Marriott is Positioning to Fend-Off a Challenge from Airbnb

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Typically, major players in an industry are not pioneers into uncharted and untested niche territories; territories that promise to disrupt the status quo of long proven performances and produce huge revenues and “cash-cow” models that make C-suite executives and stockholders giddy. An atmosphere of invulnerability supported by decades of dominance in an industry has torpedoed many once dominate brands. Does anyone remember Kodak? Likewise, tobacco companies dismissed burgeoning e-cigarette marketers until they realized the potential threat to their nicotine delivery dominance. Perhaps due to a similar perceived threat, Marriott International is announcing its entry into a home rental market niche that will feature 2,000 “premium and luxury homes” in more than 100 locations in the US, Europe, Caribbean, and Latin America.

The new brand effort, called “Homes and Villas by Marriott International”, will collaborate with property management companies around the world to make private residences available to customers seeking upscale residences for business and personal travel accommodations. The effort appears to be in response to Airbnb’s launch of Airbnb Plus, which features high-end listings with strict hotel-like benefits. Marriott’s new plan infringes on Airbnb efforts, but doesn’t completely compete with it in every way. Homes & Villas will have minimum three-night stays, with prices ranging from $200 – $10,000 per night.

Airbnb offers mostly single-room accommodations from a menu of 6 million listings, primarily privately-owned properties. Its target market is mostly budget-minded travelers who would prefer staying in a hotel but can’t afford the higher costs. In comparison, while Marriott operates 7,000 properties in 130 countries, its entry into Airbnb territory offers just 2,000 selections. Still, many industry experts see Marriott’s move as proof that the hospitality industry leader is feeling the heat from Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway. “People stay at different hotels for different trip purposes,” Stephanie Linnartz, the global chief commercial officer at Marriott. “Home sharing is another offering.”

If Marriott is to be successful in its attempt to stall Airbnb’s progress into its territory, it will need to figure out a way to ensure delivery of the same high-end quality of product and service that the company is known for. Working with outside property managers who represent independent property owners poses a challenge to maintaining the brand image. Will Marriott’s management be able to effectively enforce the demanding processes that have resulted in the brand’s lofty image?

Perhaps a better question is whether Airbnb, best known for its credibility in low-cost, hostel-type accommodations, will be able to make inroads into an upscale hospitality environment dominated by a long-standing leader in the high-end market niche. Either way, it is refreshing to see an accomplished industry player respond to a credible challenge to its market dominance. Experience has demonstrated that size, market position and dominance is not guaranteed to any player.

Securing a Website with an SSL Certificate is More Important than Ever Before

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More than a billion web users’ personal information was stolen by cyber hackers in 2018. While large companies appear to be the victim of the vast majority of attacks, small business websites are proving to be an attractive target for cyber criminals looking to find an easy pathway to the riches that can come from the fraudulent use of everyday consumers’ personal financial information. While the level of illegal intrusion leveled-off last year, security experts are warning that recent advancements in website security measures may be doomed to the insistent and persistent improvement in hackers’ ability to adapt to the new security improvements.

Not unlike burglars who pass by homes with obvious security systems for an unprotected target, cyber criminals are turning to small business websites that fail to take even the most basic security actions to protect customer data. While the past two years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of websites taking actions to protect customers’ personal information, more remains to be done. The number of websites supporting HTTPS over encrypted Secure Socket Layer (SSL)/TLS connections has skyrocketed over the past year. Recent studies reveal that over 50 percent of web traffic is now encrypted. “Many sites need to catch up to avoid the ‘Not Secure’ warnings,” said DigiCert chief product officer Jeremy Rowley. “We urge IT administrators to check the sites they look after and deploy the appropriate TLS certificates.”

Perhaps the greatest incentive for website owners to gravitate to HTTPS protocol is coming soon from Google. With the release of Chrome 68 later this year, the search engine leader will mark all sites that haven’t adopted HTTPS as “Not Secure”. All other secured sites will continue to be displayed with green https letters in the URL, which means they are secured by an SSL certificate. Google will also give websites with encrypted connections a slight rankings boost. Imagine the number of website visitors who will be reluctant to frequent a company’s site when they are confronted with an “unsecure” warning. The consumer demands for increased web security is on the rise and consumer awareness of cyber security victimizations is heightened. It has been predicted that the Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla search engines will likely follow Google’s direction.

Research conducted by Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm, found that 87% of internet users will not complete a transaction if they see a browser warning on a web page and more than half of respondents indicated they would seek to complete the purchase on a competitor’s secured website. SSL certificates have been available for decades but many website owners have delayed activation due to the perceived high cost and complications of implementation.

