The University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security Leads the Industry with Value and Forward-Thinking Expertise

Formed shortly after the terrorist attacks on our Nation in September of 2001, The University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security (CHHS) serves as the leader in policy development and legal analysis in the field of homeland security. Through its association with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, CHHS has grown to include partnerships with the Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefence and Emerging Infectious Diseases to bring together top experts from the scientific, emergency management, and public health communities.  Today, CHHS is home to a powerhouse of knowledge and expertise dedicated to the advancement of emergency management training, public health security, safety, and disaster recovery planning to public and private agencies across the United States.

CHHS’s forward-thinking expertise, led by Michael Greenberger, JD, includes academic programs and comprehensive consulting services that encompass community resilience, continuity of operations, cybersecurity, emergency management, exercise and training, health security, public safety technology, and recovery planning.  CHHS works with governmental and institutional organizations but maintains a focus on developing future emergency management leaders through Graduate degree programs and externships/internships.

“For organizations, both in the private sector and in the government, it’s critical to be prepared in the event of an emergency, from pandemics to government shutdowns.  The need for business continuity planning is often a low priority unless the threat is imminent.  The expert team at CHHS can assist your organization in preparing and planning to mitigate risk and limit the devastation in the event that a tragedy strikes,” comments Eric Oddo, Continuity Program Director, CHHS.

“The CHHS mission is critical for advancing our Nation’s security efforts. Their vast experience in emergency response, crisis management, cyber security and continuity of operations is a key resource for government and institutional organizations throughout the country. We are proud to have been selected to create a new online experience that effectively presents their comprehensive menu of services in a way that compliments the quality of their expertise,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction Creative Solutions. With more than 60 professionals on staff, CHHS continues to expand its client base in the Washington D.C., D.C. Metro, and Baltimore areas.  For those institutional and government organizations looking for tailored, holistic programs in emergency management and homeland security, contact us to learn more or call 410-706-1014.

Adopting Graphic Trends in Website Design to Boost Brand Success

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The results of a recent survey by Tyton Media is stressing the importance of website design in how customers perceive a brand. The survey indicated that 48 percent of people name website design as the biggest indicator of a company’s credibility. Website users are more likely to trust, remember, and connect with the brand if they find the website design consistent with the brand’s message and relevant to the brand’s reputation. Poor or irrelevant designs can alienate potential customers and create a negative impression. More than 80 percent of users who experience a poor web design will not return and are lost forever. So what design elements are trending in 2019?

Like fashion, popular designs tend to repeat themselves over time. What was fashionable in the past often reappears after falling out of favor. Amid the rise of 3D graphics, blogs, case studies, infographics, bold coloration, artificial intelligence and the predicted reemergence of hand-drawn graphics, simplicity is finding its reemergence into effective website design. The concept of “less is more” is finding renewed favor with designers and developers in 2019. Creating simple and concise messages that get straight to the point can be the most effective way to engage your audience. While simplicity makes a comeback, bold statements with bright color and gradient designs are trending up.

Today’s users are in a hurry, and “instant gratification” remains in vogue.  Websites have a narrow threshold of opportunity to attract, capture and move customers to initiate the buying decision. Removing unnecessary clutter, bells and whistles will help users navigate information and find the solutions they are seeking.  In the coming year, asymmetrical design is predicted to become a trend in order to attract a viewers’ attention. An unbalanced approach may just set a brand apart from the competition.

The use of animated GIFs and bots are finding their way into web designs at a greater pace, allowing for increased user convenience, more instant responses to customer inquiries and the ability for marketers to more directly target messages to consumer issues. Simpler layout, increased use of white space, flat design and clean practical aesthetics will premier.        Adapting to trending designs and using them to differentiate your brand and message will help cut through all the digital noise and set your brand apart from the competition.  To learn more about how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) professional team of designers move your brand ahead of the competition, call 678-686-1125 today.

Marketers Help Distribute Oscar Gold at the Academy Awards

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The Academy Awards have been an entertaining promotion of the movie industry for decades. At its peak, the 3-hour distribution of the golden Oscar to the industry’s best performances captured millions of viewers and generated unprecedented hype for cinema performers, directors and technicians. The once high viewer ratings have diminished over the past two years due to falling interest in a program that has strayed beyond its stated mission and into the critical arena of politics and overt promotion of controversial social issues.

