Category public relations

A Case for Cause Sponsorships

Cause SponsorshipCause sponsorships and cause marketing, in general, are effective ways to earn trust from consumers and increase the number of loyal customers for the brand.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, “Sponsorship is a form of cause marketing that involves donating to an event or organization and receiving public recognition for your contribution, linking your business name to the name of the cause.”

According to the IEG Sponsorship Report, cause sponsorship spending in North America increased to $1.99 billion in 2016, up 3.3% when compared to 2015 totals. Furthermore, they estimate that this number will increase to $2.06 billion in 2017.

While this is only a small fraction (9%) of the total sponsorship dollars spent in North America, it is still a number that should hearten the leaders of the many worthy charitable organizations out there.

Cause Sponsorships Should Remain Strong

The IEG Sponsorship Report warns that the growth in sponsorship spending, in general, could slow given several factors, including “uncertainty over global and local economic conditions in the wake of Brexit, the Trump election and other geopolitical matters, and its impact on marketing spending, including sponsorships and partnerships.”

However, I would argue that other types of sponsorship programs (e.g., sports, entertainment, festivals, fairs, and annual events, etc.) would be negatively impacted first. In fact, cause sponsorships could actually benefit by turbulent economic conditions.

The reasons that I believe this to be true are in line with a discussion of corporate social responsibility (CSR) during the Great Recession.

While cause sponsorships and CSR are not the same thing, they both attempt to improve the bottom line by understanding the bigger picture and improving the lives of their customers and the world, in general.

In an article that focuses on CSR in companies located in our neighbor to the north, the author makes the case that Canadian companies would actually be hurt by cutting funding for CSR programs during an economic downturn.

According to the article, “Heading into the recession, John Quelch, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, wrote extensively about the risks involved with taking an axe to CSR budgets. Many consumers, he says, have come to differentiate between brands based on the social initiatives they undertake. Moreover, once companies lose their trustworthiness on social responsibility matters, it can be very hard to get it back, warns B.C.-based corporate sustainability consultant Coro Strandberg. “You’ll lose your credibility with your own employees,” she says. “They’ll perceive it as a fad and they won’t be as engaged next time around. Your suppliers won’t believe that you’re committed and neither will your customers. Once you’re in the game, you have to stay in the game.””

The article goes on to highlight that social responsibility initiatives help restore reputations of companies that are battered by tough economic conditions.

Final Thoughts

Again, CSR and cause sponsorships are not the same thing.

However, I believe the argument for CSR in tough economic times can be extended to cause sponsorships, as well.

CSR and cause sponsorships both work to improve the reputation of the brand and thus increase business by focusing on making the world that we live in a better place. (The same could be said of cause marketing in general.)

Since it is an effective business strategy in both good and bad times, I believe that cause sponsorships, cause marketing, and CSR will all continue to get funding from businesses of all sizes.

Again, this is great news for the charitable organizations. It is also great news for the businesses that sponsor the many worthy causes out there.

But, most of all, it is great news for all of us.

As I have mentioned before, good business is good for business.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Don’t Worry, They’re Just Words: Lost in Translation

Communication is often difficult enough when we are all speaking the same language.

It becomes even more difficult when your target audience is more comfortable using a different language.

A report released by the Center for Immigration Studies pointed out that one in five U.S. residents now speak a language other than English at home. Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that this percentage is much higher in several major metropolitan areas in the United States. In fact, in Los Angeles and Miami, over half of the population 5 and older speak a language other than English at home.

The Washington Times article that talks about the overall percentage of U.S. residents who now speak a different language at home points out that English might be spoken some of the time.

According to the article, “Although many of those are bilingual, more than 25 million residents say they speak English at levels they would rate as less than “very well,” according to the report, which is based on the latest Census Bureau figures.”

This can be a problem for communications professionals who are trying to inform and influence customers and prospects about a brand’s products or services.

In many cases, in order to reach some of their potential customers, the brand’s messaging will need to be translated from English into another language.

In some cases, specific ad campaigns will need to be created to appeal to customers of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

However, as studies have shown, when translating from one language to another, care needs to be taken as even the structure of another language can change the way the message is received, and thus impact its effectiveness.

Languages Force Us to Think Differently

As a 2010 New York Times article explains, “SINCE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE that any language forbids its speakers to think anything, we must look in an entirely different direction to discover how our mother tongue really does shape our experience of the world. Some 50 years ago, the renowned linguist Roman Jakobson pointed out a crucial fact about differences between languages in a pithy maxim: “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” This maxim offers us the key to unlocking the real force of the mother tongue: if different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.”

For example, English requires that we use tenses, thus communicating whether an event happened in the past, present, or future. In comparison, Chinese does not force people to think about when something happened because the same verb is used to describe an event that takes place in the past, the present, or the future.

As the article goes on to point out, “Again, this does not mean that the Chinese are unable to understand the concept of time. But it does mean they are not obliged to think about timing whenever they describe an action.”

On the other hand, English does not force us to conjugate verbs to show the gender of a person who we are talking about each time they are mentioned. However, this is a requirement for people who are speaking in French, German, or Spanish.

It is interesting to note that in many languages, a male or female gender is also assigned to inanimate objects.

