Nothing Planned, Little Achieved, Everything at Risk

Entrepreneurs readily thrive on formulating great ideas for new products and business ventures and many even manage to muster credibility when it comes to formulating a vision for success, but all too often the busy road to market is littered with the debris of unrealized dreams and unfulfilled intentions. Initial investments generally are freely cast towards product development, manufacturing, packaging and market logistics, and while tangible and of paramount importance, these factors alone will not be enough to ensure successful marketability and viable business sustainability.

Robert Arnold, entrepreneur and CEO of Saffire Vapor comments, “Strategy keeps an entrepreneur focused on the larger goals – the big picture. It lays out a roadmap for ambitious and sweeping aims and breaks the impossible journey down into realistic and conceivable tasks. It is of the utmost importance for business. Without it you’re just walking over the hot coals, never realizing when you’ve made it to the other side.”

Business today gets done in a global marketplace and new technologies and change is occurring at an unprecedented rate, making time and distance less relevant thanks in great part to the explosive growth of the Internet and the development of new mediums of marketing like social, mobile and digital.  There was a time when strategic planning was only done by large businesses and those companies known for leading change.  For small and mid-size businesses, survival now rests on establishing strategies to weather the economic storm.

“Strategic planning is critical to business success.  It is has not only kept us in business, but has been the key contributor to our continued growth,” says Daveenia Beller, Managing Partner & Founder, Infinite Resource Solutions. “Different from traditional business planning, our leadership team views strategic planning as our roadmap for survival and continued success.  Strategic planning for our company is not your classic business operations plan.  Ours involves vision, mission and outside-of-the-box thinking.  Strategic planning has helped us define both where our company is heading, and how we are going to get there, while considering potential economic or market pitfalls.  Without a defined strategy and plan, it’s like taking a trip without a predefined destination.  We prefer to drive with our lights on, and possess a physical address for the stops along the way.”

Some good strategic advice from Daveenia to emerging entrepreneurs and small to mid-size companies; “budget more than you plan on spending, and borrow money when you don’t need it.  Just don’t spend it until you do!  A prime example is back in 2008 when many organizations saw a recession on the horizon.  They braced themselves for the impact, knowing full well that banks are more likely to lend when you don’t need it, rather than when you do during an unstable economy.”

It is just as possible to grow yourself out of business, as it is to go out of business.  It is important to have a solid cash flow analysis and anticipate potential constraints.  “Our company doubled in size even during the recession,” commented Beller. “We had to control our growth, and make certain it was controlled at a sustainable rate, being that conventional loans were extremely difficult to secure at that point in time.”

Investing in an effective, well researched and targeted strategic plan is vital to assure success in a competitive market environment. Embarking on any new business venture without a clear plan which includes direction and sustainable goals is like setting out across a desert without so much as a simple compass to guide ones journey. Nothing planned, little achieved, everything at risk.

It’s Not Just Television Anymore

Since television burst onto the scene in the 1950’s, the than little understood medium was destined to revolutionize marketing and advertising.  As more and more families add television to their homes, marketing and advertising opportunities exploded. The new medium launched an era of visual messaging and abbreviated presentation featuring catchy phrases and snappy tunes to capture and hold the attention of television viewers.  The new medium was to become engrained with the American culture and would be the premier advertising vehicle for marketers for decades to come.  But in the second decade of the new millennium, marketers begin to reduce budgets for traditional marketing methods – cutting spending on ads, direct marketing techniques, and even email marketing.  In their place, more resources are being directed towards developing online and offline content, integrated experiences, and incentivized offers that potential new customers value. Today the marketing economy is growing more complex daily and established television advertising models are feeling the threat of the emerging social media platforms.

