Businesses are very invested in innovation and creativity, but these pursuits fail when they are isolated from traditional business analysis, strategy, and problem-solving. The pace of disruption today requires businesses to integrate creativity and strategy so that innovations are aligned with company core capabilities and strategies, so that the outcomes of innovation work move beyond the doors of the creativity playroom, and so that teams involved stop thinking of innovation as an extracurricular but not essential part of their work processes.
Led by Professor Bill Duggan and experienced Strategy & Director Amy Murphy, Creative Strategy: Strategic Intuition to Solve Complex Challenges brings you exclusive tools to enhance and systematize the idea generation process and develop powerful ideas that you can turn into growth strategies for your organization.
Over ten weeks, participants will learn the science and method of strategic intuition through more than 20 videos, facilitated online discussion boards, readings, projects, and more. Participants will interact with experienced strategy practitioners, course facilitators, and peers from around the world. All program content and materials will be available for two weeks following the program. The suggested time commitment for this program is approximately four hours per week.
“The Creative Strategy online program is dynamic, instructive, and informative. It provides clarity on how the human brain works and how we can use that ‘storehouse’ of history to define an innovative and prosperous future for ourselves and our organization.”
If anyone knows marketing’s future, it’s Seth Godin. The longtime guru of the subject and author of 19 books — his new one is called This Is Marketing, and he has a new notebook in partnership with MOO — preaches a kind of invisible marketing. “The word marketing should mean ‘What do we call it when we make something people want?’ ” he says. That’ll become increasingly important as 2019 brings more digital noise. His challenge: Be relevant, not loud.
Attention and trust are the two most valuable elements of our economy going forward, and big companies have a long history of just burning it, wasting it. The alternative is to be the kind of organization that markets with people instead of at them.
What do you mean?
The mindset of pop-unders, pop-overs, spam, interruption, demographics, targeting — these are all hunting tactics. Like, We have something we want to sell, and gosh darn it, we’re going to find someone to sell it to.
That stuff always makes me feel like the marketer is aware that they’re unwanted.
Exactly. What we’re seeing over and over again is that the organizations that are succeeding don’t do that. They’re the ones that would be missed if they were gone. When you act in a way that helps the person achieve their dreams and goals and desires, then you don’t have to bully your way in and elbow your way in. We’re entering this age where everyone knows there’s no privacy left, everyone knows there’s no data security, everyone knows you can’t trust anyone. But when someone we can trust shows up, people go, “Oh, that person’s different. They’re one of us.”
Where does new technology fit into this? Entrepreneurs have a lot of tools available to them.
Online technology that’s free is generally working when you’re welcome, like email people want to open or websites people want to visit. Online technologies you have to pay for, like programmatic advertising, snooping on people’s privacy, boosting things, are interactions that were invented to make social media money, not to help people who are making products that would be found anyway. It makes more sense to not worry about getting big but worry instead about being important — seeking out the smallest viable audience, because that audience will demand you make something special. And if it is special, they’ll tell their friends.
Yeah; the basics of a century ago. And the reason this is hard is not because it’s hard. The reason it’s hard is because it’s scary. The tools of industrial marketing let the big companies off the hook. You just write a check and it’s not your fault anymore. But if you’re going to make it human, it means you’re going to put yourself out there and say, “I made this,” and someone is going to see it and say, “I don’t want it.” And it’s easy to hear that and say, “You don’t want me. I failed.” But that’s not the right answer. The right answer is “Oh, I didn’t make this for you. I made it for someone like you who believes something different, who wants something different. Let me go find that person.”
Putting all of your marketing eggs in the social media basket is a dangerous game.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Fake news. Algorithm changes. Election interference. Cambridge Analytica. GDPR. While some people may have believed that Facebook was infallible, it’s undeniable that the social giant’s reputation has taken quite a beating in the past two years. And with the number of daily active users flat in North America, and falling in Europe, it’s clear that consumers are taking note and starting to jump ship.
Other networks are facing similar issues. Snapchat experienced its first-ever decline in users earlier this year — falling by 3 million over the course of a few months, with many users voicing their displeasure over Snapchat’s redesign. And Twitter’s monthly users dropped by 1 million amid a sweeping cleanup of fake users and bots.
The fact that social networks are experiencing missteps doesn’t mean they’re going away, but it does beg the question of their overall influence. And it’s a wake-up call to marketers that putting all of your eggs in the Facebook (or Snapchat) basket is a dangerous game. I strongly believe it’s time to think outside the social box.
What’s the (Facebook) status quo?
With social media ruling for the past several years, many marketers have become accustomed to relying on the networks to build their audiences and run their entire marketing campaigns. Instead of engaging audiences directly through their own customer journey, many businesses have been renting space — and audiences — on social platforms. This is a high-stakes mistake. Facebook and others have long been accused of “grading their own homework” when it comes to results and metrics. Even worse, they keep the consumer data obtained from marketing campaigns within their walled gardens, putting marketers at a serious disadvantage.
