I had the pleasure to chat with Mike Lieberman of Square 2 Marketing, a strategic marketing consulting firm focused on small and mid-size businesses. They help clients refine their brand identity and marketing goals through "Reality Marketing,™" the process from which they build unique strategies for all of their clients.
We covered everything from how email helped one of their clients land a $150k job to the best running shoes on the market. Read on to see how Mike handles Emma's 5 questions, and if you'd like to watch part of his interview on video, you'll find a link to do so below.
Tell me a little bit about your role at Square 2 Marketing.
My role has changed a bit over the past couple months — primarily I'm focusing on helping our company increase its national footprint. We already work with clients across the country, but I'm currently working on building some strategic partnerships with companies like Emma and a few other technology companies out there that will help Square 2 Marketing become a real national player. In addition to that, I'm the Chief People Officer here at Square 2, so my goal is to bring in the best and the brightest people and make sure they have a remarkable experience with our firm as well as providing our clients with a world-class marketing experience when they engage with us.
What do you see changing and evolving in the marketing industry?
If you readers want to *hear* what I think about the marketing industry, they can head on over to our site to watch the video. When I went to college and when most people think about marketing, they think about what they learned in school, which is, "reach and frequency." ("Tell as many people about your company as much as possible and eventually when they need you, they'll remember you.") That model is so far from effective these days, that when I mentioned how we help people think differently about their marketing, a big part of what we do is try and help our clients understand why that's no longer effective.
I read an article that said, "Consumers are inundated with something like 3,000 ads a day." We're all just numb to advertising. It's interruptive, and there are so many tools out there to eliminate advertisements from our lives, so the "reach and frequency" approach is no longer working. When you throw on top of that the things that have happened with the internet — social media, Google's dominance of search and the natural occurring conversations that are so popular these days in social media — you'll see that marketing has become an exercise in creating remarkable experiences for your customers and the kind of stories that they can share with other similar kinds of people. Then, those stories become the content that you use to leverage through social media, search, email and your website, which all facilitates sharing. There's a huge movement about how to re-educate people on how to market their companies. It's challenging because it's not easy to do it this new way. It's much easier to buy an ad placement and hope the phone rings, but it's no longer an effective use of your marketing dollars.
With Reality Marketing, a high return on marketing investment is one of the tenants. This new kind of marketing fits in very nicely with the kind of marketing strategy we create for our clients. It doesn't cost a lot to do a blog post. It doesn't cost a lot to do an email campaign, and they're very effective if you have the right content. The content is where we see a lot of clients falling down, and why we talk to our clients so much about marketing strategy, and why we have started an initiative to work with other agencies to help them with their strategy. We want to help agencies improve the performance of email marketing and other marketing tactics so that their clients are happier and offer more referrals. We've even created an eBook to teach them how. Agencies can be good at what they do — building websites, creating email campaigns, doing search marketing — and we can provide the strategy that guides the content and creates the stories that makes those businesses remarkable. I think that's the core difference between marketing now and marketing even two or three years ago.
How do you implement that marketing strategy into your clients' email campaigns and surveys? Do you have any success stories?
We implement our Reality Marketing and Marketing Machine™ approach the same way with all of our clients, and it's a requirement to doing business with us. We've literally turned down business of clients that don't want to do it our way because we know "our way" is effective, and we have a track record of making it successful. We know if we don't do it our way, we're not going to be doing our clients justice. When it comes to email and surveys, they all become components of our "marketing machine." Planning for that marketing machine is done within the first four to six weeks of all of our client engagements. Going into it we already know our email campaign topics, the voice of our client, the messaging strategy and the differentiating factors. When it comes to doing the monthly, weekly or bi-weekly emails, everything falls in line.
One of the things we learned from our clients early on is that it's not the desire to do emails or surveys that holds them back, it's the uncertainty of what to write about. That can be a big road block. When you're a business owner, or even a marketing person, and you're in your day-to-day, and realize it's time to do an email, yet you don't know what you're going to write about or how it fits in your overall strategy, it becomes a more daunting task. Typically what ends up happening is it gets put off and gets put off some more, and now what was supposed to be a weekly email campaign is now a bi-weekly email campaign, a monthly email campaign, or, even worse, it comes out sporadically — all of those things are ineffective when it comes to building up trust within your client base, sharing stories and getting them to think differently about your company. They have to see that you're organized, showing thought leadership, and that you have stories that are compelling. Then you have to educate them and advise them, giving them information that's going to help them do their jobs better or make their lives easier. All of that work has to be done upfront because when it is, the email campaigns become quite easy — we already know what we're going to say.
One of my favorite stories is of a client that we worked with very early on that was a little skeptical about email. This client builds very large additions or extensions onto fairly large homes. So, if you have a million dollar home, they would come along and put the $200k addition onto your home. We started working with them, had the strategy created and knew it was going to make this business special. Our client already had some fantastic stories that we were going to leverage. When it was time to do the first email campaign, he sent over his email addresses and was a little shy that he only had about 150 or 200 emails. He wondered if he should even do this, if we thought it was going to be worthwhile. Our advice was absolutely. We had to get started somewhere, and who knows what was out there with these 200 email addresses. We designed his template, wrote his email and then sent it to a couple hundred people. Within four or five hours, our client got an email from an older client, who he had done a $150k barn renovation proposal for. The guy replied to our client's email and followed up with a phone call to say that he was so glad our client had reached out to him, that he was ready to move forward with his project and he really appreciated our client's patience. Our client saw right away the value of having that ongoing communication with clients. In his particular situation, it resulted in a sale of $150k.
Who is a company that you think really knocks it out of the park with email marketing and branding?
My brand crushes are probably more related to the remarkableness of a particular company and product because I find that when it comes to tactics (we didn't invent email marketing or websites), a lot of companies execute them very well. When I'm impressed by a brand, I'm impressed by their ability to stand out in the market. For this question, I have an obvious choice and then a more obscure one.
My obvious brand favorite is Apple. They don't need to do any marketing. I think they do it simply to keep the board of directors happy. You don't need to see an advertisement for an iPhone or an iPad. Everyone is talking about them. Everyone is chatting and tweeting about them. The lines are out of the door for people to buy these products. They have a remarkable product and experience. When you go into that Apple store, the workers in there are using their own products, taking your name on their iPad to serve you. You barely have to wait, and when you do wait, you're entertained by their products and what's going on there. The amount of activity in those stores is unbelievable. I'm attracted to the Apple brand simply because of the remarkable nature of that business. But, that's an easy one.
My more obscure brand crush is Vibram Five Fingers. I'm a runner, and they make a pair of shoes that make it appear you're running barefoot. They're actually becoming more popular because a lot of articles are being written about them, whether they're good or bad for you. But, when I saw these, what my kids call "toe shoes," in a camouflage color, I couldn't help but wear them all of the time. It's a remarkable experience. I feel fantastic when I run in them. I can run farther distances, and my feet feel great. It feels like I'm not wearing anything at all, and no matter where I step, my feet are safe and secure. I'm hugely impressed with Vibram's ability to create a remarkable product and then get the word out purely through buzz. They don't market. They have a great website, but it's conversations on social media, referrals through friends and articles that people have written about them. They've taken the concept of being remarkable and leveraged it from a marketing perspective. They've created the space, and now the other sneaker companies are stealing their idea, which is fine — the more the merrier. I'm impressed with their ability to create a remarkable product and do something special with it.
Forget about marketing, most importantly — plain or peanut M&Ms?
Peanut M&Ms. No question about it.