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Online Marketing Companies as the Next WebMD
By: Sarah Jane Dunaway
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I am a big supporter of local businesses, especially through the participation of efforts such as Small Business Saturdays. I am also a firm believer that businesses of all sizes should put advertising and marketing first, which is why I often consult for small, local companies. It’s important that all companies develop clear business plans, cohesive identity systems, and even appealing business cards.

Vendors like Vistaprint have done a wonderful job helping small businesses afford and produce the components necessary for a consistent design identity — everything from websites to loyalty cards to signage.

While Vistaprint is not considered a small or local business, it does help micro businesses through its predesigned business card templates, customer relationship management tools, and marketing collateral offerings such as iPhone cases and mouse pads.

There’s only one drawback to Vistaprint and its products — at some point these micro businesses reach out to someone like me for extra consulting or freelance work. I am often contacted for additional support or when these small businesses are ready to take their marketing and design efforts from Vistaprint to the next level.

It has turned everyone from the local pet store owner to the gluten-free pastry chef into marketing directors overnight. Increasingly I receive forwarded email newsletters from current and prospective clients, with the latest social media research from Constant Contact or tips for sending email newsletters from MailChimp.

Vistaprint’s resources, as well as the resources offered from companies like Constant Contact, MailChimp, and 99Designs, have helped the everyday consumer understand the basics behind marketing and design. Businesses are, without the aid of a marketing or advertising guru, picking pretty logos and learning the secrets of CRM, the science behind email distribution, and ways to leverage social media.

MailChimp, for example, offers a knowledge base with tips for email campaign testing, understanding reports and tracking, and the basic idea behind responsive design. These types of resources are crucial to small businesses and I applaud the companies taking control of their marketing future. After all, the alternative is a company who either doesn’t believe in advertising and marketing or doesn’t care enough to put forth the effort.

Unfortunately, these resources have lead small businesses to think that’s all there is to it. 99Designs helps new businesses “rebrand” by holding contests for new logos. Sadly, I have seen designers submit the same logo, but in different colors, to multiple clients — thus defeating the whole idea behind brand identity.

While my current and prospective clients understand that I do much more than campaign management and social media integration, they forget that 99Designs and Vistaprint offer just a basic level and that there’s an entire world of advertising and marketing outside social media and shiny business cards.

I encourage the dialogue with my clients and certainly enjoy the opportunity to educate, but I can’t help but feel like the brain surgeon whose patients continually send diagnoses from WebMD.

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About the Author

Sarah Jane Dunaway is a brand strategist and design consultant, and the writer and creator behind the blog Clean & Proper. A former member of the paper and printing industry, Sarah Jane specializes in helping businesses of all sizes streamline marketing communications by creating compelling brand identity systems and corporate identity packages. Find her online here

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