Use Images Legally Online

I love vintage everything...vintage fashion, vintage style. I subscribe to several vintage blogs and read them avidly.

Over the weekend, a blogger whose work I've long admired shared a Valentine's Day post. Included in the post was a vintage image that appeared to be scanned in from a magazine. She included a Flickr credit under the image with a link to the original. I was curious. I've asked several vintage bloggers where they license their images, and I never heard back from any of them. I'd love to know since I'm always on the lookout for vintage images for one of my clients and finding and licensing them can be tough.

Anyway, I clicked through to the image source and discovered this disturbing fact: the original Flickr photograph was marked "All Rights Reserved."

Flickr Licenses and More

If you're using Flickr images to decorate your blog posts or websites, you need to understand the difference license levels that content owners can apply to their photos. Flickr uses the Creative Commons Licensing system. This is a voluntary, non profit licensing system whereby content creators can affix one of several licenses to their works. Each license grants different permission levels for the use of the work.

Some licenses grant permission to use an image for commercial purposes. This means that the use of the image on a website that displays advertising is allowed. Other images require attribution. You must state the photographer's name and link to the license in order to use the image legally. Still others allow the use of the image, but you may not modify it.

All photographs, illustrations and copy (words) published online are immediately granted copyright protect and "All rights reserved" even if the artist doesn't state it. That's because under United States law, copyright is granted the instant an artist creates a work.

When a photographer shares something online, yet marks it with "All rights reserved", he's taking a further proactive step to state, "You can use this for reference or you can email me for permission. But you can't use this image without permission."

The End of the Story

I hesitated a few minutes before dropping the blogger a quick note, with reference links to some great articles about proper use of photographs, just as a friendly, "Hey, did you know this and hey, if you don't pay attention you might be in a lot of trouble, and hey, I care!"

Her response to me was astonishing. Not only did she justify the use of the image, but she wouldn't take it down. She claimed (and she may be absolutely correct) that when she downloaded the image, it was done so legally. Just because the photographer or image owner changed the copyright on it doesn't mean that she has to take it down.

I'm no legal scholar. I'm not a lawyer. I do know far too many people who have been embroiled in dreadful copyright extortion schemes. Many even used images legally, as I've done with this post, paying a licensing fee to the company from which I downloaded the image. A simple mistake in how you use an image online, no matter how innocent, can lead to a lot of stress and potential heartache.

Use Images Legally Online

The moral of the story? Use images legally online.

  • Take your own images. That's the very best way to make sure you don't run into any legal issues!
  • Make a screenshot of the license if you download from Flickr. It may seem silly, but if the image owner changes the license later, you'll have proof that you used it correctly at the time of download.
  • Learn all you can about image copyright. Never use Google Image Search to find an image for your blog. It is terrible at finding the original image source or the person from whom you can license the image.
  • Understand the various Creative Commons licenses before you download images. Read licensing terms on any stock photo website.
  • Avoid free photo sites such as free wallpaper sites. Some sites are unscrupulous and swipe images from photographers then make them available to the public. You are on the hook for the legal issues involved in using the image, not the free wallpaper website. Many have clauses in their terms of use that put the burden on YOU. Know what you are getting into when you download and use photos.
  • Purchase stock photography and use it under license. If you're not sure you are using it correctly, contact the company. I had question for Deposit Photo on how I could use their images, so I contacted their Customer Service department. They were pleasant and helpful, plus I now have a written transcript of my chat with their customer service agent who granted me permission to use the image for my stated project.


As for the blogger I emailed, I'm disappointed. She seems to think that she can slap a credit link on a photo and use it as she pleased. Giving credit is nice, but it doesn't absolve you of legal responsibility if you use an image improperly.

Everyone makes mistakes. The internet can be a forgiving place...or a very unforgiving one. Don't take a chance. If you are a content creator like me, a writer or blogger, take your own photos, learn how to license them properly, and avoid getting into trouble using stock images.

For more information:


Jeanne Grunert_October 2015


By Jeanne Grunert, President, Seven Oaks Consulting.  Jeanne is a freelance writer, blogger and novelist with a background in internet marketing.  This post originally appeared on Byte by Bite, the content marketing blog of Seven Oaks Consulting. Feel free to link to it. Reprints by permission only.







