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Five Tips to Obtain Content from Technical Staff

How many times have you heard, “Don’t we already have that information in a different proposal?” or how about “Can’t we just dust off a response from another pursuit?” If you oversee gathering, creating and finalizing details of a proposal then you are much too familiar with these skin-crawling questions. But, have you ever thought of it from your technical staff’s perspective? For example, a Project Manager is likely right in the middle of managing several projects and juggling deadlines – now all of a sudden they need to stop what they are doing to provide you content they think they’ve given you a hundred times. Of course, he or she is going to respond with the suggestion of re-utilizing what they have given you before. On the other hand, a marketer’s job is to tailor the proposal for the client, come up with new and creative ways to deliver the right content and pull the most interesting information from the technical team as possible. So, how can you find some common ground? Here are five tips to leverage your technical staff for content creation.

1. Give them something to start with.
Let’s say you need content for how your team is going to approach the project. Pull a few pieces of standard information that you’ve used in the past to get them started. Then, take what you know from the RFP/RFQ and ask your team specific questions that will tie in to the approach. Here are a few example questions:

  • This project is going to be in an occupied building, how will our team handle noise, safety and delivery schedules? (Remind them to help come up with response that are unique to your company’s process)
  • How will we phase this project and why is that the best method?
  • How will we uniquely meet this project schedule?
  • Do we have anything that we offer for this specific pursuit that other companies won’t?
  • What’s the advantage to hiring our company given how we will approach the project?

Basically, get your technical staff thinking. Now that they’ve seen you do some legwork and are reading your prepped questions, they are thinking about the response on a deeper level. 

2. Interview your technical staff.
More than likely, your technical staff does not enjoy writing and it might take them a lot of effort to get their thoughts organized cohesively on paper. Offer to set up an hour meeting where you can record, type and listen to everything they say about the pursuit. Then, take that information and organize it how you see fit.

3. Offer to help.
Do they not have time to walk the site? Offer to go take photos of the site and report back. Are they slammed and keep missing deadlines? Offer to order lunch so they can have a productive, working lunch. Do early mornings work better for them? Come in early one day so you can meet before the day is lost. I’m not saying completely adjust your work-day for your technical staff but I am suggesting you help make the process easier. This will go a long way and only build a better relationship with your team.

4. Be in the know.
Take the opportunity to learn more about the technical pieces within your industry. Attend conferences and read articles to stay up-to-date with current trends. Ask your technical staff for book suggestions that might help you better understand their world a bit. Take your technical staff out to lunch and pick their brain a bit about what they do daily and how certain situations are handled. If your schedule allows for it, ask if you can shadow for a few hours one day and dive deep into their world. You’ll gain invaluable insight from your colleagues through these methods and earn a ton of respect along the way.

5. Befriend your technical staff!
The stronger relationship you have with your technical colleagues, the better. Also, the more you implement the above tips, the smoother the pursuit process will become and the easier it will get to engage your team. Don’t only go to lunch with them to learn, go to lunch to build rapport and team comradery. Set up a happy hour! Have fun together and get to know each other to gain respect for one another. It is always a good idea to engage with people in times when you are not just needing something from them.

These tips should help you gather the best information possible from your technical team, build relationships within your workplace and thus increase your hit ratio. Pursuing work is a team effort and everyone should pull together and do everything they can to submit a winning proposal. Are there any additional strategies you have found successful to gather great content from your team?  


Ashley Black
Marketing Coordinator, Ryan Companies US, Inc.
Ashley joined the AEC industry in January 2015 and became a member of SMPS shortly after. She is the current Blog Chair and a member on the hospitality committee. Ashley loves traveling, basketball, cooking and spending time with her niece, Halle.

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Quality Photography Importance & Insider Tips

We live in a photography era.  Every single day nearly two billion digital images are uploaded to the internet and that number is increasing by the minute. Number of monthly Instagram users as of June 2018?  Over one BILLION. Chances are today you've already viewed dozens of images. For many of you, that happened before you even left your house for work. Everyone is viewing and taking and posting photos. Are the marketing photos you are posting as good as they should be?

What great (or not so great) photos can say about your company's image:
Regardless of type of photos (architectural photos, corporate headshots or product photos), the quality of photography a business utilizes may reveal a lot about their values. Compare a company that uses poor quality photographs vs. another that uses high quality professional photographs. Could it be assumed that one is more likely to cut corners to save money, while another understands the value of quality and professionalism? Which firm would you choose to collaborate with?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Phoenix Zoo. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

The use of high quality professional photography in marketing has never been more important.  It could mean the difference between landing that big project and/or client, or not, and this should be taken into serious consideration when planning your photography budget. Do you really want to skimp on this?

Why hire a professional photographer?
The experience and knowledge that a professional can bring to a project is absolutely crucial. Most of this knowledge can only be learned from experience and lots of trial and error which a seasoned pro should have. Some important qualities a professional should possess are:

  • Correct/creative lighting techniques including knowledge of ambient and/or natural light. For example, on any exterior shoot before I arrive I've already mapped the location on my computer and know exactly where the sun will be at the optimal time of shooting.

