Get In the Fast Lane

The 21st century has brought the world to the fingertips of consumers. Blazing internet speeds, ultra-capable and portable computers and devices, and an increasingly demanding population has ushered in an era of amenities unlike any the developed world has ever experienced. Today’s end users live in a culture of convenience, and they insist upon products and services that cater to their fast-paced lives.

Redbox, a subsidiary of Coinstar, exemplifies the importance of considering the wants of the end user. As foreseen by McDonald’s venture division, which initially funded the company, Redbox’s hyper-convenient kiosk model, placed thoughtfully within grocery stores and pharmacies as part of the consumer’s normal routine, took merely 4 years to surpass industry leader Blockbuster in number of locations. Along with other alternatives like Netflix, with mailing and instant streaming designed to eliminate the hassles of the the video rental process, Redbox has now forced traditional video rental retailers like Blockbuster into obsolescence and even bankruptcy.

Likewise, Domino’s and Pizza Hut have elevated the humble pizza-delivery industry, bolstering their already powerful businesses by incorporating online ordering via computer, mobile device, or even text messaging, and allowing customers to follow up with the status of their order with tools like Domino’s pizza tracker. Pizza delivery has always been a convenience-based service, but now more than ever, simplifying and expediting the process is crucial. Millions of dollars are spent annually by these companies in efforts to better cater to their customers.

Convenience-oriented design in a product or service is an absolutely essential ingredient for building a successful enterprise. Consumers are simply more interested in a product that suits their lifestyle, and are willing to invest more in that brand. Most importantly, ease of use and speediness of service builds strong brand affinity. Design your business anticipating the needs of the end user, and distinguish your brand from competitors to achieve wins. Isn’t that convenient?

Innovative Ways to Avoid the Queue

Market research has always been a useful tool for companies across industry, providing insights into user needs and wants. For decades, the standard procedure for conducting and reacting to research has been to gather data, analyze, and strategize changes to adapt to what has been learned. Despite the ubiquity of this process, the greatest successes have come outside the traditional method, from visionary leadership that chooses to innovate in order to influence users, rather than being influenced by them.

True innovation is the driving force of changes in consumer desires.  The banking industry in the 1990s was a prime example; the internet was a new dynamic in the business of banking. Market research at the time suggested that bank customers found the web irrelevant to their personal finance. Obviously for most banks, the smart play was to ignore web integration.  Leading banks of the era like Citicorp and J.P. Morgan & Co saw the situation differently; noticing potential to revolutionize banking with new capabilities that the internet offered. Internet banking boomed from 2000-2004 and a decade later, online services are the preferred banking method of the majority of bank customers; Bank of America and Chase even offer mobile banking through smartphone platforms.

Bank customers also proudly show their loyalties and advocate for their bank’s brand on social media websites. Other trends in the social media space, arguably the most influential emergent industry in the modern era, mirror the banking industry’s display of a need for progressive thinking. Aside from the negative stigma collected through years of issues like cyberbullying and hacking, myspace.com, once on the forefront of social media, was ultimately crippled by its inability to innovate. By contrast, Facebook’s rise to becoming undisputed standard-bearer for social media has been marked by its consistency in offering new services and integrations. As time passed, Facebook’s offerings became the new benchmark for the expectations of social media users.

In order to maintain a competitive edge, it’s best not to react to the latest market research once it’s published. Try to stay ahead of the market. Innovate. Why wait in line for the teller when you can make a deposit using your iPhone?

Don’t Be Content with Bad Content

In the digital age, where competition for consumer’s attention is high, reinforcing existing brand value and establishing loyalties is vital to the success of any brand. The creation and distribution of highly customized content, such as blogs, videos, and advertisements, serve as a blend of journalism and marketing designed to engage consumers at every brand touchpoint.

Well-targeted content is an incredibly powerful catalyst for driving traffic. Users seeking extended interaction can bolster a brand’s position in the space, but with www.blogpulse.com identifying more than 170,000,000 blogs in existence and YouTube hosting billions of hours of video, content must be both attention-grabbing and carefully tailored in order to break through and truly captivate an audience.

Comcast’s Xfinity page offers the company’s 14 million plus subscribers with a large selection of original news, sports, and entertainment videos that are heavily branded within their own embedded media player. The content is juxtaposed with the users’ email access, keeping them on that page. This is the modern evolution of the approach taken by AOL when it dominated the ISP market, combining the primary services of the application (email, chat, and web browsing) with a portal for extended engagement using news headlines, games, and other multimedia.

