Tag content marketing

The Future of the Retail Sales Associate—Another Reason Why Retailers Need to Provide More Mobile-Optimized Content Online

The Future of Retail Sales AssociatesThe way customers shop, in general, is changing with more and more customers going online to research and buy products. Furthermore, smartphones have also modified the way customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

This means that retailers are going to need to rethink everything. And, that means everything.

For store employees, this means that their world is going to be altered dramatically.

In 2014, Doug Stephens, one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, wrote a very informative blog post that predicts what a “typical” retail sales associate’s job will look like in the near future.

In the post, he predicts that in the near future there will be fewer humans working in brick-and-mortar retail stores, with technology there to fill in the gap.

In the post, he cites a study from Oxford University that estimates that there is a 92 percent chance that retail sales associates will be replaced by technology in the next decade. (Keep in mind, this was over four years ago. Therefore, if the predictions are accurate, retail sales associates should be retraining for other positions now! Even if it takes a little longer than experts think it will, the world that they are predicting will arrive someday… soon.)

While this is an alarming figure, people who want to work in retail stores should be heartened by the other prediction that Doug Stephens makes—that those employees who do survive will be paid much higher than they currently are. But this is going to mean that they also are going to need to get a lot more training.

Other sources again support his position.

Some of the recent articles that discuss retail trends point to the fact that there will always be a need for some human salespeople at most brick-and mortar stores. However, they will have a slightly different background.

As far as I can tell, four types of non-management employees will emerge to replace the generally unskilled workforce that currently fills many of these low-paying retail sales associate jobs.

Professional Salespeople—The Customer Service and Product Experts

In the blog post mentioned earlier, Doug Stephens writes, “Although retailers will point the finger at price as the smoking gun behind showrooming, research shows that in fact, it’s more often the pursuit of adequate and accurate information that drives customers online.”

Therefore, in order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to hire a core group of employees who really know their stuff.

These employees won’t be the ones who check people out at the cash register.

They will be like the salespeople of old who thought of their position at the store as a career, not just a place to work until they find other jobs. These employees will be experts in customer service and they will know everything about what they are selling.

The stores that realize that there is a need for this type of employee and hire and train people who really want to excel at their job will be the stores that will succeed.

As Doug Stephens also points out, the people who fill these positions will be paid more than the average salary of a retail sales associate today.

This probably means that stores won’t hire many of these employees, if they still want to keep their costs down. But, the employees who are hired to fill this type of role will be an invaluable resource to customers and the store.

To be qualified for this role, the employee will also have to invest in additional training.

Organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) are already recognizing that this type of training is needed and have begun offering it at a reasonable price.

Part-Time Associates—Knowledgeable Salespeople Augmented With Technology

This group of employees will most resemble the current retail sales associate.

They will be the young adults who are working their way through high school or college. They will have some basic product knowledge and business acumen. And, they will have grown up using technology, therefore they will be very comfortable assisting less tech-savvy customers with the technology that the store will use to assist in the sales process.

They will also use technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access mobile-optimized content that will answer the product-related questions that customers have.

Because these employees will be in the process of completing their training, these positions will probably still be on the lower-end of the pay scale. However, to attract the best employees, retailers will still have to pay more than minimum wage.

With technology to augment the sales process, fewer of these associates will be needed on the sales floor of tomorrow.

Temporary Workers—The On-Demand Workforce

The gig economy is here, with some employees being hired to work for only a short duration of time to fill a specific business need.

As a Washington Post article points out, it is already changing the workforce in many mainstream restaurants (e.g., Five Guys, McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, etc.)

Will brick-and-mortar retail stores be next?

Retailers have always hired temporary workers around the holidays. This would just take this concept to the extreme.

It is entirely possible that stores could hire employees for one or two days to staff a large sale similar to those on Black Friday.

And, again, if stores bring in the right technological solutions to assist with the sales process, these temporary workers could be quickly trained to work the cash register or again help the less tech-savvy customer in the shopping process.

Some retail experts say using temporary workers is a bad idea. But, the reality is that only time will tell.

Non-Human Employees—Mobile-Optimized Online Content and Other Technological Solutions

The fourth type of employee that will replace the current retail sales associate is not a human at all. However, in many cases technological solutions will be able to do the same job… maybe even better than the current retail sales associate can.

As mentioned above, customers are already reaching for their smartphones to get product information while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, some customers would rather use their smartphones to find product information than talk to the retail sales associate on the sales floor.

This might be because they often get incorrect or incomplete information from improperly trained retail sales associates. Therefore, we might have a chicken and the egg situation at play.

Either way, the one thing we do know for certain is that customers want to be able to quickly and efficiently find product information either online via their smartphone or by talking to a retail sales associate.

Having the right information available online is going to be a must for the retailer of tomorrow. And, as mentioned above, it will also help human salespeople do their jobs better.

As Doug Stephens points out in his post, there are companies like Hointer that are working to bring additional technological solutions to market to help automate the retail sales process even further.

However, I will leave that topic for future blog posts.

Final Thoughts

In order to compete, brick-and-mortar stores will need to be able to provide customers with the same accurate and complete product information that they can find on Amazon or other online retailers.

