Spring Training Routines Aren’t Just for Athletes

I grew up a diehard sports fan in Boston. Spoiled rotten by now, the city’s motto in those days was, “there’s always next year.” It was an unfortunate existence, but one that leveraged optimism to handle the frustration of defeat. Fast forward to this week when I tuned into a Red Sox spring training game. I was struck by the unique approach sports leagues take to prepare for the nature of business. There are dates and processes that define team building year in and year out. Spring training gets players and coaches comfortable with the daily grind. It establishes routines and provides the practice that teams need in order to win more often than not throughout a grueling season. And it dawned on me that within this rigid structure lies a key lesson for all PR pros.

Living in Organized Chaos

I’m lucky to work for one of the most successful retail technology PR firms in the country. With that, every day brings a new schedule, new challenges and new opportunities. It’s a job that requires preparation, organization, dedication and creativity. Yet, unlike professional athletes, we don’t get an offseason to reset and refocus. With limited regularity to our days, it can be hard to establish effective systems and frameworks that withstand the pressures of day-to-day expectations. Superstitious baseball players would probably hate it.

Identifying Routines

Superstition is a funny thing, really. Most athletes know that putting on their socks in the wrong order doesn’t shift the balance of the universe to mandate their failure. Rather, they understand the need to establish routines that create consistent triggers in a chaotic profession. Yes, they have endless travel, non-stop media attention and families to raise. But little routines help them find stability in the chaos. With a sense of control comes the ability to handle changing environments, situations, and opponents.

Establishing Productive Habits

This approach can teach us something about our own work. As you do your own personal and professional spring cleaning, think about ways that you can declutter your daily schedule. Look for ways to take control of your morning routine. Analyze your lunch break, the way you spend time between tasks, emails, client calls, and everything else you regularly do. You’ll quickly notice that among the chaos, there are plenty of opportunities to take control, find the calm and establish consistency.

The arrival of spring is a played-out analogy for new beginnings and new growth. Indeed, the optimism driven by longer, warmer days offers a notable divergence from the dutiful commitment to New Years’ resolutions made during the pits of winter’s misery. But growth doesn’t have to come from establishing visions of grandeur or reaching lofty goals. Rather, it can simply mean finding the little things in your day that trigger success, that bring regularity, comfort and calm to a hectic day.

So, put in the work to do the little things right. Do them every day. Do them right. Ultimately, you’ll establish routines that last a lifetime. Next spring when they start over once again, you’ll already be hitting home runs.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson

7 Steps to Successful LinkedIn Marketing

In recent weeks, we’ve explored how to develop a content strategy, how to set up a social media program from scratch, and how to use thought leadership bylines to earn media coverage. All of these content approaches complement each other and help reinforce a brand’s identity. But the power of the written, or recorded, word can only get as far as the audience you’ve built to consume it. Luckily, there’s a way to amplify the reach and impact of this owned and earned content that we find quite valuable and our clients are consistently curious about: LinkedIn Sponsored Content.

 Adding a paid element to your PR program helps bridge the gap between traditional PR and traditional marketing, which shouldn’t operate in silos anyway. We like to take a strategic view of LinkedIn promotion, using a step-by-step practice to develop and continually optimize a highly-targeted LinkedIn ads campaign that complements existing content development and organic social media initiatives. The approach outlined below helps identify hyper-relevant prospects, target them with the right content, understand what content to create in the future and serve your company’s ultimate marketing goals.

 Step 1: Identify Ideal Audience

As with any marketing process, you can’t succeed if you don’t know who you’re talking to or trying to reach. But if you know who the decision makers, influencers or buyers are that you want to influence with your content, you can target them at a granular level on LinkedIn. By combing criteria, you can hit a hyper-targeted user set and ensure you’re not spending money promoting content to users who will never make a difference for your bottom line.  You can target audiences in three ways:

  • Demographics – Job function, seniority, company name, geographic region, industry, etc.
  • Interest-based targeting – Group membership, skills, fields of study
  • Company audience data – Target account lists your sales team is using (Note, you’ll need a lot of names for this to be effective, but it guarantees a precise audience.)

