Does giving back help your business?

giving-back2 We have written about cause-related marketing before, and this time of year is particularly busy with non-profits seeking donations as the year ends. Does helping a non-profit help your for-profit business?

There are hard benefits and soft benefits to be taken into consideration. The soft benefits are relatively obvious: your business is connecting to the community through giving back, you are making an emotional connection with people, and you feel good (rewarded) for what you are doing.

Data exists that describe some hard facts. According to MarketingProfs, “If offered comparable price and quality, 91% of consumers worldwide would switch brands to one associated with a good cause, according to a recent study. … Similarly, 92% of consumers surveyed said they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit if given the opportunity, and more than two-thirds (67%) said they have done so in the previous 12 months. Moreover, 90% of people surveyed said they would boycott a brand for irresponsible behavior.” (Read more:

Many millennials, in particular, have strong feelings about the way that companies interact with the environment, the neighborhood, and employees. In our work with restaurants, we have seen a measurable increase in guests and plates served when there is a benefit for a non-profit. The programs we have implemented include donations to a worthy cause in exchange for additional business. Discounts on meals can be offered in some cases, but is not necessary, we have found. What works best for your business may not work for the best. One size does not fit all in this case. What do your customers care about? Who are they? What will drive their loyalty?

Engagement, connection, loyalty, love. These are all characteristics that appeal to consumers today. How can giving back help your business grow?

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Where are all the graphic arts experts?

brochure.jpgCompanies are reducing headcount, and losing expertise in the process. In parallel, industry associations are paring down their staffs and consultants from those places are also going by the wayside.

In the printing industry, a group of seasoned business executives and technical people have come together to form a consortium called the Graphic Communication Advisors. These are experts in the printing, graphic arts, prepress and publishing fields who are on call and can be brought in by companies to help them. The consulting service includes sales and business development help, mechanical reviews, process improvements and much more. Crossmedia451 is a part of this group and can offer services for sales growth, business development, social media, e-commerce and more.

The full list of individuals can be found at

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Who is your audience? Don’t forget the boomers.

Senior couple enjoying themselves in winter forestAs the new year begins, and you plot your strategy for 2016, how are you determining who your audience is? Many companies are getting lost in how to attract and sell to millennials. What is interesting is how many companies are ignoring one of the largest segments of people who have money: boomers. This audience is ignored at your peril. According to Baby Boomer magazine, baby boomers:
• Have more discretionary income (wealth) than any other age group
• Control 70% of the total net worth of American households – $7 trillion of wealth
• Own 80% of all money in savings and loan associations
• Spend more money disproportionately to their numbers
• Are not fanatically loyal to brands
• Watch television more than any other age group
• Read newspapers more than any other age group
• Account for a dramatic 40% of total consumer demand

How are you reaching them? As Facebook fades for the youngsters, more retired and older people are getting on it. According to MarketWatch, Facebook is turning into AARP: “Social media usage among Americans aged 65 and older has more than tripled since 2010. Today, 35% of Americans in that age group report using social media, compared with just 2% in 2005 and 11% in 2010, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.” So don’t throw out your Facebook skills and ideas quite yet. Baby boomers are also opening their wallets and spending, and you can see the trends on the Gallup site here:

Remember to include this age cohort in your strategic and business planning. While boomers shop and buy online, they may also have time to visit your brick-and-morter store. What are you doing to attract them? Lifelong learning is an important ingredient for many retirees. Hold classes, invite guest speakers, and invite your customers to your store to learn, and to enjoy the experience. Surround these individuals with your brand, and entice them to think of you and your business when they need your product and service.

This is another avenue for organic growth, and one that can be valuable if you remember it. I look forward to hearing what you think about this.


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What’s in a name?

Brand on BlackboardFor those of you thinking about your company’s brand, what is the most important thing you think about? Is it the name? Is it the logo? Is it the personality of the business? Is it the employees? Is it all of the above?

We recently studied some merger and acquisition activity in various industries, and our interest is piqued by companies that are using the name of the company they acquired for their business. Why is that? Does the acquired brand have the personality that the acquirer aspires to have? Is it older  and more respected in the marketplace? In some of these instances, the names of both the acquiring company and the target were “made up” names. Names that really don’t mean anything and need to be explained to customers, their shareholders and others. Does the company name matter anymore?

There is no clear cut answer to this. Many names are already taken. It is difficult to create a new meaningful name without stumbling into someone who thought of it already, owns the domain name, or is using it in a different industry. In the “old days,” using the same name in a different industry was often considered OK. Those days seem to be coming to an end. We recently helped brand a company and the original name we hit on was used in a completely different industry. The state would not approve the new name even though there was no realistic chance that the two companies would be confused with one another. So, off we went. To create another name.

