9 ways to keep remote employees engaged with company culture

Two years ago, many business and organizational leaders might have confidently asserted that they would never adopt remote work arrangements. However, the events of the last year and a half have seen many do just that. And broadly speaking, the experiment has worked out very well. Leaders have noted steady or even improved productivity, while workers report enjoying the flexibility and time savings of being able to work from home.

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While there are several benefits to allowing employees to continue to work remotely, leaders also face concerns, including how to maintain a strong company culture when team members are rarely all together in the same space. Fortunately, there are creative, effective ways to continue to build and sustain a great culture in a remote work environment. Here, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their best tips for keeping employees engaged with the company culture, no matter where they are or how often they’re in the office.

1. Include employees in developing the culture.
Employee participation in shaping company culture is required. There are tenets of our culture that have remained through transitions and other changes. The most important aspect has been inclusion and presence with the team. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

2. Exemplify the culture as the leader.
Implementation and reinforcement of company culture are critical for teamwork. Unfortunately, some organizations do little to define culture. If you play for the New York Yankees, you can’t grow a beard — it’s part of their culture. As the leader, you exemplify the culture. That will permeate the whole team, whether they’re online or in the office. As Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats policy for breakfast.” – Scott Morreale, Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School

3. Open up a regular dialogue.
Check in with your employees often. Ask them what they need to be successful, what barriers you can remove for them and what additional support they may need. When leaders take the time to create opportunities for open dialogue, they not only deepen the team bond but also cultivate a culture of collaboration that can be felt beyond the office walls. – Lauren Winans, Next Level Benefits

4. Ensure remote employees are included in communications.
Make sure you’re utilizing internal communication platforms to the best of your ability. Whether it’s video calling or team channels, make sure that remote employees are included as much as possible through those channels. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

5. Watch for and reward actions that support company culture.
Our behaviors are driven by our beliefs. Company culture is a set of shared beliefs that drive employee behavior. Explicitly stating and agreeing upon these beliefs is essential for building company culture. Managers need to be vigilant in looking for and rewarding the demonstration of these beliefs through action or helping employees modify their actions if needed. This is harder when working remotely, but doable. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

6. Create cross-functional teams.
Bring teams together in person in some capacity once or twice a year. In between, it’s important to create cross-functional teams to support different business initiatives. This will give employees exposure to those outside their direct teams while also keeping them connected to the larger purpose of the organization. – Eric Wiebers, Interior Environments

7. Share wins and project updates every week.
We have a weekly Zoom call with the whole staff. We play tag on the call, so each person tags the next person to share. We all share one win and what we are working on. We have a lot of fun on the call, and this really helps keep us connected. We actually find that we know more about what is going on than we did before. – David Wescott, Transblue

8. Develop ‘extracurricular programming.’
Run your company like a college community. Have a good mix of virtual and office activities and “extracurricular programming” that your teams can participate in. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

9. Blend virtual activities with in-person gatherings.
Virtual work environments must be complemented with a variety of virtual activities, gatherings and games as well as routine in-person opportunities for people to gather and reconnect. Continue to brainstorm as a group and see what employees want to be engaged in, as needs are changing continuously in the current environment. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

9 smart ways to develop and market compelling case studies

Many companies work with their happy clients to develop case studies. Case studies can provide powerful attestations to the positive ways in which a business’s product or service has impacted a customer’s life, solved their problems or benefited them. When smartly leveraged, a case study can be a great marketing tool.

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There are several steps to a successful case study, ranging from finding the right client to participate to providing persuasive details to sharing the story in the best places. Below, nine members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share their expert advice on developing compelling case studies and marketing them to your advantage.

1. Showcase success stories.
Case studies illustrate the value your company provides to its clients. By showcasing success stories, you validate your business and the service you provide, making them a powerful tool for your sales process. Case studies allow prospective clients to see themselves in your client’s shoes and picture how your product or service will help with whatever need or pain point they’re experiencing. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

2. Host a live discussion.
One of the best types of case studies is a live “food for thought” dinner session, which can easily be conducted via Zoom sessions. Inviting a VIP customer, analyst and select media to a discussion is welcome and genuine. So few people do this, and you will build lasting relationships. – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

3. Show how you solve problems.
Use a case study to demonstrate how you are solving your prospects’ problems. When your target market sees the success your solution provides to their peers, you are likely to gather more market share than you had anticipated. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

4. Share meaningful cases.
Make sure that the case study is relevant and means something to your client. How will they view it — as a marketing tactic or as truly something beneficial for their business? Think of it in terms of whether they’ll pass it up to a superior and use it as a basis to improve their business. If so, then you’re on the right track. – David Wescott, Transblue

5. Stick with the highlights.
Case studies are very important for businesses to be able to present their success stories and for other consumers to relate to brands that you have successfully worked with. However, don’t present too much data or text on a case study, as this will overwhelm your audience. Stick with the topline numbers or the campaign headline to effectively get your point across. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

