Disinformation and Marketing:The Campaigns, and Lessons, Continue

The fact that Russian disinformation campaigns, including troll farms and fake accounts, were used to try to impact the 2016 election, is common knowledge. We looked at the history and methods of these campaigns in an earlier article.

These campaigns possessed an impressive ability to leverage social media and cultural hot button issues to sow divisiveness around the election. Because they masqueraded as legitimate accounts on both sides of the aisle, voters often struggled to recognize them for the digital attacks that they were. 

This type of disinformation campaign has not disappeared. Despite awareness of fake news and foreign strategies to spread disinformation, Russian attempts to impact our next election continue full force. 

A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the disinformation tactics that have appeared since 2016. In fact, according to that article, the Russian organization behind much of the 2016 election’s disinformation campaign produced more content on social media in 2017 than in 2016, the year of the election. Another article in the New York Time highlighted Russia’s attempts to practice disinformation strategies in African elections. 

It is safe to say that voters can expect attempts to spread bad information and discord to increase this time around.

It is also safe to say that there remain lessons for marketers in the midst of all this. Here is a look at these new disinformation campaigns, and what marketers can learn about them for their own, more legitimate, marketing efforts. 

Disinformation campaigns know their audiences.

Socrates may have urged his followers to “Know thyself,” but effective marketing requires you to also knows your audiences. This is a skill disinformation campaigns possess in abundance. 

It appears that the bad actors in these campaigns create numerous social media accounts posing as legitimate people or organizations. Each account caters to a specific audience. According to the report from Rolling Stone, they do so very successfully. One tweet by one of these accounts, for example, received about 290,000 likes on Twitter. 

How do these accounts so successfully appeal to tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals? They know who they want to reach and they focus on messaging for those people. Left-leaning individuals might get messages about right wing ignorance. Conservative followers might get messages about the stupidity of Democratic candidates. Since the goal of these campaigns is to sow divisiveness in the country, they tailor their message to whatever will appeal to the sensibilities of their chosen audience. 

While the ends to which this marketing tactic is being used are harmful and dangerous, the tactic itself can be legitimately used by businesses looking to succeed in digital marketing. Businesses need to know their audiences inside and out. Then they need to create content that appeals to these audiences. With the right messaging, they will soon find the right audiences engaging with their business. 

Disinformation campaigns are always evolving. 

While attempts to identify and shut down fake accounts and fake news have been slow since the 2016 election, they have made inroads in stopping those old accounts and trolls. 

The problem is that as soon as one account is shut down or one dishonest tactic is identified, another one develops. The disinformation campaigns are constantly evolving. The Rolling Stones article points out that tactics will be used to influence the 2020 election that no one has seen or anticipated yet. 

Marketers are not trying to avoid censure for dishonest tactics and messaging. However, they still need to remain flexible and evolving because technology, and the ways in which their audiences use it, is always evolving. 

For example, people increasingly use voice search to find what they need online. That means the phrases they use to search and the information they need is changing. That means that the content businesses produce also has to change. 

Similarly, the continued explosion in mobile shopping means businesses need to make accessibility on mobile devices a top priority. Only businesses that can flex in their marketing strategies will continue to effectively reach their audiences.

Disinformation campaigns test their strategies.

Disinformation campaigns know their audiences and target them with surprising effectiveness. Part of that success is due to the fact that these campaigns take the time to test their strategies.

For example, one New York Times article covered a large effort by Russia to spread disinformation in African countries like Libya and Cameroon. Part of these efforts included using locals to set up social media accounts to participate in the disinformation efforts. It is believed that these efforts in Africa allow Russia to test new strategies that they can use in the United States during the 2020 elections. 

Marketers can similarly get a feel for the effectiveness of their digital marketing strategies by testing their own ads. A/B testing of ads, for example, can help you identify and refine successful ads. A professional marketing company like Distinct Web Design can help you to effectively monitor your marketing success and continue to improve it in measurable and tangible ways.

Disinformation campaigns tap into people’s emotions. 

One of the core strategies of these disinformation campaigns is to appeal to the emotions of their target audiences. The Rolling Stone article, for example, pointed out the fact that fake accounts appealed to their followers on an emotional level. They attracted people and used their emotions to drive certain messages home.

As a business looking to market itself online, you also want to appeal to your audience’s emotions. Your messages and ads should leave people feeling good about your brand. The emotions they experience when thinking about your brand will drive their decisions to shop, or not shop, with you.

Rissian disinformation campaigns don’t look like they are going to end anytime soon. Smart marketers will take away lessons from these campaigns to assist their own efforts. Know your audience; keep evolving, test your strategies, and appeal to people’s emotions. 

