April 23, 2019
Visiting Boston-based Johnny Cupcakes is like going to the best bakery in the world — on steroids. There’s the scent of frosting wafting through the showroom, oven-lid decorations and, not to be overlooked, decorated T-shirts stacked in industrial ovens. Clearly, the brand’s doing something unique and memorable to get customers in the door, only to usually leave with a T-shirt wrapped in a signature pastry box.
“With Millennials — and, truthfully, most customers — more willing to spend on experiences, it makes sense to combine a unique experience or personalized service to engage them,” says Erich Campbell, program manager of BriTon Leap’s commercial division. “This can be as simple as having a physical location with interesting decoration and theming like Johnny Cupcakes, or bringing apparel imprinting to an event or location so people can see how it’s done and take home a T-shirt.”
This year, hot promotional trends include experiential marketing, personalization, artificial intelligence and micro-influencer strategies — and small-business owners can capitalize on them right now.
Experiential, or engagement, marketing takes the road less traveled by immersing customers in a brand’s products or services. More than 80% of brands planned to execute a greater number of experiential events last year, according to an EventTrack survey.
“Experiential marketing used to be a concept we only associated with events or point-of-sale interaction, but now it’s all about creating memorable customer experiences throughout their lifecycle,” says Blanka Supe, co-founder of San Francisco-based Prazely, which uses artificial-intelligence-driven personalization and marketing automation for corporate gifting. Nearly 75% of event attendees leave with a more favorable view of the brand, 65% gain a better understanding of the product or service and 98% are more inclined to purchase from a brand after an event, according to EventTrack.
Decorators have lots of options for meaningful immersive experiences, including pop-up shops; classes; product testing; shop tours; giveaways and contests; and installations. To get the most ROI, these events can be paired with other touchpoints, such as inbound and digital marketing.
Creating an experience that allows customers to be part of the creation process satisfies their need for personalization, but they also get to try the product before purchasing it. “The classic [method] is always on-site decorating, since there’s still magic in seeing a design come together,” Campbell says. “In-store decoration, particularly with time-limited or otherwise-scarce designs, or limited products, can turn a trip to an apparel store into a chance to collect a rare and treasured item, complete with a chance for the customer to express themselves via personalization.”
For a small business, experiential marketing can be costly and challenging, though, so Supe recommends starting with personalized gifts. “If you’re vying for an attractive prospect’s attention, sending a personalized gift will make your brand instantly stand out and help you get that meeting,” she says. “With your top existing customers, sending personalized gifts helps them feel appreciated and connected to your brand.”
You know the drill: When you buy a new shirt from a brand you love or sign up for an email list, you start receiving personalized emails showing products you’re most likely to search for in a brick-
and-mortar store. That’s marketing personalization — individualized content delivered via data collection, analysis and automated technology.
Personalized marketing can be done via targeted emails, custom video messages, product recommendations, social-media marketing and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) campaigns. While there never will be a total substitute for a real conversation, you can scale the process.
“List segmentation; buyer personas; marketing automation; refined messaging; ad parameters and demographics; CRM data collection; and conversational copy all help personalize communications,” says Matt Peterson, director of marketing at Tempe, Arizona-based InkSoft.
Supe recommends segmenting your audience into personas based on their roles and industries. If you’re not using a personalization platform, check out and compare vendors for a solution that will allow you to capture data via your website, including clicks, time spent on the site, purchase history, shopping-cart abandonment and more. After a few weeks, you can delve into analytics to help you provide relevant content recommendations to site visitors.
Another way Peterson recommends getting personal is custom, branded proposals. Take it a step further, Campbell says, by curating a collection of decorated apparel and other items for a specific audience.
“If you have a ton of local microbreweries, create a social-media campaign for garments that pertain to the workers in the segment, add in some non-apparel accessories from the ad-specialties side and get a lifestyle image that brings home the feeling of their businesses,” he says. “It’s easier to market to people if they can easily imagine your product in their situation and surroundings.”
While artificial intelligence (AI) conjures visions of a future run by robots, it’s here now and spreading. For example, Amazon uses AI to automatically drive dynamic pricing — reducing prices to drive sales when needed, and increasing prices when demand ramps up.
