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Ira Koretsky
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Duane Bailey
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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 They hold steadfast to the outdated maxims of traditional marketing (where communications are one-way and initiated by the brand) and are reticient to embrace the power of social media marketing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

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. 

"Charlie" (name changed) shared this change of address post card with me. The design is nice and well-formatted. The message is light and engaging. There's just one problem...I noticed it right away...can you? Scroll down to the bottom for the answer.

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No where on this postcard does the name of the company appear. Oops! The new address in and of itself does not offer any clues. Charlie is stumped and a little frustrated. Because of the mystery postcard, Charlie is focusing on the negative, something humans tend to do. What will Charlie think of the firm once a) he figures out which firm it is or b) the firm reaches out to rectify its mistake? Sometimes missing even the little things has a negative (big) impact.

Most mistakes happen because of two reasons:  a break-down in the review cycle or the project was rushed. Before going-live with your next important marketing materials, here are some suggestions:

- Outsource a review to an editor
- Outsource a review to a firm (e.g., marketing, PR, and advertising)
- Upon completing the final version, wait several days and review again before going live
- Ask colleagues outside of marketing/communications for their review
- Do not cut any corners or skip individuals in your review cycle. If you are under a time constraint, conduct a group review with as many participants as possible in a conference room

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!

This morning I was driving my daughter to school. Out of nowhere she says, "Why is that man not smiling?" I look around car to car to car without seeing any man scowling. As such I said to my four year-old, "what man?" And she pointed right in front of my car and said, "the man on the car."

It then hit me. I am bombarded with images every day. The bad ones pass me by. This is a great example of a bad advertisement. I grabbed my handy smart phone and took the picture below.

Changing the name of the agent, website, and telephone number, can you see the man's face?  I wouldn't say he is grumpy or scowling. I also wouldn't say he is happy either. To me, in the world of customer service, a smile means everything, whether in person or on the phone.

Ensure you provide appropriate guidance, advice, and coaching to your sales/service/outreach teams to ensure your target audiences don't say the equivalent of "Daddy. Why is that man not smiling?"

 

I was at a meeting recently where one of the participants emphatically declared that social media was all about creating great content. Period. An “if you post it, they will come” approach to building a presence across the digital marketplace, if you will.

As an experienced business storyteller and social media professional, I would have to disagree. Sure, content is important. Engaging others is equally, if not more important. Social media is not a one-way communication. It is not a conversation between a brand and a person. It is an interactive dialogue between two people who share a common interest. It is a forum for engaging others with compelling images, personalized stories and the exchange of information.

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To help you understand how well you are engaging others across your social networks, consider using an application like Klout. Since it was updated in September 2012 to include a new feature called Klout Moments, I have been using it to help identify my own social media posts that have generated action (e.g., likes, RT’s, favorites, etc.) from the people in my networks. Klout Moments is a measure of influence and it tells me how the content I am posting is engaging the people I care about.

So, as you build or modify your brand's social media strategy, be sure to include an equal focus on content and engagement. After all, when it comes to social media and the impact of these two elements on your strategy, it is an "and" conversation.

 

For more insights on social media branding and the relationship between content and engagement, please see:
• How to Measure Your Brand’s Storytelling Effectiveness in Social Media
• Branding Lessons from Social Media
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• Content is the New Currency for Brand Storytelling in 2013

The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association, LHRA, is on of the preeminent organizations representing the business interests of Latino hotel owners, operators and developers. Internationally, members own and operate hotels representing more than 20,000 rooms, employing over 15,000 individuals, and whose assets are valued at more than $2 billion.

Over 300 people from the US, Mexico, Central and South America will be attend. Members are influential, decision-making executives.

If you are in the hotel or restaurant industry, join me and hundreds of professionals from around the world.  I will be delivering Thursday morning's keynote, "Get Funded: Design and Deliver the Perfect Investor Pitch."

