Posts

Building Complete Business and Marketing Solutions with Strategic Alliances

Image credit: stockyimages / Shutterstock.com

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.

2019 Marketing Spend Trending Toward Technology Over People

Image credit NicoElNino / Shutterstock.com

According to Gartner’s ”CMO Spend Survey 2018-2019,” Chief Marketing Officers(CMOs) are moving to spend more on technology in 2019 than on staffing. Marketing technology (martech) this coming year will experience a seven percent increase over 2018 with staff costs declining from 27 percent to 23 percent. The moveaway from human investment to tech appears to be influenced by the desire to measure the real impact of total marketing costs on the bottom line. Digital analytics, content management and email marketing are shaping up to win a larger share of marketing budgets in 2019. The ease by which digital marketing can be measured against revenue is a significant factor for its predicted growth.

Nielson’s 2018 CMO report indicates 82 percent of marketers will increase their digital marketing spend in 2019. Content, often considered“King,” will gravitate to the center of the entire marketing universe. As metrics become more defined, content will focus on personalization and qualityof message over quantity and strive to refine the delivery of the right message to the right target audience.     

Chatbots are poised to receive more attention as marketers attempt to better understand consumer insights into brand messages and campaigns. Listening to the audience and reducing the quantity of messages seeks to alleviate much of the over-abundance of noise. Alternative search will become more important in 2019 as the popularity of voice search among tech hungry consumers motivates marketers to reevaluate and reinvigorate their organic search efforts.

Alpine data indicates that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be done verbally and Garner predicts that 75 percent of all households will soon have a smart speaker. The coming year will see an increased investment in voice search technologies in response to the anticipated disruption to traditional search platform methods.

The importance of protecting user data has been demonstrated thoroughly in 2018. As consumers and online users experienced the careless selling and sharing of personal data, they have been quick to recount their discontent with market actors who fail to properly handle their private information. Cyber security will continue to be a prominent line item in marketing budgets of small and large companies going forward. The trend towards technology over people is understandable as organizations focus efforts on optimizing the bottom line, but the enthusiasm for this trend should be tempered by a healthy realization that forces in the marketplace tend to be volatile and difficult to predict solely based on past measured performance. A successful marketing strategy will allow for humans to subjectively challenge machine generated assumptions and respond to the ever-changing forces in the marketplace.

Influencer Marketing Trending Up for 2019

Image credit: paulaphoto / Shutterstock.com

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

Image credit: Tashatuvango / Shutterstock.com

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.

Patience Was Once Seen as a Virtue; Today Everything Has to Happen Now!

fizkes / Shutterstock.com

Remember when getting to a knocked door in a minute was a sufficient response time; when answering the phone before the third ring was once seen as a positive attribute to the caller; when a 60-second traffic light didn’t frustrate or anger even the most demanding among us; or a 10-second webpage load time was tolerated as reasonable? As with many standards of performance, the benchmark for “acceptable” has been moving ahead in tandem with the speed of technology. Once upon a time patience was seen as a virtue; today everything has to happen now!

Internet users have no patience for websites that they perceive are failing to meet the newest standard of timely performance. In a study by Akamai, about half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. Approximately 40% of all internet users abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load; 70% of those internet visitors who think your website speed is too slow won’t return to the website again and 44% of them will pass the bad performance information on to others who may use your site.  Remember the importance of “word of mouth?” Well now it is the “Influencers” that may sink a poorly-performing website. With website speeds increasing 22 percent every year in the competitive digital world, it is imperative that a focused and ongoing effort be made to maintain website performance.

Improving the slow speed of a website, while daunting to those of us who are easily intimidated by technology terms and back-end functions, can be fairly easy to diagnose and correct with routine application of a few performance enhancing fundamentals.

Most website requirements were defined and established when the site was initially developed and designed. The website hosting plan selected when the site was first launched, while adequate at the time, may not meet the demands of current traffic. Review and update your hosting plan to ensure it meets current usage needs.

Caching, the storing of commonly used CSS, images, HTML documents, and media files, when enabled will result in faster access to data and will lead to a more rewarding experience of faster load times for repeat visitors. However, first-time visitors will not see the benefit of caching to their load time experience.

For the majority of websites, images make up more than half of a website’s pages. Clearly the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is still relevant in the digital communications era. Broken URL source links and the choice of image file types can impact the performance of a website. The most common and versatile file type is JPG. This popular file type can be saved in a wide range of qualities between low and high and performs well with vibrant images of products. When presenting graphics with heavier textual elements or transparent backgrounds, PNG file types perform best. GIF files should be considered when displaying a brief visual animation or mini video clip. Regardless of the file type, editing the image to optimize its performance is important at the outset, and reducing the overall number of images will have a positive effect on response times. This is a place where “less is more” is good advice to be taken.

According to Yahoo, HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) requires 80 percent of a website’s load time. Combining CSS/JS Files into one larger file may help your load times in the long run. Reducing the size a large number of images and eliminating distracting images that don’t correspond to your written content will enhance overall performance. Users expect web pages to load fast, and they won’t stick around if they don’t.

A professional web developer and designer can offer more options to improve the speed and performance of an ailing website. To learn how Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) team can implement performance enhancements to your website, call 678-686-1125.

Playing Games to Reengage Employees and Invigorate Customers

ibreakstock / Shutterstock.com

“Humans have been playing games for thousands of years. Some argue that games predate culture,” said Brandon Marsala, creative director of content and strategy at Mindspace. “Knucklebone dice and painted stones were used by ancient peoples to hone skills, develop critical thinking, or just pass the time. Games are a part of us. Whether it’s competition with others or competition with ourselves, games are miniature versions of our lives: We strive to achieve — to overcome challenges.”

