4 Stubborn Business Myths

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Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life, nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.


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Business Cards: Why They’re Still an Important Marketing Tool in the Digital World

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With all of the talk about the importance of properly marketing your product or service, it’s important not to overlook the most valuable commodity of all: yourself. As much as that beautiful-looking flyer attracts the right type of attention for your product, a business card is designed to do the same for both your professional image and your career as a whole.

But do business cards still have a place in a digital world? In an era where finding someone is easier than ever thanks to tools like social media, do people still need to go through designing, printing, and handing out a business card? The answer is one that might surprise you.

Business Cards: By the Numbers

Just going off of statistics, it’s easy to see that the answer to the question “are business cards still an important tool in a digital world?” is a resounding YES. According to one study, there are about 10 billion(!) business cards printed in the United States each year – or roughly 27 million each day.

But diving deeper, it’s clear that business cards perform a function that goes far beyond just handing out contact information. They actually serve an important role in your business at large, too. For every 2,000 business cards that you pass out, you can expect your sales to increase by an average of 2.5%. Business cards do everything from show someone you’re serious to increase personal brand recognition and awareness.

One of the major strengths of print marketing and the use of business card is that they’re physical. They’re something tangible that people can hold in their hand and, most importantly, share with friends and other family members. In an era where people are getting bombarded by more digital messages than ever and emails can be deleted in seconds (and people can be muted on social networking sites like Twitter), never underestimate how essential this simple fact really is.

The Power of the First Impression

Just because business cards still serve a purpose does not mean that all business cards are created equally. There are a number of design tips that you can use to make the RIGHT kind of first impression the next time you hand out your card to a customer or at that next big networking event.

StatisticBrain estimates that prospective clients will hold onto a color-filled business card a full ten times longer than they will a standard white card. Color also increases the impact of engagement on a person’s ability to follow simple directions; this is an advantage too powerful to ignore.

Approximately seventy-two percent of people say that they judge the company or brand that a person works for based on the quality of their business card. Likewise, thirty-nine percent of those who responded to a survey said that they would choose NOT to do business with someone if they had a “cheap-looking” business card.

Business cards are still essential in a digital world, and that means you need to devote the time to doing them well.


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It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

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Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.


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Never Be Afraid to Take on the Big Boys

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Something strange is happening on the yogurt shelves: the most popular yogurt is not from a big maker like Dannon or Yoplait. It’s a product from a small, 12-year-old upstart from New York. In March, Bloomberg wrote that Chobani had overtaken Yoplait to become the most popular yogurt in the U.S. The story of how this independent took on the big brands and won has lessons for all of us.

Distinguish Yourself From Your Competitors

Big yogurt brands had become complacent and did not anticipate how new products would catch customers’ interests. Instead of sticking with the same types of yogurt already popular in the U.S., Chobani made their name with Greek yogurt, a thicker and richer product. By the time the larger yogurt companies introduced their own versions of the product, it was too late. Consumers had become loyal to the brands that made Greek yogurt popular.

If you craft your marketing materials and your products to fill a need that your competitors are not, that gives you a competitive edge. Look for what makes your product different from a bigger player in your market and offer what they don’t. By the time they are playing catch-up, you can be the leader.

Be Willing to Make Changes Quickly

Product development at big food companies can take years. At Chobani, a product will sometimes go from concept to trial in the space of a weekend.

In your marketing, if you see an opportunity, be willing to take it before your competition does. This requires a high degree of social listening and a willingness to take chances. Smaller and leaner organizations can adapt far more quickly, allowing them to be the ones who seize an opportunity.

Be Authentic

Millennials now make up the largest consumer cohort. Their priorities are different than the priorities of previous generations. They are less likely to do business with a company that they perceive as a large and impersonal conglomerate. Chobani was founded by a Kurdish immigrant who fled political turmoil in Turkey. After spending time in Europe, he arrived in the U.S. with $3,000 and a small suitcase. In the following years, he built a company that dominates the $3.6 billion Greek yogurt industry.

