Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

Happy Veteran US Army
As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn’t the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does — to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, “Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they’re constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information.” And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason’s most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, “helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next.” Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.


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Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

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Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi? Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result: getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.


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Social Media and Your Marketing Strategy

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When you are trying to reach a wide demographic for your business, you must get on social media. By developing a following on social media and learning how to use text messaging to get customers interested in your brand, you’ll be on your way to building up a solid customer base.

Do You Have Followers on Your Facebook Page?

Most businesses use their Facebook page to post links to informative blog posts on their website or to share relevant news about their industry in general. To gain followers, you will need to get people to share the posts that you create and to gain interest by advertising your page. You can also gain followers by creating printed marketing materials that provide information on how to find you on Facebook. Almost all of your printed marketing products should contain information on all of your social media accounts to encourage customers to sign up.

Utilizing an Opt-In Texting Campaign

Think about how you currently communicate with your customers. In any business, the ability to ask questions and to get those questions answered quickly is important. When you create an opt-in texting campaign, you build a list of subscribers that you can send marketing materials to through text messages. You can grow this list of subscribers by creating a short code and printing it on your marketing postcards. For example, “To learn more about our business, text the word SHOP to 12345.” You can send text messages that point people to your social media pages and share links to your social media accounts that will allow them to sign up for your campaign.

Consider Trying Twitter

Twitter can be a very useful platform for your industry once you can gain an audience and you learn how to strategize hashtag phrases. If you’ve ever seen a person write a status on Facebook such as “I love my dog, #labsrule, #dogsarethebest, #familypet,” these hashtags do more than confuse people who don’t know what they are. Hashtag use started on Twitter, and this is one way people follow industry news. People can search hashtags on Twitter. Anyone that types in “#labsrule,” or any of the other hashtags written, will see the post written by the Twitter user that wrote the hashtag after their post.

Try to engage your customers by asking questions or sharing interesting news either through social media links or text messages. If customers start commenting on posts, keep the conversation going by responding. The more you can get your customers interested in your brand on social media, the larger the following you will create.


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5 Tips for Effective Direct Mail

Guy checking the mail.

Every day but Sunday, the mailbox delivers surprises. Of course, much of what arrives in the mail is expected, but that element of surprise never wanes. The mail might contain a card from a loved one, a check you didn’t expect, or a great offer from a local company, via direct marketing. Successful direct marketing campaigns don’t happen by accident, but a small business doesn’t need to pour substantial amounts of money into such an endeavor to achieve a good result. That means rather than mass marketing, modern direct mail campaigns concentrate on targeted marketing. When businesses use effective direct mail marketing, they not only boost their bottom line, but add excitement to the routine of picking up the mail.

1. Set Your Goals

As a business, what do you expect this mailing to accomplish? Have a firm plan in mind ahead of time. What is your budget for this mailing? What kind of ROI do you think you’ll receive? Crunch the numbers before embarking on a direct mail campaign.

Have a projected number of new customers in mind. For small businesses doing much of the work on their own, one of the best measures is sending out a mailer-only coupon for a percentage off a purchase or free item with purchase. Ensure that keeping track of the number of people who redeemed the coupon, including new customers, is quite simple.

2. The Mailing List

When it comes to an effective direct marketing campaign, nothing is as crucial as the mailing list. That seems obvious, but too many companies waste time and money sending direct mail to people with little interest in their product or service. You want a “Goldilocks” mailing list – not sending too many or too few mailers, but just the right amount.

While you will need to purchase some lists, focus on your own lists of previous customers. In fact, if you don’t have a solid database of customer names and addresses as well as strong prospects, avoid direct marketing until you do.

3. The Demographic

Who are your customers? What is their primary age and income level? Where do they live? This information is essential for a small business conducting a direct marketing campaign. You’re looking for your ideal customer, whether that person is a senior citizen, millennial, parent of young children, individuals with X amount of disposal income – that’s necessary information before you start your campaign. The more personally you can delineate the target, the better the response rate. You can then consider the type of mailing list you want to purchase.

