A Happy Holiday Sales Season to Come

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The season for gift giving is fast approaching, and retailers from hometown America to online retailers way out in cyber space are looking for the gift of increased sales and black ink bottom lines. The 2017 holiday selling season was the biggest and best since 2011. Sales in the U.S. grew 5.5% in brick and mortar sellers over previous years and eCommerce tallied a 17.8% increase in online sales. Last year’s record performance has prognosticators either cautiously optimistic or pie-in-the-sky giddy over the coming 2018 holiday season.

Due to very good economic news, record low unemployment and strong consumer confidence, retailers are in line to receive a favorable uptick in sales in 2018.   Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte), a leading global consulting agency, says this year’s retail November to December sales could top $1.10 trillion, an increase over 2017’s $1.05 trillion performance. “We think most retailers will have a good holiday season if they have a distinctive value proposition,” says Rod Sides, vice chairman of Deloitte’s U.S. retail and distribution practice. “We think off-price will continue to do well, and there will be a rebound in luxury.” eCommerce sales are expected to rise as much as 22 percent through the holidays, according to Deloitte.

Global consulting firm AlixPartners is being a bit more measured in its sales predictions for this year, calling for retail sales growth of just 3.1 to 4.1 percent this holiday season. “The health of retail is still very strong, but 2017 will be a tough year to follow,” said Roshan Varma, a director in AlixPartner’s retail practice. “Last year was a bit of an anomaly, and we are expecting more of a typical holiday season this year.” Meanwhile, The National Retail Federation (NRF) is positioning its predictions more centered in the bell shaped statistical curve.

The NRF is forecasting an increase in retail sales of 4.3 to 4.8 percent over last year, resulting in as much as $720.89 billion dollars in holiday sales. “Our forecast reflects the overall strength of the industry,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, we believe that this holiday season will continue to reflect the growth we’ve seen over the past year. While there is concern about the impacts of an escalating trade war, we are optimistic that the pace of economic activity will continue to increase through the end of the year.” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said, “Last year’s strong results were thanks to growing wages, stronger employment and higher confidence, complemented by anticipation of tax cuts that led consumers to spend more than expected. With this year’s forecast, we continue to see strong momentum from consumers as they do the heavy lifting in supporting our economy. The combination of increased job creation, improved wages, tamed inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend.”

Regardless of which numbers prevail, consumers are tiring of the shopping experience and will be looking for convenience when it comes to browsing. They will be rewarding retailers who provide improved checkout times when making their purchases; whether in store or online. Early shopping (Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday week) will garner 37 percent of total U.S. holiday retail sales. Consumer sales made through mobile devices will account for more than $35.9 billion in the United States, with voice command technology accounting for 3.3 percent of total gift-giving purchases.

Happy holiday sales to all!

A Responsive Web Design Can Determine the Effectiveness of Your Website

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Internet access from mobile devices now represents 63 percent of all traffic in the United States. Mobile now has more total page views than desktop. If your company has not adequately modified your website to function consistently across multiple sized device screens, the time to do so is now.  In 2019, mobile advertising will represent 72 percent of all U.S. advertising spending, and with 83 percent of mobile device users indicating that a seamless website experience across all devices is important, it is imperative that a marketer’s web-presence is optimized for mobile.  A poor mobile presence can make an organization appear unprofessional and out of sync with a web savvy consumer.

Responsive Web Design (RWD), an approach to creating a website that allows it to work on any device; whether it’s a mobile phone, tablet, TV or a laptop, is mostly credited to Ethan Marcotte, an independent web designer and author who in 2010 said, “Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience. We can [make our] designs […] more adaptive to the media that renders them.”  Today, a responsive web design can determine the effectiveness of a website. A recent study by Tyton Media, found that 94 percent of people cited web design as the reason they mistrusted or rejected a website. A responsive website design increases the chances that users will stay longer and engage more with a web experience.

Three fundamental aspects of a responsive web design are fluid layouts, responsive images and media queries. Fluid layouts allow a website to automatically adjust fixed widths to expand and contract to display consistently on all screen sizes. This eliminates visual distortions and jumbled text and promotes a smooth and seamless presentation regardless of the device. Responsive websites have also been shown to have a greater likelihood of ranking higher in search engine results pages.

Making images adaptive and responsive is a very important step in creating a responsive web design because it can affect both a website’s speed and its search engine friendliness. The ability for images to grow and shrink with a user’s browser to fit the web page will result in shorter page loading times, particularly when accessed on devices with 3G or slower connections. Media queries tailor a web page’s representation to devices with screens of any size and allow for specific rules for hiding, growing, moving or showing content, resulting in a better user experience.

