This Mindset Is Essential for Successful Business Comebacks

As we seem to be stuck in a chronic game of “Ready. Set. Wait.” while our local and national leaders decide how to move forward in the new normal, we have two choices to make:

  1. Hunker down and hold tight to what we have so we can resume the life we once knew when the storm passes.
  2. Focus on improving what we have, look for opportunities, and prepare for growth so we can hit the ground running and operate even better down the road.

When nothing is certain, it seems certain that the first choice of hunkering down makes the most sense: Hold on to what you have so you don’t go under when the ship starts to sink. After all, playing it safe is better than risking it all.

If the above is how you are thinking, think again!

The first approach is that of a Fixed Mindset, and the second reflects a Growth Mindset.

Which of these mindsets you apply to your marketing and business operations as you face the challenging environment in which we operate now will determine if you succeed or fail. It’s really that simple.

Historically, the companies that succeed through tumultuous and uncertain times are those with leaders who have a common characteristic associated with a growth mindset: psychological resilience. 

Wikipedia describes psychological resilience as follows:

The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or return to pre-crisis status quickly. … Psychological resilience exists when people develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences.

While many may argue whether resilience is a trait we are born with or a learned skill, I am going with renowned psychologist, Stanford professor, and author of “Mindset,” Carol Dweck, who claims resilience is a skill, not an innate human trait. Dweck maintains that resilience is part of a growth mindset which is grounded in the belief that hard work, dedication, one’s intelligence and ability to overcome challenges can result in great accomplishments.

The fixed mindset believes your abilities are fixed, so you stick with what you have, and you believe your potential is predetermined by circumstances beyond your control. As a result, you don’t sharpen your skills and ability to identify opportunities, improve efficiencies, and make futuristic decisions vs. short-term choices.

When you look at companies that rose above past recessions stronger and better than competitors, creating and executing growth plans was the primary difference.

An article in the March 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Roaring Out of Recession, reviewed winners and losers from three previous recessions – 1980, 1990, and 2000 – and found that businesses lead by a growth mindset rose above competitors substantially. In fact, their studies show that only 9% of businesses monitored survived and actually grew coming out of a downturn, 80% failed to achieve their pre-recession levels within 3 years, and 17% failed altogether.

What about that 9%? These were the companies leading with a growth mindset that balanced offensive actions, such as improving efficiencies and seizing new opportunities, with defensive tactics of cutting back on costs to prepare for the worst.

What they did:

  • Kept and even added staff instead of letting people go
  • Remained committed to marketing programs
  • Invested in assets for long-term growth

As a result, these 9% came out stronger than before. Office Depot vs. Staples is a prime example offered in the HBR article:

Office Depot cut staff by 6% in order to cut losses for the near term. Staples hired more staff and looked for opportunities to improve operational efficiencies and invest for the long term. As a result, Staples’ sales were doubled at the end of the 2000 recession and were substantially higher than Office Depot’s sales, which were billions ahead of Staples before the recession.

Lessons learned from the HBR study, and the impact of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset, include:

  • Maintain marketing programs and brand presence during uncertain or down times so that when purchasers start purchasing again, they think of and come to you first. Keeping your brand presence alive is key to letting customers and influencers know you will be around when the dust settles.
  • Reduce operational costs not staff. Doing so sends a signal to all employees that you are committed to the value they add which in turn increases their creativity, drive, and contributions at a time these attributes are needed most.
  • Invest in assets you can likely get for lower prices due to the recession to save money. This way you will be ready to respond to future opportunities quickly, and enjoy higher profit margins while others are scrambling to catch up.

Staying the course and believing in your business’ ability to reinvent, reinvigorate, and rise is perhaps the most important strategy you can execute while our communities juggle the pros and cons of getting back to the old normal or the new normal, whatever it may be. If you lose customers now and have to start rebuilding your base when the recession is over, you will have a very hard time catching up with those that managed to keep their base and grow incrementally.

Get More From Your Advertising While Spending A Lot Less

At a time when there seems to be a new national crisis daily, it is hard to justify moving forward with big marketing spends not knowing what the purchasing climate will be one day to the next. Clever copy, relevant content, and big promotions just can’t overcome the hurdles of spending freezes and cut backs many of your target customers are experiencing. When this happens, its really tough to make marketing pay off. At least the kind of marketing you might be used to executing.

Fortunately, marketing platforms today give us the opportunity to manage our marketing spend to be accountable for every dollar, and to eliminate waste by paying only for results, be it impressions, clicks, likes, contact information, and so on.

