Kieran Setiya, a philosophy professor at MIT, says many people experience a mid-career crisis. Some have regrets about paths not taken or serious professional missteps; others feel a sense of boredom or futility in their ongoing streams of work. The answer isn’t always to find a new job or lobby for a promotion. Motivated by his own crisis, Setiya started looking for ways to cope and discovered several strategies that can help all of us shift our perspective on our careers and get out of the slump without jumping ship.
The contemporary business world is inundated with claims that you need to go global in order to attain success, but many small businesses and successful entrepreneurs have made a huge fortune by focusing almost exclusively on local marketing. By tapping into the power of your regional niche, you can vacuum up droves of local customers, resulting in a huge boon for your business.
Here’s how you can transform your business with local marketing initiatives, and the secrets to success you’ll need to know if you want to make it in the big leagues.
Find or create your niche, then exploit it
The first key to success when it comes to local business marketing is finding or creating your local niche and then exploiting it for all it's worth. Countless corporate empires have been spawned by clever CEOs who had an idea which succeeded locally, then regionally, then nationally, before spreading all over the globe. Regardless of your level of ambition, your small business needs to be prepared to cut out a swathe of the local market to exclusively dominate, as broad-and-wide marketing strategies are now simply a thing of the past.
This is where digital technology steps in, as only contemporary tech can give you the level of insight you need to be aware of local trends and regional consumer demand. Currently, major tech platforms like Facebook are paving the way for a new era of local search capabilities, meaning online users will be able to find local places to spend their money at with little to no effort at all. Every small business owner who is serious about dominating their local market should do their homework and read up on the strategy Facebook is leveraging to become the master of local search operations.
You need to be embracing this kind of digital strategy to thrive in your local area. Consider hosting events that invite nearby users into your store, for instance, or create a group for your avid shoppers to join so that the can show off their connection to your brand for the world to see. Customers want products and services that were produced locally, after all, so by marketing yourself locally with a hometown-feel you can convince countless consumers to head directly to your store whenever they need to make a purchase. The idea behind local marketing is to solidify your brand as down-to-earth, affordable and happy to help the local population that supports it.
Reimagine your digital presence
You may think you already have a good digital operation set up, but today’s market requires constant changes if you’re to keep your head above water. Changes made to Google’s algorithms could impact the way that your business turns up in local search results, for instance, meaning your website and web pages need to be constantly evolving to fit the changing times. Virtually all consumers expect local businesses to have a mobile-friendly website, so it’s worthwhile to ask yourself if you’re doing enough in the digital arena to make customers satisfied with your brand and services.
Besides guaranteeing that your website is mobile-friendly so that you’re not losing out on Google traffic, you can also rely on tried-and-tested local campaigns to build regional awareness of your brand. For instance, if you are selling house water filters, sending out mailers with free or otherwise enticing offers is a tried-and-tested tactic that businesses have relied upon for ages precisely because it generates meaningful results if done properly. Always remember to orient your marketing content towards your local audience, and you’ll be able to better connect to the customers you’re trying to build a bond with.
You should also understand the power of reviews when it comes to local marketing. Local shoppers often make a decision about whether to visit a store on the basis of what their friends, families and familiar locals had to say about it. Make sure that your customers have plenty of options for when it comes time to express positive feedback about your business, and that you’re responding promptly to any complaints or criticisms that you encounter. A bad review on your website could be turning customers away in droves, so bend over backwards if necessary to appease grumpy reviewers – but never sacrifice your principles, nor sell out your employees if they provided good service.
Local marketing initiatives are the only way for your company to cut through all of the noise in today’s market to meaningfully reach a nearby audience of shoppers. By making sure you have the right digital resources and ad campaigns in mind, you’ll soon transform your business through the power of local marketing.
The way we communicate and learn has changed drastically over the past couple of decades. Stuffy presentations that require people to travel all across the country are coming to an end. Now, we've moved into the age of the webinar.
