The do’s and don’ts of experiential marketing

By Matt Suttmiller

You’ve definitely encountered or participated in experiential marketing before – even if you didn’t know it at the time.

Experiential marketing involves creating memorable and innovative customer experiences that create deep emotional connections between a customer and brand. It’s a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground type of marketing that you’ll most often see in action at in-person events.

Some experiential marketing campaigns you might have seen out in the world include:

Yes, high-profile companies tend to make the biggest waves and earn the most online views with these kinds of campaigns. But experiential marketing can move the needle for any business of any size – if it’s done right.

Let’s dig into how experiential marketing can benefit your business, how it’s changed in recent years (hello, pandemic!), and some do’s and don’ts that’ll help you make the most out of it.

Why should you invest in experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing can create an impression that lasts – and often converts:

  • 65% of brands say experiential marketing increases sales.
  • 91% of consumers say branded events and experiences make them more likely to purchase.
  • 46% of consumers feel more positive about a brand after engaging in one of its events.

Digital marketing and other kinds of content often involve making a quick impression on consumers. With experiential marketing, you get to forge a personal connection that helps the consumer remember you months or years down the road. This especially helps brands whose products are more expensive or have a longer sales funnel.

For example, customers rarely impulse-buy insurance; it’s a longer, more carefully considered decision that they might not even need to make right now. That’s why companies like GEICO and Progressive pour massive spend into experiential marketing: It helps consumers remember them when the time to buy insurance finally comes.

Branded events also help you collect more in-the-moment data from your target audience. And they can even be a launchpad for online publicity. (Influencers love promoting branded experiences.)

How has experiential marketing changed recently?

As in most industries, the experiential marketing world experienced some massive changes triggered by COVID-19. But some of these changes are arguably for the better.

Marketers tapped into their creative juices to come up with virtual solutions to reach and engage prospects while maintaining physical distance. When in-person events did happen, they got rid of tangible lead-capture tools like iPads to minimize touchpoints. Instead, they opted for more cost-effective routes (with an added focus on personal health) like scannable QR codes so the consumer journey stayed within each consumer’s personal device.

Now, as in-person events are ramping back up, marketers have new insights for strategically spending their experiential marketing budget. They better understand which goals they can effectively accomplish through virtual or hybrid events rather than fully in-person ones. They’ve also started to favor more cost-effective engagement tools – no more dropping thousands of dollars on a bunch of tablets to collect email addresses. Plus, since the pandemic has kept people closer to home, it’s led marketers to seek out more localized initiatives to promote their products. 

Which, incidentally, leads to the first do of experiential marketing…

Three do’s of experiential marketing

  1. Do go where the customer is. Tempted to take your experiential campaign on a big circuit around the country? Before you get too ambitious, ask yourself: “How do I meet my customers where they are?” Unless you’re a nationwide company selling something everyone and their mother needs, you probably need to narrow your scope. Identify your target audience, then determine the cities and events where you’re most likely to find them. This will keep your campaign targeted and help you maximize spend.
  2. Do show return on investment (ROI). Like any worthwhile marketing campaign, experiential marketing is an investment. If you can’t show ROI, you’re not going to get buy-in for future experiential efforts. Gather the data you need to prove that you accomplished what you set out to do. And if you exceeded expectations, even better.
  3. Do conduct post-event research. Use surveys to understand how your experiential campaign impacted (or didn’t impact) your audience. A month or two after your event, reach out to people who likely engaged with it and ask them their thoughts. Then leverage that information for a pulse study to see if your event improved your audience’s overall perception of the brand. (If it did, that’s another point in your favor when seeking buy-in for future campaigns.)

Three don’ts of experiential marketing

  1. Don’t skimp on logistics. The event is only a piece of an experiential marketing effort. Have you accounted for the time it takes to produce supporting materials and collateral? How will you transport those materials – and how long will that take, particularly on a campaign with multiple stops? How much will you need to pay truck drivers, setup crews and on-site brand ambassadors? Tie up those loose ends so the campaign goes off without a hitch.
  2. Don’t forget to define your key performance indicator. If you start a campaign unsure of what you want to accomplish with it, you won’t be able to measure its success or ROI afterward. Determine exactly what you want to gain from experiential marketing. It could be a certain number of email opt-ins, coupon code activations or some other outcome. Set a realistic expectation – and if you don’t reach it, use the data you gather to optimize future campaigns.
  3. Don’t overlook smaller, more local opportunities. Everyone wants to give their brand the biggest possible platform. Maybe it’s your dream to set up an experiential event at a nationally renowned trade show or at major league sporting events. But don’t let these super-sexy prospects distract you from reaching your target audience. If you’re most likely to find prospective customers at less glitzy events – like a farmer’s market or the spring fling at your in-laws’ church – put those at the top of your list.

