Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How to Succeed in Remote Working Environments

In the past, ideas of "virtual work" might have included colleagues from a different country or visions of mysterious IT specialists who hacked your computer by day and only crept out at night.


Today, virtual work is woven into the fabric of our experience. Remote working is essentially using technology to conduct business, often with nearby colleagues. This may include:



  • Using e-mail or IM to conduct business with nearby colleagues (in your city or down your hallway)
  • Multi-site meetings involving video-conferencing or simulcast options
  • Flex-scheduling that allows employees to work part of the week from home

Virtual work is on the rise: a 2017 Gallup report found 43% percent of Americans work remotely to some degree. Fifty-six percent of software startups worldwide have outsourced their work (contributing to the demand for remote workers) and, according to research by Gartner, organizations that embrace remote working will increase employee retention rates by 10%.


While there are many advantages to enhanced technology, there are unique difficulties to overcome. Whether you're keeping a team accountable or sharing instructions (but can't point at someone's computer screen over their shoulder), the demand for good communication has significantly increased!


Productive Virtual Relationships


What communication skills will you need to succeed in remote working relationships?


Whether you're e-mailing your colleague across the table or uploading blueprints to a design specialist in another time zone, here are some guidelines to grow your skills:


Establish Rules of Engagement


When working face-to-face, the style of communication evolves naturally.


You don't barge through a door when it is shut or get offended if someone pauses after you ask a question. But since we lose non-verbal cues in remote working, it's important to establish connection guidelines. Your team should discuss what technology you will use, how often to correspond, and the preferred method of communication. If one person enjoys e-mail but another sends 10 texts per hour, tension can build quickly. A multi-tasking supervisor may prefer to connect once a day, while a project manager might want hourly updates. If you're not sure where to begin, ask your team:


  •    What time of the day is best to catch you?
  •    What times are off limits?
  •    Is it ever ok to send a text message?
  •    What is the best way to share files?
  •    How should we connect offline if confusion arises?
  •    How will we eliminate lost or duplicated work?

Build Trust


Before starting a project, it's important for colleagues to establish a foundation.


To build relational trust, have one face-to-face (or video-conference) meeting to gain confidence in each other. Include simple social elements (questions that are sincere but not overly personal), share some of your own interests and career aspirations, and let a friendship develop naturally.


When colleagues work remotely, they're not as confident that you are looking out for their best interests. Seek to affirm good work or have a little fun, even just light-hearted online banter.


Demonstrate Competence


Take the initiative in giving regular progress updates, completing projects on time, or voicing questions and concerns before they spiral out of control.


Without nonverbal cues, silence can be damaging, so respond to e-mails quickly and honestly, even if you need more time to resolve an issue. Restate questions in your own words to ensure you are understanding any problems and be honest if you feel someone is hindering the workflow of your team.


Maintaining strong, productive virtual relationships takes extra tact and attention, but these contacts can lead to years of fruitfulness. Sow seeds of intentionality now and enjoy a high yield in years to come.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

How to Use Customization to Gain Customers

Coca-Cola is a brand built on scenes of enjoying life together.


Coke has worked tirelessly to promote not only its product, but the message behind it: that sharing, or gathering family and friends together, brings happiness. "Enjoying a coke" is the message in every ad, every culture, and every medium Coke communicates through.


The company's 2014 "Share a Coke" campaign was one of its memorable marketing initiatives in history. That summer, Coca-Cola removed its iconic logo on 20-ounce bottles and replaced them with 250 of the country's most popular names. Consumers were encouraged to find bottles with names that held personal meaning and to share them with others or post photos online with the hashtag #ShareaCoke. Within the first year, more than 500,000 photos were posted. Consumers ordered over six million virtual Coke bottles, and Coca-Cola gained roughly 25 million Facebook followers.


A Distinctly Personal Experience


What did Coke tap into that prompted this momentous reaction?


In part, it was the desire for a personal experience. For teens and millennials, personalization is not just a fad, but a way of life. Today's consumers place a high value on self-expression, individual storytelling, and staying connected. Coke powerfully aligned playfulness, fun handheld products, and customization in a campaign for the ages.


