Category Archives: Branding

The CEO in 2016: Five things you can do for your brand

Agility and customer centricity are primary themes today. Mapping the customer journey. Launching products and features quickly to adjust them — or pivot — just as quickly. All kinds of new technologies for analyzing reach.

Yet companies must still satisfy the classic marketing requirements of producing good stories and inspiring the loyal purchase.

CEOs, pressed for time and focus, often relegate marketing to a lower level of attention. It’s a habit left over from the days of slower message cycles, broadcasting and a lot of assumption about buyer values. Plus CEOs have to think about everything by the quarter. So with an at-best preoccupied and at-worst absent chief ambassador, the marketing investment — even when powered by the most powerful tools and visionary messages — suffers from not reaching its full potential. Because the CEO is the leader for a reason. She provides the direction and the inspiration. He keeps every stakeholder front-and-center.

The purpose of a business
Peter Drucker on the purpose of a business

Here are five ideas for CEOs who want to manage distraction and be on the ground while breaking new ground for their brands in 2016.

Demonstrate your devotion to the customer. If you must, think of it as taking a coffee break from the typical responsibilities of running a company. Not only does this pull you into the marketing effort, it sets a company standard for looking outward.
Quarterly: Call a customer. Or better yet, visit one.
Monthly: Share a customer story — good, bad, ugly — with your employees. Cover the key learning points the company should absorb and address.
Weekly: Ask a manager to communicate one key customer or competitor insight to the entire organization.
Daily: Pick one item from your daily non-company reading [you’re doing that, right?] to share with the company. Make it about the market, buying trends, innovation — anything that will align your brand with the marketplace and maybe equip people to amplify the brand’s values.

Test your own assumptions. About your people, your competitors and your customers.
Quarterly: Ask your marketing team to give you a short briefing on what is being said about your brand.
Monthly: Visit competitors’ websites and social media accounts to see if you want to add any insights to what your teams tell you about competitors’ products, services and customers.
Weekly: Check what industry influencers are saying about trends and shifts in your marketplace.
Daily: Ensure that what customer says — good, bad, ugly — gets addressed by marketing messages and literally turned into marketing copy.

Tell an elegant story. Uncomplicated, drama-free, yet compelling. Invite customers and influencers to align with you, not just to buy your products.
Quarterly: Write something to share with customers and employees — something that demonstrates your company’s connection with the marketplace. Use an editor.
Monthly: For employees, share an anecdote about an employee who has done something to exemplify the brand’s reach and impact on customers.
Weekly: Schedule five minutes to talk with an employee about what is working on the street — and what is not.
Daily: Look at your marketing outreach, particularly social media, to offer guidance and to make sure the team is on message.

Surround your brand with leaders who have talents you do not. Whether it’s your marketing team or an event you are sponsoring, spare no time or expense in bringing the fresh air of new perspectives to your company. At the same time, vet attitudes as well as capabilities. For example, make sure every speaker your team invites to your company events is someone you can respect. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but let’s say the team finds someone who is billed as an expert in diversity. And it turns out they attack people on Twitter. Your invitations to people like this — as advisors, speakers or employees — say volumes about the brand. And no amount of clever marketing will correct the mistake of people who wound your brand through a thousand little cuts.
Quarterly: Ask for an audit of the content and experts your team is using to burnish or represent your brand. The marketing team should be doing independent research, not just looking at the experts’ or agencies’ marketing material.
Monthly: Go to a professional event that’s featuring a speaker or a panel. Remember what you liked and pass it on to your marketing team.
Weekly: Keep and update a file of quotations or essays you like. Having this on hand when you’re approving an event agenda will help you ensure content relevant to your brand.
Daily: Check the editorial page of a publication you like.

