Brand Awareness: Becoming Another Kleenex

thinkstockphotos-497344154In today’s world of marketing, if you are not marketing online, you are missing a very big boat. Marketing is now a science with logistics and parameters that were largely unheard of just a few years ago. However, that is not the case with the notion of brand awareness. The auto industry was probably the biggest contributor to the idea that brand loyalty could be utilized to sell more products. That industry is over 120 years old, and brand awareness became a fashionable tool in marketing automobiles by the early 1900s.

Brand awareness, of course, is the extent to which a name, label, logo, catch phrase, jingle, or another identifier that is associated with a brand, a specific product, or a company is easily recognized by customers. Brand awareness may be old news, but the Internet has taken the concept to new heights, becoming far more measurable and quantifiable as part of an overall marketing strategy.

There are many examples of successful brand awareness implementation. It has always been primarily produced by effective advertising. The most dramatically successful advertising campaign is the one where your product becomes synonymous with the product category. For many years now, a facial tissue has been called a Kleenex regardless of what actual brand was used. This is the same result we see when some people refer to any sport-utility vehicle as a Jeep and any cola drink as a Coke.

The objective in advertising or any brand awareness marketing endeavor is not simply to get your product name or image in front of the consumer. It is to get the image into the mind of that consumer, so when the buying customer wants a product, he or she wants your product before that of any competitors. Repetitious advertising creates a memory trace that remains and is reinforced with every additional occurrence. Think of mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup, beer, and coffee. The odds are pretty good that in each case you thought of a specific brand. It is no coincidence that the biggest selling brands are also among those most heavily advertised in various media.

While a successful advertising campaign can create solid brand awareness, a limiting or cessation of advertising can erase the gains in a remarkably short time. Forty years ago, a steel wool soap pad was known as a Brillo Pad. Today, SOS brand is the big seller. Brillo sometimes doesn’t even get any shelf space, and we must ask when was the last time you saw an ad for Brillo scouring pads? The manufacturer failed to maintain the brand awareness level they had established. A massive advertising campaign by the manufacturers of SOS soap pads was the driving force that changed the landscape.

Advertising remains key to this process, and today the most critical medium for reaching the customer is the Internet. No other medium offers such widespread advantages in both reach and monitoring capacity. With the Internet, you can track how many times your ad has been viewed and how many times it has been clicked on.

Furthermore, social media and blogging have opened up new avenues for tracking your brand’s impact. Programs exist that can tell you how many times your brand has been searched for by a search engine. Others can reveal how many times it has been mentioned in a blog anywhere on the World Wide Web. These “mentions” can be even more critical to brand awareness than page views or clicks because each one may represent an impartial testimony to your product. Even negative discussion tends to reinforce brand awareness. The old saying applies: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

Establish it, reinforce it, and nurture it. Brand awareness can make the difference for you in becoming another brand like Kleenex.

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The Importance of Making Sure That Your Employees Actually Like Each Other

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Make no mistake about it: a business is more important than any one person. A successful business is truly the sum of its parts. It’s a collection of people all working together to form a cohesive whole, helping the business as an entity move forward into the future and accomplish the goals that it has outlined for itself at the same time. Finding the right people to fill the right positions is one important step towards achieving this environment, but it is exactly that – one part. An element that is just as important (but one that far too many business owners fail to pay attention to until it’s far too late) comes from the idea that your employees also have to actually enjoy working with one another if your business is going to succeed the way you want it to.

The Business Consequences of Employees That Don’t Like Each Other

When your employees don’t like one another, it creates a situation where they become disengaged from their environment. This is true regardless of the type of industry that you’re operating in. When employee engagement suffers, nearly every other aspect of your enterprise will as well. Productivity begins to decline. The high level of customer service that you’ve become known for disappears. The individual goals of team members are no longer aligned with the larger corporate goals of your business.

In essence, the entire machine begins to break down. Think of your employees as the engine on a car. Each element is important in its own right, but they’re all working together to act as the force that propels the car forward. When they stop working together, the car doesn’t move – which is exactly what can happen if your employees don’t like each other and if this trend shows no signs of reversing itself anytime soon.

Ways to Improve Employee Relations

Team building exercises like business retreats aren’t just a great way to make sure that you’re working with a team of high-quality employees – it’s also a great opportunity to guarantee that these are high-quality people at the exact same time. Hosting regular events after work with the express intention of increasing relations and improving morale is the type of decision that will pay dividends for years to come.

