Ideas, musings and inspirations.

ellie-b2b-marketing-inspirationTwo months ago, I brought home an eight-week-old miniature schnauzer named Ellie. She only weighed four pounds. She needed to go outside in the wee hours of the morning. She prompted me to ask myself, “What have I done? How will I get through this? Will this get any easier?”

Since this little bundle of cuteness is consuming a lot of my time, it’s only natural that she’d be the inspiration for my blog post. After all, I am sure there are many professionals – from owners of smart manufacturing companies to newly hired marketing directors – who occasionally ask themselves the same questions I mentioned in the above paragraph.

With Ellie as my marketing muse, here’s some food (or kibble) for thought.

Be yourself. If you search Google images for miniature schnauzers, you will find adorable dogs who are black, gray or salt and pepper. As you can see, Ellie is brown and white. She is called a liver parti miniature schnauzer and is rather rare. While she’s only been to the veterinarian a few times, I am now known as the woman-with-the-brown-and-white-schnauzer. Period. They don’t remember my name. But, they cannot forget this dog’s captivating, yet unusual, good looks.

What does this mean for B2B marketers? Embrace your differences. Make sure your brand is authentic and celebrates what sets you apart. Ask your team: What are our strengths? What claims can we make? What do we do better than anyone else? Then, share what makes you better than your competition.

Be consistent. To get our attention, Ellie liked to nip at our toes. Obviously, this was quite an annoying way to get noticed. To stop the behavior, our dog trainer suggested that we say either “Off” or “Leave It”. Pick one command and use it consistently, we were told. Now, when she attempts to lunge for my feet, I give the command and she instantly sits as still as a bronze statue. She gets the message loud and clear.

B2B marketers should realize that everything – your print collateral, trade show booths, marketing premiums, advertisements and your website – should share the same messaging. By using consistent words, photos and design elements across all of your offline and online channels, prospective and current clients will know exactly what you stand for.

Be nimble. Miniature schnauzers are known to be a very smart breed, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, at a very young age she’s learned quite an impressive array of tricks. Sit. Down. Come. Leave it. Drop it. And, when we say, “opossum,” my daughter trained her to roll on her back and freeze. But she’s also learning how to escape the baby gate, outsmart her handlers for another treat or buy a little more time in the yard, even if it is 4 a.m. As we learn more about her and how she thinks, we’ve been able to stay one step ahead and anticipate her next move.

B2B marketers must adapt quickly as business conditions can change in the blink of an eye. You need to be able to stay ahead of trends, head off problems and meet the changing needs of your customers and your market. Do you know what your customers are thinking? Social media makes it easy to keep tabs on what their customers are saying and join the conversation.

Be playful. Ellie brought the laughter and sense of wonder back into my house. She’s a constant reminder that life should be fun and the world is ours to explore.

B2B marketers should plan for a little ‘fun money’ in their yearly budget to try out new marketing terrain. You already plan for the most successful marketing endeavors each year. But, how will you know if a Pay-Per-Click campaign will help your business unless try it?

In just 60 days, Ellie has not just become a full-fledged member of the family, but an inspiration. Who says you can’t teach old dog new tricks? She’s taught me that every day is a new adventure and I shouldn’t be afraid to learn a few new tricks.

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I bet I can explain all the talk about the Internet of things (IoT) and the phrase “smarter planet” in a few short paragraphs.

Thirty years ago, I co-oped at GE. Our goal was to improve the efficiency of a fluorescent lighting assembly line. We implemented a four-step process:

Step 1: Install Sensors: we installed 200 tiny sensors at 200 different stages of the assembly line; the sensors detected whether the fluorescent tube on the assembly line was defect free or not.

Step 2: Network the Sensors: we created a local area network that enabled connectivity between the sensors.

Step 3: Let Sensors Share Intelligence: our sensors sent a signal to the next stage of the assembly line telling it whether the fluorescent tube was still defect free or not. If the signal said the tube had gone bad, it told the assembly line to do nothing to it and let the tube move on. On the last step of the assembly line, the defective tube was automatically pulled out to a defective tube bin.

Step 4: Make Data Productive with a Machine: a computer captured all the sensor data and generated an automated report on the throughput, the cost savings, and the steps on the assembly line that were causing most of the failures.

GE saved millions (ka-ching) during its first year of operation of this smart assembly line. The lineman would study and change the defect-causing steps.

This co-op assignment contains all the elements of the IoT and smarter planet revolution. It embodied (a) sensors, (b) a network to gather all the data and (c) computers that measure and take steps to improve the efficiency of the entire process.

