Why Brands Will Be Fragile In 2021 and How They Can Win Consumers

In this article, Christian Jones, head of marketing, Hawthorne Advertising, talks about changes to the traditional sales funnel in 2020, brand loyalty in 2021, and new ways to win consumers.

Brand loyalty is a thing of the past – and more fragile today than ever before. Fickle consumers, purchase path disruption, and the radically altered retail environment born as the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 will continue in 2021 and beyond. Marketers must be prepared for the opportunity — and the threat.

2021 Consumer Experience Trends

The Fragility of Brands in 2021
The early months of the pandemic triggered an avalanche of panic buying and hoarding, resulting in empty grocery shelves and nationwide stock shortages. The alarming sight of empty shelves at some of the world’s most efficient grocery retailers was sufficient stimulus to recalibrate consumer expectations and sentiment immediately. The willingness to buy literally any brand of toilet paper, canned soup, energy bar, or hand sanitizer grew exponentially in those initial weeks and months.

The unprecedented, urgent recalibration of brand loyalty — where immediate need always trumps loyalty — has since extended from grocery into nearly all categories, including ecommerce. According to a HubSpot report, 50% of U.S. consumers left a brand they were loyal to because a competitor met their needs better. You can capitalize on this sentiment shift by ensuring your supply chain and stock is aligned with your paid media campaigns. Regularly refactoring risks or bottlenecks in your distribution and with vendors and suppliers is critical, given the array of unforeseen circumstances arising globally.

If your projections can augur potential stock shortages, then scale back on your media accordingly. Driving awareness with ill-planned media campaigns when a product is not available or delayed is a death spiral. By the same token, keep an eye on your competition. If their category-competing products are out of stock or delayed while you are flush, double- or triple-down on your media spend to seize the opportunity to convert consumers who are considering an alternative brand for their immediate needs. These competitive windows may only last a few days, so remain vigilant and agile and demand the same of your agency or media team.

The Low-Risk Transactional Environment
The ascendance of ecommerce, particularly Amazon Prime, has obliterated the traditional consumer funnel for lower price point items, generally in the sub-$50 range. The jump from top-of-funnel awareness to bottom-of-funnel conversion has exploded with the accelerants of same- or two-day shipping and free returns. Capitalize on this acceleration and this low-risk transactional environment by offering discount codes to create a sense of “exclusivity” or designing unique upsell offer configurations to sway new customers. Timely messaging that will address consumers’ immediate needs at that moment will capture impulse buys effectively.

The caveat is that if your main ecommerce channel is through Amazon and their subsidized, low-risk transactional environment, you will be missing a considerable chunk of first-party data on your customers. It is a classic Sophie’s Choice. If the long-term goal is to have a clear window into lifetime value (LTV) and the ability to pull levers to control that metric, then create a best-in-class ecommerce experience (with free shipping and free returns). Also, create a trade sales volume for valuable, long-term customer data.

The New Lenses of Assessment
America’s polarization and politicization will inevitably trickle down to brands, or at the very least brands that are targeting younger demos. Both the Millennial and Gen-Z demos have made it abundantly clear that they are seeking to align themselves with brands that are taking action to promote the greater societal good. Attracting these younger consumers with cause-based marketing, social responsibility positioning, and sustainably focused practices that eschew the current mainstream will ultimately gain traction with the target. But it may alienate large swaths of other demographics. Again, it is Sophie’s Choice. Brand loyalty is being attacked by myriad influences, and the landscape is shifting beneath us all. So, what is next?

The Next Step
We will turn a corner in 2021. Things will get better. But the effects of our collective experience as consumers, marketers, and humans will linger for many years to come. There will be decreased brand loyalty, increased customer churn, sporadic re-engagement, non-monogamous brand loyalty in every category. As a result, there will be more opportunities for brands to collaborate, cross-promote, and bundle. Ultimately, we have entered a new frontier, with an irreversible shift in consumer behavior. It will be driven by the frictionless swipes and the impulsive clicks that are enabled and driven by the low-risk, high-reward enticement of each purchase engagement.

What is the solution? Now, more than ever, it is critically important to be a brand that is “there” when the customer needs you most. Focus your brand vision, double down on your marketing investment, raise your awareness with your core and incremental audiences, and be ready to engage. If you are the friendly face and trusted voice when that brandless consumer is seeking, you will win them over in any environment.

15 tips for making a great first impression on a new partner or client

First impressions are incredibly important — and are also made incredibly quickly. Studies have shown that we make judgments about new people in a matter of seconds. A good first impression can make the difference between landing that great opportunity and having it pass you by. So how can you make sure that people perceive you positively off the bat?
The Business Journals

We asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust how to make a great first impression with a potential new business partner or client. Their best answers are below.

