Current trends and updates in the digital marketing industry.

new marketing trends in 2017

7 Marketing Trends to look out for in 2017

One of the fun (and sometimes the more frustrating) parts about the marketing industry is how quickly trends turn over. With the advancement of digital communication, there is always something to be learned about and adjusted with your marketing campaign. With the beginning of the new year, let’s take a look at some of the latest digital marketing trends 2017 will have to offer.

Interactive Content

While written content remains a vital part of a healthy marketing campaign, interactive content seems to be climbing the charts in popularity. Examples of interactive content can range from online quizzes, infographics with personalized results, or interactive maps as the user toggles the mouse. While some of these projects may sound a bit overwhelming to create, there are plenty of programs available now with drag and drop type functions for creation. Programs like Ceros or SnapApp can assist you and your marketing team in creating engaging content for your online visitors.  

Social Ambassadors

Using celebrities and professional athletes to endorse a product or service is nothing new in the marketing industry, however, with the rise of social media as a form of communication, many people are now utilizing social media as a platform to share in their expertise. Those that stand out from the rest in what would be considered expert-level knowledge will have a high number of followers of their social profiles and would be considered “influencers”. Because of the interest that these self-made social celebrities create online, some companies are now sending their related products to them to be reviewed or even create partnership with by making them social ambassadors for their products.

Take makeup artist Jaclyn Hill for example. She has grown quite a following of nearly 4 million followers on Instagram. Makeup and beauty companies now send her new products to review and promote online for her followers to see.


instagram social ambassador jaclyn hill promotes makeup brands


Live Stream Video

With the social media updates of Facebook Live and Instagram Live, live video streaming is now becoming increasingly popular as a means of promotion and the online community in general. Live product reviews and live broadcast of events will only become more prevalent this year.

Native Advertising

Let’s face it, people are wising up and clicking less and less on paid display advertisements online. There is even a term now called “banner blindness” that refers to the habitual reaction of the average online reader who avoids looking at any banner advertisement online. People (your target audience) now naturally avoids looking at your display ads. This is why the solution to this marketing tactic has been to disguise or dress the ad as actual content that the viewer is engaging with. Native advertising occurs when the ad resembles non-sponsored content that follows the same form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. Consider advertisements disguised as Instagram posts while the user scrolls through their Instagram feed.

Marketing Automation

Any company with a larger sized contact list of prospects and customers will want to consider investing in a marketing automation platform in 2017. Not only do marketing automation systems have excellent email marketing capabilities, but they have the ability to track contact’s behavior on your website and through the email correspondence. Track what pages have been viewed online and for how long, see what links were clicked from the email or advertisements, segment your contacts into lists for comparing data and streamlining communication. There are a lot of great marketing automation software options to consider like Hubspot, Salesforce’s Pardot, and Sharpspring. All platforms will have their different strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to do your research for what your team needs to find the best fit.

Sharpspring email automation

Email Automation by Sharpspring

Visitor ID through Sharpspring automation software

Lead and Visitor ID tracking by Sharpspring


Mission Marketing (B-Corp)

One particularly popular method of business that is increasing is mission or purpose driven marketing. This method taken on by B-corporations that partner with charities and nonprofits or are large enough to have their own charitable program creates a very positive brand for companies. More consumers are choosing B-corporations when making their buying decisions, knowing that their purchase will go towards a good cause. Two successful companies that hold this model are TOMS shoes and Warby Parker. Both using the buy a pair/supply a pair to someone in need model of business.

Social Media Purchasing

Although it’s is geared toward retail companies, social media purchasing has increased sales for e-commerce sites in 2016. Not only do social media sites hold excellent marketing capabilities for advertisement of retail, they now have the option to purchase the item from the social site it is featured on. With “buy” buttons on both Facebook and Pinterest, the ability for browsers to purchase an item they want right from the social display, fast-tracking the shopping experience.

You know what they say, “new year, marketing strategy”. Yeah?


new or refreshed small business website

6 Points to Consider When Updating Your Small Business Website

Nothing is easier to neglect than a website.

As business owners, we have a ton of obligations on our plates to deal with. There are employees, for one. While they’re an incredible asset, they can create a lot of work at times with training, managing, and facilitating day to day functions. Then you have accounting and other bookkeeping tasks, team building, inventory, customer service issues, planning and goal setting… all the actual “meat and potatoes” work. That “get stuff done” attitude got you where you are, and that’s a GOOD THING.

I’ve talked with a lot of business owners, and marketing typically tends to stay on their back burner. And that’s marketing in general, let alone, a website. “I don’t get any traffic from my website”, or “It’s good enough for now” tends to be the attitude, and look, I get it. It’s gotten you to where you are today, and that’s fine. But let me pose a question to you:

Would you be happy with your website if you had to look at it every day as you walk through the doors of your business?

See, you might not have to see it every day… but your potential customers do.

Like it or not, your website is the introduction to your business for a lot of customers. And if it is bad, a lot of visitors may have been customers. 91% of people are using search engines to find solutions to their problems. SO YOU BETTER MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION!

I want to challenge you and ask you to look at your website and ask yourself if it reflects who you truly are as a business. Is it engaging? Does it showcase your product or service offerings accurately? Can I find what I’m looking for if I have never been there before? Is there a clear call to action? Do I know what I’m supposed to be doing?