But, perhaps the most egregious result of this practice is that it strengthens and improves the social platforms, rather than improving the companies using them.
I call foul. And I think the missteps in social media over the past year should be a rallying cry for marketers to change this practice. Moving forward, I believe that social networks should be used by brands mainly as distribution channels for content created together by them and their consumers. Marketers should take back control of their content and their audience, ensuring their investments are working to make their own customer experience the best it can be, versus that of a third-party social network.
Social networks as the venue, not the source
How, then, can this be done? The fact is, people trust content that comes from real people, not from paid influencers or advertisers. Peer sharing led to the popularity of social networks from the start: the opportunity to engage with friends and family online, the chance to have a “witness” to one’s life. The smartest businesses out there are using this knowledge to build sharing into their product experience and get their customers and fans to do the talking for them.
Take Warby Parker, for example. By encouraging its customers to try glasses on and share their looks online before deciding on frames, Warby Parker accomplishes two things: First, it’s getting free advertising from its customers. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it’s building brand loyalty as customers purchase more confidently, having gotten feedback from friends.
But, there’s still a critical missing piece in Warby Parker’s UGC formula: Without the use of a technology platform to drive the customer experience, the insights, data and content are not part of a closed loop of inputs and outputs that work together to provide a digitally “symbiotic” relationship. A closed loop platform cultivates and maintains value by harnessing content, data and insights to optimally activate and distribute across the entire marketing funnel. Furthermore, Warby does not “own” the user content, leaving gaps in its strategy for potential brand safety mishaps.
By giving consumers engaging digital experiences and building consumer activation and user-generated content creation and distribution into their own ecosystem, brands can go back to using the social networks as distribution channels — and not rely on them to rent an audience or control their campaigns. That way, when the next misstep occurs, brands will already be in control of their own destiny.
The good news for your company is that AR is widely available to nearly anyone who wants to adapt it — using a tool which, would you believe, is on Facebook?
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for retailers — more so now than ever. Cyber Monday has officially taken the reins as the most popular shopping day in the United States. First, this uber-shopping day, in 2017, eclipsed Black Friday by roughly $1.6 billion , Then, this year, 2018, Cyber Monday sales grew another 20 percent, approaching a historic mark of nearly $8 billion.
But as awesome as those stats may sound, an even more noticeable shift for retailers isn’t the compounding growth of Cyber Monday sales, it’s the spillage of what used to be Black Friday into a five-day event. Sales on Thanksgiving Day increased by 30 percent, and online sales on Black Friday also jumped by over 20 percent, year over year, ompared to last year.
All of which is to say that at this point, if you’re in the ecommerce game, there’s more to go around now — especially in this holiday period — than ever before. Yet, with all that noise and all those players on the field, how can you, as an online retailer, make your marketing stand out from the horde of your competitors’? This season, it’s easy: augmented reality (AR)
While AR technology isn’t new (Morton Heilig’s Sensorama was tested as long ago as 1956), its incubation period has been so prolonged, and its entrance into our daily lives so gradual, that many people today consider AR the same way they consider self-driving cars — on the verge of being ubiquitous but not quite ready for mass adoption.
Even Tim Cook stated as recently as 2017 that the technology “didn’t exist” to make quality AR glasses yet. That’s not to say that Cook was wrong, of course, but sentiments like his go a long way toward altering public perception.
The AR gold rush
Despite what experts may say about the technological and financial limitations brands face when diving into the deep end of augmented reality, the numbers say that now is the time. Consumers are primed and ready to be reached through AR technology, as Apple and Google already have placed over half a billion AR-capable devices in the wild. That number is expected to grow to over 4 billion by 2020 and generate over $200 billion in AR/VR spending by the same time, according to IDC.
What does that mean for business owners and marketers? There’s gold in them thar’ hills! A lot of it. In fact, global revenue from AR marketing is expected to vault from $430 million in 2018 to over $2.5 billion in 2022, according to eMarketer. Big brands like Ikea, Sephora, and Lowe’s are just a few examples of large brands that are leveraging AR to connect users more closely to their products and increase conversions.
Diving into the deep end
Recently, my company, Drive Social Media, found itself thrown into AR with little-to-no experience developing anything quite in the same ballpark. We’re a social media marketing agency that works with small business owners and franchises to create, place, optimize and track paid social ads. Notice how I didn’t mention anything about AR.
We’d had success working with professional sports organizations in the past and had been laser-focused on establishing a partnership with the NHL hockey team, the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were attractive to us on a number of levels, but what we really liked about the team personnel during our preliminary talks was their desire to be at the forefront of technological innovation in the NHL — specifically with AR.
While our graphic design department is supremely talented, nobody had any real experience designing AR effects. Our operating partner, Josh Sample, had attended the 2018 Facebook Developer Conference in May when Facebook announced its rollout of an AR creator studio — later renamed Spark — to bring AR creation ability to any businesses on the platform.
