How the Cannabis Industry Can Win Women Over

Research finds women are wary of being judged about their cannabis use and are reluctant to set foot in legal stores.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The cannabis wave that is washing over the U.S. is finally starting to eschew one of the most egregious stereotypes that the plant is just for men. We know this to be untrue by merely looking at the facts. In 2018 the total number of female cannabis consumers grew by 92 percent. Women currently make up 38 percent of cannabis users, but that is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2022.

The reason why women are turning to cannabis isn’t a big mystery. Like most other cannabis users, women are seeking relief from pain and anxiety and looking for new ways to relax. I’m delighted that more women are joining the cannabis ranks, but I’m also aware that our industry needs to do a much better job of marketing to female users.

Related: We Have a Problem: The Cannabis Industry Is Losing Women Leaders

Research shows that women are still wary of being judged about their cannabis use. They share concerns of being labeled as a hippies or stoners. They are also still reluctant to set foot in legal stores. Over a quarter of female cannabis users still get their cannabis for free from friends or family. We can help erase this social stigma by addressing the needs of women throughout the industry — from product formulation to marketing to the retail experience.

We can’t demolish overnight these social stigmas that have built up for decades, but women will feel safer discussing cannabis once they see other women doing so. Influential celebrities who are talking about the drug including Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Rihanna and Martha Stewart, are leading the way in providing this social proof. Product manufacturers should also be aware that having more brands ‘by women for women’ will get women on the shop floor, as will aligning with brands that women are comfortable with, such as Barneys, Sephora and Ulta.

Related: Whoopi Goldberg Launches Medical Marijuana Startup to Ease Menstrual Cramp Pain

It’s not just about emboldening women to approach the cannabis counter. Value is also a key concern for women: nearly a third of them say price is the most important factor when choosing a dispensary. The cannabis industry will thus need to embrace competitive pricing strategies that offer customers real value for their dollar.

But getting women through the door of the dispensary is just the first step; companies also need to nail the retail environment and experience. Dispensaries should be created from the ground up to appeal to a cross section of consumers, which means taking into account the needs of women, seniors and new users.

Scientific research shows that men are generally utilitarian shoppers — they’re shopping to get something done, whereas women are more hedonic  — they will shop for the sheer pleasure of it. Hence the need for education. Women will want to know as much about the brand and lifestyle attached to a product as they will about the potency. Women aren’t using the stores only as a utilitarian transaction point for flower, pre-rolls, concentrate, edibles and topicals, but as a forum where they browse, ask questions and learn about cannabis.

But packaging needs to be about more than just aesthetics. Don’t be tempted by a ‘pink and shrink’ strategy. It’s patronizing and there are alternatives. Bridget Brennan, one of the world’s leading authorities on marketing to women, puts it best: “When a product is offered in only one color, and that color is pink, it sends the message, we haven’t put any thought into this at all.”

Related: How This Cannabis Brand Designed a Modern Product With Nostalgic Packaging

Dispensaries should also give some serious thought to the employees behind the cash register and walking the shop floor. Nikki Furrer explains in her book, “A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis,” how a sexagenarian with hip pain “visibly relaxed” when she came to Furrer’s dispensary and saw a 40-year-old woman in yoga pants and glasses. Furrer says she spent an hour talking with the woman about dosing and different ways to consume cannabis, eventually sending her home with a lollipop and some cream for her hip. The customer reported back that the cannabis helped her sleep through the night.

I love this anecdote because it hammers home the two key ideas marketers need to remember about all  cannabis users (females included): personalization and education. Women want to buy and use cannabis on their own terms. They want to shop in safe, comfortable spaces where they can immerse themselves in the complex and nuanced world of cannabis. Retailers who don’t give the necessary attention and understanding to reaching this important demographic will surely be left behind in the green rush.

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4 Major Marketing Trends for 2020 and Beyond

Do you know what ‘on-SERP SEO’ means in the marketing universe? You’re not alone, but you are missing an opportunity.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Can you believe it’s almost 2020? When I began my marketing career over a decade ago in 2009, I could hardly imagine what I’d be doing today as a marketing leader at an enterprise organization … 

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

… especially with technology. But each year, new and disruptive technological innovations are forcing marketers like me to evolve our best practices. Digital marketing, once the only game in town, has given way to multichannel marketing; and today, we are rapidly approaching the omnichannel marketing age.

And that can be overwhelming: As the rate of marketing innovation continues to accelerate, most organizations are having a hard time keeping up. But the good news is that new ways of doing things bring new opportunities. Here are four major marketing trends I see developing among organizations for 2020 and beyond:

1. Optimizing for on-SERP SEO

Ever hear of zero-click results? You’ve probably seen them. A zero-click result is a search result in which Google automatically provides the answer to the search query in the form of an automated snippet.

For example, if you type in ,“What is the temperature in San Francisco?” Google will automatically provide you a result it generates on its own. You’d actually have to scroll down to see the Adwords results and organic search results.

Google auto-populates search results for much broader queries, as well. Everything from “What is a cryptocurrency?” to “How do I create a marketing funnel?” has a snippet that may prevent a searcher from scrolling down to see more results.

Why is this significant? Because 61.8 percent of search results in Google are now zero-search results, according to data from Jumpshot. As a result, more and more keywords are becoming less profitable.

While the automatic snippet sometimes comes from a website that ranks somewhere on page 1 of the search engine results page (SERP), companies are unsure how to optimize their content so that Google chooses them over anyone vying for the same spot. Needless to say, this is a concerning development for any business that markets or advertisers on Google.

Opportunity: The brand that figures out on-SERP SEO first will have a huge competitive edge.

Related: How an Alexa ‘Skill’ Can Boost Your Brand

2. Advertising on smart speakers (and optimizing for voice search)

Another major development in recent years has been the proliferation of smart speakers. In 2018, around 56 million smart speakers were sold to consumers, according to Social Report.

Yet despite the growing number of households asking Alexa, Siri and Google Home questions, smart speaker marketing and advertising opportunities have been scarce. But this seems to be changing.

