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5 emerging technologies that will forever change marketing

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“Zoltar the Fortune Teller” by Josh McGinn on Flickr

There’s no question that our communication environment is changing more rapidly than ever before. Just 25 years ago, most of us had never heard of the internet. Yet today, it’s so integrated in our days that we can’t imagine life without it.

During the next few years, additional shifts will further revolutionize how we communicate with each other, and how businesses communicate with their customers. Here are a few that are just emerging – and that are certain to impact marketing in the near term.

  • Wearable technology. According to recent studies, 12 percent of U.S. adults wear a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, or a smartwatch from brands like Apple. In addition, other wearable technology is emerging, such as Snap Inc.’s, Spectacles – sunglasses that allow users to record video at the touch of a button and share it on Snapchat. These technologies are just in their infancy, and the implications are wide ranging. Consider healthcare, for example: what if a wearable could track not just your steps or heart rate, but also your vital signs? New York-based Health Care Originals has already developed an Automated Device for Asthma Monitoring and Management (ADAMM), a patch with a rechargeable battery worn on the upper torso. Its companion app provides real-time data for monitoring asthma, allowing users to anticipate problems and treat symptoms. It’s certain that technologies like ADAMM will change healthcare as we know it, with providers being able to assess patients based on a continuum of data, not just a specific moment in time.
  • Beacons. Beacons are small low-cost hardware devices that transmit messages to mobile devices via Bluetooth. They’re most commonly used in retail, with customers receiving offers and other information upon entering a store. There are possibilities in several other industries, however. Churchill Downs, for example, recently installed more than 1,500 beacons to help guests find their seats and concessions. Even museums are using beacons, moving museum labels – the text that describes a piece of art or the contents of a room – from the wall to visitors’ smartphones. By providing businesses with another way to communicate with customers, beacons have the potential to increase sales without adding staff or other significant overhead.
  • Alternatives to email. As internet use became common, email emerged as the predominant way in which we communicate with each other – especially at work. It’s far from perfect, however – and its prominence is being challenged by alternatives. As far back as 2010, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed that only 11 percent of teens read email daily and that “Email…is probably going away.” While this may be an overstatement, it’s clear email is facing serious threats – and not only from text messaging and social media, which Sandberg cited as the two main competitors to email. Tools like Slack are also gaining prominence among workgroups looking for a better way to communicate. Given that email is often cited as one of the most effective ways to reach customers, marketers should be thinking about how they’ll adapt if email use declines – which seems likely.
  • The evolution of search. Since the advent of the consumer internet, we’ve searched for information almost exclusively by text. Accordingly, search engine optimization and marketing strategies have focused on keywords, links, and other text-based website elements. Google emerged as the clear favorite, capturing approximately 80 percent of search engine share. A funny thing happened on the way to Google’s world domination, however: the way we search began to change. Instead of typing “pediatrician” into Google, for example, we started going to Facebook and asking our friends, “Can anyone recommend a pediatrician?” The rapid adoption of devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home is proving an even greater disruption, making it much more common for consumers to search via voice – a more natural, easier option than typing, at least for most people. There’s no question, therefore, that SEO and SEM will continue evolving as we become even more accustomed to asking our friends, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, for information.
  • Virtual reality. Look at a photo of a television from 1950. Seems pretty antiquated, right? Well, today’s virtual reality systems will look just as outdated to future generations. The truth is, we’re only beginning to understand the possibilities of VR but, because it can replicate the physical world in ways that aren’t possible via text, photos, or two-dimensional video, it will impact nearly every industry. Campus tours in higher education, augmented entertainment experiences, previews of travel destinations – these are just a few examples. As VR moves out of the realm of science fiction, it will forever change the way businesses interact with, and market to, their customers.

Depending on your perspective, these changes may be incredibly exciting or absolutely terrifying. Regardless, these and other changes are inevitable as we continue to understand technology and look for new ways to communicate with one another. All of this is a great reminder that your future success won’t primarily be determined by your access to capital, ability to communicate, or knowledge of coding. It will all come down to your willingness to adapt.

Use social media to find your next great employee

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“Help wanted, you bum!” by Lorenia on Flickr

A few years ago, my company was looking to hire a media assistant. The hiring manager, Jill, wanted a good communicator well versed in Microsoft Excel. Armed with this information, I posted the opportunity on my social media profiles.

