18 Steps to Take When Your Identity Has Been Stolen

You Are Not YOU. Now What?

When your identity is stolen, sheer panic sets in. How bad is it? How did they get your information? How much information do they have? How much damage has been done? What do you do now? How long will it take to stop this? Those are often the first questions that pop into your mind.

A quick search on Google will give you a Basic To-Do List, and it’s just that… B-A-S-I-C:  (1) File a report with the Federal Trade Commission and (2) Put an alert on your credit files with the Big 3 (I already had one).


Identity Theft image

The problem is the criminals already have your information, and they have it not just for today but forever and ever and ever. But wait, there’s more! They can sell it on the dark web to others who can mess with your identity as well.  And the thieves are patient because the payoff can be very lucrative. But it goes much deeper than charging things under your name. These criminals can do damage way beyond your credit profile, and you may not find out the depths of their activities until much later.

For instance, they can use your identity to:

  • open online bank accounts (a deposit account) with no money, your credit isn’t pulled, so security freezes and fraud alerts on your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion accounts do absolutely no good if a lender or financial institution doesn’t pull your credit report
  • file for a tax refund on your behalf, you won’t know about it until you file your taxes
  • provide false documentation to people working illegally in the country who will then file their wages with their employer under your tax ID number, and your tax ID number will show all that additional income earned you never knew about (and who pays those taxes?)
  • make a driver’s license in another state for someone else (if they are in an accident, does it go on your record or insurance?)
  • hijack and clone your cellphone, giving them access to a myriad of personal information, log-ins, passwords, contacts, photos, apps including your home security app, biometrics data, and more!

So what do you do when you get that letter that someone has opened up a fraudulent bank account in your name?

While I’m sure there are even more, HERE ARE THE 18 STEPS I discovered that needed to be done after this happened to me. Do them! Even if they seem futile:

