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Is AI Our Friend or Our Foe in Tackling the Novel Coronavirus? – ReadWrite

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Brad Anderson


From the way we greet friends to the way we bag our groceries, the novel coronavirus has managed to make us reconsider even the most basic tasks in our day-to-day living. We’re more cautious and prudent, and even some of us have been called paranoid in the way we manage these interactions.

To put it mildly, COVID-19 has completely transformed the way we live as human beings, and it’s likely that these effects will continue to linger long after the pandemic has run its course.

Is AI Our Friend or Our Foe in Tackling the Novel Coronavirus?

One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced during this pandemic isn’t just how we’re dealing with the illness itself; it’s also how we’re coping with it as social creatures, too.

Many people continue to refuse to acknowledge the virus’s mere existence, making it all the more difficult to contain it. Because of this, the virus continues to spread at a prolific pace, despite social distancing protocols in place and the introduction of several promising new vaccines.

With AI on the front lines — we can watch the COVID-19 virus and its varients at an unprecedented level that was unknown in the past.

However, there is one lesser-understood ally hidden in the midst of our new normal, and that’s artificial intelligence (AI). AI technology has made it possible for scientists and researchers to try to predict future outbreaks and analyze the current virus itself to detect mutations in the strains.

AI is still ahead as the best predictor of which patients need extra care and watch-care help.

Not only that, but AI is also being utilized to predict which types of patients will have more severe symptoms and fall critically ill, and which ones will merely come down with a particularly annoying case of the sniffles. There is even a widespread effort to find a cure deep within the virus’s genetic code, and AI is at the forefront of this effort.

The success rates of AI in fighting, not only this virus — but many viruses to come.

No doubt, AI can be our biggest weapon in combating coronavirus, but its success is still largely unknown. Nevertheless, researchers doggedly continue to use it, despite knowing it is fraught with potential flaws.

This begs the question: are we becoming too codependent upon AI technology to save us from COVID-19 — and will our impatience to contort it to fit the mold of being our salvation actually backfire, leading to potential long-term risk and harm to us as a whole?

The Current Role of AI During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As it stands, AI is all but shaping the way we approach our attack on the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, this cautious praise isn’t intended to undermine the work of all the powerful minds who are also laboring tirelessly to find a cure for it; instead, AI is working alongside them, a concerted effort from both the greatest intelligent and artificially intelligent entities.

Currently, AI is being used in a number of ways in the race to suppress the virus, and each one shows remarkable promise in identifying, diagnosing, and treating it. However, are these methods actually viable, and will they actually make any difference in the outcome of our fight against COVID-19?

Disease Containment

If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it’s that as a collective, we humans are remarkably social creatures. Even the most introverted people have found themselves growing fidgety and impatient with the shelter-in-place ordinances, and it’s no mystery that one of the few industries that have flourished during the quarantine is actually our national parks.

We are social creatures, after all!

People were so desperate for a breath of fresh air, started taking to hiking trails to explore nature (at a safe distance, of course).

Still, humans will be human, and the urge to socialize and almost nomadic urge to travel is rooted deep within many of us. Finding ways to detect who is or isn’t infected with coronavirus, therefore, can be a reliable way to help prevent its spread.

Checking temperatures seems to remain the gold standard for weeding out the infected.

Checking temperatures has been one of the gold standards for weeding out who may or may not be infected, but even that has its own downsides—enter AI. Through predictive models on standardized demographics, artificial intelligence has been able to improve the rate of determining who may or may not be sick when entering a country, even when they are asymptomatic — nearly doubling its accuracy.

That’s not the only way AI has been able to identify sick people in a pool of otherwise healthy ones, either. Recently, researchers out of Northwestern University realized they could pinpoint which patients were COVID-19 positive, even when said patients had already been given a clean bill of health.