Secondly: Compare your website to a competitor’s. I know this is kind of “keeping up with the Jones’s” but the truth of the matter is, if this potential client has no previous exposure to you and your competition, they’re probably going to choose based off of the experience they get from your website. Think of your website as an introduction to your company and how you interact with your customers. For example: If your website is easy to work with, the perception then becomes that you as a business are easy to work with.

Third: who built your website? Did you hire an agency to do it? Or did your mom’s cousin’s nephew with the crazy eye make it with all the free time he has because he lives “off the grid”? If your answer is closer to the latter, you might have on-site issues that inhibit your future marketing endeavors, especially if you plan to start any advertising campaigns, or social media selling. Take our free web analysis by clicking the green bottom-right button on the screen to check it out.

Unfortunately, too many people think that an agency is just out to build them a flashy website that they don’t actually “need”.

While that can be the case, I look at it the same way you would consider hiring a receptionist. Who are you going to be more apt to hire – The warm, friendly, energetic, helpful person who is competent and able to help any customer that walks through your doors? Or the cheapest person you can find who “works for now”? Just asking questions here.

Your website CAN work for you, and CAN produce leads. Do yourself and your business a favor and hire someone who will do a few of the following things:

  1. Take time to understand you and your customer. I could spend all day here, but the reality is this; if the freelance designer or agency doesn’t take the time to do an exploration session with you to dig into your ‘WHY” (the reason you started your business) or understand your service offering, then it won’t appropriately represent your brand. If they don’t take the time to dig into the psychology of your customers, then they’re not going to you meet your customers where they are in their buyer’s journey. Your website will be disconnected and largely ineffective.
  2. Design for the user (UX). So, this kind of goes with the first point, but if you’re selling cross stitching…gear(?)…then don’t build a flashy site with a lot going on and small print. Know the type of people that buy from you, and speak their language. Let’s say that you’ve done your research for your cross stitching supply shop, and found that your most prominent customer segment is a 56 to 68-year-old woman who owns multiple cats, owns collectible china, watches Jeopardy reruns (if only for Trebec), and spends the majority of her time offline (this is completely off the cuff and hypothetical), then make the website for her. Use larger fonts, make your website simple and easy to use. Use some of those preferences you’ve discovered to your advantage when it comes to design. It may not be sexy to you, but your customers will get more out of it, and you’ll have better conversion rates.
  3. Consider Price. This happens often with my clients. They go in with the mentality that they’re website rebuild is going to cost them a fortune. We present the proposal to them and outline all the costs, and with a sigh of relief they say “well that’s not bad at all”. Honestly, a website doesn’t have to break the bank. Don’t overspend, but don’t underspend. Depending on your needs and the functionality you desire, the cost will vary. Find someone who will talk you through this and find your “sweet spot”.
  4. Be Clear. There is a saying we use here at SWELL that I’m recently kind of taken with: “No one will ever complain because you made something too easy to understand. Aim to be impossible to misunderstand.” It definitely pertains to many aspects of life, websites included. Don’t make your customers work to figure anything out. Display your mission and vision clearly, and make sure your personality comes out! Display your products or services simply, yet engagingly. Make sure there is a clear call to action. After all, you don’t want them just hanging out on your website all day. You want to motivate them to take the next step and buy from or engage with you.
  5. Provide Value. Provide your potential clients with something useful, and expect nothing in return. And keep doing it. Blogs, vlogs, downloadables, forums…there are tons of ways to provide your customers with something that they want to keep coming back for, or that will even have an impact on how they make their buying decisions (yes, even if it isn’t with you!). If you do this, you will set yourself apart from the competition. Guaranteed.
  6. Optimize. Please optimize for search engines. This encompasses everything from copy to the call to action. Make sure you’re optimized (and continually optimizing). Otherwise, no one is going to find you. Consistently produce fresh, original content on your site. Tag your pictures’ and videos’ meta-descriptions accurately. Title all your pages appropriately, and make sure you don’t have any broken links or anchors. Know the keywords you want to be found for and use them in the copy of your site as often as you naturally can. Make sure everything on your site is relevant to your purpose. Make sure your website loads quickly and it’s optimized for all screen sizes (or is responsive).

Use these tips as a guide. It doesn’t stop here, but this will give you a good starting place to begin a dialogue on what you can do to put your best foot forward online.

Tell your story, and tell it boldly. Big box stores and corporate business will come in with price gouging and ad tactics online, but only you have your story and can connect with your customers in a meaningful way. That’s what they want, and that’s what will keep them.

Google search engine optimization (SEO) for your business website.

Do I Need SEO?

10 years ago, digital marketing wasn’t really a thing.

Phone books and directories were. I’m from a town where they (still!) have the business directory placemats in the local diner. If your business wasn’t listed in the phonebook, how would they find you? Not only listed, but listed in the right area of the yellow pages, so that when people are looking for a specific product or solution, they find you.

Enter the internet revolution and information age.

We have a new phone book. Want to know what it is? Search engines.

That’s right. Search engines are THE place people go for information. Right around 80-90% of people search for product reviews before they make a purchase, and that’s only expected to increase. They are the new and improved Yellowpages that offer more information than just the phone number and address.

And the searcher expects that information.

But they don’t just expect it; they want it. They want to know your why. They want to know the reason you do what you do. They want to understand who they’re buying from and how it works. They want as much information as possible, and if your competitor is optimizing their web presence and digital marketing campaign with all the information they are looking for, you’ve probably already lost them without even knowing they were interested.

