Category Archives: Marketing, Advertising, and PR

Transparency Matters

Transparency can mean many things. A business may reveal their products’ supply chain, employees’ salaries, environmental impact reports, or the reasoning behind certain ingredients and charges.

These disclosures have become crucial elements for consumer decision-making, especially when it comes to the millennial generation and younger. The following developments are thought to be responsible for this development:

Online Reviews: It only takes 5 minutes to find online reviews of products/services or entire businesses. Chances are someone has already posted about certain flaws, and consumers have become used to trusting their peers. Being transparent will avoid any scandalous discoveries and public reveals that might unnecessarily damage your reputation. Loosing credibility is easy, restoring it is not.
Distrust: Big business has lost part of its appeal after the financial crisis. Individuals who grew up during this time experienced how a business culture focusing on generating profits can hurt the entire society. Transparency is the best way to build up trust in the long-term.
Social Media: Research suggests humans have an easier time remembering negative stories and experiences. Social media makes sure any kind of scandal will be publicly exposed on a global scale. Reading people’s comments on these stories just makes them seem so much worse than they probably are as relevant context is missing. Being honest and transparent from the beginning will pay off big times.

Are there other benefits to transparency? There certainly are:
• Improves talent attraction and employee retention
• Encourages cooperation, sharing of information, and innovation
• Prevents disappointments and negative PR internally and externally
• Strengthens your brand
• Creates valuable content for social media
• Increases profitability

The big question is: how do you recognize a company truly embracing transparency? Forbes names the following elements:
• Communicate the Company’s Vision and Mission Statement
• Tell the Whole Truth
• Don’t Delay Dispensing Information
• Make Important Documents Available
• Establish Trust Through Social Media

There is so much more to transparency and we would be more than happy to share our own experiences, so please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 309-786-5142.

The Future is Now

The World is changing quickly and organizations like the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are trying to predict and guide these changes in the most sustainable manner. The same should apply to marketers who need to be able to quickly adapt to new environments to stay competitive. One of these developments might drastically disrupt the world of grocery shopping and marketing in just a few years.

It is no secret most car producers and technology companies are testing out autonomous vehicles. You can already use them in Phoenix, Arizona, and it is believed that autonomous vehicles will become a common sight within a couple of years. Now imagine that autonomous vehicles could be used to delivery groceries. It is already possible to get groceries delivered through apps and Amazon just purchased Wholefoods, so this is a surprisingly realistic scenario.

Let’s explore how this development could drastically transform packaging norms and how this would impact the marketing industry. Consumers would utilize apps like Instacart to evaluate and order products online. This mode abolishes the need for flashy and wasteful packaging in the store as the visual marketing function will now take place online. Cereals could be transported and stored at supermarkets/grocery hubs in gigantic containers instead of separate paper boxes and plastic bags. Traditional shopping carts could be replaced by shopping boxes with new functionalities like a section for cereals and a cooler. Instead of purchasing a box of cereal, you would purchase one pound. Shopping boxes would be loaded into large vehicles designed to only transport these boxes. Vehicles would utilize the most efficient routes to reach customers’ homes and allow them to access the box on the side of the vehicle – ideally using their own cereal storage containers. Joel Makover mentions “New, innovative delivery models and evolving use patterns are unlocking a reuse opportunity for at least 20 percent of plastic packaging.”

Utilizing apps for grocery shopping would allow marketers to display more relevant information as apps’ functionalities often include functions allowing users to compare products (see Amazon). You might sort products by the amount of certain ingredients or nutritional values. This system may shift the focus away from visual promotions to a focus on ingredients and how they are perceived by certain audiences. Maybe marketers will be able to add pictures of the communities where products like fruits are grown and highlight the fair-trade aspect. Maybe marketers will be able to add a link to a website with customer reviews and stories. There are countless opportunities and marketers need to embrace these developments as they happen. Who would have expected self-driving cars in Phoenix, AZ just five years ago?

Corporate Sustainability: the new competitive advantage?

Scientists observe effects like natural disasters and decreasing grain yields caused by unsustainable business practices. According to Maslow, mankind’s basic physiological needs are being threatened – needs that must be satisfied before all else. Businesses actively working against these hazards can help consumers satisfy these threatened needs and, by doing so, create a competitive advantage. This new value stems from sustainable operations, which need to be communicated appropriately.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an excellent success story. It points out monetary benefits of corporate sustainability, primarily when it comes to avoiding physical, regulatory and reputation risks. The CDP uses a monetary vehicle and communicates it to their corporate audience using buzzwords like “benchmark performance,” “stranded assets,” “fiduciary duties,” and even quoting support from the Bank of England. Why would the same system not work for the consumer goods market?

