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Tag Archives: Advertising

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COVID-19 Is the mother-in-law of invention

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For business owners, keeping customers and employees safe has always been a priority. If you are lucky enough to live in a place that does not have a lockdown order, you could go to a local business and in some dusty corner near an old water fountain, you will see an OSHA poster hanging on the wall letting everyone know that this business cares about safety. For decades, it was business as usual.

Then there was COVID-19 and the panic that ensued.

Suddenly businesses were scrambling to figure out how to remain open, how to keep their people safe, and maybe even figured out how to stay profitable. Many of these topics were on autopilot, business as usual. Even today as a second wave is hitting our country, some of the businesses that survived the first shutdown are grappling with solutions.

At Luxer One, we were struggling with those same questions. How do we continue to add value to our customers, keep our employees as safe as possible, and still run a business? The answer was sitting right in front of us — use our same smart locker that millions of Americans use every day in the multi-family housing market in a new way.

Like everyone else, we immediately shut down our headquarters and sent our employees home. Having employees work from home solved our first issue of supporting our customers, but that didn’t stop our employee’s laptops from breaking or stop our need for document transfer. There were a hundred face-to-face interactions that took place in our office on any given day where one person handed an item to another person — we needed a solution.

One brilliant employee proposed updating the software on our standard smart locker to pass broken laptops from employees to our IT help desk. Our software engineering team went to work and within a couple of days got a prototype running where employees could pass items back and forth. Suddenly, a contactless delivery machine was born. We became our first customer.

Luxer One might have invented contactless delivery to solve its own problems, but we quickly realized that we were not the only business trying to solve these COVID induced business issues.

The Rochester City School District in New York called Luxer One to see if they had a way to pass Chromebooks to students that were forced to do remote learning. Within two weeks of that phone call, the engineering team was able to tweak the software and deliver a solution that met their needs.

Teachers would start the process by dropping off Chromebooks into the smart locker then our system sent a text message with a QR code to the students for pickup as soon as they were able. The teacher never saw the student face-to-face, but they were able to facilitate a contactless delivery in a safe and reliable way.

Public libraries like Villa Park in Chicago reached out about passing books to patrons. While everyone was stuck at home, getting fresh reading materials from the local library became wildly popular. A few tweaks to the software, and Luxer One was providing a way for local libraries to perform a contactless delivery from the library staff to a library patron.

University libraries also need contactless delivery now to serve their remote student populations. We’ve seen huge growth in higher education installations — Cal State Long Beach, Michigan State and UCLA, for example.

None of the businesses listed above were our traditional customers. There was no library solution on our product manager’s roadmap for 2020. There were no marketing dollars earmarked for library magazines. The team at Luxer One was just adapting to the situation and trying to make the best out of it.

The common idiom is “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” and this is a perfect example of how businesses are being forced to adapt new technologies to conduct business while keeping their employees and customers safe.

Change was forced on us by COVID-19, which has been an extremely tough deal for everyone involved. This pandemic came in unannounced, overstayed its welcome, disrupted our daily lives, and has been a general pain. For Luxer One and many other businesses out there, COVID-19 has become the mother-in-law of invention.

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Want to use videos to boost your sales? Here’s how

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Over the last decade or so, digital marketing has shifted to a more personalized style of reaching audiences. The rise of machine learning algorithms, subscription-based marketing, and user segmentation has allowed brands to customize content to fit each of their target audiences and engage with them in the most effective way possible.

As a result, video has become one of the most versatile types of content of the marketing toolbox. You see it everywhere online, from whiteboard videos and live-action tutorials to unboxing videos and customer testimonials.

But the effectiveness of such pieces hinges on how well you match them with your target’s stage in their buying cycle — different types of videos become far more (or way less) appealing to different kinds of customers.

So, in this piece, I’m going to guide you through the stages of the buyer’s journey and the type of marketing videos that work best for each one. As you’ll soon find out, the only difference between an intrigued user and a happy customer is often the right video at the right time.

So, let’s begin!

Awareness Stage

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our prospective customers.

