Are you feeling a little stressed?

The word Everything on a To-Do list on a dry erase board to remiFeeling a little stressed? As we head into Thanksgiving week, for many of us it signals the beginning of the last frenzied six weeks of the year.

Stress is a natural part of life — but as a culture, we’ve upped the ante and are entering an era of super stress. The consequences of that super stress are showing up in every aspect of daily life and come with incredible costs as we wrestle with the consequences.

Here’s the reality — it’s not going to be getting better any time soon. The causes of this heightened level of stress are here to stay and believe it or not, in some cases — it’s just going to get worse. The country’s economy, a tough job market, and the rising cost of living are the top three stressors cited in a recent survey.

These challenges are not going to be resolved in the foreseeable future, which means their influence will continue.

Another reason we’re a little stressed is because we choose constant connectivity. Our always-on world just keeps getting faster. We’ve explored how the workday is no longer 9-5 but really it’s become 24/7. And it’s not just work.

Our constant hunger for being in the know means there’s always one more video to watch, one more post to read, one more Facebook update to post and one more news story to pass on. We never unplug which also means we have no down time to unwind.

Even the things we love — like having lots of choices, living in urbanized areas, and our Western lifestyle all contribute to why we feel stressed out all the time.

The marketing insight that comes from all of that is — if we are feeling the stress, so do our customers. What should we do with that?

Point out the stress-reducing aspects: If what you sell can make life easier for your customers, be sure they see that attribute. Help them see how your product or service helps them unplug, unwind or unload some of that stress.

Make working with you easier/less stressful: This goes way beyond just having convenient hours or an easy return policy. This is about really walking through your buying process and eliminating as many of the challenges and difficulties as you can. Be sure you let your prospects know that you have made it simple to do business with you.

Simplify the choices: All too often, marketers believe they should offer as many choices as possible. The reality – too many choices equates to stress. Maybe it’s time to look at your offerings. Do you have too many choices? Are the distinctions between the choices clear? Is there something you could do to reduce the number of choices without compromising your prospect’s ability to choose?

Mix in some fun and surprises: People need to find ways to have some fun in this stressful world. But everyone has less leisure time (remember – 24/7 connectivity), which means the fun needs to come to them, right in the middle of the stress. What could you do that would be completely unexpected and add an element of joy or delight to your prospect’s or customer’s day?

The benefits of helping your customers’ de-stress goes far beyond their mental health. It will make interacting with them easier – which your employees will love and if you truly can reduce stress levels – the loyalty that will breed will drop right to your company’s bottom line.

And there’s no better stress reducer than that!

Big data delivers customized experiences or it’s just noise

Big Data If there is one phrase we couldn’t seem to get enough of this year — that phrase is big data.

Every day our digital activity (on the web, on our smart phones, social networks etc) creates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. In fact, 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years.

As our phones evolve into our mobile wallets and our hub for digital tickets and coupons – they will add dramatically to the collection of data on consumer spending and behaviors.

Suffice it to say – we are leaving quite a trail. A trail that will help businesses get to know us better, anticipate our needs and provide real time service. As business owners we need to recognize this trend for what it is – both an opportunity and a threat.  It’s also what could put you out of business if you ignore it.

While you may be personally creeped out by the robustness of your data trail, the truth is – most consumers expect you to use their data to service their needs. And now.

With information literally at their fingertips 24/7 and instant access to a host of social media platforms where they can (and do) tell the world if you’ve pleased or disappointed them, today’s consumers are at the epicenter of their world— and their expectations are unbelievably high.

These consumers, especially Millennials, take for granted the idea that companies are using the data they create to tailor offerings. Here are some of the ways we need to be thinking about meeting that consumer expectation. And don’t think that if you’re a B2B company, you are exempt. Your buyers have the same expectations.

Big data needs to mean personalizing offers: Some big box retailers are using data from loyalty card holders to offer different coupons to different shoppers based on insights gleaned via analytics—in essence, personalizing pricing.

On the B2B side, your customers expect that you are intimately familiar with their buying patterns and expect you to serve up offerings that match their buying patterns.

Big data needs to mean catering to consumers in real time: Looking back over last year’s data is so 2001. Your customers expect you to be reacting to what happened yesterday and this morning. They want you to anticipate their needs based on what is happening right now. Does weather, a specific current event or financial conditions in the country influence how your products and services are used? You’d better be tweaking offers, product improvements and availability based on those real time factors.

