4 Social Media Strategies That Can Help Bring in 23 Percent More Profits

Everything you need to know about effectively and efficiently targeting your audience through social media.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

40 percent of the world’s population and 69 percent of Americans aged 18-29 are active users of social media. Social media has revolutionized how companies communicate with, listen to and learn from customers, much like TV advertising did in the 20th century.

A marketing strategy involves identifying a target market, establishing actions to reach that target market and continual analysis and adjustments. A social media strategy, on the other hand, educates engages, and excites your customers and builds brand loyalty. Excited and engaged customers bring in 23 percent more profits. Through video sharing sites customers can quasi-experience products as well, making a purchase more likely. Here are four areas of social media that all entrepreneurs should know.

1. The power of blogging and content marketing.

According to the book M: Marketing, 78 percent of customers prefer to get to know a company through articles rather than ads. Content marketing has six times higher conversion rates and has the potential for a 7.8-X boost in web traffic than other social media tools. In 2018, U.S. adults spent an average of 3 hours, 35 minutes per day on smartphones. Most of this time lends itself towards content marketing. For example, customers spend 11 percent of this time on personal productivity and finances. Customers want content marketing about personal finance management. They want to read it.

If you sell medical devices, you should have articles about any health issue surrounding the problem that your product solves. If you sell makeup, you should have how-to articles about makeup application and likely skin care guides. If you own a restaurant, provide information about food trends, dieting, or perhaps event planning.

Related: Teach Yourself Online Marketing With This Simple Technique

To start a content campaign, figure out what your customers might care about and start writing. Local experts may be happy to provide articles because that is free social media advertising for them. Also, content marketing generated toward a political or charitable cause is impactful because 73 percent of all customers want to buy from companies that communicate upstanding moral philosophies.

2. Read and respond to reviews and complaints.

84 percent of customers trust online reviews. Ask your customers to review your company. You can manually check sites, like Google, or use reputation management software to track online comments and reviews. Respond to comments on social media rapidly! 53 percent of customers from all sites and 72 percent of Twitter customers expect a response in one hour, according to M: Marketing. Social media is now the number one place where customers want their complaints handled. No response or a template response are bad responses. Someone inside your company should personally address each complaint.

3. It’s not just about Facebook anymore.

All other social media channels should be used based on your specific target market. 68 percent of Americans use Facebook. Overall Facebook usage has been slowly declining and may be unprofessional. If you have a good webpage, there is no reason to have a Facebook page. It can confuse and overwhelm customers.  A local farmer’s market announces events, like strawberry picking dates, on different sites like Facebook and Twitter at different times. Confusion and added time searching turn customers away. 32 percent of Americans not on Facebook will give up as well. Stick with a robust homepage.

M: Marketing says that the average cost per click on a Facebook ad is $1.72. There is a 0.77 percent conversion rate on these clicks. That means that it costs $223.37 to gain a customer from Facebook plus the cost to create and manage the ad. You will likely not get a return on this investment although there are exceptions.

Related: 10 Marketing Strategies to Fuel Your Business Growth

Two hundred sixty million people use LinkedIn each month; 40 percent daily. Use it for business-to-business content marketing! LinkedIn users prefer more word count per article than other sites. The most read articles, by more than a factor of three, were articles over 1,900 words. LinkedIn also has the highest conversion rate of all the sites. The lead to conversion rate is 2.74 percent versus Facebook (0.77 percent) and Twitter (0.69 percent).

Since Google bought YouTube, it shows up prominently in searches. Seventy-three percent of Americans use YouTube, the highest percentage of all social media forms. With video, you can engage emotion and excitement better. You can post a how-to and other useful videos. Even incredibly professional companies like the Cleveland Clinic use YouTube to demonstrate their innovations and accolades.

Dr. Dre launched “Beats by Dre” using social media. Instagram was influential in building brand awareness, attracting approximately 2.5 million followers. 35 percent of Americans use Instagram. Instagram, like YouTube, is a place to build excitement quickly.

Sites like Twitter and Pinterest have an audience of less than 35 percent of Americans. Pinterest is a great place to show home décor products and vacation pictures and would be helpful in those markets. Twitter can be a low investment place to respond to user comments rapidly.

Related: How to Land the Digital Marketing Job of Your Dreams

Third-party bloggers are like a combination of content marketing and online reviews. Disney is famous for its use of Disney Moms. A group of 1,300 select moms receive perks, but not compensation, to visit and blog about their experiences. The moms talk about real issues, like dealing with food allergies or what to pack for a day in the park. Third party blogs are more credible and relatable.

4. Use data to learn, analyze and adapt.

An advantage of social media usage is the available data. You can use social media metrics to gauge attitudes, preferences, and trends. Available metrics are hits, page views, bounce rates, click paths, conversion rates and keyword analysis. There are numerous software packages available to examine each metric. Do not put too much weight on keyword optimization. Google regularly changes its search algorithms so sites should never be designed to game the Google system.

Use social media strategically. Make sure you know your target market. Use the tools to communicate in an engaging, informative, and caring way. Content marketing and responding to online reviews are the most important social media tools. Use the available metrics to revise your actions.

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How These Franchisees Became Franchisors

When Nader Masadeh’s family moved to Cincinnati from Jordan when he was a child, most of his relatives worked in restaurants. “When you come to the United States as an immigrant, skills don’t always transfer,” he says. “Restaurants provide accessible work.” 

Related: The Top 10 Best Franchises to Open in 2019

Masadeh was no exception: He put in time at Taco Bell and Burger King. But after graduating high school, he took a different path. He studied engineering and business, worked for auto parts manufacturers and then Procter & Gamble. In 2004, he purchased a Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise. He’d planned at first for his father to operate the franchise, but he soon fell for the business more broadly. 