Even more interesting is the fact that this influences how people see these objects.

As the New York times article points out, “When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed.”

These are just two examples of how language has an effect on the way that people see the world around them.

If you search on Google, you can find many additional examples.

Final Thoughts

Back in 2012, I wrote a few posts about the important role that the words that we choose to use play in communication.

In particular, I pointed out how changing one word can have a huge impact on the message conveyed to the recipient. In some cases, the omission of a word can also completely change the meaning. I also highlighted the fact that social media is often like the telephone game, where the original message changes as it gets passed from person to person.

As I stated in one of the posts, “At times, the ideas that we are trying to convey to others might not be properly communicated because the intended recipients don’t understand the meanings of the words that we use. (In some cases, the words that we use might actually have different meanings among people with different cultural backgrounds.)”

“In other words, what we are trying to say might get lost in translation even if the people who we are trying to reach speak the same language,” I continued.

As I pointed out in this post, it gets even more complicated by the fact that various languages force us to think about different things, and therefore change the way that we experience the world.

Therefore, businesses need to understand that even though they may intend to send the same message to potential customers when their communications are translated into different languages, the message won’t necessarily be received in the same way because of subtle differences in the way each language is structured.

In other words, the message can truly be lost in translation.

What follows is a Ted Talk given by behavioral economist Keith Chen. In the talk, he explains how these subtle differences in languages correlate with our willingness to save for the future.

Video credit: TED on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Using Search Engine Optimization for Online Reputation Management

Photo credit: Danny Sullivan on Flickr.As I post this, we are only a few hours from the start of a new year.

Although the new year brings with it hope of a new beginning, the past is not that easy to escape.

This is truer than ever before given the fact that people can find out about your past transgressions with only a few clicks of a mouse using Google or any of the other search engines.

This means that everyone from potential employers to potential mates can search the Internet to find out more about you.

This is why your online reputation is so important, as it can have an effect on all areas of your life.

The best way make sure that people find positive things about you when they do an online search is to make sure that you live a moral and ethical life and never make any mistakes.

It also helps to make sure that you don’t post things on social media sites that could eventually come back to haunt you in the future.

However, for people who do make mistakes or use bad judgement when posting on social media sites, there is good news.

In fact, there are some basic things that can be done to help make it more difficult for people to find those skeletons in your closet when they do an online search to find more information about you.

The Internet Changed Everything

In their book “Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust,” Chris Brogan and Julien Smith tell the story of a smalltime British con artist named Alan Conway who duped people into believing that he was the famous film director, Stanley Kubrick, in the early 1990s.

This was before the Internet gave people the power to search for almost anything and fact check a person’s story in minutes.

According to the authors of the book, “Conway was able to get away with anything—under Kubrick’s name, he cosigned a loan for a gay club in Soho, for example—and was long gone by the time his victims knew what was going on. Worse, no one wanted to testify against him, because they would expose themselves as having been duped by a con man. They would be ridiculed, they reasoned, so all declined.”

“Conway continued his Stanley Kubrick impersonation for many years,” the authors of the book continue. “Eventually, he dropped it and later joined Alcoholics Anonymous; yet even there he told everyone another whole set of tall tales, involving businesses in the Cayman Islands and an otherwise exciting life, recounted in a diary found after his death in 1998.”

“But by then the world was being transformed,” writes Brogan and Smith. “The Internet was expanding in full force, and Google had just been founded, changing the way we would all interact, and who we would trust, forever.”

Social Media Changed the Rules Again

While the Internet gave people the power to fact check a person’s story in a relatively short amount of time, it was social media that truly gave everyone a voice.

While this has created a way for people to expose con artists for their misdeeds, it also opened a whole new can of worms.

By its very nature, social media gave people the power to spread information quickly.

And, as anyone who has played the telephone game knows, when things spread via word of mouth, information is most likely going to get changed along the way.

What this means is that rumors are likely to spread even after the story is proven to be false.

In his book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson gives examples of people whose lives were destroyed by the social media mob, often after making a relatively small error in judgement.

Although their actions were usually pretty stupid, they often did not deserve the public shaming that they received.

And, as Jon Ronson points out, their story tends to live on.

This is because Google and the other search engines help make it easily accessible for all to see long after the social media storm ends.

The Moral Bias Behind Your Search Results

In his Ted Talk, Andreas Ekström points out some of the biases that are found in the results we get when we search the web using any of the search engines.

In particular, he explains how they can be manipulated to destroy a person’s reputation using some of the same basic principles that businesses use when optimizing their web pages to be found on search engines.

In the talk he explains how people used search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to create a racist campaign designed to insult Michelle Obama in 2009.

He also gave another example of how social activists used the same tactics to insult a terrorist as a way to peacefully protest against terrorism and to prevent the terrorist rhetoric from spreading.

Ekström points out that Google manually cleaned the search results in 2009, thus ending the racist campaign against Michelle Obama. However, they didn’t do the same thing when people used the same tactics to destroy the reputation of a terrorist.

While Ekström does understand and seemly agrees with Google’s decision, he uses these examples to show the power that Google has in the shaping of public opinion.

Using SEO to Restore Your Online Reputation

The example just discussed points out that the people who control the search engines have the power to influence search results. However, so do everyday users.