Not sure where to begin with experiential marketing or how to get it to work for you? Our brand strategy, content and creative experts can help pinpoint your audience and execute a great campaign that’ll forge lifelong customer relationships. Contact us to get started.

The Art of Crafting a Meaty Media Pitch

By Kyra Newman

How many times have you scanned the aisles during a shopping trip to check out a new product featured on your favorite talk show? Or Googled an innovative startup after hearing its founder weigh in on your favorite news podcast? Or planned to stop by a food festival that a local events magazine plugged?

It’s no secret that the media influences public perception of brands—that’s why so many companies invest in media relations. Media outlets offer unparalleled reach when it comes to disseminating information to targeted, receptive audiences. What’s more, the public places considerable trust in the outlets they choose to follow, so a positive endorsement from a media outlet can lend invaluable credibility to a company and its offerings.

The real secret at the heart of media pitching lies in teasing out the most newsworthy, impactful brand stories and convincing a reputable outlet that whatever you’re plugging—be it a product, service or idea—is worth sharing with their audience. That’s where the art of crafting a media pitch comes in.

What is a media pitch?

To fully understand the role of a media pitch, it’s necessary to first understand the scope of media relations. Not to be confused with “public relations”—which broadly encompasses a company’s external outreach to any stakeholder—“media relations” hinges on outreach to a specific group of stakeholders: reporters and producers. Situated within the context of the fast-paced news cycle, a media pitch is any attempt to convince an outlet to cover your company.

Depending on your industry, resources and promotional goals, the angle of your pitch and the type of media coverage you achieve will vary. A bike-sharing startup might opt to pitch a highly visual story complete with graphics showcasing its new and improved bike-docking locations ahead of National Bike to Work Day, while an environmental nonprofit could offer up an interview with its lead scientist to assist a reporter in teasing out key points from a new, jargon-heavy piece of legislation.

While the content of a pitch depends on a brand’s specific strategy, nearly all successful pitches share a common format. They snag a reporter’s attention with a customized hook, clearly communicate how a brand story will benefit an outlet’s audience, provide any resources (such as product samples and expert interviews) necessary to bring the story to life, and specify a clear directive for the journalist to act on—all while keeping the message digestible and to-the-point.

Most pitching today starts via email, and journalists’ inboxes are flooded with dozens of requests each day. Reporters must sift through the clutter to pursue the most buzzworthy news items. So while the possibilities for companies to leverage media relations are endless, the success of a pitch ultimately hinges on communicating the brand story’s newsworthiness. But how does the media define a newsworthy story?

What journalists are looking for

More often than you’d think, clients make the mistake of pitching their company updates as “news.” But updates that are newsworthy internally—a sleek new website, the appointment of a new CFO—aren’t necessarily stories worth sharing externally. When reporters vet pitches for newsworthiness, they look for three key elements:

#1. Uniqueness

First and foremost, a story needs to be distinctive enough to merit the media’s attention. Launching a copycat product is hardly news, but unveiling a disruptive innovation? That’s much more likely to pique a reporter’s interest. If generating news coverage is essential to your promotional plan, define the points of difference that will break through everyday media clutter. From a never-before-seen feature to an outrageous event activation, pursuing a buzzworthy angle from the outset helps a brand story stand out during the media pitching process.

#2. Relevance

Even the most remarkable story risks falling through the cracks if a pitch doesn’t clearly motivate for its relevance. A generic mass email is destined for the spam folder—a reporter is much more likely to follow up on a thoughtful, tailored pitch that demonstrates familiarity with their outlet and applicability to their target audience. In crafting an initial message, spell out the connections that make your brand story worthy of publication or airtime. Whether plugging a groundbreaking packaging adhesive to a manufacturing trade journal or promoting an upcoming neighborhood wine festival to a local events blog, do your homework to ensure that your pitch resonates with the parties it needs to reach.

#3. Timeliness

Finally, when it comes to pitching a story, the adage about being in the right place at the right time holds true. Even the most unique, relevant stories might not make the news if the initial pitch hits a journalist’s desk too early or too late. And if a story is evergreen and could be covered at any time, a reporter will likely pass it up in favor of a more pressing, urgent piece. As you prepare to pitch your brand story, keep timing in mind. Maybe that entails strategically timing the launch of your pop-up restaurant to coincide with the annual restaurant week or fast-tracking a revolutionary redesign of your app so it’s ready in time for a blockbuster conference. Because the news cycle moves so quickly, time is of the essence in getting eyeballs on your brand story.