Don’t think of SEO as optimizing for the search engine (even though that’s part of it). Follow Google’s rules, but do everything through the lens of your user. SEO is becoming SEUO. Search engine-User optimization.

So I’ll pose the question this way: Do you need a consistent, robust SEO campaign?


Think of it this way…SEO is like the oil to the engine of digital marketing. Your website, social media, advertising and content are all important in and of themselves. They are the pistons to the digital marketing engine, but they won’t function properly without putting time and energy into SEO.

SEO is a simple enough concept to understand. People use keywords to search for entertainment, information, and solutions to their problems. So if you are offering something, or a solution to their problem, you should make sure that when they type their question in their browser search bar, they can find you.

And that’s where a lot of people stop. But that’s just like putting 2 quarts of oil in your car. It just isn’t enough.

If you put money into PPC (Pay Per Click), and not SEO, then your PPC campaign will be more expensive for you because Google gives preferential treatment to sites that are authoritative and relevant.

If you invest in a nice, fancy website that looks amazing, but don’t optimize it, either no one will find you, or the right people will have a harder time finding you.

If you are consistently on social media, but your posts link to a low quality site that people immediately click off, it will hurt your rankings and branding.

Everything functions better when you put time and effort into SEO.

Here are some tips.

  • Don’t optimize to be number 1 on Google. Optimize to be the most relevant and authoritative business in your field for your user. Google is giving more and more preference to user experience and user behavior, and it would be unwise to try to follow all of Google’s rules and pay more attention to them than your customers.
  • Don’t skimp out. SEO is one of those things where if you don’t put enough resources into it, it just won’t work the way you need it to. You must spend money to make money in this scenario, and the threshold is different for every business depending on a few different factors, the key ones being: keywords, the geography in which you’re competing, and the competitive atmosphere for those keywords.
  • Your off page SEO is only as good as your on-page. There’s no point in putting money into being found if your website isn’t working in your favor. Broken links, title and meta tags, page speed and other factors need to be fixed first to keep from being penalized on all search engines.
  • SEO is a long term investment. If you do a great job of on-page work at the beginning you will see a significant jump in your rankings, but a good campaign takes time. You’re in it for the long haul, so aim to look at it through that lens.

Just like oil for your car, SEO is fluid and needs to constantly be reviewed and adjusted for your website performance. Never think for a second once you’ve achieve a high ranking that you can cut off all optimization and stay at that spot. Your competition is breathing down your neck, your user’s behavior is changing, and your market and industry is always changing, but SEO will help you stay on top of that by remaining relevant online.

holiday marketing campaign

The Last-Minute Marketing Campaign for the Holidays

The tricks have been treated, the turkeys have been stuffed (as well as eaten), and Black Friday and Cyber Monday have already passed. The Holiday season is in full swing as we begin December and approach the end of the year. It’s the busiest time of the year for both consumers and producers, and marketers everywhere are chomping at the bit to see what holiday campaigns are paying dividends this year.

Social Media Accounts

If you don’t have any company social media accounts then this is the year to give your company a gift that keeps on giving. There are 2.3 billion active social media users, and that is growing by 10% each year. If you missed out on a social media marketing campaign this holiday season it’s not the end of the world. There is plenty of time to begin strategizing for next year’s season spike. Christmas shopping begins as early as the middle of August, which gives you plenty of time to build strong social media content.

Create Quality Content

Creating good content is like driving with a blindfold on if you don’t have the right target market. Knowing whom you are trying to target and how your content will reach them is a crucial step to take when trying to reach your holiday goals.

Target Your Buying Audience

If you hadn’t guessed it, Millennials hold most of the buying power nowadays and their presence on social media is higher than ever.

52% of people not only buy gifts for others but also themselves, according to a Facebook study that surveyed 21,000 people 18 years or older in 17 different countries. With that being said you need to realize that the goal of a Holiday marketing plan is not only for them to purchase something, but also for them to come back as repeat customers.

A few ways to light up your website and social media pages are to give it a festive holiday feel. This doesn’t mean posting pictures of cute puppies wearing antlers every week, but you should establish a holiday theme that is welcoming and easy to maneuver through, creating a great personal experience for customers.

Plan Ahead

Planning is something you should be doing months in advance. You should have a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish during the holiday season. The best way to avoid problems is to schedule campaign activities months in advance so you are prepared to act on the activities when the appropriate time comes. Research is an important factor in creating success, and knowing when to feature top sellers and gift suggestions can really make a difference in your campaign.

Always remember, some marketing is better than no marketing. Don’t be afraid to scrounge up a last minute campaign that draws in some customers that you can retain for the future. Set up a retention system so you can keep in touch with customers throughout the duration of the year. Which will give you a better start for next year’s campaign already.

Step out of your comfort zone; use some humor and interesting tidbits about your company to draw in those customers. Have fun with your campaign and continue to learn what tactics do and do not work for your company. Implementing these strategies during the holiday season will soon result in every day being a holiday!

