Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Power of Good Storytelling

            Tell me a fact and I’ll learn.
            Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. 
            But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.
                                                                                                           Indian Proverb
Just recently as I was interviewing for a marketing leadership role at a company, I was surprised to hear what I considered to be an absolutely great story about the company’s product. Now, I wasn’t surprised by the story but rather by the fact that this powerful and compelling story was nowhere to be found in any of the company’s collateral, promotion materials, blog postings or web content.

Now I realize that this was a start-up and after all, they are looking for some professional help with marketing, but they are not alone. I’m often surprised at the great stories I hear from companies like this that aren’t being told in their marketing or sales materials. Even in this age of the 60-second sound-bite and the polished and practiced “elevator pitch” we marketers still seem to struggle with telling a clear, concise and compelling story about ourselves, our products and our companies.

Sometimes it’s as if we are afraid that storytelling will come across as unprofessional, too self-serving or that stories are only appropriate to tell in a face-to-face meeting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you believe that then you are missing the sheer power of storytelling in marketing. Not only are stories a powerful way of illustrating the value of your product, in many cases they are the way that your prospects and customers will explain what you do and how you do it to others.

This point is brought out quite well in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, a book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath published in 2007. The book builds on the idea of "stickiness" popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, and sets out to define what makes an idea or concept memorable or interesting.

In the book they talk about what they call the Six Principles of Sticky Ideas with the book's outline following the acronym "SUCCES" [with the last “s” omitted]. Each letter refers to a characteristic that can help make an idea "sticky":
  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people's attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

Of these Six Principles, “Stories”, the last, is by far the most important when it comes to marketing. Built upon the five others - Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility and Emotions – it is the Story, the narrative of the product, brand or company that has the power to create action and motivate.

But, what makes for a good marketing story? 

Well, to start with, good stories should paint a picture, a vivid picture. They need to enable our customers to visualize things that are incredibly difficult to grasp or concepts otherwise overtly complex. And if done right, stories can make people want to learn more.

A well-crafted story creates a type of journey. At the end of that journey, we’re going to be impressed and we’re going to be interested. In fact, we’re probably going to want to take the next incremental step in the sales process and learn more.

These are special kinds of stories – they’re strategic. They build on themselves and give a “human face” to an otherwise non-human entity – your product, service or company. They humanize and create a simple bond when done right.
It is these stories that can drive our critical interactions with our customers and stakeholders. Placing this in the context of the standard buying process formula, these stories are what propel Awareness, Consideration, Trial and Buying, the virtuous cycle that produces growth and profitability.

This is what makes storytelling in marketing so important. Far from being window dressing, these stories are key business drivers. The more coherent and compelling your story is, the more it will power the success of your enterprise.

So, what’s your story?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Got Big Data? Big Deal!

Having access to Big Data is no longer enough for Enterprise Success

We have become incredibly affective at gathering transactional information about what we do in our daily digital lives. Data, lots of data, an “explosion” of data is created every day, just by doing what we do.

Those activities all become data points somewhere. Use a mobile phone – data is created, swipe your credit cardmore data is created, send an email, write a Tweet, post on Facebook, visit a website and you’re creating data.

And this data is reaching mind-numbing proportions, with social media posts and other seemingly trivial entries becoming a daily storm of digital data. This is the Big Data you hear so much about today.

But this raw information is just that – raw information and huge amounts of it. It has no form. It has no substance and certainly, in and of itself, it has no value.  As marketing and business professionals, we find ourselves literally swimming in a sea of data – Big Data – and yet can’t seem to find a drop to “drink”.

The trick is how to uncover that value – to make sense out of the numerous tweets, Facebook posts, and other bits of social and organic information we generate each day. Data is, after all, only useful if you can turn it first into knowledge and then into action.

Originally the challenge was to get data. OK, we have the data, now what?
It is no longer enough for a business to simply manage this data. It is now a pure business imperative to use the data, apply the knowledge and gain customer and market insights, quickly and cost affectively – to gain market advantage.

Big Data Analysis is the Business Imperative of the New Year
This explosion of Big Data has created an enormous opportunity. For most, the sheer volume and velocity of this Big Data makes it hard if not impossible for them to see that opportunity. For many, this opportunity has turned into a form of paralysis – Data Analytics Paralytic Syndrome.

The data is there but the insights are missing
It is critical to realize that buried in all of this data are insights that could potentially move your business. Somewhere in there is knowledge that can allow you to deepen your customer relationships, better predict customer needs and improve your bottom line. It’s a matter of being able to see those buried insights.

But to arrive at this knowledge means that somehow, you need to put the data in context with your business realities, to create actionable intelligence. Now that you have Big Data, you need Big Data Analysis.