Top 5 Reasons to Attend

1. Forecasting. We cannot predict the weather in Florida, but our expert speakers and panelists can make educated predictions on how they think hotels and restaurants will preform in 2014!

2. Education. Two action packed days of presentations and panels focusing on industry trends that will help attendees boost their performance.

3. Networking with colleagues. Mix with other successful hospitality business professionals at our unique receptions and breaks.Last year we had a chefs competition to close the event...this year savory dishes will kick it off!

4. Legacy Building. Join LHRA as they hosts this year's Battle of the Brands - High Stakes Golf Tournament to support Latino students seeking careers in the hospitality industry! Compete in this stimulating golf tournament and help us raise money for student scholarships!!!

5. Industry Recognition. Meet owners, operators, developers and industry suppliers who have proven themselves worthy of LHRA recognition at this year's Estrella Awards!

 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

It’s Time to Innovate

Are you starting a new business? Building a brand? Seeking to turn around a declining brand? Then innovate.

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Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovation is what makes you, your culture, your value proposition, your products and services, your customer experience and everything else about your brand unique. It’s what makes you memorable. It’s your source of competitive advantage.

Instead of following someone else’s best practices, take the lead. Create the future. Write your own best practices. Take some risks. Innovate.

For more on the impact of innovation on your branding strategy, please see:
• How Innovation Drives Sustained Growth for Your Brand
• What Makes Your Company Different?
• Accelerate Growth and Innovation - Encourage a Culture of Risk-Taking

Last week, I wrote about the power of social media in brand storytelling. If the power of social media lies in its ability to foster stronger and more personal relationships that lead to higher levels of customer engagement and brand loyalty, how do you measure it? One way might be to consider your brand’s influence and outreach, as measured by Kred.

I’ve been using Kred for the better part of a year now. While I may have my own sense of how my personal brand might be perceived by others, Kred provides me with an outside perspective through a visual activity stream. This stream includes a snapshot of what others see, how they are reacting to the content I share, the topics I am most influential in and why.

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Kred measures influence (or the likelihood that someone will trust me enough to take action on the content I post, on a scale from 1 to 1,000) and outreach (or my generosity in online relationships, as determined by my willingness to follow others and share their content, on a scale from 1 to 12). Brands with higher scores enjoy higher levels of trust and generosity – both key elements in storytelling effectiveness.

While much of what my Kred Story tells me is consistent with my expectations, I am occasionally surprised by what I find. For example, my latest report (shown here) includes my influence (685 out of 1,000) and outreach (6 out of 12) scores. It also contains a summary of hash tags that have appeared in online conversations with me (e.g., #branding, #leadership, #socialmedia, #marketing, #storytelling, etc.), a steady growth in followers and a short listing of my top communities (e.g., marketing, social media and music).

No real surprises until I got to the last top community I just listed. Music? Really? Now that is a surprising insight, given that music is not something I would associate with my personal brand. As I thought about it some more, I realized a good number of musicians are storytellers, too. I suppose it's possible my posts may be resonating with people in the music community and this might be a target audience I may have overlooked. 

As your brand hones its storytelling effectiveness on social media, be sure to include outside measures of your influence and outreach by tools like Kred. Hopefully, most of what you'll find will reaffirm your sense of how your brand is being perceived online. The things that surprise you might just open new doors and opportunities for your brand.

For more on social media effectiveness, please see:
• Does Your Brand Have Klout?
• Extend Your Brand’s Reach With Twitter
• Is Your LinkedIn Story a Best Seller?

Is your brand using social media to tell its story? If not, you may be missing out on one of the best opportunities for interacting with your customers and prospects. Unlike traditional media, the conversational nature of social media can help your brand foster stronger and more personal relationships. Relationships that lead to higher levels of customer engagement and brand loyalty.