If developing your media relations sounds like a nuanced and time-intensive process, that’s because it is! Like any promotional initiative, effective pitching requires some legwork, and tapping an agency makes the process a bit easier. From expertise in pitch strategy and copywriting to extensive knowledge of the media ecosystem to long-standing connections with outlets and journalists, we’re here to help. Click here to reach out.

The Indispensable Blueprint at the Heart of Your Communications

By Mitchell Jordan

I challenge you to think of a complex project that doesn’t start with a blueprint. An interior designer would never furnish a house without first consulting the master floorplan, and a novelist can’t delve into character development without at least mapping out a rough table of contents. The same logic applies when designing brand communications: no business leader should consider launching a television spot—or even uploading a new social media avatar—before establishing formal brand guidelines.

What exactly are brand guidelines, anyways?

Brand guidelines summarize the most important aspects of a brand and explain how (and how not) to communicate a brand’s essence. Not to be confused with simplified style guidelines, brand guidelines simultaneously govern visual elements (from logos and fonts to color palettes and photography) and lay out rules for structuring communications according to a brand’s philosophy, tone, and voice. When working with a remote team or collaborating with external partners, a set of clear, comprehensive brand guidelines anchors the creative process and helps forge a readily recognizable brand identity across multiple channels and different campaigns.

Prioritizing brand guidelines may seem like a no-brainer, but brands often bypass this step and jump right into creative executions. In the case of busy startups, a backlog of time-sensitive projects and a scrappy approach to budgeting can take precedence over the nebulous task of hammering out brand guidelines. In other instances, asset creation may fall to a single individual who already knows the brand inside and out and doesn’t see the need to formulate official guidelines.

While extensive brand guidelines may seem excessive or redundant for small, emerging brands, it’s important to keep your long-term growth plans in mind. As the scope of your communications broadens and the size of your team expands, brand guidelines save time and money by streamlining the creative process. Even more importantly, they ensure thematic harmony across all of your assets. Without any formal guidelines in place at the outset, the creative process can spiral into an organizational headache and a financial drain, and you risk producing disjointed creative that dilutes the power of your brand messages. Clarity and consistency are key when it comes to being taken seriously by clients and consumers, so adhering to brand guidelines is vital for establishing integrity in the long run.

Best practices for brand guidelines

There’s no universal template for crafting brand guidelines—they’re highly variable depending on a brand’s specific needs and the scope of its communications. But there are a few key considerations that every brand should focus on when developing its guidelines to ensure the final product is on-strategy, effective in the long-term, and simple to work with.

Start with strategy

As we say again and again at Dotted Line, always start with strategy. Since every brand approaches strategy from a slightly different angle, your brand guidelines may look totally different from examples you’ve seen before. For instance, incorporating highly technical photography standards into brand guidelines makes perfect sense for an interior design firm, but would feel out of place for a small IT startup. Furthermore, a brand’s strategy evolves over time as new opportunities emerge, so brand guidelines should be crafted with scalability in mind, ready to extend to a new application should the need arise. Whether pivoting from image-based social content to video or extending your new-age brand voice in traditional markets, accounting for upcoming strategic shifts ensures that brand guidelines bend—rather than break—as your business changes.

Play the long game

When committing to a set of standards that will steer your future creative projects, it’s natural to wonder how often you should refresh your guidelines and tempting to leave ample room to accommodate tweaks over time. But while brand guidelines need to be scalable, they should generally maintain a degree of rigidity and stability. After all, the whole point of a brand is to offer its consumers a sense of consistency and security over time. Exercising patience and continuously reinforcing foundational brand elements are key to achieving widespread and long-lasting awareness among consumers. When it comes to modifying your brand guidelines, augment them sparingly and thoughtfully as your brand grows, and resist the urge to make hasty changes every time a trendy new color palette or writing style crops up.

Focus on your team’s different needs

Even the most stunning, thorough brand guidelines can be rendered pointless if your team lacks the know-how or motivation to leverage them effectively. As a creative, I love it when clients hand over a hefty volume of brand guidelines for me to sink my teeth into, but most brands don’t have the need—or budget—for such expansive guidelines. And while your marketing department and creative partners require a certain degree of specificity, be realistic—your colleagues in IT don’t need ten pages of brand voice exploration to update the company-wide email signature. Consider developing smaller appendices to your brand guidelines tailored to different departments’ usages. Ease of use should be a primary consideration when rolling out your brand guidelines, so be sure to present assets to your team with accessibility in mind.