1. Offer specific solutions upfront.
One thing I appreciate when someone is pitching me is when they’ve done the work already and come to me with what they would do specifically to help me and my company. Don’t give me a list of what you offer — tell me where I’m missing the mark and how you specifically can help me fix it. – Betsy Hauser, Tech Talent South

2. Make it all about them.
Talk about them, not you! Pro tip: People like to be noticed and asked about themselves, so use this to your advantage. In turn, people will get the impression you are a good listener, which is the best foundation you can make for a healthy relationship. – Madeleine Nguyen, Talentdrop

3. Be open, honest and sincere.
The best way to make a great first impression is to be open, honest and sincere. Do not try to be someone you are not. As a representative for my company, I also try to relay very quickly the corporate culture of our company. It is easy to make a good impression when you are not trying to close a deal or make a sale. Simply connect on a personal level. – Corey Recla, Agynbyte LLC

4. Prepare thoroughly.
Be prepared. People appreciate those who are thoughtful and have done their research before a meeting. Spend at least as much time preparing to meet as you plan to meet. Conduct a LinkedIn and Google search on both them and their company. Find out if they or their company have been in the news or had any recent achievements. No one will be offended or think that you prepared too much. – Matt Rosen, Allata

5. Start with a compliment.
Do your research before meeting the person — look at their social posts, articles, podcasts, etc. Then pick a topic the person is passionate about and start by letting him or her know that you just heard the podcast and loved the unique perspective and tips. It shows you’ve taken the time to learn about the person. It will also help tailor your conversation. – Parna Sarkar-Basu, Brand and Buzz Marketing

6. Be genuine.
People hate being “sold,” and nobody likes being manipulated or misled, but people love to learn and think for themselves. We’ve always found success in making good first impressions by being completely upfront with our goals while providing as much information as possible. We like our relationships to be symbiotic, and we want our clients to come to the decision that they want to work with us. – Josh Green, Software Verde, LLC

7. Check your inflection.
Voice inflection separates the best from the rest. Use your voice as a tool to communicate and sell. The tone of your voice and words, whether you are meeting in person or over the phone, matters. Think about it like this: You wouldn’t buy something from someone who doesn’t sound like he or she believes in his or her product, right? – Scott Scully, Abstrakt Marketing Group

8. Show kindness.
Be kind. The late actor John Wayne once said of the word “kind” that “This one word would stop wars and erase hatreds. But it’s like your bicycle. It’s just no good unless you get out and use it.” In today’s world kindness is in short supply. Give all you can. You’ll be surprised at how people respond. – Keith Woods, KB Woods Public Relations

9. Ask how you can help.
Always start by asking how you can help. Solving problems for others is a sure way to make a great first impression, help add value and lead with your expertise. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

10. Learn everything you can about their approach to business.
Preparation decreases anxiety and helps show authority. If you conduct your research, you will have a huge advantage over the competition. Before a critical meeting, learn everything possible about your prospective client and their approach to business. Get familiar with the industry in which you will be working, and study current events. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

11. Arrange for a video call.
Making a great first impression can be challenging today as we are conducting business virtually. Whenever possible, arrange for on-camera calls with new business partners or clients so that you can make eye contact and offer a warm, inviting smile. Be curious and respectful of new people and perspectives, and take the time to get to know people on a personal level by asking genuine questions. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

12. Don’t try too hard.
The No. 1 tip for making a great first impression is to stop trying to make a great first impression. It really is a matter of seconds anyway. Just remember that trying too hard presumes a certain degree of pretending, and you’ll have to work with that person if you hit it off. So don’t overthink it, and be yourself. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

13. Have a plan for your introduction.
Making a good first impression is vastly different during Covid-19. Now a smile is invisible. When you meet someone new, have a plan for an introduction. Don’t do an awkward, “Are you elbow bumping?” Be confident in your approach, and wave. Make eye contact. Be sure you can be heard — the mask muffles a lot, so enunciate and speak clearly. Your words matter more. Choose your words well and with purpose. – Jay Feitlinger, StringCan Interactive

14. Don’t speak unless you’re asking questions.
As a rule, we don’t speak until the potential client or partner asks us a question — unless it’s to ask questions ourselves. Let them talk as much as they like. You can guide the conversation, but don’t be too fast to tell your tales and sell yourself until it is appropriate. Ask yourself: Do you listen or do you wait to speak? Most people wait to speak. Try listening first. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

15. Be yourself.
It sounds like a cliché, but if you bring your true, authentic, professional self in the way you dress and carry yourself, in the way you approach the subject being discussed, and in the way you build rapport, the potential new business partner or client will not have to question what they’ll get when working with you. If it isn’t a good match, you’ll know early and not waste anyone’s time. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

Performance Marketers Need to Watch These 5 Consumer Trends in 2021

After a year of chaos and uncertainty, these are some of the interests and behaviors that are here to stay

The beauty category is expected to continue growing in 2021.
Getty Images

Never stagnant and ever evolving, consumer buying behaviors took center stage in 2020 as companies tried to keep up with a string of impacts driven by both world and national events of this unique year.

Through it all, several key trends began to emerge. With more employees working remotely, and people spending more time at home, ecommerce sales shot through the roof. Applications like Zoom and social media outlets became the de facto communication tools for co-workers, families and friends as they acclimated to flexible home and work arrangements.

