Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Tag: community

Are you accidentally turning your customers off?

Customers are like lovers, and as such they have certain needs that must be met, or the deal is off.

This should not surprise you. After all, you’ve heard again and again that purchasing decisions are driven more by emotions than logic. Customers engage in the same justify-to-satisfy tactics that we have all – ahem – used to satiate our appetites. Yes, whether we like to admit it or not, whether the object of our desire is a gorgeous pair of Louboutin dress pumps, a high-end life coach, a sexy piece of premium writing software, or an inappropriate paramour, we find ways to make our decision look good on paper.

Likewise, if we feel emotionally slighted by a brand, we have few qualms about giving it the silent treatment, talking trash behind its back, or breaking up with it (sometimes in a very public forum … just for impact and drama).

Hell hath no fury like a customer offended.

So, what are the basic needs that must be met to ensure a never-ending brand love affair?

Let me tell you.


imagine_heart2Appropriate Attention

I recently took a quick trip up to Acadia National Park with my daughter and my beau. Between glorious hikes, we perused the many shops in downtown Bar Harbor. I was struck by how differently we were greeted and treated depending on where we were.

Too Little

In one shop, we were completely ignored. The girl behind the counter was absorbed in a book and didn’t even look up until we were walking out the door. I’m not sure if she had just noticed us, or was checking to make sure we hadn’t stolen anything.

Now, I’m never one to fault a person for having her nose buried in a book; but there is a time and a place for everything. Without the girl ever saying a word or even making eye contact, I had a very strong sense of being nothing but a bother – an interruption.

Too Much

In another store, an overly boisterous and ebullient clerk fairly shouted a hello to us from her station behind the register. Though I am sure her approach was well intentioned, it came across as just a bit too much. It felt contrived and affected, like she was playing a part.

As much as the bookworm had offended with her complete lack of attention, this girl offended by making me feel like I was about to be played. I also wondered if maybe she had a caffeine problem.

Just Right

Finally, we found a store where the staff were not only properly attentive, but actually seemed genuinely interested in us as human beings. One of the saleswomen spent an inordinate amount of time with my daughter – helping her try on apparel that she knew we weren’t going to buy, talking to her about the art of shopping in second-hand stores and accessorizing with flair. She actually went so far as to recommend two consignment shops that were only a few doors away.  Because of how we were treated, I ended up buying a $36 skirt for my daughter and several beautiful cards featuring the work of one of my favorite artists (which I only discovered in the back room because I was browsing while my daughter bantered away about hemlines and scarf techniques with the sales woman/stylist).


What does appropriate attention look like online?

Even online, where you don’t have the benefit of face-to-face interactions, there are ways to show too little, too much, and just the right amount of attention.  The way your content is written will convey the “voice” of your brand. It can be too you-centric (full of navel gazing), too loud and promotional (like a used care salesman), or it can be welcoming and inviting (like the engaging saleswoman in the clothing shop). Done right, your web copy will visitors the sense of being in the right place. It will encourage them to explore your content and possibly even reach out to you directly via social media or your contact form.



imagine_heart4Real Listening

Listening is so important to any relationship, and the brand/consumer relationship is no different. Many brands fail to listen well, which is silly since a) today’s technology makes it easy, and b) listening to your customers is one of the best ways to gain valuable insights into what they want and how you can better serve them (and grow your business at the same time).

There are three steps to listening:

Step 1: Pay Attention

The first thing you need to do is just open your ears. Your customers want to tell you things about their experience with your brand, you just need to be aware of the conversations and tune in. Engage. Participate.

Step 2: Listen Actively

When you are conversing directly with a customer, don’t be distracted by thoughts about how you’re going to respond. Listen with focus. Take your ego’s need to defend/explain/expound out of the equation. Repeat back to the customer what you heard so that she knows you’re really hearing her. Most of the time, that’s all people want – to be acknowledged.

Step 3: Take Action

Finally, the proof that you’ve really listened isn’t part of the conversation. It’s in your actions following the conversations. Like a lover, you have to show that you heard what your partner said by showing that you understand. Lip service is for losers. You need to step up and do what needs to be done. Make changes if that’s what the customer wants. Whatever it takes.


What does real listening look like online?