AI and the Chest Radiographs

Through AI analysis of chest radiographs, they determined that their machine-learning algorithm can detect the presence of the virus ten times more frequently than a team of human experts. Even better, they were able to do it with up to 6% greater accuracy.

Containing the novel coronavirus isn’t just about singling out those who have it, either. There’s also another highly important consideration: the growth and spread of the virus. AI has been no slouch in this department, either.

Though complex, AI-based models, an independent researcher by the name of Youyang Gu took it upon himself to try to predict the spread of the virus and its mortality rate. This model was hailed by groups such as the CDC as one of the greatest influences for public policy due to its accuracy in estimates.

Risk Management

Another major challenge facing healthcare providers is predicting which patients are going to be able to walk out of the hospital after recovering, and which ones will relapse and require a secondary admission back into the hospital.

Furthermore, there is the ongoing struggle to determine which patients needed just a minimal amount of care versus the ones who might eventually need to be intubated and placed on a respirator.

While there were already some rudimentary ways scientists can figure out the protocol — (such as the patient’s age, sex, and BMI), the issue isn’t foolproof.

Again, AI rose to the challenge and quickly proved itself to be an indispensable asset. Thanks to the efforts from researchers at the University of Virginia Medical Center, they were able to use AI-driven software to predict which patients would wind up developing respiratory failure and eventually require intubation.

Called CoMET, this software was able to collate an assortment of diagnostic criteria (such as the patient’s EKGs and vital signs) to alert the healthcare team of an elevated risk for the patient. In a way, this AI model was a grim sort of prophet, darkly predicting who would live and who was doomed to succumb to the virus.

Treatment Methods

AI has also been indispensable in helping researchers come up with a potential cure for COVID-19. With so many failed treatments already dismissed, AI has still helped narrow down which ones might actually be put to use as a treatment option for patients.

For instance, when researchers were running their initial clinical trials, they relied upon artificial intelligence to help them determine which treatment protocol might lend the best possible outcome for critically ill patients.

The models quickly scanned several different medications and narrowed down the one to be used in a control group.

This medicine, baricitinib, was shown to help offer the best outcome for these patients. Had the researchers not used the AI model to search their cache of already available medicines to narrow it down, they might not have realized it would be an ideal treatment option for them.

Instead, they were able to quickly scan their entire knowledge database to determine which human proteins to target. From there, they were able to eliminate the ones which had not been approved by regulators and eventually narrowed it down to which drug to repurpose for the trial.

Mutation Predictions

Then there’s the frustrating issue of the ever-shifting nature of the virus itself. Just like the basic flu virus changes and mutates from season to season, so does the COVID-19 virus. Already we’re starting to see new versions of the virus cropping up in several cities, and as these mutations continue to proliferate, we can reasonably expect to see new strains of the virus emerging.

How can researchers keep up with these genetic changes in the virus when they’re only now starting to address the current one?

With these more recent variants of the virus seemingly spreading at a much more rapid rate, it’s no surprise that, again, researchers are trusting in AI to help deal with this quandary. Its approach is also multifaceted, proving that the best way to combat an invisible enemy is from all possible angles.

For example, a team of researchers out of the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering have worked to develop a new method of suppressing these mutations. Using something called the “Immune Epitope Database (IEDB),” they have been able to facilitate the development of new vaccines to use against these mutant strains. What once took perhaps years now only takes seconds.

They’re not alone in their efforts against the virus, either. Virologists from the University of Liverpool have also tapped into the potential of artificial intelligence to help determine where the next coronavirus will crop up. Using predictive models and machine learning, they can feed a string of data into an algorithm, and the computer can spit out where it thinks the next mutation will emerge.

As certain species of mammals are more likely to become susceptible to strains of coronavirus, the mission was to determine which ones may be our next vector.

Their model was able to isolate not only nearly 900 species and over 400 strains of coronavirus, but also which mammals might be carriers of more than one type of strain at any given time.

So, What’s the Problem?

