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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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Change. Transformation. Making a difference. These words evoke feelings of empowerment and optimism. The power to make a difference lies within each of us. And it happens one step at a time. It starts with one person and it spreads to many. I saw it happen one recent Saturday morning, while I was picking up trash along the banks of Four Mile Run River in Arlington, Virginia.

Like hundreds of others who had volunteered for the 26th annual Alice Ferguson Foundation Potomac River Watershed Cleanup across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, I wondered how much of an impact I or my team could have on this massive effort to clean up the streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

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As I walked along our designated cleanup site on the morning of the event, I saw an overwhelming amount of trash in the river and along the banks. At first glance, the challenge seemed insurmountable. As the morning wore on, however, a simple truth became obvious – when people come together in support of a cause they believe in, great things can happen. I learned later that 7,791 volunteers across 251 sites had collected 161 tons of trash that morning. Like the other volunteer teams, we had transformed our designated area from a litter-strewn debris field into a trash-free zone. And made a difference...one step at a time.

Think about your own business. What challenges are facing your business? Who is going to take the first step to bring people together in support of a common cause? What difference will you and your co-workers make in the lives of your employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders?

Howard Schultz, the Chairman and CEO of Starbuck's, once said "The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart."

I added a Pin that included this quote to the 'Brands I Love' board on my Pinterest account a few months ago. Since then, I've garnered 8 likes and over 50 repins.

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The Pin, which featured an inspirational message about life, provides us with a simple illustration of how branding often imitates life. As in life, we are drawn to brands that are sincere and authentic. Powerful and enduring brands, like people, are not simply imitators content to blend in with the crowd. They stand out. They differentiate themselves through innovation.

If you want to build a powerful and enduring brand, stop trying to find yourself. Start creating. And do it from the heart.

Spring is here.

In my suburban neighborhood, homeowners are turning their thoughts toward their yards. Thatching, fertilizing, edging and Spring planting are all seasonal maintenance activities required for greener lawns, vibrant flower gardens and attractive landscapes. Anyone who has ever had a yard will tell you these results don't just happen; they require constant effort and regular upkeep.

Spring is also a great time to think about your professional network.

Our professional networks require regular upkeep, too. In the absence of regular nurturing, connections grow old and relationships fade away. Now is a great time to revitalize your network with some basic maintenance activities. Consider attending professional seminars, college alumni events and other business networking opportunities. Connect with new colleagues on LinkedIn, endorse or recommend existing connections on LinkedIn, reach out to old friends on Facebook, engage like-minded people on Twitter, start or comment on a discussion of professional interest in LinkedIn, volunteer in your community, and review your social networking profiles (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) to ensure your personal brand is fresh, consistent and relevant.

It's Spring. It's time to get out there and network.

Here is more scientific proof that great visuals are integral to great presentations.  You need both. You need great stories, great messages, great content. And you need to ensure your PowerPoint/Keynote are also done well to ensure your audiences remember and act on what you say.

"As it turns out, there is merit to the Chinese proverb 'I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember,'" says graduate student James Bigelow. James and his colleague Amy Poremba PhD recently published "Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality" in the Journal PLOS ONE, which "features reports of original research from all disciplines within science and medicine."

Medical News Today writer David McNamee, summarizes the study nicely. "We have a harder time remembering things we have heard, compared with things we have seen or felt." He goes on to quote the study: "We tend to think that the parts of our brain wired for memory are integrated,' says Professor Poremba. She also says the team's findings may indicate that the brain uses separate pathways to process information. Even more, our study suggests the brain may process auditory information differently than visual and tactile information, and alternative strategies - such as increased mental repetition - may be needed when trying to improve memory."

About this time last year, I wrote a post on brands with low customer retention and the likely causes of it. I used a then-recent experience I had with my purchase of landscaping mulch to illustrate the importance of differentiation in selling a commoditized, low-interest product.

Earlier this year, I received a personalized email from my mulch supplier asking me to consider another purchase. The email included a chart that showed what I purchased last year and how much it would cost me to purchase the same quantity this year. It mentioned nothing about the scores of other mulch suppliers in my neighborhood or how their prices compared. Instead, it spoke to the things that mattered to me: a simple order process, easy payment terms, an early and convenient delivery.

I share this story because it is a telling example of how great branding and sales strategies intersect. Every great sales pitch begins with a clear and compelling brand promise…a brand promise that differentiates and communicates real value: "simple, easy, early and convenient." My mulch supplier’s brand promise is what makes their mulch special and worth paying more for.

Brands who lack differentiation and whose products are viewed as a commodity are forced to compete on price. Without the brand promise I just mentioned, the email I received from my mulch supplier might have included a chart that compared their price to those of one or more other suppliers (which would have invited me to shop around for a lower price). It might not have included information on last year’s purchase and how that equated to this year’s (which would have made it harder for me to make a buy decision). And it might have come from someone I didn’t know and trust (which would have decreased the likelihood of my opening and reading the email in the first place).