Step 2: Define Campaign Goal and Associated Content Formats

Once you know who you want to read your content and ultimately to engage with your brand as a potential customer, you’ll need to define the goal of your campaign. This will determine the kind of content you promote. For content you don’t already have, you’ll need to focus on developing it as part of a comprehensive owned, earned and paid media program. For the following goals, you’ll want to emphasize the associated content:

 Brand awareness

  • Company blog posts on LinkedIn
  • Press releases
  • Long-form posts
  • Visuals/videos
  • Product announcements
  • Promotion of tradeshow attendance

Thought leadership

  • eBook, whitepaper, video, research
  • Industry commentary
  • Long-form posts
  • Guest blogs on other blogs
  • Industry trends or data

 Lead generation

  • eBooks­
  • Webinars
  • How-to guides
  • Blog posts with calls-to-action (CTA)
  • “Freemium” downloads/gated content
  • Industry-related reports

Step 3: Develop an Editorial Calendar

Once you know which content to share, set up an editorial calendar – this will help you to visualize the rhythm of content being published and ensure that you’re addressing different aspects of your brand’s value proposition. Having everything written out will also help make sure you share different forms of content to keep things fresh and engaging for all members of your target audience, depending on their interest, challenge, or stage in the buying process:

  • Awareness: Have realized and expressed symptoms of potential problems or an opportunity.
  • Consideration: Have clearly defined and given a name to their problem or opportunity, actively looking for ways to address the issue.
  • Decision: Have defined their solution strategy, method or approach and ready to take the next step.

Step 4: Identify Assets and Messaging to Promote Content

Identify and/or develop compelling ad copy (150 words or less) and visual content that make readers want to click on or download the content you’re promoting. If you can’t sell your content, no one will read it no matter how informative or well-written it is.

Hint: Include calls to action, statistics, quotes, actionable text.

Step 5: Determine Ad Method

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content campaigns are promoted through paid channels based on posts you have also made directly on your Company Page. They are best used to attract new followers to the company website or landing page and drive engagement with company-specific content.

Company Page posts (status updates) can be promoted in the newsfeeds of both followers and non-followers whose demographics have been specifically targeted. This is a good option for posting blog content, articles about your company or to showcase commentary, award wins, customer or product announcements, and more.

Direct Sponsored Content

The direct sponsored content option allows you to post content directly in the LinkedIn feed without the content originating on your LinkedIn Company Page. This is useful if you don’t want the post to clutter your company’s LinkedIn profile page, but otherwise operates the same as sponsored content.

Website Ads

LinkedIn also offers more traditional website ads, which lead readers to the company website and often start at $2.00 per click and up. These are best leveraged for sending interested parties to your website to download gated content – whitepapers, e-books, case studies, webinars – for lead generation, or to product pages for direct sales promotion. If you choose this option, you should set up goal tracking in Google Analytics to count how many contact form submissions are received as a result of a given ad. Then judge what your cost per lead is and determine if it is delivering appropriate ROI.

Step 6: Set a Budget

Finally, you’ll need to decide what your total monthly budget for LinkedIn ads will be, and how you’ll allocate your spend – either emphasizing CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) if your goal is brand visibility, or CPC (cost per click) if your goal is lead generation or website traffic conversion.

LinkedIn Ads work on a bidding process, so depending on the audience you compete for, the price will change to show an ad. Bids are only processed at $.01 more than second-highest bid, so you can set your bids at the top limit of what you consider a fair value for the click or impression.

Step 7: Reporting/Continuous Improvement

It’s essential to monitor and analyze the key metrics of your campaigns on an ongoing basis. This review process is critical for finding opportunities for improvement to your campaigns, whether it’s improving reach, accuracy of targeting, CPC or CPM, website conversions, engagement and much more.

You should use the LinkedIn campaign manager to review all the metrics available on the platform itself, but also refer to your Google Analytics reports to see how successful you’ve been at driving increased traffic to your website as a whole or to specific landing pages on the site. There are also tools like LinkedIn Insight Tag to your website that will help you evaluate deeper insights about your campaign and users to continue improve your LinkedIn, content marketing, and overall marketing goals.

To learn more about how LinkedIn can help drive brand awareness and lead generation as part of your PR or marketing program, feel free to reach out to me directly – [email protected] – and don’t forget to follow Ketner Group Communications on LinkedIn and Twitter for more valuable tips like these.

 

Tips for Developing a Content Strategy

Blogs! Social media! Whitepapers! Webinars and email newsletters! These are only some of the content marketing tactics that hold a tremendous amount of potential for getting your business the attention it needs to grow as fast as it deserves.

