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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!

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.

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.

Welcome to Our New Website

Websites have become a second store front for most businesses. They provide cheap and easy access to information about your firm and its services/products and can also be an opportunity to contact you immediately either online or by phone.

Just as products and services need to adjust to customers’ constantly changing preferences, so do websites. This is why we at Media Link, Inc. are introducing our new website with a fresh look and concept.

The homepage gives you an overview of who we are and what we do. It displays our memberships, social media presences, and a couple of testimonials. It also provides links to blogs, information about our services, and access to our E-Blast to stay in touch.

The heart of a website consists of the sites talking about services and products. They need to be precise and intuitive to navigate. Our “Services” site summarizes what we offer and provides further links to our specific services in case you would like to know more about certain topics. In our case, these topics are:

Other elements of the website include sites about “Our Team”, “Media Link Software™”, “Certifications”, and our “Portfolio”. Needless to say, the web tree and design of a website always depends on the kind of business you are. It can be conservative or adventurous. Everything is possible.

Contact Media Link if you have any questions about website design or our services. We are here to help!

Brand Architecture

An organization’s brand architecture matters. It organizes the relationship between main and sub-brands and determines the perception and reputation of each product and service provided. Let’s take Audi, Bugatti, Porsche and Lamborghini. There is no doubt these brands stand for high quality and luxury, but how would you feel if the Volkswagen Group, the owner of these brands, would offer these cars under their Volkswagen or SEAT brand? The cars wouldn’t change a bit, but the initial perception hearing Volkswagen 911 Turbo S instead of Porsche 911 Turbo S would loose its glamour.

Vice versa, loyal Volkswagen customers, fans of a brand dedicated to be accessible to all people (Volk = nation; Wagen = vehicle; Volkswagen = vehicle for the people/nation), would be confused seeing $25,000 cars standing next to $260,000 cars in Volkswagen showrooms across the US. Volkswagen has actually attempted to establish a luxury sedan under the Volkswagen brand in 2002 introducing the Volkswagen Phaeton, a $70,000-$85,000 vehicle that kept the distinct Volkswagen resemblance. Sales fell beyond short of expectations and production stopped in early 2016.

 

Surprisingly, even an international corporation like the Volkswagen Group violated these basic brand architecture rule of thumbs:

A successful brand architecture…

  • Is adaptable and flexible
  • Is simple and consists of no more than two/three levels of hierarchy
  • Has a strong dominant brand
  • Creates distinctive sub-brands whose audiences do not overlap (see Volkswagen)
  • Is based on sophisticated knowledge of the market and market segments

There is not a one-model-fits all approach when it comes to brand architecture. Every entity needs a distinct strategy taking into account the product/service provided, their target audiences, but also legal restrictions, especially when it comes to financial services.

Searching for Meaning – Corporate Social Responsibility

The times of “being in it for the money” are over. People are now looking for more than high salaries – people are looking for meaning in what they do. The term describing this movement is corporate social responsibility, often referred to as CSR. Many large corporations such as Wal-Mart and Walt Disney have implemented a CSR campaign. However, not only large firms, but also small businesses have identified this to be an important staple in their day-to-day operations. Corporate Social Responsibility reaches from reusing and recycling materials, to caring about excluded groups of the population, to energy saving activities.

These methods are ever more important when looking for new employees or retaining staff. This is especially important in a time in which 86 million millennials make up the largest population group in the U.S. and provide a large labor force. These young people strongly tie their personal values to their career and bring innovative ideas to a business. This is supported by the fact that seven out of ten young adults consider themselves to be social activists and state CSR to be a major factor when choosing among employers.

At the same time these young adults are consumers and are looking to do business with companies that share their passion for social causes. Consumers increasingly want to be seen as good citizens, and this desire is reflected by their buying behavior. According to Landor Associates, 77% of surveyed consumers note it to be important for companies to be socially responsible. In the digital age we are living in, customers have more information and often share this information with fellow consumers. This may be a threat to companies engaging in unethical business activities, but an opportunity for businesses having CSR fully incorporated into their business concept. Corporate Social Responsibility is what defines a business and what makes it rise above competitors.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2013/11/12/corporate-social-responsibility-the-key-to-attracting-retaining-top-talent/#1ce48ffee73b

Why Companies Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Their Social Responsibilities

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20140325/OPINION/140329895/corporate-social-responsibilitiy-is-millennials-new-religion

International Marketing

With globalization, companies need to adjust their marketing strategies as new challenges emerge. One major challenge is adapting to local cultures. This is of special importance when firms operate in countries culturally distant from their home country. This post will discuss global marketing with the example of China.

In China, a country with double the active internet users of the United States, social media marketing is a crucial success factor when doing business. But what do you do when the government bans Western social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter? You rely on Chinese networks. There is a great variety of networks to choose from such as WeChat or Sina Weibo. At the fast pace China is transforming, there is no doubt social media marketing in China will change incredibly quickly too.

A further crucial factor of doing business in China is being familiar with the local calendar. While in the West the Christmas season is one of the largest advertising periods of the year, this holiday is rarely celebrated in China. However, there are numerous Chinese celebrations; one of which is single’s day, on which singles buy themselves gifts. Not to leave out the most important Chinese holiday: the Chinese New Year.

The last key success factor discussed in this post is the country of origin effect. Chinese consumers are greatly influenced by the place in which the product was made. Products made in Western countries are often perceived more favorably. Moreover, products made in countries such as the United States, Germany or Switzerland are perceived as luxury products. These are only three aspects to consider when marketing in China. Make sure you consider these points and familiarize yourself with the local culture when entering into a foreign market.

For more information visit http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2015/oct/06/marketing-china-social-media-consumers

Branding and Communications

Marketing defines who you are and how you present yourself to potential customers. One of the most important elements of a successful marketing strategy is branding.

Branding is the long-term process of creating an experience tied to your company and consumption of products. This experience differs from person to person. It is therefore essential to define a target population based on specific demographic factors to make your branding efforts as efficient and effective as possible. Efficient branding is the creation of a positive perception of values and characters represented by the brand name that complements your target demographic. This process involves researching, developing and implementing brand names, brand marks and trade characters. But the effort is well worth it!

Benefits of Branding:

– Effective branding enables the easy and quick identification of the company and product in a sea of competitors

– Branding creates loyalty

– Branding allows the establishment of premium pricing

– Branding guides the development of new products by defining a clear-cut frame work consisting of your company’s values

– Consistent and well-executed branding increases sales

The above experience must be communicated well. Effective and efficient communication is key to reap the benefits of branding.You need to craft the messages you would like to be received and send it out to your target audience.

The brand’s character and target population refers to a specific mix of communication channels.  Choosing sub-optimal channels wastes your valuable resources, because it is a delivery of the message to people who are not receptive. Additionally, choosing channels that create a derivation from the perception of the branding can have damaging effects on your brand and your sales, because your potential and real customers will have a harder time identifying themselves with your brand and ultimately you loose that brand loyalty every strives to achieve.  Brand loyalty is what allows your company to establishing premium pricing for your products, but that kind of pricing is difficult if your customer isn’t there to support this increased pricing.

To sum up, aligning branding and communications is a challenging long-term process, but it is well worth it.

https://www.boundless.com/marketing/textbooks/boundless-marketing-textbook/branding-and-packaging-10/branding-74/value-of-branding-371-611/

 http://www.economistgroup.com/leanback/channels/brand-marketing-vs-brand-communications/