I recently wrote about the importance of telling your own story on social media vs. letting someone else tell it for you (or not). If that wasn’t enough to convince you to jump on the social media bandwagon, let me offer you a list of 7 more reasons why I believe social media is a powerful platform for business storytelling. Social media:

  • Delivers value – through fresh and original content – that helps to differentiate your brand
  • Establishes your credibility and authority as a thought leader – through commentary on trending topics and industry issues
  • Demonstrates your commitment to corporate citizenship in your local community – through updates on events and invitations to participate
  • Invites customer feedback – through the effective use of questions and comments showing genuine concern – that allows you to react quickly to customer dissatisfiers and offbrand experiences 
  • Creates emotional connections between brands and consumers – through its ability to allow two-way conversations
  • Achieves strong SEO results – through a combination of user interaction, keywords and relevant backlinks
  • Encourages people to share, engage and even buy your product or service – through informative and interesting content

For more on the power of social media as a channel for brand storytelling and customer engagement, please see:
• Branding Lessons from Social Media
• Brand Building Through Social Media
• 5 Insights on Marketing Your Brand in Social Media
• Social Media Is About Building Relationships
• Are You Embracing Social Media?

 

When most of us choose one brand over another, we do so with an expectation. An expectation that the product or service will fulfill a promise made by the brand. What happens, though, when the promise isn’t kept?

This is where the resolution portion of your brand’s customer experience can help. Brands that provide disappointed or inconvenienced customers with an overwhelmingly positive resolution experience are able to recover quickly and restore the trust that may have been lost.

As many of you know, I own a Jeep Wrangler. One of the things I have learned about Jeep Wranglers over the years is that the windshields are particularly prone to cracks and chips caused by small rocks and other road debris. When my windshield needs replacing, I turn to Safelite AutoGlass®. Each time, I receive a professionally installed OEM windshield that is every bit as good as the original (i.e., the brand promise).

Recently, however, the rearview mirror that was attached to my windshield fell off (a not-so-uncommon problem, I discovered, in places like Las Vegas, where it is really hot).  So I called Safelite AutoGlass® and scheduled a repair.  The customer resolution experience was flawless – minimal effort was required on my part (they came to my home), the mobile technician was professional and knowledgeable, the repair was completed promptly and it was covered under warranty (I paid nothing for the repair).

My windshield is once again every bit as good as the original.  So, of course, I would trust them again with the replacement of any future windshields...on any of my cars. And, yes, I would recommend them to a friend or colleague.

Think about your customers and the times where your brand may have fallen short on delivering its promise. How would they rate your resolution experience?

For more insights on what makes a great customer experience, please see:
• All Great Customer Experiences Begin with a Smile
• Communication Is the Foundation of a Great Customer Experience
• Anticipating Needs Is the Key to Customer Retention

Article Summary:  With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. As a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story. With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before.  So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?  [Note, this article was originally written for The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)

 

Great Leaders are Great Storytellers:  Five Tips to Improve Your Leadership Effectiveness
Copyright © The Chief Storyteller® LLC. All rights reserved.
Ira J. Koretsky
July 2013, Published with The Latino Hotel and Restaurant Association (LHRA)


With today’s communications so fast and furious, do you have the time to really process the multitude of messages demanding your attention? Of course you don’t. You pick and choose based on what resonates.

So as a leader who has to communicate your own vision, how then do you ensure your messages resonate and generate the right actions? By surrounding them with compelling personal stories. Together, they make a business story.

If you were to look back over your career at the leaders that inspired you, I would bet part of what makes you smile when you think of them was their ability to connect to both your heart and your mind. Truly, only through business stories can you accomplish both.

During my career, two leaders have really stood out. When I think of Mike C. and Colonel M., I smile and remember fondly my time working with each of them. They stand out because of how each treated me—they were great listeners, they were great advisors, and they were great supporters. Over 26 years later, I am still friends with Mike C. Unfortunately, I lost track of Colonel M. when I left the US Army.

Why did Mike and the Colonel make such powerful and indelible impressions? Our shared experiences. Experiences define us. And it’s the stories we share about these experiences that help shape the world around us. We live through each other’s stories. The best stories have several key characteristics. They are simple; are easily understood; have immediate resonance; are delivered passionately; and have a positive outcome or learning experience.

Great leaders are great storytellers.

Whether you are speaking at a small, informal meeting; in front of investors; or before thousands at a shareholder’s meeting, use these five tips to improve your own business storytelling.

Identify the One Thing You Want them to Remember
Ensure your business story has only one key message. In the absence of a clear message, audience members will either forget what you said or create their own interpretation. Think of your message as a headline—about seven words in length. To see the potential power of a headline, try this: Type a phrase into your favorite search engine. You will be greeted with hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of pithy, short phrases all vying for your “click me” action. Which one will you click?

“Texture” Your Story
Use a variety of language styles. Imagine you were in an audience listening to some of our greatest contemporary storytellers. They use a variety of techniques and styles such as metaphors, alliteration, and repetition. Be deliberate in your word choices. Be deliberate in using character dialogue. Be deliberate with your rhetorical devices (by way of example, starting several consecutive sentences with the same words is a repetition figure of speech called “anaphora”).

Make the Journey Relevant
Make your story pass the “so what” test. Invite your audience into your experience by sharing the WIIFM?What’s In It For Me. Well-told stories create a shared experience, which enables your listeners to understand your business message on a personal level. Your words should crystallize common values and experiences. Be sure to answer the audience’s question of “Why is this important to me?”

Only Share the Good Parts
Edit ruthlessly. You have at most, three minutes to share your business story. Don’t think the whole story has to be shared. It doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. Instead, rethink how you tell your story in a business setting. Typical personal stories told at parties involve boring parts. Lots of boring parts, with the good parts interspersed. The good parts make your story interesting. If you need a little help identifying the good parts, ask your friends and colleagues for feedback. Or next time you tell a favorite story, listen for questions and look for favorable body language. Now edit or omit everything else. Then texture your words around the good parts.

It’s All About Them
Once you have identified your stories, think carefully about the words you are using. Words conjure feelings and emotions. The words you use and the stories you tell can elicit positive and negative feelings equally well. Words and stories have context and perspective. Many words have multiple meanings, and tone and delivery can be understood?or misunderstood?in a variety of ways. For example, the expression “You’re crazy,” can be playful, argumentative, or even condescending.

Leaders are constantly looked to for guidance and advice. Remember it’s all about them? It’s all about your audience. So Mr./Ms. Leader, what personal stories are you telling to inspire action? Do your audiences respond the way you intended?

With our easy global access to diverse cultures and experiences, your words and stories matter to those around you more than ever before. Be deliberate with the stories you tell and the messages you share. Follow the advice of famous novelist Joseph Conrad: “I have no use for engines. Give me the right word...and I will move the world.”

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Ira Koretsky is the president of The Chief Storyteller®, a boutique marketing and sales consulting firm. He has delighted audiences around the world helping them achieve better business outcomes and accelerate their revenue with highly effective written, spoken, and social media communications. With over 25 years of experience, he is a sought-after global speaker, columnist, consultant, and executive coach. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn®, and YouTube.

 

What if you could gather hundreds of your targeted prospects and customers in one place on a single night? What if you had a shared interest in something that would bring them together? How would you use that to build a loyal community of customers?

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On Saturday night, Pacers Running Stores gathered over 1800 runners and volunteers for the Crystal City Twilighter 5K. This annual event is organized by Pacers and is aptly billed the area's favorite summer twilight race. With a flat and fast course, a lively post-race party and a chance for me to meet up with my family at the Good Stuff Eatery afterward, the evening did not disappoint.  It was an amazing and unforgettable experience, from start to finish.

Pacers races offer “fabulously fun courses, great swag, and an incredible group of runners.” Every customer touch point – including online registration, packet pickup, bag check, the start, the race itself, the finish and the post-race party – are true to that promise. The paid staff and volunteers go out of their way to make the events fun, the stuff we all get (SWAG) is awesome and the participants are united by their shared passion for running.