Do not try to look like one of the big companies in your industry. Portray yourself as the lean, quick, and effective organization that you are. A smaller company, for instance, has staff at the highest levels who are knowledgeable about all customers. This can give your customers a far more personal degree of customer service.

Make News

Over the past couple of years, Chobani has made news for its innovative policies. When the company began seeing large successes, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya responded by giving 10% of the company’s equity to employees and putting a generous 6-week parental leave policy into place.

What does your company do that is newsworthy? Those practices can build your image and give you more effective marketing than you can buy.

A company’s dominance in an industry is never certain. By taking advantage of opportunities that you have and the bigger players don’t, you can increase your own success.


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The Best Marketing Solves a Problem

diamondDiamonds are a girl’s best friend, right? Unfortunately, not always. After learning about some of the poor working conditions and high levels of violence associated with most diamonds on the market, many girls (and guys) have decided that a conventional diamond is not the ideal expression of their love. While some have turned to vintage pieces or alternate stones, one Los Angeles entrepreneur has provided a third option: high-quality jewels grown in a lab instead of under the ground.

Vanessa Stofenmacher did not know much about the jewelry business when she started VOW, her line of engagement, wedding, and promise rings. To cope with the limitations of current diamond-tracking laws, she opted to have the stones for her jewelry line made by Diamond Foundry, a laboratory that makes diamonds in California.

In her market research, she found that women in their twenties were likely to be concerned about the source of their diamonds. They typically did not mind wearing lab-grown stones as long as they looked as good as natural ones. This research made her line a success; the company, beginning with $8,000 in seed money, was valued at $3 million in 2016.

Don’t Be Afraid to Live Your Values

Many of us feel that, in business, our personal convictions should stop outside the doors. However, if we do not create products and marketing campaigns that align with our own values, the chances are good that they will not hit the mark with anyone else.

By choosing a product that she felt strongly about, Stofenmacher found the characteristic that makes her product line different from every other one out there.

Millennials, in particular, are happy to do business with companies that take an ethical stand. By doing something about your beliefs, you can increase connection and engagement.

Think Like Your Customer

The other thing that Stofenmacher did right was seizing an idea that had been troubling many people in the market for diamond rings.

Is there an issue in your industry that you are in a position to address? It does not have to be an ethical concern. It can be a common pain point, such as:

  • the amount of waste currently associated with a product.
  • the inconvenience of current ordering practices.
  • a lack of educational materials about your product and others like it.
  • an area where prices are out of line with consumer expectations.

By looking at what your customer cares about most, you can increase the chances of creating a product and a marketing campaign that will resonate with them.

Listen to Your Customers

How can you find out what people want? Just listen. Stofenmacher learned about the desire for ethical lab-grown stones by perusing Instagram. You can set up social listening on platforms that include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about in your industry. Many brands also use customer surveys in front of gated content to learn more.

Over time, you will find that your customers respond best when you directly address an unmet need. The marketing campaigns based on this concept will get higher levels of engagement, a better conversion rate, and will help you build long-lasting relationships that are good for you and your customers.


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The Conduit Theory in Practice – Speaker Willie Brown

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Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, never intended to have a political career when he was born. Brown was raised in a backwater town named Mineola, Texas, in 1934, a time when Texas and the South were not particularly conducive to the career dreams of African Americans. To find a better path, his family packed Brown on a train from Texas all the way to California. There, with the help of a professor, Brown found his calling at a state University and earned a law degree from the prestigious U.C. Hastings. However, he was yet to prove his greatest accomplishment.

In 1964, after a second try, Brown gained a seat in the California Assembly. There, he learned simply being unique didn’t get him much. He had to learn how to be a useful broker. In that respect, Brown quietly learned from his legislative tutors like Jesse Unruh and Philip Burton how to become a pivot point, a conduit between the many who want something and those with power. Positioning through legislative committees, Brown went from being a name in the Assembly to eventually to becoming its Speaker, one of the top five positions in state government. Brown held that chair for fifteen years, only to then retire and become the mayor of San Francisco in his later years.