We took a crash-course on AR development, pitched the Blues a Pokėmon GO-style citywide augmented reality scavenger hunt and were able to develop the entire project in about three weeks. That’s not to toot our own horn, it’s a testament to how quickly Spark allows even first-time users to build game-changing technology. The results were incredibly strong and have already been parlayed into continued AR projects (and thus a new stream of revenue) for our company.
What may be good news for your company is that AR is widely available to anyone who wants to use it to drive ROI. Conveniently, this can be done solely through something that almost everyone is already familiar with: Facebook.
“Spark” an engaging effect.
As mentioned, Spark is the name of Facebook’s AR creator studio. While Google and Apple released their own AR developer studio in 2017, we found that Spark enabled us to create, upload, launch and track the entire project in the same place. Our execution consisted of hanging large banners with GPS-enabled AR-effect triggers on them in various locations throughout the city. So, for us, it made sense to be able to house everything in a single spot.
But it’s not just such practical aspects that make Spark a fantastic resource for your business. This technology’s approachable interface and intuitive intelligence make it simple for even novice designers to create compelling 3D AR graphics. Spark’s software also uses a built-in face mesh that you can put right into your canvas, then just plug and play with colors and objects to create face filters.
In the event that you have zero design experience, it’s pretty simple to nail down effect-anchoring, dimensions and functionality through basic trial and error.
Not only do consumers expect AR, but they are also willing to reward brands who use it. A recent study by Retail Perceptions reported that 40 percent of consumers polled said they would be willing to pay more for a product if they could experience it through augmented reality.
Consumers are past the point of being wowed by AR, but they still want to use it if it provides them with a valuable or unique experience. Create some incentivization to use it, and users will view the experience as the cherry on top of the value they receive. The majority of those who completed our own scavenger hunt did so because they knew the grand prize at the end was a pair of season tickets. However, the feedback we repeatedly got went beyond that: Participants said the experience was a fun; and it provided a enjoyable way to connect the team, city and community, as well.
Make it feel natural.
People love using new technology, but they don’t love learning to use it. Think about the early days of MP3 players. One of the first consumer products to hit the market was Diamond Multimedia’s Rio in 1998. While the Rio was a new and more “efficient” way of consuming audio content, its upload times were excruciatingly slow, and the device itself could store only 32MB, or around thirty minutes of music.
Even the iPod took years to catch on, netting about half a million sales in its first year of existence. It took until 2006 — eight years after the Rio hit the market — before the iPod, and thus portable MP3 players in general, became ubiquitous. These players had to feel and operate with the same speed and effectiveness as a Walkman before the masses were ready to adopt.
Think about this concept with your AR initiatives. Opening the application needs to feel seamless, and using it has to feel familiar. We created a microsite for our application and linked buttons that launched effects to the Facebook camera. Once the effect was launched, the camera would wait a few seconds, then redirect the user back to the microsite before it continued playing. Allowing users to complete the activation with the Facebook camera primed them for this newer technology by utilizing the familiarity and function of an older one.
Overall, the value of AR is obvious, and the ability to integrate it into your marketing mix is at your fingertips — regardless of your level of experience. Don’t let a lack of education cause your business to delay its ability to connect and build a relationship with your current and potential customers. Follow these steps to turn your first AR project into ROI.
Stephen Nations is the director of public relations for Drive Social Media, a St. Louis and Nashville-area-based digital marketing agency. He is obsessed with creating compelling content and finding new ways to connect brands with their target audience.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last five years, during which we’ve bootstrapped our innovation management software company Viima to a good number of happy customers, including some from the Global Fortune 500, and achieved a solid growth rate. I’ve also followed the entrepreneurial journeys of a number of friends and acquaintances up close during these last few years.
While we’ve all had our fair share of challenges along the way, the most common, the most difficult, and the most frustrating ones always seem to be related to the way you and others on your team think.
Why your mindset matters more than you think
As long as you have a solid team in place, most practical challenges are often actually surprisingly straightforward to solve.
Do you need to acquire more leads? Build a new and improved version of your product? Perhaps sell more or optimize your cash flow?
All of these take work, and perhaps a bit of ingenuity here and there. However, there’s tons of information and guidance out there to help you achieve your goals.
On the other hand, there are some mental factors that can impact your success as an entrepreneur—but that’s much less talked about.
Starting from scratch and being responsible for everything is an incredibly humbling experience. It can feel overwhelming at times and there’s guaranteed to be plenty of times when you feel like giving up. And without the right mindset, you surely will.
What’s more, once your team grows, people will be looking to you, as the founder, for example on how to behave. Whether you want it or not, the mindset you have and the way you behave will largely determine the culture of your company, both for the better and for the worse.
As such, if you know yourself and are capable of managing your mindset and the behavior that results from it, you have the keys to mastering your own destiny.
