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Marketing best practices: the importance of testing

We recently put together a social media marketing campaign for a client. When I reviewed the ads with her, she (very nicely) let me know that while she loved half of them, she didn’t think much of the other half. 

I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t expected her to like them. But I also wasn’t about to throw them in the trash. And here’s why: we’d deliberately put together ads that didn’t look like all their other marketing efforts to test if they might work better to get the attention of potential new customers. Those “different” ads were our way of making sure we weren’t making biased assumptions about what her customers would like.

Because, frankly, the best way to fail at marketing is to assume you always know what people are looking for. 

This is especially important with smallish businesses, most particularly those that have grown organically from the ground up. Many smaller businesses have never done any market testing on their visual brand or their messaging – because they didn’t/don’t have the money (good market testing can be expensive), or because they never thought of it. In the end, their brand is a representation of their taste, and their messaging is often simply what appeals to them. 

But – and this is a huge BUT – unless your target customers are exactly like you, what appeals to you might fall completely flat with your target market. As a business owner, it’s imperative to get away from your own preferences and put yourself in the shoes of your customers. 

Even if you’re one of the lucky few that are selling to people a lot like you, you may want to check in every once in a while to make sure your tastes haven’t diverged over time. For example, if you started a kid’s shoe store when you were a young parent in the 90s, at the time, your interests and tastes probably matched your clientele’s pretty well. But now, 30 years later, your clients are of a completely different generation… and unlikely to have much in common with you. 

How to test your marketing

There are two main ways to test your marketing efforts. One, run market research and study groups to ask people about it directly. Big brands do this all the time. Before you see that Super Bowl ad, you better believe it’s been run through study group after study group of target customers to see if it resonated with them (as surprising as that might be, considering some of the ads that passed muster, apparently – but hey, we’re not the target market for all of them). 

The problem with market testing is that it’s usually out of reach for companies that aren’t in the Big Marketing Spend arena. Sure, there’s some do-it-yourself market research platforms (we like Pollfish) that are good for testing concepts and slogans, etc, but be prepared that hiring a market research firm to do really thorough research will often run you into the tens (or more) of thousands. 

That’s not really a practical number for smaller brands, and definitely not practical for testing ad copy every time around.

The second way is to use the power of digital marketing to test ideas and copy for you. Digital marketing is set up so you can track practically everything. This means you can run two different ads side by side and see which performs better. You can test different imagery, different copy, different delivery methods, and different offers. All while actually marketing your product. Who wouldn’t love that kind of efficiency?

And if you’re not 100% sure of who your customer is, you can even use digital marketing to test customer groups. You can run ads to different ages, interests, geographic locations, household income levels, and more, and find out which groups leads to the most sales. 

By testing, you can hone in closer to your ideal message for your ideal customer. 

Of course, in order to really test effectively, you need to lose your preconceived notions of what “will” work and what “won’t work”, and just put the ads out there to be judged in the court of digital advertising. It can take some practice to do so, and yes, you’ll build some ads that you may not really like. But? You might surprise yourself – and end up with more effective marketing.

Oh? That client? It turned out that our alternate ads far outperformed the ads that felt more comfortable to them. 

And that’s something we would never have known if we hadn’t done some marketing testing.


How to tell if your marketing team is up to snuff – and what to do if it’s not

As a business owner, it can be tough – especially if you don’t have a marketing background yourself – to get a really good idea of how well your marketing function is, well, functioning. Or how to figure out where it’s going wrong.

We see this question come up a fair amount, because we specialize in helping growing companies take the next big leap. And you usually start to experience challenges with your marketing function when you’re trying to grow quickly. 

How marketing teams get in over their heads

While there’s many paths to get to this point, it’s a common problem when a company grows organically: often as a company starts to need more marketing support, they’ll move an internal resource over to handle marketing. Sometimes that person has a marketing background, but more often it’s a case of someone who has an interest in marketing, or a marketing-adjacent background, like graphic design. This person runs their social media, and maybe sends occasional emails, and keeps the website updated. And it’s totally fine for that early stage of development. Especially if the company doesn’t have the budget to bring in a full-time, experienced, marketing manager or marketing director. 

