Marketing Planning for 2021

By Jeffrey Barnhart

With the dog days of summer and Labor Day behind us, it’s time to start thinking about next year’s marketing plan. If the thought hasn’t even crossed your mind at this point, chances are, you’ll miss a critical window—which could impact your business’s success in 2021.

Typically, businesses should begin working on their marketing plan by October 1 and finalize it no later than December 1. This window allows enough time to do the appropriate research and planning. You’ll have plenty of time to get valuable input from various staff in your organization.

However, due to the current economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, “the sooner the better” is key as you develop your 2021 marketing plan. This is the year you need to speed up your planning cycle, which will allow you to analyze, adjust and easily navigate impending market changes.

If this process is started too late, you won’t have enough time to roll out the plan to team members to get their buy in and adjust it, as needed. By October 1, you should have a good idea of where you’ll end up for the year, which will serve as a guide for what you want to achieve in the upcoming year.

Consider a marketing plan your “roadmap for success.” Unlike a business plan, which covers the entire business including financial plans, operations and sales, a marketing plan focuses just on the marketing. There are many benefits to having this plan in place before the new year. It not only will serve as a guide for yourself, but also for the company and everyone who has a role in carrying out the plan. It will also identify where you want to go, why you want to get there and when you want to get there, so you’ll have targets to meet. Most importantly, a marketing plan helps a business measure its success. It provides businesses with a plan of action, which they can reference throughout the year—at least on a bi-annual basis, if not quarterly—to see if it’s on or off target.

Creating your 2021 marketing plan means navigating the “new normal” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without reducing brand visibility and communications—critical elements during an economic downturn. For most businesses, the importance of marketing has increased since the pandemic. As you map out your 2021 marketing plan, be sure to maintain or increase saturation of communication from your business. That will keep your business or association top of mind for customers and prospects, creating an advantageous position when recovery from the pandemic begins.

Eliminating marketing during a crisis will begin to erode brand equity and increase the cost of marketing when you resume. In these uncertain times, consumerism doesn’t look the same. Consumer behavior and digital media consumption has shifted—marketing practices need to reflect those changes. Gaining a competitive edge will require fine-tuning your marketing strategy to include digital marketing tactics. In 2021, focus on providing digital solutions, recognizing the economic fallout and offering genuine expressions of empathy and responsiveness to your customers and prospects.

Here are some steps to creating a 2021 marketing plan that will get results:

Survey the landscape

Begin your market research by looking at the process in terms of current market positioning and trendlines. CMA utilizes a proprietary discovery process, Marketecture™, to engage in a strategic analysis, which helps its clients understand how their business can be best positioned in the marketplace.

CMA analyzes its customer’s pain points, buying motivations, competitive challenges and marketplace forces that impact its business. CMA then orchestrates Marketecture insights into differentiated positioning, captivating sales messages and, ultimately, a game plan of tactics to get results for its clients.

For your business or association, that means taking a holistic approach and reexamining your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis as part of your overall marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy may have worked well pre-COVID-19, but now you likely need to do some fine-tuning. That includes considering external influences such as political, socio-economic, legal/regulatory and technological impacts.

CMA utilizes The Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Growth-Share Matrix, which considers growth opportunities by reviewing a product line and considers where to invest, discontinue or develop new products. It’s divided into four categories (e.g. dogs, wildcats, cash cows and super stars), based on an analysis of market growth and relative market share. The greatest emphasis should be on the area that’s going to give you the greatest return, which are the super stars.

This process also gives you an opportunity to reevaluate your product mix and answer questions including:

  • Are there marketing tactics you are currently implementing that aren’t working?
  • Will the continued spread of COVID-19 lead to more online activity for your business?
  • Do you have a strong digital presence?

Align your strategy with your target audience

Defining your target audience sets the foundation of your marketing efforts and even your entire business. Who are the people who need your product or service? How will you reach them? In addition to identifying your marketing mix (i.e. price, product, promotion and place), determine which audiences you need to pursue, as well as the target market. They are a distinct segment of customers that you are trying to reach to promote your business, products and services.

Once you’ve identified your audiences, you’ll be able to strategically determine which tactics to employ, as well as which key words and messaging will resonate with them, increasing the chances of moving them to action—whether it’s down the sales funnel or purchasing your products or services.

Following are categories to examine:

  • Location (i.e. local, national or international)
  • Demographics (e.g. age, gender, occupation, income level, marital status)
  • Psychographics (e.g. values, hobbies, lifestyle, personality, attitude, behavior)
  • Industries (e.g. medical, accounting, lighting, nonprofit), if a B2B focus
  • Personality type (i.e. persona) and pain points
  • Motivations

Hone in on ROI with S.M.A.R.T. goals

Marketing is all about goals. Do you want to increase sales? Do you want to increase membership? Do you want to expand market share or reach new audiences? A solid marketing plan requires concrete goals and objectives that are tied to business objectives, such as increasing brand awareness, establishing your business as an authority or reaching new customers. I’ve grouped marketing goals and measurement together because one feeds the other. Each goal should have a timeline and completion date. They also should follow the S.M.A.R.T. goal structure—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Bound.

One of the most important components of the S.M.A.R.T. goals is the measurement aspect. Calculating return on investment (ROI) is critical for any business. Aside from the fiduciary reasoning, ROI is a tool that you should always utilize. It helps prioritize marketing investments and base that investment on actual results, as it relates to the campaign goal.  Without goals, you have no way of knowing whether your marketing tactics are driving business results.