4 Step Blueprint for Marketing Your Small Business in 2017

Okay, first of all, let me say that EVERY small business is different. With this article, I have no intention of lumping every small business into a giant category, each with the same needs.  Marketing as a small business owner, you need to consider things like your competitive atmosphere, geographic scope, strategic partnerships and much more. Each one of those considerations will create different variables for each different type of business.  However, in my experience, every small business NEEDS to take these “Four Steps” regardless of industry, product, competition or geography. And by doing so, I guarantee you will remain competitive against not only your local rivals, but you’ll give the big brands a run for their money as well. So, consider this “Four Step Blueprint to Marketing Your Small Business” the “must-haves” of marketing your small business in 2017. Let’s dig in.

Step 1: Customer Segmentation & Buyer Personas

I know as small business owners, we never have enough time. And the truth is, you probably already know this information like the back of your hand.

But if you haven’t taken the time to outline your customers’ needs and wants on paper, you need to do so.

Not only does this process help you sort through a lot of unnecessary fluff, but it also gives you a benchmark from which to make decisions about your product, your marketing, and your growth strategy. Everything else surrounding the operation of your business, including the remaining three steps in this blueprint will find value and, in some cases rely upon, an effective understanding of your customers.

Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Who is your target market?
    • Think outside the box. Is your customer a homeowner who likes fishing (fishing related home decor, etc.), or a fisherman wealthy enough to own a home (fishing boats, guided excursions, etc.)?
  • What ELSE might they be interested in?
    • Don’t just think demographics here like income, home ownership, or gender. Think “psychographics” like interests, hobbies, convictions.
    • People who care about organic food may also care about environmental conservation. They might buy all natural products, and there could be some cross-marketing potential.  
  • Do you have separate segments of customers for different products or services?
    • Men’s and Women’s Accessories?
    • Casual enthusiast vs. Avid user?

Be sure to understand your customers, their motivations, their needs and their goals and market to those motivations.

STEP 2: Responsive Website & Stellar User Experience

It’s shocking to me how many NON-responsive websites there are in the world. I feel like we’ve been talking about the importance of responsive websites for about five years now. But if your website isn’t responsive, trust me, you’re not alone. But here’s why you need to get it fixed asap.

Having a website that responds to the size of the device that it’s being viewed on is crucial in this day when eMarketer estimates that last year, there was about 190.5 million US smartphone users of all ages, representing 73.4% of internet users and 59.3% of the population. By 2019, the smartphone audience will reach 236.8 million, or 85.5% of internet users and 71.4% of total consumers in the country. Crazy… and this doesn’t even account for all the tablets and different sized laptops coming out every day.

Point is, marketing is about meeting your users where they’re at – and they’re on mobile devices.

As if you needed more of a reason to go responsive, Google has already given preferential treatment to responsive websites in search engine rankings. It has been rumored that they will start penalizing websites that are not responsive in 2017.

But being responsive isn’t even enough anymore. You have to create an experience for your users that feels more like they’re interacting with a person than a website. Talk to them plainly and guide them through the process of working with you. Have the experience be simple and enjoyable – not cumbersome. At every step, your website should remove barriers to working with you. You may be surprised at what the inherent psychology of your users sees as a barrier. Beware your barriers.

STEP 3: Optimize your website for search engines.

If your website is responsive, you’re already off to a good start. If you’ve created a great experience for your users, congratulations.

But if no one ever comes to your site, a responsive & stellar user experience won’t matter.

Are you blogging? Writing and updating content regularly? Sharing that content on industry relevant websites? Are all of the titles and descriptions to all your pages in line with what the pages are about? If you’re not already, optimize your website for search engines, get high-quality backlinks, produce new content and blogs regularly, and your website will produce leads – guaranteed. If you need help, let us know. We can help you fix issues, and get your website humming in search engines again.

STEP 4: Embrace Social Media.

There are 2.3 BILLION active social media users, and that is growing by 10% each year. Social media platforms have become search engines in their own right, and a new age word of mouth.

Think social media doesn’t make sense for you “Mr. B2B”? Think again: 81% of B2B decision makers use online communities and blogs to help make purchasing decisions. 74% use LinkedIn, and 42% use Twitter. (Marketing Think). We send hundreds of high-quality visitors to our B2B clients’ websites every month – and that’s only increasing.

Along with increased lead generation potential, pure brand awareness is NEVER going to hurt your business, and social media allows you to get awareness relatively inexpensively.

Increased traffic from search engines also proves to Google that people are paying attention to what you’re doing and care what you have to say – which is what is aptly known as “Social Proof.” All other factors equal; Google will give preferential ranking to websites with higher traffic coming from social media.

There you have it.

The above may seem like a simple list. Make no mistake; there are certainly many more active tactics you can pursue marketing your small business. But this list is here as “must-haves” for every small business in 2017. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in – B2B or B2C – do these four things to market your small business, and you’ll stay competitive.

Swell Digital Marketing Agency

Why I Chose A Digital Marketing Agency (And Why You Should Too!)

Digital marketing isn’t going away.

Smart, unique, noteworthy marketing has never been more necessary than it is today. And it isn’t slowing down. It’s a freight train of innovation, barreling into the future at breakneck speed, as fast as technology and analytics allow it to go.

Even if you don’t really pay attention to marketing and advertising, if you’re in the business sphere (and you are), you’re probably well aware of the necessity to have an online presence. If you have kids with a tablet, a spouse with a FitBit, or have a smartphone, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that unless you’re online, you’re irrelevant. And that’s because you’re smart, and you recognize that’s what people want and need. They want you to be accessible and convenient.

