Agency Leaders Identify Marketing Mistakes

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Failure to step up – or to have in place – a digital marketing plan is among the key marketing mistakes that local professionals see area businesses making.

The Business Journal questioned the leaders of nine area marketing firms about marketing errors they frequently see companies make.

Interviewed were Jeff Hedrich, president and lead brand strategist at Prodigal Co., Boardman; Jim Houck, owner and president of Houck Agency, Youngstown; Rob Palowitz, founder and CEO of Palo Creative, Boardman; Sarra Mohn, co-owner of Jet Creative, Boardman; George Farris, CEO of Farris Marketing, Boardman; Dan Pecchia, president of Pecchia Communications, Canfield; Jeff Ryznar, president and CEO, 898 Marketing, Canfield; Laura Berena, founder and president of Cassidy Advertising and Consulting LLC, Canfield; and Lauren Lindvig, managing partner of Bliss 360 Marketing, Boardman.

Farris Marketing: Social Media’s ‘Free’ Myth

Farris Marketing recently researched the Mahoning Valley and five other markets in Ohio, looking specifically at small businesses such as restaurants, home repair services, auto repair shops and other types of small retailers, George Farris says.

The research found that businesses weren’t doing enough paid advertising, lulled into doing so by the “allure of the myth that social media is completely free and you don’t have to spend any money on advertising,” he says. That might be the case if businesses are using social media correctly. But many are not.

“Like any marketing, you need to prepare. You need to understand how to do it and you need to invest something in it,” he says.

For example, some businesses create social media posts that look like an advertisement placed in a print publication, conveying product information and pricing.

Instead, businesses must understand that social media isn’t meant to generate direct response but rather is a relationship-building tool.

“It’s not going to get the volume of response paid advertising does. Research shows it will get a better, more loyal audience, but a lot fewer,” he says.

Even then, the posts should be complemented with paid advertising, including boosting the post.

Farris encourages businesses to get professional help before diving into social media marketing.

Prodigal Co.: Attracting  Customers Amid COVID-19

The “biggest sea change” that manufacturers – which represent the largest category of Mahoning Valley businesses – need to come to grips with is how go about attracting customers, particularly in an environment driven by the coronavirus pandemic, Prodigal’s Jeff Hedrich says.

Because of COVID-19, traditional trade shows have been canceled and prospects in many cases aren’t receiving visitors to their places of business, a situation that “may not change for a while now,” he says.

That’s creating a scenario where marketing and sales need to be more closely combined to generate leads that can be converted to prospects and, ultimately, customers.

“Generally, manufacturers look at acquiring new customers as 90% sales and 10% marketing,” he says. “Manufacturers understand the importance of their sales effort. When it comes to marketing, they don’t embrace it, generally speaking, as strongly as they do the importance of sales. They view it as something they have to do versus want to do.”

Because of present circumstances, the effort needs to be more 50/50, with marketing serving as the lead generator. When sales people make calls, this enables them to know in which products or services the potential client has expressed interest. “They need to up their marketing game in order to make sales work moving forward,” Hedrich says.

898 Marketing: Keeping Relevant

They’re not investing in themselves, 898’s Jeff Ryznar says.

When businesses are facing a challenging environment, marketing often is the first thing that gets pushed back. And it’s “the one area that keeps you in front and relevant to people for which you have a solution to help,” Ryznar says.

“There’s always going to be a reason and challenges not to spend money. But if you do it well and you have a plan in place, it will work and it will help you maintain and even grow during these times,” he says.

Businesses often don’t measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. “In today’s world, we have the luxury of measuring and tracking everything that we do,” Ryznar says. “Determining the success of a marketing campaign is no longer a hopeful strategy. It is an actual strategy that you can measure.”

Companies need to keep in mind that the business environment is constantly changing, particularly during the pandemic. So a marketing plan can’t be put in place and left to run its course without adapting.

“Things change every day, from wearing masks, social distancing or rules about what can and can’t happen,” Ryznar says.

Cassidy Advertising: Catching Up on Digital Marketing

Many of Cassidy Advertising’s clients now realize they didn’t get on board with digital marketing as soon as they should have, Laura Berena says.

Before the pandemic, many businesses were restricting entry to their buildings so people couldn’t visit unannounced. The pandemic has further curtailed access for the safety of employees still working on site.

With cold calls no longer possible, digital marketing became “the only option” for many companies that now have to play catch up, Berena says. Tools they can use include Google Ads, search engine optimization, sponsored social media posts and a responsive website.

“Businesses might not be aware of the digital marketing options that are available,” she continues. Not seeing new customer numbers that they should, they are trying to figure out what they need to do and coming to realize that they might not have the capabilities in house, especially since digital marketing options are needed almost daily.

“That’s why outsourcing those services makes sense,” Berena says.

