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.

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! 

McCain’s missing market share

I have difficulty understanding how McCain is targeting the millennial generation. When I look through my lens, it’s like he doesn’t even exist. His marketing campaign is so skewed that his presence is invisible to me.

Barack Obama on the other hand, is overtly present. Every time I log on to facebook, my sidebar is adorned with some sort of pro-Obama promotion. A quick 20 refreshes on my profile, and Obama’s presence was there a whopping 17 times, compared to McCain’s zero. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t indicate any sort of political preference in my information.

I, like most of my generation, rely heavily on social media sites. I’ll check facebook an average of 20 -30 times per day. When I watch TV, it’s digitally recorded, so I skip through the commercials. Actually, I get more of my entertainment from places like Netflix and hulu.

To me, it’s like McCain doesn’t even care about my vote. If he did, wouldn’t he want to interact with me? I’ve told you how to reach me. Now where are you? I’m an undecided voter, a prime target. But you’re spending your advertising budget in ways that I’ll never see you. Barack seems to care. He’s interacting with me. So you’ve essentially given my vote to him simply because you didn’t show up.

So just what does this impact mean? Well, there are 42 million members of Gen Y who could vote this year. According to a recent survey from MeriTalk, 73% of Gen Y respondents plan to vote in the next election.

That’s over 30 million votes that John McCain is ignoring.

Not smart marketing if you ask me.

Make Your Message Bounce With a Game of Verbal Tennis

tennis_racket.jpgI’m currently reading Geoff Livingston’s New Media Primer Now Is Gone (a great read for anyone seeking practical advice on how to use new media in a marketing strategy). In the introduction, Brian Solis makes a point that really got me thinking.

“Conversations are driving the new social economy…Messages are not conversations. This is where most companies and PR people fall down. People just don’t communicate that way…Markets are not comprised of audiences…This is about speaking with, not “to” or “at” people.”

I couldn’t agree more and it got me thinking – what’s the difference between a message and a conversation?

Obviously, a message is one-way communication and a conversation is not. Rather, a conversation is like verbal tennis where words and ideas bounce back and forth between both parties.

Think of it this way…

A “message” is like playing shotput. You put all your effort into forcing information forward. It’s not about having the ball returned, instead it’s about pushing as hard and far as you can. The problem with verbal shot put is that there’s little room for feedback or interaction with your customers, which increases the risk of a missed message.

Shotput is not about being accurate, it’s about using your energy to blast your message far and long. While this strategy used to work when the landscape was less competitive, the goal of communication in this new paradigm is to make your message bounce.

How to do this?

1. Statements vs. Questions – A simple way to encourage conversation is by asking a question instead of a making a statement.

Example:
Shotput: You’ll save money and time with Product X
Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us about it!

2. Yes/No vs. Open-Ended – The type of question also determines the game you’re playing. Yes/No questions solicit short and boring responses. While traditional sales training encourages the use of questions that “will always result in a yes,” I believe consumers are smart enough to pick up on this sales tactic and quickly pack up their attention and leave when they sense its use. Opting for honest and conversational open-ended questions is a successful strategy.

Example:
Shotput: Are you looking to save money and time? Then buy Product X.
Tennis: What would you do with an extra 30 minutes a day? Use Product X, find out, and then tell us what you did! (Imagine coupling this with a prize to entice customers to submit stories)

3. Go beyond WWWWW&H – Questions aren’t the only way to get the ball bouncing. Using “feeling” verbs is a great way to encourage your customer’s imagination. Try peppering your copy with words like “imagine” or “discover” and allow your reader’s mind to soar.

Example:
Shotput: Product X will make you feel 10 years younger.
Tennis: Remember how you felt when you were 10 years younger? Imagine feeling that way again. Product X can help.

Ready to return the serve? Just write a comment below. 🙂

Related Links

Why Great Copy Is a Conversation, Not a Soliloquy – Dan O’Sullivan

Beware of Self Congratulatory Web Copy – Laura Bergells

Ad Copy That Attempts to Say Everything – Sometimes Says Nothing – Marc Davison

Humble Thoughts On Blogs, Social Networks, and other New Media Stuff

Last week Geoff Livingston and I participated in Smart Business Ideas(TM) Magazine’s Ready, Set, Grow event where the topic focused around blogs. Since our presentation I’ve been receiving e-mails from those in attendance regarding my opinion on social media. So here it is – humbly submitted, of course.

Who should blog?
Blogging is not for everyone. Keep in mind that although the operating costs are minimal, you still have to invest a significant amount of time to research, write and promote a blog. In my opinion, here are the three things you must have to start a blog:

1. Passion for a subject – I’m passionate about marketing. I could talk about this stuff all day long. To me, it’s easy to find stuff to write about because marketing is a topic to which I naturally gravitate. And you can tell just from reading my blog that this is really my life. My personality comes through because I’m passionate. Now, if I were to write a blog about, say, accounting (not a subject where I naturally gravitate) because someone said I “should” it wouldn’t have nearly the same effect because every time I would sit down to write a post I would hate it. Inevitably (if I had a blog about a subject I wasn’t passionate about) I would try to take shortcuts by reading and repeating what everyone else is saying without interjecting my own thoughts. At that point I would simply be regurgitating instead of contributing positively to a conversation.

2. Time – While the actual overhead expenses of maintaining a blog are (generally) low or no cost, you can’t forget about the time it takes to maintain a blog. Keep in mind there is more to blogging than simply sitting down to write.