  1. Go to the Identity Theft section of the FTC website to report the theft. You will be given an account number and a personalized checklist of things to do. To avoid more scams, ALWAYS be mindful of websites you visit including their extensions. Government websites will have a .gov extension, not a .com extension.
  1. Fill out a police report with your local police department. Often, the local police will tell you they can’t do anything about something that happens online. That’s true, but these criminals have your personal information and may be closer than you think. Don’t immediately assume they are in another untouchable country. Also, the credit bureaus require a police report to any extended fraud alerts.
  1. Contact the three credit bureaus and have them add a (1) permanent security freeze to your account and (2) a 7-year fraud alert. If you like to use credit cards and open accounts, this will mean you will have to plan ahead to temporarily unlock your security freeze to apply for credit or buy a car. In the long run, though, it’s well worth protecting yourself. Keep in mind that just because you have a credit freeze and people may not have access your credit account, they can still open deposit accounts or no-credit-check accounts in your name. When searching online for your free credit reports, be aware of companies posing as the official website in an attempt to have you sign up for other services. The FTC website states the official website where you request your annual report is called AnnualCreditReport.com, and you will be able to access ALL THREE reports in one place. If you need to contact them individually, here’s their info:
  1. Add verbal passwords to all of your bank accounts by phone in addition to any PIN numbers. It’s best to contact your bank through their mobile app so they can verify you that way before the conversation begins. Tell your banks, credit unions, and lenders of home equity lines of credit that you have had your identity stolen, and you want to add additional layers of security. Enable text or email notifications as well as additional authentication methods. Change ALL of your log-in information including user name, password, and security questions. Only use ISP based emails instead of vanity emails that are forwarded to a real internet service provider (see #7). This means don’t use a gmail, aol, yahoo, or other cloud-based email for banking! This also means DON’T forward your ISP to a cloud-based email!
  1. You will need to do two things with the Social Security Administration. First, go online to the website and block access to your account immediately. Second, visit your local Social Security office in person (yes, it can be a long wait) and tell them what happened. They will check to see if anyone has tried to file on your behalf if you are eligible for benefits now. If you are not eligible, they will provide you with printed instructions and two security codes so you can create your new account when you get home. They won’t issue you a new social security number unless yours in an extreme case because there are additional headaches with that resolution.
  1. Call your wireless cellphone provider and tell them you want additional security with a verbal password beyond the PIN they have on file since your identity was stolen. If the thieves can hijack your phone, that’s another level of ugly as they could potentially get access to all of your banking and other secure apps.
  1. If you are using email forwarding, add protection to your email account. Why? When you need to reset your password, most websites will send you password reset instructions to your email account. If you use a hosted email provider like GoDaddy, Bluehost or Microsoft Office and forward your emails to your IP provided email account, you need to add additional security to your email account so the criminals don’t try to redirect your emails and hijack all your accounts before you can change it. There may be a fee for additional security with the hosted email providers.  Read more about the cons of email forwarding from Kevin Pryce’s blog.
how email forwarding works
A visual on how email forwarding works
  1. If you don’t have a computer security program such as Norton, McAfee, or other program, BUY IT NOW. Period. Some come with a password vault, so consider that when reading the next point below.
  1. Audit all of your online accounts.
    1. Log in to your Google account, change your password, add as much authentication as possible. Access to your Google account means they can access your private Google docs, photos, databases, and all other personal information you don’t know Google has stored for you (think about it… Google is working to get into the healthcare info sector!). BTW, you know Gmail isn’t secure, right? Ok, enough of that. 
    2. Access to your Google account also means they have access to your passwords if you save them on your computer! Check your Google Password Manager for a list of accounts you will need to update.  You can search for reviews on some of the top non-Google based password vaults and read how they secure your data, if it doesn’t come with your security program. The jury is out on if an online password manager or vault is better than writing it down in a journal. Personally, I think a journal has much less of a chance being stolen from your home than your computer getting hacked, but if you live in a place where break-ins are common or share space with roommates, you will need to determine the best course of action in your situation.
    3. Anyplace – that’s a-n-y-p-l-a-c-e – you have a profile online, change ALL of your log-in information (username, password, security questions) and delete credit card or other payment information on ALL of your online accounts, even expired cards. Deep dive inside your computer, bookmarks, and history to see what online accounts you have that may have access to credit cards, even if they are old. Are they an http site instead of https? Have you used a travel website to book a flight, hotel, or car? If you don’t use an account or service anymore, delete the information from it or delete the account altogether. Use unique userIDs for each website and not something that’s easy to figure out if a hacker jumps from one site to another.
    4. Create LONG & STRONG passwords. Don’t use anything remotely similar to past usernames and passwords as criminals can run your information through software hacking programs to make logic-based and patterned guesses based on information they have on you (remember those cute Facebook quizzes you filled out years ago about your childhood best friend’s name and shared with all your friends?). Make your password as long as you can – 26 characters is a good start, if the site will let you. Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Stay away from common phrases, dates, or names you use or say as criminals can access your social media accounts (yes, change the login information on your social media accounts). BTW, criminals know that substituting 3 for “e”, or ! for I, and @ for “a” are common, so you can bet it’s part of their software hacking algorithm. Below is a screenshot on what information hackers are gathering on their victims to customize their scams:
A recent article in The Hacker News reports a massive database breach includes very detailed information on 200 MILLION records. If you think criminals aren’t creating a specific profile on you to steal everything you can, you would be wrong.
  1. Tell your employer’s Human Resources department in case the criminals pose as you and ask HR to help you change your direct deposit to that new fake account they created in your name. [Real life example here, folks!]
Screenshot of an actual attempt to steal my direct deposit by contacting my company’s HR department by email and posing as me. Good thing my company is aware of such scams.
  1. Call your healthcare providers and let them know your ID was stolen. Many providers will be able to add a verbal password to your account in case someone tries to gain access to your medical records.
  1. Call your pharmacy as they can transfer your medications to another pharmacy, pay for them with that account they opened in your name, and sell the drugs on the street. [In my case, my pharmacy photocopied the driver’s licenses of anyone I approved to pick up medications on my behalf and would check ID each time a prescription was picked up.]
  1. Contact your CPA to file a tax return ASAP and inform them that your identity has been stolen. If you don’t have a CPA, it’s worth the effort to get their assistance in this area. If it’s tax time and you expect a refund, file your taxes immediately because “the first one to file gets the refund!” You will also know when you go to file if someone has already filed in your name.  You can make changes to your tax return a little later (which is why it’s a good idea to hire a CPA if your identity has been stolen).
  1. Set your social media networks private and begin removing people you don’t know. It’s likely these criminals have already found you online and have your picture, which they can use to try and intercept information as well.
  1. In addition to credit bureaus, did you know that there are also checking account bureaus (the link is a PDF of company contact info)? These companies track negative activity as it relates to checking accounts. You can get a free checking activity report by contacting nationwide checking account reporting companies to see if any checking accounts have been open in your name:
  1. Put security freezes with companies that focus on subprime consumer market loans (payday loans, installment loans, auto loans, check cashing services, rent-to-own transactions, etc): ClarityServices.com
  1. Contact your local DMV. While my effort was futile, yours may not be. Since the drivers’ license agencies are run by state agencies and have different systems, it likely won’t do much good to sit in line at the DMV to alert them to any identity theft if someone twelve states away is getting a driver’s license. See if there is a phone number to call instead (Google “drivers license fraud [your state]”). My conversation with the NC DMV confirmed that the DMV has systems in place should someone try to get a license in NC under false pretenses, but beyond the state borders, they don’t have fraud alert capabilities to post on individual accounts.  In 2020, the Real ID license is required, so fraud with the DMV may be less of a threat.
  1. File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). While I don’t really know what they will do specifically for your case, all the government agencies recommended filing a report. Perhaps they will assemble a task force to cut off the dragon’s head.

While hackers may have some information on you already, they could be still working on building your profile as you read this by searching the web for additional information from less secure sights. Be paranoid! Work to get control of your personal information now before a criminal gets even more. The more info they have on you, the more convincing they can be that THEY ARE YOU, and YOU ARE NOT YOU.

What else you should know

ABOUT PASSPORTS: For my situation, I contacted the U.S. Passport office about scenarios that would deal with faking or accessing my existing passport. They referred me back to the FTC who referred me to the U.S. Passport office.  Neither agency could help.  Lesson assumed: if you travel in anyway shape or form, you may want to go ahead and claim your passport now.

Can LifeLock or another security provider help you recover?

While many of what they offer is of some value – they will fight on your behalf – my own experience was that it was up to Me, Myself, and I. [BTW, when you sign up for LifeLock, they want your full social security number and other personal info, so how will they prevent their own company from getting hacked as criminals get more and more sophisticated?]

I was the one who had to go IN PERSON to the banks, Social Security Administration, the pharmacy, etc., and prove my identity to get the security measures placed on my specific accounts. When filing a police report, they came to my home.

And quite honestly, I am not sure I want anyone else knowing one more bit of information about me, especially a verbal password that is customized for my interactions with a bank.

How did they get your information?

