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Finally, the Season of Profitability and Promise is Upon Us

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Unlike the biggest shopping season of the year, the second busiest doesn’t enjoy the same prominence or experience the same anticipation from consumers, unless of course you are a summertime-weary parent. Back to school shopping is the second largest selling opportunity for retailers and it is expected to generate more than $82.8 billion is sales for retailers of clothing, pencils, backpacks and pencils this year. While the final results are still ringing up, consumers are off to the stores and virtual markets all across the country and the keyboard. This year more than half of parents are planning on increasing their “get them out of the house and back to school” spend.

More than 57 percent of the shopping will be at local brick and mortar stores with online sales gaining ground. This year, approximately $6.3 billion will be spent online for school supplies, clothing, and technology. With the shopping beginning in early June, marketers were eager to end up in first place, with more than 90 percent of them offering deep discounts and money saving coupons to consumers from pre-school to graduate school students.

Retailers are following performance data from 2017 and reaching out to the estimated 55 percent of parents who use smart devices to find the best deals. Experienced marketing-savvy sellers are approaching the season’s tasks through omnichannel campaigns. While nearly 55 percent of the consumers will buy early, nearly half of them will extend their buying opportunities past the start of the school opening classes. The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) CEO, Matthew Shay, says he expects “a very strong season,” due to growing consumer confidence. For each of their students, parents are expected to spend $236.90 on clothing, $187.10 on electronics, $136.66 on shoes and $122.13 on school supplies. Shay went on to say, “There’s still more shopping to do, and regardless of timing, the economy is healthy and shoppers are confident and willing to spend.”

Compared to the Christmas holiday experience, retailers are backing off on their once massive spend for the back to school season. “It’s not that retailers are spending less on advertising overall,” says Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, “or that back-to-school still isn’t an important part of their calendar. It’s just that they are not investing as heavily in dedicated back-to-school messaging.” It appears retailers are attempting get more bang for each buck during a time when consumers are already spending for clothing and other items that also relate to back to school purchases.

Overall, marketing spending is still focused on using TV and digital media first, followed by paid search. Regardless of the size and method of the campaigns, retailers are excited about entering the time of the year when they emerge from months of red ink into a period of profitability and promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Important Marketing Content is Video

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It is interesting that the more that fundamentals of just about everything change with time and technology, the more so many well-established truisms remain the same.  The era of content being king in marketing is giving way to a new visual medium, a rerun of the progression from printed media advertising to television more than a half century ago. Despite all the dramatic shifts in the methods of communications over time, a picture is still worth a thousand words.

Today the most important  content marketing is video. Regardless of the platform; Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, video has become an essential part of any organization’s overall marketing strategy. Video seems to be adding value to the customer’s content experience. When both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather use video to learn about a product or service, and 85% of consumers indicate that they prefer to see more video from brands in the coming year. With such positive response from consumers, brands are responding by increasing video participation.

With 81% of businesses utilizing video in marketing campaigns (up from 63% just a year ago), 99% of those predict they will continue to use the medium in the future. Clearly content alone is being dethroned. Video is here to stay and marketers should embrace the change. The medium brings with it more opportunity for brands to be creative in their messaging. As with content alone, quality trumps quantity.

With four distinctive platforms available, videos can be created to take advantage of each platform’s unique targeting capabilities. Whatever the goal of the video, it should be defined at the outset of the process and be used to tailor a particular strategy. Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about the content they consume, so it is important to develop videos that are educational and entertaining.

The cost of producing a single video can range from $1,000 to $10,000 depending upon the level of complexity and professionalism of the production, but with 64% of consumers more likely to make a purchase after watching a video and with the potential of reaching millions of viewers with one single video, the cost is justified.

For more on how video can impact your brand’s awareness and its importance in an effective content marketing strategy, contact Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) at   678-686-1125.

Overcoming the Challenges of Succeeding in Business

 

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“The most admirable benefit to being self-employed is having the freedom to select which 80 hours to work each week.” For those unaccustomed to the realities of becoming an entrepreneur, the most common misconception is that with the ability to cut ties with regular paychecks from an employer comes freedom from the commands of another. In reality those who choose to step out from the pack and start a new business are trading one demanding 40-hour work week for an all-consuming lifestyle that is full of daunting challenges and surrounded by seemingly endless numbers of foes bent on stealing the dream.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail within the first five years. So, with that statistic in mind; what is wrong with all the small business people out there?

