We are thrilled to announce that MSPC has once again been honored by the Content Marketing Institute as a finalist for Agency of the Year (agencies with less than 100 employees) for 2023.

The award, given annually at the CMI’s Content Marketing Awards, recognizes agencies that have distinguished themselves by creating content marketing that serves as a showcase for the entire industry.

According to CMI’s website, “The Agency of the Year recognition by the Content Marketing Institute is, perhaps, the greatest award honor a content marketing agency can achieve. The judges look at the agency’s projects and performance over the past year, as well as the innovation behind consistent multi-platform publishing.”

“We pride ourselves on the results we bring and relationships we share with our clients, but an honor from our peers is certainly worth celebrating,” says Deborah Hopp, agency president. “There’s no more talented team of marketers in the industry, and it would be a thrill to see them rewarded as Agency of the Year again.”

The winner of this year’s Agency of the Year award will be announced during Content Marketing World on Thursday, Sept. 28.

MSPC was named Agency of the Year in 2018 and was a finalist for the award in 2018, 2021 and 2022.

Read next: Why Journalists Make the Best Content Marketers

What does a pink butcher shop have to do with content marketing? Here, MSPC VP of B2B content Evelyn Hoover shares three surprising content marketing lessons from a small-town butcher shop.

As we pulled into the small town of Wanamingo, Minnesota, my husband and I were puzzled and intrigued by the small pink building standing near the grain elevators. The sign outside, complete with a cowgirl cutout, proclaimed, “Blondie’s Butcher Shop.” We looked at each other and thought, what exactly is this? We knew we had to check it out.

I grew up on a family farm about 120 miles west of Wanamingo, so my father took me to butcher shops from time to time. The butcher shops of my youth were run by older men wearing blood-stained white aprons. The smell of blood and cigarette smoke hung in the air.

None of them was anything like Blondie’s. Everything about the place announces that it’s not your typical butcher shop. Blondie’s, a woman-owned and -operated (and mostly staffed) butcher shop, goes whole hog (forgive the pun) on creating a niche.

Blondie’s sells great products, including aged steaks, store-made brats, homemade rolls and buns, and much more, but the shop’s owner, Lindsey Loken, doesn’t stop there. Her approach to the meat industry parallels the content marketing advice given by Joe Pulizzi and Brian Piper in their recent book, “Epic Content Marketing Second Edition.”

  1. Know your audience. Loken, a native of the surrounding area, understands her buyers, many of whom live near the town of 1,100 people in southeastern Minnesota. From the “support your local farmer” type signage to the tongue-in-cheek “complaint department, press red button” (the red button is the center of a trap), to the country music streaming from the speakers, she knows what her buyers want.
    Understanding audience needs (often before they know it themselves) is a cornerstone of content marketing. In chapter 10 of the book, Pulizzi advises, “If you are not striving to be the go-to number one resource for your industry niche, you are settling for the comfortable, whatever that means to you in goal-setting terms.”
  2. Stand out from the crowd. Eleven years ago, Loken became the fourth person to own a butcher shop in that same location. When she took over, she could have painted the building brown or gray so it blended in with the other buildings nearby. Instead, she opted for pink accents that visually shout, “Look at me.” She could have left the walls bare inside (and outside). Instead, she chose to decorate with some playful signs that show her shop’s personality.
    Because Blondie’s is unique, it’s generated earned media, being featured on the National Geographic Channel as well as local TV news and newspapers. If the Wanamingo butcher shop, which has been in operation since 1937, closed tomorrow, it would leave a hole.
    What if your content was gone? Would anyone notice? “If the answer is no, then you’ve got a problem,” Pulizzi says. “You should have your customers and prospects needing–no, longing for–your content. It ought to be part of their lives and their jobs.”
  3. Become a trusted expert. Loken has big plans to expand her reach. She recently launched a website that will include e-commerce options as well as videos to help customers get the most from their purchases. She is also active on the local legislative scene and the shop uses several social media channels. To give back, Loken teaches classes to local high school students on butchering techniques, as well.
    It’s this same advice that Pulizzi offers content marketers: Become a trusted expert in your industry. It’s the way to sell more consistently. “Today it’s harder and harder to buy attention. You have to earn it. Earn it today, tomorrow and five years from now by delivering the most impactful information your customer could ever ask for,” he says.

