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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 …

What? 

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

The Other Side of Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

Listen to this post:

 

 

How badly do you have to want something before you’ll ask for help?

Does asking for help make you feel like you’ve failed?

What if you could see your asking for help as a kind of giving?

As I write this, Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, The Art of Asking is creeping up on a million views. She only had twelve minutes, but she covered a lot of emotional territory and, in an uncharacteristically gentle fashion, drove her point home.

As I listened for the second time, I started wondering about the other side of the give-and-take equation. Having less than a quarter of an hour at her disposal, Palmer obviously had to keep her topic tight; but there is a whole other side to the art of asking that didn’t get much air-time: the art of giving.

Palmer is experienced at asking. Whether it’s a piano to practice on, a couch to crash on, or money to support her record-setting Kickstarter campaign, Palmer asks her fans for things all the time. And they respond – willingly, happily, enthusiastically. It’s a testament to the relevance of Palmer’s closing question. Instead of focusing on how to make people pay for music, she asks, “How do we let people pay for music?”

 

That’s quite a shift in perspective.

How do you transform a commercial transaction from being coercive to being a privilege? How do you switch someone’s mindset from “have to” to “want to?”

The piece that Palmer didn’t directly address in her talk is what she gives to her fans. Yes, she asked. Yes, they gave. But, she gave, too – in profound ways over the course of their long relationship. Palmer touched on this lightly when she shared how she questioned the fairness of the exchanges between her and her fans after crashing with a poor family of undocumented Honduran immigrants. The mother took Palmer aside to tell the musician how much her music had helped her eighteen year-old daughter, and to thank her for staying with them

Even the second time watching, I got a lump in my throat.

Palmer gives her fans much more than her music. She gives them connection – to her, to the ideas she embodies, to each other, and to themselves. She gives them the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves – to be seen, to contribute, to make a difference. She gives them permission and support and community. She gives them courage and compassion.

Palmer is an artist, but she is also a brand. She combines her personal humanity with the Big Ideas and values she stands for to create the message, experience, and community that are Amanda Fucking Palmer. She’s done it so skillfully and so authentically that her fans line up to help her keep doing what she does. People give not just because she asks, but because she gives.

 

That’s the piece many people miss.

Too many people will watch Palmer’s talk and rush to embrace the art of asking. They will assume wrongly that all they have to do is ask and they shall receive. That isn’t how it works. First, you have to give. You have to give of yourself and your ideas, your time and your energy, your attention and your empathy. Whether you are an artist or a house painter, a software developer or a writer, a dog trainer or a barista, you have to give first

Successful brands are not about coercion. Successful brands are about inclusion. They are about creating something that other people want to be part of. They are about creating a space where other people want to be. They are about being, as Palmer said of artists in days gone by, “connectors and openers.”

Your brand is never about you. It’s bigger than you. It should be. It’s about all the people you touch with your work, all the differences you make for them and the differences they make for you. It’s about giving so that you have the right to ask, and making asking a way of giving.

Branding is NOT optional – Part 2: Let them eat your dust

Some marketing lacks logic.

I’m being kind, here.

 

You know that saying about putting the cart before the horse? When you see it illustrated, it’s pretty clear that it’s a Bad Idea. That cart isn’t going to pull that horse anywhere and you will go nowhere fast. Even the horse can tell that something is wrong with this picture. “Cart before horse” is a sure recipe for a total lack of locomotion, if you know what I mean.

But, people do this in their marketing.

All. The. Time.

 

They get that cart all loaded up and climb on board. They look earnestly in the direction they are trying to go, whip in hand, and wait expectantly for the wheels to start turning. After a while, they wonder why they aren’t getting any closer to their destination. They may move things around in the cargo area to try and jumpstart their journey. When that doesn’t work, they might try a new coat of paint on the cart. They never even look at that poor horse, standing there, patiently waiting to do his thing.

 

Wake up! Branding is the horse that’ll get you (and your cart) to the finish line.

I recently read an article that made my head spin. Brand specialist and brand identity expert David Brier (@davidbrier – follow him) got tired of listening to the debate about social media vs. branding. To settle the smackdown, he compared the Google search frequency of three terms: “brand strategy,” “social media,” and “branding.”

Do you want to take a guess at the results?

“Social Media averaged around 80 on Google’s chart whereas branding came in around 20 and brand strategy was near 0 (zero) by comparison.”

Ouch.

 

A cart is just a vehicle. Social media is just a channel.

  • A cart (or any other vehicle) without an engine is nothing but a big (expensive) paperweight.
  • A marketing channel without a strategic branding message is nothing but a big (expensive) budgetary black hole.

Putting your marketing cart before your branding horse means you’re opening your mouth before you know what you want to say.

The correct order of things is horse and then cart: brand message and then marketing.

Branding is how you discover and define the unique and differentiated essence of who you are, what you stand for, and the visual and written elements that help you convey that message.

Marketing is how you get your message in front of people.

Know what to say, then say it.

 

Put things in the right order and you’ll put yourself miles ahead of the competition.

Time and time again companies skip over brand development (or give it a very superficial treatment) and dive straight into marketing. They start talking without thinking through what they want to say. They pile up all kinds of content in their cart, but they have no way to drive it home in the minds of their audience.

If you are willing to invest in brand development and brand strategy, you will immediately leave half your competition in the dust.

 

Doesn’t that sound like a good place to be?

 

And just because it’s loads of fun (and makes its point with clarity and hilarity), here’s the video David did for Fast Company around the importance of branding and the fact that social media is just a channel. You’re welcome.

 

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