The awareness stage is where it all starts: you’ve identified a specific pain point in your everyday life, job, or hobby. And what are you going to do next? What everybody else does: go online to look for answers.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that educational videos are one of the most attractive types of content for this stage. How-to’s and tutorials offer valuable help to users when they need it the most, addressing their issues and offering a simple solution to them.

Commercials have also proven to work at this stage, especially those that use the power of storytelling to empathize with the audience’s problems and show how a product or service can solve them.

The common factor of both these types of content is that they are value-driven. These videos are not focused on outright selling but on offering honest and timely help to your audience. The right educational video or narrative commercial will help you attract new potential customers and improve your lead generation.

Consideration Stage

Once your target is aware of your brand and the products or services you sell, they move forward into the next phase of the buyer’s journey.

The consideration stage is where your buyer starts looking for information that will help them make the final decision. They will look at all the alternatives available and gather the pros and cons of each seller.

To make it to your buyer’s shortlist of options, you need to inform them about your product or service’s benefits in the clearest and most honest way possible. Explainer videos are among the most engaging types of marketing content out there because they do just that.

These short videos use creative styles of animation (such as whiteboard style or that integrate colorful characters like the example below) to explain to audiences how your brand can help to solve their pain points. They maintain an educational tone, but they tend to be a bit more straight about the advantages of using your product or service.

Product videos are also very popular at this stage, especially when it comes to eCommerce. These videos showcase your product in context, usually with close-ups of its features or cool slow-motion takes of it being used. Your audience should finish your product video with a pretty good idea of what it looks like, how they can use it, and what its main benefits are.

Decision Stage

Finally, we’re almost there!

The decision stage is the home stretch of the buyer’s journey. You’ve made your target’s shortlist, and now they are almost ready to acquire your product or service. But competition can be fierce, and your marketing efforts must be placed on proving you are a reputable company they can trust.

As a brand, this is your opportunity to use customer feedback to your advantage and create customer testimonials and FAQ videos.

Customer testimonials are case studies about the happy clients you’ve helped with your product or service. These are great at building credibility since there’s nothing people trust better than other people. Therefore, the testimonials that work best are the ones that use truthful customer interviews (this means no actors!).

Other buyers just need to get a few doubts out of the way before making their decision. This is where FAQ videos come useful, by answering the most frequently asked questions of other buyers. To make sure your video helps nurture your leads, you should only pick useful topics since obvious or rare questions can have a negative effect.

Conclusion

As I’ve shown you in this piece, to offer audiences valuable content, you need to learn how to use the right type of videos for the right stage of their buyer’s journey.

And while this can’t possibly be a definitive list of all the types of marketing videos out there, it’s fair to say we’ve covered enough ground to get you started.

So, start creating videos that speak directly to your audience’s interests and you’ll give them enough reasons to buy your product or service.

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5 things to consider when developing employee communication emails

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Employees (and employers) are experiencing unprecedented levels of new stress these days. Parents are juggling working from home while supporting a family, single workers are learning to navigate an even more isolated and confusing world, and leaders are wondering how to keep everyone’s head above water. All these struggles can be somewhat placated and even ameliorated with good, clear, concise communication … but there’s a catch.

That communication now needs to reach its readers on a more personal level. Gone are the days of the cold, calculated emails that left everything to the imagination. Those no longer have the efficient impact they once served.

With sensitivities rising due to increased stress, fear and danger, bold, brash, and aggressive emails can now easily be construed as an attack on performance or personality and can ultimately undermine the productivity and morale of your team.

Instead, we are moving more toward inclusivity on every level, and that requires a personal touch when it comes to employee communication.

Here are five things to consider when developing employee communication emails.

1. Connection is key

Employee communications run the gamut — anything from a company update on COVID-19 plans to a promotion announcement to a change in procedure or upgrade to a new software. Whatever the message may be, it’s important that you quickly create a connection with your readers.

Be sure to give enough background information that it feels like you’re connected to the project or the announcement. Perhaps tie in a short personal story, or offer a tip that helped you succeed — whatever you can add that communicates your interest and your buy-in to the well-being of the company, your team and each individual on your payroll.

