Tell a story: why content must be part of your marketing strategy

Part of creating a comprehensive advertising and marketing strategy includes reaching people in ways that traditionally were not considered “marketing.” Print and digital ads, billboards and commercials play a specific role in brand recognition that you can’t necessarily mimic in another way, but part of marketing in the 21st century is about building trust and authority in your brand.

Simply displaying an ad is a great reminder that your brand is ready and waiting for customers to reach as well as the necessary brand-recognition piece, but if your strategy doesn’t include content, you’re potentially missing out on a huge piece of the pie.

Content marketing involves sharing interesting and thought-provoking pieces that doesn’t necessarily tell people about your products or services. It goes beyond your value props and may not even mention any of them. It’s a strategy devoid of the hard sale and hinges on talking about the issues your industry faces instead.

A blog is a way to show your customers that you understand their needs and what they need to learn. It’s a vehicle that helps your brand become the trusted advisor that future customers will then lean on when they are ready to buy.

Storytelling is the ultimate way to get the conversation going. It can also be a daunting task to get your feet wet in the content marketing world. How and who are the most common questions: who on your team can create the content and how will you share it with your potential customers? On top of that is the problem of getting the buy-in to invest in starting a content marketing campaign.

We’re here to tell you that given the benefits of these programs, it’s an exciting time to begin marketing your brand by telling stories.

Build your reputation as an expert

The worst thing that can happen when someone reaches out as a potential customer is to accidentally alienate them by showing you don’t understand their business. A content marketing campaign can bypass that whole initial conversation by letting your content, well, speak for you. 

Choosing topics that are relevant to your customers and future customers will set you up as an expert in your field. Find out what their points of pain and curiosities about the industry are, and create content that will help them improve their own results. By nurturing content over a period of time, you will start to have more inbound inquiries than ever before simply because everyone wants to work with the best. They want to know you understand them.

This is so important that Google evaluates this practice to measure where you fall in search engine results pages, as a part of a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy under the concept of E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Tick all these boxes and it won’t just improve your reputation, but will also help improve where your site is ranked on search results. And when your content keeps showing up to answer their big questions, your E-A-T also gets established with your future customers before you even reach out to them.

Consistently direct the narrative about your own brand

Rather than letting your online reputation get away from you via the uncontrollable such as customer reviews and social media conversations, start the conversation by introducing content that showcases what you know about your future customers. When you can easily point to the answers you know they’ll have, it helps to control the narrative rather than letting it control your sales.

It isn’t just about creating one piece of content and then stopping. A content marketing strategy, like any marketing strategy, needs to be consistent to properly work. After all, you need to address more than just one problem your customers might have, and you do more than one thing. This helps you stand out in a super-saturated marketplace in which consumers could see thousands of ads every single day.

An inexpensive addition

Content marketing can have the lowest cost threshold of implementation. In many industries, a trade show or event could easily cost more than the right hire who would handle your content. And if you can’t sell a full-time employee, it’s very cost-effective to outsource content marketing to an agency or a content team in a print or virtual publication where you already advertise.

Get more leads at a lower cost 

At the end of the day and when you’re evaluating your results each quarter and year, the number of leads that initiatives generated is an important KPI in every marketing department. According to the Content Marketing Institute in this post:

  • Content marketing garners about 3x the leads per dollar as paid search (SEM) does.
  • It generates leads at a rate of over 3x that of outbound marketing and costs a whopping 62% less.

Start a conversation without having to do cold calling

Combined with a robust social media strategy, content marketing actually helps replace some of your cold calling efforts, translating to saved time that can be devoted to nurturing repeat business and inbound new business. When you have buzzworthy content, the return is faster than anything requiring a waiting period, such as trade shows or non-digital media advertising, which need to be planned months in advance due to event constraints, printing, and other logistics required to get those efforts implemented.

In the meantime, a robust content marketing strategy can start conversations in days or weeks instead of months or years. For details on how this type of strategy can be used or advertised on social media, check out this post from our sister company, SmartSolutions.

