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When we dreamed up this contest offering free marketing services, we had no idea what kind of traction we’d get and what quality of entrants we’d see. The reality, however, far exceeded what we had imagined. When the team asked me how many entries I was hoping for, I shot for the stars and said 100, secretly hoping that we would get any.

When that first entry came in, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and thought, “At least we have a winner.” When I received the next four, I exhaled again because we had enough to name the five finalists our process called for. Everything on top of that was gravy. And, man, did we get gravy!

What’s that adage about aiming for the stars and landing on the moon? I think that’s the best description of what happened with our contest. We were thrilled by the number of entries we received and amazed by the quality of them.

I was elated to see entries from all around New England. Our entrants came from four of the six New England states. (What’s up, Maine and Vermont?) But, the bulk of the entries did come from New Hampshire companies, which makes sense seeing as our network is strongest here. While we did a media push and reached out to Chambers of Commerce throughout New England, the word seemed to spread fastest and deepest throughout New Hampshire.

As part of the entry, we asked people to tell us what they’d like to accomplish with a year of free marketing services, and we got some really thoughtful and interesting answers.

One company said they wanted to increase visibility in their marketplace and increase one of their key metrics from X% to Y%. Another said they wanted to become less reliant on incoming phone calls for leads. Most of the companies wanted help reaching more of their target audience. Some wanted support with branding. Some asked specifically for a website redesign. Several were looking for the marketing support that would lead to increased revenues — and had plans for how to spend that increase, from adding staff to expanding operations.

Some companies admitted to not knowing enough about modern marketing practices to be successful on their own. Others confessed that their traditional marketing approach wasn’t producing the results they needed.

When the entry period was complete, the team and I sat down to do some review and analysis of the companies that entered. Our task was to trim the list to five finalists, which would then be profiled on a landing page on our website. The process would then be opened up to a public vote, with each company able to activate their network to vote for them.

We ran into one problem: we couldn’t narrow down to just five companies. There were enough strong candidates that we inserted another step to help us make our decision. Each of the “semi”-finalists was asked to answer a handful of questions that told us a little more about the company.

Among other details, one of the things that we were looking for was whether the entrant was the CEO/principal/owner of the company and, if they weren’t, did the company owner at least know that they had entered the contest. Beyond that, we wanted to know whether that CEO/principal/owner would be involved in the process, should they be the winner.

I have found through the years that we have the best success when the person most invested or ultimately responsible for the business overall is involved with our work. I attribute this to a number of interrelated factors:

  1. There’s a great deal of education that goes along with our work. While people may have a passing understanding of some digital marketing services, they don’t likely have a true understanding of what we mean when we say them. As I’ve said before, the kind of marketing we do is like a Picasso: it takes things you may already be familiar with — a nose, two eyes, two ears and a chin — and rearranges them into a very different picture. In this case, the elements can include your website, social media, a blog and email. You may think you know how each of these things “works” but when you combine them into a strategic program, they create a completely different picture.
  2. The things we’re doing don’t happen overnight. Whether we’re building a new website or trying to earn your site better positioning in search results, these things take time. Remember the old adage about turning a battleship? A similar theory plays out here. The company may not be moving at a full head of steam in one direction, but it’s possible they’re at a standstill. Whether we’re changing direction or generating enough energy to get the ship moving, it takes some time. If the business owner or manager isn’t involved in these projects, then they don’t understand where we’re at, whether we’re making progress, and how much longer until we “get there.” Additionally, much of the work during this phase is likely to be on our end, so it may look like “nothing’s happening.” One of our worst-case scenarios would be if someone pulled the plug a few months into the process because there wasn’t enough visible progress. That would be a waste of everyone’s time and resources.
  3. Ultimately, the business owner or manager will be making the financial decisions about the work we’re doing. They set the priorities for the company and they have the bird’s eye view of how our work fits in with other things that may be going on. We want that person to have a true understanding not only of what we’re working on at the moment, but also of our shared goals and how we’re hoping to achieve them using digital marketing services.
  4. Finally, we know that culture starts at the top. If the person with the most investment or accountability for that business doesn’t think our work is important enough to be involved in, that sends a message to others in the company. In most cases, our clients don’t have a dedicated marketing team or department, so there’s not usually someone in the company who has been tasked with prioritizing marketing. (It’s probably on someone’s to-do list, but it’s usually not their first priority.)

Once we got the replies from the “semi”-finalists, including the information about the business owner and whether they would be involved in the process, we were able to finally select our five finalists and I had the tough job of communicating with those who didn’t make it through to the next phase.

Then, on August 15, as planned, we announced our finalists, and opened up a two-week voting period that would determine the winner. The finalists are:

We wish each of the companies the best of luck!

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