Brad Bortone

Marketing Wisdom: Your peers share the surprising foundation that shaped their marketing efforts for 2011

December 6th, 2011

Please forgive me for opening this post with a trite statement, but I simply cannot believe we’re already approaching the end of 2011.

(That was for my dad, who spent most of his 50s lamenting the speed in which 365 days can pass.)

Platitudes aside, the end of a calendar year marks a time of reflection, where marketers look back at the year, and use this knowledge to better plan for the one ahead.

This also means that it’s time for you to send us your wisdom for the MarketingSherpa 2012 Marketing Wisdom Report (sponsored by HubSpot). Our 10th annual collection of anecdotes, ideas, test results and inspiration from marketers like you, will be distributed for free in January to all MarketingSherpa and HubSpot readers and customers.

As I prepare to digest a slew of submissions for this year’s go-round, I felt it was only right to take one last look at the 2011 edition, to see where we were a year ago, and what we’ve learned along the way. While combing through the pages, I was reminded of some notable pieces of advice, as well as a prominent common thread that ran throughout:


You’d think with all the exciting new technologies that have come about, 2.0 would have dominated the marketing landscape in recent years. But that’s not what marketers told us in our last wisdom report. No, it was the basics — the most fundamental marketing practices — that helped marketers achieve success in a questionable economy.

In 2010, you sowed the seeds of “back-to-basics” efforts, all centered on communication, and built forward-thinking campaigns around them. From stories of elaborate, innovative social media outreach, to the most basic expressions of thanks, it was clear that communication – both internal and external – was a foundation of your 2010 marketing efforts.

Below are some of the memorable entries from last year’s report. Read on to see if last year’s wisdom still proves valuable as you prepare for 2012.

Email isn’t dead. Long live email marketing.

I think even Nostradamus predicted the demise of email marketing in 2011. Yet, email is not only alive, but thriving, thanks to a wealth of efforts that boosted customer reach, engaged (and reengaged) subscribers, integrated with social media platforms and created seamless user experiences that connected with well-optimized landing pages.

The following entry embraces email for what it is – one of the purest forms of marketing communication – and highlights how communicating a strong value proposition can win back former customers. As you can see, sometimes, you really do get what you pay for…


We’ve been encouraging our clients to go back to the basics of email marketing – building a list, sending targeted campaigns, and setting up event triggers to automate the email marketing process. We also are reviewing the results of the campaigns with our clients over the phone and showing them hidden areas of potential revenue they might be missing.

One client is a large university that sends frequent messages to current students and alumni. In April of this year, they shopped around and found a better “deal” with an entry level email marketing provider. They had been averaging a 30% open rate, and using the same lists, same campaigns, and same offers, saw their open rates tumble to nearly 10% with the other provider.

In August they came back to Knowledge Marketing and immediately returned to a 30% average open rate. For us, this year has been about demonstrating value for the investment and doing the little, unexpected things for our clients to help them succeed.

– Tim Martinson, Knowledge Marketing

Remember that communication is good, especially when supporting your value proposition. But too much communication can have a negative effect on your results, burying your value amid a barrage of unnecessary – or even unwanted – information.

Since digital marketing is cheap (and often free), we tend to over‐do it. More links, more content, more email newsletters, more pages…

Seth Godin once said, “Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free and is a permanent shift, desensitization to ALL the information, not just the last bit. More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.”

Put simply, try reducing your company’s newsletter to above the fold or limit it to just one link.

– Nathan Potter, IDES


Embrace the future…without forgetting the past

Based on your responses, 2010 seemed to inspire an amalgam of old and new marketing tactics. For every tech-based story highlighting new tools to improve SEO, we learned of a marketer who applied tried-and-true practices, such as a focus on improving content, to new technology.

We saw how video chat promoted personalized, one-to-one interaction … how mobile platforms increased the likelihood of personal connection with a brand … and how testing and research of new tactics remained paramount to success.

Above all, 2010 was the year that content returned to the forefront of online marketing. While crafty SEO and better keywords brought people to your websites, unique, valuable content is what kept them there … and more importantly, brought them back.

It’s no secret that the growth of the mobile channel will continue to increase over the coming years. With that in mind, marketers need to use the mobile experience to deepen the relationship between the brand and consumer and to connect other multichannel experiences.

If marketers concentrate all their mobile efforts on a branded push, the mobile opportunity is missed. Deliver usefulness and value to your customers by helping them figure out ways to enhance their lives, solve a problem or deliver instant personal engagement that’s relevant to why they know about you in the first place.

Connecting with your customers via mobile is a deep and personal relationship. If you get permission to communicate with them over the mobile channel, you must be ready and able to deliver value.

– Dave Lawson, Knotice


Once a personal connection is established, it’s imperative to continue engaging these users through segmentation, and more relevant, targeted content. Your audiences may fit beneath one large umbrella, but within this larger group exists a wealth of interests, backgrounds and needs.

As an online marketer who manages an audience base of 4 million and growing, I knew I needed a way to segment my audience and provide specific and targeted online messaging to each unit. A “one size fits all” landing page approach just wasn’t working, but I didn’t have the time or resources to create multiple pages.

To help me, I adopted a landing page management tool, and using its template driven, no‐code interface, I was able to quickly create multiple landing pages for each of my business units. Whereas before I found it tough keeping up with one page, I’m now managing over 500 landing pages! This not only increased my Google quality score but I’m now consistently seeing a 15‐17% conversion rate! That’s something I couldn’t have achieved with one landing page for all 4 million customers.

The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ in effective online marketing. It’s all about hyper‐personalization!

– Nicole Bukacek, Infogroup


Social media is ingrained in everything we do

As we’ve said numerous times on MarketingSherpa and in the pages of our Benchmark Reports, social media is no longer an optional tactic. Once a novel way to expand your brand messaging, social media integration is now as vital to the Web experience as embedded links and “back” buttons.

