Tell a better story

Brand stories are important for telling people who you are and why that’s important. But when you infuse your stories with real life they become more powerful.

What does storytelling have to do with business?
“Storytelling” is one of those words that is impossibly squishy in a business context. It always conjures up more performance art than industry; more fiction than fact.

But the idea of storytelling as it applies to business isn’t about spinning a yarn or fairytale. Rather, it’s about how your business (or its products or services) exist in the real world: how people use your products—how they add value to people’s lives, ease their troubles, help shoulder their burdens, and meet their needs. Think in those terms when producing customer stories, case studies, or client narratives—so that people can relate to them. In that way, your content is not about “storytelling,” it’s about telling a true story well.

Here’s how to relate the art of storytelling to your business copy:

1. Ask, “What are my customers genuinely interested in knowing about?” As the panel said: The job of marketers is to generate new ideas and pull compelling stories out of their organizations by figuring out what their audience is genuinely interested in seeing and reading or knowing about. Think about what you do, how to tell that story, and how to engage your customers through the stories you tell, said Jeffrey Hayzlett, author of The Mirror Test: Is Your Business Really Breathing? (Business Plus, 2010), who left his job as Kodak’s chief marketing officer in May.

That’s critical especially for business-to-business companies, which often sell intangible products or services that aren’t intrinsically interesting, but the way people use them are interesting. At Virgin America, for example, the hallmarks of what the brand is known for—leather seats, mood lighting on its aircraft, wireless connectivity—expresses the story, in part, of how the airline goes beyond the ordinary, added Porter Gale, vice-president of marketing at Virgin America.

2. Tell how your products or services live in the world. Actually—don’t just tell: Show. Uncover the real-life instances of how your product lives in the world by looking to your customers for inspiration. “Have their story be your story,” said Cam Balzer, vice-president of marketing for Threadless, a community-driven T-shirt and apparel company.

3. Have their stories be your story. Tell the story of how your products came to be, or how your customers use them. Even if you’re making something less naturally prone to story than customer-designed T-shirts or luxury airlines, your product can still be a source of content.

Tell a better story2019-02-05T21:44:18+00:00

The S&P 500 is a Brand Killer

With very few exceptions, I don’t work for publicly traded companies. Or companies held by venture capital firms. Or companies built to flip.

That means most large corporations, including the Fortune 500 and most high-tech darlings, are off my radar.

Why would I do that? Those companies have the largest budgets. They often have high aesthetic, and they understand the need for effective marketing and communications.

Because with very few exceptions, nearly all of them are slowly killing their brands and nothing marketers can do will change that.

Brand Killers

Brands are created by the people who interact with you or your product. Your brand only exists in their hearts and minds. If you want to improve your brand, you have to care about how your customers think and feel.

Publicly traded and investor-held companies work for their EDITDA, share value, Wall Street forecasts, and year-over-year dividends. How their customers feel is often brushed aside while those more “important issues” are measured and managed.

When board members rule, activities with short-term gains (such as cost-cutting), are preferred over those that require long-term investments (such as R&D). Product quality and customer experience often suffer while profits are redirected to improve a bottom line.

The customer isn’t stupid. When they don’t feel the love anymore they vote with their dollar. Sales fall, loyalty slips and the company struggles to shore up their brand.

Once customers abandon a company, a turnaround must be more than logo-deep. Cultural changes must take place that reconnect management to the company mission and market. New brands must reflect new corporate philosophies—and hopefully a renewed commitment to customer experience.

Is it possible to “go public” and not sell a corporation’s soul to the Wall Street devil? Of course. Brand darlings Target, Starbucks and Apple all prove that a customer focus can be profitable. They are the exceptions that prove the rule—and prove the value of brand-based marketing.

The S&P 500 is a Brand Killer2018-12-21T18:44:30+00:00

Four ways to keep your email subscribers happy

An email inbox is a private space. In my personal inbox right now, I have a conversation with a friend about weekend plans, an Amazon shipping notification for my daughter’s birthday present, a communication with my accountant, and a weekly update from my favorite blog. These are all valuable communications to me, and some contain sensitive details like credit card information.