4. Clarity Rules

No matter what type of mailing format you decide to go with, the potential customer must instantly “get” what you offer. All the fancy graphics in the world won’t make up for a confusing message. That doesn’t mean your direct mail has to be boring – far from it. You only have a few seconds for the recipient to decide whether your offer is one worth saving or throwing in the trash. Funny, clever copy can help get the message across, but it must be absolutely clear. The person must instantly recognize they can get a special deal on your product or service and understand exactly what they must to do to take advantage of the offer. For best results, repeat that call-to-action a few times.

5. From Direct Mail to Online

Social media and direct mail marketing are not mutually exclusive. A direct mail campaign is a good way to get customers to follow you online. The cheapest form of direct mail, the postcard, can get you more online customers and followers. You want to drive traffic to your website, and direct mail is a useful vehicle. A coupon code on the postcard for online sales or some other promotion can gain you the customer info that you can then follow up on via an email or social media marketing campaign.


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How To Craft More Compelling, More Emotional Presentations Today

Business Presentation
The major goal of any piece of marketing collateral is to connect with your audience in a deep, meaningful way. This is true regardless of the specific type of marketing you’re talking about – from that terrific new flyer you just designed, to a banner, and beyond. Presentations are a particularly valuable format in this regard as they give you a nice opportunity to really dive a little deeper into certain subjects in a way that other mediums don’t allow.

However, the format is only a means to an end. If you really want to make sure that you’re crafting the most compelling, emotional presentations possible, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Find That Theme

Because presentations tend to be long form documents (at least in comparison to something like a flyer), you always want to make an effort to keep your “eye on the prize,” so to speak. Every presentation has a topic. That topic should be reinforced again and again by your primary theme. This is the main idea you’re trying to get across or the idea that you’re trying to help someone understand.

Once you’ve settled on your theme, EVERY component of your presentation needs to feed back into it. This will form the basic spine of your piece. Anything that isn’t directly related to that theme or the topic at hand has to go – no exceptions.

It’s a Visual World; We’re Just Living In It

Another essential step you want to take in your quest to craft more compelling, more emotional presentations involves including as many visual elements as possible. Remember that a presentation is not a white paper or a blog post – it is a medium that is perfect for relevant images and other visual content.

Human beings tend to be visual learners. We can’t help it; it’s just the way our brains work. One study revealed that once someone had heard a piece of information, they usually only remembered about 10% of that content three days later. When that same information is paired with a relevant image, however, that number jumps to 65%.

In terms of presentation success, it’s hard to find a tip more valuable than relying on visuals. Visuals give people something to latch onto, something to break up big blocks of text and (more importantly) are naturally engaging. People even follow directions better when the content they’re reading is filled with pictures, so this is one of those major tips that you definitely don’t want to avoid.

These are just a couple of the major tips that you can use to craft more compelling, more emotional presentations. Remember that one of your top priorities as a marketer is always to get the right content in front of the right people at the right time. However, doing that is only half the battle. Making sure that the content is as striking and as engaging as you can is another major component when it comes to getting people to make that ever-important sale.


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Top Five Ways to Work Less and Enjoy Life More

Child and a father

Everything today is about “more”: more money, more time, more pressure, and ultimately, more stress. However, does this rat-race life leave you feeling flat and defeated and constantly chasing an ideal you’re no longer sure exists? If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to downshift and find ways to work less and truly enjoy your life more. Working less sounds like a scary prospect, but once you see how achievable it is and how much peace it will return to your life, you will be sold!

1. Make Changes at Work

We often get caught up in the tidal wave of rushing to get to the next level at work. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t realize we are no longer enjoying the work that we do and aren’t even sure that we’re adding value. How do you make an honest shift towards happiness while not letting down your co-workers or your boss, and continuing to pay your bills? Fortunately, there are more options available than ever before. There are simple steps that you can take such as walking at lunch as a way to get away from your desk or more drastic options such as requesting a lower-stress (and likely lower-paid) position. However, there are some great middle ground opportunities at businesses today as long as you get creative. Have you ever considered flex time? More than ever, organizations are allowing their employees to work one day a week from home or create a more flexible schedule that doesn’t inconvenience office mates or negatively impact work.