What makes you and your products different? How effective are your brand’s sales pitches against those of your competitors?

For more branding and sales insights, please see:
Great Brands Really Are…Different
If You’re Selling, Are You Showing or Telling?
If You’re In Sales, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
What Makes Your Company Different?
How to Tell the Difference Between Sales and Marketing

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sharing the Moment

Last week, I wrote about brand storytelling in the collaborative economy. I touched on the human relationship between brands and their customers, along with the importance of sharing in that relationship. And I included this quote from SnapChat, which said, "It's about the moment, a connection between friends in the present, and not just a pretty picture."

The recent Oscars gave us yet another powerful example of how brands are using social media to create and share moments like the ones envisioned by the founders of SnapChat. When host Ellen DeGeneres handed a white Samsung smartphone to actor Bradley Cooper so he could take a "selfie" of himself and other Hollywood stars surrounding her, she created a moment. She invited the audience to share in that moment by asking us to retweet the selfie during the show, eventually setting a record for the most retweets (over 2 million retweets during the show, including one by me).

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Since the Oscars, much has been written about Ellen's now famous selfie. Was it planned or unplanned? Was it a brilliant answer to the ad-skipping now prevalent with digital video recordings? Or a great story about product placement in a show that was watched by 43 million viewers here in the U.S.? Which brand received the most mentions on social media? Was the overall sentiment on social media positive, negative or neutral? All excellent questions.

For me, though, it was about the moment and why so many people like you and me felt compelled to share in it. It was fun, entertaining and engaging. Instead of just watching the Oscars telecast, Ellen invited us to actively participate. With a simple and spontaneous retweet, over 2 million of us helped create and share in a memorable and historic moment. And for that, we have The Ellen Show, Samsung and, of course, the Oscars to thank.

I attended a roundtable for senior marketing executives recently that featured a panel of social media thought leaders. The roundtable was appropriately titled, "Social Media Outlook 2014," and the keynote speaker and panelists shared their insights on the latest marketing and social media trends.

Among the insights that were shared...  
• The collaborative economy is not just buying and selling, it's sharing (@rohitbhargava).
• Brands must think of themselves as "H2H," rather than B2B or B2C (@LeighGeorge).

The panelists spent much of the early part of the discussion talking about Snapchat – the next big thing in social media marketing. Snapchat is a new way to share. As Snapchat will tell you, "It's about the moment, a connection between friends in the present, and not just a pretty picture."

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We learned from Leigh George, VP/Digital Strategist with Ogilvy Washington, that Snapchat provides a way for brands to share previews, behind-the-scenes stories and more intimate moments with their target audiences. A recent article in Ad Age talked about how brands like McDonald's, Taco Bell, HBO and Juicy Couture are reaching Millennials by connecting short-lived images and video clips to form and tell larger stories.

The economy is evolving and social media marketing is changing with it. Is your brand up to the challenge of storytelling in the collaborative economy?

I read a fascinating article in "Inc." magazine this week. The article, "The Real Test of a Great Brand," is authored by Erik Sherman and invites us to consider the importance of the employer-employee relationship in branding strategy.

He goes on to say that while the brand's relationship with customers is important, the more subtle relationship between a brand and its employees is equally important. I don't disagree.

In fact, you may remember a post I wrote in 2012 where I told readers the brand promise is for non-customers, too. Erik Sherman reminds us, "If you can't satisfy your employees, on whom the entire business rests and moves, how are you going to satisfy your customers?" Your employees, after all, are among a group of non-customers who have a close, ongoing relationship with your brand. What they think matters. They have the ability to influence your brand's reputation through online employer review sites like Glassdoor, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and word of mouth.

Your employees play a leading role in shaping your brand and its reputation. When the employer-employee relationship is strong, employees are invested in the success of the company and are passionate about promoting the brand to their friends, family members and customers. They take pride in delighting their customers. And they will say good things about your brand!

More and more, I find myself looking online for a glimpse into others' experiences with brands I am considering. If I were to search online, what would your employees tell me about your brand? Is it a brand they would recommend to others? More importantly, is it a great brand?

For more on the role of employees in shaping a great brand, please see:
Great Brands Really Are...Different
When Was the Last Time Your Employees Had Fun at Work?
100 Different Success Stories from Fortune Magazine
What Makes Your Company a "Best Place to Work"?
Brand Loyalty Begins at Home...With Your Employees

My wife and I recently ordered a surprise Valentine’s Day delivery of cookies for our son who is away at college. Not surprisinlgly, he told us the warm cookies he received were “great!” What did surprise me, however, was the amazing customer experience I had with Campus Cookies in spite of a heavy snowfall that threatened to delay their Valentine's Day deliveries.

