Archive for the ‘Marketing Communications’ Category

“Why is everything so expensive?” Marge asks a store manager in an episode of The Simpsons. The manager replies, “Our product’s philosophy is that–” Marge cuts him off with, “Oh, we’re not rich enough to afford any product with its own philosophy.”

That’s brand storytelling done poorly, with the tangy aroma of pretentiousness.

When it’s done well, brand storytelling evokes customer emotions that enhance their perception of your worth. Duke Greenhill explains this in his Fast Company article, “The Real ROI of Brand Storytelling.” He cites an example of a snow globe that was bought for one US dollar. Writer Blake Butler then wrote a story about it, and the snow globe sold on eBay for fifty-nine dollars.

brand storytelling, perception, perceived value

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, tell the beholder a beautiful story.

That’s My Story, and It’s Sticking to Me

Brand storytelling should not be read as an invitation to lie about your product. Don’t call the vinyl seating “rich Corinthian leather.” The goal is to tell the truth — while highlighting the human, emotional sides of your company or product. Okay, yeah, you might sell more cookies by saying elves baked them in a hollow tree. But most audiences want a more realistic tale.

Storytelling 101: We won’t remember “leather.” We’ll remember “rich Corinthian leather.” But don’t call it either one, if it’s really vinyl.

Chip and Dan Heath explain business uses of storytelling superbly in their popular book, Made to Stick. In 2007, excited by the Heath brothers’ tips, I brought the book to my superior in the marketing department. She read it and said, “Nice idea, but you can’t use storytelling in real life. There’s nothing applicable in here.” She pictured marketing as an endless series of spec sheets and competitive matrix check boxes and pricing decisions. Granted, storytelling requires effort and imagination. You have to proactively look for ways to apply it, and reject stories that don’t interest your audience.

Is the effort of finding and telling brand stories worth it? Of course. Unlike other innovations that spruce up your brand, telling your brand story doesn’t require redesigning the logo, changing the product, buying another business, or invading a new distribution channel. Like any great fable, storytelling is conceptual — it only needs to exist as ideas in the customer’s mind. But a good idea can seal the deal:

  • What is extraordinary about Toms Shoes? In my candid personal opinion, nothing. But Toms gives a pair of shoes to an underprivileged person when it sells a pair of shoes to you. Toms has built its entire brand around this powerful story, and reaped success and enviable awareness for it.
  • Have you ever bought an organic or natural personal care product that didn’t really work very well, yet you bought it again? Why did you? Because you want to participate in the story of good people saving the earth.
  • Haven’t you ever looked at products that seemed roughly equal, and selected one because it was made in your country? That sale was a tie, until story provided the tiebreaker.

Think You’re Boring? Think Harder

You might think that your product has no human story worth telling. But I promise you, you do have a unique, interesting story to tell. No company spontaneously generated itself, which means humans made it. Humans are story factories. Whenever we act together, we generate stories of commitment and sacrifice and conflict and failure and little deaths and resurrections. Besides, your company is still in business, right? Every purchase represents someone finding compelling value in your product.


if an organization has humans, it has stories.

Did your founders start the company on a dare? Did R&D fail numerous times before discovering the breakthrough that powers your product? Does your company have a statistically anomalous number of long-term employees? Is your organization the “only” or the “first” or the “longest-running” or “the underdog”? These examples may not apply, but the stories in your organization are there somewhere. You just have to look for them. Then you figure out how to tell them.

Depending upon your corporate culture, trying to get senior management to buy into brand storytelling can feel risky. Some bottom line-driven executives get squeamish as soon as you go beyond numbers, to the soft squishy humanities. But in times of limited resources for companies, storytelling costs you nothing. And customers aren’t buying your spreadsheet. They’re buying your unique value proposition, a very fancy term for “your story.” If you’re skillful, brand storytelling can turn a dollar into fifty-nine dollars.

Can it do the same for you? You’ll never know, until you try. End of story.


Many small-to-medium businesses have not embraced marketing through social media, and here’s why: it’s as if someone gave you a live microphone in an empty arena and told you, “Go on! Talk until you fill the seats!” Great platform, but what the heck do you say?

On Facebook, you fill those metaphorical empty seats by getting Likes. If you’re a small business struggling to get some social media attention, there’s an easy and cost-free technique for getting attention on Facebook. It works reliably for all types of businesses, non-profits, and institutions.