It’s short-sighted to think of brand guidelines as a tool that only large, unwieldy brands working with an array of partners need—they’re a must-have for any growing brand, regardless of size or industry. And while implementing any brand guidelines is a step in the right direction, the more comprehensive they are, the better. Between strategic alignment, long-term planning, and team-specific considerations, it’s no surprise that developing brand guidelines can be a daunting undertaking, and the process can often require in-depth theoretical knowledge or technical expertise depending on your brand’s needs. We’re here to ask the probing questions and formulate the best approach to create brand guidelines that work for your brand. Click here to reach out.

Why No Two Website Strategies Should Look the Same

By: Jason Anderson

If there was ever a time to dive headfirst into a website design project, 2021 is that time. As stay-at-home guidelines push businesses further into the virtual realm, compelling online touchpoints have never been more critical. Plus, with so many big projects on hold, this unexpected downtime presents a great opportunity to undertake a website launch or refresh.

It’s tempting to seek out shortcuts to fast-track the website design process, especially with COVID fueling a particularly scrappy approach to business decisions. Perhaps you’ve considered repurposing one of your other brands’ site layouts or replicating features from a competitor’s website. But while those are great places to look to for inspiration, they shouldn’t be the primary drivers of your design process. Every company possesses a unique business approach and a distinct set of short- and long-term objectives, meaning that a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach simply won’t cut it when it comes to website design.

So where exactly should you start your website design process?

Start with strategy

At Dotted Line, we find ourselves constantly reciting the mantra “everything starts with strategy.” Strategy highlights which challenges a new website should address, and it serves as a gut check underscoring every phase of the creative process. When in doubt, asking “Is this on strategy?” can differentiate between which site features are truly essential and which are just flashy bells and whistles.

Sometimes a strategy-first approach requires hard cuts. When a client struggles to explain how a site component fits into their strategic roadmap, that’s a clear indication that a better solution exists, just waiting to be tapped. Business leaders must remind themselves that “all of our competitors are doing it” or “a customer suggested it” isn’t enough justification on its own. Committing to staying on-strategy pushes a company to think critically about the role its website plays in the customer journey and lays the foundation for the most relevant and effective brand storytelling touchpoints.

Flying Phase’s website is a great example of the branded through-line resulting from a strategy-first approach. While the world of financial consulting is often marked by rigidity, Flying Phase is anything but. From its cutting-edge name—derived from a pioneering America’s Cup design that literally lifts elite racing vessels out of the water—to their forward-thinking “business beyond the horizon” positioning, Flying Phase stands out from stiffer, more traditional competition. This differentiation strategy is impossible to overlook in their website design: marked by a stunning hero video and a vibrant color palette, Flying Phase’s sleek site goes hand-in-hand with their innovative approach to consulting. In this case, Flying Phase’s strong strategic backbone proved key to setting their site firmly apart from other industry players.

Take it in phases

We think of website design as a dynamic, phased process. A static site that only addresses a client’s immediate needs isn’t practical in the long-term—the most effective websites grow alongside a company as its business evolves and its brand story deepens.

A phased approach is especially crucial when we work with trailblazing startups launching a website for the first time. While established companies often initiate design projects armed with an arsenal of multimedia assets and branded copy, burgeoning startups enter into the design process virtually from square one. These websites need to be flexible enough to tell an abbreviated brand story in the short-term and accommodate new brand assets, features, and copy as they arise three, six, and twelve months down the line.

EDai’s new site accomplishes exactly that. After months of fine-tuning a tech-based approach to economic development, EDai celebrated its official public launch in early 2021, and is still in the throes of establishing its brand story. In the meantime, they needed a clean-cut, polished website to promote their proprietary LocatED tool and consulting services, while leaving room to expand their online storytelling in the future. The resulting design ticks both boxes, nimbly telling the story of EDai’s consulting firepower and laying the foundation for adding thought leadership content as the business and team grow. The clean, straightforward design mirrors the ease of use of their tool and the direct professionalism at the heart of their company ethos, all while remaining adaptable as EDai’s online content evolves.

A path to the most effective website design

Since no two companies approach their strategy or scaling plans in exactly the same way, it follows that no two website designs should look exactly the same. But developing a website from scratch that’s laser-focused on your business needs is no small task. Synthesizing strategy and anticipating future developments (while maintaining focus and staying in-scope!) almost always requires expert guidance, which is where we can help. We’re no strangers to website design, and we pride ourselves on meeting clients where they are, regardless of business stage, project timeline, or design complexity. Plus, we work to cultivate a diverse extended team with wide-ranging capabilities. Whether your focus is content strategy, user experience design, or anything in between, we tap the right experts to get the job done. At the end of the day, what matters most to us—and you!—is crafting the most effective website to support your specific business needs.

Have questions for us about how to kick off your website design project? We’re ready to help. Click here to reach out.

