, but serves plenty of male clients as well.

“We were constantly doing outside favors for folks — writing press releases, designing logos,” Rothschild said. “One day, I said, kiddingly, ‘we should start a company and start charging for this.’ She said, ‘OK, I’ll start today.’ She got a website up and running, we launched a Facebook page, and the rest is history.”

Said Gaylord, “we were both doing freelance work on the side. She was doing freelance marketing, and I was doing freelance design, and we thought, why not go into business together? It would be more productive, more lucrative, and, frankly, more fun, because we get a kick out of working together. About 48 hours later, chikmedia was born. I made a logo that day.”

With about two dozen clients, including Bueno y Sano, UMass Dining, Papa John’s, ArchitectureEL, Energia Fitness, SkinCatering, and Lioness magazine, to name just a few, “we got really busy very quickly, and we didn’t anticipate how successful it would be in such a short period of time,” Rothschild said. “We were just overwhelmed with how many people started reaching out to us and wanted our services.”

Gaylord said their strong relationship has contributed to their quick start. “I think a lot of businesses fail when friends start a business together. We’re different; we became friends because we work so well together. We’ve always had the same kind of vision, the same tastes. Honestly, it’s just been a very good, very positive relationship.”

By the end of 2013, Rothschild added, “we decided we either have to pull back and stop accepting new clients, or make this thing bigger. We decided there’s so much potential with the company, we had to pursue it.”

Girl Power

Rothschild said the company’s name reflects that vision. “We decided on chikmedia because we wanted to focus on women-run businesses and organizations, although we cater to both men and women.”

“The goal was to be a female-focused business,” Gaylord added. “We have plenty of male clients, but female entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with, and we believe in that; we want to see more women in charge, and the only way that will happen is if women start taking leadership roles. But we have a wide variety of clients.”

That women-focused niche, Rothschild said, is attractive to both men and women. “Men feel a little special when we’re taking them on, and women know we get it; we get who they’re trying to market to. They know that women hold the purse strings in households. They’re the ones dictating the weekend plans, managing the books, dealing with finances — they’re making the decisions.”

Rothschild handles the PR and marketing end of the business, while Gaylord is the creative force, handling design work. “She’s a genius — it’s amazing what she comes up with,” Rothschild said.

Emily Gaylord

Emily Gaylord says chikmedia’s wide umbrella of services, including marketing, PR, and design, appeals to its clients.

“We worked together for years,” she added. “She was my intern at the Food Bank, and I recruited her at WMA. We work so well together — similar in some ways, but polar opposites in the way we do work. I’m more nuts and bolts — ‘here’s the deadline; let’s meet it.’ She’s more creative — ‘here’s what I envision for the client.’ We work incredibly well together because we complement each other.”

Part of chikmedia’s appeal, Gaylord said, is the broad umbrella of its services. “Some companies just do marketing, or just PR, or just design. We do it all. That way, everything is cohesive; everything matches. The message is the same.”

And if a client has design or marketing elements in place that are working, she added, chikmedia won’t try to toss those aside. “If the client likes red and black, we’re not going to introduce teal. But we look at the message and make sure the message is consistent. We’re not trying to change who you are; we’re trying to show you off — and it’s something we do very well.”

The firm offers flexibility for clients who hire it for only one element, Rothschild said. “A lot of our clients want us for public relations; they want us to be their publicist — that’s one of the most popular options.”

She particularly enjoys this side of the business, noting that she has built a large network of media contacts from her time at Six Flags and, more recently, as a spokesperson for the Melanoma Foundation; she’s a 10-year survivor of skin cancer and a passionate advocate for sun safety and against tanning beds.

“My favorite part is pitching people in a way that works for the source you’re pitching to. That’s the most fun — finding ways to both help the media source, which needs content, and help the client. To find synergy, you need to make this easy for the media; they’re being pulled in 15 different directions.”

“You’re paying for our reputation in this field,” Rothschild continued. “If a reporter gets 80 to 100 press releases a day, Joe Shmoe is going to get lost in the mix. But we send you something, you at least look at it. We genuinely care about our partners, both the media and the client, and we want everyone to be happy. That’s important to us. No one ever looks at us and goes, ‘oh, not these people again.’ They know it’s going to be something fun, something cool, that will get their attention.”

To reach the media and the buying public, she added, “there isn’t just one template. We have to determine, who’s talking about this product? Who are the decision makers buying this product? Who’s got a stake in this game? That’s how we develop campaigns for women. It’s acknowledging they’re the power in their households and finding fun ways to get them interested in our clients’ products.”

Not Laying an Egg

Gaylord is still somewhat surprised by chikmedia’s first six months of growth. “I’ve studied entrepreneurship in college, and there are so many failed businesses,” she said. “Not only are we not losing a ton of money, but we’re making money, and that’s kind of shocking.

“Part of that, I think, is that people were waiting for it,” she added. “Meghan and I both grew up in this community, so we have some very strong roots here. As soon as we started the business, a lot of people seemed to be waiting for us to take that step — ‘of course, if I’m going to hire somebody, it’s gonna be you guys!’ We owe everything to the clients who took a chance on us right off the bat.

“So far, we’ve had very positive results,” Gaylord continued. “At first, it was a lot of networking, people introducing us to other people. Lately, we’ve been getting more calls out of the blue. It’s really exciting.”

The partners have expanded chikmedia’s reach beyond Western Mass., with clients in the Boston and Hartford areas, and plan to break into the Providence market, too. That sounds ambitious, Rothschild said, but much of it is based simply on treating people right.

“I always try to leave a lasting impression on people, try to be cordial and accommodating. A lot of customer service is being pleasant and responsive and quick to get back to clients. These are people who only want their business to succeed, and need you to help them.

“We’re definitely taking it slowly,” she added. “But you reach this point of critical mass where you have to bring someone on board. We just hired an intern, and we have a new business-development individual. But we’re getting at least one new client a week, and there’s no way we’ll be able to sustain that without bringing more people on board.”

Gaylord said she tries not to think too far ahead, but it’s hard not to be excited.

“I don’t have kids right now; this is my baby, what I spend my time and resources on. I’m like any new parent who wants to see their child thrive and succeed. OK, maybe I’m taking that metaphor too far,” she said with a laugh.

“We see a real future in it,” she added, “but we’re thinking practically. We’re not thinking that, in 30 years, we’ll be the hippest company on the planet — which will probably be true — but just making sure our clients right now are cared for. That’s why we’ve been so successful in six months. We’re thinking from a practical place first.”

Well, practical and fun.

“One of the things that sets us apart is that we want you to have fun,” Gaylord said. “Working with us is a positive experience, and when people take that step and say, ‘I’m not a marketer; I want to invest in some marketing,’ we want them to have a good time with it. We’re silly, but in the most amazing way possible.”