In 2017, for example, Google Home users noticed that a universal ad for Disney’s Beauty and The Beast began playing shortly after scheduled morning announcements, called flash briefings. These types of ads were rare and infrequent at the time, but are now growing in popularity.

In 2019, we’re seeing better, less invasive, examples of branded advertising on smart speakers. One of the most customer-friendly ways to advertise on smart speakers is to make what’s called a “branded skill.” For example, if you tell Alexa “Ask Patrón for a cocktail recipe,” Alexa will respond with a diverse selection of possibilities, courtesy of the premium tequila maker. This strategy works:. Patrón gets more than 6,000 queries a month for its Alexa skill, according to Digiday.

Opportunity: Try the “branded skill” approach for your branded advertising, for a more customer-friendly tone.

3. Optimizing for voice search

Granted, most brands may not be ready to explore smart speaker advertising just yet. But in the meantime, they should explore optimizing their content for voice search.

According to Google, 20 percent of all Google search queries now take place through voice search. Even more telling is that 71 percent of all mobile users between the ages of 18 and 29 use voice assistants on their smartphones, according to Thrive Analytics.

Needless to say, it probably makes a lot of sense for all businesses to start optimizing their content for voice search, not just big enterprises. There’s a lot of advice from marketing experts on how to do this, and it seems that the consensus is that making content more conversational does the trick.

Opportunity: With most search happening on smartphones, optimize for voice search.

4. More chatbots and, yes, even more content!

Finally, as I’ve explained before, written content isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Not only is it predicted to be the marketing activity that will make the largest commercial impact three years running (according to Smart Insights), but written content is also the main throughput of chatbots, which are expected to see increased usage in 2020 and beyond.

According to a recent study by Juniper Networks, as AI-powered chatbots grow in popularity and sophistication, retailers can expect to cut costs by $439 billion annually and increase sales by $112 billion, by 2023. With numbers like that, it’s not too hard to see why large organizations will continue investing in newer and more helpful chatbots.

But chatbots aren’t useful just for big business. Any business that has a website with traffic can benefit from a simple chatbot that answers the most common visitor questions and helps convert visitors into warm leads.

Opportunity: Chatbots will help you cut costs.

Marketing is changing, and marketers must change with it

When I first got my feet wet in the marketing world, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be helping run digital marketing transformation programs. But that’s what it takes to stay competitive in the world of 21st-century marketing.

Related: 4 Uses for a Chatbot That Will Transform Your Business

It’s almost 2020; have you looked into any new and innovative ways to spend your marketing dollars? Or how to double down on the marketing channels that work best for your business?

Because if you haven’t, I guarantee your competitors have.

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Get a Special Deal on the 2019 State of Marketing Report

This in-depth collection of 90 dashboards offers an inside scoop on how marketing executives create winning strategies.

2 min read

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.

Regardless of the industry, marketing reigns supreme. Whether you’re trying to build a startup or want to join the ranks of a major company, knowing how to efficiently promote and sell your products and services is the key to success.

The 2019 State of Marketing Report breaks down the industry’s leading methodologies and strategies, and it’s currently available for over 85 percent off at $39.

Regardless of your previous experience in the field, this in-depth collection of 90 dashboards offers an inside scoop on how marketing executives create winning strategies across the board.

You’ll learn how to craft innovative budgets, plan tactics that make the most of your tools and resources, target potential clients that are likely to buy your services, and more.

This benchmark report is also packed with hundreds of insights from marketing executives employed by organizations spanning every size and industry, and you’ll be able to access the most recently updated versions of the report the second they’re released.

Join the ranks of the world’s leading marketing executives and strategists with the 2019 State of Marketing Report for just $39—more than 85 percent off its usual price for a limited time.

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Gary Vee Has Some Important Advice for Cannabis Entrepreneurs

The marketing guru says your brand is your protector, content is king, and slow and steady wins the race.

8 min read

Last month, thousands of cannabis industry professionals descended on Santa Rosa, California for the Hall of Flowers cannabis trade show. The highly-anticipated event brings together top cannabis brands, retailers, creatives, and media together under one roof (actually three) to share, showcase, and discuss their products. 

Many big names were in the house doing speaker series, including Berner, Chelsea Handler, Al Harrington, and Dr. Dina. Gary Vaynerchuk, the chairman of VaynerX,  CEO of Vayner Media, and social media giant, was on hand to answer questions and to offer his own brand of brutally honest, but inspiring, advice to budding entrepreneurs. 

Never one to mince words, Gary Vee had no shortage of opinions about where the cannabis business is, where it’s going, and how to succeed in the game. Here are 5 takeaways.

Related: Gary Vaynerchuk Is Very (Long-Term) Bullish on Cannabis

1. Don’t hold your breath about cannabis going federally legal. 

While some have boldly predicted that the federal government will legalize cannabis in the next two to five years, Vaynerchuk is not in that camp. 

“If I’m a betting man, I think that the state-by-state reality will be in play probably in perpetuity,” he said to a standing-room-only crowd. “And so I do think that people that are going for it and are really trying to remain at large scale, we’ll need to diversify. He predicts the continuation of multi-state conglomerates “like the wholesale liquor industry, that become national, and use their scale to leverage being in 27 states instead of one to have a competitive advantage.”

What does that mean for small businesses? 

2. Build your brand

Vaynerchuk believes the best insurance policy against big cannabis, big pharma and big tobacco, taking over the industry, is to build a strong brand. 

“Brand is the only protector to lots of money and lots of scale,” he said, offering the same advice he would to any entrepreneur in a nascent industry. “Slow and steady. Execute. Build the brand. Bring value to people that are trying to put your product in their stores. Build awareness around its brand.”

He stresses the importance of staying true to your own vision. “Do not let outside forces dictate anything that you are thinking about,” he said, even when you read every day about companies merging and closing billion-dollar deals. “Your success doesn’t have to be measured by somebody else’s success.”

Vaynerchuk predicts that many of the well-funded cannabis businesses are going to go broke. “Well-funded companies are going to spend their money on dumb fucking executions and marketing events and other shit. Just because you have a lot of money, doesn’t mean you’re going to spend it well,” he said. 

