Chris Shirer of Madison & Fifth: Your Questions Answered

557047_394472720564249_1620030968_nFor 13 years, Madison & Fifth has been assisting businesses with their digital marketing and advertising needs from their Downtown Columbus offices. The company has assisted over 60 clients with projects that range from web design to social media campaign management to mobile app development.

We spoke recently with Chris Shirer, CEO & President of Madison & Fifth, to find out which questions they’re asked most clients and what the answers are to those questions.

1. How much should a website cost?

When compared with the cost of other short-term marketing expenses, the cost of an effective website is an incredible bargain. It’s a 24/7/365 marketing machine and whatever you pay today really gets amortized over the life of the website which should be at least a few years’ time. If pressed for a number, I share the following formula …

Take gross annual revenue and allocate 3-percent as marketing budget. This 3-percent mark is an average. Some businesses with incredible word of mouth only need to spend 1-percent; other businesses that require broadcast support to scale quickly can push to 5% or higher.

The website should get a percentage of the marketing budget that fits with the role it plays in supporting and growing the business. There are some businesses for which online sales or digitally delivered services are key to the business’s operation and revenue. These website projects pull from the marketing budget and also draw from operating expense budgets.

The most important business question: How fast can I experience return on my spend and what role do I expect my website to play in speeding that plow? That ‘When do I get my money back?’ question is one of the most important questions any good business owner asks about any expense.

If there’s no revenue history (it’s a new business) – I never advise spending a lot on the website straight out of the gate. Look for low-cost, low barrier to entry website solutions that allow you to focus on your product, service and what’s happening inside the four walls of the business while still providing the basics everyone wants – location, phone number, hours, product/service descriptions, contact form – and be sure free online local business listings are in place.

2. Social Media – here to stay or gone tomorrow?

It’s funny to me that we had to come up with a name for it. I felt like the internet was incredibly social from day one. Where else could you plug a machine into a wall and suddenly connect with people all over the world?

Somebody had to turn it into a business. And if you have a business it needs a name. And then it needs rules like friending and following and poking and blocking. And now it’s a business and not just people connecting.

I think we’ll always have new tools and channels offered up as ‘social media’ methods for connecting so I think it will always be with us in one form or another. The answer I think people are really after when they ask me about the future of social media is ‘Do you think it’s worth doing?’

I think connecting with other people, no matter the method, is ALWAYS worth the effort. It’s why we’re here (to connect). I could just do with fewer rules and I think we try too hard to connect the dots to our bottom lines. Social media helps build and sustain relationships outside the transaction cycle. That’s pretty important and may not be as measurable as we’d like. Good business is built on relationships.

3. Do I need an app for my business?

Our experience with hard client data in hand, is that if you’re building an app to replicate content that is readily available on your mobile-friendly website, you’re better served spending your money adding features to the existing mobilefriendly website.

People download a lot of apps they know they won’t use more than once. The stats support that the average smartphone user has 3 to 5 apps they use regularly and the rest are mostly ‘one and dones.’ They appreciate when you’ve made your website’s content available to them in a mobile-friendly format that doesn’t require they download anything.

When is the answer ‘yes’ for apps? When the app offers compelling content that stands a chance of being used again (a paint color guide for artists) or you can support it with persistent reminders to use it (a game your customers or their kids can play that translates into rewards) or it’s a practical tool your diehard customers will use repeatedly (an extension of your online store that just makes the mobile shopping experience better).

Offering an app-like experience through a mobile-friendly interface, using code you completely control, requiring no download, is really the least friction-filled experience.

4. What’s the most exciting change you’re seeing?

Working the web can be frustrating because there are about 15 ways to do any one thing, 15 tools available to do those things, and little skirmishes break out over which is the best method or tool.

I only get to say this because I’ve been wandering in this since 1994: There’s a necessary role a lack of hard-fast standards plays in moving things forward. We’re forced to think creatively when we have several standards to meet. Out of that frustrating state come new ideas about how things *could* work. For all of its regimentation, development is a dirt fight where the most interesting things emerge from chaos.

The one thing I’m excited about is the emergence of responsive design – building a single website and using code that resizes and reconfigures content on the fly to fit multiple screen sizes. It’s not perfect yet, there are different standards for each browser’s handling of the responsive code, but it’s the most interesting, coherent example of how we wrestle these challenges regularly to provide a good experience and persistently learn more along the way. This is all still so, so new. But if you recall that the iPhone wasn’t even introduced until 2007, the trajectory suddenly starts taking on light speed.

5. Why Columbus?

This city has some of the most profoundly decent, committed people you can find anywhere and that is good if you’re creating a business. I’m from Pittsburgh, a working class sort of city, where working and being part of a work tradition was really important. We ‘show up.’ I find very much the same ethic here and it’s comfortable for me.

I respect how hard other people are working to make their contributions. Often they’re striving to be responsible business owners who want their own people to experience success. Columbus is good for the working soul.

Beyond work, Columbus has turned in such an interesting direction in the 20 years since I first arrived here. I never imagined that I’d be living downtown, in walking distance to a nationally recognized public market and arts district, ballparks and green space with performance stages, lively streetscapes filled with restaurants and boutiques. I feel like I got here just in time.

For more information on Chris Shirer and Madison & Fifth, visit