The Holiday Shopping Race is On and It’s Going Into Extra Laps!

kikovic / Shutterstock.com

Listen to the chatter from consumers as they peruse local shops and malls across America, and you can often hear passive disdain for how early retailers are gearing up selling efforts for the coming holiday season. Most lament “Christmas already” or “it gets earlier and earlier each passing year.” Marketers appear to be deaf to the sentiments or at best unconcerned. This year major big box marketers are moving up the holiday selling season even earlier, with many launching several weeks earlier than ever before. Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving was reserved for a massive waving of the “start your engines” green flag, but in 2018 many well-known retailers are off the starting line early in hopes of getting a head start on the competition. In this race there doesn’t appear to be any penalty for jumping the gun.

A recent study indicated that 64 percent of marketers began running holiday advertising by Halloween. Most will dump the bulk of holiday advertising spend between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Nearly 95 percent will commit a significant portion of total advertising budgets by the first week in November. “Retailers don’t focus much of their holiday ad spend on last-minute shoppers, which could be a missed opportunity as it’s a pivotal time to generate brand exposure,” Nanigans said. Consumer spending  between Black Friday and the Monday after Thanksgiving will once again spike and is expected to reach $718 billion dollars, according to the National Retail Federation, a 4.8 percent increase over the same period last year. With almost half of shoppers starting their gift searching on Amazon this year, getting the brand out in front of the competition earlier is critical for major retailers wanting to increase their share of the feast.

The absence this year of a major toy retailer is changing the dynamics of shopping for those little ones around the house. “With Toys R Us out of business, all of the major retailers, including Best Buy, Amazon, Target and Walmart, are fighting for an increased share of the toy market,” said Philip Dengler of BestBlackFriday.com. “Each has already released holiday toy lists and toy books, and they will all be expanding their selection of toys this year.” Consumers will also find great deals on electronics at stores not typically known for being electronic sales leaders. “It is often possible to get better overall pricing on electronics at Kohl’s compared to Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon when taking into account the Kohl’s Cash,” Denger said.

Consumers are expected to turn out in greater numbers than ever before to eCommerce outlets for gift giving purchases. This year, finding an online retailer not offering free shipping will be like finding a drop of fresh water in a desert. It is estimated that online spending will jump $2 billion on Thanksgiving and another $2.5 billion on Cyber Monday. Consumers’ comfort with using mobile smart devices for shopping is boosting eCommerce holiday sales this year. Retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, Target and Amazon planned and initiated promotions earlier this year in an attempt to lure increased clicks.

Physical retail outlet shoppers will need to focus on a vast variety of store hours before heading out on a shopping adventure this year. Pounded by consumers in past for opening in the wee hours of the morning or on Thanksgiving Day, many brick and mortar retailers are closed this year on Thanksgiving Day or are delaying openings until later in the day. Consumers will, however, enjoy a longer holiday selling period, as the calendar has offered up an additional week in November.

Buckle-up shoppers, the race is on and it’s going into extra laps!

“What is old is new again” May Be the Most Surprising Trend in Marketing in 2019

Image credit: Artur Szczybylo / Shutterstock.com

Believe it or not, we have once again come full circle on another year. Marketing prognosticators are polishing their crystal balls of future things to come and declaring how technology will revolutionize our channels of communication with consumers in 2019.  Last year’s predicted trends are being measured against reality, and the process is becoming akin to scoring a competitive game of sport.

As with so many games in life the results of our collective efforts to predict the future of marketing tactics and activities are never completely aligned with perfection. Shifting consumer expectations and the response to accepting new communication technologies make the playing field difficult to read and an unsuited environment for calling a perfect game. All we can really do is take stock of what is working, evaluate why some predictions failed, make necessary adjustments to the strategy for 2019 and move forward. The most successful predictions of marketing in 2018 appeared to be offered by those who envisioned a broader and less specific set of outcomes.

“While some industries have embraced the paradigm shift in how they reach, engage, and mobilize new customers, I predict that we will see even more attention and focus being placed on getting the marketing mix correct,” predicted Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction Creative Solutions. The year’s performance appears to have been another example that absolutes and inevitabilities rarely pan out. So what appears likely to work best in 2019?