If you are a marketer, and I give you my email address, I am inviting you into this private space. Your marketing email will be nestled in among these other important emails. And so, your email must be interesting and relevant to me, or I’ll just hit delete, (or worse – the dreaded unsubscribe).

Here are four ways to make sure your marketing email belongs in my inbox:

Your Email Needs A Purpose

Have a reason to send your email, and not just because you always send a weekly email. Although we send our Post-O-Grams every other week, we have a carefully curated list of content, and only send emails that we think readers will find useful and interesting.

Talk To Me Like You Know Me

You have tons of data – use it! At the very least, you can easily personalize your email (“Dear Sally…”). Better yet, segment your content and allow subscribers to choose which information they receive. For example, some subscribers want to receive every communication from you, while others are interested in discounts, special events, news, etc.

Your Email Must Look Good On Mobile

At least 50 percent of your subscribers will read your email on their phone. Make sure your email looks good and is easy to interact with on mobile. If it’s not, subscribers will quickly move on.

Make Your Email Easy To Skim

Yes, you labor over every word in your email. But let’s be real – your readers are skimming the content. Make your email easy to digest by putting the most important information at the top, and break up the copy so readers can get the message just by skimming.

Remember, it is a privilege to be in someone’s inbox. Be sure you aren’t just sending out junk.

Looking for more ways to improve your email game? Really Good Emails is one of our favorite resources.


Four ways to keep your email subscribers happy2018-12-21T18:45:18+00:00

Gain followers with Insta Pods

With gratitude to our friends at Hootsuite, we’re sharing their article on how to gain Instagram likes and comments through the use of friend groups. Since posts with more engagement get more reach, this “secret” technique can help you get in front of more people, and ultimately gain more followers.


If you need a lesson in loyalty, look no further than teenagers. If their friend shares a post, they will like and/or comment on it immediately to show their support.

“My friends and I are in a group text where we notify each other when we’ve posted something on Instagram,” my teenaged source reveals, “This lets the group know so everyone else can go and like the post or write a supportive comment. If it’s a selfie we will usually do the heart-eyes emoji or the flame, but even just that simple comment will help the post get more likes in the long run.”

In addition to these loyal friend groups, many teenagers are a part of Instagram pods.

“An Insta pod is a secret group of users who join forces in group messages in order to like and comment on each other’s posts and gain more engagement on Instagram,” Mashable explains, “It’s been compared to “a family of dolphins who live together in harmony and support one another… like a group of cheerleaders who help one another on Instagram.”

Instagram pods work through private messages between groups of users with relevant brands. For example, a group of home decor brands might be in an Instagram pod with one another. When one posts to Instagram, the other group members are expected to like and/or comment on the post.

The key to joining an Instagram pod of your own is finding influencers in your industry. If you’re a Buzzsumo user, you can use their newly launched Influencer search feature. Simply type in a keyword such as ‘eco-living’ or ‘restaurants’ and you’ll get a list of related Instagram influencers. For a complete guide to finding relevant Instagram influencers, check out our post Influencer Marketing on Social Media: Everything You Need to Know.

Once you’ve gathered a list of potential pod members, simply reach out to them to get the ball rolling. My teenaged source shared a set of guidelines one of her pods lists for all members. For example:

  • When you post on Instagram, make sure you notify the group using the emoji
  • When someone else shares the emoji, immediately like their latest picture and leave a relevant comment with a minimum of five words
  • Before you share your own post, make sure you are caught up and have added likes and comments to the other member’s posts
  • If you only post your own photos and don’t like or comment on other member’s content, you’ll be asked to leave the pod

As with all areas of your social media strategy, remaining respectful and courteous will never fail.

Teenagers often pave the way for trends to unfold and Instagram is no exception.  With the guide above you can apply teenaged intuition to your own strategy and see your results soar.

Gain followers with Insta Pods2018-12-21T16:47:35+00:00

Pin your sales growth to Pinterest

We love Pinterest. Whether we’re planning a party, redecorating our homes, or just dreaming about the life we wish we had, Pinterest is our electronic scrapbook, vision board and shopping list all rolled into one. The user interface is seamless and each click feels native and intuitive.