Rothschild agreed. “We’re extremely passionate about what we do,” she said. “We have a lot of fun doing it and make sure our clients have a lot of fun doing it. If we’re just another stressor in their day, we’re not doing it right.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sales and Marketing Sections
Springfield-based TSM Design Opens Second Office in Hartford

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design

Deb Walsh, Nancy Urbschat, and Janet Bennett of TSM Design will now have a marketing and design presence in two anchor cities.

Nancy Urbschat recalls the moment she and her team at TSM Design saw the small yet attractive office space in the historic former G. Fox & Co. department store building in downtown Hartford, and knew they’d found a home.

Or, to be more specific, a second home.

Indeed, the cozy, 475-square-foot space at 960 Main St. officially became the second location for Springfield-based TSM on Jan. 8. The office provides the company with opportunities to better serve clients based in Northern Conn. or who do business there, said Urbschat, principal of the firm since 2005, and also greater capacity to expand a client list that already includes a number of businesses across several sectors.

“To have a presence in two anchor cities felt great,” she told BusinessWest as she talked about the decision to expand. “I’ve long believed that Hartford-Springfield is a very robust market.”

And it’s a market that can better be served with a visible presence in each municipality, said Janet Bennett, the firm’s director of marketing since 2005.

“We were going down for meetings all the time, and the more we discussed it, we felt that if we were really going to do this, we needed to put ourselves in Hartford for real and have a real presence here,” she said.

With that presence, the marketing and design firm expects to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital, and also seize momentum from what those at TSM describe as an improving economy on both sides of the border.

Urbschat said marketing and advertising budgets are among the first things to be cut during a downturn like the recent recession, and they’re also some of the last things to be restored. But she’s seeing definite signs of progress.

“That’s the natural order of economic downturns and recovery, and I feel we’re in recovery,” said Urbschat, who speaks from the experience gained from living through several recessions. “That’s the beauty of being a small business — we’re lean; we can make adjustments as needed and respond. We took appropriate measures, and now we’re off to a fantastic start in 2014.”

For this issue and its focus on sales and marketing, BusinessWest talked with the team at TSM about their move into Hartford and what it means for the firm moving forward.

Capital Idea

Urbschat has long noted — and taken great pride from — the fact that her firm is not merely based in Springfield, specifically the historic Stearns Building on Bridge Street.

Instead, it has long been quite involved in efforts to help market the city and tell its story — both to those who live within it and those who would need a map to find it — while also promoting it as a great place to live, work, and do business.

TSM Design

A second office at 960 Main St. in Hartford will allow TSM Design to take full advantage of the robust business climate in Connecticut’s capital.

For example, Urbschat and her team launched Pro Springfield Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about the City of Homes, asking residents and officials to “say something nice.” She also chaired the Art & Soles project a few years ago, an initiative that saw the downtown decorated with colorful, five-foot-high sneakers in a nod to its history with the sport of basketball.

But while Springfield has been, and will remain, both the firm’s base and its passion, there was a clear need to expand to the city 20 miles to the south.

“We’re Springfield believers, and this is our anchor,” she noted. “Our footprint is solidly in Springfield, but we were ready for a new challenge, and there’s opportunity in Hartford.”

And as the TSM team looked for a base from which to pursue those opportunities, one of the first stops was the former G. Fox building, the art-deco landmark that has become home to Capital Community College and dozens of other tenants large and small.

Bringing the TSM name there ushers in a new chapter in the colorful history of the firm created by Leslie Lawrence and first called The Super Market.

Urbschat joined the venture a few months after it was launched and became a partner in 1990. The firm’s name was rebranded to the acronym TSM in the late ’90s to reflect the development of a wider range of work, especially design and branding. When Lawrence retired in 2004, Urbschat bought the business.

Using subcontractors — or partners, as Urbschat calls them — for specific needs in video production and web development, the current four employees have specific strengths in marketing, design, and creative thought and application. Urbschat is keeping the operation lean by having one team operate both locations.

Bennett, who is now spending much of her time at the Hartford facility — which Urbschat calls a ‘mini-me’ office, due to its similar contemporary, TSM-style decor — explained that growth is certainly attainable, and the vibe in the capital city is palpable.

“It feels like it’s hopping,” she told BusinessWest. “Even the sense on the street when you’re walking around, there’s a lot of buzz, and it’s exciting.”

Urbschat agreed, noting that some 80,000 people work in downtown Hartford, maybe 10 times the number that work in Springfield’s central business district. Some of those 80,000 work in marketing and advertising, she acknowledged, but while there is plenty of competition, there is also ample opportunity for growth for TSM.

With 15 active clients, the firm’s team is selective about whom they work with, and will keep that same philosophy in Hartford. While the company handles many types of businesses, it targets second-stage, ‘best-in-class’ companies with 150 or more employees and that share TSM’s core values. And there many of these in the Greater Hartford area.

One example is the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. That landmark, which includes a number of buildings and facilities, has seen its identity superseded by the 17-day fair that takes place there every fall — the Big E. TSM has been contracted to help rebrand the operation and tell what Urbschat calls the “amazing story of the history of the Eastern States Exposition.”

Over the years, it has done similar work for businesses and organizations ranging from Springfield Technical Community College to the Springfield Falcons, and currently boasts clients such as Barr & Barr Construction, Westfield Bank, and Baystate Health.

Right Place, Right Time

While some might view the Hartford office as a fresh, new start for the TSM team, Urbschat is quick to say that there’s nothing new about what TSM will offer businesses in Connecticut.

“This is an extension of what we already do, and we have a well-honed process; we’re just doing it in a new city,” she said, adding that she still enjoys coming into work every day. “When it stops being fun, we’ll probably just say, ‘OK, it was a great ride.’”

But for now, talk about the ride is restricted to the present and future tenses, and, with this expansion into Hartford, it is getting much more exciting.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected].

Cover Story Sales and Marketing Sections
Hiring Top Sales Performers Is Certainly No Accident

By Jim Mumm
BW0613bCOVDetermining the right person to hire isn’t easy, and when it comes to hiring a top-performing sales superstar, it’s even more difficult.
Let’s face it: there is a sea of apparently strong candidates looking for a job. And don’t kid yourself; any sales person worth their salt is going to be able to talk a good game.
But making a poor hiring decision will cost you dearly. Depending on which expert you listen to, the cost of making a poor hiring decision is anywhere between one and two and a half times the candidate’s annual fully loaded salary.
What should strong leaders do to mitigate the risks and maximize the return on investment pertaining to hiring top-performing sales professionals?  What can an organization do to not only greatly reduce hiring mistakes, but also build a highly effective sales organization? We need to paint a very clear picture of the perfect fit before we start looking for the candidate.  Then, we can objectively determine if the candidate truly fits in our picture. Here’s how.
Managers must follow a systematic, step-by-step recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding process. This system begins with identifying the primary function indicators (PFIs) of the sales role you are attempting to fill. PFIs are the basic tasks that a salesperson must be able to accomplish, such as prospecting, negotiating, and closing. Next, a professional manager must identify and determine the winning attributes of the best-fit candidate. Finally, the manager must ascertain whether or not the candidate is a proper fit for the team by building a team matrix.
To accomplish this, the manager utilizes these three core components (PFIs, winner attributes, and team matrix) to develop a series of questions designed to uncover the information needed to make a good hiring decision.  The questions are constructed so that the answers reveal how well the candidate fits the desired job profile. Scores to all answers are summed, and the best-fit candidate is revealed.