2. Pick Your Battles

Think of everything that you need or want to accomplish in the next five years. Maybe it’s saving up for a big trip, or getting that huge promotion you’ve had your heart set on. Physically write down what is most important to you in the short-term and the long-term, and those are the things that you don’t want to compromise on. Everything else is up for negotiation. If a short jaunt with friends comes up that will require you to skip a vacation day with family later in the year, just say no! The same goes for things like eating out on a weekly basis. The costs associated with feeding a family of three or four outside the home can really mount up, and keep you from reaching longer-term goals for a short-term convenience. This trade-off may not be worth it and may cause you to have to work overtime to support your fast-food habits.

3. Stop Multitasking

Taking the time to focus on one topic at a time truly does pay off. While multitasking feels efficient, a recent study at Stanford University showed how productivity can plummet when your brain attempts to focus on more than one thing at the same time. Instead, be intentional about what you need to accomplish — focus, complete the task, and then move on.

4. Automate Your Savings

Ever find it difficult to get enough money together at the end of each month for savings? If so, it’s time to outsmart yourself! Even if it’s only ten to twenty dollars per week, start sending a small chunk of change from each paycheck to a savings account that you can’t easily access, and do it automatically. The theory being that if you never see the money, you’ll never miss it. Before you know it, you’ll be able to buy something you’ve really wanted without having to work overtime or take on extra shifts to make it happen.

5. Get Motivated

Sometimes, the way to do your best work is simply to have fun! When you are energized and enjoying what you do, work just comes more naturally. Creative juices flow, relationships with co-workers have more synergy, and life is good. When you’re at work, look for ways to enjoy it! The positive mood will spill over into your personal life, and you’ll find yourself enjoying life more every day.

These are just a few of the ways you can find more peace and joy in your daily life, simply by finding the balance between hard work and hard play. Multitask less, focus more, and bring fun to everything you do!


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Make Customer Loyalty a Bigger Part of Your Marketing Efforts

custLoyaltyIn the early days of your business, the goal of your marketing program was essentially a singular one: you tried to get your product or service in front of as many eyes as you possibly could. Once you’ve established yourself, however, it’s time to switch gears a little. According to most studies, it’s between five and twenty-five times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep one of your existing ones. This means that if you’re not already making customer loyalty a significant part of your marketing efforts, it’s about time to get going on it.

What a Difference Customer Loyalty Makes

According to a study conducted in 2014, seventy-three percent of consumers said that loyalty programs should be the way that brands show loyalty to their existing customers. Regardless of which way you choose to look at it, even instituting a modest customer loyalty program can have significant benefits across your entire organization. It can help make your marketing more appealing to new customers, as well as lead to higher levels of engagement with existing ones. That engagement breeds retention, which research suggests creates a situation where your average customer will be up to five times more likely to only buy from you in the future.

Also, remember that increasing customer retention (which these types of loyalty programs are great at doing) by just five percent can boost your profits anywhere from twenty-five to ninety-five percent, according to Bain & Co. Let that sink in for a second.

Building a Customer Loyalty Program

When you begin to institute a customer loyalty program for your business, the biggest mistake you should avoid is one of perspective. Remember that what you’re trying to do is show loyalty to your customers, period. Far too many businesses make the mistake of assuming that this is a way for customers to show loyalty to a brand, which leads to the type of ill-advised thinking that generates bad customer service and only ends up with a program few people want to take advantage of.

Assuming that you’re “giving your customer the opportunity” to show loyalty to your business is how you end up in a situation where forty-three percent of consumers say that rewards programs require too much spending to reach the next level, or where points expire before they can be used, or where points are worthless because of all the restrictions they come with. Build a program that lets you say an emotional “thank you” to the people who got you where you are, NOT the other way around.