Achieving Success as a Marketing Leader

Prior to the internet becoming mainstream – along with its ability to help marketers draw a clear line connecting campaigns with sales – marketing leaders often struggled to demonstrate the power of brand and its impact on P&L. But as a marketing leader whose professional maturity occurred in the digital era, I’m a firm believer that strategic marketing can not only influence hearts and minds, but also serve on the front lines of driving business growth.

And while strategic thinking plays a central role in creating marketing impact, being a source of positive change for your team is mission critical. At Dotted Line, we talk at least on a weekly basis about marketing being a team sport – and I’d argue that this holds true not only in our agency setting, but also in the corporate world. Marketing leaders are responsible for working closely with team members from across the organization. We also work with peer business leaders to inform organizational strategy. And when the time comes for implementation, specialists from various marketing disciplines must collaborate with their peers from other disciplines to fully realize a holistic marketing program and, ultimately, the team’s greatest potential.

As one of our agency’s business development leaders, I come into contact with hundreds of marketing leaders who are new to their role. Combining insights from those interactions with my own experience, I wanted to share several important considerations for marketing leaders who are new to their organization, new to their role, or perhaps reimagining how they manage their team.

You’re a Change Agent

In my view, marketing at its core has always been about disruption (even before the term became overused). On a daily basis, we’re being asked to drive change: how a brand talks about itself, the tools an organization uses to communicate those messages, and the behaviors we’re looking to drive with our target audience.

And the same holds true as we think about our function within a business. Marketing leaders are often hired to drive change, whether it’s dramatic change at the business or brand level, or an organizational or executional transformation. It’s your responsibility to seek clarity on the magnitude and pace of change and how it will be supported internally. From here, it’s your team to build – and your obligation to find the right people, with the right skillsets and temperament to make your organization successful.

As you take on the marketing mantel, your first weeks in the role will establish your trajectory and hopefully accelerate success. To that end, sit down with your CEO or organizational leader to understand how best to focus your disruption, where the most immediate challenges lay, and the expectations related to the magnitude of change you’re being expected to drive. I’m a big fan of The CMO Manifesto, which provides some great insight and structure for those early days.

Remember, building relationships and trust early on with your executive peer set and their teams will make shifting from strategy to execution easier when it’s time for action.

Your Team Is Your Engine

Strong marketing teams are built on a sound process, collaboration, effective communication, and clear expectations. I start that list with “process” because it’s a foundational element here at Dotted Line and aids greatly in fulfilling the subsequent items. In my career, I have found that developing the process is the first step to creating focus for driving toward desired results, and when I look at the feedback we receive from our partners, our clear process often rises to the top as a valuable part of the Dotted Line experience. Knowing how you’re getting to your final destination – and recognizing the important milestones along the way – makes the process that much more enjoyable.

But the destination isn’t purely shaped by internal forces like process: There are certain expected outcomes that cost centers like marketing are held to. Your strategic imperatives, and the markers of their successful actualization, need to be a North Star for your team. That’s not to say that we should hold specific metrics over our team’s heads, reactively responding to any abnormalities. What I mean is that, as marketing leaders, it’s our job to ensure that our teams understand our goals and how their discipline fits into the equation. I often find myself feeling redundant, playing my role of Dotted Line brand advocate in our internal meetings by repeating our mission and guiding principles, but what feels repetitive to me, I’ve come to understand, is good reinforcement for the team.

When you look at our tax documents, our agency is actually listed as Dotted Line Collaborations. It was the moniker we first developed when we began the business and stands to demonstrate the importance of collaboration. Now, seven years later, as we weather a pandemic, often from remote locations, I’m reminded of the importance of collaboration – and the clear communication required to ignite that type of collective thinking.

The reality is that in a single moment, an individual has a limit to their knowledge base: We have the potential to learn more in the future, but, in this moment, we only know what we know. In order to go beyond what each of your team members knows individually, it’s imperative that your business creates a culture and a forum for collaboration. It takes great intentionality and creativity in these bizarre times, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

Start with Strategy

If I could offer up one piece of advice – a pitfall to avoid in general, but especially in those early days – it would be to lean toward the strategic versus the tactical. Understand your organization’s primary goals and how they relate to the marketing function. Take the time to understand the voice of the customer and dig into market insights to guide future decision-making. Develop an approach that addresses core business needs and articulate tangible measures of success (even if it’s just one), internally with your team as well as externally with other facets of your business.

I often frame this by characterizing the type of change I’m leading and why the status quo is no longer right for the business. That type of clear communication will help you build relationships with executive peers and partners within your organization. It will also give you assurance in the event there’s an organizational shift in priorities since people will know what you’re doing and can help give you visibility when a pivot is required.