How to get started

Not sure what type of content works best and what platforms you should use? In our next blog post, we’ll discuss the types of content that your customers are looking for and where our advertisers like to share that content. If you’d like to be notified when that post is available, let us know here.

Not sure how to get started with a content marketing strategy? Our teams can help with that, too. Let the experts — us — tell your story to your target audience: our readership. Reach out to your integrated marketing consultant to explore the many content marketing options we can help you implement to start this process now rather than next year.

About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here:

Maximizing event results with strategic marketing

As we get closer to holding in-person events and trade shows again, it’s important that you’re setting your company up for success. A crucial step in ensuring event success is marketing it to your customers. Without marketing, you’re leaving your meetings up to chance, your foot traffic or attendance may be low and you may be putting on an expensive show instead of getting a return on your big investment.

While most of these suggestions are framed as applying to trade shows, they are just as applicable to other events, such as those you may host at your business, such as open houses, showcases and field days.


As with any successful marketing initiative, planning is the crux. As discussed in a previous post, planning helps ensure that you have the resources for all of the initiatives you need to execute for the trade show or event. Create realistic deadlines ahead of time to help you stay on track and get the best results for your investment.

When you start planning will depend upon the type of event. For trade shows, for example, a good rule of thumb is to check when you have to submit orders for services like electrical or carpet and be prepared with your plan prior to that date.

Consider brand messaging, a new product launch or other initiatives you want your booth to showcase. This means that if you’ve done any rebrands, that your logos are consistent throughout the space, your products featured on signs or banners are current and any freebies are relevant to those in attendance. If you do not have an inventory of booth materials, check what’s in storage and make a list of what you need to redesign or re-order.

Plan each initiative, whether it’s targeted emails, social media marketing, mailers or phone calls to make sure there’s plenty of awareness for your event.

Make a list of customers you’d like to meet with during the event and personally market to them with unique emails to ensure that your key buyers are present and ready to book. “Make sure to let your customers know ahead of time that you’ll be there. In 15 years managing and marketing events, I’ve found that when paired with partnering with the show we are exhibiting at, this is the best way to set yourself up for success, no matter how you measure it,” said Stephanie Leon-Santiago, marketing and events manager at Great American Media Services. Leon-Santiago plans and markets 25-30 programs and events, including trade shows in a normal year, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, a few more virtual events were added for the 17 Great American Media Services brands.

Schedule enough staff to cover your busiest times, but also schedule the right staff. For some companies, this will mean that all sales and marketing team members are in the booth for much of the trade show or are at the event with specific tasks they’re empowered to execute. At trade shows, sales staff will need to schedule customer meetings in blocks so that there is always coverage in the booth.

Choose a look for your staff so that there is cohesiveness throughout the team. This could include logo-wear or a set wardrobe (such as black bottoms, black shoes and white shirts with a branded lanyard). Make sure that anyone walking into the booth or event knows who to talk to based on a quick glance, without making them stare at badges to decide who works for your company.

Decide as a team what your goals are for leads, sales or anything else measurable. Be sure that you consider all staff costs, such as hotels, per diem, travel and time are covered and know what your break-even number is and what will allow a return on the investment.    


In the weeks leading up to the event, finalize any meetings or appointments you need to have with key customers. If you plan any giveaways, get those orders ready on time but be sure to follow any show guidelines regarding what is allowed to be handed out in your booth or showroom.

It seems every exhibitor will offer something free, but it’s imperative that the items you’re giving away are not only on-brand, but relevant. “The top things that attendees want mostly have to do with organization. A high-quality pen or a small notebook is better for you and them than candy with a disposable wrapper or something else that will go right in the trash. Consider something for their badge or a pop socket, a pen that won’t break right away or hand sanitizer. With most shows and in-person events re-opening, I suggest washable branded face masks. If you’re on a small budget, pick something memorable,” Leon-Santiago said. 

Utilize every free marketing option the show offers and consider their paid marketing options such as improved website listings or list rentals. You never know – your biggest customers might not be your customers yet, and they need to know where to find you during the event, too.