There are so many ways to listen and engage online. The topic really deserves its own post, but for starters let’s look at a few things that are not real listening:

  • A Twitter stream full of automated promotional tweets, a complete lack of @replies, and unanswered DMs. Not listening.
  • A collection of ignored Facebook or blog post comments. Not listening.
  • Unheeded outcries via ranking of rating sites. Not listening.

… you get the picture.



Two-Way Trust

Trust is one of the great cornerstones of any relationship worth its salt. Without trust, you’ve got nothing.

Though most brands know enough to get their customers to trust them, they forget the importance of also trusting their customers – trusting them to be smart, trusting them to be loyal, trusting them to be ethical. Too often, brands see customers as the enemy – a hoard of faceless entities who might take advantage of the brand or try to “get away” with something.

I saw this a lot when I worked in retail. I was only one year into college and had taken a job at a venerable, family-owned jeweler in Boston’s Jewelry District. Time and time again, I witnessed salespeople cross-examining customers over a return or refusing an exchange over technical details. Security guards and male staffers would hover menacingly around certain customers who were deemed a potential risk and practically chase them out of the store.


self_serve On the other end of the spectrum, there is a tiny, artist-owned shop in the Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester. Two summers ago, I was there with my beau and found a fun, turquoise-bead necklace. When I went to purchase the item, I was dismayed to find that the shopkeeper only accepted cash or check. I had neither. Instead of losing the sale, the woman invited me to take the necklace home and just mail her a check.

Seriously? Who does that?

That woman does. And she earned my continued patronage with that simple act of trust.

I was back there recently and found the shop open, but empty. Apparently, the woman had recently purchased the ice cream parlor next door and was busy dishing up sundaes. While she was away, she left the shop on “honor system self-serve.” There was literally a box where clients could leave cash for whatever items they wanted to buy … and make their own change as well.


What does two-way trust look like online?

Trust online can be a tricky thing. You don’t want to expose yourself to undue risk, but you also don’t want to wind up letting fear of being “taken” rule your every move. Start by avoiding anything that makes your prospects or customers jump through hoops. Don’t require everything but their shoe size when they register for something. Maybe don’t require them to register at all. Don’t be fanatically overprotective of your content or other intellectual property. Caution and due diligence are one thing, putting up electric fencing and alligator-filled moats is quite another.



Appropriate attention, real listening, and two-way trust. These are the things you need in any relationship, including the one you create with your customers. Don’t turn them off by missing the mark in any of these critical areas. If you do, you’ll be sorry. A customer’s loyalty is hard won and easily lost. What took months to build can shatter in an instant if you misstep by paying the wrong kind of attention, failing to listen well, or putting out distrustful vibes.

But, if you can get it right, you’ll be in for a beautiful romance.



What do you think? Which are the most important elements of a strong brand/customer relationship? What did I miss?


Imagine_GalleryImage Credits: All images from the wonderful Imagine Gallery on Rocky Neck in Gloucester.

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.

The importance of chasing dreams

Taking a quick break from my usual #marketinggeek fare to say a little something about dreams.

I’m not talking about nighttime wanderings through strange yet familiar settings where we have conversations with talking dogs and suddenly find ourselves in front of the board wearing nothing but heart print underwear. I’m talking about the dreams we hope to bring to life one day – dreams of the personal, professional, and spiritual kind – dreams of meeting someone special, creating a successful business, bringing a community together, traveling to a distant country.

We all have dreams, but we don’t always talk about them. Sometimes sharing an unfulfilled dream is too scary. Sometimes even when we achieve our dream, we stay quiet about it because we don’t want to toot our own horn or we’ve moved on to the next dream and don’t want to take time to look back.

Most dreams lie at the other end of a long, bumpy road. There are many obstacles to overcome. We have to find a way over, under, or through a bevy of troublesome speedbumps and potholes: financial constraints, obligations, fear, educational short-comings, a lack of confidence, a lack of support … so many troubles.

What if you could learn how other people made it through these troubles? What if you knew some people – some women just like you – who had already cleared the hurdles you’re facing? What if they were willing to pause and share with you some insights about how they brought their dreams into the world and made them real? My friend and colleague Dianna Huff asked herself those same questions, and then she decided to create her own answers. She began talking to women she knew about the dreams they’d achieved and how they made them come true. She invited these women to share their stories in a collaborative E-book called Women Achieving Dreams – Stories of Courage and Faith by Extraordinary Women.

