Retail Design 2019 – Authentic instead of Augmented

I recently read a blog post entitled “3 Retail Design Trends To Transform 2019.” I thought the article offered a telling view of how retailers are thinking about marketing, and related store planning activities for the new year and beyond. To summarize, not necessarily in order:

Brand Ambassador for Cake Decoration.

Trend Two said basically, when it comes to store design, technology has gone incognito in favor of “connections through context;” meaning conversations with customers and links to community are created by customer interaction with tangible, tactile products.

This is a lot of words to say that if you are a shopper in a hobby and craft store with a compelling display of cake decorating tools, you may, not only pick one of these up and try it out, but also buy it as a gift for your cake decorating buddy who might then share the resource with the entire cake making class. Bingo! You have become an ambassador for the brand and it matters little if you purchased the device at an interactive kiosk, self checkout, or old fashioned POS station, implying that the sale was not made until you were able to hold the actual product in your hand.

Trend Three, still out of order, was about using the physical environment to “empower” – presumably customer – “behaviors” rather than the other way around. The example cited is really esoteric in that everything in the shop has one price: entry into the store, which will, ostensibly, buy the customer a relationship with another person or person(s) through the use of artistic expression operating by way of a convoluted “trade it forward” process. If not very practical, it is definitely thought provoking.

I tried to think of another example of how this might work and could only come up with the idea of one of those chain letters that people send around instructing their friends to “pass it on” or something terrible will happen. This idea was too creepy, even for me, so I decided to ignore it. You can read about the example store at the link.

Trend One, where we find the real substance, suggests that “bricks n mortar” retailers are, indeed, justified in advancing a real product as long as said product makes an emotional connection with the customer. It is an approach that places outcome over experience, motivation over behavior.

Still using the example of cake decoration, I went looking for a suitable visual expression of how it feels to create a valentine for a friend. The image in the photo jumped out at me because, even in the non cake making world, it is totally relatable. If I was a supplier of cake decorating implements, I would use it for a poster on a display targeting the non commercial market.

Lest one get too excited about the prospect of once more advancing a real product, it is probably important to say that accomplishing a “retail design… about creating an emotional connection” is not so easy. Detailed and specific knowledge about the customer base working together with a flexible store design is required for success.

The referenced article appears in the Insights section of the Chute Gerdeman website. Chute Gerdeman is a brand experience company located in Columbus, OH

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain

I’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo,

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain - Web and BeyondI’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or any other free email address that’s not [email protected], you are missing out on an amazing marketing opportunity. And, you’re likely hurting your professional reputation. I’d like to unpack how branding your email address is as important as your business website’s domain, and ways in which you can take advantage of a branded email address by getting and using it.

Professional Reputation and Legitimacy

Think about the ubiquity of email in business today. And you’re telling people implicitly to visit AOL or Yahoo instead of your company’s website by not having a brand-enabled email address. As well, some people look down on your business or don’t see you as stable by using a free email service.

As an example, I get at least one email a week from a purported Small Business owner asking me if we can help them with their website and whether we “take credit cards.” It’s the strange way the senders write their email messages that make it a dead giveaway that it’s a scam, but their email addresses are always from generic email services. Identifying this kind of scam spam is important for everyone receiving email today. I see email from those I don’t know and I immediately don’t give them as much credibility because they so similar to those that aren’t legitimate. We all only have so much time in the day to manage our email and if you decrease your legitimacy factors to not only spam filters, but to the humans trying to identify you as a real business, having a professional email address is vital.

Furthermore, when you create a branded email account and their accompanied aliases, you can setup DMARC records for your email accounts (as well as DKIM and SPF), which is an email-validation system so that when mail exchange servers receive, they know it’s coming from you (or third-party services you’ve approved to send on your behalf, like your email marketing software). This increases chances you get into the inbox of your intended recipient in the first place.

Proper Email Boundaries

Turn off your email when you are away from the office, whether for just a few days or on a multi-week vacation. That’s simply a free bit of life-work balance for you as an entrepreneur.  However, setting good email boundaries and expectations is a form of customer service (which is, in my opinion, a part of the marketing department in small businesses). When you use your personal email account for business email, now you have conflated those two roles in your life. This makes it difficult when you wake the screen on your phone in the morning on vacation and you see an “important” email message from a client. Instead of that client getting a professional automated response noting that you’re away and when you’ll respond (logically), you react (emotionally). Responding to email messages when you’re in work mode is always going to be better than reacting when you’re trying to rest and rejuvenate.

I personally don’t check my personal email accounts that often, but when I’m on vacation I turn off my work email accounts and switch my personal email accounts to notify me as messages come in. I’m usually traveling and wanting higher engagement with my friends and family at those times, and having a separated business email account structure gives me the comfort in knowing those email messages coming in are the right context for me at any given time.

