How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

How to Strengthen Customer Relationships When Time is at a Premium

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of your business. And while the things that go on behind the scenes certainly matter, you can’t focus on them at the expense of your relationships with customers.

Small Businesses Are Built on Relationships

When people think about small businesses, a certain image is conjured up in their minds. They picture a quaint storefront on a main street in a small town. They see friendly storeowners who know customers by their first names and interact with them as they walk in. They picture handshakes, smiles, and promises that are always honored.

See, small businesses are all about interpersonal relations. They thrive on connections and conversations. But somewhere along the way, companies moved away from the heart of small business. With so many different forces and distractions competing for attention, small businesses have started spending less time focusing on relationships and more time dealing with “important” administrative tasks and responsibilities.

The problem with this shift in small business management is that nothing is more important than customer relationships. While payroll, accounting, digital marketing, website analytics, paid media, hiring, and training matter, they can’t take away from the focus on customer relationships. As soon as relationships erode, the business follows closely behind.

Do yourself a favor and conduct a quick analysis on your small business. Are you so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks and managerial responsibilities that you’re no longer fostering healthy relationships with new and existing customers?

If this is the case, you aren’t alone. It’s an epidemic in the business world and you’ll find thousands of other business owners in the same boat. However, at some point, you have to make the conscious decision to get out of the boat and return to what made you successful: relationships.

4 Ways to Strengthen Customer Relationships

You can’t snap your fingers and wish your way into stronger customer relationships. What you need is a customer relations strategy that targets particular weaknesses in your business and builds on the strengths that you already have. And while every business will have different needs and action steps, the following tips should provide you with a solid footing on which you can build for the future.

1. Use CRM Software

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term used to describe the handy tools small businesses utilize to streamline the management and nurturing of customer relationships.

“It’s usually a cloud-based system that stores information about your clients, potential clients and contacts in one central safe place that everyone in your team can access and update wherever they are,” small business expert Nadia Finer says. “A CRM can also help you grow your business and keep customers happy by keeping track of interactions and tasks, and giving you a clear view of your sales pipeline.”

What Finer is really getting at is this: CRM makes it easier to manage customer relationships when you don’t have the time to manually handle every task.

As a general principle, most businesses extract 70-80 percent of their profits from 20-30 percent of their customers. One way to maximize the value of your CRM system is to use the built-in analytics tools to keep track of who your most valuable customers are.

As marketing manager Christopher Meloni explains it, “This sort of tracking, with the help of your CRM software, will in-turn enable you to allocate your resources in such a manner that those 20-30% of your customers get the best customer service, always. This is called target-based allocation, and it can prove wonders for you and your business organization.”

CRM can also be used to help you handle customer complaints in a swift manner. By delivering fast responses, you can deal with problems as they arise (instead of letting them fester). Other valuable uses – depending on the CRM system you use – include the ability to analyze customer buying patterns, send out automatic updates, and keep track of who customers are and how they’re likely to respond in certain situations.

2. Invest in Business Intelligence

Are you currently invested in business intelligence? This is the fastest developing trend in small business and you have to make it a priority if you stand any chance of acquiring and maintaining a base of loyal customers that continue to come back time after time.

“Business intelligence for small business helps to gather data about your customers’ behavior and structure it in a clear form so that it can be analyzed fast and easy,” explains Heiko Troster of datapine. “With insights about your customers’ behavior you can make effective business decisions.”

Data is the ammunition of your communicative efforts. When you understand who your customers are and what they want, you can effectively forecast needs and satisfy their desires. You still have to strategically act on the information you have, but at least business intelligence tools can provide you with valuable data that you’d otherwise miss out on.

3. Gather More Information on Customers

Customers want to be known as more than an invoice number or receipt. They want to be seen as individuals with personal lives, needs, and sensitivities. When you have advanced CRM and business intelligence tools in place, you can tactfully gather more information on your customers and gain a fuller picture of who they are and what their needs are. This will benefit you in the long run by allowing you to interact with customers on an individual basis.

4. Reshape Your Social Media Strategy

What does your current social media strategy look like? If you haven’t made a conscious effort over the years to make your social media presence about your followers, then your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles are probably self-serving. All of the content you post is about your brand and you aren’t adding any real value to your customers. Sound familiar?