With fewer “outside outlets”–i.e. gyms, social events, concerts, and vacations–available in the near term, here’s how we expect these and other trends to continue to evolve in 2021:

1. Health is top of mind
With health concerns taken on a new importance in 2020, vitamins, supplemental products and telemedicine have exploded and enabled a more flexible, personal and pro-active approach to the category. With more time on videoconferencing, people were able to take a good, long look at themselves for what could have been hours of video conferencing a day and were able to prioritize their health and appearance.

Health and wellness apps like Calm have resonated strongly with consumers in 2020 and will continue growing in 2021. It doesn’t matter if someone is working remotely, homeschooling their children, or working on laptops from their kitchen tables, people still want to put their best foot forward. Home gym equipment like the Peloton had long waiting periods, since they could not produce or ship product fast enough, and demand for subscription-based workout platforms and remote personal training also increased. In the fitness market, we saw a major increase in new health micro-tracking features across fitness and wearable brands.

2. Consumers will always want to look and feel good
The normal beauty regime was supplemented by elective surgeries and the rollout of online makeup platforms like L’Oréal’s Signature Faces. However, the younger generations want an authentic and unfiltered aesthetic where they can also feel immersed in the brand. Gen Zers are searching for more authentic influencers who are uninhibited to reveal their complex personalities and honest and vulnerable lives, according to F-Trend TrendSight.

3. Home is where the heart is
Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a big focus on consumer products that have anything to do with the home. Whether it’s remodeling your kitchen with new appliances or just learning to cook for the first time, people have had a renewed focus on anything home, family and food. The home has become an education hub, an office space–sometimes for two parents–and the entertainment center across all ages. As a result, home repairs and services have exploded as people took pride in their homes and safe environments. Oven-ready meals or a boxed food delivery services that could help you cook at home with your family, created a fun, learning experience to deter from the norm and increased family engagement.

4. Direct shipments and curbside pickup is here to stay
These widely adopted practices provide customers with a mobile-first, contactless option that eliminates waiting in line or searching for items in store. For consumers, the on-demand, convenient and customer-friendly is now the norm. For businesses, it provides another channel in which to engage and an opportunity to optimize customer experiences that can lead to repeatable behavior and increasing brand loyalty. There have obviously been huge gains with companies that have shipped direct to home, including Amazon, whose revenues increased by half-a-trillion dollars in 2020.

5. Esports will continue to gain ground
Online, interactive communities like esports continue to expand and wade into the mainstream. Expect to see an increase in eSports programming on linear TV that will reach new, incremental audiences and casual gaming fans while giving advertisers another option to raise awareness with an otherwise “unreachable” young, male demographic.

The exponential growth and adoption of e-commerce combined with opportunistic buying and have all led to condensed and shifted consumer journey. Also, the increasing user generated video content to launch and support brands, driven by the rise of Tik Tok, will expand further with YouTube, Facebook, IG, Twitter and Snapchat. This expanded video landscape will shift consumer engagement. As the traditional sales funnel has shifted, smart marketers are rethinking how they approach, engage with, and sell across all generations of customers.

 

10 pro tips for making your new e-commerce effort a success

E-commerce was already on the rise well before 2020, and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this phenomenon. Many businesses that have been accustomed to primarily brick-and-mortar sales are now handling unprecedented volumes of online orders, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down.

The Business Journals

To help you adapt to this change, we asked 10 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust for their insights. Below, they share their best advice for companies that are navigating a growth in direct-to-consumer shipping.

1. Hold interactive demos in-store to promote online sales later.
Leverage space with demos and interactive models in conjunction with an online presence. You can operate with less square footage and potentially enhance your customer experience with less inventory in stock but more access to the product. – Dale Gillmore, Quest

2. Evaluate your sales tax obligations.
With an increase in online sales, you need to evaluate your sales tax obligations. Most states that collect sales tax now have laws that create a sales tax obligation in their state based on the number or amount of sales made — an obligation businesses incur simply by selling into their state. Whether utilizing a third party to ship a product or doing it yourself, you may need to look at where you’re collecting sales tax. – Robert Dumas, TaxConnex

3. Set up a strong supply chain.
Have a great supply chain in place to ensure that shipping delays are minimal. No one wants to order a product and then wait a month for it to show up. – David Wescott, Transblue

4. Write clear product descriptions and ensure timely customer support.
Make sure your product descriptions are clear and accurate and that your customer support is timely and comprehensive. Ask yourself, “Would I buy if no one was around to explain it to me?” and “What if there is a problem with my order?” If the answer is “No,” “Maybe” or “I’m not sure,” then go back and improve your merchandising and your support messages. – Russell Harrell, SFB IDEAS – a Strategic Marketing firm

5. Invest in an integrated point-of-sale system.
Most point-of-sale systems now have integration for orders and inventory with the common e-commerce platforms. It is really cost-effective now for a small brick-and-mortar retailer to push online and in-store sales by presenting all their inventory online. Many customers pre-shop online to find what they want in stock and then go to the store or place an order for local pickup. – Matthew Palis, Infront Webworks

6. Look into back-end support software.
Utilize automation and software solutions that have pristine track records and are easy to implement. There is a plethora of back-end support software to alleviate the burden for brick-and-mortar stores entering the e-commerce space — especially when sales have gone from a trickle to a deluge. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

