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Free shipping is everywhere… how can small businesses keep up?

[BUSINESS MARKETING] Would you rather pay less but still pay for shipping, or pay more with free shipping? They may cost the same, but one appeals more than the other.

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Person standing over pacakge, sealing with masking tape.

When it comes to competing with huge corporations like Amazon, there are plenty of hurdles that smaller businesses have to cross. Corporations can (and do) undercut the competition, not to mention garner a much larger marketing reach than most small businesses could ever dream of achieving. But this time, we want to focus on something that most people have probably chosen recently: Free shipping.

How important is free shipping to consumers? Well, in a 2018 survey, Internet Retailer discovered that over 50% of respondents said that free shipping was the most important part of online shopping. In fact, when given a choice between fast or costless shipping, a whopping 88% of those surveyed chose the latter option.

Part of this has to do with the fact that shipping costs are often perceived as additional fees, not unlike taxes or a processing fee. In fact, according to Ravi Dhar, director of Yale’s Center for Customer Insights, if it’s between a discounted item with a shipping fee or a marked up item with free shipping, individuals are more likely to choose the latter – even if both options cost exactly the same amount.

If you’re interested in learning more, Dhar refers to the economic principle of “pain of paying,” but the short answer is simply that humans are weird.

So, how do you recapture the business of an audience that’s obsessed with free shipping?

The knee jerk reaction is to simply provide better products that the competition. And sure, that works… to some extent. Unfortunately, in a world where algorithms can have a large effect on business, making quality products might not always cut it. For instance, Etsy recently implemented a change in algorithm to prioritize sellers that offer free shipping.

Another solution is to eat the costs and offer free shipping, but unless that creates a massive increase in products sold, you’re going to end up with lower profits. This might work if it’s between lower profits and none, but it’s certainly not ideal. That’s why many sellers have started to include shipping prices in the product’s overall price – instead of a $20 necklace with $5 shipping, a seller would offer a $25 necklace with free shipping.

This is a tactic that the big businesses use and it works. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

That said, not everyone can join in. Maybe, for instance, a product is too big to reasonably merge shipping and product prices. If, for whatever reason, you can’t join in, it’s also worth finding a niche audience and pushing a marketing campaign. What do you offer that might be more attractive than the alluring free shipping? Are you eco-friendly? Do you provide handmade goods? Whatever it is that makes your business special, capitalize on it.

Finally, if you’re feeling down about the free shipping predicament, remember that corporations have access to other tricks. Amazon’s “free” prime shipping comes at an annual cost. Wal-Mart can take a hit when item pricing doesn’t work out. Even if your business isn’t doing as well as you hoped, take heart: You’re facing giants.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Emily

    January 7, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Hi Brittany! The Principle that Professor Dhar refers to is called “Pain of Paying” not “Pay of paying”

  2. Pingback: Malomo helps online retailers keep up with retail giants

  3. Pingback: Clyde helps smaller brands to offer product protection programs

  4. Pingback: Fake news? Well, what about fake reviews? - The American Genius

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Business Marketing

The rise of influencer marketing and its effect on digital marketing

(BUSINESS MARKETING) More businesses are planning to invest a larger part of their marketing budgets on more relatable, branded content and influencer marketing.

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Influencer speaking to camera for marketing segment.

The digital age has created more savvy consumers, and the barrage of advertising on top of the plenitude of content online can be a lot. Many consumers have learned to hide ads or they simply scroll past them to their content of choice. Most business owners know that digital marketing is a crucial part of any ad strategy, and branded content and influencer marketing continues to grow in the market, because consumers see that it’s different from traditional advertising.

Hardly anything stayed the same in 2020, and traditional advertising also has shifted. Advertiser Perceptions reported on the trend for 2021, based on a survey from late 2020.

“More than half of advertisers using paid branded content and influencers say doing so is more critical than it was a year ago. Throughout the second half of 2020, 32% increased spending on branded content and 25% spent more to back influencers. They’re now putting 20% of their digital budgets into the complementary practices, which is more than they put into any other digital channel (paid search is 14%, display 13%, paid social 12%, digital video 12%).”

The benefits of branded and influencer content are that you are speaking to the consumer where they already are, when you choose an influencer. The people who follow their accounts are more likely to trust that the influencer would only share something they like or use themselves. The best matches are when the influencer marketing fits nicely into the kind of content, the voice, and any specialties they already deal with.