Content Marketing Example: Gerbils on a Train

Have you seen the PSA (public service announcement) "Gerbils on a Train?" It's a great example of getting your point across by telling a story. While not specifically content marketing, it is a terrific video that's part of an overall content marketing strategy from the Ad Council and the Children's Oral Health project.

Here's the video. Turn the music up. The music and the tiny engineer cap on the gerbil makes me smile every time.

Content Marketing Example:

Gerbils on a Train PSA (Linked from YouTube/AdCouncil)

Why This is a Great Content Marketing Example

Content marketing should move consumers from awareness to interest, engagement, and education before their final purchasing decision. While kids aren't buying anything in this campaign, and neither are their parents, the 2x2M campaign (the sponsors of this piece) are trying to get you to "buy" an idea. Buy in can be treated the same way as buying a product or service when it comes to marketing, and this video makes the case for how it can be done effectively.

The premise of the campaign is that in the span of two minutes, or about the time it takes to watch a silly video, children can brush their teeth, keep their teeth healthy, and prevent future tooth decay and tooth pain. This video is part of a series of PSAs and other advertisements featuring silly videos, video games, and other things children do for two minutes to make its point: two minutes flies by when kids do what they want. Two minutes isn't a lot of time to spend while brushing your teeth!

Another bonus of the campaign is that parents can download the videos and play them on a tablet while kids brush their teeth. Children who can't tell time yet can be taught to brush for as long as the video is playing, thus helping them learn the "two-minute rule" for proper oral health.

There are five factors that I think make this campaign a total winner, a great content marketing example and content marketing best practice:

  1. Appeal: The content (video in this example) appeals to both the target market (parents, who need to understand proper oral hygiene for their children) and the "buyer" (the child, who must "buy into" the idea or he won't do it.) It's a win on both levels.
  2. Creative Direction: It uses a simple, catchy piece of content that has everything going for it for both target audiences. Adorable gerbils riding around on toy trains? Check! Catchy music? Check! Hey, my husband and I found the video online and played it one night just for a laugh. Don't judge. It's a great example, however, or why it's a good piece of content. We don't have children and aren't their target market yet even we loved it. How wonderful is that?
  3. Multi-Purpose Content: It functions as both a content marketing video and a useful give away. You can watch the video for the sheer lovableness of it or as a parent, download it as a timer for your kids to brush their teeth. It works on both levels.
  4. Integration: It's part of an integrated awareness campaign that includes multiple content channels to reach the "decision makers" (kids) and "influencers" (parents).
  5. Engagement: It engages without talking down to the target audience or without preaching to the influencers. When creating content around a serious topic like oral health, the tendency can be to go overboard with seriousness. Yet people tune out serious messages or worse, make fun of them. Remember the egg in the frying pan and the "this is your brain on drugs" campaign? Serious topic, serious message, important message, but it became fodder (pun intended) for late night talk show hosts and Saturday Night Live skits. It takes a delicate balancing act to strike a humorous, gentle note while engaging your audience in a serious topic, and this video hits the bull's-eye.

So that's my take on the content marketing example, Gerbils on a Train. The video above is linked from YouTube, and you can follow the Ad Council link to learn more about the talent behind the campaign.

You can make your own marketing videos using Lumen5. Download the videos and use them in your content marketing or contact us for help.

contactWant to have your company's content marketing featured as a case study? Contact me. And be sure to learn more about my content marketing and freelance writing services. Great content can help you engage customer interest, convert browsers into buyers, and build your brand online. Let's talk about your content marketing!

Long Form Content Ranks Better

A new report from QuickSprout underscores what many content marketers have known all along: longer copy ranks better with Google's search engines.

The report, available from the QuickSprout website, provides details on the company's study of page length, ranking and conversion. Among their findings:

  • The average page length for content that ranks among the top 10 search results Google is at least 2,000 words.
  • The better a site ranks, the more content it has.
  • Overall, Google's search engine algorithm prefers content rich sites.

Why should longer content help with search engine rank? Longer content keeps people on your website for greater lengths of time than shorter content. If I can see at a glance what you're trying to say, I might click away quickly, resulting in low time on page and high bounce rates. But if your content requires me to focus on what you are saying, draws me into the page, provides insights or useful information, and keeps me reading, I'll stay on your site longer.

