How To Ensure Authenticity In Marketing: 12 Critical Tips

Consumers have to deal with so much advertising daily that they are very particular about the ones they listen to. Thanks to the sheer volume of marketing efforts, buyers have become clued-in to what inauthentic marketing looks like. Consumers treat businesses that try to perform inauthentic marketing with disdain, and modern cancel-culture can lead to massive PR disasters.

Forbes Agency Council

If you want to connect with your clients, you need to do it in a way that resonates with them authentically. Below, 12 members of Forbes Agency Council share several critical tips to help businesses be more genuine in their marketing endeavors.

1. Make Your Customer The Superhero

If you make your product or people the superhero, you’re putting your brand above your customer and looking down at them. This positioning makes you appear inauthentic and untrustworthy. In your marketing, the superhero is always your customer. Your product or service is the tool that enables them to achieve the superior results they’re seeking. – Douglas Karr, Highbridge

2. Understand Your Brand Promise

Businesses should first of all understand their brand promise. What is it that their consumers expect of them? What is their core philosophy? What is the brand’s DNA — not its ideal, but the truth of its culture and impact? Once that is known, any message that strays from that brand promise will be inauthentic. – Stefan Pollack, The Pollack Group

3. Project What Your Brand Stands For

Every clever marketing campaign should project the heart of the brand and what it stands for. All marketing projects must be consistent in messaging to truly connect with the consumer and showcase the values of the brand, ensuring authenticity. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

4. Develop A Brand Style Guide Early On

Branding is storytelling, and authenticity and consistency are key. Developing a brand bible and style guide early is a helpful tool to crystallize your story. You should include elements like positioning, mission, pillars, dos/don’ts, visual identity, etc. These will serve as a North Star internally and will also enable partners, agencies and other extensions of your team to know your story. – Marc Becker, The Tangent Agency

5. Gather As Much Feedback As Possible

What you think customers want and what customers actually want are not always the same. Gather as much customer feedback and engagement metrics as possible to learn how they talk about your product/service and what they want or need from it. Use that information to build a marketing strategy and you will be sure to resonate with your target audience in an authentic way. – Donna Robinson, Collective Measures

6. Focus On Providing Value And Educating

The single best way to have authentic marketing is to give value first. Instead of always trying to sell, sell, sell, make sure you take the time to educate. We pride ourselves on our blog, training and learning hub. We give access to all of them for free because we believe in value first. If we can get our customers to trust us, then the selling will come even easier later in the funnel. – Marc Hardgrove, The HOTH

7. Feature Your Subject-Matter Experts

People trust people, not brands. It’s important to look for ways to feature the subject-matter experts behind your company because it’s easier for someone to connect with a person than a brand. People want to buy from people they trust, and learning about your founders’ stories, values and experience can help build that trust. – Kelsey Raymond, Influence & Co.

8. Have A Story With A Human Touch

Make sure your brand has a story with a human touch. Showing why customers need your product or service is not enough, you have to connect with them on a deeper level — and that’s where storytelling comes in. What’s the story behind the brand? Why does it exist? When your brand has a proper story behind it, you’ll win the loyalty of consumers and that’s priceless. – Randy Soderman, Soderman SEO

9. Focus On Product Benefits, Not Features

Authentic marketing always focuses on product benefits, not product features. To ensure authenticity, first understand how your product makes the customer’s life better, easier or more enjoyable; i.e., the product benefits. Then ensure that marketing content focuses on telling that product benefit story. This approach helps your marketing content resonate and keeps it authentic. – Aliza Freud, SheSpeaks, Inc.

10. Keep Your Message And Tone Consistent

Keep your message and tone consistent. If you’re clever, be clever. If you’re snarky, be snarky. It’s the inconsistency of this tone that can sound fake. If the written content on your site is a bit casual and loose, but the videos on your site are overly “corporate,” your brand will reek of inauthenticity. Clever and catchy are OK, but don’t do it halfway. – Bernard May, National Positions

11. Always Test Before Launch

Even the best creative can have a blind spot, so it’s critical to test before launch. Test it! Too often, campaigns come out without input from a variety of demographics. If you want to be authentic, you must first test it with your internal team and collect feedback based on how it makes them feel and how they expect the outside world will react. – Kathleen Lucente, Red Fan Communications

12. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Vulnerable

Be vulnerable. Nobody’s perfect, so if your marketing suggests that you are, it will always come off as inauthentic. I saw a restaurant that advertised that its rooftop bar was “well worth the three flights of stairs.” That’s clever and self-deprecating in a way that resonates with consumers. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

16 effective strategies for building a reliable talent pipeline

No matter the state of the labor market, your business should be prepared to quickly fill job openings. One solution to this is developing a talent pipeline — a reliable, accessible and ever-renewing pool of qualified candidates. While this may take extra effort at the outset, it can save your business significant time and headaches when you need to hire quickly.

The Business Journals

To help you with your recruiting efforts, we asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust how to build a reliable talent pipeline. Below, they share 16 strategies you can use to develop a strong pool of qualified candidates for your business’s needs.