Who knows? If someone has your social security number, they got it from someplace like a bank, lender, healthcare provider, government or other organization who has your personal private information (PPI) and hasn’t locked down their system well at some point in time.

It may have been Equifax, Target, Capital One, Anthem (formerly known as WellPoint), eBay, JP Morgan Chase, Yahoo, Marriott, Home Depot, Adobe or even a lesser known breach… or any combination of the lot.

Think about who needs your SSN and why. Did you apply for a job online and provide your number? Why do you need to provide a company with that level of information before the interview even takes place?

SIDEBAR REGARDING THE EQUIFAX BREACH: Equifax only notified people by email, not by US postal mail, because of the extreme number of people impacted. Apparently, federal regulations state that if a security breach happens to a humongous amount of people, the company doesn’t have to contact them directly. Instead, they set up a website and make YOU go fish for your information – as if you want to go to a website that was hacked previously and enter your information in there.

Through this ordeal, a question was posed by several different people, and I don’t think it is as sarcastic as it used to be:

“Do you really think all of your very personal information is NOT already somewhere on the Dark Web?”

What are they going to do with your profile now?

We know they want money, and this is typically considered a non-violent crime, so what’s the big deal, right? These are typically sophisticated networks of technologically skilled thieves who have may just want money or they could have another agenda:

  • supporting nation state terrorism
  • human trafficking/slavery
  • sex trafficking/slavery
  • drug cartels
  • illegal immigration
  • child pornography rings
  • and a host of other vile crime

Whether it’s a challenge or akin to a video game, builds their ego, or they are just criminals by nature, they are all the same – thieves, crooks, corrupt individuals who deserve to be removed from society without access to technology for the remainder of their lives.

Identity Theft is not Credit Card Theft

Identity Theft is when the criminals have your personal information and can pretend to be you to gain access to your money or to commit crimes and fraud.  Credit card theft is when criminals have access to just your credit card information and begin charging to your account. If you’ve had your credit cards stolen, you may benefit from taking additional steps to prevent your identity from being stolen as well.

How to Learn Marketing Online

Marketing Basics for Beginners:  How do I Learn Basic Competencies in Digital Marketing in 2020?

If you want to improve your skills, you will want to figure out how to prioritize and select which course you want to take. Do you actually need a certificate or is it just fluff and something to brag about, or will it do some good in your career or establishing your professional credibility?

Below are some of my favorite resources to learn about online marketing and related topics – some with certifications, some without, but most of these are free or have a free option.


Websites & Programming

If you need to learn about website building, design, development, coding, or programming languages, the most useful and easy-to-understand site is W3Schools.com.

Here you can learn the very basics from the beginning with their exercises, take some quizzes, and even work toward a certificate ($95 fee for certification as of this writing).

  • HTML                          
  • CSS                               
  • JavaScript                   
  • Bootstrap                   
  • jQuery   
  • SQL   
  • Python  
  • PHP
  • XML                 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) & Search Engine Optimization

Everything related to optimizing your website, learning about your competitor’s presence, and more can be found through SEMRush’s Academy.

Of course, their overarching goal is for you to purchase their tool so these free lessons are geared toward that, but SEMRush is a widely used, well respected, multi-purpose tool that is good to know. If you cross over to another tool, much of what you learn with this tool will be transferable. When you’re done with the self-guided course and certificate, you can read their blogs and ebooks, watch their webinars, and listen to their podcasts.

Digital Marketing Products

Let’s face it, the web IS Google. Google IS the web. If you want to have any presence online, Google is the first place to be.

You’ll need to learn as much as possible about Google’s products. Previously, they called themselves Google Institute, but they now call their online learning portal “Skillshop,” and it’s still free. Some key modules you’ll want to learn include:

Content Marketing, Personas, & CRM

Learning about Content Marketing, how to build your customer personas and track them in a Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) is the core competency of Hubspot, and they share a wealth of information for free.

While they have many competitors with similar offerings and educational modules, the Hubspot Academy is the proof in the pudding. They know you are in the early stages of the funnel, and they want to be front and center when you’re ready to use a CRM platform. Their credibility in the marketplace adds to their certification as well because the skill sets you learn are transferable to other CRM platforms.

Social Media

So many social media platforms are available. The key is to choose a few based on where your customers are and then learn the competencies of that platform.

While I’m not a fan of Facebook anymore, this behemoth is probably going to be a significant player for years to come, so it would be good to understand how to use it to its capacity. They have Facebook Blueprint to teach you the tips and tricks of their platform.

Hootsuite is a great tool to use to organize your content calendar and have it automatically put out on social media platforms according to your schedule. It can also alert you when someone mentions your company.

Hootsuite has created their Hootsuite Academy to teach social media marketers the best practices to master these ever changing skills.

While I have not used this resource previously, I’ve been reading about Alison training courses from some top bloggers.

Shortly, I’ll be uploading some additional free resources that don’t offer certifications. Stay tuned!