2. Translucency is a must

Every organization likes to tout themselves as transparent when it comes to keeping their employees informed. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case for most businesses.

When you consider transparency in communication — complete transparency — it can feel a bit daunting. “Do we really want to tell our employees everything that’s going on behind the scenes?” Absolutely not. That’s why I lean more toward encouraging a policy of translucency.

By being translucent with your communications, you show that you are willing to share a lot of information that your employees find helpful, but aren’t boring them to death with relentless messages detailing every move of your executive leadership team.

Transparent to the point of being in the know, especially in a time of such uncertainty, is comforting and will foster an environment of increased employee engagement. The key here is knowing which information to share and how (more on that in a later article).

3. Sincerity garners trust and respect

The translucency we just discussed goes a long way to garnering the kind of trust and respect you want most from your employees. By providing open communication of company goals, plans, successes and losses, you create a sense of inclusion that only helps build rapport within your team and increases employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.

But clarity means nothing if it doesn’t feel sincere. Your employees are (hopefully) hard-working, very busy diplomats for your organization. They likely don’t have time for any fake compliments or overhyped buzzwords. If you’re going to show appreciation for your employees and the work they do, make sure you mean it — because, believe it or not, people know when they’re being played or lied to.

4. Tone changes everything

With the pandemic increasing work-from-home settings, you can no longer look into someone’s office to see if their expression matches the rude email they just sent, or if they just didn’t put much effort into making it a personable email. Were they being sarcastic and playful or were they being intentionally rude? It’s hard to tell in the faceless environment we now work in.

Therefore, you must consider this when composing your employee communications, specifically email. Humor and levity are both well and good, but if sarcasm or dry humor are your style, there’s the possibility your message could be misconstrued.

I’m not saying to change your personality or your style. I’m simply suggesting you consider how difficult it is to read tone in an email and save yourself and your employees from any conflicting interpretations.

5. Brevity is your friend

Again, your employees are busy and oftentimes stretched to or past their limits regarding project bandwidth. There’s not a lot of extra time (or patience) lying around waiting for the next list of instructions to hit their inbox.

While you may believe it’s important to share a lot of details about a new project or process, long-winded emails detailing every single step in that new process can be received as intense micromanagement and met with more groans and eyerolls than agreement and excitement.

So, if you do have to send one of these emails, or create a group chat to run down new processes, be mindful in your approach. Say it in as few words as possible, and make sure to thank your team for their time, tell them what a great job they’ve done so far and remind them of the exciting goal they’re all working toward.

In closing, consider these words from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE: “It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

One of the best ways to keep your employees energized, engaged and truly excited about their future with your company is to make sure your communications hit on a deeper, more personal level.

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How to create a meaningful hybrid event in 2021

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Although COVID-19 vaccines are being deployed throughout the U.S., business event planners are anticipating the continuation of virtual meetings in 2021 and dipping their toes into part virtual, part in-person hybrid events. While people are looking forward to gathering with colleagues, they might not be ready for a giant in-person soiree. Luckily, hybrid expos provide many features that, if utilized, can make a hybrid or virtual event engaging.

Hybrid events will become increasingly popular because they give attendees the option to do what works best for them. Offering both recorded and live portions of your online conference allows employees who cannot afford the time off the ability to participate.

It also allows those attending in-person the freedom to “be in two places at once” by enjoying one session live and another at their convenience. Additionally, planning for smaller in-person events not only reduces contagion risk but also cuts costs for businesses, nonprofits, and associations already struggling to rebuild as the pandemic wanes.

As we settle into the new year, here’s how to start planning your 2021 hybrid event:

Create value for both virtual and in-person attendees.

An effective hybrid event will include options for virtual attendees as well as physical ones. Just like the physical portion of the event, the virtual portion of hybrid events can, and should, be customized with company branding.

Event planners must create value both for in-person attendees as well as the virtual attendees. Virtual attendees need to be engaged on the same level as the face-to-face attendees. Whether the participants are attending live, digitally, or both, interaction is still just as important.

Make the virtual portion resemble an in-person event.