Employees will begin to get more comfortable with one another and will develop the type of rapport that your business will thrive on. It creates the type of business where employees don’t just take pride in their own work, but in the work of everyone else, too. People want to see each other succeed, making them truly invested in the process. This creates the type of situation where the larger idea of your business benefits as a result.

These are just a few of the reasons why it is so important to make sure that your employees actually like each other. A (cheesy) old saying tells us that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’” – in the world of business, this is very much true. Employees that like each other not only as companions but as people are more willing to help each other when times get tough. They don’t just think about themselves – they think about themselves in the context of a much larger whole. They think about success less in terms of their own careers and more in terms of your business. Talented employees who don’t like the environment that they’re in because of their co-workers essentially accomplish the exact opposite.

The Evolution of Sales: How the Landscape Has Changed

thinkstockphotos-509956083Depending on whom you are selling to, and how, the nature of the sales process has changed since the birth and incredible growth of the Internet. However, with all of the changes in how we communicate with digital connectivity, some things have not changed much at all. Sales are still sales. It is the targeting of sales that has changed more than anything else.

A century’s worth of knowledge about how to go about selling something has not been made obsolete, but it has experienced some competition. The old guard, presenting the “correct” path for sales taught new recruits the art of manipulation. Jeffrey Gitomer, Zig Zigler, Brian Tracy, Tom Hopkins, and many other authors on the subject have outlined a strategy for increasing sales on the basis of this manipulation. They have shown us a successful, proven model for sales. So, what has changed?

Old School

The mantra for the old school approach was to establish and maintain a sort of control over potential customers by answering questions with questions. Establish some common ground and build a rapport. Spend all the time you can, build value, and only then reveal the price. Once a value has been established, even a higher price will seem more acceptable. It must be said that this approach has achieved much success. And, in fact, there remains a place for it, depending on the medium used for conversation.

What the Internet and digital communication have done, however, is to change the speed of interactions to the point that available time has collapsed. These days, spending a lot of time has become counter-productive if the medium is the Internet, for example. Studies show that most web surfers, even when looking for a specific product, will spend very little time searching before making a decision, one way or the other.

This makes building value more difficult, and when transactions occur online, there is no face-to-face interaction and no rapport building. Digital customers have very little time for elaborate presentations building product value. Typically, they already have a price in mind and are most interested in your price for the sake of comparison.

New School

Today, sales are being made with a rapidity that has never before been matched. For that to occur, some of the old ways have been relegated to other media, as the Internet has expanded to take over some of their space. Online sales are continuing to explode exponentially, so it is quite clear that new approaches are being validated.

To a certain extent, a person’s approach is tailored to his or her personality. Some people are built for face-to-face interaction. Some can do without it. All sales become a contract and there is a personal comfort zone that must be attained even in the quickest of transactions. Serious shoppers who demand a greater depth of information do exist on the Internet, but the Internet can easily adapt for these shoppers by offering the information to those who demand it, while streamlining the sales process for those who do not.

There is really nothing inherently wrong with the old school approach to sales. There will always be a time and place for it in certain contexts. What the Internet has introduced to the process is flexibility. While there is no flesh-and-blood person speaking to the buyer, there is a wealth of information available if the buyer really desires it. As a result, website building has become something of an art form, so the needs of customers can be addressed as those needs emerge rather than in a pre-determined sales presentation.

It seems old school and new school can live together, after all…

Sensitivity to People’s Needs

thinkstockphotos-122408117Doing business involves a product or service and a buyer and seller. In large part, it also involves the formation of relationships. The fact that some of them are quite temporary does not diminish the importance of these buyer-seller relationships. The objective, of course, is to limit the number of temporary relationships and increase those that are ongoing. Repeat customers are intrinsically valuable for the success of a business.

Naturally, these relationships should be as positive as possible. To do this effectively, you need to be sensitive to the needs and desires of the individual. Never forget that your customers are, first and foremost, individuals with personal needs.

In years past, some companies dealt only sporadically, if at all, with this issue, trusting fully in their products to supply what the customer needed. But, the relative success and failure of many such businesses have proven this outmoded attitude to be counter-productive.

Indeed, an entire industry has grown up around the concept of customer relationship management (CRM). Today, software is available from many sources. This software can make it far easier to manage all customer contacts, enhancing the relationship to the utmost, producing greater sales through better communication. However, it still comes down to the one-on-one relationship and your awareness in general, as well as specific customer needs.

Customer Satisfaction

As has always been the case, a successful appreciation for the needs of your customers is driven by sensitivity–treating people as people rather than simply as customers. Since a business’ customer contacts are most frequently engaged in by employees rather than management, a company’s employees and their training are of paramount importance in achieving better customer interaction.

