For many, the year’s end evokes a time of reflection, renewal and reinvention. As we weigh what we did right and what we could have done better, learning from missteps and owning them, we can work to rebuild or strengthen a foundation for sustainable success.

As professional marketers, strategic planners and digital communications experts, however, we know that such self-analysis is not enough. It also requires foresight and a knowledge of what’s to come and what it may mean for the individual person or organization.

Think of this stage as surfing. You study the water, using your knowledge and experience to detect any submerged dangers and then calculate when to stand up and get in front of the new wave(s) that will deliver you safely to shore.

What will it take to master the marketing waves in 2018? Here are a few important considerations as we look to a New Year of trends, strategies and tactics.

1. A Strategic Mindset: This is critical to marketing success. A strategic mindset is more than rhetoric; it encompasses a disciplined approach to every aspect of what we do as professional marketing communicators. This means we must assess every initiative, tactic or campaign from a strategic perspective that looks not only at the bigger picture but also creates a positive and sustainable difference.

2. Ability To Ride The Transformative Digital Groundswell: Yes, digital is here to stay. However, we still need to recharge our digital efforts and continually refresh our digital know-how to embrace the next surge of digital tools.

3. Creative That Is Bold And Measurable: We need to move beyond being a steward of creativity to become a purveyor of ideas that not only go beyond creative exposure but also are measurable, creating new insights into a business. As professional marketers, we have a fiduciary responsibility to not only nurture the creative process but also build creative that truly moves the needle.

4. Real And Consistent Metrics: The reality is that we all value metrics as a compass for our results and overall direction. However, it may be time to refocus our efforts on optimizing our metrics to focus on a clearer measurement of our overall success. There is a lot of valuable information at our fingertips, and we must make the best use of it all.

5. Social Media Measured By Engagement, Not Raw Numbers: We must think beyond “likes” and emojis to consider the long-term engagement we want to cultivate within our sphere of influence. To do this effectively, we must provide candid, respecting opinions and create opportunities for open dialogue.

6. Street-Level Promotion: Of course, digital marketing activities are important, but are your products/services understood at street level? Is there a passion for your brand that transcends a transaction and builds a fundamental understanding? Be street level. A marketing plan must resonate on Main Street as much as in the virtual world.

7. An Advocate Of Your Brand Promise: Don’t just be a purveyor of your product or service. A brand’s marketing must connect with the consumer both functionally and emotionally to truly differentiate it from competitors.

8. Public Relations: Good ol’ PR is still critical if done well. This means taking every opportunity — from new hires to big changes — to deliver real news that helps keep your company top of mind and build relationships both with consumers and media outlets.

9. Valuable Content: Content marketing is a powerful tool. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are providing truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers to help them solve their issues.

10. Thought Leadership: Thought leadership is at the core of every message and should be part of a company’s DNA. Positioning a company or its leadership as an expert in its industry dovetails with effective content marketing to solidify image and open doors to consumers.

This is the time to clear out any cobwebs and shake off any obstructions to needed change (“We’ve always done it this way”) and marketing creativity (“Management will never go for this”). It’s also the time to ramp up excitement for what no doubt will be another significant year in marketing communications.

This article authored by Joseph Grano appeared on Forbes.com

Nowadays, having a dynamic social media presence is critical for success. However, in order to reach your desired level of success on social, you must have a specific strategy to ensure your content reaches the largest audience possible. Whether you’re new to the world of social media marketing or not, it’s no secret that getting noticed on social media can be tough. Even the world’s most clever marketing content won’t do you or your business much good if no one else is seeing it.

Thus, here are our top 4 ways to increase content exposure on social media.

  1. Fully understand the platforms

Before you start to look for one-size-fits-all ideas and tactics that you can start implementing, it’s important to focus on the unique nature of each individual platform. Content shouldn’t be promoted the same on Instagram and Twitter because they aren’t always going to be perfectly compatible. Your audience doesn’t use them the same way, so you probably shouldn’t either.