Regardless of COVID-19 economic challenges, and civil rights protests that disrupt business as usual in every sense of the term, spending dollars on performance marketing programs that are highly measurable is smart marketing under all circumstances. Such programs enable you to reach only who you want to reach, and only cost you money when they perform. This makes sense in good times, certain times, and the reverse.

The key to getting more from these media channels (e.g., Google Ads and LinkedIn ads) really boils down to two things:

  • What you say and how you say it
  • How you use them to spark a multi-step journey to YES for the leads you generate

Here are some considerations.

What You Say and How You Say It

Emotional and psychological relevance is more important than ever. It’s fair to say that most of us are operating from a perspective of fear, anxiety, and doubt most of the time. Every day there’s another setback to our respect for humanity, our belief in governments, our sense of security, and a lot more. So ads that appeal to just about anything but the above are likely to go unnoticed or unacted upon. Copy that directly appeals to a solution vs. boasts a brand’s expertise is likely to influence and persuade, the goal of all marketing. Yet so many ads across all platforms are still brag sheets that are meaningless to purchasers seeking solutions to the fears and anxieties that consume them.

You need to use powerful words that speak to how you can add confidence and security to those struggling to find both in their jobs and personal worlds. Even with the strict word counts for Google Ads and LinkedIn Ads, you can do it. The best way to identify the words or issues that move your customers the most is to ask them. Use your website, social media pages, and email programs to ask one to three questions that identify the greatest concerns and needs on customers’ minds today.

If you find fear of job loss or the great unknown to be top of mind among your customers, use words that speak directly to these fears in your Search Ads. Back up the promise implied by these words with all the other touch points you prepare to keep them on a journey to YES.

How You Spark a Multi-Step Journey

Its amazing how many marketers spend a lot of money on PPC and other performance marketing programs and then stop there. The intent of these programs is most often to create a lead or get people to a website where further engagement takes place. Yet many marketers don’t plan well for the next touch point.

This is why Customer Experience (CX) strategies and plans are so critical. And putting a strong CX plan in place is really quite simple. Some tips:

  • Map out the steps that take place from first introduction to your brand to closing the first sale and then what you do to keep them purchasing.
  • Document the triggers that keep customers moving from one step to the next. Was it a price incentive? A free trial? Content or actionable information? Was it simply a phone call or additional email?
  • Promote these triggers in a carefully concerted customer journey, starting with your website.

Once you get people to your website from your digital advertising campaigns, keep them there by making these same triggers or offers the first thing they see on your home page. Use them as reasons to go deeper in your site, sign up for a demo, download a paper, and so on.

The next step to doing more with less is to train your customer service and sales team members to follow up with each lead that lands on your website or responds to an email. As you are already paying for these people, having them follow up with a personal touch does not cost you a lot more, but most often gives back a lot more in terms of getting customers to take the next step in that critical journey to the first sale. Quite often it’s the phone call or personal email that makes all the difference, and yet this is often overlooked.

While it may seem like advertising is a big waste right now with all the uncertainty we face daily in this new normal state of the world, if you use the right emotional appeals, and keep engaging customers with a strong workflow and customer journey plans, you can actually achieve a great deal at a fairly low cost.

Make Your Brand Social Statements Actually Drive Change and Results

As marketers, we must look at corporate social responsibility programs as more than blanket statements about an ideal world and big cash donations to associations related to a given cause, and instead outline the actions we will take across all areas of our brands to effect change.

When I wrote my first book, I had the privilege of interviewing Earl Graves, the founder of Black Enterprise magazine and a highly successful entrepreneur that inspired many people beyond business. I was excited to ask him about the steps he took to reach his goals, and the guiding principles that had helped him sustain growth for several decades. What he told me was surprisingly simple, and even more profound. His words:

“People need to know what you say and what you do are going to be the same.”

That was it. This coming from a man that was with Robert F. Kennedy on the fateful day he was shot, a former board member of American Airlines and the Boy Scouts of America, and founder, editor and publisher of one of the most successful publications serving entrepreneurs nationwide.

Those words go through my mind more frequently and rapidly than ever as I watch the civic and business reactions to the modern-day lynching of George Floyd. I read wonderfully profound statements — carefully crafted by marketing and PR executives, speech writers, and humanitarians across all industries — that express their values and commitments to never engage in any kind of discrimination: racial, gender, age, religious, and so on. And I wonder. I wonder how realistic it is that these companies will ever truly change, or bluntly, really do anything about social injustices in their local communities or beyond.