The problems can start to arise when you grow beyond the social media page-email-website phase, and you’re expecting your self-grown marketing person/people to suddenly start to drive real revenue. I’ve seen teams that have stepped up to the plate and done a great job, but in the majority of cases these inexperienced teams can get over their heads. And fast.

This can happen even if you initially outsourced the majority of your marketing; the amount of experience you could afford at the time often isn’t enough to seamlessly transition your company to a larger, more professional phase.

How to tell if your marketing team is functioning well

So how do you know which bucket your marketing team falls into – the on-the-ball or the under-water? Here are some signs:

  • You aren’t seeing results. After all, the whole point of marketing is to drive revenue. If it’s not, then something may be wrong. Notice, however, that I use the word, “may”. Be careful not to assume automatically that poor results means bad marketing. Remember that marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum: we’ve gone into at least one company that had zero revenue from marketing, but it turned out that the lack of results had a lot more to do with bad pricing than with bad marketing. Even the best marketers can’t sell something that’s priced completely out of the market. 
  • Things take a long time to get done. One of the most obvious signs that your marketing people are in over their heads is if things aren’t getting done in a reasonable amount of time. If they’re not sure what you’re doing, they have to figure stuff out as they go. They don’t know from experience what works and what doesn’t, so they have to trial and error things. And they have to look up how-tos on a regular basis. All this drops the productivity of the department into the basement.
  • They’re hiring a lot of freelancers. Bringing in some freelancers is great – and a quick and easy way to inexpensively augment a small marketing team. But if your team keeps coming to you with yet another person they want to bring on board, you may want to ask yourself if this is because they don’t have the confidence to implement these campaigns themselves.
  • There’s as many opinions as there are people. If your marketing meetings tend to be a bit of a free-for-all, it’s a big warning sign that your team needs help: namely, that you don’t have a clear marketing strategy in place. Experienced marketers will always be working from a marketing plan. If your team isn’t, it’s playing whack-a-mole and putting out fires rather than focusing on the important stuff.

Team needs help? Here’s where to start

Let’s say you recognize your team in a few of these points. What do you do about it? Here’s our 4-step process:

  1. Get a marketing expert to do a team skill diagnosis: a good marketing consultant will be able to get an idea of how underwater your team is (or isn’t). They can also often spot things that you may have missed, both because of their experience, but also as an outside perspective.
  2. Have a marketing strategy created: one of the biggest roadblocks to good marketing is a reactive approach as opposed to a planned approach. A good marketing advisor will be able to build you a marketing plan that supports your business goals (and, if necessary, fits your teams’ skill sets). Much of the marketing paralysis that can happen in smaller companies goes away once team members know what they are doing in reference to the master plan.
  3. Ask for help growing your marketing function: A surprising, but extremely useful, role for a marketing advisor is helping you hire the right people to support your marketing strategy. Vetting people for a skillset you personally don’t have is pretty tough. A marketing professional will know what to look for.
  4. Bring in ongoing advisory: Once you have your team in place, trained, and following a marketing strategy, it’s a good idea to make sure they have ongoing leadership to keep them on the right track. This can be handled one of two ways: either spring for a full-time marketing director/VP of marketing, or outsource to a fractional/part time marketing director if your budget is tight.

One last thought: we honestly believe that internally-developed marketing teams have a lot of value. What they lack in experience is often made up for in loyalty to the company and in-depth product knowledge. We rarely suggest that you should scrap ‘em all and start over. With a good marketing strategy and the right guidance, they can develop into a truly well-oiled marketing machine.

Happy marketing!

Katie & Theron

Urban Sherpa Marketing Company is a boutique marketing advisory firm specializing in helping small to medium sized companies jumpstart their growth. Offering everything from outsourced marketing director services to marketing training and hiring advisory, they love helping marketing teams grow and thrive.