In today's global economy, consumers are more aware of product options and of what other people are buying. Subsequently, they've become more demanding about the products they purchase. Deloitte Global found that 36 percent of consumers expressed interest in purchasing personalized products or services and one in five were willing to pay 20 percent more for these options. Customization gives companies an edge in cosmetics, clothing, food prep, and toys, to name a few. 


Personalized offerings add costs to the manufacturer but frequently result in higher profits because of:


  • A price premium associated with the benefits
  • More loyal, satisfied customers
  • Greater word of mouth because of the increased satisfaction and the "surprise factor" associated with an unexpected range of options
  • Enhanced customer experience via creativity and individual expression
  • Precise taste matching and less need to compromise

How About You?


Do your customers value experience and self-expression? How could you offer this more in your products or services?


It may be as simple as engraving someone's name in a glasses case or upgrading products with matching accessories. French cosmetics brand Guerlain started offering customizable lipsticks by allowing clients to choose their own combination of case and lipstick color. Customization allows brands to grow consumer engagement and solidify brand loyalty, which is especially powerful in younger markets.


Forbes offers several talking points for firms considering customization:


  • What are the incremental costs associated with the customization options and how will they impact profitability?
  • How many options are necessary and what's the incremental benefit as the number increases? What price premium will consumers be willing to pay?
  • Which customization options will be the most incremental to maximize sales? A research tool called a TURF (Test of Unduplicated Reach & Frequency) Analysis can help you assess.
  • What level of logistical, operational, and labor complexity will this involve? How often should customization options be updated?

Charlie Gu, CEO and co-founder of marketing agency Kollective Influence, says one budget-friendly customization strategy is the "module" approach. Instead of creating a product from scratch, businesses can offer several component options that can be mass-produced and easily assembled:


"Give customers choices, and then let them choose—customization within a framework," he advises. "It doesn't actually require any customization of the actual product. The consumers are essentially just picking their own color, but to them, it feels totally customized."

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Ideal Length for Tweets, Facebook Posts, and More

You've taken the time to collect your thoughts. You've carefully outlined your ideas, your theme, and the overall tone you'd like to communicate. Wouldn't it be nice if people actually read it?


Better make it quick!


Generation Z, born after 1996, is already emerging from the shadow of millennials. Making up a quarter of the U.S. population, they will account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. Gen Z processes content faster than other generation, especially considering most can sort through piles of information using four screens simultaneously.


Although their options seem limitless, their time is finite. Gen Z consumers have an average browsing attention span of eight seconds (as compared to twelve seconds for millennials).


Make Every Word Count


As lead time decreases, efficiency must increase.


How do you evaluate the "right" speed for sharing? Research has answers! Here are some research-based guidelines on the ideal length for Tweets, Facebook and blog posts, headlines, and e-mails.


Twitter


Twitter allows a maximum of 280 characters, and your posts should resemble the same type of short and sweet chirp you might hear from a bird.


The essence of Twitter is its commitment to bite-sized, sharable comments. What is the ideal length of a tweet?


Research by Buddy Media shows 100 characters is the engagement sweet spot for a tweet. This analysis saw a spike in retweets among those between 71-100 characters (so-called "medium" length tweets). These posts have enough characters for the original poster to share something substantial and for a person sharing (or re-tweeting) to add commentary as well.


Facebook


Exactly what size is a 40-character post?


The sentence you just read had 41 characters. That's pretty brief! Research by global marketing influencer Jeff Bullas found that posts with 40 characters received the 86 percent higher engagement (including comments, shares, and "like" rates from viewers) than other posts. Can't limit yourself to such blunt communication? Posts with 80 characters or fewer received 66 percent higher engagement. Minimize length and you'll maximize reach!


Blog Posts


Medium is a blog platform that taps the brains of the world's most insightful writers, thinkers, and storytellers.


When measuring content that performed best on their site, Medium found that an ideal blog post is around 1,600 words, meaning the post will engage people for about seven minutes. A photo-heavy post is better suited to around 980 words, and any blog post longer than 300 words should be filled with subheads to create enhanced readability or "skim layers" for viewers.