7 lessons for mastering your mindset game
I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to study the topic during my master’s degree studies, as well as talk to a number of successful entrepreneurs at the beginning of my journey. Even so, as a first-time entrepreneur, I’ve had to learn many of the following lessons the hard way.
I’ll now share my thoughts and experiences so that you’ll hopefully be able to avoid many of the mistakes I, and many others before me, have made.
While we certainly did know a thing or two about software and business, it was still quite evident that there was way more we didn’t know. What’s more, we didn’t really have the resources to hire outside help to do things for us.
Since we knew what we needed to accomplish, we just had to figure out ways to accomplish those things by ourselves. This, fortunately, forced us to adopt a growth mindset and we gradually taught ourselves the skills we needed, such as marketing, design, and finance. The list just goes on.
If we’d simply stayed in our comfort zone and would’ve thought that “I’m just not that good at X, it’s best to leave it for those who are more gifted,” we likely would’ve never made it past our first year in business.
As our team has grown, we’ve also introduced a systematic framework that every employee follows to help them constantly get better at their work.
2. Ego is always your biggest enemy
Quite recently I read “Ego Is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday. It’s a brilliantly written book that put into words many of the most common challenges people seem to have in business, and life in general.
We suffer from a huge number of cognitive biases, that affect the way we think unless we question our initial thoughts. For example, one study after another has confirmed the bias for illusory superiority by confirming that people tend to rate themselves as above average 90 percent of the time, which clearly can’t be true. An untamed ego hampers our ability to learn and develop, as well as clouds and impairs our judgment.
If you take the time to reflect and truly know yourself and battle vanity, you can avoid doing all the wrong things for the wrong reasons, which in turn allows you to focus on the big picture. While most certainly important for everyone, this is especially crucial for leaders and entrepreneurs.
3. Be brutally honest and realistic—both with yourself and your team
However, by repeating the same stories enough times, you can easily end up convincing yourself too, even if the vision you’re communicating wouldn’t be anywhere near a reality. And that’s a problem.
While you most certainly have to believe in your ability to achieve that vision and deliver on those promises, you and the rest of the team also have to be realistic about, and critical of, the progress you make in order to have a decent shot at actually achieving those goals.
I’ve too often seen founders and other leaders start living too much in a world filled with visions and strategies while detaching themselves from the real world. If this happens, the company is virtually guaranteed to fail to achieve those visions and strategic goals. Startups are, after all, primarily an execution game.
4. Have a company-first mindset and be transparent about it
It’s generally accepted that the purpose of a company is to generate profit.
As a founder, there will most certainly be times when your, or someone else’s, best interests and those of the company will be opposed to each other. Usually, these are quite minor, often times even insignificant occasions.
In these situations, it can at times be tempting to rationalize to yourself that by putting your own interests first, the company will also benefit, when in reality this is never optimal for the company. These situations often form a slippery slope where the effects can eventually start to cumulate.
However, the real problem isn’t even financial, it’s about the culture. This kind of behavior is likely to spread and once that happens, you’re no longer a team where each member is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, but are more like a ragtag group of bandits out in it for themselves.
So, in these situations, you always need to make the rational long-term decision of putting the company first. In practice, this means that for every decision you make, you should be able to, clearly, rationally and without ambiguity, establish how that decision will help the company’s business in the long run.
If you do this, you shouldn’t have any qualms about being transparent with the employees about the decisions being made. Transparency enables everyone to be on the same page and empowers employees to make the same kind of company-first decisions themselves, setting you up for long-term success.
5. People look to you for example—and usually focus on the parts you wouldn’t like them to focus on
As a leader, but especially as the founder of a company, people look up to you for example, whether you like it or not. Leading by example is very much a cliché, but it really does matter.
If you’re emphasizing the importance of working hard but are always the first one to leave the office to play tennis, why would your employees stay any longer?
If you’re rooting your team to come up with new ideas and innovate, but keep shooting down all the ideas they come up with, how long do you think they’re going to continue that?
If you’re always telling people how important quality is but are cutting corners and being sloppy yourself, where do you think your employees will then draw the line of “good enough”?
You can certainly argue that after years of hard work that got the company to where it is, you would have earned the right to take certain freedoms for yourself.
However, as the company and team grows, your example becomes even more important.
If you’re no longer willing to put in the hours or live up to your own standards, it sends a strong message for your team and will without a doubt affect the way they behave, undermining much of what you’ve spent years building.
6. Owners need to have a shared set of values and expectations
When you’re first setting up the company, probably the single biggest mistake you can make is to choose the wrong co-founders.
I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a great founding team where our values and expectations for the future have been very much in sync since the beginning, which has made things easy for us, even during some of the tough times we’ve had.
However, I’ve seen companies where this most certainly hasn’t been the case.
If one founder is simply passionate about the idea that they’re working on, one is looking to learn as much as possible, and the third is just looking for a nice exit in the very near future, the team is almost guaranteed to break apart as soon as they hit a speed bump that forces them to make significant changes to their initial shared vision.
