What the Work Really Costs

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

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

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

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

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

How Necessary Cutbacks Can Lead to Growth

You’ve heard the phrases repeated over and over again like mantras; bad economy. Tight budget. Business is slow. Even UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company and recognizable icon of industrious business everywhere is acknowledging the severity of the situation and projecting continued sluggish growth for the global economy. In reaction, the company is cutting back on its capacities, including sending fewer cargo flights around the world, and simultaneously lowing its projections for the remainder of the year. With expectations that the company’s third-quarter earnings will ultimately come up well short of last year’s numbers, other business leaders are feeling the pressure.

It’s not anything in particular that UPS is doing wrong, FedEx, its largest and most rival competitor recently predicted that its own earnings would suffer in similar fashion, and countless other companies are thinking and acting conservatively as well. Doing business in 2012 has undoubtedly become a trickier proposition. The general perception is that there is not much that can be done, but it isn’t entirely impossible to operate or even start up a successful business amidst the challenges of a struggling economy.

This is now the 3rd consecutive year in which the mid-year economic outlook has stalled out after a promising start. There is little reason to think that the end of 2012 will be much different, especially considering the special circumstances of the upcoming US Presidential election. Truth be told, not much about the environment is changing. Yes, in the bigger picture, 2012 may be a less desirable time to run a company than 1998, but the circumstances and attitudes are hardly any different from how they were in 2010, or how they will likely be in 2014.

Many companies will not feel ready to stop just ‘weathering the storm’ and get back to business until the persistent uncertainties of the past few years are cleared up. In the interim, businesses with the real goods will not only persevere, but thrive, because spending more resources isn’t the only way to build more business. Companies who are willing to step back, scrutinize every aspect of their situation, and then adapt strategy accordingly will find that periods of recession are a time to learn how to operate smarter.

UPS’ forecasting appears accurate, and their action appropriate, but it is important to recognize that as the company cut back services to conserve resources, it increased revenue and became more profitable. The realities of the economy aren’t going anywhere, but with the right approach, the time to build your business is always now.

A Real ‘Light Bulb Moment’

Brand is defined as a “distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the marketplace.” The definition is simple enough to understand and is vastly understood by marketers and successful companies attempting to establish their products in a crowded and competitive marketplace. Generally represented through a graphic mark or logo, brand identity, when properly and creatively designed, can speak volumes about a company, its culture, mission, products, and services. Like the song that you heard at a special time or place in your youth, hearing it many years later as an adult can illicit vivid emotions and memories of the events of a former life.

Successful businesses invest wisely and generously in their brands in an effort to make them memorable and easily recognizable, and to create a sense of quality and reliability. A well designed, displayed, and maintained logo will produce a value premium for a company by creating a certain level of product loyalty in consumers. It is part of what makes Coca-Cola more desirable to consumers than its generic equivalent.

But just as a smart, clean, and buttoned up logo can create equity for a business, a poorly presented public image can quickly become a liability when the brand is improperly maintained or positioned, particularly when it is placed in an environment where consumers can easily draw comparisons to the competition.

A recent trip through a well-traveled commercial area, via the expressway, provided a clear example of a brand asset becoming a brand liability. Approaching the exit, travelers came upon the familiar large signs designed to inform drivers of gas and food options available at the upcoming exit. These signs are very effective in getting hungry travelers to pull over and “fuel up” at a favorite eatery.

This particular sign displayed the brand logos of six nationally recognized fast food competitors. Five of the logos were bright, clean, and well maintained, but one major national fast food franchise’s signage was faded, with a cracked surface – barely legible at all. Driving past the business, situated among its attractive, well lit competitors, the restaurant featured a half-lit sign, a tarnished facade, and at least a half dozen burned out decorative light bulbs. Suddenly, the decision of where not to eat became an easy one. Checking back months later, the business still featured the same derelict appearance.

Well-formed marketing, brand identity, creative advertising, and promotional programs are essential to success in any industry, and touching all of these points are crucial to any business looking to rise above the crowd in a competitive environment. However, even the best designed and beloved brand can be instantly damaged by the neglect of the simplest of details.  Remember success in the details, and in this case, the light bulbs.

Keeping the Sizzle in the Agency/Client Relationship

The advertising industry is often imagined as being encapsulated by a scene from the popular TV show Mad Men. Agencies are thought to be an exclusive club of talented, like-minded individuals who have an innate ability to transform creative to sell products and services for the most notable brands. But is this what clients are really expecting?