But, as we’ve also established many times over, new technologies must be leveraged with time-honored marketing practices. Audience engagement, strategic campaign planning, and well-targeted, valuable content will still be necessary for any marketer looking to leverage this emergent tactic.


One of my biggest lessons this year has been that social media engagement and success is much more about the conversations you begin and not the messages you push out. When we first implemented social and blogging last fall, we saw it as a way to replicate content in a number of areas, and I think we believed the rest would follow. What I learned [is that] the rest doesn’t follow until you engage in a conversation and provide true value. Not just message blasting to your audience.

As we learned more, we began continuing the conversations started out there with social and have seen tremendous results. Here are just a few examples:

  • Clout and mentions have increased steadily as we have seen engagement spike.
  • More customers are actively engaged than before.
  • We are able to diffuse any negative comments or service issues with quick response.
  • Sales and inbound leads have nearly doubled during this same time period.

Results speak volumes, but the conversations we have had over the past year resonate so much more.

– Carissa Newton, Delivra


But, much like interaction you have in a coffee shop, or even passive chats by a water cooler, you can’t have a conversation without first establishing a topic. Without strategy and focus, the discussion goes nowhere…fast.


When it comes to digital marketing communications, companies are seeing a lot of activity on Facebook and Twitter, and feel they need to be there. They hear about SEO and feel they need to improve their ranking. They read articles about online video and want to start filming.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “everyone else is doing it” excitement, but that’s precisely the time to step back and take a deep breath. Because anyone who stands in front of a room full of business owners and says, “You all absolutely need to be on Facebook and Twitter” is flat‐out wrong.

What is the marketing communications goal of the business? Once this is properly articulated, then Facebook and Twitter may or may not be appropriate tactics for meeting that goal. SEO and video may or may not be tactically relevant.

There are countless tactics that any business can take when it comes to digital marketing communications … but if there’s no strategic thinking underlying those tactics, if time hasn’t been taken to understand the dynamics of the business relative to customers and potential customers, then you’re vastly minimizing your chances of success.

– Craig Peters, CKPCreative


Social media marketing is broadening rapidly, making it difficult to define the term, much less how to best apply it. Of course, if we had to choose one definition, the following isn’t a bad choice at all.


Successful social media marketing is about identifying the most influential members of your audience and leveraging them to achieve your key business goals.

– Jo, FreshNetworks


Everything old is new again. Not to mention relevant.

Not to beat you over the head with our “back to basics” focus, but last year’s entries really highlighted how our still-fragile economic climate forced many marketers to revisit the fundamentals. And we saw that no matter the medium, marketing will always center on communication and customer engagement.

Though perhaps not as exciting as high-tech tales of success, the following entries nonetheless show that in marketing, good practice is timeless.


“Can you be there for me in the good and bad times?”

This is a question we either get directly or indirectly as an Internet marketing firm that works primarily with small business clients with less than 10 employees. As important as past results are to them, small business owners want to know that their marketing company will treat them like “family.”

Often, they have learned that they’re another number/figure to larger firms. As a smaller firm, our strongest unique selling proposition has been “you can reach the people implementing your campaign via text, phone, email, Twitter, Facebook or any medium you prefer, and we will respond within the same day.”

Although it can be difficult, this has led to 90% retention of all of our clients.

– Parham Nabatian, Infinite Communications


Remember, not all “gold” will be of value to your needs…


Every year there’s a new technology or service that garners too much attention from the media, causing marketers to feel the need to jump on board. Groupon has taken center stage this year and while they do offer a great product and service, it’s not right for all clients. We evaluated it for one client and the financials just didn’t work for them.

You need to stay focused on the business impact, not just how shiny the new metal object is.

– Peter Plats, Catalyst


…except, perhaps, for the hidden “gold” you find within your office walls.


My team recently identified that we had the need for an expert in the area of fashion blogging. Many of us had prior experiences with blogging but no one had experience in fashion blogging. We all examined our vertically upward and horizontal internal network to find the answer to our problem.

However, the person most capable of helping us happened to work in a customer service position. I was able to identify the value this person could bring to our project and enlisted help through the proper channels. The person’s contribution to our project helped us secure a new client and provided the employee with valuable academic experience.

This is just one example of how vertical social mobility, both downward and upward movement, has helped our company achieve success on a variety of projects. Having a broad social network can allow you to problem solve a number of project solutions. Spend some time around the proverbial “water cooler” and find out who you work with.

– Carlos Dy Barbour, The Spokesman Review


Here’s hoping that the wisdom you gained in 2011 proves worthy for 2012, and in the years to come.

Related Resources:

Share your wisdom for a chance to be published in the 2012 Marketing Wisdom Report

The Indefensible Blog Post: Actually, the old rules of marketing are pretty good

The Indefensible Blog Post: Forget Charlie Sheen, here are 5 marketing lessons from marketers

Marketing Wisdom: In the end, it’s all about…

Personal Branding: The five elements of being seen as a thought leader through crowdsourcing

2011 Marketing Wisdom Report



Brad Bortone

About Brad Bortone

Brad Bortone is a senior editor for MarketingSherpa, and brings more than ten years of journalism experience to the table. He is experienced in both corporate and nonprofit copywriting, having published work with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, The New York City Department of Education, The National Academy of Sciences and the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation. Additionally, Brad's freelance writing has been featured in a wide array of print and online outlets, including The Newark Star-Ledger, ESPN: The Magazine and

Categories: Marketing and Advertising Tags: , , , , , , ,

We no longer accept comments on the MarketingSherpa blog, but we'd love to hear what you've learned about customer-first marketing. Send us a Letter to the Editor to share your story.