It’s also an opportunity for these runners – many of them Pacers customers and prospects – to benefit from the expertise the Pacers staff can provide when purchasing new running gear, apparel and accessories.  My own enthusiasm for Pacers running events has spilled over into the brand and I am proud to count myself a member of the loyal community of Pacers customers.

I can hardly wait until next year's Crystal City Twilighter! How about you?


For related posts on my passion for running and its relationship to branding and customer communities, please see:
• Beyond Price…How One Small Business Is Building Strong Community Ties to Differentiate
• Why Personal Relationships Are Important In Personal and Business Life
• A Trail Run and a Harmonious Customer Experience

A picture really does tell the story of a thousand words. Which story, though? From whose perspective? Depending on the storyteller, the same picture can be used to tell different stories. These stories, and how well they resonate with us, are often what determine whether or not we engage with the storyteller.

Consider the picture shown here.  It appeared on Instagram recently and was posted by a college graduate on the morning of her commencement. The picture was accompanied by a very short story – one that poignantly described that moment and the emotions she felt as her college experience was about to draw to a close. The caption read, “This day came to our party uninvited and unwanted….” This image, and the words below it, reminded me of the emotions I felt on my own graduation day.   

You might notice there are about a dozen or so others in the picture. What stories do you suppose they might tell about that same moment in time? Here are some of my guesses:
     • “And so it begins…a new day and the dawn of our future.”
     • “The good old days came to an end today.”
     • “The light of our friendship burns bright and will never be extinguished.”
     • “So long to sleepless nights and all-night cramming…”
     • “We made it!”
Can you think of any you might want to add to this list?

Everyone has his or her own story to tell, each of which leaves us with some insight into their personality, values, history and aspirations for the future. Some of them will tell their stories, others may simply choose to remain silent.

Now imagine the beach as a competitive landscape. Dotted among the landscape is your brand and a dozen or so of your competitors. Everyone is facing the same opportunities, challenges and uncertainties. Your competitors are telling their stories on social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and blog posts). Your brand, on the other hand, chooses to stay silent. Instead, you let others tell your story for you. Or you let them guess.

Either way, what is your silence saying about you and your brand? What influence are your competitors' stories having on your prospects and customers? How are people perceiving your brand and the relevance of it to their lives? Perhaps it's time to engage your prospects and customers on social media.

I just received this LinkedIn note soliciting my attention and business. I thought to share it as it is an excellent example of what not to do...Following the note, I shared some thoughts and suggestions.

Hi Ira,

How are you today? I just came across your profile and thought I would reach out real quick and see if you would like to connect further here on LinkedIn.

I don’t usually reach out like this, but thought you may be a good candidate for my advanced leadership certification program and wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.

If you are interested in learning more, let me know and I will introduce you to the right person on my team who can provide you with more information.

Here is a link with more info in the meantime: www.abc-offer.com

Keep up the good work.

Your friend,

FirstName LastName

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Here I share my impressions and offer some suggestions. My comments are preceeded by "Ira>"


How are you today? I just came across your profile
Ira> You are selling me a product/service. I automatically have my “cautionary antennae” up. When you use such a phrase, it sounds as if you casually, by accident found my profile. Since you are obviously selling me something. I really question the sincerity of the phrase, “just came across"

I don’t usually reach out like this
Ira> Anyone and I mean anyone, who uses a phrase like this, loses all credibility. Delete the phrase all together. Just start with “Based on your experience and profile, I think you might be a good candidate for [blank]"

wanted to personally invite you to take a look at it.
Ira> Messaging disconnect. You are personally inviting me to connect. In reality, you are going to connect me to someone else on your team. To me, if you are the face/name behind the brand and you reach out, you become my point of contact. You are not simply an inside sales person making and asking for an appointment. The relationship starts with you. This phrase further works against the credibility of the sender.