This is why values and expectations matter; they change infrequently, but still underlie virtually every major decision you make. As long as your values and expectations are aligned, it’s easy to simply change direction and pick the option that makes the most sense at the time.
There is a plethora of different motivations for becoming an entrepreneur, but you’re much more likely to persist and stay in the game long enough to succeed if you’re motivated by things other than simply money, such as learning or making an impact with your business.
7. It’s important to find ways to be optimistic and positive
If you’re a would-be entrepreneur but haven’t taken the leap yet, you might be slightly intimidated by some of these lessons, and you should. Being an entrepreneur most certainly isn’t easy, and more than 90 percent will fail.
However, at the same time, it can be incredibly rewarding. Building something from nothing that can make the world a better place, offer people meaningful jobs, and learning to do whatever it takes to get there is an experience that I most certainly wouldn’t change for anything.
These aspects, along with the great culture and atmosphere we have with our team, have kept us going even when things haven’t always gone according to our plans.
So, while you must be very critical of yourself and realistic in your planning, you should also find ways to be optimistic about your future and have a positive outlook on life. This will help you get through the tough times on your entrepreneurial journey.
Even though I’ve learned the importance of these lessons and am certainly trying my best to follow them, it doesn’t mean that I’d always be able to do so.
Self-reflection is an essential part of the process of getting better and I’ve found reading to be a tremendously helpful tool for that.
A regular reading habit helps widen my perspective, allows me to keep learning, and provides me with a great way to reflect on the journey.
Here are a few books that I recommend you read if you’d like to learn more about some of the themes we’ve discussed in this article:
Jesse is the co-founder and chairman of Viima, the best way to collect and develop ideas. Jesse is passionate about helping companies innovate and grow. He writes about innovation and leadership in Viima’s blog: https://www.viima.com/blog.
Every business site has at least one page that could probably be beefed up with a video. Here are the big 5.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Despite the brouhaha surrounding Facebook’s metric discrepancies, video isn’t dead, on life support or even headed to urgent care. In fact, it’s very much thriving on corporate websites, where businesses have discovered it belongs more than ever.
Of course, Facebook does owe video a sincere apology. Thanks to its miscalculations overstating social video consumption by up to 80 percent, according to Nieman Journalism Lab’s findings, many marketers believed it was the savior they needed to restore lagging engagement figures.
How can this be true? Basically, Facebook’s numbers don’t mean much in the real world. Businesses don’t have to care about the amount of video consumed. As brands, they need to care about what kinds of videos are being watched and what users are doing afterward. Those metrics, which can be accurately measured, are far more valuable.
Therefore, the question shouldn’t be whether to invest in video, but how to determine when an eye-catching, emotion-prompting video makes sense. Most companies might be surprised to realize that the answer to video marketing usually lies within their own websites, starting with the home page.
A website peppered with videos allows an organization to increase sales and return on investment by creating a more dynamic experience. No longer are readers forced to wade through written content alone or stock images to understand a product or service. With video, they can rapidly break through the noise and efficiently determine whether the brand is a good fit.
Take the case of a startup restaurant: The home page could feature a 60- to 90-second video of the head chef demonstrating techniques, discussing his or her passion for food artistry and plating mouth-watering meals. This visual tour might continue on a menu page, showcasing behind-the-scenes video of the making of molten lava cake or offering snippets of diners raving about an entree.
The opportunity for video placement exists everywhere on a business’s website. However, there are five “biggies” when it comes to the easiest places to incorporate new videos in addition to the home page:
1. Your “About Us” page
Where does a person go to find out more information about a company’s mission, culture or history? The “About Us” page, of course. Users ordinarily aren’t ready to buy just yet, so it’s fine to make a fun video showing off your brand’s personality. The founder might offer an insider look at his or her day, for instance, as a compelling way to emphasize the company’s creation story.
If you want an example of what I’m talking about, Twitter hits all the must-haves for a solid “About Us” video. Videos play in the background, talking about users’ stories and showing how the social site works in real life. Best of all, the videos work well without sound and don’t break the bank to produce.
2. Your employment page
Talented applicants don’t take branding for granted. They actively search for brands that align with their preferred office environment, right down to their potential co-workers and company benefits. Video messages from warm, inviting internal team members can influence prospective team members to submit cover letters and résumés.
Normally, a full-size, embedded, autoplaying video is a miss, but Spotify’s employment page uses it in a nondistracting way. It offers a job search call to action and a video that rests in the background and showcases the brand’s messaging and thoughtful purpose.
Try to explain with words how to put a box together, and it’ll be clunky and boring. A better solution would be to put together a seconds-long video. The same can be true for many products and services that require research and understanding to get consumers to buy. The only caveat? Product page videos shouldn’t be overly pushy. Yes, they can extol your products’ advantages such as their unique features, but they shouldn’t try to do the salesperson’s job.
They should also be short, a rule that Allbirds follows. The shoe company’s products are augmented by short videos showing what its shoes look like in action. The videos feel seamless and serve the company’s purpose without being in-your-face.