  1. Utilize visual content

There’s a massive amount of potential being wasted by a lot of business owners when it comes to content creation. Adding a visual component to your content is going to get it more views, period. The only thing that you need to be thinking about at this point is what kind of visual content you’re going to use. For instance, live videos are a great way to create content with an authentic, intimate feel built right in. And if you’re operating with a humble marketing budget, live videos have the added benefit of being a low-cost option.

  1. Monitor the Metrics

While it may not be the most exciting topic, it is one of the most important. Without a heavy focus on metrics, your marketing efforts essentially amount to using your best guess at what’s working and what isn’t. If you’re looking for ways to increase your content’s exposure, the process actually becomes pretty simple. Try out a variety of different styles of content. Then track the data on each separate strategy using platform specific tools, focusing on metrics like exposure and reach. Once you’ve collected the data, create and publish more content that’s designed to capitalize on what your audience is engaging with.

  1. Consider Paid Advertisements

Ads on social are not like any other ads online. Why? Because they have massive upside. Facebook and Instagram ads have some of the best returns in the paid advertising game. You get access to plenty of people who actively engage with your brand. It’s essentially a way to hijack a curated list of people in your demographic who want your product/service. It’s hard to think of anything that’ll offer your content more exposure than that.

 

Why not take every step possible to increase your content’s exposure on social by building a marketing strategy that prioritizes data, industry understanding and execution. If we can help you with your social strategy, let us know!

For years, we’ve been trumpeting the value of “content marketing,” that is, the consistent generation and distribution of content that customers and prospects find relevant and useful. During that time, we’ve seen a number of companies attempt to hop on the content bandwagon – only to fall off again when they missed the mark.

Whether your organization is on the sidelines or leading the parade, here are some trends we’re seeing that you may wish to consider as you create and/or tweak your strategic marketing plan for 2018.

  • Real writing. By that we mean the products of professional writers. Companies that staff or outsource content creation by trained professionals will have a leg up. Not only will they have better content, but it will be generated more quickly by people accustomed to deadlines and adept at story telling.
  • Real thought. For instance, one of the marketing flavors of the day is the infographic. Ostensibly a vehicle for disseminating complex information in an understandable form, many of this ilk appear to so cluttered that it requires an advanced engineering degree to sort out. It’s not enough to have content – in any form – it must be content created with the reader in mind and promoted in the right way to the right audience(s).
  • Real time. There are two factors at work here. First, it appears that organizations are creating content less on a hard schedule – “We need a blog every Friday!” – and more when they have something worthwhile to say. This is a good thing. Just as with press releases, less can be so much more. The second factor involves the growth of livestreaming of video. Look for more as, according to a widely reported survey, more than 80 percent of respondents said they would rather watch a live video from a brand than read a blog.
  • Real accountability. Whether you take our advice of employing professional writers or not, make sure someone is in charge of your content creation, blogging, social media, etc. That person should have the long view of your goals and assure that all supporting documentation moves those goals along.
  • Real commitment. Content marketing is only as powerful as the effort behind it. For instance, what comes to mind when you’re on a company’s web site and discover it hasn’t posted a blog, a press release, a white paper, etc. in months? Or there’s no original content, just pass-alongs of someone else’s thinking? Not exactly confidence inspiring, is it? The point is that, as with any worthwhile endeavor, you must be in it to win it.

Content marketing is not to be taken lightly. It requires purpose, planning and follow-through. Though the journey takes time and energy, however, the destination promises significant rewards.

Let us know if we can help you get there.

Since 2005, Next-Mark has been shaping strategic marketing communications solutions to illuminate our clients’ missions, transform brands and create dynamic success. And with every asset we develop; from websites to white papers, our clients’ stories become our own.

As a full-service marketing communications and public relations agency, we’re proud to work with a wide array of organizations. Our expertise and experience helps our clients seamlessly navigate challenging markets and stand out among the crowd. We thrive in this diverse environment, knowing that each project we tackle shapes our journey and sets up our clients for powerful results. We invite you to scroll through our new Online LookBook to see a snapshot of our work and our extensive scope of services.

Unlike many marketing disciplines, professional healthcare marketers have a unique opportunity that extends beyond traditional marketing strategies and tactics. Healthcare marketing communications campaigns may very well change – or even save – a life.

