Effective Relationship Marketing Equals Sales Growth

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Throughout much of 2015, I have been hammering home the importance of relationship building, and guess what, marketing gurus across all industries are pointing to “relationship marketing” as the number one strategy for 2016!

Pretty funny, actually, when you sit back and think about how impersonal technology makes a good portion of our day. For instance, how often do you see people with their heads down tapping away on a smartphone or tablet? (Yes, I know that means you have to look up from your digital device to see what’s happening around you!)

According to recent Pew Research Center reports, 68 percent of Americans have smartphones today compared with just 35 percent in 2011, and 60 percent of Americans earning over $75K own a smartphone, tablet and computer.

So, how can you possibly conduct “relationship marketing” with all that noise? According to a Hubspot blog: “The goal of relationship marketing is to focus on building stronger loyalty and long-term customer engagement.“ Hubspot goes on to note that companies need to create “meaningful customer relationships and conversations” by using data-driven marketing technology.

Yet, how do you make that strategy work in the financial services industry? Sure, you have some data on your customer relationship management (CRM) infrastructure, but how do you expand that knowledge to build a relationship? And, how do you find new prospects and start to build a genuine relationship with them as well?

Start by answering these questions about some of your current clients:

  • How do they summarize their roles in the companies where they work?
  • What content approach do they prefer? Meaning, do they like to keep things in short bullet-type lists, or do they prefer to expound on topics?
  • What did they do prior to their current jobs and how might these previous positions impact their current ones?
  • Do they belong to any business or industry organizations?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • What charities do they support?
  • When are their birthdays?

Impossible, you say? How could you know all this and why does it matter? Remember, relationships matter, as they are the key to ongoing and future sales. Let me repeat that: relationships equal sales.

To cut through the digital noise, you actually need to use some of that digital data to help you ferret out the information that can help you make and build relationships. One of the best places to start is by conducting a little cyber sleuthing using social media.

My favorite resource is LinkedIn, as the social media platform is a mecca for all types of business professionals, companies and industry groups. With just a little Social Selling know-how, you can tap into the information that will help you answer all those questions I posed.

What’s more, you can also use LinkedIn to search for new, quality leads, and the information that can help you get your foot in the door. Just imagine an introductory email that is not generic, but speaks to the recipient’s interest and business perspective.

As you look to close some of your key 2015 business and start strategizing for 2016, use LinkedIn and other social selling techniques to build your relationship marketing. Don’t get lost in the digital noise!

 

 

Commit Acts of Kindness: Pay-it-Forward

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By now, many of you know I really appreciate the brand consistency and customer experience I enjoy (nearly every day) at Starbucks. However, few people realize one of my favorite features of the coffee giant is the pay-it-forward phenomenon.

In case you have not heard of pay-it-forward, it’s the act of kindness most often associated with the Starbucks drive-thru service whereby someone pays for the next person’s drink. This concept can lead to hundreds if not thousands of people paying it forward.

Sometimes the campaign starts with Starbucks giving away free drinks to launch a new location or promote a special drink, but most often it just begins when a customer feels gracious. During one pay-it-forward cycle last year, some 750 drive-thru customers at a St. Petersburg, Fla. Starbucks participated in the impromptu event over a two-day period, and nearly two years ago, over 1,500 people did the same at a Connecticut Starbucks location.

So why am I telling you all this? Because the pay-it-forward concept is not unique to Starbucks; it’s something we can all do to show kindness and generosity. In fact, much of marketing today is about giving rather than getting.

Today, with all the competition from robo-advisors, and the general onslaught of e-noise, you need to separate yourself from the crowd. One of the best ways to carve out your niche is by giving your smarts away.

Yep, this may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s vital to creating a difference between them and you. Instead of saying here’s my service at this fee, you can say here’s my value add, my insight, my acknowledgement and understanding of your needs, and my service strategy. (See Do Your Clients Feel Warm and Fuzzy? for more ways to differentiate yourself.)

The pay-it-forward cycle is also a key way you can grow your business through centers of influence and industry associates. Provide references and leads to professionals and firms who support your business and clients, and chances are, you will start your own pay-it-forward campaign.

