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?

20130504-061014.jpg

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.

Beach Reads for a Business Owner

In one week, I’ll be at the beach. My out of the office message will be set on my e-mail, but like many business owners, my mind will be still very much focused on my passion — building my business. So in addition to sunscreen and sandals, I’ll be packing a stack of books that I’m hoping will inspire me. Here’s what I’ve picked, and why. Have tips for others? Leave them in the comments below. Happy reading!

Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

No venture capital. That’s how 37Signals has built their business, and it’s how we plan on building ours. We’re already avid readers of the 37Signals blog, and use this humbled-beginnings software company as a beacon for where we want to go.


Do More Great Work.
by Michael Bungay Stanier

This was a recommendation when I purchased Rework, but the subtitle got me — “Stop the busywork, and start the work that matters.” Having just come back from my corporate-world stint, I haven’t quite shaken the busywork bug. I feel compelled to be doing something all the time, almost like I have  a looming mid-year review over my shoulder. I’m hoping this book will give me ideas of taking control over my own schedule, and to, well, do more great work.


Making Ideas Happen
by Scott Belsky

When I freelanced, it was simple. If something needed to get done, I did it. In corporate, the team was so big that I knew my myopic role and did just that. But now, we have a small team, and a long list of things we want to do. I’ll be looking to this book for ways to get our ideas off of our index cards and into the hands of our customers.


The Official Scrabble® Brand Word-Finder
by Robert Schachner

One of the first things I do every morning is play a game of Scrabble on my iPhone. I find it’s a great way for me to wean in the day (I’m naturally a night-owl). Lately, I can beat the Normal setting without a challenge, but I’m stuck when it comes to Hard. I plan on using this study guide to beef up my Scrabble skills not only for my own enjoyment, but to ensure that I win at family game night (I have a slight competitive side, too.)


Ladies First: History’s Greatest Female Trailblazers, Winners, and Mavericks
by Lynn Santa Lucia

Stories of others who have risen to a challenge are most inspiring. So what better fodder for dreams than a collection of women who have changed the course of history. From Christine de Pisan, Europe’s first professional female writer, to Dorothy Levitt, the first woman to compete in a motor race in 1903, I can’t wait to read the seventeen mini-biographies and maybe find a piece of myself among them.


Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

Mindful living has had a profound impact on my life. It helps me make better decisions in both business and in life. One aspect of mindfulness is around how we consume our food. Too often, I find myself gobbling down a breakfast bar because I’m running to a meeting. This book, written by one of the world’s preeminent Buddhist authors, shows how you can maintain a healthy weight and attitude simply by paying attention to your food.

On becoming a web “triple threat”

Tap Dancer

Believe it or not, I started school pursuing Classical Voice. My dream was to be on Broadway (it’s still on my list of things to do before I die). The only problem? I’m not a great dancer.

You see, to really make it on Broadway, you need to be able to sing, act, AND dance. Two out of the three won’t do. If you’re deficient in one area, that means countless hours of practice just to get up to par. I just wasn’t willing to invest the time, and so I changed my major to Marketing. Smart move, I think.

The same idea of a “triple threat” applies to the web. A web site or application is made up of three main areas: Content, Design, and Development. As clients demand more and more sophisticated sites, and as the web experience becomes more integrated (think mobile), it’s more important for those of us in the web field to cross-train in the different disciplines. Yes, it’s hard work, and countless hours, but this time, I’m excited about it!

Here are some of the resources I found most helpful while I was learning. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Content

Design

Code/Development

    Lynda.com (yes – they get a plug twice, it’s that good)

Image Attribution:

Taking the leap…again.

b&w photo of girl diving into a lake

Next Tuesday is my last day at Capital One. It’s been a great ride. I’ve made lots of friends and learned a ton, but I never quite shook the own-your-own-business bug.

I’m thinking it’s genetic. My brother’s an entrepreneur, too. And when you look at our childhood, it’s not hard to see why.

When I was five (1986) my father left his job as an IT big-wig, bought a Macintosh computer, and started a graphics design company with my artistically inclined mother. I asked him “Why?” for a project in 6th grade. His reply? “So I could see you get off the school bus every day.”

I grew up stapling blank invoices to manila folders for a penny a piece.

In middle school, I started running my own business doing “over printing.” This was before digital printing came along. My parents would create a shell brochure for companies with multiple offices. My brother and I would collect orders from individual offices and carefully feed the glossy paper through a bubble-jet printer, set it on the floor to dry, run it through a folding machine, and ship it out. My father and I still laugh about my mishaps with the (really finicky!) folding machine.

By early high school, my parents had merged their business with a pre-press and printing company. I came up with the name and tagline — Proximus; Next generation printing — by opening my Latin dictionary. That was my first foray into copywriting and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my idea scattered all over signs and stationary.

At the age of 24, I quit my job in sales because of an ethical belief. When I became frustrated in the job search, my parents bought me a laptop, desk, and a copy of Quickbooks. Within a month I had landed three clients. For three years I finessed my skills and made my living as a freelance copywriter. I started a blog. Capital One read it, a recruiter called me out-of-the-blue and asked me to come write for them.

That was two and a half years ago.

For a while, I really enjoyed the steady paycheck, vacation pay, sick days, and 40-hour work weeks. These were luxuries I never had when I worked on commission or freelanced. The first week, my manager would have to remind me to go home at 5:00. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Compared to the 14-hour days I was used to, I essentially felt like I was leaving at lunchtime.

I got a bonus and flew to Australia. I won the 3-legged race at the Brand Olympics. I went to some kick-ass conferences. But I also stopped blogging, watched my inspiration slowly fizzle, and became daunted by corporate politics.