A webinar is a presentation where a host shares information with an audience. The information can be anything, so long as it educates your audience by giving them new and exciting information, or provides value to them via information that may be much harder to understand without the host. According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute, 61 percent of B2B content marketers use webinars as an effective tool for marketing their business.
One of the biggest problems first-time webinar creators make is they focus all their resources on making the perfect sales pitch at the end. Your goal with your webinar should be to spread awareness of your brand and provide value to the people who took time out of their day to watch your presentation.
Imagine if you were invested in an upcoming webinar, only to find out that it was a big sales pitch. Two things would likely happen. First, you’d probably be disappointed in the host, and second, you would be less likely to go back and watch the next webinar from that creator.
Harvard Business Review cited in their findings that webinars are at their most efficient when they teach a newly emerging technology. The reason for this is simple -- people are looking for trustworthy information from a reputable source. Immediately jumping to the pitch can destroy your chances at appearing credible.
There’s nothing wrong with working on your sales pitch and perfecting it. However, your primary concern should be educating and engaging with your audience.
Use Time to Your Advantage
You always want to make sure you’re smart with your time management on every other project, and webinars are no different. It’s not just important that you work within your own time restraints either, you must work within your target audiences available time.
The thing with a worldwide audience is the time that they are available can vary. Webinar Ninja did a deep dive into the numbers and found that there is no solid “best” day to host a webinar. The date of your webinar is going to depend on your audience and how their work week flows, culturally speaking. For example, in the U.S., Wednesday and Thursday are considered the best days for webinars. However, if your audience is in India, you may want to host your webinar on Thursday or Friday since their work week lasts through Saturday.
A general rule of thumb is you want to avoid the first and last day of the work week for your target audience. This is usually a time of getting new projects started or closing up existing projects and loose ends.
Webinar Ninja did discover a “sweet spot” as it pertains to time though. Typically, you can expand your reach by hosting your webinar between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on “good” days for your audience, and in their time zone. They found that during this time, their webinar presentations had a 47 percent attendance rate. When mid-low 20s is the average attendance rate, it’s safe to say there is a proper time to host your first webinar.
Use All of Your Marketing Channels for Promotion
When you decide you’re going to host a webinar, you need to let your followers and others in your target audience know that it’s happening. You should try to start your marketing plan at the very least a month before the webinar goes live. Create a contact form for your webinar so interested people can sign up early. This is a great opportunity to allow viewers to ask a question early if you plan on doing a live Q&A.
You’re going to want to bring out the big guns, create social media ad campaigns via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or whatever other outlets you frequent. Make sure you market your target audience, explain the benefits of the webinar and the cost (if applicable).
At the same time, every customer who comes to your website should know that your webinar is coming. You can create custom optin popups for customers and encourage them to sign up for your mailing list for more information on the webinar as the date of the presentation approaches.
Finally, you’re going to want to send out reminder emails to your lead lists leading up to the webinar. A good rule is to send a two-week reminder, one-week reminder, one-day reminder, and two day-of reminders.
There’s no doubt that it takes nerves of steel to do your first live webinar -- but it’s so worth it. The experience and personal interaction you get with your customer base are unmatched. You’ll be able to reach a wider audience, provide valuable information about emerging technologies and ideas, as well as your brand and how you can help.
If you’re using insights to track your traffic and sales post-webinar, you’ll be able to see if your event had a marked impact on your business.
Don’t fear mistakes -- we all make them. As you gain experience with hosting webinars you will improve. Sometimes all it takes is the right tips, and the ability to find your voice.
Editor’s note: This is the second post in a new MIT SMR series about people analytics.
Have you ever taken an aptitude or work personality test? Maybe it was part of a job application, one of the many ways your prospective employer tried to figure out whether you were the right fit. Or perhaps you took it for a leadership development program, at an offsite team-building retreat, or as a quiz in a best-selling business book. Regardless of the circumstances, the hope was probably more or less the same: that a brief test would unlock deep insight into who you are and how you work, which in turn would lead you to a perfect-match job and heretofore unseen leaps in your productivity, people skills, and all-around potential.
How’s that working out for you and your organization?