6. Showcase your expertise and customer care.
Case studies can be a brilliant way to showcase the customer experience and the value a company can provide. By showcasing the expertise and care a company can offer and giving real-life experiences that future potential customers can identify with, you have a formula for helping illustrate what life could be like. Creating a few case studies ensures one matches a variety of potential customers. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

7. Develop a diverse library of cases.
Create a library of case studies that’s diverse when it comes to project type and industry. Many times, companies come to us looking for specific results from our work in a specific industry and project type, so it’s nice to have that information readily available. Also, be sure to keep your case studies very visible — we’ve had prospects come to us after finding our case studies through a Google search. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

8. Focus on the study’s results.
A case study has to be about results, not about what makes your business better than the competition. When someone reads your case study and finds key takeaways they can apply in their own business, you’ve demonstrated the value of your brand without having to say it. – Jen Vargas, JVComms

9. Share them across multiple channels.
Case studies help build brand trust and demonstrate your ability to deliver high-quality solutions or products. Use case studies on your website, in newsletters, in pitches or proposals, and so on — the channels that work best for your target audience. Most importantly, understand the specific needs of your prospects, and as you nurture those relationships, share the case studies that match their needs. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

7 clear signs it’s time to scale up your company

Every entrepreneur starts their business with the goal of growth in mind. But when sales begin to pick up, it can come with mixed emotions. Growing your company can be both exciting and daunting because there are pitfalls both to moving too quickly and too slowly. Scale up too soon, and you may find you don’t have the reserves to support added staff and operations. Wait too long, and you may miss the window for becoming a top player in your niche.
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It’s essential to wait for and recognize the signs that your business is really ready for the next step. So what are the signs that your business is not just prospering but is stable enough for you to scale up? Below, seven industry leaders from Business Journals Leadership Trust share their expert advice on the definitive signs that the time is right for leadership to scale up the company.

1. You’re unable to focus on the big picture.
It makes sense to wear many hats in the beginning, but if you find yourself completely in the weeds or handling every client request and putting out every fire, you know you need to scale up. If you don’t, you won’t be able to focus on the big picture and your business will become stagnant. – Jen Vargas, JVComms

2. You have the right team in place.
Having the right team in place is crucial before scaling — especially if growth is funded by outside investors. Ensure everyone is on the same wavelength in your growth roadmap. – Dorian Rader, OneTen° Capital

3. There’s a balance of support and sales.
We try to focus on the controlled growth of the company. Because of the nature of the consulting business, we maintain a strong focus on current project lead times, team availability and the backlog of work to make decisions about what direction to take the company in. It’s a delicate balance of making sure we have the team to support the work in the sales pipeline and vice versa. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

4. You have a strong bench of talented workers.
If you have a strong bench with talent who can do more and handle complexity, you have a strong formula to scale. Additionally, if you have built strong processes that allow you to push more water through big pipes and essentially allow you to wash, rinse and repeat the work, then you are ready to scale. Lastly, if your competitors are scaling, then you’d best be ready to scale too. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

5. Your resources are overflowing.
You’ll know the time to scale up is right when resources are overflowing: when your company has a surplus of cash flow and more prospects and clients than your team can service. Scaling can consist of additional technological support or additional staff. With an abundance of resources, pitfalls can be minimized and efficiency can be paramount. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

6. You’ve built up sufficient revenue.
It’s a good time to scale when you’ve built up a war chest from profits or fundraising activities and the market is right to capitalize on disruption. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub

7. You’ve got a methodical approach in place.
You’ll instinctively know when it’s time to scale up your company in terms of employees, square footage, capital investments or overall resources. Always make sure you don’t overinvest in scaling up; instead, do it with a more methodical approach. Try scaling one area then moving to another so you don’t push all your chips to the center at the same time. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

Q&A with Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising, fosters long-standing client relationships with the company’s expansive base of Fortune 500 brands to develop highly strategic and measurable advertising campaigns, designed to ignite immediate consumer response. From strategy, creative and production to media and analytics, Jessica is committed to premium quality and innovation throughout all agency disciplines. Jessica is a contributor for various industry publications and speaks on panels offering insights on key industry trends. She has published hundreds of articles with Forbes, AdAge, AdWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and many more. She has received many awards for her career accomplishments including the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur Of The Year” in the Transformational Leader category, and Los Angeles Times B2B Publishing “CEO Leadership Award” Winner.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Prior to joining Hawthorne Advertising, Hawthorne-Castro was a successful TV literary agent with William Morris Endeavor (formerly Endeavor), one of Hollywood’s top, full-service talent agencies representing writers, directors and producers for television. Jessica is the Chapter Chair for YPO Los Angeles and on the YPO Pacific U.S Regional Executive Board and YPO Global Editorial Advisory Board. In addition, Jessica is on the Board of the ANA/Association of National Advertisers ECHO Awards, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Council and social justice Boards including Dignity Moves Homelessness Board and is a Climate Change Reality Ambassador.