Measurement tools can include sales conversions, media impressions, blog traffic and website hits. By measuring your business’s success, you can take a closer look at the return on your marketing investment. You also can shift dollars to the areas that are giving you the most return, which is important for marketers. It is ideal to meet with your team monthly or quarterly to check in and see if your business or association is on track to reach the goals that were outlined in the marketing plan. If off target, you can readjust as needed.

Due to the pandemic, many marketers were forced to make 2020 midyear budget adjustments—for many that meant eliminating marketing to prioritize short-term cash flow. During uncertain times, it may seem like cutting marketing spend is the way to go, however; the opposite is true. Continuing to market during an economic downturn is critical.

In 2021, measuring ROI will be more important than ever. Marketing tactics that are unproven in terms for driving revenue will likely be cut. That will mean investing in tools to track outcomes. Analytics will be key in guiding your team to adjust tactics to deliver the highest return.

Determine strategies and tactics

The marketing strategy section of your plan should answer the “how” in a marketing plan.

Some examples are:

  • How will your product stand out in the marketplace?
  • How will you differentiate your business, products or services from your competitors?

The tactics should be wide-ranging enough to tie back to the goals and strategies, as well as answer the question: what will be done? Tactics can include digital marketingpublic relationssocial mediaweb and mobile app development, and advertising. Within those broad categories are smaller tactical elements encompassing podcasts, content marketingvideo marketingemail marketing, webinars, pay-per-click advertising, blogspress releases and collateral to name a few.

Develop a budget

A marketing budget details the marketing tactics, activities and expenditure that are a part of your overall marketing plan. It is not a standalone document, but a financial plan within your overarching marketing plan.

While we are still faced with economic uncertainty amid the pandemic, many CEOs and marketers still feel optimistic about 2021 marketing budgets. As you begin planning and budgeting for 2021, the key in the coming year will be “flexibility.” Allowing for some fluidity in your budget so you can maximize your impact in 2021 will be easier once you know which marketing activities are essential.

At a time when every dollar matters, consider utilizing digital marketing channels  that are highly targeted and reach people online—where they spend their time and money. In 2021, businesses and associations will need digital marketing to compete—it is where your customers are. Invest in SEO, integrate the mobile experience with the physical, get found with pay-per-click advertising and engage with customers and prospects on social media. Be sure your digital mix includes email marketing. It has the highest ROI of any marketing method.

Not to mention, digital marketing is an extremely cost-effective way to create brand loyalty. For small businesses, digital marketing levels the playing field. It can be segmented or hyper-personalized and it is easy to scale and adapt—and you can track your success.

In addition to all of the benefits I outlined, having a marketing plan helps a business or association take an in-depth look at what it’s doing and how it’s doing it, along with serving as a refresher that keeps businesses from doing the same old, same old, every year—especially during these times of uncertainty.

Eliminating your annual marketing budget may be tempting; however, by planning ahead and knowing how you can modify your marketing plan, if necessary, you will have ability to make decisions that will maximize your impact. Ceasing marketing means stopping communication with those who matter most—your customers and prospects.

By continuing to market during an economic downturn, you will have the unique opportunity to grow your market share.

Are you scheduled to begin working on your 2021 marketing plan? If not, we can help. Contact us today, to begin the conversation.

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How to Choose the Right Marketing Agency

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Solutions for the 5 Biggest Marketing Challenges

By Jeffrey Barnhart

During every stage in your business life cycle, you’ll encounter marketing challenges. Before I jump into the biggest marketing challenges that I’ve seen in my more than 40 years in the industry and share solutions, let’s take a closer look at the business life cycle.

The business life cycle is the advancement of a business and its phases over time. It is typically divided into the following five stages:

  • Launch – Launch of new products or services, with sales slowly starting.
  • Growth – Rapid increase in sales, with businesses starting to see a profit.
  • Shake-out – Sales continue, but at a slower rate.
  • Maturity – Market matures and sales begin to slowly decrease.
  • Decline – Sales, cash flow, profit and competitive advantage decline.

The product life cycle follows a similar path, but with the addition of the development phase. This phase is the research phase, which comes before a product is introduced into the marketplace.

Marketing is the driver for sales. Without a solid marketing strategy in place, as a compass for sales, you will not have a clear path for success. This is particularly important as you relaunch following COVID-19. Your marketing plan may require some fine-tuning.  

Marketing is communicating to and moving prospects down the four stages of the sales funnel: 1.) awareness 2.) interest 3.) desire and 4.) action.

Keep both the life cycle phases and the sales funnel stages in mind, as I walk you through solutions for the 5 biggest marketing challenges:

Marketing Challenge: Lack of visibility

Solution: Build brand awareness

No matter where your business or product is in the life cycle, you’ll need to build a strong brand to create and maintain visibility in the marketplace. A brand is a story that makes a public pledge and lets your customers and prospects know how they can benefit from your products or services. Building brand awareness is the foundation of any successful marketing campaign. Post-COVID-19, that means putting more emphasis on digital branding. As a result of the pandemic, companies are adapting to a completely digital environment. Brands are adjusting and innovating with new creative, pivoting to digital solutions.

Your stepwise approach for building brand awareness begins with developing brand guidelines. These guidelines are critical, as they will assist you in how to represent your brand across all marketing channels. Brand guidelines need to include key messages, fonts, colors and logo use.

In addition, think about the target audience you need to reach. This will enable you to customize your key messages, logo design and branding. It’s important to be familiar with the competitive landscape. Be sure to research and understand your competition’s positioning, so you can differentiate your business. Following COVID-19, your branding efforts need to remain strong, so customers will recognize, remember and consider your products or services amidst your competitors.

Next, create a brand logo or consider redesigning your existing one to better represent who you are at this very moment. It must be memorable and stand out among your competition. If your brand is “fun” or “groundbreaking,” ensure your logo exemplifies those characteristics.