With more consumers spending a majority of time on the internet, it is critical that web designers create excellent, workable and responsive websites that focus on design, usability and accessibility across all devices. A well designed and responsive website will increase consumers’ trust and generate customer traffic and increased conversion rates.

For more information on how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) developers and designers can help make your website more responsive, call 678-686-1125 today.

Instagram Can be a Powerful Tool in Your Marketing Arsenal

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Launched in 2010, Instagram continues to grow at a remarkable pace. Just a little more than 7 years of age, the visual social media platform has surpassed 800 million monthly users and is not only attracting individual social conversations but is proving its worthiness to marketers looking to grow their brand’s awareness and showcase its products. With 51 percent of users indicating that they visit the site daily and 70 percent using the platform to search brands, Instagram has become a friendly, authentic method to connect with potential consumers. With ninety percent visual content, standing out in the crowd of 800 million users can be a daunting task for marketing professionals accustomed to relying on wordsmithing skills to get their message across. But the mostly wordless approach is becoming one of the most effective social media networks.

Generating increased brand awareness and building customer loyalty to drive increased sales requires a defined strategy based on consumer demographics, behaviors and identifying key motivations to purchase. “Logic persuades but feelings motivate, influencing a customer’s intention to purchase over anything else. According to a study, purely emotional campaigns were twice as likely to generate profit gains then those with a rational approach.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that great content is at the core of a great social media campaign. With Instagram, building a great message is all about building a visual narrative where limited prose reflects and validates the image. While it is tempting to fall back on the tried and true adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, it is also true that most marketers struggle to communicate in a visual medium. Success with Instagram is derived from generating engaging content. The process begins with learning as much as possible about the medium, how customers are using the platform and understanding how the competition is succeeding in the space.

Create an expansive collection of unique content around a common theme and your desired persona. Be prepared to make adjustments, but be consistent with the message. Be creative but focused and invest in visual editing tools and experienced professional skill-sets when necessary. Engage socially with users and influencers who have already built a trusting relationship with their followers to better understand what is driving them to be interested in your brand. Use memorable and engaging hashtags and be sure to include a link to your website. Invite fellow users to share your content. Don’t miss an opportunity to call for action. Establish a set of reliable metrics to measure and frequently test your efforts’ performance.

Instagram can be a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, but with all the potential benefits comes some risks. In a hyper-sensitive, socially correct landscape, creativity can often lead to misinterpretation. As with all social website platforms, care should be taken to avoid turning a positive message into a plethora of negative responses.

According to Instagram, 75% of users who see a business post take action. It is a medium that promises to continue to grow in size and effectiveness. Be prepared to adapt to changing trends.  Take advantage of new tools and features that create opportunities to interface with an ever expanding Instagram community, and resolve not to fall behind your competition.

The Importance of Design in Developing an Effective Website

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As with many aspects of marketing, effective website development is a combination of technology and creative design. Conversion, the point where a user becomes a paying customer, requires attention to not only the technology but also a combination of creative design attributes that guide a user to making a purchasing decision. Human behavioral studies have revealed that 75 percent of website users will make a value judgement about a brand’s credibility based on design, and 94 percent of first impressions about a marketer are made based on design-related factors.

To convert shoppers into paying customers, it is critical to invest wisely in website designers who are experienced in developing an effective design. An effective design will make consumers feel welcome and comfortable, motivate them to take action and present important information concisely.

Color can play a major role in establishing a site’s personality and increase click-through rates when call-to-action buttons are red or green. The use of video can increase conversion rates significantly, and keeping all things simple and easy to find outperforms complex and overly creative. A brand’s value proposition should be front and center. Forms and templates are best when short rather than long, and requests-for-information are most successful when less rather than more is requested. Less clutter and more white space results in less consumer stress. Quality content wins out over quantity.

A recent study conducted by The Harvard Review found that trustworthiness is the biggest motivator for customers to make a purchase. Users want to feel safe, comfortable and at ease. Straightforward and easy-to-navigate signs result in users having a more positive experience, making them more likely to complete a purchase.

Goran Paunovic of Community Voice and a Forbes Agency Council member says, “In my experience, uncovering the ideal design strategy for a company begins by understanding the deeper roots of a business — its founding vision, core beliefs, user personas, differentiating factors, company goals and problems solved, to name just a few.  Designers, marketers and strategists working together can make these experiences seamless by considering the context of use and what differentiates the brand from its competition.”