Related: 11 Cannabis Predictions for 2019

3. Produce lots of content at scale

Vaynerchuk has made a fortune branding himself through his podcast, Instagram and books, so it’s no surprise that he’s bullish about content marketing. And don’t start with him about Instagram’s harsh restrictions on cannabis companies.

“The amount of people in this industry that cry about not being able to buy Instagram ads is maybe the most laughable thing I’ve ever seen in business,” Gary Vee said. “For everybody who is so frustrated that you can’t run Facebook and Instagram ads, how about the fact that you’re in a business where everybody loves the fucking product?”

He suggests refocusing your energy on other content such as podcasts, not just for marketing but for posterity. 

“Most people think that other people are not interested in their shit. The reason most people don’t post is they think. Why would anybody care? My big thing is if you just documented for your great grandkids to listen to in 70 years, that’s enough of a reason to put out content and put out a podcast. If nobody ever listens, let me promise you somebody who lost both of his grandfather’s before he to know them, I would have listened  and so you should just be putting out content for your legacy and you’re going to really enjoy having it when you’re 99 and then if something good along the way happens for your business, that’s just extra.”

Podcasting isn’t your thing? Vaynerchuk has some other suggestions for getting your brand’s message out there:

  • Apparel “has clearly been something that a lot of people have been flirting within this space,” he said.
  • LinkedIn “When I come back here next year,” he told the audience, “I have a funny feeling a couple of you are going to grab me and talk about how LinkedIn worked for you.”
  • Alexa “Have you started thinking about sound or voice, whether it’s Alexa or Google home?” Vaynerchuk asked. “You should be thinking very heavily about what is the three-second jingle or sound that represents your brand. And pound that in the consciousness of the consumer and then use it.  

4. Focus on wellness opportunities

Vaynerchuk admitted to being more intrigued by the health benefits of cannabis than the recreational side. 

“There are things that this product is so disproportionally capable of helping, where people are using much worse substances to address whatever pain they are dealing with mentally and physically. That is going to be a space that will continue to evolve over the next hundred years of your life,” he said.

“I believe the health benefits are disproportionately fascinating from a financial and rewarding standpoint.”

Related: You Can Promote a Cannabis Brand on Social Media but Not Easily

5. Sit down be humble

A lot of newbies to the industry don’t know a lot about the plant, but they make up for it by either “making shit up” or being “scared of putting content out,” Gary Vee said. Neither approach works. Vaynerchuk said it’s better to honest than wrong. 

“You put out content every day. If it starts with, ‘I’m curious about it, or ‘I’m going to go on a journey to figure out if’, or ‘There’s something in my gut that tells me’,” then you’re more likely to win people over, he said.  

Vaynerchuk let the audience in on a little secret as to why he has over 5.5 Instagram followers. “The biggest difference between me and the majority in the market is every time I put out a piece of content, I literally — through my brain, through my fucking soul — think, What’s this going to do for them? Ninety-nine percent of people when they post think, What’s this going to do for me?”

6. Be a tortoise

Towards the end of Vaynerchuk’s panel discussion, he was asked an emotional question by an OG grower that was on the minds of most entrepreneurs at the Hall of Flowers show: Do you sell out when the market’s this hot, or do you hang in there and risk the chance of being flattened by the bigger, better-funded competition. 

“How do we protect our brand? How do we not get it stolen from us?” the grower asked.

“By not taking the money,” Gary Vee said. “By owning 51 percent of the business.”

He explained that he could have raised a $300 million fund a few years ago but passed because he didn’t want to sell out. “I didn’t want to be an investor. I didn’t want to be a VC. I didn’t want to take the money because I didn’t see my self-worth or my happiness predicated on me making $25 million a year by investing in other companies. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.”

As far as Gary Vee sees it, green entrepreneurs have two options: Negotiate a deal with a larger company that retains your leverage or “just stay really slow with tried and true,” he said. “Be a tortoise. Do your thing. It’s your passion. Do you know how many people in this industry right now that are just jumping into the next hot thing? If you love it so much — and there’s some real passion in the OG shit –you could just stay slow.”




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5 Lesser-Known Ways to Skyrocket Your Brand’s Growth With Podcasting

Learn how to get your personal and brand message heard — literally.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to strengthening their brand’s digital presence, most entrepreneurs focus on traditional online marketing tactics like SEO or PPC advertising. But these are far from the only resources available. Podcasting, in particular, has helped several companies showcase their niche expertise while simultaneously finding — and growing — their audience.

The audience is definitely there. Surveys from Edison Research estimate that approximately 73 million Americans listen to podcasts on a monthly basis, while 48 million listen to podcasts weekly.

The great news is that podcasting can help with brand growth in ways beyond simply posting a new episode every week. With a little extra work, podcasting can provide several options for driving growth for your brand. 

1. Be a podcast guest.

Most people assume that you have to produce your own podcast content each week to find a digital audience. But if you don’t have the resources to record, edit, and promote your own podcast, you can still grow your audience by appearing as a guest on other relevant programs.

A case study from Podcast Engineers notes that author and entrepreneur Richie Norton attributes 80 percent of his business leads to podcasts. The catch? He doesn’t produce his own show. Instead, he appears as a guest on other industry podcasts, with over 300 appearances to date that allow him to showcase his expertise and brand.

Of course, if you want to land a guest appearance yourself, you need to provide value to the podcast and its listeners. Pitch podcast hosts with several topics you could address, as well as how they would be relevant for the audience. Look for podcasts that already host guests on a regular basis to increase your odds of landing an appearance.

Related: Listen to the latest episode of Entrepreneur’s Problem Solvers podcast

2. Repurpose podcasts to create additional content.

Creating your own podcast can feel daunting, particularly when you’re already trying to produce blogs and social media content. The good news, however, is that a podcast can become fertile ground for fueling your entire content creation process.

In a recent email exchange with Seth Greene, founder of Market Domination LLC, while discussing this topic, he explained, “You’re not going to reach all of your target market with a podcast. So why not repurpose that same content in other formats to reach the rest of your audience? The content from a single podcast can be used for a series of blog posts, an infographic, a video and countless social media posts. Using an audio transcript tool will make it easy to repurpose your podcast into other content.”

