About Andrea Goulet Ford

Content should be clear -- especially on the web. I'm on a mission to rid the world of corporate babble one concise sentence at a time.

Is Your Brand Borg or Borzoi?

For nearly a decade, it’s been my personal mission to “rid the world of corporate babble one concise sentence at a time.” Almost nothing gets under my skin more than a brand that actively disconnects itself from its audience through poor communication. To me, these brands are like the Borg from Star Trek; an attempt to channel the collective consciousness of their entire workforce. They try to do good by appealing to everyone, but their efficiency trumps empathy and personality. “Resistance is futile!” Their jargon and their corporate-ese make them seem like a formidable enemy. So I put on my super hero cape, take off my black-rimmed spectacles, and transform into Content Girl.

In my adventures, I’ve learned that underneath these bureaucratic brands are good, decent, hard working people that really do care about their customers. It’s a challenge — finding a way to empower the individual while still adhering to a consistent brand voice. One step to this side and you’re wrangling cats. One step to the other side is what Jon Lovett, former presidential speech writer, calls the “culture of bullshit.” As he described in his Commencement Address to the graduates of Pizter College:

We are drowning in [bullshit]. We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie; in industry-sponsored research; in social media’s imitation of human connection; in legalese and corporate double-speak. It infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth, making it harder to achieve anything.

When I read this, I want to jump up and start a rally cry. How did we get here? And how can we change?

Let’s look at an example, shall we?

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American Airlines is a big, big brand that manages a massive amount of customer feedback. So when @DHH complains about their missing baggage, they reply with what feels like a very automated response. The result? The exact opposite of what they wanted. Their customer is even more upset and is pushed even further away from their brand. And, chances are that behind this tweet, there’s a customer service rep who really, really wants to help but feels bound by bureaucracy.

Brene Brown, a research-storyteller who specializes in shame and vulnerability touched on this in her popular TED talk from 2010.

Whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill, a recall — we pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge effect on people. I would say to companies, “This is not our first rodeo people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, ‘We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.'”

So how does a brand shift from a Borg mentality to being authentic and real?

They focus less on the collective and more on one distinct and specific person. Like dogs, brands often share character traits with their owners.

Be less like the Borg. Be more like the Borzoi.

Be less like the Borg. Be more like the Borzoi.

For alliteration’s sake, be less like the Borg and more like a Borzoi.

Another example? I’m glad you asked.

Virgin, the brand synonymous with Sir Richard Branson, is a trailblazing, forward-thinking, sophisticate — just like its owner. This isn’t a shiny veneer applied at the last moment by some snazzy design. These traits are part of their culture, and it permeates through every aspect of their business; from branding to operations to legal. Virgin Atlantic, has set itself apart from the monolith American Airlines by recognizing the humanity of their customers. The result? Virgin Atlantic doesn’t just have customers, they have raving fans.

So, which type of brand are you? Do you try to be all things to all people, thus ending up boring and Borg-like? Or, do you have the courage to be authentic? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

How to Source, Organize, and Publish Quality Social Media Content (Without Losing Sleep)

Amount of content

Don’t make your audience drink from a firehose. Focus on quality, not quantity.

What if I told you that you could publish a steady stream of quality social media content without:

a) pulling all the hair out of your head
b) quitting your “real” job
c) sharing content that you didn’t really read

You’d probably point and laugh. “Ha ha — that silly Andrea. She thinks that she can actually fit social media management into a workflow?” Well, yes — I do. And so can you.

When The Spark Mill asked me to present this topic I thought about myself circa 2006, when, as a freelancer, I was first trying to wrap my head around how to use social media and still find time for useful things like billable work. After seven years, and a whole bunch of useful apps later (I LOVE YOU BUFFER!) I finally figured out how to participate authentically in social media without being “on” 24/7.

Check out the presentation on SlideShare or Prezi. Hopefully you can learn from my frustration and set yourself on the path to social media sanity more quickly than I did.

To your success,

Andrea

Why LinkedIn Just Became My New CRM

Oh, LinkedIn! Just when I think you can’t get any better, you find a way to become even more useful. I think back on when we first met in 2005, I was a budding young sales executive, you were a new website that let me find new clients. Who knew that eight years later we’d still be so close.

In 2007, I wanted you to show me faces — and you did

In 2008, a recruiter at Capital One found me. I had fun there but had to spread my wings

In 2010, I launched a business with my best friend (who is now my spouse and father to my child). You gave me a jump start because so many of my co-workers wrote recommendations for me. 