The prediction for the 91st edition of the Academy Awards was dire at the program’s debut but the ABC TV network managed to garner a record $2.6 million for a 30-second advertising spot on the 2019 program. ABC sells more advertising on Oscar Sunday than any day of the year.

This year’s major brands included:  Google, McDonald’s, Verizon, Walmart, Cadillac and Walt Disney. Nike used the platform to launch a powerful, female-focused “Dream Crazy” campaign, fronted by tennis legend Serena Williams. Embarrassed by a failing sneaker worn by its spokesman basketball star in Duke University’s loss to North Carolina the previous week, the iconic brand needed a big win to erase the memory of that debacle from consumers’ minds.

“The Super Bowl is over. It’s mid-February,” Jeff Greenfield, chief operating officer of C3 Metrics, a media measurement company, said in a recent interview. “I am Walmart. My competitor is Amazon. Where can I go and compete against Amazon on what is essentially a global stage and get reach today? It’s the Oscars. … For a brand like a Walmart, they have to be there.” Despite a falling viewer audience, ABC will rack-up more than $150 million from this year’s event. Apparently, falling attendance and program ratings are having little effect on those brands that are willing to pay a premium to share the world’s entertainment stage.

The once “don’t mix politics, religion and controversial social issues with business” mantra that guided advertising for centuries is quickly being abandoned as marketers perceive changing trends in consumers’ favor for socially conscience brands. Providers of major entertainment like the National Football League (NFL) however, are learning that the diversion from focusing on the quality of the entertainment to the promotion of controversy has its limits with a diverse consumer audience. Going forward, promotors of programs like the Academy Awards may want to temper the rhetoric of controversy and refocus on awarding favor to artistic performance if they want to advance their own brand to a more diverse community of consumers.

This year’s ratings bump was welcomed after years of declining interest among viewers but the impact of the increase may be short lived, or not. The fact remains that the Oscars televised event with all its tarnish still attracts a reliable but fractured viewing audience. For brands looking to reach that audience, the Oscars ceremony continues to be an important venue to promote.

Artificial Intelligence’s Rate of Ascension to Reality

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It wasn’t that long ago that developers of robotic machine tools that replicated many traditional human actions downplayed the idea that machine intelligence would one day take over more than a few menial and repetitious functions in the workplace. There would always be the need for human intelligence interaction with the machines in order for the robots to perform their tasks. At least that is what most early developers and supporters of artificial intelligence (AI) predicted. AI is the science of computers and machines developing intelligence like humans in order to perform simple and complex functions that most of us humans do on a daily basis.

The early defense, while calming and reassuring at the time, is giving way to a reality where artificial intelligence is rapidly impacting millions of workers who once thought their life and profession would be safe from the thinking machines. At the same time all of mankind is benefitting from the rapid development and deployment of artificial thinking systems.

Now scientists openly predict that the day when AI surpasses humans is upon us. At least the time is a lot closer than anyone previously dared to surmise. In 2019 it is likely that visual lenses will allow consumers to visually react to a purchase consideration and initiate and complete the transaction. An important benefit of these AI-powered lenses is the elimination of barriers caused by limitations of human language. Finding the right words to describe something will no longer impair clear and immediate understanding. 

As consumers demand a more personal connection with brands, they freely volunteer personal information that allows AI to respond with more personalized and comprehensive messages. While current AI is making short work of simple and menial operations, this year will see incremental advancements in machine learning applications. As the technology becomes more proficient, more time and energy will need to be spent on reassuring society of how the technology works and the ways it may affect not only individuals but whole communities.

In the coming year AI will continue to revolutionize whole industries where human interface and personal interactions with customers were once thought to be irreplaceable. Automation of many traditional processes in the retail industry will bring about efficiencies that can no longer be overlooked by retail executive suites. Humans currently account for 45 percent of call center interactions with customers, a number predicted to drop to 14 percent by 2022.

