Monday to Friday. From the 1st of the month through to the end. From January all the way to December. Time really does fly.

It flies even faster when you’re having fun, something we’ve had a ton of since opening Saltwater’s doors in 2009. But something special has happened over the past three years.

During that time, we’ve experienced some incredible growth. We’ve expanded our capabilities, our headcount, our client roster, and, as our inclusion on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies points out, our bottom line.

We’re proud of that. We’re proud of the team that’s been here to help Saltwater become what it is today. And we’re proud to say that we did all this our way.

Our way is a bit different. We’re proud to receive the recognition we have because we’ve done good work for good clients, because we develop unique, research-driven strategies and creative for each of our clients, and because we believe that success comes, for both Saltwater and our clients, from taking the longview. 

At Saltwater, we’re playing the long game. Our average client relationship runs 5 years, which is the same length of time as the average tenure of the Salties who work here. So, the same people and clients who drove our growth since 2016 are poised to do it again this year, and again by 2022.

So, thanks. Thanks to the team here at Saltwater that makes all this possible, and to the clients who keep giving us the opportunity to do what we love. We’re excited to keep doing good work for good people.

And Inc., we’ll see you again next year.

– The Execs


WHAT MARKETING AUTOMATION IS NOT

Tell us if you’ve heard this one before: An organization needs to do inbound marketing, so they choose a marketing automation platform (MAP) and install it. Ready to go, right? Wrong. Marketing automation services are important for executing your inbound marketing strategy, but it isn’t, in itself, inbound marketing — it’s just the start.

Let’s go back in time to traditional marketing. It was effective and, truth be told, still is in the right scenario. It was also disruptive. And that’s part of the beauty of an automation platform; it does all the dirty work and does it efficiently. Organizations can use an automation platform to continue these disruptive techniques. Just purchase a list of emails specific to your product offering, load the list into your MAP, draft an email about your product, and click send. Voila! All of these contacts (who may or may not be familiar with your brand) have now just received your promotional email. Imagine you were the recipient. What is your first move? I’m guessing it’s to hit delete or mark the email as SPAM. Bye, bye lead.

Is the above example marketing automation? Yes. You automated the delivery process of your list purchase emails. Is it inbound marketing? No. Why?

Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality and targeted content to attract people to your company. By creating content that aligns with your customers’ interests, you attract inbound traffic to your website that you can then convert and close.

Today’s customer wants to be informed, educated, and entertained. They don’t want to be sold to. Inbound marketing allows you to provide your potential customers with educational information important to them via a multitude of channels. The end-goal is having your brand at the top of your customer’s mind when they finally make the decision to buy.

Marketing automation is a necessary part of your overall inbound strategy. Because inbound focuses heavily on content creation, you will need a lot of content. You’ll have to provide your inbound customers with blogs, social posts, white papers, webinars, eBooks, videos, etc. Your time should be focused on creating this content. Marketing automation allows you to streamline the delivery of this content to your prospective customers.

 

HERE’S ANOTHER SCENARIO FOR YOU

You’re an organization selling workout attire. Your end-goal is selling your product. Instead of spraying the market with promotional ads, you decide to start a weekly workout post. Each week, you post the workout to your blog and share as sponsored posts on social media. You’ve also partnered with some influential online personalities to do these workouts on their YouTube channel. A potential buyer sees this and starts following your posts. Now you’ve decided to host a webinar with let’s say, Michael Jordan. The potential buyer who follows your workout post now signs up for this webinar because honestly, who wouldn’t take advice from the greatest basketball player of all time and one of the world’s most successful marketers? You now have their contact information and can begin tracking their activity on your website via your MAP. Based on a set of lead-scoring rules you’ve created, your MAP sees this prospect spends a lot of time on your site—so much so that they might be ready to buy.

Maybe they’ve had multiple visits to a page for pieces of Jordan’s signature apparel line you sell. Your marketing automation fires off an email with a few more specifics around the shirt. Your prospective buyer reads this because, as we already know, they are interested in the product. A week later, our prospective buyer decides they need to purchase a new workout shirt. They find that email you sent them (which they just so happened to keep at the top of their inbox), return to your site, and purchase an athletic shirt.

Not once in the above scenario did you outright sell to your customer. You never had to because you’ve supplied them with enough information and enjoyable content that you remained top-of-mind when it came time to buy. This is inbound marketing.

Your marketing automation took care of tracking the prospects activity on your site, delivering the the social posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and delivering the promotional email when your prospect reached a high enough lead score to prompt doing so. All this allowed you to focus on spending your time creating the content for social, working with your brand influencers, creating the workout, and strategizing the educational email your customer received. This is marketing automation.