7. Take advantage of your newfound product control.
Once your product goes through traditional supply chains, you’re dependent on a couple of large outlets to sell your products, meaning you’re bound by limited price flexibility and exclusivity agreements. Being D2C means you’re able to control your products through various push/pull marketing methods, including your website and the numerous platforms where you sell (website, email campaigns and social media platforms). – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales

8. Implement an enterprise resource planning system.
To capitalize on emerging direct-to-consumer opportunities and effectively transition to an e-commerce platform, an ERP system should be selected and implemented to help staff deal with order volume, fulfillment requirements and warehousing complexities. Benefits realization planning should also allow employees to recognize this new software’s competitive advantages — with comprehensive training. – Joey Johnsen, Zeevo Group LLC

9. Streamline your backend and fulfillment processes.
Ensure your backend and fulfillment processes are streamlined, as consumers have become used to e-commerce and expect instant fulfillment with shipping to their doorsteps within days. If your backend and shipping take too long, a consumer can get antsy and cancel the order before they receive it. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Understand the e-commerce customer’s journey.
The biggest difference in adapting to an e-commerce mindset is to understand the customer journey and experience. In e-commerce, the customer experience is just as important as making a visitor to your store feel welcome. From packaging to delivery, customer service to return policies — every step of the journey must be thought through with care and precision when you convert to e-commerce. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

6 Issues You’ll Never See In Truly Excellent Marketing Copy

With today’s preference for short-form copy and visual ads, it may seem like anyone in your company, regardless of writing skill, is eligible to be a marketing copywriter. It’s true that anyone can string words together to accompany your ads, but it may also mean their copy could end up poorly written and ineffective.

AdAge

The art of copywriting takes time and effort to master. You need to be able to both capture your brand’s voice and deliver a message customers want to hear, and sometimes even experienced marketers can get it wrong.

According to six members of Ad Age Collective, there are a few elements of poorly written marketing copy that you just won’t find in a well-crafted piece of content. These are what you should look out for if you want to be taken seriously in the industry.

1. Complicated jargon
The use of long-winded sentences and complicated jargon is something you’ll never see in great copy. This is the case even with technical B2B content. Great copy is about providing information while attracting customers and speaking to people on a personal level. Complex and hard-to-follow content puts people off as it can sound superior and unwelcoming. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

2. Too many words
Less is more. Excellent copy will never use more words to convey the same message that can be said with fewer. As the old adage goes, it takes longer to write something shorter. Well-written copy takes time. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute

3. A boring opening sentence
Excellent copy will grab you from the first few words and will engage you throughout. If a consumer is not hooked from the very beginning, it will be hard to hold their interest and gain the momentum needed to grab their attention and get them excited about your message. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Jarring assumptions about the target audience
In the obsession for communication at scale, marketers often fall into the trap of using grotesque assumptions about the persona they are emailing. A classic example I receive in cold email pitches is referring to me as a “B2B SaaS marketer,” which is not true at all. Excellent copy balances the need for personalization without jarring assumptions that spoil the message. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

5. Bad spelling, grammar and information
Poorly written copy on a website has the same keyword printed over and over again on the same page with typos, bad grammar and incorrect information. This gets negative attention from the Google algorithm and gets the article flagged for poor performance. If you have a great copywriter, they will avoid this. Their pages will be relevant and well-researched. Then your pages will rank higher. – Duran Inci, Optimum7

6. Excessive repetition
Occasionally, marketers are so excited to push their points of difference that they get caught in the trap of repeating themselves over and over again. Whether it’s within a single post or an entire marketing strategy, “driving the point home” can actually do the opposite. Write like a journalist and keep your copy concise to most efficiently and effectively state your claim. – Kelly Ehlers, Ideas That Evoke

11 Expert Insights On How To Run An Effective Co-Marketing Campaign

When executed correctly, cross-promoting a product with that of another, noncompeting brand is a valuable and effective way to maximize your marketing efforts. Developing a co-marketing campaign gives both you and your partner brand the opportunity to expand your audiences by promoting each other’s products or services.

Of course, to do this well, you need to find the right partner and have the right strategy in place. To help you pull it off, we turned to the members of Forbes Agency Council. Below, they share their best tips for brands planning to align their efforts and create a co-marketing campaign with another company.

Forbes Agency Council

1. Align Products And Services That Support Each Other

Two brands can align nicely with noncompetitive but supportive services. For instance, a home services company could align with an appliances company and cross-market services and brands, showcasing how the entire picture could come together for the consumer. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

2. Focus On A Specific Event

There are so many ways to create a co-marketing campaign, and the best way to do it is to focus the effort on a specific event. For example, because of Covid-19, a brand in the food industry could collaborate with a brand in the healthcare industry to create an educational campaign around prevention. Create content first, and then focus on product placement. – Stefano Mongardi, TheWebMate

3. Co-Host A Webinar Or Panel Together

I have found that some of the most effective co-marketing campaign tactics are educational webinars and panels. These give the opportunity for both companies to prove themselves as thought leaders and strategic advisors. Rather than just giving a joint sales pitch, providing an educational opportunity to clients and prospects is much more effective to help spread your message. – Jason Wulfsohn, AUDIENCEX