Many of you are likely behind a brand’s statement of commitment to never practice racism. However, words at times like these are cheap. Eloquence is often offensive as it projects ideals that have not been adhered to when they should have, and likely won’t be sustained for long, if ever, if entire cultures don’t change. Many of us agree that there are many wrongs with this crisis and others impacting society, but really don’t understand how we are part of the wrong, even though we claim, “we don’t talk like that” or “we don’t think like that.” The wrong that many of us commit is trying to resolve issues with just words and thoughts, not actions.

The only way for business leaders to effect the change they write about in their statements is to back them up with a solid action plan. As you ponder putting out statements about your brand’s commitments and values, ask yourself, your executive team, and staff members:

  • What is the goal behind our actions?
  • What actions are necessary to reach our goal?
  • How will you involve every employee and every aspect of our business?
  • How will you measure and repeat our success?

Doing what is politically correct at the moment based upon how the wind is blowing is not adequate, or acceptable. Customers demand more of brands. They support companies that have longstanding commitments to social responsibility, and not just when under pressure or a microscope. In fact, consumer behavior research from Cone Communications shows that more than 80% of consumers will switch to brands that practice social values.

Hosting an annual diversity fair at work and encouraging people of various groups to listen to one another for a day is not going to cut it, either. Real change requires real actions that are built upon reflection and introspection as to how individuals and company cultures or practices could be contributing to a problem.

Another friend whom I interviewed for my second book, Toby Usnik, who just authored his own book, “The Caring Economy,” has been advising brands of all sizes to build a corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan that is actionable and measurable. He advises businesses to look at their CSR programs as not single acts or commitments to do A or B, or a point of arrival, but rather a spectrum of caring. This spectrum of caring embraces the totality of a brand’s character, behavior, actions, expenditures and values. Usnik says:

“Once a brand declares its place on the spectrum through it public reporting, it should then strive to move further up the spectrum to an even more responsible and caring place. One that is recognized by all its stakeholders.”

Usnik reflects on what he calls “darker angels and “better angels.” Darker angels continue to maintain the status quo even when they know what they are doing is wrong and dangerous. Better angels are those who spend the time to identify what they are doing that could be wrong, dangerous, harmful to others, socially unjust in anyway, subtle or more overt.

He cites a social app brand that decided to confront racism by removing race and ethnicity filters. This alone is a serious step forward. Imagine if employee applications did not ask race, gender, or ethnicity questions? What would that mean for processes based on equality and qualifications? Yes, these are optional to complete, but many of us choose to do so to give ourselves every chance possible of making the short list. But again, why do these issues get asked if they really don’t matter and have a possibility of driving biases or discrimination.

Bottom line, as marketers, we must look at corporate social responsibility programs as more than blanket statements about an ideal world and big cash donations to associations related to a given cause, and instead outline the actions we will take across all areas of our brands to effect change.

According to Usnik, who outlines action plans for businesses in his book, we must look at our social programs, commitments, and behaviors as “movements.” People will get behind and support movements more than protocols or rules that someone else imposes on them. Usnik suggests people review the standards and processes set forth by ISO 26000 – guidelines established by the International Organization for Standardization.

We need to identify actions at every level of an organization that contribute to the sum of a brand’s persona and character. We must look at our hiring practices, the questions we ask, our advertising images and statements, our treatment of employees, the actions of our managers and other leaders, the types of conversations we have with all of our constituents, down to the adjectives we use.

How Do Change and Commitment Build Brands?

We as humans, consumers, and citizens want to be part of something that not only furthers our values; we want to be part of the change we want to see in the world, as Ghandi stated. When the brands we work for enable us to do so, and self-actualize within our job environments, we are not just loyal, we are driven to help our businesses succeed well beyond our job descriptions. This kind of employee loyalty is key to success now and will be for years to come.

Per Cone Communications on CSR and consumer choice and loyalty, and other studies by Nielsen, consumers make purchasing choices according to values and how much a brand gives back to people, causes, and the earth. Some of the brands who will rise above the chaos now and in the future largely because they operate according to an established list of values for supporting people, causes, and our planet are Patagonia, Tom’s Shoes, Gymboree, Warby Parker, Uncommon Goods, and many more. You can view a long list of brands that have committed to being good and doing good here.

I remember hearing the late poet and civil right activist, Maya Angelou, explain in an interview that she once asked some of her friends at a party at her own house to leave immediately because they were making derogatory comments about a racial or ethnic group, and she would not allow that energy in her home.

Years later, I remember this statement and try to reflect on it regarding the energy I put into my work; at home for my family and self; as well as within my thoughts, words and deeds, in an effort to assure that my actions reflect the values I believe I have, want to have, and want to promote to others.

I encourage business leaders to ponder the same as leaders set the culture through their actions more than their words.

