For ambitious people everywhere, the new year represents an exciting opportunity to make a positive changes in their personal and professional lives. If you are a part of this crowd (and let’s be real, no one runs a business without being at least somewhat ambitious) then you are probably drafting a resolution list right now. If that is the case, then here are four concrete ways you can improve your business in 2018.
Take Full Advantage of Social Media
Unless you’re totally slacking off, the odds are pretty good that your business has, at a minimum, a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Perhaps you even dabble in other social networks such as LinkedIn, and maybe you’ve even put some work into developing original content and/or advertising a bit.
Nonetheless, it is a pretty safe bet that you are not taking full advantage of all the benefits that’s social media offers. (It’s no coincidence that 76% of small businesses don’t see positive ROI from their social media pages.) In most cases, this is due to a very minimal amount of time, money, and effort invested in such endeavors. If you make an earnest attempt to post original content at least once a week, post curated content at least twice a week, and engage with every comment and message you receive in a timely manner, your social media campaign will automatically be in the top ten percent, without spending a single dime on advertising. Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself.
A shockingly low percentage of small businesses have an e-commerce presence. (In fact, only about half even have websites at all!) The reason why this is so surprising is that ecommerce is especially suited to smaller organizations. The reduced overhead and easy scalability makes online business an invaluable opportunity for companies like yours, so make sure your new years resolution list contains a plan to build your online store!
Be Ruthless Toward Unnecessary Costs
Many people start the new year looking to shed a few pounds. (And this is certainly an admirable goal, especially considering the fact that some studies have shown a correlation between promoting physical health and improving your financial well-being.) That being said, you should make it a goal to trim fat from your business operations as well! Overspending can really harm small companies dealing with tight budgets, so analyze the ROI on each and every dollar carefully.
Highlight What Makes You Unique
No two businesses are alike. (And this is a good thing.) Identifying what makes you special to your customers and to your industry is the cornerstone of any brand-building campaign — and you would do well to emphasize this through social media, customer experience, product design, professional photography, and every other medium possible.
Learn more about strategies for business success by browsing more articles on the Black and Gold blog — and don’t forget to share your own experiences in the comment section below!
Tech forecasters often latch onto the latest technology under the assumption that everyone will want to adopt the latest and greatest digital tools, but there’s significant evidence to suggest that consumers aren’t as snowed by shiny new things as the tech industry would like them to be. Sometimes, the old ways are the best ways to set yourself apart.
Virtual Reality, Automation and Retail
There’s a simple truth that some futurists and forecasters would rather we ignore: lots of tech predictions end up being hilariously wrong. We were supposed to having flying cars by now, right? The fact is, tech requires wild imagination and daring dreams to propel itself forward, and a lot of those innovative concepts never see the light of days. Even those that do, like virtual reality, can land with a thud when it comes to actually delivering consumers what they want.
Tech overlords would have us believe that in the future, people will essentially conduct all of their business online, ordering their “internet of things” devices to complete basic tasks as automated bots and machines handle the rest. But is that what people actually want? The recent resurgence of retail suggests that visions of our completely digital futures may be a bit overblown. While some retail businesses are certainly struggling to stay afloat, a new class of experience-focused businesses are thriving in the physical space. This is a significant trend that shouldn’t be ignored.
Classic Customer Service in the Digital Space
So what is it that makes thriving brick-and-mortar businesses stand so steady against the digital tide? When you think about the issue from the perspective of individuality and interaction, the answer becomes clear. As much as technology develops around us, people are still essentially the same. We’re still social animals with individual wants and needs. A format that lumps everyone into a faceless mass and provides no real outlets for direct connection may provide convenience, but it doesn’t provide the direct connection that so many people crave.
So how do you leverage this if you run a digital-only business? Give your customers at least one way to connect with your brand directly. This often means using social media as a platform not only to reach out but to talk back as well. Leave comments active on all your social media accounts, and respond to questions or particularly noteworthy comments from your followers. Consider running giveaway contests and other interactive promotions that engage your followers and provide a specific payoff for engagement.