Once the logo and brand guidelines have been established, incorporate your logo across all of your marketing channels. Your brand should be visible in everything you do and in what your prospects and customers see—from your web design, advertising, public relations and social media. Be sure the branding remains consistent. Use the same design, colors, wording and typeface at every touch point.

Marketing Challenge: Not enough leads

Solution: Implement lead generation programs

It’s not surprising that lead generation is one of the most mentioned buzz words among marketing teams. Lead generation allows you to create massive traffic, through your website, which leads to more sales and higher conversion rates. Lead generation is a cost-effective and integral part of every consumer’s journey to becoming a customer.

When prospects are searching for solutions that your business can provide and it stands out among your competitors, the chance of converting that lead into a customer substantially increases.

But, how should lead generation be fine-tuned following the global pandemic? The answer is: Reshape your strategies to generate demand. While it may be difficult to drive revenue now, you can still generate leads that will pay off as recovery continues. Improve your response rate by retargeting your audience, reallocate dollars for digital and offer virtual events.

Marketo reported that even though marketing executives report that lead quality is one of the top priorities for lead generation, it also is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers today. In a recent study by IDG, 61 percent of marketers reported that generating high-quality leads was problematic for their organization.

The most effective marketing channels that generate the greatest leads include:

Website Optimization

Just having a well-designed website isn’t going to generate website visitors and leads. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, your website needs to be optimized to guarantee that a search engine can index and access it. You can increase those changes by peppering in relevant phrases and keywords, as well as editing meta tags and image tags. Following COVID-19, many marketing budgets have been slashed as a cost-cutting measure, however it is important to fine-tune your SEO strategy to ensure that your company will be found on search engines, even if your Google ad dollars are eliminated. An integrated strategy will produce leads, pull in new customers and help convert organic traffic.

Other smart website lead generation strategies range from adding a contact phone number and simple contact forms, to providing clear calls to action. Another strategy is to produce and give away valuable information, such as webinars or blog posts, like this one.

Content Marketing

This type of marketing doesn’t blatantly promote a brand. Instead, it’s aimed to spark interest in a business’s products or services through the sharing of informational content such as social media posts, blog posts and videos.

Humanizing your content especially as recovery from COVID-19 continues will help customers feel more connected to your brand. Continue to build brand loyalty by adjusting your brand voice so that it reflects what your customers are facing. Think like your customers. Be authentic, heartfelt and relevant in everything you produce.

This is the most important part of the content marketing process. Smart content marketing strategies start with the customer. Only then can you create content that’s high quality.

Another tactic to consider is offering an alluring lead magnet to entice people and capture email addresses. One of the top lead magnet ideas is to offer a content upgrade.

Finally, promote your content! You can do that through digital marketing, social media marketing, public relations and email marketing—which brings me to my next point.

Email marketing

Email marketing is a cost-effective way to communicate, get your message in front of your target audience and most importantly, generate leads. Whether you are building a relationship with a subscriber or they’ve been on your list for years, email marketing continues to be one of the preferred ways of getting information. Email newsletters should be part of your digital marketing, social media marketing and content marketing strategy.

Those are my top three marketing channels to generate leads. Some others include pay per click (PPC), search engine optimization and events/conferences, to name a few.

Marketing Challenge: Too little time and in-house expertise

Solution: Focus efforts and partner with a marketing agency

Following COVID-19, these are unprecedented times for marketers. With budgets being cut, now more than ever you want to stretch your marketing dollars to maximize your return on investment (ROI). A marketing agency can help you keep up with emerging technology as you rebound from COVID-19. Again, this is just another reason to have a solid marketing plan in place.

Your marketing plan will provide you with a roadmap for success. Unlike a business plan, which covers the entire business including financial plans, operations and sales, a marketing plan focuses just on the marketing.

It also will outline where you want to go, why you want to get there and when you want to get there, so you’ll have that information in one place. Most importantly, it helps a business measure its success.

One of the biggest marketing challenges I see with our customers, especially small businesses, is the lack of time and in-house marketing expertise. You’ll want to choose the right marketing agency to partner with and conquer this challenge.

On the road to achieving success and having a long-term partnership, its important to find the right agency fit. Some of the attributes to look for include having the similar core values, as well as an agency that offers a range of services to fill your marketing needs—not only for today, but down the road. This probably goes without saying, but you want to partner with a firm that has a proven and successful track record, in addition to one that’s been around and has an established business.

Marketing Challenge: Lack of budget

Solution: Develop a marketing budget

Every business runs into budget issues at one time or another, during its business life cycle. Now, especially, businesses are being impacted by a reduction in marketing spend as a result of the pandemic. As such, it’s imperative to create a marketing budget to drive growth. You need to have a sound marketing budget and marketing plan to demonstrate how you achieved your financial goals.

When approaching a marketing budget, with limited funds, start small and expand as you ascertain which efforts deliver the greatest ROI. A phased approach, which addresses your topline goals and objectives, is most effective. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.  

One way to stretch your budget is to look for overlap areas. When you work with a marketing agency that provides many solutions all under one roof, that marketing team will know what’s being done in all areas and can determine where there’s overlap and how marketing materials can be repurposed.

Did you know that once a blog is developed, posted on your website and shared across your social media channels, that you can repurpose it for other media outlets? It takes a fraction of the time to tweak, which saves a ton of money. The best part? You’ll be expanding your reach, by communicating your key messages to new audiences.