As we drove away from Wanamingo that morning, I thought about Blondie’s and about content marketing. If you were to ask Loken, I think she would advise, “Don’t be afraid to try something that differentiates.” So go ahead and create content that truly stands out from your competition. Don’t get lost in the sea of sameness. Think pink. Think originality. Think like Blondie’s.

Read next: 11 Subject Matter Expert Content Creation Tips

We are thrilled to share the results of our submissions for the Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing Awards for 2023.

MSPC also submitted an entry for Agency of the Year. The finalists for that award category have not yet been announced.

Read next: Why Journalists Make the Best Content Marketers

I wear a lot of hats: mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, content director, manager, volunteer, giver, forever learner, UW-Madison alumna. But one of my new favorites is co-chair of two of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Parents and Professional Development.

One of our agency—and company—strengths is the collective talent, collaboration and energy of the employees who make great things together. Somehow, the pandemic didn’t take a hit at our enduring passion to ideate, create, write, design and publish great content for our clients and communities.
But as individuals, I wondered: What about each of us? Are we ok?

How It Started

Through our work with 3M Employee Communications, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing how employee groups bring people together and create safe spaces for fulfilling conversations and exchanging ideas. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of another company, its benefits and culture—as well as methods to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These integral communities are self-run and make their company feel smaller and psychologically safer for employees.

When I returned from my second parental leave in October 2021, I introduced the idea of ERGs to our DEI Steering Committee. Call it new mom compassion or intuition, but I could feel uncertainty of the pandemic still lingering and our cultural connections lacking, especially for anyone new to our company.

Despite the thoughtful care of our leaders, that aspect was inevitable for a workforce that went from in-person interaction five days a week to completely remote. If I felt this way after being at the company for so long, how did new employees feel? I couldn’t shake feeling responsible for improving what we had to offer. I knew we could do more.

By this point, “belonging” was the new buzz word and our DEI Committee took that mantle very seriously. I’m so grateful the idea to explore ERGs was welcomed and executed. Through a company survey, we asked employees what groups would be of interest and landed on four to launch in September 2022.

How It’s Going

Nine months into our ERG pilot, I’m incredibly proud to say we have four dynamic groups that foster community and a sense of belonging for MSPers every day:

At the core, our ERGs aim to bring more of us together for conversations and connection, in person and virtually. Monthly meetings don’t focus on our day-to-day jobs, but they are some of the most valuable meetings on my calendar. Think: water cooler meets sage advice. An opportunity to learn and grow, personally and professionally. A friendly place to land after a crazy week. A warm hug when you return from parental leave—or prep for leave! We launched these groups as an exciting way to experience what makes MSP Communications truly great: our people.

The success of these groups is due to each member, as well as Kate Rogers (VP, digital strategy), Tim Dallum (senior production manager), Tina Gschlecht (senior project manager), Chapin Blanchard (senior content strategist), Tiffany Lukk (content strategist) and Rachel Hatcher (content specialist), who have valiantly spearheaded this initiative with me and are incredible culture leaders.

This is only the beginning and new groups will emerge as we continue to expand as a company. But know this: If you join MSP Communications, you will have a group to welcome you in and make you feel seen and heard from the jump. You belong here.

Read next: The Value of Evergreen Content

As a small business owner, the key to success in today’s competitive marketplace is a solid online presence. You’ve probably heard about search engine optimization (SEO) being essential for businesses—and it’s true. But when it comes to small and local businesses, local SEO is the game-changer. Local SEO helps your business rank higher in search engine results for customers within your geography.

By optimizing your website and online presence, you can increase your visibility to potential customers in your area and grow your business. In this blog post, we’ll explore some simple yet effective tips that will help improve your local search visibility right away.

Optimize Your Google Business Listing

Google Business is a free business tool that enables you to manage your business’s online presence across Google, including Search and Maps. To get started, claim and verify your listing. Once verified, provide accurate and updated information about your business, such as your name, address, phone number, working hours and website.