Inbound marketing is where the industry has headed. We can’t sell directly to our customers anymore—it just won’t work. We need to provide them with enough targeted content to carry them through the buying journey. Spend your time creating this content and let your MAP do the work of delivering it.

THERE’S A LOT OF CONTENT OUT THERE. A LOT.

The information overload experienced by consumers has become nauseating as new mediums have swelled in popularity, mobile has become an extension of our hands and content continues to multiply at an exponential rate. This has created obvious obstacles for businesses trying to sure-up a content strategy that resonates with their target audience and converts potential customers.

Content strategy needs to be applied to every piece of collateral leaving your marketing department. Whether that be website content, out-of-home advertising, media buys or social media posts, everything should be aligned with your overall content strategy.

So this beckons the question, how do you stand out? How you do you find a way to craft content that captivates, informs, and encourages action?

To create content that resonates it must be purposeful. Arbitrarily curating content and seeing what sticks is an inefficient and ineffective way to communicate with current and prospective customers. A strategic approach to content paired with exemplary creative is a formidable combination.

And while it would seem obvious to pair these two apex jungle cats all the time, most businesses only succeed at one or the other. Knowing your customer and how to reach them are paramount. Creative ideas and professional execution are essential. These two together will help attract new customers, support them on the path to purchase, and lead to more sales.

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

We marketing types love creating compelling content that is easy on the eyes. Let’s face it, though; if this content doesn’t generate any returns, your CEO won’t care how beautiful it is. Marketing needs to adapt as companies become more data-driven and results-oriented, and part of the answer may be marketing automation.

The modern-day marketer is expected to be both creative and data-driven. Truth is, every decision we make is scrutinized for how it affects business, so it’s important to create compelling content that drives leads and conversions. But — there’s always a “but” — we need to back up our efforts with numbers that prove ROI.

The awesome blog post you just wrote? How many times was it viewed? That eBook you created? How many new leads did that generate for sales? For good content marketing, everything we create needs to engage visitors and encourage them to stay on the site. Once on the site, let’s convert that customer to a lead and identify their business needs to generate a sale. Then, after all is said and done, we must be able to prove our marketing efforts translated to sales.

Marketing automation is a great tool to verify whether a strategy is successful. It allows you to not only automate many of your marketing functions, it enables you to report accurately on your efforts via whichever marketing automation platform (MAP) you’re using.

According to a recent study, automation gives marketers the ability to increase operational efficiency and grow revenue faster. Automation takes the targeted content we have produced and puts it in front of our prospective customers in an engaging and authentic way. It allows us to provide value to our leads, improve conversion rates, drive repeat buyers, and enhance the overall customer experience. All of which can be easily measured using our chosen marketing automation software.

IDC predicts the overall market for automated marketing will grow from $3.2 billion in 2010 to $4.8 billion in 2015, opening up vast opportunities for content marketers to attach metrics to their work. There are three core benefits* marketers can expect by instituting marketing automation in their organization.

  1. More revenue is sourced from marketing. Companies using automation report 45% of their sales pipeline is sourced from marketing, as opposed to 31% for companies that do not have an automation engine.
  2. Sales is able to focus more on what they do best—selling. Automation enables sales to spend 62% of their time selling. In those organizations not using automation, sales is able to spend only 51% of their time selling.
  3. Increased revenue attainment. Automation increases marketing’s efficiency, allowing more time to focus on creating great content. 84% of companies with an automation engine consistently hit their revenue goals, while only 67% of companies without automation do.

What does all of this mean for your compelling content? Marketing automation adds value to our marketing content and proves its value. Automation tracks a customer’s journey from their first interaction with a brand to their last.

And, what does it mean for you and your marketing department? The ability to work faster, save money and increase ROI.


*Statistics for these three core benefits pulled from Marketo’s  2012 report, “Marketo Benchmark on Revenue.”

ALEXA…

Turn the heat up to 71°.

Order me an Uber.

Play Van Halen.

Write me a blog post.

Okay, maybe writing a blog post is beyond the abilities of Alexa, the “wake word” for the artificial intelligence software inside the Amazon Echo smart-home device, but “she” does have more than 1,400 unique skills. Amazon took a gamble with the Echo in 2014, but today the e-commerce giant has a huge hit on its hands that will likely become one of the next big marketing trends.

Virtual assistants aren’t perfect (yet?!). Alexa is great with basic tasks like playing music, ordering products, and telling you what time the Boston Red Sox play, but she suffers from unreliable communication from time to time.

No Alexa, I wanted to listen to “American Pie,” not order an Apple Pie from Amazon Prime.