Online Marketing Basics

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Types of Online Marketing

Some marketing professionals will add or reclassify these categories, but for simplicity, I’ve broken online marketing down into 8 basic areas of study:

  • Social Media Marketing – this field encompasses all activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and other new platforms. YouTube can fit in here depending on what you do with it, but it can also fit under Content Marketing. Having a regular content calendar with a publishing schedule and using account management auto-publishing tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer will make life much simpler.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & Local Search – this field focuses on organic results, that is, results that come up naturally on Google and other search engines when someone types in a query. These are unpaid ads that are found on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If you have a local business, you must learn about how to optimize for local search. That means you want to be on Google Maps, have a Google My Business Page, and make sure anywhere your business name is mentioned, the Name, Address, and Phone (“NAP”) are consistent across the board. Any online directories need to be consistent, and there are tools such as Yext that can help push out your company’s information uniformly.
  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) & Pay Per Click (PPC), Native Advertising, Affiliate Marketing – this is all paid advertising, often using Google Ads (formerly AdWords), social media ads, and other channels. Native advertising can be as simple as an ad that is designed to fit in someone else’s content, on their webpage or social media page, where it looks like a natural (“native”) part of the overall project. An example of this would be an advertorial on the heart health benefits of fish oil on a health magazine website. Affiliate marketing is when you place ads on someone else’s page altogether such as an ad for tires on a website advertising car sales. You can actually sell space on your own website as well and earn some money.
  • Website Design, Development, User Experience – so this is not actually “advertising” as much as it is building a presence online. This ties closely into SEO as search engines pull information from a well-built website to determine when to show your page to someone searching for something in your area of expertise. This is one essential asset any company should have, and a social media profile page won’t cut it. The biggest challenges here are (1) how will you create a great user experience (UX) , (2) who will create the actual website, and (3) who will make updates? The players involved in managing the website should have a basic to intermediate understanding or better of CSS, JavaScript, HTML, Schema Markup, and Google Tag Manager as well as the content management system (CMS) used to run your website (Drupal, WordPress, for example).
  • Analytics – this is also not marketing, but as the saying goes, if you’re not measuring, you can’t improve it. Learning the ins and out of this powerhouse tool will help you get an understanding of how people use your website, what they look for most and least, and help you make assumptions on which areas of your website to fix or enhance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Having analytics enabled is imperative in a successful marketing plan, whether you use Google Analytics or an alternative such as Kissmetrics, Clicky, or a more comprehensive, all-encompassing tool such as SEMRush or Moz.
  • Email Marketing – while many marketers will say email marketing is dead, there are companies with a core group of users who appreciate email as a communication method over something like instant messaging or a text message. Discount or coupon codes, e-zines (email magazines or newsletters), company updates, appointment reminders, and enhanced features for users (how to use products in a new way) are great messages to send by email.
  • Mobile Marketing – Under the mobile marketing umbrella, you’ll find SMS, MMS, apps, games, and platforms. SMS is short for Short Message Service, such as a text, and MMS is multimedia messaging service sent by text but includes visual or audio content such as a picture, video, music or other audio content sent to a device. Mobile marketing can be customized by demographic and geographic location through geo-marketing tactics such as geo-targeting and geo-fencing. Have you ever driven near a drugstore or fast food where you had one of their mobile apps installed on your phone and then received a message that there was a sale at their store? This is geo-marketing. With geo-targeting, you deliver location-based ads to a smart device when a user has met your specific criteria. You can define your users based on several demographics such as device ID, zip code, city, and IP address. Geo-fencing, however, uses an actual geographic boundary like a virtual fence to define an area, usually by radius, by using either GPS signals (global positioning signals) or RFID (radio frequency identification). You could use this to push a sales notification when a potential client is visiting a competitor’s physical location. If you are only concerned about location, you would use geo-fencing. If you want to refine your customer with more granularity by demographics, you would use geo-targeting.  Please note when using these techniques, you have to be very careful that you are not encroaching on protected data that could offend a potential customer. For instance, you wouldn’t want to sell feminine hygiene products this way when your customers are visiting a gynecologist or urologist (an example of geo-targeting). Nor would you want to push ads for divorce when potential clients drive by a law firm that practices divorce (a YMYL type of business). These tactics would be seen invasive and predatory to many consumers, plus, there are definite guidelines for ethics in marketing based on industry.
  • Content Marketing – blogging, vlogs or online videos housed on your website or on YouTube or Vimeo, Powerpoint presentations, events and webinars, white papers, infographics, case studies, eBooks, newsletters, checklists, statistics, presentation file, or any other type of content that brings leads & traffic to your website is considered content marketing. Content marketing is intermingled with a variety of marketing channels such as social media, email, video, and even SEM as different types of content should be created for different channels. The acronym EAT relies heavily on content marketing as well as SEO as your Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness are demonstrated by your content signal to Google that you are the result that best matches the user’s search.

This is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good place to start. So where do you find online resources to learn these specific fields? Read my blog on How to Learn Marketing Online.

Digital Assets Every Business Should Have

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Where Do I Being with Online Marketing?

Whether you join a company that’s been in operation for years, you create your own business, or you join a start-up, every business needs some basic company assets.  If the company is already established and has an online presence, you’ll want to audit the tools they use to make sure they are working properly and that they are the most efficient as well as cost-effective for your particular needs.

