How Retailers Can Perfect an Omnichannel Commerce Strategy

Retail has undergone a substantial makeover in the last decade as more Americans shop online. Staying competitive in the e-commerce era is a challenge.  However, it’s one many retailers are adapting to by focusing on an omnichannel approach.

Omni channel retail, or cross-channel retail, aims to create a unified, multi channel experience for shoppers by expanding a brand’s presence beyond a brick-and-mortar store and traditional marketing tactics. It includes selling and other touch points through e-commerce sites, social media, mobile devices, SMS messages and email.  The combination of these allows business owners to create a recognizable digital footprint and a seamless experience for your customers.

Ninety percent of retailers have an omnichannel strategy in place — but they’re not necessarily realizing its full potential. These tips can help you kick your omnichannel efforts into high gear.

Go Where Your Customers Are

Before you can get serious about cross-channel selling, you first have to understand where your customers are spending their time. That includes the websites, search engines, mobile applications and social media channels they frequent.

One way to find out where your customers are online is by using Google Analytics to break down from where the traffic to your website is coming. You can also ask your in-store shoppers to fill out a quick survey online detailing their digital habits, as well as sending out the same survey to your email list subscribers.

Once you know where your customers are most often, you can focus your omnichannel strategy on those channels that have the most potential to generate new sales. For example, you may not want to waste time on a Twitter marketing push if most of your customers hang out on Facebook.

Check Your Tech

Having the right technology in place can make it easier to promote an omnichannel strategy. If your store doesn’t use a customer relationship management (CRM) system, that might be a wise investment for 2019.

A CRM allows you to collect customer data, but perhaps more importantly, it can help you transition from one sales channel to another smoothly, creating a seamless shopping experience. For example, you could use a CRM to analyze customer behavior to create individualized, automated marketing campaigns based on customer preferences, regardless of where they prefer to shop.

Other omnichannel tech solutions you may want to consider include point of sale systems that integrate automatically with e-commerce sites, cloud-based inventory management tools, and monitoring tools that can help you pinpoint what’s working with your online storefront or what’s not.

Not Sure How to Get Started?

As with pretty much everything in life, a simple way to get started is to learn by watching others. Hubspot provides some great examples of brands with an excellent omni channel customer experience.  Some of these examples include brilliant strategies from Disney, Virgin Atlantic, Bank of America, Starbucks and Chipotle.

Emarsys also provides some great examples through Sephora, Crate and Barrel and Walgreens. While these large brands may have a bigger budget and more resources than you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t use them a prime source for inspiration.

You can also check out research reports published by companies that focus on existing and future trends. For example, Big Commerce has published the The Global Omni-Channel Consumer Shopping Research Report which provides insights into:

  • How Americans shop across an omni-channel environment, including how much they spend and what they buy.
  • How generations shop as compared to each other, including the multiple channels they each you, which payment options/technologies they prefer.
  • Insights on how to increase conversion rates on all of the channels that make up your omnichannel experience.
  • The things that motivate your audience to purchase.

All of this information can help guide you in enhancing your onmichannel strategy and ultimately increase your customer engagement and improve the user experience for your clients.

Make It Simple

Omnichannel shouldn’t be overly complicated. Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to shop either in-store or online.  You also want to ensure that slong with athat ease, you are still giving them a personalized experience. And make it so they keep coming back. These relatively small updates to your existing sales strategy could make a difference in your retail success.


Should I Use Micro-Influencers to Market My Business

By definition, micro-influencers are not celebrities and are not known by the masses. In fact, assuming their niche following is your target audience, their limited reach is what makes their endorsement of your brand valuable. Done correctly, collaboration with micro-influencers may help you establish brand trust and awareness –and it all takes place by proxy.

Here’s a closer look at how to identify potential micro-influencers in your industry, and key considerations if you want to add them to your marketing toolbox.

What is a Micro-Influencer?

Micro-influencers are niche opinion-creators and thought leaders who are respected, trusted, engaged and connected within a very specific audience. Typically, these connections are based on social media and online engagement, but they can have valuable offline relationships, too.

Before there was the Internet or social media, a micro-influencer was the people you’d see in person every day.  A micro-influence may have been the girl in high school whose fashion others wanted to emulate.  Or it could have been the class president who had a knack for turning the student body into fans of a band before they are widely known. The fact that the micro-influencer is perceived as a “normal person” whom others are drawn to and aspire to be like is what makes their opinions valuable.

In digital terms, online audiences perceive a micro-influencer as credible, trusty-worthy and inspiring. The micro-influencer isn’t “off limits” or a celebrity. Collaborating with micro-influencers who are connected with the audiences you want to reach can be a fast-path to building brand awareness.  It is also a great way to build trust for your business.

Why Micro-Influencer Recommendations Matter

The number of social media followers or online subscribers is far less than important than the level of trust and engagement they’ve built with your target audience. Micro-influencers typically have between 1,000 and 50,000 social media followers; a micro-influencer who has considerably more followers may be perceived as less credible by the people you want to reach, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

In a study conducted by Wharton School, marketing professor Dr. Jonah Berger and the Keller Fay Group, 82% of respondents surveyed said they were highly likely to follow the recommendation of a micro-influencer. In the same study, 94% of the respondents said they perceived a micro-influencer as credible and believable.

Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends 2018 report revealed that 55% of respondents surveyed said they discover products that they eventually buy on social media. Of those, 78% saw the product on Facebook, and 59% originally saw products they bought on Pinterest and/or Instagram. Your target audience will determine which specific social media networks could prove most beneficial to your micro-influencer campaigns.

How to Find Micro-Influencers for Your Business

Consider people you currently know.

Do you have loyal customers who leave you glowing reviews, or have a tendency to refer you to others? An employee who has referred several other quality recruits, or posts accolades about your business and how much they enjoy working at it? Do you have an industry colleague who often shares or “likes” what you publish online? All may be potential micro-influencers who can help further your brand awareness.