Include high-quality photos of your business, FAQs, products or services. By optimizing your listing and keeping it up to date, you increase the chances of showing up in Google’s Local Pack—the top three search results for local businesses.

Use Local Keywords on Your Website

Incorporate local keywords throughout your website’s content, title tags and meta descriptions. This will help search engines better understand what your business is about and where it’s located.

Use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner to discover popular search terms for your company and location. Remember to use these keywords appropriately and avoid keyword stuffing. Incorporating localized content in your website, such as featuring local events, testimonials or news, can also boost your local SEO.

Make Your NAP Consistent

NAP (name, address, phone number) is crucial for local SEO. Ensuring that your NAP is consistent across your website and online business listings is essential. Inconsistent information can confuse search engines and potential customers alike, which can negatively impact your rankings. Audit and update your online listings—including social media profiles, directories and review sites—to ensure your NAP is consistent across the board.

Grow and Manage Online Reviews

Online reviews are an essential component of local SEO because they build trust with customers and improve your search rankings. Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on Google, Yelp and other relevant platforms. Respond to both positive and negative reviews professionally and courteously. This not only demonstrates that you value customer feedback, but it also helps to mitigate potential damage from negative reviews. Moreover, showcasing testimonials or reviews on your website can further build trust and credibility with potential customers.

The Google iFrame Map

Integrating the Google iFrame map on your location page is not only a crucial element for enhancing user experience, but it also plays a significant role in boosting local SEO for your website. By embedding this highly interactive and user-friendly map feature, you provide your audience with a convenient tool to pinpoint your business’s precise location and get quick access to directions, thereby increasing the likelihood of them visiting your physical location.

Additionally, search engines like Google emphasize content that offers valuable information and improved functionality. As a result, incorporating the Google iFrame map can enhance your website’s visibility in local search results, attracting more potential customers and ultimately driving higher traffic to your site. Connecting the signal of your Google Business Page and website can have an immediate impact on increasing your rank.

How to Implement the Google iFrame Map

  1. Google your business name
  2. Click “Maps”
  3. Click the “Share” button Share button icon screenshot
  4. Click “Embed a Map”
  5. Copy HTML, then add to your CMS where appropriate Google iFrame Map screenshotGoogle iFrame Map

To give your small business the visibility it needs, local SEO is a must in today’s digital world. From crafting an optimized Google My Business listing to embedding a map of your location and earning online reviews, these tactics can work together to boost rankings in local search results—resulting in higher foot traffic for you. With such simple steps taken now, there will be more potential customers discovering what makes you so special—meaning loyal clientele won’t be far away with consistent effort on leveling up those local optimization skills.

To learn more, download our guide to unlock your local SEO potential, or email Anthony Englund, senior director of digital strategy, at [email protected].

Chapin Blanchard is a senior content strategist who originally started at MSPC as an editorial intern in 2015. During an MSPC interlude, she attended graduate school at the University of Edinburgh Business School and tested out east coast living in Washington, D.C., before moving back to the Twin Cities in 2021.

Today, Chapin works across all of MSPC’s 3M clients, helping to plan and create awesome content and tell stories that matter.

Learn more about Chapin in today’s 5 Questions.

What skill, hobby, experience, etc., do you have that would surprise people?

A decade after I wrapped my high school downhill ski racing career, I began crashing gates again in 2022. Now each winter, I once again sidestep my way to the top of the starting house at Buck Hill and race giant slalom alongside my fellow Hill People (I didn’t pick the team name).

Recommend a book, movie, album, etc.—a favorite or something you’ve consumed recently.

In the podcast “Home Cooking,” chef extraordinaire Samin Nosrat and podcast whiz Hrishikesh Hirway share their latest ventures in the kitchen, solve listeners’ cooking conundrums and engage in delightful banter. While the podcast now only comes out once a year around Thanksgiving, the multitude of episodes recorded during its 2020 heyday are worth a listen.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I loved school and wanted to be a teacher, mainly because that meant I could write on the whiteboard and decorate my own classroom.