It can be truly dizzying for marketing teams to crank out the amount of content needed to make an impact. And unless your marketing team requires a fleet of Uber XLs to get to an office happy hour, it’s just not possible to do it all. Yes, PR firms can be terrific allies in developing and executing on your content strategy, but how should you set one up in the first place?

Brand awareness vs. lead generation

An effective content strategy serves two equally valuable and competing (yet complementary) purposes – brand awareness and lead generation – neither of which your marketing can succeed without. It’s finding out how to balance these that takes work. So, take a step back and work from the top down. Define your organization’s unique needs and goals. Ask questions like:

  • Do our customers know who we are?
  • Is our pipeline flooded or flowing at a trickle?
  • Does our sales team close every sale they work on or are we struggling to convert leads?
  • Do we have a competitor or competitors regularly winning deals over us?

Once you know where you stand, where you’re already succeeding and what gaps you need to address, you can determine the type of information your intended audience would most benefit from. Then, leverage the three overarching channels available to you – owned, earned and paid media – to get it to them.

Owned Media

Think about the advice we’d all give to a friend feeling overwhelmed by a situation, something along the lines of, “you can only control what you can control.” Although sometimes frustrating to take that advice at face value, it’s essential to get the basics right before branching out to more nuanced arenas. Unsurprisingly then, owned media should always be the first and most fundamental element of any content strategy.

Website

To that end, your focus should be on ensuring your website is the rock your content strategy can build off of. It allows you to tell visitors who you are as a company, what you stand for, what you sell and why it’s worth the investment. It has unrivaled power to tell your story how you want it told – everything you want someone to know about your company should live here. You should also have simple components like a ‘Contact Us’ page for lead generation, and any gated whitepapers, case studies, e-books, or webinars can live in perpetuity on your website to generate traffic and leads, long after you publish them.  Managing a regularly updated blog is also a key part of becoming a well-rounded brand; it will serve as an outlet for the promotional and thought leadership messaging you want your customers to associate with your business.

Social Media

It’s not exactly a cutting-edge revelation, but social media channels allow you to disseminate any info you want to the people that follow you. All the content you post to your website should be shared on the social channels you run, as this drives traffic to specific landing pages and your site as a whole, further driving lead generation. Just don’t forget to share and engage with the broader community on your social media platforms, as no one likes a “me, me, me” account!

However, it’s also important to note that not every platform is perfect for every brand or audience. We’ll share another post on social media content marketing in a few weeks (and will link to it once it’s live), but we tend to be major fans of LinkedIn for our B2B retail clients, using Twitter and Facebook as complementary outlets. Based on your audience and goals, pick and choose your platforms so you don’t waste time and resources building a community that won’t drive online engagement.

Email

Often left out of the ‘thought leadership’ bucket, but rarely forgotten by traditional marketers, email can play a key role in reaching an audience of customers, prospects, partners and others who care about your company message and sign up to receive information from you. Don’t just use email to sell; use it to inform, engage and entertain whenever possible to maximize its potential and keep your readers from going for an instant ‘delete.’

Earned Media

Along with content strategy and development as a whole, earned media is the bread and butter of our PR firm, and one of the most compelling reasons to work with an agency with a long history in a given market. Earned media provides a major boost to your brand’s visibility, recognition and authority. But using content to earn media attention doesn’t end with press release pitching.

My colleague Adrienne Newcomb wrote a great blog on using bylined articles to secure thought leadership coverage in key trade publications, and we’ve found that case studies, proprietary research reports, and pitching executive commentary on developing trends (great for sharing on social too) can have a big impact on a brand’s ability to get media coverage.

Whatever content you create for your owned channels, think about how you might be able to convince someone else to use it on their own platform. Without reinventing the wheel, you’ve greatly increased the value of a given piece of content.

Paid Media

Paid media can be a terrific option to supplement your owned and earned content strategies but should rarely, if ever, be relied upon to have a strong impact before the brand has developed those initial content foundations. We recommend thinking of paid media as the final exclamation point on a well-executed organic program that helps take successes to new heights. This doesn’t mean you need to have a killer email marketing program in order to promote high-performing blog posts on LinkedIn, but it does mean you shouldn’t be investing heavily in LinkedIn posts that direct back to a useless website. Determine the gap in your growth plan, create enjoyable content people want to engage with, build an audience that cares what you have to say, and use paid to take you over the top. If your foundation is strong, the potential ROI can be huge!

We’re here to help

Want to learn more about developing a content marketing strategy from scratch or optimizing a program already in motion? Reach out to us. We love talking about content and it’d be our pleasure to help you use your own media effectively and efficiently.