Search online and on social media by a keyword or topic.

Identify five or more terms, keywords, phrases or buzzwords that are topical and relevant to your industry, and/or the products and services you offer. Type each into the search fields of various social media channels and search engines to see what results. A person who regularly shares information or perspectives on the topic might be a micro-influencer connected to your target market.

Identify goals and possible compensation.

Establish your specific goals to determine fair compensation to offer a potential influencer. You may want to compare to what you’d spend on a more traditional marketing tactic to reach the same goal. For example, if you’d invest $20,000 for a targeted direct mail piece intended to gain 500 new customers, offering several micro-influencers connected with your target audience a few hundred dollars to write a series of social media posts might reach the same audience for much less. The average paid Instagram post for a micro-influencer related to modeling, pets and fitness cost $306-$434 each, while lifestyle posts cost $172 on average, according to a recent analysis by Influence.co.

Allow creative freedom.

Within reason, trust a chosen micro-influencer to know best how to connect with their followers. Posts that are authentic to each micro-influencer’s unique brand and voice often can be the most effective. The post’s imagery and text should support your brand’s values but convey a sense of authenticity. Micro-influencers in the U.S. are required to disclose that the relationship is a paid sponsorship; however, it should not feel like an ad

Invest in consistency.

​Like any form of marketing, repetition may be required before a micro-influencer’s message resonates with the audience. Whether you use micro-influencers on an ongoing basis, for a limited period of time, invest in more than one engagement to increase the chances that your message moves your target audience to learn more about your business.​


How Can I Use Live Video In My Marketing?

If Your Marketing is DOA, Consider Live Video

Every Thursday at 10 a.m., creatives at SociallyIn, a Birmingham social media firm, sit down over cereal to discuss the most important developments in their industry. Oh, and sell their services.

These discussions are broadcast live on Facebook. SociallyIn is one of a growing number of small businesses that see the benefits of live video: 59% of people prefer watching live videos online over a pre-recorded one, and they’ll devote three times more time to them.

“The authentic and ephemeral nature of live videos seems to make them especially attractive and meaningful to social media users,” explains marketer Aleh Barysevich. “Live videos increase the perceived trustworthiness and relevance of a brand.”

New Products, New Impact

Live videos can be employed for many purposes, including announcing new staff members, showing how to use your product, and introducing new goods and services. They can be used to provide exclusive content and discount codes.

For example, Chelsea Serra-Wallace, who owns Annie & Oliver children’s boutique in Midland, Michigan, uses live videos on Facebook and Instagram the night before Black Friday to announce sale items. The timeliness ensures that she will still have the goods in stock.

Best of all, live videos aren’t exacting. Generally, the only equipment you need is a smartphone, adequate lighting, and a quiet space with a good Internet connection. “The content doesn’t depend on a professional camera crew or even an expensive venue,” said marketer Jason Unrau. “And while you can pay to boost your posts after the fact, Facebook and Instagram do the work for you by featuring live videos higher up in their feeds.” In addition, social media platforms, such as youtube live and facebook live make it simple by a place to host your live video content.

Here are four ways to make your live video stand out:

Pick Your Point. A live video should have a strong focus. “One video, one big point,” said Kathy Klotz-Guest, author of “Stop Boring Me!: How to Create Kick-Ass Marketing.”

“Be really clear on who your audience is, what the need, and who you are. Treat it like a show – not a collection of videos.”

Test Your Equipment. Just as you want to work out your material in advance, check that your equipment is functioning properly. Run a full test, paying particular attention to lighting and sound — which can often be problematic for first-time streamers.

Consider Captions. YouTube allows content creators to add real-time captions to their live videos. You can even automatically generate captions with the platform’s live automatic speech recognition technology. This can be a great asset to viewers who are hard-of-hearing, as well as the many people who watch videos with the mute button on.

Promote the event. Don’t just throw up a live stream, hoping an audience will appear. SociallyIn touts their weekly meeting in Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and Instagram stories.

Re-purpose your videos. Once your live event has passed, re-use your video in other marketing campaigns to further engage with your audience. You can reference them in blog posts, as part of live q&a sessions, to provide a sneak peek to other upcoming events and as paid social media ads.

If you feel customers aren’t responding to your current marketing efforts, consider adding live videos to your content marketing mix.


Customer Journey Mapping: What It is, and Why Your Business Needs to Do It

Ever wished you could read your customers’ minds?

Customer journey mapping can help provide that insight. According to some industry reports, it might even boost your return on marketing investment by more than 50%! Here’s a closer look at customer journey maps, including: what they are, the benefits they may offer your business and how to get started with customer journey maps to identify how to help your customers reach a purchase decision as quickly as possible

What is Customer Journey Mapping?

Customer journey mapping is a visual representation of the many steps your customer may move through when deciding to buy from your business. An effective customer journey map has a defined beginning and end. It also identifies the customer’s goals, needs, and pain points throughout the journey. Additionally, the map can take into account that a customer’s decision-making journey may not be a linear process.

What’s the Benefit of a Customer Journey Map?

Between the time a customer has interest in a product to the time they purchase, a customer may make many mental detours. The more you understand about their process, the better equipped you are to be able to give them the “nudge” they need to buy from your business. Mapping the customer journey can provide you with insights you need in order to provide customers with contextually relevant messages, offers or information based on their point in the journey. Additionally, mapping may help indicate where roadblocks may exist that prevent customers from deciding to buy.

How Do You Create a Customer Journey Map?

Customer journey maps can be created on a large piece of paper, in a spreadsheet, or using a free downloadable customer journey template like this one provided by Interaction Design Foundation. Whatever format you choose, follow these steps to simplify the process:

Build personas of your customers and prospects.