I’ve selected these Priority Assets as a starting point:

  1. Company Website – if your business is a Your Money Your Life (YMYL) category such as finance, health, legal, and more, you need to know Google’s guidelines for these industries while creating the content for your website.
  1. Social Media Profile(s) – you don’t need them all! Pick up to 3 where your customers play and build your skills with these. Regardless of the three you select, you need to also have LinkedIn and a Yelp! Business profiles.
  1. Google Analytics Account – without the ability to measure who comes to your website, from where they came, where they go on your page, and where they leave, you lose the basics to understand your customer. There’s so much you can learn about your company’s online presence with this essential tool.
  1. Google Search Console Account – this service helps you check how your website functions online by identifying any key issues such as if your website is mobile friendly (“optimized for mobile”) and is indexing properly by the Googlebots.
  1. Google Ads Account – if you plan on doing any paid advertising, you need Ads linked to your Analytics. Also, when you become proficient, Google Tag Manager can help you with a variety of tasks that you can manage on your own without asking a developer to add additional code to your website with each campaign or task. While I’m not a fan of Bing and have never seen any valuable results when using it, if this search engine works for you, you will need to create a Bing Ads Account as well. Yahoo as well, maybe (does that still work?), LOL.
  1. Google My Business Profile for each location – claim your locations on Google maps to respond to your reviews. You can also build a stronger profile so Google has more information on your company to give to users as Google moves further away from serving up company websites during search results. While Bing is not a heavy player in any market, you’ll want to claim your company’s Bing Places profile.
  1. A citation data management tool such as Yext will submit your company’s critical NAP(name, address, phone) information to dozens upon dozens of local directories online that you may not even know exist. While many directories are useless, Google still sees their signals as valuable enough to make a difference if old, inaccurate data about your company remains online. There are some directories such as Yellow Pages (the Real Yellow Pages – beware of fake ones!), Foursquare, Chamber of Commerce.com, Hot Frog, Superpages, and the Better Business Bureau pages are some you may want to claim your own profiles, if you can.
  1. Google Alerts – set up an alert using key business phrases along with your company name so you know when and if your company is being discussed online in articles or blogs by a third party.

While this is not nearly an exhaustive list, it’s a good start for getting your business online accurately.

Traditional Vs Online Marketing

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Traditional versus Online Marketing

The internet has so much information about online marketing that it’s hard to know where to begin, especially if you are a newcomer. The field alone has several different names – online marketing, digital marketing, website marketing, inbound marketing, omni-channel marketing.

Many names are actually used incorrectly or are a subset of a specialty fields. Some subcategories overlap into others, making it that much more confusing.  Even the seasoned marketer can fall behind in the terminology as marketing influencers create new terms.

With such a complex field, it can be overwhelming, so let’s start by breaking down Marketing into two categories: Traditional Marketing and Online Marketing.

Traditional Marketing | Outbound Marketing | Push Marketing

Before the internet, “traditional” marketing consisted of reaching out to the customer by being in front of them wherever they were:

  • Yellow Pages, phone books, directories
  • Television, cable, & radio ads
  • Direct mail – postcards, flyers, brochures, magazines
  • Print media such as newspapers & magazines
  • Tradeshows, conferences, Lunch & Learns, and other events
  • Promotional items, product samples, giveaways, t-shirts, swag (something-we-all-get)
  • Cold calls, sales calls, door-to-door, word-of-mouth and referral marketing
  • Billboards, signage, and other out-of-home (OOH) placements (buses, transits, airports, shopping carts, grocery bags, skywriting, banners, blimps, displays, etc.).

The list could be exhaustive, but in a nutshell, wherever there was space in a public area, there was a possibility that space was available for ads. I remember decades ago, some people even sold space on their chests as walking billboards at televised sporting events. This form of advertising – reaching out to the customer would later be coined “outbound marketing.” It was also called “push” marketing as you would be pushing ads out to customers.

One pro to traditional marketing is reaching a large population with your message which would enhance your brand, thus brand or product recall would be strengthened. The cons are there was little direct interaction with your core customer as it is more of a blanket approach. Additionally, it’s more difficult to measure accurately, and the cost could be high for the investment made.

Then, mid-1990s: Enter the internet.

Online Marketing | Inbound Marketing | Pull Marketing

Now with a new method of communicating, customers had the power in their hands to seek solutions to their problems online. They would be drawn inward to a company by the content a company shares online – hence, “inbound marketing” was created.

Before the internet, this strategy was called “pull” marketing as you were trying to pull customers to you. Branding and loyalty programs were part of pull marketing strategies before the internet. Because this inbound method relies heavily on what a company publishes online to draw in customers, strategies for success in this area include content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).  Content marketing is basically a strategy that encompasses all content that your company publishes through social media, blogs and vlogs, white papers, online events/webinars, just to name a few.

A key component of inbound marketing is defining customer personas. This can be very time consuming if you have a large customer base, but even if you choose not to formalize the persona process (read more about creating personas here), you must have a solid understanding of your clients and their motivations to make a decision.

Another component of content marketing is learning about the many stages a customer goes through when considering a product – what is called the buyer’s journey.  Someone looking to buy a new car will go through a different journey than someone wanting to purchase some shoes online, so it’s important to know your customers’ needs, habits, decision-making process, and what options are available to them as well as where they are in their journey. Hence, educating the consumer is a critical component of inbound marketing.

Many marketers agree there are five stages in the purchasing funnel:

  • Awareness
  • Engagement/Opinion
  • Discovery/Consideration
  • Preference/Evaluation
  • Purchase

Some marketers add additional layers to the funnel for more complex decision-making processes. These may include post-purchase layers:

  • Repeat purchase
  • Brand Loyalty
  • Advocacy

Marketers have different strategies for customers depending on where they are in their journeys, and it’s important to know what would be receptive to your customers and when.

The pros of online marketing are that you can reach your custom audience and measure results more accurately, which can prove your marketing investment to the higher-ups.  The cons are the lack of access by audiences without internet access and lack of awareness that your services/products even exist, especially if you’re in a niche market.

Additionally, you have to continually optimize your organic online presence so it takes a lot of time and work behind-the-scenes. It’s not as simple as saying, “I spent 3 hours creating this blog page, it cost me nothing since it’s organic search, and I gained 30 customers from this, so my ROI is $x.” That is something you can do using analytics, goals, and sales funnels, but do you then consider how much time it took other departments to review, edit, and upload the blog? Making sure you track your time invested as dollars is part of that investment, unless you decide it’s just included with overhead and the cost of doing business.