Obviously, the challenges to achievement of success in business are many, formidable and often complex. Financing, marketing, administrative tasks and acquiring needed talent just to name a few. Most say that the leading hurdle in running a business is the demand of time. Small business ownership is generally a lonely journey, particularly in the beginning. Nearly a quarter of all small business owners feel that having enough time to get everything done each day is their most formidable barrier to formulating the long-term strategies necessary to succeed. The Small Business Growth Index found that 65 percent of small business owners believe technology innovations are making it easier to streamline business operations.

Fortunately, the technology that is providing large businesses significant competitive advantages in the marketplace is also providing endless opportunities for small businesses to automate routine and redundant everyday activities, permitting much needed time for owners to focus on long-term goals and objectives without sacrificing quality performance. Developing a reasonable and achievable plan and working the plan has never been more important to achieving success in business.

While 95 percent of all business owners admit to performing their own marketing, less than half identify themselves as being “marketing savvy.” The universe of marketing is experiencing a revolution. The Internet, social media platforms, mobile devices and an increasingly expanding range of digital technology is providing a plethora of new vehicles to connect with consumers. Selecting an affordable mix of marketing collateral that project your unique business proposition to your targeted customer requires time and an understanding of what vehicle will best suit your particular business needs. With most small businesses unable to afford in-house marketing professionals, outsourcing the marketing function to experienced marketing professionals can have an immediate positive impact on a small business.

Attracting and selecting qualified employees is perhaps the most challenging of all tasks facing small businesses today. Identifying and onboarding the talent needed to establish and grow a sustainable business is paramount to success. Filling a need for individuals who share your passion for achieving the vision, who mirror the company culture and who can bring valuable insight, skill and effort to the journey is difficult and time consuming but is essential to earning a place in the 5 percent club.

Each year there are more than 600,000 new businesses opened by people who, as statistics suggest, have something wrong with them. The reasons given by those who choose to establish a small business is varied. Some profess a need to command their own destiny or are compelled by a need fulfill a personal passion. Some relish the immensity of the challenge and still others are attracted to the game of risk and reward. The reasons, perhaps, are as many as the challenges to be overcome.

For more on how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) experienced marketing professionals and business development experts can help you overcome the many small business challenges, call 678-686-1125.

Data Centricity Becoming a Key Objective for Organizations

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The data generated and collected from smart devices, laptops, wearables and even consumer appliances is mounting. The volume of data collected is outpacing organizations’ ability to timely evaluate, measure and react effectively. Organizations are struggling to gain optimal, efficient results that permit them to take effective advantage of critical opportunities. Fractured data, collected from numerous silos, can impact a company’s ability to respond to consumer trends and can result in inefficiencies in delivering consistent brand messaging across marketing channels.

A recent study conducted by the Winterberry Group entitled “The Data-Centric Organization 2018” found that marketing media and commerce are becoming more focused on centralizing marketing data functions to take full advantage of efficiencies in campaigns and cost. According to McKinsey & Company, centralized marketing analytics will save 15-30% of an organization’s marketing budget.

Centralization of data collection and management can reduce reporting times by 80-90 percent and may result in a more consistent stream of reporting. A centralized approach will eliminate unnecessary task-oriented labor and will provide more time for marketing professionals to focus on creative and strategic functions, leading to more effective and responsive campaigns. According to the Winterberry Group study, data centricity will improve team collaboration, more effectively direct segmentation and result in better brand messaging.  In organizations where marketing is identified as a cost center, return on investment (ROI) will be more easily measured.

Achieving centralized marketing data allows a company to take advantage of technology and create additional opportunities to grow the business. “Nearly 50% of the marketers, publishers and tech developers in North America surveyed by Winterberry Group in 2017 said that centralizing ownership of data would be one of the most important changes that their organization could make to derive value from their data.”

“Centralizing data ownership has been a big focus as advertisers take programmatic and data management contracts in-house to gain a complete view of their consumer,” said David Lee, programmatic group lead at ad agency The Richards Group. “This has allowed clients to see where the gaps in their data are.”

With programmatic advertising predicted to account for the majority of advertising spend by the end of this year, taking ownership and streamlining data management has become a key objective for organizations across the industry spectrum.

