Discussing Personal Brand at Empower Concepts Series

Junction Executive Director of Business Development & Partnerships Mark Cropp recently joined Sherry Heyl, CEO of Concept Hub Inc. and Julie Squires, CEO of Softscribe Inc. as featured speakers on a panel of experts leading a conversation on launching new brands. The event, part of the Empower Concepts series, held at The Work Spot in Duluth, GA, attracted business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and others trying to address and overcome the challenges of starting something new in a difficult economic climate.

Speaking to a room of individuals seeking guidance toward boosting personal brand equity, Heyl first discussed tools and techniques for increasing visibility, creating valuable connections, and making the most efficient and effective use of time. Squires presented the importance of setting measurable goals and milestones in moving forward, defining a path for implementing these tactics to move forward.

Cropp spoke on how to best present a brand to investors, target customers, and the general public. As a lifelong entrepreneur, Cropp has extensive experience in defining and polishing his own personal brand, as well as working to contribute significant value to partners. He shared examples from his time with Junction, working hand-in-hand with other entrepreneurs, startups, and SMBs seeking to harness their own unique value propositions and create memorable, sustainable brands.

“With so much competition in every industry vertical in the modern marketplace, sharing thought leadership with these individuals and companies is the best way to create impact.” said Cropp. “At Junction, we are driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship, and we are passionate about helping new brands maximize their potential and thrive as members of the greater business community.”

When B2B Goes B2B2B

In a world of incredible scale, the internet and its power to connect us is truly amazing. The connected world is now generating mind-boggling amounts of data every minute of every day – a breadth of available data that is vast enough to hold the power to predict user behaviors and market trends. Armed with this ‘Big Data,’ businesses are beginning to unlock the secrets to understanding how the market works.

With the shift in business’ approach to how to consume and digest data, marketing is becoming more of an exact science rather than an abstract art form. The more refined process of collecting, analyzing, and utilizing data to inform actions is causing many businesses to reassess and refine strategies to focus more clearly on what their customers want. The effect in terms of ROI can be extraordinary.

But what happens to this effect when it comes to businesses whose customers’ data isn’t directly accessible? Beyond B2C and B2B businesses, there are a wide range of companies offering products and services to other companies, which in turn pass them along to the consumers. In essence, these companies operate B2B2B, and may have little or no relationship at all with the people who ultimately drive demand for their work.  They are selling through a non-captive agent, leaving them without the abilities to measure effectiveness in the same way as the rest of their industry.

Regardless of these limitations, engagements for these companies must still begin with set expectations and key performance indicators in place. For these entities, business intelligence and inside-out knowledge of how their performance stacks up to their capabilities become incredibly important in achieving the same kind of measurement typically afforded by customer data. Without the value of marketing performance measurement, strong attribution management that looks beyond simple customer feedback is one of the best ways for these companies to twist big data into working for them.

We often talk about the “business of marketing,” and how marketers are looking for ROI and a competitive advantage from real time data. Taking a page out of the B2B2B playbook reveals that even when the standard facts and figures aren’t available, businesses can take alternative routes to design and execute better-informed strategy. The opportunity is out there for businesses who can best adapt to the information available to them.

Tapping into the TRUST Fund

Tapping into the TRUST Fund

In our modern marketing economy, trust has become paramount in communications, and an integral component of relationships between businesses and consumers. These days, trust is engendered primarily by our peers, with social media serving as a cornerstone in the foundation of those relationships thanks to its rapidly growing influence.

In 2012, social media has come to permeate our lives to a great degree. As an outlet for marketing and advertising, networks like Facebook and Pinterest have become some of the most effective and popular ways to generate business, rivaling or even surpassing the power of the search engines that previously guided the large majority of visibility in the marketplace. A social media advertising campaign fundamentally demands that a brand relinquish control and submit to the power of its followers, but the formula isn’t as simple as just letting go.