Social media is all about increasing brand reach by making meaningful connections with both loyal fans and new customers, and Pinterest is no different. Below are five tips to connect with both new and existing followers when managing Pinterest accounts for business.

Find Friends

Link your social networks together to help build a stronger Pinterest base. Under “Settings”, navigate to “Social Networks”. Options are available to connect with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Gmail, and Yahoo. Once connected, “Find Friends” will show fans from other social networks that also use Pinterest.

Make It Easy

We hate to find a really cool recipe/blog post/etc. but no “Pin It” button. Sometimes I’m too lazy to copy the URL and paste it into Pinterest, so I don’t pin the content. Don’t lose lazy pinners! Adding a “Pin It” button to various pages on your website will increase the likelihood that followers will pin content.

Be Strategic

As tempting as it might be to pin 500 images in one day, this will clog your followers’ feed and likely be annoying. Create a few pins on a consistent basis, rather than in huge spurts. Don’t have the time to devote daily to Pinterest? While you currently can’t schedule pins for posting within Pinterest, their officially approved apps Buffer and Tailwind do. There’s even a free trial good for your first 100 pins.


Arrange boards with the most popular or eye-catching at the top. A follower might not identify with the brand as a whole, but perhaps will be intrigued enough to follow one board. Periodically comb through pins and boards to ensure pins are up-to-date.

Get Real

Followers understand that a real person is managing a Pinterest account, and want to see some personality! Keep it classy, but don’t be afraid to have fun.

Pinterest has become an important tool to the social media strategy of any brand, and shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re new to Pinterest, start smart. Focus on just one or two of these tips as you begin to grow your follower base, and watch your “Pinny” presence grow!

Pin your sales growth to Pinterest2018-10-04T18:21:00+00:00

Client Feature: IPERS

Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS) provides retirement benefits to city, state and other public sector employees. IPERS members include teachers, social workers, park maintenance staff, firefighters, police officers, and many others who keep Iowa communities strong and safe.

We’ve worked with IPERS since 2004 when they came to us for a rebrand, starting with their logo. We developed a brand mark that incorporated the state of Iowa shape and an oak leaf, representative of the state tree and longevity. We’ve since helped to integrate their brand into everything from the website and the State Fair booth to even the rugs in their lobby. We’ve also refreshed their print collateral, striving for more clarity on topics that can be confusing for many people.

Publications That Educate

IPERS utilizes an extensive series of publications for all career phases of membership, from new members to retirees, as well as across three separate types of membership. We developed a cohesive look for the series that keeps everything consistent, compelling, and easily identifiable for internal staff. Key messages are clearly communicated with infographics and other call-outs.

The Truth About IPERS Microsite

Recent headlines suggest IPERS’ funding is unstable, causing concern from members, legislators and taxpayers. In fact, changes made to IPERS in 2012 have put the system on a path to full funding. Because of the complexity of the issue, a microsite ( was developed for members concerned about their pensions, and for lawmakers charged with determining the future of the pension system. Because of our history with IPERS, in just a few short weeks, we worked with the communications team to explain the problem, its cause, and the outlook for the future in this easy-to-read digital format. We then worked with a state-approved developer to put the site in motion.

“Cooper Smith & Company established the IPERS brand years ago and has been a strategic partner in elevating our presence across Iowa ever since. On every level, Cooper Smith has helped guide us in delivering consistent, creative and innovative communication. From educational pieces and websites to videos and displays — even our office setting — Cooper Smith has been our “brand shepherd”, providing support and expertise to maintain exceedingly high standards along the way.”

–Judy Akre, Director of Communications, IPERS


Client Feature: IPERS2018-05-31T21:58:07+00:00

Find the Right Clients

You know not everyone is an ideal client. In fact, the wrong client can be downright bad for business. They cost money, drain morale and worse yet – may refer you to other prospects just like them!

Start sorting the best from the worst as part of your sales process. Don’t be why about who you want to work for. Incorporate “this product is not for you if…” language into your pitch, add a prospect identifying survey into your website, and/or publish prices – especially if they’re high. (You can always offer lower rates or added services as incentives during the sale).