If you are going to make customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts, however, always remember the old saying that “variety is the spice of life.” In a survey conducted by Collinson Latitude, sixty-three percent of respondents said that having a wide range of rewards and offers was the single most important aspect that decided whether or not they would sign up for a loyalty program. So the occasional coupon isn’t necessarily going to cut it (pun absolutely intended).

Again, making customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts is, and will always be, about giving back to the people who helped build your brand. If you make every decision with this one simple perspective in mind, all of the other benefits – from increasing the value of each customer to engagement and long-term loyalty – will happen as a happy byproduct.


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Learn to Protect Yourself From the Inside

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Kingdoms have fallen, and wars have been lost because of betrayal. Although we all desire to foster an atmosphere of trust and dependence on one another within our companies, it would be foolish to underestimate the internal risks with reports and employees in this digital age.

The Case of Bradley Manning

The case of Bradley Manning is an illustrative example of how even the most secure agencies can be compromised from the inside. Private Manning worked as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army two years after enlisting in 2007. Then, in 2009, a major leak occurred that disclosed millions of classified documents from the military’s databases to the now-famous government leak website, Wikileaks. The identification of the source was unknown until Bradley Manning himself disclosed he was the source to a civilian. The conversations about that activity, and other functions Manning had in the military, were primarily out of boredom and disillusionment with the U.S. Army and its role in the Middle East. That discussion disclosing Manning as the source was then reported by the civilian, and Manning was arrested. He was eventually charged and sentenced to 35 years incarceration in a court martial for his actions releasing intelligence material. However, outgoing President Barack Obama decided to pardon Manning.

That Manning was pardoned or that he committed the damage he did to U.S. intelligence is beside the point. The real takeaway here is that he did not trip any flags during his enlistment, screening, and subsequent assignment to intelligence. And then, without any warning, Manning ends up becoming the source one of the top five most famous intelligence leaks in U.S. military history via the internet.

We all want to think the best of the employees and contractors who support our businesses. As a result, most employee policies are written with the assumption that no action will be taken until a threshold is met of unacceptable behavior. However, companies cannot reasonably operate with blind trust either, especially when managing sensitive data information. As in the case of Manning, it only took one action and one flash drive to walk away with as much as was lost in that case. So companies need to be proactive as well.

Begin with One, Two, Three

There are ways to stop data losses from the inside before they occur without having to be suspicious of good employees. Here are three of them:

1) Modularization of data access is a key defense.

By effectively limiting an employee to only the data area in the network needed to do his or her job, the employee cannot access anything else. This can be done through both network login authorizations, as well as pass-keys to different parts of the office building.

2) Keep logs of large data movements.

By having your network administrators can keep regular records of large data changes, you would be able to highlight issues to look into, such as large data transfers at night or on the weekend when nobody would regularly be working or connecting.

3) Learn to be proactive with training.

Companies can follow up regularly with training to teach employees to notice and proactively warn their superiors when they see something wrong. Employees are typically eager to help in this way because they are seen as part of the company defense to protect it and their own livelihood. This approach focuses on personal investment in the issue, which often gains very strong support in practice.

Again, we assume the best of employees, but we also need to be realistic about how easy damage can occur in the digital age. Practicing both trust and sound IT


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defense can protect a company far more than just a firewall alone.

How QR Codes Can Add to the Print Experience: Best Practices You Need to Know

qr

For years, marketers have been looking for better ways to achieve cross-media marketing. In other words, they’ve been searching for solutions that let them enjoy the benefits of both print and digital channels. Many have turned to QR codes to do precisely that. By including a QR code on a piece of print marketing, you can deliver the same message in the same way, but with a mechanism that varies depending on the preferences of the user.

It’s important to understand, however, that “using a QR code” and “using a QR code properly” are NOT the same thing. When done correctly, a QR code can add to the print experience in a number of important ways. If you want to unlock the full benefits of cross-media marketing that you desire, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

It All Comes Down to Purpose

QR codes are not a novelty anymore. There was a period just a few short years ago where simply including a QR code on a flyer or even a billboard was enough to get users to stop and take notice. Those days are gone, however, as the technology itself has become yet another ubiquitous part of daily life. Because of this, you can no longer get away with using a QR code just because you want to or just because many of those in your target audience now own smartphones.