“I loved the brand, the niche it’s in, the food it serves,” he says. “I didn’t understand why it hadn’t taken off.” He was certain that with some additional systemization and professionalism, he’d have a hit. In 2005, he made an offer to buy the brand from the current owner, and she accepted. 

After the purchase, Masadeh brought on two partners, and identified their first big problem. “The other store owners had licensing agreements, so they weren’t paying royalties, and they weren’t getting any corporate support,” he says. That meant he had no money coming in and would have to get creative about fixing the company. The solution would take almost five years and a lot of changes — rethinking the company’s relationship with franchisees, where they’d open new locations, and even what the restaurants looked like.

Now Masadeh has some tough advice for franchisees looking to become franchisors: “A great franchisee isn’t always a great franchisor, and vice versa,” he says. “Know your skills, know where you need help, and hire people to help you make the transition.”

What He Learned

1: Take inventory.

Masadeh and his partners took stock of what they had: some old uniforms and equipment in a warehouse, and a very out-of-date Franchise Disclosure Document. Then they spent the next 18 months cleaning up the operation — creating a new manual, a marketing plan, brochures for prospective franchisees, and a unified menu. “There hadn’t been any corporate support before,” he says. “We had to build that in.”

2: Start fresh.

The brand had a bad reputation in Cincinnati, thanks to the poorly run restaurants of the past. That made it hard to find new franchisees locally. But when Masadeh ran some ads online, he received inquiries from California, Texas, and Florida. So he decided to go where the opportunity was and rebuild the brand where it could be introduced fresh. “Those development agreements were a big win,” he says. (Today, there are 12 stores — nine are franchises — open in Cincinnati.)

3: Expand the audience.

The original Buffalo Wings & Rings model felt like most sports bars: dark, masculine, and loud. “We realized that if we made it more family- and female-friendly, we’d have a bigger opportunity,” Masadeh says. They added a dining room that was brighter and not so loud. They made the restrooms more accessible from the dining room with no need to walk through the bar. And they updated furniture to make the space more inviting.

4: Listen to your markets.

Both Masadeh and one of his partners are originally from Jordan, and they believed they could bring the brand back home. But they failed on their first three attempts. “We tried to adapt our model to the local culture but quickly realized that’s not what they wanted,” he says. “They wanted the Americanized experience — the wings, the menu in English, the sports, the bar.” They opened stores with their U.S. model, and sales skyrocketed.

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How to Protect IP When Outsourcing Software Development

intellectual property and contracts

We live in an era when technology permeates every aspect of our lives. Amazon and app-based services have changed our shopping habits, strangers control our hospitality experiences, and human connection takes place online as often, or possibly even more often, than it does in person.

Our commercial marketplace is ripe for innovation, and if you’re building a business right now, you’re probably thinking about how to streamline or disrupt an industry that’s been stagnant—just doing business as usual—for decades.

For a lot of non-technical founders—that is, entrepreneurs with a business idea but without technical expertise—sourcing software development talent is critical. In many areas, however, the high demand for tech talent appears to be larger than the supply of qualified tech and software developers for hire.

As a result, a lot of founders are turning to international outsourcing. While this may be an innovative solution to your immediate need for tech talent needs, the question of how to protect your intellectual property when outsourcing software development has probably crossed your mind.

The last thing you want is to have simply handed your idea and your intellectual property over to a potential competitor. It’s a valid concern. The best thing you can do is create an IP protection strategy and document it in a business plan, so you’ve integrated it into your larger business strategy.

If you’re in the early stages of starting your tech-based or SaaS business, it makes good sense to consider IP (intellectual property) protection a critical part of your business model. The benefits of obtaining protection will be far-reaching if you ever find yourself needing to deal with infringers. It’s a way to reduce your business’s risk.

IP protection is especially important when your company’s ethos is unique and one-of-a-kind, and you want to protect against the possibility of copycats. It also comes in handy with monetization and licensing opportunities.

So how can you protect your intellectual property when you outsource software development work? Start with a contract.

Download your free business startup checklist today!

Protect your IP with a carefully-crafted contract

Ultimately, it’s up to you to make sure you’ve covered your bases in all areas of risk management. One of the best ways to do that right out of the gate is to start with carefully-crafted contracts.

Even if you’re just hiring a project-based, short-term software development freelancer, you will need to have an airtight and carefully-constructed contract—even with one-time freelancers—especially if you decide to hire internationally.

JD Houvener, CEO and founder of Bold Patents, says, “The first big step is to make sure that your contract with the software hire will be enforceable in all countries involved. To do this correctly, you should hire an attorney from the home country of the person you will be working with, or any other countries you find necessary to involve, to make sure it will be binding there if breached.”

Use non-disclosure agreements

Confidentiality is key, as is specificity around what exactly you intend to keep confidential. In outsourcing to hire an international employee, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is crucial.

Your NDA must be worded broadly enough to cover anything under the scope of the outsourced talent’s work, as well as specific enough to clarify what cannot be shared, circulated, or kept by the employee. It is acceptable to have one standard-form NDA to utilize for every hire, as long as the document is flexible enough to accommodate modifications as needed.

When it is time to end the arrangement with your contractor, it is important to reinforce what the NDA covers once you part ways. Be sure to conduct an exit interview and reiterate what exactly they’re obligated to keep confidential.

Include these crucial clauses in your employment contracts

When you hire an employee, especially an international independent contractor, the importance of a well-written employment contract cannot be understated. The following are crucial clauses that you must include in any employment contract.

IP assignment clause

This specifies how any intellectual property generated by the nature of the work will be owned by the business entity doing the outsourcing/hiring.

