COVID-19

To Keep an Eye on

As a marketing solutions company with lots of interest in innovation and change – we’re big on knowing what’s trending and what’s to come. 2021 was filled with a ton of new trends, some – because of changing times and innovation – others, because of big events and worldly occurrences. To stay ahead and prepare for the new year, we’ve looked into the top marketing trends – within design, print, and digital, to keep an eye out for in 2022.

2022 Design Trends

Visual Inclusion

Recent movements around the nation, and even the world, have sparked a broader portrayal of diversity and inclusion in visuals. When crafting your marketing, think about how you can show diverse people in a variety of ways – in your photography, graphics, and iconography. And, even more, think about including imagery of people that your target audience(s) can relate to.“The default for people icons and images are no longer white, male, and able-bodied. There is more representation from marginalized groups in marketing visuals.” The more open, inclusive, and inviting your marketing is, the more likely you’ll bring in a diverse range of interested (and trusting) customers.

Bold Backgrounds

Bold and bright backgrounds and backgrounds with patterns are on the rise. These types of backgrounds attract attention and stand out from the pack, among otherwise modern – and primarily dull, gray, or white – busy feeds and mailboxes. Try using a brighter, bolder background to stand out among other marketing materials. This tactic can be “quite stunning when paired with more simple typography or other design elements,”but, to make this trend work for you and your brand, “ensure that everything has a place and there’s good eye flow between elements.”

Unique & Fun Typography

The year 2022 will be all about typography that “breaks standards”, such as “one single letter…upside down, bigger or smaller, in a different font, or completely missing.” Forecasters expect “lettering that pushes the bounds of easy legibility, creating forms that are expressive in and of themselves.” This unique and rising design tactic can also make for more internationally understandable text and imagery that can be read from culture to culture.

Authentic Imagery

Authentic, realistic imagery that your audience can connect with is always important – but will be increasingly popular in 2022. People don’t want to see fake stock families and disingenuous product photos. They want to see real. “Even commercial photography is shifting to look more like snapshots for these projects” instead of planned, posed imagery. This tactic may be a little less polished and intentional, but it works, because it’s relatable. “More authentic imagery is not amateurish; it’s just a different style.” Yet, this doesn’t mean taking blurry or “thrown together” photos. It means shooting high-quality photography that’s just a bit more casual and realistic to real, day-to-day life.

2022 Digital Marketing Trends

Conversational Marketing

This will be a big one for 2022, as it’s already been on the rise for quite a few years. Why? People want to connect with, and relate to, real people. And, they want fairly immediate responses from those real people. Customers feel more connected with and trusting of companies that tell their story, as well as the stories of their products. They want to hear and see real life examples of what the product has and does, and what sets it apart.

A recent study found that 41.3% of consumers use conversational marketing tools before making purchases. “Unlike traditional strategies, this form of marketing is now available across multiple channels, allowing brands to meet customers on their terms: on the devices, platforms and time schedules that suit the customer best.”

Read more about customer communication and relatability, here.

Video Marketing

This trend isn’t new, and is likely to continue in popularity for the next 5-10 years. It’s no surprise to us (and likely not a surprise to you) that 61% of marketers see video as a “very important or extremely important” part of their marketing strategy. It’s a useful tactic not only because of its visual appeal and high rate of easily digestible content, but because it can be republished on several platforms, and cut and manipulated for repurposing. A recent study recorded that “84% of consumers have been convinced to purchase a product after watching a video.”

To read more on video marketing, click here.

Interactive Content

This year, there will be a noticeable marketing shift from “traditional text-based content toward dynamic, engaging content” like quizzes, augmented reality, polls, 360-degree videos, and more. These tools give customers a more memorable connection with both the product and the company, and get them involved with the brand – not just get them to see it. In fact, 91% of customers are interested in seeing more content they can interact with.

First-Party and Zero-Party Data

We’ve talked a bit about this topic before in a fairly recent blog post, and this trend is sure to skyrocket into 2022. This year, “first-party cookies will force marketers to be mindful of the data they collect and how they use it,” primarily because companies can now only use their own collected data. This also means that companies will need to be much more authentic and transparent with their customers. Along with first-party data, zero-party data – data given to a brand or company directly from the consumer, will also be a key focus. Some examples of ways to acquire this data are through surveys, forms, or email.

2022 Print Marketing Trends

Combining Print & Digital

This particular trend – we’re very well-versed in. Combining print and digital can do wonders for your campaigns, meeting your customers with mulitple touches on and offline. A great example of this combination is using a personalized URL and QR code on a printed piece. QR codes on print marketing not only give customers an easy way to get to know your company better, but can be vehicles to get customers to purchase or sign up for a program – immediately. These types of combination tactics are flexible, dynamic, and cater to many differing age groups.