The word “influencer” as well as the concept rubs some people the wrong way. Marketers see the value, though, as influencer marketing can be effective if done well, and the cost to hire them is often less than a traditional ad campaign. If I want to know about food in a city, I’ll follow the hashtags until I find a local food blogger or micro-influencer whose style I like. Then I’ll seek out those restaurants when I visit. Sure, some of the meals are comped, but the truth is that food bloggers and influencers like to share their food recommendations. I have been influenced this way more than once, and not only for food. I am not alone in this, either, which is why it’s an important part of a marketing strategy.

In influencer marketing, the content creator is then given free rein to create within their own style, voice, and persona. They need to connect with their audience in an authentic, familiar way without creating a dissonance for their followers between their public page(s) and the brand. The level of trust is fairly high with influencer marketing, and many influencers realize that promoting something crappy or something outside of their area of expertise or recognition hurts everyone involved.

The power of storytelling comes into play here, as with all good advertising. Branded content is specifically all about the story, often the story of the business’s philosophy or some lifestyle aspect that goes with the brand’s vibe–or is so off that it goes viral. Some branded campaigns join into or build off of conversations already happening in the wider world. The purpose is to have people engage with the brand, with the content, build awareness, encourage conversations, sharing, comments, all with the long term goal of fostering a positive image of the brand so that down the line, they will become consumers.

Think of 2004 Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, based on a study showing that around 2% of women saw themselves as beautiful. The widely studied, award-winning campaign featured women of all backgrounds and body types, without airbrushing and Photoshopping them into a narrow vision of “beauty.” While some people hated it, many loved it and applauded the brand for treading into traditionally uncharted waters. Among haters, fans, and people who weren’t sure what to think, the Dove Real Beauty branded content campaign generated conversations. The campaign also encouraged women to feel good about themselves and lift up other women. One could argue that the campaign you could argue that the Real Beauty campaign was a forerunner to the currently popular body positivity movement, which started gaining traction around 2012. Dove increased sales by at least $1.5 billion in the first ten years the branded content campaign ran.

The goal of branded content is to raise awareness of the brand, but the path from point A (creating the content) to point B (brand awareness, ultimately leading to better sales) is not a straight line. Brands are paying attention to grabbing attention, aka building brand awareness via more upper funnel marketing than lower funnel.

One thing that marketers are looking for now, however, is almost eliminating the funnel. With the mind-boggling increase in e-commerce since the beginning of the pandemic, clickable sales capability becomes important in any kind of marketing, including influencer and branded content. It pays to listen to customers, to find an influencer who meshes with your brand’s purpose, and to create thoughtful branded content that isn’t out of line with your core product or service.

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Business Marketing

Need design help? Ask a Designer offers free peer-review for better design

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Good design is more than just slapping some fonts and colors together. Ask a Designer promises free design advice on their new website.

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A white sign in an urban setting reading "In Design We Trust" with glowing yellow lights above.

With the necessity to create and maintain an online presence for our businesses nowadays, content creation is essential. One impact this proliferation of content has had on entrepreneurs, bloggers, and small businesses is that many non-designers have had to take a stab at design work. Sometimes this works out for the amateur designer, but often it could be better: More effective, accessible, and appealing. This is where Ask a Designer comes in.

Creating designs online can be fun, but your average Canva, Squarespace, or WordPress user, for example, has no more of a sense of design than the man on the moon. Design work encompasses so much more than just slapping some words on a stock photo and calling it a day. While there are truly incredible and helpful free or inexpensive DIY design and business tools out there, nothing beats the power of knowledge and experience.

Ask a Designer provides one more level of professional review and counsel before a business owner puts their DIY (or even paid) design work out there for the world to see—or worse, not see. As a writer, I have always valued editorial reviews, comments, and feedback on my writing. Second eyes, third eyes, and more almost always serve to improve the content. It makes business sense to get as much feedback as possible, even better to get expert feedback.

For example, an experienced web designer should have a good idea of how to incorporate and test for UX and UI purposes, thus making the user interaction more functional and pleasant. A skilled graphic designer knows what colors go together for aesthetic appeal, accessibility, and even the psychology behind why and how they do.

Take logos. Pick a color, image, and font you like, and go for it, right? I’m afraid not. There is a lot of data out there on the science and psychology of how our brains process logos. There are examples of logo “fails” out there, as well. Consider the uproar over AirBnB’s logo that many thought evoked genitalia. Or the raised eyebrows when Google changed their color scheme to one similar to Microsoft’s palate. Just search for “logo fails” online to get an idea of how a seemingly innocent logo can go horribly wrong. I haven’t linked them here, because they would need a trigger warning, as many of the worst examples can be interpreted as some sort of sexual innuendo or genitalia. Searchers, be warned.

