You Don’t Demand Employee Trust. You Earn It.

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Corporate culture is pretty much the key to everything in the world of business. According to a series of studies reported on by Forbes, nearly 90% of people who responded said that company culture was incredibly important for their firms. In fact, 92% said that they firmly believed that improving corporate culture would enhance the value of their business, while more than half of respondents said that corporate culture influences everything from productivity to creativity to profitability, value, growth and beyond.

At the same time, only 15% said that their company’s culture was where it needed to be.

It Begins at the Top

At first glance, these numbers may appear to be somewhat at odds with one another – but they really aren’t. Corporate culture begins at the top and, if anything, that 15% statistic can be attributed to one essential little word: trust. Leaders set the tone that affects the entire organization, and if employees don’t trust their leaders, they ultimately don’t trust the direction of the business that they’re devoting so much of their lives to.

Make no mistake: trust is not something that you can demand from your employees. It’s something that you have to earn – all day, every day. It’s also something that requires you to keep a few key things in mind.

Trust is a Privilege, Not a Right

Yes, you worked incredibly hard to become the leader that you are today. You put in long hours. You worked weekends. You devoted the majority of your life to your career and a constant push to achieve bigger and better things for yourself. Now you’re in charge of the proverbial ship, and everyone should just trust that you know what you’re doing by default, right?

There’s an old rule of storytelling that says that whenever possible, “show, don’t tell.” That essentially means that instead of having a character talk about some important development in the plot, SHOW the development instead by having them do something active. It’s why in “Star Wars,” instead of just having people stand around and talk about how bad the Death Star is, we see it blow up a planet to convey the same information in a much more active way.

This is the same mentality you need to adopt if you want to start earning the trust of your employees. If you make a mistake, don’t shift the blame – accept responsibility. Don’t ask any employee to do anything that you would be unwilling to do yourself. If you want people to come in on the weekend, you should also come in on the weekend. If you need your team to work long hours, guess what – you need to work them, too.

Show You Care

Every day, look for new opportunities to show your employees that you not only value what they do but that you’re all in this together. Remember that their productivity, hard work, and excellent performance needs to benefit more than just you and your career – it needs to positively impact them, too. They’re not going to follow you into battle because you tell them to. They have to want to do so.

The only way you can get to that point is if they trust you, and the only way you can get to THAT point is if you’re someone worth trusting. This simple distinction is often what separates a good leader from a great one.


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The No Tears Guide to Letting Someone Go

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Having to terminate an employee is never fun. Even if you’ve had to execute this task hundreds of times over the course of your career, it never gets easier. Everyone understands how devastating and humiliating it can be to lose a job and, as a leader, you must find a way to handle the dismissal in the best way possible.

Come Prepared

Nothing is worse than a manager who is wishy-washy. Go over the employee’s track record ahead of time to confirm the employee’s performance merits dismissal. Ideally, you would have met with the employee previously and given them the proper warnings and a chance to rise to your expectations (think: three-strike policy). Regardless, the employee is going to want a clear answer to why he or she is being let go, and you need to provide a compelling reason.

Before the meeting, get all your ducks in a row regarding termination policies. Be prepared to settle the questions whirling in your employee’s mind: When will he get his last paycheck? Is she entitled to a severance package? What’s the timeframe for clearing out his desk? Before you draw up a termination contract, double check policies to ensure accuracy.

Set the Scene

It should go without saying, but terminating someone in a public setting is the ultimate faux pas. You’re not making an example of someone; you’re making the rest of your team dislike you. Find a private room in the office and shut the door. Silence the phones and computers. The time of day you call the meeting doesn’t matter. Honestly, there’s no “best” time to dismiss an employee. Ideally, get it done as soon as possible since delaying the inevitable makes an already hard situation worse. Once you start the meeting, cut to the chase. Small talk isn’t going to soften the blow. Aim for a considerate tone, but avoid sounding emotional during the conversation.