Marketing Challenge: To Prove the ROI

Solution: Measure the ROI

The importance of measuring and delivering ROI has been a challenge for many marketers. In fact, a common trend throughout the CMA marketing best practices blog was the importance of measuring and delivering ROI. However, only one in four marketers are highly confident they can quantify ROI, according to a Nielsen report.

Although one of the biggest marketing challenges, I’m happy to share some of the best ways to measure and increase marketing ROI. Calculating ROI, during the marketing planning process, is critical. Aside from the fiduciary reasoning, ROI is a tool that you should always utilize. It helps prioritize marketing investments and base that investment on actual results, as it relates to the campaign goal.

You also need to measure marketing ROI on a continual basis to determine if the strategies and marketing efforts are on target or if they need to be changed mid-year or earlier.

Thanks to technology, marketing is more measurable than ever before—which allows for more analysis for each tactic. When developing your marketing program, it’s a good idea to know your benchmarks for success. Be flexible and open when you’re walking through the process of result analysis.

Marketing Challenges Case Study

At CMA, a full-service communications, marketing and association management firm, we don’t just produce top-notch results for our customers, we practice what we preach and deliver them for ourselves too. Being a 33-year-old business, CMA has experienced the five biggest marketing challenges that I’ve shared, throughout that time.

The first way we overcome those challenges is to begin each year with both a marketing plan and a marketing budget in place. Our main goal throughout 2019was to continue to enhance brand awareness, with the CMA target audiences to generate leads. The top marketing channels comprised webinar and PPC campaigns, public relations, content marketing, video marketing, social media marketing and email marketing. Most recently, throughout the global pandemic, we pivoted our marketing strategy to a “mindful marketing” approach and focused on helping our clients and the community.

Tactics and topline results included:  

The lead generation campaign, which consisted of webinars and PPC, delivered an ROI of 438% over a one-year duration.

Webinar Campaign

The campaign included a monthly webinar campaign on topics including digital marketing, content marketing, social media and public relations. All of our webinars were promoted through organic social media and email marketing.


  • 250% ROI

PPC Campaign

The campaign included solutions-based landing pages including social media, public relations, digital marketing, web design and content marketing. Keywords were based on CMA solutions, within a targeted geographic area.


  • 32 qualified leads

Website Inquiries

  • The campaign included leads that came to the “Contact Us” website page, which was based on Google searches (SEO) and organic social media.


  • 650% ROI

Public relations

The campaign included a proactive media relations campaign and optimized press releases, which were posted on the CMA website, shared on social media, distributed to New Jersey media outlets and highlighted in a monthly newsletter. News angles ranged from promoting the firm’s acquisition to its industry awards and accolades, new clients and community involvement.


  • Secured 80 placements
  • Secured 10 thought leadership feature pieces in CMA’s top-tier media outlets
  • Reached 131,767+ targeted individuals

Content marketing

The campaign included a blog series (42 total), which positioned CMA as a thought leader and solution to various marketing and association management problems. CMA posted them on its blog page and shared them across its social media platforms and in dedicated email blasts.  

Blog angles included tips, in addition to pertinent and timely industry trends:

5 Most Effective Digital Marketing Channels for Your Business

3 Smart Ways to Build a Social Media Content Calendar

5 Smart Website Lead Generation Strategies

Video Marketing Secret to Boost your Traffic and Conversions


  • Total Users: 21,651 (up 45% from same timeframe compared to prior year)
  • Total Sessions: 25,409 (up 31.4%)
  • Total Bounce Rate: (down 6%)

Video marketing

Our monthly video blogs (vlogs) that the firm branded as Reel Results are based on blog content. In addition to being embedded in the blogs, CMA also posted videos on YouTube, the CMA website and its social media platforms.

  • By adding video to blogs, page time and engagement rates doubled.
  • CMA received an award for this video series from the NJ Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association’s (NJCAMA) Annual ASTRA Awards.

Social media marketing

of the campaign included posts on the CMA social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram promoting its blog, press releases and video content. Other types of social media posts were quotes from CMA thought leaders and announcements like community involvement, employee recognitions and company initiatives. The post frequency was 3-4 times per week.


  • Total Referrals from Social Channels: 1,799

Email marketing

Our monthly newsletter distribution went to CMA customers and prospects with the latest blogs, vlogs and news. To increase shares and drive additional traffic, there’s an opportunity in each section for recipients to share the content through social media or email.



Marketing is one of the most vital ingredients for business success. As recovery from COVID-19 continues, consumerism won’t look the same. Your marketing practices will need to reflect that. Gaining a competitive edge in the post-COVID-19 world will require fine-tuning your marketing strategy.

Regardless of where your business or product is in its life cycle, you must identify your biggest marketing challenges. This likely won’t be an easy process, but it is necessary to thrive. Only then can you determine which solutions will work best to overcome those challenges to accomplish your marketing goals.  

Do you want to learn more about solutions for your biggest marketing challenges? Contact CMA today, to start the conversation.

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How CEO’s Can Leverage Social Media

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3 Best Practices: How to Become a ‘Social’ CEO

By Jeffrey Barnhart

The role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in social media is constantly evolving. The term “Social CEO” is not new. Yet, it’s becoming increasingly more important in today’s digital world given the need for transparency.

Consumers want a human connection with the people behind their favorite brands and for many that means hearing directly from the CEO. According to McKinsey, companies that continue to adopt social technologies can add $1.3 trillion in value to their brand in the next few years.

But simply posting on LinkedIn isn’t enough. Examine your target audience to identify which channels will be most effective. Then think like a customer and put your audience’s informational needs before your business’s promotional message. Share what goes on behind the scenes in the office, connect with the media, build anticipation about an upcoming launch or announcement and share valuable content and thought-leadership pieces. Use social to create a vibrant presence that shows your personality.