Longer website content also tends to get more inbound links. These inbound links are strong signals to Google's search engine algorithm that a web page has merit.

Lastly, social media users tend to favor longer content, even if they're not aware they're doing it. By studying sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, QuickSprout determined that a post with 1,500 words or more received 68 percent more tweets and 22 percent more Facebook likes than a post under 1,500 words.

Are You Ready for Long Form Content?

Long form content for content marketing programs takes skills and finesse. You can't just keep blabbing away and stuffing keywords and expect to get the same results as a thoughtful, in-depth and insightful long form article.

As a long form specialist, my freelance writing services include extensive research. I have a gift for finding excellent original research from well-regarded and reputable sources to support the theme of your article. My writing is also creative, engaging, and insightful, which will make your content highly shareable, too.

If you're interested in receiving an estimate on your long form content projects, please contact me.

Irony: This post is under 500 words.

But you now what? Sometimes you only need a few words to say what you want. Sometimes, short copy is appropriate. Know when to use long form or shorter copy in your content marketing programs is what I do best.


Content Marketing Case Study: The Whole Seed Catalog

This week's content marketing case study focuses on an excellent example of content marketing: The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

If you're a gardener, then you probably know about Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This seed company, founded by Jere Gettle in 1998, sells heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds. Sounds simple, right?

Their marketing, however, is anything but simple. The 2016 Whole Seed Catalog is like a symphony of excellent content marketing in one gorgeous, can't-stop-looking at it package.

Here's what this company's content marketing gets right:

  • The catalog tells a story. From the first page, where the reader is introduced to Jere and his family and their life's mission to preserve historic seeds to the stories from the seed growers around the world, we're drawn into this amazing global community of gardeners. It made me want to run out and start gardening immediately even if it was only January.
  • The pictures are gorgeous. The cover looks at first glance like gemstones stacked one on top of the other, but it's actually a close-up photograph of corn. CORN! Beautiful, gorgeous, multicolored Indian corn. Inside, each plant is featured in color photographs that also capture the people who raised the seeds.
  • Throughout the entire seed catalog are sprinkled well-written, in-depth stories that support the Baker Creek story. These stories or articles explain what GMO seeds are and why the company believes they aren't good for the environment. Other stories share the history of various plant varieties or stories of the people who grow them.
  • Each item's description includes all the relevant information you'd expect to find in a catalog, such as item number, price, growing season, cultural information, etc.
  • The catalog's layout is clean and easy to read.
  • The paper quality is excellent.


The catalog isn't free. I received a free copy because I am a member of the Garden Writers Association, but the cover price of this book is $9.95. I'd say it is well worth it. I actually brought my copy with me to the salon while getting my highlights done. As any woman will attest, that means hours of styling, coloring and drying...and I was engrossed in my seed catalog. Can you imagine reading a seed catalog so intently?

Content Marketing Tips

All in all, the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog gets an A+ from me for its expert content marketing.

Great content marketing hits the sweet spot between informing customers about products and services, entertaining and engaging them, and yes, selling products. Some content marketers talk about the undersell or soft sell, and some pretend that they don't want their content to sell anything at all. While content marketing isn't direct marketing (it's not about the direct sale), your content marketing programs should always support the consumer's choice to buy your products or services. Information is the key to helping people move along the decision ladder, ultimately choosing YOUR company to do business with among the many companies available.

That's where the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog hits all the right points. It's incredibly informative while simultaneously being entertaining, and that's not easy to do in a market saturated with seeds. Seeds aren't particularly high margin items, and it can be difficult to invest in marketing them. But because garden seeds are everywhere for consumers to purchase, you've got to make customers understand why your garden seeds are different or better than other companies'. And that's where Baker Creek gets it right.

They are selling a different product. They invest time, money and resources into finding heirloom seeds - seeds passed down through generations of gardeners, families and communities. These seeds are free from genetic tinkering by humans and are open-pollinated. Some are said to be more nutritious or tasty than commercially grown varieties. Others are quite difficult to find among the large commercial growing operations. Baker Creek tells a unique story, and because they tell it well, consumers understand what sets them apart and why they should shop from their catalog.


Would You Like Your Company Features as a Case Study?