If the brick-and-mortar store provides the information first, customers will have one less reason to visit another store’s website or mobile app, and therefore will be less likely to use the store as a showroom only to buy the product elsewhere.

This can be accomplished by having better trained retail sales associates and by creating the right mobile-optimized content that customers can search for on their smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, other technological solutions like “smart mirrors” in fitting rooms will also be used to deliver product information to customers.

Given the changes in the marketplace, it’s not a question of whether to invest in employees or in technology.

Successful stores will do both.

In fact, technology will help less knowledgeable retail sales associates meet the needs of the store’s customers more efficiently and effectively. In other words, in many cases technology and humans will work together to provide a better shopping experience.

Note: This is a very general prediction of what the “average” retail store of the future will need to do in order to meet the needs of its customers. There will be variation based on the products and services sold, who shops at the store, the store’s location, etc.

Photo credit: Zepfanman.com on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 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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Fashion Retailers Could Benefit by Providing Basic Fashion Tips Online

Fashion TipsIt has been well documented that consumers often turn to their smartphones while shopping.

In fact, according to a study conducted by Salsify in September of 2016, 77% of all shoppers report using mobile devices while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. In comparison, only 35% say that they would turn to a salesperson to obtain similar information.

As a Salsify press release published in April of 2017 states, “With so many turning to mobile while shopping in-store as well, the need for strategic and informed product content has never been more essential. In fact, 87 percent of consumers say accurate, rich, and complete product content is very important when deciding what to buy.”

A study conducted by Retail Dive examined how consumers use smartphones while shopping in a brick-and-mortar store. The most common response to the question was to research products and/or look up product information (58%), followed by checking or comparing prices (54%), accessing or downloading digital coupons (40%), accessing a specific retailer’s mobile app (33%), and scanning a QR code (22%).

The type of product information that retailers will want to provide will vary from store to store based on the products and services sold, the customers it serves, the time of year, where the store is located, etc.

While some content could be expensive to create, sometimes providing basic information could be enough to help convince the customer to make a purchase.

For fashion retailers it could be as simple as providing basic fashion tips to customers.

Insight From the Sales Floor

Recently, I have spent some time selling men’s clothing at a department store just outside of Saint Paul, Minnesota. In that time, I have witnessed many customers using mobile devices while shopping in-store.

While it appears that many of these customers are taking photos to send to another person to see if they approve of a purchase, I would venture a guess that other times customers are using their smartphones in the ways reported in the studies that I wrote about earlier in this post.

If the questions that customers ask associates is any indication of the information customers are searching for on their smartphones, then providing basic style advice should be something that fashion retailers would want to provide on their mobile websites and apps.

Suit photoIn particular, online fashion tips could be extremely useful to customers who are purchasing clothing that they don’t often purchase (e.g., suits, ties, dress shirts, etc.) This would include explaining the correct fit, as well as letting customers know what articles of clothing compliment each other.

And, if the information provided online is optimized for search, customers might find it while shopping in a competitor’s store. While this might seem like you are helping the competition, just think about where the customer will turn to if your competitor can’t deliver the goods. My guess is that those customers would at least consider shopping at the store that just provided the information that they were looking for.

Providing this type of basic information wouldn’t cost the company that much.

However, a quick search on Google brings up a lot of information from fashion bloggers and websites like Esquire and GQ, but not much from major department stores, fashion retailers, or even the top designer labels.

Either they are not providing this information or they are not doing a good job of optimizing their content for search engines. In their defense, I did find some information from Macy’s and Nordstrom. However, they didn’t show up in all searches that I did. Furthermore, I think that additional information might be useful.

Keep in mind that I only searched for information on men’s suits. It’s possible that they provide more information for other types of clothing. Additional research would be required to get a more accurate picture of what information fashion retailers are providing their customers online.

Final Thoughts

Studies show that finding the right online content is very important to consumers who are looking for product information when they are deciding what to buy.

Because consumers are now searching for that information while shopping in-store, a time when they are actually going to make a purchase decision, providing the right information is now even more important than ever before.

If the questions that customers ask sales associates is any indication of what information customers are looking for, then fashion retailers and department stores should be providing basic style advice and fashion tips to customers. This is particularly useful for products that customers don’t buy often and are being purchased for specific important occasions (e.g., weddings, school dances, graduations, etc.)

Since department stores can’t control how customers search, this information should be available to customers in as many ways as possible. This would include on mobile apps and on the mobile web. Letting customers know that it is available through notifications on in-store signs might also help increase conversions.

Sales associates could also help get the word out that this type of information is available to customers who don’t want to engage in a conversation. This information could also be used as a visual aid when associates are helping customers.

Finally, don’t forget to optimize your content for search. Because if customers can’t find it, then it doesn’t exist.

Photo credit: Angelbattle bros (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-ND 2.0.) and Banalities on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 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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Charity Runner: The Beginning of a Fundraising Journey

Photo credit: chadjthiele on Instagram.Note: This post deviates from the regular voice of this blog. It is meant to document the beginning of my fundraising efforts for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I am posting it because it will give some context to future posts. It also lets readers know where else they can find me on the Internet.