You know the kind of prospect that is the best fit. Take a stand and build your system to filter out anyone who doesn’t fit that profile. Your profit margin and your team will thank you.


Find the Right Clients2018-05-21T16:08:34+00:00

Client Feature: Whole Woman Health

Lisa Kamphuis, ARNP launched her holistic healthcare practice, Whole Woman Health, in 2002. She came to us in 2015 because business was lagging after a chance in insurance billing practices, and she was ready to bring her brand and identity in line with her vision for the future of the clinic.


The first project we tackled for Lisa was a complete rebrand of her clinic. After conducting our signature persona study and mood board process, we arrived at the new Whole Woman Health logo and brand standards that matched her insightful, balanced and holistic approach to wellness.


Next, we developed a website for Lisa that matched her new brand look, and wrote the supporting copy to help answer questions for both new and existing clients. The website continues to evolve to meet client needs, adding information on new services or resources as they become available.

Stationery, Signage & Marketing Collateral

As part of the new brand rollout, we created all the assets Lisa and her team would need, including business cards, updated flyers, sandwich boards, and other signage. We also updated the window graphics to match the brand.

Blog, Social Media & Email

We continue to work with Lisa as we design and copy edit all blog posts for Whole Woman Health, and monitor social media engagement. We also manage Lisa’s monthly email newsletter.

“I’ve seen a huge increase in clients since I started working with Cooper Smith,” Lisa says. “I am booked months in advance now – which is a great problem to have! – so I just don’t have time to do any marketing on my own. I really appreciate working with an agency that knows my philosophy & clinic so well, and can keep my marketing efforts going so I don’t have to worry about them!”

Client Feature: Whole Woman Health2018-05-21T16:07:51+00:00

Are you a “Slack-er”?

If your office is large, or working from multiple locations, you may already be “Slacking”.  Slack is a mobile and desktop text-message-style communication tool that has become commonplace for co-workers. It almost completely replaces inter-office email and serves as the new “water cooler” for social chit-chat among team members.

However, Slack isn’t appropriate in all situations. There are a few times where good old email may be the best communication tool:

When the message is long: Slack is best for short messages. No one wants to read a 10-point memo in text-land. Lengthy discussions are better for email.

When you need privacy: Slack is often used for group chat. But, if you’re having a one-on-one, get on a private channel or use email.

When the message is formal: Slack is casual, but that’s not appropriate for things like review feedback or establishing business relationships. In these cases, email is better.

When a phone call is faster: Seriously. Sometimes it’s easier to just pick up the phone. When you’re looking for clarification or the answer to a multiple choice question, a call is quicker. All that typing back and forth Takes. So. Much. Time.

Regardless of whether you’re using Slack, email or snail-mail, watch your words. Slack, like those old time-honored platforms, is subject to a company’s compliance rules governing discrimination, harassment and privacy policies. Your messages can be subpoenaed by legal authorities if such a situation is warranted. And because it’s cloud-based you’ll have no control over it.


Are you a “Slack-er”?2018-08-17T16:36:23+00:00

The Law of Attraction at Work

The concept of the Law of Attraction has been around since the 1930s, but it seems to be in the media frequently lately. The Law states (in very simplified terms) that what you imagine clearly, you can help bring to fruition.

I suggest that when it comes to prospecting, the concept not only has merit, but is critical for business. Here’s how:

Get your team together and create a clear profile of your ideal customer. Dive deep into the details asking questions like:

  • Where do they work?
  • Where do they live?
  • Where did they go to school?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • What kind of music do they like?
  • How do they dress?

Assemble pictures of people that fit the profile, doing the things you imagine them doing. Give the prospect a name, and write short bios that sound like they wrote them themselves. Share the composite with everyone from sales and marketing to customer service and fulfillment.

Ask everyone to keep this ideal customer in mind when reaching out to and interacting with prospects. Because they’re using the language and mindset most compatible with the prospect, it will be attractive to them. The ideal prospect becomes the ideal customer. And the Law of Attraction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Law of Attraction at Work2018-05-21T16:05:37+00:00