Overall, a sound strategy for most companies includes a combination of both traditional and online marketing as well as agreed-upon goals and ways to measure success.

For new marketers, it’s important to understand Online Marketing Basics: social media, the difference between SEO and SEM, website design & management, analytics, email marketing, mobile marketing, and everything under the content marketing umbrella.

It’s also a critical step for every business to have some key Digital Assets. Learn more about essential assets by reading my blog post on Digital Assets Every Business Should Have.

AIRTABLE: The Tool to Organize Anything!

My favorite online tool for work, play, and everything in between

I love to create gardens. Not just any gardens, but spaces that flow and have areas of interest with plants you don’t find at Home Depot or Lowes. Sure, I’ve gotten some great deals there, but I’ve primarily shopped online with specialty tree suppliers through eBay or on their own websites.

Back in 2014, my father and I rebuilt the entrance to my house with rocks, stone, concrete, and a myriad of Japanese maples and conifers. I thought it was time to actually catalog my investment and keep a diary of “how does your garden grow” because we’re not talking a dozen plants and trees – we’re talking over 70 plants.

I needed a way to visually track their growth, record what I paid for each and where I purchased them, what warranty they had, when they’d bloom or fruit, when to fertilize, make notes about their health, and map their location in my garden. The most important feature of my catalog though was pictures! Pictures of what the mature specimens looked like, what the plant looked like when it arrived, and images throughout the years to show how it had grown. You can’t do that with Excel.


This tool is simply incredible. I created a complete database with full photos where I can view my trees and plants in “cards” with full pictures or a database. I can filter and sort results which gives me the chance to see what other species I want to add to my garden.

And this was the beginning of my love affair with Airtable. Since then, I’ve told dozens of creative friends and peers about the tool, and because I provided them a referral link, I’ve received credits in my account, although I’ve never used them. I still have a free account because it’s enough for what I need. Soon after discovering it, I began using Airtable at work for creative projects (production calendar for a magazine), budgets, directories of VIPs, and simple short-term projects.

One Thanksgiving weekend on Black Friday ( I do not leave home that day, no-sir-ee!) when my mom came to visit, we were looking for something to binge-watch since Downton Abbey had ended earlier that year. Being a fan of Korean dramas (K-dramas) since 2010, I thought she’d enjoy a fun romantic fantasy called “Legend of the Blue Sea.” She loved it and started watching K-dramas on her own. During Christmas when I went to visit, we watched “Descendants of the Sun” (“DOTS” in fan-speak), and that was the start of her obsession (like daughter, like mother).

While I’ve taken several Korean language classes at Wake Tech and have watched a decade of K-dramas, I have a better understanding of the language than my octogenarian mother. We had a bit of a language barrier when she would call me to tell me about a new actor she found and would totally butcher his name. She had been keeping a box of index cards with the actors names and shows, but she had no pictures, bless her heart. She didn’t have Airtable. So I created us a shared database of K-Actors with pictures and movie posters so we can have Hangul-centric conversations. Right now, we have over 140 actors so we can giggle over.

As a marketing pro by trade, I keep my eyes out for cloud-based tools that let me do things easier, smarter, and more efficiently. This tool is absolutely incredible. Trust me. It’s addictive. Just give it a try and see how much easier you can organize ANYTHING.

Airtable logo
I get no perks or compensation for gushing about this tool!

Making Your Event Accessible for All

A few years ago, I had two knee surgeries that required me to be temporarily mobile through the assistance of a wheelchair. While I was only in a wheelchair for about 3 months, it opened up a new world – and new perspective – to me when I wear my events planner hat.

For a marketer, we love kudos when attendees tell colleagues how awesome the event was, post pictures on Facebook, or hashtag what blew them away. But where marketers fail at is inclusiveness and accessibility.

Whenever I wanted to attend a professional function, I had to call ahead and let them know what my special needs were. Most of the time it was about handicapped parking, but oftentimes it was about accessibility to the venue…. those trendy downtown locations that have been modernized for cool office spaces. Can you believe in this day and age that events are still held on the 2nd floor of historic buildings that have no elevators?  The solution for that event is that the female host was going to “carry me up the stairs”… as if that wouldn’t bring attention to my disability.  I could write a book on the lack of ADA compliance at North Carolina State University – a state funded college at that.

People who have special needs, temporary or permanent, don’t want the attention of what makes them different – especially in the workplace. Independence and dignity are important.

When you plan your next event, see what it will look like at another perspective. Borrow some assistive devices (wheelchair, walker, crutches) from a local healthcare facility and navigate yourself through exhibits, doors, conference rooms, and buffet stations. Walk through the event with dark sunglasses to see what those with low vision see. Don’t forget the backstage areas for the speakers or entertainers as well.

While it seems like a welcoming idea to add a statement on a brochure or website about letting the event organizers know if you have special needs, why do people have to take that extra step?

We get choked up when we are asked to like a Facebook post of a soldier with a myriad of physical disabilities, and these soldiers are coming home to integrate back into the workforce.

You may not always see a wheelchair, leg braces, or other devices. You may not notice a missing or artificial limb, and people who have a physical limitation should be allowed to attend events without having to ask if the event will be inclusive for them.  The event organizers should have enough creative weapons in their event planning arsenal to make all feel welcome.