I'd love to share YOUR company's content marketing case study here. Please contact me and share samples of your firm's content marketing program if you'd like to be featured on the Seven Oaks Consulting content marketing blog.



Five Reasons Why Your Business Needs Bloggers

Do you have a business blog? If not, why not? According to HubSpot, business who run a blog receive 67 percent more leads than those who do not.  I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to get 67 percent more leads than my competitors.

Heather over at the Virginia Bloggers Club (of which I'm a member) has written a great post, The Five Reasons Why Your Business Needs Bloggers. A good blog can generate leads, improve your search engine rank, and drive more leads, traffics and visits to your website at a minimal cost.



Should Freelance Writers Complete Free Test Articles?

As a freelance writer, I'm often asked to complete a test assignment. Sometimes companies offer compensation, sometimes they don't. Here's my answer to such a request, and why.




Why Freelance Writers Should NEVER Write a Free Test Article

Last week, I submitted an application to a company seeking a content writer. A friend passed the ad on to me, and the company looked interesting and well-established. The ad didn't say how much each article assignment would eventually pay, but the professional tone of the advertisement was encouraging. So too was the fact that I had impressive publishing credentials in exactly the space the potential client worked in - and magazine clips to submit on the exact topics he wanted someone to write for. It seemed like a slam-dunk, a home run.

The potential client responded within 24 hours. "Congratulations! You've made the first cut. You're among 25 writers we're considering for this vacancy."

You've narrowed it down to...25? Are you kidding me? Already I had that prickling feeling on the back of my neck that warns me a potentially bad situation is looming. But the next paragraph clinched it for me.

"In order for us to select the best writer, we require you to complete the attached questionnaire and submit two sample articles. Each article will be keyword-rich and 1,000 words. Submit your articles within 24 hours to us at..."

How long does it take a professional writer to research keywords and topics, then write a really solid 1,000 word article? I would say at least one hour per article. So essentially, this company wanted two free hours of work from each of their 25 potential writers. Then, and only then, would one lucky writer be chosen to work with them. And by the way, they still didn't mention how much they planned to pay.

So I emailed them back and politely let them know that while I would be willing to complete a test, my rate for completing such a test is X, and I accepted PayPal and bank check.

They seemed absolutely flummoxed by my response. I received another email back, letting me know that it was standard practice within their company to ask applicants to complete tests. Writers, designers, computer programmers, whoever was going to work with them, they wanted a lengthy test.

Now while I can see such a test for a full-time position, for freelance work it is absurd. It is especially absurd when you consider that I had submitted published magazine articles on the EXACT topic requested in their test article.

I declined to write the test, and explained my reasons to them in this manner.

"Would you ask a lawyer to prepare a free legal brief for you so that you can assess his skills? Ask a physician to commit two hours at no charge to you so that you can assess his surgical skills? Ask a dentist to install a free filling and a crown so you can test his skills? No. So why are you asking writers to give you two free hours of their time?"

Their only response was to tell me that this was their standard method of assessing freelancers and so far, no one had complained but me. Well, I have news for them. The reason they haven't heard complaints yet is because the better writers packed up their keyboards and went elsewhere.

Here's me, waving goodbye.


The sad fact is that many writers probably DID complete their test assignments. What guarantee do we have that the company won't use the two free articles produced as part of the test? None. Just their word that they have given the same writing prompts to all 25 writers and therefore couldn't use the resulting articles. After all, no one would want to publish, let alone read, 25 articles on the same topic. Right? Well, maybe...

Now I am not saying that this particular firm intended to get free content. It has been my experience, however, that companies who want lengthy free consultations or to "hear your thoughts" on their pressing problem before they hire you as a consultant are hoping to get free work out of you. Why companies think it is okay to do this with consultants and creative freelancers, such as designers, writers, photographers and others, is beyond me, but we (the creative types) do seem to get hit with this more frequently than say, other white-collar professions.

As a freelance writer, my experience is simply this: the best companies I work with are the ones who paid me a fair rate for a simple test assignment. Many paid me to participate in short online training courses to learn the ropes for their particular clients or content platforms. They paid me for my time.

If you are a freelance writer and a company asks you to complete a big free project, ask yourself (and yes, ask them too) why. Why do they want a test assignment? Offer clips of your work, links to it online, or a short paragraph if they truly want to assess your writing skills.