If the goal is to strengthen customer relationships, you’ll need to reshape your social media strategy and make it less about you and more about them. Make it an avenue for two-way conversations to take place.

“Unlike a one-way conversation where a company typically dominates the narrative and doesn’t really acknowledge or interact with visitors/followers , a two-way conversation directly connects brands and consumers,” says Carolyn Edgecomb of IMPACT. “A two-conversation is a dialogue, where brands speak and listen to their audience, responding directly to their wants and needs.”

The classic rule of thumb is that 80 percent of your social media posts should add value to your brand without directly promoting your products and services. Try your best to meet this goal.

Make More Time for Customers

Forging strong relationships with customers takes effort. But thanks to the technologies you now have available to you – such as CRM systems, business intelligence tools, and social media – it doesn’t have to require a ton of time.

Now’s the time to create a game plan for success. How are you going to handle the many needs of your company without compromising on the customer relationship front? It’ll take some trial and error, but you can find a solution.

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Chocolate Rain 10th Anniversary Calls Attention to Power of Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing Lesson from the 10th Anniversary of Chocolate Rain

This week marks the tenth anniversary of viral sensation “Chocolate Rain” by singer and internet personality Tay Zonday. And this milestone isn’t just about celebrating a flash-in-the-pan online hit. It also serves as an important reminder for businesses.

Chocolate Rain was one of the first truly viral internet sensations. The original video has been viewed more than 110 million times. And the song has been referenced in pop culture all the way from 30 Rock to Spongebob Squarepants.

Even Zonday himself has created spoofs of the song and performed on late night shows and in other venues. Now, Zonday has released a new video commemorating the tenth anniversary of his viral hit.

Viral Marketing Lesson from the 10th Anniversary of Chocolate Rain

For businesses, the lesson of Chocolate Rain is simple. Digital channels have lowered the barriers of entry so that even an unknown brand can capture global attention with the right content. And the payoffs can be huge!

Once you do start receiving some recognition, you can capitalize on it by accepting the additional opportunities that come your way. Because if the 10th anniversary of Chocolate Rain is any indication, viral content can have both an immediate and lasting impact.

Image: Tay Zonday/YouTube

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How to Use Different Types of Content When Marketing Your Small Business (Infographic)

How to Use Different Types of Content When Marketing Your Small Business (Infographic)

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past 6 years, you’ve probably heard about using content marketing to promote your small business.

Even as a solopreneur, content marketing works to bolster brand awareness, build your reputation, attract customers, and keep your website fresh.

However, with all the noise online, content marketing has gotten harder. Back in 2013, there were around 92,000 new articles posted on the internet every day.  Today, there are more brands than ever creating content.

How can your small business compete? By being smart about the different types of content you use.

Your Goals Should Drive the Types of Content You Use

Content has the ability to educate, entertain, inspire, and convince.  And, as the infographic from Smart Insight below shows, some types of content are suited for specific purposes.

To increase your chances of achieving your desired results, using the right type of content can make a real difference. For example, if you’re trying to:

  • Attract attention, entertaining types of content like quizzes, contests and viral videos work best.
  • Inform, use content like ebooks, guides, and infographics to educate your customers.
  • Build trust, use inspiring content like celebrity endorsements, reviews, and community forums.
  • Convert,  then content like demos, case studies, and calculators do the trick.

This is not to say that you can’t use entertaining content to convince or inspiring content to entertain, but playing to the strengths of each type of content can impact your results. Therefore, the best use of this infographic is for planning your content campaigns so they’ll be as effective as possible.

Content Marketing Tips

Want to learn more about content marketing? Here are some handy links:

Content Marketing Tools

Looking for useful content marketing tools to make your more efficient? Here are two links that should help:

 

How to Use Different Types of Content When Marketing Your Small Business (Infographic)

Source: Smart Insights

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What is an Integrated Marketing Campaign?

What is an Integrated Marketing Campaign?

The first part of this series discussed the basics of integrated marketing and how the method blends traditional techniques with digital parts. The previous article looked at how this modern tool combined the elements of more conventional outbound marketing with inbound marketing.