  • Equipment Knowledge (especially important when equipment failure occurs). I could write an entire article on equipment failure, the importance of backup equipment and how experiences that I have had have saved entire location shoots.

  • Post Production (Processing) Experience is an absolute must have requirement when hiring a photographer. Take a look at their portfolio. How extensive is their body of work? Have they digitally removed clutter such as light switches, electric sockets and exit signs? Unfortunately, many photographers don't understand how to process a photo once it has been taken and the difference in the end product is night and day.



3900 Camelback Center. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

How to distinguish an amature from a professional and questions you can ask: 
What exactly is a "professional" photographer?  Generally speaking a "professional" photographer is someone who makes a living taking photos full time. Although there isn't a standard qualification which defines "professional" photographer, there are several key questions you can ask which will almost immediately separate the pros from the non pros:

  • Do you have a (current) business license? If the answer is no, beware. I'll bet your company has a business license.

  • Do you carry insurance? Can you provide a COI? Again, if the answer is no its time to find someone else. Photographers should carry both liability and equipment insurance coverage to protect not only themselves but their clients as well. Why risk it?

  • Do you charge/pay sales tax? If the answer is no, you are not dealing with a professional. Any photographer (or client) that is under the belief that sales tax isn't necessary, regardless of type of photography expertise/delivered media, is not only mistaken but can be in for a very expensive surprise.

  • Ask about their copyright policy. While this can vary, if a photographer doesn't provide a clearly written copyright contract, chances are you are probably dealing with an amateur.

  • What type of equipment do you use? This is a question I am seldom asked, but when I am it is usually because the client has specific requirements such as camera speed/resolution. You should be asking about the resolution your photographer will be able to deliver. With the rapid changes in technology today I am constantly updating my equipment. With that being said, simply having good equipment does not automatically equate to being a professional photographer.


Phoenix Children's Hospital. Photo by David Schacher Photography LLC

In the ever-increasing photography era that we live in, quality images have never been more important for driving potential customers to your brand. It is of paramount importance that your company stands out from the others. Quality photography will speak volumes about your identity whereas substandard photography can negatively affect a company's image.

David Schacher
Photographer - David Schacher Photography, LLC

David Schacher is a Phoenix, Arizona based commercial photographer and specializes in architectural/drone photography, corporate headshots, and product and event photography. Additionally David photographs the testing of military vehicles and weapons testing. His photos have been featured in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal and CNN.com and can be seen at www.davidschacher.com and on instagram

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Recognizing Important Moments Throughout Your Personal Development Journey

There are so many tips and tricks and books to help you become a better you. Where do you start? I don't know about you, but when I start to think of how I can better myself in all areas of my life, I just become overwhelmed. It's confusing. It's hard. Plus, how can anyone else know how I can better myself? The author of that famous book doesn’t know me and they certainly do not understand my problems. So at this point you might be thinking, "Why on earth should I listen to you?" How is what she has to say different than all the information already out there? I will let you in on my secret now rather than save it for the end; the only person who knows how to be a better you, is YOU.

For years I tried to figure out which golden nugget of information was given to me that would enhance areas in my life. I finally came to the realization that it was not a piece of advice that was given but rather it has been moments in time that changed my outlook and pushed me up. After coming to this understanding, I have taken on a new passion and interest in bettering myself in all aspects of my life by recognizing these important moments and capitalizing on them. 

Some moments take a very windy road but they can lead up if you let them. These moments do not have to be large life changing experiences. Small moments in time can change your journey in positive direction as well. For example, six months ago, I received an email from our Human Resources Director saying I was selected to be a part of a mentorship program at Ryan. Looking back on the day I received that email, I had no idea that the contents of that email would change my life in such a positive way. I’m grateful for this small moment that was interjected into my life and thankful for my mentor.

This experience has reminded me how important it is to actively seek out feedback from others. If you do not have a mentor, find one. Pick someone who you can talk to about the big picture. They do not have to completely understand your role and your day-to-day business, but they should be able to help you figure out how to handle certain situations, navigate difficult conversations and ultimately help you become a better you. This will only work if you let yourself be vulnerable though. Do not be afraid to let your guard down and really open-up about the areas you want to improve upon in addition to being honest about yourself and with yourself. 

I can’t just tell you to be vulnerable and then not be vulnerable myself. So, here’s another example of another life-changing moment that has led to personal development for me.

I have a child with a rare disease. For more than two years, we dealt with symptoms and illness with countless doctors, each diagnosing him with something different. Nothing made sense and nothing was working. One of our doctors had told me once, "Momma, you know your kid best so let's start with that." With her sweet voice in my head, I did just that. I dove into every medical resource I could come across. “Dr.” Google became my best friend. I was determined to find the answers I needed and I did. I found the diagnosis that fit every single symptom and moment in time for our journey. Our doctors were the experts but I was the missing piece to the puzzle. This changed our lives for the obvious reason of curing my son but also changed my life by giving me a very big reminder that it is imperative to take your destiny into your own hands. Yes, it was the doctors who should be diagnosing and finding the answers but that did not mean I wasn't a part of the process. People are there to help and guide you along the way but no one is going to make you more of a priority than you will yourself.