Work for hire clause

This specifies how any work performed by the talent during their time working with the hiring company shall be considered “Work Made for Hire” as defined in the U.S. Copyright laws. This means that any work the independent contractor does shall be owned by and for the express benefit of the hiring company so that an employer is considered the author even if the outsourced employee actually created the work.

The contract should specify that this clause would apply to the development of any software. While the actual software code itself would be considered a trade secret, any software that is published, shared, licensed, or sold is akin to copyright and should be protected that way, much like a book is written. For example, source code will likely be kept internally as a trade secret, but the functionality or UX of software will be protected.


For a contract to be binding, there must be consideration. This comes from a quid pro quo or a bargained-for-exchange of values.

This means that there must be adequate compensation for the talent’s work, such as equity or a fee so that the relationship is two-sided. Make it clear how, when, and what types of compensation your working relationship will contain.

Governing law and forum for dispute resolution

These clauses clarify which set of laws the parties to the contract will follow if there is a breach, and what country’s courts will be used to adjudicate the dispute.

Overall, while these guidelines are a great jumping off point to be on the right track with protecting your IP, it is a good idea to work with your attorney as well as an attorney from the country of the person you will be working with.

Keep in mind that software talent is in high demand and the pool of talent is likely aware of this, so your contract should be fair and beneficial to both sides so your talent is willing to agree to your strict terms about IP protection. In addition, your willingness to strike a fair and honest deal can make you a more desirable employer, and even be a leg up in the future if you decide to maintain a longer-term working relationship with your contractor.

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Carly Klein
Carly Klein

Carly Klein is a law student at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. A graduate from Boston University with a B.A. in political science and philosophy, she has experience in marketing, communications, and sales. She is a Los Angeles native and seeks to pursue a career in IP and business litigation.

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3 Great Ways to Invest Your Savings (If Your Business Hasn’t Yet Made You a Millionaire)

Here’s a money-making idea you perhaps haven’t thought of: Buy a house. But don’t live in it. Rent it.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As business owners, we get really good at all sorts of things, like branding, marketing, sales, account and project management. But one skill many new business owners are lacking in is how to manage their finances.

Related: 7 Quick Ways to Make Money Investing $1,000

This isn’t surprising: Nearly two-thirds of us Americans can’t pass a basic financial literacy test (the kind that asks you how much 20 percent interest on a $1,000 loan amounts to). And, as the financial regulator FINRA has reported, things aren’t looking up. FINRA’s surveys of Americans between 2009 and 2015 showed our financial knowledge nationwide growing steadily worse, not better.

In short, we’re laughably bad at counting money and figuring out how to save and invest it.

I myself was definitely in that “clueless” boat when I started out. But I made up for lost time. Though not a financial advisor, I’ve since had extensive experience with investing. So I’m here to report three great ways I’ve found to invest your savings that may work for you if your business hasn’t made you a millionaire (yet):

1. Invest in the three-fund portfolio … but leave room for “fun” investments.

In honor of Jack Bogle, who passed away in January, let’s talk a bit about the Bogleheads. These folks are a group of investing enthusiasts and Vanguard diehards who swear by a single investment strategy: the three-fund portfolio. What’s that mean?

It’s a portfolio divided among just three funds:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX)

  • Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund (VTIAX)

  • Vanguard Total Bond Market Fund (VBTLX)

Related: Don’t Invest In Legal Cannabis Until You’ve Read These 5 Tips

The three-fund portfolio, whose funds, by the way, can be obtained through other brokerages, can be split evenly or asymmetrically. Many Bogleheads tweak the percentages depending on market conditions. Some even allocate a percentage of their portfolio for “fun” investments that carry more risk.

However you decide to set up your own three-fund portfolio, you’ll probably end up doing better than 99 percent of stock pickers, who routinely fail to beat the market and may even end up losing money. In fact, variations on the three-fund portfolio have performed very well historically, having earned investors up to 5.62 percent per year over the 20-year period ending in 2018.

The best part of this portfolio? It’s a fire-and-forget strategy, which means you’ll experience much less stress over your investments in the long run.

2. Buy a house with an FHA loan or traditional mortgage; then rent it out.

Personal finance advisor Ramit Sethi would disagree, but I think there are advantages to buying homes as investment vehicles. Granted, picking the right city or town to buy a home in can be like rocket science in this unpredictable economy, but hear me out.

If you have never bought a house before, you can use an FHA loan to pay as little as 3.5 percent down for a 30-year mortgage. FHA loans are easier to obtain if you have great credit (over 700), but you can still apply for them with a minimum 580 credit score.

Let’s say you buy a two-family home for $300,000 near Jersey City. With an FHA loan, you have to put down only $10,500 (3.5 percent), as opposed to $60,000 (20 percent) with a traditional mortgage.

Now, there are obvious downsides to this approach. For one thing, your monthly mortgage bill will be higher. With FHA loans, you also have to pay an up-front mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) as well as a monthly MIP. So, by the time you pay off the mortgage, you’ll have paid more with an FHA loan than with a traditional mortgage. Thankfully, mortgage calculators exist.

Here’s the very speculative up-side: Depending on where your home is located, renting out as much of it as possible could help you pay off your mortgage in full while you still turn a profit each month. And, just as with a traditional mortgage, you can always sell your home after a few years, ideally after it has appreciated in value. Something to think about.

3. Move to Puerto Rico for a 4 percent tax rate (0 percent capital gains).

Here’s one for all the internet-based business owners out there. If you move to Puerto Rico and establish Puerto Rican tax residency, you can apply for consideration under the Puerto Rican government’s Acts 20 and 22, which reduce your income tax to 4 percent and your capital gains taxes to 0 percent.

Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. But you have to meet specific requirements, namely:

  • You have to be able to “export” your services to clients outside Puerto Rico.

  • You have to pass the “closer connection test,” which means that having a house or a car in the United States makes things more complicated.

  • You have to stay in Puerto Rico for 183 days out of the year (but you can split them up however you want).

  • You have to pay the Puerto Rican government and an attorney filing fees for the first year.

  • If you file for Act 22, you have to donate $5,000 to a charity of your choosing, annually.

I’m sure I don’t have to go into great detail about why this is such an amazing deal for business owners. Aside from the benefits of living on a Caribbean island, you don’t need any employees in Puerto Rico to get these filings, and you can remain a U.S. citizen. Yet you’ll probably reduce your income tax by anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent compared to what you’re paying now.

And if you enjoy trading or investing? Normally you’d have to pay short- (30 percent on earnings) and long-term capital gains taxes (15 percent on earnings). Under Act 22, you’ll pay nothing and get to keep all your profits.

Something to write home about

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all small businesses fail within 10 years. With odds like that, entrepreneurs need all the help they can get. Running a business is hard work, and money-management skills are absolutely essential for success.

Related: Become a Billionaire by Investing in Stocks

Hopefully, these three investing strategies can help you reduce your tax burden this year or put more money back into your wallet. That way, you and your business can attain that coveted “millionaire” status sooner. 

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Last-Minute (and Year-Round) Tax Tips for Small Businesses

year round tax tips

If you haven’t already filed your taxes, now is the time to get your information together to ensure that they’re filed on time and avoid costly penalties and unnecessary stress. It’s also the perfect opportunity to start organizing your taxes for the next filing season.

There are a few steps you can take now to develop healthy financial habits that will make filing much easier now and in the future. Here are just a few to get started.

1. Know the important dates for your business’s tax filings

While exact due dates may vary year-to-year because of holidays or weekends, it’s essential to be aware of the general annual due dates:

  • Partnerships, S corporations, and multiple-member LLCs are generally due by March 15 each year
  • Sole proprietorships and single-member LLCs, which are filed on the schedule C of the personal tax returns, are due by April 15 each year
  • Corporations that use the calendar year as a fiscal year are also generally due by April 15 each year

Set an alert in your calendar for at least two weeks before each of the IRS’s quarterly filing dates; otherwise, you could end up with late-payment penalties for missed filings. Check your state’s deadlines, too—they’re typically aligned with the IRS’s, but not always.

Free profit and loss template download

2. File your year-end taxes on time

If you haven’t already filed your taxes, you should at least have your financial information ready for your accountant. Take these steps ahead of time:

Ensure that your business financials are complete and schedule a meeting with your accountant. If you are a sole proprietor or single-owner LLC and file your personal and business taxes together, make sure you come prepared with your personal financials as well. Gather all pertinent income and expense information, as well as receipts. Bookkeeping software programs like QuickBooks and Xero make it easier to track income and expenses. These programs are affordable (or even free), so we encourage all small business owners to use them to manage financials online.

Follow up with your accountant at least a week before your company’s filing deadline to ensure that your taxes are submitted on time and make sure to request a filing receipt. If your accountant doesn’t have all the information they need to file it can cause delays, so be sure to respond quickly to your accountant’s calls or emails.

3. Prepare now for next season’s taxes

Make sure you’ve got the right accountant for your business.

A great accountant is an essential part of your team—someone who ensures that your books are set up properly, and also helps you make strategic decisions about business investments, expenses, loans, and other financial matters.

Early in this new tax year, assess whether you’ve got the right accountant for your business:

  • Meet with your accountant quarterly (starting just after tax season) to learn strategies for tax savings and long-term growth. This can reveal whether your accountant is on board as a part of your business’s success team or is simply acting as a tax preparer.
  • Ask about how their experience and clients align with your business or industry. Having knowledge related to your business shows that your accountant has nuanced insight that can benefit your company.
  • If you know of their other clients (or can get references), ask if they’re satisfied with the relationship. It’s also advisable to check accreditations and licensing.

4. Update and maintain your financial records throughout the year

It takes about a month to form good habits (or to break not-so-productive ones), and the benefits of maintaining business financials on a daily basis are well worth the time investment. You’ll make smart, on-point and timely strategy changes and if you apply for a loan, potential lenders can easily assess your company’s financial position and will appreciate your great management skills.

Use this next month to get your business’s financials in order:

  • Update your online financials daily. Some businesses, like restaurants and retail, will have many transactions throughout the day, and others may only have a few all month long. Regardless of which bucket your business falls into, get in the habit of checking your financials at the end of each day. Over time, you’ll find that you’re far more in-tune with how money is earned and spent and where there’s potential for growth or savings.
  • Inform your accountant of all fixed-asset purchases that you’re planning (or have made) and about your company’s debt. The interest you pay on loans made to the business will be added to your company’s profit-and-loss statement as an expense, decreasing your taxable income. You can also use this information to leverage the tax code, as many large business expenses may qualify as business write-offs.

5. Stay on top of tax payments throughout the year

Far too many small businesses are derailed by unpaid taxes that accumulate throughout the year and, sometimes, over several years.

To avoid this:

  • Keep track of due dates for quarterly and year-end filings for your estimated income taxes, as well as others like sales tax, and set reminders on your calendar of tax-payment due dates.
  • Set aside estimated tax payments from your monthly revenues and deposit them in a separate bank account. This way, you’ll always have the money on hand to pay your taxes. If you haven’t already set up a separate business bank account, do it right away and don’t mix your personal and business expenses.

Small business taxes: You’ve got to pay them, so be smart about them

There can be tremendous business benefits when you approach tax seasons strategically—as well as painful financial consequences when you don’t.