With the market experiencing a huge shift in focus as organizations evolve, corporate clients are now looking to agencies to solve not just marketing problems, but business problems. In turn, the agency model must dynamically adapt to maintain relevance. The CMO Council reported in a recent study that only 9% of senior level marketers say ad agencies are managing to evolve and extending capabilities in the “digital ocean.” Furthermore, other surveys have shown that the same senior marketers are not as confident dealing with the complexities of this new marketing economy looking ahead to the next 5 years.

These volatile changes are undoubtedly affecting the traditional relationship between agencies and clients. Now, both are faced with increased expectations of measured effectiveness and delivered results. How do we keep the flame burning amidst the uncertainty? A successful agency/client relationship is one with:

Clarity: The client must set expectations for the desired outcome of a project or campaign. Agencies must also be clear upfront as to what can be expected with a specific marketing solution.

Communications: Consistency in communication is critical to the relationship. Both the client and the agency must engage in the conversation, speaking with each other rather than at each other.

Manners: Advertising is a high stakes game. When money or reputations are on the line, it’s easy to forget manners when dealing with a client or an agency.

As agencies move forward, hand-in-hand with clients, qualities of trust, value, accountability, and responsibility are being elevated over the Don Draper prototype in importance.

The secret to keeping the sizzle in this relationship is simple: Be transparent. Deliver results.

Junction Earns Dual Honors in Horizon Digital Interactive Awards

Atlanta-based Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) was recognized as the recipient of two 2011 Horizon Interactive Awards for its work in two different categories: Consumer Information Websites and Integrated Marketing Campaigns.

The Horizon Interactive Awards are an international awards competition acknowledging outstanding achievement among interactive media producers. The 2011 installment drew thousands of entries from top developers, designers, and online advertisers from all over the world, including 20 countries and more than 40 states. This marked the first year Junction had submitted entries representing its work for evaluation in the prestigious annual tradition.

Junction’s submission included a sophisticated consumer web application with a custom advertising platform and an integrated online/offline marketing campaign.  Judged by a panel composed of industry peers and end users, Junction was honored for solution creativity and originality, technical merit, communication effectiveness, and overall design and user experience.

“These awards are a testament to the dedication of our team and our commitment to providing our clients with world-class solutions,” commented Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction. “We are extremely proud of the quality of our work, and it is rewarding to receive this distinction as a leader in the interactive space. The awards validate our emphasis on how solid strategy informs impactful solutions for our clients.”

For more information about Junction and its award-winning portfolio, visit www.junction-creative.com.

Smoke Screen: Company Culture or Policy?

Two prominent current topics in the newsmedia have sparked debate, raising questions about the nature and extent of rights of employers and employees in the workplace. In a rapidly changing world, the blurred line these topics tread must be more clearly defined before ‘company policy’ becomes becomes an invasion of rights. Employees are asking themselves where company culture ends and infringement begins.

Recently there has been a resurgence in conversation about employers demanding access to employee social media pages on the premise of maintaining company integrity. The debate quickly escalates into a discussion of the personal rights of employees as pertaining to the content and publicity of their Facebook page. Employees are almost uniformly against the practice, but even combined with the efforts of privacy advocates such as the ACLU, the practice has not yet been made illegal. Advocates for monitoring or restricting social networking are quick to bring up the “nothing-to-hide” argument, but digital privacy is still a crucial right in the modern world.

Businesses are also becoming the latest frontier to latch on to the increasingly prevalent trend of bans on smoking. Some employers, such as health insurance giant Humana, have begun to tighten policies related to employee smoking habits, going beyond simply prohibiting smoking during work hours to completely disqualifying smokers from employment. Of course, for Humana, operating in the healthcare industry, the ban on smokers is an obvious measure in line with the company’s mission. For other employers however, a tobacco-free policy can help boost productivity (less employee ‘smoke breaks’) and help to reduce health insurance premiums.

Like keeping close tabs on employee Facebook profiles, these policies get tricky when considering that smoking is, regardless of company views, a completely lawful activity. With the aid of the ACLU, 29 states implemented laws to protect “smokers’ rights,” but federal law permits an employer the right to flat out refuse to hire a nicotine user, because smokers are not recognized as a protected class. Rumors suggest that a number of companies in the Fortune 500 are considering adopting similar bans on smoking, suggesting Humana’s actions may be a sort of glimpse into the future.

Acquiring and retaining productive employees and promoting a better workplace is the obvious desired outcome of hiring strategy for companies in any industry. Before practices like banning smoking or monitoring social network profiles become the norm, however, further scrutiny is necessary to clarify some significant questions about whether employers have the right to independently regulate otherwise lawful behavior.

Reminder – JXN Executive Roundtable Kicks Off Tomorrow!