Before I took over social media policy and implementation for ICANN, they already had a Facebook page. It generated anywhere from 0 to 8 Likes per week. When I implemented this technique, ICANN’s Facebook Likes shot up to more than 100 per week.

I’ve been advising on social media strategies for a local business, GoodSide Studio, that produces superb training videos. When they implemented this technique, their Likes on Facebook equaled in two weeks the number they had garnered in the previous two years.

The secret that makes this technique devastatingly effective will never change, because it’s built on human nature.

What is this “powerful secret” that turns your cobwebby Facebook page into a social media hotspot? Well, it’s so obvious. you’ll laugh when you read it.

It’s built on this simple principle: if someone hands you a group photograph, and you’re in it, where’s the first place you look? Answer: at yourself.

So here’s the cheap and easy way to drive up Facebook Likes for your business: use the Photos tab, and post as many faces as you can. Clients. Employees. Prospects. Convention speakers. Anyone who is relevant in your vertical niche. Doesn’t even matter if the picture is recent; find an excuse to post it.

Then use your other social media platforms, especially Twitter, to mention the fact that new pictures are up.

That’s it in a nutshell. When you try it, you’ll find ways to refine the technique and improve it specifically for your business. If you build it, Likes will come.

Use Your Community as Your Opening Act

Because the technique is so simple, you might scoff. If so, you’re not entirely wrong. Likes are not money. When you score Likes, you haven’t converted anyone to a customer; you haven’t scored a prospect’s e-mail address; you haven’t monetized a thing. But to do any of that, you have to have an audience. If you haven’t got much of one, this technique is golden for getting one.

World's first rock band?Back in my youth, we cavemen would sometimes get three or four of us together and form something called “a band.” We’d howl and bang rocks together in rhythm, and pretend it was music. (Rock music, we called it.) Then we wanted people to hear our rock music. The main way we gathered an audience was to put on a show and cunningly select some “opening acts.” The opening acts had friends who would come to see them, and then the friends would accidentally see us. If they liked our rock music, they became our fans. Now Og smart and popular! In essence, posting faces on Facebook is using your community as your opening act. Each face has its own audience draw. More faces equals more draw.

Another intangible benefit of this technique is implicit in the word, Like. Faces make your business relateable. For example, ICANN coordinates global policy around domain name services and IP zzzzzz. Sorry, I just fell asleep typing that sentence. Compare that to the image of ICANN you get from this joyful picture.

Another example: it might sound boring to you that GoodSide Studio makes training videos. But a photo from behind the scenes evokes some of the cool creative vibe of a video shoot.

As with most techniques in social media, this technique doesn’t work in a vacuum. You should support it with relevant content and coordinate it with other marketing efforts for better synergy. But it sure provides a lot of attention for very little effort.

Want an audience on Facebook? Want people to feel like they can relate to your company? Have a budget right around, oh, say, zero dollars? Post faces on Facebook. (Hey, now I get it: Facebook!) Use your other platforms to let people know they might see themselves on your Facebook page… then enjoy the Spike of Like.

Corporate directors and managers can learn something from this summer’s popcorn movies, specifically: everybody arcs.

In writer jargon, “everybody arcs” means that, in a good story, each character changes. The story circumstances transform him or her, perhaps a little, perhaps a lot. The ultimate character arc is probably “caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly.” You’ve seen this theme in everything from Cinderella to the Gospels to The Matrix.

Part of the reason The Avengers dominated worldwide box office is because the characters arc. The Avengers gather as incompatible super-egos that gradually become a team. They start as rivals, but learn respect for each other due to their sacrifices for a common cause. According to Box Office Mojo, the Avengers has earned $615 million against a budget of $220 million.

On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a tedious, lifeless movie because Abe hates vampires at the start and he hates vampires at the end. No character arc. In five weeks of release, Abe earned $36 million against a budget of $69 million — a flop. Even if explosions deafen us and special effects dazzle our eyes, if a story has no character learning and evolving, on some level we feel “nothing’s happening.”

How does this relate to managing in a corporate environment?

Poor Abe looks ashamed…. whether of his movie, or his dead-end department.