1. Invest marketing resources into your HR efforts.
Seldom do businesses commit as many resources to marketing their labor brand as they do to generating new sales leads. Just like business development and sales growth, building a talent pipeline is an ongoing process that takes considerable expertise from the marketing department. HR alone should not be accountable for creating a talented future workforce. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

2. Become a mentor to students.
As the leader of a nonprofit working to build a diverse talent pipeline in our K-12 schools, I believe a strategy that would be helpful to education would be carving out time to speak with students or become a volunteer or mentor. Those in the workforce who are underrepresented are the perfect advocates for diversity and inclusion. Female CIOs and CTOs show girls what is possible by example. – Kathleen Schofield, Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub

3. Actively manage your company’s reputation.
We actively manage our reputation within the professional community. People will seek us out. We do this in a variety of ways, including through our website, social media and professional events. The second (and most productive) way to build a talent pipeline is to have everyone’s eyes open to potential new talent. The best people are already working. We seek them out. – John Berendzen, Fox Architects (St. Louis)

4. Stay active in your industry community.
Always continue networking, and stay active in all areas of core competency and the community. You never know when that gem is in the audience waiting to shine in your organization. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. Create an unrivaled company culture.
Invest in your current talent pool. Create an unrivaled culture. If people like where they work, they are going to talk about it. There is nothing stronger than a referral from a current employee. Job seekers look at sites like Glassdoor. If your team loves what they do, building a talent pipeline is as easy as calling on them. – Lane Conner, Fuzse

6. Mobilize your team as ‘talent scouts.’
I encourage all of our team members to think of themselves as “talent scouts,” constantly keeping their eyes out for great people who might be good fits for our organization. There’s nothing better than great, happy employees wanting to make their company better by helping to identify and recruit other talented individuals. – Chris Hogan, Benefit Commerce Group, an Alera Group Company

7. Pay attention to your employer reviews.
Improve your presence on employer review sites like Glassdoor, Comparably and Kununu. Candidates invariably look at these sites today in deciding where to apply for jobs. The more reviews (and the more five-star reviews) you have, the better your chances of growing a strong talent pipeline. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

8. Create an employee referral program.
Companies can create a reliable talent pipeline by creating an employee referral program. The best hires often come from referrals from existing teammates who are familiar with a job candidate’s values, work ethic and past performance. Many studies have shown that referred hires are cheaper, onboard faster and stay at their jobs longer than traditional hires. – Vincent Phamvan, Vyten Career Coaching

9. Develop a formal succession plan.
One key strategy is to build an internal pipeline through formal succession planning, mentoring, training and understanding individual employee career aspirations. To support this strategy, new employees are hired based not only on their fit for existing positions but also on their ability to grow into future, more highly skilled roles. – Shawn Kitchell, Madico, Inc.

10. Focus on a culture of well-being.
One way to always have a talent pipeline is to create a culture of well-being. When you have a true well-being culture, people love their work. You then become an employer of choice. Now you can recruit top talent for any role in your organization. Creating a culture of well-being is a journey that your organization has to go through. It’s all about the employee experience. – Debra Young, Sheer Velocity, LLC

11. Volunteer as a guest speaker.
We send speakers to MBA classes that teach our subject areas. That connects us with a broad labor pool and helps us identify the best candidates from that pool. – Reed Holden, Holden Advisors

12. Leverage digital recruitment platforms and networking events.
There are tons of options for recruiters to hire both part-time and full-time employees. It’s hard to pinpoint where you can establish a pipeline, but it would be good to be on digital recruitment platforms and network at every conference that you can attend. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

13. Partner with university career services departments.
Partner with university career services and be a resource for them. Rather than always being on the receiving end of a résumé, we try to show how we hope to help the universities build talent by offering free classes, volunteering to do résumé reviews or mock interviews, and participating in club activities. Knowing that we’re not only adding value by hiring keeps us top of mind. – Jordan Lofton, Golden Source Consultants

14. Build your internal pipeline first.
Consider whether you should build it or buy it and under what conditions. Look internally and hire from within whenever institutional knowledge is required for the position. Build an internal pipeline through formal succession planning that includes a mentorship program, employee learning development opportunities and dialogues to uncover employee career aspirations. This helps increase engagement. – Katie Wahlquist, Star Bank

15. Volunteer to serve on curriculum advisory committees.
Leverage partnerships with two-year colleges to create internships and co-ops, and promote openings through student career centers. Consider mentoring, and help ensure the curriculum is up to date and meets current and future industry needs through volunteering on curriculum advisory committees. Consider youth apprenticeships in high schools, and be sure your organization supports diversity, equity and inclusion. – Vicki Martin, Milwaukee Area Technical College

16. Build a ‘virtual bench.’
Building a virtual bench has been a success factor for us. We never stop recruiting, even if we don’t have any job openings. Having one to three candidates lined up for a position is helpful, and the best hires have most often resulted from building a long-term relationship with someone before hiring them. Sometimes the relationships are built over years. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.