“As the marketing landscape changes and consumer expectations evolve, it’s critical to remain ahead of design trends,” says Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO of Junction Creative Solutions (Junction). “Our team of experienced website professionals has designed for some of the most trusted and recognizable brands, delivering comprehensive sets of solutions to support our clients’ sales and marketing efforts. Junction has amassed a team of designers recognized as some of the top creative talent in the industry.”

To learn more about how Junction’s implementation team is as adept in building small digital projects as it is in fully-executed, customizable platforms, call 678.686.1125.

How the GDPR Implementation is Impacting Marketers’ Relationship with Consumers

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Since its passage in May 2016, the European Union (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has resulted in many companies questioning the need to comply or what the far-reaching regulation would mean to their organizations. Initially many firms failed to understand the global reach of the regulation and that they would be required to respond to the demands of the rule. The GDPR creates strict requirements on how companies who collect, maintain and market consumers’ data must handle the use of that data. The regulation, which comes with severe financial penalties and liabilities when breached, went into effect in May of this year.

Under Article 4 of the GDPR, “any consent to the processing of data must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous.” Data subjects need to voluntarily submit data for processing. Consent should be guided by a clear, plain English explanation of what specific processing will be done, why its collection is necessary and who the data is shared with. If there will be multiple processes, consent is required for each. At the outset, many predicted that the sweeping regulations would be the end of marketing as it is generally practiced, particularly digital marketing, but many others believed that the new regulatory environment would simply rid the marketing landscape of poor marketing practices and less-than-honest practitioners.

While migration to the GDPR requirements have been a challenge, progress has been made for companies who recognized the importance of compliance. Now four months into the launch, major changes among marketing professionals have occurred. Previous conduct of buying email lists, pre-ticked consent boxes and convoluted terms and conditions are becoming activities of the past. So how do consumers, or subjects as they are known in the EU, feel about the new data handling regulations?

A survey commissioned by Marketing Week and performed by Toluna, indicates that 57% of people feel
that they better understand how companies are using their data, but merely 27% of respondents feel that the overall experience with brands is better. “Most people (65%) believe GDPR has made no difference at all, while 8% suggest things have actually got worse.” With more than half of the respondents indicating that the GDPR has had no impact on them it may be that many consumers do not even know about the GDPR standards and what benefits the new rules may play in their digital lives.

Perhaps it is too early to effectively measure the impact of GDPR on companies’ marketing tactics or how consumers perceive brands’ handling and use of personal data. With a proliferation of media accounts of how some major organizations have mishandled customer data and trust in the past, well entrenched attitudes prevail. The GDPR is capable of having a positive impact on the consumer/marketer relationship for those organizations that embrace the opportunity. Only time will reveal the effectiveness of the best of intentions to resolve the past bad acts of data management.

Developing a Strategy of Growth for an Economic Recession

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It’s that time in the business life-cycle that comes around every eight or nine years, usually following a period of sustained economic growth. The watchdogs and self-appointed proponents of doom and gloom are beginning to crow their shrill warnings of a pending economic calamity. Even though the U.S. economy is growing at respectable rate, 75% of ultra-high net worth investors are predicting that we will experience a recession in 2020, according to a recent J.P. Morgan survey.  Earlier this year when Bill Gates was asked if he believed we were about to experience a financial crisis like the one in 2008, he said, “Yes. It is hard to say when but this is a certainty.”

His answer is consistent with all the others who find themselves in the business of predicting the economic future. In life all things are inevitable and recessions are as inevitable to economic life-cycles as death is to the cycle of life. It is one of those opportunities where, given enough time, you cannot be wrong. As usual not all the money experts are in agreement.

Anthony Collard, head of J. P. Morgan U.K. and Nordic investments, said, “Until we see clear imbalances building, and policy approaching a point where it really constrains economic activity, we lean towards a view that the cycle will continue to expand.” Saker Nusseibeh, chief executive at Hermes Investment Management is in agreement. “We do not see any indications of the U.S. economy entering anything like a possible recession. What we do see is clear indication of a stronger-than-anticipated U.S. economy.” Business leaders both large and small are well aware of how the health of their businesses can change rapidly due to fluctuations in the overall economy. Both predictions have critical implications for managing a business’s finances.

Having a strategic plan in place to deal with economic fluctuations is important for businesses in order to maintain and sustain long-term growth throughout the business life-cycles. While the alarms of pending downturns often insinuate decline in growth, many smart and prepared leaders of industry will navigate the dangers of economic recession successfully and some will even prosper. Sustaining business growth requires a strategy to retain and expand the customer base, improve upon best business practices and establish reasonable and measurable performance metrics that expand opportunities while limiting risk.