Advertisers are Rushing to Assure Brand Safety

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For marketers it seemed like a gift from the technology gods. Digital marketing, the limitless opportunity to reach out and connect with infinite numbers of potential customers and grab their undivided attention to your messages where they live, shop, walk, play or relax. Never having to worry about printed media’s shelf life, missed delivered copies of the daily news bugle, mass distributed mailings or consumers planning their trips to the refrigerator during commercial breaks.

For a relatively paltry few cents per touch point, sellers can connect with a customer through smart phones, pads, desktops, laptops, wearable or even home appliances. By gathering up all the subsequent data, sellers can learn what the consumer bought, how and where they bought it, and potentially how much the customer earns, how many kids live with them in their single parent, multi-parent or no parent household, and how they were about to act. Digital marketing was promising an end to a consumer’s ability to escape the messaging even for an unobtrusive bathroom break. What could possibly go wrong with this new-found advertising utopia?

In a time where ultra-sensitivity prevails around every expressed comment, public position, personal opinion or mutual association, the answer has been revealed: plenty. With 37% of consumers saying their perception of a brand is altered when they see ads placed alongside offensive content, marketers are learning that just one misplaced advertisement can result in serious damage to the brand’s image and value. With major social media channels falling victim to careless handling of user data and insensitivity to accepting offensive content, marketers are rethinking the investment in many digital platforms. Major advertisers are responding to the threat by establishing policies that eliminate investment in platforms or environments that do not protect children or that create division in society or promote anger or hate.

Research indicates that 77 percent of brand marketers are convinced that failing to address brand safety directly impacts return on investment (ROI), leading a staggering 91% of digital marketers to implement or plan brand-safe strategies. Many of the world’s biggest advertisers are learning just how little control they have over their brands once they’ve been released into the digital media environment. James Londal, chief data officer at Hearts & Science says, “We want our adverts to appear in the best place. We need to have greater control over where ads appear, regardless of the platform. We need to have a certain standard of quality on the content. Platforms need to ensure the quality level is maintained.”

Facebook, Twitter and other digital platforms are finding themselves behind a learning curve and scrambling to undo the damage to advertisers’ brands and their own bottom lines. Regaining advertisers’ trust and confidence in the digital marketing chain is not likely to be quick. Some digital competitors are exploiting the problem by promising to fix internal failings and offering more advertiser control of ad placements. The solution may not lie only with the platforms and purveyors of digital media but with the industry as a whole. “I think that marketing as an industry needs to take a good look at itself and really question: am I truly, truly, truly a competitive value proposition such that I am a provider to the industry?” says, Andy Main, head of Deloitte Digital, told Marketing Dive. “A lot of it hasn’t been reinvented for decades and people are running out of juice on old business models that are so antiquated that people are just running away from them.”

Advertisers must reevaluate the level of the marketing department’s involvement in protecting the brand from association with offensive and damaging social commentary. Social responsibility has become an important part of a company’s overall marketing strategy. Being recognized as supporting universally accepted social issues can add significant brand value in an increasingly socially conscious market. In the new world of commerce, our grandfather’s lament to never speaking of politics and religion in conducting business is no longer a tenantable position. However, in a society equally divided over micro social and political issues, our forebearer’s advice may still hold some measure of validity.

Contact us to learn more about the importance of Reputation Management and how Junction can assist in protecting your brand!

Are You Losing Brand Loyalty Among all the Noise?

 

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The ability to reach out and connect to a seemingly infinite number of potential new consumers through a multitude of social media outlets has many businesses focusing attention and media spend on attracting new customers. Today’s digital environment offers significant benefits in time, cost and effectiveness over traditional advertising approaches, providing minute segmentation and laser focused targeting of consumers, all at a cost per contact many thousands of times less than ever before.  A strategy of acquisition over retention, and quantity over quality, is leaving many consumers overwhelmed with all the noise and wanting an authentic relationship with the marketer. With all this messaging overload, building brand loyalty is getting lost among all the noise.

Attracting new converts continues to be a costly process for businesses. A Gartner Group study found that 20% of loyal customers generate 80% of a marketer’s profits, while long-time experience models indicate that new consumers are five to twenty-five times more expensive to acquire than existing customers. While social media allows for the sending of targeted ads to thousands of users, less than 5% will actually lead to making a purchase decision.  A stable of loyal customers remains a brand’s most valuable marketing asset. So what elements make an effective strategy focused on creating customer loyalty?