What has been your favorite MSPC project and why?

Ahead of the 2016 holiday season—during my first stint at MSPC—we embarked on a major holiday crafting project for 3M’s Scotch™ Brand. To support the sales of their Expressions tape and inspire creativity using the product, we made 1,000 gift wrap samples that were later displayed in Target stores across the country. To accomplish this feat, we set up shop on the 52nd floor of Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis and enjoyed visits from colleagues who came over to help craft in their spare time.

Recommend two or three accounts to follow on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or your platform of choice.

@coffeecupsoftheworld on Instagram: As someone who has planned a road trip from Minnesota to Cape Cod entirely around unique, local coffee shops, this account is a must-follow.

@visitfaroeislands on Instagram: The striking, moody landscape of the archipelago is a photographer’s paradise. I can’t wait to visit again one day.

@livefromsnacktime on Instagram: I rarely encounter kids in my day-to-day life, but from what I can tell, they’re hilarious.

Read next: The Value of Evergreen Content

Amy Armato is an award-winning art director for MSPC. Amy’s main focus is member magazines. Her current projects include Land & Life, a brand new lifestyle publication for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation; and Independent Banker, a business publication for the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Her design expertise lies in her ability to span various topics conceptually while offering a cohesive publication to members. Prior to her work at MSPC, she designed everything from packaging and sales materials to small business identities and wedding stationery.

Breakfast or dinner? Describe your ideal meal.

I am all about sweets. I love a good meal but I’m really only in it for the desserts.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I always drew and looked at art when I was younger. Bubble letters and rainbows when I was very young and then later more and more lettering. When I was in junior high, there was a program that had 7th and 8th graders go to elementary schools with large prints of famous artworks and ask students questions about the art, both visual and historical. I loved that!

I was an art history major in college and worked at the MIA and Weisman Art Museum as both intern and staff. Then I discovered graphic design, where I get to use my art history skills as well as my art skills. What I love most about my job now is being able to deeply research the work of my clients and then translate that into striking visuals that get people engaged and excited about an organization. For me that has been learning a lot about member associations, community banking and farming in Minnesota. Each has been interesting in its own way. Truly, I love my job.

Recommend a book, movie, album, etc.—a favorite or something you’ve consumed recently.

Book: “The Story of Art Without Men” by Katy Hessel. Once an art history nerd, always an art history nerd. This book is about women’s contributions to art history; something woefully ignored by most art history texts out there—most notably “The Story of Art” by E. H. Gombrich, which mentioned zero women in its first edition in 1950 and 16 editions later only mentions one. It makes me so happy that this is out in the world … finally.

Show: “Slow Horses” on Apple+. Gary Oldman slurping noodles in the first episode of the second season is some of the best TV I’ve seen all year. Bravo to the sound engineers on this one. So gross, SO funny.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self or someone earlier in their career path?

As a young woman, I had a major case of imposter syndrome. It caused me to not ask questions—whether that was about the job in front of me or wider questions about business or the people I was interacting with—for fear of sounding unintelligent or out of place. I don’t do that anymore. I would encourage people, especially young women, to ask the questions they have and not apologize or feel bad for asking them. I wish I would have had a mentor to guide me through that stuff. The soft skills.

I try my hardest now to encourage any and all questions no matter how big or small, to walk people through processes, to not judge questions and just answer them in a reassuring way. It’s something that needs constant attention. Imposter syndrome is real!

Recommend two or three accounts to follow on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or your platform of choice.

The Letterform Archive is a nonprofit center for all things typography. It’s a “curated collection of over 100,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy and graphic design, spanning thousands of years of history.”

Gabriel Blair and her family moved to a small town in France and bought a very old house that was in need of major renovations. She has recorded it all on her Instagram (@designmom), and it’s fascinating.