4. Link To Your Partner’s Social Media Channels

If using Facebook ads, you can link to your partner’s Facebook or Instagram account in your ads using the branded content feature. This allows consumers to see that the ads are being promoted by both companies. It’s a great way to get double exposure while still paying for a single ad. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

5. Get Firsthand Experience With Your Partner’s Product

To align with a noncompeting company to develop a larger reach within the market, you first need to make sure that you believe in the noncompeting product. Use the product firsthand or hand out samples for feedback so that you can organically understand the co-marketing campaign as you promote each other. – Greg Carney, Freedom United Social

6. Find Common Customer Pain Points

Find common pain points and interests that each company’s customer profiles share. Focus on these areas of overlap and help solve problems that apply to both customer bases. It’s also important to remember to keep the messaging positive. – Jonas Muthoni, Deviate Agency

7. Show The Value Of Using The Products Or Services Together

Collaborate with your co-marketing partner to create messaging that clearly communicates how your respective products provide more value for the customer when used together. Back up this message with proof points, case studies and other supporting data. – Wendy Covey, TREW Marketing

8. Evaluate Decisions Against Your Own Company Goals

Evaluate every decision and the final agreement against your individual brand and company goals. Partnerships require compromise so that every brand wins, but it’s easy to dilute your desired outcome in the spirit of collaboration. This practice will ensure that you’re set up for success. There’s no shame in respectfully speaking up for what you need to succeed. Otherwise, it’s not the right partnership. – Edward Hoffman, Spool Marketing & Communications

9. Have Each Party Promote Different Aspects

Brand partnerships will work for both companies if you promote different aspects of the collaboration in your communications strategy. Since each company has its own identity and audience, it will serve as part of a strategic alliance that can increase brand awareness, provide positive associations and strengthen your efforts marketing to new markets. – Adrian Falk, Believe Advertising & PR

10. Create Mutual Value

Create a partnership with mutual value. For example, if there is a service provider (perhaps a payment platform) that you want to fold into your own product stack, promoting yourself as a “proud partner of XYZ” in exchange for a reduced fee would be mutually beneficial. You are promoting their brand along with your own (while saving some cash). – Bernard May, National Positions

11. Do Your Homework On Your Partner

As you consider partnering with another company for a co-branding campaign, be sure to do your homework on your partners at the other company. Do you trust them? Is their culture similar to yours? Are their values similar to your values? As you associate more closely with the other company, if they fail to live up to customer expectations or do something negative, that can fall back on your brand as well. – Jason Wilson, Strategy, LLC

Launching A New Product Or Service? 15 Creative Ways To Showcase It

With so many newly released products and services constantly being announced, it can be difficult for companies to get the attention of consumers when they bring something new to market. Many marketers rely on traditional ad campaigns for launches. In the digital age, however, there are countless ways to garner attention for a new offering. What’s the best way to help it stand out from the rest?

Forbes Agency Council

We asked members of Forbes Agency Council to tell us about creative ways a company can showcase a new product or service being launched. See 15 of their best suggestions below to find out how to make sure new offerings make a splash in the market.

1. Challenge The Current Status Quo

A creative way to showcase a product or service your company is launching is by differentiating from tradition. Take on an expansive view of your customers’ current lives, how they are interacting with the service and how they will benefit from it. Challenge the current status quo to appeal to a new audience and reinvigorate your current base. – Sarah Tourville, Media Frenzy Global

2.Preview It With Your Customer Advisory Board

Your customer advisory board likely provided the impetus for creating it and may have even helped to test it with you. They may have some insights and ideas for how to best communicate its value and reach other prospects as well. – Eyal Danon, Ignite Advisory Group

3. Push The Envelope With Video

Video is the powerhouse. Make it short, original, humorous and authentic. The best content is produced when one is willing to push the envelope. For example, let’s say you have a new line of shoes. Instead of hiring models, hire the best long-legged poodles or labradoodles with colored fur, do a photoshoot and create a video. – Ally Spinu, USA Link System

4. Tell A Compelling Story

For a new product or service launch, companies should create an engaging piece of content that tells the story of the product or service. Explain why you created it and how it will make the potential customer’s life better, easier, etc. There is so much competition for attention in the market right now, so products and services that tell a story stand out. – Aliza Freud, SheSpeaks, Inc.

5. Run Targeted Ad Campaigns Across Social Media

One creative way to showcase a product or service your company is launching is by getting ahead with your digital marketing efforts by running paid content distribution across social media. Paying to get in front of your target audience by leveraging targeted social media advertising campaigns will create the meaningful awareness needed for a successful launch. – Jonathan Durante, Expandify Marketing Inc.