When done right, a podcast will make content production easier, not harder, which will give you even more avenues for helping your target audience discover your brand.

3. Sponsor a podcast.

You don’t have to create podcast content (either as a guest or producer) to resonate with your target audience. After all, many podcasts earn money through affiliate marketing or sponsorships. Sponsoring a podcast that is relevant to your industry niche, or even pitching a podcaster to review or promote your product or service can provide a major sales boost.

Research from Nielsen shows that podcast listeners typically become more likely to purchase a product or service after it is advertised in a podcast. According to the survey data, 69 percent of listeners reported that podcast ads helped them learn about new products or services. Brands that advertised on news podcasts and business podcasts saw the biggest increase in purchase intent, with growth of 12.8 and 14 percent, respectively.

Related: Comedy Legend Larry Charles Is on an International Mission to Reveal the Power of Laughter (Podcast)

4. Utilize podcast directories.

iTunes/Apple Podcasts may be the biggest directory for podcasts, but this isn’t always beneficial for growing your own brand. In June 2018, Apple told TechCrunch that over 550,000 unique shows were available through its platform — a number that has only grown since then.

While this certainly goes a long way in showcasing the ever-growing audience for podcasts, it also illustrates the intense competition your podcast can face in getting discovered by listeners in the first place.

Thankfully, there are several other directories where you can submit your podcast. Spotify and Google Play Music are other well-known entities, but businesses should also submit their podcast to sites like Stitcher, TuneIn, iPodder and Spreaker. Find a detailed “how to submit” instructions for multiple platforms here.

These directory listenings are like SEO for your podcast!

5. Engage in a small amount of self-promotion.

A podcast should provide interesting content and creating genuine value for your listeners, but this doesn’t mean you can’t work in a little self-promotion from time to time. For example, you could encourage podcast listeners to sign up for your email list, with the promise that subscribers will periodically receive exclusive content.

As entrepreneur Chris Ducker writes in a blog post on his website, “Be sure to promote your other platforms. Utilize the opportunity to mention your Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as your blog or company website at some stage during your podcast. This gives you more ways to reach your audience and potentially generate more subscribers, listeners, revenue and grow your audience with viral sharing. Don’t overdo it though — it’ll become very old very quickly.”

When the bulk of your content should establish your industry authority and value, a small amount of self-promotion can be an effective way to drive traffic to other platforms.

Podcasting may not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to develop a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. But there is no denying that it can generate significant results for your business. No matter how you plan to use podcasting, this is one marketing tool that should never be overlooked.

Related: How Gregorys Coffee Created Buzz and Brewed Success (Podcast)

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Is Your Marketing Plan Aligned With Your Branding Goals?

branding and marketing goals

When your marketing plan aligns with your branding goals, your company becomes memorable to the masses. Nearly every business owner has goals, but how you define and carry them out often makes the difference between success and failure.

Around 84.5 percent of American companies use some type of digital content marketing. Marketing and branding are two different elements of your business’s image, but they also work together toward building an overall picture of who you are as a company.

Make sure branding and marketing align by following the 11 steps below to sync your business branding goals with your actions.

Step 1: Create your branding goals

If you don’t yet have branding goals for your business, your first step is creating a solid plan. If you already have some goals, take a few minutes to re-evaluate them and make sure they still align with your company plan.

Branding goals are tricky because the brand is how others see you. You can control some aspects of this, but not everything. Goals should include things such as how often your brand is presented to consumers and ideas for how you’d like others to see your business.

If you’re doing digital marketing, you’ve probably already aligned your marketing goals with your company’s sales goals and forecast: in order to achieve X percent growth in sales, you’re using a number of different marketing and sales tactics to increase your revenue.

Branding goals are a little different—think more about the top of your sales funnel. You’re looking to increase potential customers’ awareness that you exist. You’re also looking to increase their positive associations with your business.

Then think about the other end of your sales funnel—retaining your customers. We often talk about that in terms of brand loyalty, or more directly, their lifetime value. What will you do to keep them coming back?

Step 2: Align marketing with branding

Once you’ve solidified your branding goals, it’s time to align them with your marketing plan.

First, write out your branding goals so they are near as you work on your marketing plan. Then, create a roadmap for each quarter of the year, making sure each marketing point correlates to branding.

For example, if your branding goal is reaching 100 new people and making sure they know what your business does, then a marketing goal might tap into ways of finding them, such as adding informational videos on social media, or embarking on a PR campaign, or putting together a targeted content marketing strategy, aimed at bringing people to your website through organic search or SEO. If a marketing tactic doesn’t match your overall branding or sales goal, put it on the back burner for another time.

View our Business Branding Guide today!

Step 3: Map out your customer base

If you’re a brick and mortar business, one way to approach identifying your target market—your key customers—is to map out a list of your competitors and their locations and then look at where it makes sense for you to market.

Are there any underserved areas? One technique is starting near your home base and then expanding until your business growth meets your goals. There is little point in marketing to an area that lacks your target audience. A map shows you where you should concentrate your efforts.

Another way to “map” your customers is to develop a user or buyer persona. This means looking at your ideal customer’s demographics—how old are they, where do they live, what’s their income, and so on. Use those demographics to put together a fictional—but very useful—persona. Thinking of your ideal customer as an individual person can help you target your branding voice, tone, and message, and also your marketing spend.

Step 4: Consider your mission

What does your brand stand for? What’s your business’s mission? If your branding and marketing goals don’t align with who you are as a brand, then customers won’t see you as authentic and trustworthy.

Take a step back and study the history of your company and your vision. Look back at the initial business plan you wrote before starting your business. You’ll find clues about why you started the company in the first place, which will point you to your purpose as a brand.

Once you know your purpose, such as helping single moms with childcare solutions, then you’ll understand how you want others to view your brand as well. You can then ensure your marketing and branding goals align with who you are at the core.

Step 5: Utilize current customers

One of the toughest parts of growing a successful business is building a strong customer base. However, once you have those first clients, you should utilize them for information and help. It’s market research.

