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Select Your Marketing Partner Wisely

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Selecting the right marketing agency to connect a business to its market is critical to meeting the goals and objectives of any business. Too often the importance of evaluating and measuring the fitness of an agency to the specific business takes a back seat to the pop and wow of an agency’s public persona. Overlooked are the factors that are often most essential to building a working and mutually beneficial relationship between a marketer and their chosen agency.

Building a relationship with a marketing agency is as important as forming a relationship with a vested business partner. Trust, transparency, confidence and a demonstrated understanding of your business is critical. The chosen agency should share your passion and be overtly committed to achieving your marketing objectives. “Many agencies make a pitch based on the ‘big idea.’  Although the ‘wow’ factor is important, seamless execution is critical to the success or failure of any client relationship,” says Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner of Junction Creative Solution (Junction).  “At Junction we are as passionate about process as we are about the creative. Our clients not only expect it but appreciate our diligence.”

A good agency should be able to relate to the goals and objectives of its clients and have the capability to scale any project to meet the expectations and the client’s budget. Flexibility is important to be able to adjust to the dynamics of any market, and experience counts. Does the agency have a proven track record in your industry or a comprehensive understanding of how to adapt successful efforts across a wide spectrum of industries?

The successful candidate will enthusiastically provide client references. Is the agency’s own website and marketing collateral consistent with their proposals? Do they walk the talk? In digital marketing, understanding and demonstrating a high degree of competency for technical aspects of digital communication is a must for any proposed marketing strategy.   In this fast-paced competitive environment, it’s critical to remain ahead of trends, to demonstrate significant capabilities and to provide award-winning performance for your projects whether a brand logo or a comprehensive set of solutions to support sales and marketing.

“With the rise of solopreneurs and marketing consultants, it’s difficult to discern the good from the bad.  With more than 20 years of experience in the marketing space, we’ve experienced the dot com era, the introduction of mobile, social, and all things digital,” comments Gareleck. “The experience and learnings from the last 2 decades give us a unique experience when assisting our clients.  The medium may have shifted but the principles of performance based marketing are the same. We focus on delivering against the goals and objectives of our clients.”

The successful candidate should not only have demonstrated expertise, but should also be someone who can relate to your vision and have the ability to evoke confidence and work with you in meeting projected expectations. Be wary of those who over-promise and over-simplify. Successful marketing strategy takes time and constant tweaking. Choose your marketing team wisely. Choose one who’s experienced in coordinating a total marketing journey from the design and development to engagement and beyond.  To find out more about how Junction can partner successfully with your business, call (678) 686-1125.

Building Complete Business and Marketing Solutions with Strategic Alliances

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In a blitz-paced technological marketplace going it alone, even for the most established company, is no longer a strategy for optimal success. Strategic alliances are gaining favor around the business world for both small and mega-sized companies who are finding that not all business solutions are born and reared in-house. Successful partnerships are proving that going it alone in a diverse and dynamic business environment may not be the best path to expanding reach in marketing, distribution, or human resources.  Benefits for organizations that join forces include increasing brand strength, attracting new demographics and improving a company’s credibility with new and untapped market segments.

More than 85 percent of companies say that partnerships are essential to their business growth, and more than half say mutually beneficial agreements have helped them acquire new customers and strengthen their brand. A strategic alliance or partnership between two companies comes in the form of a joint contractual relationship. Unlike a merger or joint venture, the partnership allows the participants to maintain their individual identities. Each partner agrees to share proprietary technology, intellectual resources, physical attributes or marketing collateral in order to advance shared goals without losing unique identities. 

According to Booz-Allen & Hamilton, “strategic alliances are sweeping through nearly every industry and are becoming an essential driver of superior growth. Companies participating in alliances report that at much as 18 percent of their revenues are derived from their alliances.” The relationship can produce advantages in scaling up the scope of an emerging business, increase new market penetration, allow for smaller organizations to initiate entry into global market space and reduce operating costs. Larger players can improve inroads into unique and diverse market segments and improve their brand’s reputation with these segments. Other unified ventures are extending the life of some marketers disrupted by the advance of technology on operations.

Barnes & Noble, a once powerful brick and mortar book retailer, found their very dominance and existence threatened by digital formatting of all things readable. Focusing on selling the reading experience, Barnes & Noble formed a strategic alliance with Starbucks, the popular coffee shop retailer. The move provides an opportunity for the book retailer to offer coffee kiosks or small coffee shops within their space, and gives Starbucks the opportunity to efficiently expand local community presence. Such an alliance can work for localized, small coffee shops as well.

To be successful, an alliance between two entities must be mutually beneficial to the goals and objectives of each participant. Clearly defined responsibilities and goals of each partner must be defined at the agreement’s outset. Each organization must be flexible in order to adapt to the impact of the alliance on the differences in each organization’s culture and operating methods. It is necessary in advance to identify what strengths each partner can bring to the new relationship and how each can build trust and respect for one another and their individual objectives   Most importantly, as with any strategic alliance or partnership, there must be benefit and value for both parties.

Influencer Marketing Trending Up for 2019

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According to Am Golhar, founder of Abstract PR, there are an estimated 1.5 million influencers in the digital communication world, and approximately 71% of Generation Z’s digital users have a close relationship with at least one influencer. With Instagram leading the influencer journey, many marketers are lamenting the importance of increasing marketing spend on influencing customers via social media platforms.

Launched in 2010, Instagram continues to grow at a remarkable pace. Just a little moret han 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 brand awareness and showcase products. With 51 percent of users indicating that they visit the site daily and 70 percent using the platform to search brands, influencer marketing is proving itself as an authentic method to connect with potential customers. Influencer marketing content is delivering an 11 times higher return on investment (ROI) than traditional forms of digital marketing.

Generation Z consumers are proving to be much more active and reactive to social media outlets like YouTube and Instagram than former generations. Businesses need to establish an effective and targeted strategy to engage with this new generation of consumers in order to grab their share of the next big consumer market. In the coming year, influencers will continue to increase their impact on marketing efforts for businesses of all sizes. Participants will continue to focus efforts on specific geographical market segments with targeted and quality content.

The trend in 2019 will require an even greater command for authenticity and transparency as the initial exuberance of the new shiny marketing tool meets with the greater reality across all marketing channels.  Consumers say they trust social networks to guide them to purchase decisions, but some of that trust is being worn away by paid influencers who fail to make important financial disclosures that exist between their content and the brands they are reviewing. 52% are expressing distaste for repetitive advertising offers that are being pitched this holiday season by influencers.  With nearly 54% of consumers indicating “reliability” concerns about some current influencer content, User Generated Content (UGC) is set to receive more attention from marketers in the year ahead. Joe Rohrlich, from Bazaarvoice says, “Today’s consumers are looking to corroborate what they see or hear in one place with the information they find elsewhere.”

Social media influencer marketing is a natural technological segue from the long tested and tried method of “word of mouth” advertising. The former one to one approach to connecting with an expanding audience is being amplified by the internet’s “one to many” social media environment. In a global survey of consumers, Nielsen found that ”83% of consumers trust the recommendations of friends and family over other forms of advertising.”  In 2019 successful brands will find a way to utilize this expansive amount of customer content.

To learn how Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) can help refine and improve your influencer marketing strategy, call 678-686-1125 today.

Sales and Marketing Functions Must Align for Business Growth

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Ask any veteran in business and you’ll hear stories about the ongoing warbetween the marketing function and the sales department. Many relationshipsbetween sales and marketing departments often resemble an efficient andeffective circular firing squad. Marketing blames sales for not executing onits plan and sales complains that marketing has failed to listen to the salesteam or customer and therefore put forth a failed plan.

It seems so simple. The functions performed by a company’smarketing department should be coordinated and aligned with the revenue goalsand objectives of the company’s sales department. After all, the ultimate goalof each department is to cultivate combined efforts into sales, right? Well,often the seemingly most obvious pronouncement escapes reality. Studies have revealed that organizations with strong sales and marketing alignmentachieve a 20% annual growth rate as opposed to a 4% decline in revenue for thosecompanies who do not. The most telling Forrester research statistic indicatesthat only 8% of companies have a strong coordinated relationship between theirmarketing department and sales professionals.