But don't give your time and talents away for free. You're worth more than that.

No, freelance writers should not complete test articles at no charge.


Jeanne for websiteThis article was written by Jeanne Grunert, president of Seven Oaks Consulting, and "The Marketing Writer".  Jeanne is a 20+ year veteran of countless meetings which could have been handled by phone calls or emails. Her experience includes leading marketing department, writing books and magazine articles, and pushing cats off of her desk. Jeanne does not write free test assignments but she's happy to give you a satisfaction guarantee on your first project with her. If you're not happy with her writing, you're free to cancel and go elsewhere with no hard feelings and not a penny owed to her. For more information, visit, Jeanne's website.

Surprising New SEO Developments You Must Know



I was trained in the wonders of SEO (search engine optimization) as part of my onboarding for a company I freelanced for in 2008. As a new freelance writer, I attended numerous online classes in the mechanics of SEO. I had to master a keyword search tool the company subscribed to; I had to learn countless formulas on how to use keywords in headlines, in the body copy, and more. There seemed to be rules and regulations for every aspect of search engine optimization. The most sought-after writers were those, like me, who could take any keyword phrase, no matter how awkward, and worm it into a sentence gracefully.

Now flash forward to 2015. Seven years later, we're in an entirely new world of SEO...and I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Why? Here are some surprising ways that SEO has changed - and why it's better for your online content marketing AND for your customers.

5 Surprising SEO Developments and What They Mean to You

1.  Search engines understand intent, so you don't have to be a slave to keyword phrases: Remember the days of trying to write copy for keyword doozies like, "Jeremiah Bullfrog Song who wrote"? In the early days of SEO, search engines relied upon exact, word for word phrase matches to serve the answers to user queries. Today, search engines are much better at matching a person's intent behind a query as long as your text answers the overall question and contains enough related content to alert the search engine that yes, this copy is relevant.

The current keyword inclusion method focuses on:

  • Intention - does the keyword phrase used match the intention of the searcher?
  • Authority - does the page of information related to the question have authority?

More about the authority issue in a minute....

2. Titles, headlines and descriptions should still include keywords: Okay, so I told you in point 1 that keyword phrases do not need to be exactly matchy-matchy, the way ladies matches shoes, purses and belts in bygone years. But keyword phrases are still important. While you don't have to match everything precisely, appropriate keyword phrases should still be used to tag the title of your content, the headlines within the body copy, and the meta data behind the information. The old formulas may be gone, but the concept behind it remains the same.

Don't write for search engines. Write for READERS.

3. Focus your content: Don't write for search engines or to arbitrary word counts. Write for readers. Focus, focus, focus on a niche topic. Niches work. The tighter your focus on a concept within the content, the better.

4. Mix up your content: Long content ranks better with search engines, specially if it's well-written.  Break up long content, however, into short copy blocks, subheadings and more. Add jump links and a table of contents with links deeper into the page for super long form copy. Use call outs and illustrations to make sharable points. All of this makes your online content more interesting for both your human readers and search engines. But don't neglect short form content. Both rank well now!

5. Quality counts: I mentioned earlier about making sure you have an 'authoritative' site. Authority is calculated by the powers that be at the search engines using their usual secret formulas, but content marketers are pretty good at guessing what goes into the secret formulas. My own guess is that links are an integral part of those formulas. Links from external authoritative websites pointing into YOUR site are a great badge of authority. For my gardening blog, Home Garden Joy, having a well-known home and garden website, a university extension site, or a magazine site point into my site is a great way to enhance the site's overall authority. Another way I believe that authority is calculated is based on social signals; how many times is your content shared, and by whom? All of these online actions build a comprehensive picture that search engines are growing increasingly smart about reading.


Creating appealing content for search engines and for human site visitors is both an art and a science. Gone are the days when an easy, formulaic approach worked like magic. Instead, content is developing into more of an organic, holistic approach that has both writers AND readers rejoicing.


Marketing Writer Jeanne Grunert
Marketing Writer Jeanne Grunert

This article was written by Jeanne Grunert, a content marketing master and president of Seven Oaks Consulting. Jeanne helps grow business and brands by producing expertly written articles, guides and ebooks and online content that builds authority and engagement. For more information, please visit Seven Oaks Consulting.