Everytime I see what they’re up to at NYT Kids I say to myself, “Whoa, what amazing jobs Deb Bishop and her team have!” The illustration, design and editorial treats kids in a fun way that is not baby-ish. I think it does a great job of reflecting how late elementary and middle grade kids want to be seen. The Insta feed acknowledges the real feelings and concerns of kids while being super fun for adults and kids alike.
Read next: How a Magazine Redesign Can Benefit Your Association

B2B content marketing thought leadership is lacking. How can companies’ content add real value? Here, MSPC VP of B2B content Evelyn Hoover recalls a marketing lesson she learned from owning her dog and offers tips for more effective B2B content marketing thought leadership.

My 7-year-old Catahoula mix was attacked by another dog last month. Bree came to us via a rescue organization so we don’t know a lot about her history, but we are reasonably sure there was trauma involved, as she’s scared of many things—the vacuum cleaner, thunder, fireworks, etc. Up until recently, we had never had to use the cone of shame on her, as she hasn’t had any surgeries or injuries that required it. After the attack, I brought it out of storage for her. To say she was terrified of it is an understatement.

I immediately began searching the internet for alternatives to the cone of shame and came up with the inflatable donut (I had no idea such a thing existed). While she didn’t love the donut, she definitely wasn’t terrified of it (that’s a big plus).

Which brings me to how I discovered the inflatable dog collar. Like most people I started with a question: What are alternatives for the cone of shame for dogs? Google kindly answered that question with an article from Oakland Veterinary Referral Services aptly titled, “Best Cone of Shame Alternatives.”

At that point, I knew I had to first read the descriptions to find one that wouldn’t freak poor Bree out. I decided on the Kong Cloud Collar because the article said it would not hinder my pet’s peripheral vision. This seems important to my dog. An added bonus is that the removable fabric cover can be cleaned in the washing machine. Bree can be a messy eater, so this was also important. The final factor was that the inflatable dog collar comes in sizes from small through extra large. She’s officially a large.

OK, great, I was thinking, I’m on my way to solving this little doggy dilemma. Then I had to make sure the Kong Cloud Collar was available at the pet supply store in the town of 20,000 where I live. Thankfully it was, so I was able to order it that night and pick it up the next morning.

Using Natural Search Queries in Content Marketing

I share this story not because I think you might be interested in learning about my dog ownership issues, but because I want you to think about the way that search started. I didn’t set out to search for the Kong Cloud Collar. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed. Instead, I had a problem: Bree couldn’t handle the cone of shame, so I entered in the Google search bar: What are alternatives for the cone of shame for dogs?

This is the natural way that humans search for answers to their challenges—regardless if they are looking for something for their personal lives (B2C) or professional lives (B2B). They don’t start by entering a company name into the search box.

For example, if someone needs to know if cloud computing can help reduce their IT budgets, they don’t immediately visit the AWS or Google Cloud sites, they might start with a natural search query like, “Can cloud computing help control my IT costs?” If they did so, they’d likely click on this article from Medium, which offers a piece of content marketing with a search-optimized headline: “How can cloud computing help reduce IT costs for businesses?”

It’s this challenge that I see many B2B companies in particular not solving with their content marketing. Many businesses lead with their company’s information, services and products first and completely miss the opportunity to engage with their customers or prospects as they seek information in the early stages of their buyer journeys.

B2B Content Marketing Thought Leadership Is Lacking

In a presentation at Content Marketing World this year in Cleveland, Forrester Principal Analyst Lisa Gately shared the results of Forrester’s 2021 Content Preferences Survey, which were published in a report titled “Find Your Thought Leadership Voice With Audience-Relevant Themes.” The most striking result was that 66% of B2B buyers said the material they receive from vendors is biased toward the vendor.

Most content marketing thought leadership misses the mark by lacking a unique point of view, missing prioritization and being too self-serving, according to Gately. Content marketing shouldn’t put your company first. Instead, it should answer reader questions by providing original thoughts and perspectives on a given topic, which ultimately positions the author and the author’s company as an expert.

Circling back to my dog’s issue, the Oakland Veterinary Referral Service, which serves pet owners (B2C) and veterinarians (B2B), didn’t present a piece of content about why its services are better than their competitors. Instead, it fulfilled the content marketing best practices Gately presented: It offered a unique point of view by outlining options, it prioritized the needs of the reader over the needs of the organization and wasn’t self-serving, apart from the last paragraph that did mention the company’s name and phone number.