Oh sure, you may not reap the rewards right away, but give the process time to unfold and, to use a coffee metaphor, percolate. I love making that pay-it-forward gesture in the Starbucks drive-thru line. It makes me feel good, and I hope the person behind me enjoys their free drink, whether or not they pass the goodwill onto the next customer.

And yes, I have been the recipient of a free drink, too, however the take-away goes way beyond that one drink. Indeed, it endears me that much more to Starbucks. To help explain this idea, here’s a quote from the USA Today article about the Florida pay-it-forward event:

“Starbucks is that gathering place where people are coming in for that break in their day, for a little pick-me- up, so they do want to extend it to somebody else in their community. They want to pass it on,” she (Linda Mills, a Starbucks corporate spokeswoman) said. “And for us, it’s super exciting to watch and were humbled that people would do that in our store.”

So, make some magic happen in the fourth quarter. Pay-it-forward. Your clients, contacts, and random strangers will notice. And, don’t be surprised if this leads to more business and sales in the New Year.

Less is More with Infographics

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I love reading a good book or in depth report—when I have the time. However, on most days, I just want the facts in short, understandable bites, and without a lot of jargon. The saying that less is more is often true when it comes to explaining complex ideas or ones with lots of statistics and data.

People are busy and our digital world dumps a ton of information at their virtual doorstep every day (sometimes every hour!). So how are we dealing with this onslaught? By increasingly turning to visuals for a way to quickly decipher if we want to even learn more about a subject, and then for the information itself.

One of the best ways to provide the visual cue and the valuable information is with infographics. By now, you’ve seen these wonderful communication gems—they’re everywhere, for good reason!

Consider an infographic I created to explain the history of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Sure, I could have written an article, but how many people would want to slog through 40 years of historical data, government enactments, and amendments?

Instead of overwhelming people, the Evolution of ERISA starts with a brief intro paragraph and then switches over to an easy-to-follow timeline. Color, graphic icons, a dotted line, and bulleted text all work together to create readable chunks. If someone wants to skip a date, fine; they can jump down to the next entry, or bounce around as much as they want.

In a previous AdvisorTweet, I discussed the growing importance of visual imagery, and not surprisingly, this trend continues. Today, visuals show up in emails, social media posts, eNewsletters, websites, and online brochures and handouts.

Infographics are especially helpful in the financial services industry. Why? Let’s face it; our world can be a little dry at times! Moreover, we often need to communicate involved concepts, but we want to do so without turning off clients and prospects.

For a complex or lengthy subject, I suggest hiring a marketing firm or graphic designer to create your infographic. However, for less cumbersome subjects, you can actually create your own graphics using one of several great online tools.

My current favorite is Canva. The company offers a standard 800 pixels X 2000 pixels infographic template (in the Create a design heading, just click on More to find infographic under Blogging & Books). Even the free service Canva version offers 19 infographic templates (you can purchase other templates for $1 apiece). Find one that comes close to what you have in mind, and then enter your content. You can even change the colors and fonts to match your company style guide.

I also like Piktochart, and the free version of this online app also comes with 12 infographic templates. Rather than referring to pixel sizes, this app uses paper size (which you can easily adjust if necessary).

There are other, more involved online apps, such as Ceros, but this one does not offer a free version, and it’s probably best used by someone with a little graphic design background. This app is also big on interactive visuals, which are cool, but probably not as applicable to the average financial services advisor or firm.

The bottom line: try to start infusing your content with some infographics to help people better understand your world and your products. Skip the jargon and the fluff, and get straight to the point with easy-to-read text that’s broken up with helpful charts and icons. In no time, you’ll be an infographic expert!

Compliance and Social Selling Can Co-Exist!

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Are you still just dabbling with social media and digital networking? Oh, maybe you’ve created a LinkedIn profile, but your photo is a cropped pic from a party, and your personal headline, summary and experience sections read more like a job-hunting resume than a networking magnet. What’s more, you don’t use social media to discover valuable information to help generate sales!

A recent Putnam Investment study shows some 81 percent of financial advisors now use social media for business. Frankly, I find this percentage a little high since at nearly every speaking event people tell me they are still reluctant to use social media. The most common reason I hear for this hesitancy? Compliance. Yep, that wonderful regulatory requirement we have in financial services.

