Wednesday, January 2, 2019

True Empathy Can Win the Day

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. "Mister," said a boy at his feet, "I want to buy a puppy."


"Well," said the farmer, "These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?"


The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. "I don't have much, but is this enough to take a look?"


The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy's eyes lit up. "I want that one," he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. "Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others."


The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. "I do want that puppy. I don't run too well myself, and he'll need someone who understands him."


That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer's heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people's emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.


Empathy Begins with Real Listening


Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you're trying to make a sale?


All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:


  • "How is this situation affecting you?"
  • "Can you tell me more about _____?"
  • "What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?"

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.


Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:


  • "I can understand how frustrating it is when . . ."
  • "I see this is very complicated/upsetting."
  • "I'm sorry to hear that and I'll do my best to help."

Pair Compassion with Action


As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.


Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, "ok, we can fix this," or "let's get this sorted out right away," will reassure customers you're taking ownership of the problem.


Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:


"Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer's shoes. As they make the customer's problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day."


Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.

Gain the Mouth-Watering, Competitive Advantage

In 2011, Matt Salzberg was a restless associate at a Silicon Valley investment firm. He and his friend Ilia Papas wanted to create a business and were intrigued by food.


"We both loved food," Salzberg said. "We liked trying new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques, but we found it really inaccessible to cook at home. It was expensive, time-consuming and difficult to find recipes that we trusted."


The duo tried a few ideas before landing on the one that became Blue Apron: give people an easy way to make dinner using chef-recommended recipes and the fresh, precisely measured ingredients they'd need. With 20 friends beta-testing the product, Salzberg immediately realized they had a winner. Beyond rave reviews and contagious social media sharing, they had undeniable momentum:


"Pretty much from day one we've had steady exponential customer growth. I think the moment we did our first week of deliveries we sort of knew that we had a business that we thought would be really successful."


By August 2012 the team was shipping recipes to early testers, and three years later Blue Apron was delivering millions of meals to monthly subscribers, the company valued at a whopping $2 billion!


Find Your Competitive Advantage


Initially, some scoffed at the thought of paying restaurant prices for something you labored to cook at home.


But they overlooked Blue Apron's unique advantage: appealing to "foodies" who loved high-end meals but relished the opportunity to cook them. Blue Apron found a niche in the market that catapulted them to exponential growth and national exposure.


Competitive advantage is that "special something" that draws customers and keeps them coming back.


Why do you buy a Ford versus Chevy? Why do you spend $80 on a certain brand of jeans? The answer lies in the competitive advantage, the unique set of features a product has that makes it superior in the eyes of a target audience.


Competitive advantages include niche strategies (like Blue Apron), cost advantages, and product or service differentiation. Consider these examples:


Cost Competitive Advantage


Companies can grab an edge when they control costs and efficiency in ways that create maximum value for consumers.


Walmart uses this advantage by providing a large selection combined with low prices through its retail size and strength. Some companies draw from years of experience, overseas production, or streamlined workflows to minimize expense.


As you brainstorm cost advantages for your customers, consider how you can improve productivity from your team, if your technology or equipment is cost-efficient or needs upgrading, or where you can give customers a cost break via delivery options, locked-in service rates, or freebies that come as a bonus for specific orders.  


Product Differentiation


Another way to gain a competitive advantage is through product differentiation.


As you distinguish yourself in the marketplace, focus on the value you offer through your unique products. What makes your toothbrush one of a kind? How is your technology superior to other market options? How does your farmer's market produce outclass the bounty of your competitors?


People love getting the best product for their penny, so work hard to highlight your advantage and shout it loud through print and digital pieces that spotlight your strengths.


Service Differentiation


While cost or product advantages can quickly disappear (or be duplicated), every company can offer one-of-a-kind service advantages.


Whether its bundled subscriptions, outstanding customer care, or unrivaled warranties, build a benefit that is exclusively yours. Consider bonus delivery features, apps that are user-friendly and easy to learn, terms that are simple and risk-free, or energizing ambiance (like funky d├ęcor or stellar store atmospheres). Make customers so spoiled they'd never consider your competitors!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How to Keep You and Your Team Motivated and On Task Before, During, and After the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us yet again, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective.


On the one hand, it's a great opportunity to reconnect with all of those friends, family members, and other loved ones that you may not have had as much time with as you would have liked throughout the year. On the other hand, your attention is constantly being pulled in about a million different directions - which can have bad implications in terms of your business' productivity.


But, in truth, the holidays don't have to kill the momentum you've been steadily building throughout the year. If you really want to keep yourself (and your team members) on task before, during, and after the holidays, there are a few key tips you'll want to keep in mind.


Separate Your Work and Home Lives as Much as Possible


We've written in the past about how important it is to maintain a work/life balance, but it is especially so for you and your team members during the holidays.


As a leader, it is in your best interest to lay down a few hard and fast rules about "work is work, home is home" during the month of December.


Remember that according to one study, almost two-thirds of people say that they get stressed during the holidays due to a perceived lack of time. If people feel compelled to put in long hours in the office and then take work home with them on top of that, you're only going to compound a problem.