The moral of the story is, own all aspects of your life – big or small. Don't sit around waiting for that project manager to come by your desk and give you the information you need for a proposal; go get it from him. Don't expect your boss to include you in that important strategic planning meeting that should already involve marketing. Tell your boss how you can add value. You know you are sitting there annoyed that your colleague has ignored your emails for too long or annoyed you were not included in the meeting. That thought turns into thinking these people do not respect your time, they do not understand the value you bring, the importance of your role is misunderstood and it snowballs from there. Not only will you see better results from owning your own destiny; you will find that you are a happier person because of it. 

Here is the catch with these life-changing moments in my journey. I didn't realize that they were “moments” when they were happening. I didn't know how many ways my life would be changed because of them. There are plenty of areas I want to continue to change and improve. One day there will be a moment that will get me to the next phase in my life, but until then I will take the long and twisty path up until I recognize the straight road ahead. I wake up each day with only one goal in mind: Be the best you that you can be! How hard can that be when you are the only you? 

Colleen Kucera, CPSM
Director of Marketing, Ryan Companies US, Inc. 

Colleen grew up with her Dad being in the industry so she began learning from him at a young age; however, she made the conscious decision to join him in the construction world in 2007. Colleen has worked at Ryan Companies for the past seven years and she's been an active SMPS member for more than ten years. Colleen has held several leadership roles within SMPS such as President from 2011-2012. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and watching her kids experience the world from their young eyes. Colleen also sells makeup and jewelry but admittedly she's her number one customer! 

 

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Recapping Malcom Gladwell: Choice, Happiness, and Spaghetti Sauce

Ted Talks are great but sometimes you don’t have 15-30 minutes to listen to them. Here’s a recap of a popular ted talk that anyone interested or involved in marketing should hear about.

Malcom Gladwell presented told story of a man named Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz was a consultant in the 1970’s and 80’s who made a revolutionary discovery in the subject of marketing and product development.

This Ted Talk discusses his story and what he discovered throughout his career.

I became so engrossed in the story of Howard Moskowitz that I almost forgot that I was listening to a Ted Talk based on marketing. Gladwell is a journalist, author and speaker; his professional occupation makes this speech become an engaging story while still packed with important marketing strategies and lessons.

The story of Howard Moskowitz began when he was approached by Pepsi with the request to create the perfect beverage, a beverage that wasn’t too sweet but also not too bland. The goal? They wanted him to find out what everyone preferred so that they could offer a beverage that everyone wanted. Imagine yourself in his shoes, how would you figure out what every person preferred in their Pepsi? If it were me, I would make a wide variety of Pepsi options all with different levels of sweetness, I would gather a large group of people to have them taste the different varieties and give me their thoughts on each one. Howard did exactly that— he gathered thousands of people, conducted the tests, gathered the data, and plotted the results on a curve to further analyze. In a perfect world, the data would come back, it would be a flawless bell curve and he would be able to effortlessly see what most individuals preferred.

The problem here is that Marketing is not a black and white subject, so when the data came back the results were all over the place and it didn’t make a lot of sense.

Turns out, the mistake that Howard made happened before the survey even began. The mistake was thinking that everyone, or at least a strong majority, would agree on one particular Pepsi flavor.So what went wrong? The test follows the typical research process so the data should have easily given Howard the answer that he was looking for on a golden platter. Right?

It may seem like a simple solution but it took Howard years to figure out that they were looking for one perfect Pepsi when they should have been looking for the multiple, perfect Pepsis. When Howard made this discovery, he felt that he had hit the jackpot. He went from conference to conference and gave speech after speech letting everyone know that they were thinking about this all wrong; the perfect product does not exist. Well his audience wasn’t exactly sold on this idea; everyone wanted to believe that with enough time and research that they could create one perfect product.

Finally, Howard caught the break that he had been waiting for. He was approached by Vlasic Pickles with a request all too familiar; help us create the perfect product. Despite the negative feedback that Howard received from his numerous attempts to share his discovery Howard said, “There is no perfect pickle; there are only perfect pickles.”

He explained that it is not enough to improve your regular flavor of pickles; you need to create zesty pickles and other varieties to cater to a broader market.

Campbell’s Soup was the next company to contact Howard. Campbell’s Soup had the brand of pasta sauces called Prego. Well Prego was in direct competition with Ragu and they were desperate to create the “perfect” pasta sauce so that they would become the preferred pasta sauce brand over Ragu and other competitors.

Can you guess what Howard did to help?

Howard worked with Prego and created a grand total of 45 pasta sauce varieties. These pasta sauces varied in flavor, texture, ingredients, even the way they were produced. They took these 45 varieties and traveled all over the country and gathered thousands and thousands of people in different places and gave them ten bowls of pasta with different varieties of pasta sauces. After each bowl they simply asked them to rate the pasta sauce on a scale from zero to 100. They did this for months and months and at the end, Howard was left with a massive amount of data that he then had to analyze. But how did this data differ from the data received from the Pepsi trails?