Your customer personas should include:

  • Demographic Information – demographic information is the socio-economic characteristics of your customers. Demographics include information such as age. gender, income, occupation, education, geographic location, and marital status. Demographics, basically tell you “who” your buyers are.
  • Psychographic Details – psychographic details are psychological attributes of your customers. Psychographics include information such as hobbies, interests, values, concerns, etc. Where demographics tell you “who” your customers are, psychograpics tell you “why” your customers buy.

Your profile does not need to be longer than one or two paragraphs. The intent is to provide a “day in the life” snapshot of who you think your customer is, and what you think they value. Take a look at this example persona featured by Venngage:

what-is-a-customer-journey-map
Source: Venngage

 

Validate/refine personas based on real data. 

Once you’ve written customer personas, test your knowledge. Interview a cross-section of existing customers and prospects. This will give you a clearer perspective of the many types of audiences your business serves. It will also provide a deeper understanding of their motivations for potentially buying what you sell. Conduct focus groups, distribute surveys via email or social media, interview customers by phone, or use a combination of tactics. Once interviews are complete, revise your personas as needed to reflect the deeper insights your research revealed about audience needs, wants and values.

Examine your customer touchpoints.

Touch points are the many ways your customers and prospects engage with your brand; touch points may include your website, social media networks, online advertising, your brick and mortar environment, phone, mail, and email.

Three Rooms provides a great breakdown of key touch points – many of which you may not even have thought of as actual touch points!

Source: Three Rooms

Now that you have a full understanding of customer touch points, think of the ones that your customer experiences. What actions occur when they do encounter those touch points? How could you potentially adapt your touch points to remove obstacles the customer experiences in the current buying journey? The fewer touch points the customer has to experience to reach a resolution (ideally, buying what you sell), the more effective your marketing efforts become. Effective marketing leads to a better customer interaction with your company becomes,  increasing customer satisfaction in the long term.

Map your customer journey.

Using the personas you created as a guide, start your customer journey map with the customer’s realization of a need, want or problem (this the beginning of the journey); the journey concludes with the customer’s resolution of the problem.

As you build your map, consider what processes or messages your business could adjust in order to help customers come to a buying decision more quickly. Some businesses, for example, may find that automated chat features on a website can quickly address customer questions, reducing buyer hesitancy. Others may find that providing competitor pricing for the same product convinces customers to complete a purchase.

Your customer journey maps are unique to your business.  Your map can indicate ways to better serve prospects and customers.  It can also increase the value of your marketing investments while improving the customer experience. When you’re open to the insights your customer journey maps reveal, you may find that your business has opportunities to gain a competitive edge and transform customer interest into action that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.


Keep your customers by supporting their healthy lifestyle changes

If you own or run a food or restaurant business, you know how food trends may boost sales. While some trends last for a few weeks and are simply fads (fondue, foam, and food with added caffeine), others become more mainstream and last a lifetime (sushi, huevos rancheros, or anything organic). In urban areas, healthy trends remain important for much of the world’s population. This is especially the case in the first few months of the year as people work toward achieving their New Year’s resolutions.

Here are five healthy food trends data shows are likely here to stay, as customers have purchased an increasing number of these products in recent years:

1. Faux Meat Offerings

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, alternative protein sources have become more popular. Both startups and established companies are perfecting ways to make faux meat tastier. All of which is helping to fuel this trend. There are two leading providers of high quality and tasty faux meat in the United States, Impossible Foods who makes the Impossible Burger, and Beyond Meat. These products have already gone mainstream. The Beyond Meat Burger is now available at all 469 TGI Fridays restaurants in the United States. For business owners, faux meat is easy to cook and easy to substitute into your existing dishes.

2. Hemp and CBD products

As marijuana has been legalized in nine American states, other products derived from the marijuana plant that don’t contain psychoactive or mind altering substances are now being incorporated into food products because of the potential health benefits they offer. You can incorporate CBD oil into a variety of products ranging from coffee to cookies to juice to tea. Treats made with this oil are known to be stress and anxiety relieving. Hemp has several properties considered beneficial to health, including its ability to balance hormones, improve mood, and assist with both pain and sleep. Even large chain stores like 7-11 are joining in: hemp-derived CBD products are now available in up to 4,500 stores.

3. Seaweed and other deep sea snacks

The oceans are rife with plant life consumers are finding both tasty and nutritious. As harvesting methods have improved, so have their snack byproducts. Healthline reports that there are many benefits to consuming seaweed snacks, including that they:

    • Are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including iodine and tyrosine.
    • Contains a variety of antioxidants.
    • Provide fiber and polysaccharides to support gut health.
    • May help lose weight by delaying hunger and thereby reduce weight.
    • May reduce heart disease risk.

If you own a restaurant, you can easily add some crispy seaweed snacks to your menu as a starter. And if you own a store, stocking seaweed snacks is as “simple” as creating some extra counter space. The Japanese have been seaweed aficionados for centuries.  So, if this trend is anything like sushi…well, it’s not going away anytime soon.

4. Fermented foods

Whether you’re a fan of Korean kimchi, new age kombucha, or good, old-fashioned American pickles, fermented foods are likely here to stay. Filled with probiotics to help make diners’ guts strong, fermented foods make for tasty side dishes, replacing foods like fries. Another benefit of fermented foods is that they are easy to make and may be stored for long periods.

5. Plant-based frozen treats

As dietary restrictions around New Year’s resolutions can curb traditional dairy ice cream consumption, chefs are finding other natural ways to create frozen desserts. Instead of classic milk-based ice cream, these chefs are using ingredients like plant-based milks and frozen fruits are sweetening frozen treats and not sacrificing taste! Here are nine dairy free vegan friendly recipes to get you introduced to the world of vegan frozen treats.