This second installment looks at how to take a step back and watch how these moving parts interact by looking at a few hypothetical campaigns that bridge the gap between cyberspace, print, radio and television.

Integrated Marketing Campaign Example

Some of the best integrated marketing campaigns encourage customers to support local small businesses. For example, an event promoting small retailers in a place like Pennsylvania could start with a hashtag like #ShopPenn as the fulcrum of the campaign.

YouTube Videos

That twitter hashtag might point to some YouTube videos about specific local businesses in the Pennsylvania area and perhaps even a live event to be held in a public location where shop owners can distribute pamphlets and flyers, all through one centrally organized campaign.

The Sagefrog Marketing Group has long been leaders in the integrated marketing space. Their 2017 B2B Marketing Mix Report highlights the need to use this integrated technique to engage both younger and older demographics.

The survey notes:

  • 55 percent of businesses don’t have a formal marketing plan.
  • The top lead sources have email marketing, social media marketing, public relations and trade show events all sharing space as big drivers for success.
  • Online marketing and trade shows and events have excellent ROI.

Mark Schmukler, CEO and Co-founder of Sagefrog Marketing Group, sees the parts of these campaigns as interrelated and the focus continually shifting.

Pendulum

“I think the whole thing is a pendulum really,” he tells Small Business Trends. “When digital first came along it was so innovative and powerful people thought all the old channels were dead.” He goes on to say that while digital routes are great for measuring ROI, people are looking to drive revenue too and that’s where these more traditional tools come in.

There are more than a few examples that prove Schmukler’s point. Narrowing the focus helps to get the message out across different channels to your target market. Not everyone needs to be on Facebook or Pinterest. Deciding what’s right for your business and target market is critical.

Therefore, it stands to reason a good marketing communications mix might have several elements like:

  • A press release.
  • Product giveaways on social media that tie in with a series of limited coupons.
  • A website that’s updated with new offers.
  • Demos and events where your product or service gets demonstrated.

Here’s another example of a campaign that would have your goods and services flying off the shelves.

Selling Refurbished Computers?

Let’s say you’ve got a small business selling refurbished computers — a nice example that combines digital uses with a physical product. A website would need to be a part of any integrated marketing campaign and it’s a good idea to offer some kind of break on shipping so you can compete with the bigger players in the online space.

A good old-fashioned press release might highlight the fact that you’re going to give a free seminar on the best practices to use in the cloud. Having your logo strategically placed on charging booths at the local computer show makes sure you’re covering all the bases.

Advertising box

The last word here goes to the experts. Schmukler is clear you shouldn’t assume  your small business will get to where it needs to go without thinking outside the traditional advertising box.

“I think there are opportunities for even traditional brick and mortar businesses to look at online revenue streams,” he adds. “What’s hot now is paid social media where I can sponsor a post on your timeline.”

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Small Businesses Learn from IKEA: Build a Complementing Side Business

Why You Should Have a Side Business

When it comes to securing your business’ future and increasing its profitability, diversifying your business is key. Diversifying essentially means to vary your business’ range of products or field of operation — a strategy that small businesses can learn a thing or two about from IKEA.

Why You Should Have a Side Business

Lessons for Diversifying Your Business Portfolio

IKEA, a multinational furniture retailer headquartered in the Netherlands, recently revealed it is considering opening a chain of standalone restaurants.

The furniture retailer that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories, has always had restaurants in its stores since the 1950’s when it launched. The restaurants serve bargain meals and snacks, a carefully crafted diversification and customer acquisition strategy that helps to lure in customers for more furniture sales.

“We’ve always called the meatballs [sold in restaurants within their stores] ‘the best sofa-seller,’” Gerd Diewald, who oversees IKEA’s food programs in the U.S., told Fast Company.

“It’s hard to do business with hungry customers,” Diewald added. “When you feed them, they stay longer, they can talk” about that wardrobe, sofa or bed and make a decision to buy there and then.

IKEA Food and Restaurant Business

IKEA reportedly serves some 650 million diners a year, across 48 countries around the world. Of these diners, 30 percent visit IKEA just to eat.