According to Sprout Social research, social is the top way for brands to connect with consumers to generate brand loyalty and bottom-line growth. Seventy percent of consumers feel more connected to a brand when the CEO is active on social.  

CEOs who adopt transparency and openness as part of their leadership style are more likely to use social media to engage with stakeholders. However, roughly 60% of Fortune 500 CEOs are not active on any social media channel and are hesitant about having a direct line of communication with anyone and everyone from the outside world 24/7. Fewer than 12 percent of CEOs are active on more than one channel, as stated by Many are slow to adapt because they see it as an unnecessary distraction or have misconceptions about the value of social media.

However, more recently CEOs are realizing the possibilities of social media and seeing it as a powerful, integral part of the job and leveraging it to:

As the CEO of CMA, my role in social media since CMA opened its doors, more than 30 years ago, has progressed—going from no presence at all to steadily ramping up to what it is today. Social media has become such a prevalent part of business that it is difficult to remember what it was like before it was born.

Here are three best practices to becoming a social media trailblazer:

Develop a social CEO plan

As with all aspects of marketing, being a savvy marketer means following a set of best practices and a yearly marketing plan. Your social media strategy should include a tactic specifically dedicated to how your CEO will engage in social media. The nonprofit sector is doing this particularly well—with many executive directors having an active presence, taking full advantage of social media to help raise their organization’s profile.


Conduct a social media audit to determine which channels make the most sense for you and your brand. In addition to personal social media accounts, CEOs should also have a social media presence through the company’s owned media. CEOs and other business leaders tend to follow CEOs. Ultimately, they are your target audience during the sales process because they are the decision-makers.

For example, CMA currently has social media accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. I have personal social media accounts including Twitter and LinkedIn, which are more business focused. I also share CMA’s news and updates through my personal Facebook account and engage with our firm on Instagram.

If you are just getting established on social media, start by identifying your target platform and master it. Have a firm grasp of your objectives and define your goals so that you can track your success. Once you have a rhythm for posting, sharing photos and videos and replying to comments, then add an additional channel. Time is your most valuable resource as a CEO. Having a presence on social media doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to post, check-in and reply to comments.

As you develop your social CEO strategy, it should include a communication plan in the event that a public relations crisis arises. How will you respond? Will you share a corporate statement, or will you respond openly and honestly, taking responsibility and apologizing if necessary?

Maybe you’ve already encountered a public relations crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Were you able to contain it and counter it quickly? Or does your crisis communication plan need some fine-tuning? Making mistakes along the way won’t damage your brand, but failing to properly handle a crisis will leave long-term marks.

Share original, compelling content

To stay visible and keep your audience engaged, many CEOs post original brand content, for example blogs or vlogs (video blogs), at least once week.

CEOs can offer insight on topics encompassing leadership, culture, entrepreneur insights and vision—which is a higher-level perspective. This strategy gives the CEO additional visibility and further positions him/her as an industry thought leader.

On a weekly basis, CMA’s blog features content that is bylined by top-level staff. I am among the contributors to the marketing blog, which offers the latest tips, trends and best practices in branding, digital marketing, website and mobile app design, social media, public relations, advertising, collateral, association management, event planning, publications and advertising sales. To increase reach and engagement, I share posts through my social media channels.

In addition to blogs, create video blogs as part of your content marketing strategy. Vlogs should not only be incorporated into your overall social media strategy, but your CEO should also be regularly featured. With the growing demand for video, CMA’s “Reel Results” vlogs take content to a new level by putting a face behind the message to deliver a personalized experience.

According to Oberlo, 54% of consumers want to see more video content from a brand or business they support. Showcase your company’s videos by pinning a video to the top of your social page to highlight a new product or announcement.

When your company shares content, CEOs should also share it on social media channels with a personalized message. The many benefits include expanding reach to new audiences, through social shares, as well as increasing engagement through comments. 

At CMA, we regularly produce and distribute vlogs, which correspond with one of our “hot topic” blogs. I’m regularly featured and share them on my social media channels.

Although the social media landscape continues to change, video is the constant that continues to hold strong. It is the best performing digital content type. Eighty-five percent of business owners say they are satisfied with the ROI of their social videos. In fact, posts that include a video have 48% more views than those without one.

By 2022 it is estimated that 82% of all consumer internet traffic will come from online videos.

 Measure Success

You’ve implemented your social media strategy and now it is time to see if you are hitting your numbers. You want to know if the time you are spending on social media is leading to customers, sales or brand awareness.

When an executive decides to dedicate time and effort to social media, metrics need to be in place to show the business value. In marketing, everything goes back to the return on investment (ROI). Measuring success is no different when it comes to social media.

Review your audience growth rate, impressions and engagement (likes, comments, shares, retweets and reactions).  

Building a following through social media takes time and consistency, but by examining the numbers, you can get smarter with your content and finetune your engagement tactics, which can move leads down the sales funnel. 

Do you have a plan for your CEO to leverage social media? Contact us today, to get the conversation started.

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3 Tips for Building Your Brand This Holiday Season

By Jeffrey Barnhart

The holiday season is one of the most ideal times of the year for companies to build their brand. For many industries, the time period between Thanksgiving and the end of the year is prime selling season because people are in the holiday spirit, a celebratory mood that prompts them to buy. Companies should capitalize on this sentiment by raising their brand awareness in a meaningful and memorable way. This will enable you to cut through the holiday noise and keep your brand top of mind.