As a food or restaurant business owner, you can be inventive; you can test out a new recipe based on these emerging trends without taking on much risk. If it sells out quickly, you know your customers want it. And while fads like juice cleanses may come and go, these emerging trends may make your offerings more appealing to customers throughout the year.


3 Marketing Lessons Small Business Owners Can Learn from Amazon Storefronts

Amazon is a leading presence in the e-commerce landscape, but the online retail giant is making efforts to shine a light on smaller businesses. Launched in September 2018, Amazon Storefronts feature unique products from nearly 20,000 small- to medium-sized businesses.

The program showcases U.S.-based brands from all 50 states, with product listings including electronics, pet supplies, beauty and grooming supplies. Featured merchants get a visibility boost, but even if you’re not registered for Storefronts, there are some key marketing takeaways you can apply to your e-commerce efforts.

1. Utilize Video Storytelling

Each week, Amazon names one seller as its Storefront of the Week. The chosen brand gets its own personal highlight reel, in the form of a video clip introducing the business owner and their products, and relaying a little of their personal business journey.

It’s short and simple, yet video can be a powerful way to convey your business’s message. Video is expected to account for 82 percent of global web traffic by 2022, with live streaming representing 17 percent of that traffic.

Using video to tell stories — either yours or your customers as they use your products — can give your business an edge over other retailers that have yet to tap into this medium. Incorporating video on your e-commerce site, social media channels or in email marketing campaigns is a fresh way to represent your brand and connect with your audience.

2. Create Curated Product Collections

How you organize your e-commerce store can make a difference when it comes to what sells or what doesn’t. A strategy Amazon uses with Storefronts is offering curated collections of unusual or innovative products. These are items that shoppers won’t necessarily find in-store at a big box retailer.

You can take the same approach with your own website, even if you don’t exclusively sell handmade or one-of-a-kind products. Reorganizing your site to create product collections with a common theme or use allows you to subtly direct visitors’ attention where you want it to go.

For example, if you sell women’s clothing, you might create curated collections by season or occasion. Having curated collections can make it easier for shoppers to navigate your site, while giving them a streamlined buying experience.

3. Sell Your Brand’s Distinct Value

The overarching theme of Amazon Storefronts is an emphasis on the unique. Amazon designed the platform to recognize artisans, family-focused businesses, women in business and retail innovator-makers.

Think about what separates your business from the competitors in your space. What makes your brand, products and services special or different from everyone else?

For instance, you may have an exclusive product or the process you use to produce it is one you’ve personally developed. Your business may have been inspired by a personal challenge or struggle.  Or you may use your business as a platform to give back to your community in impactful ways.

Drill down to what makes your business truly valuable in your respective niche. Once you’ve identified what that is, consider how you can leverage it to attract customers and grow your online business.


7 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Do to Their LinkedIn Profile in 2019

The holidays are over and things are going to begin picking up again on a business front (if they haven’t already) . Now is the time to take a look at your business profile on LinkedIn, before things get too busy.

In November, LinkedIn rolled out a new version for businesses. What was previously called LinkedIn Company Pages is now LinkedIn Pages.

Previously, businesses were limited in their ability to have social interactions with individuals and other companies outside of their network. Now, it’s easier for small businesses to comment, post and re-share employee and member posts via the LinkedIn app. Admins can now more easily monitor conversations, use relevant hashtags and share PowerPoint presentations, PDFs, word documents and native videos. There’s also a Content Suggestions feature to see what is trending and what topics might be relevant to your audience.

Here are seven things every small business owner should do to update their individual business profiles and company LinkedIn Pages in 2019 (and the sooner the better!):

1. Revisit What Is Relevant (and What Isn’t)

Branding is important for everyone. Individuals. Companies. Entrepreneurs. Make sure your LinkedIn Pages and profile accurately reflect what you and your company do.

Re-read what is currently being used, and ask yourself:

If I were learning about my company for the first time, would this LinkedIn description get me interested in my business?Could I describe my company or what I do from reading what is posted on LinkedIn?

2. Create an Engaging Headline

For individual profiles, think of your LinkedIn job title as a marquee sign to flash your mission statement. It is a key place to show off your personal branding. Use the space to share your philosophy and brand yourself with a great headline in 120 characters.

For example, Michelle Mekky the CEO of Mekky Media Relations in Chicago writes, “I help people and brands stand out by crafting their authentic story. You in?” Derek Edmond, a managing partner and director of marketing strategy for KoMarketing, uses a mission statement headline like this: “Helping B2B Companies Generate Results in Search Engines, Social Media, and Content Marketing.”

Forbes contributor William Arrunda, the cofounder of CareerBlast, recommends using the formula “Job title/company + Keywords + Zing!” to stand out with keywords while still keeping it personal.

3. Share What You Believe

Despite what you might think, LinkedIn isn’t a place to just dump a chronological history of your work experience with every detail about your small business.

LinkedIn is about speaking person-to-person, customer-to-potential-customer (or client).

Your summary or About Us page description on your LinkedIn Pages should encapsulate your beliefs about your business. Ideally, it also evokes a strong emotional response in your target audience. Write a short, impactful statement that highlights what you’re good at and what you believe.

4. Make Sure Your (Business) Pages are Complete

While this may sound like a no brainer, make sure your LinkedIn Pages are complete and the basics are up-to-date. Companies with complete information get 30 percent more weekly views according to LinkedIn. That means:

Write a compelling description of your company’s mission, purpose, expertise and focus.Your company logo is posted You’ve included a website URL. Your address, industry, company size, city and state and headquarters are accurate and included.

Need an example? Check out LearnLoft, a leadership development management company in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the corresponding LinkedIn page of its CEO John Eades, a 2017 LinkedIn Top Voice.

5. Optimize Your LinkedIn Listing

Are you making the most of your profile or LinkedIn Pages?