MEDIA 7: In 2019, you received EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Transformational Leader category. What has your career path been like?
JESSICA HAWTHORNE-CASTRO: I’ve always held myself and my work to the highest standards. Whether it was graduating with both my undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Loyola Marymount University’s MBA program with honors or working as one of the youngest women to be promoted to a full talent agent at Endeavor Agency (now WME/William Morris Endeavor). During the past 14 years at Hawthorne Advertising, I’ve set ambitious goals and worked to achieve them. I worked my way up from Account Executive at Hawthorne Advertising to the role of CEO, purchasing the company from its founder, my father Tim Hawthorne, in 2015. Since then, I’ve constantly worked to foster service-oriented relationships with all the agency’s clients, helping them to envision, create and execute powerful advertising campaigns that build and grow brands, and ignite consumers.

“Treat people with respect, kindness, diligence, and positive results for clients, colleagues, vendors, and anyone else you interact with.”

As the owner, Chairman, and CEO, I spearhead the agency’s focus on analytics and web attribution. Since I purchased the company, Hawthorne Advertising was named to the Inc. 5000 list and was certified as a Great Place to Work. Hawthorne Advertising is also a Certified Women-Owned Business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. As Hawthorne Advertising reached its 35th anniversary this summer, I’ve worked to expand the agency’s reputation and client portfolio of Fortune 500 clients who are focused on performance marketing. Thanks to the agency’s long history in the space, it has built a focus on brand awareness alongside its development of some of the leading ROI analytics and web attribution methodologies in the industry. And as one of the few truly independent agencies of 35 years in tenure and a continued leader in performance marketing, I’m responsible for the successes of our clients and the satisfaction of my employees.

M7: Hawthorne Advertising is where art meets science. How do you transform data into effective marketing and advertising campaigns that drive consumer engagement for your clients?
JHC: Hawthorne uses data science and neuroscience to transform data into actionable and strategic campaign optimizations. We achieve this with our proprietary attribution, analytics, and reporting platforms. I’m proud to work with our data scientists, media experts, strategists, and creatives who surface insights from complex data sets that drive engagement at all points in the customer journey. Each of our clients has a unique business, so we build unique attribution models to align with their goals and signals of success. We deliver ROI for our clients by being laser-focused on campaign performance and real-time optimization across all channels.

M7: What makes Hawthorne Advertising stand out and secure its position at the forefront of the advertising and marketing industry?
JHC: Hawthorne’s success ties back to us being a pioneer in performance marketing and our storied history. This summer we celebrated 35 years of experience being on the ground level of the industry, knowing and understanding how to create a direct return on investment for every single dollar of our client’s campaigns. That’s how we’ve always approached it across all disciplines. That perspective informs our approach to both traditional and new channels across all forms of media, no matter what. With any channel we leverage, from TikTok to varied forms of media, we can use analytics and attribute an exact ROI to that effort. That perspective is at the roots of our DNA as performance marketers, and that’s what makes us stand out.

“Human interaction, and the varied definition of that these days in a hybridized in-person and virtual environment, is important for maintaining morale and ensuring our strong culture remains intact even during the challenges of the pandemic.”

M7: How have you integrated your experience as a television literary agent in Hollywood into strategic marketing plans with maximum returns?
JHC: It really comes down to the client and the customer experience. As an agent, I was directly representing writers, directors, and producers in television. The same qualities that made me successful in that role translated over to my success in advertising. Delivering a positive client experience is pivotal in both roles. I achieve this positive experience by adding a personal touch to everything we do at Hawthorne. This is important because it shows the client that you are invested in them and a partner in their success. It all comes down to the fundamental value of treating others the way you’d like to be treated. Treat people with respect, kindness, diligence, and positive results for clients, colleagues, vendors, and anyone else you interact with. Hawthorne’s culture is built around these concepts.

M7: What marketing channels do you use and which ones do you see as the most promising given your target customers?
JHC: Hawthorne is a full-service advertising agency, so we’re media agnostic. We build specific campaigns leveraging the channels that will best achieve our clients’ desired outcomes. Our process is to first determine the desired outcomes of our clients, including identifying their specific brand goals. Based on these goals, we create a custom-built campaign. These campaigns determine how the client will reach their target audience using curated media and creative strategies that will best deliver a response. Lastly, we report data and analytics to show the outcomes and ROI of the campaigns.

“The key moving forward will be to assess if people start seeing through influencer marketing and disregarding influencer’s content as a result. Time will tell.”