Creative Customer Personalization

Also, a great online or offline tool? Personalization. When your company caters to a specific type of audience, or even specific customers rather than a blanketed group, you’re more likely to meet customer’s needs and turn them into loyal ones. Additionally, personalization can be cost effective. Why’s this? In order to personalize, you can’t target everyone – just the right ones.

Direct Mail

Lastly, not a new or surprising trend to us, direct mail will continue to grow in popularity in 2022. “With the content marketing boom and remote working becoming the new normal, many consumers have become ‘numb’ to digital marketing campaigns.” So, if you haven’t, why not give direct mail marketing a go? Trying out this re-emerging marketing trend could bring a ton of new customers to your site, as 70% of people engage with a brand online after receiving their direct mail.

Read more on why direct mail is so impactful, here.

Interested in ramping up your marketing in 2022 using one or more of these solutions? We can help! Contact the experts at Strata, today.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You may or may not have heard about the recent postage update from USPS. If you haven’t, we’ll fill you in. The new maximum size for mailing First-Class mail postcards has increased from 4 ¼” x 6” to 6” x 9”. This means you can now send postcards as large as 6” x 9” at the postcard rate of $0.40. But – before you get excited, let’s dig a little deeper into this. As experts in the mailing industry, we’ll help you decide whether or not you should be taking advantage of this change, or if you should continue business as usual.

The USPS Update: The Facts

You may or may not have heard about the recent postage update from USPS. If you haven’t, we’ll fill you in. The new maximum size for mailing first-class postcards has increased from 4 ¼” x 6” to 6” x 9”. This means you can now send postcards as large as 6” x 9” at the first-class postcard rate of $0.40, 30% less than before the change! But – before you get excited, let’s dig a little deeper into this. As experts in the mailing industry, we’ll help you decide whether or not you should be taking advantage of this change, or if you should continue business as usual. 

The $0.40 per postcard price is the price you pay for simply dropping a card in the mail (no sorting necessary). However, if your quantity of cards exceeds 500, you’ll save more if you sort your cards. Why? Because the post office gives you a discount for doing some of the work for them. For first-class presort, you’ll pay between $0.30 and $0.35 per postcard, depending on how your mail sorts. The higher the density, the lower the price. 

You sort standard-class (bulk) mail the same way you sort first-class mail – and if you do, the cost for the same 6” x 9” postcard will run between $0.245 and $0.31. Again, the cost heavily depends on the density of your distribution. For instance, if you’re sending 500 postcards to one neighborhood, it will cost less than sending 500 postcards to several different areas around the country. 

Sorting your mailings and sending them standard-class will save you an additional 15% over the comparable first-class rate, a substantial amount for any large mailing. 

So, what does this all really mean for you, and what is the best choice for your mailing? 

The Perks & Problems of First-Class Mailing

So, here’s the “perks” of first-class mailing. With first-class, you can send impactful postcard mailings at an affordable price – to anywhere. There’s no 500-piece minimum, and there’s a 30% discount on regular first-class mail. You’ll know exactly what your postage rate is going to be at – $0.40 each. 

Quantities larger than 500 can be sorted and will likely get to your regional audience faster than they would with standard-class mail. You’ll pay roughly a 15% premium over the cost of standard mail to do so. 

With that said, the post office has yet to fully recover from issues related to the pandemic. Although we’re hopeful this will change over time and that it will return to its prior state, the possibilities are always in flux. Without knowing when things will return to “normal”, it’s hard to depend on mailing delivery times. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve experienced delivery time issues with first-class mail. For this reason, we’re recommending a “wait and see” approach with the post office as it applies to estimating delivery dates. 

Counter intuitively, for a company whose in-home date is important – the idea of first-class can be a bit of a trap, and even more so with pre-sorted first-class. The post office will often handle it in the same way as pre-sort standard-class. If in-home dates are important to your campaign and your mailing is large, then there are better ways to get more predictable in-home delivery and save money. 

Our Alternative

Since we’ve found some pitfalls in this new update – we’d like to share a little about Strata’s tools and tactics. For large mailings, we’re able to use standard-class mail and predict the delivery date plus or minus one day, in most cases. How? After years of experience, we’ve come to use alternative methods and have taken out several variables. These methods are not allowed by the USPS for first-class mail – only for standard-class mail. Therefore, most of our customers are better off sticking to standard. 

We don’t see us ever recommending this new program for large mailings. Standard mail will always cost at least 15% less, allows you to send many mail formats including even larger than 6” x 9” sized postcards for the same postage, and provides in-home date that will always be more predictable when using our methods. 