For people whose reputation was destroyed, the good news is that you can use SEO tactics to help fix your online reputation, thus making it easier for people to find the good things about you when they do an Internet search.

However, as Jon Ronson points out in his book, it can take a lot of time and effort to influence what shows up in a Google search engine results page (SERP.)

For people who don’t have the technical know-how or the time to do it, there are people out there who will help you. However, their services aren’t cheap.

And, because Google is always trying to get the most current information in its search results, using SEO for online reputation management is an ongoing process. Again, this translates into more time, effort and/or money.

Final Thoughts

While the new year brings with it the opportunity to start again, the past often influences our future.

Although we can’t control what people say about us online, we can help influence what others find out about us by using some of the basic principles of SEO to rebuild our online reputation.

The good news is that anyone can do it.

And, really it all starts with making sure that there is a lot of good things said about you on the Internet to help drown out the bad.

However, as anyone who has studied SEO knows, it takes a lot of effort to influence what shows up on a SERP.

What this means is that you are going to have to skillfully post things on the web to improve what shows up in a SERP or hire someone who knows how to do it.

It can be done.

However, like most things in life, it is going to take a lot of time, effort and/or money.

Photo credit: Danny Sullivan on Flickr.

Video credit: TED on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Content Marketing Basics: It Doesn’t Pay to Plagiarize

Photo credit: David Goehring on Flickr.Many experts agree that having a well-written blog that delivers value to customers is a great way to generate leads and increase traffic to your website, particularly if you work in the B2B world.

In fact, as a HubSpot blog post points out, “B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those that do not.”

The HubSpot post also mentions that blogging helps increase the number of inbound links to your website.

Furthermore, according to the HubSpot post, “Blogs have been rated as the 5th most trusted source for accurate online information.”

With this in mind, it is not surprising that many marketing experts suggests that businesses at least consider adding blogging to their content marketing efforts.

What the problem is is that the person who is most qualified to write about the core business might not be trained in some of the basics of business writing, including how and when to correctly cite a source of information.

Plagiarism Can Destroy Your Reputation

In the world of journalism, plagiarism can destroy a career.

In his latest book, titled “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” Jon Ronson describes how Jonah Lehrer was publicly scrutinized for self-plagiarism and, similarly, for including made-up Bob Dylan quotes in one of his books.

Ronson details the agony that Lehrer went through as people gleefully lambasted him for his misdeeds.

Although Lehrer has already started to recover from these incidents, many people will always question the integrity of his future work. Therefore, Lehrer will need to work harder in the future to regain the public’s trust.

While business bloggers might not be scrutinized to the same level as journalists, if the work published on a business blog is found to be someone else’s work and proper attribution is not given, the reputation of the writer and the business can be questioned.

It is therefore important to make sure that business bloggers properly cite the work of others when writing a blog post.

As Emilia Sukhova points out in a post on the Convince and Convert blog, “Regardless of expertise, if someone is worth quoting, then they are worth citing.”

What Exactly Is Plagiarism?

If you do a Google search, you will find several definitions of plagiarism.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “plagiarize” means: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source” and “to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

A post on the Grammerly blog warns writers to avoid plagiarism in several forms, including direct plagiarism, self-plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, and accidental plagiarism.

All forms of plagiarism can hurt a brand’s image and break the trust that consumers have in the brand.

For example, a post on the Spin Sucks blog pointed out that the UPS Store was accused of plagiarism in the past. This sends a bad message to potential customers.

The Houston Press also wrote a rant about a real estate broker in Houston, Texas, whom they accused of plagiarizing their content and the content of other online sources. If a potential buyer found this while doing a Google search, do you think they would trust him to help them buy or sell a home?

It’s Been Done Before

In a 2014 blog post, Seth Godin pointed out that no matter what you do, it has most likely been done before.

“Originality is local,” writes Godin. “The internet destroys, at some level, the idea of local, so sure, if we look hard enough we’ll find that turn of a phrase or that unique concept or that app, somewhere else.”

While he was talking about business, in general, the point that he makes can be applied here, as well.

That point being is that we shouldn’t stop blogging because of the fear of being called a plagiarist. If you write something, chances are that someone else has written something similar before.

This happened to Yvette Pistorio in 2013.

In a post on the Spin Sucks blog she states, “In my case, I wasn’t careful. I was in a rush to turn in my next post on time, and I didn’t credit the article I drew my original inspiration from. Although, ironically, it still wasn’t the post that was cited as the plagiarized work. In fact, it was from a huge publication, and most likely would never have been noticed – but still – this is a HUGE no-no. I know that.”

So although she should have cited her source of inspiration, it was someone else who accused her of plagiarizing.

If what she says is true, it illustrates the point that with all the information out there, your work might somehow look like the work of others even if you aren’t guilty of plagiarism.

This issue exists. There is no way around it.

This shouldn’t stop you from blogging.

Common Knowledge

According to the “Harvard Guide to Using Sources,” there is an exception to the rule that you need to cite a source of information.