M7: How has Hawthorne Advertising addressed and overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 era?
JHC: First and foremost, providing a stable environment in an unstable world and economy is my absolute focus and goal every day. Hawthorne strives to enable clients and employees to move forward with a stable mindset and stable operations. This stability and consistency give teams the space to focus and do their best work. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve found new ways to connect with one another at the agency to ensure everyone is being recognized and heard. Communication is key to achieving this. For example, every Monday we have an all-staff meeting at which we discuss company news and initiatives so that everyone knows what’s going on within the business. Teams also conduct weekly meetings in which the team members can discuss the status of projects and ensure everyone is on the same page. To give employees a place to connect on a social level, we host a virtual happy hour every Wednesday night. We encourage employees to send invites for virtual coffee meetings to other team members, particularly those colleagues they may not work with directly. Human interaction, and the varied definition of that these days in a hybridized in-person and virtual environment, is important for maintaining morale and ensuring our strong culture remains intact even during the challenges of the pandemic.


Hawthorne, a creative, analytics and technology-driven advertising agency, specializes in strategic planning, creative development, production, media planning, buying and analytics, and campaign management for integrated marketing campaigns. With 35 years of proven excellence, the agency combines persuasive brand messaging with best-in-class analytic systems to create accountable, high performance advertising campaigns.

Hawthorne helps brands efficiently target their consumers, improve cost per acquisition, optimize the lifetime value of a brand’s customers, and even drive consumer response to key retail outlets or corporate locations. As a leading analytic and data driven, accountable brand advertising agency, Hawthorne specializes in integrated campaign solutions. The company offers a full suite of integrated solutions with creative, media, digital and mobile services. Hawthorne maintains brand integrity and metrics to efficiently and effectively optimize the results of its clients’ integrated media budgets via leading edge and proven data analytics. Hawthorne has developed successful award-winning campaigns for countless Fortune 500 brands.

How Brands Can Partner Up To Gain More Customers This Holiday Season

When two or more brands partner up in a special collaboration, the results can help them boost awareness of their products or services in new markets and potentially gain new customers. In the upcoming holiday season, brands that combine their marketing efforts can get their offerings in front of more consumers, capture the attention of those who are in the shopping spirit and drive business and increase fourth-quarter revenues.

To create the most effective co-branding strategy, brands must be able to lean on the strength of each other’s names and reputations, and ensuring this synergy requires careful planning and strategic thinking. Here, 12 members of Forbes Agency Council offer expert advice on how two brands can launch a symbiotic marketing partnership that will leave their companies in the black after the holiday shopping rush.

Forbes Agency Council

1. Start By Defining The Offering

What can two brands bring to the marketplace together? Does it make sense for the offering to be a cooperative initiative? Who would the ideal audience be? What retail or online channel would be ideal? And finally, will the offering be exciting enough to increase traffic in a retail store or online? Then, branding, planning and execution will dictate the success. – Peter Belbita, Noble House Media

2. Seek To Inspire Discovery And Joy

Find a partner that inspires discovery and unexpected joy for your customers. Coming out of the pandemic, people are vacillating between uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty stemming from a new sense of vulnerability and the idea of what is possible tomorrow, which could be different and better. As a result, they will be seeking to explore with familiar guardrails. – Cheryl Policastro, TPN

3. Pool Funds Into A Collective Budget

I once organized a holiday campaign for ten jewelers located in one mall. Each store contributed an equal percentage toward the total collective budget. The ads promoted the mall as the destination for holiday jewelry gifts, and each of the jewelers’ store names, showrooms and products were featured in the creative. Pooling their funds together created a more widespread campaign and significantly boosted sales. – Chelsey Pendock, Innovision Advertising

4. Bring Something Alluring To Consumers

When partnering up, one key question needs to be answered: What will the consumer get out of it? Partnerships between brands need to bring something alluring to consumers that will incentivize them to engage and shop with the partners. A unique product line or service is a great way to do this. – Lisa Montenegro, Digital Marketing Experts – DMX

5. Find The Right Collaboration

Find a company with the same audience as yours. If you’re a children’s clothing boutique, you could partner up with a toy store on an exclusive offer: “Buy a shirt, get a toy.” If you’re in a niche, find someone else in a niche. If you sell CBD products, partner with a pet shop to offer customers who buy CBD for their pets a discount on CBD for the owners, and vice versa. – Danny Star, Website Depot

6. Use Customer Insights To Inform The Strategy

Think about what your customers need and determine who to pair up with to create a “more complete” solution. Sometimes the best partners are not the obvious ones. Brainstorm around the customer experience journey and see what comes of it. You might be surprised by what you realize when you think about things from different angles. – Fran Biderman-Gross, Advantages

7. Avoid Loop Giveaways On Social Media

Some studies have found loop giveaways to be ineffective at growing an engaged audience. Instead, reach out to a couple (three max) of like-minded brands that have similar audience demographics to create a unique product or experience. Make the partnership small and limited, incentivizing your customers to take advantage of the limited opportunity. – Leila Lewis, Be Inspired PR