Becoming A Conduit Point

For a business, Willie Brown’s story is an illustrative one; you don’t have to be biggest, most powerful player on the market to become instrumental. Brown, as an African American politician in the 1960s, was clearly not in the position to leapfrog right away to leadership or the Governor’s office. However, he did find a position that everyone needed and had to go through to get something. By identifying how and becoming a conduit point, Brown secured his future, which is what successful businesses do in their market.

A conduit point isn’t just limited to being between end retail customers and suppliers. Conduit businesses can easily do the same in the business-to-business market as well, often producing far greater revenues than they would on the retail side of things. However, positioning can be a challenge. One needs to see the entire market, not just a segment of it. Getting to the forest level instead of the weeds allows a business player to identify all the connection points and where being a conduit has the greatest potential for producing revenue. It also shows what is needed to be successful in that particular position. Sometimes some potential conduits are too challenging, and others may offer too little in reward for the effort. Picking the right market position takes some experience, which means a business needs to research well and study peers, suppliers, buyers, competitors, and middlemen. No one in a given market should be left out.

Willie Brown was an intensive study of his legislative peers, which is why he was able to position himself so well. He also took lessons from those more powerful than him rather than fighting them, using that knowledge to become one of the powerful ones himself. A growing business can learn a thing or two from his life example.


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Learn to Protect Yourself From the Inside

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Kingdoms have fallen, and wars have been lost because of betrayal. Although we all desire to foster an atmosphere of trust and dependence on one another within our companies, it would be foolish to underestimate the internal risks with reports and employees in this digital age.

The Case of Bradley Manning

The case of Bradley Manning is an illustrative example of how even the most secure agencies can be compromised from the inside. Private Manning worked as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army two years after enlisting in 2007. Then, in 2009, a major leak occurred that disclosed millions of classified documents from the military’s databases to the now-famous government leak website, Wikileaks. The identification of the source was unknown until Bradley Manning himself disclosed he was the source to a civilian. The conversations about that activity, and other functions Manning had in the military, were primarily out of boredom and disillusionment with the U.S. Army and its role in the Middle East. That discussion disclosing Manning as the source was then reported by the civilian, and Manning was arrested. He was eventually charged and sentenced to 35 years incarceration in a court martial for his actions releasing intelligence material. However, outgoing President Barack Obama decided to pardon Manning.

That Manning was pardoned or that he committed the damage he did to U.S. intelligence is beside the point. The real takeaway here is that he did not trip any flags during his enlistment, screening, and subsequent assignment to intelligence. And then, without any warning, Manning ends up becoming the source one of the top five most famous intelligence leaks in U.S. military history via the internet.

We all want to think the best of the employees and contractors who support our businesses. As a result, most employee policies are written with the assumption that no action will be taken until a threshold is met of unacceptable behavior. However, companies cannot reasonably operate with blind trust either, especially when managing sensitive data information. As in the case of Manning, it only took one action and one flash drive to walk away with as much as was lost in that case. So companies need to be proactive as well.

Begin with One, Two, Three

There are ways to stop data losses from the inside before they occur without having to be suspicious of good employees. Here are three of them:

1) Modularization of data access is a key defense.

By effectively limiting an employee to only the data area in the network needed to do his or her job, the employee cannot access anything else. This can be done through both network login authorizations, as well as pass-keys to different parts of the office building.

2) Keep logs of large data movements.

By having your network administrators can keep regular records of large data changes, you would be able to highlight issues to look into, such as large data transfers at night or on the weekend when nobody would regularly be working or connecting.

3) Learn to be proactive with training.

Companies can follow up regularly with training to teach employees to notice and proactively warn their superiors when they see something wrong. Employees are typically eager to help in this way because they are seen as part of the company defense to protect it and their own livelihood. This approach focuses on personal investment in the issue, which often gains very strong support in practice.

Again, we assume the best of employees, but we also need to be realistic about how easy damage can occur in the digital age. Practicing both trust and sound IT


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defense can protect a company far more than just a firewall alone.