Conclusion

If you’re a local company and want to send out mailings in your region or have quantities of less than 500 – this sizing and pricing update is something you may want to take advantage of. 

If your in-home dates are somewhat less critical and you’re mailing regionally, then you may be able to get faster service at a somewhat higher postal rate and, again, may want to try this program. 

If you have non-critical in-home dates and your mailings are at quantities of more than 500, standard-class is always going to be less expensive, and you won’t see much difference in delivery times. 

For large mailings, first-class is less predictable and more expensive than optimized standard mail. Strata has standard down to a science for these bigger quantities. In all cases, standard service will still save you at least 15% and will provide you the option to send even larger cards and mail formats at the same rate. 

Consider this guidance when you’re thinking about taking advantage of this update in USPS services and deciding if it’s right for you. 

Interested in working with Strata to ensure your mailers get in-home when you expect them to? Give us a call. 

A Series for Growth

The pandemic has changed many things, in many ways. But oddly, in some ways, it may have brought us closer as organizations. Have you ever had so many one-on-one meetings (albeit by video conference) pre-pandemic? Or shared, for so long, a common challenge?

The workplace has been changed forever, no doubt. Although we, in a way, may have grown closer, my personal opinion is that this purely work from home culture is not sustainable long term. We need to see each other and connect in a way that only physical presence can provide. Yet, there’s still no way we’ll ever be back into the office, every day, 9 to 5, and experience all that comes with that routine. When we return to the office, things will look much different.

At Strata specifically, we’ve begun to put processes in place to move towards our vision of the future. A less constrained, more flexible work environment that we hope captures the best from both WFH and WFO, and offers work productivity while being conducive to employee morale. Successfully doing that will both enhance and sustain our existing culture and help us attract the best of the best new talent as we go forward. A large part of that evolution is renovating our spaces for cohesion, productivity and modernization – but also with environmental conservation at top of mind. Our hope is to conduct an office remodel that creates an eco-friendly work environment and also enhances employee wellbeing.

As our business evolves, we know we want to not just renovate – but renovate with purpose. Doing the very best we can to protect the environment consciously, ethically, sustainably, and thoughtfully.

We look to hire architectural and contracting teams that not only know the ins and outs of modern renovation and interior and architectural design, but have a knowledge, drive, and even devotion for environmentally conscious practices. We’re going into this project with the expectation that perfection in these renovations is not possible. Our goal then is to learn what is possible, grow in understanding, and to do our best to acquire knowledge of our own as we share our office redesign learnings with others who may not know where to start.

On the topic of perfection, we know too that we cannot possibly create a perfect environment for every Strata employee, as all of us are unique individuals with different wants and personal visions for working, but we will strive to offer a flexible work environment, with comfortable, collaborative spaces that cultivate productivity, proficiency, and most importantly – a trust of and loyalty to the organization and our team. While energy efficiency and sustainability are highly important to us, so are company culture and employee wellbeing.

Of course, when it comes to environmental impact, even specified down to workplace environments, there is a ton of information out there, most of which can be difficult to sift through and verify. Even more, we’ve already come across research that seems to fly under the radar – that construction and expansion itself can sometimes be much more detrimental to the environment than inhabiting the space thereafter. So, we’ve put together a small team to research different aspects of the renovation, from floor to ceiling and demolition to reclamation, to achieve our goal of determining just what one small company can do.

Our plan is to have our Conshohocken offices fully renovated by November 2021, and our Plymouth Meeting offices by January, 2022. These timelines may change, and that’s okay, as well thought out changes can take time. We wish to unify these two spaces, and ultimately, unify our team for years to come.

This is the start of our journey. Come back soon to read about our next steps.

Best,
Jeff (CEO)

Ready, Set, Go!

The speed of modern technology can’t be stopped, no matter what’s thrown at it (worldwide pandemics included). Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, BAM, a new statistic or technology is released that changes everything. But, keeping up with these changes and staying ahead of the game is what ultimately brings success.

2020 brought us a variety of different trends that were highly utilized throughout the year (whether we liked it or not). However, what really took the cake in 2020 was the influx of virtual and augmented reality trends. They became massively popular and their popularity is growing even more as we enter 2021. In fact, this virtual world has and is continuing to open many doors (windows) to digital marketing opportunities. For instance, we’re able to host events and conferences from our personal living spaces. It’s basically changing the way we interact and broadening the mediums we communicate on.

So, with that being said, let’s see what’s predicted for the long-awaited 2021.

Covid-19 Did What Now? Created Trends?

Yes, yes it did. A global pandemic actually did cause some marketing trends to arise. To start, video calls sky-rocketed, becoming one of the largest and most “convenient” ways of communication in this new norm. But that’s not the craziest part. What is? That these digital pivots have become permanent. Businesses have started to turn roles into indefinite remote positions, making virtual the new, permanent norm. Who would have thought?