We all know trade show food isn’t the best, so if you can get away with it and any restrictions due to COVID-19 allow it, offer lunch to key customers. This does triple duty of keeping your reps in the space, getting your customers to stop by and creating buzz around the busy traffic to your booth.

Offer deals for those who meet with their rep in your booth or on-site, such as a percentage off, better payment terms, free shipping or better minimum order quantities.

If you can, hold a larger giveaway. This is definitely something that should be advertised in advance and will help you build your email marketing lists and give your sales reps a chance to chat with potential customers. The show management may have limits on the value of what you can give away, but consider your top products, a gadget or something related to what you make or sell with your logo on it. Schedule a time for the giveaway and draw the winner’s name live on social media for maximum exposure.

This set of recommendations is, of course, not all-inclusive. For a refresher on lead follow-up, check out this post.

Interested in assistance marketing your event or trade show? Talk to an expert today!

About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here:

7 tips for great lead follow-up

While generating leads may seem like the most important part of the sales and marketing cycle, knowing that your follow-up game is strong is as important — or in some cases, more important — as getting those leads in the first place. If you’ve struggled to convert leads, the first place to look for improvements is in your lead follow-up.

Greg Sebel
Greg Sebel

“The most important step to follow-up is to understand the importance of actually following up on the leads you receive. These people have expressed interest in what you sell, and following up is the first step to understanding a potential customer’s needs,” said Greg Sebel, associate publisher for Fruit Growers News, Vegetable Growers News and Organic Grower magazines.

 1. Plan ahead

Before you complete any lead generation efforts, or before you attend an event or trade show where you receive many leads at once, it’s important to know how a few facts about your follow-up process:

  • How much time it takes to convert a lead, on average
  • How many reach-outs you normally need to make to convert a lead
  • How many leads you can follow up on in a given period of time.

Besides these basics, you’ll want to plan how you will follow-up. This includes planning scheduled emails or call blocks as well as marketing efforts that your marketing team can do to help you keep the interest of those leads if you or your team know you will get more leads than you can handle.

 2. Hot (or not)?

While it may be tempting to categorize your leads as hot, medium, cool, you may be making assumptions without complete information. The worst thing that can happen when you classify your leads in this way is that you can forget to follow up with non-hot leads.

If you can confidently make the assessment that a lead is hot and you need to prioritize leads because you’re receiving more than you can give quality attention to, make sure you don’t ignore the medium or cool leads. Plan efforts that will keep non-hot leads interested while you work more aggressively towards completing the sales cycle on those you deemed ready to buy.

3. Be timely

Nancy Brooks
Nancy Brooks

When you’re following up after a trade show or event, it is important to do an initial reach-out with thanks to anyone you had a conversation with. Most lead collection systems allow you to add notes, so be sure to make a few after you scan someone’s badge so that your initial note to them can be personal. Once you return from the trade show, set your planned email program or call blocks up to try to set up a conversation within the first week or two after the show. Sometimes getting your foot in the door before any of your competitors do is the reason you’ll get a sale, so letting those leads sit on your desk a month or two might mean that they are no longer convertible.

“With trade show leads, it is imperative that you respond to the lead as soon as possible. To make the connection before the customer may lose interest or forget about your company and your products and services. Once you have connected to the company you can evaluate the level of interest and proceed with the next step. This can be setting up a second call or meeting, sending information by email or mail or setting up a follow up call in the near future when the company has the time to discuss their needs and goals and how your company, products and services can help them achieve to these goals,” said Nancy Brooks, integrated marketing consultant for Gift Shop Plus magazine.

If a prospect initiates a conversation via the web or phone, it’s imperative that you are able to reply within 1-2 business days at the very most with a personal acknowledgement. It’s ok to have a short boilerplate email that you use to reply, but be sure to add a few sentences that are relevant to them so you aren’t just guilty of giving a canned answer.

For processes where you don’t receive leads for a few weeks or months, just reach out as soon as you receive the leads to get the conversation going.