This year is my fifth year serving on the event planning committee for the Twin Cities Take Steps Walk, a fundraiser that benefits the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

As their website points out, “Take Steps for Crohn’s & Colitis is the Foundation’s largest fundraising event of local community walks dedicated to raising funds to find cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Participants and teams raise funds throughout the year and come together at the Take Steps walk event to celebrate their fundraising achievements!”

As part of the event planning committee, I help plan one of the Take Steps walks to help others raise money for this important cause. However, I never actually took part in the fundraising efforts. That is, until this year.

From Crohn’s Patient to Charity Runner

I chose to help with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Take Steps Walk because I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1995 while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Without getting into all the details, I can say that I was able to keep the disease in check for nearly two decades with the help of medication.

However, in September of 2013 I was told that I would have to have surgery as a result of complications that were caused by the disease.

In the months that followed, I decided that it was time to try to increase my fitness to prepare for the surgery.

This is part of the reason that I started running in the summer of 2014.

In fact, at the time, I decided that if I was going to take up running, I would gradually train myself to run the full 26.2 miles to complete a marathon.

The first year I ran several 5k races.

In 2015 I increased the distance to 10 miles and then upped the mileage to 13.1 miles in 2016.

Then, just before my 43rd birthday, I called up the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to say that I was ready to raise money as a Team Challenge charity runner in the 2017 Chicago Marathon. (Team Challenge is similar to Take Steps, but participants run instead of walk.)

Documenting My Team Challenge Run

In an effort to document my training for the marathon, I started a sideblog on Tumblr (charityrunner.tumblr.com) and a YouTube channel (Charity Runner).

You can also connect on mapmyrun.com.

I am also going to be posting on my Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I am @chadjthiele on all three of these social networking sites. (Note: I try to keep my Twitter focused on marketing, but I post running updates every once in a while.)

And, of course, there is the fundraising page on the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation website.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned, I have helped other people raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation for a few years. However, I didn’t take part in the actual fundraising efforts.

That was, until this year.

At the end of the journey, I plan to document some of the things that I learn along the way. (For example, company matching donations are awesome!)

Until then, please follow me on the social networking sites that I mentioned above and donate!

Thanks in advance.

Chad Thiele (Crohn’s patient since 1995, #nocolonstillrollin since 2014)

Photo credit: chadjthiele on Instagram.

Video credit: Charity Runner 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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Many Success Stories Actually Are Great Stories

Photo credit: Tom Ipri on Flickr.Throughout history, there have been many products that didn’t survive the Darwinian test.

But, those that have survived have helped launch careers and built companies.

Many of these companies have an interesting story to tell.

For example, did you know that some of the most beloved breakfast cereals can trace their history to the Battle Creek Sanitarium or that a housewife and mother of a seven-month-old child convinced her husband to launch one of the most successful baby food brands in the world? How about the fact that an unusually large order for milkshake-mixers led to the later success of one of the world’s most popular fast food restaurants or that the founder of one of America’s favorite fried chicken restaurants was really a colonel?

These and other stories are documented in the book,Symbols of America: A Lavish Celebration of America’s Best Loved Trademarks and the Products They Symbolize, Their History, Folklore, and Enduring Mystique,” by Hal Morgan.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Road to Wellville

In the 1890’s, Battle Creek was the headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It was from their belief in vegetarianism and healthful eating that led to the inventions of some of world’s favorite breakfast cereals.

During this time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, one of the Adventists’ staunchest supporters of healthful eating habits, ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

According to Morgan’s book, “Kellogg’s patients at the sanitarium lived on a diet of nuts and grains, often prepared from recipes created in the hospital’s experimental kitchen. Dr. Kellogg’s early food innovations included meat and butter substitutes such as Protose, Nuttose, and Nuttolene, as well as foods that have better stood the test of time, like granola, first made at the sanitarium in 1877. Patients were not allowed to drink tea or coffee, but received instead the home-brewed Caramel Coffee, made from bran, molasses, and burnt bread crusts.”

While Dr. Kellogg was more interested in promoting healthful eating, it was his brother, W.K. Kellogg, who saw the potential for a new business venture in the foods that were being made at the sanitarium. In particular, he focused on the flaked cereal that they had invented in 1894.

At first, the brothers started selling the cereal as Sanitas corn flakes to patients who had left the sanitarium and wanted to continue the healthy diet prescribed by Dr. Kellogg.

However, in 1903, W.K. Kellogg set out on his own to promote the cereal to a broader market. In the process, he changed the name to Kellogg’s toasted corn flakes and added malt, sugar and salt to improve the flavor—something his brother had opposed as unhealthy.

In 1906 W.K. Kellogg officially opened the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. Its name was later changed to The Kellogg Company and the rest is history.

On a side note, after his second nervous breakdown, C.W. Post found himself under the care of Dr. Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. It was there that he was inspired to start his own breakfast cereal company, the Postum Cereal Company, now known as Post Holdings. Some of his early products included Postum Cereal beverage and, the better known, Grape Nuts cereal.

In 1993, T.C. Boyle wrote a novel, titled “The Road to Wellville,” that was later adapted into a movie in 1994.

The novel is a historical fictionalization of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s work at the Battlecreek Sanitarium.

The Birth of Gerber

Morgan’s book also explains the origins of the Gerber Products Company.