This happens a lot, and what is really boils down to, in our opinion, is that people matter. The name of the company may change, but people buy goods and services from people they know and trust. The name may change, but the feeling that customers get remain the same. Brand matters. The personality matters. The name is important, but less important than you may think.

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Winter Doldrums

Use the winter doldrums to your advantage.

Use the winter doldrums to your advantage.

If you are somewhere outside of the desert or tropics, you may be experiencing the winter doldrums right about now. Before you fall into more of a winter slump, think about getting energized instead. How do you flip the winter doldrums on its head?

Many parts of the U.S. are buried under snow. What does that mean for a lot of people? It means they are inside, at their computers, in front of their televisions, listening to satellite radio, and more. Think of these people as a captive audience. How can you reach them?

If you are restaurant, like many of our clients, this is the time to highlight delivery services, carryout and ways to make life easier for your customers. Likewise, delivery services can be highlighted in other industries also, from office supplies to technology products to beauty products. Talk to your customers via email, via social media, and via your web site. Hold an online contest for someone to win free delivery of product, or even deliver a “party in a box,” using whatever your products are. Create ways to celebrate the doldrums.

People are sick of winter and it is far enough past the holidays that you can think about ways to get people to celebrate. If you have a retail establishment, holding a winter doldrums party for your customers is another idea. Another ideas is to hold an after-hours networking event featuring other local businesses. This can be done in conjunction with your local Chamber of Commerce or other local business association. People look to connect, even in bad weather. We also know that people buy from other people, and not sterile, homogeneous corporations.

When we’re all in the middle of the heat in July, it will be fun to look back on your event, or how you got product delivered to your customers in a blizzard. So take this opportunity to celebrate the winter doldrums, gather your best customers around you, and have some fun.

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Aligning with others around you, or how to work with your neighbors

Promoting the neighborhood florist and the neighborhood restaurant together can be good business.

Promoting the neighborhood florist and the neighborhood restaurant together can be good business.

The word “align” may sound like corporate jargon, and sometimes it can be used for that.

Aligning with others around you in this case simply means to work with your neighbors.

If you are an independently owned business, your neighborhood should be important to you. What businesses are nearby? Are you in a walking neighborhood, or a driving neighborhood?

Our experience shows that working with your neighbors can be very productive, good for your business, and good for your neighborhood. Cross marketing between the businesses can be effective.

For example, if you are a florist, your flowers can be displayed at the nearby restaurant along with collateral material. In turn, the restaurant’s take-out menus could be featured at your front desk. The same goes for web sites: the cross marketing can be very effective there also. The restaurant can have a punch-out to the florist on it, and vice versa. There are many times when a table for a special occasion has just been reserved at the restaurant, and the occasion can be made more special with flowers. And perhaps seeing the restaurant on the florist web site will remind the shopper to make a reservation.

Look around your business, network with those at your next Chamber of Commerce or neighborhood association meeting and put on your thinking cap. Boosting several businesses together in your neighborhood can be good for your business!

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Raise awareness, raise funds, integrate marketing, and have fun!

By now, most of you have heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This has been a brilliant fundraiser for the ALS Association, has raised awareness for the group and the disease, and created a lot of social media buzz in the process. The individuals who have taken on the challenge represent all walks of life and professions, as well as businesses and communities.

We’ve written before about cause-related marketing and this ALS effort has been wonderfully executed and a lot of fun. There are lessons to be learned for your business from this summer’s great ice bucket adventures. While your business should not be a copycat, you can create some fun for it. People enjoy doing business with other people. Faceless corporations are no fun, and do not inspire loyalty. Your business does not have to raise $50 million for a cause, either. We recently worked with three local businesses to raise money for the one that is the non-profit. In the process, brand awareness was raised for all the businesses involved.

The specific idea was to create a neighborhood “mash-up” hamburger using ingredients from two separate, unrelated restaurants, Leadbelly Burgers and Gale Street Inn. For each burger sold during July, $5 was donated to a local non-profit theatre, the Gift Theatre. All the businesses are in the same Chicago neighborhood, and all three have a vested interest in seeing the neighborhood thrive and attract more business. This idea was creative, fun and improved business all around through the good will it generated.

The campaign lasted one month, and raised $2000 for the little storefront theatre. It may not be the Ice Bucket Challenge, but the amount of money has a positive impact on the theatre, demonstrates how the businesses work together as neighbors, and generates warm feelings among the guests for all businesses. Cross-marketing introduced the guests of one restaurant to the other, and introduced some people to the theatre for the first time. You can do something like this, too. Develop a plan, pick a cause, have some fun, raise some money. It’s all good.