4.  Personalize it, be relevant and be brief

While mass emails seem like a great idea when you have large numbers of leads to follow up on, just keep in mind that they’ll perform best if they look like they’re crafted just for the recipient. Don’t send out a mass email unless you can add personalization.

What you should do instead: create emails that are partially unique, with some boilerplate, and add a couple sentences about your interaction or otherwise let them know you did a bit of research. Also, LinkedIn is a great resource. Do check their LinkedIn job description if you’re not sure what they do, rather than just assuming you understand their job by description alone. In initial reach-out, keep it brief so you can keep their attention.

5. Create a tracking system

Use CRM tools if you have them, but an excel or google sheets grid works well if your company has not invested in a CRM yet. The hardest part is keeping it updated when you’re busy, but those efforts will definitely pay off. You can also utilize automation tools that send out reminder emails to your clients if they don’t open or reply to your previous messages. 

6. Mix your media

Rather than just sticking to one type of email, try creating visually inviting emails — something your marketing team can take care of for you — and combine those with plain-text personal emails, phone calls, LinkedIn messages or contact via retargeting systems. If you have trouble keeping track of where you were in your conversation, utilize your tracking system to note statuses or the location of the last message you sent or received.

7. Be respectful

Andrea Schafer
Andrea Schafer

If someone opts out, be sure to note it and let other reps know so that they aren’t reaching out as well. The last thing you want is to annoy your prospects so that they do not want to work for you.

The bottom line

Leads won’t take care of themselves. Sure, you might have a few people you meet at trade shows reach out to book without any effort on your end. However, expect that you’ll need to do the work, and look forward to that follow-up. Leads are the lifeline of any sales rep, and following up is your bread & butter. “I think it is vital to follow up on leads because you’re ensuring a potential client who already showed an interest in your product

knows how and whom to contact for more information or to book an ad. A lead is someone taking an interest in your product, our job is to make it easy and ‘tempting’ to take the next step,” said Andrea Schafer, integrated marketing consultant for Spudman, Produce Processing, Organic Grower and Hemp Production News magazines.


About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here:

Pivot: more than just a buzzword

If one word could be used to summarize business during this pandemic, it’s “pivot.” It’s not the usual noun, meaning a pin that allows a turning motion. It’s not a noun describing a position in basketball or roller derby, either. It’s a verb, now. It’s an action that a person or business takes in order to change direction towards survivability and thrive-ability.

In 2020, the whole world pivoted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers developed new systems for curbside pick-up and online ordering; schools switched to virtual learning, whether or not teachers knew how to teach that way; restaurants beefed up their delivery and pick-up options and sometimes retooled their entire menus; manufacturing figured out how to make physical distancing work better. Industries found a way to survive in a world that no longer included crowds of people visiting in-person.

For survival, these changes were necessary, even if they were difficult and scary, leading to uncertainty about whether or not they were worth the investment. For many companies, they were. These fundamental changes to how they do business are now defining businesses instead of helping them scrape by in uncertain times.

As you may be working through this evolution at your business, are you still able to reach all of your customers? Is there a piece to the puzzle that might be missing that could make a big difference in your bottom line?

As a media partner to our advertisers, we’re working hard to ensure that we know where our readers — your customers — are consuming the content they need for their businesses. 

This means we’ve pivoted, too. In the media industry, there used to be those who do print and those who do not. These days, it’s important to do both. To better support our advertisers and readers alike, we’ve added digital-only issues, expanded our interactive digital products like webinars and lead generation efforts and increased availability of market surveys and sponsored digital editorial pieces to build you up as a thought leader. We’ll still have the same print issues our readers rely on, but your marketing options have even more variety with these additions.

In our last blog post, we discussed the things that a marketing campaign needs to include. Part of that is ensuring that you are maximizing your budget in ways that allow you to capture your entire audience. For B2B businesses, this could mean that you need to advertise digitally outside of your own platforms and work with trade publications who are experts in your industry.

No matter what your marketing or lead goals are, we offer solutions to support you. Reach out to your integrated marketing consultant today to see how we can help you meet your customers where they are. If you’re not sure who your rep is, here’s where you can find out:

Coach & A.D.