But that’s just the thing. Too many people stop at the beginning. What I mean by that is they stop at just being present…at JUST being online. Think about that in terms of your relationships. It’s one thing to be present…but it’s an entirely different thing to be INTENTIONAL and pursuing CONNECTION. Your customers are begging you to engage with them, and make real connections with them where they are, and where they go for their information.

Get this: 78% of local-mobile searches result in an offline purchase, and 72% of local-mobile searches resulted in a store visit within 5 miles

3 out of 4 searchers decisions are driven by digital marketing. If you’re not on the first page of Google (meaning you’re not taking your SEO seriously) then you’re missing out on your motivated customer base.

Here’s another interesting fact. 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases. Oh yeah. And they didn’t say, 81% of ONLINE shoppers. It’s 81% of people who are going to buy something more than a coffee or sandwich. If that doesn’t motivate you to present yourself in the best possible way online, then I don’t know what will. There are roughly 100 billion Google searches each month, so imagine how many people you’re a.) missing altogether, or b.) people who find you are drawing false assumptions about you and your business because of the way you’re presented online. Like it or not, your website will define you and can steer away even the most motivated buyer. If you don’t make a connection, someone else will. If you’re not engaging, you’re missing out.

Ok, it’s important. Can’t I do it myself?

Reasons to choose an agency…and why I chose SWELL


When you hire an agency, you’re hiring a team of professionals dedicated to perfecting their craft day in and day out. Like I stated above, the digital marketing world is constantly changing, whether it’s Google algorithms or the latest marketing trend, and you’ve got a business to run. Hiring a group of trained professionals to stay on top of it for you will not only take a load off your plate, but make your marketing efforts much more effective and efficient.


Can you do it yourself? Sure, but as I mentioned in the previous point, you’re hiring a GROUP of professionals. It’s the proverbial bang for your buck, and marketing is all about ROI. An agency prides themselves on bringing you the results you want to see. It becomes personal. If they fail, there’s no one to blame. The same dollar that would be going to someone in-house is now going to someone who’s future is tied to making sure you successful, because you could leave at any time if you wanted to.


I haven’t come across a more passionate group of individuals, not only about their craft, but about the clients they work with. Who wouldn’t want to jump on board with a company that sees value in each and every client and helps them tell their story to anyone who will gaze on a smartphone or tablet? Whether it’s creating unique user experience on a new website…coming up with a digital strategy rooted in solid analytics and data…or about hearing people’s stories and bringing them to life digitally…  we have a passion to help businesses connect with their customers in a real and meaningful way, beyond just a transaction.

Relationship: And for SWELL, relationships are everything. We believe in investing in you. You are more than a transaction; we want to become an extension of your business. We want to be on your team. We want to establish trust through transparency, and be authentic in everything we do. We believe if you succeed, we succeed, and we truly are better together.

And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Marketing has never been about selling something. It’s about finding the right person for your solution, product or service. It’s about connection. Relationship. Authenticity. That’s why I chose SWELL.

Zuzu the boxer loves

Marketing Highlights with

Disclaimer: The following post is not sponsored content. I’m just a happy customer who wants to give a shout out to a company I totally respect. Among other things, I wanted to highlight their success from a marketing perspective and offer them as tangible examples of amazing brand experience.

If you haven’t heard of and you are a pet owner – get on board with their service, you won’t regret it.

Zuzu the boxer

See – even Zuzu the 9 month old Boxer puppy loves them.

Located in Daytona Beach, FL, Chewy is a delivery service of top pet brands (I’m talking about the ones you can’t find in a Walmart or even most of your local pet shops). From food to toys, treats, and supplies – Chewy offers the things pet owners need at a price you can’t beat. I didn’t even pay anything extra for shipping and my (dog’s) package showed up the next day. THE NEXT DAY. But enough about what they do that’s awesome. Let’s get into their branding.


It’s pretty easy to say you care about animals. I’d guess that more people would tell you they are animal fans than not. But it’s one thing to really like animals and another to display your passion for them through your business model. excels at this for a few reasons.

They won’t sell any supplies they believe to be low quality.

While lower quality pet brands are easily available and would add to diversity of product offering, Chewy doesn’t want to associate with any product that is less than satisfactory from their scientific standards. More than projecting an image of carrying high-quality products, they don’t want less educated pet-owners to even have the option of selecting a low-quality product purely because of price.

I save about 15% on my dog food brand when I purchase through compared to when I shop at the pet store. The people at Chewy make it their mission to offer top brands and quality products at an affordable price because they want healthy and safe options to be available for all pets.

I invest in higher quality brands of food because cheaper food brands will use “food fillers” that place grain or animal-by-products at the top of the ingrediants list because it is less expensive to fill the food with than acutal sources of animal protein such as chicken or fish. While not all pets will need a grain free diet, prioritizing the main ingredients will help ensure your pet remains its healthiest when it comes to what they eat.

They support animals in need.

Who doesn’t love a for-profit company that supports non-profit work? Chewy is dedicated to supporting non-profit organizations that help animals in need. They work with a lot of non-profit organizations that assist pets in some way. As a pet owner, I’m also a pet lover. Not just for my pet but for all types of animals.

Knowing Chewy donates to shelters and other foundations with programs helps me to connect with them on a more personal level. This also assists with customers identifying with their brand, knowing the profit they receive from sales will partially go back into charity they can get behind.