Poll your current customers. What about your brand attracted them? What would they like to see improved? Take note of raving fans and ask for testimonials to use in your marketing efforts. Also, ask them to tell others who might be interested in your products or services.

Step 6: Measure return on investment (ROI)

As you begin to implement your marketing plans in service of your branding and sales goals, make sure you track metrics so you can measure the success of each campaign.

Conduct A/B testing to see if your efforts result in new customers or sales. The ROI isn’t always monetary—especially with branding goals. You might really be focusing on increasing awareness—a top of sales funnel goal. You might measure and track metrics associated with increased website visits, or video views, or social media engagement.

If your goal is gaining new leads (a middle of the sales funnel goal), then you’ll measure how many new contacts you gain from a campaign. If your goal is to increase your net promoter score, or the likelihood that a customer would recommend you to a friend (a bottom of the sales funnel goal) you might look at the number of referrals that resulted in a sale, or the number of positive reviews.

Branding, or positive association with your company and your product or service, doesn’t stop with the sale. Make sure you’re attributing sales successes to your branding efforts when it makes sense.

Figuring out what result you want and then tracking numbers shows you which efforts need to be repeated and which ones need to be replaced.

Step 7: Set longer-term goals

When you completed the first two steps of setting branding and marketing goals, you likely looked at the next 12 months. Take time to write out some long-term goals, such as where you’d like your brand to be in five years or even 10 years.

Knowing what kind of company you want to build, and what you want it to look like, well into the future can be really useful. If you don’t set a long term trajectory for your business, you’re leaving a lot to chance.

A useful framework for this type of planning is a Lean Plan—a shorter form version of a business plan. If you’ve heard of a business model canvas, a Lean Plan is a better alternative to that. It’s easy to update, and a great place to map your ideas for the long term. You can download a free Lean Plan template here to help you get started.

You must plan if you want to beat the odds, fixing weak areas along the way and adapting to rapid market shifts.

Step 8: Decide on tone

Your business, no matter what industry you’re in, has a unique personality, tone, and voice. If you sell something fun, your voice might be lighthearted and joyful. On the other hand, if you’re in education or financial services, your tone might be a bit more serious.

Choose a tone that aligns with your brand goals and use it in your marketing efforts across all platforms. Users should recognize your personality immediately, whether interacting on social media, reading an email from you, or talking to your team on the phone.

Step 9: Understand your unique value proposition (UVP)

Marketing is about the promise you make to your audience regarding what you’ll bring to the table. You must first figure out what unique advantage you offer that no one else does, and then communicate your UVP, or your unique value proposition.  through all your marketing efforts.

SnackNation is one company with a strong UVP with a highly targeted audience. The brand provides healthy snacks for homes and offices on a subscription-based service. Each week, SnackNation adds about 1,200 new leads segmented into a marketing list that specifically meets the needs of that particular audience.

When you land on the SnackNation website, you’re asked to choose if you want snacks for the home or office. You are then offered a free sampler box to pick one that’s right for your needs. This is just one example of how to use your UVP to help you build a more personalized customer experience.

Step 10: Evaluate the look of your online marketing

Spend time on each platform you market on and make sure the look matches the overall appearance of your brand’s image.

If your branding goal is to show you have higher-quality products than any other competitor, but your website or Facebook page looks cheap with photos that aren’t very good, you are missing an opportunity. Ideally, you’re continuously testing and optimizing your website and digital marketing campaigns.

Step 11: Improve communication on your team

As your business grows, one challenge you might face is keeping your branding and marketing standards consistent between different areas of your team. Who is in charge of your branding? Do you have a branding guide your whole company can refer to as needed?

As a leader, make sure you’re empowering everyone on your team to be a good, consistent steward of your brand and your sales, marketing, and branding goals. Doing something new? Running tests? Let your team know so they can help and support your efforts.  

Re-evaluate often

Over time, you’ll probably come up with fantastic new ideas for marketing your products, but they may not align with your branding or corporate goals.

Every three to six months, spend a little time looking at plans for branding and marketing and making sure everything still meshes together. Make any adjustments as needed and re-evaluate goals as your company grows.

With a little attention to detail and a lot of communication, your marketing and branding will work together and increase your customer base steadily.

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Lexi Lu
Lexi Lu

Lexie Lu is a designer and UX strategist. She enjoys covering topics related to UX design, web design, social media, and branding. Feel free to subscribe to her design blog, Design Roast, or follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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4 Marketing Lessons From ‘Mayor Pete’ Buttigieg

Nobody can pronounce his name, but everyone finds him intriguing.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana with a hard-to-pronounce last name (according to his Twitter profile, it’s pronounced “BOOT-edge-edge”) is running for president of the United States. “Mayor Pete” has been getting lots of media attention and his campaign is raising significant money. Even a few months ago, Buttigieg was virtually unknown outside of Indiana, and most people assumed that a small-town mayor would be a long shot candidate, but he’s quickly rising to the top tier of contenders for the Democratic nomination for president.

What are the secrets to Mayor Pete’s success? Here are a few marketing lessons that business owners can learn from the ways that Mayor Pete Buttigieg has so successfully introduced himself to the political world and is breaking out from a highly competitive, crowded, saturated market:

1. Embrace Your Differences

Mayor Pete is an unconventional choice for president in a few ways: he’s 37 years old, he’s never held statewide office (South Bend isn’t even the biggest city in Indiana) and he’s openly gay. There hasn’t been another candidate like him who has gotten this sort of serious fundraising numbers or national media attention.

But here’s the thing: Buttigieg has embraced and amplified everything about him that is different. He’s actively pointing out the things that make him different from the other candidates, and he’s turning his own potential weaknesses into strengths.

For example, he believes that his youth is a selling point – because he appeals to younger people who have to pay taxes and fight wars and deal with the long-term consequences of the decisions made in D.C. everyday.

He sees being a small city mayor as an advantage because he deals with real issues every day in how people interact with their government.

He speaks candidly about his journey to living openly as a gay man, finding the love of his life in his husband Chaste and how it has made him a better person with more empathy for others and a better connection to his spiritual life.