With this opportunity comes an important and profound responsibility. Healthcare marketers must embrace this responsibility and align their efforts with the mission of their healthcare organization. Creativity, innovation and metrics all matter to healthcare marketers, but they must be motivated by the values of the institutions they represent.

If you’re a healthcare marketer, here are some things you must consider:

Know your mission. It’s critical to understand your healthcare organization’s mission and how it translates to your marketing communications strategy. Every message you curate and every campaign you lead should be driven by purpose and a true sense of responsibility for the people who are cared for or work at the healthcare organization you represent. It is critical to understand how your mission impacts lives and builds a connection to your audience.

Establish responsible thought leadership. Thought leadership in healthcare marketing goes far, wide and deep. Whether you’re promoting a subject matter expert or a C-suite leader within the healthcare space, you must be accountable for the persuasive message, creative intent and information presented. Content must then be disseminated through a cross section of channels that best align best with your publics. Whether it’s a blog, social media post or a comprehensive whitepaper, consider which medium will best drive optimal engagement with your targeted audience.

Empower creativity. Creativity is the cornerstone of any marketing communications effort, but in healthcare marketing, it comes with a unique and inherent responsibility. Before launching any marketing communications initiative, professional healthcare marketers must transcend the creative process to understand the breadth and scope of their message. Creativity is a useful tool, but one that should be employed only after measurable objectives and strategy are determined.

Demonstrate value. As organizations downsize and make challenging financial decisions, healthcare marketing is still core to the success of that organization’s mission. Whether it’s pharmaceuticals or publishing, when healthcare marketing budgets get cut there is a risk that it will impact the greater mission. Healthcare marketing leaders must work hard to sustain their budgets at all times, continuously communicate their purpose and demonstrate their value to better serve their market. It is important to manage healthcare marketing initiatives using metrics that clearly communicate the value of the project including projected ROI and other metrics.

Exercise your social voice with purpose. Social media is an invaluable tool in healthcare marketing. Your social voice must be accurate, current and reflect the mission of your organization. Your social conversation can bolster your market position and create new levels of engagement by providing the best information at the right time to your targeted audience.

Understand patient engagement. This is core to what you do. Take time to step away from your desk and interact with the patients and families you’re targeting with your messaging. A true, deep understanding of your audience will help you craft campaigns that successfully inform, educate and motivate patients to take action.

Understand your leadership role. Whether you are part of a large signature health system or a small practice, you must assume a leadership role. Your publics are not only looking for you to lead but to inspire them to take action.

In my more than 25 years of experience in all aspects of healthcare marketing communications, I have learned that healthcare marketing extends far beyond a job description. It’s a profound responsibility, anchored in purpose and accountability. Remaining true to your organization’s mission and connecting with your audience can help create lasting, potentially life-changing campaigns.

This article by Joseph Grano was published on Forbes.com.

We live in an era dominated by powerful imagery and compelling visual content. From stunning virtual reality capabilities, to seamless animation and graphic design, we’re flooded every day with extraordinary optical creations. It’s no wonder that marketing professionals cater to such a high level of sensory appeal — 90 percent of information sent to our brains is visual and we process images 60,000 times faster than text. The power of data visualization is undisputed and is why infographics have soared in popularity over the past ten years. Infographics allow people to quickly digest information and remember it for longer than they would a normal block of text. If you want to enhance message effectiveness and boost audience engagement, keep reading to learn how to create compelling infographics.

Understand the data

Novice designers sometimes settle for simply understanding the “big picture” concept of the data, while failing to truly grasp the building blocks of information they’re highlighting. You need to have an in-depth knowledge of the narrative in order to design an effective infographic. If there is something in the content that you don’t understand, ask the client what it means. It’s far better to ask too many questions than to display the information incorrectly.

Research, research and research some more

Being in tune with the latest design trends is crucial to crafting a piece that feels timely and relevant. Pie charts and bar graphs simply won’t cut it anymore if you want your design to stand out. Now, even static infographics are taking a back seat to interactive, multimedia pieces that actively engage viewers. Infographic styles evolve rapidly and if you haven’t checked out the latest craze, your design could easily be perceived as out-of-date.