Big data needs to mean that my customer service should be all about me: Businesses in many industries can fine-tune their customer service to individual consumers based on consolidated data from various sources. This should be heeded, especially in the B2B space – where the assumption is that you have fewer customers and those you have, you know better. In their mind – it is a given that you are tracking and responding according to their past behaviors.

It’s a fine line, of course. We’re talking a trend, which means it isn’t mainstream yet. Some people will be uncomfortable that you know so much. But that will dissipate. And among the Millennials, the attitude is almost non-existent. They expect it. So expect this concern to be somewhat generational and over the long haul, fleeting.

Transparency will be critical. You will need to explain what digital data you are collecting and why, and then assure consumers you can be trusted with the information.

Today this is still cutting edge stuff, especially for most offline businesses. But tomorrow – it will be the norm. Don’t get caught behind.

Plant some marketing seeds

plant some marketing seedsBy the time a farmer is harvesting his crop, he’s already well into the planning of his upcoming planting season. We marketing types could learn a lot from those farmers.

The fourth quarter is a very busy time for most businesses for several reasons:

  • Lots of clients are spending the remainder of their budgets
  • Customers are motivated to wrap things up before the year’s end
  • Many companies are working short staffed and lose a lot of productivity around Thanksgiving and throughout December because of holidays and vacations
  • Internal planning for 2015 budgets and work plans is typically done during this time

That’s why it’s not all that surprising that you aren’t thinking about the sales/activity dry spell that often comes in January and February. You may be the exception to this rule, but for many organizations, the first few months of the year are often the slowest in terms of leads, sales and revenue.  That’s why you need to plant some marketing seeds right now.

It’s usually around the end of January that someone inside the company says, “Wow, our sales are really slow. We’d better do something.” They go into a brainstorming session and come up with some sort of promotion, marketing tactics or special to generate some sales activity.

Odds are, the ideas that get generated at the end of January usually start producing results 30-90 days after they’re deployed.

So if that’s the case…wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to begin those promos, specials, and increased efforts now, sixty days before your inevitable dry spell?

Let’s call it your planting seeds effort. You want to generate interest now but deliver the services/goods in January and February. How might you plant some marketing seeds now?

Offer a 2014 budget/2015 delivery deal: You know that many of your clients have a fiscal year that ends in December. They have “use it or lose it” budgets. So why not help them wisely spend those budget dollars? Create an opportunity for them to make a smart purchase in 2014 for things they’ll need in the first few months of 2015.

Put together a package: Why not bundle some of your products/services in a way that guarantees usage over the first few months of the year? Set the end date to purchase the bundle sometime in the middle of January. Begin talking about the bundles now and you’ll either sell some in December or you’ll plant the seeds now and make the sale in January.

Kick off a PR campaign: Maybe it’s time to create some buzz? That kind of buzz usually takes some time to build up so starting now means you’ll have some momentum in a few months. Be smart – concentrate on a few key publications that will position you in the right way with the right audience.

Reach out to former clients: Now might be the perfect time to re-connect with some of your former customers. Keep in mind that they’re (hopefully) doing their 2015 planning right now which might result in their realizing that they are going to need what you sell.

Develop and distribute helpful content: Depending on your industry and your customers, this might be an e-book, a white paper, a podcast, or even an in person seminar. Use this opportunity to demonstrate just how smart you are and how you can help them by sharing that expertise. Use the content to reach back out to potential customers you’ve already courted, prospects and even current customers.

Mine your referral network: Your best customers are typically more than happy to boast about your work. Now is the perfect time to ask them who else they think might benefit from your expertise/products. Set up those initial meet and greets for the first week of January.

Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of your slow season to worry about shortening it. If you plant some marketing seeds right now, the slow season may be a thing of the past.

Who determines absolute value?

AbsoluteValueMany people, myself included, believe in the power of a strong brand. Brand positioning has influenced buying decisions for years and a company with a strong sense of their own brand and a commitment to authentically walking out that brand is at an advantage over their competitors.

In the past, a great brand could significantly influence if not determine the absolute value of a product or service.

But, is that marketing truth evolving?

I’ve just finished reading the book Absolute Value, What Really Influences Customers in the Age of Nearly Perfect Information* by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen and it digs into this issue. The book offers many examples of how consumers have viewed and evaluated brands in the past and how they are coming to interact and judge them today. When you see the trends spelled out, in example after example, it’s pretty eye opening.

To kick things off — the authors list 5 widely held beliefs and suggest that they are all becoming less true today.