It always makes good business sense to use professional designers when you have the option, just as it makes sense to use professional writers for copywriting and professional photographers for photography. After all, if you have the chance to get something right the first time, it saves you time and money to do so. Rebranding can be difficult and costly, although sometimes rebranding is necessary. Having a designer review your design (whether logo, WordPress, blog, or other) could possibly help you from missing the mark.

How does Ask a Designer work, and is it really free? It’s super easy—almost like designers had a hand in it! Know what I mean? First, you go to the website or app and enter your question. Next Ask a Designer will assign your question to the appropriate type of designer in their network. Within 48 hours, they’ll get back to you with feedback or an answer to your design question.

While Ask a Designer is available to anyone to use, the website suggests it is especially helpful for developers, teams, junior designers, and business and product owners. They suggest, “Think of us as peer-review in your pocket.” The team at Ask a Designer will provide feedback on specific projects such as websites, logos, and portfolios, as well as answer general questions.

Examples of questions on their website give a good idea of the scope of questions they’ll answer, and include the type of feedback they provide. Sample questions include:

  • “How do I choose colors for dark mode?”
  • “I’d love feedback on a logo for a restaurant.”
  • “I’m an industrial design student and I’d like to move into automotive design. What are some resources that can get me to where I need to be?”
  • “Please send me some feedback on [website link].”
  • “How can I use my brand fonts on my website?”
  • “I’m a full stack software engineer. Are there any resources you could suggest for me to level up my design or UX skills?”

Ask a Designer is new, and so they currently list 2 design experts, each with 20 or more years of experience in their fields. They promise to add more “desig-nerds” soon. It may sound too good to be true, but from what they state on their website, this expert design review service is free. Considering the other excellent tools out there with some free components out there for business, it is possible that this is true. Whether they will add a more in-depth paid version is yet to be seen. In any case, it’s worth trying out the app or website for your burning design questions and reviews.

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Business Marketing

6 tips to easily market your side hustle

(BUSINESS MARKETING) It can be hard to stand out from the crowd when you’re starting a new side hustle. Here are some easy ways to make your marketing efforts more effective.

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side hustle marketing

Side hustles have become the name of the game, and especially during these turbulent times, we have to get extra creative when it comes to making money. With so many of us making moves and so much noise, it can be hard to get the word out and stand out when sharing your side hustle.

Reuben Jackson of Big Think shared five ways that you can market your side hustle (we added a sixth tip for good measure), and comment with your thoughts and ideas on the subject:

  1. Referrals: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!
    If you’re going to make a splash, you have to be willing to ask for favors. Reach out to your network and ask them to help spread the word on your new venture. This can be as simple as asking your friends to share a Facebook post with information that refers them to your page or website. Word of mouth is still important and incredibly effective.
  2. Start Where You Are
    Immediately running an expensive ad right out of the gate may not be the most effective use of your (likely) limited funds. Use the resources you do have to your advantage – especially if you’re just testing things out to see how the side hustle goes in the real world. You can do this by creating a simple, informational landing page for a small fee. Or, if you’re not looking to put any money into it right away, create an enticing email signature that explains what you do in a concise and eye-catching way. Check out these tools to create a kickin’ email signature.
  3. Gather Positive Reviews
    If you’ve performed a service or sold a product, ask your customers to write a review on the experience. Never underestimate how many potential customers read reviews before choosing where to spend their money, so this is an incredibly important asset. Once a service is completed or a product is sold, send a thank you note to your customer and kindly ask them to write a review. Be sure to provide them with links to easily drop a line on Yelp or your company’s Facebook page.
  4. Be Strategic With Social
    It’s common to think that you have to have a presence on all channels right away. Start smaller. Think about your demographic and do some research on which platforms reach that demographic most effectively. From there, put your time and energy into building a presence on one or two channels. Post consistently and engage with followers. After you’ve developed a solid following, you can then expand to other platforms.
  5. Give Paid Marketing A Shot
    Once you’ve made a dollar or two, try experimenting with some Facebook or Twitter ads. They’re relatively cheap to run and can attract people you may not have otherwise had a chance to reach out to. Again, the key is to start small and don’t get discouraged if these don’t have people knocking your door down; it may take trial and error to create the perfect ad for your hustle.
  6. Go Local
    Local newspapers and magazines are always looking for news on what local residents are doing. Send an email to your town/city’s journal or local Patch affiliate. Let them know what you’re up to, offer yourself for an interview, and give enticing information. The key is doing this in a way that your hustle is seen as beneficial to the public, and is not just an ad.

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