Implemented today, this co-op assignment would still rely on sensors, but would rely on the cloud instead of the local area network, and utilize more sophisticated algorithms that juggle between automated decisions and human intervention.

The same exact principle is driving the smart planet revolution with smart homes, smart buildings, smart cars, smart retail, smart manufacturing, smart healthcare, and smart everything else.

In today’s world, a sensor is embedded in every appliance in our home, office and everything in between – and the currency of conversation is phrases that include words such as sensors, intelligent agents, predictions, algorithms, automated recommendations, intelligent systems and manual intervention.

The pendulum in the man vs. machine battle continues to swing towards the machine, but ultimately the machines are serving the humans and improving our lives.

Stay tuned for more blog posts related to IoT and the smarter world we live in.

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Elliance Mugs

Since the day I walked into Elliance, a digital marketing agency, for a “meet and greet”, my preconceived idea of what life looked like inside “the business world” was shattered. Elliance was something I’d never expected – a place full of life and character and uniqueness. I have been working here now for roughly two months and walking through the door is just as exciting now as it was on day one.

So I thought I’d give you the low down on three things that classify Elliance as a breed of its own, from the new kid’s perspective.

Culture of respect

In June, I returned from a trip where I had spent 11 months doing volunteer work with 45 other individuals. The way we orchestrated as a community was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There was a mutual trust and respect for those you were working alongside each and every day. You did not doubt the abilities of those around you to accomplish the task at hand, and you knew that if one of you needed something, the others would drop everything to be there. There was no tension or malice towards one another. It was a community of honest conversations of respect. It felt free.

I had never imagined that I would experience again the same culture of respect I felt on my trip, let alone in business. But what I had out there is what I have found in here at Elliance. There is something unique about this place, you can feel it in the air: it is respect and it is harmony.

Shared knowledge & space heaters

Coming home after my first day at Elliance, I remember telling a friend, “Everyone is brilliant in that place. EVERYONE.” It was intimidating to say the least for the new girl on the job, but amidst that intimidation was an overwhelming sense of excitement for how much I knew I was going to learn from this place – from these people.

Elliance is a library of human creativity and experience: so much to learn and so many outlets to receive knowledge from. It’s given so freely. Knowledge and ideas, much like space heaters (it gets a little chilly in our renovated factory office space), are shared generously, without a second thought, as a regular part of each day.

Place of personality

On a typical day at Elliance, you will hear the sound of coworkers laughing as loudly as the nine o’clock train that rushes by. You will feel the energy of someone who is on the edge of a major breakthrough in web infrastructure, or the cheers of a team of copywriters and designers who have just finally strung together the perfect headline for a university viewbook – one that quite possibly grew out of a joke. You will see people sharing ideas across poppy-yellow desks and in the kitchen, an assortment of coffee mugs of various shapes, sizes and themes, lined up and waiting on their turn to be filled.

There is no question that Elliance is a place with personality bursting from the seams. Whether that is due in part to the diversity of staff – in cultural background, age, interests, and life experiences – or if in part it comes from working in an environment that encourages and brings forth the creative in us all.

And no doubt this personality is painted across every website we build, every ad and blog post we write, every printed viewbook we design, every photo or video we shoot. There is a little piece of who we are in all of the work that we do, crafted together to present who you are – as a business, a university, a nonprofit organization – to the world.

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We all know Facebook is Big…

paid facebook marketing








But Facebook began as a service that only allowed college students to communicate with each other over the Internet. Even after the site opened up to public users, college students continued to comprise a significant segment of the Facebook user base.

High school and college students still comprise a large piece of the Facebook pie. Despite recent speculations that Facebook users are reducing their monthly activity on the social network, Facebook remains the number one social media platform for teenagers ranging from 13-17, a prime target demographic for higher education marketers.

Segmenting by demographic is a smart way for colleges and universities to strategically reach prospective students on Facebook.

Because users list their age, gender, location, interests and other information on their Facebook profiles, it is easy to find your exact target audience. Facebook’s advertising platform includes settings that can target beyond the typical geographic criteria. For higher education paid marketing targeting specifically, you could use any of these options for precise reach:

  • Education level
  • Fields of Study
  • Schools
  • Undergrad years

Are you taking advantage of Facebook’s segmentation options?

Learn more about our higher education and paid marketing services.

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As discussed in a previous blog post, we recently redesigned the Carnegie Mellon Today online magazine. With this redesign, the focus changed from a print-based quarterly issue to an online-only site with new stories both produced and promoted on a weekly basis.

With roughly 80% of existing site traffic coming to articles (a number that is expected to increase with this new model), one of our project goals was to create an explorable experience that engages readers and increases the flow of traffic through the site. Keeping that in mind, we set out with a few ideas.