 

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Customer experiences like the one I had with Campus Cookies don't just happen. Let's look at some of the elements that make them.

Solution: 
You need more than an outstanding product. You need a solution. For Valentine's Day, my wife and I wanted to do something special for my son who is away at college. We wanted to put a smile on his face. And because of the distance between us, we were looking for a way to deliver a personalized experience that did not require us to be there. We found a solution with Campus Cookies, a small business specializing in the delivery of warm, gourmet baked goods to college campuses like his.    

Communications: 
Your communications need to be personalized, timely and relevant. The first emails I received about my gift order on Valentine's Day were from the owner of Campus Cookies, Scott Davidson. He was writing to let me know that because of the heavy snow that had fallen, there was a possibility of a delayed delivery, even in spite of their best efforts. I continued to receive email and text updates on the status of my order throughout the afternoon. As the sun began to set, I received an email telling me my order had been scheduled for an evening delivery and the team would bake the cookies right before they were delivered. I received another email after that confirming my order had been completed.

Cost: 
Costs vary and positioning yourself as the low cost provider is not always the best approach. I can get chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies almost anywhere…and probably for less. What makes Campus Cookies special and worth paying more for is they are "baked with love and sent from the heart." The text message I received as the driver was heading out to deliver my gift order read, "Duane, Your order was prepared by Chandler, Erin, Chloe, Kevin, Caitlyn and Austin, and is now on the way to your recipient with our delivery driver, Alec." Awesome!

Convenience: 
Everything about the Campus Cookies experience is designed around customer convenience. Delivery times are scheduled in advance at the convenience of the recipient, so when the cookies arrive they taste like they just came out of the oven. They are delivered warm and with a smile. Orders can be placed anytime, anywhere and from any device. Communications are timely and relevant and are also accessible from any device.

If you look closely at each of these elements, you might notice a secret ingredient...people. Every great customer experience starts with people. While the CEO or owner is responsible for creating a culture that enables his or her employees to deliver an amazing customer experience, it's a team effort by people who are passionate about their business and who take pride in delighting their customers. Successful brands like Campus Cookies know relationships with their customers are important and go the extra mile to build and sustain those relationships.

How would your customers characterize your brand’s personality? Is it corporate, formal, standoffish and perhaps a little too impersonal? Or is it casual, friendly, engaging and human?  If you were to ask your customers to use pictures to describe your brand’s personality, which images would come to mind?

Your brand communications – direct mail, email, website, blog and social media posts, advertising, sales pitches, job ads, etc. – are all windows into your brand’s personality. Your personality is what sets your brand apart from others in your market or industry. It’s why people choose and remain with your brand.  It plays a role in how people perceive your brand and its reputation. And it’s a foundational element in building trust and a community of passionate brand advocates.

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your brand communications. Is the content original, relevant, engaging and friendly? Is it from a recognizable person within your organization or a generic title or department? Do your blogs and social media posts include an image of a person’s face (with a smile, hopefully) or corporate logo? Are your communications one-way or interactive? Are your customers telling others about your brand and, if so, what are they saying?

For more on brand communications and personality, please see:
• Great Brands Really Are…Different
• Just Having Fun In My Lifetime
• How Human Is Your Brand?
• Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?
• Your Tone and Voice Are Your Brand

I recently finished reading “The CMO Manifesto,” a 100-day action plan for marketing change agents by Forbes columnist and nFusion CEO John Ellett.

The premise of the book is that a new CMO or any marketing leader, for that matter, is fundamentally a change agent. The book draws upon the collective insights of over 50 CMOs and senior marketing executives. Stories are shared about what worked and what did not work in their first 100 days.

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Not surprisingly, the most successful change agents were those who recognized the importance of building relationships at all levels across the organization. Aligning with peers and cross-functional groups, asking questions, clarifying change (and the need for it), developing a strategy, and building organizational support for implementing and executing on it required huge investments of teamwork and collaboration. The leaders who came into the organization with all the answers and a pre-conceived plan to execute failed more often, mainly because they neglected the importance of relationships in understanding change and securing organizational buy-in.

My own experience leading large and small teams, in corporate and volunteer organizations, corroborates these insights. I learned the best and most effective way to build organizational support for developing, implementing and executing on a change strategy was through “management by walking around.” I seized every opportunity to escape the bubble that was my office and to personally engage people where they did their work. I went out of my way to solicit feedback from people at all levels and functional areas, collecting and acting on their feedback. I encouraged open and honest feedback by embracing a "safe to say" culture. And my success in leading change was markedly higher in organizations where the senior level executives were genuinely receptive to the feedback they needed to hear, not just what they wanted to hear.

How would you rate your marketing leaders as change agents? Are they successfully leading the change needed to move your organization forward? Or, is your organization standing still while your competitors are running by?

Social media is changing the way we sell.