Create chat, breakout sessions, or coffee breaks for all attendees. These can be pre-recorded for your virtual attendees and live for those physically attending. Bake fun and relaxing activities into both the in-person and the virtual event. Consider offering online stretching or yoga sessions, directions to make a classic cocktail, tips to perfect your golf swing, and more.

Use polling, Q&A, networking, and moderators strategically for your virtual attendees. An artificial intelligence concierge avatar could be made available to virtual participants. Some proprietary event platforms even allow for virtual exhibitor booth games. The online portion of your hybrid event should also include virtual exhibitor booths and post-event polling.

Use technology to your advantage.

In a hybrid event, attendees can build their event schedule on a customized dashboard. Event registration payments can be easily processed online, you can use a dashboard to showcase upcoming sessions, and can even allow attendees to access past events.

Session information is easily updated in real-time and sponsorship placements can be placed strategically throughout an online event. The virtual portion of a hybrid event can also include live streaming and on-demand video to help attendees catch up if they were unable to attend. It can even feature translation services that bring people together from throughout the globe.

Consider in-person safety measures.

The venue is still just as important in a hybrid event. Do your research to keep attendees secure and be sure you have the physical space needed to create a true hybrid environment. Find ways to avoid having too many people in one place at a time.

Consider creating smaller pop-up events in different cities to take advantage of in-person networking, while still allowing guests to attend the conference virtually if they choose.

Put it all together.

A professional team can guide you through the technical and production aspects of a virtual or hybrid event. They can also help you decide when to live stream or record speakers who tend to get nervous under pressure. Regardless of whether you partner with a professional team or go solo in planning and execution, be sure to rehearse and do frequent technology checks.

COVID-19 has caused business meeting planners to rethink the way they convene. Hybrid events offer lower costs and allow increased flexibility, safety, and convenience, so they will likely remain well after the pandemic. While they may require a bit more planning, hybrid events are well worth the extra effort.

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Should your dental practice offer membership plans?

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According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 37 million Americans do not have dental insurance. As a result, dental practices have begun offering their own personalized and affordable dental membership plans to patients. In total, less than 20% of dental practices currently have memberships. However, this figure is growing rapidly due to the adoption of dental membership plan software.

But how do these plans work? And are they a worthwhile investment for dental practices?

Dental practices should weigh the costs and benefits of membership plans and become familiar with the software tools that enable them.

Dental Membership Plan Overview

Dental membership plans are similar to other subscription-based services that you are familiar with, such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. Patients enroll in membership programs where they pay subscription fees on a monthly or yearly basis. In return, patients receive care at a discounted rate.

Typically, patients pay $20 to $30 per month for their membership plans. In return, they are eligible for two free cleanings per year, and receive 10-20% off additional services. By increasing loyalty and creating a new revenue line, membership plans can become lucrative for dental practices.

Dental Membership Plan Benefits

Dental membership plans offer a variety of benefits for dental practices and their patients. The most notable benefits are listed below.

Cuts out the insurance middleman

Both dentists and patients can agree that dealing with insurance companies is a hassle. Many dentists are frustrated with filing claims while insurance companies eat into their bottom line. For patients, dental insurance is expensive and restricts access to practices that are in-network. Dental membership plans remove insurance companies from the equation.

With the membership model, dentists dictate their own fee schedules, and receive payments directly from their patients. Dental practices end up making more money and are able to pass the savings along to their patients.

Attracts uninsured patients

Uninsured patients often don’t receive the care they need because they perceive dental care to be too expensive. Who could blame them? Insurance companies often have opaque pricing with high deductibles, premiums, and copays.

Dental membership programs have transparent pricing with discounted rates. Membership plans are far more attractive to uninsured patients and often lead to higher case acceptance rates.

Reduces time spent on claims

As we mentioned before, filing insurance claims steals precious time from you and your front-office staff. Maintaining high claim acceptance rates is difficult, and every dental professional is familiar with being on hold with insurance companies and dealing with rejected claims. Dental membership plans lift this burden from your practice, so you can focus on providing excellent care for your patients.