According to Morgan, “It took a mother to come up with the idea for commercially processed baby food—a mother with connections at the Fremont Canning Company, of Fremont, Michigan. Dorothy Gerber was straining peas for her seven-month-old daughter, Sally, one Sunday afternoon in 1927 when she asked her husband why the job couldn’t be done at his canning plant. “To press the point,” she recalled, “I dumped a whole container of peas into a strainer and bowl, placed them in Dan’s lap, and asked him to see how he’d like to do that three times a day, seven days a week.” The following day Dan dutifully asked his father if the baby’s vegetables couldn’t be strained at the cannery. Their tests proved it could be done, and by the fall of 1928 the first Gerber strained baby foods were on the market—carrots, peas, prunes, spinach, and vegetable soup.”

Conclusion

It is important to remember that even the largest brands in the world started out as fledgling companies founded on a hope and a dream.

As shown in the accounts of the origins of Kellogg’s and Post cereals, as well as the Gerber Products Company, many success stories are interesting stories. (Hint: This can be used in your content marketing efforts.)

As for the other two companies that I alluded to earlier, I’m sure that you guessed that I was referring to the McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chains. Their stories might be good topics for future posts.

However, if you don’t want to wait, you might want to pick up a copy of the book. It was published in 1987, but you can still purchase it on Amazon.com. You might also be able to find a copy at your local library.

It’s an interesting read; I’d recommend that you check it out.

Photo credit: Tom Ipri on Flickr.

Note: This post was originally published on HubPages in October of 2012. I removed it from HubPages in November of 2016.

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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Your Online Content Might Reach More People Than You Think

Photo credit: magicatwork on Flickr.Digital marketers spend a lot of time assessing the effectiveness of their online content by looking at things that can be tracked and measured  (e.g., clicks, likes, shares, comments, etc.)

However, if we only pay attention to online metrics, we are most likely underestimating the reach and efficacy of our marketing messages.

This is due, in part, to the fact that we still “live” most of our lives offline.

Therefore, marketers really need to find additional ways to measure the success of our marketing activities.

However, because a lot marketers still create content for branding purposes, sometimes it is difficult to accurately judge the effectiveness of an individual piece of creative at all, because the influence of branding messages need to be evaluated over a longer period of time.  (This is something that Bob Hoffman, CEO of the Type A Group, pointed out in Episode 413 of The BeanCast Marketing Podcast.)

Most Word of Mouth Happens Offline

In his book, titled “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Dr. Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that most word of mouth happens offline.

According to Dr. Berger, most people tend to think that around 50 percent of word of mouth happens online.

However, most people are wrong.

“The actual number is 7 percent. Not 47 percent, not 27 percent, but 7 percent,” writes Dr. Berger. “Research by the Keller Fay Group finds that only 7 percent of word of mouth happens online.”

Dr. Berger goes on to point out that even though we spend a lot of time sharing online, we spend more time offline and offline conversations are rarely documented.

Furthermore, he points out that while online conversations could potentially reach a lot more people, many of these potential recipients don’t actually see every online post.

What Gets Shared Online Is Also Shared Offline and Vice Versa

If the content that we create is compelling enough, people will share it.

The problem is, people share content the way that they want to.

That means that after you post something online it might get shared by people online.

However, a person who sees your content on one social networking site might share it on another social networking site.

Or, they might call people over to their computer or smartphone and say, “Hey, look at this.”

They might also just mention it in passing when talking to friends, family, or coworkers in their day-to-day conversations.

And, as other experts have pointed out, what is shared online could potentially reach the right person with the ability to spread the message through other more traditional media outlets.

For example, back in 2012, Tom Webster highlighted the fact that 80 percent of people claimed to have received information from Twitter because it was relayed to them in other media (e.g., television, radio, other websites, etc.) Even back then, 44 percent said that this happened almost every day.

I would guess that both of these numbers are higher today, given the fact that both of the current presidential candidates know that when they post something on Twitter there is a good chance that what they post will be cited in the evening news or in other media outlets.

While most businesses don’t get the attention that presidential candidates do, their posts still have a chance of being shared in many ways once it is posted online for everyone to see.

Final Thoughts

As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.”

Since business leaders often need to justify their budgets, it might be more accurate to say, “What gets measured gets funded.”

Because there are so many ways to measure the effectiveness of the content that we post online, measurement has become a very important part of the content creation process.

And, the good thing is that some very smart people are constantly working on ways to improve the accuracy of the analytics that marketers use each and every day.

However, as I have tried to point out in this post, we still have a long way to go, particularly when examining how content is shared.

It is therefore often necessary to find alternative ways to measure how effective your content is in accomplishing the desired goal in order to justify creating it in the first place.

That said, in some cases it might never be possible to measure all the ways that your content influences your bottom line even when there are some analytics to help guide you along the way.

That is, unless you stop creating content altogether and measure the decrease in sales over time.

The problem with this is that it probably will allow your competitors to grab the attention of your potential customers.

Therefore, this is clearly not the best solution.

Instead, the best solution is often to measure what we can, but realize that our content might be influencing sales in immeasurable ways.