The apparent disconnect appears to be founded in theinherently different approaches of each department’s functions. Marketing campaigns tend to bemore focused on promoting brand recognition, generating a high quantity of salesleads and tend to be measured by marketing metrics that are longer term.  Sales organizations are driven by creatingquality versus quantity of personal relationships with potential customers inan effort to solve consumer problems. Sales efforts are faster paced andmeasured by shorter term metrics. This difference in approach has resulted inmany companies structuring their marketing and sales departments separate fromone another. Such structures are proving detrimental in an era where digitalcommunications are disrupting traditional relationship building efforts betweensales and consumers.

As customers increasingly connect with service providers through websites, emails, texts, social media posts,print and TV ads, the dynamics of the traditional revenue generating processare changing. When the customer initiates a buying decision it is often throughpurchasing portals, internet chat reps, and call centers as much as through salespeople.It is predicted that by 2020,B2B buyers won’t contact sellers until 80% of the purchasing decision isalready made. In this environment where consumers are influenced in advancethrough information displayed on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social mediaoutlets, is cold calling really cold? The time for a change in traditionalorganizational structures is at hand.

The process of aligning marketing and sales efforts begins with integrating the organization’s datacollection and management systems. Data should be evaluated to identify themost promising leads in order to enhance and directly influence sales revenueby focusing on the prospective customer’s needs. Sales efforts should moreclosely align with marketing campaigns, coordinating messages that promotecustomer understanding and that deliver on the brand’s promise. Where a strong,effective facilitator between the two departments is absent, combining salesand marketing functions is required to achieve the overall objective of increasing productivity, saving money and increasing revenue. Whensales and marketing functions focus on coordinating their efforts, a company will realize 36% higher customer retention and a 38% increase in sales success.

To learn more about how Junction Creative Solutions can help you bridge the gap between sales and marketing teams,call 678-686-1125.

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

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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!

Prepare Your eCommerce Website for a Happy Holiday Selling Season

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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!

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!

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.

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.

Marketing that Gets Your Customers to Tell Your Story

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Once the sole purview of movie stars, sports heroes and celebrities, product endorsements and sponsorships are quickly becoming an endeavor for many entrepreneurially spirited individuals from across the spectrum of society.  While different than traditional product endorsements, today’s virtual based market influencers are breaking new ground in the numbers of attracters. “Now is the first time ever that your next-door neighbor could have a million followers on Instagram,” says Justin Kline, founder of Markerly, an influencer research company. “It’s opened up this whole new world of people who have access to this huge following … which is really great for brands because it allows them to harness all this clout.”

Influencer marketing is much different from celebrity endorsements, which focuses on attaching a brand to a famous actor or sports figure. An influencer develops a relationship between a brand and consumers by earning their trust and developing a loyal following through various media outlets such as Instagram and YouTube. Influencers create their own content and brand message, focusing on promoting authenticity to a targeted audience.

Retailers are recognizing that when it comes to connecting with today’s generation of consumers, a product recommendation from someone they relate to can have far more impact on a purchasing decision than that of an actor or pop star. With billions of dollars at stake, forming a partnership with a successful influencer, regardless of age, can be a big opportunity for retailers large and small.

Earlier this month, Ryan’s World, a toy and T-shirt line created by a six year old first-grader whose YouTube channel reaches nearly 900 million viewers each month, is releasing a line of merchandise to be sold exclusively at more than 2,500 Walmart stores in the United States and on the Walmart.com website. The star of the YouTube channel “Ryan ToysReview,” known only by his first name to protect his youthful privacy, helped select the toys and apparel that will be sold at Walmart under the name Ryan’s World. Ryan’s six YouTube channels have captured the attention of children of all ages.

“Clearly what’s emerged in the last few years is they’re watching an influencer like Ryan on YouTube, and he’s their authority,” says Anne Marie Kehoe, Walmart’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager of toys. “That’s why we thought this was something to really move fast on.” The line of toys and apparel will be expanded in time for the Christmas holiday shopping season at Walmart.

Studies are revealing that influencer marketing can deliver significantly higher return on investment (ROI) than traditional forms of digital marketing. More than 48 percent of marketers who are using influencers intend to increase their budgets this year. Ninety four percent of them believe the tactic to be very effective. The phenomenon of influencer marketing is poised to become mainstream as it expands across a wider range of social platforms, and sellers are working to perfect a system that can be included in the overall marketing strategy.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is — it is what consumers tell each other it is.”  – Scott Cook