And today, you just made my life even more awesome by launching LinkedIn Contacts and integrating with my Google Calendar. Why am I so excited, you ask? Well, when I worked in sales, I relied on my Contact Relationship Manager (CRM) to help me stay in touch with my network. I used ACT!, but when I switched over from PC, I could no longer get the software. Your system takes the two features I used most from ACT! (calendar and to-do) and integrates them. I’m really excited about the potential. The feature set today may be a little wonky (I can only see today and the iPhone app is only showing one contact), but I have faith that you’ll update soon and we’ll be on our merry way making the world a better place. 

Of all the social networks I’ve invested in over the years, you’re the one that has done the most for my career. Thanks for keeping me on my toes! 

Lord of the Ink: Return of the Freelancer

I’m back to freelancing. Although, when I think about it, did I ever really stop?

One Does Not Simply Cease to FreelanceI’ve tried working at other companies — big Fortune 100 firms, tiny startups, medium agencies —but no matter the flavor, if I wasn’t working for myself things just didn’t seem to, well, work. I crave the flexibility and variety that freelancing provides too much to work for anyone else. And now that I’m a new mama, that flexibility is more important than ever.

How about you? Do you love freelancing? Hate it? Want to give it a try but are nervous to take the leap?

Does Ugly Duckling Branding Work?

ugly ducklingI recently had lunch with a friend who said,

“I don’t want my non-profit to look too polished. Then people will think I don’t need the money. We go for the ugly duckling effect.”

This got me thinking. Does the ‘ugly duckling’ effect work?

First of all, let’s think about what branding is.

Branding is the way people interacting with your organization perceive you.

A polished brand is:

  1. Consistent
  2. Visible
  3. Unique

But wait — you might ask — where are the things like websites and brochures? Isn’t that branding? Well, yes and no. Branding elements, or tactics, (websites, brochures, public service announcements, social media, etc.) are extensions of your brand and combined give an overall impression about your organization. This impression is your brand, not the individual components themselves. Think of it like your reputation. If you generally punctual, prepared, and turn in assignments on time, it’s fair to assume that people will perceive you as responsible. It’s the consistency of these actions, together, that create your reputation (or personal brand, but that’s a whole other post).

So, when you talk about having an ugly duckling brand, you’re saying you don’t want a polished brand. You’re saying that you’d prefer mismatched materials, that no one sees, and you just want to be like everyone else. If that’s your goal, no doubt, it will be difficult to raise money. Think about non-profits that you admire. Is this how they present themselves?

I believe what my friend (and anyone else who believes in this philosophy) was trying to express was the fear of being perceived as not being good stewards of the money that was entrusted to them. Fair point. It doesn’t make good fiscal sense to spend $30,000 on a beautiful, custom-designed website, when your operating budget is only $100,000. But good branding doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

Here are some ways that you can achieve a polished brand without blowing your budget. All of these can be accomplished on your own, without spending a dime on consultants. But, should you find yourself stuck, there are definitely people out there (insert shameless plug here) who can help you out.

Conduct a Brand Audit (Consistency and Uniqueness)

The word “audit” can conjure images of grey-suited CPA’s threatening to shut you down. That’s not what we’re talking about here. An audit is just an objective lay of the land. There are two steps. 1) Gathering materials, and 2) Making an assessment. When you conduct a brand audit, you look at ALL your marketing materials: letterhead, business cards, social media, brochures, press releases, and a whole lot more. Then, you look for places where you can improve. Are your materials consistent? Is your logo easy to identify?  Does your writing convey the personality you’re going for?

Create a Style Guide (Consistency)

We use guides all the time. Think of traffic signals, flow charts, and “this end up” stamps on boxes. Guides are ways to help communicate how something is done. They prevent accidents, ensure progress, and help make sure that lamp your godmother gave you in college doesn’t get smashed in your next move. Style guides do the same thing, but for your brand. Typically, they’re broken into two different sections: visual and voice. Visual style guides will address things like which colors to use and how your logo should appear, while voice explains how the personality of your brand is conveyed in writing (along with nit-picky grammar topics like whether or not to use the Oxford comma). If you do a lot of work online, you might also choose to have a style guide just for the web. Nancy Schwartz has a great post called, “How to Create a Nonprofit Style Guide” that you might want to check out.