Award Winning Leadership With Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

As a leading technology and data-driven advertising agency, Hawthorne Advertising specializes in integrated campaign solutions for brands. As CEO, Jessica Hawthorne-Castro has prioritized company culture and has received numerous awards for her career accomplishments, most recently winning the CEO of The Year award for technology-based advertising by Corporate Livewire. In this episode, Jessica shares with us her incredible journey and what it takes to be an award-winning CEO.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

In This Episode You’ll Hear About:

  • How growing up in small-town in the Midwest established a hard-working ethic and a discipline influenced by a unique school in Iowa that taught transcendental meditation
  • How dreams of California took Jessica back west to UCLA for college to study Fine Art
  • How her dad is known as the Father of the Infomercial
  • Her experience working as a Television Literary Agent at Endeavor (later William Morris Endeavor) where she learned that there will always be mistakes, but also there are solutions
  • Why work ethic in the agency world is so critical and also a huge part of her success
  • How she came to be a part of her father’s established ad agency company and fell in love with it, even though that was never part of the plan
  • How she l came up with the company’s mission and vision, company strategy, yearly planning, which then led to her becoming the COO, then the CEO, and then the owner of Hawthorne Advertising
  • Her recent discovery of the Entrepreneurial Operating System and how that has streamlined all the moving parts across the organization
  • How Jessica and her teams have created a culture of giving back, enjoying work, making sure her company is a great place to work and helping their clients’ companies thrive and grow is at the core of what drives them
  • Ways she leads by example in personal and professional daily growth through organizations like Vistage and YPO
  • Some of the many awards Jessica has won, such as LA Business Journal’s Top Marketers in LA, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 40 Under 40 and Rising Star awards, CEO of the Year, and more
  • How getting the execution and operations behind an idea right is the only way to actually  bring good things to fruition and how this includes not only managing people well but managing your own time well
  • Ways her high efficiency, incredible organization skills, ability to delegate, and drive to complete daily tasks leads to less stress and more successful output
  • Jessica’s advice to learn all parts of the business

To Find Out More:


“I do appreciate growing up in the Midwest and the values that I got from the Midwest and the work ethic that comes from that.”

“Many entrepreneurial paths are born out of necessity.”

“I never wanted to get a job or have an experience that anyone handed to me. I always wanted to do it myself. I never wanted to owe anyone, anything ever”

“We’re always going to have problems… Nothing is ever easy. But it is how you approach everything in a way that you’re coming to fix it. You’re coming with solutions instead of just coming with complaints.”

“What is important within our culture is that it’s not about the individual. It’s about the client’s best interest. And if we are growing their company and their campaign as a result, then we’re all growing together.”

“It’s really important to me that people work very hard, but that they have a lot of fun and enjoy what they’re doing because we’re spending more time at work than really any other parts of our life.”

“Those who do focus on personal and professional development are those who keep coming along with you on the ride and help drive the growth of the company and what you’re doing.”

“Getting the execution and the operations right is absolutely critical to anything because you can have the greatest ideas ever, but they are absolutely worthless unless you can actually execute them.”

“You have to figure out how to execute and operate to be able to bring things to fruition. And it is about consistency.”

“I can really perform at a high level every day because I push myself to work and complete everything so that the next day I can start completely fresh.”

“Learn all parts of the business, start from the bottom. I’m a big advocate of starting from the bottom.”

16 ways to ‘future-proof’ your career

Change is constant, especially when it comes to technological advances. Many businesses are quick to embrace and adapt to include these technological advances, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, in their daily operations. Indeed, the increasing use of AI and ML has many people nervous about being pushed out of their jobs.

Members of the Business Journals Leadership Trust understand these professionals’ concerns and have shared some recommendations for “future-proofing” yourself for the working world. Try these strategies to prepare yourself for the increased role of technology in the workplace.

Forbes Agency Council

1. Take inventory of your skills.
Inventory your skills and know what value you bring to an organization so that you can adapt and grow based on your success, not what’s hot in the market. For example, a skilled writer will always be a skilled writer, regardless of whether that is within a creative shop or a highly technical environment. Some raw, innate skills will always be in demand. Focus on those and the rest will follow. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

2. Learn about and leverage your technological ‘competition.’
Learn about your AI/ML competition. Find out what makes them great and what their pitfalls are. You can strategize ways to work with and use AI/ML to enhance your human level of service instead of fighting against it. – Christen McCamie, Nesta Real Estate Consultants

3. Do the things AI and ML can’t.
Do the things that AI and ML can’t do or don’t do well. These are mostly related to human interaction. The human mind is far more complex than any computer can understand (at least right now). Furthermore, we are each so different that a computer could never keep track of those differences. Lastly, emotional intelligence is still a (rare) human talent. – Brian Walters, Walters Gilbreath, PLLC

4. Reframe your value based on operational and cultural knowledge.
Employees should first reframe their value based on their operational knowledge and their ability to navigate company culture, including the unique elements they contribute — things the machine cannot use in decision-making. They also have a chance to take advantage of the current situation to learn new skill sets, earn relevant industry certification and position themselves to add value to the bottom line. – Daniel Villao, Intelligent Partnerships, Inc.