Sure, it can be challenging to adapt to these shifts, but if there’s one good thing that came out of this trend, it’s that it’s made companies stronger. It’s made people step outside their comfort zones and change how they work – facilitating growth and unity.

On top of this, we’re expecting to see an increase in online content creation in 2021. Covid-19 showed us that if we’re not online, we might as well not exist. Online marketing is inevitably growing and businesses are investing and budgeting for it. With more people stuck at home, that means technology is one of their only connections to the world. Google claims that more than 90% of their users utilized devices for help and inspiration while in the middle of the task. So, here’s our suggestion – get your content online!

Personalization is Still King

Personalization is always a top priority – but even more so going into the new year. With the emergence of numerous online product design tools and platforms, customization is projected to be at an all-time high in 2021. More and more people are working remotely and that type of environment closes off the outside world and limits opportunities for connection. As a result, now, more than ever, finding ways to connect in a personalized manner is crucial. It’s an easy way to replace the face-to-face interaction we so dearly miss and let’s be honest, personal connections with potential buyers and current clients makes all the difference. But how do you get started? It’s relatively easy.

Start by figuring out what type of communication you want to use based on their preferences, interests and behavior. Since we can’t exactly use body language and other indicators to communicate, we must depend on tone and language. Then, tap into their behaviors and interactions through ads, social platforms, and other analytical tools. Finally, test and track what’s working and what’s not. At the end of the day, it can’t be a one size fits all approach, especially when you’re dealing with new marketing technology.

Micro-Moments are Macro-Important

Noun: An intent-rich moment when a person turns to a device to act on a need to know, go, do, or buy.  

Micro-moments might be a new concept for you – and that’s OK. To get started, meet your customers where they are in their buying journey, whether that’s in the awareness stage, the consideration stage, or making their final purchasing decision. It’s important to respond quickly and catch them right away, wherever they may be in the process. After all, people lean heavily on instant gratification now that everything is a click away. There’s limited time during these micro-moments, and we don’t want you to miss out.  “When we act on our needs in the moment, our expectations are high and our patience is low. This makes the quality, relevance and usefulness of marketing more important than ever.”

Omnichannel Marketing is on the Rise

2020 brought customers even more options to communicate with companies – whether that be by website, app, social media, email, text, etc. But true communication success is turning customer acquisition into customer retention – and that’s done by setting up proper and correct communication channels through omnichannel marketing. First and foremost, it’s about your customers, so focus on them when capitalizing on omnichannel marketing. This could be through above-and-beyond customer service, efficient navigation, specials for loyal customers, or simply creating well-rounded user experience that’s consistent in both visuals and messaging. Behavior, on the other hand, is the key to understanding any customer – and that’s the fundamental to creating your channel – knowing how customers will react. Since many people switched to an online presence in 2020 (43% to be exact), an omnichannel approach has basically become mandatory. And, as a result, we’re expected to see a bigger emphasis on multi-channel attributions, community efforts, and video within marketing.

So, What Trends Should You Focus On?

First things first, make sure you understand your company’s pain points, current marketing strategies, and overall goals to ensure you’re fully grasping what changes need to be made and how to implement them. Make, sure you know your target audience, and keep up with the way they shop and research your products and services. Along with this, it’s important to stay relevant – research, research, research – predict what’s to come, and work on fully understanding these upcoming changes in not only the market but in consumer behaviors. Keep track, listen, observe, and absorb.

2021: Be Prepared

As we said before, changes in 2020 happened at rapid speed, and it wasn’t always easy to prepare and keep up. We hope that we’ve provided you with some insight for 2021 that you may not have had going into 2020, because, as they say, hindsight is in fact…20/20. Ready to say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021 marketing? Contact us, and we’ll help you brainstorm and execute your next campaign.

Surviving and Thriving During 2020: 4 Takeaways and How We Moved Forward

“I thought 2020 would be the year I got everything I wanted; little did I know 2020 (would be) the year that made me appreciate everything I have.” (Melody Godfred)

This quote serves as an overlying theme this year, both in life and in work. Although the pandemic has shaken everyone to the core, and has brought out many feelings of fear and uncertainty, we have truly been forced to step back and realize what’s actually important. While 2020 most certainly made our team reevaluate our expectations and objectives, it also allowed us to appreciate the great team we have, grow and learn together, and thrive in new ways we otherwise would not have explored.

This year, we’ve watched businesses scramble, lost friends and loved ones, and as a global community, have relentlessly tried to help those forced to say goodbye to the ones they held dearest. Most importantly, through it all, 2020 has taught us to appreciate everything we do have (as Melody said best). To prioritize what is meaningful in our lives, find beauty in the small things, and never take a day for granted.

