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Marketing in Times of COVID-19

Organizations like the American Marketing Association and the ANA provide a range of useful articles on navigating your marketing efforts around COVID-19. Here are three of our favorites:

 

The New Reality: A Guide to Marketing in a Post-COVID-19 World

This guide can be downloaded and shared as a pdf. It focuses on new consumer habits and expectations, including a growing demand for experiential and agile marketing, a higher reliance on virtual influencers, and society’s new focus on brand’s sustainability efforts. Another article, The Big Shift: A Prediction of What’s to Come Post-Pandemic, complements this content.

 

Allow Adaptation to Fuel Creativity Amid Isolation

Struggling with being creative when being refined at home is a common issue. The article suggests remedies like dividing your work into windows or 30-minutes to allow time for interruptions like helping your child with an assignment. Re-adjusting the approach to brainstorming with colleagues by limiting participants and trying out innovative work processes is another way to keep your creative juices flowing and to stay productive. The article Lead with Creativity, Not with Capital explains why remaining creative truly matters.

 

5 Steps to Pivot from In-Person to Virtual Events Today

This article provides an easy-to-follow approach to evaluating your physical events and deciding on whether to provide them virtually. They encourage a steering committee to analyze available resources and infrastructure to identify gaps. The final virtual events must provide a unique value to easily assess through appropriate virtual channels like life videos, blogs, audio files, PPT slides, etc. Similar considerations should be made in the area of healthcare marketing.

 

As always, please reach out to us with any questions and comments.

Home Offices – The New Normal

There has been a lot of talk about Home Offices as a temporary solution to social distancing, but many businesses, including Media Link, have already successfully employed this strategy for years. Our Sr. Marketing Consultant, Adrian, has been living on the West Coast for over two years now, “Setting up a webinar to have a face-to-face conversation with people thousands of miles away only takes a minute. Because our team is so young and agile, texting and face time is second nature to all of us now.”

A benefit of using webinars is that you don’t need to spend time on organizing rooms, coffee and snacks. You won’t be late because of traffic and you have the opportunity to meet your colleagues in a place truly special to them (pro-tip: introduce you pets!!). Webinars though your home office makes printing copies of presentations redundant, because you can email the pdf in advance and simply share your screen during the conversation without losing eye contact. According to Entrepreneur and Forbes, there are plenty of other benefits to consider:

  • No commute saves employees money, time and lowers their carbon footprint.
  • Employers may be able to downsize office space, expand employment and save on office supply, snacks and other variable costs.
  • Since Millennials and GenZ value flexible work arrangements, home offices make you more competitive and may increase retention rates.
  • Home offices allow employers to access a larger labor pool. The perfect job candidate may not be able to move, but this won’t be necessary with a home office.
  • Working from home makes many people more productive, because they experience less interruptions and can truly shape their office to fit their needs.
  • The amount of sick days will likely decrease, because contamination risks are lower when anyone coming down with something switches to working remotely.
  • Employees may claim Home Offices on their tax returns.

Home Offices have never been this easy to implement. There are dozens of services to manage teams remotely and to make sure team members communicate efficiently. Meetings can simply be set up via Webex, Skype, Zoom or other services. Online meetings are often more productive, because you can easily share your screen to introduce documents and email them to other participants. You can also take advantage of personal chat windows to coordinate with others.

Organizations new to this model have a chance to evaluate the feasibility of having staff work remotely and to get their feedback. Some employers will make working from home a standard option or apply it to bridge days when productivity is low.

Rest assured; Home Offices don’t have to be solely functional. You may even consider permanently transforming a room into a working area you and other family members can use even after returning to regular work arrangements. A separate “office” room can help children focus on their homework. Your spouse may finally have a quiet place to write on their novel or engage in art projects. Here are a couple of home office ideas and tips as inspiration.

Always feel free to schedule a webinar with us to experience some of the benefits yourself! Right now, please contact Ben to see his Star Wars memorability, Adrian to see a painting from his favorite artist Franz Marc, and Natalie for her cats Olaf and Jackson.