Dental Membership Plan Software

A barrier to offering dental membership plans is the notion that implementation is a time-consuming process. However, dental membership plan software allows dentists to quickly set up and efficiently maintain membership programs.

Dental membership plan solutions automate important processes and manage the membership programs on behalf of dental practices. This allows dentists and front-office staff to focus on more important tasks such as offering exceptional care for patients. The most important features found in dental membership plan software are listed below.

The most popular dental membership plan solutions are Kleer, Dental HQ, and illumitrac. In general, these solutions cost a few hundred dollars a month. The software is typically priced as a flat fee per location, or a few dollars per member per month.

Configurable dental membership plans

Solutions like Kleer allow practices to create custom care plans that fit their needs. Practices can set their own pricing and treatments to include in the plans. Practices can also offer discounts for groups and families.

Automatic payment collection

Dental membership plan solutions often include features that allow practices to automatically receive recurring payments from their patients. This reduces administrative workload and eliminates the need for front-office staff to chase down outstanding balances. This is likely the most important feature found in membership plan software from a financial perspective.

Analytics

Dental membership plan software typically also includes an analytics dashboard that tracks revenue and monitors your performance. Tracking key metrics helps increase memberships and promotes practice growth.

Bottom Line

Dental membership plans are gaining momentum in practices across the country. This movement is being catalyzed by dental membership plan software that makes it easier to implement and manage an in-house plan.

In general, starting a dental membership plan is a better idea for dental practices with a large uninsured population, or those looking for a new revenue stream. Practices with less than 250 patients are better off managing their in-house plans themselves. Larger practices with over 250 patients will likely benefit from using dental membership plan software, which costs a few hundred dollars per month.

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6 effective video marketing tactics for the new year

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Resolutions are commonplace in the new year. Generally, people make a goal to lose weight, exercise more or learn a new skill. But what about New Year’s resolutions for your business? If you feel your marketing tactics are in need of a refresh but aren’t sure where to start, you should consider including video marketing in your content strategy.

With 87% of businesses that use video marketing seeing an increase in site traffic, adding this skill to your marketing toolkit is a no-brainer. And there are plenty of types of videos you can create based on what best serves your target market.

Check out the six most effective video marketing tactics in the infographic from Rentspree below and get started increasing your website traffic today!

Infographic courtesy Rentspree

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Has company culture improved during the pandemic?

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The list of negative COVID-19-related implications is endless. However, it appears that the pandemic has actually improved company culture. According to a report by CHG Healthcare, 20% of respondents said that the culture actually improved since they’ve been working from home. In addition, 54% stated that their culture remained the same.

Among workers who felt that the company culture improved during the pandemic, the top three factors were as follows:

  • 40%: Increased transparency/communication
  • 15%: Maintained benefits/salary
  • 14%: Better leadership support

Among the 25% of respondents who felt computer culture decreased during the pandemic, the top three factors were as follows:

  • 31%: Poor leadership support
  • 24%: Lack of transparency and communication
  • 11%: Lack of camaraderie

When creating company culture (even remotely), many organizations believe that workers want perks and benefits. However, only 1% of respondents considered perks a part of the company’s culture, and only 7% felt that benefits helped to shape culture.

Instead, respondents identified the top three factors that contribute to a good company culture:

  • 41%: Work environment
  • 27%: How employees are treated
  • 15%: Company values

Unpacking the most important factors

So, why are work environment, how employees are treated, and company values so important?

“As we take on the COVID-19 challenge head-on, there is no better feeling than to be part of one huge work family with a set of shared values, belief systems and attitudes,” says Neel Prabhu, Salesforce program architect at Saggezza, a global IT consultancy.

He explains that perks are transitory. “However, a culture that is inclusive and rewards employees not only for their work, but for their humanity — who they are, as mothers, fathers, and people — is a culture that helps facilitate long-term commitment to an organization.” And creating that type of culture ensures that employees aren’t just showing up (in their home office of living room) just to do a job.

“They come to work to actively support a community and cause that they believe in, that they are proud of, and that they are invested in,” Prabhu explains. “Said more succinctly, the right culture reframes the work experience: it’s not just about work, it’s about the larger experience, and being a part of something that’s rewarding and impactful.”