Don’t shy away from branching out into the real world as well. You can host in-person events such as pop-up shops or booths at major festivals or conventions and post pictures from these events in your feeds. An actual brick-and-mortar store isn’t the only way to go about it anymore. If you can turn your brand into a destination, you’ll enhance your appeal and prestige, giving your followers more reasons to stay connected and see if they can come experience your product line in person.
Marketing in the digital era requires regular maintenance and constant innovation. Rather than running your team ragged to keep up, you can save money and get better results by working with an external marketing agency.
When you try to recruit highly talented pros onto your team, you’ve got to offer them something no one else will. The more experience and success the marketing professional has, the more you’ve got to outmaneuver your competitors to bring the right people into the fold. Fail to keep your highly prized team member satisfied and you may find him or her moving onto another job, taking the skills and knowledge they’ve gained since joining your team with them and leaving you in the position of having to go through the hiring process once again.
costs associated with recruiting and hiring. Independent marketing firms want to build long-lasting relationships with their clients, and they aren’t going to be chasing the job with the best benefits package or the most comprehensive in-office perks.
Top Talent on Demand
Working with an external marketing agency not only saves money but also brings in better talent. Recruiting marketers can be tough, but marketing agencies tend to have a special edge in this arena. Marketers who are responsible for taking over an entire marketing operation as a one-person department often find themselves having to work on other tasks not related to their area of expertise, and the people who dedicate their professional lives to understanding the art and science of branding usually aren’t thrilled by this idea.
Specialist firms allow marketing geniuses the opportunity to focus in on the skills they’re most passionate about, which results in focused, creative outcomes. External marketing firms may shift gears between different projects, but they’re always focused on the same essential tasks. Everything a marketing specialist does will sharpen his or her skill set and bring fresh ideas to the table.
A New Perspective
The pervasive reach of digital media has given rise to the age of the highly publicized marketing fail, with major marketing mistakes taking on a life of their own and causing millions to scratch their heads, wondering how something like this could happen. No matter how hard we try to fight it, humans have a tendency to want to fall in line with a group. Speaking out against an idea that everyone else in your office is excited about can be tough.
Bringing in different perspectives helps organizations avoid what often seems like obvious mistakes to everyone but the people working on the project. External marketing agencies don’t operate under the same roof as their clients, and the interplay between the agency and their client introduces a system of checks and balances in which the final result has been thoroughly vetted and considered both by the people who know the product best and the marketing experts who know how to sell it.
There’s a lot of content out there in the digital space, and most of it is terrible. This gives anyone with uniquely excellent content a major competitive edge. But if you want to take full advantage of this opportunity, you’re going to have to approach it like a fearless badass.
Badass Content Basics
What is badass content? You know it when you see it. It’s the Instagram feed that’s enviably curated and consistent. It’s the site copy that reads like poetry. It’s hard to do, and that’s why so few brands produce it. To elevate your brand’s content to the highest level, you’ll need to capture these fundamental qualities in your content and know exactly when each element is most appropriate for your goals.
Trailblazers set themselves apart by doing their own thing and never, ever following the leader. Sure, there are some basic rules you’ll need to follow to create successful content, but those rules run mostly in the background. Coming up with your own signature brand voice and style is an essential part of creating exceptional content. Don’t make random listicles and hop onto popular hashtags just for the sake of it. What works for another brand won’t necessarily work for you, so be brave and find your own way to shine.
Don’t go so far in the direction of originality that you start to take on a voice that doesn’t feel natural to what you’re trying to do. Staying true to your brand’s core mission and values is an essential element in creating standout content. It’s like spending time chatting with a person who obviously feels comfortable in their own skin and sure of their place in the world. Those people tend to be the most compelling, the ones you want to sit next to at a dinner party. Be different by being real.
Brands that really understand their audience tend to do the best content marketing. Speaking to some inherent need or persistent emotion can help your audience connect with your message. Call it a “pain point” if you like, but the idea is that content that feels insightful to your audience’s personal experience will be easier to connect with. It’s also quite bold to pick an audience you understand and go for it with no hesitation, and that’s the kind of badass approach that will really set your content apart.