On paper, all of these applications sound nothing short of incredible. The use of artificial intelligence is making it possible for us to slow the spread of the virus, improve the quality of care of those who have already been infected with it, expedite the creation of a vaccine (and eventually a cure), and stop the mutations in their tracks before they can gain traction and wreak havoc in vulnerable communities.

What could possibly be a downside to all of these seemingly miraculous benefits of AI in our fight against coronavirus?

It can be difficult to even want to consider such a possibility, especially when AI is hailed as the pinnacle of scientific achievement. Nevertheless, its use isn’t without potential pitfalls. Take, for instance, the very real dangers of establishing precedent during unprecedented times.

Many of these new technologies being used against COVID-19 have been given an immediate green light, despite the fact that they have not been rigorously tested enough to determine their accuracy or safety. In doing so, is this going to make it possible for other algorithms and technologies to slip past tight regulatory controls for the sake of the “greater good”?

Then there’s the issue of bias. Already certain demographics are suffering from prejudice and have a higher mortality rate.

If an overtaxed and fatigued doctor already believes that a patient is going to get worse and may not recover, are they still going to extend the same heroic measures to keep them alive as they may offer to a different patient?

Furthermore, regarding all of this demographic information that has been collected: whose hands is it falling into, and what are they doing to protect our privacy?

As it stands, we don’t even know if any of these innovations even work as described, and there is still not sufficient enough data to corroborate their efficacy. This could create a false sense of security not only for healthcare workers, further putting them at risk of exposure, but also for the public in general.

People are unquestionably weary of the strict regulations in place, and the idea that they can relax and lower their guard can be extremely alluring and dangerous. Many of these innovations cannot even be used by laypersons, which again leads us to wonder who they are for in the first place.

Being Your Own Advocate

Ultimately, prudence — and not blind reliance on a poorly understood technology — can help you remain healthy in the ever-changing COVID landscape. This isn’t to lambast AI technology, but rather, an admonishment to take it with a grain of salt and a firm reminder to continue to employ due diligence moving forward.

Please — be willing to help stop the pandemic.

By continuing to adhere to the current CDC guidelines, making sure to wash your hands and wear your approved facial covering, and through routine checking for possible infection with either an affordable at-home COVID test or one provided by your employer, you can do your part to stay safe against the virus both today and in the uncertain months ahead of us.

Image Credit: lalesh aldarwish; pexels

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.

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How to Write Blogs your Clients will Actually Read

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AIDA


Blogging is the best strategy when marketing your products or services to a niche audience for whom you customize your content. As discussed, some flawless writing skills exist to captivate such audiences and improve your website visibility.

4 Ways to Write Blogs your Clients will Read

Millions of blogs with daily content releases reach the target audiences intending to relay particular information daily. However, such blogs face glaring setbacks evident in the competition from similar bloggers in the same niches offering superior content. It is, therefore, commonplace to find them struggling to fight for a share of the scarce attention afforded by the audience.

 

We outline strategies one can employ to emerge as the leading source of readable content clients want to see on their screens. But first, we examine a client’s thought process from the time they see a blog post to the time they finish reading.

What is a Client’s Thought Process when Encountering Blogs?

Many readers go through the ‘AIDA’ experience whenever they encounter a blog touching on a particular topic. The acronym stands for ‘attention,’ ‘interest,’ ‘desire,’ and ‘action.’ These four steps in the prospect’s mind define the major attack points you can use to make your audience glued to your content. Let’s break each one down individually:

  1. Attention: the prospect comes across a blog whose headline captures the attention of their gaze.
  2. Interest: the individual notices relatable words or phrases that interest them.
  3. Desire: the internet user becomes captivated by the blog’s content, making them read through the article.
  4. Action: the client follows through with the blog’s call-to-action elements, effectively fulfilling the blogger’s desire.