Video Marketing’s performance will continue to align with the previously predicted game plan. A Cisco forecast indicates that video will make up 85% of Internet traffic by 2020. While posts with digital images and content continue to capture a significant audience, video is generating 135% more organic reach for marketers. Once seen as an opportunity for only the most well-healed, larger players, video is becoming more economical for those smaller marketers who can benefit from projecting an emotional and appealing story. According to The Wall Street Journal, “the usage of online video has increased by 10 times between 2011 and 2016. Over the next two years, the trend has only intensified and is unlikely to slow down.”

Automating the marketing process to work more efficiently and smarter will continue to pay dividends of better understanding customers.  Scott Brinker, Founder of Chief MarTec, said, “As much amazing marketing software as there is today, there is still an opportunity for new ideas. Marketing should be — and can be — better.”  Automation will be seen as another set of marketing tools that enhances the acquisition of new customers.

Smart marketers will continue to develop an expanded inbound approach to connecting with their market segments. Content marketing, automation, social media and multichannel marketing can be coordinated to create a brand reputation that is authentic and valuable to customers. Consumers are more often placing trust in those they know. Quality, reputable content will prevail over stock ads in the coming year. If one were to bet on an absolute, a continuing utilization of inbound marketing tactics is a wise wager for 2019.

Once predicted to be rendered obsolete; direct mail, print advertising and brick and mortar sellers are showing some unexpected resilience in the digital age. Not unlike wax LP’s return to popularity among a niche market of music lovers in a world of digital recordings, old school marketing tactics are finding success with consumers who are tired of the incessant barrage of digital media noise and those who long to revisit a traditional physical shopping experience. Players on the field of brick and mortar will need to focus on creating entertaining events and an enticing experience for their target markets.

Who would have thought it: consumers like getting mail, even if it was once thought to be junk? Print advertising is not dead. While a small and much diminished portion of overall marketing spend, print is finding its rightful place in the digital world. In the field of marketing where a fast, bang, digital technology appears to arise every minute, the most surprising trend in marketing for 2019 may just be “what is old is new again.”

Prepare Your eCommerce Website for a Happy Holiday Selling Season

Image credit: Dmytro Flisak / Shutterstock.com

Would a winning team come to the plate in the World Series expecting to win without their best equipment? The answer from most sports enthusiasts and players alike would be, “certainly not!” But retailers and sellers across the industry spectrum may be coming to the plate in the biggest game of the year woefully unprepared for a big win. The holiday season is marketers’ most important opportunity to win big or go home, yet many players are failing to adequately coordinate ecommerce outlets for victory.

This year, online sales have risen by 46% and with more than 60 percent of retailers showing inventory on their website, it is critical to be ready for all the increased holiday shopping ahead. For a website to be most effective it must be aesthetically relevant, be at the peak of its performance and timely in its content. The worst time to realize that your marketing hardware isn’t loaded properly is when you have competition within your sight. Now is the time to focus on improving the performance of your website’s existing functionality.

First and foremost, your website must be prepared to handle and respond to the increased amount of traffic that is experienced around the holiday season. With their busy schedules consumers are impatient with websites that are slow to function and deliver accurately on their commands. Studies have revealed that websites that fail to load in just three seconds produce increased bounce rates. It is time to test your server’s ability to respond to your customers’ expectations and take measures to improve the site’s performance.

Decorating brick and mortar stores for the busiest selling season is a holiday tradition. Retailers spend millions of dollars each year in an attempt to set a festive mood in hopes of encouraging shoppers to spend with them. A website should be no different. Decorating your site with the sounds and sights of the season will generate consumer interest and appeal. Offer something dynamic and unique with your content and modify it often to accommodate special events and promote shopping incentives. Utilize plug-ins that automate the processes of timely scheduling and initiating content modification. Focus on intently delivering on your promises. A gift received the day after Christmas is a memory rarely forgotten.

“In today’s world, if you’re not on mobile, you don’t exist.” More consumers look to mobile devices to research products and services before making a purchasing decision.  By 2021, it has been estimated that consumers will spend $152 billion directly on mobile phones, and over the next few years mobile phones will influence $1.4 trillion in offline sales. A strategy to align your online presence across all mobile devices is critical.