Companies like Nike, Burger King, and Yahoo! all have leveraged branded custom websites for targeted ad campaigns, drawing existing customers into deeper relationships with their respective brands. ESPN, already a powerful media originator, recently launched its supplementary Grantland website, where users can find extended reading, broadening their interactions with the sports news giant.

Even small and startup businesses can benefit from creating or sourcing custom content. A few important tips to follow:

Be original. There is little motivation for a reader to choose a blog over a major media outlet if the story is the same.

Deliver value. Be diligent to include relevant statistics, infographics, and visual enhancements to tell users something relevant and new.

Focus on the target audience. The research and the voice in which the content is presented should fit the philosophy and interests of the users.

Invite discussion. The internet is the ultimate social platform. Include users in the conversation to give them a voice, encouraging advocacy for the brand.

Whether you decide to manage content generation or hire an external firm, focus on providing meaningful and engaging content to grow brand affinity and attract new audiences. It is time well spent.

Marketing Spend: Maximize. Optimize. Measure.

Companies have shifted focus from growth to sustainability as the economy rebounds and recovers.  As seen with the financial giants, even the largest and most powerful companies are searching for strategies to maximize spend across all business units, especially marketing/advertising.

Fortune 500 companies depend on marketing dollars to raise awareness, capture market share, and meet shareholder expectations. In fact, Forrester Research reports that by 2016, companies will spend more than $77B annually on interactive marketing alone.

It may be obvious that small and midsize businesses must tread particularly carefully during trying financial times, and yet even the largest and most powerful organizations are not immune from the effects of an economic downturn. The greatest issue facing well established businesses in the current recession is that traditional cost-containment approaches that have helped in the past have proven to be insufficient this time around.

As such, multinational corporations and even Fortune 500 companies have been forced to reevaluate their needs. By magnifying the focus on internal auditing, these large companies are seeking to streamline spending, attempting to develop solutions that are more thoughtful and proactive than reactionary measures such as layoffs.

As corporations meticulously examine their budgets, they are finding existing partnerships and processes that are costly and inefficient, which under normal circumstances would go unnoticed. The recession has uncovered these flawed relationships, compelling companies to seek more sustainable, cost-effective alternatives. Here is how:

  • Design newer, leaner processes to achieve effective result as a much wiser expenditure for the long-term.
  • Assess expenditures and compare against industry average.
  • Identify new partners who have billable rates equitable to the quality of the work.
  • Engage a partner focused on driving impact with effective solutions rather than taking a carte blanche approach.
  • Measure. Measure. Measure.

Operating under the constraints of a difficult financial environment can make a business more effective. A 2009 study by the Kauffman Foundation showed that more than half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list had been founded under gloomy financial circumstances. Such success stories illustrate that diligence in adapting, rather than slashing marketing spend has proven powerful for businesses both large and small.

The Rise of the Grouponomy

In 1950, consumers across America were clipping coupons from the Sunday circular.  These days, couponing doesn’t require scissors but rather an internet connection or smart phone to access deal sites such as LivingSocial, woot!, Daily Deal, and Groupon, among others.  Businesses are looking for broader customer reach while consumers search for the best price.  Despite the popularity, businesses question if this new “grouponomy” can create brand exposure and positive revenue.

The need for businesses to capture and retain market share is as important as the consumer’s need for getting the best deal. For some, brand equity increases with as new customers are introduced to its services through this new form of couponing.  Partnerships with deal sites drive new business, improve customer loyalty, and result in increased profitability.

While success stories exist, many businesses have come forward claiming that deal site partnerships have negatively impacted the business. In the age of print coupons, offering discounts was a cheap and easy form of marketing which often blurred perceptions that lower prices equated to lower quality.  In the era of digital couponing, bargain hunters are more interested in a deal than becoming a loyal customer. The potential for long periods of thin margins or a case of increased demand leading to decreased quality, damages brand equity. A partnership with Groupon can, in fact, cost a business more than it will return.

With metrics being difficult to obtain due to inefficient tracking methods for a user or repeat users, companies must consider the impact of this growing “grouponomy” on brand perception and the bottom line.  In the end, businesses are looking for the best possible deal.