Ethics in Marketing: The Web of Lies

This has been an interesting past few weeks. Twice, I’ve seriously questioned the ethics of some companies who do quite a bit of advertising online. One was a big red flag, and the other was just a downright scam.

The Not-So-Neutral, Supposed-Third-Party Keyword URL

A few weeks ago, my neighborhood was hit with a rash of robberies. That prompted my search to have a security system installed. There are a bunch of companies online selling a variety of services, and they all aren’t apples-to-apples comparison.

In my search, I contacted the top 5 companies I had seen listed on numerous comparison review sites. Most of the companies have the same thing – a landing page with the call-to-action: complete the form and someone will call you. No problem – easy enough. I was actively looking, so I wanted to talk to people.

After I completed the online form for one of the “leading companies” (according to them), no sooner had I hit send than my phone was ringing. I hadn’t even had a chance to read the offer proposition to know what I would possibly be buying. And 10 minutes into the conversation with the sales guy, I STILL didn’t know. He was so busy with the script and sales pitch, that I had no idea what tangibles would be installed at my house. I told him I needed time to digest the information (at this point, I knew he had been trained to not let the customer off the phone), and he said, “Well, Margaret, I’m here to answer any questions you have.” I actually hadn’t had a chance to compile my question list to know what to ask, and when I told him, he got defensive and told me to check out the online review sites.

Ok… I did an organic search and found a bunch of “consumer review” sites and “comparison” sites. But I need a little time to read these reviews, right? He then told me, “Don’t focus on Yelp! and Google+ reviews, look at the review websites and you’ll see our company gets top ratings.” He was steering me to some of these organic results and “proving” to me through these reviews that everyone loves the company. The one particular review site sounded just like a sales pitch. And it was very similar to the sales pitch the guy was giving me. At this point, my marketing brain had strong suspicions that the company’s marketing team had created their own product sales page with their own reviews under the guise of this being a legitimate third party reviewer. Since anyone can buy just about any vanity URL, that’s quite a possibility. The sad thing is that these types of marketing people think they’re clever. And for the most part, lots of people will fall for that type of scam when keywords like “consumer review” are part of the URL.  We marketers know companies can clearly optimize for organic search, so just because there’s a review page, it doesn’t mean these are legit, right? What was the red flag? The language in the reviews on top of the direction away from more legitimate review sites (Yelp! and Google+). BTW, the Yelp! reviews were abysmal.

  • End result? I went with another company: Vivint. While the price was a bit higher than other companies, this company had the exact offering I needed.

Shopping Cart Stuffing

I was browsing my Facebook feed recently, and one of the pages I follow (supposedly All Natural Foods) had a sponsored story in my feed. I confess, I’m a huge K-drama fan, and when I saw the headline about one of my favorite Korean show couples, I clicked. I knew it was click-bait, but I wanted to get behind the headline: “[EXCLUSIVE] Staff Sees Song Couple Fighting In The Dressing Room!”

OK, now I know Song-Song (named so because they share the same surname) has better manners than this, but I figured it may be something silly or funny – not an actual scam. My red flag SHOULD have been the sponsoring page “All Natural Foods,” but I bit the hook. The faux story discussed how leading man Song Joong Ki outed his co-star Song Hye Kyo’s beauty secrets during an interview (and, yes, she’s stunning, so who wouldn’t want to grab her beauty secrets!). They claimed that Joong Ki supposedly said Hye Kyo used one particular product all the time on set, which supposedly upset her because she has a contract with another leading cosmetic company. On a side note, the scam company cleverly stated who that cosmetic company was so they could go head-to-head comparison against the big guns.

The article itself simply had a link embedded on the name of the product, and when you clicked on the link, you could get a trial offer for $2.95. No big deal. No Terms & Conditions, no commitment, nothing – just $2.95. Anyone can do that, right? I looked at this site up and down before signing up for my trial. When I got to the page before checkout, there was a “But wait!” image that said other people loved this product as well and it was only $4.95 trial. There was no radio button to click or unclick, and I proceeded ahead anyway without ordering this product. The checkout page said I was ordering $2.95, but I didn’t think to take a screenshot of that.

Then I thought to myself, let me do a google search (you would THINK that I would do this before ordering, right?). I pulled up several websites that say the trial automatically enrolls you in a program of $90/month… per product! There was no mention whatsoever of this supposed commitment. The scambuster site also said the company adds products to your cart without you knowing it. They also had some of the scammers customer service numbers, which went into oblivion – that endless loop of “we’ll be right with you”… not. To add insult to injury, they state the scam company will charge you a $9.95 restocking fee.  When I checked my credit card activity online, lo and behold – there were TWO charges from TWO different companies (sneaky little guys!).

  • End result? Thank goodness for Chase credit cards where they will happily issue you a new card number so the scammers can’t continue to charge. And they also make disputing a charge easy. Now if you click on the link to the article – it’s a 404 error code, and there is no sign of the trial offer website either.

A Rose by any other name

My plea to those of you in Digital Marketing – please keep your ethics close to your heart. Don’t get excited about pulling one over on consumers. Be responsible with our marketing. Marketing is about sharing your product’s or service’s key benefits to those who need them. If you know in your heart that you are “winning” or manipulating consumers, don’t call yourself a “marketer” – call yourself exactly what you are:  a scammer.


The Art of the Schmooz: How to Open the Door

When you’re a salesperson trying to get your foot in the door to meet the head of marketing, it can be nearly impossible to get that face time.  Will you succeed in getting the magic key or will the door be closed forever?