Annual food sales for IKEA added up to around $1.8 billion in 2016 and about $1.5 billion in 2013. While these sales figures pale in comparison with IKEA’s main home-goods business’ revenue, which topped $36.5 billion last year, the company welcomes the additional revenue generator.

The retail chain’s executives say they plan to expand IKEA’s food business further and have standalone restaurants dot cities around the world in coming years. Already IKEA has opened temporary standalone restaurants in Paris, London and Oslo.

If you are a small business looking for ways to increase revenue, you might want to follow IKEA’s lead and develop a complementing side business hustle. For a small café, that might entail expanding your offering to include meals or baked foods. For a small restaurant operation with a specialty item like ice cream, it might mean starting to sell your own brand of ice cream retail.

The results of your side hustle and the extra revenue generated can open up new avenues for growth.

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What Is Integrated Marketing?

What Is Integrated Marketing?

At first glance, the statistics seem like they’re at odds with each other — as though someone had mixed some generational marketing numbers up and accidentally placed ones that spoke to Boomers’ shopping preferences beside stats for the Millennials.

Consider the chart from The NPD Group that states 81 percent of Millennials’ retail purchases take place in a brick and mortar store.  Another statistic from Valassis seems to muddy the waters further. It states that 51 percent of respondents between the ages of 18- 34 reported the newspaper was the top source where they spotted deals.

What is Integrated Marketing?

Tech Savvy Generation

It may seem odd to find out that the most tech savvy of all the generations jumps from digital to traditional when they shop, but the concept is old hat to marketing gurus like Mark Schmukler. In fact, Schmukler and other forward thinkers have long championed a concept called integrated marketing that mimics the preference for something old and something new as a preferred way to market both on and offline. Schmukler started his career in engineering and switched to marketing over thirty years ago, so he understands the nuts and bolts of this specific tool.

“I’ve worked in the older ad agencies which practiced outbound marketing and the new digital agencies which are really inbound,” says the CEO and Co-founder of Sagefrog Marketing Group. “We have always believed in optimizing across all available channels.”

Smart Philosophy

It’s a smart philosophy and one that works perfectly with the definition of integrated marketing as a method that combines outbound traditional marketing with inbound marketing. It’s a bridge between older styles where ads on television, print, radio and flyers and brochures got a message out to potential customers. Inbound marketing is primarily digital and designed to draw clients in.

The Inbound version took hold with the introduction of search engines generally and Google specifically in 1998. HubSpot was one of the companies that helped to define inbound marketing in the new digital age.

Those Twitter hashtags that appear during commercials are one common example. They entice people watching television to interact and engage with the brand online.  Most recently, big names like Porsche have used pop-up events at football games and geo-targeted mobile friendly content to let people know these events are coming up and get them sharing the message.

Pendulum Swings

Schmukler is quick to point out there have been a few trends over the years as the pendulum swings back and forth between the marketing techniques.

“What happened was the trend went from traditional to digital and now I see it starting to cycle back. The common thread is about optimizing across all channels. It’s not an either or world.”

For small businesses that listen to the integrated marketing gospel preached by people like Schmukler, the payoffs of integrating inbound and outbound techniques can be large. Core Solutions is an EHR provider that used Integrated Marketing to triple its traffic in less than five months and increase leads by more than 700 percent in only one year.

Good Measure

They did this by combining content marketing with email marketing and social media with measures of more traditional public relations added in for good measure.

Still, there are some things that don’t change when small business is looking to mesh the marketing types together into these integrated platforms. One is the desire to find the best leads and Schmukler has some advice for small businesses on one of the best foundations to start out with.

“You find the highest quality, highest value leads with live venues, tradeshows, networking and conferences in your industry. Digital marketing is good for getting quantity leads and live venues are good for quality,” he says.  “If you’re looking for high value client leads, the live venues are where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.”

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10 Tips for Creating a Luxury Brand in a New Market

Luxury Branding Tips for New Markets

Finding a place for a product or service in an already established marketplace can be hard enough. If you add the extra elements of trying to blaze a trail for a luxury brand in a new market that’s just opening up, you need to take extra care each arrow in your business quiver is sharp.

That’s certainly the case for the emerging luxury marijuana space. It’s being spurred on  by the fact more and more states are legalizing medical and in some cases recreational marijuana.

David Moritz is the Chief Marketing Officer for Toast, a luxury cannabis brand that’s trying to stake a claim in that fledgling high end niche. He offered ten tips for small businesses looking to take the entrepreneurial road less traveled: luxury branding.

Luxury Branding Tips for New Markets

What’s in a Name? Everything.

When you’re trying to establish your product in a new arena that’s not been tested it’s important to grab what Moritz calls the high ground first. Choosing a name is one of the first ways to do that. When you’re entering a market where there’s little or no history, there’s a lot more flexibility in the name you choose. Names should be both representative of what you’re selling and resonate with the experience you want your clients to have. In other words, get creative because you won’t have a lot of competition at first so you can take a little extra time to get this right.

For example, Toast speaks to the pillars of style and luxury the company wants to portray.

Identity Is Essential

The name and identity go hand in hand. For a luxury item, the identity needs to be crafted carefully so that it appeals to the specific target market you’re after. The tone needs to be sophisticated and even the logo needs to support the refined name that you choose to start the process off with. Giving a sense of heritage is another essential ingredient for identity.

Cues are Critical

Luxury brands obviously deliver more to a higher customer standard whether they are entering a new market or not. Part of that client expectation is summed up in the cues they look for.

“For example, there are certain finishes inside a luxury car that alert people this is a high end brand,” Moritz says. While you need these cues in for a new luxury market, finding a way to set these benchmarks is different because there are no previous examples.

Find Similarities

Small business looking to build these markers in a new industry needs to take a page from the kinds of emotional cues that work for established industries and make them their own.  Toast™ looked at the way alcohol advertising implied drinking in moderation could enhance and elevate any social event and morphed it to include marijuana.

“The whole nature of any luxury business is in the ability to hit people in an emotional place,” Moritz says adding to make that work you need to incorporate elements from other places to start.

“Then you can invent your own innovations from there.”

Think About Positioning

Because you might not have competition in you own industry, you’ll need to position your new product in relation to other products in similar industries.  It’s the same kind of process used for emotional cues. For a high end product, you can advertise with personas similar to ones used with other luxury items. Refined and elegant people are the best bet.

Use Technology to its Fullest

Although you want to be sure to take your luxury brand and firmly place it on that shelf that sets it apart, you cant ignore how important social media is to getting the word out to your target market.

Moritz understands how this digital juggernaut is gaining in importance for luxury brands in new markets.

“As the algorithms improve and the advertising becomes more accurate and geared towards people’s interests, this is only going to increase,” he says.

Imagine the Competition

You likely won’t have any competition when you first position your luxury brand in a new market. Here you’ll need to play a little imaginary chess with a competing company to make your moves based on what you think a competitor might do.

“You can imagine those other brands but you need to take a specific approach,” Moritz says.

Get Perspective

Through all the other work you do to create a luxury brand in a new market you need to keep in mind you should be fostering a high end experience in all your communications. For example, with the high end cannabis industry, laboratory testing is a given that doesn’t need to be stressed in marketing materials.

Think About Regulators

Your new luxury market won’t be new forever. Just like imagined competitors you need to think about how government and other regulators will affect your business. How you market and to who might need to be adjusted.

Provide an Experience

More than just the product itself, a luxury brand in a new market needs to provide a complete experience.

“The more that you can bridge the gap between newness and innovation to expectation and familiarity, the easier time you’ll have launching your product,” Moritz says.

Image: We Toast/Instagram

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The Role of CSR in Marketing and Branding

CSR Marketing: The Role of CSR in Branding

What do you think about when you hear the term corporate social responsibility (CSR)? There’s a lot of noise around this business opportunity, but a lot of business owners either view it as a passing fad or an unnecessary external pressure. However, the truth is that it’s very important to the overall health of your organization – especially from a marketing and branding perspective.

CSR Marketing

The Link Between CSR and Brand Equity

When you bring up the idea of CSR in a room full of business executives, you’re bound to get a variety of responses. Some will reveal that they actually know very little about it, while others will go on a spiel about all of the wonderful things their company is doing to better society. You’ll also have those who are skeptical about the return on investment in CSR.