Then, last September, I bumped into one of my best friends from high-school at our 10-year reunion. He owned a software company and needed marketing help.  The next day we sat by the pool and dreamed about offering copywriting and coding services to designers. In November, I became a Partner in Corgibytes. Two weeks later, we had our first client. In March, he proposed — at the same spot where we dreamed up our business plan (I said yes). Today we’re living that dream.

I suppose for some people, the itch to be an entrepreneur is just inherent. You do it because you don’t want to do anything else. Because you’d rather work for yourself 14 hours a day than work for somebody else for 8. And because life seems more fun after you dove in than it ever did watching from the dock.

10 Tips for a Kickass Wanted Ad

Here’s a great example of how to write a job description that works. I found this on Andy Sernovitz’s blog (a must have on your RSS feed if you ask me.)

Benifit-driven conversational copy gets you noticed.

10 Reasons why it works:

  1. The first word. You. Not me, I, we or any other form of the first person. You. It grabs the reader’s attention and makes your message relevant.
  2. Conversational tone. “Here’s the deal” is a great opening line. It closes the gap between the writer and reader. It makes your reader feel like they’re face-to-face, and opens an emotional bond. And in advertising, that’s a powerful thing.
  3. Clear benefits. Your reader wants to know, “What’s in it for me”. Give them clear and meaningful examples. Andy does a great job here with, “You will become a rock star with badass contacts. We will find you a job when you graduate.”
  4. Name dropping. Works every time. If you have the clout and the contacts, make it known.
  5. Edgy. Yes, this ad uses words like “shitwork” and “badass”. But it works here because of the audience. It makes your ad stand out amid a sea of corporate babble. Just make sure that you have the corporate culture to pull it off.
  6. Authentic. There’s no guessing that this job will require a lot of effort and work. In fact, they come out and say “You will be exhausted.” But transparency and honesty about the job (especially early in the process) just make you more credible.
  7. Keywords instead of tasks. “Blogging, Youtube, Social Media, Viral, Word of Mouth…” describe what the job is about without saying what the employee will be doing on a day-to-day basis. This helps ensure that qualified candidates won’t self-select out because they perceive they’re under qualified.
  8. Short & Simple. At just over 100 words, this ad packs punch. In just a glance and a quick scan, you clearly understand what Andy’s looking for and whether or not it’s a good fit for you. No need to drone on and on. We’re all too busy to read useless information.
  9. Written for the audience. This ad might not be the best fit if you were trying to find a more senior position, but for an intern, the edgy and conversational tone is perfect. This is how 19 year olds speak. Write how you (and your audience) speak.
  10. Clear call to action. “How to apply: blow my mind” (love this!) followed by three websites where you can learn more. Clear next steps are critical for increased response.

What are your thoughts? Is this an effective Wanted Ad? Or did it cross the line? Would you apply? Would you pass it on?

To your success,

Andrea 😀

Use Twitter to Make the Most Out of Your Next Conference

As a former sales professional, I’ve attended my fair share of conferences. It’s usually ended up being a game of networking roulette—working the room hoping you’ll bump into someone with whom you have synergy. It’s a professional gamble. Sure you’ve made connections; but were they the most strategic, or the most convenient?

Today, I’m heading to Boston to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit and it’s the first time I’ve used twitter before attending a conference. I have to say, I’m impressed with the potential. Here are some ways I’ve used twitter as a tool to make the most of my meetings for the next 3 days.

1. Follow the hashtag.
If you’re organizing a conference, hashtaging is a must. It allows attendees to mark tweets as relevant to you. Without it, you’re missing out on a big portion of the conversation. Attendees, use a twitter aggregator such as Tweetdeck (desktop) or Hootsuite (web app) to easily follow the conversation and see who else will be there. The hashtag for the Inbound Marketing Summit is #ims09.

example of conference conversation via twitter (hootsuite)

example of conference conversation via twitter (hootsuite)

2. Are you on the list?
Earlier this month, TweepML launched a Twitter Group Service, allowing users to create their own lists.  I found this tool indispensible, as I was able to add and follow over 50 other people who are attending the conference with just one click! To get on the list, simply contact the administrator of the list and ask. (“Pretty please with a cherry on top?”)

3. Reach out and tweet someone (pre-networking).
Once you’ve made some connections, it’s time to use them! Start by looking at the bios of your new contacts. Is there anything you have in common? If so, use twitter just like you would if you were in the room. For example, I found out that @InnovateMarCom is another avid karaoke fan. With just a couple tweets, we struck up a conversation. Now, when we meet in person, the connection will be much richer (even if Boston lacks a karaoke scene).

Even if we can't plan a karaoke outing, chances are Nichole and I will have a great conversation.

Even if we can't plan a karaoke outing, chances are Nichole and I will have a great conversation.

I’ll be arriving in Boston around 7pm tonight. Looking forward to a great conference and meeting all these wonderful people in real life. Safe travels everyone!

What’s Your City’s Icebreaker Question?

Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you’re bound to hear it from someone.

In DC, be prepared to answer “What do you do?”

Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There’s something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you’re being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone’s occupation, but rather their activities.

Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they’re not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone’s professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.

“What do you do?”

“You know, recently I’ve been really into Salsa dancing. I’ve been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!”

“Really? I love salsa dancing. I’ve been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?”

When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of  “What do you do?” In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.

In Richmond, you’ll be asked “Are you from here?”

Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered “from here” because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn’t even born here.

I think another reason it’s a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there’s an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. “What high school did you go to?”)

If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be “So, what brought you to Richmond?” I ask this often because I’m amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.

So, what’s the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. 🙂