Photo credit: magicatwork 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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HubSpot Training Teaches That There’s More to Email Marketing Than Just Clicking Send

Photo credit: Kyle James on Flickr.If you are like me, your email inbox is filled with so many emails that every once in a while you need to set aside some time to the hit the delete button without even bothering to read most of them.

Given all the competition for a person’s attention, it would be easy to think that email marketing is a waste of time.

However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As I pointed out in a post last October, a study from Econsultancy found that email marketing was rated as providing good or excellent ROI by agency marketers more often than any other channel, and only organic search was rated as providing good or excellent ROI by more client-side marketers.

However, when Econsultancy asked companies to rate the overall performance of their email marketing campaigns, most said they performed good (37%) or average (44%). In fact, only 4% rated the performance of their email marketing campaigns as excellent.

Clearly there is room for improvement.

HubSpot’s Email Marketing Certification

Although I have been involved in email marketing campaigns in the past, email marketing wasn’t really my specialty.

However, given the fact that 2.6 billion consumers worldwide use email, I understand its importance, particularly for those businesses that are trying to reach consumers on their smartphones.

Therefore, when HubSpot created their Email Marketing Certification, I jumped at the chance to take advantage of the free training that they were offering.

And, I am glad that I did.

According to the HubSpot website, “This advanced email marketing training course will teach you how lifecycle marketing, segmentation, email design, deliverability, analytics and optimization come together to create an email marketing strategy that grows your business, and your career.”

Throughout the training, I was constantly reminded of the fact that marketers today have access to a lot of data that can be used to improve the way that they communicate with customers and prospects.

However, data without the training to know what it is telling you is pretty much worthless.

This certification helps you gain valuable insight from the data and provides you with the background to start creating email marketing campaigns that your current and potential customers will actually open.

Final Thoughts

If done correctly, email marketing can be a very valuable way to communicate with consumers.

In fact, many companies report that email marketing is one of the most effective tools that they have.

However, many companies also think that there is room for improvement.

This is why I jumped at the chance to complete the email marketing certification training that HubSpot offers via the HubSpot Academy.

Overall, I found the email marketing training to be well worth my time and effort.

I should point out that I wasn’t paid to write this and I am not a HubSpot employee or customer.

However, I am a fan of the company and the free information, advice, and training that they offer.

I also believe that when a company does something good for others, people should be made aware of it.

I also want to point out that this wasn’t the first HubSpot certification that I have earned and it definitely won’t be the last.

For more information about the free marketing and sales training that they provide, visit academy.hubspot.com.

Photo credit: Kyle James 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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Instagram Stories Might Be Good for Snapchat and Great for Marketers

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren on Flickr.As I pointed out in a post last month, Snapchat has been experiencing healthy growth and has become a major player in the competition to get the most users and, ultimately, more marketing dollars invested in the app.

However, after Instagram copied some of the features that make Snapchat unique, many people started to wonder if Snapchat will survive.

If you look at the facts, I think Snapchat should be able to weather the storm.

In fact, as I explain in this post, there is the possibility that Instagram Stories might actually be a good thing for Snapchat.

Either way, the competition between Instagram and Snapchat is great news for marketers.

The Argument for Instagram Stories

Almost immediately after it was introduced, marketers started to have success with Instagram Stories. That is, if you define success as the number of views that content receives.

As reported in an Adweek article, brands were getting more views on Instagram Stories on the very first day than they were ever able to get on Snapchat.

“Nike, for example, generated 800,000 views in 24 hours for an Instagram Story that it posted on Tuesday, the first day the feature was available,” reports Garett Sloane in the Adweek article. “On Snapchat, Nike’s best video got 66,000 views, according to Nike and its social media agency Laundry Service.”

This is leading some experts to predict the downfall of Snapchat.

For example, Adam Padilla, CEO of the creative branding agency BrandFire, thinks that the end is near for Snapchat because Instagram has more users to begin with, more high-profile users, and it has a better user interface. He also thinks that there can only be one “now” app. And, of yeah, the Zuckerberg factor also is in play.

Other people think that Instagram Stories won’t destroy Snapchat.

In a TechCrunch article, Josh Constine makes a good argument that Instagram is not necessarily trying to win over current Snapchat users, but prevent or hinder Snapchat from growing any further.

The Argument for Snapchat

It has only been two weeks and no one knows for sure what will happen in the future.

However, Yahoo! Finance is reporting that Instagram Stories hasn’t hurt Snapchat’s engagement levels… yet.

In an article on the Yahoo! Finance website, an App Annie spokesperson is quoted as saying, “Instagram Stories has not made a measurable impact on engagement since the feature launched.” (This was based on data gather during the first seven days after Instagram Stories was first introduced.)

App Annie’s spokesperson thinks that this is because many people use both Instagram and Snapchat.

I think that many of the arguments made so far, both for Snapchat and Instagram, could be good for the long-term growth and success of Snapchat.

As many people have pointed out, it is difficult to get people to find you on Snapchat. Therefore, many users have taken to other social networking sites to promote their Snapchat usernames. In fact, this is what many people used Instagram Stories for shortly after it was first introduced.

Given the fact that there are so many people using Instagram, the addition of Instagram Stories might actually increase the number people using Snapchat, just because they now have a way to find interesting people on the Snapchat app.