Making customers a priority, providing customers with quality service and products they desire is a marketing strategy that will lead to customer retention, particularly in a shrinking economy that motivates consumers to be more deliberate in making their purchase decisions. It’s increasingly important to develop strategies to measure the effectiveness of marketing activities and focus efforts on those campaigns that deliver.

Managing the quality and productivity of staff to produce cost savings without negatively impacting morale and effectiveness will preserve constrained budgets. Achieving more with less and cross-training employees to perform multiple organizational functions will keep structured costs in line with the current business reality and may produce significant growth opportunities for employees and the business when the economy emerges from the recession.

For more on how you can develop a strategy to emerge stronger and more competitive from the other side of recession, contact Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) at 678-686-1125.

The Technology that is Poised to Change the Way Businesses Interact with Consumers

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Chatbots, a computer program or artificial intelligence which can simulate a convincing conversation with humans, are predicted to be the latest technology to revolutionize many aspects of repetitive commercial and business functions. Typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes, including customer service or information acquisition, Chatbots are poised to impact the customer service functions of just about every business. Artificial intelligence (AI), which continues to improve and become more conversational, is predicted to replace 16 percent of American jobs associated with customer service, sales and product education by the end of the decade.  According to Forrester’s 2018 predictions on the impact of AI on sales and service, more major brands will likely phase out email in favor of real-time, customer-agent communications like Chatbots and chat. But companies are being advised to put off eliminating humans in the call center; at least for now.

Current AI deployments still lack the basic capacity for the natural language comprehension and back-office integration necessary to completely replace those friendly human voices, but rapid improvements to the technology’s performance is on its way, and while millennials find conversing with AI more desirable than humans, other generations of consumers are slow to accept the machined personalities on the other end of the conversation.

“Millennials are accustomed to giving and receiving immediate feedback,” said Imran Tariq, a lead generation expert and the founder of Webmetrix Group. “When they want help or information, they’d much rather interact with Alexa or Google than read a manual or interact with a human being who likely has to search for the information as well. Bots can provide this immediate, human like response that millennials crave.”

Chatbots are achieving more meaningful interactions with people they are helping, becoming more intelligent, taking on more complex tasks and are helping consumers and employees become more efficient. Jordi Torras, CEO and founder of Inbenta Technologies Inc., an AI vendor of natural language processing tools says, “We have seen how chat and messaging is growing even faster than email as it takes over phone calls as a customer service channel.”  Could we be approaching the end of rude and poorly trained customer service representatives?

The future is looking up as the technologies that underpin AI continue to develop. The Chatbot market is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $1.25 billion by 2025. By 2020, Gartner Research indicates that consumers will handle 85% of business interactions without a human being involved, a shocking turn of events for those in commerce who could never have envisioned computers replacing personal relationships and human interactions with consumers.

Be Responsible with Investment Dollars that Come from Playing the Funding Game

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Good news for those energetic and enthusiastic dreamers looking to embark on a journey of growing an existing business or those looking to break away from the regular paycheck world. Lending institutions are approving business financing requests at a higher rate than ever before. According to the Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index™, the June 2018 loan approval percentage rose two-tenths of a percent from May’s figure of 25.9 percent, the highest since 2015. The trend credits the continued strength of the overall economy and emerging optimism among entrepreneurs for its performance, according to a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) survey.

While new businesses continue to look to personal and family savings for their initial funding, a growing number of businesses are taking advantage of an expanding menu of financial sources. Angel investors, venture capitalists and online lenders are busy investing in high-growth and high-risk opportunities. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers “MoneyTree Report” indicates that the U.S. market experienced a record second quarter in 2018 for venture capital funding activity. “Times are unusually good for Main Street businesses and their lenders now,” said William Phelan, president of PayNet, Inc. “The combination of record-high credit demand and low credit risk for main street businesses signals that higher profitability is in store for commercial lenders — especially those with technology systems currently in place that can minimize costs.”

One historic constant of business financing remains the fact that starting or growing a business requires cash; lots and lots of it.  Acquiring the necessary capital to get the shelves stocked, the doors open, and enough sales to get the revenue flowing, remains the most difficult aspect of startups and the number one reason small business startups fail. Most new businesses will remain dependent upon infusions of cash for at least 12 to 18 months until revenues from business activities catch up to startup costs. Any new or expanding venture requires funding sources significant enough to sustain the operations until revenues begin to flow.

While most organizations are applying their investors’ participation responsibly, there are reports that an increasing percentage of companies are squandering what first appears to be easy money. Some are utilizing it in bad faith and spending it like it’s their own. However, seemingly easy money comes with increased responsibility and a need for additional layers of accountability to ensure that investor capital is not squandered.