Leadbelly’s Tom O’Brien presenting a check to the Gift Theatre’s Michael Patrick Thornton after the campaign was completed.

Leadbelly owner Nicole O'Brien, Gift Theatre Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton and Gale Street Inn Chef Liborio Martinez.

Leadbelly owner Nicole O’Brien, Gift Theatre Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton and Gale Street Inn Chef Liborio Martinez. This was an ad for the campaign.

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Think spring…cleaning, updating and more

Brighten up your presence.

Brighten up your presence.

The winter was brutal for many of us, and persists even as we are well into April. Despite the chill and snow, the days are longer and it gives many people the energy to clear the cob webs out. This goes for your web site and digital presence also.

Reserve some time to review your web site. Is there old, outdated information on it? Offers that don’t exist anymore? Remove them and update the information. Take a look at the photos. If you have remodeled, or if they show your business in a different season, update those, too. If you have the wherewithal to hire a professional photographer to take some pictures, great. But if you don’t, then simply take some pictures yourselves with your smart phone or digital camera. Your customers will notice if you’ve freshened things up, especially images. Check the information about you on social media and if you do not have Google alerts set up for your business and the names of your principals, do so now. That way it pushes information to you in emails about when your business is mentioned online, and you don’t have to seek it every day. It still is a good idea to do a Google search on your own from time to time to see what old stuff is out there about your business, and remove it if you can.

This is not a novel concept, but a best practice. If you google “spring cleaning for your web site” you will find lots of tips and tricks. One site has discrete chunks of information ( and others may be more involved, but you will get some ideas no matter what.

If you show you care, your customers will notice and it make a difference. You wouldn’t leave old garbage strewn around your office, so why leave old clutter on your web site?

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Are You Overloaded?

Do you feel as if you are overwhelmed by the technology choices for your business?

Do you feel as if you are overwhelmed by the technology and social media choices for your business?

You may feel frenzied at times. “I need my business to be on Facebook. I need to be on Twitter. What should I do first? What am I missing? How do I fit all this into my already overloaded daily routine?”

Fear not. Technology and social media are simply tools to be used in your marketing or other business strategies. Do not be intimidated. Put together your business plan as you usually do. Remember to think about the fundamentals of marketing: ARG. Do you want to Acquire new customers? Do you want to Retain your existing customers? Do you want to Grow your business with your existing customers? Make your plan simple and measurable, with customer and sales goals that you feel can be met, or with some “stretch” goals.

Then determine the best way to reach those customers and markets. Is it direct mail? Is it via social media? Is it email? Is it a billboard? Who are those customers? What are their demographics? Do you know them? Technology applications are simply ways to extend the conversation with your customers. How do the people in your business talk to your customers today? The ways that work best can often be used in social media and on your web site. Is your conversation style more formal or is it informal? Authenticity matters and your customers will know if your style is authentic.

Social media and general marketing plans are not “one and done.” They take care and nurturing no matter what media you are using. If you have someone on your staff – usually not the business owner – who can focus on the execution of your strategy, great! Use that individual and the skills he or she has. If you cannot commit someone on your staff to this work, and want to hire someone external, be sure that person or firm understands your business’ personality and your goals. Your strategy will lead you to the best methods of communication with your various audiences. And if something doesn’t work, then stop doing it and try an alternative. Measure your success, but remember that marketing is an art and not a science, even when using data from any analytics tools you may have. Take a deep breath, and move forward. It will be OK.



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How cold is it? It’s so cold that……

Baby, it's cold outside!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

2014 has started off with an arctic blast in the Midwest, leaving many people holed up in their homes for the past few days due to snow and bitter cold. So what do you do if your business depends on foot traffic but you are not sure if you want to, or can, open?

First of all, you want to weigh the decision against safety of your employees and your customers. If you are offering a life-and-death service, you probably need to remain open. But if your business can afford  to be closed during a day in which it is literally dangerous to be out, then communicate to everyone from your employees to your customers what you plan to do. And when we say what you can afford, we mean financially afford and if your service is a nice-to-have  service and and not a must-have service. The cost of opening may be more than remaining closed if you get no customers.

The beauty of communication today is that there are so many ways to communicate to your customers about your status. In the old days, you may have hung a sign on your door. Today, your virtual door includes social media, your web site, emails, and even your voice mails. And your customers use all the doors.

The Achilles heel of most businesses, large and small, is communication. Talk to your customers across all these media points. They may surprise you in how they listen and communicate back to you. Keep the conversation going with them, communicate as effectively as you can, and see how appreciative they can be. Show them you care with your actions and your communication. You may generate some goodwill that you didn’t expect.

Happy new year!

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