A company is in a far better position for growth when its employees are made aware that their overall performance will be judged by their customer interaction–the levels of satisfaction those clients have achieved. After all, customer satisfaction is the most effective means of achieving customer retention, a far more efficient way to increase sales than continually reaching out only for new customers.

One key element in developing satisfied customers is to ensure that they deal with satisfied employees who present a positive picture of the company. A satisfied employee is a valuable tool. This is especially true when your employees are dealing with customer complaints. When a customer is most upset about something is when your employee’s “soft skills” are the most critical. Soft skills involve the ability to address customer complaints with politeness and de-escalation of the client’s emotional responses.

This brings to mind the movie, The Negotiator, where Samuel L. Jackson’s character tells another negotiator, “Never say ‘no’ to a hostage taker.” He then tricks the other guy into saying no several times, each time castigating him for his ineptitude. As humorous as this scene is, it also highlights the importance of a skillful use of words and an awareness for the needs of your counterpart in conversation. While your employee is not going to cause someone’s death, he just might cause a lost sale. Making certain that every client conversation concludes with a positive perception can result not only in short term sales but also in a greater number of positive stories being shared among new potential customers.

With businesses becoming ever more international in scope, many organizations are increasingly investing in staff training to enhance cultural sensitivity. Cultural, political, religious, and linguistic differences do exist as potential barriers, and learning to navigate this new international landscape is an important ingredient for future growth.

Never underestimate the power of positive relationships. Sensitivity to customer needs is key to a better public perception of your business.

Data Security in 2016 and Beyond: What Your Business NEEDS To Be Prepared For

thinkstockphotos-184744560We now live in an era where the vast majority of our personal and professional lives are playing out on the Internet. This is particularly true in terms of business, where cloud-based collaboration tools and hosting providers make it easier than ever to access our mission-critical documents from any location on the planet provided you have an active Web connection at the time. Because of the increased amount of faith that we’re putting into the digital realm, data security is of the utmost importance. There are a few key issues regarding data security that your business NEEDS to be prepared for moving forward.

Passwords are Going Away

Simple passwords have long been considered by experts to be woefully inadequate as far as actual data security. This is especially true now that everything from bank account statements to medical records are being stored electronically. All it would take is someone with a little knowledge and the right hardware to guess even the most stringent of passwords, which is why the practice is poised to go away for good sooner rather than later. Many businesses are turning towards other options, like SSH-key authentication, which uses a security key in conjunction with encryption to increase the safety of information stored digitally.

With SSH-key authentication, all data is essentially scrambled via encryption algorithms both in transit and at rest. In order to “decode” that information and gain access to the data inside, a computer needs the appropriate SSH verification key. Without that key, even someone who had the password for an account would essentially find all of the data unreadable, which is why this is one security trend that is increasing in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Security as a Service

One of the main obstacles regarding maintaining security in the digital world has to do with the massive effort required on behalf of business owners. Maintaining security patches, upgrading and monitoring network-based security hardware and more can be a full-time job for an IT employee – if you have an IT employee to begin with. Instead of constantly engaging in the uphill battle of trying to maintain security on their own, many businesses are turning towards third-party security as a service for this very reason.

Under this type of situation, you would pay a third-party company to take over complete control of your network security infrastructure. They would be responsible for auditing, disaster recovery, real-time detection, maintaining security patches and more – giving you complete peace of mind as a business owner knowing that A) you are as protected as you can be against cyber threats and B) you don’t have to devote a huge amount of time, money, and energy in order to get to that place.

Device Policies

Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work is increasingly common, but it is not without its disadvantages. If an employee accesses mission-critical information on their personal iPhone and then that device is stolen from them, the data they were accessing is potentially compromised. This is one of the many reasons why businesses are enacting strict device enforcement policies governing what types of personal devices can be used at work, what information can be accessed on them and what happens to that device if an employee suddenly becomes an ex-employee for whatever reason.

These are just a few of the important factors to consider about data security in 2016 and beyond. The Internet and technology, in general, brings with it a host of different benefits for businesses that can’t be ignored, but there is a seedy underbelly to the proceedings as well if you’re not careful. The key to cyber safety involves knowing what type of battle you’re engaging with and making smart, actionable decisions in a proactive way.