Photo credit: Christian Schnettelker on Flickr.“The only source material that you can use in an essay without attribution is material that is considered common knowledge and is therefore not attributable to one source,” the author of the publication writes. “Common knowledge is information generally known to an educated reader, such as widely known facts and dates, and, more rarely, ideas or language. Facts, ideas, and language that are distinct and unique products of a particular individual’s work do not count as common knowledge and must always be cited. Figuring out whether something is common knowledge can be tricky, and it’s always better to cite a source if you’re not sure whether the information or idea is common knowledge. If you err on the side of caution, the worst outcome would be that an instructor would tell you that you didn’t need to cite; if you don’t cite, you could end up with a larger problem.”

According to the author of the publication, “If you have encountered the information in multiple sources but still think you should cite it, cite the source you used that you think is most reliable, or the one that has shaped your thinking the most.”

This advice is not only applicable to academic writing, but it would also apply to business blogging, as well.

Final Thoughts

Blogging is a great way to generate leads by showing that your business is a trusted source for information.

In fact, according to HubSpot, blogs are among the most trusted sources for online information.

However, if your business is knowingly posting content from another source without proper attribution, it can break the trust that customers have in your brand, and ultimately damage your brand’s overall reputation.

That said, the fear of plagiarizing content should not deter you from using a blog as part of your content marketing efforts.

The best advice that anyone can give is to make sure that you properly cite your sources of information whenever possible.

As Seth Godin said, “We’re asking you to be generous and brave and to matter. We’re asking you to step up and take responsibility for the work you do, and to add more value than a mere cut and paste.”

Photo credits: David Goehring and Christian Schnettelkeron Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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The Internet of Things and the Future of Digital Marketing and Public Relations

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.Technology is changing the world that we live in.

In fact, with the rapid increases in computer processing power and the decreases in the costs-of-production, the world that we live in is changing at a mind-blowing rate.

When looking at marketing and public relations, many businesses are currently still trying to figure out how to properly integrate social media, SEO, content, and mobile into the marketing mix. This leaves very little time to think about what is going to be influencing business in the upcoming years.

However, given the rapid speed of change, companies that don’t adapt in all areas of business, including the way that they market their products and services to customers, will be left behind.

Therefore, keeping an eye on what technology advancements experts feel will impact our world in five, 10, or 20 years is a must when businesses develop their long-term business strategies.

This includes, but is not limited to, something that will have an effect on everything.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In the near future, many of the “things” that we interact with on a daily basis will have a sensor embedded in them and will be connected to the Internet, allowing them to exchange data with computers, mobile phones, and other “things.”

The possibilities for making our lives better are limitless, as are the opportunities that will be created for marketers to get their messages out to consumers in a more effective and efficient way.

Some of the most interesting things that I have heard about lately involve helping make consumers’ lives better by the use of the data collected from these sensors.

However, the Internet of Things is still in the nascent stage of development and many issues need to be worked out. This includes privacy issues, as well as making sure that the data collected is used in an ethical way.

From a marketing and public relations standpoint, this is of the utmost importance.

If the results of a recent survey conducted by Google Consumers Surveys for Auth0 is really an indication of the public’s current level of trust with the Internet of Things, marketers and public relations professionals have their work cut out for them, as many respondents who are aware of the Internet of Things have concerns with security and personal data collection.

The Age of Context

In their book, “Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy,” Robert Scoble and Shel Israel highlight some of the ways that technology is already being used to make the world a better place.

They also make predictions as to how technology might evolve in the near future.

The authors of the book are very optimistic about the future uses of technology.

In particular they are excited about how businesses can use technology to better the lives of consumers, and in the process, increase sales by helping target the right person at the right time in the right place.

As they mention, “Context will allow us to receive messages based on location, time of day, and what we intend to do next. We believe this will dramatically boost response rates because customized messages will be more relevant to the recipients. An ad for a discount at a nearby restaurant when we are hungry is pretty likely to get us to act immediately.”

However, while Scoble and Israel are optimistic about the possibilities that these new technologies will bring, they are not naïve.

In fact, they point out some of the problems that have already arisen, as well as some of issues that businesses need to consider in the future, particularly regarding privacy and the use of the data collected.

Final Thoughts

Advancements in technology are going to bring about some very exciting changes in the near future.

However, as the study conducted by Google Consumer Surveys mentioned earlier points out, when asked about the Internet of Things respondents said that they are concerned about security and personal data collection issues.

What this means is that businesses are going to need to find ways to use these new technologies to better the lives of their customers, while making sure that everything they do is transparent, ethical, and protects the customer’s privacy.

They are then going to have to make sure that consumers feel comfortable with what the business is doing and are aware of all the benefits that these new technologies will bring.

Photo credit: NYC Media Lab on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Reward Customers for Good Behavior to Generate Positive Word of Mouth

Photo credit: leyla.a on Flickr.The world would be a better place if we all treated each other a little nicer.

Maybe if good manners were assigned a monetary value, more people would be on their best behavior.

This is exactly what a few restaurants and coffee shops have done.

In the process, they have received positive coverage from bloggers and other online media outlets.

In the age of where news stories can be found on search engines for years and people can spread the message via social media and online review sites, this kind of coverage can definitely make a positive impact on the business’s bottom line.

Here is a list of some of restaurants and coffee shops that I have heard about lately that have used this tactic to get people talking about their businesses.

