Being a Fractional CMO took on a new meaning in 2020 as my clients not only needed to pivot their marketing strategies to deal with a global pandemic, but many had to make leaps into the digital transformation of business and marketing tactics. I’ve always believed that helping small companies develop their marketing strategies is a “hands-on” responsibility, and in 2020 it became even more relevant that fractional leaders must help their clients get the work done.
For A-Best Sew & Vac in Albert Lea, Minnesota, 2020 has been a tumultuous year at best. The national top 20 sewing machine retailer was already in the process of developing a marketing plan and tactics to better engage customers through email, web and video when their brick and mortar operations nearly came to a halt in March 2020. As a specialty retailer emphasizing in-store experience, service, education, and events as primary reasons customers drive from 50-100 miles to shop, they needed to quickly respond to the needs of their customers and care for them in new and unique ways.
Luckily, their scope of products and services (vacuums, cleaning supplies and air purification) kept their doors open during the shutdown as an essential business. And customers are generally comfortable coming to the large showroom where social distancing is easy and the staff are like family. But how would customers know they could come? And what about those who didn’t want to go out? And without large education and sales events to promote the newest makes and models of sewing machines and vacuums, how would the company survive?
How did Marcomm end up working with a specialty retailer in southern Minnesota?
My connection to A-Best began in the fall of 2019 when the owners (whom I have known for some time) asked me to come in a perform an operational gap assessment. They were suffering from internal communication issues and a lack of having the right team members in defined roles. The business had experienced several years of double-digit growth and had organically moved out of being a small family business to a multi-faceted product and service company – they were feeling stretched (and that was before COVID). Ultimately, I began working with A-Best as a consultant in both operations and marketing, helping them develop processes, recruit and hire staff and develop marketing efforts.
As a fractional marketing leader for the company, working with the internal team to strategize and plan amidst COVID was the first challenge. Getting marketing and promotion assets built and deployed was another story altogether. A-Best doesn’t have internal marketing – they have primarily grown through word of mouth, local advertising and event promotion. Their website was already a target for re-design, and their use of social media was nearly non-existent. They depend on clients coming to their 25,000 square foot superstore. They needed a plan to stay engaged – to pull customers into the store in safe and responsible ways, and to serve those who didn’t want to come in and shop as well.
Operationally, they needed to address how to serve customers – both in-store and at home. A-Best deployed pickup and delivery service for customers in a nearly 70-mile radius. Next they needed to engage customers so they would think about A-Best consistently and turn to their local A-Best team to serve them (instead of going to the online market). They had the benefit of great customer ratings and a significant database – now to deploy a marketing plan and tactics that kept customers loyal and made them feel they were important regardless of how they shopped. It was time to get creative and figure out how get the work done on tight timelines and an affordable budget.
Tackling a website redesign and launch in eight weeks for less than $15k
Remember that website ready for redesign? By April 2020 I had helped them developed a plan, and we began building a site, but A-Best’s local resources weren’t hitting the mark. The site plan required content, visual assets and updating brand standards, in addition to a webmaster and WordPress guru. Now I was truly getting outside of my element … while I can write absolutely anything, its been too many years (and too many software upgrades) for me to edit images and build web pages – besides the reality that no client wants to pay CMO rates for web production. And to top off the challenge, A-Best had a limited budget (really limited).
The last time I was involved in a major website project, we had a web firm, writer, designer, plus I had a full-time marketing manager to oversee the project. And we had a budget of $60k and nearly six months from project development to launch. Working with A-Best during COVID to build a marketing website to better engage customers was a different story. We needed fast, good and affordable. I’m talking a complete WordPress website from scratch in less than eight weeks for less than $15k. AND, once it was launched, A-Best needed resources to develop fresh content, manage the blog and track the analytics all in a reasonable monthly budget.
This was tough… it required creativity, ingenuity and turning around (literally) to my team at Marcomm. I remembered in this moment of brilliance … “I’m also fractional CMO for one of the most prominent and experienced marketing staffing companies in the Twin Cities. We have access to a lot of talent … and we are pretty creative when times get tough.” I thought to myself, “I’m good at building teams … what if Marcomm built A-Best a fractional team? We could build a website, develop content, produce videos, blog, develop social media channels, manage their email – whatever they require? And with a specific budget we can plan and prioritize, so the most important work always gets done.” So, we did.
A-Best’s fractional marketing team now includes a digital marketing strategist, a web production specialist and a video production specialist. We built the website in eight weeks, www.myabest.com. It continues to improve as the team adds blog content, featured products and classes. The team has integrated A-Best blog content with their weekly newsletter to increase interest and engagement. They restarted their Facebook efforts, and the Marcomm team collaborates weekly with one of the store’s team to keep Facebook fresh and interesting. Efforts have been combined with their local marketing company to compliment their print media and direct mail efforts with the online footprint. And documented brand standards now provide consistency across marketing.
- Since the website launch in July total visitors to the A-Best website is up by 42% and session length has increased 25%
- Email open rate is 17% (compared to the industry’s 8%) and click-through rates to web content consistently exceeds 10% (compared with the standard of 8.5%)
- Since Facebook posting was increased one month ago, A-Best’s reach has increased by 391%, post engagement is up 368% and page likes are up 134%
I still maintain my consultative role with A-Best as fractional leader working on strategies and plans across the organization. For all things marketing, I help them make the best decisions regarding how to resource the work, some stays local, some is done in-house, and when it comes to digital marketing efforts, Marcomm gets the work done. The Marcomm fractional marketing team who serves A-Best works on website updates, weekly blogging, email marketing, product videos, social media and more.
Marcomm works in a very transparent manner with our fractional clients. We typically work a prioritized list of marketing deliverables within a set monthly budget – ensuring the most important work gets done in the most productive way possible. We can add and subtract resources like web development and video production as needed and take on overflow work from maxed out marketing teams. Sometimes we work on a project, sometimes we fill an on-going gap or part-time need and for companies like A-Best we’re their ongoing fractional marketing team for all things digital.
Building a fractional marketing team for A-Best has helped Marcomm develop a fractional marketing team service that we deploy internally for ourselves at Marcomm, as well as working with other small business clients who either don’t have internal marketing at all, or need to support their marketing team with additional resources. Sometimes when you go the extra mile to serve a client, you develop a business model that serves many clients. Thank you to A-Best Sew & Vac for giving us the chance to build new and unique ways to serve our clients!
A-Best is not alone seeking a new way to get marketing work done. Many small businesses are facing similar challenges – some COVID related, and many routine challenges where traditional marketing services are simply not meeting all the needs. If you’re struggling to “get the work done” on your marketing projects and plans, talk to Marcomm. Let us share how we build fractional teams to support marketing.
Check out my recent blog on building fractional marketing teams. You’ll see how we address the following challenges to getting marketing work done.
- Do you need help defining and documenting your marketing strategy? Did it change due to COVID? Do you need strategic alignment or support at a leadership or sales level?
- Do you need a marketing plan written? Do you need your marketing distribution developed and refined? Do you need a content plan and calendar managed to consistently deliver marketing tactics?
- Does your website need updating? Do you struggle to develop and deliver content and sales assets consistently? Do you need help managing the right social channels to reach your target audience?
- And do you need the technical skills that are often costly to procure and time consuming to manage like web development and video production?