Still, consumers are growing more accustomed to having a personal assistant living on their kitchen counters and in their family rooms. With success comes competition, though, so Amazon is about to get a deep-pocketed competitor in the virtual assistant market.

Google Home has arrived, running its own version of Alexa, the Assistant. And while the Assistant didn’t exactly dig deep for an original or fun name, Google’s years of experience in natural language processing and machine learning should allow them to build “a smarter digital assistant that builds on its stronghold in search and years of research in artificial intelligence.”

 

VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS ARE NOT A FAD, ARE HERE TO STAY, AND YOU CAN CONSIDER THIS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY.

See, aside from ecomm connectivity, language processing, machine learning, and all of the nifty tech that makes these kittens purr, virtual assistants can help brands connect to consumers on an emotional level.

As Marketing 101 taught us all, creating a more intimate experience between brand and consumer builds loyalty while bridging the gap between arbitrary emotional connection and personal interaction.

Consumers watch videos, listen to podcasts, and read ad copy. But only virtual assistants allow brands to speak back, which creates addictive closure to the dopamine loop that other mediums cannot accomplish.

 

SO WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COOL WAYS BRANDS ARE CURRENTLY LEVERAGING ALEXA?

OH, AND DISNEY OF COURSE.

The key takeaway here is your brand has an opportunity to become part of the early adopter ecosystem. The dev team here at Saltwater recognizes the future opportunity in this space so we’re actively exploring the Alexa Skills Kit, looking for a brand ready to lunge at the opportunity.

It’s time to start thinking of how your brand might leverage this new technology.

WE LIKE BEER. THE BEER INDUSTRY IS CHANGING. CRAFT BEER IS THE “COOL THING TO DO.”

There it is. In three simple statements I just covered what you’ve probably either read or assumed about the beer industry (and Saltwater) so far. It’s no secret that the rise in craft beer is changing the competitive landscape, as made evident by Budweiser’s decision to ditch puppies and Clydesdales and instead fire a shot across the bow of micro-brewers everywhere in their most recent Super Bowl commercial. (Note: The original anti-craft beer commercial, “Brewed The Hard Way,” has been made private on Budweiser’s YouTube channel).

While the overall beer industry’s growth is generally stalling out compared to spirits, craft beer continues to slowly chip away at the macro-brewers’ massive market share. Consider this Google trends chart showing the increase in craft beer searches vs Budweiser searches since 2005:

It just so happens that they’re slowly but surely catching up to the King of Beers, and might have even overtaken them if the February Super Bowl spikes weren’t skewing the averages.

But make no mistake, large brewers are starting to feel the pinch. Just don’t consider them down for the count quite yet (or in the foreseeable future).

First off, 11 brewers still make almost 90% of all beer in the United States; Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation Brands, Heineken USA, Pabst, Boston Beer Co., North American Breweries, Diageo North America, Craft Brew Alliance, Gambrinus, and Duvel Moortgat. Secondly, 4,269 craft breweries make up the other 12% of the market. Yes, that means the average microbrewery accounts for a whopping 0.0028% of the entire beer market.

When this blog was first conceptualized, the idea was that there must be a craft brew bubble and we should be talking about it. After all, how many IPA’s can be made before there are just too many options on the shelves? We asked Nick Garrison of Foolproof Brewing of Pawtucket, R.I., for his take on the potential of a brew bubble.

“I don’t know if there’s necessarily a craft beer ‘bubble’ since that implies something was popular and then all of a sudden it’s not,” Nick said. “I do think we’ll be looking at a craft beer ‘shake up’ eventually, where smaller, less experienced breweries really begin to feel the pinch of increased competition. Shelf space is limited, and everyone is vying with their distributors for mindshare since there are just so many craft beer options.”

While competition is fierce and making it difficult for some, Nick acknowledged that lack of effort or talent are definitely not issues.

“The issue isn’t that they aren’t talented brewers, it’s that you could create an amazing beer and still not succeed,” he said. “While obviously taste and flavor are important, many enthusiastic, talented breweries don’t understand the fundamental economic aspect of operating. Lack of experience creates issues when breweries fail to scale their business and make it sustainable over time.”

Enter marketing strategy.

Sam von Trapp, of von Trapp Brewing, believes communicating your brand’s story and remaining true to your brewery’s core values are also vital to success. In the case of von Trapp Brewing of Stowe, Vermont, Sam notes that the story about how his father, Johannes von Trapp, began the brewery resonates with fans of the beers and guests at the Trapp Family Lodge.