Here are some tips to consider, when promoting your brand this holiday season:

1) Be Creative

This is one of the few times throughout the year when companies can be ultra imaginative with their holiday branding, which should be an extension of your general branding, by using festive colors and clever concepts. Throughout the creative process, be sure to stay authentic to your existing brand that’s been established. My company, Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA), has been generating a uniquely branded holiday card for more than 25 years. Fun photos of the firm’s employees are strategically placed throughout the design. The combination of creativity and people reinforces CMA’s branding, services and corporate culture. There’s a different theme each year, which has included a champagne pop to celebrate our 30th anniversary, superheroes, rock n’ roll and the CMA Crew’s favorite holiday ornaments. While we anticipate getting heartfelt holiday cards from friends and family, we don’t expect them from businesses. Sending those types of cards has been an excellent tool for CMA to build and maintain strong business relationships.

2) Be Known For Something

In addition to being more outside of the box with your branding during the holidays, think about ways your company can be known for something that your customers will look forward to year after year. You want to choose something that not only showcases your expertise in your industry, but is unique, differentiates you from competitors and showcases shared values with your customers. According to the Harvard Business Review, marketers should build brand loyalty on shared values with its consumers. This will make your company more relatable, position you as an industry leader and make your company known for whatever it is your branding is trying to convey. Lexus has their annual “December to Remember” sale each year. The company began “December To Remember” and the red bow tied around a vehicle in the driveway in 1999. During the last two decades, Lexus’s leadership in highlighting holiday-season sales has led to a transformation of the period—and particularly December—from a relatively sleepy time for U.S. auto sales into one of the most interesting and creative, according to Forbes. Likewise, in December, CMA has become known for its holiday card. Our clients, prospects and friends look forward to seeing it each year, which has resulted in an increasingly higher response rate.

3) Be On Multiple Channels

Once you’ve established holiday branding that checks all of the boxes, share it through multiple channels. Print, digital and social are all good outlets to consider. In addition to mailing the CMA holiday card, we also produce a digital version that we share through an e-blast and throughout all of our social media channels, so people can interact and engage. It’s essential to keep the digital execution of the card interesting and dynamic, such as producing a platform where people can be a part of the conversation. The branding also needs to be consistent across all channels, so it will continue to resonate with your customers. The average revenue increase attributed to presenting the brand consistently is 23 percent, cited by Lucidpress.

Would you like to learn more about how you can elevate your presence in your market and enjoy success? Let’s begin that process today.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Jeffrey Barnhart is founder and CEO of CMA, a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and association management firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at

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How the Right Business Strategy Will Garner Success Next Year

By Jeffrey Barnhart

Is it that time of the year already? When the days start to get shorter, companies begin to ponder what they’ve accomplished during the past year, in addition to thinking about the challenges ahead. One critical component to every company’s success is the “future plan.” Setting corporate goals and communicating them throughout the organization ensures that everyone on the team is heading in the right direction. If employees don’t know which way they’re meant to be going, they won’t get there.

An article in Inc. cites alarming results from the 4th Annual Staples National Small Business Survey. More than 80 percent of the 300 small business owners surveyed said that they don’t keep track of their business goals, and 77 percent have yet to achieve their vision for their company.

To be successful, leaders must commit to certain disciplines, which oftentimes are a challenge within itself. Everyday workloads may create obstacles to the strict adherence to the processes and procedures that are necessary to stay the course. Leaders tend to get enveloped working “in” the business rather than “on” the business. Communicating the future in terms that everyone understands, appreciates and buys into is another challenge that leaders face. You likely will find yourself asking, “How much information should be shared and how often?”
According to an article in Forbes—which refers to a Harvard Business Review article, “When CEOs Talk Strategy, Is Anyone Listening?”—only a fraction of our workforce is really clued in. The article cites research, which says that even in high-performing companies with “clearly articulated public strategies,” only 29 percent of their employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy out of six choices. That means 70 percent (seven out of 10) of all employees are unknowingly misaligned with your company’s strategic direction.
To find the perfect balance, leaders may have to try several different iterations until they reach the ultimate “everyone is walking the same talk.” The benefits are endless. Having a common vision creates energy that naturally invigorates the company culture. You can measure success, identify, discuss and solve challenges, as well as make adjustments along the way.
It’s important for companies to take steps now to plan for next year. The most successful ones I’ve encountered during my 30+ years leading CMA, can be excerpted from Gino Wickman’s book “Traction,” which outlines the secrets of strengthening the key components of a business:

• Establish a clear vision that is shared by everyone
• Ensure you have the right people in the right seats
• Measure the company pulse
• Identify and solve issues promptly
• Document processes and ensure they are followed
• Establish priorities
• Ensure trust, communication and accountability are present

CMA has been utilizing its own proprietary discovery process, Marketecture™, to engage in strategic analysis to help our clients understand how their company can be best positioned in the marketplace. During the course, CMA examines the following:

• Pain points
• Buying motivations
• Competitive challenges
• Marketplace forces impacting the company

Marketecture™ is a unique process that identifies market positioning, creates the compelling sales messages and, ultimately, a strategy for creative communications tactics that propels the client’s brand power. It also ensures that you have the game plan to reach the correct audience, with the right messaging, to yield outstanding results.

Many of CMA’s clients have had success utilizing Marketecture™, since the firm launched it 15 years ago, including a 100-year-old manufacturer that was losing sales because of a tarnished brand in the marketplace. CMA conducted a Marketecture™ session, coupled with primary and secondary research, and developed a well-rounded plan of action. The company, now 108 years old, has catapulted into a national industry leader. Another client, a global lighting manufacturer, wanted to differentiate itself in a growing target audience. Through our Marketecture™ process, we developed a customized customer incentive program to reward the new target audience for buying this company’s product, rather than another company’s product.