Tara Building outside

Coworking in Dublin

As a remote employee, I’ve found a lot of ways to keep myself on a regular schedule, focused on the task at hand, and well-socialized. I even wrote a blog about working remotely earlier this year that helps showcase the ins and outs of shifting from home office to coffee shop and back again. Working remotely is as good as it seems, but there’s always room for improvement.

The Tara Building

Tara Building outsideTo help make this good thing better, the Ketner Group executive team has arranged a coworking membership for me at one of Dublin’s more recognizable and funky places of work, The Tara Building. Located right in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from Trinity College and across the road from the Irish Times headquarters, it’s a great environment to settle in for a few hours and get some serious work done.

The open floor plan and floating desk environment make it a casual space to work, and it’s easy to catch the productive vibes from pros in other industries. Chats in the kitchen range from technical design concepts to Irish politics to the next great vacation spot or new restaurant to try. Weekly workshops on everything from leadership to Chinese Art make it impossible to feel like there’s a lack of innovation or culture in town. All of it combines to keep the creative juices flowing, and there’s also the opportunity to network just a walk downstairs away.

New Opportunities

Tara Building Coworking InsideWorking remotely allows for an unrivaled sense of control over schedule, location and wardrobe. It means if it rains, hard, I’m not going anywhere and that’s just fine. But it also means that I have a unique opportunity to work alongside professionals from across the world, from a wide number of industries on a day-to-day basis and expand my perspective into how the world really turns.

I’m very much looking forward to getting more comfortable and meeting new people through the networking events and free workshops. Plus, the promise of free coffee from one of the most innovative and socially responsible suppliers I’ve encountered, Moyee, has me buzzing with excitement

What You Need to Know about Working Remotely Abroad

Last August, I penned a blog about my recent move to Ireland and my excitement both personally and professionally, and for Ketner Group as we continue to expand our international client base. I’ve been incredibly lucky to find myself in this situation. It’s been a life-changing move that has lived up to every expectation.

For me, the hardest part of starting to work remotely from another country wasn’t deciding where to go – Irish citizenship made that easy (thanks, Dad). It wasn’t convincing my boss to let me do it – the leadership team at Ketner Group were my biggest supporters. Rather, the hardest part was learning how to keep up the same level of productivity that being in the office every day encouraged.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to work remotely or how to quit your job and travel the world. But for those lucky enough – and I mean lucky enough, because maintaining a full-time salaried income while living remotely is a blessing – to work abroad for companies based in their home countries, there are ten things I think you should know before you get started.

1. Be indispensable

This is somewhat of a guiding principle that makes the whole thing work, and it starts well before any exploration of remote work can start. If you want your boss to give you the green light to pack up and move across the world, they need to know that you’re dedicated to helping the company, your clients and your colleagues succeed. Yes, this move is about your personal journey, but it’s made possible by those at home. Put in great work, be trustworthy and reliable, and never lose sight of the work part of work abroad.

2. Full-time can’t mean all the time

However, once it’s in your head that you need to keep kicking ass to make this arrangement work, it can be easy to take it too far. Greg Caplan, one of the founders of Remote Year, says “remote workers actually work more hours. The time they’re working is focused, because they have the flexibility to do whatever, whenever.”

That’s the blessing and the curse of remote work. No one walks into your office to distract you but there is also no ‘closing time’ where everyone goes home. Those emails keep coming, and you just absolutely have to learn to close your laptop and move on with your life at the end of the day.

3. Time zones are your frenemy

For anyone moving east or west to live abroad, time zones can be a massive adjustment. In Ireland, I have until 3 p.m. before the rest of my team logs on, and I rarely get an email before noon. I can’t lie. This is amazing. I get to sit down and just… work. No fire drills. No meetings. No giphy threads dropping on Slack. It’s just so easy to get work done!

It’s also just as easy to not start work. No one knows when you sign on, so why wake up when it’s still dark out? What’s 5 more minutes in bed? And at the end of the day, when I’m wrapping up the day’s tasks, way more are coming in from my American teams. An urgent client question here, a quick review of a document for a coworker there, and boom, it’s 7 o’clock. And Lord knows, dinner ain’t going to cook itself. Do we have Uber Eats in this country??