When it comes to addressing issues of the time, of the future, and of the past it really comes down to those simple words Earl Graves told me year ago:

“People need to know what you say and what you do are going to be the same.”

Resilience and Reinvention: 2 ‘Essentials’ Brands Need to Practice Now

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies thrive: resilience and reinvention.

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic over the past couple of months, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies rise above and thrive — despite the odds and tragic setbacks out of one’s individual control — resilience and reinvention.

Resilience

Difficulties often force us to look at life from different angles, and quite often those angles reveal opportunities we wouldn’t face otherwise.  One of the things we hear from friends and colleagues, and admit to even ourselves, is that while sheltering in place we’ve learned what really matters, what we really need, and what we don’t. Focusing on “essentials” is a positive we can apply to all aspects of our lives.

In business, we are learning to do more with less, and as customers we are learning to expect less of the “thrills” in order to meet our “essential” needs, like being able to go to a store vs. shop online and hope we get something on time. Our values are changing out of necessity and these values are likely to linger longer than the rules of social distancing.

This is an ideal time for businesses across sectors to rethink the “extras” designed to add value, and focus on ways to deliver the quality and service your customers need without adding to your overhead. Consider:

Reward Programs: I can’t believe I, the person evangelizing customer experience for years, is suggesting to drop your rewards program, but I am. For at least now. Customers want you to stay in business and have learned to focus on “essential” vs. “extra” perks. Cutting out “Free This and Free That” can help you protect your cash flow and get back in the black as we re-open the economy.

Chances are, if you run the numbers, you’ll find a lower percentage of customers cashing in those awards than you think, and when this is the case it is not likely to cause you to lose customers. Right now, customers are just happy to be able to shop again, and want to keep their favorite businesses in business more than they want that “free gift.”

Hours of Operation: So you open earlier and close later to make it more convenient for customers, right? But those extra two hours could be costing you potentially thousands a year, and may not be generating that much in return. While it may make sense to open earlier for particular customer groups (such as having some early morning hours for senior citizens or the immuno-compromised to shop more easily) the current environment doesn’t dictate additional convenience. Now, most customers are just grateful to have you open for a short period of time and are willing to adjust their schedules around you.

Audit Your Inventory: There was a time when customers would buy those cute non-essential items near the cash registers or on the endcaps of aisle just because they could. I’m guessing that when we are all free to move around our worlds and shop freely, in person, at live stores vs. virtual platforms, this will change. Many of us consumers have learned to get by with less, and we’ve learned that “stuff” is just that – stuff.

By eliminating some of those non-essentials from your shelves and counters, you reduce your costs to operate, set yourself up to get to profitable sales volumes faster, and simplify the shopping experience as customers are allowed back in your stores. Now more than ever, the old adage, of “less is more” is critical to live by.

Reinvention 

There are plenty of stories about businesses that are making ventilators instead of cars; making face masks instead of clothing; and the like. This is a powerful and critical strategy for all businesses in all categories as we come out of a shuttered economy. Our world has changed and so must we all if we want to rise above and thrive as we move forward.

Reinventing your business(es) applies to not just what you offer customers, but how you operate within the community. Consider this example:

A company making backpacks and duffel bags wasn’t getting any orders. So they offered to use their production facilities to help a local manufacturer of medical protective gear produce more of what was needed instead of focusing more on their products. As a result, that company has kept its people busy and company healthy. They also started making and selling T-shirts as a fundraiser to help raise money to be able to support more healthcare workers on the frontline. The company donated more than $30,000 from their T-shirt campaign, which will pay off much more as people remember that brand and choose to support them when they can purchase more freely again.

Ponder on how can you collaborate with other companies that are fitting a more “essential” need than yours, so you can keep busy, pay employees, and “reinvent” your relevance beyond just the core business you once had.

Another example is a business videographer I work with who isn’t booking those big events due to cancellations. To keep his name top-of-mind for the hopefully near future of business events again, he has started a tutorial offering. He is creating DIY videos and e-books to help clients do their own videos while they can’t afford his services, knowing that when they are back in their groove, he will be too.

The act of reinventing is not always about finding new products to sell, but about finding new ways to collaborate and expand your network while you add to your service lines. Instead, it’s about being relevant, present, and valuable so that the relationships you have in place will still be the ones that help you move forward and resume life as you once knew it.

No matter the nature or size of size your business, use this “time out” of your normal routine to contemplate ways to rise above by refocusing your time, money, energy, and resources on what matters and identify ways you can eliminate waste. Put energy into focusing your creativity on ways to collaborate with others in your community, reinvent your products to fit the needs of customers now, and add affordable services that meet current and future needs. Investing some energy into resilience and reinvention will pay off now, as well as later.