What are value propositions and why should you care?

Like many snazzy marketing terms, “value proposition” is a fancy way of saying something that is actually really very simple. In a nutshell, a value proposition is the reason why someone would buy your product or service. 

Of course, like a lot of simple things, you sometimes need to put a good deal of thought into your value proposition(s). More on that in a bit, but first, let’s talk about why you need ‘em.

Why do you need a value proposition?

So, first, let’s be clear: we don’t care whether you call this thing we’re talking about a “value proposition”, or a “Unique Selling Proposition” or  “sell point” or a “statement of value”. What it’s called, and the exact form it takes, is completely immaterial. What matters to your business is that you have, know, and can talk about a reason why people will buy from you. 

I can’t tell you the number of small business owners that have looked blank when I’ve asked them why someone would buy from them rather than their competitors. It’s not something they’ve ever really thought about. But here’s the thing: if you don’t know why people would buy your product, there is no way you’re going to be able to convince people to buy it.

And marketing, at it’s very heart, is about convincing people to buy your product. It’s not enough to just put your name out in front of people, and hope they naturally “get” the value you offer. 

Once you’ve developed your value proposition, you can communicate the “why” of your product in your marketing: on your website, in ads, on your social media, etc. 

So, to recap: you need a value proposition so that, ultimately, people will know why they should buy a specific product (or buy from your company in general – yes, you can have a broad one for your company as well as specific ones for specific products). 

How do I develop a value proposition?

There is a lot of advice out there about how to develop value propositions, including “we-hired-a-consultant-that-needs-to-earn-their-keep” methods that are totally complicated. In classic Urban Sherpa fashion, however, we’re going to stick with a more common-sense approach here.

  1.  Identify and understand the target audience for your product or service: who will buy this product? What are their needs, fears, hopes, desires?
  2. Look at your competition: what does your competition sell? What do they do well, and what do they do poorly?
  3. Identify the features of your product or service: how does your product address the needs, fears, hopes, or desires of your audience? How is your product better than what the competition does? Why would someone pick you over them? Think about features of your product or service like price, service level, quality, your brand promise, actual physical features, appearance, selection, etc. 

You’re talking about this area of intersection:

A venn diagram showing how to think about value propositions

Now, put that all together into a (short) statement that addresses how your product or service meets the needs of your customers. 

Before we move onto some examples, let’s talk quickly about when you should develop your value proposition(s). Ideally, you should be thinking about how your product or service best services the needs of your customer – and how you stand out from the competition – as soon as possible. Heck, it should be the first thing you think about when you start a new company or develop a new product.

Some Examples (sort of)

There are a lot of lists of “modern and creative” value propositions out there – with example after super cool, unique, and clever example. Those are fun and all, but the reality is that they don’t need to be a glitzy marketing phrase to be effective. In fact, the whole point of a value proposition is to help you identify and clearly state why customers should buy from you. Some of the examples you see out there are unfortunately so cool, they don’t actually mean as much as they should. 

Our advice? Focus on putting together a solid, concise, useful, and accurate value proposition, and don’t bother worrying about how creative or cool it is. Use this work-a-day model to remind yourself about what you should be communicating – and then you can play with (and test) fancy headlines for the how you communicate it. 

A good value proposition is like the foundation of a house: it’s not sexy, you normally don’t even notice it… but if it’s weak or not there the whole house will fall down. 

Do you still want some examples? Try ours: Custom marketing consulting and services for the needs (and budgets) of small businesses and startups. It’s got the “who” our customer is, the “what” we offer them, and how we stand out: affordability and a specialization in small biz. Heck, “we have cold coconuts” (in the photos above) is a perfectly good value proposition as well.

Or we like the ones collected by the good folks at Oberlo: 10 Best Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One) (oberlo.com)

Of course, if you’re still stuck, we’d be glad to help you develop your value proposition(s). Reach out to us at hello@urbansherpa.marketing and we can set up a time to talk.