Throughout the turmoil of this past year, we’re proud to say we’ve remained #StrataStrong. While we’ll be looking back on what we’ve accomplished and learned during this pandemic, we’ll also be looking ahead to next year and how we can continue to improve even more.

Takeaway 1: Customer Experience and Retention is Always a Priority

One of our main priorities, even before 2020, has always been continually improving customer experience. The pandemic has changed the needs, wants, and availabilities of customers, forcing us and other companies to explore unique communication avenues. It’s important to understand clients first, in order to tailor communication to their specific needs. This doesn’t just come naturally. It requires time and effort to ensure a personalized, streamlined experience. Simply stated, we are hellbent on providing customers as unique and personalized of an experience as possible.

We worked hard to not let our clients miss any communication opportunities during this new “virtual norm.” Any resource we could use to communicate, we did – virtual meetings, video messages, direct send-outs, and really anything that made this new agenda work for both the clients and us. Of course, this came with some trial and error, but our customers really noticed our efforts and felt in-the-know at every step.

Takeaway 2: Digital Marketing is More Important than Ever Before

After the unpredictability of 2020, we can only hope for the best in 2021. Hopefully, there’s one thing we can predict for the upcoming year – the direction of digital marketing. We’ve become a digital “all the time” culture – and it’s not something that’s going away or slowing down – especially with how we’ve adapted to communication with no direct contact. This contact-less communication has contributed to a growth in digital and direct marketing ads and companies are spending more money on these resources than ever before.

When it comes to digital marketing, we’ve really defined and refined our strategy, mostly because of the effects of Covid-19. With an increase in digital marketing, we knew this was the time to really hone in on our digital strategy. We gave people a deeper look into who we are and the culture of Strata through these digital outlets.

However, with digital content comes digital overload. We all know what we’re talking about here. Maybe it’s the hundreds of emails you see when you get back from a vacation, or it’s the bombarding of notifications from various apps. Either way, digital overload means the need for direct marketing. A physical postcard, envelope, or package rather than an email or PDF file can cut through the digital noise and create a unique experience.

Takeaway 3: Brand Experience Deserves a Renewed Focus

With customer experience comes brand experience, and customers want a brand that they can trust and understand. Rob Krischker, a member of our Strategic Sales team says it best: “(My motto is) to provide peace of mind to my clients that their job is in good hands.” Your brand can make or break recognition and trust from your customers.

This year, we had plans to refresh our brand no matter what, but 2020 made us take a much deeper look into what really mattered. It opened our eyes to truly understanding what our story was, where we wanted to go, who we wanted to help, and how we wanted to be seen.

We not only crafted a more appealing look for our brand, but polished our services to increase customization for our clients. We created a brand that would resonate with both long-standing, new, and future customers, while thinking through what would be recognizable, eye-catching, and readable.

Takeaway 4: Happy Employees = Happy Customers

2020 made us take a deep look at our company culture. The people, the lifestyle, the appearance, and everything in between. Which raised the question; how can we best portray and build the culture of Strata? What do we stand for and what do we want most for our employees?

Working from home definitely created some distance between us, and our first priority was to mentally and physically stay connected and stay positive as a company. The remote experience can be hard on some, and easier on others. This can make the employees having difficulties wonder what they’re not doing correctly to thrive. Working from home isn’t convenient and energizing for everyone, and can impact not only work ethic but the entire culture of a company. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to new practices and processes during times like this, which is exactly what we’ve done.

We come from a small, but big-hearted company. Our people are what makes this company thrive, so being flexible, understanding, and continuing to bond with each other makes all the difference during difficult times. At-home work may not be quite the same as face-to-face interaction at the office, but with the right communication tools and frequent check-ins, it’s a close second. Not to mention we can do it all while in our pj’s! (as least on the bottom half).

Right away, we implemented happy hours, virtual check-ins, several communication tools, and physical mailers for holidays and special occasions. We pride ourselves on high morale, an attribute that fuels us to work harder.

Entering the New Year: 2021

Although 2020 has been a year filled with sorrow for so many, it’s taught us all so much. We’re beyond excited to continue making smart happen with you in 2021.

With these four takeaways in mind, we recommend continuing to personalize your customers’ experience, build relationships, partake in new technology, and enter the new year full speed ahead, ready for challenges and embracing hardships. I mean, 2021 can’t be anything but a step up from 2020, right?

Want a helping hand? Contact us and see how we can help you in the New Year and beyond. A pandemic might have shaken the world, but it cannot, and will not, shake the Stratasphere (pun intended)!