Rewarding Parents When Their Kids Are on Their Best Behavior

Back in 2013, a Washington eatery got mentioned on TODAY.com for giving Laura King and her family a $4 discount on their bill to cover a bowl of ice cream that the owners gave the family because their children were so well behaved.

As the article points out, “Rob Scott — who owns Sogno di Vino, the restaurant King visited — said he routinely offers complimentary desserts to customers with well-mannered children, but this was the first time he had actually typed the discount on the receipt.”

“An image of the receipt quickly went viral after one of King’s friends posted it online,” the article continues.

While not all the mentions that the restaurant received were positive, the discount got people to talk about the restaurant on social media sites, which led to some great coverage in the national news media. Furthermore, articles about the post still show up on a Google search engine results page (SERP) over two years after the post went viral.

No Cell Phones at the Dinner Table

As an article on The Huffington Post points out, several restaurants have tried to encourage better dining etiquette by offering a discount to customers when they put their smartphones away while they are at the dinner table.

Other restaurants have even gone so far as to ban the use of cell phones in their restaurants all together. As the Huffington Post article mentions, this policy has sometimes been met with outrage.

Whether people agree with this type of policy or not, it has generated some attention. Furthermore, it has gotten people to talk about whether or not cell phones should be used as much as they are at the dinner table.

Photo credit: Social Media Dinner on Flickr.

On the other hand, it also needs to be noted that this policy does prevent customers from taking photos of their food and sharing them on social media sites.

This, too, can be a great way to get people talking about the restaurant and possibly get them to visit the establishment in the future.

Hummus Diplomacy

In October of this year, NPR featured a story about an Israeli restaurant in Kfar Vitkin, north of Tel Aviv, that is giving a 50 percent discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together.

As reported in the NPR article, a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page stated, “Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!”

According to NPR, “His post was shared more than 1,900 times, and news of the deal has made headlines around the world.”

At the time the article was written, the offer had only been redeemed by 10 tables. However, business has increased by 20 percent. The article mentions that a substantial part of the boost was from local and foreign journalists.

Please and Good Morning Saves You Money

Offering customers a discount for good manners can also generate good will and positive mentions online.

For example, a small coffee shop in Australia has a sign in front of the shop that says that the coffee is $5. If you say “please,” the coffee is $4.50 and it’s only $4 if you say, “Good morning, a coffee please.”

According to an article on the Daily Mail, the owners of the coffee shop don’t enforce the policy. However, they said it brings a smile to many of their customers’ faces and many customers go out of their way to be courteous.

Even if it isn’t enforced, the sign has created enough attention to be covered by online media outlets.

It is interesting to note that this idea was copied, with similar results, by a French café.

Free Meal to the Lonely on Thanksgiving

Okay, this one isn’t really about getting customers to change their actions.

In fact, it is actually the restaurant that is going out of its way to be courteous to its customers.

The buzz started when a customer posted a photo of a sign that was hung on the door of George’s Senate Coney Island Restaurant in Michigan that stated that anyone who would be home alone on Thanksgiving could come to the restaurant and get a free meal on November 26, 2015.

Not only did the story go viral on social media, it was covered by many of the traditional media outlets, as well.

And, while the restaurant will probably be giving out more meals than it originally planned, the free publicity that it received is priceless.

Final Thoughts

As I said at the beginning of this post, the world would be a better place if people chose to be nicer to each other.

Businesses often have an opportunity to remind customers of this.

As shown in this post, incentivizing good behavior is not always met with open arms. In fact, sometimes, it is met with outrage.

However, when done correctly, little things that remind us that we need to coexist peacefully and show respect for others can get people talking about the business online. Sometimes, this will lead to further coverage in more traditional media outlets.

Furthermore, social sharing is only part of story. When customers search for information about the restaurant on Google or any of the other search engines, a positive story like this is likely to appear on a SERP well into the future. That might be enough to get potential customers to visit the restaurant long after the deal ends.

And, if nothing else, the business might start a conversation that can make the world a better place.

Photo credits: leyla.a and Social Media Dinner on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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An Early and Online 2015 Holiday Shopping Season – Why REI Closing on Black Friday Is Good Business

Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.The business world was buzzing this week about REI’s decision to close its brick and mortar stores on one of the busiest shopping days of the year—Black Friday.

While it might have cost them some money in the short term, it was a very savvy business decision for many reasons.

The most obvious reason… all the free publicity REI is getting as business reporters and bloggers attempt to list and defend the company’s possible reasons for this decision.

What follows is a list of some of the factors that the company might have considered before making its announcement on Monday.

Black Friday Sales Are Not the Event That They Once Were

As Nikki Baird points out in an article on Forbes.com, there aren’t many surprise Black Friday deals to be found on Thanksgiving Day thanks to sites like blackfriday.com.

“Shoppers can see the deals way before the day they become available, compare the products, and if they’re enterprising and on the ball, they can find deals just as good or better right now – in fact, there are now price trackers that will help shoppers predict when the price will be the lowest, and apparently that more often happens the Friday before Thanksgiving, not after,” writes Baird.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that The National Retail Federation reported that there was an 11 percent decline in total spending in the four-day period between Thanksgiving Thursday and Sunday in 2014, when compared to the previous year.