Reward actors, not bystanders. One of the great consumer frustrations today is the inability of customer service reps to go off-script — to actually come up with a solution on one’s own to a customer’s problem. The advent of social media has had a positive effect on the robo-response tendency — but we have a long way to go. Rote answers to customers’ concerns are the province of the bystander employee. As Cate Huston wrote in this excellent essay on the problem with corporate bystanders who don’t nip sexism in the bud, “it starts with refusing to be a bystander by calling things out”. Same phenomenon at work in branding: all the beautiful design and expensive messaging in the world won’t compensate for front-line employees asked to divert customers from what bothers them.
Quarterly: Listen to or read how a customer rep handled a problem. See if it resonates with your brand strategy.
Monthly: Ask direct reports to give an example of a problem solved that improved on customer service practice.
Weekly: Ask for a memo on the top five customer comments on social media.
Daily: Show your internal teams that you are confident enough to go off-script, too.

Build digital relationships using these ten elements

A social media presence should be about relating to people.  Whether the goal is more visibility for a brand, more personal influence over the public conversation, or just plain socializing, companies and individuals must emphasize relationships.

Lots of people have lots of good ideas for how to begin.  There are wonderful resources that are shared openly.  People and companies of any size can learn, pretty quickly how to begin, improve and excel on the variety of social networks available today.

I believe the best approach to social media begins with the same thing we should all be learning as children:  how to initiate and participate in a conversation.  From there it comes down to ten basic elements that enrich an online conversation — and make relationships possible.

1       Converse – don’t broadcast 6       Stakeholders:  Customers, influencers, suppliers, regulators
2       Follow – find people and companies to watch, benchmark and engage in conversation  7       Location: Where your product or service can create/stoke the best social experience
3       Curate – collect the social content of companies and individuals you admire 8       Story:  Your product or service and its role in your stakeholders’ lives
4       Link – link your content to influencers and make it easy for them to link to yours 9       Content:  The substance that tells your story and connects your company to stakeholders
5       Share – circulate your content 10    Community:  Extend or build one

For more detail on how to go social in 2014, and for some of those free resources I mentioned, visit this deck on SlideShare.   [ From a workshop presentation in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, hosted by the Town of Big Stone Gap and the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park.]

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How to learn content marketing best practices

The Content Marketing Strategies Conference is happening in Berkeley May 8 and 9. If you want to get a quick but deep immersion into the topic of content marketing, this is the place for you.

Digital and social tools are changing the way companies of all sizes position themselves to customers.  That’s why there are a lot of clichés getting thrown around in the branding/marketing sphere.  Content marketing simply means using your company’s facts to connect with your markets online.  For the purpose of doing business.

To market your content via all the channels available to you, there are three things you need to understand.  And this conference will help you with that, through case studies from companies like SAS, Dell, Ogilvy PR, Kelly Services, HiveFire, and Altimeter Group.

  1. How your customers and fans gather information about you and your products – so you can share the content they want on their terms
  2. How your customers use content about your products and services to make a buying decision – so you can engage your customers more effectively
  3. How to integrate online content marketing practices with your offline sales and marketing activities – so you are delivering a consistent message and leveraging your entire marketing spend

I’m really pleased to have been asked to serve as a media sponsor of this gathering – and I’m even more pleased to be able to share with you a discount opportunity.  Just click on the image below to learn more about the Content Marketing Strategies Conference and register using the discount.

The Content Marketing Strategies Conference

The next generation of Internet startups

In March 2012, I read about a new startup called BrandYourself and signed up.  Inspired by one of its founder’s negative search engine results — he was being confused with a drug dealer — BrandYourself is nonetheless about much more than deleting bad search results.  The company is one of several new startups that enable regular people to optimize their online activities and/or make their lives easier.  I am so impressed with BrandYourself that I talked with CBS Interactive about it.

There are plenty of so-called reputation management plays out there, well-funded, in fact, but BrandYourself represents a super-important shift in technology — what I see as the next generation of startups.  It is one of a bunch of companies that were born where their customers live, and they enable customers to manage and optimize their content — giving them a bit of control they did not have.  In BrandYourself’s case, you tell them what you want turning up in a search, so the Internet is not just happening to you.

Another new generation startup, Citrus Lane [my client], packages and delivers products for babies and their parents monthly, saving them time and money.  This is great, but Citrus Lane also invites customers into a community of parents who share their experiences and wisdom.  The so-called mommy bloggers are running with it, taking to their sites and YouTube to talk about their experiences with the brands that Citrus Lane packs — and talking about how Citrus Lane covers all their bases:  monthly surprises, good things for their babies, product research.