The Rescue and Shelter Network is open to all registered non-profit organizations that specialize in assisting pets in need. Their free rescue network partners with these NFPs by offering access to programs providing donations and fundraising opportunities.

They keep experts on staff.

Chewy not only offers 24/7 customer service, but their customer service reps are trained to handle more than your typical rep. They send these people to lectures, inform them of latest research and trends in pet science and the pet care industry. Chewy really wants you to know that it’s more than just a friendly face on the other end of the phone, but someone who can guide you in the best direction with your pet questions.


Now that we know Chewy rocks because they truly liveout their mission – Let’s talk about actual marketing tactics. I consider myself an old soul, so I may find this gesture more impactful than other millennials, but around my second or third purchase through them I received a handwritten postcard in the mail. First off; that’s classy. Second; it gives a company with over 800 employees a personal and local feel.


This is the postcard I received the other day from reading, “Welcome to the Chewy family! I hope your little one is enjoying the Greenies dog treats. We’re here 24/7.“

So what makes this ‘thank you’ special? What makes a marketing tactic like this so powerful is how incredibly personalized it is especially coming from a large business. While their products are not handcrafted, their thank you notes are. Someone at that company took a minute to legibly write out my correctly spelled name and even call out one of the products I bought. With as many orders as I can assume handles in a day they still make it a priority to not lose the who the customer IS in the process.

What this shows is that Chewy understands the most basic philosophy of business there can be; provide the customer with a memorable and pleasant experience. The reason? (other than truly caring about what they do): To tip the first domino in the chain of referrals. Word of mouth marketing is old school. Before internet, before social media, people talked (believe it or not). What Chewy has done is combine an online experience with a traditional piece of business advice: CARE. The truth is, even in our business of marketing, referrals are powerful things  because people trust people who aren’t getting paid to promote something and feed a tailored opinion to others. I haven’t met a single person using Chewy’s service who has not had something good to say, so why wouldn’t I trust them – at least to try out? Then when they send me a very personalized message – IN THE MAIL – and experience a great service, it just affirms that my choice has been well placed.

Social proof is another aspect of this. B2C companies are missing out on huge opportunities if they aren’t active on social media because it provides a platform for happy customers turned “brand evangelists” to display their endorsement publicly. I’m a huge fan of companies that engage with their customers through social media and applaud the ones ahead of the game with a help account for customer questions through social as well.

Creating LOYAL customers is far less expensive than acquiring new ones. A loyal customer base has also been proven to yield a higher return on investment over time than investing in getting new customers. Obviously a growing business has to strike a balance, but the best brands know how to appreciate and recognize loyalty.

The next great thing about this is they didn’t have to work too hard to make me a happy customer. They sent me a postcard, which really doesn’t require a whole lot of work. But the fact that SOMEONE took the time to do that, leaves an impact.

Also, the truth is, tactics like paid online advertising, billboards, and commercials are becoming  less and less appealing to audiences. There are ad-blockers now for most browsers, and with SO much bombarding us each day, it has become easier and easier for us to become blind to ads, or even hypersensitive to brand messages that aren’t authentic.

Chewy doesn’t promise anything that isn’t insanely evident about how they do business. But they’ve been able to go above and beyond in simple, but very effective ways. They’ve spent time on WHY they do business, and that has made all the difference. If more marketing and business models can be accomplished like this, the need to get out in front of potential customers dwindles down.  Show me you care in authentic ways, and I will be way more likely to care about you too.

UX Design makes the User the Hero

Storytelling & UX Design Part 2: How to Use Story to Create Effective UX Design.

In Part 1, we shared with you WHY UX design needs to consider effective storytelling as synonymous with effective UX design. In Part 2, we’ll now explore steps a UX designer can take to get better at storytelling to create amazing journeys for their users.

Make your User the Hero!

UX Design makes the User the Hero

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UX design creates experiences with users in mind, duh. And the point of a story is to keep the events in the story related to the main character at all times. So, it stands to reason that “Storytelling Design” would place the user in the shoes of the main character or protagonist.  Good designers and good writers know that without first knowing your protagonist/user completely, it will be unlikely you will be able to create an effective experience for them.

When we design a website for a client here at SWELL, we first start with a brief. This is a series of questions intent upon understanding our client’s users and inspiring our design and content teams to create something beautiful and effective. In the same way, as a writer begins to form characters for their story, they ask very similar questions.   Let’s explore some from the writer’s perspective:

  • Who is the protagonist?
    • Just as in real life, this is so much more than a name. Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What about for fun?  
  • What motivates them?
    • Without understanding what truly motivates someone, we miss a major part of their story. It becomes a real challenge to relate to the character.  
  • What are their dreams, hopes, and fears?
    • Delving deeper, every individual has layers. Within the layers underneath motivation, lay a myriad of emotions unique to that individual. This is what influences how people process things – How they act upon the events in their world.
  • What are they struggling with?
    • This is probably the place that we should be relating most to our character (though your product or service should probably be addressing this inherently). What our protagonist struggles with is probably the most compelling piece for a writer to construct. These are the points in a story during which the character grows. Without the character growing within a story, the story falls flat.