By “inspiring,” we don’t necessarily mean something that’s going to motivate someone to change their lives, travel the world or find true love. Sure, if it’s relevant to what you’re trying to promote, go for it. But content doesn’t have to be completely transformative or lifechanging to be inspiring. Even something relatively low key, like a beautiful set of bangle bracelets, can tap into something aspirational in your audience. It’s all about making your presentation extraordinary.
Of course, that’s not all it takes to take your brand to the next level. Good content creation takes practice. Let BLACK + GOLD show you how it’s done.
In early January, Macy’s announced that it plans to close 36 under-performing brick-and-mortar stores this year, laying off 4,500 people in the process. In doing so, Macy’s has joined a long list of other retail chains closing their stores – including Office Depot, Walgreens, Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters and The Gap.
Despite this trend, not all is doom-and-gloom in retail circles, as some on-line retailers are moving quickly into brick-and-mortar stores. Forbes reported that eCommerce retailers like Fabletics (athletic brand) and Birchbox (subscription-based beauty shop) are opening traditional retail outlets.
Forbes noted: “Moving from an online platform to bricks and mortar is a growing trend with younger online brands, and one that could reshape the future shopping center / mall dynamic.”
Online retailers are confident in making such a disruptive move because they have built an established customer base online, have data on those customers that can inform what to offer them and when. A physical store presence can also offer unique customer experiences, otherwise unavailable on-line.
This trend reflects a growing “omni-channel” approach to retailing. It’s a business model that deploys a variety of distribution channels to deliver a seamless customer shopping experience. This approach can go beyond an eCommerce website and a physical store to include “buy buttons” on social media outlets such as Pinterest.
For example, a customer can discover a product via social media, go to check it out at a retail store, and then order it online. Or some retailers offer a hybrid shopping experience, such as Best Buy and Staples, that allows customers to shop online then pick up the merchandise at a near-by retail store, without having to pay shipping charges.
This reverse online to in-person retail strategy is helping drive growth for “challenger brands” such as Adore Me Lingerie, a $43 million a year eCommerce business. Founded in 2010 by Morgan Herman-Waiche, Adore Me appeals to young women by offering low prices, and a fast-fashion sensibility to selling lingerie.
The NYC based company is the intimates answer to fast fashion giants like Zara, H&M and Forever 21. Adore me is also giving lingerie category leader Victoria’s Secret, with $12.5 billion in annual sales, a real run for its money.
Adore Me operates on a fast-fashion / rapid manufacture-to-retail cycle in which the brand introduces a new 30-40 piece collection every month. Their price point is about $39.95 for a matching bra and panties set. New members can buy their first set for $24.95 plus free shipping. Adore Me also offer swimwear, sleepwear, lingerie and accessories.
Recently Adore Me joined the growing ranks of eCommerce merchants opening a physical store by announcing the opening a by-appointment only location inside its West 39th Street headquarters in NYC.
This savvy move was prompted by the success of a three-day Valentine’s Day pop-up shop which Adore Me had created in New York City’s Hudson Hotel earlier this year. Adore Me plans to enhance the customer experience even further by providing 45-minute one-on-one sessions with a personal shopping stylist. Interested shoppers can sign up online for appointments.
“I literally came to the U.S. with my luggage and ambition,” said Herman-Waiche a French native and Harvard Business School alumnus. “Now I’m disrupting a whole industry.”
As another Frenchman, Marcel Proust, once noted: “Most things are not what they appear to be.” Online shoppers need to be mindful of price savings offers and comparisons that could make them feel like they are getting a great deal, when in fact, they are not.
As the NY Times recently reported, many online retailers use “list price” as a comparative benchmark to demonstrate online savings. However, this sales tactic, which usually involves a much higher amount, is now drawing legal scrutiny and may raise integrity questions for eCommerce merchants.
It’s clear that the retail marketplace is changing fast, driven by disruptive technologies (smart phones), risk-taking start-ups, and shoppers who continually seek better deals and broader selections of merchandise.
But the future of retailing may lie in the lessons of the past, as exemplified by Chicago retail pioneer Marshall Field. He was renowned for his ability to provide an exceptional level of quality, selection and customer service. Field’s motto for success was “Give the lady what she wants.”