4. Your landing pages
Landing pages are destinations for qualified leads, so videos there will likely get tons of targeted traffic. The faster visitors become engaged, the better. Thus, video serves as a godsend. Generally speaking, landing pages are jam-packed with “stuff,” such as introductions, benefits, product information, lead generation forms and a call to action.
A video that makes the page less messy can encourage a higher conversion rate.
The native advertising platform Taboola has a landing page replete with autoplaying video. It introduces Taboola to viewers without committing the sin of being obnoxious. Plus, it works sans sound, allowing customers to read the captions and take in the content without reaching for their headphones.
5. Your “Getting Started” pages
How does a product work in the real world? A video can offer an initial in-depth introduction and strong impression. Obviously, the key to videos on these pages is to highlight how to use the item or service so people unfamiliar with the brand get a taste of exactly what will happen after they make a purchase (not to mention why they should care in the first place).
Zipcar handles this well: It embedded a video on its “Getting Started” page to introduce customers to the product and process. Unlike other sites’ videos, this one doesn’t auto-play. The user can opt to watch the video and then read more on the web page as needed.
Facebook video debates aside, every business site has at least one page that could probably be beefed up with a video. Best of all, the videos don’t have to be professional quality, and they don’t have to be an all-or-nothing experiment. A few A/B split tests can determine whether video is the right performer for the job on any page, giving marketers deeper insights into how to snag more leads and improve sales.
The market is saturated with good products, which makes authenticity and commitment all the more important to building a brand.
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Green Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The emerging cannabis game is attracting players across a variety of industries who are hoping to cash in on the latest green rush. The competitive landscape is fierce, further driving the need to build a brand identity that stands out in an already saturated market. Having an amazing product or service is paramount, but it’s not always enough to get your company the recognition you’re looking for.
Below are a few tips to consider before pressing the “go” button.
1. Be authentic.
Consumers are looking for brands that stand up to their hype, or better yet, don’t rely on hype to deliver their message. The legal cannabis industry has been the victim of overvaluations and underperformance, leaving many consumers dissatisfied with their first product orders. 7ACRES is quickly earning its positive reputation by notably being one of the few licensed producers able to back its claim of fire cannabis that actually delivers.
In the age of the internet, consumers rule the market with reviews, reshares and word-out-mouth that can reach millions making consistency, integrity and authenticity key factors in establishing your brand. Making promises to consumers and under delivering early on will likely lead to a lack of repeat sales. Similarly, don’t back an idea just because it’s trendy; do support a cause because it has inherent value to you, your brand, and the community you serve.
Consumers value honesty and if you build a brand they can believe in, you will earn their loyalty and support.
Playing off the point of authenticity, having a long-term end-game can help your brand’s longevity. The newly-regulated cannabis industry is still a nascent market and a “pump-’n-dump” business strategy will likely leave you burned.
Setting your sights on long-term gains can bolster your brand by allowing you to connect with an audience and build trust over time. It will also let you adapt and modify elements of your company to better sync with your clients and create something that has meaning beyond a quick sale.
3. Define your X-factor.
What IS an X-factor? Your X-factor is what makes you different. It’s the part of your story that your customers associate with and subsequently informs their buying decision. Take Apple for example: its X-factor is its design. They’re not necessarily the best products, nor are they the cheapest, but they’re gorgeous and you sure as heck feel all the feels when you walk into their stores. Competing in a saturated market goes beyond your brand image, you need to deliver added or unique value to potential customers.
Vapium, for example, is a Toronto-based vaporizer company whose cost-conscious, award-winning products set it apart from its competition, its X-factor is its manufacturing process; unlike their competition who outsource, Vapium has the unique ability to oversee the entire production from start to finish from their wholly-owned manufacturing facility in China. This ensures a high-quality product that follows medical-grade standards at an affordable price.
The regulations surrounding cannabis make it a tricky landscape to navigate. This is a great time to learn from your competitors while also seeking out companies to collaborate with. Identify brands that align with your core values and consider cross-promotion and strategic partnerships.
This can be beneficial in terms of things like lobbying efforts regarding branding and marketing restrictions and buying power to lower the cost of materials. It’s also a great opportunity to engage ancillary services to cannabis such as real estate or health and wellness, opening your brand up to new markets and clientele.
Earlier this year, licensed producer DOJA partnered with Cannabis Amnesty, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to expunging the criminal records of people with minor cannabis possession charges. DOJA created a line of streetwear called PARDON to bring attention to the cause while staying true to their recreational brand identity.
The cannabis market can be broken down into two streams: medical and recreational. Start by identifying the market you want to target and then get specific.
Cannabis appeals to a wide variety of people, even within the two broad classifications. Some medical patients may be long-time consumers, others may be post-legalization curious. The type of message needed to speak to each audience differs greatly depending on the user’s prior knowledge, experience and the desired effects of using the product. Identifying a niche message, how to deliver that message, and what channels to distribute that message across will help you reach your audience and create a meaningful interaction.