Headlines


"Bold and Brief is Best!"


According to KISSmetrics headline experts, six words is the ideal length for headlines.


Usability research reveals people don't only scan body copy, they also skim headlines. Consequently, they tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of each headline.


Don't want them to miss your point? Then don't use any words in between!


Six-word headlines can be challenging, so Kissmetrics suggests that rather than stressing about length, just make every word count. Especially the first three and the last three!


E-mail Subject Lines


Can you boost the open rate for your e-mails by manipulating the subject length? A study released by Mailer found a slight bump in opens and clicks at a certain range of characters:


·        4–15 characters: 15.2% open; 3.1% click


·        16–27 characters: 11.6% open; 3.8% click


·        28–39 characters: 12.2% open; 4% click


·        40–50 characters: 11.9% open; 2.8% click


·        51+ characters: 10.4% open; 1.8% click


Mid-range subjects brought the highest response. Also, research found higher open rates for e-mail subjects that convey timely information, imply benefit for quick action, and avoid exaggeration (such as capitalized letters or exclamation points).

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Four Reasons Great Promotional Products Work

Branded products are everywhere: featured in movies, professional sports, and even on your favorite jacket or thumb drive.


These products bring pleasure and familiarity while sending a message of brand support to friends and casual observers. And these ideas carry substantial weight.


Another Washington First


The first known example of distributing promotional products was in 1789.


Commemorative buttons, created to celebrate George Washington's inauguration, featured a crisp, stamped profile of Washington and the Latin phrase "Pater PatriƦ," meaning "Father of his Country."


Sported by patriotic Americans, the buttons celebrated American democracy and support for the first president. The passion behind this message continues to live on: in February of 2018, one of the inaugural buttons was auctioned for $225,000!


The Gift That Keeps On Giving


Washington's buttons fueled momentum, and your customers are wired to respond to promotional products too.


Eight out of 10 U.S. consumers own at least one giveaway item, and 60 percent of people who receive a promotional gift keep it for up to two years! If those stats don't speak for themselves, here are four reasons that branded merchandise will work for businesses of any size:


1. Free Stuff Grabs Attention.


Like candy at a parade, free stuff draws people.


Promotional gifts catch their eye and make them wonder what the hype is about. When you give gifts, people are attracted to you. Whether its curiosity, playful interest, or eye-catching designs, giveaways generate interest and ignite conversation.


2. Product Giveaways Pave Pathways for Loyalty.


Once you have their attention, you open the door for further interaction.


This happens, in part, as new customers warm in their perception of your brand. According to Tourism Consumer Insights, 52% of those who receive your product are more likely to think highly of both you and your business. As affinity increases, so does their interest in your business, because it's human nature to want to give back to someone who has given to us.


In a Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) study, 85% of consumers who received a promo product said they ultimately did business with the advertiser.


3. Brand Recognition Peaks Through Repeat Exposure.


What is the ultimate goal of branded products? To engage and influence buyers.


Tangible, useful products offer your business endless opportunities to distinguish itself and to do it repeatedly! According to PPAI, 73 percent of those who receive a promo product said they used it at least once a week.


Offering free items to consumers is an incredible marketing tactic that will keep your company on their minds anytime your product is in use.


4. Giveaways Extend the Life of your Message.


How long does it take you to forget a text message or delete an e-mail? Seconds.


But tangible products (especially stylish or fun items) are much harder to toss aside. As you weigh your best product option, consider the interests and needs of your target customers and create the kind of products they'll actually want. If 75% of your prospects use public transportation, tasteful branded umbrellas might become a constant companion during their morning commute.


People love stuff. It's just a fact. And while only 28 percent of people are able to recall a TV ad, 57 percent are typically able to recall an advertiser on a mug.


While promotional pieces bring upfront expense, the longevity and brand recognition they create is an investment that keeps on giving.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Grow Productivity Through Purposeful Leadership

Replace Chaos with Focus


Lost productivity costs companies millions each year.