Retailers like Adore Me are doing just that (in 21st Century terms) in terms of giving customers what they want: great merchandise selection, attractive value, convenient eCommerce delivery via smart phones and tablets. As for those who want to physically see then handle the merchandise, a personal shopper to enrich the transaction.
There is a revolution happening all around us, yet many of us simply aren’t noticing it. It is called the “The Internet of Things” (IoT) and it is defined as a network of physical objects and devices that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
Gartner Research reports that 6.4 billion connected “things” will be in use in 2016, up 30% from 2015. The IoT sector will support total service spending of $235 billion in 2016, up 22% from 2015. Leading sectors include homes, automobiles, and consumer products.
You might be surprised to learn that the IoT revolution is now impacting the beauty, apparel, and jewelry business sectors.
L’Oreal is not a name typically associated with the International Consumer Electronics Show, but in early January, Guive Balooch, global VP of L’Oreal Technology Incubator, was in Las Vegas to unveil the beauty giant’s new foray into wearable tech: a temporary tattoo that measures sun exposure call “My UV Patch.”
It is a “stretchable sensor” with a diameter of one inch and thickness of 15 microns (think band-aide-like). My UV Patch contains flexible electronics that with the help of your smartphone, can tell you how much UV exposure you are subject to and at what times of day, with the help of your smartphone. “It’s a fashion statement” Mr. Balooch said in a NY Times interview.
As to why they started with a patch, “We know from our consumer insight research that UV exposure is a big issue for people,” Mr. Balooch said. “We really only wanted to make products that would disrupt the industry.”
After testing out the technology on ball boys at the 2014 US Open, Ralph Lauren began selling a PoloTech™ smart shirt for men that is embedded with sensors to track vital signs like breathing, heart rates, stress levels and calories burned.
The PoloTech shirt streams the information to an app that generates customized workout programs. From all this data, the shirt will essentially tell you how to exercise.
Fashion designers are also now exploring the potential of sensors and internet connectivity to create clothing and accessories that are often beautiful and intriguing as well as smart.
Lauren Bowker at The Unseen in the UK has created materials that change color and pattern in response to sensors, including a dress that “interprets human magnetism and emotions by reading brainwaves,” and a “4,000-piece gemstone headdress that reads brain activity, portraying distinctive color states of the individual’s thought process.” (shown at right)
The UK Guardian reported on the trend last year “Get yourself connected: Is the internet of things the future of fashion” including dresses that glow thanks to LEDs embedded in the fabric of a programmable shirt that features a video display, built in camera, microphone and speakers with the ability to show status updates, songs and photos.
There is more to connected accessories than smart watches. The fashion-forward Altruis from Kovert Designs is meant to remove people from the spell of tech and put them in a more meditative, connected to the here and now frame of mind. Unlike their better-known competitor Ringly, the Altruis collection is designed to limit the demands your phone places on you.
Instead of providing a constant technological tug and alerting you to activity across your social media accounts, it lets in only a select few who try to reach you with calls, texts, and email messages. Prices: $345-$430.
Ringly is the acknowledged category leader in “smart jewelry.” They create jewelry and accessories that connect to smartphones and provides customized notifications to on-the-go women. Ringly is also working with MasterCard to make their jewelry a mobile payment device. Imagine using your bracelet to buy a stunning gold necklace.
THE FUTURE OPPORTUNITY
At BLACK + GOLD we’re excited about the IoT wearable technology as it enters the beauty, apparel and jewelry business sectors. We think this convergence spells plenty of opportunity for both large and small businesses alike to test “disruptive ideas” that will evolve the function of their products
Thinking about how to make life better during a typically stressful time of year, the BLACK+GOLD staff discussed our personal and business holiday tips. We decided to share them in the hopes they might help others.
- Remember to be kind to yourself: We have two schools of thought here, one physical and one emotional.
Physical: Massage. The highly respected Mayo Clinic reports in its Healthy Lifestyle blog under Stress Management about the many benefits of massages. The article states “Studies of the benefits of massage demonstrate that it is an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.”