The Right Way Versus the Wrong Way

There are two ways most termination conversations can go. If a manager does it the wrong way, you’re likely to have the employee react in one of two ways: tears or yelling. Take the following two scenarios:

Wrong Way

Sylvia is called into a meeting where she has to sit and wait for fifteen minutes while you finish a personal phone call. You try the direct approach and tell her she’s dismissed effective immediately. You don’t give her much feedback on her performance and direct her to HR about her final paycheck and insurance benefits. You usher her out of your office in less than ten minutes.

What went wrong here? Sylvia is likely to feel humiliated over the abrupt dismissal. She is confused over what went wrong and will have no idea how to plan out her next move.

Right Way

You have had consistent contact with Sylvia prior to the meeting about her performance. You’ve offered guidance on how to help her succeed in her role. After multiple attempts at trying to resolve the situation, you and Sylvia both realize the position and company isn’t the right fit for her. When you call her into a meeting to let her go, she’s not surprised. You give her all of the details about her termination and ask for her to sign a termination contract after she takes the time to look it over.

In this scenario, you have let Sylvia go compassionately and professionally. She can use this experience to excel in her future endeavors. Your reputation as a fair and considerate manager stays well intact.

Inform the Masses

Avoid causing a workplace-wide panic by being transparent with the rest of your staff. You don’t have to give your team all the details about the dismissal but offer reassurance that the termination wasn’t the first in a string of firings.

Firing an employee is hands down the hardest part of being in a leadership position. At the end of the day, reassure yourself that the termination is necessary to avoid ultimately hurting the company.

 


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From Survival to Full Bloom

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Eliza Blank was tired of the gloomy atmosphere in her cramped New York apartment. Eliza began dabbling with houseplants, and her passion quickly bloomed into a budding small business. In 2012, Blank launched “The Sill” to bring color and hope to stale Manhattan apartments, equipping new “parents” by transforming certified plant killers into botanical aficionados. The Sill works to match the right plant to the right space, offering hands-on coaching that helps “aspiring green thumbs (and potential customers) feel at ease.”

The Sill operates both on and offline, recently opening its second brick-and-mortar shop in New York’s Upper West Side. Last year, sales topped $2 million, and a website redesign doubled online traffic and newsletter subscriptions. But the Sill had a few obstacles along the way. In the first year, the company’s co-founder bailed as Blank hustled to handle marketing, orders, and deliveries. “It was me, a desk, and a computer – I was writing the product descriptions, potting the plants, delivering the plants, and doing everything myself . . . I (sometimes) joke that I’m the CEO, but also the janitor,” Blank says. “I’m still straddling those two roles.”

While Blank credits several factors to her success, education as a service was a key component. Since prospects were often daunted by caring for a living product, the company organized sales around blogging, coaching, and newsletters. “Not everyone who comes to the website is there to shop. We believe it serves us to serve prospective customers through helpful content,” Blank says. As clients gained confidence, sales exploded. Even if blog readers don’t come to buy, Blank believes valuable content is a catalyst, because “we are then top of mind when the time comes to purchase – and the trust is already there.”

Blogging That Brings Business to Life

Perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of business blogging yourself, but you’ve been hesitant to try. With so much to do, why bother with something that doesn’t yield immediate, obvious benefits? Content and social media can be a cost-effective way to not only complement your print marketing but also to promote your company, grow revenue, and enhance your reputation as a trustworthy resource. Check out these tips from blog coach Gary Dek to make your business blogging easier:

  1. Research competitors’ blogs to learn what works or to strengthen your own unique voice.
  2. Identify your target demographic and blog specifically to this audience.
  3. Publish in-depth resources that answer questions, offer step-by-step guides, and solve specific problems.
  4. Promote your content through social media, direct mail, e-mail, or asking core customers to re-post.
  5. Involve everyone on your team to contribute topic ideas, design concepts, or content submissions of their own. Work to humanize the company in a way that’s enjoyable and fun!
  6. Consider using guest bloggers to put your content in front of new audiences and give you greater influence and credibility.

Drive People Online with Direct Mail Marketing

Want to drive people online to your growing content? One of the best tools to increase website traffic is direct mail. A 2015 Direct Marketing Association study revealed that 78% of people react to direct mail immediately, with 44% visiting the brand’s website and 34% searching online for additional product information. Recent research shows that very active smartphone users are reading more print materials than any other target demographic!