The Star Athlete’s Ace in the Hole

Professional athletes are some of the world’s strongest influencers.  With unparalleled media exposure, these athletes have a reputation akin to that of a celebrity. Even at the top of their sport, an athlete’s time in the limelight is relatively limited (3-10 years on average), as younger, stronger players enter the game to replace them.  Building long-term financial stability becomes critical.

Athletes like Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, LeBron James, Michael Phelps, and Maria Sharapova have seemingly figured out how to leverage status to endorse consumer products, champion for causes, and spread a sphere of influence far beyond athletic competition.

The Fortunate 50, published by Sports Illustrated, compares the salaries of the top 50 highest-earning athletes to the winnings, endorsements, and appearance fees earned. Tiger Woods maintains his number 1 ranking for the 8th consecutive year, despite his personal controversy with the state of his marital affairs.  Tiger earned only $2.3M in winnings, but tops the list with nearly $60M in endorsement deals.

The New York Times highlighted tennis star Sharapova for her success in establishing a financially beneficial brand. Her earnings, largely from off-court endorsement deals, are estimated at $25M annually, making her the undisputed highest-earning female athlete. The 24 year old Russian has developed a brand with an international appeal that resonates not only with tennis fans, but women all over the world. Even though she isn’t dominating the pro tennis tour as she once did, her appearance in print and film advertisements and product endorsement has catapulted her brand into the global market place.

The value of a brand doesn’t stop when the competition ends.   Businesses and individuals alike can learn from the success of these athletes.  Businesses may never attain $60M in endorsement deals, but leveraging a unique brand and positive reputation to generate long-term success can make even the rookies (new businesses) the most powerful.

Junction Featured on America’s Web Radio

Julie Gareleck, Managing Partner, Junction Creative Solutions will appear as a guest on The Business Hour with Ron Comacho on Friday, July 29th at 10 AM to discuss how one firm has supported start-ups as well as current Fortune 500 companies to be more creative and have greater impact with a measurable return on investment.

The Business Hour offers a macroscopic and microscopic view of the professional world, as host Ron Comacho talks with guests about what non-profit and for-profit organizations do to survive and thrive within an ever-changing marketplace. Comacho drills down to have guests share the story of why they do what they do and how they do it.  Listeners get an inside perspective on what it takes to run a business and how to succeed in a highly competitive world.

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction), founded in 2008, is a hybrid strategic firm that combines the intellectual capital of a business consulting firm with the creative execution of an advertising agency.  Junction prides itself on developing and implementing key strategies and solutions that drive real impact for its clients.  Junction, as a rising leader in the industry, grew 300% in 2010 and is positioned to reach 400% growth in 2011.

Gareleck has consulted with hundreds of pre-seed, early stage, and established companies throughout her career with proven results.  Her portfolio includes measurable, integrated strategies for start-ups, Fortune 500, and Fortune 100 companies across various industries.

Tune in:  www.americaswebradio.com

Atlanta on the Rebrand

Junction's Tamika Stewart (Left) and Donna Cropp (Right) enjoying the Atlanta Tennis Championships

Atlanta, with a top 10 metropolitan-area population size, is culturally known for a wide variety of things, from the Georgia Aquarium to the World of Coca Cola®. In recent years, Atlanta has pushed to grow and regain its status as a major American sports hub.

In the 1990s, Atlanta was one of the country’s premier sports towns. Georgia Tech opened the decade with a national college football championship in 1990. The Braves won the 1995 World Series. Nearby Augusta annually hosts The Masters, one of the PGA Tour’s four major championships. Not to mention, the Falcons, Hawks, and other professional and collegiate teams excite fans on a daily basis. Above all, Atlanta hosted the Centennial Edition of the Olympic Summer Games in 1996. As it entered the new millennium, fans welcomed the Atlanta Thrashers after an 18 year hiatus from NHL hockey.

However, less than ten years later, the city was named ‘America’s Most Miserable Sports City’ by Forbes Magazine. Atlanta found itself in need of a rebrand.  One step towards that goal has been the successful branding of the city as an attractive location for hosting professional tennis events.

The Racquet Club of the South played host to this year’s iteration of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, the second since the event’s relocation from Indianapolis, where it was known as the RCA Championships. The tournament draw featured of several of the marquee American players on the ATP World Tour, including James Blake, Robby Ginepri, and Ryan Harrison. In the end, two more top Americans squared off as Mardy Fish defeated University of Georgia alum and home crowd favorite John Isner in a rematch of 2010’s final to win his second consecutive championship in Atlanta.