Don’t forget to reach out to Distinct Web Designfry if you need help implementing these strategies. We can help you develop a digital marketing strategy that is compelling and effective for your business.  

Impact of Online Sales on Putnam County

For better or worse, online sales impact the local economy. That fact is easy to brush aside, unless it begins to impact you and your business directly.

If you own a business in Putnam County, you may not realize it yet, but you are experiencing the effects of online sales.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the specific ways in which online sales affect the county’s local economy and businesses. Here, however, is a brief look at what we do know. 

Putnam County could lose about $1,000,000 in taxes every year.

As mentioned in our previous article about the impact of online sales on the local economy, these purchases result in fewer taxes going to the state, county, and towns. 

Putnam County is no exception. In fact, the county could be losing close to a million dollars in sales tax alone every year because of online purchases. 

Putnam County’s population, according to the Census Bureau, is about 37,500. This means the county is home to about half a percent of Indiana’s total population. According to the University of Tennessee, the state lost a total of $195 million in sales taxes in 2012 because of online sales. 

If Putnam County accounts for half a percent of that number, it was responsible for the loss of $975,000 in online sales that year. 

Specific numbers can fluctuate.

This number, of course, can fluctuate. Indiana’s law (passed in 2017) requiring certain online retailers to collect sales tax, for example, may reduce this number. However, online sales have increased exponentially since 2012, meaning that the money lost to these sales has likely increased. 

Regardless of fluctuations in the exact amount of money lost to online sales, the reality is that Putnam County is affected by these losses. However, the reality is that the county will generally account for about half a percent of sales tax losses in the state.

Sales tax isn’t the only economic impact from online sales.

The loss of sales tax isn’t the only economic impact that online sales can have on the county. There are other ways that these sales influence the county’s economy. Here are a few of these impacts:

  • Less job creation as businesses who lose money to online sales lack money to hire employees
  • Slower economic growth thanks to money going to national retailers instead of local businesses

Sales losses in Putnam County can be minimized.

These impacts on Putnam County can be mitigated. Online sales do not have to be all bad news. Here are two ways to turn their negative impact into a positive one.

Putnam County businesses can go online.

The best way for Putnam County businesses to combat the effects of online sales is for them to create their own online presence. 

With a local online presence, consumers can enjoy the convenience of online shopping, while local businesses get to keep money in the local economy. 

Building a website and launching a digital marketing campaign doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive. At Putnam County-based Distinct Web Design, for example, we offer comprehensive digital marketing services that are tailored to small businesses. 

Plus, the investment can be well worth it to attract more customers to Putnam County businesses. Your financial outlay could result in profits that far exceed the money you originally spent.

Customers can shop locally.

The whole point of Small Business Saturday is to encourage consumers to shop locally and support their local economies. 

However, encouraging customers to shop locally year round is the best way to drive money to your small business and the community you serve. 

An online presence can encourage this local focus among your target audiences. By promoting your business online, you achieve the following goals:

  • Broaden brand awareness among your target audiences
  • Communicate with consumers where they are (online)
  • Give consumers an online way to shop locally
  • Affordably market yourself in the digital age

If you need help developing this online presence for your small business, reach out to Distinct Web Design. We can help you capture more business for your company, and Putnam County, with a compelling online presence. 

How Online Sales Impact the Local Economy: The Good and the Bad

With Small Business Saturday just a few days away, local companies have the chance to gain the attention and business of their target audiences. Thanks to the meteoric rise of online shopping, they may need it. 

Consider these online shopping statistics:

  • 69 percent of Americans have bought something online.
  • Between 4 and 10 percent of retail sales happen online.
  • A quarter of adults in the country buy something online at least once a month.
  • During the 2018 holiday season, $126 billion was spent on online purchases in this country.

All of these purchases are purchases that are not being made in a brick and mortar store. And that means that all of these purchases are having a measurable impact on the local economy. Is this impact bad news for local business? The reality is a little more complex.

Online purchases can take taxes away from the local economy.

Perhaps the biggest negative impact that online sales have on the economy is that they reduce the amount of sales tax the state collects and other local taxes that towns and counties collect. 

Not every online retailer charges the appropriate sales tax or other local taxes for items customers buy from their online stores. As a result, residents of a state may not pay sales taxes on online purchases that they would have paid if they had made the same purchase in a brick and mortar store.

This loss of revenue is measurable. In 2012, Indiana lost $195 million in sales tax revenue to online purchases, according to the University of Tennessee. This number is almost certainly larger now that the popularity of online sales has skyrocketed. 

In an attempt to reduce these losses, Indiana passed a law in 2017, that went into effect in October of 2018, that requires retailers that earn at least $100,000 in sales in Indiana or that serve at least 200 Indiana residents in a year to charge sales taxes on online purchases. 