5. Hone in on your creativity.
Humans’ unique differential will remain regardless of automation. We are creative beings, and as long as we approach problem-solving and pain points with creativity, our jobs are “future-proofed.” Embracing AI and ML to enhance efficiency and competency is a good thing! The door is open for more human invention and innovation. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

6. Never stop learning.
Learn a new skill, language or even a new code. Make sure your employer knows you are hungry to learn and conquer new opportunities. Never stop learning and developing new skills. – Andrew Duffell, Research Park at FAU

7. Be able to recognize and adapt to business changes.
Being able to adapt and recognize modern changes in the way business is done is very important to any professional, no matter the industry. While it’s impossible to be an expert on everything, professionals should stay relevant by continuing to learn and embrace the modern new technologies that are entering our daily lives. – Tom Rourick, RSM US LLP

8. Remember there’s no substitute for human empathy.
In our business, human interaction and involvement each step of the way are what sets us apart. Even if we get to the point where there’s more automation, there is no substitution for empathy and feeling heard. As more industries utilize AI, the human touch will continue to differentiate us. It’s important to create an environment that celebrates the unique experiences our team brings to the table. – Jake Gilbreath, Walters Gilbreath, PLLC

9. Develop a growth mindset.
Every professional should develop a growth mindset where they focus on learning and make conquering new challenges a part of their routine. This will allow them to grow as businesses evolve. If professionals have a fixed mindset where they give up or avoid challenges, it will inevitably lead to failure to adapt to changes in the environment. – Vincent Phamvan, Vyten Career Coaching

10. Look for opportunities to streamline mundane tasks.
AI and ML are growing, but instead of being nervous about job security, people can see it as an opportunity for the more mundane tasks to be taken care of with technology. Then the human aspect can blossom, with professionals being more creative in their work, planning and strategy. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

11. Get ahead of the curve.
We must all continually update our skills! The technologies are coming, and we can either be displaced by them or be the innovator who solves problems through these new tools. Staying current and getting ahead of the curve is critical to remaining relevant in the new workplace. – Kathleen Schofield, Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub

12. Prioritize your critical thinking skills.
This is an age-old question. People worried about the calculator, then the computer, now AI and ML. The one professional asset that is constant is critical thinking. Train your brain to look at problems from a macro/micro, conceptual/analytic and social/strategic viewpoint. Critical thinkers will be the next generation’s leaders — they will be the conductors rather than the musicians. – Lane Conner, Fuzse

13. Demonstrate your resilience.
While no one really knows which employment opportunities will be available in the future, you can still learn to future proof your career so employers see you as the best candidate. People who are adaptable and resilient will be the ones who will have longevity. A “change is inevitable” mindset must be adopted by professionals. Have an open mind about what change brings and take it head-on. – Katie Wahlquist, Star Bank

14. Challenge yourself to think creatively about your job and business.
Allow yourself — better yet, challenge yourself — to try creative thinking sessions (all pencils down and phones off) at least once a month about your job/business. AI and ML can do a lot at an impressive speed but are nonetheless tethered to data and processes that have occurred in the past. To date, only the human mind can envision something that has not been done or existed before. – Michael Sluka, B2B CFO Partners

15. Find ways to make tech work for you.
In today’s era of distributed workforces, cross-functional collaboration is digitally driven. All professionals must keep up with emerging technologies and upgrade their tools regularly. If you’ve used the same old tool for years, you may not even know what you are missing! My recommendation is to make tech work for you, not be scared of it. – Mark Zinman, Zinman & Company

16. Think like an entrepreneur.
There is no such thing as future-proofing. It is important to understand the market value of what you have to offer. You should always think like an entrepreneur. What can I offer that others need? What is the hiring manager looking for? When the skill you are currently known for is plentiful, build your other skills or acquire a new skill that is less available — then promote it. – Samir Mokashi, Code Unlimited LLC

8 Emerging E-commerce Trends Marketing Experts Are Excited About

Trends come and go like the ebb and flow of a tide. It seems like with each new quarter we see e-commerce trends on the horizon that might have a massive impact on various industries. Companies that can spot these trends before they hit the mainstream can capitalize on their new knowledge. Because of how quickly trends can gain traction, a company that can prepare or pivot into a trend before everyone else can see a lot of engagement from their core audience. However, the key is figuring out which trends are the exciting ones.

AdAge Collective

In particular, e-commerce trends can be particularly fickle. Emerging trends, the ones that haven’t reached critical mass yet, are the ones that businesses should spend their focus on. An emerging e-commerce trend, if caught on the rise, can catapult a company’s popularity. When you find the most exciting emerging trends, you’re almost guaranteed to be the talk of the town.

These eight entrepreneurs from Ad Age Collective have become quite adept at spotting emerging trends and picking out the most exciting ones from the bunch. We asked them about the most recent emerging trends in e-commerce that we should be aware of. Their responses are below.

1. COVID-19 as an e-commerce accelerator
A trend I noticed is COVID-19 as an e-commerce accelerator. Huge brands had to dive into the direct-to-consumer (DTC) playbook. Mega-retailers being “forced” into e-tailing now are finding they can activate customers at mega-scale via video ads, gaining positive attribution analytics leading to redistribution of and more sales productivity for their marketing spend. – Sean Cunningham, VAB

2. Personalization improving the online shopping experience
E-commerce personalization will improve the online shopping experience. Customers want to feel cared for, especially when they are looking for a particular product. Algorithms can assist with making webpages, emails and even advertisements more personal. When the algorithms are properly trained, then businesses can use them to win over customers. – Duran Inci, Optimum7

3. Exponential growth of online grocery and last mile delivery
The greatest e-commerce impact of COVID-19 is the exponential growth in online grocery and last mile delivery. Consumer volume increased as advertising opportunities for brands beyond perishables have expanded. Now beauty, alcohol, OTC and other center-aisle categories must build strategies for “the third shelf.” – Kerry Curran, Catalyst

