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Why It’s Important to Know What Your Brand Sounds Like

Sound boardThe idea of having a distinct sound that people associate with a brand is not a new concept.

For many years, businesses large and small that used radio and television ads to reach their target audience created specific sounds or jingles that customers came to recognize and associate with the brand.

However, sonic branding is becoming even more important today as more consumers start to use smart speaker technology and other household items get connected to and become part of the Internet of Things (IoT.)

And, when you factor in the already almost ubiquitous use of smartphones, there are even more opportunities for brands to use sound in their marketing efforts.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many businesses are starting to realize that they need to think about what their brand sounds like.

Sound as Shorthand for the Brand

As mentioned, businesses have used sound to create a connection between the brand and consumers for years in their radio and television advertising.

However, many businesses that haven’t made the investment in radio or television have often overlooked the powerful impact that sound has on consumers.

This is changing quickly as technology evolves.

As more transactions become automated in the future, tones can be used to communicate with consumers to let them know that they had an interaction with the brand without blatantly announcing it. This keeps the brand top of mind with the consumer.

Sonic branding can even provide some peace of mind to the customer by reminding them that they are dealing with a trusted business.

Mastercard Debuts Its Sonic Brand Identity

When it debuted its new signature sound in early February 2019 Mastercard joined many other brands, including one of its direct competitors, Visa, in creating a sonic identity developed specifically for the new connected world of the 21st century.

According to their press release, “Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.”

“What I love most about the Mastercard melody, is just how flexible and adaptable it is across genres and cultures,” said Mike Shinoda. “It’s great to see a big brand expressing themselves through music to strengthen their connection to people.”

“Audio makes people feel things, and that’s what makes it such a powerful medium for brands,” said Matt Lieber, Cofounder and President, Gimlet. “With the explosion of podcasts, music streaming, and smart speakers, an audio strategy is no longer a “nice-to-have” for brands – it’s a necessity. A sonic identity – the audio calling card for a brand – is now just as important as a brand’s visual identity.”

Additional Strategic Considerations

As mentioned earlier, many businesses have overlooked sound as a way to connect to their potential customers.

Does this mean that all brands that aren’t using sound in their marketing efforts need to spend millions of dollars to develop a new sonic identity?

As with all business decisions, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

For some businesses, sonic branding might not makes sense at all.

Jumping into sonic branding also doesn’t mean that brands should forget about visual branding. For maximum effect, both should work in concert with the other.

It is also important to note that brands might not get it right the first time. This is something that Mercedes-Benz learned the hard way.

And, as time goes on, there is also a possibility that we get a sort of sonic branding overload or sonic branding fatigue if too many businesses start using sound in this way.

That said, being among the first to create a sonic identity could help establish a deeper connection with consumers.

 

 

Photo credit: Tony Steward on Flickr.

Video credit: Mastercard News 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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Cashless Stores: Ahead of Their Time or Just Bad for Business?

The end of cash?For years now, many experts have predicted the demise of cash.

Those who make these predictions are encouraged when companies like Apple report increased usage of proximity mobile payments. In fact, Apple’s Q4 2018 earnings report and conference call reported:  “Triple transaction volume year-over-year for Apply Pay.”

But even with more consumers adopting alternative ways to purchase items, it appears that cash isn’t going away anytime soon.

In fact, this is something that Jeff Hasen, one the pioneers in mobile marketing, often points out on Twitter.

Cashless Comment Jeff Hasen

A recent article on CNBC supports Hasen’s argument.

“Cash remains the most frequent method of payment in the U.S., representing roughly 31 percent of consumer transactions, more than electronic, credit, debit or checks,” the author of the article writes.

According to the same article, “Use of cash by U.S. households is consistent across most income levels, around 25 percent, and goes way up at the lowest incomes.”

That said, this is not stopping some stores from trying to follow Amazon’s lead and eliminate cash as a payment option.

I think that it’s good that stores are trying different things to see what works.

However, as you might have expected, stores that try to go cashless are often met with some resistance.

Amazon Is Leading the Way

The headline of a recent Bloomberg article says it all, “Amazon Will Consider Opening Up to 3,000 Cashierless Stores by 2021.”

If you are not familiar with the AmazonGo cashierless store concept, the basic idea is that shoppers enter the store with a smartphone app downloaded to their phone, they scan their phones as they enter the store, they shop and leave with the items that they want to purchase without having to stop at a cash register.