4. Create a routine or destroy it; there is no middle ground

Working remotely from another time zone gives you the flexibility to really work whenever you want, as long as the work gets done. Of course, one of the reasons office life is hard is that sometimes, you just don’t have it on a given day. At home, you can take that brain-dead, useless-to-society time and do laundry, hit the gym, take a nap, or go down wormholes trying to figure out how in the world the Flat Earth movement has gotten so popular. This is an endless wormhole, there is no good answer.

But because it’s so easy to get distracted when no one is around to get you back on track, you need to decide whether you’re a no-routine person who can snap out of it and get everything done at 11 p.m. when your brain comes around, or if you need to just suck it up and persevere on a regular schedule. I found out I need the schedule. The sooner you realize which person you are the better. Floundering in the middle is a death sentence.

5. Use Your Breaks Wisely

Part of that schedule includes breaks. No one can sit still for 8 hours and crank out press releases. But use your breaks wisely. In the office, a break can mean checking Facebook or reading sports scores. Maybe you take a walk around the block. It’s really important to disengage from work so you can refocus, but at home, these breaks can get long in a hurry.

During work hours, it’s best to put away the phone, save reading articles about the wine revolution in the NBA for lunch-time, and use breaks to maintain productivity that isn’t work related. Need a walk? Walk to the grocery store. Need to feel social? Call your parents who miss you (work is also a great excuse to hang up). Hungry? Make a snack that will fill you up enough that you don’t visit the fridge 14 more times that day. Being productive when you’re not working is a unique privilege to remote work, don’t waste it! You’ll be happy when the day is over or the weekend rolls around and those tasks are done.

6. Communicate thoroughly; not constantly

It can seem critical to over-communicate when working from the other side of the planet. Shoot, we preach that habit when we sit five feet away from each other! But that doesn’t mean constant chatter and emails is the answer. In fact, that’s a terrible way to communicate, and worse when you’re not in the room to explain context that gets lost in the written word.

It’s much more effective to schedule regular meetings with your internal teams to discuss everything live. Develop an agenda to guide the conversation and use this time to talk about all recent problems, identify upcoming deadlines, set goals, distribute responsibilities and brainstorm new ideas. Doing this all at once limits confusion, makes sure everyone is on the same page, and gives your teams the confidence that everything is running smoothly even though you’re not glued to your email after work hours in your time zone.

7. Pimp out your workspace

Having a dedicated, great workspace is key. Used to having a second screen to work from? Buy one. It’s worth the money. So is a good chair. And a desk. And a lamp. Put stuff on the walls and keep things organized. Your workspace needs to be somewhere that you just work. That’s it. Not the kitchen table, not the couch, definitely not the bed. Freedom to work from wherever you want is a great part of working remotely, but good scenery is a huge boost to productivity.

8. Shower, get dressed and eat breakfast immediately

Being viewed as a valuable member of society requires a few simple things. Part of that is having a job, looking like you have a job, and starting the day like someone with a job starts the day. If you don’t start the day right, it’s really hard to get started later. Laziness sets in fast; beat it to the punch.

9. Go outside

Leaving your apartment is the best thing for you. It might not seem like it when it’s raining sideways or freezing cold but the beauty of working from home is that you don’t ever have to in those conditions. But most days, at least for a little while, changing scenery and working from a coffee shop or library can really stimulate your brain. It’s also a really good way to see a new city and explore new neighborhoods. And if you get an unlimited mobile data plan, you can work from anywhere, from parks to pubs. A worthy investment indeed.

10. Take full advantage of being abroad

Working remotely abroad is a tremendous opportunity. Take advantage and get out of town as much as possible. Go see the small towns in your region, go hiking in mountains you’ve never heard of, visit museums and learn stories of movements or creatures you never knew existed. Get on a plane and go see cities on your bucket list and work from coffee shops in those places, exploring on weekends or at night. Why? Because now you can!

Ketner Group Moves to Dublin

Lebron James famously once said, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

But this isn’t about Miami. Or basketball. Or my next multi-million-dollar contract.

In fact, this post is about moving to another iconic place – a wonderful, scenic little island famous for its coastline, culture and pints of heavy black beer. And while there is no South Beach in the North Atlantic, I could not be more excited to be the lone Ketner Group team member calling Ireland home for the next 12 months.

Over the past few decades, Ireland has emerged as a cultural hot spot, benefitting from a booming tourism economy driven by golf, ancient castles and Guinness. Now economically humming once again, after a sharp crash in the recent global recession, Ireland is a destination not just for those seeking leisure on a grand soft day, but for the international technology firms that benefit from a highly educated workforce, low corporate tax rate, and welcoming population.