As well, using a branded email, I can add the appropriate persons in my company to contact in my absence via my autoresponder “away” message, or I can forward specific client emails to staff, should they be able to help in my stead.

Marketing Your Website

Your website is where sales happen. And, it takes time, energy and resources getting visitors to your business website. So, why would you squander the marketing opportunity to expose your website domain name to people with whom you share your email address? When someone meets you and receives your email address, this is the chance to get them to become curious in checking out your website. But, you most often than not won’t ask them directly to visit your website. By, giving them a branded email to stay in touch, say, at a networking event, you have planted some curiosity for them to check out your website when they see [email protected]

For different marketing campaigns you can set up forwarding email addresses (which are not real email accounts, but merely fronts for forwarding inbound email along to another email address of your choice). So, when leads and potential clients email you from a business card, flyer, postcard or brochure, you can identify from where they learned about you and/or your business.

As well, your email is more memorable when it’s [email protected] When you give someone a generic email address, like [email protected] or [email protected], it’s harder to remember why they were going to email you or what your name or your business name is.

A good rule of thumb: whenever you have an appropriate chance to share your website domain name, do so.

Present Yourself (as Bigger or Smaller) Depending on your Business Situation

With branded email, you can create accounts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] These represent departmental emails that go to the correct person for handling inbound messages. In a Small Business, all these hats may be centralized to a few people, if not one person–you. But, your clients don’t need to know that!

Also, as I do, I have separate public and private email addresses. I use my public email address for all public-facing marketing materials, such as when I present to audiences at workshops and seminars. However, I have a private email address that’s only used between my staff and me so that those messages can be segmented and focused on our client needs, and not distract me from all the other email I get every day. This public-facing email is also a shared account with my assistant so email I don’t need to deal with can be processed and organized while I’m in meetings, presenting seminars, or teaching workshops. The remaining, non-time sensitive email messages from the public email address will then we be waiting for me when I get to it.

Branded Email Is Low-Cost and High-Value

I think a big concern for most business owners, established and startup alike, is that branded email is going to cost a fortune. And, the reality is, that most branded email today is very cost effective.

By hosting with a proper email hosting service provider, you get technical support. Email is important for your business and free email services don’t have any guarantees about their uptime. But, your email hosting provider will be able to give you 99.9% uptime guarantees.

As you might imagine as the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, I’m a huge fan of G Suite, Google’s business productivity suite. It includes almost every type of software a business owner needs today to get started and grow their business over time; what’s not available in G Suite proper is possible through an integration partner in the G Suite Marketplace. But, to our topic at hand, every G Suite license comes with branded email powered by Gmail. This is substantially and substantively different than consumer-grade Gmail as G Suite email is your business data, owned by you, private, no advertising, and secure. Yet, it has all the features you have come to love about Gmail; it does have the ability to turn off features you don’t like. As well, for those who are in a Microsoft-preferred ecosystem, you can get business email through Office 365 Business Premium or Exchange.

Also, W3 Consulting’s Web Services provides 100 free email forwarding aliases for departmental email addresses (as I indicated above, such as [email protected], [email protected], etc.) with the purchase of any domain registration or Managed WordPress hosting purchase. These will forward to one or several email addresses in your company that cover the appropriate roles. If you’re using G Suite, you can create these within the Admin Console as Groups.

Protecting your Brand with Employee Emails

When you hire new employees, you want them to use your company’s email address when corresponding with clients. This not only positions them professionally and legitimately as acting on behalf of your company, but it also gives some protections for you and your employee.

When an employee leaves, you don’t lose control over that email account. You can change the email alias (which is the yourname in [email protected]) and direct it to your email or another employee’s email account when an employee resigns or the business terminates an employee. This continuity with your client communications is very important in marketing and other operations management areas of the business.

How to Create a Branded Email Account for your Business

It’s increasingly easier to get your branded email account set up for your business today.

If you didn’t know, you can have branded email without having a business website yet. I recommend that you have your business’ branded email account set up as soon as possible when you are starting out. You can plan and launch your website thereafter, but it’s never too early to get your audience aware of your business website’s domain.

So, here are the basic steps to getting your branded email account for your business.

  1. Register a business domain name, which you want to use for your business and email.
  2. Decide on your business email hosting provider, whether that’s G Suite or another email hosting provider.
  3. Set your domain’s MX (mail exchange) records in your Domain Manager to direct to your email hosting provider.
  4. Now, choose an email program that you want to handle your email management on desktop and mobile. From your email hosting provider, get the email setup information so you can establish control over the branded email within your software on both desktop and mobile.
  5. Create a professional email signature for your email account, and you’re ready to go!