Keep up the good work.
Ira> Another throw away comment. You and I have never met. Leave it out.

Your friend,
Ira> Another throw away comment. Friendships take time, they don’t come in the form of an unsolicited commercial email, which is the legal term for spam. Perhaps this is a code word?

 

Moral of the story:  If you are going to send an unsolicited sale emails, irrespective of the medium:
-  Do your homework
-  Use relevant language that will absolutely resonate with your target audiences
-  Avoid clichés and throw away phrases
-  Excite my mind, pique my interest quickly
-  Share with me one or two benefits. Tell me why I should become invested in you
-  Respect your audience's time. Send well-written notes

Let’s pretend for a moment you’re in the business of selling transportation to college students. What, do you suppose, is most important to them: price, time, convenience, comfort or safety?

After you conduct your market research, you determine what matters most to your target audience is time. So you develop a value proposition and service offering that guarantees a five-hour bus ride from the student’s college to his or her hometown. Your business begins to grow.

A few months go by and somebody else comes along offering students a faster ride home (time) with door-to-door service (convenience), an impeccable safety record (safety) and extra legroom (comfort) at a comparable fare (price).  Your business begins to decline.

What just happened? While you were building a business by offering customers what they told you they wanted, someone else came along and, with a little innovation, came up with an improved business model. By replacing buses with cars, your competitor found a way to provide your customers with better and faster service at the same price.

The moral of the story is this: it’s not enough to simply ask your customers what they want and then give it to them. Brands that enjoy sustained growth are continually innovating and finding new ways to serve their customers. Sometimes, that means providing your customers with something they will value before they even ask for it.

For more on branding and innovation, please see:
• What Makes Your Company Different?
• Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?
• Are You Ready for the Next Big Competitor?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Collaboration Is the Way Forward

Nobel Laureate and Physicist Kenneth G. Wilson once said “the hardest problems of pure and applied science can only be solved by the open collaboration of the world-wide scientific community.” If you’re like me and think there is an element of science (as well as art) to business, then I suppose the same can be said about the challenges your business may be facing.

Falling profit margins, increasing customer attrition rates, a slowdown in the rate in which new customers are acquired, an erosion of investor confidence and even a lack of brand awareness are all typical problems many businesses face.  I know from my own experience leading sales teams in a Fortune 500 company, along with my recent roles as a project manager in two week-long volunteer service projects, the best ideas for solving problems often come from the very team members tasked with figuring them out. In fact, I‘m certain I have never met a team leader who actually has all the answers.

If your business is facing some tough challenges and not seeing the results you desire, it may be time for some open collaboration with the people in your community – your employees, your customers, your business partners and even your shareholders. Collaboration is the key to solving some of your hardest problems...and the way forward.

My oldest son graduated from Oakton High School in Vienna, Virginia the other day. For many of his classmates, it was an occasion marked by feelings of intense pride, quiet anticipation and hope. So it was fitting to mark the end of their high school years and the beginning of the rest of their young lives with a commencement address by Class of 2000 Oakton High School alumnus and entrepreneur Adam “Ace” Moyer, Founder and CEO of Knockaround™.

Ace’s message to the graduates was simple. If you have an idea, follow your dreams. No experience is necessary. With the support and encouragement of family and friends, you’ll figure it out.  Sure, the good will come with the bad and there may be times when difficult decisions have to be made. In the end, he told the graduating class of 2013, don’t be afraid to take risks. It will be worth it.

For Ace, his company started in 2005 with the idea of providing customers with classically styled sunglasses in many colors at an affordable price. Knockaround™ sunglasses were designed to take abuse and, as the thinking went, the people who owned them wouldn't mind abusing them because they didn’t cost much in the first place. That idea has since grown to include new models and color choices, limited edition and custom-designed sunglasses, apparel and accessories.

So follow your dreams and, as they say at Knockaround™, “keep looking at the bright side.” 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

Today is the third year people can say to me, "Happy Father's Day." As an older parent, having children makes you (I believe) more acutely aware of your personal and family life. For me, it also makes me think of how grateful I am for my good friends, trusted colleagues, and loyal clients.