“We’ve been approached many times by people with suggestions for branding our family name on various products, but my father always wanted to keep it genuine, and was reticent to commercialize the family name,” Sam said. “Finally when we started brewing beer and received requests from people wanting to buy our beer in other states, we realized this a genuine way to bring our brand into new markets with a product we really believe in. My dad is an amazing guy. It’s been a lot of fun to work with him and I’m really proud of everything he’s done.”

Sam continued, “While the underlying quality of the liquid is most important, staying true to yourself and getting your story out there is extremely meaningful. If people like your brewmaster, your brewery, and the story behind your beer you can find success in this competitive market. Communicating this message and making people understand what makes you tick is essential to success.”

To Sam’s point, the Brewer’s Association has recognized that “instead of recognizing a brand by a name or a logo, millennials find true value in the experiences they co-create with the brand.”

Well, well, well. It might not be all doom and gloom for this crowded party! One significant reason is the demographic of the craft beer drinker and the rise of the millennials, arguably the most coveted and sought-after generation when it comes to marketing efforts. Millennials present a unique opportunity for craft beer since they are potentially the generation that will help grow the overall size of the craft beer market to accommodate the influx in breweries.

As it stands, yes, there might be a bubble. But the bursting of this bubble depends largely on whether the craft beer industry can continue to grow their overall market share. Consider this: in 2014 the largest age group by total population was 22-year-old’s. Second and third place went to 23 and 21-year-old’s. Oh, and the good news for craft brewers? Beginning in 2018 there will be steady growth in the number of 18 to 24-year-old’s in the United States.

 

Craft beer’s market share has also doubled since 2011, with a goal of 20% by 2020. Fortune also points out that “In other beverage markets, like spirits and coffee, high end drinks can generally command as much as 40% market share – implying there is a lot more room for the industry to grow.”

Despite all of this juicy quantitative data that will seemingly support the boom of craft breweries, the qualitative data is just as compelling. Millennials value experiences over ownership and that bodes well for craft brewers looking to stand out. Due to the many options, unique flavors, and social aspect of drinking, millennials are flocking to bars, pubs, and breweries for a unique tasting experience.

It directly caters to their creative needs as well as their adventurous tendencies. Foolproof Brewing takes pride in their “experience-based brewing,” in which they focus on where and when their customers will be drinking a particular type of beer. For instance, their Raincloud Porter “is the perfect stay at home brew; dark, smooth, and mysterious.” The bitterness of the Backyahd IPA pairs perfectly with spicy foods coming straight off the grill. Their new Queen Of The Yahd is brewed with real raspberries as a “refreshing, delicious, and totally crushable IPA.”

 

However, Garrison cautions that a lack of differentiators on the product and brand level can lead to problems once the initial buzz around a beer wears off. “It really is all about the experience for the customer, which obviously includes branding and packaging, but also the interactions you have through customer service, events and personal relationships with customers, retailers, and wholesalers.”

Millennials’ tendency to support local is another distinguishable trait that should bode well for craft breweries; 40% of millennials claimed to prefer buying local, a statistic in which Sam believes many smaller breweries will be able to capitalize on.

“I think the trend towards people shopping local is also supporting the rise of craft beer. I don’t think local agriculture is a fad, and I think people will always enjoy a craft beer brewed locally or regionally. As they say in Austria, “the best beer and bread come from around the corner,” Sam said. Obviously you have to scale your business to become profitable and sustain operation, but beer doesn’t need to travel across oceans. I also think there’s a good amount of room for those in the industry just interested in opening a restaurant with their brewery, distributing locally, and keeping costs down.”

So while fewer millennials are simply running into the store and picking up a 6-pack of Bud Light, increased browsing creates a different type of challenge as craft brewers grapple for limited shelf space. The convenience store channel has shown the largest amount of growth for craft beer sales, but they also have less room than grocery stores to stock a plethora of options.

Challenges certainly exist and competition is surely steepening, but if breweries can create not only good beer, but a good experience around their product, the millennial consumer base has the potential to support such a booming industry. The challenge lies in finding the right balance of good beer, solid business IQ, and the ability to create a brand experience that’s desirable for both consumers and distributors.

 

NOT QUITE SOLD YET? TAKE A LOOK AT THESE INTERESTING STATISTICS.

So what does the future hold? Will this prove to be a bubble that bursts, or are these breweries here to stay? It’s hard to tell. Were one to judge solely based on supply and demand, one would think the number of new breweries will begin to slow in the near future and many of the smaller, less competent ones will be weeded out by stiffer competition. It may all hinge on millennials and whether or not craft beer turns out to be a fad or a paradigm shift in how we consume alcoholic beverages. That’s a great responsibility, millennials. You know what you have to do.