Social media is conversational by nature, but it still affords authority to brands. Often times, it is the brand that starts the conversation that disperses through a network of peers. This power entails a new kind of responsibility for brands in terms of creating a consistent, constant, and well-thought out message in order to be effective without being overbearing or burdensome. The power of the network is undeniable; what a brand says will affect its audience to a great degree, so it is crucial to carefully measure communications to ensure a positive impact.

Such is the case in Financial Marketing, an industry presently under the microscope when it comes to issues of trust. The kind of trust that facilitates effective use of social media has been so severely damaged by the actions of financial institutions in the past 5 years that marketers’ main challenge is not to sell a product or service, but rather to simply regain the confidences of its once-loyal audience. Taking the time to ensure that all communications originating from the company on social networks positively reflect the brand will have an exponential effect as the message disseminates across the network from peer to peer.

With social media, the dynamic has changed. People have been appointed with the power to dictate the dialogue that long belonged to the brands. Tap into the trust of this set and leverage their collective voice to generate a stronger message than ever.

Junction to Lead Conversation on Launching Your Brand in a Crowded Marketplace

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) Executive Director of Business Development & Partnerships Mark Cropp will be a featured speaker on a panel of experts as part of the Empower Concepts series on Thursday, September 27th from 8-9AM at The Work Spot in Duluth, GA.

Cropp will join Sherry Heyl, CEO of Concept Hub Inc. and Julie Squires, CEO of Softscribe Inc. as they lead a conversation on tools, tricks, and techniques for launching a brand. The talk will be geared towards entrepreneurs, artists, and anyone looking to bolster their company or personal brand equity as they move through a challenging economic climate. Calling on his extensive experience as a lifelong entrepreneur and his time helping build businesses from the ground up with Junction, Cropp will discuss how to best present a brand not just to investors, but to customers and the general public.

“With so much competition in every industry vertical in the modern marketplace, there has never been a more important time to focus on what differentiates your brand from the pack,” says Cropp. “I am excited to join Sherry and Julie in sharing some of the keys to creating a brand identity that will resonate with audiences across each and every touchpoint.”

Tickets are $20 cash at the door, and are available at a discounted rate in advance with pre-registration at http://eclaunchingyourbrand.eventbrite.com/.

About Junction Creative Solutions

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) combines the intellectual capital of a consulting firm with the creative execution of an advertising agency to create effective and measurable strategies. The strategic solutions align with specific business goals and objectives, and provide consistency from strategic planning through execution. As a result, our clients are able to maximize opportunities to react, adapt, and thrive — ultimately creating more sustainable and competitive businesses. Junction’s award winning portfolio boasts successful strategies and agency solutions for SMBs and Fortune 500 companies.

Shopping and the Impact of Digital Bias

A recent experience entailed visiting a prominent big box retailer’s physical location, comparing prices on a smartphone while in the building, and finding that the chain’s own E-retail site had the desired item for a lower price than in the store. When the sales associates refused to honor or match the price from the store’s own website, the item was purchased through the smartphone and designated for “in-store pickup” at that exact location. As the shopper watched, the item was pulled from the shelves and brought to the customer service desk, where it was promptly collected and taken home.

From the time the World Wide Web advanced to the point where the first online shopping systems began to emerge about 20 years ago, eCommerce has exploded into the mainstream. Today, mobile internet on cell phones and other smart devices have changed the game yet again, giving shoppers the ability to research products and compare prices almost instantly wherever they are, including inside a retail store. Powerhouse online retailers like Amazon.com and Overstock.com have garnered a large share of business away from traditional retail stores, forcing the brick and mortar set to open their doors online as well.

Still, in 2012, E-retail accounts for only approximately 7% of total retail sales in the US. Customers still hold on to the experience of walking into a store to shop. In an ideal situation, a retail store is a place to be helped by friendly and knowledgeable employees, see and feel the products in person, and completely avoid the wait time and hassles associated with shipping and handling when ordering from an online source.