Use these simple tips, as well as others that your accountant can share that are specific to your business or industry, to help you make the most of this inevitable business expense.

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Steven Cohen
Steven Cohen

Steven Cohen is president of Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF), which helps New York State small businesses grow by providing streamlined access to business loans and advisory services. Excelsior Growth Fund is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) and certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Steven has a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

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Turning Your Purpose Into Action

Doing good has become the ultimate competitive advantage for brands in the 21st century.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You can’t go a single day without hearing the phrase “brand purpose,” but what does it actually mean? In short, it’s a brand’s reason for existence beyond making money. Today, a growing number of companies are jumping at the chance to signal their social and environmental credentials. For good reason too — it’s what people want. Consumers are determining the fate of brands with their purchases. And when all things are equal, they will choose to buy from a brand that has a positive impact.

Doing good has become the ultimate competitive advantage — a golden ticket to future-proofing your business. Getting it right will earn you a place in popular culture, improve your reputation and increase your market share. Getting it wrong could spark public outrage, claims of insincerity and the possibility of a boycott. The stakes have never been higher, and success depends on converting brand purpose into action. After all, purpose without action is pointless. It’s like buying a book and never reading it.

Related: Young People Will Reward Brands That Take a Stand

Get the basics right.

The journey towards social impact starts with making sure that your brand is doing no harm. It can be easy to forget that business is a part of society. Thus, companies have a duty to make a positive contribution to people’s lives. For brands, this begins with paying tax: an agreed fee for doing business and making a profit. Yet, most brands view tax as a cost to be minimized, rather than an investment back into society. Corporation tax helps to fund essential healthcare, education and social services for the very customers and employees who buy and work for a business. In truth, there’s not much point in having a lofty brand mission if you’re not even holding up your end of the bargain.

Sadly, some of the world’s biggest brands are using tax loopholes to legally avoid paying its debt to society. In the U.K., Facebook only paid £15.8m in tax last year despite collecting a record £1.3bn in sales. Avoiding tax can cause long-term reputational damage, as seen in the past with Starbucks, Amazon, Google and others. In contrast, brands that pay their fair share will no doubt win public approval. A great example is Patagonia, who used $10 million in U.S. tax savings to combat climate change. So, when Patagonia says, “we’re in business to save our home planet,” people believe them. Fulfilling your responsibility as a business provides a foundation for brand activism. It begins with paying your taxes, looking after your employees and not destroying the environment.

Related: 10 Companies That Are Doing Good While Doing Well

Think long-term.

Building a meaningful brand is hard work. It requires changing the way things have always been done. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But it’s not. You need courage, conviction, vision and a champion at the very top. The scale and depth of transformation demand a long-term approach. A rare commodity, considering that the average CEO spends less than five years in the job. To make matters worse, most companies are under constant pressure to deliver short-term results for shareholders; often at the expense of building long-term value. This is despite overwhelming evidence indicating that long-term companies deliver superior financial performance.

The good news is that we’re reaching a tipping point, characterized by mass adoption of socially responsible and environmentally sustainable business practices. For example, renewable energy is set to become cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020. To quote Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Sørensen, “In the long term, social and environmental issues become financial issues.” In 2010, Unilever launched an ambitious plan to decouple business growth from environmental impact. Nine years later, Unilever’s sustainable brands are now delivering 70 percent of its growth. Such success is predicated on making society a stakeholder in your business. This can be achieved by aligning your business objectives with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: a set of 17 goals, agreed by 193 nations of the UN to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change.

Embrace co-creation.

The complexity of global issues is far too great for anyone to tackle alone. Such problems require new thinking, innovative approaches and an unprecedented level of collaboration. To use a famous African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We can’t save the world in silos; doing so requires collective, collaborative action. To change things for the better, brands need to look beyond their own boundaries. This means collaborating with start-ups, individuals, civil society and so-called competitors to co-create a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

Co-creation represents a substantial growth opportunity for brands. It’s a chance to embed new thinking, practices and doing good into the core of their business. One of the best examples of co-creation is Lego which has teamed up with Sesame Workshop to help Rohingya and Syrian refugee children to learn and heal through play. Lego is realizing its brand purpose by investing $100 million into the program. This move will help Lego win the hearts and minds of a new generation of fans — 87 years on from the company’s inception. To reap the full benefits of co-creation, brands need to make sure their new project or partnership reflects their own offering as a business. Finding the right strategic partner will help turn a global mission into local, grassroots social and environmental activation.

Related: Innovation? It Needs to Be Woven Into Every Aspect of Your Company’s Culture

What it all means.

Doing good has become the ultimate competitive advantage for brands in the 21st century. In an increasingly overcrowded market, your brand’s contribution to society becomes the decisive point of difference for consumers. The first step in the process is making sure that you’re not doing any harm. Once that’s established, brands can then begin to do good by adopting a collaborative mindset and a long-term approach to problem-solving.

By in large, brand activism fueled by conscious consumerism is going to fundamentally change the nature of business. The scale and depth of change are comparable to the rise of digital technology in the 1990s and early 2000s. In a similar way, those who embrace this new reality will win the hearts and minds of a new generation of consumers. On the flipside, those who fail to adapt risk entering the annals of irrelevancy, which already includes a long list of extinct brands. In the end, like most things, the difference between the two scenarios will boil down to the level of talk versus action.