The role of leaders

The survey also reveals that employees don’t want a leader who will be their friend. That was the trait they valued the least. Here’s what they want in leaders:

  • 20%: Trustworthy/trusting
  • 16%: Not a micromanager
  • 15%: A mentor
  • 13%: Easily accessible
  • 12%: Skilled at providing feedback

“Trustworthiness is a quality that leads to successful workplace partnerships and collaboration,” Phabhu explains. “A trustworthy leader believes the best in employees and operates on the premise that most employees want to do the right thing.” And he says trustworthy leaders give employees room to succeed.

“Not being a micromanager allows an employee to feel trusted, and as a result, more incentivized to take pride and ownership in the work they do, in turn, producing great work,” he says.

“Mentorship builds a relationship that is rewarding and fruitful for both the mentee and mentor, and this relationship helps develop the future leaders of the organization and secure the future of the company.”

To improve company culture, Prabhu says increased transparency and communication are crucial, since these traits lead to mutual respect and trust. “When folks at the top — leaders and executives — communicate honestly and openly with the company at large, organization-wide respect and trust is built; as a result, the quality of the work produced, and an employee’s personal investment and commitment in the company only continues to grow.”

One company working on maintaining a great company culture is Altia, a Colorado-based software company. “Shifting to fully remote work during the pandemic has forced us to find new ways to make human connections,” says Teresa Martinez, director of human resources. She says the company has made it a priority to maintain contact with employees and engage them as human beings as opposed to just workers.

“During our weekly business meetings, we make it a point to ask one another how we’re doing, inquire about each other’s families, and engage in casual conversation instead of keeping things strictly business.” Martinez says they close meetings using the “tell me something good” technique, asking everyone to share something good that has recently happened in their life.

“Working remotely has meant that spouses, kids, and pets have made cameo appearances during our meetings, giving us all the opportunity to feel even closer to one another personally than we did before the pandemic.”

The company is also focused on giving back to the community during the pandemic. “We’ve worked with local schools to provide technology and meals for students in need, and spearheaded many donation-matching opportunities for our employees to show them that we support the issues that are important to them.” Martinez says this is important because it makes employees proud to be on the team.

“We were proud of our company culture before COVID, but we’re even more proud today of the way Altia has created opportunities during the pandemic to become more connected than ever and continue to build an even stronger company culture.”

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5 digital marketing strategies to plan as the pandemic begins to shift

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As a digital/social media marketer, you may have had to get used to scaling back profit expectations for your brand in 2020. Yet as we look ahead to 2021, with COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, it’s time to start proactively planning campaigns, launches and revenue growth — and feel some much-needed optimism.

A stat to get you started is that 57% of surveyed small business owners say that they are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future of their businesses, according to the 2020 Facebook Small Business Report. So, there are customers out there who will be eager to purchase your products and services, and partners waiting to work with you. What steps can you take now to facilitate this as soon as we move into safer times? Try these five clear, concise steps:

Up your livestream game.

Data from eMarketer estimates that there will be an average of 151.5 million monthly live video viewers in 2021, which is 15.1 million higher a number than projected before the pandemic began. Start brainstorming ways your brand can offer an exciting, compelling feed showcasing the products you really want to push to the forefront in the coming months.

Focus on items that lagged sales-wise during COVID-19, but that you feel can make a healthy rebound with consumers. Ask your consumer tribes and influencers to participate in the creation of livestream concepts that they think will garner the right kind of attention so you get sales right out of the box.

Start priming your platform users for new launches.

According to research from ROI Revolution, 212.1 million social network users have made their presence known in in the U.S. this year, a number that’s up 3.3% over 2019. Focus on earning their eyeballs and interest over all of your social platforms by creating grabby ad copy with vivid graphics. Also, tease exciting new products as soon as possible. The phrase “It’s coming!” can be worth its weight in gold for consumers starved to spend disposable income as the economy starts to rebound post-pandemic.

Employ proper pacing.

Make sure that you don’t jump the gun when it comes to heralding a return to “normal” life in your content and campaigns.