Navigating Communication During Covid-19

Sometimes it feels like it was just a few days ago that we were all saying, “Have you heard about the coronavirus? Do you think it will affect us?” Now, months later, it’s completely changed our lives. Think of it this way, if we were in a movie, back in March the foreboding narrator would have said, “Life as they knew it would never be the same.” Needless to say, the movie has dragged on a bit too long, and I think we all wish that we could turn it off and give it a 1-star rating at best – which is extremely generous.

With that said, saying that the workplace has really changed this year is an understatement. Along with all of the normal changes that a new year brings (marketing tactics, sales tools, technology, trends, and more), this year we’ve been faced with the most impactful (and almost unbelievable) change: a pandemic. This year, it hasn’t been about “keeping up with the times” like it was in 2015, when the Open Concept office floor plans were suddenly all the rage. Instead, change is less about being “trendy”, and more about being safe, and adaptable. Even the more traditional offices can’t afford to lag behind this year. If you haven’t changed your setup and practices, your company simply cannot function.

Evolve or Perish

Like our CEO Jeff Sammak says (even pre-2020), “Evolve or perish”. And this year, if you didn’t evolve, your company either suffered greatly, or completely dissolved. Thankfully, Strata’s been among the lucky few to continue our practice of making smart happen and changing with the very quick times.

The most talked about way (and really the only way) of handling the Covid-19 virus has been to stay home. Unlike other legendary years that have made the history books, we haven’t fought with swords, guns, or even words. No, we’ve fought with boredom (and maybe our siblings and spouses). We’ve fought with being couped up, and when it came to the workplace, not being able to be face-to-face, in-office, and conducting work as usual.

On the other hand, companies like Zoom and Microsoft have hit the jackpot, with virtual platforms that figuratively “save the day” for companies needing to change their methods of communication.

So, other than utilizing Zoom and Teams, how did Strata save our metaphorical ship and keep our business afloat? We followed a few best practices and, of course, learned some things along the way. Here’s where we’ve landed:

How to Best Navigate Communication During Covid-19


Be Flexible

During a time like this, it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to new practices and processes. No answer is wrong until its proven not to work. “Leaders may be tempted to withdraw into small, tight decision-making task forces to make key decisions as quickly as possible. Instead, they can use this moment to define and demonstrate a common sense of purpose with employees, who will be looking for leadership and ways to engage themselves,” (McKinsey). Change always takes a lot of ideas from different perspectives, and a lot of trial and error – and change in 2020 is no exception to the rule.

Utilize Helpful Communication Tools

Again, coming to a decision on the right tools, and ones that seamlessly work together, can take a ton of trial and error. At Strata, we were using Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Outlook, and a few other platforms that felt to be working at first, but lacked compatibility. Eventually, we found what worked together, and worked for us – Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Outlook, Wrike, and various other platforms that worked better in unison. Teams messaging and calling has been an excellent communication tool, as all of our communication can be found in one place, and employees can control if and when they’re available to talk. Having the option to be away, available, busy, do not disturb, and more creates a more office-like communication experience without feeling too detached from coworkers. Wrike, a project management system, has helped us to stay on-task, work effectively together, and not let anything fall behind. And of course, calls and email as usual are always staples too.

Ensure Security

This year we’ve seen a huge spike in online hackers, with an increased risk of viruses and malware. It’s extremely important to not only warn employees of these risks, but thoroughly explain how, when, and where these problems can occur. An open line of communication is paramount to ensuring the safety of a company’s proprietary information. Establish trust with each other, and ensure employees that, if they call you asking if you “sent this email”, it’s not a bother.

Be Aware & Show You Care

Although there’s no longer an “open door policy” like before, make sure you have an “open (computer) window” policy. “Leaders are important sources of resilience for their people—and also important factors in post-traumatic growth following crisis,” (McKinsey). Check in on not only the work and progress of employees, but their mental well-being as well. Ask them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and assure them that no questions are “dumb” questions. None of us have ever been through this before, so an open, understanding line of communication is ultimately the best method for the safety and well-being of staff. Additionally, a company’s culture is only as good as its values. In tough times, continuously reinforcing your mission, values, vision, and appreciation is extremely paramount to not only keeping employees comfortable, but motivated and driven. “At this time of heightened anxiety…succinctly communicating facts, feelings, and actions is more important than ever before. Managers must carefully listen to employees and openly communicate what is known (facts), how they feel about it (feelings), and what they are doing about it (actions),” (Risk and Resilience Hub).

Come Together

Lastly, don’t forget to have a little fun and socialize! A great way to do this is with a Zoom or Microsoft Teams happy hour! It may not be quite the same as face-to-face interaction at the office, but it’s a close second and creates a sense of community (which we’ll take at the moment!). Don’t forget to implement activities and create bonding experiences, even if they’re virtual, to continue team-building and keep up employee morale. Because, like we’ve said in the past, happy employees equal happy customers.