As the benefits to this expanding technology are overtly touted, serious concern among many scientists and technologists are beginning to be heard. Some are sounding an alarm to the risk of AI being used to cause harm or mayhem to society. Many are calling for regulation and oversight of the AI industry to ensure the peaceful development and application of the expanding technology. “I am really quite close, I am very close, to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me,” said Elon Musk, founder of Space X and Tesla. “It’s capable of vastly more than almost anyone knows and the rate of improvement is exponential. I am not normally an advocate of regulation and oversight; I think one should generally err on the side of minimizing those things but this is a case where you have a very serious danger to the public.”

The rate of acceptance of any new technology that promises to significantly disrupt societal norms often regulates the technology’s progression. Understanding the capabilities of AI and how it can safely benefit society will ultimately determine the rate of implementation. Human terror, real or imagined, of being ruled by the very machines it creates may just temper the enthusiasm for its rapid ascension to reality.

Lower the Number of Abandoned Shopping Carts with Improved User Experience

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In the beginning, that time when the internet was this shiny new thing whose intention was often misunderstood and which was capable of disrupting accepted norms in conducting business and social interactions, website design focused mostly on the technology and all the gee-whiz things a talented techy could command new digital devices to perform. The vast majority of business managers and leaders had only a passing fundamental knowledge of the technology and an even more limited appreciation as to how it all would revolutionize the seller/consumer relationship. The focus initially and for some period of time was on the technology; the science of making it all function consistently and dependably. Today, the importance of user experience, one of many new terms to be added to language dictionaries around the world since the introduction of digital communications, is still misunderstood in many digital marketing arenas.

“User Experience or the UX basically compasses all the details of end-users’ interaction with the brand, its products, and its services,” says Don Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things.” Getting user experience right is critical to an online retailer’s ability to close the sale. Getting it wrong will result in increased online shopping carts left abandoned. Shopping cart abandonment refers to visitors leaving an online store without purchasing the items in their online carts.  Recent studies by Baymard Institute show that 69.89 percent of online shoppers abandon their shopping carts.

Online shoppers are accustomed to having thousands of choices from online sellers who are out to satisfy consumers’ increasing desire for convenience. Their expectations of service are fueled by sellers who have made it their mission to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts. Eliminating even the smallest obstacle to consummating the purchase decision is critical to achieving sales success.

Simplicity is a hallmark of any successful user experience. Consumers are by nature impatient. The process of creating and managing a customer profile must be as simple as possible. Managing customer profiles, address and payment details and tracking purchases are all fundamental to a well-formed user experience. Pages should load quickly and correctly across various devices, functionality should be consistent and dependable with little need for consumers to experience utilization problems. Focus functionality on consumers’ expectations and create a journey from research to the implication of purchase that is seamless and personal. A great user experience will build brand loyalty and result in repeat customers eager to make additional purchases.

Does your website’s user experience need some enhancements? Contact the web design specialists at Junction Creative Solutions today to learn how we can help you lower your number of abandoned shopping carts.

Valentine’s Day Isn’t Just for Lovers Anymore

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Hallmark holidays have always been an opportunity for retailers to rack-up some additional sales. Valentine’s Day, once a day reserved for romance and couples, is trending in some interesting directions. With more than 50 percent of Americans identifying themselves as single and not fully committed to a love relationship, the dynamics of the once romantic holiday are changing.

The changing social norms are not slowing the momentum of spending. This year consumers are expected to spend nearly $20 billion dollars on gifts for their sweetheart, co-worker or favorite pet. Consumers plan to spend just over $26 on pets for Valentine’s Day. But the tradition has not totally gone to the dogs.

The traditional winners in the loving gift department will continue to be candy, flowers and jewelry but gifts of experience are beginning to find favor among consumers.  People aged 25 to 34 will be spending the most on Valentine’s Day gifts this year, dropping an average of $202.76 per person. A poll conducted by the National Retail Federation found “the top reasons consumers chose not to celebrate Valentine’s Day were that they considered it over-commercialized, didn’t have anyone to celebrate with or simply weren’t interested anymore.” Sellers spend less time planning their campaigns in advance of Valentine’s Day than other holidays throughout the year, and most consumers wait longer to shop for their gifts. 