6. Tie It To An Event

If there is a local or national event happening, your company can help support it with a new product or service. This naturally shows the benefits of your new service, but also cross-promotes the event where your product or service will be in action. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

7. Tap Into Existing Viral Conversations

Tap into existing high-profile, highly viral conversations to promote your product or service. If you are promoting a virtual event service, identify popular, real-world examples that you can use to promote yourself. For example, you could repost a Twitter post of Britain’s Got Talent going virtual and suggest that, if they can do it, so can you! – Mike Boogaard, MOI Global

8. Try TikTok If Your Audience Is There

This advice is not for every business, and it’s definitely not for B2B, but if you’re working with your customers directly, have you considered TikTok? With a little creativity and a pinch of humor, you have all the chances of reaching a pretty big chunk of your audience, if not going viral. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

9. Plan A Multi-Touch Campaign

Depending on the magnitude of the product or service, a multi-touch campaign is powerful. Think email, social and direct mail to your existing clients. – Michael McFadden, eAccountable

10. Perform A Live Case Study

A creative way to stand out is to perform a live case study prior to your launch. Customers love to see the proven value before buying a product or service. Using the opportunity as an educational resource will also help spread the news through word of mouth and social media. – Jonas Muthoni, Deviate Agency

11. Host A Virtual Press Conference

New products or services can be launched with a number of creative initiatives, including press releases, videos, short videos for social sharing, digital marketing and direct mailers. Virtual press conferences and promotions help to make it a true “event.” It can be cost-effectively achieved and still keep true to some major tech consumer launches, such as Apple’s. Have fun with it and celebrate it. – Ilissa Miller, IMiller Public Relations

12. Create An Interactive Digital Experience

Create an interactive digital experience to walk someone through your solution. This may be dynamic images with mouse-over information boxes, quizzes, product configurators or chatbots. Webinars provide another great way to engage with prospects through in-session surveys and Q&A. These tactics provide a richer and more memorable experience for prospects as well as opportunities for you to gain market feedback. – Wendy Covey, TREW Marketing

13. Collaborate With Influencers

Collaborating with influencers can be a very effective way of showcasing a recently launched product or service. Having these creators try your offerings early on and sharing with their communities what they really think about it will not only raise awareness directly with your target audience, but also offer them a relatable and trustworthy opinion that can move the needle for you. – Emilie Tabor, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency

14. Collect Testimonials

Testimonials are a great way to showcase what your company is capable of. The main reason for this is that, when you are sharing what is possible, you will see many new people interested in the products and services that you are offering. – Jon James, Ignited Results

15. Send A Creative PR Package Via Mail

With the digital era that we live in, sending a package via mail definitely holds its weight and cuts through—especially when dealing with the press. Sending a creative PR pack to prospective clients or journalists through the mail, rather than simply emailing them a link to your website and attaching a press release, will put you above the rest. – Adrian Falk, Believe Advertising & PR

3 Critical Pillars to Building a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

The critical roles of clients, people and community in building out a successful CSR strategy.

The current global pandemic and its effects on the global economy has accelerated the importance of corporations acting responsibly. The bright side is that by operating with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) code, you can help your top and bottom lines as well.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Three out of four consumers — millennials in particular — are more likely to purchase from brands or do business with companies that are socially responsible. This applies both to brand and employer selection where 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. That’s probably why businesses of all sizes across industries spend billions of dollars annually on CSR activities, ranging from eco-friendly office practices to charitable giving to volunteering.

A critical success factor in the current economy, CSR is about putting people and the planet first by operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. It represents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to build trust, bolster their reputations, and give back to their communities.

CSR helps companies align themselves with these core consumer values by giving back and finding solutions to everyday problems. Here are three pillars that must be factored into all successful CSR strategies:

Clients
Clients and consumers want to be associated with businesses that are doing good and have good reputations. Implementing CSR initiatives can help brands that are highly competitive on price, quality and convenience. Embracing socially responsible policies helps companies burnish their images and cultivate positive brand recognition by demonstrating compassion and trustworthiness — both of which help attract and retain clients.

By building client loyalty, CSR helps companies achieve increased profitability and long-term financial success. For example, a marketing and advertising agency may choose to work with both nonprofit and for-profit businesses. Creating a compelling campaign for a children’s hospital or a conservation nonprofit shows that the agency is committed to giving back; clients will want to be associated with that goodwill. Charitable giving is another way to display a commitment to CSR. During the holiday season, for instance, businesses can donate on their clients’ behalf. This both supports meaningful causes and shows clients that you care.

People
Making CSR a priority creates a positive work environment that inspires and unites employees. It supports recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction. Good CSR also attracts employees who are eager to make a difference in the world. It helps companies recruit top-tier talent looking for jobs that have meaning and impact.

Social responsibility empowers employees to leverage corporate resources for good; those collective employee efforts can be powerful (i.e. in terms of both improved workplace morale and higher productivity). When workers have a sense of pride in the company they work for, they’re better engaged, committed and likely to stick around.

Ultimately the most successful CSR strategies are baked into a company’s DNA. ”
— Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising

CSR starts at home. In other words, a company that makes large donations to charitable organizations, but doesn’t pay its own workers a fair wage or provide equal access opportunities, is not living up to certain values. Avoid this problem by creating flexible work schedules and remote work policies (the latter of which has become imperative due to the global pandemic). Focus on instituting a corporate culture that promotes work-life balance and employee well-being. This is particularly important during times of uncertainty when mental health requires additional attention and care. These may not seem CSR-related on the surface, but they are critical to making opportunities more accessible to a wider swath of people.