See if you should add additional contacts. Ask for and add recommendations. Join, or add or remove you and your company from important groups to ensure you are following the most relevant for your industry and small business community.Make sure you’ve customized your LinkedIn page with a vanity URL. If you have a new product or brand within your company, consider creating Showcase Pages. It’s a standalone page, like a mini version of LinkedIn Pages, within your company listing to spotlight something specific such as a new product, brand, event or charity work your company is doing. You can also target niche audiences such as a high-net-worth population within a financial services company.

On your business page, update the Life tab to help job seekers get a better look into what life is like at your company. Include details such as company values, cultural stats, job openings and job descriptions. Or do like software development company Atlassian and share s link to a quiz to see how a job candidate’s values align with your business.

6. Share Engaging Content

Review the types of content you are sharing on LinkedIn. If you aren’t getting great engagement, copywriter John Espirian gives some good tips to improve your tactics including writing enough to fill at least three lines in a LinkedIn post which triggers the “see more” link and can improve the social media value of your post.

Use LinkedIn Pulse to quickly share industry news, trends, research and blog posts.

How-to articles with phrases such as “X ways to,” “how to get,” and “how to make” tend to do well.  In addition to these, newsy trend pieces such as “the future of,” “in the world,” or, “of the year,” also get great engagement on LinkedIn according to Buzzsumo, a social media analytics company, which analyzed 100 million article headlines.

7. Be Visual and Conversational

Review what type of visual elements you’re sharing.

Start by updating your company profile photo (1,536 x 768 pixels) and profile picture (300 x 300 pixels) with images that are 8 MB or smaller.

Another thing to consider is embedding photos, infographics and videos in LinkedIn posts on company and personal pages to make them uniquely yours. In additions, you should consider thought leadership videos that reinforce your brand on YouTube. Add product demonstrations, speech sound bites and engaging conference videos.

Need some inspiration? Check out Slack’s tutorial video.

Be conversational, relatable and memorable. Updating your LinkedIn company page and personal profile gets potential customers, clients and employees engaged. That can make all the difference this year.


How Artificial Intelligence is Driving Customer Experience

Artificial intelligence (AI) uses computers to mimic and perform intelligent tasks that normally require human brainpower. AI can adapt when interacting with humans by using speech recognition, language translation and visual perception to execute decision-making tasks.

International Data Corporation, a marketing intelligence and service company, predicts that by 2019, 40 percent of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by some sort of cognitive computing or artificial intelligence. By 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without a human, according to Gartner.

Face-to-face interactions may be diminishing in the era of AI.  But, there are ways businesses can connect and still remain customer-friendly.

Ask Questions, Offer Tailored Recommendations

Many businesses are asking customers to do short online surveys to understand their preferences.

For example, Madison Reed, an at-home hair color company uses an online questionnaire coupled with a live chat with a licensed colorist, a phone line, and email to give customers suggested recommendations based on their hair texture, amount of (or lack there of) grey and current hair color and history, as well as the look they are trying to achieve. The color advisor questionnaire starts with asking potential customers about the end result they are hoping to achieve. Doing so allows the company to work towards that goal before recommending a particular product tailored to that individual.

Another example is 1-800-Flowers.com, which has Gywn, an AI-based virtual assistant chatbot. Gywn’s job is to help tailor gift recommendations for visitors by narrowing their search for the right gift.

What these retailers have in common is offering tailored recommendations based on a customer’s answers. It can make an impersonal online experience feel more personal by detecting customer patterns for a more intimate virtual touchpoint.

There are plenty of ways to tailor your recommendations on a smaller scale.

  • Consider asking customers a few simple questions.  Ask about where they live, their favorite type of music, color and activities to determine what products or services might appeal to them.
  • To track trends, review sales orders by name and previous credit card receipts. Keep detailed bookkeeping.
  • By mining existing customer information you can target each one uniquely, even as a small business.

Connect Creatively

With the growth of tech-enabled conveniences, being memorable and accessible may make a big difference in the user experience.

Domino’s Pizza has been at the forefront of creating new online customer experiences. They are the company behind tweeting pizza emojis for orders.  They also use an AI-driven chatbot named Dom via Facebook Messenger.  With Dom, customers can order without having a pre-configured “pizza profile.” It’s fun and a great way to get customers to try out a service, initially for its novelty, but may keep users coming back.

Small businesses and nonprofits should also consider what UNICEF is doing with U-Report, a chat bot that helps gather large scale data from people in remote parts of the world. Users must register, for free.  Once registered, they voice concerns and frustrations about human rights issues, natural disasters, health outbreaks, among other timely topics. According to the website, individual messages are confidential but aggregated data is transparent and can be viewed in real time.

It’s grown exponentially, adding 1.5 million new users in 2017, a 48 percent increase from 2016, for a total of 4.6 million users.

Make it Seamless

In an ideal situation, customers would not realize the interaction is AI-driven. Many businesses that rely on the customer service industry are working to reduce costly human interactions.  Artificial intelligence helps them accomplish that while also allowing them to focus on other services.

For example, Hilton Hotels is using its chatbot, Connie, an AI-based concierge service, to cover basic tasks, like scheduling a spa treatment, to allow the hotel staff to focus on taking the guest experience to a higher level, according to Hotelogix.

Thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence, many cell phone makers areembedding AI technology into chipsets, making it possible for hotels to offer their guests mobile keys they can download or access via their mobile device. For example the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Iowa are allowing guests to bypass the hotel front desk check-in, in favor of mobile keys. Guests can check-in online before they arrive, walk into the hotel and go directly to their room without having to stop at the front desk.

Many hotels, including the Wynn Las Vegas, are also equipping rooms with artificially intelligent, voice-activated smart devices like Amazon’s Echo with Alexa. Guests can then make instant modifications in their room. Customers get a very personalized experience through the ability to control lights, room temperature, drapery and television,

While hospitality still means service, in the current market it now means using technology, like artificial intelligence, to help.