8. Team Up To Give Back To A Cause

With the holiday season comes increased generosity, and this provides your brand with an opportunity to team up with another company to give back to a cause—think about your local food pantry, an “angel tree” project or a homeless shelter—and mobilize customers to join in spreading the goodwill. This has the potential to introduce your brand to new customers and earn their trust in the process. – Sara Steever, Paulsen

9. Increase Value With Bundled Products

Providing customers with increased value by bundling products and offering them at reasonable prices is something that can bring in more customers this holiday season. By strategically partnering with the right brands and products, companies have the ability to acquire new customers at a much lower cost. – Jordan Edelson, Appetizer Mobile LLC

10. Make A Statement About Your Shared Core Beliefs

Making a statement about what your brand stands for and supporting that with cause marketing is proving to be quite effective with consumers. Identify a brand that shares that same core belief and join forces in bringing that message to consumers. – Lori Paikin, NaviStone®

11. Target Another Brand’s Complementary Service

Target a partner brand that features a complementary service your brand doesn’t currently offer but which would benefit the consumer. Approach the other brand with your idea and form a strategic partnership that’s ready to launch for the holiday season. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

12. Partner With Your Competitors

Partner with your competitors this holiday season to create one-of-a-kind collaborations. If you’re a vaping brand, pair your brand’s hardware with a competitor’s accessories. Fostering connections with competitors isn’t a bad thing, and customers will respect you for recognizing other brands’ strengths. – Evan Nison, NisonCo

7 ways to identify and leverage the best primary marketing channel for your business

There’s no shortage of marketing channels these days — in fact, when it comes to pinpointing which channel will be the most effective, business leaders may sometimes think there are too many. There’s no single marketing channel or method that’s the universal best — a strategy that works for one business won’t necessarily work for another.

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Smart marketing isn’t about being on every channel or trying out every new trend. It’s about being on the same channels your target audience is and finding the method and message that speaks to them. And while there isn’t a single marketing strategy that works for every business, there are methods for developing one that do. Here, members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share ways to identify and leverage the best marketing channel for your business.

1. Begin with business objectives and KPIs.
To determine the best channel for your business you must start with your business objectives and key performance indicators. For instance, if your goal is awareness and branding, a campaign that broadly targets large offline audiences would be effective. However, if you want to drive local business in a neighborhood or small market, geotargeting your consumer on a digital or mobile device could be the best approach. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

2. Market through your existing customers.
My primary marketing channel is my existing customers. More than 95% of my business comes from my current clients. Having proven results and trusted clients speak on my behalf provides the best indication to potential clients about what their experience will be working with me and the value that they will extract. Plus, I offer a money-back guarantee, which advertises my commitment. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

3. Make the most of online lead sources.
We use the online lead sources that are already paying for Google Adwords. For example, we use angi.com for leads. We know we can’t outspend angi.com, so we let them do the hard work and bring clients to us. We know that conduits like them are also going to fight for the top spots, so we want the top spot on those companies’ sites. – David Wescott, Transblue

4. Consider your target demographic.
We use the marketing channel most relevant to our target demographic. It makes sense for us to sell our solution where it is needed most, as that is where our customers tend to be. The channel is how we make the most contacts to help change people’s lives for the better. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Leverage social media’s multifaceted benefits.
Every marketing strategy is unique, and the channels you use will vary depending on your business goals. The primary channel we use is LinkedIn. Social media is a low-cost tactic that simultaneously increases exposure, website traffic and brand awareness, allowing us to share our expertise with our well-curated networks, which in turn fuels leads and sparks lucrative business partnerships. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

6. Find ways to drive traffic to your website.
Our website is a massive driver of leads for our business. When looking at the people who visit our website, we primarily see our best leads coming from organic Google searches and our listings on directory websites, which share customer testimonials and examples of our work. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

7. Boost your outreach through networking and content.
My primary marketing channel has been networking and referral, and LinkedIn is often the method that provides the connection of both. I have also created a podcast to elevate my voice and extend my borders of thinking and prospects. – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

Understanding Why TikTok Appeals to Young People Is Key to Brands Reaching Them

It’s no secret that young people gravitate to the newest things, the latest trends and the hottest styles as they grow and establish their individual identities. For many teens and college-age students right now, social media newcomer TikTok stands out as the preferred conduit for watching, creating and sharing short videos.

TikTok AdWeek

In July, TikTok upped its video length limit from 1 minute to 3 minutes with the goal of supporting even richer storytelling and entertainment. “With all the ways our community has redefined expression in under 60 seconds, we’re excited to see how people continue to entertain and inspire with a few more seconds and a world of creative possibilities,” the company said.

“A lot of times you don’t even have to search for what you’re looking for on TikTok. It’s just there.”