  1. A company’s brand is more important today than it has ever been
  2. Nurturing loyalty should be the marketer’s primary, day-to-day concern
  3. All customers are irrational
  4. An overload of opinions may actually paralyze people
  5. Positioning is the most important part of the marketing game

The authors assert that most brands are losing their role as a definer of quality and that a consumer’s past satisfaction is not as anchoring as it used to be. They also contend that because of the abundance of rational information that is so readily available to all of us, our methods of evaluating products and services has changed dramatically.

We really don’t shop/buy the way we used to. Let’s say you need to buy a car. Back in the day, you either went to a dealer based on your brand preference or you might have reacted to a TV spot or your neighbor’s experience.

But today, what would you do? You would look online and read the reviews. You’d look at safety reports. You’d then go to a site and could review exactly what the dealer paid for any car you were interested in. Finally, armed with print outs and a price you knew was 3% over dealer invoice, you’d head to the dealership.

Suddenly, you have access to all kinds of data that wasn’t readily available a decade ago and much of that data is ranking, grading and critiquing the item in question.

Given those two choices – a fuzzy brand preference or hundreds/thousands of reviews from other people – which do you think will influence you more today?

If you’re like most other people, you’ll trust the masses more than your own perception or previous experiences, unless you’re already a brand zealot.

That’s where the problem comes in for marketers. In this new marketplace, there’s a voice that is overshadowing theirs. And it’s not just word of mouth. It’s word of mouth, amplified. Many voices and they’re so much easier to find/listen to. And it turns out, their collective wisdom and experience is quite compelling.

This book is a thought provoking read. (Buy a copy of the book**) It will make the marketer in you tilt your head and really wonder about the effectiveness of your efforts. It will make the consumer in you examine your own purchasing patterns and identify some of your biggest influencers.

But whichever hat you’re wearing — it will force you to look at our world and your work in marketing a little differently. Just like your consumers are doing.

 

 

 

*I received a copy of this book from Emanuel Rosen but I really did read it and I really liked it and found it thought provoking.  You’d be amazed at the number of books I receive that I don’t really like… and therefore, don’t mention to you.

**Amazon affiliate link

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Trends we can’t ignore

 

In marketing, we’re always being asked to look into the future and foresee what’s coming down the road. We get plenty of help as the New Year rolls in, as the predictions freely flow.

One of the most comprehensive looks at the coming year is JWT’s Trend Report. Their report is the culmination quantitative, qualitative and desk research throughout the year. They identify the top ten trends that they believe will significantly impact the coming year and explore how these trends will show up and impact our day to day lives. It won’t surprise you that technology finds itself in the center of most of the trends – interestingly, in some cases as we embrace it and in others, as we try to escape it.

Let’s take a look at the ten trends and how we’re already seeing signs of them in our world.

Immersive Experiences: This trend has significant marketing impact. It’s all about how consumers don’t want to passively watch – they want to actually be immersed in their entertainment, narratives and brand experiences.

Early signs: In 2013, visitors to the Museum of Modern Art could control the rain in a special exhibit and Nike launched their “The Art of Science of Feeling” in New York City, using sensory technology to simulate barefoot running on various surfaces to promote the Nike Free Hyperfeel shoe.

Do You Speak Visual: We’re shifting to a visual vocabulary that relies on photos, video snippets and other imagery, chipping away at the need for text. Apps like Snapchat and Pinterest are making photos the medium of choice.

Early signs: Taco Bell has been sending disappearing, 10-second coupons and new product teasers to consumers using Snapchat and Sony created a program called “Pin it To Give It” that donated a dollar to the Michael Phelps Foundation every time a Pinterest user re-pinned from the board.

Proudly Imperfect: Imperfection in its messy, ugly and flawed glory—is taking center stage in a world that’s become neatly polished and curated. Imperfections provide an unfiltered, very human version of reality that reflects all the diversity that’s seen in everyday life.

Early signs: For a while, everyone was focused on putting their best photo shopped foot forward in their profile photos and status updates. Recently ugly selfies have become a counter to the glamorous self-portraits that proliferate on social media. Trending today are selfies that get tagged with #badhairmondays or #nomakeup moments.

The End of Anonymity: Thanks to the barrage of new technologies and ever increasing efforts to collect personal data, it’s practically impossible to remain unobserved and untracked. As anonymity becomes more elusive, consumers will pushback and there may be a growing paranoia around technologies and services that affect privacy.

Early signs: NEC IT solutions developed a facial recognition system and are selling it to retailers to help salespeople recognize VIP customers and on the flip side, counter-surveillance fashion and accessories are on the upswing for those who don’t want their data collected; OFF Pocket designed by technologist Adam Harvey blocks GPS, wi-fi or cellular signals from reaching a mobile phone.