Aspects of Mayor Pete’s brand that his opponents might try to describe as too unconventional or too risky are what he is embracing to promote his candidacy.

What does this mean for your business? Embrace what makes you different. It’s OK to be unconventional, it’s OK if you’re not right for every customer; not every customer will want what you offer. Don’t apologize for what makes you different and you will be more likely to connect with the right customers for you.

Related: Leadership Lessons from the Mayor Who Put an Obese City on a Diet

2. Draw upon your diverse expertise.

Pete Buttigieg served in Afghanistan as a Navy intelligence officer, played piano onstage with Ben Folds, was a McKinsey consultant and speaks seven languages. He brings all of that to his campaign.

What does this mean for your business: Not everyone has the same interests or talents, but most business owners have something about them that is a unique extracurricular activity. Draw upon this passion to drive your marketing. If you’re an artist, put up original artwork at your office and share images on Instagram. If you’re a musician, tell your customers about your next show. People who like your business will often be interested in the various facets of who you are and what you care about. Help them remember you and care about you: “Oh yeah, that’s the business run by that cool musician we saw last weekend!”

Related: 3 Leadership Lessons You Can Learn From ‘The Boss’

3. Confidence, confidence, confidence!

Pete Buttigieg is smart and unflappable under pressure. He believes in himself and his potential as a leader but never comes across as arrogant. He seems earnestly interested in making a bigger difference by acting out of a sense of patriotism. As he says, “We’re living in a moment that is calling for newcomers, and it’s calling for underdogs.”

What does this mean for your business: Never lose sight of your sense of mission, your core self-belief in why your business matters and why it’s important. What difference are you trying to make in the world? Why do you do what you do? There is often a core of idealism at the heart of entrepreneurship. Business owners need to make money and pay the bills, but there is often a positive difference that they are trying to create with their business and with their life’s work. Stay focused on your mission and your coolness under pressure will not waver.

4. It’s OK to be vulnerable and real.

Pete Buttigieg gave a speech at the LGBT Victory Fund that was widely shared on social media. He talked about how he had struggled during his early years as a young person to come to terms with his sexuality, and how he finally reached the point of being able to live openly as a gay man. Anyone who’s ever had emotional struggles in their life of wondering about their identity, anyone who’s wanted to live a more authentic life, can relate to this story.

What does this mean for your business: It’s good to be vulnerable and authentically human in your marketing. Share your struggles and doubts as well as your successes. You don’t have to put on a façade of being perfect all the time; people often want to buy from people that they like and can relate to, and a good way to be likable and relatable is to be honest about who you are – the good times as well as the struggles.

No matter what happens from here with Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, it’s a positive sign for America that an openly gay person can run for office at such a high level with such a positive reception for their candidacy. No matter who you vote for in 2020, I hope we can all agree that Mayor Pete is setting an inspiring example for marketers of all kinds. Be like Pete in your business marketing: confident, authentic, and proud of the things that make you “different.”

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How to Effectively Target Retail Promotions

Relevance and value build a loyal customer base.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Are there any retailers where you shop regularly, but never pay full price? For example, there’s a home goods store that my wife and I visit every few months. Even though we’re loyal customers, we still check to make sure we have a coupon before heading to the store. The retailer sends us coupons all the time, so it would be crazy to buy anything without using one.

This is a common practice among U.S. retailers. They send out daily coupon codes or weekly promotions in the mail and through email. Sometimes these promotions can be for as much as 40 or 50 percent off the entire store. And as savvy consumers, we’ve all learned to wait for those coupons before we buy.

Related: Customer Intent Has Changed. Have You?

These promotions certainly drive purchases, otherwise retailers wouldn’t send them. But retailers that operate like this have found themselves stuck in a vicious cycle. Customers have learned to wait for a coupon to make their purchases, so retailers need to send more coupons to drive the same sales. But, of course, they’re leaving money on the table through their frequent discounting. What can they do?

Rely on segmentation to deliver more targeted promotions.

There’s nothing wrong with running regular promotions to drive purchases. The problem is that these coupons are often sent indiscriminately to everyone in the retailer’s database. While each coupon drives a lot of sales, there are unintended consequences. Shoppers that would have been willing to pay full price can access and use the coupon, so the retailer loses money on each of those transactions. Also, shoppers who are only interested in buying once in a while can become overwhelmed with the volume of coupons sent to them via email and unsubscribe — so the retailer loses future revenue from those shoppers.

To avoid these pitfalls, retailers should aim to send promotions only to shoppers that you believe need them in order to convert — not to those that don’t — and select the most relevant promotion for each person. This is certainly a lofty goal. If it seems too challenging, start heading in that direction by targeting your promotions through better segmentation.

To start simple, begin by testing different promotions for your high-value customers and your new email subscribers. For instance, you could send a broad discount to your new subscribers to encourage immediate action, but send each high-value shopper an email that promotes new items in their favorite category. You may find that many of those loyal customers will be willing to purchase new items without a discount.

Related: How Algorithms Can Predict Our Intentions Faster Than We Can

Then you can start segmenting further. Create a segment of shoppers who have purchased in the last 90 days and run a promotion to encourage them to make a repeat purchase. Create a segment of shoppers who have only purchased in a store and run a promotion to get them to buy online. Create segments of shoppers who regularly shop in certain categories and provide them with a coupon for a purchase in a new category that is relevant to them, but where they haven’t purchased before.

At this point, you may have one major concern: how do you decide which promotions to feature on your ecommerce website if you’ve emailed different promotions to different groups? Will it confuse shoppers?

To overcome this challenge, you should leverage website personalization to ensure that each person sees a promotion relevant to his or her segment. Rather than announce a 40 percent sale off everything to everyone on your homepage, you can personalize a prominent area of your homepage to show a relevant deal for each person. First-time visitors can be shown one promotion, while loyal shoppers can see another, etc. And if you’ve sent a person a promotion via email, you can ensure that the right promotion is displayed on your website to that same person so there’s no confusion.

Take your promotions to the next level with machine learning.