Well, the answer is that it really didn’t, what changed is the way that Howard analyzed the data. He was no longer looking for the perfect product; he was looking for the most popular elements of the pasta sauces. So, he looked at the data with the goal of grouping the sauces to figure out the common denominators of the most popular sauces. By doing this, he was able to come to the conclusion that everyone seemed to fall into three major categories. Some people prefer a plain pasta sauce, some wanted a pasta sauce that was spicy, and there were some that enjoyed their sauce to be extra-chunky.

Imagine their surprise when Howard showed them the data which revealed that one-third of Americans craved extra-chunky tomato sauce. As of that time, no other company had extra-chunky tomato sauce so this was a heavily desired product that no one was offering. With this data, Prego came out with an entire line of extra-chunky pasta sauces and within the next ten years they made $600 million just off of that line.

Here is what everyone should take-away after listening to this Ted Talk:

  1. This world is full of different tastes, preferences and opinions; there is never going to be one perfect product. This variety in strategy means you must understand the service(s) you are selling, who you are selling to and what the client/customer needs/wants.
  2. It is not enough to ask people what it is they want to see in a product or service. It takes a lot of time and research to truly understand what consumers are looking for. Develop relationships with your clients and start asking the important questions! Get to the bottom of their needs in order to determine how your company can serve them better.
  3. As a Marketing professional it is essential that we trust the data that we are given; the data isn’t wrong, we may just be looking at it the wrong way.

Carly Bonar 
Marketing Coordinator, Logan Simpson

Carly entered the A/E/C industry right out of college and has been working as a Marketing Coordinator for Logan Simpson for the past year and a half. She’s an active SMPS member, blog contributor and vegetarian since she was eight years old. In her free time she loves to spend time with her family and three dogs; Cookie, Cotton and Bella.

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6 Ways To Improve SEO Rankings In 6 Hours

SEO is hard, but there are some simple things that you can do to help improve your online presence. This article is about the simple things. Here are six ways that you can improve your SEO rankings in six hours.

1. Change Page Title Tags

Imagine you are turning in a paper to a professor. The title of your paper is what your professor will immediately evaluate to determine the contents of your paper.The same is true for websites. Each page on a site has a title, and Google is the professor who is grading your site. There’s not more of a lower hanging fruit in SEO than making sure that every page title tag is unique, accurately describes the content of your page, and targets a keyword that your potential customers are searching for.

Quick action item: go to your home page. Take a look the title that appears in your browser. Does it say “Home”? If so, change “Home” to “Your Product or Service” and you’ll immediately have more of a SEO optimized website.

2. Submit a Sitemap

Okay, another analogy. You’re on a roadtrip to Dunsmir, California. How will you get there? Instructions – Google Maps, GPS, or for some, Mapquest. Sitemaps are the directions you give to Google so that pages on your site can be discovered. Can Google discover content on your site without a sitemap? Sure, just like we can probably find our way to Dunsmir. It’s just more efficient for both Google and our backseat driver to have directions.

Quick action item: Go to Google Search Console. Create an account if you don’t already have one. Then, submit a sitemap to Search Console so Google can discover all the content on your site, including the new content you’ll be adding in the future.

3. Backlinks

Backlinks are the single most important SEO ranking factor. Backlinks are an incoming hyperlink from one website to your website. Google evaluates backlinks to help determine what your website is about, and how authoritative your website is on a given topic. The higher the quality of a backlink, and the higher relevance of backlink, the better. For example, our company typically ranks on the first page of Google for the term “digital marketing company.” If you type markitors.com into opensiteexplorer.com, you’ll see some of the backlinks we have from sites like mashable.com, adweek.com, and more. These are high quality backlinks that help us rank for our target search terms.

Quick action item: what website do you own, or what partners do you work with that could potentially link back to your website?

4. Page Speed

Google incorporates page speed into their ranking algorithm. Why? Because their job is to serve up the best resources, and if a page doesn’t load quickly, then people lose interest and leave the page. Most websites are built poorly, with large images not optimized for the web that significantly slow down their website speeds – and search engine rankings.

Quick action item: Go to Google Page Speed Insights. Type in your website. See what score is assigned to your website. Is your score in red? If so, cruise down to the recommendations and you’ll have actionable steps to take to improve your page speed. Most of the time, the easiest, quickest, and most impactful recommendations are in relation to reducing the file sizes of images.

5. Fix 404 Errors

People trust Google to serve up the best information in relation to their search query. What happens when Google serves up a result that leads to a page that no longer exists? Just like Meet The Fockers, that circle of trust is broken. Having broken pages on your website, technically known as 404 errors, is a great way to break the circle of trust with Google and lose your search engine rankings. This is especially common when launching a new website. The website developer creates something that looks great on the frontend, but ignores all of the backend urls that were previously driving search traffic to your site.

Quick action item: Cruise back over to Google Search Console. Take a look at the Crawl Errors reported on the dashboard. Are there any urls “not found?” If so, you’ll need to redirect incoming traffic from that link to a live page. These are technically known as 301 redirects. You can easily do this on WordPress by downloading a 301 redirect plugin and start inputting your 404 error links into the plugin, and redirecting to the right place. Warning: this activity is not fun, but totally necessary to keep the good graces with Google.