More than anything, keep believing in the you that has achieved the success you have, and do it all again. Shine on!

Take a Break and Carry On: Adjust Your Mindset and Messaging During Coronavirus Pandemic

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Nothing.

Yes. Do nothing different. Instead: “Carry on!”

No, I’m not in a state of denial, or naivete. Hear me out:

When everything around us seems to be in a state of chaos and uncertainty, we seek something solid to assure us that not all we know is pushing the “cancel” button, and that some parts of our lives will continue as normal.

When we see brands or businesses or organizations doing “business as usual,” or messaging positive news and actions, we find hope and relief and start to gravitate toward them. Whether they are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. We need hope, assurance, and a little bit of our current normal, or we fall into states of despair and paralysis.

When we see the organizations or brands in our daily lives panic, we want to avoid their same dilemmas and tend to distance ourselves from them and find alternatives. Our trust in those organizations to be beacons for us during hard times and good times is forever changed.

Not only is our trust changed for those that panicked and gave up during those tough times, so too often is our loyalty.  We find alternatives and quite often those alternatives become our new normal. And when stability comes back to our lives, we stay with that new normal quite often vs. go back to those that panicked and let us down.

As long as you are able, stay the course in terms of keeping stores open and services available, while also abiding by what local and federal mandates require of you, of course. And most importantly, keep communication relevant and timely, while also avoiding overwhelming those you’re messaging. Remember, we’re all receiving a lot of information now, and it can be a lot to digest.

So, how do we “do nothing” effectively? Stay in touch.

Here are some thoughts on staying connected during uncertain times in ways that keep customers aligned with your brand, trusting your position, and ready to come back when life resumes as usual, once again.

Consider:

  • Keep communicating: If you send out weekly emails with product ideas, promotions, account statements, keep doing it. But instead of trying to sell to someone who is scared of life as they know it is over, peddle sincerity, compassion, and interesting stories.
  • Don’t make light of the situation: There is nothing funny from any angle so remain sensitive and stay real. Coors had plans to run an ad on being the best “work at home” beer, originally positioned for March Madness, but pulled it (ahead of the announcement of the tournament being canceled). While the ad was never intended to make fun of the current situation, it could have easily been taken the wrong way, if Coors had not pulled it.
  • This is not an opportunity: Don’t offer coronavirus specials, and don’t push to get in the news by giving away free toilet paper or make shift masks. Don’t use social media to increase impressions with insights about the situation unless you really have helpful information that makes a difference, and you are a credible source for the topic at hand.
  • Provide a healthy distraction: Stressful times are not prime for promoting sales, as efforts are not likely to achieve as much as they would during less uncertain times. It is, however, a great time to tell stories about your brand, your employees, your community causes, your vision. Take this time to be uplifting, again, where appropriate.

Regardless of what business you are in, take a break. Take a break from the routine of pushing sales and counting acquisitions. It’s not going to pay off and your frustration level will just elevate. Stay focused on what you can continue to have a positive effect on: relationships. Keep your brand relationships alive with positive communications, stories of hope and community, and more.

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, sheds a good light on this situation: “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Embrace the dark. Look for the stars. And “Shine on!

 

Why Brand Love Is Just Not True Love for Marketers

Just like in our personal relationships , we cannot take brand love and loyalty for granted among our customers. We need to find ways to keep them “enchanted” enough to tell their friends about us, share our incentives and offers to their circles, and stay positive when it comes to conversations about our brand.

The movies I remember most from my childhood all centered around finding that “true love” and living happily ever after, as devoted, loyal spouses that forever tingle at the thought of each other. You know those movies, like “The Princess Diaries,” “Enchanted,” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Years later, it became forever clear that “true love” was really just another Hollywood notion to keep people dreaming, and watching more romance movies. Not because true love cannot be found, but because there really is not just one person for every person here on earth. At least, that’s not often the case.

Yet somehow, brands jumped onto the trend of forming brand love with customers, believing they could achieve lifelong loyalty and happily ever after fans. Not.

No, I am not a skeptic that love does not exist and cannot last. But I am a realist when it comes to the ethereal goals of marketers today. The reality of forever and true brand love is right up there with the likelihood that my favorite love flick, “Enchanted” is based on a true story.

Why?

Think about it. Is there a brand you love so so so much that you would never ever stray? And you would take a vow to remain loyal “until death do you part” and even “in sickness and health?” which in the business world is failed expectations, higher prices, faulty products, and such. Not likely.

