Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Personalization Matters: Why Going the Extra Mile is Always Worth It

When people talk about the decline of "mom and pop" businesses in favor of the giant, national retailers, one of the things they bring up is that it's hard to find a store that you can walk into these days where the person behind the counter actually takes the time to learn your name. You can't walk into a national brand and expect someone to go "Hey, Phil - how did that new garden hose you bought last week work out for you? I've been thinking about you, and I thought you might like this other new product, too."



But the fact of the matter is that these days are not over - not by a long shot and especially not in the world of marketing. You absolutely can inject this much more intimate, fulfilling level of personalization into your marketing collateral - provided that you're willing to go the extra mile.



Personalization in Marketing: By the Numbers



If you ever wanted a clear cut example of why "going the extra mile" is an investment that pays off in more ways than one, look no further than the following statistics:



  • According to a recent study from Digital Trends, an incredible seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to help create more enriching, more relevant shopping experiences.

  • According to a completely separate study from Infosys, eighty-six percent of consumers said that the level of personalization (or the lack thereof) absolutely plays a role in their purchasing decisions.

  • If you think that personalization is only a game for digital and internet-centric businesses, think again: direct mail success rates are continuing to trend upwards because, you guessed it, people find actual mail that they can hold in their hand much more personal and rewarding than something that is easily ignored like an email.

It's About "Walking the Walk"



The major benefits of personalization in marketing extend far beyond just statistics like these, however. It all comes back to the values that your brand represents and the promise that you're making to each and every one of your customers. Simply put, it's one thing to say that you care about all of your customers - it's another thing entirely to do the types of things that turn this from catchphrase into irrefutable fact.



Put yourself in their shoes. If you get two pieces of marketing collateral in the mail - one of which is addressed "Dear Sir or Madame" and another that has your name and maybe even specific information about past purchases that you've made - which one are you going to put more faith in? Which one would you bet cares about you more? Which one would you believe has a vested interest in making your life better?



Your customers have made their opinion loud and clear - they don't just want you to sell to them. It isn't just enough to have a product or service that is objectively better than anyone else's. They want to be a part of something larger than a single purchase. They want something that they're not going to get anywhere else - a true relationship with the people they give their hard-earned money to. Personalization and going the extra mile are just among the many, many ways that you can now do that in the modern era.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Importance of Appreciation For Morale

As a hard worker, you want to be appreciated. This is simply human nature. We all want to feel our hard work is noticed and appreciated. After all, it only seems fair to be at least appreciated for giving your blood, sweat, and tears to make a profit for your employer. As an employer, you need to understand the importance appreciation has when it comes to the morale of your workplace. Appreciation is a huge aspect of a healthy, thriving workplace environment.



The Data Proves The Importance of Appreciation



A Chicago Tribune survey asked 30,000 employees who enjoyed their job why they loved their work. The most common reason cited by these employees was, "I feel genuinely appreciated at this company." This data shows what we have been talking about, showing appreciation matters. Making people feel like their efforts at work make a difference is important. The next step is learning how to communicate genuine appreciation without it coming across as fake.



What Appreciation is Not



Just because your goal is to show your employees the appreciation they deserve doesn't mean you will automatically know how to go about this. There are a few clear ways not to go about showing appreciation, though. For example, don't just depend on your employee recognition program to do the job. Appreciation at Work found that around thirty to thirty-five percent of employees don't want to go up in front of a large group and accept an appreciation award anyway. Therefore, even though an event created to show appreciation is well intentioned, it can backfire and create an adverse outcome. Often, even if a person doesn't mind going up in front and receiving such an award, the certificate or gift they receive feels impersonal. Generic, group-based awards don't feel genuine in many cases, so employees don't find this as motivating as true appreciation. Besides, saying one positive thing about an employee in front of a group hardly makes up for an entire year ignoring all the extra work an employee is doing.



What Authentic Appreciation Looks Like



Of course, money always talks, so giving out bonuses, gift cards, or other monetary rewards is an excellent way to show appreciation. However, don't be fooled into thinking that your employees only want to receive financial rewards. They also want to hear how appreciated they are on a regular basis. Keep in mind that appreciation doesn't have to be something you say, it can be something you don't say. For example, if your employee works extra hours all the time and they have to take off to handle a personal situation, don't give them a hard time because they are out of the office for one day. This only makes them resent being at work and in turn, makes them a less productive employee who will eventually start looking for work elsewhere.



Remember, don't act like your reward for their hard work or their paycheck is a gift. You aren't giving them a gift. You are simply paying them what they are owed. Look at bonuses the same way. It might seem like "extra" to you, but to your employee, they feel they have worked hard to "earn" that money by working extra hours or taking on additional responsibilities.