As most of you know, I am an avid Twitter user (@duanebailey). Last week, I added a handful of new followers to my Twitter community. In a short time, one of those new connections decided to follow me back. In most cases, the engagement would have ended there. In fact, many of the direct messages I receive (and send) in acknowledgement of new followers are pre-set auto replies sent from apps like HootSuite.

This time would be different, though. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my new connection was busy doing her homework. She reviewed my Twitter bio, which includes a link to my LinkedIn profile. Once on my LinkedIn profile, she was able to see the companies I work for, what I do for them and what I have achieved.

And then, the following exchange occurred …

What just happened?

Aileen just made a cold call to someone who looked like a good prospect. The entire process – lead identification, qualification and engagement – occurred over social media. No phone call or voice message. No email. Just a simple, personalized and friendly interaction at a nominal cost.

And while she wasn’t able to close the sale this time, she did end our conversation on a positive note. I was so impressed with the way she handled this interaction I invited her to join my professional network by connecting with me on LinkedIn, as well. Who knows? We may yet have an opportunity to work together in the future.

I tweeted this quote by American humorist Will Rogers the other day: “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”

If you’re selling (and, if you really think about it, we’re all selling something), this quote speaks to what it takes to close the deal among an increasingly skeptical and informed buying audience. Most people I know say they don’t want to be “sold” on something; they want to see how a decision to buy is going to impact their lives, the lives of others around them or their business. They want to see proof that what you are telling them is going to happen. And they want to feel good about their decision to buy.

As you are crafting your sales strategy, look beyond the message (the “tell”) and focus on the proof (the “show”). Tell your story with endorsements, testimonials, facts and figures, and images and videos that let your customers see for themselves. Give them a reason to believe in you and what you are selling. Doing so just might make the difference between a hard sell and an easy one or a short and costly customer relationship versus a long and profitable one.

Sustainability marketing is fast becoming a business best practice.

With its focus on social justice, economic prosperity and environmental protection, sustainability is really all about addressing the needs of people, profits and planet. Sustainability marketing, when done right, is a holistic marketing strategy that enables a brand to do good things for people in the community, make a profit, save people money and reduce environmental footprints.

Yet some brands pursue sustainability strategies with a singular focus on the environment. Their marketing strategy is built around products that are green, a premium pricing strategy for green products, promotional events that bring people together in support of the environment and distribution channels that meet green certifications and standards equivalent to the brand's.

Green marketing is a niche strategy. Its appeal is limited to a targeted segment of the population consisting of active environmental stewards. Sustainability marketing is a broader strategy. With a more holistic focus on people, profits and planet, it is more likely to appeal to a wider, larger group. Millenials, as an example, will have enough buying power to become the largest U.S. consumer group by 2017. The millennial generation understands and values lifestyle choices that enable them to help others, save money and reduce their environmental footprint.

Brands that recognize the big picture and pursue a sustainability marketing strategy are likely to see larger growth opportunities than those that limit themselves to a smaller niche.

For more insights on sustainability marketing, please see:
• Sustainability Marketing: Driving Change with the Right Message
• How Doing One Good Thing Is Making a Difference
• Beyond Green: The Transformative Nature of Sustainability

While doing some searching on the Internet, I came across an article on public speaking. The speaker said early in every presentation, he tells people

“This presentation is for you. So don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions. In fact I encourage you to argue with me.  I’m here for you. In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.  That’s what makes this fun.”

While his intent is positive, how I could not DISAGREE more with most of what he said. Sentence by sentence, here are my comments and suggestions:
a) This presentation is for you
> I like it

b) “So” don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions.
> “So” is a filler word. It is one thing to say it and another to write it. Don’t include it in your writing. One thing to note, “so” is one of my filler words and I continue to work on removing it from my speaking

c) “don’t hesitate to interrupt me and ask questions”
> “interrupt” is a negative word, 1,000%. It means to stop someone from doing what they were doing. No one likes to be interrupted.
> instead, say something like, “don’t hesitate to ask questions” or make it more positive by saying, “please ask questions at any time.”

d) In fact I encourage you to argue with me.
> Really, you want people to argue with you? In public? In front of everyone else in the room? In front of your superiors, colleagues, friends?
> I find this statement illogical. Can you think of any time in your personal or professional life you wanted to be sitting next to or standing next to two people arguing? People run from conflict…it’s human nature.
> Part of his audience are global professionals. There is a huge disconnect here as global audience members never ever, never ever, challenge the speaker.
> Make people feel good about interacting with you, the speaker. Perhaps something like, “if you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone.”

e) I’m here for you
> It’s okay

f) In fact, I challenge you to throw me off.
> see comments under (d)

Here’s my suggestion for a revised introduction.

“This presentation is for you. Please ask questions at any time…don’t hesitate. If you have experiences different than what I am talking about, please share them. Different perspectives are helpful to everyone. Hearing from you is what makes this fun.”