In closing, because of the ever-evolving technological changes throughout society, strategic analysis will be an increasingly critical tool to identify what works and what doesn’t. Although the tools available to conduct strategic analyses are at our fingertips, CMA’s process takes those theories to a superior level.

If you expect results, call CMA now to schedule your Marketecture™ session with our experts.

Jeffrey Barnhart is founder and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and integrated communications firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at

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Why Putting Your Customer First Can Damage Your Business

An old adage says that the customer is always right.  In the business book of commandments, you might find right next to that: Always put the customer first. These are business rules you can find countless articles about and engrained in our everyday culture. Putting the customer first, in simple terms, means that a business puts the needs and requirements of a customer ahead of anything and everything else. I’d like to challenge this idea.

When you put your customer first, you are creating a culture that is chained to the whim of an outsider, letting your customers and potential customers be the driver of your company’s success.  While customers are very important, one thing should go before them.  Your employees and your talent.  That should be first in line of your concerns, well before your customers.

While numerous surveys, market analysis and research is done to make sure your customers are receiving top notch service with excellent products, little is often done to make sure your employees have resources for professional growth and are supported in a collaborative environment to provide solutions for clients. And, essentially, your employees make up your organization.  It’s the employees who bring their efforts, enthusiasm and talent that make your company shine.  When you have a solid company with satisfied employees giving their full effort, pleased and loyal customers naturally fall in to place.

Over 20 years ago, business professors at Harvard University conducted a study comparing the most profitable service-based companies.  The outcome showed that a 5 percent increase in customer loyalty boosted business sales.  They researched dozens of companies and tracked this concept and came up with the service-profit chain.  This means that profit and growth are driven by customer loyalty. Loyalty is influenced by customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is stimulated by a high perception of value of the service. Service is the result of productive employees. Productivity stems from employee satisfaction.

When you hire talented, passionate, dedicated, genuinely kind people, you are putting yourself in a position to succeed.  Creating a dynamic internal company culture creates a trickle down affect that leads to happier customers.

Each member of your staff that interacts with your customer is capable of strengthening value or diminishing it.  As a business owner, we strive to create invaluable employees that create dynamic value for our customers. When you focus on your people, your people focus on your customer much more.

Empower your employees.  Train them. Teach them.  Provide opportunities for them.

Just because your customers aren’t first, they still are very important to company success. You need to listen to customer feedback to create a better run machine.  In today’s world of instant, constant communication and wide-reaching social networks, every company’s reputation is in the hands of the consumers that engage with that company. While a happy customer may or may not decide to log on to their computer or pick up their smartphone and write a rave review, an unhappy customer is more likely to do so, sometimes creating a digital war against a brand they are unsatisfied with. While you certainly need to listen to these complaints, you need to take them, absorb them and if it is a common thread that seems to keep arising, take note.  Especially in today’s world, companies need to continuously change and adapt to their customer’s ever-changing needs and wants.  If not, a competitor will.

At CMA, we like to focus on keeping our employees empowered by offering company policies and activities that you might not find in every agency.  We keep our employees happy with perks like company BBQs, offering the ability to bring pets to work, summer hours, a relaxed dress code, a laid-out path for success and job trainings are a few examples of the things our employees like about working here.  When employees are happy, they are working hard and delivering excellent results for our clients.  Then our clients are happy because they are receiving great work and achieving goals they’ve set out for their company.

Create a list of how you make your employees feel taken care of.  Identify what they are looking for out of a job, whether by talking directly to them or creating a suggestion box.  Tweak your company culture and offerings where you see fit.  Then watch as your employees feel ready to shine, making a better company for you, them and your customers.

Jeffrey Barnhart is founder and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and integrated communications firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at

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Should You Fire Your Client?

Everyone wants as many clients as possible. Serving each client to the best of our ability in a timely manner is our top priority at all times.

But not all clients are created equal. Some have a higher return on investment because they require less work, and some require more attention and maintenance than originally anticipated.

To achieve more cost efficiency as business owners, we need to assess our businesses, take inventory of clients and “fire” the ones who don’t bring value to the bottom line. The first step is to have a consistent metric to evaluate each customer. At my company, I look for several things:

Does the client share my Core Values? Every employee at CMA is expected to work according to a set of core values, and we expect some of the same things from our clients, such as teamwork and professionalism. These values are the foundation of a great working relationship and let everyone know what is expected of them. If everyone is not on the same page in terms of the basics of working together, the uncertainty can manifest itself into poor performance, confusion and a difficult relationship.

At CMA, our Core Values are on display for everyone to see.

Are they allowing me to do the job I was hired to do? After core values, this is the first thing I assess. They hired us to do a job for them. Is the client listening to our recommendations and expertise? Do they question every move? Questions and revision requests from clients are normal, but when excessive it could signal they don’t have a firm direction set in their mind or they are doubting themselves.

How does the client treat my staff? Reviewing how the client treats your staff members is important because it answers whether the client is easy to work with or are they constantly asking their account executive to jump through hoops?

While it’s okay to ask for an occasional jump (we all understand there are unexpected, urgent matters that can arise) it should be outside the normal course of business, not an all-the-time occurrence. This not only taxes your employees, but it gives the client the perception that this is an acceptable course of action and it can also delay other client work.

I think about how long it took to negotiate the contract. There is a big difference between a tough negotiation and a difficult client.

For me, the sales process is a big indicator of how the contract will be executed. From the time they expressed interest in our services to the time we can count them in the “win” column, what did the process look like? Was the client easy to reach? Were they responsive? Was there a rapport or chemistry?