It is also interesting to note that according to Google, about one in four consumers who responded to a survey conducted in January of 2015 said they had done some holiday shopping before Halloween last year. If this is true again this year, many consumers are already in stores looking for the best deal on the perfect gift.

Many Shoppers Are Turning to the Internet for Their Holiday Shopping

According to the National Retail Federation, “Almost half of holiday shopping, consisting of browsing and buying, will be done online: average consumers say 46 percent of their shopping (both browsing and buying) this holiday season will be conducted online, up from 44 percent last year.”

An Emphasis on Employees and the Outdoors Resonates With REI’s Customers

In an effort to capture more of a consumer’s holiday budget, many stores are opening earlier and earlier each year. In fact, many retailers will be open in the early evening on Thanksgiving Day.

While people often turn out in droves, many consumers (and retail employees) complain that retailers are missing the point. They feel that the holidays should be reserved for family time, not shopping.

By closing on Black Friday and giving their employees a paid vacation day, REI is sending a message that the family, employee well-being, and getting outdoors during the holiday is important to them, too.

Part of the reason that REI is able to make this unorthodox business decision is that REI is one of the few large retail cooperatives in the nation, not a publicly traded company.

“That basic structure frees up the business to do things that don’t really make sense in conventional market terms,” says Erbin Crowell, executive director for the Neighborhood Foods Co-op Association in a recent Washington Post article.

“Even if an observer called it a marketing strategy, it’s a really intriguing one that points to the fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional public corporations,” says Crowell.

“Clearly they’re seeing their social purpose, their cooperative structure, has value again,” Crowell continues, “and it’s something they want to lift up and share.”

Final Thoughts

REI made a bold move when it decided to announce that its brick and mortar stores will be closed on Black Friday and that employees will receive a paid vacation day in honor of the holiday.

Many factors may have played a role in this decision, including the fact that many consumers have been getting some of their holiday shopping done before Black Friday. In fact, many start before Halloween.

It is also important to point out that while the brick and mortar stores will be closed, customers can still purchase items from REI online.

The free publicity that REI is getting is also an added bonus.

In the end, REI’s management are undoubtedly hoping that this decision will resonate with consumers and create loyal customers who identify with the brand and the values that REI feels are important.

 

Photo credit: Chris Phan on Flickr.

Video credit: CNNMoney on YouTube.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Seven More Things That Will Influence Business in 2014

It’s a new year.

That means it is a good time to look ahead and try to predict what businesses will need to focus on in order to stay ahead of the game.

As I was thinking about this post, a few things occurred to me.

First, many of the things that I have on my list are things that people have been talking about for a few years. This may be due to the fact that technology is finally catching up to the hopes and dreams of innovators around the globe. This could also be due to the fact that smart people try to think in terms of what the world will be like 10, 20, or 30 years from now, and plan their short-term goals so that they are meeting the needs of consumers now and in the future.

Second, the lists that we make each year don’t only apply to the year ahead. They build off the past and hopefully look to the future. Therefore, it is not surprising that the items on last year’s list could easily be on someone’s list for 2014.

Third, although now is a good time to look ahead, smart businesses need to be doing this all year long. Because technology is advancing at such a fast pace, something new could be invented or released mid-year that could change the direction of business.

The List So Far

As I mentioned, the things I was watching in 2013 are still relevant in 2014. Therefore, instead of creating a whole new list, I am just going to add to it. For review, here is the 2013 list:

1) Rapid Advancements in Technology

2) Mobile (User Experience and Marketing)

3) Mobile Payments

4) Mobile-Influenced Merchandising

5) Privacy Issues

6) The Evolution of Marketing and Public Relations

7) Emerging Markets

Note: As I do each year, I suggest checking out the “100 things to Watch in 2014” list published by JWT Intelligence. As was the case in the past, this year’s list has some very interesting predictions.

Additional Things I Will Be Watching in 2014

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some additional things that I think businesses should be watching this year.

8) Internet of Things The definition of the Internet of Things is not completely agreed upon. That said, my definition is most aligned with the definition provided by SAP. According to Wikipedia.org, SAP’s definition of the Internet of Things is, “A world where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into the information network, and where the physical objects can become active participants in business processes. Services are available to interact with these ‘smart objects’ over the Internet, query and change their state and any information associated with them, taking into account security and privacy issues.” This will not only change business, it will change how we live. (The most common example that I have heard about is the refrigerator that can tell you when you are out of milk. This technology can and is being used to help companies meet the needs of consumers in all areas of life.)

In the short-term, the use of this type of technology can help companies gain a competitive advantage over the competition. In the future, this type of technology will be table stakes.

9) The Evolution of Retail It is inevitable that advancements in technology will change the way people shop. In order for brands and retailers to compete, they are going to have to take many variables into account and offer creative ways for consumers to purchase products and services from them. Last year, I pointed out that mobile phones are influencing the way people shop at brick-and-mortar stores. But the changes don’t stop there. Innovative companies have found ways for consumers to purchase products from them in ways that we never thought possible. Need some examples? Look at number 11, 14, 59, and 79 on the JWT Intelligence “100 Things to Watch in 2014” list.