But customers are now often rewarded for choosing the online platform over an in-person transaction. OpenTable.com gives diners points that amount to gift certificates for making an online reservation for their favorite restaurant, even if they don’t need one. Airlines now streamline the logistics of seat reservations, encouraging passengers to book online and even charging additional fees for over-the-phone purchases. Furthermore, the rise of social networking has helped both consumers and the brands they choose develop mutually beneficial relationships stronger than ever before. Looking forward, the future is bright for E-retail spending, projected in a report by Forrester Research Inc. to grow by as much as 62% over the next 4 years.

Indeed, a web-based outlet can be far more user-friendly than the physical store, and it is beginning to create a bias for many consumers toward shopping online. As the eCommerce economy continues to mature and assume more market share from traditional retailers, the lack of consistency evidenced in the big box site-to-store experience must be addressed, or physical retailers are at risk of losing even more business to e-Tail only competition. Shoppers have more knowledge and buying power at their disposal than ever before thanks to technology, and all businesses must refocus the purchase experience on what works for the consumer to succeed.

Everything is a Remix

With emergent technology and new consumer behaviors driving the marketplace, CIOs and other business leaders are recognizing the increasing need for innovation to support growth. Disruption has become a resonant buzz word, but is it possible to truly invent or innovate at all?

A popular Ted Talk given by filmmaker and author Kirby Ferguson offers a new perspective on the creativity that turns the wheels of business and society; Everything is a ‘remix.’ The argument is hard to refute; the creators in our society often achieve great success taking any number of ideas that already exist, and copying, transforming, and combining them to create something new. Especially today, with the internet playing a prominent role in everyday life, people are far more connected and collaborative, sharing ideas and concepts, leading to more rapid and volatile changes in trends and consumer responses as ‘new’ ideas arrive. As a side effect, this collaborate culture has all but eliminated the ability to invent anything that is, in itself, truly new.

Many products publically marketed as true innovations are, in reality, far from it. Take the hugely popular Apple iPad as an example; the concept of a tablet computer, in which the user interfaces directly with the display, had existed for decades prior to the iPad’s launch. Manufacturers like IBM and Hewlett-Packard had models available for nearly 10 years before the public fell in love with the sleek Apple device. The touch screen technology that wowed consumers on the tablet and its ‘disruptive’ precursor, the iPhone, was nothing new, but hadn’t ever been applied to consumer electronics before.

Objectively, the new products could have been dismissed as a rehash of a handful of old ideas that never caught on, but the push by Apple to believe in their product as a true innovation drove a very abrupt shift in the marketplace. The device was a hit, and suddenly, the market for not just the iPad, but other similar mobile devices exploded thanks largely to a perceived milestone of innovation.

Businesses taking a step back and looking at the big picture are sure to notice that product life cycles are shrinking and competition is growing as barriers to entry are mitigated by the opportunities available in our modern, connected, and technologically advanced world. Where do we go from here? The real requirement is to, like Apple, take an innovative approach to the process of innovation itself. It is essential to believe that, even if everything is a remix, true innovation is still possible and is still the lifeblood of the business world.

Putting the SWAGger Back in Brand

Amidst a marketplace with ever-intensifying competition, the importance of brand recognition has become paramount. Rapidly changing technology and increased consumer awareness due to widespread dissemination of information about a company’s offerings mean that products and services are becoming less distinguishable. As always, a strong brand identity can be a key to differentiation. However, in the current crowded bazaar of marketing messages, it is a true challenge to capture the attention, minds, and hearts of consumers.

What builds a credible, sustainable brand? In this day and age, the most competitive brands offer great incentives for advocacy. The most significant development has been the growth of social media, which has driven brand visibility to new heights; consumers now utilize the online space to literally show peers who they ‘like’ or ‘follow.’ Many brands are turning to swag, a pop-culture term for consumer items or tchotchkes intentionally given away, to broadcast a marketing message by physically putting their names in the hands of consumers.

Swag isn’t by any means a new concept. Brands have long leveraged giveaways of branded items for increased visibility. Consider pharmaceutical companies, famous for having sales representatives leave behind pens imprinted with their latest drug’s name and logo at hospitals. The doctors, nurses, and administrators use the pens frequently and see the name each time they write, every few minutes of the day, for weeks or months. It is an inexpensive and frankly, unparalleled brand recognition technique.