A prime target
With a longer video format to work with and a young user base to tap into, TikTok is a prime target for performance marketers looking to rise above the digital clutter and reach new audiences. Offering a continuous stream of content that users can scroll through, the platform curates the videos for each person based on their viewing history.

“A lot of times you don’t even have to search for what you’re looking for on TikTok,” said one college student. “It’s just there.” She especially likes content such as fashion videos that provide information about where to buy the clothing and accessories, and clips about what to bring to college, where to buy your books and how to manage your time.
TikTok also helps to break down some of the social anxieties that younger consumers may have naturally developed as part of the social media generation. That’s because it’s more helpful and collaborative than other social media platforms. It encourages questions and collaboration, for example, and is known for its supportive, less-judgmental tones.

Finally, TikTok promotes individuality and helps users cope with the stress of the global pandemic and isolation by helping to connect people.

Types of TikTok advertising
Similar to the early days of digital advertising, TikTok creators may display “I’m not being paid for this” disclaimers on their clips, while influencers who create ads label them as such at the bottom of their videos. I would estimate that most of endorsements fall into the first bucket, and are seen as genuine, organic recommendations. And while these may not be official, paid advertising relationships, it’s likely that the creators are getting free products and/or teeing themselves up to become influencers.

Many of these influencers have millions of followers and have previously signed brand deals on platforms like YouTube and Instagram to promote products and services to their audience. “TikTok is no different, and the power of followers can be harnessed the same way,” Ruth Matthews writes in 6 Easy Ways to Use TikTok for Marketing in a Gen Z World.

Because successful content on TikTok isn’t overly curated and relies on user input, influencers can get creative with how they promote brands. “Some examples of this are wearing a piece of relevant clothing or filming themselves using one of your products as part of their day-to-day lifestyle,” Matthews writes.

Still, the balance between brands and influencers over creative license is delicate—and desire to go viral often comes up against a brand’s stricter standards of what it can get behind.

Another opportunity for brands on the platform is ecommerce. TikTok recently announced a partnership with Shopify, including the launch of TikTok Shopping, a partnership with select Shopify merchants. The introduction of new tools will allow Shopify merchants to create, run and optimize their TikTok marketing campaigns directly from the Shopify dashboard. Kylie Jenner is among the early adopters of the new service for her Kylie Cosmetics brand.

Taking that first step
For performance marketers, TikTok is a viable platform for reaching younger consumers and getting their products into the algorithm for recommendations (e.g., back to school, trends, clothing, electronics, etc.) The return on investment can be high because this is where younger audiences are spending their time right now. Meeting them where they are with relevant, useful content and product offerings can be well worth the effort.

11 Ways VR And AR Stand To Impact Advertising, Marketing And PR

When virtual reality and augmented reality technologies first appeared on the scene, consumers were excited about the possibilities. While VR/AR tech is still evolving, many of the futuristic applications people imagined have yet to manifest. Those that have been brought to life are popular among certain communities of early adopters, but the widespread use of VR and AR hasn’t quite taken off—except in the realm of advertising, marketing and PR.

Agencies and in-house marketers and advertisers are experimenting with VR and AR in unique ways that promise to change the landscape of advertising, marketing and PR over time. What does this mean for those working in this space? Here, 11 experts from Forbes Agency Council share different ways they envision the VR/AR evolution playing out in the world of marketing, advertising and PR in the near future.

Forbes Agency Council

1. More Personalized Ad Experiences

Over everything else, humans are enamored with experiences. They put us in the middle of the story and make it feel personal. Both VR and AR technologies open the door to personalized ad experiences that are unique to every individual. Programmatic advertising, messaging and marketing at the individual level is one of marketing’s “holy grails,” and this future will soon be part of our daily lives. – Bernard May, National Positions

2. Elevated Social Shopping Experiences

The time for AR and VR to shine has come. We are seeing social media incorporate these technologies and take the social shopping experience to new heights. Snapchat is leading the way, and it’s making serious investments to make AR shopping a reality. This is the next step for social media marketing, as these innovations can elevate the online shopping experience and entice users. – Emilie Tabor, IMA – Influencer Marketing Agency

3. Virtual Engagements Replacing In-Person Events

I see this world evolving to act as a quasi-replacement for in-person events and conferences. As we have seen throughout the past year, virtual events didn’t have the legs we thought they might have. With the advancements in VR technology, I can see this crossing over to the event industry and replacing the need for travel while offering true “personal” engagement opportunities. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

4. Immersive PR Outreach To Journalists

From a PR perspective, VR and AR are creating unprecedented opportunities for journalists to experience clients’ offerings in new and immersive ways that bypass the traditional media familiarization trips and desksides. Now, events, facilities, properties, travel destinations and more can all offer journalists an opportunity to discover what makes them special without coordinating a visit or trip. – April Margulies, Trust Relations