Despite the millions of blogs online users encounter, adherence to the blogging best practice requirements will take your readers through these steps. Understanding how to summon your writing prowess for each of the four pieces of the puzzle to fall in place is essential. The following pointers will help impose your content onto the audience without appearing needy and boring:

How to grab the attention of the audience

Simple: People like what they see. If you want to captivate an audience, the question is, “what will the clients think when they scan the article?”

Simply put, audiences want to encounter an easily scannable blog; an easy read is always welcome. This is also crucial when you’re starting a blog – you need to get it right from the get-go, so you don’t end up having to fix certain issues once your blog starts growing.

The following details will help you better your chances of making the blog easy to scan:

Create a consistent article structure

The structure of your piece will make you the best-read blog in no time. The audience will sense careful organization in your work, making it easy to pick out the critical parts quickly. People have short attention spans when on their devices because there are other distractions like messages, calls, and phone notifications. Additionally, they have a constant urge to visit social media sites and see what is happening worldwide. Social media has become an obsession for many people, and social media listening is one way to track this activity.

However, creating blogs with simple formats will make them less anxious to look away because they can quickly scan captivating parts of your content. You can consider these points when designing your blog outline:

  1. Use titles, subtitles, headings, and subheadings to break your content into small readable parts. The user can quickly identify the content under each section without reading everything there.
  2. Write brief and straightforward sentences. Leave out any fluff which will make your sentences overly lengthy and tedious.
  3. Write short paragraphs with up to five short sentences. Long sentences will discourage your readers and divert their attention to other less stressful content.
  4. Use numbered lists to break down the paragraphs and highlight important points. You can alternate with bullet points for diversity.

Use appropriate images

Images can capture user attention better than words can manage. Prospects scanning your pieces notice the imagery and graphics in your article before they notice the detail of the terms. However, it is essential to use images appropriate to the context of your article content to avoid misleading readers. Images also have a few rules of best practice, including:

  • Ensure the pictures are clear and contain insights into the textual content.
  • Always label the images using descriptive words for instant context creation.
  • Use alt text when uploading images to your blogs to make them appear in search results when users type in the keywords.
  • Always indicate image sources to avoid copyright infringement reports that will limit visibility.

Relevant topic headlines

Your titles and headings must contain relevant topic keywords. Users will quickly identify and appreciate the relevance of your headlines to what they desire to read.

How to write content that captures user interest

After capturing the audience’s attention, the second point of focus is to cultivate their interest in reading through your articles. Here, you must be keen on the detail of the text in the body, which will inform the users’ interest. Every reader is looking for a few indicators of an exciting piece, as detailed below.

Use simple language

Simplicity, as stated, is the best way to captivate readers. The people going through your blog want to get the scope of your writing immediately after they begin going through your work. Please ensure the words are simple to understand without needing to digest or refer to other sources to understand meanings.

The flow of the story should also be flawless, with transitions between sentences and paragraphs allowing for instant follow-up. Avoid using jargon that will put off the audience by confusing them without revealing the actual context of your content.

Use authoritative phrases

Be simple but authoritative with your writing if you must keep readers interested in your work. They must know that you understand your facts and can relay the same without appearing uninformed. It would help to employ scientific, niche-specific, and descriptive language whenever needed to stir your readers’ minds.

Avoid overcomplicating things using such words and phrases with reasonable breaks between instances. You can use Google to identify the correct use of some word constructions concerning the topic.

Be keen on grammar

Grammar is key in keeping audiences hooked on your piece long enough to follow your drift. Many readers will instantly close your blog post and find other relevant material if they encounter regular mistakes in your work.

Material that strictly adheres to grammar rules indicates professionalism which people admire and respect. The readers will readily exhaust the entirety of your piece if they see consistent, grammatically correct sentences and phrases. You can use free or subscription-based tools to check and correct any grammar issues. Examples include Grammarly, QuillBot, etc.