Instead, be clear that the holidays are a time for friends and family members and barring a few important projects and deadlines, most things can and absolutely should stay in the office.


Embrace the Opportunity For a Little Down Time


Yes, it's true - you're about to lose a bunch of business days in a row right at the end of the year because of the one-two punch that is Christmas and New Years.


Yes, you'll probably have a lot of days cut short all throughout December due to holiday parties and other gatherings. But the fact of the matter is that this isn't something that you should fear or try to avoid - instead, you should lean into it as much as possible.


Remember that a number of different studies have been conducted over the years that show that when we work a strict 40 hours a week, our productivity actually takes a bit of a dive. People quickly start to feel over-stressed and overwhelmed, which does the exact opposite of what you're trying to accomplish.


Especially during the holiday season, don't overlook an opportunity to let people relax, take a little time off and go home early. At the very least, they'll be primed and ready to go the extra mile when they return.


Never forget that when it comes to productivity during the holiday season, you should always be focused on "quality" and not "quantity."


These are just a few of the key things that you should consider when keeping everyone motivated before, during, and after the holidays. If at any point you still feel stressed, just remember - the season is going to charge on ahead whether you're ready for it or not. Soon it will be January and you'll be ready to take 2019 by storm... until next December, that is.

Friday, December 21, 2018

4 Print Marketing Trends to Inspire You in the Year to Come

Print marketing is compelling, memorable, and engaging.


As people touch, hold, and even smell paper, they respond in a profoundly personal way.


While digital communication is booming, this has only enhanced the unique voice that print brings for any business. Millennials and Gen Z are very difficult crowds to reach digitally, with 63 percent using AdBlocker and 82 percent ignoring online banner ads. This trend toward tactile is stirring potential for many exciting creative opportunities.


Today, we'll highlight four print marketing trends from 2018 to inspire you in the year to come.


Simplicity


The world is filled with chaos, and fundamentally, viewers long for a return to simplicity.


Minimalist designs offer the respite people crave. Minimalist designs include images with a clear, elegant purpose, maximizing white space and using layouts that are clean and authentic. Uncluttered visuals bring an honest, compelling point into focus in a quick and arresting way.


For years, TBWA Paris has been on a mission to advertise McDonald's in the most minimalist ways possible. This started in 2013 with extreme close-up photos of food and followed with computer-icon-style pictograms featuring McDonald's menu items reduced down to very spare illustrations. Many of these ads used no branding whatsoever: the point was that the food was so recognizable it didn't need a label.


By 2017, McDonald's had the food disappearing altogether, featuring top sellers like fries, McNuggets, or Big Mac cartons that were completely empty (apart from a few crumbs), because the food had already been devoured by famished customers.


Effective? Absolutely. These simple ads bypass the brain and go straight to the stomach.


Personalized Print Pieces


Print is already a highly personal medium, but advances in technology allow businesses to enjoy increased access to personalized posters, flyers, direct mail, and more.


If you want to impress, try gathering online data about customer preferences and include that in print.


Branding even the simplest products has also allowed companies to gain a more personal touch. For example, a local auto garage printed customized labels for its water bottles and offered complimentary water to customers while they waited.


Color


If you've ever painted a room, you know the significance even a slightly darker hue can bring. Color experts Pantone released color trends for 2018 with this advice:



  • If you want to look resourceful, employ blue and orange hues
  • If you want a playful tone, choose yellow
  • If you're looking for something discreet, try pink
  • If you want more sophistication, choose gold

What if you want to reach a diverse crowd?


According to Pantone, rosy tones bring a palette that "reaches out and embraces many different cultures." Pantone said in 2018, print marketing was trending away from pastels and toward bright, bold colors:


"Intense colors seem to be a natural application of our intense lifestyles and thought processes these days."


Storytelling


Storytelling is not just for YouTube.


Print that tells a story can alleviate suspicion and make instant connections, especially with younger audiences.


A Spanish lollipop grabbed this edge with its "ant aversion" ad for Chupa Chups lollipops. While normally a company might bore viewers with guilt trips for sugar-free products, Chupa Chups chose a "visual story" to make their point.


In the print ad, a sticky sucker had been discarded on a rock slab near the lawn. Meanwhile, a triple-wide line of ants detoured around the candy, heading toward the grass. The headline, "It's Sugar Free," brought a resounding finale to this playful story.


Chupa Chups reminds us that print is at its best when it is used as an art. Use vibrant colors, minimalist designs, and personalized print pieces to grab their attention and tell your story this year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

7 Gifts that Delight (But Won't Break the Bank)

Tis the season to be gifting!


What is a gift? A gift is not comprised merely of what is given, but of the thoughtfulness or care that is behind it. A gift is appreciation on wheels.


December is a great time to show your appreciation. Whether it's seasonal incentives, end of the year bonuses, or a just a friendly reminder that you care, here are seven unique (but inexpensive) gifts that your customers or employees will love:


Favorite Flavors


If you have a small staff or a handful of VIP clients, dig up info on the hobby or flavor of their choice (coffee, chocolate, classical guitar) and personalize a basket to their delight.