Yet it’s important to remember that compliance is not a barrier. It’s just a hurdle or a speed bump. With some 75 million Generation D (digital) investors, and their $27 trillion in assets, you just cannot ignore the social space.

It’s equally important to also remember that social selling is not about being popular. It’s about sales! Likes, friends, and connections are only worthwhile if they help you build your business.

So, how do you get past those compliance concerns? Start with baby steps. First, understand there are some simple and easy rules to follow. Second, use common sense! The same regulations and rules that apply to your other sales and marketing efforts also apply to the digital space.

To provide more specifics and examples, I recently broke out the Mastering Compliance unit from my Social Selling for Financial Advisors eCourse. In Mastering Compliance, I show you how to navigate the compliance waters by covering:

  • Rules and regulations
  • The difference between static and interactive content
  • Three rules you MUST obey, and
  • Online conduct rules and monitoring requirements

I know compliance is not something to be taken lightly. After some 25 years in the industry, the last 10 of which I have spent concentrating on the social space, I understand your pain! That’s why I’m also currently offering the Mastering Compliance unit at NO COST.

I want you to feel comfortable using the digital world for social selling. Then, even if all you do is maximize your LinkedIn profile, you will be heading in the right direction. Later, you can up your game and learn how to jump more fully into the digital conversation.

So, stop dabbling! Compliance and social selling can co-exist!

Don’t Let Your eNewsletters Get Lost in Cyberspace

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Are you still sending slick online newsletters, featuring colorful headers, perfect layouts and lengthy text? They seem like such a great idea: take what worked in a print medium, convert it to digital and blast it out to your contacts.

But guess what? Turns out, your contacts don’t like this approach. These perfect looking newsletters are just too impersonal and long, and the graphics can take forever to download on a mobile device.

Like a lot of things in the digital marketing space, communication vehicles continue to evolve and adapt to changing tastes and technology. Even the terminology has recently changed from newsletter to eNewsletter to better reflect the delivery method. Today, your contacts want the following from your eNewsletters:

A reason to open – With countless emails populating inboxes, your subject line must attract attention in a catchy, but meaningful manner (check out Hubspot’s top picks). According to Constant Contact, the average open rate for a consultant is 18 percent; to achieve that number or better, you need “click bait”—subject lines with a little finesse and punch. One of my recent Friday Tips (a follow-up to an eNewsletter sent earlier in the week) garnered a 25 percent open rate with the title: Thought You Might Want to Know This Too. For more on email trends, check out my Women Rocking Wall Street podcast: Say What You Mean.

Keep it short – Time is precious, so don’t rattle on for pages. If you just wrote three spectacular blogs, don’t copy them all into one eNewsletter. Either send them out one at a time in three separate emails, or provide brief summaries in one communication and include the links to the blogs on your website.

Make it sweet – Your content should provide a value-add—some type of take-away that helps, teaches or enlightens your readers. In my eNewsletter, The Internet is No Baby, I discussed how business-to-business selling now requires relationship building or social selling. In addition to my own thoughts on the subject, I also provided some stats from, and a link to, a survey on closing sales in the financial services marketplace.

Make it special – Offer your eNewsletter contacts helpful tip sheets or timely reports. These may be the same lead magnets you use to build your contact list from your website (see Throwing Down a Website Drawbridge) or unique offerings you send to only your established connections.

Talk to me – Remember the emphasis now on personal eNewsletters? Readers want to feel like you are talking to them, or better yet, having a conversation with them. If you’re funny, be funny in your emails; if you’re a little off-beat, make sure that comes across with your tone and word choice.

Don’t overload with mega visuals – Some 66 percent of emails are now read via a smartphone or tablet, but with varying connection rates, so make sure your eNewsletters are not weighted down with huge graphic files that take forever to open.

One last thing to consider: This is your eNewsletter, so go ahead and include a call to action (CTA) from time to time. You don’t necessarily want a CTA in every communication, but once a month or when you are launching a new product or service is fine. I also invite my readers to send me questions or engage in conversation about my eNewsletter topics. I find this brings yet another level of personalization to the email and helps me be more responsive with my future communications.

