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Category: Marketing Basics (Page 1 of 25)

The Only Way Your Business Can Compete in 2014

2014 sparklersIt’s a New Year, all bright and shiny and full of potential. You’re setting goals for your business – sales goals, marketing goals, social media goals. You’re gonna hit that next revenue milestone, boost lead generation, increase conversion, and knock it out of the park with engagement. You’re practically chomping at the bit to get started. You have the vision, the resources, and the plan. You have tactics and technical know-how. This will be a sure thing.

Until it isn’t.


currier and ivesI don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. Not at all. I love the New Year. January is one of my favorite months. Here in New England, we get all Currier & Ives in the snow. It’s pretty. It fills us full of optimism and good intentions. We are sure that this will be the year we (finally!) stick to our resolutions: more sleep and exercise, fewer sweets and cocktails, etc., etc., etc.

We do the same with our businesses. This will be the year we sort out all our systems, cut the dead weight, and get strategic. This will be the year we really make our mark. We can feel it – we’re so close to the tipping point. Everything we’ve been working for is just around the corner, if only we can … if only we can …


simon cowellAnd there, whether you’re a solopreneur or a global enterprise, is where it often falls apart.  Because although you may think you have everything beautifully planned out, all you really have is a bunch of moving parts. It’s a shot in the dark which (if any) of them will turn out to be the X Factor that puts your business on the map.

You do not need a new tactic, the latest technology, or a celebrity endorsement. You need a BRAND. 


mark w schaefer rndMark Schaeffer posted earlier this week about why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy.  Mark’s a super smart guy and he’s not making this up. I’m a writer. I love content. I love content marketing. But (and it’s a BIG but), to stay competitive in content marketing is becoming more and more challenging.

fish school rndWhen content marketing was a new pond and there weren’t many fish, it was easy to stand out just by being there. Today, we’re packed in gill-to-gill, making it almost impossible for any one fish to stand out from the school.  Companies are trying to be seen by publishing more content more frequently, but (as Mark points out) that’s a losing battle in which only the business with the biggest budget wins. 


If you’re not that lucky business, how can you hope to compete?

swakThere’s only one way. You have to have one hell of a strong brand – the kind of brand that customers LOVE. 

That’s right. I said LOVE. 


I’m not making this up either. Lots of really smart people are constantly talking about the importance of creating emotional connections through branding:

amy b taylor rndJust yesterday, Amy Taylor over at Brains on Fire wrote about how Simple bank is inspiring love with the not-so-important things that matter most.


peter singline rndPeter Singline at the fabulous Truly Deeply agency in South Melbourne recently shared his thoughts on Jim Stengel’s idea that the most successful brands are built on “fundamental human values,” things like “eliciting joy” and “inspiring exploration.”


bernadette jiwa rndBernadette Jiwa (The Story of Telling) uses salt as an excellent example to demonstrate how the belief in a brand’s story creates value.



That’s what a brand is – belief. A brand is a reason to believe. It’s something to believe in. It makes people believe in themselves. If you have that you don’t need to have the most content or even the best content. You just have to know what stories to tell and why you’re telling them. You have to know not only who you are, but why you’re here and how you’re making a connection with and a difference for your customers.

Once you’ve done the work to figure out your brand, you’ll know exactly which marketing tactics will hit their mark. You won’t have to waste time (or money) on experiments because you’ll know which types of content and communities are the right fit for your brand. You’ll have a much better sense of not only what to say, but how to say it. You will be able to stop worrying about “capturing eyeballs” or “going viral” and instead start focusing on delivering delight and creating enthusiasm.

THIS should be what your 2014 is about. 

THIS is how you will be able to blow past those New Year’s resolutions like they were yesterday’s news. 



For more from the Branding Soapbox, check out this series starting with Branding is Not Optional – a Cautionary Tale.


Photo Credits:
2014 Sparklers: dordirk via Compfight cc
Currier & Ives: Wikimedia Commons
Fish SChool: wwarby via Compfight cc
SWAK Lips: Enokson via Compfight cc

Exclusive vs. Inclusive – A cautionary branding tale

The concert hall was set up something like a wedding – fifty or sixty small round tables arranged in front of the stage, a bar off to the left, and open “mingling space” at the back of the room behind a short divider wall. It was dark and noisy. A handful of waitresses shuttled from table to table, taking orders for domestic beers and canned-cheese nachos.

My beau and I had come to see The Waterboys, a band that neither of us knew much about. We were there because I’d been at a loss for a Valentine’s Day gift. Waking Ned Devine, one of our all-time favorite movies, features The Waterboy’s song, Fisherman’s Blues, so I bought the tickets. It seemed like a romantic idea at the time.

A warm smile, a shared joke – Freddie Stevenson knows how to make an audience feel loved.

Before the headliner came on, a pair of New York musicians took the stage: Freddie Stevenson and Teddy Kumpel. They played their opening set with a street musician vibe that invited the audience into their world. Though they were up on the stage, they gave the impression of being in the crowd –of experiencing the evening alongside us. We became collaborators and co-conspirators. We were in on the joke, nodding in agreement with Stevenson’s quirky banter.