Sadly, too many managers hope that the people reporting to them don’t arc. Focused on daily emergencies, the manager doesn’t think about helping people grow and has no plan for them to do so. The attitude seems to be, “My team is trained to do what I want. Let’s freeze them like this for years!”

But humans don’t work that way. And employees especially don’t “work” that way.

When you consider it personally, who has inspired you to give more? The boss who treasures her own convenience over yours, and tries to hold you in stasis, forever filling the same role? Or the boss who genuinely cares about you and treats your current relationship as one stop on a curve of continuous development?

Well, duh.

Helping your team arc calls for the best in a supervisor. It takes both a long-term view, and caring about your employee’s well-being as much as your own. You have to be creative enough to occasionally reassess where the company’s good and the employee’s good overlap.

“I know you want more responsibility, but I just want a TPS cover sheet! Mmkay?”

Once, a young lady reported to me in a largely administrative role. In our periodic talks about her development, she confided that outside of the office, she was interested in voiceover work. This was an area she wanted to grow in. She had even taken an expensive class. Unfortunately, on the surface that had nothing to do with the company’s technical and policy mission. After some thought, though, I put her in charge of the company’s audio podcast – which she rocked. This simple move was a win for everybody: I had a happy employee, the employee had more job satisfaction, the company got a fresh slant in its social media tactics, and customers got information they wanted in a format they liked.

This simple example demonstrates that when you align employees with what they prefer to work on, magic can happen. Giving everyone his or her favorite assignment isn’t always possible. But it’s possible more often than you might think. It’s worth actively trying to engineer it.

The more you try to hold employees “as is,” the more they want to escape. Your team becomes the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter of departments: despite lots of sound and fury and action, on important levels, “nothing’s happening.”

If you care enough about your team to hold them loosely, encouraging them to grow from strength to strength, more people in the company want to work for you. When they know you are helping them grow, they perform for you like super heroes.

Mixing metaphors between movies and corporations, let’s assume you’re the director. Will you force your actors through a checklist of imposed plot points? Or will you let this story’s challenges transform them, even if that means they might outgrow their current role?

Before you choose, consider the lessons from this summer’s popcorn movies. In a successful story, everybody arcs.

Ten years into the era of permission marketing, the vast majority of marketers understand that engaging with customers on line requires that a company offer a stream of content. In contrast to the late 1990s, the delivery mechanism has migrated from emails and podcasts to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — but after a brief obsession with crowdsourcing their content, marketers realize afresh that in-house content is once again king.

Great. Until you try it.

Posting and sending tons of content that seems to find no audience? Perhaps you’ve fallen into one of these three commonly seen problems. Photo: Beatrice Murch

I’m writing to you if your company has faithfully updated Facebook only to receive fewer than ten Likes per week, and systematically tweeted merely to scrape together a paltry Twitter following. (If you’re not updating your content systematically and predictably, well, there’s your problem.) As a marketer who has advised on many companies’ lackluster social media offerings, I can tell you the three most typical reasons why your content marketing isn’t working.

1. Inside-out content. Within your organization, you have a message you burn to impose upon the world. You blog it and tweet it and Facebook it, and the only Likes are from employees and your mom. What’s the problem? Relevance. The one thing you want them to remember is nothing they care about. (BTW, this is also why online display ads always flop.) Rethink your content from the outside-in perspective.

2. Monotonous hard-sell content. If you generally write (or video) about your product and what’s on sale, you’re simply duplicating your web site or print catalog. Readers began supporting blogs because blogs promised to convey a behind-the-scenes, authentic look at brands of interest. Facebook and Twitter users expect even greater intimacy than blog readers. Show off your expertise and your vision more than your inventory. (Dun & Bradstreet explain more reasons Why You Should Write More and Sell Less.)

On line, you may have to dole out the big picture one kernel at a time. Photo: Little Zey

3. Wrong-sized content. On this point, quality is not the issue — time is. We’re all busy. If your DVR is full, then you understand: people will fail to watch the best content in the world if they simply don’t have time for it. At the top of the sales funnel, a blog entry should not exceed 800 words. A video needs a truly compelling reason to exceed two minutes. Your Facebook sales campaign must be dead simple, not require several minutes to grasp it. Length kills.