10) Omni-Channel Retail Although this is part of the evolution of retail, it is important enough to be included by itself. According to Wikipedia.org, “Omni-Channel Retailing is the evolution of multi-channel retailing, but is concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, bricks-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog and so on. Retailers are meeting the new customer demands by deploying specialized supply chain strategy software.”

As Wikipedia points out, “With omni-channel retailing, marketing is made more efficient with offers that are relative to a specific consumer determined by purchase patterns, social network affinities, website visits, loyalty programs, and other data mining techniques.”

Note: Some people have used the phrase onmi-channel marketing. However, it looks like more people are going with onmi-channel retail. It seems like they are basically talking about the same thing (i.e., not only having the brand reach consumers via multiple marketing channels, but having each of the channels know how the customer interacted with the brand in the past.)

11) A Global Marketplace Thanks to the latest technology, we have access to and can sell products to consumers located in all areas of the globe. However, the Internet is not making us homogeneous. In fact, as I pointed out in a post last year, research has shown that the Internet may reinforce regional differences. The key is knowing what customers want and filling their needs. This is going to call for increased awareness of the needs of each demographic group (region, political affiliation, income level, educational attainment, etc.) in the market(s) that you are selling to.

The flip side of the coin is that businesses around the globe can now compete for your local customers, increasing the need for improved efficiency and quality, not to mention having an effect on how you price your products and services.

12) 3D Printing Wikipedia.org defines 3D printing as, “a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.” The rapid improvement of this technology has made it economically feasible for people to use it to create a wide variety of products. With it, the technology brings a host of legal and security concerns that need to be addressed. If 3D printers become inexpensive enough, this technology has the potential to change business as we know it today.

13) Cyberattacks By now, everyone has heard about hackers attacking companies and getting access to customers’ personally identifiable information (PII). When this includes customers’ financial information, it can cause a public relations nightmare. However, now that we are connecting things that we use in the terrestrial world to the Internet (see #8, The Internet of Things), just think about the problems that could arise. This is something that all businesses need to think about. This is even more important for companies that are helping bring the latest technologies to our homes and offices.

14) Ethics This is something that all businesses should be thinking about. In fact, it is going to become more important as time goes on. Businesses that deliver a quality product while being friendly to employees, customers, and the environment are going to win in the long term. And, when it comes to using the latest technology for business, companies that push the envelope are often going to be rewarded. However, businesses that go too far and make customers uneasy or upset could feel the financial impact. While I am often an advocate for using the latest and greatest technology, I am also aware that sometimes just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should. A little forethought can go a long way.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. My list of things that I will be watching in 2014 and beyond.

Is there something that you think that I should have included? If so, please let me know…

Photo credits: Zach Copley and Samuel Mann on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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A Huge Social Media Fail—Or Is It?

In the short history of social media marketing we have seen a lot of brands post things on the Internet with the hope that the content would resonate with consumers only to have it backfire.

In May, BuzzFeed posted an article, titled “19 Companies That Made Huge Social Media Fails.”

The list includes many examples that leave you shaking your head and saying to yourself, “What were they thinking?”

Now, let’s face it, it is very tempting for brands to join the conversation when news breaks in order to gain exposure for their brand with very little time or effort involved.

If the event is positive or lighthearted in nature, then joining the conversation is just good business. (Oreo showed how to do it right earlier this year after the lights went out at the Superdome during the Super Bowl.)

As Mike Mikho suggests, even negative events that involve celebrities can be fair game. (I’d add that this is true only if no one is seriously injured.)

However, if consumers’ conversations are focused on tragic events (e.g., terrorist attacks, school shootings, natural disasters, plane crashes, etc.,) then joining the conversation might not be the best thing to do. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can create a huge headache for your brand.

In my opinion, the best thing brands can do to when a tragedy happens is to remain silent for a while. (And, yes, this means delaying those automated posts that were planned in advance.)

If you feel that a comment is required, pay your respects to the victims or find ways to be helpful without being self-promotional. This is a good rule to follow if your brand doesn’t want to find itself on a list similar to the one BuzzFeed posted.

Some Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

Having a lot of people criticize your brand for saying something insensitive is generally not a good thing. And, showing up on a social media fail list probably isn’t going to help generate sales.

That is, unless you’re Kenneth Cole.

If you go back to the BuzzFeed list, you will see that Kenneth Cole was number 1. Kenneth Cole earned a spot on the list by making light of the protests in Egypt in 2011 by posting this on Twitter: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC”

The tweet created its own uproar—this time on the Internet. (This was exacerbated when pranksters added the tweet to the window on the Kenneth Cole store in San Francisco.)

According to CNN, Kenneth Cole apologized within an hour of posting the tweet. Cole is quoted as saying, “We weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historical moment.”

Cole then posted on his official Facebook page, “I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

However, as it turns out, while the tweet may have been considered inappropriate by some consumers, it also was good for business.

In the October issue of Details, Cole is quoted as saying, “Billions of people read my inappropriate, self-promoting tweet, I got a lot of harsh responses, and we hired a crisis-management firm. If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we’re always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”

Given this, it is not surprising that Cole used the same tactic again when he tweeted this about the Syrian crisis in September of this year, ““Boots on the ground” or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear”

Again, it had people criticizing Cole for being insensitive.