Fruit Growers News

Gift Shop Plus Magazine

Greenhouse Product News

Hemp Production News

Lawn & Garden Retailer

National Nut Grower

Organic Grower

Produce Processing



Stationery Trends

Training & Conditioning

Vegetable Growers News

Winning Hoops


About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here:



Why marketing matters

The most successful marketing teams spend much more time planning than those who lose track of the goal mid-year. By creating a marketing plan, you can set yourself up for greater success in reaching your marketing and sales goals. Here are some of the top reasons you need to create a marketing plan every single year.

Save money

Most marketing teams who place ads piecemeal think they’re saving money. But by not knowing exactly what your budget is for the year and not calculating where you are, the end of the fiscal year might be much more painful than anticipated.

The bottom line is that piecemeal marketing will cost you much more than planning your year in advance. Planning ahead will help you stay on budget and know when last-minute initiatives can be added. Often, you can receive discounts for buying repeat advertisements in a publication or with an agency. This allows you to get more impressions and ultimately leads for the same amount of money you’d spend throughout the year.

Consistent scheduling

Planning before the year starts will help create consistency in all aspects of scheduling. It helps to ensure your team has as close to an even workflow through the year, better using your personnel and time resources. Make sure you have plenty of time to create your year’s plan; many teams spend several months preparing for the year. 

By maintaining consistent brand scheduling, you are not just helping out your team, but you are also going to ensure that your audience sees regular messaging, rather than a few flurries of activity during particularly busy times. They’ll remember you even if you aren’t running a special or going to an event because they still see your brand in the less-busy times.

Consistent messaging

Beyond planning timing, the messaging you want to use should also have the same level of consistency. When creating your marketing plan, consider any hashtags or themes you will use. Knowing these ahead of time will help reduce the number of late nights and amount of weekend work your team might need to do before big releases.

By knowing the messaging style of your marketing campaign ahead of time, you can ensure that all team members are creating content and ads that match in tone and design. We all know how big brands have used this consistency — through their logos and jingles — to even get that branding stuck in children’s minds.

While you may not aim for the level of brand awareness of McDonald’s or Target, you can still be front of mind with your target audience by being consistent and planning ahead. Consistency is key.

Setting goals and getting your ROI

If you’re not sure how to set goals or calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your initiatives, learning how to do so is an important piece to proving that you should retain — or even grow — your marketing budget year over year.

Your first year tracking might start from a set of cost estimates based on what you’d like the department to be able to do. Tracking your efforts throughout the sales funnel will help you calculate how much revenue — and ultimately profit — you gained through each initiative. Some efforts may have people costs, materials, lodging, per diem or other inclusions that aren’t hard marketing costs, and some companies prefer to lump that into overhead and others include it in the marketing budget.

Tracking can include using UTMs (tracking links used to monitor campaign progress and behavior related to clicking on the link itself) or landing pages, having specific questions on contact forms about how people found you, tracing trade show contacts through to the end of the sales funnel or just reaching back out after the fact to ask where the conversation started.

Proving that an initiative was more profitable than expected is a great reason to ask for a bigger budget for the same initiative in subsequent years. Without knowing if you are getting that return, it’s hard to prove that the department deserves the money in the next budget.

Be proactive, not reactive

The worst case scenario is being in a place where your marketing efforts are reactive. Planning ahead has benefits, but reactive marketing has steep costs in time and cash. For example, knowing that you want to advertise in a print publication before an industry event means that your team can be prepared to create that ad without feeling rushed or having to drop everything. It all goes back to the planning process; reactive marketers always feel stressed and spread too thin. You’ll keep your team happier and healthier by being predictable. 

About the author

Jess Schmidt brings a creative writing degree and over a decade of professional writing experience to the team. As a career marketer with a background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language, technical details and marketing strategy. She writes content for all of the publications under the Great American Media Services umbrella and manages advertiser-driven projects. She’s also the in-house SEO and SEM guru. Learn more about our team here: