What Today’s Parents Want from the Store

 

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Retail has been reinventing itself for quite some time. No longer is it a mandatory part of our week to spend time in a store, though many of us still do particularly when shopping for food or sundries. But more and more purchasing has moved online, and if digital retailers succeed with the next big step, much of our future purchasing may be on a subscription model. So, where do stores fit in, and what indicators do we see about what consumers want from the in-store experience?

“Retailtainment” is one of the big attractions for today’s shoppers, according to the National Retail Foundation (NRF), and retailers are looking for new ways to offer both product and brand experiences. The NRF is the world’s largest retail trade association, with members in forty-five countries ranging from wholesalers and online retailers to individual Main Street shops. In 2018, they issued a trends report on the buying habits of millennial parents – observing after monitoring this age group for over a decade that “millennial parents shop differently than other parents.” Key findings included that they have a “wealth of information” available on demand and use their phones at almost every step of the buying process. Quality matters, as does customer service and brand knowledge and having shared values with the brand.

But often what brings them to a store, and what makes them more than twice as likely to return, are events. And, an added benefit is that they like to gift or share events with others, so they can serve as influencers as well.

Retailers are responding in kind providing immersive experiences that can be specialized, personalized, or even tailor-made. And, knowing that they have consumers who like to share their experiences on social platforms, retailers want well-designed events that look inviting and photograph well. Multifaceted events are also sought after because they attract a broader audience and can provide a longer and more immersive experience.

Consumers like to feel part of the buying process, be educated about what they buy, and have the ability to engage and have input for future purchase. They also like to make local connections and have an ongong connection with what they buy and support.

While this is newer to many areas of retail, publishers and booksellers have lots of experience running these kinds of events – and bookstores have extensive experience serving as community partners and places for creators, fans and community to come together. Authors and illustrators also have much to offer in this area – with rich content, the ability to create a narrative for events, broad audience appeal, and (in the case of illustrators) the skill to make them visually compelling.

This trend offers opportunities to partner with other kinds of retailers and to learn from what’s going on elsewhere. Authors and illustrators can think about the kinds of events that they can engineer – since retailers are hungry for these ideas.

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Customer-centric marketing: How close is too close?

 

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Making business more personal is all the rage right now, and significant resources are being put toward gaining a thorough understanding of customer predilections and preferences and to cultivate those accordingly. There’s nothing new to recognizing the value of doing so, but a key driver now is that customers themselves are more apt to demand it. This can take many forms, but some of the most common expectations are that communication will be personalized, contacts will be quick to respond, and that knowledge of the customer will accrue over time. In return, consumers are willing to respond by being loyal and supportive.

Authors and illustrators have understood this consumer desire for a long time and have in various degrees engaged personally with their readers. But those who are experienced have learned that relationships between themselves and their readers can be complicated, and that knowing where to draw boundaries is crucial.

Individual contact can take the form of face-to-face engagement at events, responding to personal inquiries, or can be more extensive for authors who actively cultivate fan involvement. In each case, preparing ahead and evolving a consistent way to behave will help ensure that you respond in ways that are thoughtful, respectful and appropriate to the situation.

The first things to consider are your time constraints, your resources for connecting with your readers, and your own comfort level with fan engagement.

Then map out a plan outlining what you are willing to do and listing any challenges you think might arise. This can include deciding how to respond to requests for referrals, what to say to fans who ask you to read their manuscript or talk in-depth with you about their books, and how to manage people who may become rude or critical if you don’t respond in ways they expect. Being patient and maintaining a sense of humor are helpful as is conveying understanding and empathy. But knowing ahead what you’ll say will also help you to be firm and to be consistent.

Some authors and illustrators find it easier to keep their engagement less personal and to respond to an audience as a whole rather than to engage individually. If that is your preference, you could still incorporate personal stories others have shared with you and look for ways for the group to engage with each other to create a more intimate experience. If questions arise that you can’t or don’t want to address immediately, you can offer to respond to them afterwards in writing or via your publisher. Another way to provide fans a more personalized experience is to add interactive components like surveys and other interactive components to your website or social media platforms to provide opportunities to give input to you or to other fans.

There are many creative ways to cultivate fan relationships and to engage meaningfully without setting unrealistic expectations or getting forced into uncomfortable situations. But it’s helpful to recognize that consumers are being treated differently than in the past, and as they become more accustomed to that, they are likely to evolve their expectations in this industry as well.

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Get visual for “The Year of Video Marketing”

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In an opinion piece in Forbes earlier this year, technology writer, Aj Agrawal, called 2017 “The Year of Video Marketing.” Certainly, video content has seen tremendous growth and expectations are for that to continue. According to a recent report by Hubspot, this year, “video content will represent 74% of all Internet traffic.” For book promotion, authors and publishers have been using video in the form of book trailers for years and in that time, the trailer format has gained fans and detractors.

But digital storytelling can take many forms – and there are many tools now to make video creation – animations, topical timelines, interactive maps, slide shows and advertisements – easier than ever and they’re often free. I’ve written in the past about some of the timeline and animating platforms like Dipity, PowToon and GoAnimate, but there are a number of new tools and formats that offer additional formats worth experimenting with and imagining what might fit well into your plans for marketing books you write or illustrate.

One format is the cinemagraph, which you’ve probably seen even if you aren’t familiar with the term. These are seemingly still photos, but have one video element that moves and will repeat in a loop. To create a cinemagraph, with a program like Cinemagr.am or Flixel, you start with a short video, you then highlight, extract and save a small portion of the clip and that will then become the static element that the rest will play against – either in forward motion, reverse, or alternating forward-reverse. Once your cinemagraph is created, you can then add filters and hashtags and post on social media. Biteable is a very easy-to-use new online tool that can be used for free or an upgraded $100/yr. to create a mini presentation, slide show, intro piece or “explainer” video in just a few minutes. Claiming to be “The World’s Simplest Video Maker,”

Biteable provides templates that include scenes – either as animation, footage or still images, and then gives options for selecting a color palette and music – or you can upload custom colors or your own sound file. You can then add images, text and hashtags – and then Biteable will email you a finished file – mine took less than 15 minutes.

Fast forward to the next wave: A little over a year ago, Facebook announced the launch of 360-degree video, a format that bears watching as an outgrowth of Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift and their aggressive push in virtual reality technology. With 360 video, the film that’s produced allows the person filming to capture what they’re seeing in a full 360 degrees and the viewer can look at that video and by dragging their cursor, see in what the videographer saw in all directions – in front, all around and behind. This allows the viewer to share the full experience of that moment. The 360 cameras, like Samsung’s Gear 360 cost several hundred dollars, but that’s likely to come down as more enter the field.

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Influencers –Where to Find Them and What to Do When You Have?

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Influencers –Where to Find Them and What to Do When You Have Influencer marketing has grown in popularity over the last several years. In fact, the Content Marketing Institute recently named it one of the top content marketing trends for 2017. What is it, and where did it come from?

You can think of it as the offspring of social media – and what in simpler days we called word-of-mouth. But today it’s more strategic and more viable in terms of reaching influential people you might not have had access to before. In our field, there are of course the people who are industry influencers – book buyers, key librarians and educators, and others who are opinion-makers about authors and books. They can be found speaking at conferences, attending publisher events, and on the award committees at the national and regional level. They’re also often reviewers, bloggers, and active on social media about education, publishing, and children’s and young adult literature.

But what if you want to reach key influencers outside the field? You should think about doing this because books for young people are also topical – and each topic has influencers of its own. Whatever the topic of your book, look at ways you can reach the people whose voices carry weight in those fields. Betters still, find influencers tied to both that topic and education or children. It’s even more important if many of your books focus on a particular genre or topic area. The value of cultivating these people is that they can introduce you to a broader audience – and commend you to others who respect their opinion.

The simplest place to start is Google Search. Type in related keywords and phrases and see who has written on the topic, what organizations relate to that, and which names you see again and again. You can also check Twitter to see who’s tweeting about your topic and how many followers they have. To come at it from the top down, you can use AllTop to find the most influential bloggers and reporters on a given topic. They aggregate thousands of sources and update hourly to provide links to the most trafficked sites covering hundreds of topics from adoption to zoology. Other sites, like Social Mention, BuzzSumo and the newer EpicBeat will curate social media to tell you which content has gotten the most shares, likes and feedback – and can tell you who are the key influencers in that topic area.

Once you identify people, you have to have a meaningful way to engage. Simple ways to start can be to comment on their posts and share their content. But lots of people are doing that, so it’s hard to stand out. But if you create online content of your own via a blog or other platform, you can try to interest them more directly. One way would be to quote them and link to their material and then let them know via Twitter that you’ve done so. Taking that a step further you can crowd source an article and ask for quotes from a number of people whose opinions you value and who you’d like to connect with, and then share the story back with them when you’re done. As you begin to develop a relationship, you can invite people to provide a guest blog for your site, do an interview with you for a feature, and perhaps later, gain an endorsement quote for your new book.

The results will be that you’ll broaden your base of connections and benefit from associating with people you admire. Your research and time spent following social conversations will also make you better versed in what’s trending on topics you care about. That’s something you can bring back to conversations you have at conferences, publisher events and with literary luminaries who will value your expertise and may also be interested to connect to other influencers you know.

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The Art of the Interview

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Being asked to give interviews is flattering and exciting: it’s a testament to your acceptance and importance in the field. For new authors and illustrators, it represents a milestone of achieving hard earned recognition now that you are published.

To interview well is an art. Depending on who you are and what your books are about, interviews can feel like easy, comfortable chats or can be complex or challenging. The good news is that being in the entertainment and education business, you’re much less likely to face hardcore investigative or hostile questions. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to be interviewed should be taken lightly. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you should put a process in place to go into each interview well prepared.

Start by recognizing that each interview will be different in format, length, tone, and the dynamic that exists between you and the interviewer.

Print and online interviews are often the easiest because you have a set of written questions provided and can take the time you need to give thorough and thoughtful answers. The key here is to be prompt in responding, ideally no more than a few days. If you can’t, let the reporter know how soon you will be able to reply and make sure to do so. Also, if you have one or two additional questions you’d like to answer, or anything you don’t want to discuss, let the reporter know. Remember to provide supplementary material – photos, links, contact information – when you send in your answers so everything’s at hand when the story gets compiled.

Radio interviews, which can be done by phone or in-studio, provide an opportunity for comfortable conversation. Still, the casualness of the format can lead to sloppiness if you’re not mindful of time length and what information you want to make sure to cover. Start by making sure to provide the producer or host with your book and biographical information, as well as website links, book trailer and cover art jpegs that can be used to feature you on their show’s website. Then make sure you ask for information about format: the length of the segment, who will interview you and, if it’s live, whether there will be call-ins or anyone else on with you during the segment. If you’re calling in, find out whether you should call at the stated time or if they want you on the line a few minutes ahead. Prepare a bulleted cheat sheet that you can glance at to make sure you have any key reference information and reminders on what you want to discuss. At the same time, make sure you’re giving your full attention to the interviewer and responding comfortably to questions you’re asked.

TV and other face-to-face interviews take more preparation because you need to think about how you look as well as what you’re saying. If you’re doing the interview remotely, you also need to consider what’s behind you that viewers can see and make sure that the lighting’s flattering and nothing’s distracting or odd seeming in the background. With audio and video broadcast, it’s very important to keep a close eye on the time and with that in mind, say your piece succinctly and then stop, so the interviewer knows you’re ready to move on. Know too that it’s often good to pause before answering, particularly if you’re nervous, to give yourself a chance to compose your answer and to avoid run-on answers that can result from being uncomfortable in the spotlight. With television, it’s also important to maintain good eye contact with the interviewer and avoid looking at the camera or monitors.

That said, be aware that there will be times that you’ll be caught off-guard in an interview. It’s useful, particularly when preparing for a live interview, to having someone do a mock one in advance with you asking a mix of easy and hard questions, so you know what may come up and can think ahead how you want to answer. If you’re dealing with a difficult or controversial subject, you should acknowledge the question asked and reply to the degree you’re comfortable, but also have a way to segue to something valuable that you want to impart.

Overall, the key to interviewing well is preparing ahead and gaining experience – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

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What Type of Marketer Are You?

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As with most things there’s no need to speculate – just ask Google that question and you’ll find numerous quizzes happy to walk you through to let you know where you stand. I was pleased to be named Chief Marketing Officer by t-shirt company Printsome after taking their quiz, which among other questions asked me to choose between a picture of a pencil, a pair of work boots and a pile of money.

Being loyal to the publishing industry, I chose the pencil, of course. How this helped them decide to elevate me to the top of their company, I have no idea, but in some ways it reinforced how I often feel when trying to put a fine point on the vagaries of marketing, which is both a science and an art.

There are a lot of cold hard facts in marketing – and our increasing ability to analyze customer data as it relates to buying timing, frequency, influences and incentives – is causing a sea change in how we think about our relationship with customers and prospects.

At the same time, consumers are becoming both more demanding about the kind of engagement they want and increasingly fatigued at being pitched products and services morning to night.

In a particularly surprising statement in January, Steve Howard, IKEA’s head of sustainability announced at a live business forum hosted by The Guardian that “if we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff….”

If so, convincing consumers they need what we’re selling will be very difficult. The key questions to consider are: What will capture a prospective customer’s attention? What will make my book or brand stand out from its competition? And, what will foster and sustain brand loyalty (which can be to a book, character, series, author/illustrator, or publisher) over time? Behavioral targeting, using analytics, computer tracking, browsing and search history, to create profiles of consumers is the preferred route for those who have access to enough data.

But there are other important ways you can focus as a marketer. List service company, IDG, makes four other common distinctions:

Multichannel Master -someone who looks to many channels to engage with customers – you may well be doing this by engaging in social media, going to schools and events to speak, networking at conferences, and publishing news about your books and outreach

Madison Avenue Creative -a marketer who focuses on brand building – this is particularly important when promoting a series, when engaging with a YA audience and when you intend to focus on a particular genre or niche market

SoMoLo Marketers -the focus here is on social, mobile and local market outreach – this will have a lot to do with the age and inclination of your target audience, both in terms of how best to engage and what platforms are most effective

Old School Direct Marketers -this is where engagement is more traditional – and, typically, more labor intensive because it involves direct meet and greet and one-to-one selling. It is most beneficial when significant sales volume may result – so would make sense when trying to find licensing or special sales opportunities.

Effective marketing depends on your particular circumstances and will likely evolve over time. It’s also important to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and the resources you have to draw from to help you determine where to put your emphasis – and when to get help.

Ask yourself: Which of the IDG types do I find most appealing? What are my competitors doing? Is my publisher particularly strong in one area, and how can I best supplement what they’re doing? What is my audience likely to be most receptive to? What are the costs both in time and money of pursuing a particular direction? And what tools and resources are available to help me engage with my audience? Know that it’s okay to start with a narrow focus at first, and then expand gradually as you have working mechanisms in place.

The point is to recognize that customer engagement is a long-term proposition and the objective is to gain more traction and better knowledge of your customers with each book or product. Not that each has to reach the same audience or achieve the same sales results, but your sophistication as a marketer and your ability to recognize and adapt to market changes should grow over time.

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Diversity is Critical to the Success of the Arts—and Arts Education is the Key

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Calls for increased diversity are no longer episodic or quixotic; they are regularly heard across our business and cultural landscapes. And, if trends we see currently with Millennials continue, the need to cultivate diverse arts audiences will increase.Advertising Week this year identified the need to focus on diversity as a main theme, pointing out that while Millennials represent our “largest (and most diverse) generation, most marketing decisions and campaigns are run by alarmingly non-diverse groups.”Science News reported, too, that Americans are growing more genetically diverse, “choosing mates with ethnic backgrounds different from their own.”

In the arts, the desire for change bumps up against a number of challenging realities. One is that there are fewer non-white artists and organizations in traditional areas of the arts, such as classical music, and it takes time and a commitment to arts education to effect a change. Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, president and artistic director of the nonprofit Sphinx, and her husband, Aaron Dworkin, who is a MacArthur fellow who served in the Obama administration, have been working to change that for quite some time. Sphinx, headed by Ms. Dworkin as president, operates programs that reach “over 100,000 students, as well as live and broadcast audiences of over two million annually.” Last week, for example, Syracuse, which has “the highest rate of concentrated poverty among black and Hispanic communities” in the U.S., benefited by having the Sphinx Virtuosi ensemble perform at schools throughout the city and at the Red House Arts Center at Syracuse University.

Dworkin, whose organization is based in another struggling city, Detroit, and who runs yearlong programs there, has seen the impact arts education can make, providing “a place of refuge and a place where [children] can feel confident, where they can have fun and have a break from their everyday challenges.”

As in other traditional areas of art, “classical orchestras tend to be overwhelmingly white. According to a 2012 report by the League of American Orchestras, only 4.5 percent of orchestra musicians are black or Latino—hardly representative of the general population, which, according to the 2010 census, was 13.6 percent black and 16.3 percent Hispanic or Latino.” Sphinx has been responding to that in a variety of ways, including providing free violins and lessons to elementary students in underserved communities, hosting a summer camp to work with aspiring young musicians who “demonstrate aptitude toward classical music but lack resources and access,” and by sponsoring an annual national string competition for Black and Latino youth. Red House Arts Centerhas worked similarly on the local level in Syracuse, to help underserved populations by “creating opportunities…and bringing the arts to students in struggling Syracuse elementary schools reaching 2,200 kids each day.”

“In the Syracuse City School District, about 10 percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade play instruments, and about 65 percent participate in choral ensembles. In high school, students generally choose one or the other, or participate in art classes,” according to the Syracuse New Times. Sarah Gentile, supervisor of fine arts there, has been working had to improve that, but that type of change requires funding, parental and community support.

A big part of the equation is the value placed on arts education and the arts by the society overall. According to Americans for the Arts, “In America, the arts are often seen as a luxury. They are the first thing to go when school boards cut budgets, and successful arts policy is seen as the exception, not the rule.” As Creatiquity, a research-backed news site that explores issues in the arts, said in an article entitled “Why Don’t They Come,”

People with lower incomes and less education participate at lower rates in a huge range of activities, including not just classical music concerts and plays, but also less ‘elitist’ forms of engagement like going to the movies, dancing socially, and even attending sporting events.

Jennifer Swan reported on this for the NPQ Newswire at the beginning of this year,outlining findings from three National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) studies. The article concluded with a quote from NEA Chairman Jane Chu:

“The implications from this research are significant. The findings show that there is great diversity in how people engage in the arts, and this gives us a framework to use our creativity to innovate new ways to reach these audiences.”

At a time when funding and support for arts and cultural nonprofits is on a decline, it is more important than ever to prove their importance to our representatives, communities, and leaders. With reports like these, and other arts advocacy groups like Americans for the Arts, we are evolving from a perspective of “art for art’s sake” into one of “art for business’s sake.” No longer are arts and culture something “extra”—they are an economic driver with an impact on our neighborhoods, our jobs, our employment, and, as always, our creativity.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Art-centric Apps Meet the New Art Audience in Full Embrace

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Grab your hashtags and your paddles. Today, every second counts as #fineart artists, galleries, museums, collectors, and entrepreneurs connect socially and for business in the fast-paced art marketplace. Instagram and a host of art-centric apps are revolutionizing and democratizing the world of art.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that eighty-one percent recipients of National Endowment of the Arts grants said the Internet and other technologies are “very important for promoting the arts.” Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also emphasized their importance, telling CNBC that, “Social media and art-related apps have allowed the New York museum to expand the reach of its art in the world.”

Sreenivasan, whose goal is to expand access to the Met’s collection, said, “It’s common to look at the comments on the posts, see people tagging their friends and setting up outings to the Met to see the art in person.” For organizations, having a large presence on digital media can also drive sales and museum visits. And Dave Krugman, a social media consultant and social editor at the BBDO ad agency who has 173,000 followers on his own Instagram account, said social media users can “publish to their own audiences and be their own editors and be their own storytellers.”

In the world of social media, both according to the 2015 Online Art Trade Report by Hiscox, the London-based fine-art insurers, and as reported by Bloomberg News, “Facebook and Instagram are considered the two most important social media channels in the art world.” A recent survey of art collectors on Instagram found that 51.5 percent of them had purchased works from artists they discovered there, with an average of five purchased works by artists originally found on the app.

As CNBC reported last week, “Tech start-ups are combining data and social media with artistic vision to help expand art appreciation—as well as find lucrative buyers and potential investors.”

  • Aura, which was featured at this year’s Association of Art Museum Directors meeting, is an app that “uses ‘big data’ to help art lovers keep track of all the works and exhibits they’ve seen, and helps them share what they love on social media.”
  • The app Artsy aims to make art accessible. “It works as an online database of more than 300,000 works in galleries and museums as well as The Art Genome Project, a system that logs similar qualities between artists and artworks.” The objective is to help people find art they love and want to buy.
  • Paddle8, an online auction house and app recently profiled in the New York Times, is among many betting that there’s a lot of money to be made where art and tech meet in the cloud.

Art fairs are also seeing a benefit, as buyers are increasingly taking advantage of online previews to get a jump on negotiating for art pieces they want rather than waiting to browse onsite at the fair. For example, at this month’s Art Basel, more than 500 inquiries were made beforehand via Artsy. This kind of activity can also increase the popularity of a piece or an artist, making it easier to assess the potential for higher sales and how the market is trending. Aura is a tool for just that purpose. And the stakes can be enormous these days—as evinced by the fact that last month, auction house Christie’s had its first $1 billion week.

But Instagram and the others are also a boon for more average investors and art lovers. The Artsy survey about how art collectors use Instagram found:

  • Of collectors surveyed, 87 percent checked Instagram more than twice a day, and 55 percent opened the app five or more times a day.
  • Collectors rely on Instagram as a tool for discovering and researching art trends.
  • Instagram has a clear impact as a discovery tool. Around 61 percent of collectors consistently look at an artist’s hashtag before buying—and 42% do so often.
  • As reported above, 51.5 percent of surveyed collectors had purchased work from artists they originally discovered through Instagram.
  • A large majority of collectors—73 percent—believe that Instagram makes the art market more transparent, with many citing that as its key impact.

The Artsy report concluded:

“Instagram is best viewed as a marketing tool as opposed to a sales tool. It is great for finding out about an artist’s most recent body of work, or learning of a gallery’s latest exhibition, or getting behind the scenes takes on the inner workings of the art world.”

Going forward, as the art business broadens its capabilities and reach online, key questions will be: How much control will artists have over sales of their work and cultivation of their audience? Who will the major power brokers be and how will they ensure audience loyalty? And, what are the risks and pitfalls to everyone involved as art is made more digitally accessible and technology makes it harder to protect?

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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The Art of the Pitch

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Pitching well is tough whether you’re on the mound or in the board room. It takes focus, concentration and a lot of practice. Pitching in a business setting is challenging because you’re expected to deliver your message in a succinct, meaningful way and your pitch time can easily be cut short if you aren’t well-prepared. No wonder that this type of selling can produce performance anxiety much the same as public speaking, which is known to be a top fear for many people.

Learning to pitch effectively is well worth the effort and the secrets to doing it well, not surprisingly, lie with research and preparation. But other factors can impact your success, and it’s important to understand pitching as a form of performance and engagement as well as sales.

First, think about whom your audience is and the time you’re likely to have. These days, almost inevitably, time will be short. Think about the setting you’ll be in. Will it be a person’s office, a conference room, or a booth on a convention floor? What potential interruptions or distractions might there be? Will you have access to the set ups and equipment you might want to use in your presentation? In terms of content, ask yourself what you have to offer that will engage and interest the person or people you’re talking to. Consider what you can you do to make your presentation to them memorable both audibly and visually. Do your research well in advance so you can 1) make sure you’re talking with the right people, 2) know their concerns and possible objections, and 3) come equipped with a way to present that you’re comfortable with and is appropriate to the setting.

Know too that despite the fact that we’re constantly being told that everything is about storytelling, pitching well is about having interaction that’s designed to draw out meaningful information. It’s like a first date – you want to introduce yourself, but also get to know the other person to see if your styles and interests will mesh. As with dating, being nervous is okay and showing that you genuinely care about the other person will go a long way. Courtesy – being punctual, respectful of the time being given to you and staying focused on what their objectives are – is imperative as is honesty and a willingness to walk away, if you find it’s not a good fit.

Be prepared to keep the first meeting brief and to the point, and don’t be “pitchy.” Think beforehand about you can offer and what the obstacles might be. The most common are cost, whether the person has decision-making authority, if needs are likely to be met, and time commitment.

Don’t make the mistake of turning someone off by coming on too strong. These days engagement is expected to be a two-way street with both parties having equal chance to provide input. Customization and personalization are of great value. Use what you’ve prepared as a jumping off point for meaningful conversation rather than keeping to a script, but still keep in mind the information you need to remember to convey. Decide ahead of time what you’d like to take away from the conversation, let the person know how you’d like to follow up and, when you do, consider whether there’s anything else you can provide them by way of thanks – which can be information, a connection, or suggestions based on your conversation.

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Trends to Watch as Gen Z Comes of Age

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Now that we’ve hit the end of the generational alphabet with Generation Z (mid-1990s-present), we’re in the midst of courting a group born and cultivated with more market savvy than any who preceded them. Forrester Research has found them to be “demanding consumers” exposed to many brand choices. And, compared with their parents and grandparents, they are proving to be more resistant to persuasion and fully expect to have a say in the evolution of products they consume. Further, they’re digitally savvy, constantly connected and experience driven. They’re also looking for ultra-personalization in their buying choices and in how they connect with marketers and companies.

A study published by the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University, http://bit.ly/1iRLUh7, found four trends likely to characterize Generation Z as consumers: 1) a focus on innovation, 2) an insistence on convenience, 3) an underlying desire for security, and 4) a tendency toward escapism.

It’s interesting to view these in light of trends recently discussed by Randi Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, at Vocus’s Demand Success conference. Engagement, innovation, and crowd-sourcing were all highly touted by Zuckerberg as critical components to successful marketing in today’s competitive environment. Author and illustrator groups might want to take a turn at what companies like Google and Facebook have done with their hackathon initiatives – where employees are encouraged to take time every few months to stay up overnight, brainstorm and try out new concepts with the group based, not on what employees do in their day jobs, but on their individual passions. Zuckerberg said that at Facebook, many of their most interesting innovations had been conceived in that environment.

Per Gen Z’s second priority, we’re certainly seeing consuming made increasingly convenient and customizable. Purchasing today has much less to do with physical location or availability than with discoverability of products and services. Online shopping has prompted a massive shift, and now we’re hearing about almost instantaneous gratification, with the imminent package delivery by drones (which Zuckerberg believes is something we’ll see from Amazon in the next couple of years), and with 3-D printing of virtually anything you can imagine – and some I hadn’t – from designed-on-you clothing to printed spaghetti and pancakes to (and apparently China is working on this) 3-D printed homes you can live in. This ties-in with Gen Z’s desire for convenience and for products that have been personalized for them, so be prepared to have your customers want to engage more and more in the products they purchase.

Fun and engagement are also paramount to this group, and that’s where gamification fits in – and is prepared to be part of every minute of our daily lives. Having trouble waking up to catch your next flight? Snooze is an alarm clock app that pledges $0.25 of your own money to charity every time you hit the snooze button. Want to visually capture a day in your life as an artist to share with your fans?  The Narrative Clip is a new wearable device that can take and store a photo automatically every 30 seconds. Wondering where your dog or cat goes when he vanishes out of site? Tagg or Tractive, which use GPS technology, give you the chance to virtually “ride along” with your pet as they prowl the neighborhood – good perhaps for authors overcoming writer’s block on that next animal fantasy story. And for sci-fi, it’s hard to imagine what’s next when there’s so much technology we couldn’t have even imagined five or ten years ago cropping up all around us — and which will be the reality for Gen Z. Next up, in the generational nomenclature – a group some are beginning to call Generation Alpha. Terrified to think what that may indicate when we meet them as consumers.

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