Embrace the fact that you can’t tell your audience everything in one go. Learn how to tease out content so that readers eat it like popcorn — each delightful kernel leading them to the next bite, until they’re surprised at how much they’ve consumed.

My three tips really boil down to one concept. Your content marketing plan must stand on a foundation of adding value for an audience you sincerely care about. Social media is about building relationships, and doing it well requires you to empathize with the other guy’s viewpoint. Gilad de Vries of Outbrain triggered this blog entry because my heart leaped in affirmation at his quote about content marketing:

It’s not going to be about you, it’s going to be about them and what’s interesting and important for them and can you solve their problems or not. If you keep that as a lighthouse of sticking to things that they’re interested in and not what you’re interested in them knowing, I think you’re going to be in a good spot.

If your customer doesn’t dominate the heart of your company culture, content marketing is merely a multi-platform, multi-delivery, time-intensive method for proving, at length, that you don’t care. I guess you can hope for sarcastic Likes, but that hardly constitutes a strategy. The fix doesn’t require a bunch of money. Think about who you follow on line. The odds are, it’s someone who comments with expertise on a topic you care about, published periodically so you know when to expect fresh content. Give your customers the same, and watch your popularity grow.

How do you close the chasm between you and your audience? That’s your first priority. (Photo by Engin Erdogan, Flickr Creative Commons)

How do you capture attention when presenting to a crowd that doesn’t know or respect you? It’s challenging. But here are a couple of tricks that have worked for me. (These pertain to live presentations, not webinars.)

Choose Your First Impression Deliberately

When you present, you want to establish a connection with the audience instantly. If you come off as robotic, boring, irrelevant, or insincere in the first few minutes of your presentation, even the World’s Most Interesting Man couldn’t regain audience interest. They’re long gone, busily tweeting, emailing, or snoozing. Starting strong is key.

Hooking a big crowd differs from hooking a small group. In both cases, though, playing against type can help.

Hooking a Big Crowd

Let’s define a “big crowd” by the venue. Imagine that you stand on a stage separated from the audience; possibly higher than the audience; possibly lit; certainly using a microphone and perhaps a podium. This is a typical “big conference breakout session” setting.

Seriously? You’re going to make them all sit there while you thank your hosts, the conference, your boss, your company…? What do these people get out of listening, then? (Photo: Patries71, Flickr Creative Commons)

This formal staging invites skepticism. The stage trappings lend an air of authority that can be read as pomposity. People tend to sit in the back with arms folded. They may have already endured lackluster speakers before your session. Your top goal, then, is to break that vibe of “I’m the performing Muppet, and you are Statler and Waldorf wisecracking from the balcony.” You want to establish a feeling of “us learning together.” If you can also tip them off that you’re not a bloviating self-important gas bag — bonus!

The simple solution: break the formality by getting communication flowing in both directions. Begin with informal interaction with the audience. Any ice-breaker might do, as long as you listen to attendees and respond.

Usually I ask the audience questions about themselves. What did you think of the morning’s keynote presentation? What’s your favorite food near this event? I’m new in your town and the traffic is great/awful; why? Use whatever works for you, suiting yours and the audience’s shared interests.

A trusty go-to: ask, Who traveled the farthest distance to attend this session? Let the audience help determine which attendee came farthest. Once we determine the winner, I dedicate the presentation to that person and treat him or her as a VIP. Sometimes I’ve offered a minor prize, and in one venue I was able to send the winner a beer (to the audience’s massive delight and envy).

Is this tricky? Sure; you can hardly hear one another. (Make sure you repeat salient audience answers into the microphone, so everyone can play along.) Is it worth it? You bet. In three minutes, you’ve turned the skeptics into a community of travelers. And – twofer! — you can revive energy and interest mid-way through your preso, by asking the VIP (from the stage) how you’re doing so far. Have fun with it.

Hooking a Small Group

The rules change when presenting to a small audience. (Photo: glennsden28, Flickr Creative Commons)

Let’s define “small group” as: fewer than 50 attendees; all in one room; no one physically higher than anyone else; no microphone. It may be a typical classroom setting, or you might be seated in a circle.

The small group challenge for the presenter is the opposite of the big group challenge. Rather than the stage lending you authority, the closeness lends everyone equal presence. Perhaps everyone’s chatting and no one’s listening. A gregarious attendee might chime in frequently, “co-presenting” with you from his seat. In this setting, you must establish temporary authority, or the group’s social agenda may take over and disregard you.

Once again, the solution is to play against type. In an informal setting, you need some formal presenter pizzazz.

First: stand. If you are the shy retiring type, standing is even more essential. When you’re the only one on your feet, nearly two decades of formative-years classroom experience tells those seated to shut up and show respect.

Second: try a “cold start.” At awesome rock concerts, do bands open with long minutes of thanking the promoter and introducing the members? Hell no! They take the stage and immediately kick ass. Tap into your inner rock star and do the same.

When it’s time to start, do not thank the audience for the opportunity to speak. Do not explain who you are or what you represent. Sans intro, plunge in starkly with a provocative question, startling visual, or arresting statistic.

Corporate audiences fully expect lots of falderol at the start of a presentation. A meaty cold open kicks off your session with a lively pace, and signals that your style is all killer/ no filler. You ambush the yawning audience that thought they were way ahead of you, and mentally they scramble to catch up. (And, much as a TV drama opens with a dramatic chase, then segues to the opening titles, you can add the polite intro five minutes in – after you’ve made your killer impression.)

You Only Get One Chance to Slake a First Depression

Obviously, a strong beginning doesn’t guarantee that your whole presentation rocks. But well begun is half done. And audiences thank you when you do not bore them into depression.

So, choose your first impression with thoughtful intent. In a big venue, try crossing the speaker/listener chasm with small-talk interaction or contests. In a small venue, try mustering authority by standing tall and hitting ‘em with unexpected depth. I wish you every success!

What are your favorite presentation tactics? Please share in the comments!

Over on SlideShare, a Belgian consultant named Steven van Belleghem posted the most favorited presentation of 2011: a terrific briefing on people’s involvement with “Social media around the world.” How good is it? Well, when was the last time you posted one of your presentations, and received 680,000 views?

Those of us who market from North America can unknowingly (and unintentionally) build American bias and flavor into our sales and outreach materials. For that reason, I found it refreshing to absorb a well-researched, sharp analysis of the social media phenomenon from the EU perspective. At 167 slides, it’s a virtual illustrated tome; but Belleghen’s team researched across 35 countries, with some 9000 participants, to gain many insights into the attitudes and behaviors of Internet users. Some of the factoids that sparked my interest included:

  • Around the world, awareness of Facebook is approaching 100%
  • The average Facebook visit lasts more than half an hour
  • The #1 driver of online conversation is off-line events
  • Twitter presents a paradox: 80% of online users are aware of it, but only 16% use it
  • On Facebook and MySpace, women outnumber men; but men outnumber women on LinkedIn and Twitter
  • In Eastern Europe, Vkontakt is almost as popular as Facebook
  • In China, awareness of the social media platform Qzone equals awareness of Facebook
  • In Europe, only 51% of users “follow” a brand, but in India, 70% do
  • In Europe, one-third (33%) of all social network users are not allowed to access social networks from work

The list above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. You’ll find many clear indicators of what methods reach people efficiently, and which don’t.

Though social networking has a reputation for changing rapidly and being faddish, Bellenghem’s research indicates the vast majority of social media users (93%) are happy with the status quo. They intend to keep using social media at the rate they do now, neither increasing nor decreasing their current usage. That is merely the latest empirical data point indicating that social media is here to stay.

If you’re interested in figuring out how you can use it to forward your own global agenda, I highly recommend spending a few minutes with “Social media around the world.” I know of nowhere else to get data this useful and recent at everyone’s favorite price.

Naturally I’m excited to learn more about the new fleet of e-reader devices from Amazon, because I’m a happy Kindle user. (And a wanna-be Kindle author.)

However, I’m pointing you to this video describing Amazon Silk because it’s a terrific example of explaining a technical product to a lay audience. I’ve made more than a dozen such videos and I doubt I ever achieved the balance on display here. Credible spokespeople introduce the tech in clear yet non-condescending terms, then immediately follow up with the advantage and benefit to the user. The computer graphics underscore the point rather than distract from it. The piece has an understated, effortless feel that belies the massive amount of work required for productions of this quality. From a craft viewpoint, this is marketing I admire.

Do you believe the spokesmen? Does the video pique your interest in Amazon’s browser built for e-readers? How does it strike you?