B2B Content Marketing Thought Leadership Best Practices

Ultimately, B2B companies need to take a step back from their inside-out content development perspectives and instead focus on content that is original and provides value to the customers and prospects that comprise their audience. To do this, follow these B2B content marketing thought leadership tips:

Read next: 11 Subject Matter Expert Content Creation Tips

With a seemingly endless sea of content types and channels, brainstorming and developing creative content for your brand can be overwhelming. Here, MSPC content director Amanda Welshons shares three ways to create authentic content that educates, entertains and engages your target audience.

When it comes to content creation, starting can be the hardest part. There’s seemingly endless possibilities to content types: blogs, print articles, emails, podcasts, Instagram Reels, Pinterest Pins, on and on. So many channels and messages—not even close to enough time to consume it all!

So, what’s best for you? And, more importantly, what’s right for your audience?

Whether you’re launching a new content marketing program or recalibrating an existing one, you’ve come to the right place. At MSPC, we excel at content strategy, ideation and execution, among other services—and I’m thrilled to outline some tried and true tips to engage, educate and inspire your audience.

Here are some ideas to ramp up creative content development:

1. Be Intentional

Do not create content in a vacuum. To do it well, you need quality over quantity. Not every content type or channel will make sense for your company. Before you start, be strategic: know your audience, use whatever data is available to you and align your marketing plan to the sales funnel. Who are you talking to and how do you add value to their lives? Are you crafting content for awareness, or should you prioritize retention tactics?

Encourage creativity with your team and put yourself in the shoes of the consumer as you brainstorm. This exercise will help lead to content that’s relevant, authentic and evergreen.

2. Serve Your Audience

Brands often need to nurture their audience. To do this, publish content with utility—aka content your audience can actually use. Valuable utility content educates, answers questions, entertains, welcomes users and reinforces loyalty.

To me, utility content falls into two categories:

Brand-centric content: The things people should know about your products and services to get the most out of being your customer.
Lifestyle content: Adjacent topics that help explain how you naturally fit into the everyday life and aspirations of your target audience.

At MSPC, content ideation starts and ends with the audience. Here are key questions to ask as you ideate:

Brand-Centric Content

Lifestyle Content

Who can help you tell your brand story? Identify internal subject matter experts and voices who have a compelling point of view.

What topics can you own as a brand?

  • What drives your expertise?
  • What inspires your mission?

When do you want to show up for your audience?

Where is your audience?

  • Where do you want them to be? Think beyond physical place: where is their access point?
    • Point of sale?
    • Researching online?
    • What device?
    • What channels?

Why should someone engage with your brand? Consider this answer from the audience perspective.

How do you use your product or service?

  • How does it work?
  • How is it made?
  • How do you innovate?
Who are you talking to across channels?

  • Prospective customers?
  • Current customers?
  • Gen Z?
  • Employees?

What related topics can act as halos to your products, solutions or services?

  • What tips can you provide?
  • What visuals help comprehension?

When does your audience need you, and what is on their minds in those moments?

Where is your audience when they need your product or service?

  • Where are they before or after they need you?

Why should they come back to you once they’ve purchased?

How do you add value to every day?

  • How can you guide users to their best experience?

Taking the time to answer these questions should lead to a variety of topics that can help you tell your story, hook your audience and build community.

3. Share Employee Stories

Do not underestimate the value of content for and about your own employee base, especially if you are a large company. Case in point: The 3Mer magazine.

Our employee communications work for 3M highlighted company news through an employee lens. We shared stories of innovation, collaboration, philanthropy and impact—among other topics—from real voices doing the work.

This print publication emphasized the power of storytelling and that authenticity is worth striving for on your owned and social channels. After all, authenticity is key to connecting with your audience—a sentiment we heard directly from readers.

Need help generating content? We’re never short of ideas. Get in touch with us.

Read next: The Value of Evergreen Content

Jill Roesler got into project management after numerous editors in previous roles commented on her intense organization skills. Today, she works with MSPC clients to steward a range of projects through every step, from discovery all the way through debrief.