Technology will continue to play a significant role in changing the day-to-day operations of small businesses.   Don’t get left behind.  Keep up to date by learning more about top technologies for 2019.


Why Isn’t My Email Marketing Working?

You’ve made email marketing a key part of your marketing strategy. You’ve carefully compiled your email list, created some beautiful email designs, and wrote some amazing copy….

So why aren’t isn’t your email marketing getting a response?

There is no one definitive explanation of why an email marketing campaign doesn’t perform.  But, there are best practices you can implement to help improve your results.

Segment your email lists.

Personalized content is key to a successful marketing emails. Email segmentation essentially means separating the people on your email list into small groups, based on some type of commonality. Whether you distinguish your segments by the types of things they purchase, how recently they’ve made a purchase,or the discounts they’ve redeemed, segmentation allows you to tailor your messages based on the recipient, and what they’ll likely notice.

While segmenting your lists takes a little more effort than a generic email sent to all ,analysis by MailChimp indicates that it’s time well spent. Opens and clicks on segmented email lists are 100% higher than they are with a non-segmented list. Once you do segment, the content of your email should be tailored to the specific group, along with the subject line. (More on that later).

Schedule emails to suit your audience.

You can’t change the fact that the recipients on your email list probably have a cluttered email inbox, but you can increase the chances that your email will get noticed by sending it when you have a captive audience.

One study by MailChimp revealed that emails sent on a Thursday generally receive the highest amount of opens, followed closely by those sent on a Tuesday. Unless your email content is related to a hobby or a recreational activity, avoid sending emails on the weekend.If your email list is made up of consumers (not a business-to-business communication) send your email early in the morning, before traditional office hours begin. Your recipients are most likely to be commuting into the office, or actively checking their email before their day is in full swing.

Avoid email fatigue

In the same way that you want to schedule email sends around the time of day and week that fits best for your audience, you also want to make sure that the frequency in which you send these emails fits your audience. As you start to track your engagement metrics (see more below), you can determine how often your audience wants to be contacted. And many email platforms allow you to set up a preference center, which gives you the ability to let your audience actually tell you how frequently they would like to be contacted by you.

Why is frequency so important? If you don’t email often enough, your brand will not stay top-of-mind with your audience. On the other end, if you email too often your audience could begin to experience email fatigue.  In short, email fatigue is when your audience gets. tired. of. getting. so. many. emails. from. you.  They will stop opening them and engaging with them. If this happens too often, some email clients will begin to automatically direct these emails to clutter or spam folders.

Experiment with subject lines.

An email subject line is your first chance to make a first (or potentially, last) impression. While the “right” subject line depends on the content in your email, the audience and your relationship with the recipient, there are a few tricks of the trade you can apply:

Subject lines should lead with actionable language and a clear payoff for the recipient. Eliminate unnecessary nouns and pronouns.  Use words like “save,” “learn,” “take,” or “see” to get right to the point.Personalize subject lines to indicate that you know the recipient. Is the recipient on your email list because she purchased a similar item in the past? Perhaps she redeemed a similar promotional offer once before, or left an item in a shopping cart. Tell her why she’s got to open your email.

Appeal to your readers.

There is one thing your reader wants to know in your email: “What’s in it for me?” Your email copy should address that question within the first few lines of copy, and include a clear call to action. If you make them scroll, they probably won’t find it.

Test how your email displays.

At least half of all emails are now opened on a mobile device, according to Hubspot. Perhaps more importantly, mobile users check mails three times more frequently than desktop users. Ensure that your emails can be opened and read on a mobile device and a traditional computer screen, and that the appearance and functionality appearance works in all email clients including Apple iPhone, Gmail, Apple iPad, Android, Apple Mail and Outlook.

Use metrics to refine your marketing.

Email campaign metrics can tell you a lot about your customers and business opportunity.  Some of the top metrics include how many people opened your message (your open rate), read your emails, clicked on the links (your click through rate) and who unsubscribed from your list entirely after receiving a specific email.

Establish a cadence for when you’ll run campaign reports. Then establish and test against benchmarks so you have a foundation from which to build. Apply your findings to test variables like subject lines, creative messages, the landing pages you use and the time you send the email.  Then refine continually. Eventually, patterns will emerge and you’ll start to know how to optimize email as a channel that helps drive results.

Always remember that your customers come first

Just like they do in every other aspect of your business, your customers need to come first with email marketing. Never send emails just to send emails. Members of your audience gave you their email address with the understanding that you would provide something of value. Share a great discount. Share an educational blog post. Establish a weekly or monthly email newsletter that focuses on topics that are important to them. Just be sure to stay true to that unspoken agreement.  And always send something that will that will also strengthen your relationship with your audience.

Email marketing can be an exceptionally useful tool in your marketing strategy – if you do it right! By integrating these useful tips into your email marketing program, you should begin to see better results. Any by continuously watching your metrics and A/B testing your email content, those results should continue to improve.


Boost Your Revenue and Profits with Psychological Pricing Strategies

Business owners and executives have a love-fear relationship with raising prices: They’d often love to raise prices, yet fear customers will choose to go to a competitor.

A combination of sharply increased optimism on the part of business owners and a continued increase in operating expenses – particularly labor – has resulted in a wave of price hikes by small business owners, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

While pricing increases may be a tactical tool to react to financial pressures, concerns about potentially losing customers aren’t fanciful. Sometimes the trade-off may be worth it, as when Netflix raised prices by 60 percent and lost only 4 percent of customers. However, when you lose too much business, those price increases may not be such a good idea.

Psychological pricing strategies are ways to nudge people towards spending more without scaring them off. Here are four techniques you can use to potentially help you avoid negative customer reactions.