Happy small business marketing!

Katie & Theron

How to Write a Great Blog

I know what you’re thinking: Writing is the worst! You haven’t had to write a paper since graduation; why ruin that streak now by writing a blog?

While writing may in fact be the worst (said the writer), it’s an important part of any digital marketing campaign. Why? Because blogs are one of the best things you can do to get noticed online.

Studies have shown that websites with blogs have a 434% chance of ranking higher in the search engine results! And everyone knows that higher rankings means more views and more conversions.

To ease the writing pains (at least a little), here are a few tips to help you write great blog posts to engage with your website visitors and increase online visibility.

Know Your Audience

Rule number one when it comes to blog writing: know your audience. Your blog should be written in a way that the reader finds entertaining, informational, and easy to digest. Since everyone is different, there’s no “one size fits all” style that works for all readers.

For example, we know our readers have the best sense of humor on the internet, so we like to write blogs in a fun, humorous style. It works for us. But a law firm that deals with car accidents probably shouldn’t be cracking silly jokes. It’s not appropriate for the topic and it’s definitely not what their readers want to see. Can you imagine being in a car accident, looking for help online, and reading a blog that makes light of your situation? Not a good look.

Learn what your audience likes and what they’re looking for. Once you understand their needs, you can give it to them! It’ll make your blog more engaging for readers.

Come up with a Killer Headline

Everyone always says, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we all do it anyway. That’s why you need to come up with a killer headline to draw people in.

The goal is threefold:

  1. Tell the reader what the blog is about.
  2.  Tell them why reading would be worth their time (value proposition)
  3. Sneak in some keywords

For example, would you have clicked on this article if the title just said “Write a Blog?” What’s it about? Is it a blog explaining why you should write a blog, how to write a blog, or just general information about what a blog is? Plus, there’s no reason to click. What benefit would there be in reading such a blog?

Instead, we used “How to Write a Great Blog.” It tells readers that the article is a guide to writing a blog (goal one), and they should click on it because it’ll make them a great blog writer (goal two). Even better, it will help you capture people who are searching for, “How do I write a great blog?”

Accomplish these goals, and more people will read and share your awesome blog content!

Make Your Blog Easily Scannable

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nobody will read your blog in its entirety. Most website visitors (as in 79% of them) will only scan your blog instead of reading everything word-for-word. So, with that in mind, make your blogs easily scannable:

  • Use meaningful subheadings (and lots of them)
  • Have one idea per section
  • Highlight important information (bold, italics, hyperlinks, etc.)
  • Include plenty of bulleted lists
  • Use short paragraphs

For those of you who didn’t just scan this section (thank you!), you can see this idea in action. If you don’t feel like reading ALL the tips for great blog writing, you can just look down the subheadings for the topic you’re most interested in.

If you come to one that might need some elaboration—like “Make Your Blog Easily Scannable”—there’s a handy bulleted list of tips to increase scannability, so you don’t even need to read the whole section to get the gist.

Plus, nothing is scarier than a giant “wall of text” staring you in the face when you click on an article. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best writer in the world, nobody on the internet wants to read all that. 

Breaking up text with subheadings, lists, and short paragraphs makes your blog look much more “appetizing” to readers and can reduce your bounce rate (visitors taking one look at your page and hitting the back button immediately).

Keep SEO in Mind (to an Extent)

Even business owners who live under a rock have heard of search engine optimization (SEO). It’s basically a few special tricks that get your web pages organically noticed by Google, so you can show up at the top of the search results.

Since the entire goal of writing a blog is to get noticed, using SEO best practices is very important:

  • Include related keywords at regular intervals
  • Use keyword-rich headings (and format them correctly)
  • Keep your article short and concise
  • Have both internal and external links

Now, before you go writing sentences like, “small business digital marketing tips for writing great blog posts to boost search engine optimization for more engagement and generating conversions” (ouch…), know that there is a limit to how much SEO is too much SEO.