Community
Businesses have a role to play in making local communities and the planet a cleaner place to live. Companies should be passionate about protecting the earth by applying green thinking to every decision they make. Regardless of size, all companies can have a positive impact on the environment by implementing green practices and procedures designed to address climate change.

The opportunities to “go green” are endless, and include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Recycling programs
  • Purchasing environmentally preferable office products
  • Water filtration systems that reduce reliance on plastic water bottles
  • Equipment that automatically switches to energy-saver mode
  • Employee tree-planting days
  • Bonuses for green methods of commuting to work (i.e. bicycling or using public transportation)

Building your corporate social responsibility strategy
Using these three pillars as a foundation, companies can build out their CSR strategies by first identifying their strengths. Ask questions such as: What are you good at? What do clients, potential hires and the broader business community look to your company for? What do you have that no other company does? What can you offer that’s unique?

Next, consider what your clients and customers value. Are there particular issues they care about? Once you’ve identified those issues, how can your company support them? If gender equality is a core area of interest, donate to charitable organizations that are passionate about that. Ensure the gender balance of the workplace is equitable, and that there are programs in place to support more women leaders.

When crafting your CSR strategy, be sure to involve employees. Find out what they care about and how they want to spend their time and resources. As one goal of CSR is to engage employees in collective action, their opinions carry a lot of weight.

Finally, effective CSR programs capture analytics and measurements to gauge their success. Make sure you are designing programs to have an impact, and that aren’t “just for show.” Employees and clients alike will appreciate knowing the outcomes.

Making a difference in the world
Ultimately the most successful CSR strategies are baked into a company’s DNA. Done right, CSR helps to build brand recognition and customer loyalty; saves money by reducing global footprints; attracts positive media attention; helps with top talent recruitment; and improves employee satisfaction and morale. But most importantly, companies that practice CSR can make a real difference in the world.

 

How To Bring A Brand To Life: 14 Lessons In Effective Storytelling

An agency doesn’t just sell a product; it builds a story around the item that gives it a life of its own. Effective storytelling is one of a marketer’s most critical skills, and while practice can help you improve your ability to craft a compelling narrative, learning from the masters is an important part of excelling at any art.

Forbes Agency Council

The key is to help audience members see themselves as protagonists in your brand story. Below, 14 experts from Forbes Agency Council discuss how lessons they’ve learned about storytelling have informed their approach to the process.

1. Be Yourself

In other words, remain authentic. I realize this may sound as though I have personified the brand, and that was purposeful. Brands need to have their own identities, and the story behind each brand has to not only be believable, but also true. If a brand is shrouded by mistruths or misleading claims, it will likely not survive, and it will definitely not thrive. – Dave Wendland, Hamacher Resource Group

2. Aim To Inspire And Motivate

Stories should inspire and motivate. A story simplifies complex messages and helps a viewer or listener feel more connected. We have seen a 20% to 30% increase in brand engagement through storytelling marketing. – Mandeep Singh, SEO Discovery Pvt Ltd.

3. Make Sure The Timing Is Right

It doesn’t matter how good a story is, if the timing is wrong, especially in times of turmoil, it will come across as tone-deaf. Keep in mind what is going on in the world and assess whether it will impact how people respond to your message. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing the opportunity—and your audience—completely. – Valerie Chan, Plat4orm PR

4. Incorporate Trust Signals

When telling a story, it’s important to send trust signals that communicate your story’s authenticity. That’s what makes your narrative relatable and believable to buyers. Trust signals include customer testimonials, verification of your story by third-party experts or data and many other forms of validation. Your story simply won’t have the impact you’re seeking if people don’t believe it. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

5. Focus On Creating An Emotion

Great storytelling is focused around creating an emotion, and brands need storytelling to create an action toward purchase, sharing, awareness or recall. During the creative process, make sure that the desired action is the focus of the creative, then test and measure prior to launch. Creating a great story without a desired response in mind will usually be a waste of time, resources and money. – Brian Meert, AdvertiseMint

6. Make It Compelling For The Audience

The most valuable lesson I have learned about storytelling is that, when it is done well, it makes others want to retell the story. The story can’t be about the person telling it; the story should be compelling for the audience. If the audience members (employees, customers, etc.) are moved, they will carry the story on to others. – Chris Wallace, InnerView Group

7. Remember That Great Stories Are True

Over the years, we’ve learned that understanding what matters, combined with being honest about what you can deliver, creates brand value. The day a brand starts to follow trends that don’t align with it or makes changes to make customers happy is the day its story starts to become hollow. And, sadly, the brand begins to die. – Bo Bothe, BrandExtract, LLC

8. Reflect Your Brand’s Purpose And Values

Stories that are disconnected from purpose and values will backfire because they won’t be authentic or believable. But when an audience sees a clear connection between your story, values and purpose, the storytelling will be more credible, and your audience will feel an emotional connection with your brand. – Don Scales, Investis Digital

9. Be A Problem-Solver Rather Than An Expert

Being a problem-solver rather than an expert has paid off immensely. People are not interested in digging through archives of information. Tell the story, provide immediate value and help with a challenge your prospect is facing. It’s no different with brand marketing. Position your brand to serve your customers, focusing heavily on creating a buyer-centric experience. – Melissa Chang, PureB2B