As you grow your online AND offline presence, we’re here to help! As your local printing connection, we’re more than just a contracted vendor; we’re an invested partner, committed to efficiency, precise brand matching, and to the customer care you deserve. Stop in and see us today!

 


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Best Practices For Integrating Your Remote Workforce

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As technology continues to evolve, so do the lives we lead – both personally and professionally. According to one study conducted by Gallup, nearly 43% of employees in the United States spent at least some time working remotely in 2016 – a significant 4% jump from just a few years earlier in 2012. Remote work is such an attractive proposition that it has even begun to play a major role in an employee’s decision of whether to work for a particular company – something that poses a number of interesting implications for their employers.

Chief among them is the idea of what a “team” is supposed to be. Your employees are all important individually, but their contributions are supposed to add up to a larger, more critical whole. How is that possible when a large part of your workforce barely sets foot in the office, if they do so at all? In truth, integrating your remote workforce into your in-office one is a lot more straightforward than you might think; you just have to keep a few key things in mind.

Integration Begins With Leadership

The absolute best practice for integrating your remote workforce in with your “live and in-person” employees begins and ends with you: their leader. Never overlook an opportunity, no matter how small, to bring remote employees into the fold and make them feel like they’re a part of the greater good. If you start an email chain, for example, don’t just include the “in-person” employees.  Make sure that everyone who needs to know is involved, regardless of location.

Don’t hold those weekly meetings on-site and then send remote workers a summary after the fact. Embrace the benefits of teleconferencing and allow them to dial-in live and in person. If you’re hosting a company get-together or are taking employees out for a well-deserved meal, make sure that you extend the invitation to those outside the office. This is especially important if they work from home (or elsewhere) 100% of the time. These are small moves, but they’re also meaningful ones that help remind people that wherever they are, they are equally valued in your eyes.

Encouragement and Communication

Another critical step to take to integrate your remote workforce better involves slightly adjusting the way your in-person teams communicate. Make it a priority to embrace instant messaging or collaboration platforms like Slack to keep team members connected together. Not only will this make in-person employees feel a bit like they’re a part of the “remote” world, but the reverse will also be true. Your remote workers will feel more connected to your office as well.

Always remember the one factor that matters the most: encouragement. If someone does a terrific job or blows your expectations away, acknowledge them on the most prominent stage even if they work remotely. Just because someone isn’t regularly in the office or the other employees don’t see them every day doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve their fair share of recognition. Any move that you would make to reward an in-person employee should be extended to your remote workforce. Not only will this help make them feel like they’re equal contributors, but it will also go a long way towards bringing your teams together to form the cohesive whole that you need them to be.

 


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How to Inspire Those Around You Like the True Leader You Were Meant to Be


Even business professionals with the best of intentions often make the mistake of assuming that solid leadership is about one thing and one thing only: delegating responsibility. You’ve worked hard your whole life and you’ve ascended through the ranks – now is the time when people should start listening to what you have to say, right?

Yes, but not in the way you think.

You’re the Inspiration

In truth, employees shouldn’t be doing what you say just because you’re the one saying it. They should be following your guidance because they want to, they’re inspired to, and if given the opportunity, they’d be steering that proverbial ship in the same direction that you’ve chosen. To get there, though, you’re going to have to do more than just bark orders. You’re going to have to inspire. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when trying to inspire others.

Leaders Who Inspire Support Their Employees in More Ways Than One

One of the most common traits among leaders who inspire their workforce is that they tend to support their employees, both personally and professionally. After all, everyone wants to have meaning in their lives and wants to be encouraged to follow their passions.

To help support this, you need to create an environment where learning is encouraged and where everyone feels like you have your own personal interest in their success. You need to be a leader that fosters development – someone who looks for and utilizes every opportunity for a person to take a positive step forward. Doing this won’t just inspire pride in one’s work, it’ll go a long way towards inspiring loyalty, too.