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How Spider-Man Can Help Your Brand Keep Its Edge

Want better branding? Stop thinking about web design, and start thinking about web slinging.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Marketers seeking wellsprings of inspiration would do well to take inspiration from the recently announced nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards. In fact, marketing teams might want to ditch the ho-hum status meeting this week and head to the nearest cinema to check out Best Animated Feature nominee “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

It turns out the innovative animated reimagining of the Stan Lee comic offers a host of branding possibilities for creatives tired of boring, predictable storytelling formulas and looking for something new to help their brand maintain its competitive edge. One viewing of this novel twist on a classic Marvel Comics tale will surely produce more than an itsy-bitsy amount of original, unprocessed creativity to move your branding strategy in a new direction.

Related: Maintain Your Competitive Advantage by Focusing on Your Most Valuable Asset — You

Branding with fresh fangs.

Skeptical that a family-friendly, feature-length film studded with comic book design elements could clear the cobwebs from your marketing campaigns? Don’t be. Many of the film’s directorial, script and production choices can serve as jumping-off points for marketers seeking stronger consumer connections and an authentic brand voice.

1. Powerful visuals without the venom of mediocrity.

What makes this Spider-Man adaptation visually memorable? In addition to computerized 3D animation, the film’s creators sought opportunities to include nods to old-fashioned comic book drawing techniques and styles. From unexpected captions to lightning-fast inside jokes, the movie commands attention from both the eye and the ear.

This technique could be a smart decision for your brand messaging as well, especially as 65 percent of people learn best through visuals. Carl Reed, co-founder and chief creative officer at Lion Forge Labs, knows how meaningful, memorable and powerful animation can be. “Savvy marketers are turning to captivating media for driving their brands’ stories forward,” he notes. “Comics are an excellent choice for this. They are great for explaining abstract principles and are limited only by the imagination of the artists.”

Spidey sense suggestion: If your group has had trouble expressing a tough-to-describe concept, why not experiment with comic-style visuals? Consider the visual aspects of your corporate branding. Although cartooning may seem appropriate mainly in the realm of infographics, it can be effective elsewhere. Map out what story you want to tell, and take stock of your resources (i.e., creative talent capable of illustrating a comic). If you don’t have the resources you need on staff, you can always hire a freelancer or an agency to handle the comic creation.

Related: How to Create the Stunning Visuals Critical to Startup Success

2. Relatable characters woven into a well-considered story.

Spoiler alert: The film takes place in an alternate universe. In fact, many universes converge in this animated Oscar front-runner. Yet the story seems wholly believable because the characters are fleshed-out and genuine. Consider the original Spider-Man, Peter Parker. He makes his entrance not as a slim, fit guy ready to take on the baddies, but as a paunchy Gen Xer mired in a midlife crisis of sorts.

Peter may have mad spider skills, but he’s no different from the neighbor down the street. In other words, moviegoers see him not as unrelatable, but as a familiar persona. Brands must create identities with this type of relatability in mind, and they can do it by generating stories that connect with their preferred audiences. Buyers are drawn in by accessible brands that humanize the business behind the product or service.

Spidey sense suggestion: To become a relatable brand, craft a message that accurately represents your intended audience, meets your audience members where they are, and helps you earn consumer trust. For instance, Old Spice, once associated with a predominantly older demographic, began targeting a younger male audience with campaigns that included hosting interactive live streams. By using a platform that its target demographic prefers, the company was able to better relate to that audience.

3. A different perspective on an old standard.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” proves that no matter how well-worn a story is, it can always be viewed from a unique perspective. The creators of the film didn’t force another prequel or sequel on viewers, but infused the Spider-Man franchise with a fresh blend of characters and situations.

Legacy brands that think they can never shed their too-tight skin are ripe for this type of reinvention. Smart branding, like good storytelling, involves taking risks. Your company might not want to go the irreverent mile that the Spider-Verse sometimes does, but you can’t attract young consumers with dated imagery and concepts.

Related: 6 Ways to Modernize Your Brand While Staying True to Your Legacy

Spidey sense suggestion: Stay true to your core values while simultaneously giving prospects a new way to think about your brand. Take McDonald’s, which was fighting the image of being branded an unhealthy hamburger chain. The company rebranded to be more health-conscious, offering lighter meal options and revamping its locations to offer a cafe-like atmosphere. This new image is still in line with the fast-food giant’s brand mission to be its customers’ favorite place to eat and drink, and clearly, customers agree. The company’s stock has more than doubled since it started this rebranding shift about four years ago.

If you want to remain at the leading edge of modern branding strategies, look no further than today’s Oscar-nominated films for inspiration. With great marketing power comes great marketing responsibility.

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Looking for Leads? These 4 #DirectMail Offers Are Your Answer

When it comes to lead generation, there are only four types of leads that work.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly’s book The Direct Mail Revolution: How to Create Profitable Direct Mail Campaigns in a Digital World. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound

In a two-step direct-mail campaign, where you’re trying to generate leads rather than direct sales, there are four basic offers you can make: soft, hard, negative, and deferred.

Soft Offer for Lead Generation

In lead-generating direct mail, the simplest and most common offer has traditionally been a free brochure and other information describing the product or service. In direct mail, this typically reads, “For a free brochure on the Widget 3000, complete and mail the enclosed reply card today.”

What the prospect gets is a brochure describing your product. What they have to do to get it is fill in and mail a reply card. The key to the soft offer is that the odds of your prospect being ready to buy the minute they open your mailer are low. It’s the ideal response option for prospects who might be interested in your product in the future but not today. They can get sales literature that tells them more about the product without speaking to a salesperson, which they are probably reluctant to do at this early stage in the buying cycle.

Hard Offer for Lead Generation

The soft offer is for prospects not yet ready to buy; the hard offer attracts those who are more likely to purchase. In the hard offer, the marketer encourages the prospect to call or request that a salesperson contact them. The offer is made more attractive by calling it a briefing, demonstration, initial consultation, evaluation, free estimate, needs assessment, or initial appointment.