What positive things does it make you think of?

I read an article by best-selling author and syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay (“Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive”) in the Washington Business Journal the other day where he cited research that shows “buyers are not reaching out to contact salespeople and sales organizations until they’re 60-70 percent along in the decision process.”

The simple truth is customers are doing their homework. They are going online and researching the answers to their needs and problems. They are forming opinions on who they think can best help them. Then they are reaching out to sellers for the one thing they cannot get online – a better price.

This is where the value of preparation comes into play. In today’s selling environment, salespeople need to provide value by telling buyers something they don’t already know…answers to questions like:
• What makes you and your products different?
• How can you and your products help me?
• How do you know you can help me?

The sellers who can answer these questions with thoughtful and relevant responses are the ones who are most likely to make the sale, often commanding a price premium even in today’s market. Those who cannot are the ones who will most often find themselves responding to RFPs and attempting to sell highly commoditized products at the lowest price.

 

I received this advertisment from Flickr. I like the content, style, layout, and message.

I would prefer to see a smiling person(s) instead of a flower. The message, in bold white letters, is "Smile." If the folks at Flickr really want to use a flower (assuming a connection to Spring), then use smiling people holding flowers or running in a field.

Your photography and imagery should always match the picture. Otherwise you run the risk of creating messaging disconnects. Messaging disconnects reduce click-throughs, success of call-to-action buttons, signups, purchases, and so forth.

 

Irrespective of your accomplishments or years of experience, everyone should personalize a LinkedIn request.

Here is a great example. Yesterday I received this request from a recent graduate. It was to the point, personalized, and short.

I gladly and quickly accepted.

If you can help Jimeisha, please reach out, especially if you in the Wash, DC area. She is seeking opportunities in disability services, education, outreach programs,and health care.

Jimeisha's profile:  www.linkedin.com/in/jimeishamcbride

If the measure of one’s commitment to protecting the environment is the number of cars taken off the road as a direct result of an action, this year’s record-breaking turnout of participants in the Washington, D.C. region’s Bike to Work Day is tangible proof of the region’s growing concern for the environment. On a recent Spring day in mid-May, over 14,500 registered riders made a difference by taking their cars off the road for at least one day.

Of course, like so many other causes, events like this would not be possible were it not for the generous support of like-minded corporate and not-for-profit sponsors like Whole Foods Market, Marriott, ICF International, AAA, Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).

Working together with their local communities, these organizations are leading the way by telling a story we can believe in. It’s an authentic story about sustainability and how individuals can come together to make a difference. It’s also a story about a healthy and safe alternative to driving alone in your car…and about learning to enjoy the ride, as I and thousands of others did. One bike at a time, their participation in this year's Bike to Work Day provides us with a glimpse of the causes they and the people in their communities care most about -- sustainability, health and fitness, fun, etc.

How are you and your organization making a difference in your community? Are the stories being told reflective of your personal and organizational values? 

I am a huge fan of audio books. On the plane, in the car, and on the subway I am catching up on my favorite business books and for pleasure books. A colleague introduced me to John Scalzi, who is primarily a sci-fi writer. As I do every time with new authors, I read reviews on Amazon, biographies on Wikipedia and Amazon, and ask the referrering person more about style and substance.

Reading John's bio on Amazon really piqued my interest. Reading the bio shows me he's a bit wry, funny, well-liked (he's won several awards), and has an interesting call-to-action at the end.

John Scalzi writes books, which, considering where you're reading this, makes perfect sense. He's best known for writing science fiction, for which he won the John W. Campbell Award (2006) and has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel (2006, 2008, 2009). He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, and was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.

I indeed typed "Whatever" into Google and John's blog came up first. I'm convinced. Now I have to figure out which book to read first.