Inspirational Leaders Set the Tone

Another essential trait that you’ll need to focus on to both inspire those around you and to become the true leader you were meant to be is to lead by example. This goes far beyond just “treat others how you want to be treated.” You need to show that you’re willing to do what you want others to do, too. Never ask someone to do something that you would never be willing to do yourself. Don’t be afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty, so to speak. If you want your team to put in long hours and work hard on that next big project, you have to put your money where your mouth is and show that you’re ready and willing to do the same.

Inspirational Leaders Value Trust Above All Else

A truly inspirational leader knows that human beings are exactly that – human. The road to success isn’t going to be an easy one and if you aren’t willing to trust the employees around you, they will soon recede into their comfort zone. They’ll quickly start to feel like the risk of stepping outside that box isn’t worth it and that the environment they’re spending so much time in just doesn’t support them in doing so anyway.

By trusting your employees (and being willing to accept that not every challenge is a simple one to overcome), you’re creating a situation where people are more willing to take on challenges and risk any failures that come their way. You need to show people that even if something goes wrong, you believe in them and that you have their back. You need to make them believe that even when they have a setback, you’ll still be by their side, urging them to move forward. Rest assured, at that point, they will.


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Why Patience is One of the Most Important Qualities a Leader Can Have


The chasm between a leader and a great leader is a deep one. It is one that is often filled with qualities like clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion, and a healthy amount of humility given the circumstances.

But one of the major qualities that is essential to leadership that people don’t talk about nearly enough is patience. When patience is practiced wisely, it can have a dramatic effect on your entire organization from the top down.

The Ripple Effect of Patience

In general, patience is more important than just being willing to wait for results. Yes, all people are different and employees need to be given room to move at their own pace for the sake of quality. But, the true benefit of patience runs much deeper.

First and foremost, patience shows respect in a way that also encourages productivity at the same time. If you’re the type of leader who delegates responsibility but then spends hours each day telling people to “hurry up” or to “get things moving,” ultimately all you’re really doing is creating frustration or fear in an environment where you can afford neither.

Being willing to wait for someone to work at their own pace shows an employee that you value their overall contribution to the larger organization. You didn’t just choose any person for this job; you chose the right person for the right job. Sometimes, that takes a little more time than you’d like, but that is perfectly fine. Patience is also an important acknowledgment that every person progresses at a different pace. If you’re up in arms every time someone takes a little more time to complete a task, what you’re doing is communicating that they’re not as good as someone else when given the same responsibility.

Patience Also Says a Lot About You, Too

Being patient with others isn’t just about your employees – it also speaks volumes about you. When you’re constantly working from a place of “I needed this yesterday,” all you’re doing is artificially inflating the stakes of the business you’re trying to run. You’re not making considerate decisions; you’re making ones fueled by little more than raw emotion and a ticking clock.

Patience shows that you’re the type of leader willing to stop and let things breathe for a moment. It shows that you’re willing to listen and consider all variables before making a thoughtful judgment about what to do next. It shows that you’re not the type of person to make snap decisions that you’ll later regret and that your employees shouldn’t be willing to settle for that, either.

These are just a few of the many reasons why patience is one of the most important qualities a leader can have. It’s also important to remember that you need to be patient with yourself. Patience is a virtue, yes, but it’s also something of a discipline. You’ll need to acknowledge the importance of patience and the role it plays in your business so that you can grow into the type of leader who no longer has to make an effort to be patient with others. Instead, it will become an afterthought.


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The Rise and Fall of Nate Silver: A Lesson in Risk Communication


Political prognosticator and analytics guru Nate Silver rose to national fame by correctly predicting elections. But in 2016, Silver joined almost every other analyst by projecting a victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Was Silver’s good luck over?

Cognitive Bias and the “Failure” of Data

Actually, Silver’s estimate for the 2016 election was closer to correct than almost anyone else’s. He saw Clinton as a heavy favorite, but still gave Donald Trump a roughly one-in-three shot of winning. But the world didn’t remember that part of the projection once the election results came in. They just remembered the part Silver got wrong. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has an explanation: cognitive bias.

Kahneman studied how people make decisions and judgments, and he quickly discovered that they don’t make any sense. People like to think of themselves as logical and rational, but they mostly use logic to justify believing whatever they want to believe anyway. And one thing people absolutely love to believe is that the future is certain. Human minds loathe uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear—sometimes paralyzing fear. So when given a number like “one in three” or “ninety percent,” they subconsciously convert the odds to “yes” or “no.”