The cost associated with migrating to HTTPS and its significant benefits to a web owner is quickly becoming more affordable. Many hosting providers are offering free SSL certificates to clients. With “trust” becoming an important factor in the marketer/consumer relationship, a “secure” banner across the top of a company’s website is an indication that the site’s owner shares their customers’ concern for data security.

Implement an Effective Narrative to Better Connect the Message to an Audience

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“Once upon a time,” who doesn’t remember this opening sentence? It is famously known as a preamble to a story whose purpose is to grab attention, teach an important message, and impart an unforgettable impression on the listener or to compel them to take action. Storytelling is part of all our lives.  From our earliest memories stories have been fundamental to understanding just about everything. A medium, when well performed, takes the often mundane specifics of a subject and transforms them into a narrative that is interesting and impressionable to the listener. Imagine for a moment attempting to explain to a four-year-old the concepts and importance of building a strong and comforting abode that will survive the dangers of a foe with a menacing nature. Behold the narrative, “The Three Little Pigs.”

Storytelling is not new. It’s a supportive foundational block in our ability to communicate effectively. It utilizes emotion and empathy to inform and motivate, to explain complex as well as simple messages. In this fast-paced, digital communicative environment, storytelling is becoming increasingly important to marketing efforts. Shortened sound-bites, mini moments and mega-blanket messaging have become all the rage among digital advertising, but the impact of the message is being lost amongst all the noise. Advertisers are returning to the art of storytelling to complete a more comprehensive and effective connection with its audience.

Eric Danetz, Global Chief Revenue Officer for AccuWeather, says, “High-quality, authentic storytelling is critical in today’s fragmented media environment.  With noise and competition for consumer attention and brands targeting for greater personalization and impact, storytelling becomes key to establishing an emotional connection with your audience. In terms people and businesses can relate to, storytelling illustrates how a brand will meet customers’ needs and in turn, builds loyalty.”

With all the attention garnered by the technical aspects of digital media and as the proliferation of multiple social channels continue, the increasingly shorter time spans in digital communication is driving consumers to distrust brands and avoid fact-based, feature-and-benefits methods of messaging. When performed properly, storytelling is combining art, creativity, psychology and data to create improved marketing campaigns. Consumers are interested in being entertained by a message, being educated and motivated by an experience and in messages that engage with them emotionally and personally.  Old school marketing tactics are finding new life with consumers who are tired of the incessant barrage of digital media noise.   

Successfully merging the art of storytelling into today’s digital marketing environment requires an understanding of the techniques of storytelling and an investment of time and resources to implement an effective narrative that connects with consumers.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions’ creative team of professionals can help tell your story, call 678-686-1125 today.

Select Your Marketing Partner Wisely

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Selecting the right marketing agency to connect a business to its market is critical to meeting the goals and objectives of any business. Too often the importance of evaluating and measuring the fitness of an agency to the specific business takes a back seat to the pop and wow of an agency’s public persona. Overlooked are the factors that are often most essential to building a working and mutually beneficial relationship between a marketer and their chosen agency.

Building a relationship with a marketing agency is as important as forming a relationship with a vested business partner. Trust, transparency, confidence and a demonstrated understanding of your business is critical. The chosen agency should share your passion and be overtly committed to achieving your marketing objectives. “Many agencies make a pitch based on the ‘big idea.’  Although the ‘wow’ factor is important, seamless execution is critical to the success or failure of any client relationship,” says Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner of Junction Creative Solution (Junction).  “At Junction we are as passionate about process as we are about the creative. Our clients not only expect it but appreciate our diligence.”

A good agency should be able to relate to the goals and objectives of its clients and have the capability to scale any project to meet the expectations and the client’s budget. Flexibility is important to be able to adjust to the dynamics of any market, and experience counts. Does the agency have a proven track record in your industry or a comprehensive understanding of how to adapt successful efforts across a wide spectrum of industries?

The successful candidate will enthusiastically provide client references. Is the agency’s own website and marketing collateral consistent with their proposals? Do they walk the talk? In digital marketing, understanding and demonstrating a high degree of competency for technical aspects of digital communication is a must for any proposed marketing strategy.   In this fast-paced competitive environment, it’s critical to remain ahead of trends, to demonstrate significant capabilities and to provide award-winning performance for your projects whether a brand logo or a comprehensive set of solutions to support sales and marketing.