As the Bloomberg article points out, “Sensors and computer-vision technology detect what shoppers take and bills them automatically, eliminating checkout lines.”

In this scenario, cash is not an option.

While not going all the way to cashierless stores, other merchants are experimenting with the idea of eliminating cash in order to cut costs.

The Cost of Accepting Cash

While accepting cash as a payment option has been the norm for many years, accepting cash actually costs more than some of the other common payment options.

A USA Today article highlights some of the expenses involved in processing cash transactions, as reported in an IHL report.

According to the article, “Besides the time spent counting bills and making change, they include ensuring registers have enough change, running cash to the bank, bank fees, armored cars, employee theft and robberies, the report says.”

“All told, such hassles cost retailers an average of 9.1 percent of sales, ranging from 4.7 percent at grocery stores to 15.5 percent at restaurants and bars, IHL says. That compares to the 2 to 3 percent transaction fees credit-card companies charge merchants,” the USA Today article reports.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that some stores are looking to eliminate cash.

But this has its downside.

Going Cashless Shuts Poor People Out

This is the main point of a recent article published on The New York Times website.

According to the author, Ginia Bellafante, there are several arguments against going cashless.

“The strongest objection relates to the ways in which rejecting physical currency plays out as a bias toward the poor; advancing segregation in retail environments,” writes Bellafante.

“According to government data, close to 7 percent of American households have no one in them with a checking or savings account, while an additional 19 percent are considered “underbanked,” meaning that they rely on products or services outside the conventional financial system,” the author continues. “These include money orders and payday and pawnshop loans. The majority of people who fall into these categories are nonwhite.”

Laws Are Being Written to Prevent Cashless Brick-and-Mortar Stores

When the article on The New York Times website was published, many people wondered if it was even legal to go cashless.

As Jarrod Frates points out on Twitter, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

Cashless Comment Frates

Given this fact, it is not so surprising that lawmakers in New Jersey and New York City are trying pass bills to prevent stores from going cashless.

As an article on The Motley Fool website points out, New Jersey politicians are trying to prevent cashless stores because not accepting cash can prevent certain groups of people from making a purchase. This is the same argument that was made in The New York Times article mentioned earlier.

According to The Motley Fool article, Massachusetts is currently the only state that requires brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash.

Is Cashless Bad for the Brand?

While it’s estimated that only 31 percent of consumer transactions are cash, not offering cash as an option can create hassles beyond the bad PR it is getting for creating barriers for the unbanked.

Finding out that they can’t use cash until it is time to pay can be a source of frustration for some customers.

Even customers who rarely use cash can find it frustrating when they are asked to use a credit card to pay for a last-minute addition such as mayonnaise or another condiment at restaurants or even small items at a retail store.

Cashless Complaint 1

Cashless Complaint 2

Final Thoughts

Given that customers can and often do vent their frustration publicly on social media, going cashless might be more trouble than it’s worth.

With this in mind, it is fairly easy to see why Jeff Hasen often reinforces the fact that cash isn’t going anywhere, at least in the near future.

It is also not surprising that some merchants that tried to go cashless have decided to change their minds.

Cash is Back Spero

However, as the author of the post on The Motley Fool website points out, while going cashless might not the best way to go now, stores will never know whether it is a good idea to go cashless in the future if they aren’t even allowed to try.

It does seem like there might be some easy workarounds that stores or restaurants could offer if they do want to go cashless at the checkout line. The most obvious would be making an ATM or vending machine available to customers that would give them the option of buying prepaid debit cards.

This would give customers access to the store, while still encouraging them to pay via other payment options.

I’m not sure if this would satisfy lawmakers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York City, or any other place that makes going cashless illegal.

If you know the answer to that legal question or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Nic McPhee on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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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Product Packaging—Valuable Real Estate in a Mobile World

The package that a product is sold in is valuable.

In fact, sometimes it can actually be the reason why a customer chooses one product over another.

Malcolm Gladwell highlighted this in his book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.”

In the book, Gladwell talked about Louis Cheskin’s work with package design, which on more than one occasion led to dramatic increases in sales.

Paco Underhill also addressed package design in his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping–Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond.”

And, if you look, a quick search on Google could uncover a lot of advice from designers that you might find useful.

But, what I find interesting are some of the things that brands are currently trying that not only can influence sales, but can also provide value to customers, encourage sharing on social media, and can be an additional source of revenue.

Here is a list of a few examples that I have found recently, each of which encourage customers to use their smartphones in one way or another and ultimately help get customers talking about the brand online.