In every category and in every  market, customers have many options of suitors vying for their attention, time, money, affection, and loyalty. And choosing a brand based on what you valued at a given time in the purchase process or phase of your life is not something you consider as permanent, no matter what the future brings. It’s just a purchase that works then and now, kind of like high school dating works for teenagers, and most often those relationships change over time.

While love for brands is certainly fleeting, it does not mean marketers should not be focused on generating as much affection for as long as we can among every customer we are fortunate enough to have.  It means we need to look at things a little differently.

For example:

  1. Look at the customers’ lifetime value differently. Don’t just focus on securing sales for as long as they are viable in your category. Look at their referral value as that is where their exponential potential comes from.
  2. Engage in referral campaigns not just loyalty campaigns. Reward customers for the value they bring you from new customers, not just their own transactions. This way you are preserving your revenue stream as they slow down and eventually move on.
  3. Pay attention. Monitor offers and incentives offered by other suitors. What new appeal do they have that you don’t offer?  Find ways to offer the same but in your own style.

Just like in our personal relationships , we cannot take brand love and loyalty for granted among our customers. We need to find ways to keep them “enchanted” enough to tell their friends about us, share our incentives and offers to their circles, and stay positive socially online and offline when it comes to conversations about our brand. Reputations last longer than most customers ever will so communications, nurturing, and keeping respect and admiration at the top of each customers’ minds will set us up to secure the next generation of customers.

Discovering ‘FOTU’ in 2020 Marketing and Beyond

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate news channels, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. At the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for FOTU.

Making this post about “seeing clearly in 2020” is nothing short of trite and cliché. However, being  able to see all of the influences, attitudes, concerns, myths, and facts that inform and drive consumer behavior will be the difference between success and failure as we enter the new “roaring” ’20s.

And no surprise or argument here, but we are off to a roaring start. We’ve got an impeachment trial, a threatening war, an economy that is certainly uncertain, a pending election, and growing domestic issues like homelessness that are impacting communities and economies, nationwide.

While its not hard “see” the above issues as they dominate all news channels all day every day, it is sometimes hard to see how each may impact the success of our 2020 marketing efforts. And we need to take a long, deep look: Because at the end of the day, no clever campaign, no amount of social likes and shares, and no volume of media purchases can compensate for the FOTU (fear of the unknown), which is a close cousin to FOMO (fear of missing out).

Just some of the things we need to see, under a microscope, as we move toward perfect vision in 2020 include:

How Political Turmoil Affects Confidence in the Economy and, Thus, Spending

Think about it for a minute. No matter where you stand on current events, a supporter or not, all the negative energy we hear daily gets in your head. You can’t help but feel disgust with one side of the story for what you have learned to believe is “propaganda, contrived, politically motivated, or just plain deceit.” Whether it is or not, it affects you. Your brain gets muddled with harsh words, angry vocal tones, contradictions, and consciously and unconsciously your vessel gets full of chaos.

And when chaos strikes, we slow down, often giving into the fear of the unknown and hold onto what we have. We stop thinking of what we “want” and start focusing on what we need. We spend more on what we want vs. what we need and so when that mindset changes, so does our spending behavior.

Regardless of where you and your customers sit on the political fence, you need to present a brand that can calm the chaos, provide order or realism in a world that seems to have gone too deep into the fake side and chaotic uncertainty. And most importantly, you cannot take sides or you, too, become part of the chaos.

How a New Era of ‘Truth’ Impacts Consumer’s Trust in Society and, Ultimately, Brands

Lies, alternative facts, partial truths, misleading statements, altered statistics, and other little demons of communications strategies have gone from prevalent to accepted. As shocking as it is to see authorities and leaders and consumers and friends in our society defend what once was considered wrong, or still is considered wrong for non-politicians, it is more so, at least to me, shocking to see how many people are fine with it. This leads to a new standard of double standards and right vs wrong vs partially right or partially wrong. These attitudes create a new standard of trust that transcends community and political leadership, and brands. As we accept non-truths or misleading behavior in any aspect of our society, we learn to expect it. So if we accept it on a political and governing level, we tend to believe that everyone is guilty of the same behavior. So we learn to safely believe no one and nothing, including all of those claims of service and product quality, added values, and rewards of membership. We simply don’t believe as much as we used to and have learned to filter what we choose to believe, which is many cases, is very little.

Do a self check. Be honest. Are you more skeptical now than you were in three years ago? Five years ago?