This cognitive bias is often very useful. You probably never consider the statistical chance that you’ll be run over by a bus because if you did, you might never leave the house. It’s far easier, and probably mentally healthier, to treat the risk of bus accidents as a 0. But the tendency to round probabilities up or down can be disastrous in the business world.

Communicating Risk

Have you told your boss that there’s a 90% chance you’ll make the sale? If the deal didn’t go through, you were probably in a bit of hot water. Has a supplier ever told you her product’s failure rate was less than 1%? You’d probably be pretty mad if your order was a dud. The problem with both of those statements of probability is that they do a poor job of communicating risk. They invite the mind’s cognitive bias to take over and convert the estimate into a certainty. When that certainty turns out not to be so certain, it feels like a broken promise.

That’s why the world decided Nate Silver was wrong. They had rounded up the probability of a Clinton victory to a guarantee. When Trump won, it felt like Silver had broken his word. His failure wasn’t in the data—it was in the way he communicated the risk.

The lesson here is that quoting numbers won’t save you. Don’t just toss out percentages—put them in context. Visualizations are one useful technique. If a product will fail one time in a hundred, a graphic with 99 white shapes and one black shape gets the message across far more effectively than the numbers. Analogies are also effective. A 90% probability? That’s about the same as the chance that an NFL kicker will make a 32-yard field goal. Anchoring the numbers to a familiar context creates a lasting impression. It forces the mind to acknowledge uncertainty.

In business and life, people care about honesty. But if your goal is to be trustworthy, it’s not enough to state the facts. You have to make those facts sink into others’ minds. When it comes to probabilities and risks, that task is taller than it looks.


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The Art of Time-Blocking: A Simple Tip to Revolutionize Your Productivity

time calendarMost people just aren’t that good at multitasking. Trying to remain focused (and organized) is one of the most significant time wasters, especially in the life of a business professional. When you try to do too many things at the same time, you become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” Just when you’re trying to get work done on that big project, another email comes in that you have to respond to. You hop over to your email client and suddenly the phone is ringing, or you realize that you have to proof a new design before it heads out the door. It’s maddening.

Thankfully, there is a better way. By adopting the fine art of time-blocking, you may have just found the simple, yet effective technique you’ve been looking for to unlock a bold new era of productivity in both your personal and professional life.

What is Time-Blocking?

At its core, time-blocking is the idea that you should segment your day into clearly defined (and strictly adhered to) blocks of productivity. Organize the tasks you need to complete by category and set aside a specific amount of time for those categories each day.

If you feel like you’re spending an unfortunate amount of time responding to emails every day at the expense of everything else, set aside 9:00 am to 10:00 am every morning to just focus on emails. Devote every ounce of your attention to this one task and when it’s over, move onto the next one. Outside of the occasional emergency, don’t respond to emails for the rest of the day. Get it done, and then move on.

The Benefits

The beauty of time-blocking falls into two distinct categories. First, it’s an incredibly effective way to eliminate distraction. Instead of trying to divide your attention between ten little tasks, it’s almost like you’re tackling just one big one (i.e. emails, and nothing more). Not only do you get those initial tasks done faster, but the ultimate quality of your output is also much higher because you’re no longer trying to do too many things at once.

Next, time-blocking is also an excellent way to build up a strong sense of momentum that will carry you through the rest of your day. As you begin to move from block to block, you’ll constantly be surprised by just how much you’re getting done. This wave of productivity (not to mention the wave of euphoria) builds on itself, driving things home towards the finish line (and the end of the work day).

Success Comes When You Look Ahead

Another one of the keys to success regarding time-blocking is a little bit of forward thinking. This isn’t something you can make up on the fly. You need to consider the types of tasks you need to do each day and what you have to get done by week’s end. Look ahead a little bit and make a list of your top priorities. Then, separate those into categories and get down to business.

Remember, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Time-blocking won’t suddenly create an extra hour in your day, but it will help you make better use of the hours you already have. If you try to add too many things to your list to the point where it becomes unrealistic, you’ll end up working against your goal and not towards it. You’ll quickly begin to feel overwhelmed, which is something that you do not want.