While the examples listed do not include packaging found on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar retail store, the lessons learned could easily be applied there as well.

 

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Amazon Minions Boxes

When a customer purchases an item from Amazon.com, everyone who sees the product get delivered knows where they bought it. With its arrow that looks like a smile, the Amazon.com logo is easily recognized.

However, when Amazon.com sold the space on their boxes to advertise Minions, it created a lot of positive buzz for the brand and the movie.

Aside from the novelty factor (this was the first time that non-Amazon ads appeared on the boxes,) they also encouraged customers to take a photo of themselves holding the box and post it on social media sites using the hashtag #MinionsBoxes for a chance to win a $1,000 Amazon gift card.

Therefore, they not only generated some extra revenue by selling the space on their boxes, they shared in the spotlight when customers posted their photos on social media.

And, a lot of people posted these photos.

You can still search the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram for examples.

Zappos #ImNotaBox Campaign

As an article on Adweek.com points out, “Zappos wants you to think outside the box. Beginning with the box itself.”

“On June 1, the online retailer will begin shipping some shoes in a very cool new box (designed in-house) that features a collection of template designs printed on the inside—encouraging the recipients to fold, cut and otherwise reuse the box into item [sic] like a smartphone holder, a children’s shoe sizer, a geometric planter and a 3-D llama,” the article continues.

Similar to the Amazon.com box, Zappos is encouraging customers to share the creative things that they do with the box on social media.

The boxes haven’t started shipping yet, but there is little doubt that they will get some people talking about the brand online.

For additional information, go to www.imnotabox.com.

McDonald’s Turned a Happy Meal Into a VR Headset

In March, McDonald’s Sweden launched a promotion that they dubbed “Happy Goggles.”

According to Adweek, McDonald’s Sweden created 3,500 Happy Meal boxes that could be turned into virtual-reality viewers. These special Happy Meal boxes were available in 14 restaurants over the weekends of March 5 and March 12.

“The push is tied to the Swedish “Sportlov” recreational holiday, during which many families go skiing,” states the Adweek article. “With this in mind, McD’s created a ski-themed VR game, “Slope Stars,” for use with the oggles [sic] (though they work just as well with any mobile VR experience). The game can also be played in a less immersive fashion without them.”

As the Adweek article also points out, it is similar to Google Cardboard.

This is just one mobile marketing campaign that McDonald’s has recently tested.

They also recently tested a placemat made from a special paper that works with a smartphone and an app that allows customers to create music while dining at McDonald’s restaurants.

They called this special placemat the “McTrax.”

Alas, this campaign was only available in the Netherlands. Last month.

It appears that McDonald’s lets its European customers try all the cool things first.

Final Thoughts

As a result of Louis Cheskin’s work, we know that package design can have a huge impact on sales.

We also know that smartphones are a huge part of your customers’ lives.

Therefore, it makes sense that brands encourage customers to engage with the brand in various creative ways using the packaging that their products are sold and shipped in.

As with everything that we do in the marketing world, it is important to test and monitor the effects that these creative package designs have on sales. Because, as pointed out, the packaging can influence sales in both positive and negative ways.

That said, if you don’t try new things, you might be missing out on a huge opportunity to create buzz around the brand that can impact your bottom line in immeasurable ways.

Photo credit: @chadjthiele on Instagram.

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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Sometimes It’s What a Brand Doesn’t Do That Loses the Sale

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts on Flickr.In almost every instance where a business is trying to sell a product or service, it takes multiple positive interactions before a prospect becomes a paying customer.

The average number of positive interactions, or touches at various touchpoints, required typically varies by the type of product or service being sold.

Furthermore, while multiple positive interactions with a brand can lead to a sale, the reality is that negative interactions can also prevent a sale from taking place.

Sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that causes a prospect to choose the competitor’s product or service.

There are some things that can be done to combat this problem. However, it does require some effort.

To illustrate this point, I am once again going to use my recent smartphone purchase as an example.

The Incumbents: Motorola and Verizon Wireless

I have been a loyal Verizon Wireless customer since I moved to Louisiana back in 2006.

When I moved there, I asked some of the local residents what provider they recommended since U.S. Cellular wasn’t an option in the area, at least at that time.

Nearly everyone who I talked to suggested Verizon Wireless, because they felt that Verizon Wireless had done the best job getting service restored after hurricane’s Katrina and Rita.