“I’ve been in or around the emerging business market for nearly 20 years and I have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly as it relates to funding,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO, Junction Creative Solutions (Junction).  “My advice to those start-ups who have been successfully raising money is to treat every penny as though it was your last and focus your spending on monetizing the business first.”

“The moment when you look in your bank account and see hundreds of thousands of dollars that you are in control of is a moment you never really forget. You can’t help but think about how you haven’t been paid in years, how maxed out your credit cards are, and how the hard part is over,” says G. Krista Morgan, cofounder and CEO of P2Binvestor.“We took a little time to celebrate, then poured all our resources back into building the right infrastructure and developed technology to meet demand on our investment platform. We started building out all this infrastructure to manage the client accounts we were sure would come eventually. But they didn’t. The good news is that we learned fast and started cutting back early enough to give ourselves more time to fix the problem. We took away every luxury and focused on the core of what we needed to do, which was to figure out our target market and start selling.” Krista’s advice to others experiencing the newly found cash: “Stop—breathe—and get to revenue. Spend money once you start making money.”

“Spending responsibility, while a good rule of thumb, is oft forgotten when entrepreneurs have the funding in their hands. There is no such thing as “free money” yet I see entrepreneurs wasting dollars that could fuel the company,” comments Gareleck.  “I bootstrapped the start-up on my business nearly 10 years ago.  If others could treat this funding as if it’s their own money, I think we’d see a rise in responsibly run emerging companies.”

For help on developing a strategic approach to spending investment capital wisely, contact Junction Creative Solutions at 678-686-1125.

What’s Going on in the Minds and Households of the Millennial Generation?

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Much has been said about Millennials, their character traits, work ethic, shopping habits, methods of communication and just about any other imaginable fundamental behavior, and not all the comments have been positive or flattering. The millennial generation usually identifies those born between 1981 and 1996. Arriving in the era of massive technological advances, they have come of age being familiar with the internet, smart digital devices, social media platforms, and all the other technology that often baffles former generations.

Millennials are extremely tech savvy, highly educated and are on the verge of becoming the largest living generation. Learning how to market effectively to them is not an option for marketers and absolutely essential to surviving in the coming decade. “We don’t think of them as special or different any more. They are the core of our business,” says Alan Jope, president of beauty and personal care at Unilever. While some marketers can at least claim a little success in cracking the millennial code, others have just given up and returned to re-focus on what worked to attract consumers in the past. Customer behavior is changing almost daily as technology advances its influence over how consumers make buying decisions.

Grouping an entire generation of people into a single marketing demographic will not work. Like all market segments, not all Millennials will respond to the same messaging and most are fed up with traditional methods of advertising. According to a study from the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, millennials have filtered out advertising on social media and turned to other reference points. Titled, “Born and Raised in the Age of Technology,” the study states, “Millennials consume information when and how they want to.” A campaign of one size fits all is a likely pathway to failure. Erik Huberman, Founder & CEO of Hawke Media says, “Certainly, you’ll want to target age demographics to a certain extent, but your targeting should also be more granular. Instead, go right to the actual attributes of the real customer.”

Quality content across multiple mobile devices is essential to attracting members of this new power generation. An Animoto study has found that 80 percent of surveyed Millennials use videos to conduct research before making a purchase. Video is no longer an option for marketers looking to attract these consumers’ interest. Some 39% of Millennials post reviews of products or brands on social media outlets, and this generation is more likely to listen to and connect with people like them rather than celebrities. Over 60% of millennials would try a product suggested by a YouTuber. Social media reigns supreme.

A select group of analysts was recently impaneled by NPD, in an effort to find out what’s going on inside the minds and households of consumers born between 1981 and 1996. Their insights revealed a group of consumers markedly different from their parents. Millennials tend to be retail explorers, more interested in making memories than acquiring things. They tend to appreciate function over price and often feel less is more. They enjoy experiencing activities more then owning stuff and are inclined to be more focused on home activities. Arguably the group is recognized as being a bit more self-centered then previous generations of consumers. Matt Powell, Vice President, Senior Industry Advisor, Sports, says: “Millennials are constantly interviewing brands, meaning that a brand has to prove itself, every day. For Boomers, there were fewer shopping choices, shopping outlets, and sources of product information. For Millennials, those elements are infinite. On top of that, these elements are always available on their smartphones.”

Fully understanding these shifts in consumer behaviors and beliefs will help unlock fresh insights to drive a business forward. The traditional marketing and sales approach used to create “target audiences” based on a profile of gender, age, demographic, or geographic data alone is an approach that will cripple a business’s ability to successfully reach target audiences in an effective way.