These hard offers all involve direct person-to-person contact between the buyer and seller, either over the phone, in a face-to-face meeting, or via Skype. During these conversations, the salesperson attempts to persuade the prospect to buy the product or service.

The Negative Offer

The negative-offer option on the reply card reads as follows:

[ ] Not interested right now because: _________________________

Typically, the sales letter refers to the negative offer using the following language:

P.S. Even if you’re not interested in [name of product or service], please complete and return the enclosed reply card. Thank you.

The negative offer provides a response option for people who are prospects (that is, they have a need or problem your product addresses) but for some reason don’t want to buy from you right now.

Normally, people who are uninterested in your offer will not respond to your mailings. But by adding a negative-offer option, you’ll get responses from a small portion of them. And often, by following up, you can answer their objections, overcome their hesitancy, and convert some of them to actual leads, increasing the total number of leads generated by the mailing.

The Deferred Offer

The deferred offer encourages responses from prospects who don’t have an immediate need but may have a future requirement for your product or service. The deferred-offer option on the reply card reads as follows:

[ ] Not interested right now. Try me again in: ______________________ (fill in month/year)

The deferred-offer option box tells the prospect, “If you don’t need us now but may in the future, you can use this box to let us know, without getting calls and annoying follow-up from salespeople now.”

Use the deferred offer if you think a significant number of prospects are more likely to need your services in the future. Note: If they say to try them again in June, call them in May. That way, you are more likely to reach them before they have made a purchase decision.

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9 Tips for Reigniting Your Marketing Team’s Creativity

Here’s how to get the creative juices flowing when it matters most.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Being creative 24/7 can be hard, so it stands to reason that your marketing team is not going to be able spin up amazing campaigns every time on demand. Creative wells run dry and often it requires a refill before the ideas start flowing again. Continued pressure and high expectations are not going to produce effective results if your team isn’t given the space to thrive. Here are nine effortless ways you can reignite that creative spark and take your team’s results from stale to stellar.

1. Try a new locale

It’s incredible how much a change of scenery can bring out new ideas. If your marketing team is housed in a small, windowless corner of your office, it might be time to mix it up. Why not treat the team to coffee or breakfast? That way the team can sit down together and brainstorm ideas to deliver on the strategy without the office distractions. Or, order in lunch and take over the boardroom. Whiteboards, smartboards or any kind of blank space allows for uninhibited scribbling and new ideas, accelerating the creative process.

2. Encourage new ideas

The fantastic thing about brainstorming sessions is that it only takes one good idea to spark the imagination of others. That approach can be nurtured and built upon in a brainstorming meeting through the collective minds of the department. Of course, not every idea that comes out of a brainstorming session will be put to good use. But, they can definitely be filed away until a more appropriate time. Create an environment that allows your team to flex their creative muscles and the ideas will come.

Related: 10 Marketing Strategies to Fuel Your Business Growth

3. Put innovation into practice

Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t. Make sure your team understands that while there are boundaries, they shouldn’t necessarily limit their strategies. Whenever possible give the team autonomy to create outside the box. So whether they opt for a powerful video with a strong storytelling aspect, or launch a unique billboard campaign that drives engagement, be flexible as long as it fits within the confines of your budget and brings the desired results.

4. Spark joy in your space

Ever since Marie Kondo came into our lives, we’ve been letting go of the things that drag us down and holding on to the things that inspire us. The same strategy can be applied to your marketing office. Purge those old monitors that are collecting dust. Find a place for your post-its and HDMI cords. And finally hang up that whiteboard that’s been leaning against the wall. You can apply the same idea to your digital spaces, too. Tidy up your analytics dashboard by removing meaningless metrics. Purge old files you no longer need. Cleaning up your physical and virtual space can give your team the room they need to think and spark creativity.

Related: Teach Yourself Online Marketing With This Simple Technique

5. Take it outside

If your team is facing a creative drought, a little Vitamin D and a dose of mother nature might be just what the doctor ordered. Unfamiliar surroundings paired with movement and free-flowing discussion will help your team think differently than in the confines of your office. It’s a bit of an unorthodox approach to meetings that can inspire your marketing team to come up with previously undiscussed propositions. And, if it doesn’t, you haven’t lost anything by trying. Your team may even benefit in ways you hadn’t planned.

6. Clear up your objectives

If your marketing team (or any team member for that matter) isn’t fully up to speed with the company objectives, their ideas will fall short of the organization’s aims. Make sure that everyone understands your business goals so that every project provides real value for the company as a whole. Having a clear understanding of the big picture, and the part each department plays, will clarify ideas, provide practical direction and give all of your employees a tangible purpose.

7. Encourage cross-pollination

Consider pairing the marketing department with another department in the organization so your team can hear ideas from a completely different perspective. Give everyone ample time to speak and allow them to learn from one another. Someone on the customer success team may be able to offer up an entirely different point of view that the marketing department fails to see because they are operating in different silos within the organization.

Related: How to Create a Marketing Plan

8. Change the context

Sometimes suggestions dry up because people are afraid to look silly. So, change the context. Ask everyone to come up with the most ridiculous ideas possible. Among the outrageous ideas will be some suggestions that just might work. Without pushing the boundaries just a little bit and allowing the team to dream up such ideas, it may never occur to them to speak up in the first place.

9. Give them a break

If the creativity is sparse, then step away. Do other tasks and come back to it. Thinking about a subject too much can put pressure on your brain and make it difficult to stay innovative. Allow your marketing team to move on to something else and revisit the project later in the day or week (deadline permitting). Or give them the afternoon off so they can come in fresh with ideas tomorrow. All work and no play can lead to stress and burnout! Author and creativity expert Kevin Carroll says it best: “For creativity to serve you well, you must exercise it daily.” Make sure you give your team plenty of rest and opportunities to take five while focusing on difficult topics.

