Q&A: Suzan McDowell, CEO of Circle of One Marketing, On the Marketing Basics and Building a Brand
MN: You’ve worked with Burger King, Alliance for Digital Equity and the City of Miami Cultural Arts, just to name a few of your clients. Each has different needs. How do you meet the marketing needs for each of your clients?
SM: First we learn the client and what they perceive about their business. Then we learn their demographic and see where the congruencies are. Each client, product or service, and audience is different. That is important to consider. It’s also important to be open to anything that works. If it’s a sandwich board on the side of the road and not a mass media push, then so be it.
MN: Do you provide marketing services for small businesses? And if so, what should small business owners prepare to review/discuss during initial intake meetings with you?
SM: Yes, we handle small businesses as long as they don’t have small minds. A lot of small businesses really do not understand the time and investment it takes to build a brand. When we meet with a potential new client — large or small — we ask that they be honest with us and themselves about what they have to offer, and have a general idea of what success would look like. Potential clients should be prepared with an actual budget. You’d be amazed how many people come to us and after long initial meetings admit they have no budget then ask if we will consider taking on their account on contingency.
MN: Tell us about a project you worked on for a client that offered you unique challenges.
SM: When we first started to work with The City of Miami Gardens on “Jazz in the Gardens” it was a small local festival. Within three years it became clear that the festival was an entity unto itself that could grow by leaps and bounds. All I had were my years in radio doing concert promotions. I remember when the City said to me three years in, “We want you to take this festival regional.” Then year four, the city said, “We want you to take this festival national,” and I had no idea how to do that, especially since the marketing budgets got cut each year.
They gave me a great product with acts like Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and Patti LaBelle. And now the festival kills regionally, nationally and even internationally. I just called in every partner I could find to promote it with as little investment as possible so I could expand the footprint of the brand. We tried new things, created a slick brand, graphics, and a PR campaign.
MN: How do you see marketing and business promoting strategies changing over the next two to three years, especially as the Internet continues to evolve and expand?
SM: If you’re not already there, it’s time to step into the new millennium. It’s amazing how some things spread like wildfire online. You can do business thousands of miles away. Working from home is attractive and inexpensive, leaving more money for marketing. However, I do believe that people get kinda sick staring at a screen all day. A good ole conversation with the real decision maker does way more to promote your business.
MN: What impact does website design (e.g. layout, colors, font, video) have on a company’s ability to connect with consumers and increase sales?
SM: Lots of consumers will go to your site before they buy just to see if it’s ghetto or professional. That is your face to the world. The colors should reflect your industry and the culture of the company. Layout should always focus on form and function since it’s a visual medium that needs to be easily navigable.
Keep the layout as simple and clean as possible. White space is your friend.
If you want your rankings on Google and Yahoo to go up, make the site dense with copy of the exact things you focus on so it will populate well.
And use videos and links to resources. I hate those sites where you have to fill out a form and you can’t find a real person to email.
If you don’t have website design skills, no worries. There are tons of CMS websites that are simple to launch and so easy to edit that you can do design a website on a smartphone.
MN: Circle of One Marketing has succeeded during hard economic conditions. What have you learned about yourself as a business owner and leader as you continue to move forward in a challenging economic climate?
SM: The last three years have been really hard. I have come to hate payroll. I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul, then Peter comes back and wants his money. I’ve learned that I need to do a better job of forecasting, keeping lots in the pipeline. I’ve learned there are kind folks who genuinely care about Circle of One Marketing’s survival and have gone out of their way to give us referrals and new business. I’ve learned that it’s hard to give up when you have so much skin in the game. I’ve learned I’m pretty brave to be out here on my own.
MN: What’s next for Suzan McDowell and Circle of One Marketing?
SM: I really want to expand to Los Angeles. I moved to Miami from LA and I really miss the energy and the mountains. And I’d love to have a small Caribbean-client-focused division in Kingston, so can be closer to my daddy. I want to be able to travel freely from Miami to Kingston to NYC to LA, working on some really cool campaigns that keep my ADD at bay. Oh yea, then there’s my beautiful sun-soaked villa in Marbella in between the mountains and the sea. One day.
Rhonda Campbell, an East Coast journalist, is the owner of Off The Shelf radio and publisher of the new books Long Walk Up and Love Pour Over Me.