Marketers are learning how gamesmanship can have a positive impact on engaging and motivating customers who are continuously being bombarded with massive amounts of noise in a new digital climate. The effective application of gamification within an organization is not limited to the seller’s relationship with customers; it is finding success with employer and employee relationships as well. Whether internal or external, gamification techniques are benefiting organizations in their efforts to transform disengaged employees and reinvigorating distracted consumer audiences. “Gamification has become a go-to tactic for engaging consumers and employees alike in recent years. By applying elements of typical gaming activities such as continuation streaks, point systems and rewards to a business interface, users can feel like they’re having fun while interacting with your brand.”

Businesses looking to develop a gamification strategy need to first identify those areas within the organization that can benefit from increased sales, customer loyalty, employee retention and motivation. The overall strategy must be relevant and in line with the company’s culture and mission. Keeping the rules of the game simple, easily understood and winnable is important. “The programs need to be easy to play and winnable,” says John Kampas, CEO of Empist. “A lengthy process or extensive rules can be unappealing to participants. You must also clearly outline the details of the challenge and the reward before starting the game.” Focus the development on what works best for your organization, its mission and goals. Leverage existing assets that motivate and drive increased performance and add value to user experience.

Whether it’s a customer loyalty program, progressive purchase reward, performance incentives or personal recognition, gamification is here to stay. Business leaders are aware of the importance of retaining top talent and expanding the list of loyal consumers. The old saying “This is business, not a game” doesn’t quite ring true anymore.

To learn more on how Junction Creative Solutions can help you implement an effective gamification strategy, call us at 678-686-1125.

WordPress, a Leader in the Open Source CMS Market

Image credit: Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock.com

When beginning the process of developing a content management system (CMS), businesses have a number of options to choose from based on the requirements of each individual type of business. While custom designed sites are available not all businesses require the complexities and capabilities of a custom designed CMS platform. Several open source website platforms are available but WordPress accounts for thirty percent of all websites and it has a 60% share of the overall CMS market.

An open source content management system, WordPress has captured the majority share of the market by offering a platform that is free to those who are savvy enough to navigate the technical aspects of setting up their own site. While there is a cost associated with selecting a custom theme, WordPress offers many standard themes at no charge. Adding special features may require technical and creative support from a professional developer and designer in order to enhance the elastic architecture and horizontal scalability or allow for more flexibility, traffic volume variations, multiple machines or an existing infrastructure or a cloud-based system.

WordPress makes it easy to keep the site’s software up to date, a critical benefit to keeping hackers and cyber criminals from invading your site. Software and plugins can be updated automatically. Structured to be simple for search engine crawlers to navigate, WordPress also is compatible with Google’s new criteria for mobile-friendly websites. Scaling for the workload is beneficial for all types of businesses with fluctuating needs, but critical for eCommerce websites that may have seasonal or continual spikes in demand.

WordPress has established a reputation for being a widely used platform, not only for small to mid-sized companies but for larger enterprise organizations as well. Search index plugins are becoming increasingly sophisticated with features like voice search, automatic index and custom taxonomy, making WordPress an attractive method of website development for companies of all sizes.

Junction Creative Solutions’ (Junction) developers and designers are adept in utilizing the WordPress platform for smaller digital projects as well as fully-executed, customizable platforms. “Junction has built hundreds of WordPress websites for small businesses and larger enterprise organizations. WordPress allows our team to provide our clients economical, smart, attractive and executable content management systems across a broad spectrum of industries,” say Julie Gareleck, founder and CEO.

For more on how Junction’s experienced team of developers and designers can assist you in building an effective web presence, call 678-686-1125.

The Value of Magento 2.0

Wright Studio / Shutterstock.com

Many online retailers have been reluctant to migrate to Magento 2.0 from the previous version out of fear that the transition will interrupt the pace of their online business. Those who have delayed the migration to the new version are being encouraged to overcome their reluctance since Magento is no longer supporting the older 1.9 version of the popular ecommerce platform.

Once considered a novel passing threat, total ecommerce sales exceeded $2 trillion dollars at the end of 2017 and is predicted to reach $4 trillion dollars by the year 2020. The Magento eCommerce platform is fully equipped with a variety of features that provides merchants full control and flexibility over the design, content and functionality of online shops. The latest platform offers Mobile-friendly configuration and is packed with various extensions that can be easily incorporated to fulfill individual business requirements.

Earlier this year Adobe Systems Inc. acquired Magento as it strives to create an end-to-end system for designing digital ads, building e-commerce websites and other online customer experiences. The company is seeking to diversify from the digital media products that made it one of the world’s largest software companies.

Junction has built a core competency around Magento 2.0 and is experienced at converting existing eCommerce websites using Magento and creating new eCommerce websites that take advantage of the features and functions in Magento 2.0.

“Clients are coming to us as they need to move to Magento 2.0,” commented Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner at Junction.  “If a client doesn’t soon move to the latest platform, they run the risk of having issues that can’t be resolved. If the shopping cart breaks, there is no supported fix from the older version of Magento. We encourage our clients to proceed with the migration so that they can continue to operate the business without interruption.”

For more information on how Junction Creative Solutions’ experienced web designers and developers can craft a customized approach to upgrade your ecommerce platform, call 678-686-1125.

“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!