A long, drawn out negotiation process with lots of bumps in the road rarely makes a good roadmap for the rest of our time together. After a trying negotiation, some clients have proved me wrong, but a few have taxed our resources.

I review the agreed upon scope of service. When account executives have to spend excessive amounts of time with one client, that client is less profitable.

Think about it—imagine you have two identical contracts for $50,000. If one takes 100 hours to execute and the other takes 500 hours to execute, which one is making you more money?

A sale is not worth anything if the profit margin is being eaten up by a taxing client.

When thinking about your clients, examine why one contract is taking 100 hours and the other is taking 500. Is the account executive not connecting with the client? Are they not communicating well? Or is the client unsure of exactly what they want?

We have all had the client who gets buyer’s remorse and wants to go back and change the scope of services after the contract has been executed. Depending upon the circumstance, this should be a red flag that the fit might not be right. If there is an out, it might be time to take it.

I don’t even give them the chance to be fired. There are times, after an arduous negotiation process, we have walked away from a potential client because we felt they would not be a good fit for our company. While a large contract is very tempting, its potential drain on resources is not, especially if it does not match up to your core values.

I cut ties when the checks stop coming in. When working with someone under contract, it’s very tempting to let them slide on a few invoices, but this is detrimental to your bottom line. You have employees doing work and they need to be paid. If a client isn’t paying you for that employee’s time, who is going to pay that employee on Friday? You.

Making the decision to cut ties with a client is never an easy one, but sometimes it’s necessary to keep your business moving forward. A careful review and discussion with your staff will allow you to make the best possible decision.

Jeffrey Barnhart is founder and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and integrated communications firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at

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How Satisfied Employees Spur Company Profits

How much should a company value its employees? Well, they need more than a paycheck, they need to feel valued, empowered and part of the organization’s mission. And you, as a business owner, will reap the benefits of having an engaged and satisfied workforce. You won’t just feel good inside; you will drive business growth and profit.

Employees relax for a while in the afternoon at one of CMA’s summer lunchtime BBQs.

Your employees can be your best brand ambassadors. The more valued and empowered they feel, the harder they will work for your clients. The more productive they are, the more your clients will perceive the value of your service or product. Satisfied clients are loyal clients. And every business strives to create and maintain loyal clients.

The key is to find the right team of employees for each client and then work to empower your employees to create client value and loyalty.

Simple, right? Well, it’s easier said than done. After all, what do employees need to feel happy in their jobs?

At CMA, we have several initiatives aimed at making work a fun, happy— and empowered— place to be.

Establish company core values

My leadership team and I came up with values that we would like every employee to emulate. These are the expectations we set and we believe it helps to have everyone strive for the same goals.  

  • Passion: We demonstrate unmatched client loyalty because we’re passionate about our clients and the services we provide.
  • Enthusiasm: We radiate positive energy and invigorate those around us.
  • Excellence: We anticipate, initiate and execute with a sense of urgency.
  • Professionalism: We are competent, skilled and respectful in all that we say, do and represent.
  • Solution-Oriented: We drive “out-of-the-box” solutions for clients and colleagues.
  • Accountability: We take responsibility for all that we say and do.
  • Teamwork: We harness the power of teamwork. We supersedes me.

Company game plan

Our game plan outlines our strategic imperatives for the year, listing action items and assigning responsibilities within its pages to show employees how they fit into the company’s overall goals. It’s a motivational tool and helps employees feel like they’re part of the team, with assigned goals and objectives. When employees do not understand their role in the company, they can become discouraged, leading to decreased productivity and company turnover. The game plan is also a way to measure our yearly initiatives and analyze return on investment.

Pet-friendly office

We believe that happiness begins with being a pet-friendly office. Dogs are a regular part of our culture here at CMA. We have been a pet-friendly workplace since I founded the firm in 1987. It has helped define our culture. We work long and hard for our clients. Pets help us keep our sense of humor, spark creativity and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Work Hard, Play Hard Philosophy

We have a committee of employees that regularly plan fun outings for the entire staff. Sometimes it’s an egg hunt for Easter, once in a while it’s a happy hour after work, and other times it’s as simple as community volunteer opportunities. These are moments when all employees can get away from desks, paperwork and phone calls.

“Jeff Bucks,” which can be exchanged for a snack or soda in the kitchen, are more popular egg hunt finds than candy!

Summer picnics, summer hours

We know employee productivity and motivation can lower as temperatures begin to rise. During May, June, July and August, we offer ‘summer hours,’ adding an extra 30 minutes to each workday Monday-Thursday and then letting employees leave at 3 p.m. on Fridays. We also have biweekly outdoor company picnics. Everyone pitches in, potluck-style by bringing appetizers, side dishes and desserts, while the company provides the hotdogs, hamburgers and grill. For an hour, we simply enjoy each other’s company, without talk of deadlines, clients or reports. Our biweekly company picnics have proven to also be opportunities for team-building and increasing staff relations.

Outdoor meetings

If it’s a beautiful day outside and employees have internal meetings planned, the company advocates for attendees to move their meeting outside at the picnic tables to enjoy the beautiful weather. However, while everyone wants to have meetings on a sunny 70-degree day, no one wants to do so in black slacks and long sleeve shirts. This led to us instituting a summer dress code where employees are allowed to wear shorts in the office on Fridays

The golden rule

We believe in treating people the way you want to be treated yourself. Encourage your employees to learn and take on new challenges as they grow within the organization. Embrace a management style that treats people professionally and gives them the flexibility and freedom to create their own path within their work environment.

You know the saying, “it’s not personal, it’s business.” I believe all business is personal and the more you value your employees, the more rewards your company will reap.

Jeffrey Barnhart is president and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and association management firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at

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