4. Shopify’s integration with the Walmart Marketplace
Shopify’s integration into the Walmart Marketplace is big news. This sets up a positive network effect for Walmart, Shopify and Shopify’s sellers — more audience for Shopify and its sellers, more product diversity and revenue for Walmart to compete with Amazon. By linking advertising closely with demand, this will make the Walmart advertising platform more powerful for some advertisers. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

5. ML and AI for customer service increasing velocity
Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) for customer service will help increase e-commerce velocity. Customer service is often an underfunded necessary evil for e-commerce brands, particularly when a burst of operational issues inevitably arise. Resolving customer challenges at scale keeps customers coming back because customers want to talk to “someone” who can resolve issues in real time. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

6. The rise of the curbside delivery concept
The game has changed completely for businesses that rely on in-person activity for revenue, such as restaurants, bars and events. The concept of “curbside delivery” has opened up new possibilities for taking a piece of that experience away to recreate in new and different environments. The more creative a brand is, the more they can still meet customer needs regardless of our changing world. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute

7. Growing importance of voice search
Voice search is coming, but it’s being ignored. With the rise of virtual assistants, e-commerce has been quick to understand the implications. When a consumer can order a product by simply saying “Hey Alexa, order X,” that changes everything from the standard web and/or social search. Marketers need to understand that voice is a completely different game to SEO — adopt voice early and they’ll be ready. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

8. The surge of in-home training and mindfulness platforms
An exciting trend to watch emerge has been the surge of in-home gym equipment, virtual personal trainers and mindfulness platforms which allow people to feel part of a community without having to meet in person. This is a big area of opportunity for both the consumer and the advertising industry. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

13 Critical Steps When Partnering With An Influencer

Influencers are among the most impressive traffic-generation engines marketers have available to them today. However, not all influencers are created equal. For a business, just seeing the numbers that an influencer can impact is only the tip of the iceberg. Companies need to know the people they’re partnering with.


Forbes Agency Council - Influencers

In all aspects of business, trust plays an important part, and a company should know it can trust the face of its marketing. Thus, for companies to be secure in partnering with an influencer, they should start by learning more about their potential partners. Below, 13 experts from Forbes Agency Council share a few critical steps companies should take when checking an influencer’s trustworthiness.

1. Know The Influencer’s Audience

Successful influencer marketing is essentially tapping into an influencer’s audience; hence it’s not only important to look at the feed, storytelling, followers, engagement rate etc., but also at what audience you are tapping into. Are their followers your target demographic, are they interested in fashion or cars? You are accessing an influencer’s audience so make sure it is the right one. – Emilie Tabor, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency

2. Don’t Take Influencer Status At Face Value

There are many things you can do to investigate the true value of an influencer for your brand. As you do so, keep in mind that what’s important isn’t just their follower count. In fact, many smaller influencers can make for a great choice if they have high engagement and a true relationship with their audience. An influencer’s personal audience connection is what really matters. – Dmitrii Kustov, Regex SEO

3. Make Sure Your Values Are The Same

Your business is successful because you have a win/win solution for you and your customers, and your ideal customers’ values match your business values. Your association with influencers will only work if they believe in the values of your company. Their endorsement will come out authentic only if they believe in your business, plus their followers will be closer to your ideal customers. – Ajay Prasad, GMR Web Team

4. Do A Deep Dive Into Their Life

Before partnering with an influencer, do a deep dive into their life to make sure their persona is something you want your brand to be associated with. If you make the wrong decision on an influencer, only to realize this after you have gone public, quickly remove them. Don’t be afraid to let your consumers know you made a mistake and will correct it to be more in line with your brand values. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

5. Look Beyond The Individual

Take time to look into a potential influencer’s online connections and other partnerships. You should already be familiar with their followers, but what do you know about the people the influencer follows — do their messages and posts align with your values? This shouldn’t be used as a pass-fail test, but it can give you some insight into your influencer’s motivations. – Hannah Trivette, NUVEW Web Solutions

6. Look At The Numbers

It’s hard to judge how trustworthy an influencer will be, but the numbers won’t lie. Check the audience composition of their channels — does the age, gender and location align with your target? Do a quantitative analysis of other partnerships they’ve had — what did reach, engagement and clicks look like? It’s a red flag if they’re unwilling to provide the above, or if the numbers don’t look great. – John Keehler, RUNNER Agency

7. Request And Review Analytics

One important step each business must take when checking the validity of an influencer before partnering is requesting and reviewing their analytics to ensure their social accounts are genuine. In doing so, you can more accurately and confidently predict that partnering with the influencer will drive you qualified traffic and result in new sales. – Jonathan Durante, Expandify Marketing Inc

8. Ask For References

Ask your influencer to demonstrate the success and impact they’ve had with other businesses. Ask for references, too — or seek them out on your own. It’s important to get third-party insight into how your influencer moved the needle for others. – Paula Chiocchi, Outward Media, Inc.