The “Building of the World” and Architecture

Building Your User's World using UX Design

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Have you read Lord of the Rings? The Hobbit? Any science fiction or fantasy? (If not, you should – but I digress.) J.R.R. Tolkien (the author of LOTR, and Hobbit) was simply the best at investing a significant amount of time building the world in which his characters will live. He was known to make maps of cities and landmarks, define cultural and societal norms, introduce politics, and ensure the “science” of the world is consistent. Much of which he built surrounding his “worlds” was said to have never even made it into the books. The reason is simple: authenticity. The more complete the world is, the more real it feels to the reader. In this way, the “world” becomes a character in and of itself. In the same way, UX design should invest time into thinking through the “world” they’re tasked with creating. Again, let’s look at some questions we ask during the briefing process and relate them to questions UX designers can ask themselves during this process:

  • What is the world we’re building?
    • Is it a website? A web app? A mobile app? Depending on the platform, your approach will certainly change.
  • How do key aspects of this world interact with one another?
    • In a story, the writer may consider things like the rules of magic in this realm – do some characters have it? Do some not? Why? In the digital world, the concept is the same. How do elements on the platform relate to one another?

Story Arc and User Flow

In every good story, the hero makes choices. Those choices have impact on how the story plays out and what happens next. They dictate the “arc” of the story and eventually lead the hero to resolution.  

The same is true of users engaging with your design. Which is why it will be vital to understand the steps in the process of your “narrative”, in order to guide the user toward making the choices you want them to make.  

Here are a few questions our digital storytellers ask that are also worth asking for UX design:

  • What is the ending?
    • Every story has a conflict to be resolved. Every character – a struggle to emerge from. I.E. Frodo needs to get the ring to Mordor. Luke Skywalker needs to realize his potential as a Jedi. Poirot needs to be observant and uncover clues.
  • Why would someone want to get there?
    • I might take a note from Simon Sinek and argue that your “Why” should come first. But this harkens back to user motivation and how that plays into user’s choices. I.E. Frodo needs to save Middle Earth from great evil. Luke needs to help lead the Rebellion and restore the Jedi order. Poirot needs to solve the case.  
  • What decisions need to be made along the journey to get to the end?
    • Think of this as the GPS directions that guide the character through the struggle, telling them where and when to turn to reach their destination. The choice is still upon the character, and each decision has the potential to change the story. The fact is, characters don’t always know what they’re going to do in the moment – nor are they aware the decision is significant. But the writer is – and so are we as UX designers. It is our role as the creator to create a safe and enjoyable space for users to make decisions even if our user doesn’t realize they’re making decisions.  
  • How can we better help the hero?
    • Writers will plug in all sorts of assistance for the protagonist in the form of new information, items, companions, magic. How does your UX design provide what the user needs to get to the destination?

A Note on “Conflict”

For most of this post, we’ve been discussing the similarities between storytelling and UX design. But for a moment, let’s discuss a major difference.

Stories need conflict and struggle to be interesting. A writer will spend time constructing tragedies and events that their character must endure. They do so because it helps their character mature or understand their own surroundings in a way that helps define them. Through struggle, the character obtains clarity on what it is that they are moving toward and why!

On the flip side, UX design is about minimizing struggle within the user’s journey. The less conflict there is, the better the overall experience will be. We don’t need our users to grow as much as we want to make it as simple as possible to shine.

In Summary

If we want to create digital experiences that are unique and intriguing, we need to consider including storytelling. As humans, we relate innately to stories and learn well from them. If we can think about user experience as a story we’re writing and our user as the main character, we will deliver an overall story arc or experience that is compelling.  These methods will help us to achieve our goals of effective UX design.

boy reading a story and having an experience via UX Design

Storytelling & UX Design Part I: Why They Go Hand-In-Hand

Welcome to our two-part series on storytelling through the eyes – and talents – of UX design. In Part 1, I’ll share with you WHY UX design needs to consider effective storytelling as synonymous with effective UX design. In Part 2, we’ll explore steps a UX designer can take to get better at storytelling to create amazing journeys for their users. To start, indulge me in a quick thought exercise:

Which of the following two paragraphs do you find more intriguing ?

Paragraph 1

Stacy arrived at the airport. She checked in, went through security and waited for her plane. After a half hour or so, they began to board her group. Her plane was last in line to take off and had to wait on the runway for 45 minutes. Because of this, Stacy was late to her meeting in Denver.

Paragraph 2

Stacy arrived at the airport a bit nervous. She hadn’t been on a plane for many years, and she was heading to Denver for a meeting with a large potential client. Despite arriving plenty early, Stacy waited in a ridiculously long line to check in for her flight. Once her turn was up, it was pretty clear from the expression of the attendant and people in line behind her, that Stacy had no idea what she was doing – which made her face get red and her palms get a bit sweaty. After checking in, Stacy raced to the security area, only to see that the line was even longer there.  Even though she knew in the back of her mind that she had time before her flight took off, Stacy began to feel as though this whole day was going to go terribly wrong. While she waited in line, she decided that she was going to review her pitch in her head. She had been practicing for weeks and really wanted to land her first big deal. But Stacy’s train of thought kept getting interrupted by the stop and start of the security line. Finally, it was her turn. Learning her lesson and following the cues of the people in front of her, Stacy’s trip through the checkpoint went relatively quick. As she found her terminal and sat down, Stacy was beginning to feel a little better about the day. Little did she know that what was about to happen next was going to make her late for her big meeting in Denver.     