Houck Agency: Lacking a Concise Message

Companies often lack a clear and concise message, Jim Houck says. That’s important for consumers and business-to-business clients alike, especially now, because both are inundated with marketing messages.

“The more clear and concise a company can be with their message, the more successful they’re likely to be and the more their messages will resonate with people,” says the president of Houck Agency. “A lot of times companies try to cram so many different things and so much information about their products or services in an ad or an email blast when it would suit them much better to keep it to one or two things.”

Houck also says companies aren’t doing a good job of effectively using social media platforms – “Every company is a publisher now,” he says – and maintaining a marketing strategy with a sustained focus is essential.

Palo Creative: Embracing Marketing More

There is a need for people to embrace marketing more than they are,” Palo Creative’s Rob Palowitz says. “Being smart with marketing is where opportunities exist” on both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business fronts, he says.

Palowitz is surprised when businesses don’t build a database of their customer lists or interact with their existing customers.

“There’s low-hanging fruit out there. They’re already a fan. They’ve bought from you,” he remarks.

Another mistake he sees companies making is not finding time to incorporate video. As a result, Palo Creative is creating more animation for its clients, Palowitz says.

“Video has better interaction and engagement. And people still struggle to make videos,” he says. “If you can’t do a video, animation ads are the next best thing. We have some really cool animated ads we’re running for companies nationally and internationally.”

Pecchia Communications: Mass Marketing Not for Everyone

The mistake Dan Pecchia most often sees is a lack of targeted marketing.

Examples he cites include neighborhood restaurants or retailers that serve a few communities running television ad campaigns across a metro area and niche industrial suppliers that serve a slice of an industry but market through broad trade publications or trade shows, or even consumer media.

“Mass marketing is great for banks, car dealers and those that count almost anyone as a customer or influencer, but it’s wasteful for those with a narrow audience,” Pecchia says. “Be careful you’re not paying to reach a lot of people who will likely never be your customers.”

Another common mistake is failing to communicate expertise.

The internet makes it easy for organizations that have genuine expertise to highlight that knowledge and distinguish themselves from the herd, he says.

“Those who don’t do that can leave the impression that they don’t have any knowledge to share,” he says. “That can be a costly mistake, especially when competitors do a good job leveraging the economy and reach of online communication.”

He agrees that “radio silence” – cutting off communications when finances get tight or when companies believe they have “enough business for now” – is another mistake.

“When times are tough, your customers are more likely to be approached by competitors,” he says. “Cutting expenses is important, and that can often be accomplished by better targeting without going silent.”

Jet Creative: Updating Social Media Policies

For companies whose employees increasingly use social media for outreach, now is the time to meet with their legal and human resource teams to develop policies that govern social media and make those policies part of the contract when employees sign on, Jet’s Sarra Mohn says.

“Now is the time to update those to ensure their employees are treating everybody with respect and kindness,” she says. “If an employee is out[side] of policy and decides to make a very radical post completely against the vision, mission or rules within the social media construct, they can be terminated or written up. And the company can take action to remove the employee from the organization.”

Another concern Mohn shares is that she doesn’t see enough strategy development before companies spend money on marketing.

“We have to start with a plan and think about which outlet of marketing fulfills that plan,” she says.

That includes determining what goes into television spots, how they tie into a company’s social media and website and whether employees are informed of the content so they can respond to customers.

“Is everybody on the same page or are you just throwing dollars and hoping something happens?” she asks. “It’s important to partner with a marketing firm or director before spending money.”

Bliss 360 Marketing: Using Social Media Differently

Staying engaged is a completely different role now,” Bliss 360’s Lauren Lindvig says.

Businesses in general need to be actively using their social media in ways they haven’t before because operating hours or even what they offer customers may have changed.

Many businesses don’t want to do anything related to marketing because they see it as a cost they can’t afford, Lindvig says.

“That’s disappointing because finding other ways to stay in contact with your customer base is the only way to bounce back from something like this,” she says.

Cutting marketing budgets entirely, as some businesses have done, is “the worst mistake” they could make.  “There are so many great deals out there” when it comes to platforms such as billboards and TV, she says. Also, many businesses had captive audiences a few months ago because so many people were stuck at home.

Pictured: Jeff Hedrich, president and lead brand strategist at Prodigal Co., Boardman; Jim Houck, owner and president of Houck Agency, Youngstown; Rob Palowitz, founder and CEO of Palo Creative, Boardman; Sarra Mohn, co-owner of Jet Creative, Boardman; George Farris, CEO of Farris Marketing, Boardman; Dan Pecchia, president of Pecchia Communications, Canfield; Jeff Ryznar, president and CEO, 898 Marketing, Canfield; Laura Berena, founder and president of Cassidy Advertising and Consulting LLC, Canfield; and Lauren Lindvig, managing partner of Bliss 360 Marketing, Boardman.