This applies to the recreational side as well.
BRNT, an Albert-based cannabis accessories brand targets both new and seasoned consumers with beautifully-constructed pieces that can be proudly displayed instead of tucked away. By identifying a market that is shifting away from stigma, BRNT is part of a larger movement to elevate cannabis consumption and consumers.
Editor’s note: Vapium and BRNT are clients of RNMKR PR.
Selling is not something just for the sales staff, nor is it some automatic phenomena. It’s a skill any founder can and ought to acquire.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Entrepreneurs are some of the most passionate, inspiring, quick-thinking and hard-working people on Earth. I love entrepreneurs. My dad was an entrepreneur, and I work with entrepreneurs every day. However — and again, I say this with nothing but love and respect — lots of entrepreneurs are simply not natural sales people. The skills that you need to start a business and pursue a strategic vision are not always the same as the characteristics you need to close deals.
Fortunately, it’s not too late. Entrepreneurs tend to be curious, self-motivated people who love to learn; you can learn to be a better sales person. Having managed hundreds of lead generation programs for entrepreneurs and small businesses, there are key points that entrepreneurs should keep in mind to help them get better at sales.
1.) Sales aren’t automatic.
Many entrepreneurs, especially in technology or complex B2B verticals, tend to be technical types. They have developed great solutions, and they’re passionate about their technology, and they know how all the moving parts, bells and whistles work, but they don’t understand much about the sales process.
Too many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that sales just happen automatically. They think that you just call or email someone, and next thing, you have just sold a $50,000 piece of business. The truth is much more complicated.
The more complex and expensive the solution that you’re selling, the more time and effort you should be prepared to spend on making that sale. In major account B2B sales, the average time to close a new account is typically six to 18 months.
Be prepared for the long haul, both in terms of patience and of the impact on your company’s finances. Everything depends on the timeframe of how soon your buyer is willing and able to make a purchase decision, how soon you can establish credibility and build a relationship with that buyer, and how soon you can get in the room with all of the key decision makers and stakeholders who have an impact on that purchase decision. It’s complicated. And it takes time. So don’t assume that you can just pick up a phone and rack up big sales numbers.
2.) Read up on your sales skills.
Lots of entrepreneurs learn how to code or learn how to manage accounting; sales is the same way. Being a sales person is one of the many hats that you have to wear as an entrepreneur, and you should invest some time in learning how to sell. (Check out a list of the best business books to find some inspiration.) A few key sales skills that you should think about:
Elevator pitch: You should be able to quickly describe your business, your product/solution, and why someone should care, for a 30-second elevator ride.
Sales script: Once you get on the phone with a prospect, what will you say to them? Practice in advance by writing a sales script. Lots of entrepreneurs are reluctant to do this; they think they can just improvise and talk off the top of their heads. But a script will help focus your thoughts and keep you organized and on-message.
Making “the ask”: Sales is all about having the confidence and courage to make “the ask,” to formally ask the prospect to agree to take the next step in the sales process, whether that is to sign up for a demo, to attend a sales presentation, or finally to close the deal. Sales is not about being pushy, it’s about guiding the prospect in the right direction. Prospects want you to lead them and be clear about asking for what you need them to do next.
Not only do sales not just “happen,” they are the result of a disciplined process.Sometimes called the “sales funnel” or “sales cycle,” the sales process is a multi-step evolution of taking sales leads from initial contact to final deal closing. Your sales process might be different from other companies or industries; that’s fine. Find a series of steps that make sense for what you sell, for example:
Formal sales presentation;
Solution implementation budget estimate and ROI discussion;
Final meeting with key stakeholders; and
Learn how to move prospects through this sales process, or one like it.
4.) Build Trust.
It sounds simple, but it’s profoundly complicated: Selling is all about building trust and getting people to trust you. If customers don’t like you and don’t trust you, they won’t want to buy from you. Sales is all about building relationships.
Selling to your internal network of contacts who already know you or know about your business is very different than selling to folks who don’t know you at all. Prospects need to trust your ability to deliver, especially if you’re selling a complex B2B solution with a lengthy implementation phase. And all that takes time, hence the long sales cycle. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are often charismatic people who believe in what they’re doing; learn how to project that confidence into your sales conversations.
5.) Cultivate resilience.
Entrepreneurs know how to roll with the punches. There are lots of ups and downs that go with running a company, and sales are the same story. As you work through the sales process, there are always going to be hiccups, and that’s fine. Your job is to get to the bottom of it and keep moving the process along. Follow up on questions, listen to what customers are saying, and read between the lines. Find out what people are really worried about, or what is the root cause of their objection.
Don’t assume that selling is something that only sales people can do. The truth is, selling (at its best) is fun. It’s a learning process. It’s a chance to meet new people and build relationships and to discover new insights about your company and your product. Every day as an entrepreneur is a chance — in some small way — to reinvent the world. I hope you’ll take these insights to heart and use them in your journey to becoming a better sales person.