“With the rise of solopreneurs and marketing consultants, it’s difficult to discern the good from the bad.  With more than 20 years of experience in the marketing space, we’ve experienced the dot com era, the introduction of mobile, social, and all things digital,” comments Gareleck. “The experience and learnings from the last 2 decades give us a unique experience when assisting our clients.  The medium may have shifted but the principles of performance based marketing are the same. We focus on delivering against the goals and objectives of our clients.”

The successful candidate should not only have demonstrated expertise, but should also be someone who can relate to your vision and have the ability to evoke confidence and work with you in meeting projected expectations. Be wary of those who over-promise and over-simplify. Successful marketing strategy takes time and constant tweaking. Choose your marketing team wisely. Choose one who’s experienced in coordinating a total marketing journey from the design and development to engagement and beyond.  To find out more about how Junction can partner successfully with your business, call (678) 686-1125.

Opportunity Awaits Small Businesses that are Optimistic Enough to Brave the Journey

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A recent Federal Reserve forecast for 2019 proposes that the U.S. Economy will grow 2.5 percent in the coming year and inflation will be checked at 2 percent. Such a prediction only a few years ago would have been thought to be the ranting of an overly optimistic and controversial student of economics, or the position statement for a largely discredited, naïve, want-to-be politician.  At the start of this New Year, perhaps the least surprised entity among the business community is small business. Cut from the same cloth of optimism, small businesses in America account for 2 out of every 3 new jobs created.  With unemployment at the lowest level in decades (some predict it could set a record low in 2019 of 3.5 percent), it would appear that the optimists are winning the day.

The accepted thought among a majority of business soothsayers is that the coming year is the best time for those optimistic entrepreneurs to engage their plans and open their dream businesses. The reality is that no one can promise success for anyone venturing into business at any time. While 2018 was generally considered a positive tipping point for small to mid-sized businesses, just over half said operations performed better over previous years, and less than half were willing to venture a prediction of continued growth in 2019. Despite all the positive economic indications, there remains just enough room around the edges of everyone’s crystal ball to manifest a degree of doubt about the size of the expected fortunes to come for small business owners.

Most vulnerable are new and emerging businesses that lack the time to establish a sustainable base in which to weather any downturns in market performance. To survive and prosper, small entities will need to be focused on adopting strategies that gravitate towards growth in 2019, regardless of temporary fluctuations in the economy. Experienced entrepreneurs are painfully aware that failure lurks in the economic shadows occupied by those factors that are just beyond their control. A profound and sustained focus on technology, finance, marketing and public policy will be of paramount importance going forward.

“Customers today have more choices than ever, and they have shown they will gravitate toward those who prioritize the delivery of fast, seamless and personalized service. This is true whether they are ordering lunch, getting their car repaired or making a financial transaction. In my industry of financial services, we’ve already seen large legacy companies start to fall behind smaller startups who offer better user experiences,” says Bernardo Martinez, U.S. managing director at Funding Circle.

Another challenge facing all small to mid-sized businesses is the lack of qualified and motivated employees. With a record 39 percent of small business owners reporting unfilled job openings, finding qualified workers is the single most challenge facing them in 2019.  “Optimism among small business owners continues to push record highs, but they need workers to generate more sales, provide services, and complete projects,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan. “Two of every three of these new jobs are historically created by the small business half of the economy, so it will be Main Street that will continue to drive economic growth.”

The year 2018 turned out to be a boom-time for non-bank business lending as 80 percent of traditional bank small business loan applications were rejected. The trend in non-bank financing appears to be ripe for continued growth in 2019. Kabbage, an Atlanta-based online lending company established in 2008, says small businesses now access more than $10 million every day via its platform. Despite all the preponderance of predictions, finding success in business is, in itself, a risky business; one where failure or success awaits just around the corner of opportunity and for those optimistic enough to brave the dangers of the journey.

Hobart Mayfield Launches Ecommerce Store

Any fan of high school, college or professional football is well-aware of the concern many players, coaches and owners have about the rate of head and brain injuries suffered by players across all levels of the sport. Head injuries and concussions caused by contact sports are a growing epidemic, particularly among young athletes. If left unprotected, concussions can result in long-term brain damage and may even be fatal. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that concussions have doubled in the last 10 years and The American Academy of Pediatrics has revealed a two-fold increase of emergency room visits for concussions in kid’s ages 8 to 13 years old. Concussions have also risen 200 percent among teens ages 14 to 19 in the last decade.