What do you think?

A November 2013 eMarketer survey of companies with 100+ employees estimates that 88% of U.S. marketers will use social media for marketing purposes in 2014. This number has been steadily increasing from the 85% eMarketer first reported in 2012. The companies surveyed were asked about social media marketing tools including: blogs, microblogs, photo- and video-sharing, podcasting, ratings and reviews, social games, social networks, virtual worlds, widgets and applications, wikis, etc.

No surprise here.  We have all seen this coming for some time now.

What did surprise me, however, was a recent LinkedIn blog post (December 18, 2013, by Sohan Murthy). The title immediately caught my attention: “The 25 Hottest Skills of 2013 in LinkedIn.”

The post reported on the findings of a LinkedIn exercise conducted to answer the question, “Who’s getting hired and what are they doing?” The folks at LinkedIn analyzed the skills and employment history of more than 259 million LinkedIn members’ profiles.

What they found surprised me.

Topping the list of the 25 hottest skills at #1 was ‘social media marketing,’ followed by others that are closely related, including ‘mobile development’ (#2), ‘statistical analysis and data mining’ (#5), ‘user interface design’ (#6), and ‘digital and online marketing’ (#7). LinkedIn’s conclusion: “If the skills you have on your LinkedIn profile fit one of the categories below, there’s a good chance that you started a new job or were approached by a recruiter about an open position in the past year.”

Here’s the takeaway...

If you are looking to stay relevant in today’s competitive job market, it’s time to start marketing your personal brand through social media.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2014

Everyone at The Chief Storyteller® wishes you a warm, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Here's a little humor we shared years ago with our first holiday greeting card.

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My high school-aged son recently sold me on the idea of upgrading the OEM factory stereo system  in my Jeep Wrangler. It was time, he reasoned, for a more technologically advanced in-vehicle entertainment system.

So we went over to the local Best Buy to learn more about our options.  We quickly learned there were many choices available to us: Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone compatibility, CD player, Sirius XM radio, as well as larger and more powerful speakers for the overhead sound bar.  We spoke to the store’s Geek Squad technicians, who Best Buy subcontracts to provide in-store mobile electronics installation for their customers.  We left that day with a mountain of information to consider and a decision to simply think it over.

Two weeks later, at my son’s prompting, we returned to the store.  While we still had not made a decision on which components we would purchase, we started with the installation team to inquire about their availability. When they said they could do it that afternoon, we knew it was time to decide. Sensing our consternation over which components to buy, Rafil (who would be our installation technician) brought us into the store and helped us choose the right ones for our Jeep. As it turned out, Rafil was a previous Jeep owner and had performed similar work on his and other Jeeps. We could tell this guy loved working on Jeeps!

His advice was invaluable. His prior experience with Jeeps and his role as a technical expert helped us to perceive him as someone who cared more about setting us up with something that rocked and less about making a sale. The installation was flawless and his post-installation follow-up helped to familiarize us with the operation of our new in-vehicle entertainment system.

In short, our customer experience with Best Buy was amazing! What made it so was trust – our trust in Rafil’s expertise and integrity, our trust in the quality of Best Buy’s products and services, and our trust in Best Buy's brand reputation for customer satisfaction.

Trust…it’s the stuff of great customer experiences. What is your brand doing to earn your customers' trust?

A good friend of mine recently told me about an executive in his company who would nary utter a holiday greeting before leaving the office for the holiday break.  She would simply slip out the door when the time came to leave. No good bye. No holiday greeting. Not one word. This went on for three consecutive years before he started to realize perhaps she knew not what to say.

After all, he thought, the holidays mean different things to different people. Surely, in this age of political correctness, she did not wish to offend anyone. Fortunately, there is a holiday greeting that is as timeless as the ages and as universal as the world in which we live. Like most holiday greetings, it consists of two simple words: 

So before you leave the office for the holidays this year, be sure to spread some holiday cheer. Take a moment to say “thank you” to each and every one of your employees, your business partners, your vendors and your customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them…for their hard work, for their role in your success and for their loyalty. Your holiday greeting could be the two most meaningful words they’ve heard from you all year long.

Thank you.

I happened to catch a performance of "A Christmas Carol" the other night at The Little Theater of Alexandria.

While this year marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens' famous novella, I was struck by the profoundness of these words from Director Rebecca Patton regarding the evening's performance: "The more things change, the more they stay the same!"

The play began with people from Ebeneezer Scrooge's community milling about on a London street during the early Victorian era. They were talking about Mr. Scrooge, his cold and selfish ways, and his counting business. As the next scene unfolded in the office of Scrooge and Marley, it was apparent Mr. Scrooge was unaware of or could care less about what people were saying. What they were talking about, however, undoubtedly had an obvious impact on the reputation of Mr. Scrooge and his brand.