Creating a workplace that shows appreciation is necessary to keep employees happy and loyal. The saying, "an employee who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected" says it all. Although your employees are getting paid for services rendered, they are people who want to feel like their efforts matter to the company. This is a crucial piece towards creating healthy morale in the workplace.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn't the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does -- to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, "Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they're constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information." And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason's most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, "helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next." Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.

The Long-Term Benefits of Making Leisure Time a Priority

Listening to the waves as they cascade against the sand, feeling the warm breeze against your face, understanding that all is right with the world, at least for that moment, that is what vacation is for most people. Perhaps you would trade the ocean waves for the sound of an eagle soaring through resplendent mountaintops covered in evergreens or snowcaps. The idea, though, is that you are away from your everyday world. You stop clocking in. You aren't dealing with the stress that encompasses so much of your everyday existence. You are on vacation.



What do you think about this vacation time? Is it well deserved for your hard labor? Is it perhaps frivolous? Do you wonder if you will ever get to realize this dream, this break from your life? Well, read on to learn why vacation is not only an excellent way to rejuvenate your body; it has also been proven to be something you shouldn't put off:



You Can't Possibly Get More Done After a Break: Or Can You?



In essence, yes, you are more apt to be productive when you take the time to rejuvenate your body, soul, and mind. A report by the New York Times showed that your body "needs" the break vacation provides. There is even evidence that you become more productive once you get back from your vacation than you would have had you simply skipped your break. The Times reported the following about this aspect of the study findings:



"The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology. Human beings aren't designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we're meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy."



Other Benefits Besides Increased Productivity



In addition to being more productive and focused when you return from vacation, there is also evidence that you will garner a whole new perspective on things once you get a break. A CNN report stated that workers who took a break from their jobs enjoyed a new perspective on their lives when they were away from the stresses and problems of their daily existence. Family relationships are also strengthened when vacation is made a priority as family members are able to spend large amounts of non-distracted time together when away from their regular responsibilities.



Do Americans Get it Right?



In most cases, Americans don't get vacation right at all. In fact, other countries handle this issue much better. The average French worker, for instance, takes more than twice the vacation time of an American worker. Americans typically use only sixteen of their eighteen vacation days according to a 2010 study. An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. report revealed an average of 3.2 paid days off left unused by workers, amounting to around 429 million unused vacation days.



Why It's so Difficult For Americans to Relax



There are many studies just like the ones listed above that show vacation as a way to improve employee morale, increase productivity, and create a healthier working class, so why don't Americans make vacation a priority? Most of those who were asked simply said they felt they had too much work to do to take time off. Do we as American workers really feel that our European counterparts aren't also busy? No. Instead, we feel the world will fall apart if we don't keep it spinning. Workers in other countries simply don't have this belief. Therefore, if we as Americans want to make our lives better overall, we have to begin to understand that we don't personally keep the world in orbit. We can leave for a few days here and there, or a week once in a while. Our country, workplaces, and families will not only survive, but they'll be the better for it.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The "Foot in the Door" Technique

Nobody questions the value of getting "a foot in the door." We all strive at one point or another to get a foot in the door with an employer, an institution of higher learning, or even a romantic relationship.



As a marketer, however, your interest in getting a foot in the door is more likely with your customers and a hopeful precursor to a big sale! A salesman who gets a foot in the door by getting customers to agree to a small initial request will undoubtedly find greater success with larger requests (think major sales $$!) down the line.



Freedman and Fraser's Compliance Experiment



One of the first studies to scientifically investigate the "foot in the door" phenomenon was the 1966 compliance experiment by Jonathan L. Freedman and Scott C. Fraser. This experiment took place in two independent phases that used different approaches and test subjects. Because these studies were conducted on weekdays during the more conservative 1960s, the vast majority of test subjects were housewives.



The first Freedman and Fraser study divided 156 subjects into two basic groups. Both of these groups were telephoned by researchers who pretended to be from the consumer goods industry. One of the groups was contacted only once with a relatively large request. The other group was contacted twice, first with an initial small request and then with the much larger second request. In this case, the small request was to simply answer a few questions about kitchen products while the larger request, which came three days after the small request, was to allow someone to come into the home and catalog the contents of all their cabinets.



The second study essentially followed the same template as the first, but used the posting of a small and discrete window sign as its small request and the installation of a large and unattractive yard billboard as its large request.



The Effectiveness of the "Foot in the Door" Technique



The results of the Freedman and Fraser experiment were quite revealing. In the kitchen products study, subjects who agreed to the small first request were more than twice as likely to comply with the large second request. The results of second study backed up those of the first with significantly more people agreeing to place an eyesore of a billboard in their yard after previously agreeing to place a small sign in the window of their home or automobile. Perhaps most surprising, it did not even seem to matter that the promotional social message of the small sign (keeping California clean) was entirely different from that of the gaudy billboard (driving safely).