Professionalism Among Freelance Writers

No, I don't write in my pajamas.

The best freelance writers exhibit professionalism - and that includes treating freelance clients with RESPECT. I show respect for my clients by rising each day, entering a my office, and behaving in a business-like manner.

Professionalism Among Freelance Writers: Why Don't We Get Any Respect?

I'm fed up - truly sick and tired - with advertisements online for freelance writing websites, job boards and coaching programs that show a woman twirling madly on the beach, blonde hair flying, arms outstretched, so happy she is free from the corporate grind that she is WRITING on the BEACH. On the beach!

Or the advertisements that claim you can "write in your pajamas" and "never get out of bed!"

Talk to your physicians, your attorney, your accountant. I'm betting they get up, shower and dress before tackling their work for the day. Why would anyone assume writers are different?

The Assumptions and the Realities of Freelance Writing as a Business

The reason these advertisements make me so angry is that there's an underlying assumption that freelance writing is easy. Freelance writing isn't easy. Neither is owning your own business, and that's what you're doing when you decide to hang out your shingle as a professional freelance writer. You're an artist, but you are also an entrepreneur. You wear many hats. None of them are sun visors to keep the glare of the sun from the ocean waters away from your eyes.

The assumptions I see daily about freelance writers include:

  • Anyone can become a freelance writer
  • It's easy to make six figures a year (or if you buy a proven formula or take a class, you can make six figures in a year)
  • You don't need any special training to own a freelance writing business
  • You can work from home in your pajamas all day
  • You can make as much money as you want

The realities of owning and running a freelance writing business are:

  • Anyone can become a freelance writer, but few people have the talent, skills, experience, education and innate creativity and curiosity to make it happen. Freelance writing for a living is more than stringing together words to form sentences. You must be able to find new clients, pitch ideas, and successfully sell the ideas (and your skills). You must understand basic accounting and business practices, basic copyright and business law, and basic website design, build and programming. You must be able to juggle multiple projects simultaneously, speak confidently, communicate effectively, and hit every deadline, ever single time. Are you ready for that?
  • Is it easy to make six figures a year? Zero is a figure. So yes, it's easy. Is it easy to make an excellent income as a freelance writer? No. Can you make a living wage as a freelance writer? Yes, if you are good at what you do, treat it like a business, and focus on your most profitable writing services.
  • Of course you don't need any special training, licenses, degrees or certifications to own a freelance writing business. But if you lack the credentials, it will be all the more difficult to sell your services and to run your business. At a minimum you need a high school diploma, preferably a college diploma in English. You need basic business skills, which can be obtained by taking adult education courses, online courses, reading books, or self-study. But you do need to constantly refine and add to your skills as new technology, new communications methods become available.
  • Sure you can work in your pajamas all day. Some do, some don't. But the idea that you're going to lounge around in bed or on the couch all day watching talk shows while the money pours in is just ludicrous. You will need to interview people by telephone. You will need to attend local meetings and video chats, and please don't think you can do so in your jammies. I find that when I dress professionally, I act professionally. I have a dedicated home office with a separate business telephone line, a business fax machine, and a door that closes so that I can have quiet when I am on the phone with clients. When you treat your work professionally, clients sense it.
  • Can you make as much money as you want? Ask yourself: what will I trade for that money? Money represents a trade, whether you're trading goods for money or time for money. So yes, if you are willing to invest all of your time, energy and talents into your freelance writing business, you can make as much money as you want. You can write your own books and sell them at a profit; you can write a blog that eventually earns a good income; you can hustle and gain dozens of clients. The trade off, of course, will be time.


If you are a business owner seeking a freelance writer, please do us all a favor: don't make your pitch to us as if we're lazy bums lolling in bed all day casually tapping at a keyboard. And if you're a freelance writer, please do the profession a favor, and treat the profession like a professional. Show up on time, submit your copy by the deadline, treat your clients as you would like to be treated, keep good accounting records, comply with business laws and regulations, and treat your business like a business, not like a hobby. If you want to write as a hobby, by all means, do so. Write poems, plays, novels, short stories, blog posts, or anything that makes your heart sing. But when you begin to sell your time and talent to paying clients, get out of bed and get to work. In the end, it will show in the quality of your work.