Know your boundaries

If you’re designing an infographic for a specific company or client, ask them if it needs to fall within their brand standards. While sticking to certain colors, fonts and graphics can feel limiting, remember that your infographic is just one piece of a matrix that makes up their entire marketing strategy. A consistent look-and-feel is paramount, especially with larger corporations. Use this opportunity to stretch your creative wings and play with other aspects like size, hierarchy and texture to make the piece unique.

Segment information

Breaking a large infographic up into smaller segments not only helps the reader to better understand the information, but it is also easier to design multiple smaller infographics rather than one big one. The size of the pieces will also depend on how the infographic will be used. Is it going to be printed or digital? Is it the first in a series of graphics?

Put numbers first

Infographics usually display at least a few numbers and percentages. Since these tend to be the focal points of the piece with the most impact, they should take precedence in hierarchy.

Don’t over-design

Cramming in superfluous design elements was a classic mistake many designers made when infographics initially gained popularity. Never forget that negative space is your ally. It gives the audience time to scan the graphic without drawing their attention to too many different elements at once and overwhelming them. A busy infographic can also detract from the message. Crisp, clean content is king in the infographic world — if the design is stunning but the audience doesn’t grasp the message, then your efforts have failed. Conveying the correct information takes precedence over “pretty design.”

 

Infographics are no longer a novelty; they’re a necessity. Master the art of creating these pieces (or hire a team who can!) to advance your objectives and have a lasting impact on your audiences.

A dependable crisis communications plan is an anchor in a sea of instability. It aligns the response of an organization, provides step-by-step directions, offers essential resources and establishes roles and responsibilities. Recent gaffs that shook the stability of several large companies — from United Airlines’ violent removal of a passenger to Pepsi’s distasteful commercial — have highlighted the significance of a measured, strategic response. While some corporate reactions made the public wince, other organizations adroitly backpedaled with profuse apologies and promises of change. In the digital age, damaging incidences like these are amplified by the pervasive use of online social mediums. Now, traditional geographic barriers aren’t a hindrance to the spread of information and anyone armed with a smart phone can spark a wildfire response online. For communications professionals, time is a luxury we simply don’t have anymore and our ability to act quickly and strategically is paramount. Here are a few ways you can expand your crisis communications plan to ensure your organization uses digital channels to its advantage.

What you have: Key messages that can be tailored to the situation and the organization’s position. Messaging is a standard piece in crisis communications planning, and it gives representatives a foundation for content creation during an incident.

What you should add: An expanded set of content with short, preliminary responses that representatives from your organization can quickly push out online. A swift response, even if it’s simply a reassurance to the public that you’re investigating further and will have an official message soon, can help quell the spread of misinformation. Your organization will also appear proactive in investigating and remedying the situation. These responses should be developed for a number of scenarios, approved by senior leadership and included in your plan. So if an unfortunate circumstance erupts, a representative can make a quick recommendation for an initial response with one of the already-sanctioned messages.

What you have: Instructions for how to remote-access your company intranet portal and other secure documents. These guidelines ensure your communications teams can connect with the resources they need even if they aren’t at their workstations.

What you should add: Directions for posting on your numerous digital channels. A crisis rarely strikes at an “opportune” time when the office is fully staffed and at-the-ready. Don’t get stuck in a situation where you can’t access your online communications tools. In the event your social media and web experts are unavailable, there should be simple but detailed instructions for logging onto the organization’s digital channels and posting content. Make sure you specify the appropriate approval processes and, of course, all usernames and passwords should be stored in a secure space only accessible by a group of authorized users.

What you have: A triage plan for fielding media requests. One of the most crucial elements of a crisis is how the media reacts, and a plan for responding to inquiries from the press in a timely manner is the cornerstone of crisis response.

What you should add: Guidelines for video recording and live streaming on social channels. This strategy will certainly not be applicable for every situation, but outlining the protocols for uploading videos or streaming online should be included in your crisis plan. Consider a situation where your spokesperson is unable to meet with reporters, but needs to connect with audiences through more than a written memo. Employing video is simply another tool you can use to efficiently communicate and successfully control a disruptive situation.

The goals of any crisis communications situation are to ensure safety, manage organizational reputation, communicate effectively and prevent financial loss. In our 24/7 world, an active online presence is one way your organization can quickly respond and navigate through a crisis.