Though I consider myself definitely ordinary, I’m grateful that Dianna asked me to be one of the women included in the book. It gave me the chance to be part of this collection of stories that we hope will inspire other women to push forward in pursuit of their own dreams, or maybe revive a dream that has lain dormant for too long. There are so many women mentors and friends that have helped me on my journey. I think of this project as a way to help “pay it forward” – a chance to offer someone else a hand up by helping her see the road ahead a little more clearly.

Women Achieving Dreams – Stories of Courage and Faith by Extraordinary Women is a 76-page E-book that is available for $9.95. Proceeds from the book will benefit the Girls Fight Back Foundation, an organization that teaches girls and young women self-defense. I hope you’ll consider buying a copy of the book as a gift to yourself and also a gift to the GFB foundation and all the girls they help.

I also encourage you to check out the women who contributed to this project – each one is a heroine in her own right, just like you:

Thank you. And feel free to share your dreams – percolating or achieved – in the comments section. 

  • Sarah Blumenstock Girrell — Not happy with the schools she encountered, Sarah built her own school where she helps children build healthy self-esteem through early childhood education.
  • Amy Clark (@CrkdFaceCheese) — Amy achieved her dream of saving her parents’ dairy farm by teaching herself cheese making at night — cheese she now sells to rave reviews.
  • Carolyn Clayton (@EthicalSEOuk) — Left alone at age 15 and a single mom at 19, Carolyn now runs her own thriving SEO business.
  • Andrea Cohen — Andrea learned that achieving a dream sometimes means saying goodbye to someone you love.
  • Crystal Coleman (@CMColeman_OBM) — In order to help her young son, Crystal quit her secure government job, moved to rural Canada, and started a whole new career.
  • Mary Cullen, (@M_Cullen) — Mary found the courage to create the life she wanted despite what others’ expectations were of her.
  • Elle Draper — Elle found her true value and achieved her dream of living and working abroad.
  • Maura Fine — Maura ditched the fear of failure to become the artist she was meant to be at age 48.
  • Lois Geller, (@loisgeller) — Lois met an old man at Burger Heaven, quit her exec job and started her own agency in New York.
  • Debi Hammond, (@MerlotMarketing) — Lois went from poverty to running her own 10-person ad agency in California.
  • Sarah Henderson, (@ShendersonIA), who was the youngest person — and a new mom to boot — to win a run for office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Clare Hovan (@clarehovan), who used lessons from The Secret to ask for what she wanted – and got it.
  • Karen Jones, who knows that men are great – because she wrote the book.
  • Sandi McCann, (@SandiMcCann) — Sandi formed Sister Summit with her sisters, to support each other.
  • Susan Nolte, (@MayCookieCo — Susan founded May Cookie Co., and now sells her healthy cookie mixes at Whole Foods Markets.
  • Terri Rylander, (@BIMarcom) — A breast cancer survivor, Terri got out of her rut and into her dream life of working for herself.
  • Gwen Thomas, (@gwenthomasdgi) — A single mom working hourly jobs, Gwen focused on opportunities wherever she landed and subsequently built an international business and name for herself.
  • Wendy Thomas (@WendyENThomas), tri-athlete and mother of six, who does not let anyone define who she is or what she can do — despite having dozens of leg operations due to a bike accident at age 16.
  • Jamie Wallace (@suddenlyjamie) — Jamie learned that if you have faith in yourself, others will too.
  • Belinda Wasser, (@BWRocketGirl — Belinda used visualization to become pregnant – despite being told she couldn’t (her friends ended up giving her the very stroller she used to visualize pushing her baby)..
  • Erin Weed (@erinweed) — After learning of the brutal murder of her college friend, Erin went on to found Girls Fight Back, a non-profit that teaches young girls self-defense.
  • Judy Young — Judy experienced the trauma no parent ever wants to face when she lost access to her four year old son; instead of dying inside, she kept herself strong for the day when she would see him again.
  • And Dianna Huff (@diannahuff). I faced my fears and became the mom, and the success, I’ve always dreamed of by ending the cycle of abuse.

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