While it is hard to quantify exactly how much is lost, certainly distraction alone prevents daily peak performance. Besides hunger, sleepiness, bodily functions, and simple brain fatigue, productivity research shows that 48% of employees waste time surfing the web (including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), 33% lose work time socializing with co-workers, and 49% are managing personal calls, texts, and e-mails.


It's true: time is money. But time is more easily lost than dollars, so how can you push yourself or your team to be more focused? Maybe you want to spend your time wisely, but find yourself running in circles or falling short each day. How can you shift from being "busy" to being more effective?


By re-focusing on one thing: purpose.


Your purpose is more than what you do while you're checking e-mail. It's more than what you do while compiling reports or sitting in meetings. These activities may be part of your job, but they don't define your role or your unique identity. Every person is driven by something. Often, we are driven by deadline pressure, interruptions from co-workers, or by an unexpected project delay. But what would it look like to focus on a more purposeful vision?


Grow Productivity Through Purposeful Leadership


Purposeful leadership requires we take a step back, focusing on our unique identity and skill set so these aren't drowned out by the frantic activity of the day.


Do you long to overcome chaos? Here are three steps to organizing your outlook in a way that maximizes your time, priorities, and productivity:


1. Develop goals around your purpose.


If you were to define your top work priority, what would it be? To give vision? To provide team leadership? To design or create?


Before you can effectively use your time, you need to clarify the most important role you play. Start with your unique purpose and draft at least three goals that would help you fulfill your primary purpose. If your job is to work with people but you spend most of your time answering e-mails, maybe a change is needed. Set goals that are specific, measurable, and that put feet to your purpose.


2. Sharpen focus around your goals.


How well do these goals match your weekly tasks? Many people have goals, but do these goals translate into functional realities?


To strategize your time, make a master list of tasks that need accomplishing, then group together tasks in specific categories and rank these categories by importance. Low-level categories could be delegated, dropped, or restructured. As you brainstorm, involve your spouse, mentor, or co-workers. Sometimes it's hard to see life through an honest, critical lens without encouragement from others.


3. Build your schedule around these priorities.


Intentional scheduling is like budgeting: it means telling your time where you want it to go (instead of asking your time where it went!).


Now that you've ranked your categories, assign the top activities to your most productive, interrupted blocks of time. Use your less productive times (late day, "filler" slots between meetings) to address lower priority categories.


Scheduling is where the rubber meets the road – where you close doors and ask for zero interruptions, where you stop doing one task and go on to another (even when it hurts), and where you refuse to let other people determine what is important every day. Your schedule is ground zero for living up to your purpose, so take it seriously and you'll experience greater satisfaction in the way you spend time each week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Start Mouth-Watering Conversations Through Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Karen Weber-Mendham was a part-time librarian and mother of three when she turned her family's propensity for garlic cheesy bread into a cool million.


This northern Wisconsin family often ordered cheesy bread while waiting on pizza. Weber-Mendham said the kids' appetizer passion was so strong "they would arm-wrestle each other for a piece!"  


Cheesy fever inspired the family to enter the 2013 Lay's potato chip competition, "Do Us a Flavor," challenging customers to create a new chip flavor to hit store shelves that year. Lays was swamped with 3.8 million submissions as the contest winner was given the better of two options: $1 million or 1% of the flavor's net sales over a year. Beyond fame and fortune, Weber-Mendham was given the opportunity to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and was flown to Los Angeles for the big reveal with Lay's endorsement celebrity Eva Longoria.


"Eva was so genuine and happy for me when I won," Weber-Mendham said. And yes, "She's as beautiful in person as she looks on TV."


Catalysts for a Great Conversation


What was Lays up to in this fun-loving campaign?


Were they desperate for creative ideas? Hungry for the inspiration only average citizens could bring? Or did they strike gold by tapping into a conversation with everyday Americans?


Word-of-mouth promotion has been identified as the most valuable form of marketing, tagged "the original social media." According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising, and trusted referrals are most likely to drive sales for your company. But in an American Marketing Association survey, 64% of marketing executives say that, though they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing, only 6% have mastered it.