A website’s navigation is it’s roadmap. It is the best place to start engaging the audience. We also know that it is the most popular way to explore. Like most navigations, ours is visible and consistent throughout all of the site, however, it becomes minified as readers scroll through articles, creating less busyness on the page while still keeping the navigation close by for when readers are ready to find their next article.

We also wanted the navigation to be richer and more enticing, so the first item displayed is the list of recent articles. This opens up a bar that shows the seven most recent articles, each displaying a thumbnail image and headline — two pieces of content meant to catch the reader’s attention and increase exploration.

Demographics data informs public policy for LGBTQ community   Carnegie Mellon Today.png

Following the recent articles is a link to the sections, which are the main categorical structure in the site, including popular topics such as technology and business. As you’ll see through exploration, we used the same color combinations throughout the site to enhance the display of these sections.

The third navigation piece lists the trending tags. These are the tags — a secondary categorization item — organized by recent popularity. Because there are more tags than can be displayed in a navigation, we decided it would be more appropriate to display only the most popular tags, as opposed to a stagnant, curated list that may lose appeal to the reader after a few site visits. Reader popularity can make the list unique with each visit because it follows reader interest, using total article views for the past 30 days as the criteria for the order of the list.

Besides the navigation, we included a “Related Content” section at the end of every article. This will provide the reader with additional content similar to the that of which they are reading. This includes links to the article’s sections and tags. It also displays content related to the current article.


To increase exploration, we added additional intelligence to the related content section. We found that on a lot of news sites, the information in this section stays consistent and can become stale after reading a few articles. To avoid that same staleness, this site temporarily remembers which pages you’ve viewed and will not include them in Related Content. This will help keep that content fresh no matter how much time a reader spends exploring.

In addition to the article pages, we also wanted to promote exploration on the homepage. There, the biggest focus is the 7 recent articles, with the most recent article getting the most space. Areas to explore both the trending tags and sections are included as well, in addition to the university twitter feed. There is also the additional capability to “Show More Stories”, which allows readers to view up to 12 more articles.



Toward the bottom of the homepage, we included a “Worth Another Read” section. The purpose of this final piece is to promote a previous article related to topics in current news (for instance, it is/was an article about football-related injuries from May 2015 to coincide with the start of football season in September 2015).

And finally, we wanted all of these elements to be available no matter what device you are using — it is, after all, a responsive website. So whether you’re on a phone, tablet or desktop, you’ll experience all of these elements and be able to explore this website with ease.


We hope that these components will compliment the beautifully written articles and gorgeous images to keep visitors engaged and exploring all that this magazine has to offer. With the relaunch less than a month old, we have not been able to gather enough data to see tangible results of the new design, however, we feel confident that it will promote additional readership and improve user experience.

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I was asked to write a blog.  ‘Write about what you love,’ they said. Well, I love many things, but the two things that came to mind, besides my wonderful family of course, were my job (a project manager with an advertising agency) and fantasy football.  Now you may think how in the world could someone come up with similarities between the two?  That was my initial thought as well, trust me.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how alike they can be.  Not to mention the start of a new NFL football season and the chance to finally win the coveted fantasy league trophy, which make it even more appropriate.

Big Picture Thinking:

Like everything, you have to start somewhere and with fantasy, it’s the draft.  You review your options and player prospects, run through scenarios on who to fall back on if this player gets picked, what bye weeks I need to worry about, how good are the team’s defenses this year?  It does help to have a general idea on your draft order, trust me.  The draft day arrives and you patiently sit and wait for your turn while following what others are doing, waiting for that moment to put the strategy you came up with to action.  Then a glitch, your drafting in the third spot but your first pick (Antonio Brown) was taken as number one pick.  Do you panic?  No, you remain calm and go with your back up.  Because you planned and strategized so you had options.

In the world of project management you need to take a similar path.  Focus on the bigger picture because getting the details will come later.  You need to plan and strategize how the work coming into the agency will get accomplished.  You try to anticipate all issues that could arise, knowing there will always be a bump or something coming from left field, and how you can solve them.  Keep cool and remember you planned for this.

Ongoing Coaching:

After the draft is over and your players are picked, you set your starting lineup.  You leave it for the entire season, right?  No, you monitor it week in and week out.  This is not one of those famous rotisserie chicken machines where “You Set It and Forget It”, you need to stay vigilant, ahead of the game.  You can’t predict the future, is your starting QB going to remain healthy all season, or will he be out for three weeks?  Every week, no matter the outcome of the last week, you review your lineup, see who you’re playing against, adjust and reorganize.  Perhaps, you need to make a change and drop a player due to injury or performance and pick up another.  You are at this for 13 weeks, with your eye on the league trophy.