Only 15% of enterprises currently use AI, but 31% are expected to add it in the next 12 months, according to Adobe. “We’ll see smart tools to enrich data profiles, segment and score users, and dynamically adapt content to present enticing and most relevant information to guide every step of the user journey,” Supe says.
Chatbots are all the rage due to their effectiveness because they use AI and branch logic to answer user questions automatically. “Similar to a FAQ page, chatbots alleviate foreseeable user pain points,” says Luke Wester, digital marketing analyst at San Diego-based Miva. “This frees up time for your customer-service team to handle more complex issues.”
AI can augment customer service in other ways, too. For example, it can sort customer tickets, and forward messages, questions and problems that require human assistance. Many AI tools can automate or streamline lots of day-to-day processes and tasks, including communications and generating performance reports.
“You can also use AI to automate tasks that you can’t afford to spend time doing by hand,” Supe says. “Plus, in digital marketing, there are many applications for AI, from automated outreach to identifying at-risk accounts, that you can proactively save.”
Micro-influencers are a sweet marketing spot for small-business owners because their engagement rates generally are high since their communities heavily interact with their content. “There’s a definite shift from engaging influencers with a large following toward building relationships with those who are more niche with a leaner following,” Supe says.
Influencers with 1,000 followers boast engagement rates of about 15%, so they score 150 likes on each post, according to AdWeek. Those with 1,000-9,999 followers have engagement rates of about 7.4%. Influencers with more than 100,000 followers earn 2.4% engagement, or 2,400 likes per post — but are much more expensive.
Micro-influencers are more cost-effective, often charging an average price of $62, according to the 2017 State of the Creator Economy study. Thus, brands often see a better ROI compared to using top-tier influencers. An Experticity study shows that 82% of consumers are more likely to act upon micro-influencer recommendations as well, compared to 73% of recommendations from the average person.
Targeting the correct influencers is critical because they need to match your brand’s values, Peterson says. Tools like Pixlee, MAVRCK and Influence.co can help you identify and approach influencers who cater to your audience.
“Work on identifying one to two influencers a month who you can share your products with,” he says.
There are multiple ways to work with micro-influencers. Besides sending decorated products, “supply a few ideas and some visual or written content that not only fits their style and tone of voice, but also will help them tell your story in an engaging way,” Supe says.
You also can ask them to post photos about your product with a few lines of copy. “Ask them to create a blog or a review of your product, or a how-to video on how to use it,” says Connie Chi, founder and CEO of New York-based The Chi Group.
Whether you work with a micro-influencer on a paid or partnership-based relationship, don’t forget to discuss how the influencer will represent your brand. Consider also seeking hyper-local influencers, Peterson says. “Look for influential people heavily involved in local schools, sports and events that could use your decorated goods,” he says.
Your ultimate goal in these four marketing approaches should be to engage your audience and turn them into happy, repeat customers who’ll turn into brand warriors who passionately promote your company.
Nicole Rollender is chief storyteller at New Jersey-based Strand Writing Services. For more information or to comment on this article, connect with her at strandwritingservices.com.
Up Close and Personal
Two successful decorators weigh in on how to make a big impact on prospects and snag the sale with smart marketing.
You can follow a simple plan to get started:
1. Feature your best work on your social sites. Utica, New York-based A&P Master Images posts images of the best work they’ve decorated for clients. “We’re basically promoting our own work and promoting our customers to others online — and sometimes they gain new business from it,” says CEO Howard Potter. “Then, our customers usually order from us again, sooner rather than later.”
2. Gift a surprise extra. When Potter’s team finishes an order, his team emails digital fliers or coupons for a discount on a future order. “We give out pens, highlighters, ‘sticky notes’ and travel mugs with our logo on them on a regular basis,” he says. “The key is top-of-the-mind awareness and being personable 24/7.”
3. Know before you call. It’s always a good best practice to take the old-fashioned approach of “tapping into your CRM and taking literal minutes to know a customer before you call,” says Erich Campbell, program manager of BriTon Leap’s commercial division. “You’re their friend in the business; they don’t need to know [that] technology helps you remember the yearly events for which they send you repeat orders.”
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