Print Marketing: Never Underestimate the Value of Letting Someone Unplug

unplug-greenTechnology is all around us. As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, computers weren’t quite the ever-present part of our lives that they are today. They were usually reserved for when you got home from a hard day at work or school and not something you used all day every day. Flash forward to today, where 77% of adults in the United States own a smartphone according to Pew Research – a device that’s literally more powerful than the combined computing that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s.

All of this may underline how important our digital lives are becoming with each passing day, but it also helps to illustrate perhaps the most critical benefit that only print marketing collateral can bring to the table: that it isn’t digital at all.

The Digital Divide

Technology addiction, and specifically smartphone addiction, is a very real concern across the United States. According to one study, 89% of Americans check their smartphones “at least one or two times a day.” That may not seem too bad, but when you consider that 36% admit to “constantly checking and using” their phones, things get a little more concerning.

Of those surveyed, 21% of people said that they checked their smartphone at least once every hour. When you add in people between the ages of 18 and 24, that number rises to 36%. According to another study by IDC Research, 80% of smartphone users, in particular, check their mobile devices within fifteen minutes of waking up in the morning. Taking a shower? Brushing your teeth? Getting breakfast ready? All of these things take a back seat to finding out what your friends are up to on Facebook or checking your work email account for new messages.

While this may sound alarming, it again perfectly illustrates one of the reasons why print marketing is, and will always be, so valuable. Whether you realize it or not, you’re giving someone a chance to unplug. You’re giving them permission to take a breather from the internet and to check in with something tangible, something that they can hold in their hands, and something that they can pass along to their friends. You’re letting them tap into an experience – a physical one, at that – that people don’t get nearly enough of these days.

What This Means For Direct Mail

This digital divide is likely a large part of the reason why in the last ten years, direct mail response rates have shot up 14%. What else happened during the last ten years, you ask? That’s right – the Apple iPhone was released in 2007 and the smartphone explosion occurred, changing large portions of our lives for all time.

According to yet another survey, an incredible 92% of younger shoppers say they actually prefer direct mail when it comes time to make purchasing decisions – the same demographic who check their phones constantly. These ideas may seem like they’re in conflict with one another, but they really aren’t.

With print marketing, you’re giving people an opportunity to do something they want more of but just can’t seem to find time for: stop thinking about their digital lives for a minute or two so that they can focus on the real world around them. If anything, this is something that is only going to get MORE precious as time goes on, which is why print marketing is and will always be one of the most effective ways to reach out to someone to make a strong, emotional connection that benefits you both.


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Spring Cleaning Tips For The Office

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When you think about it, you spend more time at your office than in your own home, not counting sleeping hours of course. Consequently, the atmosphere of your office, whether it be neat or disorganized, will greatly affect you and your employees in a myriad of ways. Therefore, learning how to keep your office clean is important. Before getting to the cleaning tips, though, let’s look at why a clean office is imperative.

A Disorganized/Dirty Office Is:

  • Unprofessional: If your office is cluttered, dusty, or generally disorganized, you will instantly appear less professional to clients/customers. You might say, “I’m too busy working to clean up after myself.” Well, consider the appearance of your office as you would your own. Would you come to work in your bathrobe simply because it took more time to get dressed?
  • Less Productive: Running a successful business is all about productivity. Getting things accomplished is the end goal. If you spend an hour looking for a particular folder under piles of other files and perhaps old take-out cups, is that a productive way to do business? Of course, it isn’t. By not having a place for everything and keeping everything in its place you are actually wasting billable hours.
  • Can Make You Sick: A dusty, dirty office can also cause sickness in a person who has a sensitivity to dust or allergens. Therefore, as a business owner, you might lose a part of your team to sickness simply because your work environment isn’t healthy. This reduces productivity simply by cutting down manpower.