As you seek to generate good gossip about your company, here are three action points to keep in mind:


Engage


Make a commitment to listen.


What would that truly look like in your context? Allow your customers' space to be heard and to contribute to the company as a whole. Engage with clients through e-mail surveys, online question and answer boards, social media service options, or by highlighting customer success in your printed newsletters. When customers are heard, they feel connected and valued.


Encourage  


Allow people reasons or avenues to talk to each other or to talk about you.


Like a common chalkboard with a fun question in your favorite coffee shop, invite clients into the conversation and give them tools to chat. Encourage people to talk about your services and products with you and with others by creating helpful, shareable content, including icons to your favorite apps that will make it easy for your fans to spread your name around!


Equip


Give your fan base tools to become brand advocates.


Let them know their opinions are important and look for fun ways to spread the word. To create buzz around the Ford Fiesta, Ford gave away a number of cars and asked ambassador "influencers" to test drive and share their experiences.


During "Do Us a Flavor," Lays received over 1.4 million Facebook and Twitter votes, one of its biggest marketing campaigns ever. While you may not give away a car, give away tools to get your fans advocating: ask clients to pass coupons to five of their friends, to give you an online review, or be part of a fun selfie or Snapchat contest to boost your reputation.


Get the conversation started and pave the way for new growth!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Keys for Change: Small Businesses Making a Big Impact (Part 2)

Connor's Collision Center of Richmond, Virginia, was looking for a way to build a charitable culture in their business, so they launched the "Recycled Rides" program and began donating rehabbed vehicles to individuals nominated by the community.


In part 1 of this series, we explored the story of one changed life (Georgette Carter) and the way businesses are strengthened through innovative corporate giving.


What about your business?


Maybe you can't rehab cars, but every company can give back in some way! That starts with a desire to grow in generosity and a plan to carry that out. Unfortunately, some business owners pull back from giving because they find themselves strained by the number of needs or a plethora of last-minute requests. To grow in giving, they need a narrowed support focus to help them move ahead.


Identify Brand-Extending Areas of Support


Smaller companies may find it helpful to develop target giving priorities that relate to their mission or their brand.


These funding priorities can be publicized through an application process which sifts out casual candidates and allows employees managing requests to process them in a scheduled, thoughtful manner. As you narrow your giving focus (i.e. schools, sustainable community solutions), key in on priorities that are close at heart and well-suited for both your brand and your community.


Greg O'Neill, co-owner of four Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine shops in Chicago, said this strategic giving shift was key for their company:


"Small businesses get inundated [with requests] and it's really hard to say no. We're a bulls-eye for anyone and everyone looking for donation, sponsorship, philanthropy and giving of any kind. A lot of businesses say yes, yes, yes and give until it hurts."


O'Neill's team implemented an application process, identified sustainable agriculture and feeding programs as a funding priority, and scheduled key deadlines for recipients. As a result, the number of requests declined and the number of meaningful partnerships increased.


"We tend to do fewer one-off donations now," O'Neill says, "and instead we create more relationships."


If your company chooses to donate to causes outside key funding priorities, there are additional strategies to make your contribution stretch farther than the gift itself:



  • Offer coupons for high-dollar products or services that don't cost much to your company
  • Consider in-kind gifts and allow employees to use workday hours to participate
  • Rather than just giving cash, reach out to your best sales rep. Buy a case of one good item from them and donate it to the event or cause
  • Host a yearly contest where your community or employees can submit nominations for someone needing a hand. Document the results and include them in your newsletter or company Christmas card to spread the holiday cheer!

As you seek to give strategically, here are four questions to consider:


1. What brand extending areas will you support?


2. How can you publicize your giving priorities in a way that structures the giving process and streamlines requests?


3. How can you affirm employees who go the extra mile to give beyond the walls of your office?


4. How can your compassion be print-recognized (i.e. banners or photo murals) to make it a more mutually beneficial partnership?


Your charitable efforts may be humble, but they are unique to you and they make a tangible difference in your community. While generosity begins in the heart, often innovative community support begins with your business!