This law, however, does not affect smaller businesses. It also does not apply to local taxes and therefore does not completely close the tax gap caused by online purchases. 

Online sales make it harder for brick and mortar retailers to compete. 

Because many online retailers do not charge their customers sales tax, purchases from them cost less. A 7 percent charge on a small purchase might only be a few cents or dollars, but the difference can add up on larger buys.

In addition, when customers are pinching pennies or making many purchases, such as during the holidays, sales tax savings can be important to them. 

As a result, brick and mortar stores that have to charge appropriate taxes sometimes have a harder time competing with online retailers who do not add these taxes to the cost of their items. When customers choose to go online instead of to a brick and mortar store in order to save money, they restrict the local company’s ability to grow. 

Online purchases take money out of the local economy. 

The last negative impact that online purchases have on the local economy is to take money out of that economy. For example, if a customer purchases a Christmas gift from Amazon instead of from a local business, that money goes to the national retailer instead of the purchaser’s community. 

This loss of income can restrict the local economy. Less money comes to local businesses, which means they make fewer hires. Fewer hires means less money flowing into the local economy. Less money flowing into the local economy means fewer jobs, and less money available to residents to spend. They then spend less money locally, which leads to a vicious cycle that can keep communities from growing. 

Online purchases are not all bad. 

As with any story, there are two sides. While online purchases can take away from the local economy, they can also contribute to it in certain ways. The key is for local businesses to enter the online marketplace. 

The primary downsides to online purchases seem to occur when consumers make these purchases from national businesses instead of from local companies. For example, a local business is likely to charge appropriate taxes for online purchases, and to fall under the Indiana law that requires certain businesses to charge sales taxes for online purchases. 

Similarly, when consumers make purchases online from local businesses, that money still goes into the local economy. Rather than losing money to non-local entities, the local economy still receives the money from these online purchases, since these purchases are still being made from local businesses.

The takeaway from all of this is that local businesses should strive to create a vibrant online presence. Online shopping isn’t going anywhere. Its convenience means that it is likely to continue growing in popularity. 

Instead of fighting this new reality, local businesses can embrace it. Through digital marketing, they can build a website and ad campaigns that get them in front of their target audiences. It isn’t impossible to compete against big businesses. It simply requires a savvy online strategy, and a skilled digital marketing company like Distinct Web Design.  

As the holiday shopping season takes off, consider taking advantage of the good that an online presence can do, both for your business and for your local economy. Then reach out to Distinct Web Design. We can help you identify the digital marketingfi strategies that will best enable your business to thrive, online and off

Domino’s Case Highlights the Need for an Accessible Online Presence

As a business with a physical location, you know how important it is to keep that location accessible for individuals with disabilities. Not only is doing so required by law, but it also helps you maintain good relationships with your valuable customers. Everybody deserves the chance to avail themselves of your products and services. 

Did you know, however, that persons with vision impairments might struggle to access your products and services online? That there are steps you can take to make your website more accessible? And that doing so might just be the legal as well as the smart thing to do? A recent case involving major pizza chain Domino’s highlights the importance of online accessibility for vision impaired customers. 

The Domino’s Case: Summary

A blind individual named Guillermo Robles tried to order a pizza from Domino’s. Instead of going in the store, he did what many people do nowadays: He went online. 

The problem was that Robles was unable to successfully use either the app or the website to complete his order. He tried, and failed, to order a Domino’s pizza online at least twice, despite using screen reading software to help him navigate his online experience. 

Robles’ troubles quickly became Domino’s troubles when he filed suit against the chain for not having an accessible website. 

His argument? That as a business with a physical store, Domino’s was in violation of ADA guidelines regarding accessibility by not having their website accessible to persons with disabilities. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Robles. As they explained in their decision, the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”

Domino’s appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In October of 2019, that court declined to hear the case, allowing the lower court’s decision in favor of Robles to stand. 

The Domino’s Case: The Issues

This lawsuit against Domino’s highlighted a few issues that impact any business that has an online presence. 

Issue 1: Accessibility to physical locations

The attorneys and others in the case pointed out that inaccessible websites make it harder for disabled customers to access the goods and services available in Domino’s physical location. This was a problem that, as determined by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, violated ADA regulations governing accessibility at places of business.

Issue 2: Accessibility to modern ways of shopping.

Perhaps even more importantly, Robles’ lawyers and advocates of individuals with disabilities point out that inaccessible websites make it difficult for persons with disabilities to keep up with modern ways of accessing goods and services. 