9. Look For Low Fraud Levels

When choosing an influencer, authenticity is of the utmost importance so be sure your influencer has low fraud and no recent competitive posts. If an influencer has fake followers, you’re paying a premium to connect with fewer real followers. If the influencer posted about a competing brand within the last 30 days, they may not seem genuine and could negatively impact your brand. – Maria Sipka, Linqia

10. Check For Fake Followers

Tons of influencers buy fake followers. If their engagement rate is below 1%, their following is most likely purchased. There are many apps you can check that provide metrics on bots or inactive users. If you don’t know how to do this yourself, reach out to a social media agency that manages influencers. We usually keep a blacklist. – Kelly Samuel, Kelly Samuel

11. Read The Audience Comments

Sometimes, reading the comments under photos and videos of an influencer can give a clear picture of what sentiment their audience has for a certain type of content. Understanding that can help in selecting those creators that can actually influence the others and avoid those who bought fake followers or who are receiving only bland emoji comments. – Alessandro Bogliari, The Influencer Marketing Factory

12. Make A Real Connection

Whether it’s a phone call or a Zoom meeting, you’ll learn a lot more about someone through live connection than you will in their DMs. Set up time to chat one on one with potential partners. The little things, like whether or not they’re on time, will give you a peek into their reliability, and a real-life conversation can help you vet how they fit with your brand quickly. – Kate Weidner, SRW

13. Implement A ‘Q Score’

The most important step is recognizing that an influencer’s following is not the only criterion to determining a good fit with a brand. As an industry, we need to develop and start implementing a “Q Score” for influencers just as we do when evaluating celebrities. This type of measurement would dig deeper into an influencer’s persona and appeal and help ensure an authentic fit with a brand partner. – Carl Fremont, Quigley-Simpson

7 Smart Ways To Assess The Quality Of Your Brand’s Content

Anyone in or adjacent to the marketing world knows that “content is king.” Everything you create and share with the public should always be of high quality, as it’s a representation of your brand and is what will draw people to your business. But with a never-ending demand for branded content on your blog, social media channels and website, how can you be sure that each piece is top-notch before it goes out?

AdAge Collective

We asked the members of Ad Age Collective to share some unique ways to gauge the quality of your work before it gets published. Here’s how they recommend assessing your content.

1. Set clear standards.
In order to assess anything, you need to have clear standards. This goes for content as well. So, create a clear set of standards that cover things like tone, visual elements, key messages, restricted topics, etc. Standards may need to vary by media type. Then, the key is to have someone other than the content producer assess the content against the standards. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

2. Make content on-brand, on-strategy and interesting.
High-quality content, like all marketing, answers three questions with a resounding “yes.” Is it on-strategy? It must have a clearly defined goal, target audience, etc. Is it on-brand? From logo usage to the tone of the messaging, it must look, feel and sound consistent. Is it interesting? It must be unmissable and unskippable, which is easier said than done. – Chad Robley, Mindgruve

3. Show the true worth of your content.
Make sure your audience can see the true worth of your content by making it different and clearly better than the competition. Connect to solutions people seek now, and show the impact it will make on key profit and loss line items. Once that happens, then your content quality is above par and it puts you on the path to being one-of-one (and not one-of-many). – Arjun Sen, ZenMango

4. Read it out loud.
This is such a simple step, but reading your content aloud helps you understand how it sounds to others. You’ll find any awkward phrasing or repeated words. Hearing your content spoken aloud also gives you the chance to assess if it’s conversational. It becomes easier to make changes to make it sound better. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

5. Test it out with a focus group.
Test your content and images with simple online focus groups to quickly see what resonates the best. This will help you determine which content is of the highest quality and connects best with your audience for the brand message you are trying to project. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Put it in front of non-marketers.
Content is primarily the function of the marketing department. The risk is that piece of content comes across as too salesy or bloated when it comes solely from a marketing team without vetting. A good quick trick to see if your content is quality is putting it in front of other team members before publishing. My personal favorite: engineers. They’ll always tell you if a message is grounded enough. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

7. Make sure the right consumers see it.
Part of producing quality content is ensuring it resonates with the right consumers, but equally important is making sure they see it. When producing content, writers and promoters need to be on the same page about distribution, what part of the funnel it represents and what persona it targets. This plan, produced for all content, is a prerequisite for reach and efficacy, and therefore also quality. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

15 Key Considerations For Businesses When Commenting On Political Or Social Matters

A few decades ago, the rule of thumb for businesses when it came to politics or social issues would be to ignore it. However, as the world has become more politically aware of the situations that infiltrate everyday life, businesses can no longer sit on the sidelines as history passes them by.

Politics and social issues can be thorny subjects, especially if a company doesn’t understand where its audience’s sentiments lie. A wrong step could mean a public relations disaster of epic proportions. Here, 15 members of Forbes Agency Council examine how a business can comment on social and political issues without finding themselves on the receiving end of “cancel culture.”

Forbes Agency Council

1. Walk The Talk

A tweet in support of an issue might feel like a good idea, but when you lend your brand’s support to a cause or issue, make sure it’s more than words on a screen. Woke consumers do their research. Be prepared to speak to what your company is doing with its policies, procedures and dollars if you choose to join the conversation on social issues. – Kate Weidner , SRW

2. Get Buy-In From All Levels

It has to be more than a public statement. When you stake a claim, be sure that the belief has buy-in across all aspects of your business. Your employees need to have buy-in and stand behind the belief, you need alignment with existing core clients and local support within the community. Each business decision should be held up to a litmus test to ensure it aligns with your belief (social or political). – Korena Keys, KeyMedia Solutions