For those who know me well, you won’t be surprised at my ending this post with a few additional reads in case marketing leaders are looking for further guidance as they ease into their new role. Dotted Line came to existence after several informational interviews I conducted with fellow female business leaders who expressed a need for a more thoughtful, intentional marketing approach. If you’re looking for insight, reach out to marketing leaders in your network and ask them about their approach. I’ve found these types of meetings invaluable. Also, there are tons of great CMO podcasts out there, and I encourage you to take a listen. Here’s one of my favorites.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be an effective marketer if I didn’t share my own agency’s resources! Our team recently put together a reference guide for building strategic marketing programs. Once you’ve taken the preliminary steps outlined in this post, I encourage you to download it and read more about important considerations for turning your strategy into action.

Facilitating Effective Marketing Workshops

In February of this year, we had the opportunity to partner with PlanRVA and Sports Backers to lead a project that would result in the naming of a new trail extending from Ashland to Petersburg, Virginia. In our onboarding process, we learned that the trail would pass through seven jurisdictions within Central Virginia, reinforcing the importance of collaboration among localities.

As we took some time to plan for how we would lead our clients and the community through the process, we landed on the idea of inviting representatives from each group to a brainstorming workshop to learn about their visions for the trail firsthand. That way, their ideas, creativity, and potential concerns could be shared collectively, with guidance and structure from our team. A successful result required thoughtful planning for  how to structure the workshop. How would we make sure 20 people with different approaches could be heard – while promoting an environment of respect and learning from one another – and come away with a name everyone could be proud of?

With our goals clearly set, our team spent the weeks leading up to the event planning for a successful morning. We tested activities and brainstormed potential outcomes. We considered the time needed for the various exercises and thought through how to keep our community players engaged. Without careful planning, leading a team through such an exercise is like showing up to a big game without practice. In our “big game,” we needed to accomplish three things:

  1. Brainstorm and concept potential names
  2. Maintain a collective sense of community throughout the process
  3. Encourage participation from everyone in attendance

While we were incredibly passionate about the project, pulling the session together was no small task. Only by placing an emphasis on intentionality in our approach and execution were we able to set the stage for a successful outcome.

Whether you’re leading a session to inform a naming process, generate content ideas or facilitate communication between disconnected groups, the five key elements listed below can provide critical structure for driving productive dialogue among stakeholders with disparate goals. The elements work in conjunction with each other and act as a roadmap for encouraging discourse, helping groups reach their goals, and creating long-lasting relationships and impact.

  1. Know what you want to achieve. It sounds simple, but start with the end in mind. When all parties involved know what they’re working toward, it provides content, focus and clarity for individual contributors. It’s best to start your session by clarifying the ultimate goal and reinforcing that key objective as the day goes on. Tip: Have materials on the groups’ tables that reinforce the goal – and consider bringing a visual that supports the goal into the space to keep it front and center.
  2. Understand your audience. Who are you collaborating with, and what is/are their background(s)? It’s important to understand what your attendees’ day-to-day roles are and how you can engage with them. You may want to start by asking them to work in teams, which can help draw out those who are more reserved and get them involved in the conversation. Leaning into team work first, before sharing with the larger group, also allows for collaboration and trust-building to get the creative juices flowing. Tip: Choose groups that are diverse in both background and personality. This will hopefully lead to creative thinking and a mix of viewpoints
  3. Create the environment and define the rules of the road. It’s important to set the tone for the session so that participants will be engaged and inclined to add value. This begins with the facilitator, the space and the materials provided. Tip: Share with your participants what they can expect ahead of time, stick to your schedule (everyone’s time is precious), and acknowledge and encourage the group’s work along the way.
  4. Be adaptable: Not every activity will go exactly as you had envisioned, and that’s okay. It’s important to find a facilitator who is able to read the room, encourage teamwork, and pivot as needed. Sometimes it’s best to hold back and let the group work through its own obstacles, which may be a hidden opportunity to let them use their own momentum to reach the end goal. Tip: The right facilitator makes a difference. You may have the perfect fit in your organization, or you may need to partner with a research firm based on the size and structure of your workshop.
  5. Have fun! These kinds of workshops are meant to bring together individuals to work collectively toward a common goal. Tip: Bring in props and quiet fidget activities to keep participants’ minds clear. We gave our group Play-Doh, markers for coloring, and stress balls to keep their hands busy while their minds were doing the heavy lifting.

Workshops and brainstorming sessions are a great way to encourage collaboration and discussion, develop new ideas, and expand participants’ thinking. With the right planning and an adaptable structure for the day, you can achieve valuable results for everyone involved.