On the other hand, the fact that it is difficult to find usernames unless given directly to a potential follower could continue to work in Snapchat’s favor, particularly for younger users who want a place to post where their parents won’t find it.

Turning to adults, another thing Instagram Stories might have done is explain what Snapchat is used for.

Before Instagram Stories, Snapchat was starting to grow the number of adults who use the site.

However, one of the hurdles Snapchat had to overcome was getting adults to understand how and why to use the app.

Now many adults get it and some might start to use Snapchat in an effort to try the other features the app provides.

In addition to the Snapchat lenses and geofilters that have become a part of pop culture, Snapchat also has gamification elements that Instagram currently doesn’t have, including the Snapchat score, emojis, and trophies.

These are very important to some Snapchat users.

In fact, a friend who happens to be a millennial pointed out that this is one of the key reasons why her younger sister uses Snapchat in the first place.

Final Thoughts

As experts have pointed out, Instagram offers many things that Snapchat doesn’t, including more users, more high-profile users, and a user interface that is easier to use. Instagram also makes it easier for users to find other people to follow. This makes it easier for brands to get followers and, therefore, get their content in front of potential customers.

On the other hand, Snapchat will probably continue to be a place where teenagers and young adults go to share content that they don’t want their parents to see.

That said, there is a possibility that more adults will continue to try the Snapchat app and use it for its other features.

Since there is an overlap in users and only a finite amount of time in the day, Instagram Stories might decrease the amount of time spent in the Snapchat app. However, it doesn’t look like that is happening so far. Then again, it might be too early to predict the long-term usage patterns within each of the apps.

For marketers, Instagram will likely be the app that they use to reach a larger audience, while Snapchat might be the place to reach a more targeted audience, particularly for brands that want to reach younger consumers.

The real question for marketers is what app will give them a better return on their investment.

Because there are so many factors to consider, it is probably too early for brands to decide which app is the best place to invest in.

The best advice for brands is to keep an eye on both apps and experiment, test, and optimize the content used in both apps. Then allocate more resources to the app that gives the brand the best results.

Having two popular apps that can potentially reach a brand’s target audience in a slightly different way is a good problem for marketers to have.

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren 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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Why Executives and Thought Leaders Need to Be on LinkedIn

Photo credit: Mambembe Arts & Crafts on Flickr.In June, Microsoft purchased LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.

Experts are saying this is a great move for Microsoft because it gives them additional data to enhance their existing tools. This will help Microsoft compete with Salesforce.com.

“LinkedIn is one of the best new business sales tools in the world of [business-to-business] and in many ways competes head on with Salesforce,” Julie Langley, partner with London-based mergers-and-acquisitions consultancy Results International, is quoted as saying in an Adweek article. “When Microsoft integrates LinkedIn with its [customer relationship management] suite … what you have is a hugely powerful tool that is truly differentiated and one that poses a real threat to Salesforce.”

Hopefully, this will mean that businesspeople around the globe will get even more value from LinkedIn, helping them grow their businesses by leveraging all the tools that are provided by both LinkedIn and Microsoft.

In order to stay competitive, it’s now even more important for businesses to ensure that their executives, thought leaders, and any other employees who play a key role in the business actively use the site to help generate leads and grow their business.

A Place to Promote Your Credentials

Before it was purchased by Microsoft, LinkedIn was already showing healthy growth, increasing from 300 million users in 2014 to roughly 433 million users today. According to its website, LinkedIn is currently acquiring two new users per second.

While some people point out that only 25% percent of its users are active users, just having a robust profile on LinkedIn has value—particularly for B2B businesses.

This is because more buyers are doing some research online before making a purchase decision.

In fact, according to Corporate Executive Board (CEB, Inc.),  77% of B2B buyers don’t talk to a salesperson until they do their own research.

Forrester even estimates that 90% of the sales process might already be completed before a salesperson gets involved.

And, according to Dell, 70% of people who make purchase decisions in B2B businesses use social media to help them decide.

If your B2B business is selling a high-value product or service, you can be sure that at least some of your potential customers are turning to LinkedIn to check the credentials of the executive management team or even the mid-level employees who they will be working with or buying their products or services from.

And, for people who are looking to hire consultants or advisors, knowing the past education and experience of the people who they are taking advice from is extremely important. This is definitely a time when many people will turn to LinkedIn.

Even job applicants turn to LinkedIn to see if they would be a good fit for an organization.

It is therefore important that your executive management team, thought leaders, and other key employees help current and prospective customers (or future coworkers) find the information that they are looking for on LinkedIn when they search for it.

It’s Even Better to Do More Than Just Be on LinkedIn

Knowing that LinkedIn is used by prospective customers, it makes sense to encourage your employees to join LinkedIn.

It is also extremely important that when they create their profiles they include the information that prospective customers would be looking for.

Businesses looking for a starting point might want to check out a post written by Katherine Drotos on the proresource blog that explains some of the key elements needed to create a professional LinkedIn profile.

It is important to know that LinkedIn profiles can show up in search engine results pages (SERPs.) Therefore, as Ms. Drotos points out, “Remember to include those keywords!”

She also suggests growing your network on LinkedIn.