Modern Marketing Implications



The use of the phrase "a foot in the door" usually conjures images of the old fashioned door-to-door salesman who manages to wedge his wingtips against the doorjamb of your entryway after you answer your doorbell. And we all know that after he gets his foot in the door (or gets you to agree to a small initial request), he will undoubtedly try to make his way into your house (or get you to agree to a much larger second request).



But how does this sales technique work in the modern marketing landscape? In short, it's all about calls-to-action (CTAs).



Call Them into Action



If you are distributing printed material that ends with a CTA, you may want to consider how far to push your customer base with your initial request. Don't scare away a potential sale by asking too much too soon.



You can wait a bit for that big sale if it means building a comfortable and lasting rapport with your customers. Consider closing your marketing materials with a modest request or CTA and gain compliance for a big future payday!


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Leadership Ethics Lesson Courtesy of a Leeson

Although ethical behavior in business is often touted, it can be hard to attain in practice. That's because ethical behavior has to be practiced by every individual, every day. It's not the sort of thing that can be decided upon and implemented en masse. Leaders are often under particular pressure to be practical over ethical. The reasoning is often because hard decisions require frequent compromise, and ethics often come across as black-and-white perspectives that don't match the reality facing a decision-maker.



A Virtue You Can't Afford to Ignore



However, ignoring ethics can be a dangerous path. Nick Leeson provides a very vivid example of this. His name is well known in financial circles as the man who single-handedly put the Singapore financial markets into a panic and brought down one of Britain's most famous banks.



Leeson got his start early in banking as a clerk in 1985. At first, Leeson seemed to be a success. However, he began quickly playing outside the rules, and because he was bringing in big profits, Barings Bank ignored the risks.



By 1992, trades started going bad. Leeson packed the losses into a technical account originally designed as a dummy account for accounting errors. No one noticed, so he continued on his unethical path of hiding losses repeatedly. The tipping point came in January 1995 when Leeson placed a big trade between the Singapore and Japanese markets. Not expecting a major earthquake in Japan to throw both markets into a tailspin, Leeson realized the gig was up and went into hiding. Barings Bank folded a few weeks later owing ?827 million in losses, and eventually, Leeson went to prison.



Actions Speak Louder Than Words



Interestingly, following good ethics not only avoids situations like Leeson's, but it also works as a defense for a business leader. The adage, "actions speak louder than words" is true for ethics as well. Ethical behavior not only keeps employees behaving on the right side of the law, but it also gives managers and leaders incentive to work for more than just the bottom line. Ethics can incorporate greater goodwill for the community a business operates in, safety protection of employees and customers, market protection from unscrupulous players, and far better interaction with the government and regulators. All of which, in turn, help a company see a larger bottom line.



No question, the ethical path isn't always the easiest. However, leaders of companies and organizations need to remember that good ethics involve more than just an individual perspective; by the very nature of their role, top managers affect all of the organization and set an example for staff to follow and the community to model after. Good ethics can be far more than just a set of rules; it can be a powerful marketing/communication tool positively setting a business apart in the market from competitors and creating the long-term foundation for customer retention.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Learning to Listen: The Hard Way

In the 70s, Italian aid worker Ernesto Serelli learned to listen to clients the hard way. His amusing tale of how he "helped" a village in Africa grow tomatoes, only to see the harvest consumed in a single night by the local hippos, is a powerful and popular TED talk. While you won't want to miss this dynamic speaker, some key takeaways are outlined below:



Hippos and Tomatoes



Italian aid worker Ernesto Serelli tells the tale of one of his first experiences working in famine-plagued Africa in the 1970s. Bustling with good intentions and plenty of energy, he and his team arrived in the village they were to help and promptly began planting familiar varieties of vegetables in the fertile soil.



The local residents watched the process and despite efforts to engage and teach, did not take the aid workers agriculture lessons seriously or commit to growing. As the plants blossomed and bore amazing fruit, the workers celebrated the harvest and looked forward to showing the native people how much agriculture could do for them.



The night before the harvest, a herd of hippos swept ashore and ate every plant that had been so lovingly cultivated. The locals then revealed to the aid team that hippos had always eaten the crops planted in the verdant, riverside soil. When asked why they had not given the aid team this information weeks before, the answer was "No one asked us."



By rushing ahead and putting a plan in motion that they thought would solve the villager's problem instead of asking questions and discovering what had been tried in the past, the well-meaning aid workers totally missed the point. They also wasted weeks of time and plenty of resources that could have been dedicated elsewhere.



The Power of Listening



You may not be helping a hungry village in Africa, but the lesson of asking your prospect or clients the right questions to truly meet their needs applies to every interaction you have. Learning to listen is an important component for anyone in business. Fail to ask the right questions, and you could face a disaster.



Take the time to remember the hippos and tomatoes next time you speak with a new client about their needs, and make sure you take the time to ask the right questions before you charge ahead.



This TED Talk is an enduring favorite and an excellent reminder of why we need to stop and listen to what our clients are saying and why we need to take the time to understand what they've tried and what they need.