How much should I be paying for marketing?

Selecting the right marketing partner for your organization is no easy task. First, CMOs must navigate a saturated market of competing full-service agencies, creative collectives and freelance outfits. Once the hurdle of identifying an appropriate partner type is cleared, more questions arise about how to select the right choice from within that subset, how much it will cost to work with them, and how much additional funding to allocate towards non-agency costs, including media spend, trade show costs, print production and marketing technologies.

To combat the complexity of these decisions, Dotted Line has developed a series of six questions aimed at helping organizations find the right marketing partner for where their business is now and where it’s headed next. These questions and their corresponding answers have been outlined in our new marketing costs white paper, which can help you determine how much you should be paying for your marketing efforts, what to consider when choosing a marketing partner, and how you and your team can contribute most effectively to your marketing endeavors.

Our guide can be a valuable resource whether you’re entering into a marketing relationship for the first time or if you have an existing partner that you want to assess. After downloading this white paper, we encourage you to use it as a workbook of sorts to keep track of your questions, rationale and the solutions you unearth. As you proceed from one question to the next, answer each as honestly as you can to help create the most accurate reflection of your current state.

Click here to download your copy today.

How Multi-Channeling Your Message Optimizes Your Impact

Effective marketing is about understanding how, when and where to engage with your target audience.  And the options for doing so are vast, ranging from events and conferences to social media and website interactions.

But in light of the current pandemic, many of these options are no longer viable, at least for the immediate future. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for organizations to take another look at their marketing strategy to ensure you’re effectively interacting with your various targets by meeting them exactly where they are during this unique time.

In five years from now, I think we’ll all look back at 2020 in agreement that it was the year multi-channeled marketing efforts became a must.  So that we’re all on the same page, a multi-channel marketing approach uses varied communication channels – social, search, display advertising, email or even traditional channels like print or outdoor – to reach your target audiences. By branching out and utilizing several strategically chosen resources, based on the consumption habits of your audience, organizations can continue to meet your goals by increasing visibility, establishing familiarity, and building trust with your audience despite changes in the marketing landscape.

Know Your “Why” and Create a Plan

Before adopting a multi-channel approach, you need to first identify your key objectives. Do you want to simply drive brand awareness? Are you hoping to convert your consumers to some sort of action? Establishing the purpose of your efforts is a vital step that informs the rest of the process. If the ultimate strategy does not help you reach your core goals, then it should be reevaluated.

Next, make sure you know your audience. Successfully multi-channeling your message requires you to have a solid grasp on what channels should be utilized, how often, and in what specific ways. Look at your customer base and ask yourself if there are any trends or segments who are purchasing your product or services at a higher frequency – you charge should be to find more of these actors from outside your current network.  According to Jon Simpson of the Forbes Agency Council, by conducting research via methods like persona exercises, you can determine “. . . where your demographic spends time online, what resources they trust and what pain points they’re facing.” You can then build a strategy around these results that accurately reflects consumers’ needs and priorities.

With foundational data and goals understood, it’s time to build your actual strategy. In this stage, you want to determine the key messages you’ll want to convey (and their priority), the channels you’ll employ, the mediums that will best support your story (graphics versus text, photos or video) and the required frequency to get your message across. When goals are understood and you’re working with the right team who can apply benchmarking from previous campaigns with up to date best practice, building the plan should be the easy part.

First, recognize that an ineffective digital presence is an easy pitfall. For example, think of how many ads you likely saw within the last week on social media. Then consider how many of those ads were relevant to your current needs and interests. Even more, how many of the memorable ads left a positive impression that inspired you to take advantage of the promoted goods or services? Whether you deal primarily in B2B or B2C marketing, you want your strategy to not only be memorable, but effective—especially given the budgetary implications, which can range anywhere from $500 into the billions, depending on the scope of your message and audience. It is said that you need to get in front of your target audience approximately seven times to make a lasting impression, so maintaining regularity while conveying a clear message is the best way to support your goals.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that a multi-channel strategy and all the planning that goes along with it are partly hypothetical. Your research is an informed starting point that requires flexibility and should never be set in stone. Consider the first three to six months of the initial implementation as a period of learning—then, spend time analyzing the results and building upon that experience, altering your strategy as needed. For instance, if you start using a social media platform that is generally popular but does not meet industry expectations as it relates to your goal (impressions, engagement, conversions) from your specific audience, do not be afraid to stop using it and try something else. In taking this approach, you can continually tailor your plan to better satisfy goals, meet the needs of your target demographic, and ultimately add the most value to your business.