It’s key to understand that we will be slowly returning to less restrictive circumstances during at least the first half of 2021, so it’s key not to promote any jarring messages that imply the pandemic is completely over too quickly. Respect your consumers’ need to tread slowly and carefully, especially if you are promoting leisure products they may not be able to use right away.

Be realistic about your pricing and profit expectations.

Yes, you most likely will move more product in 2021. No, that does not mean you should raise your product prices to help your bottom line along. Your customers will still be cautious, so be respectful of the fact that their finances will still be in flux to some extent, and give them great value for their money. Adjust your projections to reflect this reality.

Expect to keep pivoting.

All we really know about the course of the pandemic is that we can’t fully predict the turns it will take. Resolve to stay flexible, as you have through most of 2020, and make nimble adjustments as needed. Plan now and move forward with confidence!

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The 5-step website audit to maximize your business

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to reevaluate the way we do business. With offices and storefronts shuttered, a company’s website or app is no longer just a complement to the brand. Often, it is the brand.

There are 5.8 million businesses between five and 500 employees in the United States. The pandemic forced a substantial number of these small and midsize businesses to move almost entirely online. Now, websites must be able to stand alone and compete in a crowded digital environment where everything is being sold to everyone, all the time, at once.

Most business owners understand the importance of a retail or office location. In-person traffic is an easy metric to grasp: Someone entered your space and that means they took time out of the day to be there. You can track how people move around a space and how small changes to the way things are arranged can affect sales. Yet, the design and organization of your website, app, and digital assets is arguably even more important than the arrangement of a physical space.

The past year has demanded evolution both in the way businesses and consumers see brand. Technology is the glue that holds a brand together. Your website, social media, mailing lists, marketing automation, and off-line engagement all need to work double-time now. They must help you connect with customers, organize your messaging, communicate key information, engage and immerse visitors in an online brand experience.

Companies like Amazon were prepared for disruption long before the pandemic hit. The retail giant had invested heavily in the online brand experience and was well equipped with cutting-edge technologies. But for many small and midsize businesses, this quick-change act proves more difficult. And in the scramble to pivot to a hybrid model — which offers services both in-person and online — many businesses failed to fully extend their in-person experience.

To make your website a true extension of your business, it’s critical to understand what your brand stands for first. Before you spend any money or time to improve your digital footprint, try this five-step audit to clarify your brand’s mission, vision, values, character, and experience.

1. Consider your mission.

What is the purpose of the business in the world? How will it make a difference in your customer’s lives, how will they be different when your business is successful? Get really specific. Mission statements can be convoluted, so make sure that yours is action-oriented. While most websites have an “about page” and many even communicate a mission statement in a couple of sentences, this principle needs to be evident across your organization’s entire website. That means the language you use should keep your organization’s mission in mind at all times. Most importantly, the mission should move and excite you. If it doesn’t, it’s not big enough.

2. Determine your vision.

Your vision is the way the world looks when your mission is done. How does your brand promise to affect the world, how are things better because you are here? What makes your company’s vision unique?Technology needs to support your brand promise, so let’s drill down what you are trying to communicate.

If your brand promise is customer service, how does the site and user experience (UX) respond to that vision? Does it make it simple to talk to a person online, or is talking online not what your customers prefer? Or, if your brand promise is about speed, do all of your communications channels reflect those ideas implicitly with fast response and page loading times? Every interaction with visitors needs to emphasize your brand promise.

3. Reexamine your values.

Values are the way and why you do it. Your values as a business need to be immediately clear when a customer browses your website or downloads the app. How do you communicate the things you value as an organization? Finish the statement: “We believe…” as many times as is necessary to outline the why — and why it’s important to you.

4. Examine your character.

While many organizations have already included an “about us” page on their website, communicating character is about more than just providing a short bio for each person employed in your business. Instead, character should permeate every aspect of the online brand experience.

On a language level, your website should feel personal and human. Your customers should get a sense not just of what your organization does, but also who it is, the things that make it tick, and why it exists in the first place. Think “If someone was describing my business like a person being set up on a blind date.” What would they say?