I took the advice of the residents of Louisiana and 10 years and two states later, I am still a customer.

As for the device, I think that all the cellular phones that I have owned up until this year were Motorola phones. (Some of my earliest cellular phones might have been made by Nokia, but I am not sure.)

Something that I am absolutely sure of is that the phone that I purchased when I move to Louisiana was a Motorola, as were my first two smartphones. And, my satisfaction with the brand was extremely high.

That was, until Motorola and its parent company, Lenovo, announced that they plan to phase out Motorola and only offer the Moto phones.

The Choice: Motorola Droid Turbo 2 or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

I was now faced with the option of getting one last Motorola phone or make the inevitable switch to Samsung.

During my initial visit to the Verizon Wireless store, the salespeople who I talked to spoke highly of both phones, but seemed to slightly favor the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Needless to say, I left the store that day still undecided.

So, I did what many people do and asked for advice on Twitter.

As you can see, the only response that I received was from the Sprint Forward Twitter account.

They recommended the Samsung Galaxy S7.

I then got a promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless offering a free Samsung Gear VR headset with a purchase of a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. (At the time, Best Buy was offering a similar promotion.) (Note: I think that this was the promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless. If it wasn’t, it was very similar.)

That was it, I was almost certain that I would make the switch to Samsung.

I only needed to check out some product reviews from CNET and a few other sources. All of which confirmed that Samsung was the best option available at the time.

The Choice: Sprint or Verizon Wireless

Given my past experience with Verizon Wireless, it was going to take more than a contact on Twitter to get me to switch to Sprint.

That said, if my past experiences with Verizon Wireless hadn’t been so positive, I might have switched to Sprint or even went to Best Buy to purchase the smartphone.

And, Sprint definitely has my attention if for some reason I need to change wireless carriers in the future.

But, Verizon Wireless did offer a good data plan, had a great offer, and has provided excellent customer service—so I remained a customer.

Final Thoughts

Had Motorola reached out on Twitter or if someone would have recommended it, I might have purchased the Motorola Droid Turbo 2, if for no other reason than to get one last Motorola phone. But, nobody did.

And, Motorola already made the decision to phase out the brand that I was loyal to, so it made my decision to switch that much easier.

In this case, the brand lost a loyal customer because of what they did (plan to phase out Motorola phones), what they didn’t do (reach out on social media or anywhere else at right time), and what other people did (recommend the competition.)

In contrast, while Verizon Wireless didn’t reach out this time, they at least did use a promoted tweet to get my attention on Twitter and create awareness of a great offer. And, to their credit, they did reach out to me a few years ago when I wrote a post about how access to high speed wireless data can have an effect on a brand’s mobile marketing campaigns.

But, in reality, it was the fact that they have always provided great customer service in the past that kept me a customer. That, and the fact that their data plans are competitive with the other carriers.

What this example shows is that in the same transaction, one brand kept a loyal customer by providing competitive pricing combined with great customer service, while another lost my business because of what they did, what they didn’t do, and what other people did.

As pointed out, sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that can have a negative effect on a sale.

With a little foresight, there are things that brands can do to combat this problem and bring in new customers and retain existing ones.

However, it does require some effort.

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts 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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Using #Hashtags to Connect to Consumers on Social Networking Sites

Photo credit: Alan Levine on Flickr.In the United States, there are a lot of consumers who use social networking sites, many of whom access them on a mobile device. And, these numbers continue to increase as time goes on.

Knowing how to connect to these consumers is a very important skill for all marketers to have.

While there are many tactics that marketers can use, having a basic understanding of hashtags is a must. Knowing how to effectively use hashtags can be an important way to reach consumers on social media.

A Brief History of the Hashtag

A 2014 post on the Adweek SocialTimes blog gives a brief history of the hashtag.

As the post points out, while Twitter popularized the hashtag, it didn’t invent it.

“Once more commonly referred to as the pound sign, online use of the hashtag began on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in the late 1990s, where it was used to categorise items into groups,” writes Shea Bennett. “In August 2007, designer Chris Messina asked his followers how they felt about using the pound sign to group conversations on the micro-blogging platform, and thus became the first person to use the hashtag on Twitter.”

“After that, Twitter never looked back, and the hashtag was eventually adopted by Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and seemingly every other major digital platform,” the article continues. “Today, hashtags are everywhere and an important part of every modern marketing strategy.”