How effective is giving away swag in creating brand loyalty? A study by digital advertising technology firm SocialVibe found that advertising incentivized with promotional items works quite well in improving brand perception and ultimately influencing purchase intent. The study claimed that as many as 90 percent of people pay active attention to a brand message when interacting with this kind of incentivized engagement, and brand perception rises an average of 38 percent after its completion. This suggests that consumers aren’t simply pursuing an incentive just to reap the reward, but also to give a brand real consideration.

So, incentivizing a brand with swag is effective, but still relatively underutilized. We can perhaps expect this to change soon, as social continues to alter the marketplace and the process of organically creating loyalties becomes more and more demanding. When the chips are down, swag just may be the key to finding, converting, and maintaining brand advocates.

Lovely Day for a PICNIC

Technology is constantly evolving. This evolution occurs so rapidly and can be so confusing that even IT professionals have a difficult time keeping up with the newest hardware, software, procedures, and techniques. So how can executives, entrepreneurs, and other busy members of the workforce possibly expect to know how to react when a problem arises with the technology that drives the modern business world?

PICNIC errors, or, “Problem in Chair, Not in Computer” is a phrase that bounces around the digital marketplace every day as a way to describe user error, probably accompanied by some snickering at the expense of less tech savvy members of the workforce. The term alludes to the fact that all kinds of technologies, not just hardware like computers and mobile devices, but also common experiences like building websites or using social media and digital ad platforms, are designed to always do exactly what they are instructed to do, which often becomes a problem when the person operating the system doesn’t quite get the input right.

It happens all too frequently when a question or a complaint comes through from a client; dealing with technical issues isn’t a big hassle, but it becomes problematic when the conversation gets argumentative, or blame is assigned for problems that actually have very simple fixes for someone who understands exactly what is going on. It’s just not healthy for the relationship. Patience is incredibly important in these situations.

Our advice for clients when technology just isn’t working like you want it to is twofold: First, focus on educating yourself as much as possible. Simply learning as much as possible about how a new technology works is the easiest way to avoid misunderstandings and anger when these frustrating situations arise. Second, open the lines of communication; find a helpful partner to assist with problems that are admittedly beyond your capabilities. It is far more efficient to defer to the experts than to expend time and energy fighting an uphill battle with technology you don’t fully understand.

These two steps will not only help shed the stress of struggling against an emotionless and very stubborn opponent, but also enable quick resolution to any technical problem, allowing you to get back to business!

What the Work Really Costs

Earlier this year, Donny Deutsch on a segment of the Today Show, advised millions of aspiring entrepreneurs watching at home how easy it was to commission a “neighborhood hipster” to build a website for $250.

Stop for a moment and consider that Mr. Deutsch, a respectable advertising executive and television personality, is chairman of Deutsch Inc., a multimillion dollar New York ad agency whose own website includes a glitzy customized full-screen video feature for displaying its portfolio. Did $250 buy that? Of course, not every modest startup needs a Ferrari like the Deutsch site, but there is simply no reason to expect that a bargain-basement amateur website will ever produce the same horsepower.

With the rise of the internet and online business, entrepreneurs have largely forgotten that even without the overhead of a physical storefront, there are still significant costs associated with getting off the ground. Building and operating an online-only business may appear to be cheaper than traditional brick-and-mortar, but it’s certainly not free. People are often so conditioned for shopping around, hunting for discounts that they neglect to consider the ramifications of opting for price point over quality. It is a difficult habit to break, but why cheap out on an investment that you are counting on for your retirement?

For entrepreneurs entering the marketplace with an online storefront or online-only business, similar principles apply. With consumer sentiment at an all-time high, recognize the value of building the best online solution to drive the business forward. Choose a partner to help you build a lasting business comes down to so much more than the financial cost. Far more important is founding a relationship in which both parties understand each other’s goals and expectations.

The innovators behind today’s most prominent web-only businesses, like social media giant Facebook or professional networking site LinkedIn carefully and patiently sought out the best talent. And even in their infancy, these sites were not built on spare change.