Wix.com [I use it for my consulting practice], makes it possible for anyone to create  a beautiful, compelling, differentiated website for a small business.  Their designers and programmers work on the art and the underlying engine, giving you templates to follow that extract the content that makes for a good story.  At the same time, you have a creative outlet that gives the world a picture of the real you.  This is essential to strong marketing [something I always tell my clients].

These startups use technology to pull ideas from you to shape your presence and your circles online.  And while BrandYourself and companies like it do have the luxury of following the quirky programming geniuses who perfected web platforms, they are very wisely taking those innovations a step further, not copying them.  They are addressing what regular people need, now that we have Facebook, LinkedIn, et al,  and providing services on top of those platforms that meet real expectations.

Marketplace differentiation starts with a story. Your story.

The advent of the social enterprise is upon us.  We are all about to embark upon corporate communication as we have never known it.  Communication across multiple media and multiple lines, with folks we know or want to know. Immediate communication.  Precisely targeted communication.  Democratically sourced communication. 

722673_waters_edgeFluid boundaries are the mark of the social enterprise — so enterprise messages must be ever more precise.  And they must be distinguishable from those of other enterprises, especially from your competitors.

One thing has not changed.  Differentiation begins with your story. 

So before you even begin to embrace the potent advantages of the social enterprise experience, know the story you want to tell.  Don't even think about technology or new marketing initiatives without pondering your story.

 

 

 

The leading corporate advisor Nancy Duarte has a terrific approach to the personal story, and it applies perfectly to the enterprise.  

   Duarte focuses on what she calls the transformative idea.  What is the idea that led to your enterprise?  What are the ideas that gave it shape?  What are the ideas that keep it relevant and of use to your customers and stakeholders?  Who are the characters that enrich your story?  Where are the new chapters of your story being written?

Your story drives your messages, your brand, your presence.  Or it should.  Think Zappos, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Apple, Dyson.  Your story will fortify your organization as it transforms into a social enterprise.  Your story will help your stakeholders understand who you are and give them reasons to build relationships with your enterprise, person to person.

 

Five things to read to shape your leadership strategy now

These five articles reach beyond short-term business trends to point us in a new direction — one that takes leaders to game-changing practices for managing growth, culture and image.

Sharing value:  how to reinvent capitalism, co-authored by the great Michael Porter; HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

Worthless Wall Street:  by John Cassidy, this is the best explanation yet of Wall Street's culture — read it to avoid the traps; THE NEW YORKER

Personalizing social media:  you can influence what is said about you simply by using networks; HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW

Understanding brand and marketing now:  learn how to deploy the benefits of new tools in the context of tried-and-true marketing; BRANDING STRATEGY INSIDER

Communicating about performance in real time:  it's now possible to do away with the annual performance review and improve employee relations; MASHABLE [disclaimer:  Rypple is a client]

 

Six marketing blogs that help you run your business

There is a great deal of content floating around on the Internet about marketing, especially when it comes to incorporating social media into the traditional marketing mix.  I find myself saving posts from these blogs on a regular basis.  In reading them, I find workable ideas for clients, whatever their size and scope.

MyVenturePad.  Written for the startup but appropriate for organizations at all stages.  The writers address all aspects of running a business.

Branding Strategy Insider.  Produced by The Blake Project, offers the best descriptions and guidelines for the branding process.  The writers also help to cut through the jargon.

Small Business Trends.  Good for anyone who wants to grasp marketing from the ground up — including corporate executives.  A useful tool for testing the performance of large marketing functions as well as building a marketing focus in a small or medium business.

MarketingTech Blog.  Writers well-grounded in social media, based in the US Midwest.  This blog provides a counter-balance to the echo chamber populated by the self-proclaimed social media gurus.

Radian6 blog.  How to make social media a rich channel for connecting with stakeholders.  The company offers clients a technology platform for engaging with stakeholders online and measuring the results.  The team also produces eBooks that are easy to digest.

HubSpot blog.  Inbound marketing focused.  That's the official term for the marketing processes focused on direct connection with a company's customers.  In its blog, HubSpot addresses the nitty-gritty aspects of managing these processes.