As an Irish-American armed with a passport from both nations and a background in retail technology, it’s fascinating to see how the country has changed from the first time I came here as a young child. Of course, sheep still create traffic jams on country roads the width of your driveway, but there is a buzz in the air of Dublin and Ireland’s other cities as its global potential starts to be recognized.

From Facebook to Google to Airbnb and Apple and so many more, Ireland has recruited some of the world’s most important technology companies to its shores. Of course, with Brexit leading to concerns about access to the European market, many more are expected to follow. The Irish-American business bond is catching up to the personal bond created by waves of Irish emigrants to American shores. The Irish culture of innovation is threatening to catch up to the rich culture of its history, a promising premise for the country, and for those who are lucky enough to call it home.

Of course, it’s only been my home for less than two weeks, but I can’t wait to play my small part in keeping that connection strong and growing.

SXSW Gets Intelligent, Raises as Many Questions as Answers

SXSW 2017 was a terrific week spent in the presence of some of technology’s brightest minds, music’s best acts and film’s most creative souls. For Ketner Group, the event was a chance to lose sight of reality and dive into the fascinating beyond, the next era of the intersection between technology and humanity. It’s exhausting work, but hey, someone’s gotta do it.

It seems that with each passing year, SXSW does a better job of asking questions than providing answers. Maybe that’s because each one-hour session doesn’t do the experts on stage enough justice. How can someone who has dedicated their life to mapping the human brain using machine learning break that work down in one hour, while sharing a stage with the founder of Siri and a biologist learning how to grow everything we need by having intelligent systems program atoms and microbes? It takes the hour just to fully realize how much smarter these folks are than you!

But understanding the question that needs solving is the key first step to success. And we saw a few critical questions arise that anyone involved in commerce and technology will need to consider within the short and long term to ensure their prosperity. Some will be answered before SXSW 2018, and some not for many years, but the work starts now. Let’s dive in.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, these are some of the most hyped technological concepts out there. And they were everywhere at SXSW 2017. And really, they should be. AI and machine learning will be incorporated into nearly every aspect of retail, from logistics and distribution to marketing to in-store and online customer experience.

AI has the power to greatly reduce the stress of manpower on a retail business, opening up human capital for more valuable roles that drive better experiences. Intelligent systems will understand human language and new age personal assistants will make Amazon’s Alexa look like a pet rock.

And as the founder of Kasita revealed, even your living room will be AI-heavy to the point that it may actually be artificial intelligence in physical form. TVs, window blinds, thermostats and many other items will become smart gadgets, learning how to adapt to your lifestyle and reduce your time spent doing menial tasks, which include buying things like groceries or razors. Watch out, because this one is going to be fun.

Conversational Commerce
Siri started the voice command personal assistant craze that has since grown into a full force commerce craze. But based on nearly any metric – capability, adoption, competition – it hasn’t yet hit the mainstream and is nowhere near its full potential. Alexa and Google Home can’t understand complex speech patterns, can’t infer deeper meaning from simple requests and are prone to making real mistakes, like ordering something because it overheard someone on TV or a demanding child say it. Chatbots will combine the best of speech recognition and cognition to make customer service a breeze. No, really.

Our voices will eventually replace our hands as our primary machine operating tools, and how retailers integrate this technology into their omni-channel platforms will be fascinating to watch.

Social Commerce
The golden rule in payments innovation is not to compete against other forms of digital payments, compete against cash. Social commerce has long been an area that retailers have felt could be the next frontier in omni-channel commerce. And as they started to understand its potential, conversation apps outpaced them. So what’s the future of social commerce? Think small.

Commerce on social media or conversation apps is not a significant growth area for enterprise level business, at least not yet. And part of this is the limitation of highly complex payment, banking and regulatory systems.

Instead, this is an area in which independent businesses, individual sellers and developing nations are the true pioneers. In fact, according to Facebook’s Director of Commerce & Payment Partnerships, Facebook alone has over 5 million businesses registered, many using it as a critical platform to do business.

Sellers can create mini-storefronts on their Facebook or Instagram pages, listing the products they have for sale, deleting the posts once they’re no longer in inventory. They can use peer-to-peer payments apps like Venmo to manage cashless and remote transactions, and communicate instantly via apps like WhatsApp and create a marketplace for their goods much broader than available within the constructs of their physical environment and local infrastructure. 

blogpic

The question for major retailers will be whether they can integrate massive SKU count assortments into this sort of framework, if the social and conversation apps will evolve with their platforms to enable a simple integration, or if social apps will avoid the invasion of commercial interests on an otherwise personal interaction space.