What three words would your colleagues use to describe you?

Dedicated: My dedication to this role is threefold: I am dedicated to our MSPC teams, the client/client team and the success of the overall project.

Approachable: I’d like to think I foster an environment for all project team members to share their opinions and ideas. It’s those small, one-off thoughts that sometimes shift the direction of a project for the better!

Honest: Transparency and honesty with the client and the MSPC teams is one of my greatest career values, which I practice daily.

What has been your favorite MSPC project and why?

I like working on projects that expand my own wheelhouse and contain deliverables I haven’t worked with yet. The Next Avenue project was just that: a website audit, competitor SWOT and a new approach to customer journey mapping that I hadn’t experienced before. The findings were fascinating and it really showed me how talented those at MSPC are! (Especially since this project was early in my career here.)

What skill, hobby, experience, etc., do you have that would surprise people?

Although I’m a project manager here, I’m also a published author. I’ve written several educational children’s books and had my own byline in a community newspaper. I’ve also written for various magazines and company blogs. Oh, and I often take my cat for walks around the neighborhood nearly every day in the spring, summer and fall!

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to own a candy store called “Jilly Beans,” overflowing with gummy candies, artisanal chocolates and a full ice cream bar. It’s never too late!

Recommend two or three accounts to follow on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or your platform of choice.

@astoldbymichelle on Instagram: She has a quirky, feminine interior design style that’s full of imagination and splendor.

“Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!” podcast: I’m a complete nerd about all things mythology and this podcast (@mythsbaby on Instagram) captures Greek and Roman mythologies really well!

Read next: Why Journalists Make the Best Content Marketers

Gina Czupka is a content director at MSPC. Here, she explores the daunting task of setting your brand apart from thousands of competitors with four factors that can help you build a stronger brand identity.

Sometimes I like to think of myself as being above brand loyalty. I am uncatchable, wily and savvy, too wise to the ways of marketing to be lured in. And then I look through the cabinets and cupboards of my house, and I am humbled to realize that no, I am most definitely not immune to the power of a good brand. Vanishingly few people are.

But here’s the thing: For every branded product that I buy, own or evangelize to my friends, there are dozens—maybe hundreds or thousands—of competing products. And we’re inundated with messages from those legions of brands every day.

There’s an oft-cited statistic that we see between 4,000 and 10,000 brand messages *per day* (as I fact-checked this stat, I saw ads for two car companies, an investment firm, a direct-to-consumer jewelry brand and an ISP on just one page). Nevertheless, plenty of brands—both big and small—manage to grab attention, inspire trial and gain loyalty.

How do they do it? I’m sure you’ll be shocked (shocked!) to hear that there’s no simple formula or one-size-fits-all solution to creating a standout brand identity. Come to think of it, that’d be the best way to not stand out. What the brands that do stand out have in common is that they’re balancing a number of factors that, taken together, build a memorable, likable brand identity and bolster the odds of discovery.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or trying to reach a new level after hitting a plateau, consider these four crucial factors to build a stronger identity for your brand.

1. Understand your value proposition

There’s a reason your brand exists: You do what you do differently or better than your competition does it. But it’s not enough to vaguely feel like you’re different—or to assume that consumers will understand what makes your brand special.

You need to define your unique value proposition. Put into words all of the specific ways your brand solves your customers’ problems and makes their lives better, and then identify how you do those things differently than your competitors.

You won’t use this information to draw direct comparisons in your content. The exercise is more about galvanizing internal excitement, developing a cohesive perspective about what your brand is (and is not), and laying out your content subject matter.

2. Have a perspective

The old adage still applies: You can’t please all of the people all of the time. And to be a standout brand, trying to be everything to everyone is counterproductive.

The way your brand comes across in your content—the things you talk about, how you talk about them, how you produce and use visuals, where you show up—should leave people with an understanding of your brand’s personality. Does your brand have a sense of humor about your industry? Is it all about compassion and service? Do you absolutely oppose or support Thing X?