3. Don’t Force It

Engaging in political or social issues may not be right for your brand. Before you go down this path, make sure that you take an honest look at your brand and your consumer to see if these issues fit your identity. If they don’t, it’s best not to force it. Today’s consumers can spot forced or disingenuous commentary a mile away. – JP Johl, AdTribute

4. Make It Defensible

If you have a fully-informed opinion that is based on more than emotion and you can articulate it well, then feel free to share it. If not, keep it quiet. Then, you can stand on your principles and the truth when there is dissension (and there always will be). – Christine Wetzler, Pietryla PR

5. Embrace Controversial Content

When you post about traditional “taboo” content, it will invite both sides of whatever issue to come forward no matter what, no matter how polite or how well-oiled your PR team is. Instead of trying to fight the inevitable, be open with your wording to encourage conversation. The more organic comments, the cheaper your CPC, the better your content performs on social media. – Kelly Samuel, Kelly Samuel

6. Define Your ‘Why’

Before you take a position on anything political or social, define your “why.” Make sure you live up to it with your actions. This is the hard part. Now, do not conduct market research to see how people respond to your “why.” Even if you do, never change it to please everyone. Own it as is. Now go ahead and be fearless in inspiring your brand followers with social commentary. – Kashif Zaman, Pivyt

7. Make Sure Your Stance And Values Align

Be authentic. When your words align with your brand, they will impact people. The popular choice is not the proper one if it goes against your values or does not connect with your brand. If you have no history or actions to back your statements, they will be poorly received; but if your messages are consistent over time and what you say matches what you do, your stance will draw people to you. – Fran Biderman-Gross, Advantages

8. Understand Consumer Perception

While authenticity has long been a marketing buzzword, it’s critical that brands understand who they are and how consumers perceive them when venturing into any political or social commentary. This ensures that if brands are entering taboo waters, they are doing so in a way that doesn’t appear to be opportunistic and will feel authentic to their followers. – Jessica Reznick, We’re Magnetic

9. Connect With Integrity

Connection with a brand should never come at the expense of integrity. Unless you represent an intentionally polarizing brand, there is no reason to create deliberately polarizing content or messaging. Even in that case, keep in mind that the internet is forever, and your messaging has the potential to haunt the brand, its stakeholders and you as the creator, for a long time. – Patrick Nycz, NewPoint Marketing

10. Be Politically Polite

Political issues should still be off the table unless someone invites the conversation — do not actively bring it up especially in such polarizing times. However, if someone does bring up a political subject and you don’t have the same views, politely listen to the content and then redirect the conversation to pertinent business topics instead of personal political feelings. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

11. Don’t Try To Satisfy Everyone

In sharing your views, you will appeal to many consumers, but not all. In fact, you may turn some consumers off such that you lose their business. But for those that share your beliefs, you will create a much more loyal customer and the increase in sales from them will offset any loss. Don’t be afraid of losing customers because the ones you gain will make up for it! – Lori Paikin, NaviStone®

12. Always Be Fair

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you have to be very fair. As a company, you need to remain fair and share information and perspectives that are balanced and inclusive of all viewpoints. – Jon James, Ignited Results

13. Research Your Sources

Sharing your opinions or values can be a great way to bring authenticity to your messaging, but use extreme caution when sharing other people’s content — if at all. Items like user-generated quotes and photos need to be vetted carefully before you stake your online reputation on them. – Hannah Trivette, NUVEW Web Solutions

14. Be Mindful Of How You Say It

It’s not about what you say, it’s about how you say it. Today, there’s no longer one “media elite” but rather, endless conversations that are taking place on many different platforms. Listen to communities and hear what they have to say on the matter you wish to talk about and figure out what your added value is in the conversation or solution. – Hamutal Schieber

15. Support Causes That Resonate With Customers

Studies show consumers are apt to switch brands to those that share similar values to their own. The best way for a company to make social commentary to increase brand loyalty is to support causes that resonate with their customer base. For example, sponsoring arts and cultural organizations, or programs such as arts education, shows that the business is investing in their community and its people. – Henry Kurkowski, One WiFi

Stumped On Your Business Name? 8 Tips For Choosing The Right One

You’ve identified a need in the market, a product or service to fulfill it, a business plan to guide you and a team to make it all happen. You have everything you need for success — except a name for your startup. A business name should be memorable, descriptive and unique, which can be a challenging set of criteria to fill at once.

The members of Ad Age Collective know the importance of a brand name, as well as how to come up with a great one. Below, eight of them share their best advice for testing and choosing names for your company, product or service.

AdAge Collective

1. Test ideas with your audience.
There are so many factors to naming, such as inspiration, branding, legal and more. The real hurdle to get over is subjectivity. Years of experience can cause bias. Fresh ideas won’t reflect historical cycles. From the list, select your top picks and test them with your audience. Aren’t they the ones who matter at the end of the day? Use their insights to cut out consensus and inspire great work. – Nicole Oliha, City National Bank

2. Create mock-ups.
Creating design mock-ups of your products with the potential brand name can be very impactful. It will make your name more real. You can also print out content with your name and possible logo to get a feel for it. Then, when you’ve spent some time with it, you can get a sense of whether your name will work in the long run. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

3. Brainstorm as much as possible.
It’s a volume play to find the needle in a huge haystack of established businesses, existing trademarks and purchased URLs. Brainstorm like a mad person. Scribble everything down without editing yourself. Make up words like a modern-day Shakespeare. With hundreds of options on the wall, you can begin to narrow down the list based on the names that both reflect the brand positioning and are currently available. – Chad Robley, Mindgruve