If you’re a little more advanced, you don’t need to leverage manual segmentation to accomplish this result. You could use machine-learning algorithms to pick the best promotion to deliver to each person. With this approach, you can feed the algorithm a few different promotions or offers — such as a coupon for 10 percent off a specific category, a reminder to join your loyalty program, an announcement of new arrivals in a specific category, etc. — and allow it to pick the most appropriate one for each person depending on what you know about each person. While this may seem more complicated than the segmentation process I described earlier, it’s actually an easier, more automated and scalable approach.

Related: 5 Ways Marketers Can Gain an Edge With Machine Learning


There’s no reason to send the same promotion or offer to everyone on your email list every day. When you can deliver better promotions to your audiences, you’ll be more likely to engage your customers, rather than spam them with irrelevant promotions. Focus instead on building loyalty through relevance and value.

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4 Simple Tips That Will Get Big Results for Your Business on Google Search

Maximize your brand’s exposure with these easy-to-implement tactics.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s no secret that Google is one of the most important tools in your marketing arsenal. With an average of over 3.5 billion searches conducted each day (according to Internet Live Stats), there are a lot of eyeballs glued to Google’s search results.

Whether you’re trying to sell a product on Amazon or grow your personal brand, Google can serve as a powerful resource — but only if you use it right. With that in mind, here are a few simple tips you can use to maximize your exposure so you can achieve your marketing and growth goals:

1. Utilize Google Ads extensions.

Keywords are crucial to success with Google Ads, but this is far from the only way you can improve the reach and effectiveness of these PPC campaigns.

In an email conversation with Callum Davies, my co-author for the book The Must Have Guide to Google AdWords, he explained, “Extensions are a great way to add key descriptive text without taking up space in your actual ad. For example, a location extension can help you gain another coveted spot in Maps, or you can use price extensions to showcase specific services to increase sales.”

With such a wide range of extensions available, it’s easy for marketers to find options that will help them meet their campaign goals. On average, Google reports that ads using extensions improve their clickthrough rate by 10 to 15 percent. Relevant extensions can also improve your quality score for even better results.

2. Leverage the power of Google Maps.

For small businesses, few tools can be more helpful than Google Maps.

By setting up a My Business account and incorporating map extensions to Google Ads campaigns, you can ensure that local Web users will be more likely to discover your business. According to SEO expert Bradley Shaw, 46 percent of Google searches are looking for local businesses — and 72 percent of that group will visit a relevant store that is within five miles of their location.

During a phone call with Jet Saini, CEO of Drip Digital, he explained that ranking in Google Maps requires much more than just listing your business. “There are three keys to your maps ranking: distance, relevance, and prominence,” he says.

“First, Google will factor in your distance from the person conducting the search, as well as how closely your listing matches what they’re looking for. Your prominence then comes into play, based on things like SEO rankings and reviews for your business. To show up on Maps results, you need to provide detailed business information and use strategic location keywords so you can be better optimized for local searches.”

3. Double down on content production.

SEO is vital for moving up in Google rankings.

Though you should start by conducting a thorough keyword analysis and incorporating top keywords in page titles, meta tags and more, consistently delivering relevant content will make all the difference for your long-term SEO strategy.

Focus on your sales funnel and the content that will be most beneficial to your customers. This content isn’t necessarily designed to make a sale — instead, you are informing and/or entertaining prospective customers so they learn to view you as a source of reliable information. This makes them much more likely to have a favorable impression of your brand, while continually updating your website will build your authority with Google.

A Digital Viday case study on computer hardware manufacturer Lenovo is just one example of content marketing’s potential. To build trust and awareness, their content marketing team created a central hub focused on industry news and information. With 250 high-quality articles, the team gained 1.7 million visits and $300 million in sales — all by providing relevant, helpful content.

4. Start (ethically) building quality backlinks.

Your on-site efforts aren’t the only way to improve your site’s SEO rankings. With quality backlinks, you can further increase your brand authority. Writing great content for your own site can be a great starting point, as others will likely link to your articles for informational purposes.

[Editor’s note: Steer clear if you encounter a content creator who is selling links in stories that they “guarantee” will appear on leading web sites. Most reputable publishers, Entrepreneur included, strictly forbid paid links in editorial articles and will delete them immediately. Your efforts and your money will be wasted.]

Creating profiles on high-ranking business directories like MapQuest and Yellow Pages will also generate quality backlinks and give potential customers a new way to find your brand.

Ultimately, though, a lot of backlink building will largely come from public relations-style efforts. In a blog post, marketing expert Neil Patel gives this example: “You link to another website’s content and then reach out to let them know that you enjoyed their article so much you shared it on your own website. Interactions like this are valuable touch points. You’re not just building brand awareness. You’re building a relationship. And since you gave them a backlink, it’s not unlikely that they’ll give you a backlink in the future.

Other simple outreach efforts, like commenting on others’ posts or submitting guest articles for industry websites will help you gradually improve your Google ranking.

For many of your potential customers, Google will be their most likely avenue for discovering your brand. While smart keyword research for Google Ads campaigns will undoubtedly be crucial for your growth, you should never overlook these basic ingredients for success. As you use these tips to improve your website and build a stronger presence on Google, you will increase brand awareness and sales.

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How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency Without Outside Funding

how to start a digital marketing agency

It’s easier to start a digital marketing agency without funding than people might think.

In this post, I will cover starting your business on your own—with aspirations of becoming an agency. I will look at how to get your first clients and how to balance your time when finding them—when you start on your own, that is one of the toughest balancing acts.

Setting up

The beauty of setting up a digital marketing agency is that you can start from virtually nothing. I know this from personal experience because my business partner and I did just that with our company, Louder.Online. If you have the expertise, then all you need to get started is a computer and a home office (or at least a space to work). There are not many businesses where that’s all you need.

You don’t need to put it all on a credit card, you don’t need to get a bank loan, you don’t need startup capital—you can just build a website, and you can be on your way. That’s what we did, and we now have a successful digital marketing agency with clients around the world.

Taking on your first employees

Many businesses will hire recruiting and onboarding agencies to find employees for their burgeoning digital marketing agency, but if you’re going to build an agency without funding then you need to be doing this yourself.