6. Improve Local Directory Info

If you’re a local business, the thing that matters to you most is getting visibility on search result pages for local searches. In other words, you want to appear on Google maps. The best way to do this is to ensure your business information – address, phone number, website – is consistent on all the local directories that exist on the internet. Google and Facebook are most important to have consistent, as well as your website. But after that, there’s a long list of other directories you can get listed on that will help improve your overall visibility.

Quick action item: Go to Moz.com/local. Type in your business name and zip code. See what score your business is assigned. If your score is pretty low, pay the $99 annually to make sure your score improves.

Hopefully after reading this you feel like this!


Brett Farmiloe
Founder & CEO, Markitors 

Brett Farmiloe is the CEO of a digital marketing company and advisor to an organizational leadership degree program. He’s in Old Town Scottsdale and frequently holds whiteboard sessions with anyone who will listen.

 

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The Best Recruiter You Aren’t Using Yet

What role does your website play in the business? Certainly it’s likely to be part of the sales team, PR team, marketing or even customer service team. But, what about having it help with finding great people to fill your open positions (a.k.a recruiting and hiring)?

And from the looks of it, hiring is a real challenge for the industry. A recent construction organization survey found found that 82 percent of its members believe the cost and availability of labor are their biggest issues. This has been a growing concern, in 2011 only 13 percent named labor costs as their biggest concern. Last month, they posted an article discussing construction job openings being near a post-recession high. Even the Wall Street Journal has mentioned that “construction is ground zero in the worker shortage.”

Where do you think one of the first searches job candidates do to find a new position? Yep, Google. Are your open positions showing up there? If not, your website needs some help. Here are three steps to filling positions faster using your website:

1) Evaluate the website from a potential employees’ view point

Chances are, up until now, the website has been focused on prospective clients. Now that you want to use your website as an effective recruiting tool, you’ll need to make a great first impression with candidates. Here’s a few items that typically need to be updated:

Home page - Include photos of people that actually work at the company on the home page. Potential candidates begin to evaluate the possible fit of the company even before they get to the “Careers” section.

About page - Besides the standard bio info and company awards, be sure to have information here that talks about your company culture and values. Not only is this great for potential employees, it can also help with attracting the right clients.

Careers page - This is a page you might need to add to the website. If it does already exist, ensure it has updated information on benefits and other perks of being an employee. Having real employee testimonials on this page can also aid in attracting the best-fit candidates.

An internal review is good, but don’t underestimate the value of direct feedback from candidates. If you’ve recently hired someone new, reach out and ask a few questions about how they found your website and their impression of it.

2) Give the website a technical checkup

Making a great first impression with your content is fantastic, as long as you get the chance to make the right first impression. Your next best employee might be trying to check out an open position with your company from their phone while they are waiting their turn at the dentist. Make sure he/she can get to the information they need by checking the technical performance of your website.

Does your site load on mobile in under three seconds? 
If your web page doesn’t load quickly, mobile users will find somewhere else to go – plus, mobile users are likely to be on slower connections, so every byte counts. To know exactly how quickly your page is loading on a 3G connection, use Google’s Test My Site tool. Another option to check site speed and insights on how to improve site speed is GTMetrix.

Is your site optimized for use on mobile devices?
Let’s say your page is loading quickly but the potential candidates can’t see or access the information. They probably aren’t sticking around to learn more. One way to understand the mobile experience of the website is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

3) Optimize your job postings for Google

Wouldn’t it be great if people searching for the kind of jobs you’ve got open could find them easily? It’s now possible for you to structure the information about open positions on your website for ideal placement on Google search results. If you are using a third-party recruiting website like Indeed or LinkedIn, they are already using this approach. But, what if candidates could find the job posting directly on your website just as easily?

To have your jobs appear in Google like the screenshot above, add job posting structured data to your webpage. If you are already working with a search engine marketing professional, they are typically already familiar with this type of structured data (also called schema), and may be able to help you out. If you have a WordPress website, you can use a plugin like Jobs for WordPress to easily add open positions to your website and ensure they contain the structured data for appearing in Google’s Job Search Results.

Websites aren't just for marketing and sales. I think often as marketers, we tend to get caught up in how to best serve prospective clients online (a.k.a. lead generation). As it turns out, considering other audiences of the website presents an opportunity to increase the overall contribution of the website to the business and its potential return on investment.

Websites are unique in that they can improve many aspects of the business, not just those that are customer-related. Once you’ve added recruiting to the ways that the website is serving the business, you can identify other possible roles for your website by looking at your analytics and talking to other departments about the use of the website in common company workflows.

 

Brandy Lawson
CEO,Chief Online Officer & Speaker - FieryFX

Brandy Lawson founded FieryFX six years ago and is a Digital Marketer Certified Partner with more than two decades of experience in business and technology. She helps clients with simple, innovative automations, create an irresistible online presence and secure their digital assets to get them the RIGHT clients, more money and more freedom. In her free time she captains her boat on Lake Pleasant and co-hosts the Northwest Valley WordPress Meetup. She also loves ridiculous shoes and Jeopardy.

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Part 2 - Creating Context: Combining messaging and visuals to drive marketing success

As we discussed in Part 1: Hierarchy and Contrast: Understanding the foundation of graphic design achieve visual goals, effective imagery is not just pretty: It ties into messaging and drives business goals and results.