We wish to remind you that the inaugural event in the JXN Executive Roundtable series will be held tomorrow, May 1st, 2012, at 5:30pm at the Blue Parrot Bistro in Gettysburg, PA.

Please join Junction, cosponsors Raffensperger, Martin, & Finkenbiner, and Patrono & Associates, and prominent area business owners for hors d’oeuvres, networking, and an expert panel discussion as we open the dialogue on building a better business in a difficult economy. Click here for more information about this exciting event.

If you haven’t RSVP’d, please contact marci@junction-creative.com.

Word Out on the Town

Reputation has always carried heavy importance for businesses across industry. Throughout the last century, customer loyalty was primarily forged through personal interactions that involved a high standard of service blended with consistency. Managing performance and generating new business was dependent on solid reputations and relationships. However, technology is the basis for a large majority of interaction between businesses and consumers. With this shift, the importance of reputation is not diminished; instead, a new standard is being set online.

The internet has accelerated the speed of consumer interactions with brands in dramatic fashion. As one might expect, reputation has become increasingly transient and incredible sensitive. A plethora of online ‘review’ sites populated by communities of customers giving feedback in real time has empowered the voices of consumers. A single bad review of a restaurant can deter other patrons, and a bit of praise can fill the reservation book. Whether from advocates or critics, the instantaneous reporting of customer experience can literally be make or break for a business.

These drastic changes have led to behavioral changes, manifested most strikingly in the form of companies touting themselves as “reputation management firms.” The anonymity that the internet allows by nature has meant that not all customer reviews or ratings are to be believed, and a small number of businesses have turned to gaming the system by eliminating negative feedback and creating fake reviews with the goal of building a strong reputation or repairing one that is damaged.

The reality is disconcerting, but the message is clear: reputation online plays an extremely important role in success within the highly competitive landscape. It is important for owners and operators to understand customer feedback, address concerns, and motivate the large audiences on review sites and in the press in order to turn negatives into positives. Utilized correctly, a robust reputation online can prove to be a massive advantage, vital to the success of any business now and in the foreseeable future.

Junction to Host Inaugural JXN Executive Roundtable Event in Gettysburg, PA

Atlanta based Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) announces the launch of its JXN Executive Roundtable, providing an opportunity for business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives to share and discuss best practices for sustaining and growing business. As an advocate for the creation of progressive, sustainable, and successful businesses, Junction is dedicated to bringing together thought leadership and promoting collaboration in the greater business community.

“In 2012, businesses are facing the task of reacting to major shifts in consumer behaviors within the financial constraints of a less than favorable economy; many owners and CEOs find themselves looking for ways to reenergize the company with what seems like a shrinking budget,” says Julie Gareleck, CEO and Managing Partner, Junction. “Opening the dialogue is an essential to overcoming the challenges of the current climate and building better businesses.”

The series will open with the JXN Executive Roundtable on May 1st, 2012 at Blue Parrot Bistro in Gettysburg, PA. The event, hosted by Junction and cosponsored by Patrono & Associates and Raffensperger, Martin & Finkenbiner, LLC, will be an invitation-only evening of networking for business owners in Central Pennsylvania featuring a panel discussion on best practices for sustaining business in the market place.

“We are excited to work with Junction Creative and Patrono & Associates in this unique opportunity for local businesses,” says Ryan Raffensperger, Partner, Raffensperger, Martin & Finkenbiner, LLC. “We believe that this event will help area businesses gather ideas that will be useful in their continued growth. We expect that the end result is a better community for all of us that live, work and do business in the South Central Pennsylvania area.”

Business owners seeking an invitation to attend the event should contact josh@junction-creative.com for more information.

Introducing the JXN Executive Roundtable

In 2012, businesses face the challenge of reacting to major shifts in consumer behaviors within the financial constraints of a less than favorable economy. Many owners and CEOs find themselves looking for ways to reenergize the company with what seems like a shrinking budget.

Junction, as an advocate for the creation of progressive, sustainable, and successful businesses, introduces the JXN Executive Roundtable, bringing together thought leadership and promoting collaboration in the greater business communities.  The event series provides an opportunity for business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives to share and discuss best practices for sustaining and growing business.

The inaugural event in the series will take place on May 1st, 2012 at Blue Parrot Bistro in Gettysburg, PA. The event, hosted by Junction and cosponsored by Patrono & Associates and Raffensperger, Martin & Finkenbiner, LLC, will be an invitation-only evening of networking for business owners to discuss best practices for sustaining business in the market place.

If you are interested in attending the event, contact josh@junction-creative.com.  More information will be available next week on our blog.