Tools & Tips for Effective B2B Marketing

guest: Adam Smartschan

This week, Joe is joined by Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer at B2B marketing agency, Altitude Marketing. They discuss his background in the newspaper industry and eventual transition into marketing as a writer and eventually finding his way to strategy. Adam provides insight on why it is important to not just create something that “looks good”, and shares some of the useful tools Altitude uses on a day-to-day basis such as Hemingway, and Unbounce.

Episode Transcript

Joe Barsness 0:06
Thanks for joining us on mind your own marketing business. I’m Joe Barsness, head of web and mobile development team fjorge, and today in our show, we’ll be talking with Adam Smartschan about his full service integrated b2b agency altitude marketing. Welcome to the show, Adam. Happy to be here, Joe. All right. Thank you for doing this remotely in the COVID-19 times, so please excuse any background noise on on either end for this show. Adam, I want to jump right in. Can you tell me a little bit and about your agency altitude?

Adam Smartschan 0:50
Absolutely be happy to. So we just turned 16 years old last week. Happy birthday to us. We, as you noted are a full service b2b agency The core model is that we can be your entire marketing department. We can drop in here and do everything from creative to web, to content to social to PR. In many cases, we also fill holes within larger departments. So say you have three to four folks internally doing a variety of things, but you need to increase your content bandwidth, or you need support with a product launch or marketing strategy. We’re able to come in as a point solution provider as well.

Joe Barsness 1:29
Got it. Can you tell us where your offices located because we’re in Minneapolis and I know you’re a ways away so tell the guests where you where you guys are located and then about how many full time equivalents do you have?

Adam Smartschan 1:41
Absolutely. We are ways away. So we are in mass, Pennsylvania, which you’ve never heard of. We are outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania, which you may have heard of from the Billy Joel song which actually isn’t about Allentown but we won’t dive into that on a Mac we are do west of New York City do north of Philadelphia about an hour from either one In terms of full time equivalents believe the current count is 23 or 24. would normally say here in amass. However, we are scattered all over eastern Pennsylvania at the moment at our respective homes.

Joe Barsness 2:12
Great, great. Thanks for sharing a little bit of an overview about altitude. I want to know, going a little ways back in your career when we did some prep. I thought you had an interesting background. Tell us about how you got to where you are,

Adam Smartschan 2:26
how I got to where I am, I am probably pretty unique there, at least I would imagine. So like a lot of folks back in the 90s and early 2000s. I was in newspapers. Newspapers are smaller than they used to be, unfortunately, which is a little sad, but so it goes. But back in 1999 2000 2001, this thing called the internet was starting to happen. So we had these wild ideas at the Cape Cod times and the Patriot ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts in the morning call here in Allentown. That we would start to put content online. Now, in these days, what did that consist of? Well, it was basically at 1am, you would grab everything out of the content management system, copy and paste it onto the web, and it will all go live at 6am. Alongside the paper. Obviously, things have have evolved quite a bit since then. the lifeblood of most media now is digital and is online. Now what was neat, for me personally, is I was in sports. I ran National Sports for the metro chain, which you may remember in Philly, New York and Boston in years back. So what does that entail? Well, it’s a lot of analytics. It’s a lot of analysis. It is very, very tight and strict deadlines, all of which translates frankly, really well to the world of marketing and frankly, really, really well to the world of b2b marketing. So the transition from me going from a newspaper into a content producer role here at altitude, and since then, up through you know, Director of content through a VP of innovation. And now my current role as chief strategy officer was actually pretty smooth. It was very interesting. So if there’s a time for unsolicited advice, it’s for young folks who learn to write, learn to communicate really well, and very clearly, and more than anything else, be able to work flexibly and hit deadlines that seem pretty impossible.

Joe Barsness 4:24
Yeah, that’s great. And you use a lot of those skills in what you’re doing today. Right, as you described,

Adam Smartschan 4:30
correct, literally constantly. Every single thing I learned at a newspaper has translated over.

Joe Barsness 4:36
Got it? Was there something a decision point when you transferred from Is it because of the the the downturn in the newspapers or did you see yourself being in the place that you are always back?