As a marketer in a world where visual communication is becoming increasingly important, you must be able to identify which images are pretty but pointless and which images are engaging, useful and will drive business goals.

We established in Part 1 that the quickest way to do this is to understand the foundation upon which design is built: hierarchy and contrast. In Part 2, we will go a step further and demonstrate how effective imagery and messaging unite to create context.

Why is context necessary?

We’ve all heard that content is king. It’s not. Content is just information. It’s conveying the who, what, when and where. Context is the real king. It answers the question, “Why do I care?” and invites people to experience the product or service in their own lives.

As an example, content is the information a company includes in a press release. Context is the article that comes out in the newspaper after a journalist has spent hours putting the information into perspective. As such, content is the image and the wording of the post. Context is what makes someone click the link.

Here’s an example:

We’ve all had that post with a “great graphic” that got a TON of likes and comments. We felt really good about it and that maybe, just maybe, we’ve found the secret sauce to cracking social media engagement.We were excited to see what would happen… except nothing did. We didn’t get any clicks or any calls. Just a bunch of thumbs up which made us feel like a big thumbs down.

Why did this happen? Content instead of context. You had an awesome image, but people didn’t bother to discover who created it or take the next step to learn about the product or service.  Here’s a fantastic post that illustrates what I’m talking about:

It’s funny and gets the point across very clearly.

However, of the 14 people that liked it, only 2 were not in the same industry as the poster (proofreaders, educators, etc.) and the three comments were all lamenting how frustrating affect/effect is to master. The post got people engaged and talking, which is great, but I bet it didn’t drive any revenue to the poster because it didn’t have any context. That is, it lacked two things:

  1. Branding
  2. Direction for what the viewer is supposed to do with the information presented.

Therefore, it got engagement from the wrong audience (i.e., nonrevenue generating) and probably didn’t drive any business goals. So, how do you overcome this? How do you create messaging and imagery that play nicely together and drive business goals? You got it: Context!

How do you create context?

There are four main principles you must keep in mind when creating context between messaging and imagery:

1. Proximity – How close or far away something is from something else tells you whether that something stands alone or is part of a group. This post does a good job with proximity by using the downward pointing emoji. Look at the difference between these two:

      

It’s a small thing, yet the difference in shape and color brings your eye up to the word  “Helpful,” which you may not have read in the first picture.

2. Similarity in our Part 1 discussion about shape, we said combining hard edges with round creates contrast between the shapes, while repetition of the same type of shape creates cohesion, or similarity. Just like contrast is the principle that determines what stands out, similarity is the principle that helps determine and establish patterns, groups, and brands.

        

3. Rule of Thirds The rule of thirds divides a photo into 9 equal rectangles with focal points at each of the four intersections. When we see a photo that is visually interesting, it almost always employs some variation of the rule of thirds. Our eyes are drawn to one of the four focal points because that is where the most visual interest lies. For more information click here.


Image by Prem Anandh

This principle is used in all layouts, not just photography, and is called composition.

  

A special emphasis is placed on the bottom right focal point – known as the power corner. Because we read left to right and end at the bottom of a page, it is the very last place we look. This is why many of the most effective CTA buttons are on the right of (or span) a page rather than in the center, and also why logos or web addresses are often placed at the bottom right of a page.

    
If you’d like to learn more about the Rule of Thirds, check out this fantastic article from PhotpgraphyMad.com

4. Continuation and Leading Lines – In the same way our eyes are naturally drawn to focal points, the power of leading lines cannot be overstated. Leading lines are exactly what they sound like: lines that lead the eye toward or away from a particular thing. They can be actual lines placed on the thirds of a photo or diagonal lines cutting across the page and they can change the focal point of a composition significantly. For instance, review the two images below:

    

Do you notice how you’re your natural inclination is to “look back at,” i.e., into the eyes of the model on the right, while you notice the AIRFRANCE branding more on the left? This is because the effective use of leading lines employs the principle of continuation to take the viewer’s eye through the photo or composition to land on (or point to) the predetermined spot the composer has chosen. In the above example, the use of the pink diagonal line and the little plane icon serve to make sure your eye continues on and up to AIRFRANCE, while the strong horizontal and vertical lines and the use of the upper left focal point makes you stop at the model’s eyes in the photo on the right.

Let’s revisit our original post example and compare it to one who effectively uses the above principles:

     

As you can see, combining all the information into a single image (proximity), adding repetitive color (similarity), and creating hierarchy through the rule of thirds and leading lines makes for a very clearly branded and engaging post that provides the necessary context for the viewer to understand what to do with the information presented and drives business goals.

This goes to show that by employing these rules, you can create beautiful imagery that is also purposeful. Understanding composition and creating context can help you move beyond content and take your business to the next level by increasing the quality of communication you have with your designer, increasing the effectiveness of your use of creator apps like Canva and Adobe Spark, and skyrocketing your marketing effectiveness to drive business goals.