Raging Against the Machine: As we move further into the digital age, we’re starting to both fear and resent technology, worrying about what we’ve lost as we chase this unprecedented speed of change. 65% of American adults believe that technology is taking over our lives.

Early signs: In Amsterdam, Kit Kat launched wi-fi free zones for people to “have a break.” Simple “analog” toys like wooden puzzles, simple costumes and blocks are flying off the shelf as adults hunger to give their kids a taste of a non-tablet, non-tech life.

Remixing Tradition: No one can say that the world isn’t changing. Our social norms have been dramatically altered and it’s not about to stop now. With this shift comes a new blending of cherished traditions with some very interesting twists that reflect this new world.

Early signs: Pope Francis, who is proving to be far more progressive than his predecessors is shaking up some Catholic traditions and is the first Pope to embrace Twitter. Another sacred icon, funerals, is now being live-streamed so that those far away can join in the event.

Mobile Opens Doors: Especially in emerging markets and poverty stricken areas, mobile devices are becoming a gateway to new business tools, education, and new markets.

Early signs: iCow is a mobile application that helps cattle farmers in Kenya optimize milk production and provides tips to keep the animals healthy. The app also keeps track of milk production, breeding and gestation.

Telepathic Technology: As brain-computer interfaces become more sophisticated and accurate, we are getting closer and closer to actually being able to read someone’s mind and mood. This technology can then instantly create custom responses, based on the data input.

Early signs: In Australia, as part of an effort to raise awareness about driving a car was designed that uses neuron-technology to make it go when drivers are paying attention and slow when they’re not. In a joint project, the Japanese and US Armies are attempting to develop a helmet that would read brainwaves and eventually could allow soldiers to transmit code words to each other just through the power of their minds.

Mindful Living: It should come as no surprise to us that the bombardment of technology upon our daily lives is causing both a huge surge in usage and an almost counter culture shunning of it. People are hungry to live in a more conscious way, shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment.

Early signs: Google holds bimonthly silent “mindful lunches” that allow their employees to commune with themselves and just be. Along the same lines, there’s a big backlash against the FOMO (fear of missing out) movement, which drives people to multitask and feel stressed because they can never keep up. The JOMO (joy of missing out) crowd encourages people to be grateful that they can and do shut down their technology and the noise that comes with it.

The Age of Impatience: Ironically, the last of the ten trends is all about how the constant on-demand economy and information flow has accelerated consumers’ expectation for speed and ever-availability. This combination of impatience and impulsiveness just keeps intensifying.

Early signs: This is one of the more mature trends, so it feels pretty mainstream. Services like Netflix have turned us into binge watchers – often consuming an entire season’s worth of shows in a single weekend. In the same vein, Amazon’s same or next day delivery has made the more typical 3-5 days delivery seem out of touch and unrealistic.

These are trends we can’t ignore.  They’re already influencing our world and it’s just begun.

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Direct mail is the hot new media

Direct mail is the hot new mediaWho would have thought it?  People have been predicting the death of direct mail for over a decade.  And yet, here we stand in 2013 and have to admit — direct mail is the hot new media.

As everyone flocks to spending more time online, a curious thing happened  Our mailboxes got a lot less crowded.  Which means that we pay more attention to what shows up every day in the mail.

Which doesn’t mean you don’t still have to do it well.  Many people sort their mail over the wastebasket and if you don’t catch their attention in those few nanoseconds, all could still be lost.

Here are some of our favorite ways to make sure McLellan Marketing Group‘s clients get noteworthy results from their direct mail efforts.

Be odd:  Odd sized mail is always noticed.  Or use a translucent envelope with a bright colored piece of paper inside.  Think texture too — maybe the envelope feels interesting or different.  The point is to get noticed before they even open up the piece.

Be lumpy: Want to get opened for sure?  Be 3-dimentional.  Lumpy mail gets opened because no one wants to accidentally throw away something of value. And better yet — no admin or secretary is going to open a package addressed to their boss.  So you can dodge the gatekeeper with a bit of bulk.

Be late:  The focus has shifted from drop date to in-home date. Studies have shown time and time again that the end of the week to be most effective for delivery. This is based on the tested and proven theory that many people spend time on the weekend going through mail that was put aside to look at again. Having the mail piece arrive closer to the weekend puts your mail on top of the pile.

Take advantage of the fact that direct mail is the hot new media — start showing up in your customers’ and prospects’ mailboxes but do it smart.  Be odd, lumpy and late and you’ll get opened every time!

 

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