Both paragraphs have essentially the same information. In fact, the first paragraph has slightly more. However, the second paragraph is much more interesting because it is a story.  Some may argue that the first paragraph has a beginning, middle, and an end – so is, therefore, a story. But REAL stories are meant to connect with us emotionally, and the first paragraph is simply a list of facts. In the second paragraph, we feel Stacy’s stress. We experience her physical response to embarrassment. We understand her excitement to land her first big deal. And we empathize with her obvious inexperience and remember a time when we were that worked up over something we wanted and worked hard for. We are intrigued and want to find out what happens next (even though paragraph 1 contains spoilers).

So what does this exercise have to do with UX Design? Everything. The point of UX is to connect with your users and create lasting impressions. This means the UX designer’s list of talents MUST include the craft of storytelling. If we consider UX through the periscope of telling a good story, we are much more likely to create with a human-centered approach, therefore moving people to action through more memorable experiences.

Why Storytelling and UX Design go Hand-in-Hand


Source: Designed by Freepik

Let’s think about the fundamental goal of UX design: to improve customer satisfaction and engagement through the utility, ease of use, and enjoyment provided by interacting with a platform, product, or service. When we think of the process of UX design like the craft of telling a story, a few things happen.

  • We remain focused on our users. This may seem obvious because users are always SUPPOSED to be at the center of the design process. Still, it can be very easy to let our ideas and preferences muddle what the users not only need – but what they want. Stories are rooted in characters and maintaining focus on the story we are telling makes it almost impossible to remove characters from the process.
  • We create a meaningful buyer’s journey. The most effect product experiences will take the user on a journey. Some journeys take the user where they already want to go. The best journeys take them where they don’t even know they need to go – yet convinces them it’s where they need to be. The worst ones, however, will involve a series of unrelated actions that take the user somewhere they may or may not have expected – and moreover – don’t understand. If we envision our user flow as a story involving step-by-step events in a cohesive narrative (and even a more traditional story arc), we all but eliminate the confusion and disjointed nature of a seemingly random set of tasks.
  • We make a lasting emotional impact. The truth is, most products and services do not elicit an emotional connection. They make no long-term impact on the user, nor do they create a sense of anticipation for the returning or (better yet) the loyal customer. But stories – good ones – have the capacity to do all of these things.  

As human beings, we have stories ingrained into our very being. This makes us literally hard-wired to respond to them. On the flip side, humans are NOT wired to connect with digital products. Effective UX design marries the two and creates more meaningful user experiences.  

In this part one, we explain why you should wrap UX design in an effective story. In part two, we’ll discuss how. Keep an eye out and take this journey with me!

Google possum update

The Google Possum Update and its Effect on Local Search

Swell recently wrote an overview on Google’s update for Penguin 4.0, but we wanted to highlight another update Google released in September. On September 1st, Google released an update to what is being called “Possum” which focuses on local SEO. The name has been tossed around in the SEO industry because when several businesses were assuming their Google My Business listings had disappeared, they were really just being hidden (or playing possum) based on new filters applied.

What is affected?

Since Google doesn’t give much explanation to their algorithms for the purpose of authentic search results, SEO thought leaders have tested enough to find that the changes made affected local search only. Impact has been seen in the 3-pack and finder (Google Maps results) along with speculation that slight changes to organic search was carried out as well.

Why was it updated?

When it comes down to it, Google’s updates are always about one thing, creating the most authentic search results for the end-user. This means blocking or making it increasingly difficult for spam sites to gain rankings. While the Possum update was to police spam, it was also launched in order to diversify local business search results as well.

What is different now?

There are 5 main changes with the algorithm that affect local search.

    1. Businesses located outside of the city limit search are now included in search priority. This means that any business that services or sells products to customers in a particular city, but is located outside of those city limits will now be included in that local search. Before, businesses like this wouldn’t even be looped into a particular city search at all in Google Maps.
    2. Google now filters based on address and affiliation. In order to increase variety in search results, Google will only provide local listings that are not using the same address and not owned by the same parent company. Realize that this doesn’t mean the child company or business in the same building that is being filtered is penalized, it just means it is being hidden in that search. Users still have the option to view unfiltered results. Business will also rank differently based on different keywords.
    3. Heavier priority is given to the location of the searcher.  Businesses that consistently pay attention to their rank in Google for targeted keywords have already noticed this change. If you have one person performing a search with a keyword in one location and another person performing that same search in the next town over, the results for a particular business will, in theory, show up higher with whoever is closest to that business’s location. This is why it is critical for all searchers to have their correct location registered with their browsing device.
    4. More variation in 3-pack listings with slight variation in keyword search. With the algorithm update, there seems to be a lot more variation in business ranking even with slight differences in keyword searches. For instance, if you were to type in “furniture manufacturers in grand rapids” and then “grand rapids MI furniture manufacturers”, there would be a variation in the 3-pack listings. Prior to the update, the results shown would be very similar regardless of which variation of keyword you used.
    5. Local filter and organic filter are run independently. Before the Possum update, websites that were organically filtered out were negatively impacted. This occurs when a site is too similar to another one and will therefore be filtered out from the results. Now with Possum, (since local and organic results are filtered independently) local business websites will see a spike in ranking if they were being lowered prior to Possum.


Because there is so much fluctuation in local rankings recently, there is speculation that Google is currently A/B testing their algorithm. If this is true, it is completely possible that Google may revert back to its original filter settings if necessary. For now Possum seems to be a part of the Google algorithm family with the increase in priority for local search.