Spring Cleaning Tips

Benjamin Disraeli, an author who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1800s, said the following about the importance of and commitment to cleanliness in all aspects of life:

“Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

This quote exemplifies the importance of cleanliness perfectly. It also reminds us that cleaning isn’t always instinctual. That’s why a checklist of sorts is as worthwhile as a guide on whipping your office into shape this spring.

Primary Focus Areas

There are three basic areas you should focus on when cleaning your office. These include your workspace, your paperwork, and your technology. There are, of course, more areas to think about, such as the floors, bathrooms, and such, but just getting these three basic areas organized will go a long way towards creating a more productive working environment.

1) Organize Your Workspace

This is relatively easy; it just takes time. Simply go through your desk and throw away the trash. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people don’t do this basic step. Get rid of/recycle old water bottles, carry-out cartons, and drinks. Also, donate or throw away anything you don’t use or that doesn’t work. Why keep a calculator that doesn’t function properly or hang on to a pencil that’s too small to write with? Simply getting rid of all the stuff you don’t need or use on and around your desk will help immensely.

2) Reduce Paper Work

As you know, paperwork is never ending, and if you don’t have a great file/shred system in place, it can really get out of hand. Part of cleaning off your workspace should include going through and shredding documents you no longer need. If you do need to keep something, create an easy-to-follow filing system to get these files off your desk.

3) Clean Your Technology

This tip should be taken literally, as in taking your computer apart and dusting it with the proper tools, as well as metaphorically. Clean the inside of your computer by deleting old emails and archiving those you need to keep.It’s also a great time to back up your server if you have one or update old software.

If you commit to putting things away at the end of every day, your office will never get as unorganized as it was. You might have to allow a few days for cleaning, but the increased production, as well as the creation of a more professional workspace, is well worth the time investment.


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What You Need to Know About Facebook’s New Mix Modeling Portal

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We’ve written extensively in the past about how when it comes to digital and print marketing, you’re not looking at an either/or proposition. Often, businesses of all sizes are finding great success embracing the best of both worlds – reaching out to the customers who are most receptive to print channels via traditional methods and using digital resources when they’re most appropriate. We’ve even written about how you can take the lessons learned online and use them to make your print strategies even stronger.

We’re not the only people who share this opinion; it would seem. Facebook has recently launched a mixed marketing portal designed to make it easier than ever for businesses to compare Facebook-based advertisements to television, print, and other types of collateral. While this does mean big things for people using Facebook as an advertising platform, what it means for print marketers is even more interesting.

What Facebook is Doing

The social networking giant’s mix modeling portal for marketers is a significant extension of an existing partnership. Over the course of the past few years, Facebook has teamed with Nielsen (the people who tell you how many people watch the Super Bowl each year, among other things), comScore (the people who focus on digital, TV and movie analytics), DoubleVerify (a company that aims to “authenticate the quality of each digital media impression”), and others. This has all been done to provide clear metrics on how far a Facebook ad reaches, how many impressions it gets, its ultimate performance, and more.

For advertisers that rely heavily on Facebook, this means that they now have access to twenty-four different third party measurement partners to track the performance of their ads around the world, see how their ads are comparing against similar ads running in the world of print and more.

For print-based marketers, this also thankfully means that the reverse is true, too.

What This Means For You

Even if you don’t heavily advertise on Facebook, this new model is still something to pay close attention to because of the metrics at play. It’s another example of the ever-important concept of “pay attention to what is working online and use it to strengthen the foundation of your print campaigns.” Thanks to Facebook, this just got a whole lot easier.

By giving advertisers the ability to compare a successful Facebook ad to other elements of their campaign like print, people who DO happen to be heavy print advertisers can essentially come in from the opposite angle and learn just as much. It’s all a matter of perspective – the marketing mix modeling portal can be used to look at one of your successful print ads, compare it to ads that are running on Facebook and use that actionable information to feed back into the print campaign to help achieve your desired outcomes.

Print and digital advertising have historically been measured in very different ways, but thanks to Facebook we just took a big leap closer to a uniform standard that can be used in both situations. You can use the Facebook MMM Portal to see how impressions reach and other metrics translate into the real world and back again.


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