A Pew Research Center study found that a third of email users identify 60 percent or more of their inbox as spam. Avoid repetitive and generalized messages. Personalize your communications and focus on your brand and how it differs from the competition. Emphasize value, not discount prices. Anyone can easily sell for less. Build two-way communication between your brand and your customers. Be honest, credible and consistently genuine in your messaging. Today’s savvy audiences are particularly capable of detecting dishonesty.

Loyalty comes down to trust, and consumer trust is achieved through unyielding delivery on your brand’s promises. Vance Reavie of Junction AI Inc. believes that companies need to get individual personalization right with awareness of location, context and behavior that adapts to the customer as the relationship evolves.

Despite the much touted revolution in digital marketing and how it is upending and disrupting long standing marketing processes, word of mouth conversations among existing, loyal customers is likely to be your best and most cost effective marketing effort. Loyal customers already have experience with your business, are more likely to trust your products and services and readily share their experience with their friends, family and acquaintances.

Follow up and never take advantage of a customer’s loyalty. Stay tuned into your customers’ changing needs and desires for your products and services, it is essential for keeping them in-house. Be resolved that customer onboarding and retention is an ongoing process without a finish line.

To learn more about establishing a strategy of building and retaining a loyal customer base, contact Junction Creative Solutions.

Artificial Intelligence is Promising to Disrupt Email Marketing

 

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Artificial intelligence (AI) in some form is growing in popularity.  The concept that machines could learn to think and interact with humans and other machines without ongoing input from human intelligence has been a hotly debated topic for decades. As server capacities, computing speeds and a proliferation of new technologies increased exponentially, the Sci-fi notion that real human beings could be out-thought and out-performed mentally by the machines that they created has become a reality.

Each passing generation experiences increased use of AI in their daily lives, spawning fears in many that machines may someday soon rule the world. While such total machine dominance is still more fantasy than reality, AI is making inroads into performing accelerated learning and comparative analysis at far greater speeds and accuracy than mere mortals are capable of performing. Despite fears of AI taking away human jobs in marketing in the future, AI is more likely going to enhance the creative experience and optimize marketers’ abilities to connect with customers with higher quality and more effective messages.

AI technology is promising to maximize consumer engagement and conversions by automating email content, send times and frequency. Content remains king in all things digital marketing. AI technology is enabling content creators to learn more quickly what combination of content performs best and alleviates a lot of time spent on A/B testing while providing for greater variations of testing elements. More personalized campaigns can be tailored to smaller, targeted market segments improving an email campaign’s conversion rates. Based on each subscriber’s engagement history, the technology can automate the process of determining the ideal send times and frequency rates of each email effort, thereby maximizing campaign engagement.

Much of the promise of AI still remains unrealized, but where the technology has been implemented it is having a significant positive impact on the email marketing process and, like all new advances in tech, caution should be exercised in its implementation. Mike Muse, Google NextGen Tech Policy Fellow, speaking on the subject said, “For every advancement, there are unintended consequences to be mindful of that we’ll need to solve for. There is still a human at the beginning inputting the data, a human with implicit biases.” In the end, AI outputs are only as good as human inputs. So where is this new technology taking email marketing in the future?

Zoe Belisle-Springer, Social Media & Content Executive at Phorest predicts, “In 10 to 15 years from now, bulk and impersonal email marketing will undoubtedly be long gone. With email providers making it harder and harder for marketers to reach inboxes, we’ll see Artificial Intelligence and powerful algorithms come to the surface. In fact, Artificial Intelligence – with tools like Alexa – will probably be used by customers to tell marketers how they want to be marketed to. With highly sophisticated interactive and personalized marketing campaigns, better targeting and real-time outreach, the conversion rates and ROI on email should see a dramatic increase – better than ever before.”

To learn more about how AI can improve your email marketing efforts, contact Junction Creative Solutions at 678.686.1125.

Blockchain, the Next Wave of Innovation in Digital Marketing

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The word is out. Not fully or easily understood yet by the average internet user or even by the more experienced of users, “Blockchain” is promising to be as impactful on those disciplines that veraciously do business on the internet as the original world wide web was on them just a few decades ago. Though not fully implemented, Blockchain technology threatens to eliminate the need for the traditional, centralized digital advertising distribution models and significantly improve the security of online information. It has the potential to give consumers complete control over their personal data. A decentralized data management and storage environment, blockchain technology promises to impact and disrupt current digital advertising giants like Facebook and Google.