How to Create and Amplify Desire in Your Marketing Materials

thinkstockphotos-500097119If your marketing campaign is all about telling a story (and make no mistake, it most certainly is), the most important quality that story can have is a sense of desire. When you really stop to think about it, marketing is similar to almost every other medium in that regard. If your story took the form of a movie, desire would be the need for your audience to stay right where they were and not even think about getting up for popcorn. If you were writing a novel, desire would be the absolute need of the reader to turn the page and find out what happened next. In marketing, desire involves communicating to your target audience exactly why they need your product or service in their lives and why they can’t stand to live another day without it.

Creating Desire in Marketing

One of the single best ways to create a desire in your marketing materials is to use your target customer’s own natural sense of curiosity against them. Help them visualize the many ways that your product or service can fit into their existing lives through a combination of scenarios. Highlight what makes your company a very different (and better) animal than your competition. What you absolutely should NOT do, however, is give the game away too early. If a customer thinks that they have all of the information about every last thing a product does, they may feel compelled to easily write it off without giving it a second thought.

Don’t rely too heavily on trying to be clever or to “impress” your potential customer, per say. Not only is it difficult to master without wasting space, but it also isn’t necessarily something you even need to do once you’ve piqued their curiosity in the first place.

Simplify the Next Step

Much has been written about the idea of the call to action as a way to direct the reader farther along towards the sales funnel, but many people don’t realize that it can also be a great way to amplify desire in a customer.

Say you’ve designed a perfect, enticing ad campaign that both highlights benefits about your product and also leaves enough to the imagination where they can’t help but want to know more. A great way to kill that desire before you’ve had a chance to use it is to make the next step far too complicated for its own good. People don’t want to fill out a form to get an e-mail to download a PDF to possibly satisfy their curiosity and desire. Keep it simple: “Having this wonderful product or service in your life is only a phone call away.” That one simple technique can put many potential customers over the top and turn them into sales.

These are just a few of the many reasons why the concept of desire is such an important one when it comes to marketing. If you can master the art of desire, you’re almost leveraging the power of your potential customer’s own brain against them. Once the seed of desire has been planted, it is one that will essentially grow and come to fruition on its own. Once a potential customer truly and deeply wants something, they will move heaven and earth to make it happen – which is absolutely something that you want to create in as many people as possible.

Is Your Message Being Diluted in Your Marketing Materials?

thinkstockphotos-478254383When it comes to the marketing materials that you’re putting out into the world, there is nothing more important than the factor at the heart of it all: your message. Ultimately, the best-looking print mailer, poster, or other material in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have the clear, concise message in the center of it to back it up. If you’re worried about whether or not your design instincts are getting the better of you, and you are, in fact, diluting your message in your marketing materials, you can use these delightfully simple tips to find out.

 

Are You Overloading the Reader Visually?

Graphics, interesting font choices, and more can all be great tools to help get your message across to readers – but they should be complimentary, not supplementary. Every element that you use in your materials that is not contributing to your message is only taking away from it – never forget that. If your materials have swayed decidedly in the direction of “a lot of style, very little substance” in that you’re loading them up with tons of bright colors, flashy logos, images and more, there’s a great chance that you could actually be accomplishing the exact opposite of what you set out to. Start designing your materials with your message in mind and then lay everything else around it. Don’t design the best-looking print material you can and THEN try to cram your message in there somewhere.

 

Does it Take Longer than 30 Seconds to Discover Your Message?

In order to achieve a maximum level of effectiveness, your message needs to be as simple as possible. “This company is the one you can trust.” “This product is the one that can solve your problems.” “This service is the one you need to make your life easier.” These are (admittedly simple) examples of marketing messages that can be identified and absorbed quickly and easily. If it takes longer than 30 seconds for your target audience to realize what you’re trying to say, you’ve probably already lost them. Trust us – you don’t have that kind of time.

 

Do You Have Enough White Space?

White space is undoubtedly the best friend that you have when it comes to the print marketing materials that you’re designing. People don’t want to read a wall of text to find out what you’re trying to say – they want to be spoken to directly and succinctly. If brevity is the soul of wit, white space is the brevity equivalent when it comes to your marketing message. If you design a particular material and have very little white space left over at the end of the process, the chances are high that you should probably take another look. There are undoubtedly elements, whether graphics or text or something else entirely – that you can drop without harming what you’re trying to say.

Anything that isn’t directly contributing to your marketing message is only serving to take attention away from it, which is absolutely something that you do not want under any circumstances. People shouldn’t have to work to figure out what you’re trying to say – it should be immediately clear. By keeping these few, core tips in mind regardless of the type of material you’re designing, you’ll place yourself in a better position to establish a direct line of communication with your target audience in the exact way that you intended.