If this story were to unfold today, people would still be talking about these same things. What would change are the media over which these conversations are taking place. Sure, people would be talking in the streets. They would also be talking over social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and online review sites. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

When people talk on social media, their conversations are amplified. They have greater reach. And what they are saying has greater influence on brand reputations and purchase decisions than anything a brand might say on its own.

Yet there are brands who, like Mr. Scrooge, are seemingly unaware of or could care less about what people are saying about them on social media. They hold steadfast to the outdated maxims of traditional marketing (where communications are one-way and initiated by the brand) and are reticient to embrace the power of social media marketing (where conversations are two-way, interactive and engaging).

As we saw in "A Christmas Carol," it was not too late for Mr. Scrooge to change his ways. Perhaps this year, some of these brands will have an epiphany like Mr. Scrooge's – maybe from the 'ghosts of marketing past, present and future' – and will discover the power of social media marketing. It's not too late for them to change, either.

For more insights on marketing and leadership lessons we can draw from the holiday classics, please see:
•  Reputation Management: Six Things Brands Can Learn from George Bailey
•  What Ebeneezer Scrooge Would Like Us to Know About Organizational Culture

 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Great Brands Really Are...Different

I was reading a book by Steve Yastrow this week entitled, “We: The Ideal Customer Relationship,” when I stumbled upon this insight…'we are defined not by the things that make us similar, but by the things that make us different.'

The great corporate, philanthropic and personal brands that come to mind are the ones that truly are different. What their brands stand for, how they communicate this at every point of contact with the people who interact with them and how they treat their customers and employees is authentically unique. Brands like CustomInk, REI, Zappos, Miriam’s Kitchen, ONE and maybe even your own personal brand offer an uncommon, personal and memorable experience.

How are they different? Here are some examples:
• They are good citizens who are committed to doing things that make a difference in the lives of people who are part of their brands and communities.
• They treat their customers and employees in a way that makes them feel trusted, valued and special.
• They use a variety of channels to communicate their value proposition and engage people in a way that is personal and human.

Yours can be a great brand, too. Just dare to be different.

For more insights on the things that make brands great, please see:
• How Human Is Your Brand?
• It's Time to Innovate
• The Power of Social Media in Brand Storytelling

I just returned from my Thanksgiving holiday with family. It was an enjoyable weekend filled with warmth, lively and engaging conversation and a chance for us to reconnect.

To help pass the travel time, I brought along the December issue of  'Washingtonian' magazine. Among the articles that caught my attention was the one entitled, "50 Great Places to Work." What struck me about the article was the role "warmth" of the office plays in creating and sustaining job satisfaction (i.e., "Does it feel like a place you want to go to? Do you get along with the people you work with?").

As I read the article, it wasn't hard to see the value of family relationships in the workplace. When employees feel like they are part of a family, they feel trusted, valued and appreciated. There is a palpable sense of warmth in the office. People like coming to work and engaging one another.  Employees are invested in the success of the company and are passionate about promoting the brand to friends, family and customers. For them, work is more than just a place to earn a paycheck; it is a great place to be.

How warm are the relationships among the people who work at your company? Do the people you work with treat each other in a way that makes them feel like family? Is your company among the 50 great places to work and, if so, why?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leadership and Lifelong Learning

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Take a moment and think about the leaders you know. Leaders of industry, thought, government, sports and your community…the people who inspire us to give our very best are the ones who do not assume they know everything. They know they will make mistakes from time to time.  And they trust the people they lead to help them when they ask for answers to some of their toughest challenges.

Leaders who are lifelong learners are approachable. They ask questions and they encourage open and honest feedback. They foster a culture where team members tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  They encourage others to take risks and they embrace each failure as an opportunity to learn.

A commitment to lifelong learning. Few attributes define the character of a leader more than this one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brand Storytelling…In a Word Cloud

I had the privilege of delivering a guest lecture on personal branding at one of the local universities last week.  One of the key messages I tried to convey to the students of Professor Murphy’s marketing class was the importance of telling their brand story in a way that is meaningful and easily understood by their target audience.

Although a succinct, well-told story does help to increase the visibility of your brand,  its real purpose is to create a desire among the members of your target audience that gets them to say, “I want you.”

Here at The Chief Storyteller®, we’ve helped many of our clients harness the power of storytelling to more effectively and quickly accomplish their objectives. One of the communications elements we specialize in is your elevator speech (a succinct answer to “What Do You Do?”).  A good elevator speech will tell your brand story in a meaningful and easily understood way…in 30 seconds or less.

Word (or message) clouds like the one I created for my personal brand and shown above are a visual representation of your elevator speech. Key elements of my brand story (e.g., branding, strategy, sales, marketing, storyteller) are noticeably more prominent than some of the less celebrated ones (e.g., fitness, sustainability, outdoor, leader, explorer). Like a well-told elevator speech, a good word cloud will leave your target audience with a meaningful and easily understood impression of your personal brand...in 30 seconds or less.