The job of a designer is to be creative. We collaborate with writers to bring their words to life and use colors, shapes, patterns, shadows, textures and a myriad of other visual elements to illuminate a brand. We’re connoisseurs of translating ambiguous feedback (“Just make it pop a little more” is a favorite of mine) and wizards at reinvigorating a stale, tired piece of material. Imagination and inspiration are woven into the fabrics of our work, so when we’re feeling stuck creatively — it shows. Trying to dig out of a creative rut can be discouraging. We all face these roadblocks from time-to-time and, while every person’s process is different, here are some techniques that help me navigate back into an innovative mentality.

Get moving

Step away from your assignment and take a walk outside. A recent Stanford University study found that walking enhances the flow of ideas and invigorates the mind, an effect that is realized even after returning to your desk. Exercise is also a natural stress-reliever and provides mental and physical benefits that can boost creativity. A brisk walk quells the levels of stress hormones and releases endorphins, a hormone the body naturally produces to combat pain and elevate your mood. The thought of leaving a project for a stroll might make you wince, but the benefits of physical activity will make the short reprieve worth it.

Find inspiration

Though it might sound contradictory, originality can stem from appreciating another designer’s creation. Search online for a creator’s work that moves you and evaluate what draws you to the piece — is it the placement, the lines, the utilization of space? This assessment might spark a new idea or allow you to more effectively assess your own material. Celebrate your unique style, but don’t shy away from learning from others’ work.

Brainstorm

Collaboration and creativity go hand-in-hand. Ask your co-workers if you can talk through your idea with them and get their feedback. Grab a white board and outline the fundamental elements of the project. This will help you to think critically about the problem, evaluate the project in a new space and garner insight from people with a fresh perspective.

Carry a sketchbook

Some of the best ideas and concepts come when you least expect them. If you have a sketchbook or even just pen and paper with you at all times, you can quickly write or draw them out before you forget. Even if you don’t end up using the idea for your current project, referring back to your notes can stimulate creativity and benefit you in the future.

Get in touch with your subconscious

This method might be a little unusual, but dream journaling can be a fascinating and powerful tool for enhancing creativity. Dreams are our ideas, but uninhibited by the restraints consciousness innately imposes upon us. Recalling the subliminal mind’s activity liberates us from traditional norms and helps train us to view situations from a different perspective. Creativity has free reign in our subconscious and writing these down helps us capture the truest form of our imaginations. The bizarre, wondrous world of dreams is a boundless source of inspiration.

 

Ultimately, great design stems from hard work. The perfect piece will never appear out of thin air, and the creative process is, well, a process. It’s collaboration, coupled with a deep understanding of the project objectives, audience and use. If you know your craft well and can identify techniques that kick-start your creativity, you’ll be equipped to produce something spectacular.

Clearly, the retail industry is at a crossroads. From the compression of storefronts to the explosion of online options, retail marketers have never been more challenged and somewhat overwhelmed in developing viable marketing strategies and tactics that will resonate with retail consumers. Know-how, innovation and ideation don’t seem to be enough to change the retail marketing game in this ever-evolving climate. It’s time to do more than just check the box but to re-think, re-imagine redefine retail marketing.

Here is some re-thinking every retail marketing professional should entertain.

They’re not customers, they’re clients. It’s time to think of the retail consumer as more than another transactional notch in our marketing belt, but as clients with needs, wants and likes that we need to do more than satisfy, but build and maintain a renewed and trusted relationship with. Retail leader, Nordstrom has been a longtime proponent of this. They not only see a customer as a client, they build real relationships with throughout the retail experience and beyond.

It’s about the experience, Yes, online retail options provide convenience and service levels that satisfy many of the needs retail consumers, but retail clients still want to touch and feel. It’s time to think about the retail experience before anything else. What motivates a retail client to think beyond shopping to a retail excursion, which may include more than a purchase but the creation of a memory. This excursion may include a meal, a family activity, an event or another engagement that becomes a shareable moment. The retail experience has a lot more to do with the environment, the culture, the brand promise rather than just another day at the mall. When we look at the latest retail development projects, we are seeing new levels or innovation that includes more than a retail anchor but a combination of offerings under one retail space. Retail marketers must now provide marketing communications solutions that rise to this evolving physical space creating a renewed retail experience.