Multi-channeling your message in a way that benefits you and your audience will provide positive outcomes in light of COVID, but keep in mind that this strategy will also serve you well post-pandemic. After all, finding new ways to effectively reach your audience now will help future-proof your success within a world of marketing communication that is constantly evolving. Start taking steps today and reap the benefits that multi-channeling will inevitably bring. You and your goals have nothing to lose!

And if you’re interested in learning more about digital marketing and digital lead generation, make sure to sign up for Dotted Line’s Digital Marketing Forum: Forming Connections with Customers in the COVID Era. 

Client Successes in COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing the way people interact with society – from how we work to the way we consume information and goods. In fact, a recent study found that 71% of people say if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people during this sensitive time, they will lose trust in that brand forever. With this in mind, many businesses are rethinking their marketing strategies or pivoting offerings to put the customer first.

Dotted Line clients are no exception. The businesses we serve are creating innovative solutions to better serve their clients and communities. Here are just a few of their stories.

Pediatric Associates of Richmond

One of Richmond’s longest running pediatric practices realized they had to shift the way they care for sick patients to alleviate patient and parent safety concerns. The team at Pediatric Associates of Richmond (PAR) immediately shifted their office procedures to allow designated space for wellness visits and separate space for sick visits. They began by offering mobile check-in option, so families could limit their exposure before heading in to see their pediatrician. They also started doing telehealth appointments for non-emergency cases, to lessen the flow of patients on-site. And finally, to provide an easy pathway to care for families not yet exposed to the disease, in in need of information, the team also launched a COVID-19 Blog to help parents navigate the crisis with reliable and trustworthy information. And the patient-first cherry on top: a downloadable coloring book to keep kids entertained at home.

Key Learning: Consider creating channels to communicate directly with your audience where they are. This transparency builds trust and preference.

Innovation Lab

With the shortage of PPE being felt worldwide, the team at Innovation Lab, a healthcare innovation incubator in Southern CA, recognized the need for a better way to protect caregivers and their patients in the ICU. The Lab looked at solutions within its pipeline that would address risks associated ventilators and the infectious agents often released during the transition between mechanical and manual ventilation. The team worked diligently to fast-track a product called the Baywin Closed Circuit Valve to help curtail the spread of virus. With their manufacturing partner and the FDA, they are in the process of manufacturing 5,000 of the valves for delivery to caregivers at the front lines.

Key Learning: Sometimes, the solutions we need are right in front of us, but it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. Let your customer’s demands help determine your priorities.


Petra, a construction and design firm, has been looking to support efforts in California to increase bed capacity. They have made contact with the State and FEMA to see how they can help. Their president Craig Beam says, “We play an important supporting role to those on the front lines. It’s important that we continue to serve our ministries so that they are ready to provide the care to those most in need.”

Key Learning: Leverage your contacts for the greater good. You never know what may come of it, but more often than not, it leads to a positive outcome.

Tech Knowledge Associates (TKA)

One of TKA’s values is to be a proactive industry leader in Healthcare Technology Management (HTM). The leadership team has shifted to use a real-time messaging platform to build an atmosphere of free-flowing ideas and information. TKA teams on the ground in hospitals in Northern California mobilized to build over 1,200 3D-printed face shields to distribute to local health groups.

Key Learning: No one knows what the “new normal” will look like. Consider innovations or process improvements that make your business stronger in the long run, even in a non-COVID era.

Knowledge Advisory Group

As a business that works almost entirely with nonprofits to analyze their data and guide business decisions, Knowledge Advisory Group was presented with a unique opportunity when a large portion of their client-base was forced to close their doors due to COVID-19. A local children’s museum came to Knowledge Advisory Group for help polling their members to see what it would take to return to the museum and when they would feel comfortable doing so. Knowledge Advisory Group designed and sent a survey that was able to outline the current landscape and how the museum could best reengage with their audience. Because of the financial restraints placed upon the museum and the business disruption caused by COVID-19, Knowledge Advisory Group performed this work pro bono, being a true champion for those in need during this difficult time.

Key Learning: You’re in business because you have a unique set of skills. Use these skills and your strengths to help your customers in new and creative ways.

In a time where we constantly hear stories of calamity and chaos stemming from this pandemic, we are proud to partner with and support the organizations that are doing their part to help us all navigate this crisis. It reinforces our commitment to our clients, our team, and our community to work towards making a positive impact. The work of this select group is inspiring but there is much left to do. We hope these stories of action and innovation are the impetus for positive change in your personal and professional life.

Dotted Line Named A Top Marketing Firm in Richmond

Each year, Richmond Biz Sense presents a list of top advertising, marketing and public relations firms in the Richmond area.  This year, Dotted Line Collaborations was added to the list as a top marketing firm in Richmond.

Find full list here.