A few hours later, I received several responses, including one from my friend Nic, who at the time worked for Trine University. Nic identified a recent Trine grad, Anthony Boyer, who had the skills we were looking for and who would be a perfect match for our company – not incidental given the importance of cultural fit. After we contacted Anthony B. and interviewed him, it was clear Nic was right. Anthony started with us less than two weeks later.

This story exemplifies why social media is such a great recruiting tool. Because candidates are sourced through trusted intermediaries – like Nic in the story above – it often yields a better pool than traditional recruiting methods. The process generally moves much faster, too. And best of all, it can help you lower your costs, as was the case when we hired Anthony B. We never advertised the open media assistant position, nor did we pay a search firm or pay to post it on a job board. Our out-of-pocket cost was zero.

While it won’t likely yield all your future employees, social media should certainly be a central part of your recruiting toolkit. Here are a few ways to get the most from it:

1. Know – and seek to improve – your company’s online reputation. Most of us consult online reviews before purchasing products and services. The same is becoming true for those shopping for their next job. Before deciding whether to send a resume, they visit sites like Glassdoor.com to hear what current and past employees have to say. If the ratings are favorable, they’ll continue the conversation. If the ratings are low, they’ll move on.

At minimum, recruiters need to be aware of what’s being said about their company – but it’s even better if you can improve your online reputation. The first step is seeking to fix the things holding you back, thereby making it more likely your employees will speak favorably of you, online and elsewhere. In addition, it’s important to remember that the best antidote to bad reviews is good reviews. If you are confident you have a good working environment, ask your employees to review you online. Many of them would be willing to say good things if only they were asked. Finally, be sure to capture and share employee testimonials – ideally on video. These assets will work in your favor when they are discoverable online, either reinforcing positive reviews or counteracting negative ones.

2. Be sure you’re using the right platforms in the right way. LinkedIn is the undisputed champion of the social media recruiting world, preferred by 87 percent of recruiters, according to Jobvite’s 2016 “Recruiter Nation” survey. LinkedIn isn’t a magic bullet, however, and it doesn’t work well for all your open positions. Many candidates, especially those for entry-level, “blue-collar,” or retail jobs – just to name a few – may be better sourced on Facebook or other social media sites.

It’s not just about where you post, though; what you post is also critical. In today’s environment, every post should include a photo or graphic. My company, for example, uses simple visuals, overlaying the words “now hiring” on photos of our building and our people, paired with a few words about the open position and a call to action. This is more visually appealing and ensures the post will take up more real estate in the news feed, giving it a much better chance of being seen. An even better option, albeit with a higher degree of difficulty, is to use video whenever possible. Video is much more likely to be shared by your audience, meaning your content will reach candidates well beyond your sphere.

3. Get your employees involved. Since it first emerged, social media has been primarily used to connect us with friends and family. We connect with brands as a byproduct of this, but we’re still most interested in hearing from those we truly care about. If your company is only sharing opportunities via its corporate presence, then, you’re missing out.

To get more out of social media recruiting, ask your employees to share your job opportunities via their personal profiles. Some won’t – and that’s OK – but those who do will reach many quality candidates who wouldn’t see the posting otherwise. You’ll also be much more likely to reach candidates who are a good cultural fit and who have some accountability to those who get them in the door. To make the most of employee advocacy, provide incentives for those who source new hires and celebrate your successes.

As the employment environment gets more competitive, social media recruiting provides another means by which you can connect with candidates — and a true advantage if you do it well. Polish your online reputation, use the right tools, and get your employees involved, and you’ll see a significantly higher return on your investment in your greatest asset: your people.

How to win fans and influence people: Emerging marketing phenomenon helps brands cut through the clutter

Every month I write a column for Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. This month, I interviewed my genius-smart co-worker Brandon Wolf, who helped demystify an emerging phenomenon: influcencer marketing.

In today’s crowded communication environment, it’s more difficult than ever to capture an audience’s attention. Accordingly, one strategy has emerged as particularly effective: influencer marketing. Simply stated, influencer marketing allows brands to partner with those who attract a large audience in a given niche. One locally relevant example: Fort Wayne native Andrea Russett, now a nationally recognized Internet personality, has 3.8 and 3.25 million mostly-Millennial followers on Instagram and Twitter, respectively. Partner with her and you just might have a chance to be seen by them.

To learn more about this phenomenon and how it’s impacting businesses, I spoke with Asher Agency director of digital, Brandon Wolf, who has experience in connecting brands with influencers—and, in the process—prospective buyers. Here are the highlights from that conversation:

mister-cofeeeAnthony Juliano: Endorsements and product placement have been around for a long time—long enough that I remember Joe DiMaggio going to bat for Mr. Coffee when I was a kid. How is this different?