Both musicians interacted with those of us sitting at the tables closest to the stage. They acknowledged our presence and participation with nods and eye contact. Their demeanor and presentation created an inclusive space that embraced the entire audience, drawing us in and making us feel welcome and appreciated.

After their set, the two performers signed CDs and posed for fan photos. As we waited for our turn to meet them, my beau and I talked enthusiastically about the musicians’ skills and the wonderful worlds and stories of Stevenson’s songs. When I reached the head of the queue, Stevenson shook my hand warmly and seemed genuinely grateful that I was there and had enjoyed his music.


My beau and I returned to our seats, still talking about the music we’d just heard, and a few minutes later, the headliner took the stage.

The Waterboys: Looking down on you

The Waterboys launched into their first number without any greeting or introduction. Unlike Stevenson and Kumpel, they assumed you knew who they were and what they were all about. (I did not.) The band members did not make eye contact, except with each other. They often appeared to be sharing a private joke; I had the impression they were rolling their eyes.

The set continued with a series of songs that featured long, indulgent guitar solos and predictable crescendos. The lead singer (who appeared to fancy himself an amalgam of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Jim Morrison) provided intermittent commentary on the origin of and creative process around certain songs.

The entire band seemed turned inward – playing to each other, or to themselves. It was almost as if the audience was an afterthought – I felt like we might as well have been watching them on TV.


Finally, my beau (who had been enduring this ego-show because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings) turned to me and said, “Whenever you’re ready…”

I laughed and said, “Let’s get outta here.” We hadn’t even made it to the first intermission.

As we bolted for the parking lot, we agreed that The Waterboys’ performance could be summed up in one word: pretentious. Instead of making us feel like part of something special, they just made us feel like they were something special and we were lucky to be there to witness their genius.


Stevenson and Kumpel, on the other hand, made us feel like part of an inner circle. We felt like we were having a conversation with these two musicians, like our presence added something to the music. There was an energy between the performers and the audience.


Walking away from that evening, I am now a Freddie Stevenson fan. I am actively seeking ways to support his work. I liked his Facebook page, followed him on Twitter, learned about a great crowd-sourcing project he did (which, sadly, is closed, but which happily clocked in at 194% of his original goal), and I’m going to download more of his music to my iTunes collection.

The Waterboys? Meh.

Exclusive vs. Inclusive – which one is your brand? 

PS – Here’s a fun song from Freddie for your listening enjoyment:

The truth about Know – Like – Trust

Know. Like. Trust.

You’ve heard it before, right?

People buy from people they know, like, and trust.



How do you get known?

How do you get people to like you?

How do you earn their trust?


Those are Big Questions with long, complicated answers.

… or, are they?


I may be an audience of one, but I know I’m not alone in how I assess the people and brands I buy from. It’s not really all that complicated:


I get to know people by:

  • Reading their blogs
  • Sampling their social content – everything from Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and Instagram to LinkedIn and Google+
  • Interacting with them on their blogs and social media (and, eventually via email, call, or video chat)
  • Checking out their body of work (products, cases studies, portfolio … whatever applies)
  • Looking at their associations with other people I know


I decide if I like them by asking myself:

  • Do their values align with mine?
  • Are they responsive when I reach out?
  • Are they generous with their time and knowledge?
  • Do they have a good sense of humor?
  • Do we have anything in common – hobbies, causes, pet peeves, lifestyle, etc.?


I decide if I can trust them based on:

  • Whether their actions are consistent with their words
  • How I see them treat other people
  • How other people talk about them



The bottom line is this: it all comes down to the old, writers’ adage: “Show. Don’t tell.”

You cannot tell people about yourself – they need to learn who you are by your actions. They need to form their own picture of you based on what you show, not what you say. If you say, “I’m an organic food guru” I may or may not believe you, but if you show me your incredible depth of knowledge and heartfelt passion through the information you share (blog posts, photos, curated articles, answering questions, etc.), I believe you immediately. I can see for myself that you are, in fact, an organic food guru. Each piece of content you create and share online is another piece of the puzzle that shows me who you are, what you do, what you care about, and so on.

You cannot make people like you – you can only put your best foot forward. You are not in control of how people judge you. (And, they will judge you. It’s human nature.) Good rule of thumb: remember The Golden Rule. Think about the people you like. What traits make them likeable? Usually it’s not about them, it’s about how they make other people feel. It’s about how they listen, understand, and help. It’s about how they affect positive change for others – solving problems, providing answers, sharing insights, connecting people.

You cannot force people to trust you – trust must be earned. I may know you and like you, but do I trust you? Trust takes a relationship to a whole other level. Now it’s serious. Trust boils down to whether or not you consistently deliver what you promise. At a low level, this could be as simple as providing dependable content that always lives up to the hype. It might mean shipping a product that exceeds expectations. At a higher level, it might look like showing up when you said you would, or meeting a deadline. Again, this is about actions, not words. Promises are worthless until they have been tested and kept.

Whether you are a solopreneur or a sales person in a global B2B company, a small business owner or the marketing director of a Fortune 500 consumer company, the Know-Like-Trust factor applies in pretty much the same way. Why? Because, at the end of the day, even the biggest corporate deals come down to human relationships.


How do you help people learn about who you are?

How do you put your best foot forward?

What do you do to merit trust?

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