When bold, unafraid perspectives show up in your content, your brand is not only more memorable, it’s going to connect more intensely with people who share similar sensibilities and keep them interested in you.

3. Don’t underestimate experience

How people experience your brand—at any stage in the consumer journey—has far-reaching consequences. The way your brand makes people feel can keep them coming back, spur them to spread the word and earn you broader attention. The key is to do something that is unusual or unexpected that adds value to customers’ experiences.

People are hardwired to ignore the common, but notice and remember the exceptional. In an interview on the “Make Something Cool” podcast, Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy Group, referenced this fact in relation to a few brands: San Pellegrino, with the little protective foil lids they put on canned drinks; DoubleTree hotels, with the hot cookies they give guests at check-in; and the Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles, a fairly modest place with an outsized fan base thanks to its poolside popsicle delivery hotline and exceptional customer service.

Beyond making me crave cookies, popsicles and a nice cold Clementina, these examples drove home for me the power that these little out-of-the-ordinary touches have in creating a memorable brand identity.

4. Know how to show up in an algorithmic world

The simple prospect of being seen is among the most flummoxing of all challenges these days, but the main takeaway is that you can’t do just one thing. Yes, you need to be on social media—and probably on multiple channels, depending on where your audience tends to congregate. With the state of the algorithms right now, you need both an organic and paid presence, especially on Meta’s turf.

Making a dent in organic is an uphill battle that needs a veritable army of content producers churning and posting at what is (to my mind) a rate unsustainable for human workers. Paid has to be in the mix. And even then, you never know what the future updates will hold. So as insurance—or really, as a best practice—you need to do everything you can to cultivate and support owned channels.

Bring people in organically with an SEO-optimized website rich in valuable content, get them signed up for email, and you’ve got a more qualified audience who have raised their hands to hear what you’re saying, algorithms be [darned].

Taking these four factors into account as you create a brand-building strategy will help set you apart. But keep in mind that they’re a starting point; consistency is what will give your brand real staying power. When your brand takes hold, the hard work isn’t done—it’s just entering a new phase. Innovate, explore and expand your efforts to ensure that your brand stays relevant and fresh.

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“UX design reawakened my creativity, passion and gusto.”

Get to know Reynold Kissling, visual artist and musician turned MSPC UX designer.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 34 years old. I toyed around with being a visual artist and a musician, but the ever-gnashing jaws of real life pulverized those careers into mush, and they have been relegated to the realm of the weekend warrior. Out of the ashes came UX design, which has rescued me from the doldrums of lousy jobs and half measures and reawakened my creativity, passion and gusto.

Breakfast or dinner? Describe your ideal meal.

Oh man, dinner for sure. Hot take: Dinner for breakfast should be more of a thing, especially if it’s leftovers. On that subject, turning leftovers into nachos is always a great decision.

What has been your favorite MSPC project and why?

It’s been really fun and rewarding working with Pentair to develop the educational and e-commerce hubs for their site, and I think as much of that comes down to our relationship with the client as the work itself (which is also really fun). They are just a joy to work with, have a really great energy and do a fantastic job of implementing our content and wireframes quickly and with a high degree of quality.

Every time we have delivered work to Pentair, they have come back wanting more, and that is the best feeling I think you can have in this business.

What skill, hobby, experience, etc., do you have that would surprise people?

I am a top-level online Sudoku player, with my high score in the top .01% of all players worldwide (sadly, this has not yet made me into a millionaire or an A-list celebrity).

Recommend two or three accounts to follow on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or your platform of choice.

Baumgartner Restoration is a fantastic YouTube channel that lovingly details the painstaking work of fine art restoration in a way that is witty, fun, relaxing and sometimes pretty surprising.

Jon Bois is ostensibly a sports writer, but his YouTube channel (and various series on SBNation) does so much more. I recommend it to anyone. From his two-hour exploration of the disappearance of the name “Bob” from sports to his thought experiment regarding Barry Bonds playing baseball without a bat, Bois can make any subject—no matter how banal or stupid—utterly fascinating.

Read next: Content Marketing Writing Tips: Why Editing Is the Analog UX