If your QR code doesn’t serve a purpose, meaning it doesn’t add to the user experience you’re trying to create, it has no business being a part of your print materials. This emphasis on purpose extends to just about every decision you make in the world of marketing in general. Never take a step simply because you feel like you should, or because a study told you that everyone else is taking it. Take a step because it’s the right thing to do for the goal you’re trying to accomplish.

QR Codes Are Not an Invitation for Mystery

Along those same lines, don’t include a QR code in a piece of print marketing WITHOUT also telling your audience what they stand to gain by pulling their smartphone out of their pocket. Again: a QR code is not some irresistible riddle that users are waiting with baited breath to try to solve. Don’t assume someone will scan it just because it’s there. If your QR code redirects to a page that allows the user access to an exclusive 40% off coupon, include a call-to-action on the print material itself that says, “Scan Here to Get 40% Off Your Next Order.”

Design is Important

If someone tries to scan your QR code and it doesn’t immediately work, chances are high they’re not going to try again. When designing your print materials, remember that QR codes that are a high contrast against a lighter colored background tend to work correctly more often than not. Keep this in mind when making design choices moving forward.

QR codes are still an excellent way to have your cake and eat it too! You get to enjoy all of the benefits that only print marketing offers, while still embracing digital marketing at the same time. A poorly designed, poorly executed QR code will do a lot more harm than good, which is why it’s always important to make choices that help ADD to the print experience instead of accidentally taking away from it.


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Qualities That Brands With Longevity Share

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In the world of business, there is perhaps no commodity more precious than longevity. Getting a brand up and off the ground is one thing – keeping it around for the long-term is something else entirely. Creating longevity will rely in large part on your marketing, although this is only one small part of a much greater whole. The best marketing campaign in the world can’t create a long-standing, successful brand if a few qualities aren’t underneath it all just waiting to be communicated to the widest possible audience.

They Trigger an Emotional Response

One of the biggest traits that all brands with serious longevity share is the fact that they’re able to trigger an emotional response with their target audience, creating a loyal army of followers. This is true both with the way they market AND the way that response integrates into the service they provide.

Apple is a great example of this based on their image as the “hip, trendy” electronics company. People see a sleek, sophisticated Apple product in an equally compelling ad and they can’t help but think, “That looks really cool; I want that.” The same goes for a company like Amazon.com, albeit from a different angle. The way that Amazon has embraced personal marketing, both regarding the advertising it creates and with regards to the personalized recommendations that each user enjoys, makes them think, “I like Amazon; they get me.” That type of emotional connection is something you just can’t put a price on.

They Live Up to What They Promise

All of the best brands with serious longevity share the fact that they live up to the promises they make in their marketing materials. This comes from a deeper understanding of not just the people they’re trying to attract, but who those people are and what they want. These brands know how to communicate with their target audience and, as a result, don’t just live up to their promises, but they know how NOT to make a promise they can’t keep.

Take FedEx, for example. Entrepreneur.com recently cited FedEx as a brand with an incredibly strong corporate identity, owed largely to the fact that it’s operations are so incredibly efficient. FedEx is a brand built on trust, and the road to trust is paved with promises that have been kept in the past. FedEx is seen as an incredibly reliable service, and people in need of shipping rank FedEx favorably in that regard. This creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a symbiotic relationship that only strengthens over time specifically because FedEx knows what its audience wants and it knows how precisely to give it to them every time.

Once again, Apple is another example of this idea in motion. They promise products that “just work” and have historically delivered on that promise time and again. This has made them not only one of the most successful brands in the world, but also one with serious longevity in an industry where companies come and go like the weather.

These are just a few of the core qualities that all brands with longevity share. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, brands come and go all the time. Creating a brand is easy, but if you want to make sure that your brand stands the test of time, you need to focus on offering something truly unique on an ongoing basis.


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