Tennis fans around the country tuned into The Tennis Channel and ESPN for television broadcasts of the week-long competition. The Racquet Club of the South provided an excellent backdrop with top notch facilities and impressive crowds. “We were extremely impressed with the world class talent at the Atlanta Tennis Championships,” said attendee James Kiely M.D. “ESPN’s involvement and the coverage really underscores the national draw of the Atlanta sports market.”

While the Atlanta Tennis Championships is the first event in the ATP schedule, the organizers of the tournament are optimistic about the sport’s future in Atlanta. The series is undoubtedly expected to return next year, and locals will be sure to welcome it back with trademark hospitality. Perhaps someday pro tennis will find Georgia as suitable for a major event as the PGA Tour does, but for now, events like the Atlanta Tennis Championships are at least bringing excitement as the city strives for the rejuvenation of its once sports greatness.

Atlanta locals take in the action at the Racquet Club of the South

Social Experiment or Great Marketing?

It is not unusual to hear about a social experiment as it rapidly becomes a popular trend, fueled by advancements in technology and distributed widely through social media.

Panera Bread Company has followed suit by launching the Pay-what-you-can cafe.  The company converted a handful of locations into non-profit restaurants that encourage donations in lieu of charging for food and beverages. To date, the concept has been a moderate success, with the nonprofit stores managing to cover costs and donating profits to local initiatives. The new model not only garners visibility at the local level but also provides a substantial brand boost. Panera’s stock has been the best performing in the restaurant sector over the past decade.

Newman’s Own, founded by late actor Paul Newman, has been donating 100% of its post-tax profits and royalties to charities since its establishment in 1982. Originating as an experiment involving Newman selling homemade salad dressing, the food company adopted the philanthropic values of its namesake and to date has donated over 300 million dollars. The charitable effort, paired with Newman’s own branding as a celebrity, has afforded the company a steady brand image that sees its products amongst the best sellers in supermarkets across the country.

Ventures such as these require a great deal of both reputation and capital to start and operate, but as evidenced by the responses to both, can be worthwhile in terms of return in brand value.  In the case of the Panera experiment, the ‘pay-what-you-want’ business model illustrates how placing costs in the hands of customers can lead to profitable and charitable success.

Whether a social experiment or a marketing strategy, the experience transcends merely buying food; it becomes an investment in one’s community. One of the converted Panera cafés is located in a St. Louis suburb, in Missouri, recently devastated by tornadoes. How much would you pay for a sandwich if it could help rebuild your neighbor’s house?

Are Marketers Ready to Augment Reality?

With the advent of powerful mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, consumers are interacting with media far more frequently and across a wider variety of platforms than ever before. Augmented reality applications offer an entirely new yet totally organic format for interacting with media.

At The Gramercy Institute’s Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing (JFAM) Forum in New York City on June 3rd, Anthony Vitalone, Head of Interactive Marketing, Internet, & Digital Media for Deutsche Bank, touted the potential of “augmented reality” (“AR”) as the “next big thing” in digital marketing.

AR applications integrate camera and gyroscope functionalities within devices to provide a digital user experience based on what is happening in real time and space. For example, a customer in a retail store can point their camera at items on a shelf, and the device will display details, pricing, or even advertisements for the products they see. Likewise, a traveler can point a camera down a street and overlaid on the display screen will be a digital map with information on local places of interest.

Both the iPhone and Android app marketplaces are beginning to see an influx of augmented reality apps. While impressive in concept, the cost of developing the applications, inconsistencies in user experience, and inaccuracies with execution have decreased user downloads.

Marketers have taken to AR, promoting products via interactive applications. In 2009, Best Buy began incorporating AR into weekly circular ads, offering consumers 3D representations of featured new wares. Companies such as Burger King and Ralph Lauren are also taking advantage of new technologies to incorporate AR experiences into marketing campaigns. With an increasingly social consumer base, AR is proving to be a fast moving revolution in marketing.

Augmented reality apps face the major hurdle of the technology learning curve both for the developer and the user. High costs and limited quality of functionality will be the primary challenges to AR’s takeover of consumer media consumption. Will augmented reality rule the future of digital marketing?