Jennie Jerome
CEO, The Strategic Artisan

Jennie Jerome is widely recognized as an emerging business development leader dedicated to crafting memorable brand identity systems throughout the world. She has been the CEO of The Strategic Artisan for the past eight years and has been in her industry for 11 years. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty for both the Business and Graphic Design departments at Scottsdale Community College and is an Associate Professor at the prestigious ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation. Jennie is a national level equestrian and has been to over 50 countries for work and play. As an Arizona native, she tries her best to be overseas during summer. 

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Hierarchy and Contrast: Understanding the foundation of graphic design to achieve visual goals - Part 1

Join us for a two-part series exploring the principles and best practices of creative imagery in marketing effectiveness. The goal of this series is to teach readers how to identify and create imagery that is not just pretty, but effective.

Effective imagery is not just pretty: It ties into messaging and drives business goals and results.

As the world becomes increasingly visual, marketers are relying more and more heavily on either partnerships with graphic designers or the use of graphic design apps such as Canva and SparkPost to create visually pleasing imagery.

Neither approach is better than the other, and both can help you achieve your goals depending on your budget, scope, and time restraints.

But… How do you know if the imagery you create on these apps is effective and not just pretty? How do you know if you hired a designer – someone who will visually communicate what your brand represents and help facilitate sales and growth – or a decorator – someone who will give you a gorgeous image that will just sit there driving no traffic because it doesn’t resonate with your audience?

Simple: You must educate yourself enough to be able to identify which images are pretty but pointless vs. engaging and useful.The quickest way to do this is to understand the foundation upon which design is built: hierarchy and contrast.

Hierarchy is about determining which aspect or information is most important. Contrast is about making sure that point is emphasized and stands out.

DESIGN EXAMPLES - HIERARCHY & CONTRAST 
Poor contrast and the emphasis on “Nicole” crushes the hierarchy of this hero image and almost guarantees no one is going to click the button that says “2016 Collection,” much less read the information below it.

 

Excellent contrast through color and hierarchy through size makes sure you look at the figure, and read the title and supporting information – nothing is left out or gets skipped. See example below:

In marketing, we establish hierarchy by choosing titles and pull quotes. We create contrast to emphasize that hierarchy by making those titles and pull quotes bigger and/or bolder.This encourages people to read and absorb the information.

TEXT EXAMPLES - HIERARCHY  
Good and bad hierarchy applies to large sets of text as well.The example below portrays bad hierarchy with large blocks of text and no clue as to what the reader will learn:

Below is an example of good hierarchy with lots of context clues and easy “skimmability."

Let’s take a closer look into what’s actually happening here. There are three key elements that factor into creating hierarchy and contrast:

  1. Size – In general, we tend to make the things we want to stand out bigger and the less important information smaller.
  2. Color – In general, warm colors inspire us to take action and cool colors inspire us to relax. Restaurants almost always use some element of red or orange in their décor to inspire your appetite, while spas almost always use elements of cool greens and blues to help soothe. 
  3.  Shape – Shape can have profound effects on the success of your design. Combining hard edges with round creates contrast between the shapes, while repetition of the same type of shape crates cohesion.

For more on color theory in marketing, check out this fantastic article from November 2017 in the Huffington Post, Is ‘Color Theory’ An Effective Marketing Tool?

The beauty of working with a designer or apps like Canva and Adobe Spark is that they have already taken these principles into account, so you are almost guaranteed to create a beautiful image. However, as our Nicole example above shows, it is up to you as the marketer to make sure that the hierarchy and contrast are in the appropriate place and on the appropriate element.

We’ll discuss how to do this in depth in part two of our series exploring principles and best practices of creative imagery in marketing effectiveness, Creating Context: Combining messaging and visuals to drive marketing success. Mark your calendar for April 18, 2018!

Sources:
 Is ‘Color Theory’ An Effective Marketing Tool? 
Dealindesign.com 



Jennie Jerome
CEO, The Strategic Artisan

Jennie Jerome is widely recognized as an emerging business development leader dedicated to crafting memorable brand identity systems throughout the world. She has been the CEO of The Strategic Artisan for the past eight years and has been in her industry for 11 years. She currently serves as Adjunct Faculty for both the Business and Graphic Design departments at Scottsdale Community College and is an Associate Professor at the prestigious ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation. Jennie is a national level equestrian and has been to over 50 countries for work and play. As an Arizona native, she tries her best to be overseas during summer. 

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The Power of a Testimonial

The importance of testimonials for your marketing collateral and digital presence

Testimonials should be a priority in your marketing collateral, proposal, conference, presentations, and digital presence. Why? There are few marketing vehicles that are more convincing than a testimonial. If your clients are speaking highly about you or your firm, then you must have something to offer.

Testimonials in your content is proof

Sujan Patel of Content Marketing Institute states “We look for and act on (even if subconsciously) social proof in all areas our life” – this includes how clients behave when selecting an architect, engineer, or contractor, including how we behave and the purchasing decisions we make online.

“It doesn’t matter if that social proof comes from friends or strangers. What matters is that we’re seeing evidence from our peers – that the decision we’re about to make is the right one” (Patel, 2017).

This same proof applies to the AEC industry. More and more clients are asking for references and evaluation forms on their proposals. Why? Because they want the proof that the company they are choosing is also endorsed by their peers.

As OptinMonster co-founder Syed Balkhi, writes:

“Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior.”