Jeanne Grunert is the president of Seven Oaks Consulting and a popular magazine columnist, blogger and book author. She did not write this article from bed.  She is seated at her desk, as you can see, below.

Jeanne Grunert



Retention and Loyalty Marketing Strategies

Today on my Blog Talk Radio Show, "Words That Work," I'll be speaking about retention and loyalty marketing strategies. In the world of direct marketing, there are three phases of direct marketing: acquisition, retention and loyalty building. I like to apply these concepts to the world of content marketing.

Most businesses spend a tremendous amount of time, money and attention to the acquisition phase of the business cycle. They emphasize bringing new customers and new business into the firm, and spend princely sums on wooing new customers in the door. The problem with that model is that eventually you do run out of new customers. Worse still, it's difficult to bring in new customers if you haven't put any emphasis on retention or loyalty-building strategies.

Your best marketing is conducted not by some fancy advertising or marketing agency, but by satisfied customers. Consider the following statistics, all gleaned from 7 Surprising Facts About Customer Referrals:


  • 5% of new business comes from referrals – New York Times
  • 92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew – Nielsen
  • People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend – Nielsen

Given these statistics, focusing on retention (keeping a customer for the long term) and loyalty (keeping long-time customers happy and eager to be your "brand advocates") makes good sense.

Encouraging Happy, Loyal Customers and Brand Advocates

Over the course of my 20+ year career as a marketing executive, I've found that the following 10 ideas and concepts will help any business grow their base of happy, loyal customers, customers who are eager to become your brand advocates. See if you can implement any of the following ideas:

  1. Reward existing customers first before offering deals to new customers: Satellite TV and cell phone companies are notoriously BAD at doing this. They offer great discounts to new customers but treat their existing customers badly, raising rates, hiking fees, and charging for every little thing. Instead of giving great discounts to your new customers, reward your longest and most loyal customers with surprise savings. Waive fees for them. Give them coupons, discounts, special gifts not available to your new customers. Let them know you value their loyalty.
  2. Surprise and delight your long-time customers: This is a corollary to item one, above. Surprise and delight your long-time customers. Waive a monthly service charge. Give them one thing free.
  3. Say thank you:  This may sound corny, but in an age of fast-paced digital everything, an old fashioned, hand-written thank you note may really surprise and delight existing customers. This is especially good for service-based businesses. Let customers know you DO appreciate them.
  4. Ask for their opinions and ideas: Engage your long-time clients in customer panels, surveys and discussions. Call them and ask them what you can be doing better. They will be flattered and honored that you are asking for their opinion!
  5. Change only what's broken; don't change what you are doing right. You're obviously doing something right if you have customers loyal to your company for many months or years. Don't noodle around with what's working. You can add product or service extensions, but avoid the "new Coke" trap and don't mess with what's working. People DO like classic things and don't always crave the new!
  6. If you do add something new, offer it to your long-time clients first: If you do add a product or service, let the old timers know first. Make them feel like they are part of an inner circle of advocates by releasing new product information to them first.
  7. Go the extra mile: Set up a special hotline for your long-time clients. If they have a problem, prioritize your customer service by loyalty, giving special attention to customers who have been loyal to your company for a long time.
  8. Send a token gift: A small gift to say thank you may be appreciated by your customers.
  9. Share information freely with them: Add rich content to your website that continually strives to help your customers solve problems, learn new things, or interact with your brand. Make the content free. In the long run, you will reap new sales from existing customers that will more than pay off your investment in long-form, rich content.
  10. Integrity builds loyalty and trust: When all is said and done, it is professional integrity that builds loyalty and trust for your brand. All the free gifts in the world won't make up for a company that misses appointments or deadlines, sells products that break, or doesn't live up to its brand promise. Make your word and keep your word to build long-term loyalty.


This post was written by Jeanne Grunert, president of Seven Oaks Consulting and author of Pricing Your Services: 21 Tips for More Profit. Please feel free to share a link to this content via your favorite social media outlet. Thank you.


working desk for marketing writer

Project Management Tips: What to Do When Deadlines Slip

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams

What to do when deadlines slip?

