The MadAveGroup Blog
Scott Greggory, Chief Creative Officer
If you think you can’t draw inspiration from younger people, I urge you to reconsider that notion.
I spent a recent Saturday morning with several graphic design students from Bowling Green State University. The occasion was the Graphic Design Department’s Portfolio Review, a chance for juniors and seniors to network with advertising professionals and get feedback on their work.
I met several talented designers, but two stood out. One showcased work that was born of her personal passion - the protection of coral reefs around the world; the other created from his personal pain - the loss of his parents earlier in the year.
Both projects were thoughtful and beautifully executed, but it was the inspiration and the story behind each one that allowed the messages to resonate. Each designer followed his or her heart and worked sincerely with the goal of helping others. I was truly moved by the obvious care they had invested.
What about you?
Are you doing work that matters to you? Are you leading your team, your department or your entire company to change the world - or your small corner of it - for the better?
If your workplace isn’t fertile ground for that sort of thought, how can you invest your personal time in a way that feeds your need to serve others?
It’s easy to slip into auto-pilot. It’s easy to lose sight of the professional vision you had long ago. But it’s just as easy to re-commit to making a difference with your life and your work.
So, what matters to you?
In the late 1980s, the marketing and advertising environment was a little simpler; a little quieter. There was no consumer Internet. No social media. No commercial-skipping DVRs. And when the Toledo-based agency MadAveGroup first opened in 1989, it wasn't even called MadAveGroup.
“We started out as PowerHouse Productions,” recalled founder and CEO Jerry Brown (pictured). “And we developed a new service called On Hold Messaging.”
That's the music and customized messages you hear when you're placed on hold with a company. PowerHouse was an early pioneer in that industry. And it was the creative thinking they applied to every aspect of their business that allowed the small agency to grow. Soon, they started providing clients with other marketing services, like online audio, telephone skills training, and in-store audio marketing.
But as digital technology expanded, the marketing and advertising world changed, client expectations evolved, and the pace picked up.
PowerHouse Productions was facing its own challenges, too: more competition, the need for more space, the financial pains that come with growth, and always - the hit or miss nature of developing new services.
“There were many times when I woke up in the middle of the night wondering how I was going to make payroll, or how we'd solve some other problem. It was stressful,” said Brown. “But I always believed in the idea: the commitment to serving clients, our commitment to asking the hard questions that help us uncover great solutions. And I believed in our people.”
More diverse client needs turned into new skill sets, which turned into sister agencies. In 2004, WebArt was formed to deliver digital marketing services.
SensoryMax followed in 2012 to help clients build lasting impressions through branded video and aroma marketing.
In 2013, the MadAveCollective began as an idea to help aspiring freelance creatives. By 2016, it had become its own agency that provides marketing services for non-profit organizations.
MadAve Marketing Management followed a year later, born out of the opportunity to serve under-performing marketing departments.
Then, in 2015, d2i - design2influence - was born, solidifying the commitment to branding, advertising and design.
By 2012, there was a need to bring the individual agencies under one name, yet still allow them to shine as independent units with unique strengths. The name MadAveGroup was chosen to reflect the location of the agency’s four-story building on Madison Avenue in the UpTown district of Toledo, Ohio.
Only the Beginning
MadAveGroup represents the best of old and new; experience and innovation. The group’s creative leaders have roots in more traditional forms of media and production, such as print, radio and TV, while the rest of the team is more than comfortable working with the latest technology. It’s that balance that allows MadAveGroup to share simplified communication and brand stories through the newest, most exciting channels. And over the decades, they've earned hundreds of awards for creative excellence for their work.
The part-time project that began with three people in Jerry Brown's horse barn has grown into a full-service marketing and advertising agency that serves clients throughout the United States and more than 40 other countries, has developed partnerships all over the world, and employs 42 talented, marketing-focused staff members, each with specialized skills.
“It’s been an amazing 30 years!” said Brown. And the passion for what we do is still here! I truly feel like we’re just getting started.”
In early April, my family and I spent a week in Charleston, South Carolina.
We love the city. And we’re not alone. Charleston welcomes about 7 million visitors each year. Tourism supports nearly 50,000 jobs and is worth about $7.5 billion annually to the “lowcountry” town. Travelers have even voted it America’s number one city for many consecutive years.
And what’s at least one reason for that?
Founded in 1670, Charleston is still filled with a stunning array of historical homes, churches and other magnificent buildings, including The Old Exchange, where President George Washington was once honored with a lavish ball.
That history is palpable throughout the city. And even if you aren’t aware of any of the specific historical details, the architecture alone serves as a constant reminder of how special and significant the town is.