This is particularly important for your sales team, because according to the Sales Benchmark Index, “98 of 100 sales reps who have at least 5,000 LinkedIn contacts reach or surpass their sales quotas.” (This statistic was highlighted in a post on the HubSpot blog.)

It should be noted that connections are important for all employees, as it makes it easier for potential customers to find common connections.

Other experts, including Greg Jarboe, President and Co-Founder of SEO-PR, suggest that in order to have success on LinkedIn, users need to participate in many different ways, including responding to questions in relevant LinkedIn Groups, publishing content on relevant topics, and reaching out to key targets.

In other words, with the proper strategy, you are more likely to have success with LinkedIn the more you actively engage with current and potential customers on site.

Final Thoughts

As experts have suggested, it takes more than creating a profile on LinkedIn if you are really looking to generate a lot of leads using the site.

That said, for B2B companies, encouraging your key employees to create a professional profile on LinkedIn is a must even if you don’t use the site in any other way.

This is because many potential customers will turn to LinkedIn to research the companies that they plan to hire.

Furthermore, because it is now a part of Microsoft, the data from LinkedIn will potentially be integrated into other Microsoft products.

If your employees are not on LinkedIn, there is a chance that users of other Microsoft products will find your competitors first because the information from your company is nowhere to be found.

Photo credit: Mambembe Arts & Crafts 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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Smart Marketers Know When to Zig While Others Zag (and Vice Versa)

Photo credit: N i c o l a on Flickr.

A 2013 Fast Company article has some insight that marketers could benefit from.

Disruptive strategies begin with the courage to zag where others zig,” writes Kaihan Krippendorff. “If your competitors are all starting to turn left, you look right. It is actually not that hard to do. It takes no brilliant foresight. It does not require seeing what others don’t. It simply requires reading the herd. When your competitors all start running in one direction, you just need to ask, “What if I ran in a different direction?””

While the article is talking about focusing on different product attributes to get more customers, this advice could easily be transferred into other areas of business.

In particular, I think that marketers could benefit by thinking this way when determining where to invest their marketing and communications budgets.

As I mentioned in the last post, using the 70|20|10 approach to determine where brands should invest their marketing and communications spend is a great start.

This approach helps brands plan for the future, while also focusing on the things that make them successful today.

As you can guess, investing in new media channels before others do can be very beneficial.

However, a recent Advertising Age article points out that sometimes more traditional forms of media can also be a smart move for a brand, for many of the same reasons that brands choose to try new things.

And, this can be summed up with two words: less competition.

The Value of Getting There First

With any new media channel, there are some brands that will jump on board right away hoping that they will be able to reach consumers before other brands figure it out.

There is a risk involved, particularly if users don’t show up.

Brands could also fail if the users who do show up aren’t in the brand’s target market.

However, because initially costs are low, there can be a high payoff by getting there first.

As the media channel matures and gets accepted by more users, it is inevitable that other brands will start to make an investment in the channel.

This is okay as long as the number of users continues to grow at a faster rate than the number of brands investing in the channel.

However, there usually comes a point when the number of brands investing in the media channel continues to grow, but the increases in the number of users slows down.

Because there is an increased competition to reach a finite number of eyeballs, the costs to advertise on the channel will increase, and thus, decrease the return on investment (ROI).

This concept can even be applied to a brand’s content marketing efforts, where some of the largest investment is in the time spent creating the content. For an example of this, you just have to look what Mark Schaeffer calls “content shock”.

Basically, he pointed out that the supply of content (blog posts) continues to increase, but the demand remains virtually unchanged. This has led to decreased engagement on blogs.

That doesn’t mean that using these new ways to reach consumers are a bad investment, they just tend to get less effective as the competition grows.

Furthermore, this doesn’t necessarily mean that brands should back away from these new media channels or alternative ways to reach consumers as soon as the competition increases.

However, brands do need to measure the effectiveness of each channel and adjust accordingly. The decision to move forward or pivot will need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

The Value of Using Old Media

This brings me to the Advertising Age article mentioned earlier.

The article highlights a study from Nielsen Catalina that was presented at the Advertising Research Foundation Audience Measurement 2016 Conference in New York.

Without getting into all the specifics, Nielsen Catalina found that at least among the consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies that were included in the study, magazines and television outperformed some of the new media options available to advertisers in some of the analyses.

As the author of the article points out, “The study only covers CPG, and deeper analysis suggests media effectiveness may differ for other categories, because it even differs within CPG categories and brands. Big, high-market-share brands purchased frequently had the highest returns on media spending. Brands with smaller market shares or purchased infrequently had lower returns.”

Nevertheless, brands should be exploring all options available to them.

“Much of the money that’s been chasing digital video and driving up its CPMs has been driven by the search to find millennial and Gen Z audiences that have gotten harder to reach with conventional TV or magazines,” the author of the article writes. “But regardless of the demographics, the Nielsen Catalina data suggest there’s plenty of sales impact to be had from older media.”

Note: This analysis appears to only focus on paid media. Digital marketing often includes earned, owned, and shared media. The point that I am making here is that we shouldn’t forget to examine some of the more traditional media options available, particularly when the competition abandons them.