New communication technology is moving the world closer together with every device in our homes being interconnected.  As interactivity becomes more accepted and commonplace, the idea of social interaction affecting the context of what is being watched on television is realized, Social TV, has cable companies, advertisers, and consumers buzzing.   After five decades of TV addiction, would consumers instead loaf on the couch gazing at their Facebook feed or will the social conversation become an integral part of the viewing experience?  In fact, research has shown that 63 percent of consumers browse social media while watching TV, indicating that television viewing and social media usage isn’t mutually exclusive and savvy TV industry players and TV-focused marketers realize they can piggyback on this new consumer habit. The idea is not to compete with social media, but to use it so that televised shows, events, and ad campaigns win more audience and audience participation.  Social TV is bringing the industry one step closer to truly contextual advertising. No matter where you are and on what device, the marketing message is able to reach a larger audience.

Advertisers looking to find the right recipe for success should take a lesson from the playbook of social media marketing that occurred during the 2013 Super Bowl. This year’s big game commercials will be the benchmark. Moving forward, incorporating social media mentions into the ads, campaign strategies and maintaining a live presence during large events will become the norm.  For brands, it should now be obvious that just including social media in your advertisement is not the end of the story, it is the beginning. Social media managers, and likely the entire executive marketing team for brands should take advantage of advertising opportunities and engage with the viewers that are using social media to interact with the company.

Social TV analytics vendors like Trendrr, Networked Insights, and SocialGuide take all this interactive chatter, they filter it to screen out the junk, they categorize keywords and sentiment, and spit out numbers-backed insights.  The result enables broadcasters and marketers to track audiences, their reactions to specific advertising content, and most importantly, tie all of this to their demographic data and broader interests.  Social TV isn’t just a consumer habit, or a way for brands to extend their TV campaigns into the social media realm. It is also a sophisticated technique for gaining insights into TV audiences and making better TV ad buys.

Television has been around for a very long time but there is a new era of interconnectivity and social interaction afoot that will change TV viewing for everyone. Marketer’s biggest challenge is to discover how to keep consumers engaged, broadcasters must learn how to engage advertisers, and viewers must prepare for what’s next.

Marketers Going Boom or Bust?

It can be said that perception is the most persistent and deceitful form of truth, often grounded in myth and mischaracterization, and sometimes founded on generational prejudice.  In an attempt to allocate marketing spend efficiently and effectively, marketers must make assumptions about the method and methodology of reaching significant and specific market segments.  The accepted perception among senior marketers that baby-boomers – those born between 1947 and 1955, and Millennials’, those born between 1982 and 2004 – are overwhelmingly reluctant or indifferent to the use of the new technologies in brand marketing defies not only logic but the established science.

According to Forrester Research‘s annual benchmark tech study, baby boomers dominate the market in terms of money spent on technology:   “It’s actually a myth that baby boomers aren’t into technology. They represent 25% of the population, but they consume 40% [in total dollars spent] of it,” said Patricia McDonough, senior VP-analysis at Nielsen Co.  A recent report from Pew’s Internet and American Life Project revealed that older generations, particularly baby boomers, are catching up to younger generations in their use of technology. And, while they weren’t necessarily the earliest adopters of the Internet, the first users to have mobile connectivity, or the first ones to sign up for social networking, baby boomer’s growth rate in adoption and use of information and communications technology is higher than, and in some cases surpassing, that of younger generations.

While use of computers was once a sign of generational divide, boomers have lived and worked in an era in which their use was quite common and even necessary, baby boomers are turning to the Internet for news, getting information and downloading music.  The Pew, Generations Online Report, indicates that 86 percent of the baby-boomer generation and 95 percent of Millennials make up the majority of the online population, a demographic that spends more than 50 percent of all CPG dollars and are those responsible for spending 7 billion dollars online every year, more than any other generation.

To spite this reality, marketers are still mostly looking at digital media as a place to use direct-response advertising as opposed to branding, general-awareness advertising, “There’s still a perception that traditional media needs to be a big part of the budget. And TV is still getting a growing piece of the pie, even though TV viewership is down and it’s much more fragmented than ever before,” according to  a chief revenue officer who oversees several major websites devoted to women’s interests.