What Consumers Want to Hear, Believe, and Who They Listen to

Even though you are not going to change your truth to fit the emotional needs of your customers, you have to pay attention, and close attention, to what your target audiences want to hear. As I’ve mentioned in my many other columns, we throw out truths, facts, and evidence if it doesn’t fit our construct of the world as we want to see it. What do you customers want to see? Again, don’t change your truth and put your integrity on the line for sales and profits. But do know what those issues are, as it gives you a glimpse of your customers’ values and what messages are likely to resonate with those values. Are they conservative? Liberal? Stay focused on messages that reflect the traditions that guide them.

Regardless of where you see your brand going in 2020,  take time to look deeply at what is happening around your customers, and how those happenings or “reported” happenings affect the mindset of your constituents. Does it add to FOTU, FOMO? Or spark heated debates on Facebook or across the fences? Survey your customers and learn what moves them, what scares them, what inspires them.

Ask much more than the typical NPS question and customer satisfaction questions. When you do, you will not only gain that 2020 vision, you set your brand up to roar in the best of the ‘20s yet to come.

The Psychology-Based Marketing 2019 Roundup of Top Stories

Psychology-based marketing has a lot of nooks and crannies, but here are the top four stories that stayed in the corners of marketers’ minds in 2019.

Psychology-based marketing has a lot of nooks and crannies, but here are the top four stories that stayed in the corners of marketers’ minds in 2019.

I wrote these pieces in 2019, though you were still reading my columns from previous years. I think, though, that it’s important to look at the thoughts from this year and perhaps take a look at evergreen pieces at a later time.

These posts are listed based on popularity.

No. 1

“Persuasive Copy That Sells: It’s Not About the Words” from Jan. 15 interested the largest number of you. Marketers who are used to using “Limited Time,” “Only One Left,” “Don’t Miss Out,” “Never to Be Offered Again,” “Big Discounts,” “Guaranteed,” and “Free,” “Free” and “Free” wanted to see what was new.

I wrote:

“Marketing copy strategies that align with ‘feeling good’ address many aspects of human nature and what really influences us to change our behavior. It’s no longer about the words we use to influence behavior, it’s about the values we project, our brands, and the values of those we want to do business with us.”

No. 2

“3 Customer Experience Tips for Marketers to Reduce Churn” on May 7 gets into how good customer experiences are essential to customer retention.

“Without carefully planned and executed employee onboarding programs, employee attrition goes up, and so does corporate waste, as it costs about nine months of an employees’ salary to terminate and start over again.

“This same principle applies to customer loyalty and the very high cost of losing even just one customer. Yet it’s hard to find “onboarding” programs for customers that are as robust as those for employees. Even with the cost of losing a customer being much higher than the loss of a middle management employee. When you lose a customer, you lose not just the cost of acquiring that customer, you lose the next transaction you were counting on, and you lose their entire lifetime value, which can be pretty substantial in the B2B world.”

No. 3

“The 4 Most Critical Steps for Happy Customers, Profits” appeared on March 12 and got into how the face of your brand needs to be happy, too. Sure, customers care about whether your employees are happy and treated well — especially if it affects how those employees treat them. But Target Marketing blogger Jessica Nable recently pointed out that business partners care, too, and will check if you have heavy turnover.

I write:

“With the frenzied rush to make happy customers, engage them emotionally, and be transparent and relevant at all times, many companies unwittingly skip over the more important goal: making happy employees, engaging them emotionally, and being transparent and relevant at all times.”

No. 4

“The Danger of a Single Story for Marketers in the Age of Storytelling” piqued your interest, starting on Oct. 22.

Stories from us are what pull customers in. If they like the experience, they tell good stories about us. Or, I should say, good stories about what we did for them.

As I say in this column, “We marketers today are really the new age of storytellers.”

  • What’s your story?
  • Do your customers know it?

Here’s how we tell it:

“Our websites, white papers, and content marketing are written just like classic novelettes. A teaser to create intrigue, a climax that builds with all of the reasons a customer needs us and needs us now, and a conclusion for how customers can get what they need from us. For a price.”

Back to You

What do you think will be the top psychology-based marketing stories in 2020? Please let me know in the comments section!

Do Marketing Influencers Really Influence? Or Do Brands?

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

Now, with all of the technology available, anyone can create videos on any topic, spark viral marketing campaigns, and get instant fame, likes, and tweets on social media and start influencing others in some fashion at some level. As a result, “influencer marketing” is much more complex, hard to define, and much harder to nail. Yet it is also painstakingly more important than ever.

To succeed at influencing influencers to influence purchasers, we need to step back and review some of the basic fundamentals:

First, what really is an influencer who is worth is influencing in today’s market, when just about anyone can pin on that name? It used to be we could identify influencers by the numbers of followers they had on social media. Well, that’s not so easy in an age where likes and followers can be bought, and often are. There are now many other characteristics of “influence” that marketers need to address.