Forrester has predicted that digital marketing expenditures in the United States will reach $120 billion by 2021. Any alteration in the current progression of those billions of advertising dollars flowing through middlemen like Google and Facebook has the digital marketing industry abuzz. The emerging blockchain technology uses a network of servers to transparently and independently verify the accuracy of user data, enabling consumers to feel confident that their data is accurate and factual and not being manipulated. Companies will be able to use blockchain to show consumers whom they are selling data to and assure them that information will not be tampered with.

A major point of contention for marketers has long been the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in being able to verify digital ad spend. Recent reports indicate that as much as 56% of all display ad dollars were lost to fraudulent inventory in 2016. The cost of ad fraud globally is expected to increase to $50 billion over the next decade. With a reported 79% of advertisers expressing concerns about the lack of visibility, many major brands are restricting their digital advertising budgets. Blockchain provides actual verification that sustainable, ethical, and responsible practices are being used and can make data-driven marketing more transparent by confirming that a targeted consumer actually viewed the advertisement, leading to a more precise digital attribution.

Consumers are being overwhelmed with too many ads, emails, coupons, and messages. This current “more mud against the wall approach” indicates marketers don’t have a single view about consumers that promotes cross-platform continuity. Studies have shown that between four and six ad exposures have the optimal impact on consumers’ propensity to buy. Blockchain can correct overexposure by providing an enhanced level of tracking and transparency that is not currently available through traditional digital advertising chains.

Universal adoption of blockchain technology is still a relatively long way from reality, but marketers should start digesting the wealth of information on the technology’s benefits and limitations. Digital advertisers should familiarize themselves with those companies who are pioneering the blockchain technology. Adoption of blockchain will be crucial to the development of future digital marketing strategies and embracing this new opportunity sooner rather than later will provide savvy marketers a head start in the next wave of innovation that promises to take the world of marketing to new heights.

Build Consumer Trust and Confidence with Authentic Content

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“The old adage that content is king has gone by the wayside, because everything is content,” said Daniel K. Lobring, vice president of marketing communications at rEvolution. “Competition for mindshare means that brands and others who deploy content marketing have to be smarter.” The days of pulling in consumers with mindless product platitudes may be over. Content marketing is revolutionizing the way brands are connecting with customers through two-way conversations in social media channels. As the conversations unfold, consumers are questioning the validity and authenticity of the messages. Technology is creating an audience that is experienced and increasingly tech savvy, smarter and much more likely to challenge the honesty of the message. They are beginning to judge brands solely on the authenticity of their content.

Content marketing got its start to dominance as traditional advertising began to lose favor with consumers. Over saturation of feature and benefits messaging and the unabridged proliferation of pitch and persuade advertising produced increasingly exhausted consumers. They were skeptical and tuning out in record numbers. An emerging digital revolution is providing an opportunity for marketers to reach infinite numbers of potential customers more easily, quickly and economically than ever before. A recent survey reveals that 84 percent of customers prefer and trust online reviews of personal influencers when making a purchase decision.

As the popularity of content grows, its continued success is becoming dependent upon it not falling victim to the same pitfalls manifested upon traditional advertising. Content marketing is approaching a point of oversaturation as advertisers pursue a policy of more is more by sacrificing quality of message to quantity of messaging. Consumer experience and understanding of content marketing tactics is leading to a lack of trust and eroding confidence in brands. Those companies that fail to make authenticity the cornerstone of their content offerings risk serious, long-term damage to the brand’s reputation.

Effective content is original, conversational in tone and punctuated with humor and personal antidotes. Pitches of a brand’s name and product features and benefits should be avoided. Overt prose of self-promotion will be seen as the messenger having an ulterior motive. Avoid gimmicks and questionable claims and above all, don’t fake it. When asked about the success of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah said, “The secret is authenticity. The reason people fail is because they’re pretending to be something they’re not.”

Geoff Beattie, Cohn Global Practice Leader of Corporate Affairs believes, “A brand that has values and morals and stands by them no matter what while honestly divulging its practices (flaws and all). In fact, the thing people most wanted was open and honest communications about products and services. And that finding was consistent around the world.”