What Hashtags Can Do for Business

In almost every social networking site, hashtags help users find content by linking posts with the same hashtag. In other words, users can search for similar content by clicking on the hashtag to get access to other posts that use that hashtag.

With this functionality in mind, it is important to research what hashtags your customers and prospects will find.

This includes finding out what hashtags your customers, prospects, and influencers are using to talk about your brand, your products or services, your competitors’ products or services, or anything else that relates to your products or services or the industry that you are in.

In Twitter, hashtags often show up in the trending topics if they are used by enough users. If the topic is relevant to the brand, you should consider using the hashtag. However, keep in mind that this tactic can backfire if your posts seem too self-promotional, off topic, or if joining the conversation is just generally in bad taste. (Note: There are also similar ways that trending hashtags will show up in other social networking sites, as well. The same things need to be considered on these social networking sites, too.)

Hashtags can also show up in a search engine results page (SERP) on Google or any of the other search engines. Furthermore, there are tools that can be used to find the most used hashtags on various social networking sites. This is another way that hashtags help increase the reach of your content.

If you create a hashtag with the intention of getting users to engage with your brand or share your content, be aware that just because you want users to use the hashtag, doesn’t guarantee that they will.

Furthermore, as several brands have found out, creating the wrong hashtag can backfire by encouraging people to share negative things about your brand. Therefore you need to proceed with caution.

Finally, it is important to realize that hashtags can also be used to convey a message to users even if they don’t use them for their ability to search for other content (e.g., #fail, #lol, #tgif, etc.) This is particularly important on social networking sites like Twitter, where brevity is often encouraged or even required. (If you haven’t seen it, you need to check out the YouTube video featuring Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake that parodies this concept.)

A Few Ways to Integrate Hashtags Into Your Other Marketing Campaigns

As already mentioned, hashtags help encourage customers to share their thoughts about your brand on social networking sites.

If done correctly, hashtags can help customers connect with the brand and other customers, thus building a community around the brand.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr.By including a predetermined hashtag on your packaging, it can encourage customers to use it when they share the love of your products on social media.

Including hashtags on your advertising in other media (e.g., television ads, print ads, webpages, etc.) can help increase the reach of these campaigns and continue the conversation about the brand.

You can also run a contest on various social networking sites and offer a prize to users who share a specific type of content and use your predetermined hashtag.

Finally, if you are organizing an event or gathering where customers and prospects would benefit from hearing what other attendees are saying about the event or topic being covered, create a hashtag that allows them to connect and share with each other on various social networking sites. This content can then be displayed on a video screen so that people who do don’t use the specific social networking site can also see what other attendees are saying.

Last year, Ceci Dadisman, Consultant and President of Cardinal + Company, wrote an article on ArtsHacker.com that gives further examples of how to use hashtags for audience engagement. You might want to check it out.

Final Thoughts

Hashtags have become a part of the way that consumers communicate with each other on social networking sites. Using them can also be a way for customers and prospects to communicate with your business.

Given the fact that smartphones have given customers the ability to access social networking sites wherever they are, social media and the proper use of hashtags should be something that all marketers are aware of and trained on.

If used incorrectly, hashtags can backfire and encourage people to share negative comments about your brand. Therefore, it is important to monitor what people are saying on social networking sites and, if appropriate, respond accordingly.

When used correctly, hashtags can help increase the reach of your messages, create a community, and give customers a place to share the love of your products or services.

 

Photo credits: Alan Levine and Mike Mozart on Flickr.

Video credit: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon 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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Why Inventory Management Systems Are So Important to the Future of Digital Marketing

Photo credit: Garry Knight on Flickr.

When consumers shop online, they are often given recommendations based on some criteria (e.g., past purchases, reviews, similar items searched and viewed, etc.)

These recommendations often help consumers find the items that meet their needs and ultimately lead to increased sales.

When a brand or retailer recommends a product to a consumer online, they usually follow it up with a link to a website that allows the consumer to purchase the item. Furthermore, online retailers use remarketing strategies to target advertising to consumers who visit a particular product page on their website, but don’t make a purchase.

By targeting consumers on their mobile devices, brands and brick-and-mortar stores can use similar marketing tactics that will help connect consumers to the products that are sold offline.

However, customers will be frustrated if they are told that an item is available at a specific location offline only to find out that the item is sold out when they arrive at the store.

If this happens enough, customers will lose faith in the reliability of the source that pointed them to the store in the first place. It can also have a negative impact on the reputation of the brand and the retailer.