As consumers move away from traditional print and broadcast media, senior marketers must move marketing dollars towards the new technology media to ensure that their marketing efforts don’t produce a monumental bust when attempting to reach the “boomers”.  To adequately and successfully allocate future marketing spend, todays senior marketers will need to better understand how  generational markets use the new technologies such as; mobile devises, lap top computers and electronic newspapers and magazines and fine tune their marketing strategy to match the intricacies of marketing through new and varied social media outlets.

Baby boomer marketers have long been cautioned not to prejudge a prospect when making an approach and connection with a potential customer and must now not fail to correctly identify and initiate effective and meaningful marketing strategy that is founded on the true reality of the generational gap.

Search for Dear Ol’ Dad

Father’s Day, seemingly a hidden holiday for many retailers and consumers, is a marketing opportunity that represented $12.7 billion in 2012.  Because 80% of Father’s Day shoppers wait until the week before the big day to make a purchase, marketers have an opportunity to better optimize search ads and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategies to motivate consumers.

Studies show that consumers will begin researching Father’s Day gifts a month before with purchase activity increasingly as the date nears.  It is important for marketers to use demographic targeting and bid boosting to make sure that the search ads are reaching the correct consumers and targeting the right areas. There are a lot of different “types” of dads that marketers should take into account when filtering searches: fathers, stepfathers, husbands, sons, and even brothers.

Simple tactics such as promoting free shipping, coupons, and discount offers are designed to increase engagement. By creating high-performing search campaigns marketers can maximize their retail revenue this Father’s Day.  Other search terms related to gift categories.

A recent study showed:

  • 41% will purchase “practical” gifts, such as tools, auto accessories, and appliances
  • 23% will choose hobby related gifts such as golf or baseball
  • 21% plan to buy entertainment gifts such as movies or music
  • 21% will buy clothing and accessories such as wallets or ties
  • 15% said they plan to purchase outdoor item such as a barbecue

Although a hidden holiday, marketers have an opportunity to generate revenue before the retail season begins.

Evolving to a New Reality in B2B Selling

Interacting socially with potential customers has long been an important element in a successful selling strategy, particularly when selling business to business (B2B).  Building personal relationships, within market or industry segments, has proven to be paramount to forming long term relationships with customers and often was the aspect of selling where a salesperson best demonstrated their expertise, knowledge and capabilities to potential clients and customers.  It is the point in the sales process where the most knowledge about a company’s product, service, features and benefits is communicated to the prospect and is critical to establishing a successful process that culminates with a closing of the sale.

With the revolution in communication technology, the significance of the social aspect of selling has changed but is not diminished.  The term “social selling” is the use of social media by sales organizations for listening, customer engagement and internal collaboration and is an evolutionary step forward in the selling process.  Social selling eliminates some of the most wasteful parts of the traditional sales process (like cold-calling) and allows a sales agent to actively communicate with more accounts and stay better informed about all of them.  It includes the use of email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings as well as social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Social selling makes it possible for decision makers to reach out to peers and experts for advice and receive an immediate response.

A recent White Paper, “A Definitive Guide to Social Selling’, indicates that more than 1.5 billion social media users globally, and 80% of online users, interact with social networks regularly.  Social media is dominating online activity and is influencing the majority of business decisions.  It is clear that users are learning more about brands, products and services from social media than from any other single source.  Professor Neil Rackham, a pioneering researcher of the sales profession, argues that purchasing has “gone through a major revolution” in the past two decades to emerge as a “vibrant strategic force” in business.  Recent developments, including social media, have only accelerated the revolution. The biggest question is how and when people on the sales side will react.  “The average company today can access twenty-times as much information about you and your competitors as they could access five years ago,” says Rackham. “So you’re no longer dealing with a customer where ignorance is a factor. Sophistication is the nature of customers today, and you need a sophisticated salesperson to be able to handle that.”

In the new “Social Purchasing “ environment,  business decision-makers begin their purchase process by researching products and services online and by the time they seek out sales professionals they’re well on their way to making a decision.  The change has altered the way in which potential customer interact with a sales person.  Their expectation of the salespersons has change, from the traditional role, to one that facilitates the conclusion of the purchasing decision.