Moral of the story:  If you have a personal bio on your website, LinkedIn profile, speaker one sheet, etc., have you considered, seriously considered changing it? Most bios are factual and chronological splashed at the end with the "Ira's married to the love of his life, has a wonderful daughter, and enjoys photography in his spare time." When I thought conservative was better, I didn't stand out. Today, my bio helps me more memorable and more engaging. My bio gives people reasons and opportunities to talk with me more about my background.

Try changing your bio....even if it is just a little.

Postscript 1:  I just looked at his LinkedIn page and this is his first sentence in his Summary:  "I write. I edit. I get paid. I fight crime! I lied about that last one."

Postscript 2:  Some people asked that I include my bio. The bio is available as a PDF on The Chief Storyteller website, is included with my speaking engagements, has a variation on social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, is included in proposals, and the list goes on. People always ask me about something in the bio.

“Think deliberately.” The mantra of a person who has made improving communications his life’s work.

It all began some 30 years ago, at a high school science fair. Ira had presented his computer program on the heart and the circulatory system. One by one, the prizes were announced...third...second...first place. After nearly 100 hours of programming evenings and weekends, he slumped his shoulders and thought to himself, “I lost.” Then...Ira heard the chairwoman announce, “We are awarding the grand prize to a young man who could sell me my own pair of shoes!” And his name was called.

For more than 26 years nationally and internationally, Ira has been building his communication skills into a well-honed set of precision instruments. Within minutes, he will fundamentally change the way you communicate.

His most pivotal experience was serving as a public affairs officer in the United States Army Medical Service Corps. Trained in giving and preparing presentations for military and civilian executives, he gained invaluable insights into messaging, communications, and storytelling.

Living on both coasts, Ira has held various leadership roles in marketing and product management. After earning his MBA from the University of Maryland in 2000, Ira entered into the world of leading edge technology. It was while working in San Francisco and Silicon Valley he began to adapt his skills for use with the new, technology-driven tools today’s professionals have come to rely on.

And like all good communicators, Ira loves the stage. He performed improvisational humor professionally with ComedySportz in a career spanning 12 years and more than 1,000 shows. While performing, Ira had this epiphany: “improv mirrors life.” Life experiences stem from random and planned connections with people, and it is these experiences that help us to bond quickly with audiences.

Ira is an active blogger and writer, was a guest columnist for the Washington Business Journal, and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He helped the a US government contracting firm win a $94 million multi-year project; Altum develop a proposal that had a 100% success rate in going to the final decision round; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) secure funding for the National Youth Fitness Survey.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Overcoming Marketing Myopia

I recently posed the question, “How do you really know what your customers want?” I offered a simple answer by suggesting the way to truly understanding what your customers want is through continual engagement with them.

I’m going to take that a step further today by offering another suggestion – the formation of a customer advisory council. A customer advisory council is a group of customers (and non-customers, too) who meet on a regular basis with representatives of your brand. Each of them would be paid a nominal sum for their participation and their purpose would be to serve as an external sounding board for your marketing team. Their candid feedback would be used to inform current and future marketing strategies and campaigns, with the intent of improving customer acquisition and retention rates.

The real benefit of a customer advisory council is that it allows you to define your brand, your products and your offers from the perspective of your customers and prospects. Too many brands make the mistake of defining these elements from their own internal perspective, based on the company’s needs and wants. This flawed, internally-focused approach was the subject of a 1960 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Myopia,” by Theodore Levitt.

The next time you encounter repeated customer objections to one or more elements of your marketing strategy, resist the urge to overcome them simply by offering more and clever rebuttals that merely aim to justify the needs and wants of your company. Instead, focus on why your customers are raising those objections in the first place.  Place yourself in your customer’s shoes and try to understand how their needs and wants are causing them to perceive your brand, your products and your offers.

Ask your customer advisory council for help in seeing the long-term picture from an outward looking perspective. Their insights, and your willingness to act on them, could mean the difference between a great marketing strategy and a mediocre one.

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