Secure your website! Loyal customers may forgive an occasional mistake or inconvenience caused by unforeseen and uncontrollable calamity, but mess up a financial transaction or mishandle consumer data and you may be forever unforgiven. The holiday selling season brings out the best in many people, but it also brings out bad actors in greater numbers who are willing to victimize your customers and your business to advance their personal gain. Ensure that all your software, plug-ins, connections and passwords are up to date, and invest in the latest versions of anti-malware as a first line of defense.

Prepare your eCommerce platform now for a happy holiday selling season!

Adaptive Risk Advisors Reveals New Online Presence

When Adaptive Risk Advisors (ARA) was formed earlier this year, co-founder Miles Parker’s goal was to create a full service company focused on providing customized insurance solutions for high net worth business owners and individuals. Specializing in Commercial Property and Casualty, Workers’ Compensation, Fleet Vehicle, Liquor Liability, Cyber, and Luxury Home and Auto insurance coverage, ARA is a full service, independent agency focused on serving clients who desire a value-added relationship, competitive insurance rates and the best policies for unsurpassed price, coverage, and service. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Adaptive Risk Advisors is strategically located to provide services to Wake, Durham, Chatham, and surrounding counties.

“We believe personal contact and service will become the cornerstone of our success,” says Parker. “Our focus is on establishing client relationships rather than on client transactions. ARA’s success will be measured by our clients choosing us because of their belief in our ability to meet or exceed their expectations of price, service, and expertise.”

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction), an award-winning hybrid agency, was selected to design and develop an online experience to support the growing business.

“At Junction we share the belief that forming mutually beneficial relationships with clients is essential to business success and that honesty and trust are foundational to a company’s continued growth,” says Julie Gareleck, Junction’s Founder and CEO. “We appreciate the opportunity to be selected to work with Adaptive Risk Advisors on the launch of their website. We look forward to following their success!”

Adaptive Risk Advisors is ready to provide customized and affordable insurance solutions. Their knowledgeable, friendly staff can empathize with clients and their needs and create policies that meet or exceed their expectations. Call 984-212-8000 or visit https://adaptiveriskadvisors.com/ to learn more about Adaptive Risk Advisors.

Will Your 2019 Annual Strategic Plan Take You Where You Want to Go?

Image credit: 24Novembers / Shutterstock.com

With the booming economy, most businesses are entering the time of year when just keeping ahead of the day-to-day demands of the consumer is daunting. Just like that it’s time to start strategic planning for 2019.

For those who say they are ready to get out in front and get started on planning for next year, the news is not so good. If you haven’t already begun the planning process, you are no longer out in front. Entrepreneurs are, by nature, an optimistic lot. It is a required trait if endless obstructions and road blocks are to be overcome and success is to be achieved. The vision is important, but the euphoria that often accompanies the vision can sometimes cloud and delay the planning process. Progress, as a result, can be stymied.

It has been said that the only true absolute is change, and today’s technology is accelerating the rate of change exponentially. Anticipating a dynamic competitive environment and initiating proactive steps to position products and services to meet the pace of consumer needs is paramount to remaining relevant.  Are you ready with a strategic plan for 2019 that positions you to capitalize on emerging trends and that supports your vision?

Begin now by taking stock of this year’s successes and failures. What has worked and what has failed to meet expectations? Remember, we learn the most important lessons from our failures. Why didn’t it work? What are the options to turning a loss in 2018 to a win in the coming year? As you form a strategy for 2019, establish reasonable and measurable short and long term goals. It may be time to shed a bit of the euphoria and focus more on the mundane aspects of reality. What are your goals and what do you want your organization to achieve for 2019? Build the future on those things that have worked in the past. While some believe that if it isn’t broken, you haven’t looked hard enough, the truth lies more often than not in the adage, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Tweak it, polish-off some wear and tear, and move on.