And, that is most likely what Cole wanted people to do.

Why It Works for Kenneth Cole

So, why does it appear that Kenneth Cole gets rewarded for saying something on social media that would have a negative effect on other brands?

Is it the type of product that he sells? Maybe.

Is it the type of consumer that he is selling to? Could be.

Is it because social media is a nonissue? I’d argue no, because the data he presents show that his shocking statements on social media actually generated business.

Could it be that we are trying to be too politically correct and Kenneth Cole’s customers are supporting someone who stands up and says screw conventional thinking and is willing to take a risk and make fun of a horrible situation? Could be, but I doubt it.

Is it that all press is good press? Maybe.

So what gives?

First, we need to remember that social media is just a vehicle for people to get their message out to the world.

Before social media, people were saying things that made other people criticize them. Kenneth Cole is no exception. In fact, Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. is known for its controversial and sometimes tasteless advertising.

On the other hand, Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. is also known for its involvement in charity and social causes, including its involvement in the search for a cure for HIV/AIDS. Its target audience might be aware of this, which could explain why Kenneth Cole is given a pass when other brands would suffer.

But, then again, others would point out that the controversy Kenneth Cole creates actually helps the business.

The reason for this is something that I can’t quite explain. It could be a combination of many different factors that can’t be controlled for.

What I can say for sure is that this tactic is only going to consistently work if the brand delivers a great product in the first place. And, there is where I think the real answer is. Kenneth Cole makes great clothes. So, therefore, Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. might be able to get away with things that other brands can’t get away with.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend using Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. as a role model for your online communication strategy. That is, unless you can deliver great products on a consistent basis and are willing to respond to complaints from consumers who might not be so forgiving.

Photo credits: mikest and davitydave on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Green Is Good for Business

In his book, “An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It,” Al Gore makes a strong case for addressing the issue of (human-caused) global warming before it is too late.

It should be noted that there are skeptics out there who say that the science that Gore uses to support his argument is biased.

That said, you need to look at the motives of all of the people involved before making the final decision as to what you believe to be true.

In a blog post, titled “Global warming consensus: Agreement among scientists confirmed, again,” Erik Conway explains that market research has shown that many people think that government should take action on controversial issues similar to this one only after the science is settled. Therefore, it is in the best interest of those entities that are adding to the problem to challenge the science to make it look like there isn’t a consensus about the whether or not human-caused global warming is a reality, in order to prevent action.

There is a lot of evidence out there to support the argument that human-caused global warming is a reality. In addition to Gore’s book, a documentary hosted by Tom Brokaw, titled “Global Warming: What You Need to Know,” and a website that was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) provide some of this evidence.

What Do Your Customers Believe?

Although I do believe that there is definitely some validity to the argument that human-caused global warming is a reality, what I think is not really the point.

In fact, when you are making business decisions that relate to how your company handles this issue, what you think is also irrelevant.

When looking at human-caused global warming from a business perspective, the people who really matter the most are your customers and potential customers.

As Al Ries and Jack Trout point out in their book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” what you tell consumers doesn’t really matter.  What really matters is what they believe about your product or service and your company or brand. This is what is going to influence whether or not they make a purchase.

If the people who could potentially buy your products and services believe that human-caused global warming is real and your company is heavily contributing to the problem, then there is a good chance that they will eventually take their business elsewhere, if they haven’t already.

Our Children Are the Future

Our children and their children are the ones who are going to be living here on Earth 50 to 100 years from now. Therefore, it is not surprising that whether or not a product or service is eco-friendly has become more important to young consumers.

A study that was mentioned in an Adweek article on October 24, 2012 highlights the fact that, in 2012, a greater percentage of young consumers thought that factors like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” were important to them when buying products than young consumers did just five years earlier.

Think About the Future Before It’s Too Late

Although it is not always possible, the long-term health of the company should be considered when making decisions in an effort to reach short-term goals.

With that in mind, what happens if the scientists who are predicting that human-caused global warming is a problem are actually correct?

What if in the year 2100 we experience effects of human-caused global warming that makes life unbearable for many consumers?

Who are they going to blame?

If your company didn’t do anything to prevent the problem when it had the chance, will consumers be forgiving?

What if these problems happen sooner?

Final Thoughts

Human-caused global warming is an issue that is often talked about on national news programs. However, the problem hasn’t reached a point where action is being demanded… yet.

That doesn’t mean that your business should ignore the issue.

As John Lindsay once said, “In politics, the perception is the reality.”

In their book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” Ries and Trout point out that the same is true in advertising, business, and in life.

Therefore, even if you think that human-caused global warming is absolute nonsense, it still is a good idea to take steps to make your business green.

Making sure that your business has a minimal negative impact on the global and local environment not only helps keep existing customers happy, it can also be used as a selling point when trying to gain new customers.

Furthermore, as many thought leaders have pointed out, making your business green can actually increase the bottom line in other ways (e.g., lowering operating expenses, leading to new products or business partnerships, helping secure government contracts, etc.)

In the end, having a green business is good business and good for business.

Photo credits: Paladin Zhang and John LeGear on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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