Another study from Nielsen’s Global AdView Pulse found that the testimonials are the second most trusted form of information about a brand or product, with the most effective being recommendations from people known personally.

Make it easy!

Asking your client for a reference can often feel awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes difficult – especially for technical staff who are often introverts. As a marketer, make it as painless as possible for your project managers and your clients.

Four things you can do to help make the process simple!

  1. Offer to write the letter/quote for the client to review, revise and approve.
  2. Conduct an interview/survey at the end of the project. Your clients are most excited about your work immediately upon completion. Make use of this time by asking for an interview or to take a quick survey.
  3. Use what people are already saying - People may say nice things and provide feedback through email or even social media. Reach out and get permission to use those nice words as testimonials.
  4. You can hire a third party to get testimonial statements from your clients.

Stay in contact with your references!  

Once you have a testimonial secured, be sure to stay in touch with that client! Not only is that great business practice but it is key to ensuring you always have their updated contact information. It’s also a good idea to receive two testimonials from the same company in case one client retires. Bottom line? If someone needs to verify your reference, they should easily be able to pick up the phone and call your contact.

There are many reasons to use testimonials to position your firm successfully and win your next project. While you pay attention to your entire marketing program, remember to include testimonials as a personal touch to strengthen your marketing strategy!

References:
http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2017/06/strategies-customer-testimonials-content/
https://www.freshbooks.com/blog/5-non-icky-ways-to-ask-for-testimonials

Ampy McIntyre
Chief of COntent, TankGirl Marketing

With more than 15 years in the A/E/C industry, Ampy brings high level proposal and content management to TankGirl Marketing. Ampy has been at TankGirl for almost two years and is the Chief of Content. During her free time, she likes to workout and read about latest trends in home and fashion.

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Simple and Creative Ways to Refresh Your Work space

Life have you feeling “cluttered”? When was the last time you looked through that bottom desk drawer and got rid of the stuff you didn’t need? If you’re too embarrassed to admit how long that has been then you are overdue for a spring-cleaning session! Don’t have the motivation or time to clean? If you are already creating excuses in your head, stop now. Sure, it sounds like a daunting task but just think about it, you’ll feel much better after you tidy up and organize – plus you might find documents that can be beneficial to future work! Check out these simple and creative ways to freshen up your office!

I don’t have time – This is the major hold-back for a lot of situations in life but let’s talk about the stuff you can take care of right away.  Look around your desk. Do you see supplies on your desk or folders in your drawers that you haven’t used in a while? Ask your co-workers to see if anyone needs them, if not, take them back to the supply room. Your company will save money by not having to order extra supplies and you’re contributing to environmental awareness by recycling.

I need change but I can’t afford it right now – Feel like some change could do you some good? On a budget? No sweat.As working professionals, we spend a good chunk of time at work and something as simple as bringing that neglected plant from home to work will make a great addition to your office or desk. It will instantly change your space and release oxygen into the air to keep your mind focused.  Don’t have a green thumb? Bring that old mason jar or cute mug in. It will make a great holder for those loose pens and pencils you have on your desk and it will give your workspace that simple yet modern look. Make your work station a place you ENJOY to be sitting at for 40+ hours a week!

Check out this article for 20 cubical décor ideas to make your office style work as hard as you do! You’d be surprised how many small DIY projects are shown online or inexpensive gadgets there are available to liven up your workstation. If you walk into work and instantly feel comfortable and excited, you are bound to have a more productive day. Take a few ideas from SMPS Member, Ashley Black! She livened up her workstation about a year ago and loves it.

“I knew when we completed our office refresh I would want to spruce up my workstation a bit. I decided to buy a bunch of inexpensive DIY stuff from Hobby Lobby and I focused on a white/silver theme to match our new desks. I bought a ton of white paint, silver glitter, some cheap wooden shapes and magnets – and went crazy! I also repurposed my name plate from a bridal shower as decoration. This was inexpensive and made for a very fun/fulfilling Saturday afternoon!”

 

I’m too stressed to clean - Simplicity is key and believe it or not, cleaning can be therapeutic. Change the desktop background on your computer to something visually appealing like the beach, your favorite vacation spot or a far-away galaxy. It will put a smile on your face and make you feel slightly more relaxed. Open the blinds to your windows and let natural light in – it’s like an instant facelift for your office! If you have a private office, invest in a small oil diffuser or some battery-operated candles, they will change the ambience of your workspace and instantly give that spa-like atmosphere. If you are in an open-office format then bring in a customized calendar or something that reminds you of your favorite things in life!

Is having a clean work area really that important? YES! Your workstation is exactly what it sounds like, a station to do work, not a storage facility! You will become more productive and chances are if you brighten your office a bit, your mood will be uplifted as well! Everyone owes it to themselves to have a fresh new look. Why not start at your desk?

Happy Spring Cleaning!


Maria Mejia
Marketing Coordinator, Dibble Engineering

Maria joined the A/E/C industry five years ago and has worked at Dibble for her entire A/E/C career. She joined SMPS three years ago and is one of our talented social media chairs! In her free time she enjoys making homemade soaps using all natural ingredients. It's a lengthy process but she said the results are worth waiting for! 

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