A. Research – Reading related blogs so you know what’s going on around you takes time.

B. Writing – Hashing out your idea into a cohesive thought takes time.

C. Editing – Revising your cohesive thought so you don’t sound like a bumbling idiot takes time.

D. Analyzing – Checking your stats, referrals, and understanding what your readers like takes time.

E. Promoting – Registering at Technorati, putting widgets, continually adding to your blogroll, responding to comments and the thousands of other ways you can promote your blog takes time.

If you blog once a week, plan on investing at least 5 hours a week (especially in the beginning when you are getting everything set up) to produce a quality blog. For each additional post per week – add 2 hours. (Oh, and for those people who tell you they crank out a post in 10 minutes – I don’t buy it. Quality writing takes quality time.)

3. Dedication – I really liked how Geoff put it in his presentation last week – “Bloggers must be sharks. Not in the sense that they are aggressive – but in the sense that if they stop swimming, they die. Blogs where the author stops posting die.” With that in mind, you must commit to posting on a regular schedule. Yes, it’s tough – but it’s the way it is.

Facebook vs. Myspace vs. LinkedIn
Social networks are popping up everywhere. Yes, they can be amazing business tools. But they’re kind of like address books – they’re only as useful as the information in it. My advice? Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick one and go deep. Don’t bother with other ones until you’ve mastered the first. If you’re new at all this, I personally think LinkedIn is designed to be the most effective in a business setting (and is the most intuitive to set up in my opinion). Myspace is more personal. Facebook is a little bit of both.

Widgets, Twitter, Second Life & Other Randoms
This July at the New Media Nouveaux Conference, speaker Brian Williams mentioned how learning about all this new Web 2.0 stuff is like “drinking from a fire hose.” And it’s an accurate description. It can be overwhelming, especially when you feel pressured to participate in every single type of tool available. Here’s how I see it – there are enough new tools out there to keep you busy for 27 lifetimes. So, if the premise of the strategy doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t feel like you “have to” participate. I don’t use Twitter or Second Life because at this point in time, it isn’t a good return on my time investment. As I said before – it’s more effective to go deep into one tool instead of spreading yourself thinly across many.

I know my opinions are more down-to-earth than most – but hey, it’s what I think. What about you?

Reduce Social Media Burnout with a Communication Vacation

meditating-businessman.jpgThere’s a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about social media burnout. I blogged about this in April when I first started feeling the fatigue. Heck, if Steve Rubel is starting to see the strain – we know this is for real.

I feel like the pressure comes from several places:

1. So many tools, so little time. Let’s dissect the time it takes to effectively use just one channel of new media: blogs. To make a blog effective, you need quality content. That means time to: 1) come up with a creative & original topic 2) research it properly and 3) write and edit. And that’s just building the content of your blog. Then you compile marketing efforts – such as reading your daily feeds (I have 96 blogs in my reader) commenting on other blogs, tracking stats and reaching out to your readers. Now, add the 18,000 other social networking tools and gizmos we’re supposed to use at an equally engaging level and *poof* – burnout.

2. The need to please. Because social networking involves interaction with others, there is a need to meet their expectations. The best bloggers write for their readers, not for themselves – and knowing that people are depending on you to come up with profound and original content on a daily basis can wear you down.

3. The perpetuation (instead of distillation) of swill. Blogs gain popularity through “link love” which ultimately means people are consistently regurgitating other people’s original ideas. This regurgitation process tends to create a big fat game of telephone tag through the internet. The result is that then, in my research process, I am forced to backtrack through numerous links to track down the original source. These blogs that simply rely on supplying links without providing a thought provoking stance fall out quickly because readers see right through it. This relates back to reason #2 and importance of original and thought-provoking content.

So how do you battle this social networking fatigue? How do you stay plugged in while still creating original and thought provoking content? Why not allow yourself a daily vacation from all forms of media to allow your ideas to percolate?

Dictionary.com defines “vacation” as:

va·ca·tion [vey-key-shuhn, vuh] Pronunciation KeyShow IPA Pronunciation –noun

1. a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday:

I can say from personal experience that this has been my saving grace. Since April when I began to feel the burnout, I decided to invest at least an hour every day to suspend all forms of communication. This time allows my ideas to mature and the quality of my work has dramatically improved over the past few months.

So what does a communication vacation look like? Silence. That’s right – none of the following:

– cell phone
– radio
– television (I don’t own one anyway)
– internet
– computer
– gaming system
– e-mail

Instead, I do something like:

– sit in traffic with the radio off (I live in DC – so I do this a lot. Not my favorite activity, but it works)
– go for a run outside (without an mp3 player!)
– meditate
– sit at Founder’s Park right by the water and people/duck watch

As a recovering work-a-holic I can attest that as with any addiction, fighting the first urges were overwhelmingly difficult. Similar to when I quit smoking, I found myself having “communication fits” whenever I would try to sit still. But over time, I found that these times are critical to my creative process.

And I’m not alone. A recent article in Inc. Magazine highlighted several entrepreneurs who attribute their innovation to maintaining structured think time. “CEOs who curtail creativity may do so at a cost to their happiness and their businesses” author Allison Stein Wellner states. “Leaders can miss out on innovations as long as they view running a company as the hard stuff and coming up with new ideas as the fun stuff – and sacrifice the fun for the good of the business.”

Similarly, individuals can suffer from being too tied in to social media – feeling all that pressure. That can lead to health issues, family problems, and all the other icky stuff that we hate to talk about. So allow yourself a daily communication vacation. Be at peace in the silence. Allow your ideas to mature. And then come back armed with intelligent ammunition to make your work even better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a run. 🙂

Related Links

Steven Aitchison – Hypnogigia: The bridge to the unconscious

Shel Holtz – Social Media Burnout? Where Have I Heard This Before?

Future Lab – Facebook, Myspace & Social Burnout

Valeria Maltoni – Facebook Ain’t Face Time