The origins of the lovers’ holiday has been traced back to the second century when Emperor Claudius II executed two religious Martyrs named St Valentine. The original February 14 holiday doesn’t appear to have been about romance or love. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Hallmark Greeting Card Company’s forbearer started distributing Valentine’s Day cards. By the start of the 21st century, more than 60 percent of Americans celebrated the holiday. Despite the falling popularity of Valentine’s Day, total spending during the holiday continues to rise and the bulk of the spending will be for significant others and spouses. Co-workers, family members, classmates and pets will join the rank of favorite relationships in 2019.

Okay, So Even the Venerable Super Bowl isn’t Always So Super

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It may not be as bad as finding an empty vault in Al Capone’s basement but the LIII Super Bowl Game certainly failed to deliver on the anticipated excitement, either for the fans watching the game or the advertisers who spent a large share of their annual marketing budget to advertise during the event. The estimated $5 million per 30-second spot always comes with a significant amount of doubt as to its real value.

This year’s mega game was the least watched Super Bowl matchup in 11 years and is ranked as the lowest rated in 16 years. CBS says the broadcast averaged 98.2 million viewers and a 41.1 household rating, almost as exciting as the activity playing out on the field. Even the halftime entertainment failed to excite the dulling malaise in the stadium. Perhaps the only star-studded performance of the week was the city of Atlanta and its ten thousand volunteers who put forth an award winning performance.

For advertisers who spent a ridiculous sum to produce a bevy of television commercials, they couldn’t be happy that the coveted number one commercial, as judged by the USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter, was the event’s owners and producers, The National Football League. It’s akin to entering a contest and having the contest organizer take the top trophy at the end of the show. Runner-up was the Amazon Alexa ad about technology gone haywire, followed by Microsoft’s ad about children with disabilities using the Xbox adaptive controller to play video games. The major beer brands’ efforts appeared to be as skillful as the two competitors on the field, just a bit off their best games. It appears as though brewing beer with molasses is a big deal, or maybe not.

The only clear winners were women, whose participation rate in commercials ticked up over previous bowl events. Toyota, Olay, Bumble and Michelob Ultra are among the brands that put women front-and-center in Big Game ads. “It seems like there’s an awful lot of humor and light appeals, and that for advertisers it’s somewhat of a play-it-safe year,” said Charles R. Taylor, a professor of marketing at the Villanova University School of Business. “We’re not hearing about anything crossing over in politics.” A resounding Bravo could be heard from avid football fans that spent more than $2,500 per seat to be entertained and $1 thousand for a bed to sleep in after all the partying.

Now that the crowds have gone home and the Champion’s parade has cleared the streets, it’s time for the marketers who convinced their C Suites that the million (plural in many cases) dollar tab was worth the effort. In the end, taking win place or show in the ad game only matters when revenue is added up. Unlike last year, the players on the margins of ROI won’t have the Olympic Games to soften a rough landing.

One aspect of advertising the big game from year to year is the answer to the question, “Was it worth the money?” It still remains in the wind. Measuring the impact of a single-event television ad is like asking an AM radio personality how many people heard a specific 30 seconds of the broadcast. In reality, the best answer you can hope for is a fair share of the audience that hadn’t nodded-off. The most successful ads tend to be those that elevate the institutional value of the brand over time. It’s sort of “you’re not sure but you’ll know the answer when you feel it.” Regardless of the answer, it is almost a given certainty that most of the admen and adwomen who turned out a team to play in this year’s LIII Super Bowl will return for an encore performance next year. The whole thing is just too good of a spectacle to miss. And besides, would you want to be the marketing manager who passes on the one year that the competition beats you badly at the goal line?

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.