In other words, Charleston is proof that people are drawn to a good story.
Your company may not be able to boast that America’s first president danced in your conference room, or that the initial shots of the Civil War were fired from your lobby, but it’s likely that you have a compelling story of your own to tell. Maybe it’s developed as your business has grown, or maybe it’s been part of you all along.
Your story could be about what motivates you to do what you do.
It could center around the care and attention to detail you invest while making your product.
Maybe your story is about the people you choose to hire, your unusual culture, or how you direct profits to serve the less fortunate.
Or, like Charleston’s, your story might be rooted in your unique heritage.
If you’re not already telling that story, think about what it could be and all the channels you can use to share it with your audience.
MadAveGroup’s branding, advertising and design agency, d2i, was acknowledged at the 2019 American Advertising Federation (Toledo) Addy Awards with a Bronze Addy.
The other day I heard a lightning-quick disclaimer at the end of a radio spot. The voiceover was so fast and mixed at such a low volume that I couldn’t begin to understand it.
And that’s the point.
That advertiser didn’t want me - or anyone else - to hear those details.
My immediate response to that tactic is “what are they trying to hide?” And, just as quickly, any trust I may have had in the advertiser evaporates.
Even if you don’t use radio or TV to advertise, are you purposely hiding valuable or even necessary information from consumers in other channels?
Maybe it’s that fine print on a sales form. Or contact information that’s buried deep within your website. Or details about the restrictions on a warranty.
Ask yourself if discovering that information after the sale would anger your customers, or cause them to lose faith in you, or lessen their willingness to buy from you again.
Then ask, “As a consumer, would I want easy access to that information?”
If your buyers knew about that hidden information, might it jeopardize sales? Maybe. But are you willing to exchange a quick sale for disappointed customers who’ve lost trust in your brand?
MadAveGroup has earned a 2018 Silver Telly Award in the category of Branded Content / General - Promotional.
Since 1979, The Telly Awards has recognized creativity and effectiveness in video content and production. The competition attracts more than 12,000 entries annually from all 50 states and five continents.
Our winning video (below) is a darker but humorous self-promotional piece that stresses the importance of providing a great customer experience at every touchpoint.
Jason Crockett - Videographer / Editor
Terry Lesniewicz - Director of Photography
Chris Zaharias - Audio Post-Production
Greg Stawicki - Graphics
April Cochran - Production Assistant
Scott Greggory - Writer / Director
This morning - December 28th - I went to the shop of a service provider I use several times each year.
I walked right by the sign that said they’d be closed for the holidays until January 2nd and then tried to open the locked door.
Lucky for me, the owner happened to be in the building. She unlocked the door, welcomed me in, and graciously took care of me, despite the even bigger lobby sign that clearly listed the shop’s holiday schedule.
I didn’t see that sign either - until she made a joke about it.
I felt like a dope for missing the signs and for inconveniencing her, but the experience served as a reminder of two important points:
1) The world is not actively looking for your message on a sign, on a website, or in any other marketing channel. That seems to be doubly true when your message is (even temporarily) different from what your audience expects.
2) Consumer habit runs deep and, as marketers, we all need to work consistently and creatively if we wish to change or side-step certain behaviors.
When developing a strategy and deciding how your message will be presented, think like a consumer whose top priority is his or her own needs. That should be easy because that’s what you are. That’s what we all are! But when we’re crafting content for our own businesses, we tend to forget that. Suddenly, we believe that everyone actively thinks about our company or store.
They don’t. Not even your best customers.
Consider These Points
- Always make your message as simple to see and digest as possible. Use concise copy. And choose logical images that support that copy, not draw attention from it.
- Consider where you place your message. Will it be easy for your intended audience to see or hear when they need to see or hear it? Different people prefer to consume information in different ways, so use several channels to distribute your announcement.
- Does your message attract attention? Remember, your potential audience is probably not actively looking for the information you’re sharing, so design your message to interrupt the habit in which they’re currently engaged, whether that's buying a competitor’s product, making assumptions about what you do or don’t sell, or, yes, even trying to walk into your shop when it’s closed for the holidays.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
In other words, when you absolutely require an idea or a solution, you’ll work with what you have to come up with what you need.
You likely face limits with your work, maybe even several times per day: a small budget, older technology, an inexperienced team, not nearly enough time.
But the good news is that embracing those negatives can lead you down a creative path you may not have considered and, possibly, to better, more interesting results.