Three Steps
Let’s break down each of the three components and reveal how questions are developed from each area and give some sample questions that could be used.
Step one of building a hiring template includes identifying the actual functions the sales professional will be expected to perform. We call these functions primary function indicators because they reveal the actual functions the candidate must be able to accomplish and the behaviors at which the candidates must be proficient to perform these functions. Finally, we must determine the questions we should ask that will help us determine whether or not the candidate can perform these behaviors to the desired level of proficiency.
For example, if you are attempting to hire a sales professional capable of bringing in new business, he would have to effectively prospect. A question might be, “if we hired you to build this new territory to $2 million in one year, how would you do it?” The answer to this question will speak volumes. And you should be able to differentiate a made-up answer from one given by a sales professional who has actually lived it.
To make this step easier, we incorporate the SEARCH model.  SEARCH is an acronym that stands for skills, experiences, attitudes, results, cognitive skills, and habits. If we can create questions that reveal the candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses in these six areas, we are well on our way to determining if they can actually perform the tasks. Once you’ve determined the questions needed to determine a candidate’s PFIs, you are ready to proceed to step two.
Step two is to identify whether or not the candidate has what it takes to be a top performer (winner) in your specific organization. We call these ‘winner attributes.’ To figure out whether or not the candidate has the winner attributes you require, it is helpful to use the BAT method. BAT stands for behavior, attitude, and technique. Behavior is all about what they do, technique concerns how well they do it, and attitude is how they feel about doing it. Let’s take a look at each.
Behavior involves understanding the planning, goals, and actions necessary to be successful in that role in your organization. For example, how well does the candidate set long-term, short-term, and daily goals, and how does this compare to how well your top performers set goals? You might ask, “tell me about your experience building and executing a plan to hit your sales objectives,” followed by “tell me what you did when you found yourself behind your target goals.”
Again, the answers will reveal how the candidate thinks and should give you a good idea of whether or not they have actually successfully built plans. If you ask the same question pertaining to goals to 20 different candidates, you’ll get 20 different answers. It is our job as managers to understand the required behaviors our top salespeople have and to identify the candidates whose behaviors are the closest match.
Next is technique, which consists of personal presence, tactics, and strategy. These are all measures of how well they are able to perform the behaviors that are necessary for success. Finally, attitude involves what’s between your ears. For example, some people don’t mind attending networking events and actually enjoy meeting and talking to new people. However, others dread networking events and would sit in the corner, check their e-mails, and talk only to people they know. The difference is their attitude toward, or how they feel about, networking. You might ask, “what are your favorite and least favorite prospecting activities, and why?”
Some examples of winner attributes for top-performing salespeople are the desire to win, strong internal motivation, superior discipline, and the ability to build and nurture relationships. Again, the key is to develop written questions that will help you determine whether or not the candidate has these desired attributes.
The final step in developing the hiring template is to determine how well the candidate will fit within your team. When filling a position in an existing department, it is important to find a candidate who fits best with your specific team. Often, managers try to hire the best producers, only to end up with a group of ‘fighter pilots,’ when what they really needed was a group of strong team players who can work and play well together for the good of the organization.
The key questions to ask are, do they supply skills needed by our team, or do they have skills that everyone else has? Are they a match for the current team or for the future team that we’re trying to build? For example, if you need to land new business and you have a stable of account managers, you need to ask questions that reveal the candidate’s ability to bring in new business because it complements the skills of your existing sales staff.
Once you develop four or five questions from this area that will help you uncover the facts, add them to your previous questions from PFIs and winner attributes. By now, you should have a good 30 core questions to use for each and every interview. Score each candidate on a scale from one to 10 for each question and determine, before you start interviewing, a lowest acceptable summed score from all questions. Create a list of ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves.’ If any candidate doesn’t achieve the minimum score or have all the ‘must haves,’ they are eliminated from the process.

Moving Forward
Once you’ve developed this approach to recruiting and interviewing candidates, you’ll be able to choose the best fit objectively based on relative, objective scores. Once you’ve chosen the best-fit candidate and informed the others that they are no longer in consideration, it is now time to implement your 90-day on-boarding plan.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, who’s got time to do all this?  Before you decide this is too much work, ask yourself how much time you spent talking to poor performers last year. Think of how many hours were spent writing up politically and legally correct ‘fix-it-or-hit-the-road’ letters last year. How many hours did you spend trying to coach or motivate poor performers who weren’t hitting their sales objectives? How many hours did you agonize over a weaksales person that you wish you would have never hired in the first place, but now that you have, you are hoping they’ll finally provide an acceptable ROI?
Consider having to fire them and start back at the beginning of the hiring process all over again. Think about the recruiter fees, the advertising costs you spend to place the ad, all the time your real performers wasted trying to bring them up to speed.
Perhaps it’s less expensive to invest time now finding the right salesperson for the role and properly on-boarding them, instead of spending all the time on the back end when you are stuck with a bad hire. We’ve all heard the saying, ‘pay me now, or pay me later.’

Jim Mumm is CEO of Sandler Training, serving Western Mass. He is an award-winning trainer, author, speaker, and successful entrepreneur; (646) 330-5217; [email protected]; www.jimmumm.sandler.com