Brandon Wolf: Influencer marketing is a little different in that the brand isn’t in full control of the message. Instead of crafting a scripted message, the brand works with an intermediary—the influencer—who gives an honest review of the product or creates unique content around it. That added authenticity is what makes it effective, versus someone like Joe DiMaggio delivering a canned message or the hosts of American Idol obediently sitting in front of cups of Coca-Cola.

AJ: I understand you have some firsthand experience with this topic from earlier in your career when you worked for an international hardware cooperative. Can you share an example?

BW: We were targeting an audience in the market for high-end tools, so we partnered with Gold Rush, a reality TV show based in the Yukon Territory in Alaska. We provided the show’s crew with Channellock branded products available exclusively through our retailers. This positioned the product well as durable and high quality. While we were not an official sponsor of the show, the brand’s tools did appear on several episodes. We also had the good fortune of several of the cast members tweeting about our products and our stores, which provided additional value.

AJ: What are the primary benefits of these types of partnerships?

BW: It’s a great way to get your product or service in front of a new audience with a specific niche interest. That can be tough to do today without the help of an influencer.

AJ: This seems like it could get pretty expensive. Can small businesses take advantage of the opportunity to partner with influencers, or is it only for large companies?

BW: Working with some of the biggest influencers does cost quite a bit of money—but there’s room for smaller brands, too. If you’re trying to reach a niche audience and you have a great story to tell, you can provide a product to a lesser-known influencer at a decidedly low cost. Regardless of whether you aim high or low, though, it’s important to start with a very well-defined target audience. The more effort you devote to targeting, the more likely it is you’ll find a partner who can put you in front of the right eyeballs and ears.

AJ: What’s the most important thing people need to know about influencer marketing?

BW: Authenticity is critical. Influencers amass their following by being seen as trustworthy and genuine. If you want total control over your message, then, influencer marketing may not be right for your brand. However, if you’re willing to trust a partner, listen to his or her feedback, and then step out of the way, your message will be much more likely to resonate. Remember, you’re initially a third party, hoping to slowly build a relationship with the influencer’s audience over time. If you’re patient, you’ll earn the audience’s trust and attention independently—and that can pay off substantially.

So, wanna make your meetings better? Start here.

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By Tim Gouw on Usplash

On Wednesday, I shared my thoughts about why a “no phones in meetings” policy is a flawed premise–and why it’s better to start by focusing on improving meetings themselves. One of the things that irks me is that meetings are so often bad, despite how easy it is to getting them right. So, what’s the solution?

So, what’s the solution? At minimum, every time we lead or participate in a meeting, we should insist upon these standards:

  • First, make sure it’s necessary. Take the hourly rate of everyone you’re calling together, and multiply it by the time you’ve asked them to devote to the meeting. Is it worth the cost in terms of dollars, or would that time be better spent on something else? If you can’t justify it terms of dollars, you probably should be careful about making the investment of time. And speaking of time…
  • Start on time; end on time; schedule it for the right amount of time. Here’s a quick tip:  in whatever calendar app you use, change the default meeting time from 60 minutes to 30. That’s not to say every meeting should be 30 minutes, but changing the default forces you to think about how much time you really need. If you’re letting the default choose the meeting time, it’s worth remembering Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
  • Have an agenda*. This should be so obvious that it hurts my head to think about it, but I’ve sat in many agenda-less meetings. Know what you intend to talk about, and…
  • Have a main theme: why are we here? What’s it all about, Alfie? What’s the primary reason you’re brought everyone together?  Include the focus of the meeting in big, bold print at the top of the agenda. Make it unmistakable. And, to make sure the most important items get their due…
  • Every agenda item gets a time budget. Imagine a one-hour meeting to discuss four agenda items of equal importance. Now imagine that there’s no time allotment for each item. Do you think each will get roughly the same amount of attention? Unfortunately, what usually happens is that the first item will get 45 minutes, and then you’ll scramble to cover the last three items in the remaining 15 minutes (or you’ll go past the agreed-upon end time, thereby pouring hourglass sand into the attendees’ wounds). By giving each item a budgeted time, and sticking to it, everything will get the requisite attention.
  • Digressions should be rare and only allowed when important to the group. If the group takes the conversation off the agenda in a productive way, and if what they’re talking about is important, that’s a good digression. However, if someone takes the meeting off track with a very personal ax to grind, that’s not so good. Allow for the former, but suggest the latter become either a separate conversation with only the necessary parties or include it on the next meeting’s agenda. It’s about what’s best for the group, not what’s important to one individual in the group.
  • Respectful dissent is encouraged. As hard as it may be to believe, we’re wired to be agreeable. As a result, one of the worst byproducts of meetings is groupthink–when you see heads nodding up and down but (at least some of) the brains inside  of those heads are thinking “no effing way.” The more diverse the group is in terms of hierarchy, the more prone your meeting is to groupthink. Head this off by starting with an endorsement of respectful dissent, and then reward those who offer contrary opinions, even if you can’t act upon those opinions. Remember: as Douglas Merrill says, “all of us are smarter than any of us”–but only if we’re free to share our best ideas, not just the uncontroversial ones.
  • Minutes are recorded and disseminated. If you spend the first 20 minutes of your meeting trying to remember what you talked about at the last meeting, you’re doing it wrong. Identify a note taker and have the notes shared among with the group immediately after the meeting, with action items clearly identified.