Another Super Event In the ATL

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With all the excitement in Atlanta, Georgia, one would think it was 1996 and the Summer Olympics were fast approaching. Not since then has the big city in the South experienced this frantic level of anticipation and excitement. No Olympics this time, but rather Super Bowl LIII. For more than 200 days, City planners and more than 10,000 volunteers have been planning, priming and preparing for just one day in February, Super Bowl Sunday, and for good reason. This year’s super football contest between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams promises to generate more than $700 billion for the city’s commerce and a welcome down payment on the costs of the city’s brand new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The new stadium is the most recent mega landmark to grace Atlanta, which extends well beyond the confines of the original city boundaries. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is advertised to be located in the “heart of the City,” but the “City” of the Atlanta is expansive. The Atlanta Metro Area has become one of the most expansive urban Meccas in the country. With many of the world’s largest and best recognized companies deciding to call the area home, it is attracting some of the nation’s most capable young professionals and entrepreneurs who are gravitating to the area’s increasingly exciting lifestyle. The economic impact of the event will be felt throughout the expanded area and will certainly boost the fortunes of a large assortment of business and commerce.

Despite the advanced preparations and planning, residents and attendees will need to expect even more intense traffic on the city’s already frantic byways. For those not planning to participate in the many events prior to and on the day of the game, it may be a good time to consider cooking at home and staying close to the neighborhood. The areas traffic patterns have a reputation for gridlock and aggressive drivers and are legendary among residents and visitors alike, even during normal times.

Marketers are ready for the event that has redefined single-event advertising. A 30-second spot on CBS will cost advertisers about $5 million each, but there is no shortage of brands willing and ready to take a shot of making advertising history. Advertising opportunities are not the only venue for increasing brand awareness.  Billboards, Pedi cabs, vehicle wraps, experiential marketing and sampling are among the marketing collateral available to advertisers who want to connect with the anticipated 1.5 million Super Bowl LIII visitors.

For those looking to attend the Super Bowl this year, it is going to be costly for those who have not yet secured their tickets. Last available tickets for the game are rumored to cost as much as $10 thousand each. With just a few days left before Super Sunday, airline flights, hotels and passes to many of the weekend events are going for a premium. Good news for Atlanta. Who is your pick for Super Bowl stardom?

Hey Siri, What’s Up with Voice Search?

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In 2014, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist at Baidu, predicted that “In five years’ time at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.” Like the discharge of the starter’s gun at a track and field sporting event, the futurist picked up the quote as if it were an absolute certainty. But as with all predictions the likelihood of certainty is tempered by a healthy amount of those things that are out of the control of even the most enlightened among us. After all, if an early prediction by a well- known global climate change enthusiast would have been accurate, a large number of us living along the east coast of the United States would be living in sea water by now. It is not to say that the predictions of weather or technology won’t still become reality; it’s that the time frame of “sooner or later” may be more accurately realized.

The good news is that the predictions of voice search overtaking the key punch method will most certainly come to pass. The bad news is that the next generation will miss out on typing lessons, learning the art of cursive and creative writing classes. In the end, technology and science and speech lessons will prevail. The time-curve may be drawn by user’s acceptance of the technology, the measure of its importance in their lives and the user’s accessibility to the gadgets, both hard and soft, that will be required to implement voice commands dependably. As it has come to pass in the past, technology will prevail.

Regardless of whether it is 30 percent or 50 percent, 2019 will be the year that voice search commands will significantly change the landscape of internet search. “Voice-only search allows users to browse the web the Internet and consumer information without actually having to scroll through sites on desktops and mobile devices.” Voice search drastically improves the search experience for users. Speaking in short, simple phrases users can expect that their message is received and acted upon with only an occasional, “sorry, I don’t understand” reply. The smart marketer will begin to move their investment in SEO to voice optimization in the coming year in order to improve their brand awareness and online revenue. It is expected that voice search eCommerce will rise to $40 billion by 2022, and whether we are likely to get our feet wet by the rising tide or become drowned in almost total submersion still remains to be seen. So how soon do we divert greater amounts of our marketing budgets to implementing voice search?

Brent Csutoras, digital marketing consultant and Managing Partner at Search Engine Journal says, “This space is going to open up, it is going to provide an opportunity for just about everyone, so stay abreast of what’s happening in this space, watch the technology, and start envisioning your company in that space, and then wait until you have that opportunity to make that a reality. But don’t overstress yourself and feel like you’re failing because you’re not in the space right now.”