Emails now fly around at a crazy rate. While you don’t have to move quite as fast, you do need to keep pace with the latest communication trends or your words will get lost in cyberspace.

Do You Have a Social Selling Strategy?

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I hate to slam the (refrigerator) door on cold calling, but frankly it’s quickly become a thing of the past. Businesses don’t want unknowns knocking at their door or calling on the phone. In fact, a recent survey shows cold calling fails 91 percent of the time!

Today, business to business (B2B) selling is following the same digital path as the business to consumer (B2B) process. Yep, now more than half of all B2B purchasers research you backwards and forwards on social media. They want to know who you are, your thoughts and your reasons for doing business. They want a relationship; they want a connection.

Bottom line: You need to leverage your social media presence and create a social selling strategy. Social selling uses social media to elevate your brand and build your business to rock your sales. Today, over 78 percent of sales people who use social media outsell their peers. You need to win the mind-share battle by attracting instead of chasing sales.

Think of social selling as an element within your social marketing plan, as the latter also includes brand perception and awareness, public relations, your website and much more. With a little know-how, planning and purpose, you can create a social selling strategy that helps you do the following:

  • Gather critical contact and company information
  • Establish yourself as a reputable thought leader on key sites
  • Make meaningful connections to build your business
  • Rock your sales

Thankfully, you don’t have to be both a financial services professional and a techie to figure all this out in order to become a social selling rock star. To start, take a look at your LinkedIn profile and make sure it’s complete and a clear representation of you and your services from the client perspective (check out Filling Your LinkedIn Restaurant with Quality Connections for more information and a downloadable tip sheet).

Once you can proudly stand behind your LinkedIn profile, you need to start making the site work for you by identifying and growing your connections. LinkedIn, which crested the 300-million member mark this year, provides a number of great ways to ferret out prospects and learn more about current connections.

You also want to become engaging, and no, I don’t mean charming at parties! You need to participate in conversations, provide thought leadership by curating and creating content, and join appropriate regional and industry groups.

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, relax and breathe deeply! I can help! In fact, I have a new eCourse launching soon. Social Selling for Financial Advisors is for anyone in the financial services arena. It not only addresses social selling from a general sales standpoint, it also recognizes the compliance issues people in the financial services arena face. Together, we can nail down your social skills and rock your sales.

Top Five Tips for Making Your Website Experience Rock

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Okay, admittedly I am a bit of an Internet fanatic and critic. I love surfing the web and finding useful information, and I am always fascinated by both good and bad website design. However, surprisingly, I am not alone as both a consumer and businessperson.

While we all know the Internet is crucial to most B2C sales, it is also now a vital tool in B2B sales. In my ShoeFitts Marketing blog Don’t Know Where You Are Going? I shared a recent McKinsey & Company study that indicates B2B purchasing decisions are no longer linear and they include online research, validation and social conversations.

This means, you cannot avoid the virtual elephant in the room—your website. It needs to embrace users and make their experience easy and pleasant. So, with my Internet fanatic cap firmly in place, here are my Top Five Tips for Making Your Website Experience Rock:

  1. Make it Credible and Professional – As a financial services advisor, your website must reflect the industry, and your products and services. Sure, you want to infuse it with your personality, but it still needs a clean presentation that says to your clients and prospects, “hey, you can trust my firm.” Consider all elements of design—layout, colors, fonts, graphics, and photos—and the messages they convey.
  2. Provide Easy Navigation – One of my number one pet peeves is poor website navigation. Your website should provide short main menu topics to group your content, and sub-menus with additional breakout categories when necessary. Be sure to include a search bar, so visitors can plug in a word phrase. Scrolling websites are also becoming increasingly popular so people can see more information right from your homepage. You can include those same menu topics within the body of your page, perhaps with some brief, explanatory text or graphics. Also, don’t forget to make sure your website is mobile friendly!
  3. Include Contact Information – Let’s say I love everything you have to say on your website, but I can’t figure out how to reach you. Make your contact information visible on the homepage, and then consider putting it at the bottom of every page. Include your phone number, address, and social media links.
  4. Let ‘em Join – Provide a form so people can join your mailing list to obtain tips, newsy items, and event invitations. Remember my AdvisorTweets Throwing Down a Website Drawbridge? Use your website to help draw people to your site and then capture their contact information.
  5. Lose the Jargon – While we may all know the latest financial terms and acronyms, your website visitors probably don’t have a clue what they mean. Your word choice and tone should be helpful and understandable—almost conversational—so people comprehend the content.