5. Virtual Experiential Marketing

One of the most important things about VR is that it is changing the possibilities for experiencing new things. With VR, you can imagine yourself driving the car, being a part of the event or having access to a new experience. In the future, this will become more and more the case, ensuring that you will have a more personalized relationship with the brand. – Jon James, Ignited Results

6. AR/VR Brand Interactions And App Integrations

The coronavirus has left many unwilling to interact with brands at major shopping centers and expos, and AR/VR are ready to pick up the sales slack. Online product listings and reviews can now be considered alongside AR/VR brand interactions. As top tech players such as Google make AR integrations for nearly all apps, it would be unwise to discount this futuristic technology as far-off: It’s here to stay now. – Evan Nison, NisonCo

7. More Targeting Of VR/AR Gaming Audiences

As with all types of marketing, once there is a large enough audience, there are marketing opportunities. Although VR/AR has the potential to have big audiences in the future, this is the case right now with things such as gaming. In the U.S., experts estimate that nearly 60 million people will use VR, and more than 90 million people will use AR, a minimum of once a month in 2021. Aside from using the tech to experience brands in new ways, this represents a big opportunity already. – Al Ramich, SmallGiants

8. Continued Adoption Of Hybridized Experiences

Virtual and augmented reality will become more relevant as people continue with hybridized virtual and in-person experiences in their lives and at work, including group events such as concerts, shows and other experiences. These continued adoptions of virtual experiences allow virtual and augmented reality to be incorporated by brands and advertisers to bring something new and engaging to their consumers. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC

9. More Empowered Predecision-Making Processes

The VR/AR movement has really given PR and marketing “wings,” so to speak. It allows for a data-driven, scientific approach to strategy as well as to the derived result. AI empowers the predecision-making process by accurately placing consumer sentiment. It has to be the right balance of EQ and IQ, which is why an agency of repute with considerable experience can add immense value to its marketing efforts using VR and AR. – Aman Swetta, id8 Media Solutions

10. Real-World Simulations Accelerating Learning

We’ve just helped a virtual reality company in the U.K. anticipate this very question. We decided that their technologies were best designed to accelerate human learning and performance by creating fully immersive experiences that simulate real-world scenarios and true-to-life events. – Phil White, Grounded

11. Novel Approaches To Branding And Acquisition

Like many new technologies, virtual and augmented reality are still finding their footing in real-world application. As the audience size grows, the existing “technical pipes” of online advertising can quite easily be plugged into VR/AR. So, adoption of AR and a large, growing audience size will supercharge advertising efforts and make this an increasingly legitimate branding/acquisition channel. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media

12 essential tips for building and maintaining a strong network in the ‘relationship economy’

Adaptability and agility have been widely credited with helping businesses that have endured over the past year and a half, but if pressed, most leaders would add another essential element: a strong network. Having a diverse group of people from a variety of backgrounds, industries and areas of expertise to lean on can help any leader navigate their organization successfully through difficult circumstances, while they, in turn, help the members of their network with their own knowledge and abilities.

Forbes Agency Council

This system of working together to offer mutual support has been called the “relationship economy.” It’s the recognition that every person in a network has unique strengths to bring to the table to solve problems or build better communities and that each member of the network stands a better chance of surviving and thriving when all members help each other. Below, 12 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share essential tips to help leaders and professionals build and maintain a strong network.

1. Be authentic.
It can be tempting to “force it” when you know a relationship may be of significant value to you. That can do more harm than good, including to your emotional well-being. Seek to serve. Your product or service is valuable. Providing a deep, listening ear can ensure you find the right ways to serve, whether or not that service provides an immediate, direct benefit to you. – Cheryl Williams, Hudgins Williams Associates

2. Look for people who aren’t just like you.
Building and maintaining strong relationships is incredibly valuable. The greatest value comes when those relationships are with people who aren’t just like you — people from different industries, functions, backgrounds, parts of the world and personal experiences. The greater the variety in the relationships you maintain, the greater your opportunity to give and get value. – Laura Doehle, Elevation Business Consulting

3. Think about who’s not in your network now.
You build your network before you need it. So think deeply. Who is someone who’s not in your network currently but whom you may need one day — maybe an attorney, a banker or a marketer? Or an HR expert, a photographer or a real estate agent? Build those connections now — when you’re not desperate — so you can leverage them later when the chips are down. – Sam Davidson, Batch

4. Focus on giving first.
Growing your relationships takes time and effort. You will need to engage more times than over one lunch or round of golf. Quality relationships are built on a deeper connection and value creation. Individuals who focus on giving first tend to build more meaningful relationships. Focus on repeated, positive interactions with a person to create valuable connections. – E. Tanner Milne, Menlo Group Commercial Real Estate

5. Offer and accept support.
Nothing great is accomplished alone. Reaching out to our networks, connecting and asking, “How can I help you?” or, “What is your biggest challenge right now?” are ways we can support one another. Often it’s hard for us to ask for help; however, the power of networks, friends and people who are experts at the things we are not gives us the ability to solve problems and grow. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