A combination of social media tactics and sponsorships help Twenty20 make a mark in the photography sphere.
2 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Eric Siu talks with Micah Cohen, the director of growth for Twenty20.
The company recently switched from a big sales model to a self-service model. Marketing-wise, it concentrates on paid social, search marketing and a few partnerships with other companies.
For Twenty20, the allure of an authentic photo still persists; in fact, it is these “authentic” photos that make the biggest, noticeable impact. As Cohen puts it, users of photo-sharing apps are sick of the posed Instagram photos with the white background. For a true photo-sharing experience, people instantly gravitate towards what is true and real. Especially when you are reaching out as a marketer, your goal should be to come across as a trusted friend.
Hear more from Cohen and Siu, by clicking the video.
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Last month my company launched an entirely new website. Hooray! Well, not so fast…
The site — please excuse my self-promotion — is called Marks Group Live. It’s targeted at users of Zoho, one of the business applications my company sells. It’s a new type of offering, which is part of the problem.
Mostly small companies buy Zoho. The only ways for them to get help is support from Zoho, watch free videos on YouTube or hire partners like me ar rather high hourly fees. My site is aimed at financially conscious users. Sounds good, right?
Well, it’s been a slog. Growth has been slower than I expected. I realize now that users need more time to understand this relatively new way of getting services for a business application. I’ve made other mistakes. Stupid mistakes. Here are my biggest (so far).
Mistake 1: I went for quantity over quality with Google AdWords.
Think about it — if you need help, service, consulting or training with a business application you’re probably going to Google it, right? So I jumped into AdWords, and wound up throwing a bunch of money right down the toilet.
Why? Because I didn’t understand a basic concept about Google AdWords: for B2B marketing it’s all about quality over quantity. Sure, Entrepreneur.com get millions of visitors every day on their site — it’s how they sell ads. But for a company selling to other businesses there are leads and then there are leads. Using generic and popular keywords meant I was paying for tons of visitors on my sight who weren’t the right kind of leads for me. They immediately left — my bounce rate was 95 percent. Because of this stupid mistake I squandered my monthly ad budget in a couple of days.
How I fixed this: I realized that getting 100 good visitors to my site is more financially effective than getting 1,000 bad leads, so I changed to more specific and less generically popular AdWords. I chose quality over quantity. My bounce rate is going down and people are spending more time on my site. Fingers crossed.
Mistake 2: I underestimated how curious people are on the internet.
The internet is a funny place. Billions of people are surfing at any given moment and let’s face it: most didn’t go to Harvard. Because my AdWords were initially so general (see above) I got people blindly clicking on them. I got questions about real estate in New Jersey and whether I knew any good tax accountants in Florida. I found that many people will click on anything they see — mistakenly or intentionally — and then not only take up my time but my advertising budget. Even if a decent prospect landed on my site I also found that they asked a lot of questions about a lot of obvious things that I thought were plain and simple on my site. Apparently, they weren’t.
How I fixed this: As mentioned above, I used better, more specific keywords. I also placed ads a little further down the page to (hopefully) avoid people who click on the first thing they see. More importantly, I went to work making my site easier to understand. I added sections for “frequently asked questions,” “about us,” and more expansive descriptions as well as videos and better explanations of our services. It’s helpful, but hasn’t fully solved the problem. That’s because I was making Mistake 3.
When I launched the site I had this vision that small business owners who needed help with Zoho would visit, read, click and sign up. Boom! No muss, no fuss. Everything would be simple. It would be like buying a book on Amazon or a ceramic mug on Etsy. Money would rain down on me from the heavens while I sipped cocktails in the Caribbean. This, as you’ve likely gathered, has not been the case.
A few of our subscribers did this but most have needed more. I have realized that the big companies like Salesforce, Microsoft and Intuit that offer B2B applications have actual sales staffs — and for good reason. My offerings start at $65 a month. When people — particularly people who own small businesses — have questions when they are asked to spend hundreds of dollars. Because they are business owners (like me) they will be skeptical. They want some assurances. They want to know who they are doing business with. Humans matter.
How I fixed this: I added a dedicated phone line and chat feature to call. I offered a free whitepaper for visitors to download so that I could capture their email. Then I followed up with emails so that I could answer questions and gently push the benefits of our services. I emailed our existing client base and have been answering many questions. I’ve been nurturing, developing, cajoling, explaining and educating people.
I didn’t think I would have to do all of this, but it’s working. Signups have increased since I provided a way to connect with more humans. That’s the good news. The downside is that this takes more resources and more money, which means less profits than I expected. Forget the Caribbean. Looks like the Jersey Shore for me.
So those are just the three stupidest mistakes I’ve made with my new website…so far. I’ve made others, and I’m sure there are more to come. Avoid doing what I did and save yourself some time and money.