The potential benefits of a massage include treatment of anxiety, headaches, insomnia related to stress, soft-tissue strains and sports injuries.
Massages are now available in places like malls and airports. Xpress Spa and Be Relax are two of the leading airport spa / massage providers. Check out their websites for airport locations nationwide.
Emotional: Meditation Apps. The NY Time recently wrote a review of meditation apps designed for smart phones. The article starts by saying “By now you’ve probably read about how meditation may help you manage anxiety, stress and blood pressure, and help you sleep better, be more creative and improve your relationships.” We couldn’t agree more.
It’s best to start with an app that will teach you the basics of meditation through a guided program. The sessions will introduce you to the concepts of mindful awareness and techniques such as focusing on your breath and body.
2. Outsourcing for Any Occasion: We’re big on outsourcing, and we don’t necessarily mean having your manufacturing done in some third world country.
From a business standpoint we like Intelecall Inc. for lead generation, outbound sales calls, inbound sales support, customer service and tech support. (Check them out. Mention BLACK+GOLD to receive a 10% discount)
For personal convenience we like instant delivery apps. Even living and working in NYC you can’t beat delivery to your door for nearly anything the heart desires. The NY Times rated four leading services recently. Be aware that there is a price mark-up for these services, that’s sometimes not transparently communicated.
And if you live in NYC check out Task Rabbit. They can help with home cleaning, delivery services, assembling IKEA furniture, general handyman services and even wait in line for restaurants, special events or the Department of Motor Vehicles.
3. Remember to Work On Your Business (not just in it). Business can just get crazy during the holidays, especially for eCommerce businesses.
While you’re busy filling orders and providing extra customer service, be sure to take time to look at the data your eCommerce is generating. Then use that information to optimize your website and social media marketing.
Start with Google analytics. Check out “The absolute beginners guide to Google Analytics” from the Moz blog. This article will give the clear reasons why you need Google Analytics, and then a step-by-step guide to installing and using it.
With these handy tips you‘ll get through the holiday in calm and good order, and build your business in the process. What a great way to go into 2016.
Keywords – everyone seems to be talking about them. But what’s the best way to use the art + science of keywords to help build your business?
Keywords are usually thought of as an “index term” to help people and search engines find relevant web content. They can also be the primary gateway to eCommerce or other business engagements.
Let’s take a look at them in a broader way. In this post we’ll look at:
- Using keywords from an artistic / visual branding perspective
- How keywords work, and why you need them
- The different types of keywords
Consider the artistic and creative perspective on keywords. Your brand should have a unique character, and an equally unique aesthetic look and feel.
Here’s a fun marketing exercise:
Pick three keywords to describe the aesthetic character of your brand.
Is your brand fun? Colorful? Intimate? Quirky? Serious? What’s the personality of your brand?
Think in terms of the three words that can immediately describe the way your brand looks and feels. This is a useful exercise – as the key words can lay down a consistent foundation for your images and related marketing content. This process is something an algorithm can’t do for you.
Consider Tiffany, the legendary jewelry brand. If you were to distill the visual character of their brand into three words, they might be elegant, powerful and loving. The company embodies these terms, and they are used as a visual blueprint for every image the company’s creates.
Without using keywords as a road map – you may fall victim to the old adage: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” and this certainly applies to the visual presentation of your brand and its products.
In terms of the science of key words, a business should create content around relevant topics for their products or services, and these are expressed as keywords, which helps them “rank” well in search engine result listings.
A simple informative video of how search works from Google can help you understand the mechanics.
Why do you need keywords?
- Keywords should be used as the foundation of your website, blog and social media presence. They can also inform offers and e-mails.
- Keywords can help visitors and potential customers understand the purpose of your web page / blog and business.
- When a search engine crawls your web pages to index them – it will parse the keywords on the page to determine the purpose of your pages.
There are two different types of keywords:
Broad Keywords: Are short words or phases that can apply to your own company, as well as every other firm in your industry.
Long-tail Keywords: Tend to be longer words or phrases that are more specific to your company.
When you’re first getting started, you definitely will want to start by targeting long-tail keywords, because these are easier to rank for and they also bring in the most relevant and qualified traffic.