The answer is simple: the system requires an educated audience and/or superior communications. Sustainable Reporting Guidelines encouraging transparency, accountability, SMART approaches and even the disclosure of any lobbying efforts and publications with related content are merely a means to an end. They expose the truth, but which end can consumers reasonably analyze a 30-page corporate report and understand topics like the different scopes of carbon accounting?

The solution is simple: corporate sustainability and its positive impacts could be communicated through an educational framework. Consumers need to be informed about threats to their basic needs, how they contribute to them, and why choosing goods/services of sustainably managed businesses can potentially avoid threats similar to avoiding an investor’s risks. By enabling consumers to expose negative impacts, businesses will react to level the playing field, meaning that the early adopter catches the worm. Pointing out whitewashing is crucial as well; some sustainability efforts are more effective and relevant than others and this needs to be understood.

The 16 UN Sustainability Goals provide information on relevant areas. They allow managers to identify relevant sustainability focus areas for their industry, and their communications experts can conveniently “borrow” from the site’s professional content and visuals to serve their audience.

Long story short, marketing departments play crucial roles in fostering informed consumers and establishing corporate sustainability as an accepted competitive advantage.

Government Contracting – Well Worth the Effort

Have you ever wondered why we have gained so many government certifications? There are several reasons:

Government Contracting
The public sector purchases goods and services, just like every other organization. In addition to making sure they get the best goods/services for the lowest price, the government is committed to supporting small disadvantaged businesses. You can consider this part of the government’s efforts to improve economic development. Prioritizing smaller businesses helps them compete against big players in the market and helps to even the playing field. It decreases market barriers, creates a catalyst for entrepreneurship and creates a more competitive and innovative marketplace.

Transparency
These certifications require a lengthy process that includes opening up to government entities, providing internal accounting, as well as the business owners’ private financial documents. The government wants to make sure only qualified individuals and businesses profit from this catalyst. At the same time, the government needs to make sure suppliers are financially responsible and able to perform the contract. Let’s not forget these goods and services are paid for by taxes, so making sure everyone benefits is vital.

We at Media Link, Inc. were just recently able to utilize our certifications to compete for a contract. The purchasing agency imposed a 30% set aside for small disadvantaged businesses. We were able to leverage our WOSB (woman-owned small business) and IL BEP (Business Enterprise Program) certifications to be eligible to apply. This entity was also eager to support veteran-owned businesses by imposing a 5% veterans’ goal. This created a unique opportunity to partner with another business and to compete for the contract together. Our partner was a small veteran-owned graphic agency that perfectly complements our services.

You can imagine how rewarding it was to get the award. Not only did this contract open us up to a new client, but finding a new partner makes both of us stronger. This contract resulted in the support of two small disadvantaged Illinois businesses. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested in teaming up or just curious about the world of government contracting in general!

The Unreachable Generation

You might think segmenting and defining your target audience is the most difficult step necessary to implement a successful marketing campaign, but this has changed tremendously when it comes to marketing to a younger audience. Nowadays, figuring out how to effectively reach younger generations is the new main challenge most of us face. The reason behind this is that we rely on user data to tell us who is using which platform when, where and how.

Millennials and especially Gen Xers, however, grew up in a quickly changing digital environment that made switching from one platform to the next as easy as never before. They grew up using chat rooms and social platforms like Myspace. Facebook then quickly became the new Myspace, followed by new platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Depending on their character and mood, teenagers and millennials switch between Pinterest, Tumblr and countless others. They might be using a mix of eight platforms one day and suddenly focus on their three favorites. Never has it been easier to abandon one for another thanks to smartphones and apps.

Tracking this generation is tricky, and where there is a lack of tracking, there is a lack of data. Without data, our decision-making process is impacted. Reaching this “Unreachable Generation” has become a major challenge, so we wanted to share a couple of sources we found useful:

“Forces of Change: The Unreachables,” Hearts & Science
“Reaching The ‘Unreachable’ Audience With Podcast Advertising,” Forbes
“Outside Voices: How Marketers Are Missing a Generation of ‘Unreachables’,” The Wall Street Journal

The Life of a Marketer

When people think of marketing firms they think commercials and billboards, but there is so much more beneath the surface that goes unnoticed.