I want to stress that these are minimum standards. There are several other ways to improve meetings–sending out the agenda in advance, standing or walking instead of sitting when possible, and rotating who leads meetings to make them more egalitarian, to name just a few. The bottom line, however, is that if you’re not doing all of the above, it’s not worth doing much else. Including banning cell phones.

*If you’re looking for an example of an agenda that incorporates the suggestions above, send me an email and I’ll share one with you.

Thinking of incorporating a “no phones in meetings” policy? Read this first.

I like Simon Sinek. A lot. But I have a concern with one of the things he says in this video, which recently went viral–specifically at 12:06:

“There should be no cell phones in conference rooms. None.”

This seems hard to argue with, especially as Sinek goes on to describe how looking at a screen instead of interacting with others in the same room inhibits relationship building. No argument there. However, his statement becomes problematic when it’s extended to infer that looking at a cell phone in a meeting is inherently wrong–a root-cause problem that must be excised in order to command attention.

The truth is, banning cell phones in meetings isn’t the answer because cell phones themselves aren’t the real problem. In fact, banning cell phones from meetings is just lazy.

Here’s the real issue, again accepting that we should all interact with each other more and technology less: many meetings suck. Sure, people sometimes “hide” behind their phones, but they’re not just hiding from people. Often, they’re turning their attention to tasks, information, or conversations that provide something that meetings often lack: relevance.
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So before seeking to solve the problem by banning cell phones, it’s worth asking a few questions about your company’s meetings:
 

1.  Are you respectful of people’s time?  Do your meetings start on time, or do you let people wander in five or even ten minutes late?

Do you end meetings on time? It’s certainly true that the conversation will occasionally be so good that it’s worth going past the agreed-upon end time, but that should be rare.

Are you scheduling meetings for the right amount of time? Meeting organizers often schedule 60 minutes when they could have gotten by with 30 or even 15.

Finally, do you have an agenda that keeps you on topic and on time?

If you’re not doing these things consistently, you’re not respecting the attendees’ time–and if you don’t, why should they give you their attention?

2. Is the content of the meeting relevant to everyone involved?  Have you invited the right people, or are you just filling seats? Are a few people dominating the conversation and are others left out? Do you seek input from everyone in the room? If not, why were they invited–or why have a meeting at all? The most basic rule of communication is that if you want people to pay attention to you, make it about them. Otherwise, you’ll lose them–and even if you ban phones, they’ll still check out and doodle, daydream, or start drafting a resume.

3.  Are you making the content of the meeting entertaining and engaging? If you’re making people sit through presentations where the slides are read verbatim, you’ll lose them at the first bullet point. This has long been true, but the bar is set even higher today. The fact is, when we communicate today, whether in a group or one on one, we’re competing against everything. It’s convenient to knock people for going to Facebook or Instagram or viral videos featuring Simon Sinek instead of paying attention in meetings, but if you’re boring, can you really blame them? Moreover, when you don’t engage the audience, they’ll go to higher priorities, like texts from loved ones or work they’re not getting done as they sit in a pointless meeting.

I am all for more human interaction and less reliance on technology. But banning cell phones from meetings won’t solve the problem. As a solution, it’s simply another example of something else Sinek mentions in his video: an attempt at instant gratification. It seems like the right answer because it’s easy. But that’s exactly why it’s so lacking. If you truly want to improve engagement in your meetings, focus on the primary root cause: make your meetings better. It’s certainly a more difficult path, but it’s far more likely to ensure that your audience will really listen instead of just sitting there, phoneless, thinking about everything they’d rather be listening to.