My guess is that results have been mixed at best. On the one hand, a good psychometric test can easily outperform a résumé scan and interview at predicting job performance and retention. The most recent review of a century’s worth of research on selection methods, for example, found that tests of general mental ability (intelligence) are the best available predictors of job performance, especially when paired with an integrity test. Yet, assessing candidates’ and employees’ potential presents significant challenges. We’ll look at some of them here.
People Metrics Are Hard to Get Right
For all the promise these techniques hold, it’s difficult to measure something as complex as a person for several reasons:
Not all assessments pass the sniff test. Multiple valid and reliable personality tests have been carefully calibrated to measure one or more character traits that predict important work and life outcomes. But countless other tests offer little more than what some scholars call “pseudo-profound bullshit” — the results sound inspiring and meaningful, but they bear little resemblance to any objective truth.
People often differ more from themselves than they do from one another. Traditional psychological assessments are usually designed to help figure out whether people who are more or less something (fill in the blank: intelligent, extraverted, gritty, what have you), on average, do better on whatever outcomes the organization or researcher is most interested in. In other words, they’re meant to capture differences among people. But several studies have found that, during a two-week period, there can be even more variation within one individual’s personality than there is from person to person. As one study put it, “The typical individual regularly and routinely manifested nearly all levels of nearly all traits in his or her everyday behavior.” Between-person differences can be significant and meaningful, but within-person variation is underappreciated.
People change — and not always when you expect them to. The allure of aptitude, intelligence, and personality tests is that they purport to tell us something stable and enduring about who people are and what they are capable of. Test makers (usually) go to great lengths to make sure people who take the test more than once get about the same score the second time around. Yet compelling evidence suggests that we can learn how to learn, sometimes in ways we didn’t anticipate. We can also shift our personalities in one direction or another (at least to some degree, though not always without cost) for both near-term benefits and longer-term goals. Interestingly, one recent study with more than 13,000 participants found that people tend to become more conscientious right before getting a new job, which is conveniently around the time a hiring manager would be trying to figure out how hard they would work if they landed the role.
The nature of the task can matter more than the nature of the person. Most of us have heard the theory that we each have a preferred learning style, and the more we can use the one that fits, the more we’ll remember. Unfortunately, virtually no evidence supports that theory. That doesn’t mean that all approaches to studying are equally effective — it’s just that the strategy that works best often depends more on the task than on the person. Similarly, different parts of our personalities can serve different types of goals. We act extraverted when we want to connect with others or seize an opportunity, and we become disciplined when we want to get something done or avoid mistakes. In one study, conscientiousness especially emerged when the things that needed to get done were difficult and urgent — even for people who were not especially organized and hardworking in general.
One way to read this list of challenges is to come away convinced that people analytics is a fool’s errand. But that would ignore the fact that each of these caveats has been uncovered through rigorous analysis of people data.
Instead, it’s probably more constructive to remember what personality psychologist Brian Little, while channeling psychologist Henry Murray and anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, says in his popular TED Talk: “Each of us is ... in certain respects, like all other people, like some other people, and like no other person.” People analytics, in other words, needs to include better person analytics.
What It Would Take to Go Granular
What would better person analytics look like?
For starters, we would consider the context. Companies selling off-the-shelf assessments often tout the many thousands of diverse professionals who have already taken their survey to prove that it can work for all kinds of people and circumstances. A large validation effort can be a sign of an invaluable general-purpose tool, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for every job. Sometimes the situation calls for customization.
Consider a project that the Wharton People Analytics research team did with Global Health Corps (GHC), a leadership development organization aimed at improving health equity. Each year, GHC screens thousands of applications to find the most promising candidates for yearlong fellowships, and the management team had developed a hunch that a certain personality trait might be predictive of a fellow’s job performance. So we devised multiple methods to measure it. The first was a general measure of said trait that was previously developed, validated, and published in a peer-reviewed journal, while the second was a new situational judgment test (SJT) we developed with GHC so that we could look for evidence of this trait in how people responded to a number of job-relevant scenarios. We also tried a more advanced linguistic analysis to flag indicators of this trait in candidates’ application essays. Whereas the established measure had the best evidence behind it, and the linguistic analysis was the most technically sophisticated, in the end the situational judgment test was the only significant predictor of job performance for candidates.