How to make the audience desire to read your pieces

How to make the audience desire to read your pieces

Capturing the audience’s desire means you are deeper into the client’s mind with your blog post. Many writers fail to reach this level of client engagement because the two previous steps contain glaring mistakes that discourage readership. However, if you make it this far, the rest is almost child’s play: the reader is already willing to go all the way. Read on to learn how.

The following aspects will be forthcoming in shifting client desire in your favor:

Employ a conversational tone

A blog is an educative and informative piece aimed at a large audience accessing your website at convenience. Therefore, ensure your material engages as if in conversation with an eager student searching for knowledge. Tailor your content to make the audience appreciate your knowledge base and yearn to read on for more.

The best way is to use language that implores them to continue reading to discover what you have in store. You should be convincing and create a vocabulary that reflects a tone people are comfortable reading. Be sure to employ the active voice instead of the passive one because the audience will quickly see interest.

Understand your niche

The subject and tone of your article rely on the topic you are covering. Your delivery will also depend on understanding the niche you decide to cover with the content. Consequently, it is necessary to research extensively to know what, why, and for who you write. The niche also defines the characteristics of the audience your work targets. The following questions will help you understand the place and define the topic and tone of the content:

What content am I advertising? It enables you to define the nature of your product or service.

Who is the target audience? It helps define the characteristics of your audience. Your tone must align with the people reading your work. Are they adults? Children? Women? Men?

Why am I advertising this content? The point defines the solutions you are offering to the audience. It helps you figure out the type of language suitable for the context.

Use real-life examples

Readers will always relate to real-life situations which reflect on their lives or provide relatable contexts. Ensure to include the most relatable examples and case studies in your blog if you address particular product details. For example, when advertising a product, you can quote previous situations where it was helpful to a different audience. Your audience will quickly develop a connection to the item if they have a relatable problem.

Use statistics to back your statements.

Statistics are always helpful when you want to display your knowledge about the effectiveness and reliability of a product or service. The end game is to make the readers interested in understanding the implications of a service or product based on quoted metrics. Such insights also help in decision-making steps if readers want to take action. Thus, always provide authoritative links to said statistics so that they can confirm the truth of your words. They will be willing to try out the item on offer after that.

State and answer FAQs

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) offer the perfect chance to address additional client concerns. The readers will see the questions touching on relatable topics and quickly read on to see how you responded. They will then get the desire to discover more about your writings and what you offer outside the blog, cementing the purchase intent.

How to make the audience take action

How to make the audience take action

The best way to ensure that your readers take action after exhausting the detail of your written content is to tell them how. At this point, readers already understand your intention, your solutions, and the benefits they stand to gain. Therefore, you must direct their next steps so they can follow up to buy, receive updates, or discover more content. The following call-to-action (CAT) moves are ideal:

Ask the reader to engage with the blog post.

You can implement various CAT buttons on your page to direct the client to engage with the blog post as desired. First, you can have buttons for sharing, commenting, and liking your post after reading its entirety. It helps expose the content to a bigger audience since the individual helps spread it to friends and followers.

Ask the audience for feedback.

You can ask the audience to give feedback about the post or make suggestions about future posts. Here, you get to understand their perspective of the blog post or needs you did not address. It helps you prepare your following content.

Ask the prospect to subscribe.

You can request the prospect to click and subscribe to your content notifications for future posts. Here, subscribers indicate serious interest and become targets for new content before everyone else gets access.

Remarks

The piece explores the different strategies that can strengthen your reach by enabling optimal engagements on your blogs. The avenues explored ensure audience satisfaction by ensuring that your content reflects positively on the audience. You will find that the ideas are simple yet effective in helping build a brand with loyal readers who follow your work religiously. The trick is to keep them engaged every step of the way through content that reveals your attention to their needs.

Images, sentence structures, keywords, tone, and grammar are some pointers that will inform audience interest. However, the article explains their application in a way that underscores the effort by successful bloggers to win over a loyal audience. Careful application of the details herein opens your blog to new followers who will make you a popular destination in your niche.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood; Pexels; Thank you!