What Now?
For now, we wait, we watch and we marvel at the technologies that are revolutionizing our world. Within retail itself, we’ll continue to see the automation of process, the personalization of marketing and experience, and the simplification of consumption. Where we’re going, we don’t need answers (right away), we just need the right questions.

NRF 2017, Here We Come

In most industries, the holidays are a time to disengage from the hustle and bustle of work, plan for 2017 and clean out the junk folders to start the New Year feeling refreshed. But as we all know, quite the opposite is true in retail. And once a new calendar gets pinned to the wall, the heat really starts to turn up as we make final preparations for the biggest conference of our year, NRF’s BIG Show.

This year, the Ketner Group team has been as busy as ever, meticulously preparing, pitching, coordinating and managing all sorts of client announcements and on-site briefings. As the newest member of the KG team and a rookie to the realities of NRF life, I have to admit it’s been impressive watching our team stay (mostly) stress-free, while securing some truly terrific opportunities for publicity next week, without losing sight of client needs in the now.

As our entire office goes wheels up this weekend, heading from sunny and warm Austin, Texas to the hopefully not-so-cold and not-so-gray Big Apple, I expect to feel the same excitement and confidence in our client outcomes as our veterans who have been mastering the NRF process for over ten years.

We look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces, connecting with new clients and having NRF ’17 mark the start of another great year at Ketner Group, for our clients, and for the retail industry in general. Good luck everyone!

Ketner Group clients at NRF, and where to find them:

 

Reimagining the Retail Associate

Retail is changing faster than a teenager out of Nana’s Christmas sweater before meeting up with friends. We are witnessing major investments in omnichannel development, especially in tech-heavy areas like big data analytics, personalized marketing. Yet, investments into the role of the retail associate have not quite made it to the top of the priority list for many retailers. The tides they are a changing, however, and like an old episode of MTV Made, the savviest of retailers are undertaking the challenge of turning traditionally undervalued store associates into retail superstars.

With so much focus on high-level changes, it’s the folks on the floor who are the ultimate brand ambassadors that most directly influence customer loyalty. They can’t be seen as just a necessary expense any longer – to stock shelves or fold clothes, run the checkout or greet shoppers. When we get right down to it, no matter how many marketing and innovation dollars a company spends, the associate is the only actual person on-site to convert the sale. They have the ultimate power to win or lose a customer, once and forever.

Why Change Now?

The need for this shift is easier to understand when we look at how polarized retail is becoming. On one end it is becoming commoditized, on the other it’s becoming specialized. The intensity of competition for consumers has driven a wedge between “price retailers” and “experience retailers.” In either extreme, executives need to acknowledge that their lowest level employees can be the difference between a shopper returning to their store or looking somewhere else where they feel more at home.

Men get the reputation for hating shopping, and I count myself among that group. The thing is, I like new things, I just hate spending time in a store, wandering aimlessly and breathing recycled air that makes me thirst for a cold beer, or even just a trickle of warm water from a fountain. A good shopping experience all comes down to stripping away challenges and time-consuming activities.

Associates are already tasked with solving these challenges, like locating the right size of an item a customer likes – whether on the shelf or in the backroom, or finding and ordering it online for them. We all know that associates are there to help with these things, but in reality, too many of us have heard, “I’m sorry that’s not my department,” or “what’s on the shelf is all we have,” to even bother asking most of the time. When shoppers like me hear this, that sprint out of the store happens much sooner and sales, not just today but forever, are forfeited.

Arming Associates with Technology

Luckily, just as technology has redefined the modern shopper, technology is ready to redefine the modern associate. Some of the most successful retailers in the country have acknowledged the inefficiencies of the old model and have begun making significant investments in empowering employees. They are arming them with data-driven, engagement-oriented technologies that, in combination with supplemental training, allow them to provide a more personal, more intelligent and more supportive shopping experience.

For example, clienteling software gives employees access to shopper history and allows them to make recommendations based on data collected from every interaction a customer has, on any channel, with that retailer. In combination with face-to-face conversations in the store, associates can make better recommendations, anticipate needs more effectively, and ultimately, drive better sales.