Using Psychological Science to Hire People Who Can Sell

By Michael A. Klein
“Do you know what you can learn about someone from an interview?” I like to ask potential clients. My answer: “Plenty, and it begins with how well someone performs during an interview.”
Now, some think that in sales, if the candidate sitting across from you can sell themselves to you, then they can sell. But can they really? You know that they can sell you on them. And for some products and services, potential customers need to be sold on the salesperson. But other components loom large: can they sell to others? And will they sell to others? And can they sell what you are hiring them to sell?
Résumés and interviews (behavioral interviews, specifically) can provide valuable information, and, of course, no job offer  — even for commission-based positions — should be made without a careful review of prior experiences, reference checks, and probably more than one interview. But that information is still amazingly limited, and tells us little about whether this person can and willsell your product or service to others. This is where small or mid-sized businesses can benefit from the millions of dollars that large companies have spent on selection testing and assessment.
While using psychological testing to predict performance has a controversial, and some would say problematic, history, work being done over the past 15 years has led to a clear conclusion: we can predict work-related behaviors with great accuracy legally, quickly, and easily through the use of reputable assessment tools.
It’s important to note that there are currently no regulations for claiming accuracy in the sale of pre-employment tests. Therefore, unless taken to court, test publishers and distributers roam freely about the commercial countryside, making outlandish claims regarding the ‘science’ and usefulness of their hiring tests.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining here.  industrial/organization (I/O) psychologists and other psychometricians have been setting guidelines for the design, construction, validation, and reliability of these tests for more than 25 years. As a result, reputable test publishers adhere to these guidelines and can easily back up their claims with detailed (and frequently updated) technical manuals, validity and reliability studies, and published peer reviews. In the case of selection tests, it can’t be said often enough: let the buyer beware.
If you know where to look, and can assess the assessment, you will save time, effort, and great expense in the hiring process. As much as human beings are complex creatures, no two people are the same, and measuring something as complex as personality can feel insulting to our egos, the selection-testing industry has learned which traits, values, and emotional and social skills are far more likely to lead to those behaviors that result in actual sales. Although seemingly complicated, if there is a magic bullet, it’s this: the more psychometric data you have on someone, the more likely you are to hire the right person and avoid a hiring disaster.
There are an amazing variety of pre-employment assessments available, and they generally fall into one or more of these categories: personality, values and motivators, interests, emotional intelligence (maturity and polish), cognitive ability (intelligence tests), skills, and knowledge.
Even once this data is gathered, there needs to be a clear differentiation between what can be scientifically justified for the specific position and what is simply a personally desirable characteristic. For example, while a hiring manager may believe that successful salespeople have a strong desire to be acknowledged for their achievements (this particular motivator is known as ‘recognition’), that may be true of all salespeople, not just successful ones. One of the most basic mistakes managers make is assuming that a high level of a specific attribute, trait, or skill is responsible for success when, in fact, it has little to no actual impact on performance.
A client of mine told me that he didn’t need to study his salespeople (i.e. determine what traits, motivators, etc. differentiate high performers from low) because he knew that his top people all had two particular behavioral styles (from a test known as the DISC): dominance and influence. I explained to him that almost all of his salespeople probably have those styles regardless of potential because he only hires people with those styles, not to mention the fact that the impact of these two styles on sales has no basis in science whatsoever.
His desire to simplify and find a single score, result, or number is very common and, unfortunately, very misguided.
To answer the question of whether they can do the job, we must look first at personality traits. Based on studies using the most accepted model of personality in business (the five-factor model, or FFM), the following are a few of the traits that predict this ability:
• Self-confidence — demonstrating a belief in oneself;
• Experience seeking — enjoyment of new opportunities and adventures;
• Openness to others — concern for others’ experiences and feelings; and
• Drive — ambition and eagerness to advance and succeed.
However, that only answers the question of whether they can do the job. Whether they will do the job is answered by looking at the key motivators and values of the candidate. From other studies, we know that these values and preferences are key:
• Connection — the desire to build social networks and collaborate; and
• Business — the desire for financial success and wealth.
Unfortunately, a great salesperson can have these traits and motivators, but can still cause major problems internally. For example, ego can get in the way of working with others in the office, impulsivity can result in frequent mistakes, and a lack of common sense can turn into unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. Here is where one’s EQ (emotional intelligence) comes into play.
In short, EQ tells us how well someone understands and manages themselves, others, and the world generally. While EQ increases with age and can also overlap with personality traits, it can also be developed. Therefore, personality is more about hardwiring, while EQ looks at skills. The following are a few EQ scales that are important to sales, but can also be problematic if they are too high:
• Assertiveness – expressing oneself appropriately and not aggressively;
• Optimism — Staying positive despite setbacks, seeing opportunity; and
• Self-regard — Knowing and accepting oneself and one’s strengths and weaknesses
Lastly, many clients ask about the accuracy of self-assessment testing. “What good is this if the job candidate is not answering the questions honestly?”  “Can’t they just answer how they think we want them to?” The good news here is that many tests now utilize questions that are difficult to game. For example: “would you like to be a race-car driver?” To a test taker, answering this affirmatively might mean that they interested in exciting experiences, or, alternatively, it could mean they are someone who is an adrenaline junkie or someone who takes too many risks.
The tests are constructed in such a way that we know how successful salespeople answer (or, rather, their patterns of answers) as opposed to focusing on any one question. When good science is involved, it becomes far less obvious to the test taker, as well as the fact that it’s the combination of responses that tell us something.
In addition, psychological self-assessments have developed ways of identifying faked results — again, because of developers doing their homework during test construction. So, for many tests, we receive a report that tells us the likelihood that someone has attempted to present himself or herself less honestly than hoped.
Finally, no test can determine on its own if a person is a good job candidate. Psychological assessments or pre-employment testing must be only one part of a larger selection process that includes many other sources of information, including thorough background checking. To reiterate, if there is a magic bullet in the process of hiring effective salespeople, it is this: the more information we have on someone before they start, the better-positioned we are to make a good decision.

Michael A. Klein is president of Northampton-based MK Insights2. He has more than 16 years of experience as an assessment specialist, consultant, speaker, and facilitator. He focuses on the application of psychological data for the selection and development of individuals in organizations, including executives, leaders, salespeople, and highly trained professionals, with a specialty in family-owned firms. He has worked both internally and externally in human capital, including positions in organizational development and human resources. He has experience in healthcare, financial services, publishing, entertainment, pharmaceuticals, construction, and private equity, and is a full member of the American Psychological Assoc. and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology; (413) 320-4664.

Sales and Marketing Sections
To Remain Competitive, You Must Adjust Accordingly

Research shows that more than 50% of all cell phones are now smartphones. Add to that the growing number of people who own tablets, and it is estimated that mobile Internet users will exceed the number of desktop internet users by 2014.
The rapid rise in mobile technologies has dramatically changed the way that we communicate at work, at home, and while out and about, and business owners must adjust to this phenomenon.

We Love Our Smartphones
The majority of cell-phone purchases are now smartphones because they quickly become the preferred technology. Smartphones let you make phone calls, but what makes them so smart is that they have an operating system and can run software. This enables them to have features similar to those found on your computer, including web browsing, sending and receiving e-mail, and the abilities to open and read documents, take photos, listen to music, and watch videos.
Smartphones are getting faster at accessing the Internet and letting us view websites, engage in social media, download apps, and access driving directions via GPS. No wonder we love them.
Because mobile devices have become so convenient to use, they are now an integral part of our on-the-go lifestyle. That means many of your customers are trying to access your website on a mobile device. Most mobile devices will display your website correctly, but it will be incredibly tiny, and users will have to enlarge it and scroll from side to side to read the content. If you do not currently have a mobile-friendly website, now is the time to begin putting one in place.