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The One-Trick Pony Syndrome

One trick pony.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “a one-trick pony?”

Researchers believe the “one-trick pony” phrase comes from an entertainment background. According to research, the earliest reference was associated with circus ponies used to perform a trick or feat that impressed audiences. The ponies involved could do an amazing act, such as walking on their hind feet, but that was all they could do. Eventually, the audiences got bored with the show. In one version of the story, a pony had a dog partner that would ride on it. While the audience got sick of seeing the pony do the same thing every time the circus was in town, the dog gained fame because it learned and began to perform new tricks. In time, the dog became the star, and the pony was relegated to hauling circus carts.

Is Your Business A One-Trick Pony?

The moral of the story here is not to allow your business to get stuck on only one good thing. It’s tempting to think that if you have something good going, why ruin it? Well, over time that good thing will become less and less popular. The number of customers who want it will diminish and the business will have to start cutting prices to keep it attractive. Eventually, the product or service won’t sell at all.

Palm PDAs and Blackberry were both perfect examples of the one-trick pony mistake. They both had a really good product for a while, but both companies failed to upgrade and develop new products. Eventually, someone else did, and their customer base walked away. Those text screens on a Blackberry and similarly on a Palm PDA simply looked old and obsolete versus smartphones like the original Apple iPhone. The world had changed.

It’s Time to Diversify

Is your business riding the wave right now of a star pony? If so, now is the time to be looking for and generating a new path. Diversify into a new product or new service. Not only does it protect your business’ longevity, but multiple revenue streams from different customers will eventually offset each other when one of them starts to weaken.

Companies that map out their product/service life cycle and plan for eventual loss with replacement “ponies” are the firms that survive and grow. Don’t let all your energy, money, time, and effort go down the drain with a one-trick pony. Instead, use the initial success to be your springboard for the next one.


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What Happened to Summer? Back-to-School Marketing Starts Earlier Than Ever

Back to School Marketing
The temperature is soaring, steaks sizzle on the grill, and kids play in the pool, but not everyone is thinking summer. Back to school season is starting earlier than ever for big retailers and the impact trickles over into all aspects of marketing. Both Office Depot and Land’s End launch back to school campaigns at the start of summer – in some cases before school even ended in some parts of the country.

This is a change even from last year; according to AdAge, 2016 saw back to school marketing head into full swing around the middle of July. Time magazine cites the need for retailers to make as many revenues as possible during the highest spending periods as the reason Black Friday, Halloween, and Back to School promotions are being scheduled earlier than ever before.

When does Back to School Begin?

Big retailers working on the premise that earlier is better have begun pushing back-to-school marketing back each year. Back to school is big business for retailers, since it is worth about 78 billion; it is second only to the major holidays for revenues, according to AdAge.

How Early is Too Early?

Office Depot’s back-to-school advertising rolled out June 25 of this year, a full three weeks earlier than 2016’s July launch. Other retailers are following suit, but there is some consumer backlash against the early push. Lands’ End received public criticism on social media when their back-to-school catalog dropped while kids in many parts of the country were still in school.

“We got your #backtoschool catalog in the mail. Our kids still have two weeks of school left this year! #fail #marketing,” tweeted Greg Magin.

@GregMagin helpfully tagged his rant with #fail, #backtoschool and #Marketing, so it was seen by far more than just his followers. This backlash from consumers shows that a too-early launch can backfire. Right now, the sweet spot for back-to-school marketing seems to be right after the 4th of July through the end of the month.

Back-to-school marketing is all about timing. Being aware of this pitfall, and of the enormous potential of this busy season, can help you make the most of Back to School season for your brand and ensure your organization has a visible presence during this often overlooked marketing opportunity.

Make Back to School Time Count for your Brand

Positioning your Back to School promotions in July and working to build not only sales but also awareness can help place you in front of consumers when they’re ready to outfit the kids for the next school year. Since most consumers begin searching online well before they part with actual money, building awareness ahead of this busy season can help you get the results you want without irritating consumers.


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