No one is an unabated source of innovative ideas. So next time your team is feeling uninspired, take a breather, change your surroundings and look for new ways to reignite that proverbial creative spark.


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Do Diversity and Inclusion Have to Be Overwhelming?

In a word: Nope. To become more inclusive (without overhauling your whole organization), start with these four steps.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the past, efforts at building diversity and inclusion have been more of a “nice-to-have” than an essential. Because these goals can be complex, have no simple procedures and involve multiple variables, D&I efforts often get shelved — and collect dust.

But recent shakeups in the corporate world have shown how important these efforts ultimately are.

Look at Prada, which recently announced the formation of a diversity advisory council after allegations of racism arose over branding efforts like its Pradamalia collection which stirred up accusations of blackface. H&M faced a similar issue when a marketing image of a black child wearing a “coolest monkey in the jungle” shirt raised red flags for the African-American community.

Related: These Were the Best Companies for Women and Diversity in 2018

Fortunately, not every company is sitting back, waiting for a controversy to force it into adopting diversity and inclusion efforts. But the thought of implementing such an initiative may still seem overwhelming. The real question is: Does it have to be?

One giant leap for humankind

Letting D&I remain in the nice-to-have category becomes dangerous for one simple reason: Businesses run on people. And employee well-being ineeds to be part of the conversation whenever changes, implementation and forward movement are considered.

This particularly applies to startups, which often have a tough time implementing D&I initiatives, especially in the tech world. It’s common knowledge that women are woefully under-represented in tech startups (a fact reflected in this 2018 survey by Unilever Foundry).

And a lack of women is only one of the problems for these companies: A 2016 study from First Round Capital found that fully 54 percent of responding companies had nothing more than an informal plan for inclusion, and 23 percent had no strategy at all (or even plans to start one).

Baby steps

Given the big role tech startups play in the business world, it’s more important now than ever that they invest in true D&I efforts. No longer do companies have to please just a few homogeneous people within driving distance; they are working in a global economy, and their customer base is usually more diverse than the base mom-and-pop businesses previously served. These customer bases, in fact, now extend to different cultures and religions, even different levels of physical or mental ability.

Related: Why Diversity In The Workforce Is Imperative

So a detailed approach is key. But entrepreneurs often approach diversity and inclusion efforts in one large bite. They try to handle these tasks like any other work project. Yet because D&I deals so closely with human psychology, more nuance is needed.

So, what exactly should companies be doing? Despite what most people think, it can be surprisingly easy to pare down a company’s culture transformation into more manageable bites, starting with the following simple steps:

1. Don’t wait; plan it anyway. Some companies like to wait until an issue arises before they address it. Don’t. That’s one of the worst things you can do. Instead, take a page out of Diageo’s book. The alcohol beverage company has set its own goals for achieving success in diversity and inclusion, including a stated goal that its senior leadership team be made up of at least 35 percent women by 2020 and 40 percent by 2025. Because of Diageo’s proactive efforts in this area, the company has received awards, recognition and heaps of positive media attention.

In short, being proactive in this area is far superior to being reactive. Just as companies often are on top of the latest trends in their industries with whatever product or service they provide, they should also be up on the latest human-centric business structures and advice. After all, businesses are working with humans, so they’ll have to cater to their needs, both physically and mentally.

2. Ask, “What did we miss with diversity training?” Oftentimes, management and HR departments think basic diversity training will take care of everything and answer every question. It doesn’t, it shouldn’t and it won’t. In fact, studies have shown that training-only approaches often have the opposite effect, creating greater difficulties for trainees.

Different people have different experiences with diversity, so it’s important to make sure there is room to connect with individuals who might not have had the exposure or the proper language to communicate in diverse populations.

As we come to know more, we tend to try to do better. What types of sessions are needed can be determined through our very own “focus group”: the company diversity committee. In my previous work crafting and expanding diversity initiatives, obtaining direct one-on-one feedback from participants has yielded far better insights than any outside observations I could possibly make following a wait-and-see approach.

3. Provide follow-up sessions. Never assume that following up on diversity training is optional. You always need to follow up. Regular trainings will help participants identify and work through deeply rooted issues. 

I recommend starting with follow-up trainings or discussions once a quarter. Depending on how those sessions go, you can then start adjusting the time line. If you experience a flood of complaints or an obvious lack of participation, you may need to adjust the frequency. Pay attention, as well, to how employees are dividing themselves. If groups sit together or organize after-work get-togethers along fault lines like gender, race or sexual identity, that fact could indicate unresolved divisions or problems.

4. Know that D&I efforts are always worth the risk. If you employ people, then you will need people-focused solutions as well as the business-focused solutions you implement for your products and services. However, don’t confuse the two — these are separate areas and should be treated as such.

Bringing in a consultant that specializes in diversity and inclusion efforts can help set a steady foundation. From there, building on the business will improve upon the existing culture. According to research by McKinsey & Co., the companies it studied that had more diversity on their executive boards had higher returns on their equity — a full 53 percent higher than that of their less-diverse competitors.

Related: There’s an Economic Case for Diversity in Tech. Do You Know What It Is?

Employers often feel that they’re in an eternal rat race trying to be diverse and inclusive. This is only because, traditionally, businesses were largely created and maintained by a homogeneous population, namely white males. So the precedent was set to attune to only that population, in terms of both the business and consumer.

Now, it’s understandable that, at some point, as the landscape of hiring changes, so must the companies — and the people — who run them. For a moment, set aside the legal jargon and think about what would most benefit your community, business and the consumer. Chances are good that a few fresh faces would help make that happen.

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