Beyond the fact that you won’t need the extra cash from the start to make hires, it will mean that you have control over the kind of employees that you take on. When you’re ready, you can hire the right people for the culture that you create around your business.

Training your team

Training your employees can be a costly business if you are not wise. When building a digital marketing agency without outside funding, you need to make sure you have a plan in place to be able to train people as and when they join you without incurring additional cost to the business.

Something we found invaluable when building our agency was to train the first few staff ourselves and educate them on everything we could. Sure, it meant that we put in some long hours at the start, but it paid off in the long run.

Training our first employees in every area we could think of prepared them to be able to train the next wave of staff. In turn, those staff members were able to teach the team members that joined after them.

As people moved up the ladder in our business, the staff that joined early on were able to train up the juniors that came in after them. Higher paid employees were able to use their time to liaise with clients and strategize rather than spending their time on training—making the business more successful and profitable, while not losing any of the vision that we had for the company or how our digital marketing client work was undertaken.

Documenting your processes and making life easier

If you want to start an agency without having outside funding, you need to find ways to do things in a non-traditional manner.

If your business takes off straight away, then it is likely that you are going to be taking on staff fairly quickly to cope with demand. When you have new staff starting regularly, you need two things in place—process documentation and basic HR functions—preferably avoiding having to hire an HR person too early.

At Louder.Online we made sure that we concentrated on these very early on. We documented our processes from day one in some software called Process Street. The software lets you create checklists and workflows that any of your staff can run at any time.

We use Process Street to document things like:

  • How to answer the phone
  • What to do when you are sick
  • How to put in an expenses report
  • How to book a holiday
  • What is needed before a new employee starts
  • What is required when an employee leaves

Having these processes documented means that everyone knows what they need to do and can follow a standard protocol. They don’t have to ask their manager or other staff.

This saves time and means that the employees that you have at your agency can actually spend more time on billable work for the clients. That, in turn, makes you more profitable. You are saving money that might otherwise have had to have come from outside funding.

We also didn’t want to have to hire an HR person until we really needed to and we certainly didn’t want to outsource that to a third party. They both cost a lot of money, and we didn’t want to have to use outside funding to do that.

After some searching around in the early days, we found some software called AppogeeHR.

The software boasts:

  • Centralized employee information
  • Leave and sickness management
  • Performance and learning tracking
  • Reporting
  • OKR management

It is simple to use, and it means that my business partner and I were able to act as HR without having to spend a lot of time on it. As earlier employees moved up, they were able to take on some of the work as well—and of course, this was all documented in a subsection of Process Street for when they needed it.

There is a saying that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and when we knew we didn’t want to use outside funding we looked for ways that we could make sure we didn’t have to.


If you don’t have that cash injection at the start of your businesses life, then you need to be bootstrapping.

A dictionary definition will tell you that it’s to get oneself into or out of a situation using existing resources. When you read other articles, they will talk about relying on personal income or savings, and they talk about sweat equity.

We think the definition can be a little broader than that—essentially optimizing your current situation. We did this through an intelligent choice of clients and being smart with our cash. We found these to be essential to avoid that outside funding.

Getting good clients

Bad clients bring you down. Bad clients cost you money. Bad clients suck up your time.

If you don’t want to be spending money on additional staff to cover those losses, then you need to know how to spot a good client. Taking on every client that comes your way was never an option for us.

So how do you spot a good client? Here are my tips:

  • Choose clients that will let you do your best work—stay away from the clients that overly worry about cost, because they will cost you in the long run.
  • Choose clients whose business you believe in—the synergy between your agency and their business will lead to a healthy and respectful relationship.
  • Work with clients who understand what you do—if they have some knowledge of the digital marketing landscape then they will be interested in what you do and don’t expect the world.

Being smart with your cash

This one sounds kind of obvious, right? But how many stories in the last few years have you read about businesses going under because of the inordinate amount of cash they spent on offices and perks to try and attract staff?

The employees that join your company are likely to know about these perks and want to see some of them. This is where you have to try and resist. Sure they are fun, but if you don’t want that outside funding, then you need to be sensible.

Company culture is not about the arcade machines and novelty slides from one floor to another. Company culture is about the bonds you create, the work that you do and how comfortable people feel at work.

People want to enjoy their work. When people enjoy their day to day life they produce better work, and they stay with a company longer. Combine these two together, and it cuts down the money you need to spend on recruitment and training—another way to avoid using outside funding.

Financial goal and milestone setting

Being smarter with your cash and spending less is one thing; financial goal and milestone setting is another. We knew we would have to create something scalable from the start and also be able to predict with some degree of accuracy what our potential revenue might be.

As we were starting a digital agency, we knew we were going to be selling hours from the very start. We knew that tracking employee time and client budgets were the way we wanted to head in. Using a project management tool like Liquid Planner or a Harvest/Basecamp combination can really help with this.

We set prices for staff, created client folders and subprojects early on. Every member of staff had tasks assigned that they accurately track time against. This allowed us to make sure we didn’t go over or under for clients and the tools turn the hours into dollars in detailed reports.

We started in a very granular way and had activities set for the different types of work that we were doing. This allowed us to accurately predict how long specific tasks would take and we could pitch accordingly—there was no finger in the air guesswork.

After we had started to collect this data we could predict how much revenue we might bring in per client. From there we created financial milestones based on the close rate of proposals and how much similar projects had cost—and whether they had come under or gone over. We found this to be an accurate way of getting solid estimates on where the business would be in six months, a year, five years and beyond. It’s strategic planning or Lean Business Planning.

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Start small but plan for growth

That’s how we did it at Louder Online, we took a no outside funding stance from the start and made sure we looked for alternative solutions to cut costs. We started small and made sure that there was a culture in place from day one.

We made sure that we documented everything so that new employees would know what they had to do and when.

We enabled the staff to train each other as the agency grew, creating last bonds and teamwork.  

It isn’t for everyone and it was definitely hard for us at the start, but it has made us the profitable digital marketing agency that we are today and we wouldn’t change that for the world.

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Aaron Agius
Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world’s leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a growth marketer—a fusion between search, content, social, and PR.

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