Integrate or perish. There now needs to be a new obsession with the traditional marketing mix that moves beyond our comfort zone, but to a newly defined professional marketing DNA. Integration needs to be an obsession where marketing communications is part of a fine-tuned ecosystem that unites all facets of marketing including customer service, advertising, social media, public relations, events, digital interface, mobile and more. This holistic approach will transcend traditional marketing tactics and create a new professional mindset and a re-tooled approach to all marketing efforts.

Reconsider demographics. Not only do demographics matter, but they also provide insight into the heart of retail clients, yet the retail industry continues to be one-dimensional in their approach. Retail marketers need to refocus their efforts beyond what they perceive as their demographic sweet spot, but consider a psychographic approach that includes sources of motivation that transcends traditional demographic thinking. It’s time to understand what retail clients are passionate about and what they expect from each retail experience. Retail marketers now need to harvest emerging segments move beyond traditional demographic targeting.

Brands still matter. The retail revolution requires far more than a brand refresh but should include a brand audit that defines a new threshold for your brand promise. Beyond measuring brand recognition and other traditional brand metrics, its time to obsess about brand loyalty, you’re inherent brand promise and a timely examination of your brand’s perception in the marketplace. A brand audit is a re-examination of the inherent traits your brand possesses and how it does or does not resonate with your audience. The brand audit needs to be a 360 degree process that includes all of your internal and external publics benchmarking your current brand perception and then re-examining your brand on a regular basis.

Every day is a brand new day for retail marketing professionals, where talent, creativity and imagination will always prevail. If we make retail experiential, the best bricks and mortar or digital interface will only enhance the overall client experience and refocus the retail mindset to the next generation of consumers.

This article was published on Forbes.com, authored by Joseph Grano

As a graphic designer, I love creating for print. There’s something special about designing a piece that you know will eventually end up in the hands of your consumers, rather than just viewed on a screen. The past decade has ushered in a stampede of marketers lauding the print-to-digital transformation and decrying the glossy brochures, weighty annual reports and other print pieces many of us find so satisfying. But as the dust settles, the benefits of preserving a strategic print presence in campaigns has sustained and, thankfully for us print geeks, the traditional medium isn’t going away. Melding print and digital into multi-channel campaigns has proven to be the most effective, strategic approach to boosting brand recognition and achieving objectives. Here are four reasons to include print in your marketing mix:

The experience

Print offers an experience that digital media simply can’t imitate. When designing a print piece, you have to consider the way people will physically interact with it — unfolding a brochure or flipping through a magazine is tactile and, if executed properly, can be influential. A study focused on how people cognitively process direct mail versus digital media found that print pieces are more memorable and easier for consumers to understand. Designers can utilize texture, shape, weight and countless other aspects that aren’t available in the digital world to get their audiences’ attention. The tangibility of print gives it a lasting impact — something that the instantaneous world of digital has yet to replicate.

It strengthens digital

Digital is stronger when coupled with a print strategy. Using a call-to-action in your print ads can help drive traffic to a unique landing page, where you can track impressions and conversions. You can also leverage print ads to encourage engagement with your brand’s social media presence.

Hard to ignore

Consumers are bombarded by thousands of digital advertisements on a daily basis. Watching the news, checking social media, using phone apps, pumping gas — targeted advertisements are inescapable. And, as a result of the ensuing clutter, we’ve become experts in tuning them out: The majority of people block ads online or skip traditional TV commercials. Print, meanwhile, is harder to ignore. People instinctively look at what they’re holding in their hands, whether that’s a direct mail piece, a magazine insert or some other form of print advertisement. More eyes on your brand’s message is always beneficial to a campaign.

Customization connects

Variable–data printing (VDP) is a form of digital printing that allows for elements on print pieces to be changed on each individual print. This permits customization of text, graphics or images on a piece-by-piece basis without slowing the print process. Tailoring the look-and-feel or message to segmented target audiences can help your piece resonate and connect consumers to your brand.