According to one Chief Sales Officer in the CEB study, “Our customers are coming to the table armed to the teeth with a deep understanding of their problem and a well-scoped RFP for a solution. It’s turning many of our sales conversations into fulfillment conversations.”  The new role for today’s successful sellers includes opportunities for sellers to use social media to identify opportunities and to engage the prospects at the critical decision making time.  Social media is perfect for reaching buyers who are still thinking about the particulars of their decision.  Desirable social networks help salespeople establish authenticity and credibility, so customers consult with them readily instead of avoiding their efforts to interact.  Continuous participation within relevant social groups allows salespeople to stay visible and valuable throughout their customers’ buying experience.

Today social selling is part of the broader concept of social business.  While the focus traditionally has been in promotional activities, with the marketing and public relations departments leading the way for most companies, within the next two years that focus is projected to shift toward lead generation, revenue, and post-sale service.  In order to make the transition, sales managers are going to have to implement social media training programs that support its sales representatives with education, monitoring and the establishment of social media best demonstrated practices.  Sales teams that are behind the curve today can’t make up for lost time unless organizations formulate a social media policy and commit to training their staff.  Merely encouraging reps to start using social media is not a recipe for success.

Implementation of an effective social business strategy includes collaboration between both sales and marketing, which need to work more closely than ever to give buyers the right information at the right time.  Since social engagement relies so heavily on providing relevant, custom content, it’s important for marketing and sales to closely coordinate the content of the message.  Companies have an opportunity to get ahead of competitors by tailoring content to the stages of the buying cycle.  Potential buyers expect to see that sales representatives are knowledgeable, experienced and capable and are not just outlets for marketing campaigns.

Successful social media sales teams will listen to the real-time conversations and discover opportunities for engagement with existing accounts and new prospects alike and will simultaneously monitor multiple social networks for brand mentions and other key indicators.  Sharing the message with multiple social networks will establish your online persona and will position your company favorably with potential buyers.  Make social listening into a collaborative process with shared streams, message assignments and other team functionality, and ensure that every member of the sales team has the best content for social sharing.

To remain competitive, retain market share and survive in this fast paced world economy, initiating a comprehensive strategy for transition from a traditional sales process to one that reflects the new reality of the communication revolution is essential.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, No More

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four depicts a society that is under complete surveillance. Since its publication, inferences are made to the idea of “Big Brother” when discussing the government’s use or misuse of power as it relates to civil liberties. And yet, as technology becomes completely contextual, individuals are embracing the trend. SoLoMo was just the beginning. The focus has shifted to video surveillance in public space.

Information is distributed widely, across different mediums, resulting in a fast-paced, information driven society. Google Earth has the ability to take you places and see things that are on the other side of the world with the click of a button. New video technology allows big brands to capture the reactions of their consumers to advertisements through the use of their webcam.

“Big Brother” has been a topic of controversy in the past. However, in light of recent situations like the Boston Bombings it seems that this lack of privacy was incredibly useful. Citizens, police officials, and government agencies were able to access video and images that led to the eventual apprehension of the accused. It was the first crowd-sourced collaboration of its kind. In this case, it was successful but that won’t always be the case.

There have been many cases where the operators of these surveillance tools have used them for personal purposes. An investigation by the Detroit Free Press showed a database in Michigan that was being used by officers to help their friend’s or themselves stalk women, threaten motorists, and track estranged spouses. Clearly, this is not what the video surveillance cameras were created for. No matter the benefits, the world is human and there will always be risks as new technologies emerge.

Video surveillance has changed the world of investigation, safety, and privacy. It is expected and now normal to see cameras lined along every street, outside of every building. Orwell depicted an inscrutable dictator that ruled a utopian society but with the new advancements in technology since its publication, Big Brother might just take on a new meaning entirely.

The New Age of #Social Responsibility One Tweet at a Time

Social Media is offering unprecedented opportunities for users, companies, individuals, pun dents and proponents of all causes deemed appropriate of championing to creatively voice their message.  Social media marketing is leading connections with friends, family, customers and comrades all over the world, at a pace showing little indication of slowing down.