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?

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

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!

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) focuses on making sure people who are looking for your goods and services online will find and explore your website. This primarily works though Search Engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.

This is basically a match-making process. An individual interested in good X types in certain search terms into Google. Google then selects websites that fit best to these search terms, ranks them, and presents them to the person requesting the information. This is where SEO comes to play.

Through SEO techniques, an advertiser can increase the probability of Google and other search engines finding a website, matching it to the search term(s), and ranking it in a specific order.

One way of doing this is through the placement of appropriate search terms/keywords on your website. The first step is to identify vital search terms potential clients are using to look for your product. Are they looking for “footwear”, “shoes”, or “Sneakers”? Do they add certain attributes such as “affordable”, “trendy”, or “for women”? It makes sense to select only the best search terms to ensure a good fit and prevent mismatches. Nobody likes to be directed to a website about flip-flops if you are specifically looking for classy dress shoes for a banquet. By the way, Google’s Keyword tool can help you find variations and estimate the average number of searches per month. This input will also help you with your paid search advertisements, which is a separate element of Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

The next step is placing these search terms strategically on your website. Here is where the structure of your website comes to play. It makes sense to create certain sub-sections that house corresponding search terms so Search Engines can easily recognize these terms. This structure depends on the good and services you are providing. Some firms might want to separate goods and services by brands, others by colors, and again others by price or special features – there is no “one size fits all” approach. These individualized pages should include pictures and links to useful internal web pages or even external ones. Getting visitors to interact with your page will greatly help you compete as it signals to the Search Engine that the content is indeed a good match – why else would someone continue browsing a webpage. Writing blogs about certain topics using these search terms will also help increase visibility and keep clients updated at the same time. Consider inserting a comment section to provide the option to give feedback and initiate a conversation.

If your website is relatively new and hasn’t experienced much traffic, you can increase your visibility by encouraging other websites/people to share your website. Google recognizes if a highly respected website directs people to yours by embedding your URL. You will basically profit from their good performance and reputation. This is probably the trickiest technique, but a great opportunity to become truly creative.

Last but not least: don’t stop improving! Use your Google Analytics data to refine your search term/keyword list and page structure. Experiment and find new creative ways of attracting paying customers who you might not even have considered, yet.

Marketing ABC’s for Small Businesses

When selling a product or service, marketing is the center point of success. From well established companies to start-ups, marketing helps you find your brand identity and establish yourself in the marketplace. There are several basic marketing strategies businesses can implement instantaneously without much effort and external support.

Establishing direct contact with your target audience is often the most effective and affordable way of advertisement.  Attend networking events with other professionals to build connections with colleagues in the industry and to inform them about what you do. Depending on your product/service, you could give out free samples to break the ice. These samples range from appetizers to brochures demonstrating your expertise. They help potential clients assess the quality of your products/services, but they can also create demand for products/services.

The virtual representation of your product is just as important as the physical. The marketing world today has taken to the internet, which means an online presence is a must-have. Having a professional webpage explaining your products/services has become an essential element and creating one has never been easier thanks to several online services. Ensuring your company’s webpage is mobile friendly is another milestone as the majority of people are now researching products and services on their phones and tablets.

Similar rules apply to your social media presence.  Creating social media pages on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest is a great way to reach your audience in a beyond targeted way. Every platform has its specific characteristics and many have a rather homogenous audience when it comes to age, geography, gender, and interests. Facebook is always a good start, especially as it gives potential clients the opportunity to interact with the company online. This interaction has become the new customer service, so actively cultivating your social media presence with posts and responses is necessary.

Once this has become a daily habit you can consider paid digital advertisement, although running a SWOT analysis once a year will help you determine where you currently stand, where you want to be, and how to get there. Generally, being organized, patient, and consistent are marketing virtues to value. Start with your marketing ABC, let it work for some time, evaluate results, and then adjust piece by piece by adding the D-Z of marketing.

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.