1. Use the pennies-a-day technique

You’ve undoubtedly seen the pennies-a-day pricing strategy. Marketers break the cost down from a single expense into a series of smaller ones, even though customers may still make the aggregate payment. According to the Journal of Consumer Research‘s “Pennies-a-Day: The Effect of Temporal Reframing on Transactional Evaluation,” the approach succeeds through consumer perception. Even though both the full pricing and break-down both appear, the pennies-a-day pricing causes consumers to focus on small, ongoing expenses rather than the single larger one. The difference between the two may, “significantly influence subsequent transaction evaluation and compliance,” as the study notes. That’s research-speak for customers being more likely to buy.

2. Offer the right framing

Long before winning the Nobel Prize, economist Richard Thayer ran an experiment in which he told lab subjects to imagine they were sitting on the beach during hot weather. Thayer then asked how much they’d pay for a beer if another person would get it for them. The subjects were willing to pay more if the beer provider was an expensive hotel rather than a corner store, according to the New York Times.

Consumers assume an upscale business will charge more and therefore see the extra expense as fair. By contrast, consumers expect value- or mid-range-positioned companies to charge less, even if the product is the same. The context is known as framing, where the “positioning of choices prejudices the outcome,” as the Times reports. If the context matches the high price, people often accept that they must spend more.

While some consumers may choose to find a different context — like looking for a discount seller — framing is one reason why high-end brands are careful about not discounting their prices. The action alone might undercut their ability to charge what they already get. By framing your prices in a way that matches your brand positioning (value, mid-range, high-end for example) customers may be more likely to purchase.

3. Present pricing in an attractive way

Ending a price in 9 is a way for prices to appear lower to consumers, while still adding margin. This may be an old pricing trick that still works as the study Effects of $9 Price Endings on Retail Sales: Evidence from Field Experiments explains. The last digit in a price can increase demand, even when researchers tested prices a few dollars lower.

Additionally, researchers found that a longer-looking price can change how customers react, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

People translate visual representations of numbers into verbal equivalents, e.g., 72 becomes “Seventy-two.” So the longer a price is in the verbal equivalent, consumers mentally equate that with a higher price. To combat this effect, shorten lengthy prices by eliminating commas and decimals where possible. If you communicate a smaller verbal equivalent price, you may make the product psychologically more palatable to a consumer.  Which, in turn can increase sales.

4. Focus messaging on experiences

People don’t only buy products and services; they also purchase experiences. That is why many consumer campaigns emphasize how people will feel by using a product, instead of lower prices.

In The Time vs. Money EffectStanford Professor of Business Jennifer Aaker and Cassie Mogilner tested the concept by having six-year-olds operate lemonade stands. One sign read, “Spend a little time and enjoy C&D’s lemonade.” The second read, “Spend a little money, and enjoy C&D’s lemonade.” The third read, “Enjoy C&D’s lemonade.”

People could choose to pay between $1 and $3 for a cup of lemonade. Those who bought when the sign stressed time paid twice as much, because of their emotional response to the sign.

There was one exception to the findings: Ads for products people acquired for prestige did better when stressing money. The pleasure was in the possession of the product and status of the higher price, not the experience using it.

Psychological pricing tips are complex, and may even seem contradictory at times, because they are ultimately about people. Some tactics may work on certain consumers while others don’t — meaning it is likely you will need to experiment within your marketing strategy to see how they work for you and your customers and prospects; however, an investment of a little time and effort may be a small price to pay to boost sales.

 


5 Retail Design Tips to Stimulate the 5 Senses… and Sales

To make retail a winning experience, retail spaces must be both practical and enjoyable for customers. There are still many benefits to “try before you buy” shopping — such as not dealing with the hassle of returns — which means that retail stores will continue to serve consumers.

There are many ways to design retail space to help drive additional sales by making your store appealing to the five senses. Here are four easy-to-implement sensory tips to help improve your customers’ in-store brand experience.

1. Visual: Add mirrors.

Mirrors can make your footprint seem larger and more spacious to your customers. Taller mirrors can draw customers’ eyes upward, which makes rooms feel more spacious. If it turns out that your retail space lacks windows or natural light, you can use mirrors to increase the perception of how big your space really is. In such an instance, you can use small square mirrors to create a tiling effect.

Keeping mirrors in comfortable fitting rooms may be a great way to improve your sales. A study by consumer scientists Maryke Vermaak and Helena de Klerk indicated that use of fitting rooms, and how shoppers felt about a store’s fitting rooms, heavily influenced a consumer’s decision to buy.

Get ready for the future: Soon stores will be trying out interactive mirrors. These mirrors use technology to allow people to virtually try on clothing by scanning barcodes.

2. Visual: Be smart about your use of colors.

Color has a powerful psychological impact on customers’ behavior and decisions. Color can often be the sole reason, or one of the major reasons, why someone purchases a product. Retail consultant Anand Kumar says, “Different colors tend to evoke different feelings in people, which can affect how they perceive products. For instance, red – when used effectively – can highlight passion and power.”

Be cognizant of the colors used in your displays, signage and advertising.

Color and light play combined roles in retail environments, as a Journal of Business Research report suggests, “For fashion-oriented stores, blue interiors are associated with more favorable evaluations, marginally greater excitement, higher store patronage intentions, and higher purchase intentions.” However, consumers react differently when stores use softer lighting. For example, an orange interior with soft lighting generally, “Produces the highest level of perceived price fairness.”

Get ready for the future: Enable your customers to select their own product colors or suggest new ones. Some companies are already experimenting with augmented reality apps to enable customers to test their own colors in-store.

3. Sound: Choose music based on customer behavior.

Customer behavior is greatly influenced by the rhythm and genre of music that plays. The music inside a store helps customers create their perception of your store’s identity and the brands you sell.

It’s important that music for retail spaces reflects both the personality of your store and an awareness of customer perception in each track that plays. For example, one study found that classical music performed better than Top 40 hits for wine shops, influencing buyers to spend on more expensive wines. While popular music may be a good fit for mainstream stores, the complexity of classical music seems more suited for considered purchases like high-end wines.