First, don't panic. Next, gather your information, take a deep breath, and get ready to do some quick thinking - and acting.

Love them or hate them, deadlines are a part of life. As a freelance content marketing writer, consultant and marketing teacher, deadlines are as much a part of my life as a cup of strong coffee in the morning; in other words, I need them to survive.

When you’re working with a group of people on a project, however, deadlines can be tricky to navigate. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to get everyone on the team to adhere to a schedule and meet deadlines. Even when the willingness is there, conflicting priorities, unexpected delays, and life events like someone coming down with the flu can derail the best project schedule and make deadlines impossible to meet.

What then? What to do when deadlines slip?

Here’s a short primer on what to do when you see a deadline slipping on a critical project. Of course, your reaction to the problem may change depending on how critical the project is, your role on the team, and whether or not someone else can fill the gap and help meet the deadline. Only you or your project manager can decide which of these methods will work for your project and team.

5 Project Planning Tips to Help Teams Meet Deadlines

  1. Make sure all parties understand the reasoning behind the deadlines: Many years ago, I was brought into a marketing agency as a consultant to help the agency understand why their direct mail pieces were being delivered after the offer expired on them. The client was justifiably angry that their mailings were a waste of money, since by the time customers received the offer, the coupons inside had expired. When I spoke with the creative and production departments, the issue wasn’t that they didn’t understand deadlines, it was that the mailing client itself didn’t understand the time requirements for direct mail. The coupon vendor was submitting projects without adequate time for the production team to meet the deadline; even by working around the clock to design and mail the coupon-filled envelopes, the way the United States mail works they couldn’t possibly get the coupons into the customers’ hands on time. By working with both the client and the account managers to help them understand the need for more flexible deadlines, the problem was solved. Make sure that your team members not only understand what the deadlines are but why they’re critical, especially when factors such as mailing times are completely out of your control.
  2. Allow adequate time for each project component to be completed: Another problem with meeting deadlines is under-estimating how long each task on a project plan will take. If you’re not sure, find out from previous project documentation or other team members how long this or a similar task took in the past. Then use that figure as your baseline.
  3. Build cushion time into a schedule: Always build more time than you think you need into a project schedule. A little cushion goes a long way to helping teams meet deadlines.
  4. Check on the progress of project milestones as well as the overall progress: One way to ensure that deadlines don’t slip is to check project milestone completion. Milestones, or small sub-goals leading to a larger goal, are a good way to ensure that projects stay on track. It is also helpful to spot issues in a project or individuals who may be over burdened and unable to complete their tasks in the future.
  5. Don’t over commit. The biggest flaw in any project plan is over committing people’s time. It’s a common flaw, especially among top performers. When someone is good at what they do, managers tend to fight for their time, which ends up overburdening them and over committing them to too many projects. Then deadlines begin to slip and projects fall behind. Spread the work out and be sure to check with other managers before scheduling someone’s time to ensure they have adequate time to work on your needs, too.

What to Do When Teams Miss Deadlines

When a deadline starts to slip and you noticed project milestones lagging behind, ask:

  • Will more people working on it help?
  • Can the project component be cut without sacrificing the quality of the project?
  • Can you make up time in the schedule in other areas?
  • Can the task be outsourced to someone else?
  • Can the task be broken into smaller portions and handed off to several people?
  • Does the person adequately understand the task itself?

Many years ago, my marketing department was working on a major marketing plan for a new product launch. Our advertising coordinator kept missing his deadlines on the project. It turned out that he was both over committed and unsure of his next steps on his deliverable.  I worked with him to re-negotiate his work load and priorities, as well as to break down his task into smaller, more manageable milestones. Another team member, eager for a project to help her add to her resume for a potential promotion, asked to tackle a portion of the advertising work, so she was able to help, too. We were able to guide the project back on track and meet the deadlines with a little team work, quick thinking, and trust.

Such a scenario only works with the last item - trust. Your team members must trust you enough to ask for help or guidance when it is needed. They won’t come to you to tell you that they’re missing a deadline if they feel you’ll get angry with them or that help isn’t forthcoming. As a manager, earning your team’s trust comes from consistent management practices and a calm demeanor. When a project plan starts slipping, your team members will then feel confident enough to come to you to ask for help rather than hiding the fact that they might miss a deadline.