Study Guerrilla Marketing Tactics (Visibility)

Maybe you’ve heard of guerrilla warfare? Small groups find ways to capitalize on their flexibility when they don’t have a lot of funds. In war, this means ambushes, raids, and sabotage. I’m in no way suggesting you engage in unethical practices, but if you don’t have a lot of budget how can you make the most out of what you DO have? Jay Conrad Levinson literally wrote the book on guerrilla marketing. On his website, you’ll find tons of articles about direct mail, telemarketing, and email (hey, those sound like marketing tactics that you probably rely on). Most of the content is written for an entrepreneurial audience, but the core message certainly applies to the non-profit world, too.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to turn your ugly duckling brand into a beautiful swan? Or, do you still hold true to the idea that a brand that’s not quite polished is more effective? It’s a great topic, so I’d encourage you to leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going.

6 Tips for Writing a Powerful Non-Profit Mission Statement

If your organization were a car, your mission statement would be the tires. Without one, it would be really hard to go anywhere; it’s the part on which the rest of the components rest.

So, it’s important. You’ve got that. But what you need help with is creating a mission statement that’s strong enough to support your organization (just like you wouldn’t want car tires made out of silly putty) and flexible enough to allow you to respond to changes (just like how steel car tires wouldn’t get you very far either). Here are some tips on writing a mission statement that works:

Keep it short. One sentence. Maybe two. A good test for this is can you repeat it without having to “memorize” it? If you (and your staff) can’t repeat it often, it’s not going to do its job. The American Lung Association does a good job. Their mission is, “to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease.” Easy. Short. Effective.

Stay specific. Yes, we have big hearts and want to help everyone. But being too broad can actually harm your programs. A mission I ran across when researching this article that demonstrates this well is:

Non-Profit XYZ exists to do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can.

Wait, what?! That sounds like a nice ambition, but it’s not a very effective mission statement. There’s a saying in the for-profit world, “the riches are in the niches” — and that applies in the non-profit realm as well. The more specific you can be about who you serve and why, the easier it will be for foundations and governments to fund you.

A program does not a mission make.  Many non-profits mistake a successful program for their mission. But remember, a mission statement describes the ends, not the means; it describes what you’re trying to achieve, your ultimate goal, not the programs you implement to fulfill your mission.

Using a program to describe your mission severely limits you. For example: The mission of AfricaXYZ is to collect personal computers in the United States and place them in schools in Africa. That’s an amazing thing, but it’s not a mission. It’s a program. Let’s say their program was really successful, so they wanted to start collecting computers from Europe. According to their mission, they can’t — they only collect computers from the United States. Or let’s say a cell phone company approaches them for a partnership. Well, darn. That wouldn’t fit their mission either, because they only collect personal computers.

See the difference? A better mission for this organization might be: AfricaXYZ provides technology to African students, so that they can achieve the same potential as children in first-world countries. Effective missions describe the why, not the how.

Use plain language. The people reading your mission are bombarded with millions of competing pieces of information vying for their attention. So, how do you stand out? Plain language. Use plain language by choosing a conversational tone and easy-to-understand words, among other things. Plus, for government agencies, plain language is required by law according to the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Don’t try — do! It’s easy to let wishy-washy words sneak into our mission statements. Words like “try”, “seek”, “influence”, “encourage”, “works to”, “attempts”, “aims”, “helps” give the impression that we’re not actually successful in fulfilling our missions. Put a stake in the ground and use declarative words. The American Lung Association doesn’t “attempt to save lives”. They save lives. What does your organization do?

Avoid writing by committee. Yes, you have to get buy-in from others, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the integrity of your writing. Watch this short video by Dan Heath with Fast Company to show how your really effective statement gets warped into a meaningless jumble of mess when other people get involved, and how to avoid it.

Your mission statement is the torch that will guide your organization for many years to come, so it’s worth the time, energy, and attention that you’re devoting. Have a tip you want to share? We’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Closing a door. Opening a window.

Today, we wrapped up the last client at Corgibytes. Sad, indeed.

For the past two years, I’ve worked with my husband building websites and apps. But, after three very expensive lessons in a row, we had to pivot. So, Scott accepted a full-time job and will continue to build apps in his spare time.

Where does that put me? For awhile I felt like I was in a professional vacuum. My job at Corgibytes was development, marketing and customer service. Now that we’ve changed our business model, there’s little need for me.

So, I’m going back to my roots, with a twist. For six years, I’ve worked as a professional writer and I’ve worked with some amazing organizations (especially over the past year). I started to notice a common thread — my favorite clients are all working to make the world a better place. So, that’s where I’m putting my stake in the ground. Communication services for non-profits and socially-conscious businesses.

We’ll see where this new adventure takes me — but the destination doesn’t really matter, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Have you ever had to reinvent yourself? How did it turn out?