During my teen years, I was a skilled letterer. I could draw block letters by hand, properly kerned, straight across the page, all within the allotted horizontal space. But, as I got older, I was no longer satisfied with my level of precision. I couldn’t make the letters “perfect enough.” So, I started drawing them inconsistently on purpose, in different sizes, each with their own twists. The work became much less predictable and far more interesting. I still use that freeform style today.
In my spare time, I run a website and Facebook page for a friend who owns an antique store. I shoot all the pictures that I post. But there’s not a lot of elbow room in the shop, and sunshine doesn’t fall into every corner. So, I’ve adapted my photo style to accommodate the tight spaces and lower light. In the shop, I’m forced to stay closer to the piece I’m shooting, and often need to present it at a 45-degree angle or from above. But, the proximity lets me capture the object’s subtle features, the texture and patina, even a sense of its age - details I might not communicate if I weren’t forced into that different shooting style.
In both cases, I've harnessed negatives - whether it’s my own limitation or how my environment limits me. And in both cases, I believe the work is better because of that adaptation.
Ironically, too many options or too much freedom can be crippling, while working with fewer resources can kickstart your creativity by forcing you to think in different ways.
So, the next time you don’t have all the elements you think you need, use the fact that something is missing to take your work in a new direction. Or, when you DO have all the pieces but there’s still no magic happening, start taking pieces away to encourage yourself to think differently.
Over the years, Santa has set a pretty high standard. Consider a few of the things the big guy does and you’ll discover some takeaways that you can apply to your company.
1) Communicate the way your customers prefer - Reading letters hand-written in crayon may not appeal to many people over age 9, but Santa does it because he knows it’s important to his customers. How can you make it easier and more enjoyable for potential buyers to reach you?
• Add a live chat feature to your website?
• Increase call center staff to assist customers quicker or permit deeper conversations?
• Provide callers in queue with a call-back option?
• Make texting available to your customers?
2) Be predictably reliable - Santa delivers right on time. In fact, that’s what blows everyone’s mind about the guy. Despite an ever-growing customer base and the skyrocketing cost of reindeer chow, he comes through like clockwork every December 25th. Could you wow your clients by shortening turnaround times?
• Which production and delivery-related processes can you re-evaluate and tighten up?
• Would new partnerships allow you to provide quicker or more consistent delivery?
3) Embrace your weirdness - A red suit? That floppy lid? The belt on steroids? I mean, Santa wears some crazy threads, no doubt, but he makes ‘em work. The look is so his that no one can even think about swiping it. Have faith in what makes you unique, whether it’s your culture, your marketing philosophies or your branding. When those ideas are genuine and deeply held, they can distinguish you in the marketplace and as an employer.
4) Explore new distribution channels - Santa’s got the chimney thing cornered, but you know that when he first started sliding into fireplaces his friends were like, “You get into houses how?” Don’t be afraid to look into new or unconventional ways you can get your product to market.
• Can you partner with a complementary company, just as Wendy’s teamed with DoorDash and Uber Eats to get their food into more mouths?
• Are there less obvious connections you can make, such as when an animal rescue shelter placed their doggies in the lobby of an Asheville, North Carolina hotel? (Read the story.)
5) Do one thing and kill it - Nobody’s better at the gift game than Santa. The dude’s in a league of his own. Yet, he hasn’t over-extended his brand to jump on that Easter action or move into the birthday market. Yes, he works just one slice of the present pie, but he owns that slice.
• Are you providing so many services that you haven’t been able to master any of them? If so, consider how that may affect your brand and your ability to justifiably charge the higher price of an expert.
• How might you customize your product in a way that can be legally protected and allow you to claim its unique property as exclusive?
Digital marketing is a fast-paced, ever-changing discipline, so you may find it comforting that there are people who keep up with it every day. The experts at WebArt, our digital marketing agency, are those people.
Here are links to a few of their recent blog posts we think you’ll find valuable.
1) In his article “To Growth Hack or Not to Growth Hack,” Director of Digital Marketing Brad Timofeev writes about a practice that many large companies have employed to attract users to their products or services. But it’s not right for every company. Find out why.
2) Making sure that Google and Bing have your company’s correct contact information is crucial to your online success. If they don’t - and you’re not a WebArt client - you’ll need to reach out to the search engines yourself to have the info updated. That can be a frustrating process, according to WebArt PPC Analytics Specialist Jake Patterson. Read his post, “How to Work with Support Teams at Google and Bing Over the Phone.”
3) One of the recurring themes in our posts is the idea of keeping marketing content concise. A few examples: “Less Is More” from the BusinessVoice Blog and “Too Much Information” from the MadAveGroup Blog. Now, WebArt Content Developer Joel Sensenig takes on the topic with his post “Content: Why Shorter is Sweeter.”