Two Key Options

Options for having a mobile-friendly website include a mobile redirect or responsive web design. A mobile redirect can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Essentially, it redirects mobile users accessing your website to a separate website optimized just for mobile devices. In this case, you have two separate websites that need to be updated and maintained.
Another option is to make your website mobile-friendly by using responsive web design. Responsive web design uses fluid grids, CSS (the coding language for formatting and styling web content), and media queries to control how your website is displayed based on a device’s screen size. Responsive web design provides the advantage of just one website to update and manage versus having a separate mobile site to maintain.
Whatever method you choose, you should minimize the amount of information displayed on your mobile site by tailoring it to the needs of a mobile viewer. Consider what information your website visitors need when accessing your site while on the go. Some basics include business address, directions, an interactive map, hours of operation, and contact information. If you have a retail operation, then sales, special offers, and events should be easily visible to entice mobile web visitors to stop by.

Mobile Search
According to Google, there has been a fivefold increase in mobile search over the last two years. Research also shows that more than half of all consumers use their smartphones to search for products even when they are at home and could use a desktop or laptop computer. This data emphasizes the need for a mobile-friendly website.
If someone searches for your business and finds you, they should be taken to a website designed for a mobile device. If you are investing money in paid search, and those searches are on mobile devices, you are wasting your money if those ads don’t lead to a mobile-friendly website.

Local on Mobile
Your customers are searching while they are out and about, looking for places, products, and special offers. Roughly 70% of searchers are looking for a local product or service, and more than 80% of people searching for local information will take action within a day. Mobile searchers have a need, and most often it is an immediate one.
I encourage you to register your website for local search. This will let you control the quality of your local search results, ensure the accuracy of the information, and help increase your search ranking. Here are several major search engines you can register with; some have a verification process by phone or mail.

Social on Mobile
Social media seems to be made for mobile, as it’s all about what we are doing right now and sharing that with our friends. About half of the people using social media do so on a mobile device. Mobile users log in more often and spend more time on social-media sites. Mobile devices nicely integrate social-media apps that make it easier to post on a mobile device than from your desktop.
For example, you can snap a photo with your phone and post it right to Facebook. Knowing how your customers use their mobile devices is important when developing social-media campaigns. Businesses need to start their planning with a mobile perspective and tailor their ideas accordingly.

Mobile Commerce
Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is defined as consumers shopping and conducting other financial and promotional activities on their wireless, handheld devices. Browsing, shopping, and purchasing are increasingly done on mobile devices, and that trend continues to grow.
As the technology for online mobile shopping is improved and simplified, the shopping experience becomes easier and more convenient. Millions of American smartphone owners use apps for shopping, and even more use a retailer’s mobile website. It is clear that mobile shopping will continue to grow and your customers will be looking for this purchasing option.

Geolocation for
Customer Tracking
Mobile devices also provide GPS and wi-fi technology that can determine where a user is located. This allows you to leverage that information and send real-time mobile offers that can drive people to your business and generate a purchase. As we continue to gather data on our customers, we can move toward using demographic, psychographic, and past-purchasing behavior combined with current event data to deliver highly customized messaging.
Not everyone likes the idea that their smartphone knows where they are, so you will need to communicate the value consumers can expect to receive from your geolocation programs and give them options on participation.

Develop Your Mobile
Marketing Plans
Reviewing the trends and technologies that are making your customers mobile reinforces the need to provide a mobile experience to your customers. The combination of a mobile-friendly website, local search, m-commerce, geolocation, and social media provides you with powerful ways to reach your customers and prospects while they are on the go.

Tina Stevens is principal and creative director at Stevens 470, a full-service, multi-channel marketing firm providing strategic marketing, print communication, and web development; stevens470.com

Sales and Marketing Sections
How to Avoid These Nine Common Marketing Mistakes

Christine Pilch Mancini

Christine Pilch Mancini

Business generally doesn’t just find you. You have to work hard to educate and attract the people who want and need your product or service. That’s marketing.
But the game has changed dramatically over the last five years or so, as the economy forced businesses to tighten up their expenses. In addition, social media has leveled the playing field and enabled small companies with tiny budgets to compete with much larger companies that have deep pockets. It has become very tempting for businesses to consolidate staff or try a do-it-yourself approach to their marketing.
Be it unfamiliarity, lack of education, or square pegs in round holes, there are a lot of marketing mistakes costing companies precious dollars these days. Are you making any of the following mistakes?

1. Me, Me, Me Messages
Nobody cares about how great you are, how long you’ve been in business, and that you’ve got good service. They only care about what they get. The old adage, ‘what’s in it for me?’ is truer now than ever before in people’s over-scheduled lives. They care about things that make their lives easier, save them time, help them, and solve a problem, so don’t bother with marketing messages that don’t point out how you can benefit them.
Benefits are much more effective in piquing interest than features. Take care to minimize and remove language that emphasizes the words, I, me, we, us, my, and our and turn your message around to what ‘you’ get.
Hint: Read the first page of your website. If your message isn’t primarily about ‘you,’ meaning ‘your customer,’ you might be wise to hire a good copywriter for a tuneup.

2. Not Tracking Results or Return on Investment

If you aren’t tracking results, how can you be sure which marketing efforts are paying off? This should be true of every marketing tactic that you use, be it something traditional — such as a TV ad, membership in an organization, or a print ad — or new-media initiatives, like a Facebook page, Google AdWords, or a Pinterest contest.
Tracking results can help you react quickly when something isn’t working quite right. If you watch carefully, you will be able to switch gears when messages get stale or don’t hit their mark. Pinpointing lead sources is certainly more difficult, as people tend to jump all around the web en route to you, but there are ways to track your results, and it’s to your advantage to know where you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
Hint: If you want to drive traffic to your website, Google Analytics is a terrific tool for gauging the success of your efforts. You can see exactly where your traffic is coming from. You can also build unique landing pages on your website that are fed from different lead sources. Or you could obtain a special phone number or embed a special offer to track a particular advertisement. The more specific you can be, the better.

3. Neglecting to Set Goals
If you haven’t set goals, how will you determine when something is successful? Every business has its own measurement of success, and, likewise, each marketing tactic and/or campaign should also have its own objectives. Be specific. For example, a Facebook page could have many different objectives over its lifetime: growing its fan base (‘likes’), building interaction, or driving traffic to your website. Set your goals before you implement something new, and set new ones for subsequent campaigns.
Hint: If you want to increase sales of a particular product, check how your numbers have been in the past, decide on a reasonable expectation for the promotion you plan to put forth, and establish a number that you want to hit within a certain timeframe. This will allow you to react during the process, adjusting your marketing or augmenting if necessary, so you can achieve your goal.

4. Not Testing
The ability to cost-effectively test something new varies by media, but it is usually very easy to do on new-media channels. Use them to see who is attracted to particular messages, what time they see them, etc., and then use this information in other venues to help better target your ads.
Hint: Many companies test-market videos on YouTube, which gives them the ability to see how many people watch their videos within a particular timeframe, the demographics of those viewers, and how much of the video they watched, without having to buy expensive TV time. Post your own test videos and use this information to customize future videos and marketing messages that better appeal to your target audience.

5. Refusing to Try Something New (Especially When the Old Stuff Stops Working)
Familiarity is comforting, but an old advertising tactic that used to work, but is barely producing new leads, is wasting your money. Suppose you used to get lots of business whenever you ran a particular TV ad, and you haven’t seen those results for a long time, but you keep running the same old ad because you like having your friends and family see you on TV. Wouldn’t it make more sense to shift that money into something new? This could be a fresh, new TV spot, direct mail, radio, or new media. The possibilities are endless.
Hint: Don’t let your ego get in the way of bringing business through the door. Business owners, their kids, and their pets are usually not the best TV personalities, and they often actually turn off potential customers.

6. Misusing QR codes

A QR code is a two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned with a smartphone and takes a user to a webpage. They are best utilized for a user to get more information about whatever you are promoting in print, which could be on something such as a mailer or print ad. The single greatest misuse of a barcode is using it to link to a webpage that is not optimized for mobile. This just wastes the user’s time and causes frustration because non-mobile-optimized pages are very difficult to read and navigate on a small screen.
Other mistakes include neglecting to provide the ‘more information’ that you promised, and using QR codes on the web or within e-mail.
Hint: You can stop printing product information through the simple use of a QR code applied to your product, which brings your customer to the right page on your website for all the information he needs for the use and service of your product.

7. Buying Lists and Fans
You’ve likely seen offers of thousands of e-mail addresses or Facebook fans for your page, but what is the worth of someone who doesn’t want or need what you have to sell? Doesn’t it make more sense to talk to someone who has interest in your product or service and may actually purchase from you? Lists that you can purchase are usually not targeted, and the e-mail addresses are usually not connected to people who opted in to receive your messages, so they will consider you a spammer. That can lead to big problems.
Purchased Facebook fans are no more valuable, as it’s easy enough to hide a page feed from one’s newsfeed, so your messages aren’t being seen. Yes, your number of fans may seem impressive, but those fans are worthless if they never receive your messages and have no interest in what you’re selling.
Hint: Even when creating your own e-mail list, make sure it is comprised only of people who opt in to receive your messages. Sending to the e-mail addresses of your social-media connections and those from business cards that you collect is impolite and unprofessional. These people will likely consider your messages spam.

8. Letting a Non-marketer Coordinate Your Social Media
Social media for business is a marketing function. Yes, any kid fresh out of college can set up a Facebook page and Twitter account for you, but what do they know about marketing your business? What messages will they send? How will they handle angry or disappointed customers? Will they plan and track?
Hint: There is a reason that it’s called social-media marketing. When looking for someone to handle your social media, make sure that they understand how to market your business. If you wouldn’t put them in a traditional marketing job, they are not qualified to handle your social media either, unless working under the direction of someone who is a marketer.

9. Separating Digital Marketing from Traditional Marketing

Social media and traditional marketing are so closely intertwined within companies these days that separating them makes as much sense as having your sales and marketing departments operate exclusive of each other. Campaigns should be synched so that you’re not sending competing or non-complementary messages. This also prevents the danger of one department not knowing what the other is doing and possibly undercutting each other.
Hint: Create a system whereby information freely flows between traditional- and new-media people within your business. This could be accomplished via daily or weekly meetings, a spreadsheet that team members update, or perhaps even through a private Facebook group, where departmental activity and plans are logged. Facebook displays to the group leader who reads what content on its groups, so it is apparent when something has or has not been read. Regardless of the method, communication is critical.

Bottom Line
Everybody wants a good return on their marketing investments, so if you’re making any of the above mistakes, changing course just might not only save you money, but also bring in more business to boot.
If you’re in over your head or many of the techniques mentioned above are Greek to you, perhaps it’s time to call in a qualified marketer to bring fresh ideas to the table.

Christine Pilch Mancini owns Grow My Company and is a marketing strategist. She trains businesses to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537-2474; growmyco.com; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch;

Sales and Marketing Sections
It’s the Latter, and It Comes Down to Attitude, Behavior, Technique


Jim Mumm

Jim Mumm

We’ve all heard the question; are great salespeople born or made?
It’s a great question because every business relies on sales; no sales means no company.
The only possible answer is that great salespeople are made. There are only three overarching determinates of success in any endeavor: attitude, behavior, and technique. And all three can be taught. Therefore, great salespeople must be made. Let me explain.
Let’s take the simple things first. Behavior consists of goals, plans, and actions. You probably remember that Yogi Berra said “you’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Without goals, how can you tell if a salesperson got there? The best salespeople are those who set goals, and people can be taught to make goals.
Once goals are set, they can be achieved only by first developing a plan. There are thousands of books, classes, and software that can help us learn how to make plans.  Therefore, people can be taught to make plans. Finally, goals and a plan are great, but they must be followed up with actions. Except for our autonomic activities such as breathing, people simply cannot be born knowing what actions to take and how to take them.
People are born knowing very little about how to take any actions. We all learned what to do and how to act. Therefore, once again, people can be taught what actions to take and how to take them. Consequently, people can be taught how to set goals, make a plan, and take the actions to execute the plan. Nearly everything that can be taught can be studied, practiced, and improved upon. Therefore, people can be taught the behaviors necessary to make them great salespeople.
Next, let’s look at technique. Technique refers to the strategies, tactics, and personal presence used to implement behavior. The first two are easy. Strategies and tactics can and are routinely taught. Again, there are countless books, courses, and software designed to teach strategies and tactics. If we can’t teach these, we should close all the business and military schools.
Personal presence is a little harder to debunk. However, some descriptions include the first thing you notice about other people, the physical features: body, eyes, smile, voice, handshake, personality, mannerisms, attitude. Can’t each of these be learned? Of course they can be learned. Therefore, because strategies, tactics, and personal presence can all be taught, it just follows that technique too can be taught.
Finally we come to attitude. According to Wikipedia, attitude means “a person’s perspective toward a specified target and way of saying and doing things.” Webster’s defines attitude as “a mental position toward a fact or state.” In sales, I would argue that attitude consists of how you view the market you are in, how you view your company, and how you view yourself. Again, let’s take the easy stuff first: market and company. If a salesperson believes he or she is in a tough market, couldn’t a senior executive teach them how to leverage or exploit the company’s position in the market?
Every senior-level executive or business owner worth his salt can perform a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), or pay to have one performed, to demonstrate to the salesperson how their company is uniquely positioned to capture sales. A lot of executives don’t do this. But if they did, the salesperson could certainly be taught how to approach the market and articulate their company’s unique position within it to capture sales.
So that leaves us with the salesperson’s view of himself or herself. Isn’t this is the true essence of attitude? As difficult as it sounds to determine if one can be taught to have a better attitude or not, this is simple, too.
You merely need to remember the last time you went to the gym or worked out at home. You might have been tired or unenthusiastic, but once you put on your shoes and hit the treadmill, didn’t you instantly feel better? Didn’t your attitude instantly improve? Of course it did. If one can so easily manipulate one’s own attitude, wouldn’t it be simple to teach someone how to do this? Again, this is an easy answer — a resounding yes!
The bottom line is that there truly is one must-have characteristic of a salesperson: he or she must have a desire to continuously learn and grow. Anyone who has this desire can be an extremely effective and successful salesperson. Anyone with a desire to learn can be taught a sales system, and those who use a superior sales system will consistently outperform other salespeople.

Jim Mumm is CEO of Sandler Training in Chicopee and the author of Why Sales People Fail and What to do About It; www.jimmumm.sandler.com

Sales and Marketing Sections
Seven Steps to Using LinkedIn to Promote Yourself Effectively

Christine Pilch

Christine Pilch

Have you Googled your name lately? When you do, you’ll likely find that your LinkedIn profile is near the top of the results. That’s how powerful this social network is. So why would you fail to take it seriously and neglect its potential as a mighty self-promotional tool?
Statistics published by Quantcast Corp. in October show that nearly 17 million U.S. LinkedIn users visit the site at least once weekly, 70% of them are age 35 or older, 75% of them have undergraduate or graduate degrees, and 68% have incomes exceeding $60,000. This proves that LinkedIn users are generally affluent and well-educated.
So what are all these people doing on LinkedIn? Another study by Lab42 in August said that top-level executives use it primarily for industry networking and promoting their own businesses, while mid-level executives use it for keeping in touch and industry networking. Entry-level people use it primarily for job search and co-worker networking.
Unfortunately, some people join LinkedIn simply because they were invited by a colleague and felt obligated to do so. They entered the minimally required information, and bam, their profile was created. From that point on, their account remains neglected, and they demonstrate that they’re not serious about this social network and perhaps convey the message that they’re a luddite who isn’t up to speed on contemporary networking techniques.
How can you use LinkedIn to your best advantage?

Determine Your Goals
Perhaps your goal is to find a new job. You may feel stagnant, undervalued, or bored in your current situation. If you want to find a new job, LinkedIn can be your golden ticket. Recruiters and human resources personnel have become adept at utilizing LinkedIn to search for and find qualified candidates, and they are reaching out directly to people who indicate that they are open to job inquiries. Two key components to successfully leveraging LinkedIn to land a new job are having a complete and impressive profile and making sure that your profile is open to accepting messages from everyone, not just your connections.
Perhaps you want to promote your services or company. LinkedIn is the professional standard for online networking these days, so it is the perfect venue to promote yourself. But a word of caution: beware promoting your company at the exclusion of yourself within your profile. Your profile is the place to show what you personally bring to the table. Even if you’re a consultant and you are the company, make sure that viewers know what you can do for them with action words that speak in terms of ‘you’ instead of ‘I.’ The tenants of basic marketing messaging apply here, so if you don’t understand how to craft a proper marketing message, find someone who is good at it to help you.
Perhaps you are unemployed. LinkedIn is a no-brainer if you’re in this situation. It’s usually the first place most recruiters and hiring managers go to check someone out, so it is imperative to have a 100% complete profile. Take the time to create a summary that sells you on your merits, draft descriptive narratives for all your past experience, and list your complete educational history, so people from your past can find you. Remember that, when people search, their results come from their expanded LinkedIn network only, not all of LinkedIn, so it is also especially important for you to expand your network, because everyone is a potential job-referral source for you.

Enhance Your Profile
LinkedIn is not the place to be humble. Provide concrete proof of the value you can bring to a new organization by listing past key accomplishments. For example, don’t just say that you can save an organization money; demonstrate it by listing specific actions you took, the positive results they generated, and the timeframe in which all this occurred.
Use a current photo that shows you dressed the way that people see you in your employment environment. Bankers and accountants should be in suit and tie if that’s how people see them. A chef should be in her coat. If in doubt, dress for the position you aspire to rather than the position you currently have. Remember that this is a professional network, so unless you’re a baseball player, don’t display a photo of you in a cap.
Use the line under your name to highlight the benefit you can bring to an organization. Surely, “experienced leader with 15 years developing top-notch sales teams and growing businesses an average of 30% per year” will gain more attention than “sales manager.” Use this prime real estate to tell a prospective employer or client what you can do for them rather than simply listing a boring job title.
Your status is another easy way to remind people about your core competencies and remain top of mind. Whatever you put in that box lands in your connections’ newsfeed and in their e-mail digest, so make sure that it demonstrates your professional capabilities. “Cleaning my desk” is an irrelevant and improper message here, while “drafting an updated will for a newly divorced mother” lets people know specifically what you do.

Use Add-ons
LinkedIn has sections that you can add to highlight awards, additional languages, patents, projects, certifications, and test scores, in addition to other things. There is now a section where you can list your charitable and volunteer experience. You can add videos, presentations, reading lists, and articles. You also have the ability to customize your LinkedIn profile by rearranging the sections so that your most important credentials appear at the top. This can be helpful, for example, for a recent grad with little work experience to highlight relevant courses.

Get Recommendations
Few professionals are hired these days without a reference check, so consider the upfront benefit to a prospective employer when your peers or employers sing your praises on LinkedIn. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about how wonderful you are, but when someone else says it, there is extra credibility. Recommendations are also a point of distinction, as many LinkedIn users don’t bother to solicit them.

LinkedIn is, after all, a social network, and being social means engaging with others, not just lurking or broadcasting. LinkedIn provides plenty of opportunities to communicate with other members, so read your news feed, and comment on and like connections’ statuses. Reach out with a congratulatory note when someone gets promoted or changes jobs. Join and participate in Groups. This means reading the discussion items, posting relevant topics, and participating, not just collecting logos to decorate your profile.
You should also check out the Answers component. You can find it under ‘More’ in the site’s primary navigation. Once there, you can ask and answer questions posed by your network. This is a great way to demonstrate expertise and solicit advice, and it helps to raise awareness of you within the LinkedIn community.

Fact Check and Update
Spelling errors and improper punctuation and grammar on LinkedIn make you look bad, so carefully proofread everything before posting it, and correct any errors promptly. If writing isn’t your strong suit, make sure you have an editor review your profile for problems. LinkedIn allows you about 15 minutes to change your discussion entries, too, so use this time wisely. Also, be sure that all referenced dates, accomplishments, and facts are accurate. Toot your own horn, but don’t lie.
Keep your profile updated, and remain an active participant within the network. The value of LinkedIn lies in its innate ability to connect people, so if you don’t participate, you’re not adding value to your network. In addition, keep your profile updated. Review it regularly, compare it against competitors or people who have the job you want, and continue to refine it.

LinkedIn Don’ts
Along with all the good suggestions above, it is also easy to damage your reputation on LinkedIn. Here are a few things to avoid:
Don’t spam your network. Unsolicited communication is considered spam by most recipients. Don’t be the guy who interrupts his network with unwanted promotional messages. Everybody is on LinkedIn to sell something, but overt sales are generally not welcome. It’s better to demonstrate your expertise and generate desire for your skills via engagement.
Don’t use a logo or graphic for your photo. This is prohibited in LinkedIn’s terms of service. LinkedIn wants real faces of actual people connected to its membership.
Don’t argue, abuse, attack, or use foul language anywhere on LinkedIn. Such activity is not tolerated, and you can be reported and kicked out of the network. Can you afford to be ostracized from the largest and most influential professional network online today?
LinkedIn is too powerful for professionals at any level to ignore these days. There is a general expectation that you are there, and if someone is looking to fact-check or gauge your credibility and ability to perform in a particular capacity, you’d better have a strong presence there, or LinkedIn makes it really easy for them to find your competitors and move on down the line.

Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social-media marketing strategist. She trains businesses to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow, and she collaborates with professional-service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537.2474; linkedin.com/in/christinepilch; growmyco.com

Sales and Marketing Sections
Getting to the Heart of the Valentine’s Day Impact on Business

Even when the displays of candy and flowers abound, and red paper hearts adorn every shop window, it seems most shoppers still forget about Valentine’s Day until it is upon us. This means some retailers and restaurants see a late surge in activity, but however brief, it still warms the heart during the cold — and quiet — midwinter blues.

Kathie Williams, co-owner of Richardson’s Candy Kitchen in Deerfield, has one specific visual she associates with Valentine’s Day every year: a parking lot full of pickup trucks.
“People — men — do not plan ahead for Valentine’s Day,” she said, noting that her business will ring 75% of its Valentine’s Day sales on Feb. 13 and 14, and there are markedly more male shoppers than female. “It’s a very last-minute holiday. But it’s also one of our top holidays, and provides a great midwinter boost.”

These are just a few of the hallmarks of Valentine’s Day when it comes to its impact on the marketplace. One is that, unlike any other holiday, it brings the 11th-hour shoppers out in droves. Another is that, for many niche retailers such as Richardson’s — confectioners, florists, jewelers, and the like — it’s a robust day for sales in an otherwise desolate stretch of winter.
Consumers, too, tend to think of Valentine’s Day shopping as a frenetic time, but while greeting card aisles and restaurants might be packed on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day is not a major event across the board. The occasion still leans very heavily on a specific set of traditional, romantic items, and the late, day-of rush to the stores also makes marketing new promotions or products a challenge.
Jillian Gould, senior marketing manager for the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, said it’s a holiday that seems to sneak up on most shoppers, and many tend to rely on time-tested purchases: flowers, candy, and jewelry.
“We’ve found it difficult to advertise for Valentine’s Day — consumers haven’t really responded, and I think that speaks to the lack of planning,” she said. “The activity is very last-minute, and it’s mostly men. Valentine’s Day in the mall looks very similar to Christmas Eve at 4 p.m.”
Gould added that while Feb. 14 is historically a busy day at the mall, the average consumer will spend only about $100 on Valentine’s Day purchases, making this a relatively minor shopping day for department stores, clothiers, and other outfits with a broad range of offerings.
In fact, Valentine’s Day doesn’t even pull in the largest number of sales of some of those traditional items often associated with it. Gould said it’s the fourth-largest holiday for confection sales, behind Halloween, Easter, and Christmas, and the third-largest for greeting card sales, behind Christmas and Father’s Day.
“Many consumers will spend a lot on this holiday, but they’re not making the typical purchases we see during other times of the year,” she said. “They’re still looking for specific types of things, and because of that, it’s not a huge day for everyone. But for some retailers, it’s a very big deal.”

Love in Bloom
One such retailer is Brad Parker, owner of Longmeadow Flowers and Gifts, which has three locations in Longmeadow and Springfield. As a specialty gift, food, and clothing retailer as well as a florist (with delivery capabilities), Parker’s business is well-suited for Valentine’s Day, and takes measures to prepare for what is the company’s single busiest day of the year.
“There are busier periods — Christmas, certainly, and Mother’s Day to a lesser extent — but barring bad weather, this is the biggest day, and it continues to grow.”
Parker agreed that most Valentine’s Day shoppers are still looking for traditional gifts, but he added that he’s seeing a move toward more innovative, personalized combinations and arrangements within this vein.
“People are getting away from the ‘balloon and a teddy bear’-type things,” he said. “They might want something traditional or romantic, but not run-of-the-mill.”
In his stores, Parker said unique pieces of jewelry sell well, as do gourmet foods and clothing such as pajamas and robes. From a floral point of view, Parker said roses are still by far the holiday’s best seller — he expects to sell upwards of 12,000 this year — but a dozen long-stem red roses are not the only option.
“Roses are still the big flower, but people are choosing colors other than red,” he said. “People are less afraid to ask for ideas, and many more men are walking into the cooler and choosing their own arrangements.”
Parker said that this year, he’ll attempt to target last-minute shoppers, in an effort to extend these new shopping patterns over a greater period of time. Until the 10th of February, for instance, the stores will offer anyone who orders their roses ahead of time a lower, locked-in price.
“After that, the prices can double,” he said, “So we’re really trying to get people to understand the value of ordering things ahead of the rush.”
Williams said she, too, is careful to put her advertising dollars where they matter — mostly, toward late campaigns (largely radio) run on Valentine’s Day or the day before. Still, for the most part, she said this is a holiday that just doesn’t benefit from aggressive marketing.
“Valentine’s Day sells itself,” she said.

Heart and Parcel
And while it may not return the same sales figures as other traditionally busy times of year including the Christmas season and the back-to-school rush, Valentine’s Day does provide a boost in foot traffic during an otherwise flat time of the year. With the holiday rush behind them, retailers in particular have months to go before the next large-scale consumer-driven occasion — Mother’s Day.
“It is a great time for a holiday,” Gould said of the retail scene in February. “Christmas is huge, and January is busy with gift-card shopping, but then there’s a lull. Even those stores that don’t expect big sales will try to capitalize on Valentine’s Day, by positioning relevant items and small impulse buys.”
Martha Salem, one member of the family that owns and operates the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield, agreed with Gould, saying that restaurants, too, hope for a brisk Valentine’s Day, but like many retailers, don’t rely heavily on any aggressive marketing to pull new diners in.
“We advertise in local papers, but we find that, truly, the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth,” she said. “Still, we do hope for a good Valentine’s Day and weekend. It’s an important holiday during what can be a long season.”
Salem added that it’s not an occasion that demands or requires a lot of bells and whistles. Simple recipes for success, she said, both in the kitchen and otherwise, work best.
“We don’t feel that the public’s response has changed much; people are still looking for a nice, romantic spot to share quality time with their loved one,” she said. “We do find that people seem to be drawn toward our fireplace cooking — our prime rib roasted in the fireplace, and chowder made from scratch — nothing more than good food in a quaint location.”  

Just Desserts
Similarly, Williams said chocolate is a trusted standby that will probably never go out of style.
“Luckily for us, people love chocolate any day of the year,” she said.
And yet, there’s only one day of the year that Richardson’s Candy Kitchen sells it by the truckload.