Final Thoughts

The 70|20|10 approach is great because it encourages brands to invest some of their marketing and communications spend on trying new things.

If a brand is able to try new things early enough, it can learn a lot about what works and reach potential customers even before the competition arrives.

However, while the brands that get there first have a slight advantage, even their results will decrease as the amount of competition increases.

It is therefore important to look at the overall picture and evaluate what works and invest in marketing channels that will provide the best return on investment.

Sometimes, this means looking at some of the more traditional media channels that other brands have abandoned.

In other words, sometimes it pays to zig while others zag, and vice versa.

Photo credit: N i c o l a 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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Note to Marketers: Holidays Help Connect Us to Others… and Every Day Is a Holiday

Photo credit: Qfamily on Flickr.The idea of creating a marketing campaign that is focused on a holiday is nothing new.

Businesses have been doing this for years.

They do it because it works.

Part of the reason why it works is because people often want to feel a connection to the world around them, and holidays tap into that need.

In a 2013 post on the Everyday Sociology Blog, Dr. Karen Sternheimer, sociologist at the University of Southern California, points out that the rituals associated with the end-of-year holiday season help us feel connected to the rest of society.

As she writes, “Sociologist Emile Durkheim saw rituals as a form of social glue, holding societies together. Shared experiences, like religious and secular celebrations may help create a feeling of commonality. As sociologist Diana Kendall discusses in her book Framing Class, during the holidays media coverage tends to highlight giving to the less fortunate more than other times of year. She found that news stories tend to be more sympathetic and less critical of the poor, highlighting their humanity and stressing our common bonds.”

“Whether the rituals are gift giving, religious worship, or other cultural practices, they serve to unite us with the people we celebrate them with,” she continues. “Wishing strangers “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy New Year,” extends these bonds beyond our immediate social group.”

Every Day Is a Holiday

While Dr. Sternheimer was talking about the end-of-year holiday season, this enhanced feeling of connection to others as a result of celebrating holidays can happen during any time of the year.

And, marketers are in luck, as there are many reasons to celebrate all year long.

In fact, as you will find with a quick Google search, every day is a holiday.

Sure, you might think that many of these obscure holidays seem hokey or just plain made up. And, it’s okay to think that because many of them are.

In fact, many of these holidays were made up by the man who founded the Foodimentary website.

However, people often celebrate these made-up holidays.

Peeps Aren’t Just for Easter

In an effort to expand their sales beyond the Easter season, Peeps, the brand of marshmallow candies that is over six decades old, introduced Peeps Minis with a marketing campaign that attempted to link the brand to some of the more quirky and obscure holidays.

According to a 2014 New York Times article, “Todd Condie, a copywriter with the Terri & Sandy Solution, said the concept for the campaign sprang from the idea that Peeps were associated with special occasions.”

“What we kept coming back to was that what really defined Peeps as a product was the fact that it was associated with special times, so we tried to figure out what made every day special,” Mr. Condie is quoted as saying in the article. “And it set us off into this world of weird, quirky holidays that really fit the quirky nature of the Peeps brand.”

Fast forward two years and it looks like Peeps Minis did not go over so well.

However, if you visit their Twitter page or any of their other social media accounts, you will notice that the people in charge of marketing Peeps haven’t abandoned the idea of using holidays to sell their tasty treats.

Using Holidays to Fuel Your Social Media Marketing Campaigns

Given the fact that holidays tend to make us feel more connected to each other, it makes sense that brands use holidays in their social media marketing campaigns, as social media is all about connecting and sharing with others.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that in the Market Motive/Simplilearn Advanced Social Media Certification Training, Jennifer Cario, President of SugarSpun Marketing and Author of Pinterest Marketing: An Hour a Day, suggests incorporating holidays into a business’s content mix to catch the attention of current and potential customers.

As she states, “Do you have some type of holiday tie-in? If you sell GPSs, can you do something around Columbus Day that’s got some humor to it? Do you want to push your specific candy as the perfect topper on National Ice Cream Day? There are legions of websites out there that list every single sub-holiday that exists.”

“National Tweed Day and, again, National Ice Cream Day, and Share a Hug Day,” she continues. “There’s millions of those, and there’s the opportunity to produce content around all of them. Then to creatively use some promotion and some viralized concepts and feeding things out to influencers to get people talking just based off the excuse of what’s basically a made up holiday.”

“But, again, if it gets people interested, and it catches their attention, it can be a fun way to put some content together,” says Cario.

Final Thoughts

As Dr. Karen Sternheimer pointed out, the rituals associated with holidays unite us with others and extend bonds beyond our immediate social groups.

This is something that brands have taken advantage of when creating marketing and advertising campaigns over the years.

As experts have pointed out, marketers don’t need to wait until the next big holiday to tap into the positive feelings associated with the major holidays sprinkled throughout the year, because every day is a holiday.

In fact, there is a holiday for just about everything.

While some of the holidays seem a bit hokey or contrived, that’s okay.

If celebrating the holiday fits the brand’s image, creating content built around the holiday can still create the sense of unity.

This will help connect the brand with current and potential and customers in a light-hearted way that will likely be a welcome distraction given some of the more heavy and somber issues that people need to deal with in their everyday lives.

Photo credit: Qfamily 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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