6. Nurture your relationships.
If you haven’t talked to someone in 10 years and you suddenly call them to ask a favor or to make an introduction, that’s less genuine than if you just saw them for dinner a couple of months ago and you’ve kept in touch that whole time. Stay close and invest in your relationships. – Mary-Cathryn Kolb, brrrº

7. Always be networking.
Take every opportunity to add people you meet — even if it is just virtually or via a phone call — to your network. Every new connection you make will open up opportunities in the future. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology

8. Set up an ‘equity cadence.’
Relationships require investments of equity over time to become strong. Equity consists of touch points, advice, assistance and overall support. Make a 2 x 2 box and write “Daily,” “Weekly,” “Monthly” and “Quarterly” in the boxes. Now make a list of current or desired stakeholders. Map your list across the boxes to determine the right cadence to be able to maintain the relationship. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

9. Embrace virtual interactions.
Relationships can be nurtured from past in-person interactions; however, there can also be a wide variety of relationships that develop from today’s video meetings. This “face-to-face” virtual interaction can also be effective for forming a new bond. Know that things are continuously changing, so it’s important to be adaptable and flexible with interactions moving forward. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

10. Build personal connections, not transactional ones.
Relationships are not drive-by sales pitches or LinkedIn requests. It requires a level of care and attention to maintain and build personal connections with others. I don’t ever want my relationships with anyone to feel transactional or like I’m trying to get something out of them for my benefit. I believe that everyone, no matter their job title, has something valuable to offer. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

11. Lead with service.
Helping others is great social currency. Making an introduction or putting in a good word for a friend who is applying to an associate’s firm are great, simple ways to lead with service. Folks don’t remember what you know; they remember how you make them feel. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

12. Build trust one step at a time.
Relationships take work. What you put into the relationship is what you will get out of the relationship. Trust is the beginning of the relationship, and trust starts one step at a time — meaning one phone call, one problem solved, one success at a time. Line upon line, step upon step, trust is built. So work hard and spend time on the relationship. – David Wescott, Transblue

7 ways to turn customer complaints into valuable learning experiences

At some point, even the best-run business will encounter and have to deal with a customer complaint. The obvious first step is to resolve the issue, but it’s also important to step back and look at the “big-picture” perspective. When leaders do that, there are two options: They can view customer complaints as “nuisances” that have to be dealt with or as valuable opportunities to learn.

The Business Journals

As many leaders note, when a customer complains about your product or service, they’re actually doing you a favor — they’re showing you where you may be coming up short. And it’s just as important to know where you’re struggling as where you shine. Below, seven members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share smart strategies to help your business create processes and methods for handling and learning from customer complaints.

1. Measure and incentivize decreases in complaints.
Measuring a decrease in customer complaints helps drive problem resolution and problem prevention for many organizations. Done well, companies can encourage learning from mistakes or complaints, making it less likely there will be repeat mistakes or issues. Coupling these learnings with incentives associated with driving a decrease in customer complaints is a winning formula. – Kimberly Janson, Janson Associates

2. Consider the thought behind the complaint.
Never view a complaint as a nuisance. Try to think about the underlying thought behind the complaint — is something wrong with your product? Are people misunderstanding how to use your product? Once you’ve figured out the reason why someone is complaining, own it and commit to fixing the issue. – Jamie Anderson, Emergent Software

3. Don’t get caught up in the customer’s tone.
Always listen to customer feedback, and don’t get caught up in the tone of the feedback. Review it from a higher level where you can gain insights into things that can be learned or improved upon. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

4. Reframe complaints as feedback.
Reframing a complaint as customer feedback and insight opens the door for a dialog to improve the problem your company is solving. Being curious and open-minded allows organizations to ensure their solutions are the best for their clients’ needs. – Rachel Namoff, Arapaho Asset Management

5. Uncover the facts and determine the truth.
First and foremost, it comes down to determining the truth. Uncover the brutal facts. Look at each review and ask, “What could we have done better here?” When we do that, we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, which allows us to relate and have empathy. That leads to the “why,” the “how,” and resolving the issue for the client and making things right. – David Wescott, Transblue

6. Listen and refine best practices accordingly.
Customer feedback is one of the most valuable components in building a great company. We need to listen to customers and refine best practices accordingly. It doesn’t make a difference if you are a restaurant, a retailer or a B2B company — listen closely! – Donna Michaels, LMGPR

7. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus.
Some of our best opportunities in IT have been in the wake of a disaster. If you view challenges as a chance to prove your worth — as a time to show why clients are engaging you in the first place — you will often find they are your best opportunities to shine. Keep a positive, customer-centric focus throughout challenging times, have a “can-do” attitude and be solution-oriented. – Jared Knisley, Fizen Technology