4. Explain what your product is.
If you’re launching a complicated product to market with a limited budget, sometimes choosing a descriptive name can be helpful. A descriptive name does some of the heavy lifting on the marketing side. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Reflect your passion and excitement with a story.
Names can be literal or creative. It is up to you to build it over time. It must reflect your passion and excitement, and you must have a story to tell. My daughter came up with the name of our business, ZenMango. Her logic was “zen” is a position of wisdom and rhymes with our last name, “Sen,” and “mango” is the world’s fastest-growing fruit and allows us to migrate current brand colors. When asked about our company name, I love telling the story with pride. – Arjun Sen, ZenMango

7. Make sure the name is available.
The mistake many business owners make is thinking that the name matters. What matters far more with a name is if you can claim the appropriate digital assets. Running a Google search along with a social media check for the availability for your particular name is crucial as you begin to market your business. Don’t stress on the name itself; make sure you can claim your digital real estate first. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

5. Weigh descriptive names against generic.
Begin by deciding if you want to choose a descriptive name, like “Precision Tools,” or a generic name like “Amazon.” Descriptive names are often helpful early on because they require less explanation, but they can be confining if you think your business will grow into new areas over time. Some names like Netflix are abstracted enough to provide a bit of latitude in both directions. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

8. Ensure it doesn’t feel ‘wrong.’
Don’t get hung up on finding the perfect name, because rarely does any name feel totally right at first. However, it is critical that you make sure it isn’t wrong. Always confirm that it is culturally sensitive, isn’t confusing, is available and so on. People often mistake that a name is a brand, but the company, culture and behaviors will create the power behind the name and make it “right.” – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

10 Aspects Of Marketing That Will Never Change

As media, technology and customer needs continue to grow and change, so too does the world of marketing. While certain marketing trends come and go, others have withstood the test of time.

AdAge Collective

The members of Ad Age Collective have studied and experienced industry trends over the course of their careers. We asked a group of them to share some aspects of marketing they believe are here to stay. Below are 10 things about marketing that are unlikely to change, and what you can learn from them.

1. Needing the right message for your audience
Marketing is essentially about getting the right message to the right audience — that will never change. What does change are the tools to do that more efficiently and effectively. Your target audience and message can change too, but you will always need to match the two. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

2. Getting the product right
Now more than ever, marketers need to perfectly fit their product or services to the customer. If it doesn’t fit, the customer will quit. Customers can discover more products than ever, they are exposed to more reviews and they are less tied to heritage brands. Before, brand awareness and messaging could cover up inadequacies, but companies and products (and sourcing) are forever exposed. – Reid Carr, Red Door Interactive

3. Time for creativity and inspiration
Creativity and inspiration have been at the core of marketing since day one. They remain the decisive factors in driving brand success, employee engagement and memorable ideas. Leaders must take time out to foster these and not get so caught up in business. Think Don Draper at the end of Mad Men. We find a way to allow for creativity or marketing will cease to inspire its audience. – Maggie O’Neill, Peppercomm

4. The need for ideas
It might sound trite, but the most valuable product an agency (or consultancy) can offer a client was, is and always will be big, bold, business-altering, projection-crushing, trendsetting ideas. Other “aspects” of marketing will evolve or disappear. – Chad Robley, Mindgruve

5. Telling stories that connect to the heart
The days of scream and tell are gone. Find that authentic story that showcases your brand’s uniqueness and feel proud of that. Now that the story is in your heart, find the best way to tell the story so it lands in the heart of your target audience. Stories have been there from the beginning of time and are eternal. Make sure your stories land on your audiences’ hearts. Have fun storytelling! – Arjun Sen, ZenMango

6. Human-to-human communication
Marketing has gone through so many iterations. Indeed, the current obsession with measuring and tactics (as seen in the rise of the discipline of “growth hacking”) has forgotten one crucial, unchanging aspect of marketing: communication. As much as you want to focus on data, don’t forget the key to successful marketing is communicating thoughtfully to the human on the receiving end of that message. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

7. The use of psychology
Marketing relies on psychological concepts to make its strategies effective. FOMO, discounts, two-for-one, giveaways and many other marketing strategies are all based on influencing people’s feelings. This fundamental link between marketing and psychology will stay strong for good. What this means for leaders is that they would benefit from learning more about psychology. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

8. Measuring your ROI
One thing in marketing which will never and should never change is ensuring you are getting a return on investment for your marketing spend. A brand should always ensure they are not only branding, but are also growing their business with direct ROI at the same time. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9. The human imagination
So much has been automated and made efficient over the past two decades of marketing innovation. We now have great tools to eliminate the need for routine strategies and tasks that sucked up our time and money. What will never be automated is the human imagination. What we need now and always are powerful ideas. Ideas drive the purpose and possibilities we need to thrive as a culture and industry. – Lana McGilvray, Purpose Worldwide

10. Authenticity
The one thing that will never change is being authentic to your brand. In the last few months, we have seen campaign messaging shift, but the creative executions that resonate with consumers are the ones that stay true to their brand message. Honing in on your message and mission will help brands develop stronger connections with consumers and stakeholders. – Cathy Oh, Samsung Ads

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