Using a combination of both “art” and “science” driven keywords will help spell success for your eCommerce / online marketing efforts. Be sure to test different keywords to see which yield the best outcomes or results in terms of building site traffic, visitor engagement and eCommerce.
That’s the art + science of keywords in a nutshell.
How do you plan to use keywords to build your business this week?
When it comes to using photographic images to promote your brand and products on an eCommerce website, in advertising, catalogs, with e-mails or on social media, its wise to know that there are distinctly different kinds of images.
Which type of image should you use to get the most from its intended business, marketing or promotional purpose? How much time, energy and most of all money should be invested in conceptualizing and creating the images?
Finally, how will you know which images are working the hardest for your money to help grow your business?
At BLACK + GOLD we look at these challenges from two distinct, but not unrelated perspectives: Art + Science.
Here’s an overview of the various types of commercial photos that are available, what makes them great and how to use them to help build your business.
The most basic type of commercial photographic shot is a product on white.
In this shot the “product is hero.” You will want to portray your product in the most flattering way possible in terms the angle of the shot and lighting. It’s worth working with a reputable commercial photographer or agency, with a good portfolio of work, to help make your product looks the best it can.
Here “professional eyes” on the lighting and styling of the shot can make a world of difference on its ability to sell product for your business online, in advertising or from catalogs.
A similar shot to the product on white image is the creative grouping on white. Here the objective is to portray a line of products in a compelling way, in terms of how the products are arranged and illuminated, such as a line of bracelets or earrings.
Groups of products tend to generate better engagement, and are the most affordable of the “creative” shots, showing products in a stylized way to enhance their impact.
Again, it’s critical to use professional styling and lighting. It will have a big impact on the quality of these types of shots, and their ability to help sell merchandise.
The next type of photographic image to consider is the Creative Campaign shot. Here you’ll want to invest time and money to get both the concept and photography right. With this shot you want to aim to get the best quality (photographer / agency) you can afford, that will deliver a polished brand image.
Selecting the right props, casting the right talent, selecting the right location, time of day, lighting, wardrobe, hair, and make-up are key. These can be still life product shots as well.
The combination of the art direction, styling, lighting and photographer’s creativity along with some help from retouching will deliver a sophisticated, glamorous and larger-than-life image for your brand / products.
In the end you simply want to make people linger over the image, and make the product “an object of desire” that they will want to buy.
Last but not least are social media / eCommerce shots. Many companies simply don’t pay much attention to these shots, and they suffer from inadequate art direction and general poor quality.
But consider the explosive growth of smart phones / tablet devices along with visually driven social media venues like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook; and online shopping – all these venues have made images a key point of consumer engagement.
With this category of images having more shots is always better, where you may want to opt for the quantity of images over super-high production value – to help manage costs, and keep things fresh for your audience. These shots are typically more casual, in order to be more fun and accessible.
Think of these types of shots as Chanel off-the-rack ready to wear, versus Chanel haute couture (campaign type shots). Both have great style and branding, you can simply afford to buy more off-the-rack merchandise, and happily live with a little less production value.
Today’s eCommerce landscape is ruled by data and analytics. In simple terms it’s using data to help you figure out which marketing activities are working and which are not. Knowledge is power here, which can lead to a more profitable operation.
When it comes to managing your image library, you will want to identify and use more images that generate the most “audience engagement.” That includes which are being shared most on social media, and those that can be tied to actual eCommerce orders. These actions will help build awareness of your brand and grow your bottom line.
A great place to start is Google Analytics. Using Google Analytics can help you better understand the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, better understand your visitors, and optimize your eCommerce efforts in term of more conversions and increased sales.
Google Analytics can be intimidating. Just the thought of a bunch of data, graphs and charts can easily scare a lot of people off. However, understanding the fundamental metrics of your site and your visitors is absolutely crucial to growing and scaling your business.
In the end, effective marketing and eCommerce is a function of creating and delivering engaging images (art) and using analytic data (science) to measure which products / images work and which don’t work in term of driving business results.
This learning can guide your marketing content development and investments for the best business results possible.