10. Don’t Go Out Of Your Way To Reinvent The Wheel

Stories have conventions, and audiences are familiar with those conventions because we have been telling each other stories for thousands of years. Also, high production values are nice to have, but they won’t matter if your narrative is not compelling or emotionally engaging. The content matters much more than the sheen. – Tripp Donnelly, REQ

11. Immerse Yourself In Your Client’s World

The best way to be successful as a storytelling agency is to immerse yourself in your client’s world before choosing words to create their narrative. I’ve spent time on the campuses of education clients, sat in classrooms and been a fly on the wall at staff meetings, and those experiences have helped me understand what truly makes my clients’ hearts beat. – Lynne Golodner, Your People LLC

12. Don’t Make The Brand The Hero

Do you know the most common mistake some brands still make? They make the brand the hero of the story: “Our product does XYZ. It’s amazing; look how many people use it.” This is the wrong approach. What they want to do instead is put the limelight on the potential buyer: “You have XYZ problems, and here’s how you can solve them using our product.” – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

13. Provide Value Or Entertainment

When it comes to effective storytelling, a brand needs to realize that, before selling to an audience, it must provide one of two things: value or entertainment. The most valuable lesson I learned about storytelling is to make sure we create a strong foundation for our brand’s persona and the right framing prior to pushing our content. A strong plan will create a strong result. – Garrett Atkins, VIE Media

14. Tell Stories Of Real People

Telling stories of real people whose lives have been positively impacted by a brand or product continues to be one of the most authentic ways to bring a brand to life and reach consumers on an emotional level. Consumers can relate to another consumer’s story and see for themselves how a brand can also enhance their own lives. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

8 Tips For Being More In Tune With Your Audience’s Feelings

Many companies leverage their audience’s feelings in their advertising, hoping to capitalize on their customers’ passions or beliefs to sell their product. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen advertisements that didn’t go over well, or that received the opposite reaction to what was intended. While mistakes do happen, this generally is a sign that a brand doesn’t fully understand its target audience or their feelings about a particular subject or event.
AdAge Collective

When preparing for an ad campaign, however, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re being more cognizant of your audience’s feelings ahead of time, so fewer mistakes are made. These eight experts from Ad Age Collective have spent countless hours analyzing their audiences for their own brands. Here, they offer valuable insight into what businesses should be doing to be more aware of their audience’s emotions.

1. Start by hiring more diverse people.
The problem starts when people creating an advertisement do not have any association with the target audience. To avoid getting online backlash from poorly written ads, you need to start by hiring a more diverse group of people. And not only that, but you also have to listen to them. Try to involve people from your target audience in creative works to prevent poor responses to your ads. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

2. Research your front-end market and demographic.
Put as much effort into your front-end market and consumer demographic research as possible, then test your copy with a small audience to identify any potential pitfalls before you go wide with a launch. This will ensure you have a strong, positive response from consumers when you fully launch and will reduce wasted marketing spend. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

3. Start with empathy.
It sounds simple, but marketers need to get into the habit of seeing customers as humans — not computers. Empathy is just as valuable a skill as data analysis in the industry. Being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to determine pain points and relationships to the brand is vital to meeting them where they’re at and positioning your company as the solution. – Kelly Ehlers, Ideas That Evoke

4. Find a left-brained person.
Marketers are “right brain,” so find a “left-brain” person. It’s challenging to know how an ad will be interpreted. Even within one audience, opinions can vary substantially. Given marketers’ inclination toward right-brain thinking, an easy-to-implement practice is routing potential ads to a trusted source within your company who is a left-brain thinker (engineering or operations team members are my personal favorites). – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

5. Show your work to the skeptics.
Sometimes creatives fall in love with a clever idea that’s completely tone-deaf. This happens most frequently with attempts at humor or when trying to connect to something noteworthy happening in society. Before you push play, show your work to the skeptics — in your office, your home, your neighborhood. Or imagine you’re a journalist reporting on your ad. What would the snarky headline be? – Todd Morgano, Falls

6. Write your content with your audience.
Write your content with your audience, not for your audience. At least one member of the team creating the ad should be part of the target audience. If this isn’t possible, conducting a focus group might be the next best option. But it will save time and energy if your audience is there from the start. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute

7. Don’t forget to always circle back before release.
Many of these situations won’t show up in the quantitative metrics because they are contextual in nature. Oftentimes, the qualitative research is done upfront, but with the long lead times of some campaigns, it’s a good idea to circle back just before release. Minimally, have people who are not connected to the campaign look at it for cultural sensitivity. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)

8. Conduct concept testing and scenario planning.
As part of the strategy, it’s imperative to conduct scenario planning when more than one reaction is possible. Conducting concept testing to get a gauge of audience acceptance, analyze risk, form a crisis management plan and have an alternate set of assets and proactive messaging ready to go in the tool kit can avoid a brand debacle or a PR nightmare. – Raashee Gupta Erry, UPLEVEL – Digital Media Consulting