This is the same approach every week as a project manager.  You have to review what projects are scheduled to get accomplished for the week.  Is there new work coming in that I need to focus on, do we have client presentations, who is working on what, were the proper adjustments made based on client reviews, who is available to fix something if there is an issue?  It is all about juggling and figuring out how you are going to get the work done on time and on budget.


At the end of all that planning and strategizing you are holding up the league trophy or looking at the successful client website, and then you move on to another fantasy sport or planning for next year or the next project because once you’re done with one project you still have at least a few more.

Stay tuned for more-especially a picture of my trophy!

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The Greeks called it their Muse.
The Romans called it the Ingenium (the genius).
I call it whatever that magic is that gets some meaningful words onto the page.


I recently heard a great re-air of a RadioLab interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. In it, she tells the story of poet Robert Frost working on a particularly lengthy and draining piece for weeks and weeks and weeks. He finally finished the thing, completely dissatisfied, even though he’d put so much effort into it. Sigh. After all that. Nevertheless, Frost woke up the next morning, and sat down to write…

 “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”

(Arguably one of the most well-known poems of the 20th century… No joke, it was last night’s Final Jeopardy! question.)

It was as if Frost was being rewarded for his hard work, Gilbert says.

Sometimes that’s how the creative process works. Sometimes it really does feel like 99 percent perspiration to get that golden 1 percent of inspiration — and as Gilbert says, that’s pretty generous. Sometimes there is no other explanation for a creative idea than a little bit of magic.

I do believe that part of knowing yourself and your team is learning how to really stir up that magic — knowing what inspires you to make X happen.

For me, it’s exercise.

(“No duh, Erin,” says everybody I work with at Elliance.)

But really. I’ve come back from my lunch-hour runs ready to start entire publications. I’ve run through the door and frantically written down ideas, busting out headlines one after another.

Call it endorphins. Call it magic. Whatever it is, it works.

I’m also inspired by really great comedy. Laughing at pure, honest and intelligent wit can bring out the best writer in me — even when I’m working on something not meant to be funny.

The idea of one exclusive “creative department” in a marketing agency kind of blows my mind — because I think that would qualify all of Elliance. We would all be the creative department. Every one of us gets inspired to do our work here — whether it’s exploring information architecture or diving into data muck or working with clients or creating an infographic. We’re all making stuff happen. We’re all creative.

And this was ever more apparent to me when my colleagues’ answers to two emailed questions I sent began to come in.

“What gets you doing your best work?” I asked, “What inspires you?”







There’s more where this came from. Follow along #EllianceInspires to read more every week.

As a creative being I live for discovering inspiration all around me, and many times it’s inspiration that finds me. With fall fast approaching I think about the possibility of a road trip to take in the splendor of color that Pennsylvania has to offer, so I begin. Inspire me Pennsylvania.

Step one. Visit the website.

Hmmm. The site is short on inspiration and so is my time spent on Where is the story? Where is the adventure? I know our state is beautiful, so why not celebrate it with the many tools a digital experience has to offer?

Mediocre = Forgettable

Step two. Lolly gag

So now that I am uninspired about the Pa. site, I troll around a bit online until I remember a site I saw a while ago about Maine. I believe it was an interactive newsletter?

Hello Maine! What a beautiful experience. I am instantly inspired by the elegant simplicity of the user interface, the stunning photography, rich media, and find the storytelling to be equally captivating. I am already thinking about adding flannel to my wardrobe and dusting off my camping gear (rarely used).

Inspiring = Memorable

I proceed to and find the website to be an equal and impressive compliment to the quarterly newsletter. Well-done Maine.

Step three: Write this blog

Ramblings aside, the intent of this blog is to let you know that the art of the newsletter or e-zine as it is now called is alive and well. Maine’s Office of Tourism had great clarity and purpose to their mission and found an able creative partner who executed their vision masterfully. Let your stories drive the creative. And, with tourism being one of Maine’s largest industries, at about 13% employment in the state, the site had an economic burden to uphold.

I found an article about the e-zine redesign published by the Bangor Daily News that provided insight for this splendid publication:

[1]The redesign was in response to changes in the ways people are making travel decisions, and represented an overall shift by the Office of Tourism to a values-based marketing program that would leverage the “sweet spot” between what Maine offers, what visitors/prospects want, and what is unique about the Maine experience.

The quarterly is distributed directly via opt-in email, and shared on the Maine Office of Tourism’s social media channels and website. Each quarterly e-zine video takes a deep dive into a story drawn from one of the four broad pillars of the Maine Office of Tourism’s strategic marketing plan: food; outdoors; art and culture; and sightseeing.