As I told the marketing students, every one of us has a personal brand and word clouds are another good way of telling your brand’s story to drive the results you want.        

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Having Fun In My Lifetime

Your brand’s business return on social media isn’t always about return on investment (ROI). Sometimes, it’s more about the return on relationship (ROR) and how well it is engaging members, customers and other stakeholders.

During a recent visit to my gym, I tweeted that I was having “another great morning in my Lifetime.” What made this tweet fun was the play on the word, ‘Lifetime.’ I wasn’t really talking about my lifetime in the generic sense; I was specifically referring to the Lifetime Fitness brand of fitness centers – where I have been a member for the last 14 years.  I included a picture of the brand’s signature atrium in my tweet, along with a mention of Lifetime’s Twitter handle (@LifetimeFitness).

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Within the hour and as I was working out, I received a direct message on my iPhone from @LifetimeFitness.  Picking up on the double entendre of my first tweet, the brand responded back with a playful tweet of its own: "@duanebailey Is there ever a bad one? ;) Thanks for the shout out, happy Friday!"

What just happened?

Aside from the personalized greetings I had received from various members of the staff that morning, Lifetime found yet another way to engage and acknowledge me – this time, over a digital medium like Twitter. It was a fun and memorable member experience.  And it’s the kind of interaction that continues to build and strengthen my relationship with the brand.

I was just having fun in my Lifetime.  While I did not purchase any additional products or services that day as a result of that exchange, it's one more reason I'm planning on maintaining my membership as a loyal Lifetime member for years to come.

Last week, I wrote about why I think sales people need to spend more time in front of their customers. I told the story of one of my former customers and how he taught me the importance of nurturing business relationships – the kind of relationships between a seller and a buyer where the salesperson genuinely cares about his customer's business and understands his needs.

If you really think about it, none of this should be surprising. Very few people I know are going to be “sold” by broadcast content from a faceless brand about how great the company and its products are. What people want is an opportunity to converse with another person. Someone who genuinely cares about them and what they think. Someone who will engage them in a two-way conversation.

 

And so it is with online branded content. When brands post and promote content over social media – a blog, an announcement, or even a photo – it should be done in a way that invites and rewards conversation. Start by revealing the people behind the brand. Speak in a friendly, conversational tone. Be brief and to the point. Include hashtags and a link to relevant and meaningful content. And respond in a timely and personalized manner when someone initiates a conversation with you.

Acknowledging your followers and their feedback is a great way for your brand to show it trusts and values their opinions.  Engaging them in an interactive conversation is the first step toward building mutual respect for one another and, quite possibly, a long and mutually beneficial relationship. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Power of the Human Touch in Sales

If your salespeople are not in front of your customers, who is?

Chances are one (or maybe more) of your competitors is. And the human touch your competitors are providing to your customers is differentiating their brand and building the kind of relationships that will result either in your losing the account or slashing your margins to save it from an unforeseen competitive threat.

The power of the human touch is most compelling in commoditized industries. A few years ago, I wrote about my experience selling telephones.  One of my largest and most loyal customers once told me and a group of my colleagues that our ability to differentiate our brand and to command a premium price resided within each of us.

You see, the things he valued most were neither the products we were offering (he perceived them to be the same as everyone else’s) nor the price we were selling them at (even when discounted, our prices were also perceived to be the same as everyone else’s). What he did value – and was willing to pay a premium for – was a relationship with someone who genuinely cared about and understood his business, was willing to take accountability for things that occasionally went wrong and who came to the table with solutions.

Every interaction a salesperson has with his or her customers is an opportunity to differentiate your brand and to build strong and profitable relationships.  How often are your salespeople in front of their customers?

For more on the power of the human touch in sales, please see:
• Low Customer Retention? Maybe You’re Just Selling Mulch
• May I Help You?
• Sales Is Not a Spectator Sport

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How Human Is Your Brand?

Relationships between two people are important. Always have been and always will be. Social media has not changed that; all that’s really changed is how people communicate with one another in the course of building and sustaining those relationships.

What’s also changed is the way brands communicate with their customers. Customers are eschewing one-way broadcast communications from brands in favor of two-way conversations. And those conversations are no longer between customers and a brand. They’re between customers and the people who represent those brands. Brands who want to create long and meaningful relationships with their customers need to show their human side.

Your brand’s human side (i.e., its personality) is a mirror image of the people who bring your brand to life across social media – your community managers. Community managers are the face of your brand – they create relationships within the communities they serve.