Adam Smartschan 4:50
The honest answer to that is is what I was doing to papers was an amazing job in my 20s. Right now you’re 2324 years old, you’re cool with working no four to 12 It’s pretty fantastic to be covering, you know, the Patriots like I was doing and covering the flyers like I did for a while and cover us soccer and MLS for a while. That’s all, that’s all really neat. But now we’re talking, you know, 10 years ago at this point, so things were starting to decline the writing was was on the wall when it came to newspapers, especially and media in general. And at some point, you know, you kind of the the four to 12, when your wife’s working a nine to five loses its appeal after a little while. So she and I both went from the media side into the marketing side of things actually work in the same schedule now, which enables us to, I would say, normally go to the office and have a normal life. But right now it’s you know, she goes to one guest bedroom, I go to another guest bedroom, and that’s our commute.

Joe Barsness 5:47
There you go. So, in your, in your career with altitude, what’s the coolest thing that you’ve done? as a partner there?

Adam Smartschan 5:57
Absolutely. So It’s a really interesting agency. Because like I said, we’re a pure play b2b agency. And within that, we are at our best when we’re working in weird and obscure places. So here as a partner, you know, not just me, but but everyone in the agency gets to learn, frankly, weird things, which is kind of neat, right? I had no idea how pet food was made at scale, right? And now have I seen a 55 gallon drum of kangaroo slurry in my career? Yeah, I have neat or not, I will tell you, my dog did not leave me alone for a couple of days after that one. You know, and, you know, learning about things like derivative accounting and the way fortune 100 companies protect themselves from, you know, currency changes, right? That’s pretty neat stuff. If you have a bit of a nerdy bent to you. The way that that the family entertainment and amusement park space really works behind the scenes, the way that the attractions that we all go to with our kids. actually created and commercialized. So just this, this way that we are able here to deal with really neat and really nice spaces, and learn, like I said, what goes on behind the scenes. But more than that, be able to help these companies turn something that they do really well into something that is effectively commercialized.

Joe Barsness 7:21
Yeah, that’s really cool. I think, you know, some people have an opportunity to really get in, in the weeds with some of their clients and learn about their production and beyond. And that’s always an interesting thing that you get different insights into, and it sounds like you’ve had a chance to do a few different few different things. In that case,

Adam Smartschan 7:44
a few is a good way of putting it I pretty much guarantee that’s the first time and probably the last time the words kangaroo slurry appears on your show. Right.

Joe Barsness 7:53
Alright, so I want to transition a little bit and thanks for the background on you and your business and your team. I want to talk a little bit about the type of work that you do. Can you give a list some listeners a pointer to and on how you do the type of work you do effectively?

Adam Smartschan 8:14
Absolutely. So the core of everything we do is strategy. And that’s something that almost every agency is going to say, but but for us it is. It’s true in spades. We can go and execute tactically, spin something up tomorrow, and have it look really good and have it maybe resonate with the market. The fact of the matter is our clients are making an investment in us, they’re making an investment, the relationship and they’re making an investment in themselves. So what we need to do early on is focus, you know, anywhere from weeks to months into not only building the brand, but building the plan and the strategy for the brand. So that’s the visuals obviously, that moves into the verbals, right, the way one thinks talks and writes and feels about the brand. And then it goes into the audience, right? Who are we trying to reach? And how are we likely to reach them? So that’s our strategic team. And then that, you know, really works its way down into everything else that we do. You know, an editorial calendar isn’t just a list of blog topics or articles. It’s a strategy, right? It’s something that is put together with the goals of you know, could be SEO, right? It could be no thought leadership out in the marketplace, it could be establishing personal brand for a member or members of the C suite. Right? No creative here really comes again, from that strategy. Just about any agency can make something that looks good. We have some amazing creatives, who, number one, they make things that look good, but number two, make things that look good, that resonate with the audience and actually drive real business results. And same goes down to the web, right? You can create a website. You guys know that Very well you can create a website, but can you create a website that number one’s going to convert to friend number two is going to attract. And number three performs really well. Right? It’s very difficult these days to make something that you know, number one hits, every accessibility standard hits every performance standard. So it’s really all it’s all much deeper than it seems at the top. But when you really get into things and are really able to plan effectively, like I said, strategize effectively, like I said, and create a hole that’s greater than the sum of the parts, then you’ve really done something special,

Joe Barsness 10:33
right? A little technical knowledge goes a long way and

Adam Smartschan 10:36
a little technical knowledge goes a long way in this world. Absolutely. What

Joe Barsness 10:42
what are the what are I always like, do you feel are the common myths or misconceptions about what you do on a daily basis?