Take some time, even if only a few minutes a day, to look outside the confines of your world. What is your most successful competitor doing? What are other industries doing that is working for them? Don’t be so quick to say “it can’t work here.” Seek out others’ input in the planning process. Not all the world’s best answers originate from inside your head. Expand on your circle of business associates and develop and broaden the diversity of professional opinion and perspectives.

Strategic planning is the first step in a progression from vision to reality. It should clearly align the organization’s focus and efforts on achieving the goal. Be committed and unwavering to the planning process and even more committed to its engagement.

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) can provide an external perspective to align your internal goals and objectives and prepare a strategy for continued growth. Contact us at 678-686-1125 for additional information regarding our strategic consulting services!

A Happy Holiday Sales Season to Come

Image credit: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock.com

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

ThatStockCompany / Shutterstock.com

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

Image credit: sondem / Shutterstock.com

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.

A New and Vibrant Destination for Big Business

Dabarti CGI / Shutterstock.com

The winner of Yelp’s first ever Bizzie Award in 2016, Sandy Springs, Georgia (GA) is becoming accustomed to the recognition many small to mid-sized cities can only dream of achieving. Located just north of downtown Atlanta, Sandy Springs’ convenient location, business friendly environment and its generous supply of smart and energetic young professionals, is finding that it is a popular choice for another group; Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. One of three Georgia cities ranked amongst the most educated places in the United States and home to a generous number of women-owned businesses, the city is abuzz with the arrival of major Fortune 500 companies seeking a new home for their corporate headquarters.

Already the home for mega companies like Home Depot, United Parcel Service (UPS), Delta Airlines and others, the leader in luxury automobiles, Mercedes-Benz, recently established a new USA corporate headquarters in the vibrant city. Mercedes-Benz USA President and CEO Dietmar Exler said, “All the stars are aligned. Our new Atlanta headquarters marks a high point for Mercedes-Benz in the U.S. market, not just in terms of being the leading luxury brand in the U.S. for the past two years, but also in terms of this building which is designed from the inside out to enable a creative, innovative and empowered workforce more representative of a startup than a conventional corporation.” Before Mercedes-Benz relocated to the Sandy Springs/Perimeter area, the city and the state began rolling out the red carpet to help make the company’s relocation go as smoothly as possible, even renaming Barfield Road in front of the headquarters to Mercedes-Benz Drive. But the luxury auto maker isn’t the only famous employer to recently call Sandy Springs home.

Inspire Brands, the company that manages familiar restaurants Buffalo Wild Wings,  Arby’s and R Taco, has announced that it will create 1,100 jobs and invest $32M dollars in the next six years to establish its home in the business-eager community. Inspire’s Global Support Center is expected to open in 2019 and serve as the hub for the company and restaurant brands. “We have focused on creating an environment, the infrastructure and amenities to attract top talent and keep them here with unequaled access to our work and play lifestyle,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul. “It is especially satisfying to watch companies like Inspire Brands thrive and grow within our community.”

Edible Arrangements, creators of the edible fresh fruit floral-like arrangements, has announced plans to relocate the company’s corporate headquarters from Wallingford, Connecticut, to Sandy Springs. Edible Arrangements opened an Atlanta office as a second headquarters in March 2018 to “take advantage of the more centralized location, access to major transportation hubs and other resources for many of the services that were previously handled out of Wallingford,” according to a company press release. The company employs roughly 130 workers and hopes to complete the move to metro Atlanta by the end of 2018. Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said Edible Arrangements’ decision shows the city is “among the nation’s most desirable locations for corporate and regional headquarters. Our deep, talented labor pool, access to world class, world reachable transportation and superb quality of life all make Sandy Springs a perfect spot for major businesses to call home.”

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) recently relocated its headquarters near the City Springs development, the new epicenter of the city.  Located adjacent to the new Performing Arts Center, the unique, vibrant, walkable City Center area is now the heart of Sandy Springs.  “Junction is exceeding our growth expectations, necessitating the opening of the new office. The site is centrally located for easy access to Buckhead, Downtown Atlanta or North Alpharetta which helps our team better position Junction to meet the demands of its growing list of clients,” said Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO. With all this expansion, the City has rebranded itself and is creating a new and vibrant community for its residents and its growing list of corporations.