Therefore, in order for this to process to be most effective, customers need to feel confident that an item will be available for sale when they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store.

This is why having an accurate inventory management system in place is going to be so important to the marketing efforts of retailers and the brands that they sell.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, retailers can now use RFID technology to help accurately track inventory levels and locate particular items in the brick-and-mortar store. This is true even with difficult-to-track products.

Brands Are Looking to Target Customers Based on Geolocation

As I wrote about in the aforementioned blog post, Steve Madden’s website gives customers the ability to check for items in the brand’s brick-and-mortar retail stores based on geolocation.

However, Steve Madden also partners with other retailers to sell its products. It hopes that, in the future, customers will be able to search for its products in all retail locations—wherever they are sold.

Photo credit: T van Herwaarden on Flickr.“As Steve Madden continues to grow, we are faced with a variety of issues that affect sales, marketing, fulfillment and the delivery of consistent brand messages, product information and exceptional customer experiences,” states Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience at Steve Madden, in an article on Forbes.com. “We decided to focus our mobile strategy to help build more sales of Steve Madden products and deliver great service, whether through our own stores or a retail partners such as Macy’s, Nordstrom or Zappos. It would not be uncommon for a customer of a retail partner to view Steve Madden’s mobile site while in their store or to compare prices and we recognize the value add we can provide. Mobile is both financially viable and the optimal way for Steve Madden to offer a brand centric benefit to the entire business. Ideally, we want to ensure that all of our partners do well. Perhaps we could make all retail inventory universally visible to consumers and collaborate with our partners to ensure that consumers can find our products easily while at the same time supporting everyone’s success.”

No doubt, Steven Madden is not alone.

Retailers Don’t Want to Be Left Out When Brands Advertise

There are already companies that are trying to meet the needs of brands that want to drive consumers to nearby stores to purchase their products by reaching these consumers on their mobile devices.

In episode #346 of the Mobile Commerce Minute, Chuck Martin explains that by tracking inventory levels at more than 100,000 brick-and-mortar stores, Retailigence is helping connect the consumer to products at nearby retail locations.

As Chuck Martin explains, Retailigence allows a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to reach a consumer within a geofence around a store by helping it purchase all the ad inventory from the ad networks that partner with the Retailigence platform, thus driving consumers into only the stores that have the product the customer is looking for. This allows brands to link consumers directly to products.

In the future, many more options are going to be available that will help brands connect consumers directly with their products that are sold in brick-and-mortar stores. This would include, but would not be limited to, adding product availability data to online and mobile search, social media, display, and video advertising to reach customers and prospects on the go.

Adding the product availability information layer to the advertising could make the difference in the conversion process.

However, again, if the a retailer doesn’t have a database with accurate inventory levels, customers could lose faith in the whole process and the reputation of the brand, the retailer, and the source that drove them to the brick-and-mortar store in the first place could all be tarnished.

This could force some brands to not include a retailer in the recommendation process.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, brands are the ones with the advertising budgets.

Therefore, not having an accurate inventory management system could cost a retailer more than it had in the past because a brand’s advertising for a particular product would point customers to other brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Final Thoughts

Technological advancements in retail inventory management systems are going to impact sales in many different ways.

As I pointed out in the last post, the use of RFID technology can help give retailers the confidence to sell items online that it would have had to markdown and sell at a drastically discounted price. It will also save the retailer time and money by making other processes more efficient, including the buy online, pick up in-store option.

Furthermore, as I elaborated on in this post, the increased accuracy that RFID technology brings to a retailer’s inventory management system will be useful in helping brands and retailers connect consumers with the products that best meet their needs by adding product availability information to the brand’s online and mobile marketing campaigns.

If a retailer can’t provide accurate inventory data that can be used in a brand’s digital marketing efforts, there is a good chance that the retail store would not be listed as a possible location to buy a particular product. This will hurt the retailer’s bottom line.

However, when a retailer can provide accurate inventory data that brands can use in their marketing efforts, it will help the brand link the customer to the product.

And, as Chuck Martin points out, “…that’s sort of the holy grail of this whole thing.”

Note: The Mobile Commerce Minute Episode #346 with Rob Woodbridge and Chuck Martin is embedded in this post. For additional information, visit the UNTETHER.tv website. 

 

Photo credits: Garry Knight and T van Herwaarden on Flickr.

Video credit: MCM #346: Is inventory the new location for retailers? on UNTETHER.tv

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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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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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 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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