Online shopping is growing at an exponential rate. In 2018 alone, consumers spent more than $513 billion online. When some people cannot access the Internet in order to conduct their business, they miss out on one of the major pieces of today’s digital world. That can present a challenge to these individuals. 

Issue 3: Lack of federal standards for online accessibility

One of Domino’s arguments against the lawsuit was the fact that there are no federal standards for accessibility to websites. As such, Domino’s argued, it was difficult to require businesses to maintain accessible websites. 

How could they do so if they don’t know what constitutes accessibility? This argument begs the question: How and can businesses ensure accessibility to disabled individuals if there is no definition for accessibility? 

The Domino’s Case: Lessons for Businesses

The answers to these issues do not have straightforward resolutions. What businesses can take away from situations like the Domino’s case is the fact that disabled individuals need and desire access to business’s online resources. Being able to provide this access can give businesses a way to earn the business, respect, and loyalty of this customer demographic.

Businesses can also take away the fact that accessibility is quickly becoming expected and may even be a requirement under the ADA laws. Implementing accessibility online can help businesses avoid the increasing number of lawsuits that are being filed around this issue. 

How can companies implement accessibility on their sites? By hiring a web development company that understands and can assist with this implementation. 

Here at Distinct Web Design, we can offer you assistance with developing a compelling online presence and digital marketing strategy that benefits all of your customers. 

By taking steps to accommodate all of your customers, you can develop an online presence that is appealing, compelling, and easy to use for everyone you want to reach. 

Google Advertising Tips for the Holidays

The holidays mean a huge profit potential from gift-focused consumers. You have to leverage ever channel possible to make the most of this season.

If you already have a Google advertising campaign running for your business, you can use it to boost holiday sales. Here are a few tips for focusing your Google advertising on the holidays.

Expand your target audience.

You know who your typical audience is for the majority of the year, but do you know who to target during the holidays? Chances are there are more people than you realize who are interested in your products and services in November and December.  

For example, your craft beer might appeal to a certain group of customers. Come November, though, it might also appeal to those customers’ spouses, children, friends, and family, who want to buy your beer as a gift for their loved one. 

Use your Google advertising to get your business in front of these gift getters by expanding your target audiences. By adjusting your targeting to reach the gift givers, you increase your chances of making some pretty sweet holiday sales in the next month and a half. 

Create urgent ad copy. 

Gift buying during the holidays comes with some built-in deadlines. Take advantage of these deadlines and create a sense of urgency in your ad copy. Customers are more likely to act quickly on an appealing dealer that great gift idea if they know they don’t have a lot of time to spend making their decision. Here are a few ways to add urgency to your Google advertising ad copy:

  • Create countdowns (i.e. 2 days left for free shipping).
  • Put an expiration date on deals. 
  • Remind consumers of the nearness of the holidays.
  • Offer incentives to act quickly (i.e. “Extra 10 percent off if you buy today”). 

Promote holiday deals.

If you are offering deals or special events during the holidays, now is the time to promote them with your Google advertising. Those deals are meant to attract customers. They can only do so if potential customers see those deals. 

Making them a central part of your Google ads gets them in front of your target audience. Start creating ads focused on the deals and events you have going on this holiday season.

Use data from last year.  

If this isn’t your first year using Google advertising, you should have a treasure trove of information from last year’s holiday season. Use it to your advantage this year. Here is some of the information you should have on hand:

  • Images that worked best
  • Deals that worked best
  • Audiences that responded well
  • Messages and ads that earned the most click throughs
  • Items that were the most popular
  • Responsive locations and other demographics
  • Areas that did not perform well

Use this data to inform this year’s holiday Google Ads. For example, if a particular deal was popular, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Run the deal again. If certain audiences responded well, target them again. 

You don’t have to limit your Google advertising to what worked last year. You should, however, incorporate your past successes into your current campaign.

Ease online shopping concerns.

When it comes to online shopping, customers have two major concerns: Shipping costs and returns. These two obstacles are often what drive customers to forgo online purchases. They do not want to pay shipping costs, and they do not want to deal with expensive and complicated return processes. 

Use your Google advertising to ease both of these concerns. Offer free shipping, and tell customers about that offer with your Google ads. Offer a free return policy; make the return window extra long, and/or allow returns in your brick-and-mortar store. Then, promote these advantages with Google advertising. 

Google advertising around the holidays is an exciting opportunity to drive sales and profits during the busiest shopping season of the year. You can take advantage of this opportunity by using your Google ads the right way. Try expanding your target audience, creating urgent ad copy, promoting holiday deals, using data from last year, and easing online shopping concerns. 

Also try hiring a Google Partner like Distinct Web Design to help you create an effective holiday Google Ads campaign. We can work with you to make sure you and your business stand out this holiday season.