Have questions about how we made it through all of the changes of 2020? We’re happy to chat. And, if you’d like to (virtually) get to know us a bit more, check out the Strata team.

Today, Tomorrow and the Future

Welcome back to part 2 of our series, 9 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Sales and Marketing.

In our last installment, we touched on a shift to digital, an increased emphasis put on relationships, a move to remote selling and a switch to purely virtual events and conferences.

In part 2 of this series we’ll start to discover how COVID-19 is changing our lives today, and what impact that may have on tomorrow.

5. We’re Doing More with Less

Doing more with less isn’t uncommon, but lately we’ve all been stretched a bit more than usual, particularly the members of marketing and sales teams. With widespread layoffs and reduced staff becoming the norm (though that’s beginning to bounce back), we’ve been expected to pull double duty and cover responsibilities that may not have otherwise been delegated to us.

This means that we’re expected to cover multiple bases — like the development of new advertising, the shift to more digital-centric models, as well as maintaining current customer relationships — that would have previously been handled by a whole team. Enter marketing automation, wash and repeat processes, and the increased use of marketing technology.

6. Video Continues to Rise

Anyone who’s been watching what Zoom (ZM) has been doing knows that video continues to be crucial in helping businesses cope with the new realities of the pandemic — namely social distancing.

While we’ve touched on the idea of video in our previous installment, it’s hard to understate the importance of video capabilities in our new normal, particularly when it comes to sales.

This is a time to double down on your personalized marketing efforts, incorporating a video stand in for what might be a meeting or email. Sending a piece of direct mail, like a dimensional mailer with a video component, is a great way to use video to move forward as we deal with the effect of COVID-19 on our ability to meet face to face.

7. We’re Switching Focus to Omnichannel Marketing and Loyalty

In one of our recent pieces, we pointed out the strengths of an omnichannel, multitouch marketing strategy. This type of marketing is making more on an impact now than ever before, and will continue to thrive as new customers enter the market every day in search for new services.

However, this search for new and better services is a double-edged sword — while it brings with it the opportunity to attract new customers, it also puts us in a position to lose loyal customers as they open themselves to the idea of new services elsewhere.

But there’s a way to capitalize on both scenarios – focus on the opportunity to gain new customers with engaging omnichannel campaigns, while not losing sight of your loyal customers needs in the now.

8. We’re Looking for Alternative Ways to Gather Information and Make Connections

We’ve started to get better at finding new ways to make connections in the wake of COVID – mostly out of necessity. Being that so many people are looking for alternative solutions and forms of communication, we’re also beginning to streamline them in an effort to find what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve noticed this in the increased usage of things like chatbots as well as online scheduling and other self-service platforms, like stock tracing and order tracking. And, at the same time we’ve also seen it in the way we interact on social platforms — LinkedIn recently reported a 55% increase in engagement between connections.

9. E-commerce is Accelerating

We knew the average consumer was trending towards a preference, or at least acceptance, of largely digital interactions making up a significant chunk of their day to day purchases. That’s nothing new.

But COVID-19 threw gas all over that fire — with the temporary closing of most brick and mortars, we experienced a massive shift towards e-commerce by necessity.

And for an example, we need to look no further than what retail giant Amazon has been doing. Despite, the pandemic, Amazon has been thriving and is set to become the biggest US industrial distributor by 2021.

As you know, COVID-19 has done a lot of damage, plain and simple. But in light of that damage, the pandemic has instigated a shift towards net-positive trends in business and how we operate.

One thing is for absolute certain — now more than ever, we’re all looking towards the future.

Looking to see how Strata can help you evolve during and after COVID-19? Contact us to see how we can help you make smart happen every day.

Navigating a New Normal…LOL

Do we really need to begin an article with another paragraph about how COVID has changed how we do business?

Jokes aside, we actually do, because what’s happening now, will only tell what the future holds for many industries.

An often less explored element of our new “normal” has been COVID’s impact on marketing. To that end, we’ve created a two-part mini-series, 9 Ways Covid-19 Has Changed Sales and Marketing. This article will dive into the first four.

Let’s go.

1. Shifting to Digital Everything

Let’s start with the obvious — things are getting way digital. Where a personal touch was once valued, we’re now avoiding touching anything and will likely continue to avoid personal contact for the foreseeable future.

As a result, when it comes to both sales and marketing, companies are making the obvious move to invest heavily in digital resources for consumers, as well as digital interface between consumers and sales. As marketing gurus, we always knew tech was important, but COIVD has given us the opportunity to narrow down the digital tech deemed essential. Zoom, for example, was a platform many of us used sparingly on the 30-minute trial basis and probably took for granted – but not anymore. Instead, COVID has opened our eyes to the huge role tech plays in this industry and what’s really working and what was an undelivered tech promise. Much like the practicality of remote work, it’s unclear how much of this will remain after COVID is under control, but digital everything is part of our DNA now whether we like it or not.