Google is very smart. In addition to, well, everything in the universe, Google knows the difference between SEO stuffing and good writing. That means if they catch you writing horrible content for the sake of boosting your SEO (see awful keyword-stuffed sentence above), they’re going to punish you with low search rankings.

Above all, make your blog writing readable, relevant, and informational. Include keywords but only if they sound natural—and DON’T GO OVERBOARD. Good, solid content will win every time. So, think readability first and SEO second.

Tell Readers Where to Go Next with a Call to Action

All blogs should have a goal. You’re not writing just for funsies; you want readers to do something with the information they just learned. Instead of letting them figure it out for themselves, tell them the next step of the process with a clear call to action (CTA).

A call to action is like a stepping stone. It tells users where to go next. For example, if you write a blog for your coffee company about “the five best types of coffee,” you don’t want readers to go “oh, that was interesting” and close out of the page after reading. You want them to buy your coffee!

So, at the bottom of your blog, include a CTA that says something like, “hey, if you want to try any of these amazing types of coffee, come visit us or order online.” It tells visitors the next step of the process.

Think about what you want your blog to accomplish and include a strong CTA at the end to get users to stick with you on this exciting journey.

Now Get to Writing that great blog!

Alright, procrastination time is over. You know the tricks, and it’s time to get to writing. Think about your audience, draw them in with a killer headline, make your blog easy to scan, include a healthy dose of SEO, and finish it all off with a clear call to action. Do all that, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great blog writer in no time!

And, of course, to follow our own advice, if you need help with your blog-writing or content marketing, just reach out to us here at Urban Sherpa. We’d love to help!

Happy marketing!


Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. provides marketing and advisory services – and, yes, blog-writing! – to small and medium sized businesses across the U.S. Cameron Ripley is our blogger extraordinaire. 

Seven signs your business will benefit from more marketing… and six times it won’t

Marketing: is it for you? As marketers, we are firm believers that businesses can’t thrive without good marketing, because marketing is a powerful tool to get customers in the door. 

But we’re going to be the first to tell you: more marketing is not always a smart first move for every business. Most, yes… but not all. But how do you know?

Seven signs that marketing will really help your business

  1. You have a lot of really happy customers, but you never seem to get any new faces in the door. Do most of your sales come from loyal, return customers? Do you rarely see a new customer or get a new email address through your website? The good news is that your product (or service) is popular with your customers. The bad news is that you’ll always struggle to grow your business without new customers coming in. Is this sounds like you, it’s a sure sign that running targeted ad campaigns will result in new sales—and more happy customers
  2. When you get a new customer, they say, “I never knew you were here!” or “I never knew about you!” As lovely as it is to have customers excited about finding your business, hearing this is actually bad news… because it means that people aren’t aware that you exist. You have a potentially large customer base out there, just waiting to meet you! Running a few targeted ads will help you get in front of these excited potential customers.
  3. You get a lot of web traffic, but it doesn’t convert into sales. This one may surprise you a bit—since it’s a good assumption that, in this case people already know about your business, they just don’t want to buy. But remember, your messaging IS marketing, just as much as launching an ad campaign is. If lots of people visit your site, they obviously want your product (or one like it), but something on your website isn’t clicking for them. Take a really hard look at how well you are messaging your value propositions (the “why” people should buy from you). Even better, have a professional give you a quick messaging audit (yes! We do that!)
  4. Your customers generally like you, but you don’t get much web traffic. Pretty much the polar opposite of the last situation, this scenario indicates that people aren’t finding you easily online. You might argue that this doesn’t matter much If you’re a brick and mortar business. But you’d be wrong. In this day and age of the Google search, do not kid yourself: every business is an internet business. Let’s pretend you’re a carpet cleaner, for example. If someone searches for carpet cleaners near them, you want to show up in the results. If you’re not showing up, it’s a good sign you need to work on your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and also consider building a Search Marketing (SEM) campaign. 
  5. Your only source of new customers is referrals. First, don’t get me wrong: referrals are great. They are one of the best sources of new customers. But the problem with them being your only source is that you’re restricting your potential customers to a relatively small group of people. The good news is that, because it’s clear your customers love you enough to refer you, you should be pretty confident that even more people will love you as long as they know about you. An ad campaign—one targeted to people that look and act like your current customers—will be extremely effective. And, yes, you can target lookalike audiences to your current customer list, as long as you have email addresses on file. 
  6. You have a product or service that only a very niche group of people is interested in. This is a case where targeted marketing is one of the few ways you’re going to get more customers. Walk-by traffic or broad-reaching ads, like newspaper ads, won’t do much for you. Put together some good, extremely-targeted ad campaigns and a solid Search Marketing campaign, and you will be golden.
  7. You have solid sales numbers and happy customers. Hey! Don’t look at me funny. A smoothly-running business always benefits from smart marketing to drive even more customers in the door.