It’s important to choose your community managers wisely. For starters, community managers should be people who can represent your brand intelligently and who know their way around social media. They should be people who’ve mastered the art of engaging with and influencing others (as demonstrated by their Klout or Kred scores). And because social media is so transparent, the ideal community managers should authentically possess and demonstrate these personality traits:
• Warm
• Friendly
• Helpful
• Caring
• Compassionate
• Honest
• Funny
• Responsive
• Nimble

Can you think of any others you might want to add to the list? If so, please reply back and let me know.

For more on the human side of branding and social media, please see:
• Why a Good Social Media Strategy Includes Content and Engagement
• How Volunteers and Community Managers Serve Brands, Too
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships

Peter Drucker, hailed by many as “the father of modern management,” saw marketing as “the whole business seen from the customer’s point of view.” It’s a simple definition with a clear focus on a single stakeholder – the customer and his or her perspective.

Marketers looking to integrate sustainability into their brands might find this definition useful. Sustainability marketing, when viewed in this context, is the formation of long-term customer relationships that help promote social justice, economic growth and environmental protection. With the right message, authentic and honest brands can become powerful motivators in driving change from conventional consumer purchasing and consumption behaviors to choices that are more sustainable.

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A recent study by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) estimates more than 60% of mainstream Americans have some interest in and are willing to consider sustainable choices. What, exactly, are their points of view? Is there a "right" message for motivating consumers in this target group to act?

Let's start with saving the planet. Or the "go green" call to action. The message here, albeit a somewhat dire one, might focus on the need to protect the environment from some catastrophic event like global warming; e.g., how customers can achieve a lower carbon footprint by consuming products that are less reliant on fossil fuels. A message like this would have limited appeal, resonating in particular with green consumers who would be willing to pay a premium for an environmentally-friendly product in order to save the planet.

Now let's talk about saving money and conserving resources. This message of giving something up in exchange for something in return might focus on financial considerations and the need to consume less; e.g., how using public transportation or driving a car that costs less at the pump and emits fewer harmful gases can help people save money while preserving the environment. A message like this might appeal to consumers who care more about getting a better deal (i.e., the lowest price) than saving the environment.

Let's finish with promoting health and wellness. This message of warmth and caring might focus on the personal benefits of a product to consumers and their loved ones; e.g., how the use of non-toxic household cleaning and personal care products will lead to healthier skin and fewer toxins in the environment or the role organic foods can play in nourishing a family and the planet. Health and wellness messages appeal to consumers who value lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS) and are at the heart of what many of us place the greatest value on – the well-being of ourselves, our families and our environment.   

For this reason, brands who wish to be leaders in sustainability marketing would do well to focus their message on promoting health and wellness. Of the three messaging examples I’ve mentioned above (e.g., save the planet, save money/conserve resources, promote health and wellness), the third is most likely to have the broadest appeal among the segment of mainstream consumers who might be willing to consider a sustainable purchase. Why? Because it positions sustainable products as better choices for them, their families and the environment. Brands who show customers they genuinely care about them are better able to build meaningful and lasting relationships with their customers while promoting more sustainable purchase and consumption choices.

 

For more on sustainability marketing and customer relationships, please see:
• How Doing One Good Thing Is Making a Difference
• Beyond Green: The Transformative Nature of Sustainability
• All Customer Relationships Are Personal

I’m a sales guy and I’m going to spend the day tomorrow making cold calls. If I were to send an email or place a telephone call to a C-level in your company, how would he or she respond? Would he or she even respond?

The answers to those questions will tell me a great deal about the leadership of your company and how they view their relationships with other people. What some people fail to realize is that my cold call is also an opportunity for customer engagement. The question, then, is a matter of if and how they will embrace it.

Here’s why.

While I may be a salesperson, I am also a customer. And an influential voice on social media, within my community, among my friends and family, etc. My cold call is an invitation to engage me, nothing more. A polite, timely and thoughtful response will go a long way into making me feel good about your company, its people and the products and services it offers…even if there’s no possibility of a sale for me. It might even inspire me to tell others how great your company is and encourage them to buy from you.

As an example, a close friend recently sent an email to a consumer goods company. While it contained an intriguing subject line and a well-crafted message, it was a cold call. Within minutes, the CEO responded with a personal message indicating there was no possibility of my friend’s making a sale to him in the near future. He did, however, ask for my friend’s address so he could send him some free samples. The samples were overnighted and my friend received them the next day. That simple engagement…and the experience that followed…resulted in the acquisition of at least one new customer and positive word of mouth for the consumer goods company.

Contrast that to receiving nothing in response, or even a canned “no sale” response from one of the C-level’s lower ranking employees. It conjures up images of a leadership team that believes engaging with people they don’t already know is beneath them and of no value to the company. Worse yet, saying nothing or responding in this way is not likely to generate favorable word-of-mouth for the company, let alone acquire new customers.

The next time you receive a cold call, embrace it as an opportunity to engage a potential new customer. You might be glad you did!

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