To put into perspective what we do as a marketing firm starts at the top with creating our proposals for clients. Our process for constructing the best plan for our customers is rigorous. We know that this is your business. You have the final say in what is done. So, it is our job to not only give you the best options, but all the options (good and bad). From there, we will guide you to what we feel will reap maximum exposure and work with vendors to give you exactly what is needed.

That’s not all we do. After we confirm your advertisement placement; we monitor payments and work closely with our vendors to make sure your spots ran correctly. Since machines and humans aren’t perfect, it is not uncommon for TV Spots or Print Ads to be missed. When that happens, we work with stations/publications to ensure your Make Good commercials not only run, but are worth equal to or greater than the original commercial we placed.

But we don’t stop there. If you are hosting an event, we will make sure your message reaches not just people nearby, but anyone who is able to relate to your message. From posting to community calendars, to scheduling interviews with the press, we do all the back work to ensure your message is seen and heard quickly and concisely. After we get you the exposure, we will research your event, and note each reference to your event.

To ensure relativity for our clients, we also create an extensive list of online listings and the results we find about your business when researched. Many owners do not realize incorrect information about their business is on Google and can hurt their business. Our job is to go in, find those issues and contact the corresponding people to make the change.

Research isn’t the only thing we use with the internet. Social Media is one of the greatest tools ever created for marketers, but it doesn’t come without its fair share of problems. Part of our job is to post on your behalf and create specialized and personal messages to generate positive remarks and discussion about your business. Of course, there are occasional unnecessary comments on some posts, but don’t worry – we also handle your online crises management and ensure feedback posts receive a timely reply with a positive spin.

The final piece of the marketing firm puzzle is the analysis we put together for our businesses. We keep close record of all conversations, monthly reports, meetings or events and carefully decode and breakdown what happened, how well the campaign worked, and where can we make adjustments for the future.

To break it down, our job isn’t just to advertise for you. Our job is to make your message heard and drive more traffic and customers to your business. We don’t follow these steps too purely “go through the motions”, as marketers we know every step we take is necessary for the success of your business.

Diversity & Inclusion in Advertising

Diversity has been a regular topic at the Oscars, especially since there were only Caucasian acting nominees in both 2015 and 2016 – the first time since 1997. The 2018 Oscars additionally focused on the issue of gender equality and inclusion after Hollywood was hit hard by the #MeToo movement. Long story short: diversity and inclusion have become mainstream topics impacting all organizations and industries, including advertising.

Saturday Night Live just recently addressed the challenges of dealing with inclusion and PEPSI has already proven that advertisers will face distinct scrutiny about their actions.

We have assembled a couple of external, and partially controversial, sources with examples, opinions, and food for thought on diversity and inclusion in advertising. Needless to say, this selection does not reflect the opinions of the Media Link Team – it is intended to inspire, spark thoughts, and spur discussions about topics no marketing professional can avoid anymore.

Gender
“Gender equality movements in advertising are making gains,” THE DRUM
This article highlights several gender equality movements.
“Collections: Gender Equality in Advertising,” Ads of the World
This site presents ads addressing International Women’s Day.
“U.K. bans gender stereotypes in ads,” AdAge
This article highlights restrictions on gender stereotyping.
“Conservatives feel the least represented among media’s depiction of women,” Ad Age
This article highlights how political perspectives shape women’s receptivity to advertising.
“Agency exec on scarcity of LGBT people in ads: ‘People fear the bigoted minority’”, DIGIDAY
This interview focuses on the representation of LGBT people in advertising.

Race
“Different Ads, Different Ethnicities, Same Car,” New York Times
This article discusses Toyota’s take on targeting minority audiences.
“The case for diversity in advertising,” Think with Google
This article focuses on black millennials and their stance on media/advertising and Corporate Social Responsibility.
“ProPublica: Facebook advertisers can still discriminate by race,” engadget
This article highlights the legal and ethical challenges of audience segmentation and digital targeting options.
“I am the woman in the ‘racist Dove ad’. I am not a victim,” The Guardian
This opinion deals with the most recent Dove ad controversy.

Tips
“How We Encourage Diversity and Equality in Our Content Marketing,” 6Q
“5 ways marketers can take action to improve diversity,” Marketing Week
“Pepsi’s ad failure shows the importance of diversity and market research,” Marketing Week
“Watch marketing and adland’s top names urge industry to fix diversity issue,” campaign us

Signature Stories

Story telling has become an important element of branding a business and promoting products/services. These stories are often aligned with the firm’s mission and vision statements and therefore create the foundation for external, but also internal, communications.