Do you have any questions about branding your email address? How about creating a branded email address? Feel free to contact us, or comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer questions or direct you to a resource that can help!

Branding Your Business

A recent Small Business Roundtable addressed the topic of Branding Your Business. The consensus during this facilitated discussion was that the “brand” of a business is the complete experience that customers or clients have as they interact with the business. It includes visual and emotional components such as in-person and telephone interactions, printed materials, social… Read more »

The post Branding Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Branding Your BusinessA recent Small Business Roundtable addressed the topic of Branding Your Business. The consensus during this facilitated discussion was that the “brand” of a business is the complete experience that customers or clients have as they interact with the business. It includes visual and emotional components such as in-person and telephone interactions, printed materials, social media, website, and even your position in the community.

Just as a person can influence but not completely control their reputation, a business must do everything possible to create and enhance the experience that customers have before, during and after contact in order to enhance their brand. So how do you, as a small business owner, influence and mold your brand?

First, think about what people like about you and your business. How are you different from the other companies in your area? Look at both your target market and at your competitors. Identify your mission and make sure that the spirit and culture that you want for your business is reflected throughout all interactions.

Listen to your elevator speech and how you and your employees answer the telephone, greet customers, and interact with each other. Are you all on the same page?  If the vibe that you want to show the world is calm, soothing and professional, make sure that is what comes across to those encountering your business across all platforms. Are you the happy and cheerful place for your customers? If so, make sure that your people and your website, location, and social media interactions are happy and cheerful.

Once you have thought about your culture and the image that you want to project, take a look at your visuals. Logo and your identity can be a challenge. Everyone has seen logos and visuals that are tired or just don’t seem to fit the business. It is often easier to spot this in someone else’s business rather than your own, so ask your trusted customers and even friends for input.

A branding specialist at the Roundtable suggested that we think of the brand of a business as its body, and the logo as its face. You need to take care with your logo, as you take care of your face. If your logo is done successfully, it can be a building block to position your brand for success. It is important that your logo be designed carefully so that it can give a consistent look and feel throughout all platforms and media. What works on a business card should also work as a text avatar and look great on your website and mobile devices.

Your logo designer will most likely accomplish this by producing multiple logos with different backgrounds and tag lines that work with the requirements of each medium but with a consistent look across all. Particularly if your customer base is cross-cultural, it is very important to make sure that your name, abbreviation, or symbols do not have cross-cultural implications that reflect badly on your business. Remember that what looks funny or stylish in one culture can be considered an insult in another.

Keep in mind that often simple is better. The Nike swoosh is about as simple as it gets but is a recognized logo throughout the world and a good “face” for the Nike brand. A professional branding expert will also be able to guide you regarding color choice; different colors often promote different emotions, and you want to be sure that your color choices reflect your culture and your brand. Once you have considered your culture and your brand and decided on your logo and color choices, be sure to use them consistently in all facets of your business. Ultimately, it is all about communicating to the world what you and your business are all about; if your visual identity does not “speak” to what you do, it is time for a refresh.

Take a step back and review your materials, and then make sure that your customer interactions reflect the vitality of your visual “face”. Proudly take your brand to the world and watch your business flourish!

The post Branding Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Which Social Network is Right for Your Business?

so-many-social-networks (Photo credit: socialmediahq)

Options abound when it comes to social media – there are dozens of “major” social networks (those with more than 500,000 active users) and new social platforms hit the market all the time.

With the optimism and energy behind starting your own business, many entrepreneurs create business profiles on several social networks, only to find they don’t have the time to manage all of them. A social profile that’s neglected can negatively affect how customers perceive your brand.

So how do you decide where to put your social media marketing energy? First, think about why people visit different social networks.

A recent study by IPG Media and 140Proof showed more than 107 million U.S. adults belong to more than one social network. Of those, more than 78 million belong to three social networks and almost 60 million belong to four or more.

The reason, users say, is because different platforms are better suited to different interests. (In other words, your customers probably are not going to the business-oriented professional network LinkedIn to find the latest viral cat video.)

Here are a few questions to consider when choosing your social presence:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • Is your business inherently visual in nature (like fashion or real estate) or is your business based more on information?
  • How much time can you dedicate to maintaining your social presence? Some networks require more work than others.
  • What’s your goal for your social media marketing efforts? Do you want to be thought of as an expert among other industry leaders, or do you want to increase the number of people buying a product from you?
  • What’s your brand’s personality?

IPG also has a great chart showing topic areas and what performs best on which social network – you can see the chart here.

The best advice for businesses on social media, no matter the platform: Be yourself, engage with your customers and clients (respond to their inquiries quickly and thank them for their contributions) and keep your social media presence fresh and updated.

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at