 

Nikola Baldikov

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How to Nail the Art of Visual Email Marketing

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How to Nail the Art of Visual Email Marketing


Interesting subject line ✅
Engaging and relevant copy ✅
Actionable CTA ✅

All these make up a high-converting email. But there’s one more thing that helps in getting maximum ROI from your emails. That’s attractive visuals. Vennage has revealed that 49% of marketers rate visual marketing as “very important” for their marketing strategy. Three days later, people will probably remember only 10% of the information they hear but 65% of the information if it is presented with a suitable image.

So, if you want your emails to make a difference and prompt the subscribers to take action, using visuals is a must.

That said, let’s take a look at all the different types of visuals and rich media you can use to enhance the email’s aesthetic appeal.

1. Images

Static images come first, as they are a basic yet compelling part of visual email marketing. Whether you want to display your product with a pretty picture or break down the content with vectors, images come in handy. If you want to pull the plug on lengthy text, use relevant images along with a crisp copy.

Take a look at this email by Touch of Modern. They have nailed the art of product photography and included the perfect image that would attract shoppers.

Source

2. Illustrations

Illustrations can be used as a powerful storytelling tool in emails. According to a survey, illustrations and infographics are performing better than many other visual elements when it comes to yielding engagement. Rather than using stock images, you can use meaningful illustrations that add more value to the emails.
Here’s an email by Harry’s that uses an illustration to depict the awesomeness of their face wash packs.

Source

3. 3D Images

3D images originated in the 1970s. They established their identity in web designing and gradually made their way to emails. These images add depth to the flat email design and bring freshness to the subscriber’s inbox.
Burberry has incorporated a nice 3D image to promote their open spaces in the email.

4. GIFs

Let me take you back to the earliest usage of GIFs in emails.
In the year 2007, Lake Champlain Chocolates incorporated GIFs in their emails, and to their sheer surprise, it brought 49% higher conversions.

Then, in 2014, Dell drove 109% revenue (marketingsherpa) with the help of an animated laptop image in email.

Animated GIFs prove to be extremely beneficial in various use cases, as discussed below:

  • Displaying the huge range of products available in your eCommerce store
  • Inspiring wanderlust in the readers with enticing images of the destinations
  • Demonstrating the usage of your products
  • Promoting a new show released on your OTT platform
  • Executing occasion-based email marketing
  • Animating the typography to draw attention to an important message

Anthropologie has used action-packed animation to show its products. It portrays comfort and aesthetics and lures the readers to buy.

5. 3D Animations

3D animations are a step above GIFs. If you want to further enhance the user experience, use 3D GIFs as Lyft has done.

Source

6. Animated Illustrations

Illustrations with animations are a visual treat. They help in telling a story to the subscribers. If you go by the “Show, don’t tell” adage, try using animated illustrations in your emails.
Grammarly sets the perfect example of using animated illustrations in their email promoting the midnight sale. The animated owl and clock form a great combination to convey the message.

7. Cinemagraphs

GIFs are snippets taken from a video or an animation played on a loop. On the other hand, cinemagraphs are sophisticated animations with a seamlessly endless loop that take the subscriber back to a past moment.
Here’s an email example by Detour Coffee Roasters showing the use of cinematography in their welcome email.

Like GIFs, you can use cinemagraphs in the telecommunications industry and add visual oomph to your emails. It will pique the subscriber’s curiosity and make them buy an OTT subscription to watch the show.

8. Videos

You can add videos in emails in two ways.

  1. Place a video thumbnail with the play button and take the reader to the landing page.
  2. Embed the video in the email itself and let it play therein.

The first option is pretty straightforward in that you just have to embed a static image in the email that emulates a video thumbnail.
Here’s an example.

The second option requires some coding expertise. You have to consider email client support too, if you want to use embedded videos in email.
Take a look at this email template to experience an embedded video in it.