Throwing Down a Website Drawbridge

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Did you know your website is a bit like a castle, and as the king or queen, you have the power to throw down the drawbridge and usher in desirable visitors? Okay, the vision may seem a bit dramatic, but the point is sound: with some savvy digital strategies you can bring credible leads to your website and build your sales growth channels!

In my recent AdvisorTweets blog Is Your Website Working For or Against You? I touched on lead magnets. However, based on the questions I have been receiving, a lot of you would like to know more about this social selling concept.

First, your lead magnets serve as that drawbridge to your website. Second, they provide a way to build a permission-based contact list of clients and prospective clients.

For instance, lets say you have a great new tip sheet you want to offer. Perfect, turn it into a lead magnet to draw people to your site! I recently used a similar approach with my Six Steps to a Spectacular Social Strategy guide by using the following steps:

Blog – On the ShoeFitts Marketing website I post How To Avoid Obsolescence: What Martha Stewart Can Teach Financial Advisors with a tie into some of the concepts from my Six Steps guide. While I tend to create content for my blog, don’t forget you can also curate content by sharing your thoughts and ideas on other source material or news.

Call to Action – At the end of the Martha blog, readers can click on a Download Here link that takes them to a contact information form.

Auto-Responder – Once readers fill out the form, an auto-responder email sends a downloadable Six Steps guide in an attached pdf. Readers obtain a worthwhile value-add, and I obtain their contact information.

Thank you – Following the download, I send a quick thank you (another automated response). Thank you notes are also a great time to send some additional tips or to offer help with any questions. In essence, they can keep a conversation going.

Getting People to the Blog – For all the above to work, you need to get people to that blog. Here are a couple of the methods I employ:

  • Social Media: Tweets and LinkedIn Updates – Post four or five short summaries about the blog and a link to the blog. Your tweets will most likely be short snippets, while your LinkedIn updates may be a couple sentences. Be sure to spread out the posts over a week or two using a scheduler. (Guess what? You can even reuse Tweets!)
  • Email or newsletter – Send current contacts some enticing points from the blog and a link to the blog site. My email list includes people who have signed up for the newsletter through my website, as well as traditional contact interactions. Whether you use a short email note or multi-faceted newsletter, both are a great way to share your smarts and offer a value-add to your contacts. While this won’t provide new leads, you can set up the lead magnet contact information request so it picks up additional client specifics such as a person’s title or industry.

Through all of this, as with much of marketing, you need to be consistent with your outreach. Start with a manageable schedule, maybe two blogs/emails and one lead magnet a month or a quarter.

Just try to drop that drawbridge as often as you can. Remember, it’s pretty lonely in that castle without contacts.

Would you enjoy seeing this blog in action?

Many of these concepts, along with helpful supporting graphics, were discussed in a recent Deconstructing Digital webinar. Watch now!

Is Your Website Working For or Against You?

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When clients and prospects hit your website, what do they see? Do they feel welcome? Can they find the information they seek? Are you capturing their attention, loyalty, and contact information with value-adds and a call to action? In essence, is your website working for or against you?

Websites are not just a place to display pretty pictures, say a few niceties about your firm, and then ignore the vehicle. Your website needs to be the hub of your entire digital marketing ecosystem. It needs to work for you. How? Lets cover the basics:

 

Make it Welcoming

Design and Stationary Content – Granted, pretty pictures alone will not do the trick, but your website does need to incorporate some basic design aesthetics to indicate you are a legitimate business. Your value proposition should be very clear so visitors know what you do, how this helps them, and why you do what you do. Be sure to also include information on your services and key staff members, but remember, tell the reader how these products and people meet their needs (not yours). While this content may not change frequently, you should review it at least once a year to make any necessary updates, and more often if you have key personnel, service or product changes.