5. Create an experience.

Now that you’ve determined your business’ mission, vision, values, and character—consider how to communicate that experience through interaction and design. How do you want people to feel having engaged with your business? This is a little trickier, and doing it right takes a skilled designer who can define and amplify the essence of what makes that experience unique to you. That experience and the reaction to it is called the “halo effect,” and the rule of thumb is you have a quarter of a second to make an impression that will inform their entire experience. This impression and their overall judgement is not just about your website, but your business, your team and even your customers.

We’re building businesses in a world where shouting louder than everyone else costs millions and just adds to the noise. Differentiation means getting specific and focusing on the .00001% of those 5.8 million businesses who really need you, and creating an online experience that defines and proves you believe in what you do. And more importantly, that your customers do too.

This is your chance to stand out. Don’t miss it.

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Visual breakthroughs in social media marketing to take advantage of in 2021

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As a digital/social media marketer, you know that innovation, especially in the time of a pandemic, can be a true asset when it comes to retaining your brand’s customers and gaining new ones.

Key elements you can use to ensure engagement across your platforms include exciting, fresh visual tools. From emerging technology to new angles in visual content design, there are a range of visual advertising enhancements that can help boost your brand’s sales and sustain your profits throughout 2021.

Here are five specific visual breakthrough areas you and your marketing team can use to best advantage:

Instagram Reels.

This new feature was rolled out in August 2020 and puts a fresh spin on the Story concept; for an SM marketer, Reels make creating imaginative new content easier than ever.

According to Instagram, users can assemble campaigns and content quickly and easily by accessing songs from the Instagram music library, utilizing AR from the site’s effects gallery and using a timer and countdown function to shoot and edit content swiftly and seamlessly. Reels provides the perfect forum to freshen up your influencers’ posts, or for creating a terrific IRL feel to your campaigns.

AR glasses.

Augmented reality is one of social media marketing’s most promising trends, and the invention of highly versatile AR glasses that can be easily worn and customized by the user is a thrilling new tool.

AR glasses allow marketers to mesh a wearer’s actual environment with images and messages that can correspond to their present location, building an all-encompassing experience that is unique to the wearer’s needs, wants and interests.

According to Social Media Today, AR is a highly competitive area of the tech sector as a whole, with companies including Apple, Google and Facebook about to release their own advanced wearable model.

This kind of immersive tool can allow you to create the most engaging, imaginative content strategies ever. Imagine the possibilities when a consumer can virtually test run a new product you’re launching before you even launch it. For example, you can target a select group of your loyal customers with access to AR glasses and make this a highly effective new campaign approach. You can also tailor programmable ads to be seen by consumers wearing AR glasses depending on their precise locations.

LinkedIn Live.

This exciting new platform allows brands to stream their live events and launches directly to consumers and connections. It can add incredible

power to your brand’s word of mouth; according to LinkedIn research, LinkedIn Live videos get an average of seven times more reactions and 24 times more comments on average than native video.

Using LinkedIn Live can also be terrific for promoting your brand, because you can instantly open up availability to any event to an endless network of connections you and your entire team and demographic have established. Think of the process as a “hands across the globe” visual storytelling opportunity.

Verified information banners.

Today more than ever, consumers want authenticity. You need to always keep in mind that every statement, word and claim you put into an ad campaign needs to be accurate and fact checked. You need to prove to your customers that they can trust you in this regard.

Striking visuals ensuring that there is no false info on your pages or platforms are a great way to drive this point home. Run an eye-catching banner across the top of any brand text stating that you vouch for everything your customers are about to read about a particular product’s function and quality.

Vibrant visuals.

Real life testimonials from your consumers are more important than ever. So, make their visual feedback clips fun and flattering! Foster a sense of true connection among the members of your consumer base by framing visual feedback with a lot of positive text complimenting and validating their comments.

Make sure their video contributions look great by tweaking with filters that show your customers in an attractive light. Add catchy music under their footage, then send the end result to each contributing consumer for their approval before you post. These kinds of direct video clips will get scores of views — and spur even more of your customers to sing your brand’s praises and support your products. When your customers look good, you look good!

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