2. Reinforcing the Importance of Relationships

Just because many businesses are focusing on an accelerated shift towards digital resources, it doesn’t mean that we want our customers interfacing with some robot workforce.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

When it comes to what we value during times like these, businesses lean into their relationships to get them through, and we know that customers do the same. Trusting the solutions/products they utilize is what they rely on most during touch-and-go times. This is where personalization, interactive content, and omnichannel campaigns can come in to save the day. It’s all about putting a heavy emphasis on relationships – even from afar.

3. Moving Towards Remote Selling

There’s no more perfect intersection of points one and two than a shift towards remote selling. Remote selling relies on digital to get the job done, while making sure we don’t lose sight of the personal connectedness that allows us to make the sale.

This will lead many of us to overhaul our idea of sales, focusing on an almost entirely digital platform, at least for the time being. This means a focus on hard and soft digital skills, as well as defining new standardized systems and protocols that can be scaled up for the long term. With pressures high, it’s important we all put our thinking caps on, put the client first, and not push our agendas on them. After all, you’re selling motive is to help clients to succeed.

4. Switching to Virtual Events and Conferences

Noting back to Zoom, at this point it’s almost impossible to say you haven’t participated in some sort of online meeting or conference. That has definitely become part of the new normal and may continue in the future as a more cost-effective alternative.

We’ve already seen well attended webinars, but this mass beta test we’re collectively participating in is unprecedented and will result in the accelerated adaptation of these types of events — and their scale — going forward.

Stay tuned for the second installment of this series dropping next week, where we get into five more ways in which COVID is changing the sales and marketing world as we know it. In the meantime, contact us to learn more or checkout StrataBytes for more great marketing content.

How COVID-19 Has Brought New Life to a Long-lost Tactic

We spend a lot of time thinking about the landscape of marketing, what the future holds and how we can be early adapters today. Perhaps one of the most interesting — and strangely divisive — ways our physical and digital worlds intersect is through the humble QR code.

The Creation of the QR code

A little history: QR (quick response) codes were invented by Japanese firm Densa Wave in the mid-nineties as a more functional alternative to barcodes. From there, the decision was made to make the technology public, recognizing their potential.

So, what happened?

The Flop

Initially, they were a victim of their time. Despite the obvious utility, the technology just wasn’t there when it came to the rudimentary smartphones of the 2010s (think about it – it wasn’t that long ago that we were terrified of accidently hitting the internet button on our phones). Slow mobile internet speeds and a lack of integrated software made their use difficult. So, like many other truly advanced technologies, QR codes went unappreciated (except in certain factory settings) and faded into obscurity despite all their potential.

A Pandemic and a Renewed Interest

Until recently, it seemed as if that’s where the story of the QR would end — a substitute for the barcode we use occasionally at Whole Foods. But as anyone who’s left their house in the last six months can confirm, something strange is happening to QR codes.

They’re suddenly everywhere.

From touchless payment to restaurant menus, the QR code (now with sufficient integrated technology in every smartphone to support it) has made a major resurgence in a time where we’re afraid to touch anything.

The Future of QR Codes

To paraphrase, a recent article from pymnts.com (you can read it here) aptly describes QR codes as “a solution in search of a problem” — and it’s probably safe to say that a pandemic certainly qualifies as a “problem”. But, just like the creator of the QR code all the way back in 1994, we’re finally seeing the full potential, particularly in the world of digital wallets and touchless payment.

One of the main ways QR codes will continue to be an integral part of our day-to-day going forward is through the “pay by app” model of business where many individual merchants and most major chains have their own apps allowing QR code-based payments.

If that’s not a glow-up for the QR code, we don’t know what is.

QR Codes in Marketing

The rebirth of the QR code comes with the promise of exciting new ways to continue using the technology. By now, most marketers recognize the renewed potential of QR codes, even in a post-COVID future.

For us at Strata, the use of QR codes is the continuation of a trend we’ve recognized for some time, only having been accelerated — not created — by the pandemic. We’ve been generating and incorporating QR codes into our marketing campaigns as we’ve kept a finger on the pulse of marketing technology. They’re a great way to merge print and digital, and we’ve used them in our direct and dimensional mailers, as well as other collateral like brochures and business cards. So, while it’s been a long-time coming, it’s finally safe to say that the possibilities for QR codes are truly endless.

Are you interested in working with a guiding hand that can help you incorporate QR codes into your marketing materials? Contact us to get started.