By one definition, “Corporate Social Responsibility is an ethical management concept where companies aim to integrate social, economic and environmental concerns along with the consideration of human rights into their business operations.”

This definition is particularly relevant because it touches on just how far-reaching a CSR program can be. It’s not just about partnering with an NPO or sponsoring a local charity. It’s about creating tangible change – socially, economically, and environmentally.

While the underlying purpose of CSR is to advance a specific cause that benefits society, don’t be fooled into thinking that it can’t also have a positive impact on your own company. A strategically developed, properly implemented CSR program can directly enhance a brand’s ability to create and maintain a positive image in the consumer marketplace.

Don’t feel bad if you have profits on your mind whenever you approach the subject of CSR – you aren’t alone. “One of the main reasons companies engage in socially responsible behavior is the possible financial gain that can come from it,” management expert Timothy Creel explains. “Recent studies show that companies engaging in socially responsible behavior tend to show long-term financial gains and increases in value.”

CSR is very much a long-term play, however. Companies tend to show financial losses in the first three years. It isn’t until 36 or 48 months down the road that benefits begin to kick in. But when they do, the impact can be instrumental in terms of marketing and branding.

The reason why CSR builds brand equity is largely psychological. As Creel notes, “Positive feelings are related to social approval and self-respect. Brands that evoke positive feelings make customers feel better about themselves.” Remember that most purchases aren’t about satisfying a need. Sure, there are instances where customers need products to survive, but most purchases are rooted in wants. When a company is able to tie a purchase that is otherwise seen as non-essential to something larger than the product, customers have an easier time validating the purchase in their minds.

Another branding-related benefit of CSR is the sense of community it creates. Creel points to how Lowe’s donates materials and provides volunteer hours to Habitat for Humanity, which allows the company to form connections in local communities. These connections fuel the brand’s image and result in better connectivity.

Ultimately, a commitment to serving others has an impact on sales. According to a survey from Better Business Journey, 88 percent of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities that improve society.

Three Companies Getting CSR Right

Lowe’s was already mentioned, but what other companies are getting CSR right?

1. Kitchen Cabinet Kings

Environmental sustainability is a big focus right now and Kitchen Cabinet Kings is doing a phenomenal job of positioning its brand for the future by aligning the company’s sales with the Plant a Tree Campaign. For every full kitchen purchased, the company plants a tree in one of the 155 National Forests in the United States.

“We think a tree planting is a great way to thank you for your business while giving back to our planet,” the company explains. “Our hope is that as this tree grows, so does our relationship.”

It might seem like a small thing, but when it comes to choosing between Kitchen Cabinet Kings and a competitor, something as simple as supporting sustainability can make a big difference.

2. Kroger

The popular supermarket chain Kroger has long been involved with CSR programs. As the company explains, “We have built a strong foundation based upon the commitment of our associates to serve each and every customer every day, and our promise to be good stewards of our communities and our planet. We know that trust is earned and we never take for granted the trust and confidence of our associates, customers, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders.”

Specifically, Kroger partners with companies and groups that fight world hunger, support women’s health, and provide for military members and their families. They also have initiatives in place that relate to the environment, supply chain, and local economies.

3. Delta Airlines

In an industry where companies are often blasted by frustrated customers, Delta seems to be doing something right on the CSR front. The focus of Delta’s CSR programs, which center on reducing carbon emissions and encouraging environmental sustainability, is on improving transparency.

Delta also asks a lot of its employees, who are heavily involved in Delta Force for Global Good. The fact that Delta employees are also committed to the company’s CSR goals is something that appeals to many customers.

Give Your Brand a Boost With CSR

The benefits of CSR are plentiful. While a CSR program should have a positive influence on the people, groups, or communities that are directly affected by the actions, it’s also becoming abundantly clear that CSR is a strong marketing and branding play.

If your brand is looking for a boost, CSR may be the answer.

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Mobile Minutes: Internet culture; Amazon automation; WhatsApp patches flaws; Twitter hack

Today in mobile marketing – How the Internet is saving culture, not killing it; Amazon: Automation doesn’t have to kill jobs; WhatsApp, Telegram patch flaws in instant messaging applications; Twitter swastika hack comes at fragile time for company.

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