Or if you know your friends enjoy golf, assemble a kit including items like towels, ball markers, balls, and tees. Use a stylish bag that can clip easily onto their golf bag. Or assemble a sports tote full of goodies featuring a college or professional team of their choice.


Touchscreen Gloves


Gloves are both a necessity and a perk, especially in the touchscreen generation.


Cold weather commutes can be significantly brightened by cozy, oh-so-convenient touchscreen gloves. Your friends can text, browse online, or shuffle music while enjoying this thoughtful gift.


Cord Organizer


Nothing is more frustrating than a stuck zipper. Or a knotted shoe.


Scratch that: nothing is worse than tangled earbuds that take forever to unwind! A branded cord organizer can keep their earbuds (and their sanity!) intact. Choose from a range of colors or upgrade with a set of customized earbuds as well.


Charity of Choice


They say people won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.


Offer a gift that's close to their heart! Ask what your client's most cherished organization or non-profit is, and make a financial gift to this organization on their behalf.


Portable Power Bank


Today's generation is on the run constantly.


Portable power banks allow users to store electrical energy and use it later, charging almost any USB connectable device (cameras, phones, portable speakers, tablets, and more). Great for airports, commuting, or hours "off the grid," power banks are truly a gift that keeps on giving!


Bubble Umbrellas


Whether you walk to work or enjoy singing in the rain, bubble umbrellas are just plain fun!


Give a unique umbrella to protect your friends from rain and wind, covering their face but allowing them to see clearly as they stroll.


Coupon of the Month Club


Want to offer a unique twist this year?


Buy 12 gift card sleeves and label them with the months of the year. Whether you print custom coupons for your business or purchase a variety of gift cards from the community, there is no end to your creative options.


If you are gifting employees, consider paring coffee or restaurant gift cards with workday incentives (i.e. redeem for a half day off work one Friday this month, enjoy in-office chair massages on a staff reward day of the boss's choice). Recipients can decide whether they'll open all 12 envelopes immediately or enjoy a surprise per month in 2019.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Why You Should Serve, Not Sell

Social media is an increasingly dominant medium for modern communication.


According to facts from the Pew Research Center and the Hootsuite Social Media Barometer Report 2018:



  • There are now 3.196 billion people using social media (up 13% from last year)
  • 11 new people start using social media each second, which is about one million people every day
  • 88 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use social media
  • The total number of mobile phone users is 5.14 billion (up 4% from last year), which means people are increasing in their social media accessibility

As you look to grow your digital reach in conjuction with your print campaigns, social media is an obvious choice to feature ads, products, and (let's be honest), to feature yourself!


But, how well does this go over with consumers? Not swimmingly.


Take a quick scan through the business posts you see online. How would you best summarize these? Does the content bring an encouraging word to you, the reader? Or do the majority of these posts seem narcissistic?


Bruce Kasanoff, author of "How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk," summarizes it like this:


"Two-thirds or more of the business posts I see on social media can be summarized in one word: Me. They are all about the person or company that shared the post: what they are selling, what they want, what they did. Yawn. Pause. Where's the unfollow button?"


Instead, Kasanoff coaches entrepreneurs to embrace this mantra: serve, don't sell. Intrinsically, people respond to those who approach them in a friendly, helpful manner. Social media is no different. When you take a self-centered or pushy tone it is a turnoff, whether you're sharing online or in person. In contrast, everything you share on social media should offer a benefit to those on the receiving end. Kasanoff gives this example:


"Imagine that you are delivering a webinar in Chicago, and you share this news via social media. Don't just say, 'Come to my seminar.' There are a ton of people who don't live in Chicago or will be busy that day, so they can't come. Instead, offer a lesson related to your seminar, and then say, 'By the way, if you're going to be in Chicago next Tuesday, I'll be talking about this and related lessons.' Thus, members of your network benefit even if they can't do what you want them to do."


Grow Influence Through "You-Centered" Communication


Living in the information age, people have grown increasingly resistant to interruption marketing, or "in-your-face," one-way communication.


Instead, they crave engagement marketing: brand-consumer relationships built on trust and mutual respect. The foundation of this trust is thoughtful communication specifically tailored to the consumer's needs. Effective communicators make the audience believe that the most important person in their correspondence - in their business relationship - is "you," the consumer.


The key to successful communication is to make the reader feel – in every memo, letter, printed piece, or social media post – that the most important person is the reader.


Consider this contrast:


Option A: "Pixie Dust Cleaners brings a dazzling deep clean, offering eco-friendly products at the best possible price."


Option B: "Looking for freedom from chaos? Pixie Dust Cleaners gives you a dazzling deep clean, with eco-friendly products that allow you to take a deep breath and enjoy every minute at home. Your peace of mind is worth every penny!


Before you communicate, ask yourself what your audience needs, wants, or values. Consider what is most important to them and try to personalize your correspondence or social media posts to these felt needs. As you produce more customer-centered communication, you will grow sales, enrich your reputation, and enhance the well-being of your business.

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."