How Content Marketing Drives Referrals and Brightens Your Day, Spotted Monkey Style

Above: Lauren Williams (left), Ashli Smith (center), the Spotted Monkey International Harvester truck cab (right)

You’re quitting your job.

You have a new one lined up in two weeks. In the meantime, you might be researching the company you’re going to work for, reaching out to future coworkers for coffee. Maybe you just relax and enjoy the break.

Not Ashli Smith. It turned out that two weeks was far too long a delay to get her on board, because it gave her all the time she needed to start a new business instead.

How did it happen?

“I like to work, and I like to think,” Ashli said with a shrug and a bright smile, when we spoke in late March 2018.

Still in her twenties at the time, her plan was to leave the Nissan dealership where she had been the office manager for years, and her hometown of Muncie, Indiana, for greener pastures in Indianapolis.

“I always wanted to get out of Muncie and see the world. I love to travel. I always used to cry when I had to come back home from a trip because I knew there was always so much more to see and experience,” Ashli said.

Indianapolis wasn’t exactly “the world”, but it felt like a step in the right direction. At first. Then she abruptly changed her plans when a paying gig came her way.

Okay, maybe that’s not the whole story … the opportunity didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.


See, Ashli had not been your average office manager at Nissan. She was the kind of dream employee every general manager would give their right leg for, the kind who doesn’t need to be told what needs to be done. The kind who’s already doing it.

“We were slow. My salespeople were starving,” Ashli said. “I needed to do something to show them I got their back.”

Ashli’s degree from Ball State University is in travel and tourism marketing, the business of making a destination look sexy. She figured she could use these marketing skills to lick two problems.

One was the external problem of people not coming in. What was her dealership but the destination she needed to entice people to visit?

The other was the internal problem of horrible morale, because, well, people weren’t coming in.

“At one point, we had a zero dollar advertising budget,” Ashli said. “Facebook at that time was pretty new. I started experimenting with it.”

Ashli would not only write posts about cars for sale, but she had fun with social media, too.

“We had a salesperson we called Lucky who would dress up like a leprechaun for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I would post pics of him. Just anything to keep up morale,” she said.

(It was at about this point in our interview I asked Ashli if she was ever a cheerleader. She laughed, “Yes. Until my sophomore year.” Are you surprised?)

Although Ashli didn’t have analytics to track whether it was working (Facebook didn’t even have business pages back then, let alone tracking tools), she could feel the change, the way the salespeople appreciated the effort.

Fred Stevens took notice. He was running an independent insurance agency at the time and happened to be a friend of Ashli’s father, Rick Smith. Fred didn’t get social media, but he knew Ashli did. That’s why it took about two seconds for him to reach out to Ashli when he heard she was leaving Nissan.

Just like that, Ashli Smith had her first social media marketing client.


The next step was to write a business plan. She showed it to Rick. He was sure to give her lots of notes as an experienced businessman himself, a former co-owner of another dealership.

“He told me it’s a perfect business plan, because it had no employees and no product!” Ashli said.

Of course, that would change in time.

She founded Creative Web Connection in 2010. The company offered website design and social media management at a time when there weren’t many local options for small businesses needing help with digital marketing.

Ashli had found her place filling a need right here in her home town. That was a cool enough prospect to be worth sticking around.

The next step was to let everybody know she was open for business. Through membership in BNI (Business Network International), and by attending chamber of commerce ribbon cuttings and meetings of the new ECI Social Media Group, Ashli began to pick up contacts and clients.

In 2013 she opened up her office at N. Wheeling and Riggin Road.

“That’s when it really felt real,” Ashli said.

She realized at that point it was time to tackle her name problem. People would often misremember the business name as Creative Web “Connections” (there was no “s”). Sometimes they couldn’t remember the name at all. Worse, they couldn’t remember what the company actually did.

So, Creative Web Connection rebranded to Spotted Monkey Marketing, a name that not only gets across that it’s a marketing company, it also instantly makes you smile.

“I wanted to change the name to something memorable. My dad and I originally came up with Blue Monkey, but we found quite a few bars and restaurants have that name. So we did Spotted Monkey instead, and Greg Zirkle made us a blue logo,” Ashli said.

Since then, service offerings have snowballed as Spotted Monkey continues to respond to client needs. Ashli is now one of a staff of three full-time employees and a few part-time interns from Ball State, all needed to handle everything from social media to printing, logo design … and now, content marketing.


“We’re seeing original content works,” Ashli said. “Original content is what people want to read. Those are the number one articles being read on a website.”

Ashli and I spend a lot of time educating small business clients on what content marketing is and what it can do for them.

There are currently a select handful of clients that are benefitting from articles written in their voice, targeted to their desired clientele, and delivered in a variety of ways. The goal is to move readers down the marketing/sales pipeline from attention to interest, to desire, and finally to action.

Usually the action we want the reader to take is making a purchase, but for some clients, the desired action may be more nuanced.

For example, one client is a financial advisor based in California. For his firm, Spotted Monkey:

  • Delivers original articles to end clients in a monthly e-newsletter,
  • Posts the article in the client’s blog, on his website,
  • Posts links to the article via a handful of social media platforms several times a month, and sometimes
  • Utilizes the data referenced in the article to create and post infographics.

That’s a whole lot of impact from one service, and it is paying dividends (see what I did there?). Over time, the client has seen not just website traffic, but referrals ($!) grow.

“He has seen more referrals over the last eight months than he has since we started doing this over two years ago,” Ashli said. “With content marketing, it’s not going to happen overnight. You are building trust, and it definitely pays off over time.”


Ashli and I are working to make content marketing simple, accessible and efficient for more SMBs (small- to medium-size businesses) in east central Indiana.

Whether it takes the form of business blogs, print or email newsletters, websites or landing pages, good content paves the way from getting your audience’s attention all the way to bringing the sale home.

“Content marketing” is not scary. It’s not even anything new. It’s just educating, entertaining and storytelling with a purpose.

If you have something more to communicate than your list of products and services, if you have a story to tell, tell it. Invite readers in to hear more, to build relationship with you, and they are far more likely to buy from you in the future.

The idea is simple. The execution can be tough. If you need someone to help you get your story out, that’s when you call your local, sunny content shop, Spotted Monkey Marketing.

Go ahead. Let Ashli make your day.

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