According to an Influencer Marketing post from Feb. 1:

An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.

Given this definition, who are the top influencers today?

Well, according to MediaKix, an influencer marketing agency that aligns brands with social media influencers ruling YouTube and Instagram, the top influencers in the world are young adults who have mastered the ability to entertain millions of followers by making fun of life as we know it today. They comment on beauty or fashion trends in ways that entertain and inform, or engage followers in game activities. Seriously, most of you reading this post will find little if any value in their trendy, narcissistic, and often meaningless tweets; but somehow, these people are influencing millions daily by just doing nothing but ranting or raving on video channels that anyone can access and use.

Yet these influencers with little talent compared with mainstream entertainers who cross over the big screen to the little screen, sell. MediaKix posts examples of influencer marketing campaigns that engaged these “influencers” in marketing campaigns for clients like Kenneth Cole. The marketing influencers show results that include social reaches of tens of millions, story views also in the millions, high levels of social engagement rates, and, of course, increased sales for sponsoring brands.

Marketing Influencers Seriously Influence Sales

Geometry Global and gen.video released a report in 2017 at VidCon that showed 90% of social media users are influenced to make a purchase after seeing content. Categories most influenced by social media content are consumer electronics, fashion food/beverage, health/beauty, and travel.

Quite importantly, they also learned that social media influencers are now the “most effective and trusted source at driving sales, 94% more than friends/family, and more than six times more than celebrities.

Wow.

When you look at those numbers, its hard not to wonder how traditional broadcast channels are still able to get advertising dollars.

B2B influencers on social media have far few followers than pop culture influencers, who have as many as 80 million followers on Instagram. Yet, the followers they do have pay attention to every word and every idea. B2B influencers ruling social media are those who share their wisdom, ideas, and help others learn from them, without asking for anything in return, other than maybe a follow or like.

By “influencing” others with their intellect and stories that followers can relate to and actually emulate in their own jobs, they have anchored themselves as thought leaders beyond just their tweets or posts. They are authors and speakers. They are executives at companies who are changing the world as we know it, or some aspect of the business world. The leading B2B influencer on social media, Tim Hughes of London, has fewer than 200,000 Twitter followers, which pales in comparison with the consumer influencers who entertain with short, often raunchy, episodes about their daily lives, or jokes about others’ lives. Instead, he tweets his expertise and insights on digital marketing and social selling, and provides tidbits about his personal life. And people look forward to reading everything he says.

The key to a successful influencer marketing campaign for businesses is exactly the above. Make your tweets so relevant and valuable that people look forward to reading your posts and learning from your every word. Another key factor is to spur influence among all areas of your business, not just your leadership. You can light up social media much faster with multiple influencers than just highlighting your leadership and their ideas.

The first step in influencer marketing is to recognize the “influencers” in your own ranks. That’s your staff at all levels, not just the top. Note that many of the top influencers are employees of companies vs. owners or founders. They tweet about what they do, what they learn, and what moves them within the context of their brands and their own personal visions.

Successful employees have a passion for what your business does, and what they do to further your business. And they have intellectual capital and experiences that are worth sharing. As the marketing lead for your company, you can direct social conversations and get people talking about your company, your insights, your value propositions, and even a day in the life of your business.

Here are five ways you can start influencing people at all levels of your industry:

  1. Identify a Theme a month with which you want to align your company’s expertise. Define talking points that support your position, and potential social media themes to help get those talking points read and shared.
  2. Build Relevant Content for your employees to share on their business and even personal accounts. Align the content with what matters most to your audiences and write it in a way that creates anticipation for subsequent posts. It’s not that hard, if you know what’s on the mind of your audiences and have even basic writing skills.
  3. Enable Employees to set up social media accounts, specifically to tweet about your business and industry. Break down those security firewalls and encourage employees to play around on social media on the job and tweet within the guidelines you set.
  4. Set Guidelines about what can be said, and not per compliance and proprietary issues, and ask employees to tTweet about it.
  5. Use the Business Pages on Social Sites to Reflect Your Top Leaderships’ Thoughts and Insights, and post regularly. Encourage employees to share those thoughts with the network they build within their peer circles.

By setting up employees at all levels to be influencers among peers at all levels, the awareness and buzz about your brand will grow exponentially. And as we have learned from recent political elections, awareness gets more attention and action than just about anything else. People won’t necessarily remember every tweet, comment, position you take, or every insight or idea. But they will remember your name when it comes to “voting” for brands or partners to consider for business deals.