Navigation – Make moving around your website easy by using menus and drop-down submenus with clear and understandable titles. Consider the placement and flow of information from the users’ standpoint, and be sure to include a search option.

Mobile Compatible – Your website needs to scale with smartphones and tablets. For more information on this topic, check out some of my recent blogs: Mobile Growth Drives ContentMobile-Friendly Websites Now a Must, and Do You Have a Mobile Mindset?

 

Inbound and Outbound Marketing Hub

Blogs and Articles – Your eNewsletters and social media posts should drive people to your website so they can read your newsworthy and compelling blogs and articles. This content provides a value-add to your contacts, helps establish your industry expertise, and grows your reach.

Social Media icons – Include these links so people can follow your company on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other appropriate platforms for your industry.

 

Lead Magnets

Calls to Action—Use your website to gain permission-based marketing leads by inviting visitors to step behind what I like to call the “velvet rope.” In essence, you provide videos, special tips, resource guides, eBooks, etc., in exchange for first obtaining contact data. Make the offers compelling so visitors will happily provide their contact information; they obtain something of value, and you build your contacts list.

eNewsletter Subscription—Provide a separate widget so visitors can subscribe to your monthly eNewsletter. This gives you another permission-based marketing tool and lead generator.

 

Get Found

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—Include keywords in your content and on your website to raise your Google appeal. However, don’t just throw around a bunch of “in” words without providing the content to back up those topics.

Keep it Fresh—Your Google appeal is also bolstered by having an evolving website. Adding regular blogs, articles, videos and other new content lets Google know your site is not stale.

Granted, there are a lot of moving pieces with this website approach. However, in today’s overly wired world you cannot afford to ignore your website and its role in your marketing plan. Remember, there is a huge payoff: Make your website a digital marketing hub and it works for you!

 

Mobile Growth Drives Content

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Say what you will, but our lives are now completely and firmly dominated by mobile technology. Standing in line for a coffee? Perfect, check your email (and then get your Starbucks app ready to pay for that coffee). Sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting to start? Might as well check your latest text messages, today’s stock market activity, and conduct some quick banking.

In short, mobile technology rules our lives, and from a business standpoint, that means the content we throw out in cyberspace must accommodate smartphones and tablets. Okay, I know I may sound a bit like a broken record (or would that be a broken MP3 file?), but study after study points to this resounding impact.

A recent Pew Research Center study on mobile technology found that 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone today compared with just 35 percent in 2011.

Not too surprisingly, 85 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 own a smartphone, while 79 percent of those aged 20 to 49, and 54 percent of adults aged 50 to 64, own a smartphone. Interestingly, when it comes to education and income, Americans with a college degree and annual income of $75,000 or greater are most likely to own a smartphone.

Understandably mobile tech devices are quite often the only means of online access for young adults and low-income individuals. However, even when other means of online access are available, smartphone users are increasingly using mobile devices for everything from business to banking at the following rates:

  • Online banking – 57 percent
  • Job research – 43 percent
  • Job application – 18 percent
  • Real estate information – 44 percent

In addition to internet use, the Pew study showed the top activities include text messaging, voice and video calls, email, and social networking. This usage, plus the always-on phenomenon is also increasing the amount of promotional emails smartphone users are now viewing, according to a study by Forrester Research.

In 2010, 59 percent of mobile users deleted email advertising without reading the content, but in 2014 that number dropped to 42 percent. The Forrester study also showed that fewer people care how a company obtained their email address and more people find emails are a good way to obtain product information.

So, let’s back up and think about what all this means to you as an advisor rather than as a smartphone user. First, it means many of your clients expect to conduct business with you by phone. Second, those same clients, and maybe even more importantly your prospective clients, expect to easily read and navigate your website to find quality information on your company and services. Third, your contacts probably read your useful emails and they may even read your promotional correspondences as well!

Yep, that means game on! So stop right now and ask yourself if you have a solid digital marketing plan that incorporates all aspects of our technical world with special emphasis on mobile devices. If you don’t like your answer, now is the time to get going and use the remainder of 2015 to craft a strategy. Mobile growth is driving content, and you don’t want to be left at the side of the road.

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