As school athletic programs and league rules committees scramble for ways to mitigate these injuries, one innovative early stage company, Hobart Mayfield, is applying science to finding a better way for players to avoid serious head injuries. Their innovative solution is S. A. F. E. Clip, an energy absorbing connector located at connection points where the facemask attaches to the helmet. By absorbing forces of a direct impact on the face mask, S.A.F.E. Clip demonstrated a reduction in force of 24% and 28% for translational acceleration and rotational acceleration, respectively compared to the standard face mask clips.

Justin Summerville, the President and CEO of Hobart Mayfield, is an entrepreneur who follows Thomas Edison’s mantra, “there is a better way, find it.” And he and his team found a better way. They are partnering with schools to customize and fit student helmets with the impact absorbing clips. Justin says, “Because we believe that every athlete deserves the opportunity to succeed and be protected from unnecessary head injuries, we have spearheaded a program that will help provide our product to athletes all around the country.”

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) recently partnered with Hobart Mayfield to design and develop a new website to showcase the S.A.F.E. Clip and its many benefits to athletes of all ages.

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with the folks at Hobart Mayfield,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO, of Junction. “We are passionate about working with start-up companies who believe not just in the power of the technology, in this case the S. A.F.E. Clip, but also in their ability to generate a positive impact for players of all ages. We look forward to watching this company impact this industry in a big way!”

For more information on Hobary Mayfield, visit www.hobartmayfield.com.

The Other Bill Maher: Travel Enthusiast & Entrepreneur

You won’t find William (Bill) Maher, founder and CEO of Intelaplay tucked away in an office building. Instead, he can be seen taking to the skies in his Cessna 127Sp or sailing the blue waters off of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Bill is three times a successful entrepreneur with a passion for travel that he developed as his previous ventures lead him to exciting new places. The world is Maher’s office, and he has segued his zest for exploring the globe into his latest business venture.

Maher’s latest pursuit was born in a watershed moment. Browsing the internet with the goal of discovering and booking a great rental for a Hawaiian vacation, he became frustrated by the complexity of the process and the brevity of the information available.  His annoyance led him to an idea – that travel websites, especially for the rental community, could be drastically improved with an enhanced user experience and richer, more localized content. He believed he could engineer a better solution; one that would take the hassle out of searching a dozen or more websites in order to plan a vacation.

And so Bill Maher, whose name is often mistaken for the synonymous comedian and TV host (he once landed on a tarmac full of eager fans, only to disappoint them when he exited his plane), decided to build a better travel and rental resource from the ground up. He partnered with Junction Creative Solutions. Fast forward 9 months, and Intelaplay.com has launched its intuitive, immersive online experience, featuring Bill’s hometown of St. Petersburg and the surrounding Tampa Bay area as its first featured destination.

The launch has been promoted with a unique corresponding experiential marketing campaign- A New Way to Stay and Play – true to the core principle of the site that the process of choosing “places to stay” and “places to play” should be simplified, localized, and headache-free. The concept is scalable to locations in any part of the world, and the challenge for Bill is now to take the site to a global level. He is committed to making Intelaplay the leading resource for travelers around the world.

Bill’s work on Intelaplay.com is terrific example of the spirit of entrepreneurship at work. He saw a real need in the marketplace through his own personal experience, and leveraged his passion and know-how to effectively fill the gap. Wherever he is found, whether on a Caribbean beach or in the mountains of Southeast Asia, he is bound to be thinking of his next big idea.

Entrepreneur Readiness?

Businesses start somewhere – more often driven by an entrepreneurial passion.  The transition from employee to entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart.  Statistically, many entrepreneurs fail.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 more than 96,000 companies closed its doors after an even more devastating loss of 400,000 companies in 2009.

Don’t let the numbers deter you from launching a new business venture, but rather assess your entrepreneurial readiness:

Insight: Have you thought your idea through?  Have you identified the value for what you propose for your customers? Have you researched your idea?

Ability: Analyze your personal and professional abilities.  How will your skills enable you to execute on your idea?

Risk: Are you making a calculated risk or a foolish one? Is the risk more than you can afford to take?

Endurance: Are you prepared physically and mentally to launch a new business?

True entrepreneurs will attest to the fact that if being in business for yourself was easy, everyone would do it.

Announcing Junction’s 2011 Entrepreneurial Series

Happy New Year from Junction Creative Solutions!

In 2011, Junction will offer an entrepreneurial blog series focused for entrepreneurs looking to start a new business.  Each month, Junction will discuss topics that span the start-up process from ideation to launch.   Throughout the series, we will highlight entrepreneurs who are moving through the process and the unique challenges they face.

Junction looks forward to sharing knowledge with the entrepreneurial community and the opportunity to learn from each other!