Adam Smartschan 10:51
So I think the the biggest one, and this sounds a little flip, but it’s that we are Putting the voice of a brand out there. And what do I mean by that? Well, the expression that we’re fond of here is that your feelings and my feelings don’t matter, right? At the end of the day, if I don’t like purple, but my target audience loves purple, I need to make something that’s purple. Okay, if I have something to say to the market, it doesn’t really matter what I have to say to the market, what the market wants and what the market needs. So when we’ve worked with clients who are willing and able to approach it from that perspective, which is to say, they’re going out there and not saying, here’s what I think here’s what I feel, here’s what I believe in, here’s what I want. It’s, here’s how I meet a pressing need that actually exists and do it in a way again, that is going to resonate with the market. That’s where they see the most success.

Joe Barsness 11:54
Got it? Yeah, I’ve had. I’ve had some experience and in a little bit with the your example that you give it Maybe a little flipped as well. So my first job out of college, I was a marketing major and business major and I went to Target in Minneapolis that’s a large employer of newly graduated individuals. And my first assignment was on the merchant side. So buying and I was buying infant clothing as a 22 year old male who did not know what a one z was when I went to my first purchasing meeting. And what I also had was a number of very fashion focused coworkers. And I realized that what my role was on this team was to steer clear of the I think this is cute. I think this is pretty I think this is this it I was there to go okay. But is everybody going to think that right? And I was kind of on the opposite. at end of the spectrum, so it was a very interesting couple years in that department as a 22 year old male with no fashion experience and no child experience buying clothing for infants. But when I got when I had children later, that was very helpful.

Adam Smartschan 13:17

Joe Barsness 13:18
So that’s kind of taking your, your misconception and kind of putting what how, you know, I ran into that and why best practices are what you feel you have to go with what your clients are going to use versus what you personally think is going to be best precisely. Great. Cool. Thank you for sharing. I want to delve in to a little bit deeper into some of the things that we talked about in preparation. And so I want to talk a little bit about how you, your team does your work effectively. Right. So How’re you doing? And what are the tools that you’re using? What are the? What are the different things that you guys go to on a daily basis?

Adam Smartschan 14:10
Absolutely. So as you would imagine that that is very different department by department. I will say that for me, you know, I begin in my day in Excel, I happen to have a lot of good fun in Excel. I’m relatively rare in that respect when it comes to the creative side of the agency, but that’s okay. On the content side, I will say one thing that we can’t live without is a tool called Hemingway. I believe it’s Hemingway app calm. It’s really tremendous as a writing tool. And so what it does is it essentially in real time, will point out your sentences that are too long, it will point out unnecessary adverbs. It will point out where there’s a simpler word or simpler turn of phrase that you could be using. So why does that matter? Well, number one, readability is an underpinning of SEO which is fantastic. But number two, it makes your content that much more accessible, and really makes you think and budget for every single word, every single piece of punctuation that you’re using. So, left to your own devices, it’s very easy to know. Like I said, overly use adverbs to get way too verbose. You know, to go with M dash upon m dash and semi colon upon semi colon. Hemingway breaks, you have that by literally highlighting the stuff you should change and saying, look, change this. So huge fan of that. Wow.

Joe Barsness 15:30
Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Yeah. Is there anything else that you guys use?

Adam Smartschan 15:34
Yeah, so on the design and web side of things. We are a sketch shop, you know, everyone has their favorite prototyping application. We happen to like sketch quite a bit. They’ve rolled out their cloud here in the last year or so it’s gotten really nice as as far as a workflow tool as far as the sharing tool. When you layer in some of the third party plugins can actually create very powerful prototypes. Which have enabled us to get work done a whole lot faster and a whole lot easier than we used to. You don’t make a client. Think about something, here’s what it could look like imagine you’re actually able to show them very, very rapidly.

Joe Barsness 16:13
Got it? Yeah, we use that quite a bit. What else? Anything else?