Some Additional Ideas to Make Emails Stand Out

  1. You can use a monochrome design layout with a single color in the emails.
  2. Add gradients to reinforce visual hierarchy and get the emails read till the end. You can even experiment with innovative CTA buttons with gradients.
  3. The key to using visuals effectively is to follow the principles of visual hierarchy. Arrange the email components in a Z or F-shaped pattern to guide the readers. Also, adhere to the accessibility best practices.

Pro-tips for Adding Visuals in Emails

  1. The text-to-image ratio should be maintained at 80:20.
  2. As email clients block images by default, add a suitable alt-text with every image. This will also be useful if the subscriber views the email with images turned off. It is an important accessibility best practice and aids the screen readers in conveying the message to subscribers with visual impairment.
  3. Don’t add important information and CTA in the images.
  4. An all-image email will trigger spam filters and hamper your email deliverability rate.
  5. Avoid stock photos at all costs. Real photographs work better if you want to leave a lasting impact on the subscriber’s mind.
  6. Animations should not flash between 2 to 55 Hz; otherwise, it will aggravate the condition of photosensitive epilepsy.
  7. Keep close tabs on the email file size to ensure fast loading. It will prevent cutting into the user’s Internet bandwidth.
  8. While adding GIFs and embedded videos, include a suitable fallback to curb rendering issues.
  9. Use images judiciously without getting over the board.
  10. Test the emails so that they render well across all the major email clients and devices.

Wrapping Up

Remember those times when it seemed impossible to format emails with anything more than an image? And now, we have so many different options to explore and make our emails more fun and entertaining. Besides visuals, you can even use interactivity to add to the visual appeal. Test and see what works best for you.

Put your creative hats on to create email designs that resonate with your email subscribers. It will, in turn, bring you unmatched results in terms of open rate, click-through rate, conversion rate, and ROI.

Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; Thank you!

Disha Bhatt (Dave)

Disha Bhatt (Dave)

Disha Bhatt (Dave) works as a Content Strategist at Email Uplers. She is a dentist, who has found her calling in words & technical subjects. She loves to pen down travelogues and romantic short stories in her free time.

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6 Ways to Prepare Your Business for the Upcoming Holidays

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Calendar


The holiday season can be incredibly disruptive, especially for small businesses and their customers. You could either be in a very slow season looking for things to accomplish or so overwhelmed by business that you feel like you got run over by a reindeer. If you haven’t started making preparations yet, you need to start today.

Simple adjustments can help you gain more business or handle a heavy influx of holiday patrons. Here are several ideas you can consider implementing to end the year on a high note:

1. Decorate With Holiday Spirit

Any customer that enters your business will feel the holiday spirit if you’ve got the right decorations in place. You don’t have to go overboard with inflatable pumpkins or flashing Christmas tree lights, but some well-placed decorative touches can really bring the place together. Plus, this makes the workspace festive for your employees as well.

You can choose to highlight the general themes of the seasons or focus on specific holidays. For example, autumn leaves and fall colors can get you well into November. You could also mix things up by putting up ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween and switching them out for turkeys and pilgrims for Thanksgiving.

The same can be done for winter. Snowflakes and snowmen will work for the entire season. If you want to get specific, you have Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s decorations to consider.

2. Work Out Employee Vacation Times

Everyone wants to take time off during the holidays, and for good reason. This is one of the best times of year to gather with family and enjoy life together. Unfortunately, some businesses can’t afford to have all of their employees taking time off simultaneously. Your job is to make sure everyone is getting fair time off while still staffing important dates around the holiday season.

How you approach this task is up to you and how you think your team will respond best. You might think it’s fair to let the most tenured employees select their days off first. You could also develop a rotation so that the same people don’t hog the same days off every year. Even a first-come, first-served approach could be considered if you think your team will be OK with it.

Remember that you deserve to take some time off as well. Being an entrepreneur is incredibly demanding and time-consuming. Taking even a couple of days off to enjoy the holidays with family can help you recover mentally and physically.