Likewise, tools like mobile POS allow associates to finalize transactions on the fly, protecting shoppers from long checkout lines and promoting a personal connection with the same associate from a customer’s first inquiry through the completion of the sale. Less time spent in the store and fewer headaches when inside is a recipe for success.

As technology becomes even more a part of everyday life, shopping behaviors change and people raise their expectations for those they buy from. In a time of increased automation, when companies no longer feel personally attentive, human touch can provide a distinct advantage. People have a unique ability to build a sense of community, trust and loyalty.

But these human interactions can’t be purely transactional. Associates have the opportunity and power to talk to each customer, make recommendations and persuade them to buy an item. Just because they aren’t built on an ecommerce platform, don’t hold their memories in the cloud and don’t require service upgrades, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same attention and investment.

Not Every Trick is a Treat: Branding in a Competitive Environment

im-a-mouse-duh-mean-girlsBeing the talk of the town on Halloween requires going beyond the cliché and finding an outside-the-box costume that people will also be able to understand and enjoy. Whether scrambling last minute and slapping a mask or a witch hat on or becoming a Goodwill regular hunting for the perfect accessory, Halloween revelers take advantage of Halloween to borrow a persona that extends far beyond their everyday personality. Done right, a Halloween costume can earn you some serious kudos.

This isn’t dissimilar to retail marketers developing campaigns this holiday season. As the nights get longer and mornings get colder, they are looking for ways to cozy up to shoppers in unique ways. The ‘go viral’ mentality has led to a lot of good and bad ideas, but brands and retailers know they can’t just discount themselves into oblivion anymore. They need to find innovative marketing campaigns and brand messaging that puts a new spin on traditional tactics. Like knowing what it takes to win the office Halloween costume contest, there are a few foundational elements Halloween shares with holiday marketing.

Creativity

In the age of data-driven marketing, it can be hard to remember that people can’t give feedback – positive or negative – on something they haven’t seen yet. Numbers can tell you anything you want to know about your customers, and on a macro-level, you can determine what sort of marketing those people respond to best. That is undoubtedly important when creating your brand, full stop. But when looking to stand out in an extra busy time, those numbers can be so restricting that you never find the best answer.

Riddle me this: which costume do you prefer – the store-bought ‘princess’ costume or the one that took someone a week to make after visiting four stores, busting out the sewing machine and coming up with an original costume you hadn’t seen before? Ask Google what’s more popular and you’ll see that lots of people were princesses, so you know that’s a safe way to go, but I promise you’d be more excited to have trick-or-treaters come to your door as the latter.

Numbers and data and research can lie, even if it’s by accident. They’ll tell you what isn’t the wrong move, but they can’t prove what is the right move – not in this instance and not when trying to develop a viral or even just plain compelling marketing campaign.

Relatability

stranger-things-costume
That’s me. I’m ‘dead Barb’ from Stranger Things. People liked my sign.

Creativity is great, but if people are left scratching their heads and whispering to their friends that they have no idea what’s going on, it’s useless. Some of my favorite costumes are when people dress up as characters from kids’ movies I haven’t thought about in years. These costumes establish a sense of belonging and an inside-joke mentality to the holiday. These costumes aren’t cliché, but they rely on a shared connection that most people have, and takes advantage of that feeling to create a positive reaction. Many of the movies I haven’t seen or barely remember are well-established, so I don’t have to know exactly what the character did in the movie or what their most quotable lines are in order to appreciate it.

Retailers can leverage their knowledge of their customers here to find unique connections they have with each other. No matter what you sell, your customers have other interests. Find the connections that fly under the radar and exploit them without alienating those who aren’t in on the joke, and you have a pretty good recipe for success. 

Funny

One thing that is sure to get people to like your costume even when they don’t know you is to have a funny costume. Costumes that take a second to figure out because they’re based on wordplay or costumes that shake the stuffiness and self-consciousness of daily life are always a big hit. They’re creative; people understand that it’s a joke and not who you really are, and they can easily join in the fun with you. The barriers to friendship, conversation or just a moment of laughter with each other when you get the joke is what it’s all about. Don’t take yourself too seriously, whether in costume or in business at the holidays, and you’ll be on the track to a successful holiday.

Halloween marks the holiday season’s earnest launch. The competition for best costume, just like the competition for holiday consumers, is tough to win. But, if retail marketers think about their holiday strategies the same way they think about putting together a good costume, they’ll be swapping out the fun size treats for king size in no time.