When considering why this worked best, we think it’s not just because the SJT took the organization’s unique context into account but also because it captured the extent to which this trait showed up in many different situations, not just on average. Custom measures are not always the answer, but sometimes the context really is important.
Next, we would design new measures with variability in mind. Given the findings mentioned above about how much people’s behavior can change from one situation to the next, it might seem paradoxical to even try to find something enduring about a person’s character. But just because personality is dynamic does not mean it is undiscoverable. Some researchers have proposed using if-then questionnaires to detect nuanced patterns in each person’s personality profile, although such techniques have yet to be well-tested in the workplace. A better approach might be to take repeated measures from the same employees over time. That is often easier said than done, given the challenges many organizations face in getting employees to fill out even a single survey. If the participation problem can be overcome, however, repeated measures can lead to insights — about what people are like in general and the ways in which they vary — that onetime surveys simply can’t generate.
Earlier this year, for example, George Mason University researcher Jennifer Green and her colleagues took a novel approach to understanding the relationship between employees’ personalities and their organizational citizenship behaviors (those often-underappreciated extra ways that employees support their colleagues and organizations over and above their job duties). By using an experience sampling methodology in which they collected multiple reports from more than 150 employees over the course of 10 workdays, they were able to show that employees with more consistent personalities were, in turn, more consistent in going beyond the call of duty — even after controlling for their general dispositions. For jobs where consistency is key to success, these researchers argued, repeated measures offer a chance to find stability in the variability of employees’ personalities.
Finally, we would give people their own data in ways that would help them develop. Although most employees won’t have the skills or even the interest to track and analyze their own data, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be able to use it if it were summarized well and presented clearly.
Some tools have been designed expressly for that purpose. Microsoft MyAnalytics, for example, is an add-on to Office 365 that aims to reduce the pain of collaborative overload by sending you reports about your schedule and communication patterns. While there are nudges and recommendations built in, the basic premise behind the service is that providing you with a summary of your own data will help you identify your own strategies for making your work life better. In a similar vein, Ambit Analytics received a preseed round of funding in early 2018 for its technology that uses real-time voice analysis to coach managers in the moment on their communication skills. While the long-term viability and utility of both of these tools remains to be seen, both point to the potential for giving individuals more opportunities to learn from their own data.
Taking a more granular approach to people analytics does have its risks, of course. For one thing, because individuals can be more easily identified by their data, privacy may be an even larger worry than it normally is. It’s a valid concern — one that underscores the need for vigilance. Organizations must develop robust policies and practices to govern ethical data collection, access, and use. They must also be transparent with employees not only about what kinds of data are being collected but also about what the data says about them. Open and ongoing dialogues about the costs and benefits of more personalized analytics should be as common as the legalese-filled privacy statements people too often just click through.
A bigger-picture concern is the risk of hypercustomization. Organizations are prone to an often inaccurate uniqueness bias in which they assume that no other group of workers has ever been quite like them. That can lead to situations like the one I found myself in a few years ago, when senior leaders from two organizations independently — in the same week — asked me about the idea of measuring their employees’ levels of grit. When I explained that grit is usually measured as passion and perseverance for long-term goals, both were quick to say that they were defining it differently for their context. One said it was really about resilience and tenacity at her nonprofit; the other insisted that ambition was at its core. They may each have identified important traits for their respective organizations, but the problem was that they both contended they wanted to measure something called “grit.” If bespoke measurements with identical names start to proliferate, it’ll become much harder for all of us to talk with and learn from one another.
And learning, after all, is the raison d’être for people analytics. Organizations invest in it because they hope it will tell them something about their current or future employees that will increase the odds of forming productive long-term relationships with them. Employees engage with it when they have a reasonable expectation that it might reveal something about themselves and who they might yet become in their careers. Both of these goals will be better served if we pursue a finer-grained understanding of human potential.