Get ready for the future: While there are many companies that license music for retail use, automated music selections will soon be able to determine the ages of shoppers, the density of people in your retail business, and more. Soon, the music decisions will be left to computers and be updated depending on your current customer profiles.

4. Smell: Use scent to attract customers to your brand.

“Well-received ambient scents can positively influence purchase behavior if the scent seems to match the products in the store,” according to Shopify. The opposite is also true. If the scent doesn’t seem to match the context of the shop, consumers may turn away from the retail space. This is why it is so important to pick a scent that will help grow your brand. Interestingly, “Gender-designed scents seem to matter as well. A ‘feminine’ scent in a women’s clothing store helps create positive purchase intent.”

At Starbucks, the scent of fresh coffee, without the scent of food is intentional, yet subtle at the same time. Think “New car smell” is natural? It isn’t! Car manufacturers go to great lengths to treat leather with special aromas.

Get ready for the future: As the authors of the book Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age state, brands are quite bullish on scent marketing. This may be the single-most underutilized resource in the brand game.  Yet, big brands are learning how to use scent more effectively.

5. Touch: Digital touch points are everywhere.

By the year 2020, most of McDonalds’ 14,000 locations will have kiosks installed to enable you to order your food without dealing with a human being. Simply press which menu items you’d like to eat on a full-color screen and within a couple of minutes your food will be waiting for you. This means shorter lines and less of a chance that someone may mishear your order. McDonalds will add 1,000 kiosks at its stores every quarter for the next two years, according to CNBC. And if this experiment succeeds, expect other retail and food brands to follow suit.

Get ready for the future: With devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri ubiquitous in the Western world, customers now have direct access to AI. In the future, when you walk into a retail store, you may be able to say precisely what you’re looking for and then either a human or machine will find that product and bring it to you or bring you to it immediately.

Conclusions

There are many ways to appeal to the five senses to stimulate more retail purchases. But, ultimately, the goal should be to improve the overall customer and shopping experience. Creating an in-store sensory experience that customers can’t get online is a key differentiator for brick-and-mortar stores.

Stores that use sensory design techniques may find themselves better equipped to compete with online retailers. When designing your retail store, be aware how sight, sound, touch, smell, and in some cases, taste can improve your customers’ experience.


How Small Businesses Can Use Airbnb to Their Advantage

Since it was founded in 2008, Airbnb has rapidly grown to host more than 5 million lodging listings in 81,000 cities and 191 countries. At the end of 2017, Airbnb has facilitated over 300 million check-ins, and in 2017, Airbnb made $93 million in profits on $2.6 billion in revenues.

In late 2016, Airbnb expanded its service offerings, allowing its users to go beyond just booking places to stay by giving them the option to also book “experiences” in the places that they visit. These “experiences” can range from tame activities such as cooking classes and art walks, to more avant-garde activities like graffiti workshops, or poetry classes in the home of Harlem Renaissance poet Mr. Langston Hughes in New York.

And small businesses should take note: If you haven’t thought about creating an Airbnb experience for your business, you are losing out on what could potentially be a great income stream.

Selma Studer, 34, who runs a company that offers “gong baths,” a type of meditation induced by the sound of a gong, added her company’s services to the Airbnb platform in June 2018. She has exerienced an uptick in business since she added the business due to bookings from the Airbnb platform. Why did Studer join the platform to begin with? She says, “I see it as a way to test and offer the five-star experience of my product.”

Studer notes that she tailors the gong baths a bit differently for the typically out-of-town guests who find her services through the Airbnb platform than for her regular customers. “It’s more personal than the group gong baths I go for in the regular business, so I add all the bells and whistles, like baking in time at the end to relax and chat and connect over tea and cookies,” she says.

Studer says of the Airbnb Experience platform, “It’s a really useful lead generation tool but also the booking and calendar system make it really easy to monetize the experience from the platform in a hassle free way.”

Adding your business to the Airbnb platform is easy: a few clicks, a few photos, a description, and you’re onboarded.

Because of its size and popularity, there may be competition on Airbnb from companies offering similar products and services to yours. In New York alone, there are dozens of photographers offering photo tours of the city, for example.

Some general ways to make your business standout from the crowd include:

  • Make sure you use high-quality photographs of your product or service.
  • Write strong copy to explain what experiences you are offering.
  • Respond to inquiries quickly through the Airbnb platform.
  • Read Airbnb’s advice on how make the most out of experiences for your business.

When it comes to bookings, Airbnb says there are 3 tips to make sure you get more through their site:

  1. Start with a lower introductory price. This might mean that even though you value your time at say $50 per person per hour, it might be necessary to reduce it to $30 per person per hour to get those initial customers and the positive reviews they’ll bring with them.
  2. Make sure you keep your calendar optimized. The site states that most bookings occur on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, so keep these days available if you want bookings.
  3. Don’t set your cut-off times too early. Airbnb notes that 40% of bookings occur within a week of the experience happening, and 20% occur within two days of the experience happening. Setting cut-off times too early may mean missing out on customers looking for last-minute experiences.

As a small business owner, you should encourage your users who come to your business through Airbnb to review your services. Airbnb says, “Setting expectations has helped many hosts find success. This can set you up for more 5-star reviews, and the higher your reviews, the more likely your guests will book.” Studer adds, “I’m not 100% sure how their algorithm works, but it’s really important to get some good reviews early on.”

“Airbnb are also great about creating communities within communities,” Studer says. “They’ve really fostered a sense of connection among fellow hosts for example by hosting a networking reception for us at their headquarters and they also maintain an active Facebook group.”

She concludes, “It’s a virtuous cycle that I hope will be fruitful for my business as well as for the businesses of my peers.”


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