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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time to Play the March Madness Advertising Game

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Unlike 2018, the big NCAA 2019 basketball tournament event is not burdened with the pressure of battling clean-up. March Madness 2019 is predicted to set a new record of $1.36 billion in advertising spend, continuing an upward tradition since 2013. The NCAA Men’s Division I Final Four will be hosted by the city of Minneapolis, and is predicted to generate $142 million in economic impact for the area and attract 94,000 visitors to the U.S. Bank Stadium.  “In terms of impact, visitor spending is only one way to think about success,” says CEO Kate Mortenson, NCAA Final Four Minneapolis Organizing Committee. While the city looks forward to the promise of an economic windfall, a list of international brands is gearing up for an opportunity to promote their wares to the millions of college basketball fans who will be tuning in to the weeks-long event leading up to the big game.

The NCAA has announced that this year’s tournament will be streaming across 15 platforms in an effort to keep pace with a more mobile viewing audience. Mobile experiences will be very important to fans and advertisers will need to heed the viewers’ continued gravitational pull away from traditional cable and broadcast channels. The most successful brands will be those that connect all the channels into one cohesive campaign that brings basketball fans together with the brand.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will continue to build relationships between fans and brands. Official March Madness social media handles generated 26 million social engagements across these popular channels last year. Marketers will need to prepare ahead in order to capture prolonged customer attention.  “It’s about speaking to the audience, whether they’re preparing for their bracket or starting a competition with friends and family. And it’s about thinking of the length of time you’re spending with consumers,” says Courtney McKlveen, VP and Industry Lead of Retail, Travel and QSR at Yahoo. “ The word ‘loyalty’ is fun to throw around, but it still exists. In order to build loyalty, it takes time, and it means being there throughout the shopping cycle, and having the confidence to think about your ROI differently.”

Casual-dining brand Buffalo Wild Wings is launching its “That’s March Madness” TV spots and digital ads urging viewers to visit its restaurants to watch the tournament. In addition to their usual broad selection of brew and spicy wings, the 1,200-unit Buffalo Wild Wings chain is rolling out custom-designed “Jewel Stools” in Los Angeles and New York City. “Man caves and technology have divided us, conquered us and allowed a part of our herd to be divided,” says Scot Crooker, associate creative director at The Martin Agency, Buffalo Wild Wings’ advertising agency. “Sports is about finding your tribe.”

Whether you choose one or all of the available channels, there are more ways than ever for a brand to engage with an audience during March Madness. While the digital play provides social analytics that can generate immediate message effectiveness, display and sponsorship advertising often requires an incubation period following the performance to measure success or failure. It’s time to establish a strategy and tip off your best effort to connect with our nation’s college basketball fans.

The Changing Complexity of Advertising

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Once it was enough just to be careful where you placed the company logo or how you stated an advertising message. It was fairly simple. Prudence dictated that the company’s persona should not appear in a publication or in a position where accompanying content would cast a negative light on the brand. Certain publications were off limits, depending on the brand and the publication’s content. Messaging followed some basic dos and don’ts, usually established by some unseen censor whose job it was to monitor the sensitivities of “Joe or Josephine public” and establish some simple set of norms to be followed. Generalized messages were broadcasted to a wide audience and communication channels were fewer and relatively easy to monitor.

Careless advertisers were often chastised for testing the limits of the accepted norms of society, presenting content and images that nudged the outer edges of what was considered responsible behavior. Offenders either earned the rebuke and condemnation of a community or received accolades from those who appreciated a marketer’s sense of adventure. Either way, the risk of serious damage to a brand’s reputation was often tempered by an off-setting reward of increased public notoriety.

Ethical conduct in advertising and marketing has long been ripe with controversy and the subject of intense debates. The field of advertising is quickly becoming an environment where the definition of responsible is increasingly fragmented and more comprehensive than ever before. The process of creative discipline in advertising is changing dramatically and at warp speed. Parsing every word of content and scrutinizing every image in order to ensure (as much as possible) that the final effort doesn’t offend an increasingly diverse universe of consumers is a challenging effort.

“Niche is the new mass market,” says director and producer Justin Ching. “Gone are the days when you can appeal to everyone with your messaging, because of audience fragmentation.” Thirty years ago it was enough to sell a man a close, comfortable shave; today razor makers are selling a myriad of socially responsible issues as much as they are the blade and razor. Advertising is becoming a boxed set of social messaging and product features and benefits, carefully crafted to sell a solution while avoiding offending any one consumer or market segment.

YouTube is defending itself against what many are finding as objectionable content. Several big-name companies have pulled advertisements from the site over concerns their ads were running on videos of young children, primarily girls, on which pedophiles were making objectifying comments. In response, YouTube has disabled thousands of inappropriate comments and has suspended more than 400 offensive channels. “Any content, including viewer comments, that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube,” a company statement said. “We took immediate action by deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that include minors. There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly.”

It is hard to imagine that YouTube or any other marketing platform would deliberately risk such embarrassment and condemnation from its advertisers. The situation is an overt example of the difficulty and complexity of the challenges being faced by advertisers today.

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.