3. Encourage Calendar Collaboration Among Team Members

To ensure everyone on your team is on the same page with project deadlines, essential meetings and events, and client needs, it’s essential to collaborate on a team calendar. Most calendar software today offers team calendars.

Make sure everyone on your team has access to one another’s calendar so they are aware of when they are available. Then, team members can collaborate to help each other take on things that could otherwise be missed.

Thankfully, there are many collaborative calendar integrations available for teams to utilize in order to maximize their time. By utilizing these tools, teams can work more efficiently together. Therefore, they can minimize the chances of missing deadlines, missing meetings, or making clients unhappy.

4. Make Holiday Business Hours Known

Your customers also deserve to know how your business will operate throughout the upcoming holidays. You should communicate in advance the days you plan on being closed. This way, customers and clients won’t be disappointed when they try to visit, and nobody is there to receive them.

This is extremely important for schedule-based businesses. The sooner you block off certain days, the less likely you will have to reschedule a meeting or appointment that was booked in advance. Clients who have their end-of-year scheduled meetings rearranged or moved at the last minute will not be happy.

Consider sending out an email that details your holiday hours to any customers who have provided contact information to you. Additionally, you could also consider adding a note on your email signature that states when your business will be closed. You could implement this early on, especially for the winter holidays. At the very least, put up a notice on your front door and website that makes the revised schedule known and accessible.

5. Plan Marketing and Promotions

The holiday season is for family and friends, of course, but it’s also a commercial opportunity for businesses. (There’s a reason they call the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.”) While you shouldn’t lose sight of what’s most important, your business should be thinking about some promotions to run. The right marketing campaign at the right time can dramatically boost your revenue.

Marketing plans practically write themselves this time of year. Black Friday and Christmas sales are common and desirable. A salon could run cut-price haircut specials on Black Friday for those who want to escape the shopping fray. A mani-pedi promotion could capture the attention of those primping for holiday parties. Put your business’s personal twist on the season, and you’re likely to see sales increase.

What’s most important to prepare for is the increase in business during a holiday promotion. Make sure you are appropriately staffed for busy days with numerous consumers cashing in on holiday deals. If you’re not prepared to handle the business you’ve attracted, you’ll have a blue Christmas.

6. Consider Getting Extra Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the business coming your way over the holidays, consider contracting some extra help. Plenty of businesses hire seasonal workers to lend them a hand for a couple of months. Your business doesn’t have to be an exception.

The great thing about seasonal workers is that there’s no long-term commitment. You can get an extra receptionist, hair stylist, or stockroom organizer for just as long as you need. These workers are looking for some extra holiday cash and simply want the additional hours before life returns to normal.

You may even consider contracting some digital help. A webmaster can help you keep your website up and running even with double the online traffic. Your clever marketing strategy could be implemented by a third party so you can focus more fully on your customers.

Closing Thoughts

Of all the above steps, the most important common denominator is to be sure your clients and customers are aware of when your business will be out, so they can plan ahead as well. This will help your business avoid the inconvenience and disappointment the unavailability may cause. Be sure to encourage in-house collaboration on important dates, in addition to collaborating externally with your clients and customers.

Keep your business on the nice list by being prepared for every upcoming holiday, whether it’s the longer holiday breaks in the winter or the shorter holidays throughout the year. With the above holiday preparation planning tips, your business can plan well ahead for this holiday season so nothing slips through the cracks.

Though it’s an extremely busy time for everyone, the holiday season doesn’t have to get stressful. There are so many ways to avoid all of the stress by planning well. The better you work together to prepare, the jollier the holiday season can be for your business and your customers as we head into the 2023 new year.

You might not feel entirely ready for 2023 just yet, and that’s fine. But by taking steps to prepare for the new year now, you’ll position your business to succeed beyond your expectations.

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Featured Image Credit: Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh; Pexels; Thank you!

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