Here are four critical tips from the other side of the marketing door you’re trying to breach:

  • Know the company’s name, how to pronounce it, and what it does

Sounds like a no-brainer, but I have at least a dozen people a month who fail this basic test. When someone mispronounces my company’s name, they have to have something I really want if I am to continue the conversation. If think, “if they didn’t do the basic homework on my company, will they be able to do a good job in whatever they are selling?” If you call my company by another name, I wonder if you really intended to call my company or the one with the other name instead and this was a mistake. If you misspell my company’s name, I think you probably don’t pay attention to detail. If you want to get your foot in the door, your number one task is to do your research before you even pick up the phone.

When I worked at a rehabilitation hospital early in my career, I had a myriad of phone calls asking me to advertise in directories and other books for alcohol abuse. These sales people hadn’t even bothered to find out that my hospital was a physical rehab facility. It was a waste of my time, but also theirs. When you have sales goals based on number of contacts, and your contact list doesn’t match, that hurts your metrics as well. And, do you really need another “no”?

  • Know the name of the current person in charge and with whom you’re intending to speak

People change jobs and get promotions. There’s about a 3-month grace period wherein it’s acceptable to not know of any personnel changes (and this is a good ice-breaker if you get through – asking them where they were prior to joining the company, but be respectful of their time).

If the company has a receptionist, ask that receptionist how to pronounce the person’s name. Look at LinkedIn for a quick bio so you know a little about the person, but don’t stop there. Google the person’s name to find out more. I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s a sign of respect that you took the time to find out as much as you could about the company and with whom you want to do business. And it will help you gain a better understanding of where to begin the conversation.  For instance, if you are calling me about SEO or PPC services your company offers, a quick look at LinkedIn will show you I am GAIQ and AdWords certified. Your conversation can start at a higher level than someone who has no understanding about click-through rates and conversion goals.

  • Know that we know all the tactics salespeople use to get in the door

One thing many salespeople don’t realize when they are contacting the head of marketing is that marketers are in the same field as salespeople! How about that. Those of us who have been in the industry for awhile have had salespeople or subordinates and know the training and stop-gaps salespeople are taught when they hear the word no. If you are contacting the head of marketing, you need to approach the person as an insider – like you would your boss. How would you persuade your boss to buy your widget?

Active listening is imperative. Listen for cues to what they are saying. Of course, you have to know not just your product or service well, but you have to know what their needs and problems are so you can give them an actual resolution to what pains them.

What gets my attention is someone who knows more about something than I do. As the department head, I have a wide knowledge of many subjects; however, I may not be an expert at implementation with all of them. I know a little html code to get myself in trouble, and I could spend time figuring out the rest… if I needed. I need a hero to solve my problems and do the jobs that I can’t do or don’t have time to do.

  • Be obvious about the schmooz

When my career has taken me to other companies, I have brought many of my vendors with me. We’ve built relationships with time and experience. Respect that you may be competing against a well-established competitor. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a fit. It means that maybe you should start by asking for a little piece of pie instead of the main entree.

So let’s get down to the obligatory schmooz. We all know the deal. Be obvious, laugh about it, and let’s enjoy. Don’t try to win me over with false adoration or dig deep about my inner most desires to find out what motivates me.

And swag – I’m the master of swag at my company. I have a closet full of it because it’s something we all get, right? I don’t need another cellphone stand or koozie.  Now, if you are going to come by with a Starbucks, bring me a venti Salted Caramel Macchiato or a Caramel Brulée Latte, and you’ll get about 4 minutes of my time.

But seriously, if you want to open the door, just be genuine, be funny, be helpful, and most importantly – be yourself. If there is a natural fit, it will happen.

Career Tip: Build your network

When you enter a new industry, finding mentors and peers to help you build your career and succeed in your position are important. You will see each other often at events and meetings, and you’ll likely run into each other on your way up the marketing career ladder.

Those in marketing tend to be teachers. They naturally help and mentor those who are honest and genuinely interested, but they will avoid people who want only to use them to advance their personal agenda. Don’t be too eager or greedy by trying to be besties with the Chief Marketing Officer of the most popular company. Relationships have to come naturally, and your goal (hopefully) is to build long-term, lasting peer-to-peer or mentee-mentor bond.

It takes time and a commitment to honing your personal skills outside of work to become “a name” in the marketing field. Determine how much time you want to invest in this venture so you can build meaningful relationships. Ask yourself if you want to be a participant, a volunteer, or if you want to work your way to a leadership role in one of the organizations. Make notes of the Who’s Who in your local area so you can know faces and names when people introduce you or if you see them as keynote speakers at a conference. Be careful not to overextend yourself. If you do, you risk being seen in those circles as unreliable.

Here are some of my musts when it comes to professional organizations and networking:

  1. Join the American Marketing Association and become active in your local chapter
  2. Join the professional society within your industry (Legal Marketing Association, Healthcare Marketing Society, etc.)
  3. If you like a specific area of marketing (graphic design, SEO, social media, PPC, public relations, etc), find a local or regional organization that specializes in that area
  4. Check local Meet-ups to see if there is an active membership with ongoing events
  5. Find one or two awesome conferences to attend each year
  6. Read business magazines that are targeted to your area

Finally, be a part of your community. Having been in marketing & public relations for over two decades, I’ve met numerous people by serving on local non-profit boards. Building relationships in these types of organizations go a long way as you give of your time and talents for no other reason than to help. And when you need someone to stand up for you as a reference, these peers will be a tremendous spokesperson to your ethics, integrity and values.