Six signs that marketing won’t help your business (at least not right now)

  1. You already have plenty of business the way you are. This is obvious, of course. Marketing is a tool to gain more sales. If you have plenty of revenue, or enough clients that your book of business is full, it makes no sense to market. And good for you! (Though I’d still argue that you want to keep your website alive and pertinent… and perhaps keep a bit of a pipeline going?). 
  2. You have a product or service that nobody wants. I know this sounds harsh, but it needs to be said. There are some new businesses and startups that struggle with sales, then treat marketing as a magic bullet to “fix” the problem. Unfortunately, marketing can’t fix a product that people aren’t interested in. Be honest with yourself, get some market research done (we like PollFish for lowish cost market research), and make some changes before you try a big marketing push. 
  3. You’re priced wrong for the market. You can run the best ads, to the most targeted audience, with the best web copy ever written, and you won’t sell much of anything if people think your product is priced too high. Marketing is a sheer waste of money until you fix your pricing.
  4. You have a lot of bad reviews (especially when your competitors don’t). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can overcome bad reviews with better marketing. Social proof (the marketer’s term for reviews and testimonials) rules today’s world. If 50 people are saying your business is terrible, marketing will be a waste of money no matter how well executed. Instead, take some time to actively court good reviews from happy customers— as many as you can. Wait to launch your big marketing program until your online reputation is fixed.
  5. You have some major functionality issues that you need to sort out (bad location, backordered product, a rude staff member, punitive shipping rates, etc), Again, marketing is not magic. It can’t fix major problems in your business model. And even if you have a great product that people want, if you market heavily while these problems are in place, you run the risk of pissing a bunch of people off. And then you’ll find yourself situation number 4: trying to handle a bunch of bad reviews. Fix first, then invest in good marketing. 
  6. Your product or service is highly seasonal, and it’s not the right season. This is a bit of a gimme, since most people naturally understand this. If you only sell your product in the 3 months before Christmas, don’t bother with marketing in March. Similarly, if you do exterior painting, most people aren’t going to be thinking about getting a quote in November.

I’m absolutely certain that this isn’t a comprehensive list—on either the pro or con side—but it’s enough to get the point across: If your business “has good bones” but needs more customers, jump into marketing! It will help! 

But marketing isn’t, and should never be treated as, a magic bullet to “fix” a business. More than anything else, marketing is a tool. It’s a useful tool, but it’s just a tool. And, like all tools, it should be used wisely for the job for which it was intended. 

Happy small business marketing!
Katie & Theron

At Urban Sherpa Marketing Co. we offer marketing advisory, strategic planning, and services for small businesses and startups, including content marketing. Our goal is to make high-quality marketing possible for every business, no matter the size. Think of us as your outsourced marketing department, strategic marketing adviser, or even your phone-a-friend marketing lifeline. We specialize in building efficient marketing programs to grow your business without blowing the bank.

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