With the benefits and the effectiveness of social media marketing still under review by companies not yet committed to unleashing new campaigns, recent stories surrounding competitor’s missteps are beginning to have a chilling effect on moving forward aggressively.  The problems appear to be rooted in a number of areas, some more functionally manageable and others that just fall into the “sometimes you just can’t win” category.

At the beginning of 2012, McDonald’s committed the greatest of all media faux paux.  The now famous, “be careful of what you ask for” mistake.  They initiated a Twitter campaign designed to boost exposure of the brand and encourage individuals to share stories. The company pumped money into ad campaigns to garner customers’ input and ask them what they thought about the company.  Twitter users were anything but kind.  People from all over the world began “pinging” the servers of Twitter with horror stories about the fast food giant.  In a media where the customer is more in control of the message and its dissemination, gaining an understanding of your customer’s opinion before the campaign is launched is of paramount importance.  The management at McDonalds failed to anticipate the negative response; either because they misunderstood the mechanics of the instrument or misinterpreted company sales performance with their customer’s perception and opinion of their performance.  Getting your head out of your financial statement and in front of the customer, with more “face to face time”, may be wise to better understanding how to manage the message and the media.

Some social media blunders are simply the fault of individual errors in the user understanding and using the technology.    This mistake originally got its start in the email world: accidentally “replying to all” instead of just to the original sender and Zap!  Your cute but critical remark about the company chairman just went to the whole company in addition to a trusted associate.  Twitter has compounded this problem. When you send a “@ reply” to a message instead of the “DM” you intended, it doesn’t just go to the whole company, it goes to the entire world.  Getting this genie back its bottle can be a real challenge and very expensive.  The mother of all “DM” failures may well be the tragic (although it is hard to feel sorry for a career politician) case of Congressman Anthony Weiner, who didn’t just send an easily forgotten lewd remark to the universe, but also accidentally distributed a picture of his private parts to the whole of the social media world.  There is no quick technical fix for this one, personal responsibility for developing and practicing competent skills in mastering the technology is essential for survival and not mixing personal private messages with company social media, an absolute rule to be practiced absolutely.

It is important to understand that not all information about the company is to be shared to the whole world.  Last year, Gene Morphis, CFO for women’s clothing retailer Francesca’s, emerged from a private board meeting and tweeted, “Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board.”  The message resulted in an immediate 15 percent spike in company stock prices, but unfortunately it was illegal.  Revealing some information to a select few is just as errant as revealing the same information to all.  Compliant social media programs are monitored to ensure the safety of company information that is proprietary and confidential.

As is the case in other functions of business, eventually someone will need to be hired and given the responsibility to manage the social media effort.  When identifying an outside contractor or inside employee to oversee your social media program, care should be taken to determine that the entity understands the company mission, overall marketing program, policies on distributing company information and intended company persona.  Failing to be in tune with all aspects of the established company brand and understanding the goals and objectives of combined marketing objectives will result in wasted expenditures and unwelcome public attention to an unintended message.  And when making what may be unpopular organizational changes, be sure to limit access to the media machine.   HMV, a global entertainment retailer, learned this lesson the hard way when it began a round of layoffs, resulting in a live-tweeting of the “mass execution” by its social media planner, who was among the fallen. It was sour grapes, to be sure, but the tweets also included allegations that the company’s management had used illegal interns.

Although a lot of terrible social media behavior and blunders can be blamed on accidents or publicity, some of the screw-ups can be attributed to unauthorized hacker involvement. Social media security is a serious issue, and attacks on campaigns that attempt to damage a company’s Twitter and Facebook credentials are nearly daily, common occurrences.  Protect your business’s accounts with strong passwords, and ensure that the only people who have access to the accounts are those who truly need it.  Setting sensible ground rules and processes will minimize the risks.

We all enjoy laughing at the most recent installment of the media’s “World’s most famous bleeps, bloopers and blunders.” Social responsibility becomes key to avoid becoming the storyline.