Adam Smartschan 16:17
Sure. So another big one for us that we use, in a lot of ways is a tool called unbounce. You might be familiar with unbounce as a landing page builder. That’s how it came to market quite a while ago. That’s how it grew. But really, what it is, is a very powerful, almost universal builder on the web. You know, if you imagine a completely no code, very lightweight CMS that’s self hosted. That’s what unbounce is. And that’s enabled us to really push some bounds and really change some workflows that, frankly, wouldn’t have been possible in the past. I’ll tell you, you know, WordPress development, which is typically how we do things is anywhere from a three to four A month process if you’re going soup to nuts, I mean, there’s four to five weeks of programming in there completely non negotiable. With unbounce, we stood up sites in literally a day. Now they’re their single paid sites, you know, sometimes you’ll have pop up functionality or pastor links and other pieces like that. So it’s not going to be as robust as as a full on WordPress build or another enterprise CMS. But the ability to do that is is completely invaluable when we have a tight deadline, or we have to respond to an ongoing scenario, frankly, like COVID, very, very rapidly without the need to go in and work on the code or the programming side of things. Got it?

Joe Barsness 17:39
And that’s a tool that you guys have used quite a bit correct.

Adam Smartschan 17:42
Absolutely, literally couldn’t live without it a core strategic partner of ours that they’re just fantastic to work with. But anything from conversion rate optimization to like I said, landing pages for digital ads, which is your more traditional use case. We built you know what amount to conference apps right mobile apps that someone can use when they’re, you know, at a conference, which is something that we might do again in the future. Now, using their tool, it’s all hosted right there. It’s all built right there. It’s all very rapid, really couldn’t, couldn’t say enough good things about it.

Joe Barsness 18:14
Got a couple questions about it. Is it? How what’s the Is there a monthly cost or an ongoing cost that you’re paying for this? As a user?

Adam Smartschan 18:27
Yeah, yes. So they have some relatively lightweight plans, starting probably around $50 a month. And then, you know, getting up into into the hundreds, if you’re using it very, very heavily. Ultimately, it’s throttled by the number of pages or sites you’re able to build the number of landing pages, or sticky bars or pop ups. And then finally, there’s, there’s restrictions around traffic.

Joe Barsness 18:48
Yeah, got it. And are there any things that our users or our listeners, Excuse me, could benefit from inexperienced user telling me like here are the like The biggest pros and maybe a couple cons to using as a landing page creator.

Adam Smartschan 19:05
Absolutely. So I will tell you two things I wish I had known when I started with it. Number one, label your elements, label your elements, label your elements. On a small page, it’s no big deal. If you have five or six images, when you do something bigger, like a conference app, and you have 400, individual textboxes going on, it’s really helpful to be able to know where they are, know what they are, and then be able to go and rapidly search them out, change them, any of those things. And then second to that is one thing that gets a little funny with it is it doesn’t work on a fully fluid responsive grid. So what do I mean by that? Well, a typical site like I said, that will build and WordPress is responding. Constantly, even between breakpoints right items are resizing, you know items are moving, depending on where you’re at. unbounce uses a static breakpoint at around 600 pixel So if you’re above 600, it’s going to show the desktop view, if you’re at or below 600, it’s going to show your mobile view. And what it does is it will actually crop from the right hand side, when you get to smaller browsers that are still bigger than 600. So if someone’s on a small laptop, and the browser is will say, 800 pixels wide, they are actually going to see a cropped version of your page and you’re going to lose a lot of your content on the right edge. So we always advise our team and we advise our clients to keep any critical items like call to action, or big important copy towards the left hand side of the page at the very worst to the middle of the page. You never want to write a line, a big important thing here. Sure.

Joe Barsness 20:47
Got it in how would somebody get started with this tool?

Adam Smartschan 20:51
Sure. It’s very simple. It’s I believe you’ll like you can actually provide a link. We can give a code if you Follow our link to give you 20% off for I believe the first three months, which is pretty fantastic. There’s a free trial in there as well, I think you can try it completely obligation free for for about two weeks. So I really can’t recommend it enough. Whether you’re WordPress, whether you’re any other type of site or whether you don’t have a site at all, and you need something spun up at root domain, you can go ahead and build it their domain, you can go ahead and build it there very, very rapidly.

Joe Barsness 21:25
Great, we’ve time to wrap so that’s it for today on mind your own marketing business, I want to make sure that we give you some information about where to find Adam. So his business is altitude, and on Twitter they are at at team altitude. We will also be sharing these links in our show notes as well as that discount coupon for unbounce. Thank you so much for being on the show, Adam and we look forward to connecting with you soon. Absolutely. Thank you

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