It’s not that I have a thing for newsletters but I do have a thing for people and places and organizations who inspire me with great stories, beauty and experiences…in this case it just happens to be a simply inspiring newsletter. So the next time you begin the task of refreshing or creating a new publication begin by answering these simple questions:

[2]Who are you?

Who needs to know?

How will they find out?

Why should they care?

C’mon Pennsylvania, step it up!

[1] Bangor Daily News; 2014; Maine tourism wins two national awards for destination marketing

[2] Alina Wheeler; 2006; Designing Brand Identity; page 3



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Why, despite our best intentions and efforts, can we all make bad decisions? Social scientists point to the phenomenon of “cognitive bias”  — a scholarly and polite way of saying that we should not so quickly and easily believe everything we initially perceive or think.

The more complex the set of choices and decisions, the more prone we become to any one of the 100 or so variations of cognitive bias.

In the higher education marketing realm, few things match a full brand discovery for complexity. We read and interpret reams of enrollment and financial data. We interview dozens of college representatives — students, faculty, staff, alumni and leaders. We pour over annual reports, strategic plans, course descriptions and faculty vitae. We reference third-party sources for reviews, comments, and insights. We tour campus. We calculate. We listen. We ponder.

Opportunities for cognitive bias to creep into a brand discovery rival the chances of an insect or two crashing your next outdoor picnic. Schedule it and they will come.

I will name a few of these cognitive biases over my next few posts, and talk about my experiences with trying to stay vigilant and aware of their influence.

Cheerleader effect. The tendency for people to appear more appealing (happier, self-directed, ambitious, committed) in a group than in isolation. One of the reasons we prefer as many one-on-one interviews as possible…because any focus group of students, staff or faculty runs the risk of casting an overall impression that overrides the more nuanced view of individuals.

Confirmation bias. The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. This is a constant in brand discovery — the temptation to interpret what we find in discovery based on what we already know. I find that it helps to keep a beginner’s mind for as long as possible — to resist “knowing” anything for as long as possible.

Focusing effect. The tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event. Given that our brand discovery team can only spend a limited time on a college campus, it’s easy to mistake our Tuesday late afternoon cafeteria experience for the whole of student culture rather than a narrow slice.

Sunk cost fallacy. The phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on cumulative prior investment, despite evidence suggesting that the decision was less than perfect. We sometimes invest days and weeks in one approach to a brand position, only to become all too clear about its limitations. Though rare, we have to remain willing to wind our way back and find a better route. Close is not home.

More on cognitive bias in future posts.


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In relaunching the online Carnegie Mellon responsive university magazine, we have created a technologically sophisticated online university magazine which is commensurate with the Carnegie Mellon brand.

Some of you might recall that the magazine was relaunched just two years ago. So, why relaunch it again so soon? Two simple reasons – big data and branding.

Let me begin with two high-level views:

responsive university magazine website views

Responsive University Magazine Website

Let me now illustrate the smarts behind this:

1. Data powers the entire user experience: The online magazine sections (aka departments in print parlance) are based on a combination of popular SEO keywords and CMU strategic priorities and. The story tags too are intentionally hand-picked by use of popular SEO keywords. Instead of displaying popular tags alphabetically, they are prioritized in descending popularity order, with ability for site administrators to designate a couple of tags as sticky tags based on university’s strategic priorities.
Responsive Alumni Magazine Website

Responsive Alumni Magazine

2. New interactive design deepens the brand: CMU has always innovated at the intersection of two or more disciplines. Elliance applied cutting-edge interface design techniques to tangibly visualize this Carnegie Mellon brand distinction. As an example, in the screen shot below, note how we textually (with dual color-pixels) and visually (with color gradient) illustrated the fusion of robotics and arts&culture.
Responsive University Magazine

3. Stories juiced by SEO Keywords: CMU is leveraging the power of fresh digital content infused with SEO/Social to reach strangers the university may never be able to reach with print alone. Each story will be hand-optimized weekly to maximize the chance of landing on page 1 of Google and increase social shares.
Online Responsive University Magazine

4. Optimal blend of digital and print: Instead of printing a quarterly long-form magazine, CMU has moved to focusing on publishing one in-depth story every week followed by an annual glossy print version which will largely be a collection of the best performing stories. Result: less cost, more engagement and big impact.
Responsive Digital University Magazine

5. “Mobile First” simplicity is the new mantra: See the persistent header and navigation on smartphones.

Responsive University Magazine Website

If you want to experience the data-driven and brand inspired magazine – and affect the dynamics of what gets displayed and the SEO rankings during your website visit, click

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