The rationale for signature stories’ effectiveness over simply stating facts is simple: it’s part of our cultural DNA. People have been telling stories to entertain and educate for millenia, especially when there was no opportunity to preserve information via scriptures. Still, stories can create a connection between customers and businesses on an emotional level. They make it possible to experience facts in a subtle and less intrusive way and they truly make a company unique.

Internally, signature stories help employees to better understand corporate communications and strategies. They can create pride, loyalty, and improve productivity as a result. Making sure employment policies and business structures/strategies align with the signature story is vital. A business promoting fair trade and sustainability should make sure emplyees are treated fairly and the business complies to environmental standards.

There are many additional reasons why signature stories are beneficial. They can help with crisis communications, create multiplier effects, and more. Find additional arguments on this list of 14 reasons your brand needs a signature story.

According to David Aeker, American Marketing Association, signature stories need to be (1) Intruigung, (2) Authentic, (3) Involving, and (4) Strategic. This is certainly a challenge, so learn more about how to write excellent signature stories here.

Disney-Fox Merger

In a move that has sent shockwaves through Hollywood, 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Co. have announced a powerhouse merger worth over $52 billion in just stock value with a total value of $66 billion. Disney’s acquisition of Fox lands it access to Fox’s large network of TV and streaming assets, as well as $13.7 billion of Fox’s debt. Despite the massive price tag, Disney is confident in the direction they are moving as they expand their footprint in the digital streaming landscape. With consumers moving to streaming over traditional TV, Disney has started growing into a strong competitor for companies like Netflix. Fox Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, echoes the excitement Disney CEO Bob Iger and the companies’ respective shareholders in a NBC News interview saying, “We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox…Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry.”

So, what does this mean for the media landscape now that these two titans have joined forces? Josef Adalian and Chris Lee from Vulture.com put it very succinctly: “Hulu will probably get a lot bigger.” Prior to the merger, Hulu was controlled primarily by three stakeholders, NBC Universal, Fox and Disney. This gives Disney a controlling stake in one of Netflix’s biggest competitors and will be reinforced by Disney’s decision to pull its content from Netflix and bolster its media library while simultaneously offering subscription prices that are reported to be significantly less than their competitors. Being well known in the media landscape as forming one of the strongest brands and dynamic content, Disney does not seem to have many doubts about how this merger will position them for the future. The loss of both Disney and Fox content may prove to be a huge hit for Netflix.

We can expect Fox and ABC’s TV and cable offerings to expand in the near future too, offering marketers more direct access to local markets. Disney plans to expand ESPN Plus by adding to Fox’s cable sports networks and may even be offering a Hulu-esque sports streaming service. FX and National Geographic will also see a boost in their networks. Disney certainly is hedging their bets in the digital streaming market, however, these expansions for cable and TV broaden its international reach and maintains a hold on traditional television.

Read more about the merger and its implications here:

NBC
CNBC
Vulture
New York Times

Community Involvement

Whether you provide financial assistance, marketing or other services, your business contributes to strengthening the community where you live. So, we have a solid interest in being part of a thriving social and economic environment. Community involvement can accomplish exactly that, but there are other reasons why individuals, as well as businesses, should be actively involved:

Networking
Whether you participate in local Chamber events or are actively involved in the non-profit sector, community involvement is always a great opportunity to network. You would be surprised how you are connected to other individuals you’ve never met. So, introduce yourself and have a pleasant conversation.

Branding
We all know the importance of supporting local businesses, especially if you are one of them. Many potential clients can choose between a wide range of competitors providing similar services, and actively giving back to the community without expecting anything in return can make a great impression and result in business opportunities.

Hiring
Chances are good that you and your fellow volunteers share similar values and world views. This information is worth gold when it comes to adding to your team! It allows you to draw from a pool of engaged, selfless, and motivated individuals you have already worked with on a project. Who needs a reference, if you have already seen an applicant’s drive and professionalism in action?

Teambuilding
Community involvement is a great opportunity for teambuilding. Organizations like the United Way are frequently organizing events where an entire firm can participate. Assemble your coworkers and clean up downtown or dedicate a night to helping out in a soup kitchen. These activities will bring you and your team closer together than ever.

Learn more about how the Media Link Team is involved in the Quad Cities community and beyond here.