For this data to have any measure of value to your business, it needs to help you
  • Spot critical trends
  • Detect anomalies
  • Put your Big Data in context with the world and your customers’ actions
  • Model, test, and add predictive insight to your business

It may not be so easy to create business or marketing value out of seemingly disparate and meaningless statistical minutia. However, Big Data analytics has begun to prove itself to have the potential to plow through the enormous mountain of Facebook, Twitter and numerous other worlds of social, business and financial interaction data. After all, Big Data analytics is all about mining information from huge piles of data.

So, having Big Data is no longer enough. Congratulate yourself if you have reached that point, but now you need to ask yourself how you are going to use that data to become a better business.

You need to take that data and begin to use, turn it in to Actionable Intelligence that can help your businesses and to make better decisions about how to reach and serve your customers. The business mandate for this New Year is to begin to systematically turn your organization’s Big Data into a competitive advantage.

There’s vast, untapped potential inside your data. Now go get it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Elevator Pitch

Obsolete, Old School Marketing or a Modern Necessity

Even today in our “modern”, technology focused world, having an elevator pitch is important. It doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, an effective elevator pitch can lead to new sales opportunities. Most businesses, if asked claim to use an elevator, yet few actually make the transition from pitch to profit. Let’s examine a few elevator principles.

An elevator pitch is that short, intriguing sound bite that is intended to peak interest and stimulate conversation. No more, no less.

Recently, I was discussing this very concept with a friend. I asked, “What’s your pitch?” He rambled, “By codifying proprietary technologies, we deliver a superior enterprise application to an under-leveraged vertical market.” I thought he was going to pass out before he got to the end.

We wonder why it’s not obvious to all humanity that our product, service or company is the latest and greatest. This is usually because marketers have a supply-side mentality. We focus on features, while those on the demand side of the equation just want to know “what’s in it for me?”

Put the customer’s hat on and use some “elevator etiquette”
First, if you have to take a breath midstream, your spiel is too long. Bill Joos, a Principal at Go To Market Consulting and a former VP of Business Development for Garage.com (a successful venture-capital firm) once noted that, “Brevity brings the best results

He’s absolutely right! If you can’t hook them in 10 seconds, a wordy dissertation won’t magically win friends and influence people. When you think of it, most areas in the county don’t have many high-rises. Assume you have three or four floors instead of 30 to get your point across.

Open with an attention-getter designed to draw a question
My personal prologue is: “I help companies increase their sales velocity.” The typical response is: “How do you do that?”

They’ve just given me permission to go into more detail. When I lead with, “I’m a marketer,” they fight to get off the elevator.

Next, lose the techno babble! Use simple and clear language that communicates how you increase your customers’ advantage or reduce their risk. Most people buy on emotion rather than logic — make sure your intro has an emotional appeal. Said another way, sell the sizzle instead of the steak.

Along that line, what you say is important — but how you say it is imperative. If you don’t have passion about your selling proposition, prospective customers will find someone else who does. Finally, incorporate a call to action.

Zig Ziglar gained notoriety in the ’70s by concluding a “benefit statement” with a closing question. That’s how you should wrap up your elevator pitch — with a question. Ask to exchange business cards so you can follow up. Keep in mind that an elevator pitch is not designed to sell, only to set up a selling situation.

A great pitch doesn’t just happen; it takes preparation and practice. Use these elevator principles and your prospects won’t go running for the stairwell.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why do a Competitive Market Analysis?

“Know thy enemy . . . ”

In marketing there are three “Knows” that you need to be intimately aware of in order to succeed.
  • Know yourself – your market, your product, your solution and how they fit together
  • Know your customers – listen well and they will tell you what you need to know
  • Know your competition – competitive analysis is the beginning of market success

Every business needs valuable insight not only about their competitors but about themselves. For any company, identifying their strengths and weaknesses is a vital component to increasing their market share and their bottom line.

A competitive market analysis – as a business exercise – is the one of the best ways to examine the products and practices of competing businesses in order to streamline practices or to become more competitive. Companies that utilize this type of evaluation can gain a significant edge in the market and permit them to position themselves in a way that appeals to more consumers and increases customer loyalty.

By far, the most important benefit of a competitive market analysis comes from being able to accurately size up the competition and accurately measure your company, product or service against them. When a company understands who they are competing against and how they measure up against them, they will be better able to make the necessary adjustments in order to increase their effectiveness at retaining the customers they do have while expanding the number of new customers that they are bringing in.

Part of the process of a well done competitive analysis is gaining insight into your own weaknesses as well. If you are able to do this accurately, you will enable yourself to recognize and then make the changes needed in order to compete more effectively with your competition.

It is also just as important for a company to understand where their strengths lie as well. A company that understands what they are doing right can emphasize these positive aspects and set themselves even further apart in their competitors.

Once completed, a comprehensive competitive market analysis will be able to provide a company with a greater understanding of what it is that sets them apart from the other companies in their particular market. Identifying a unique product or service “need” in the market can help a company accentuate that particular factor, feature or functionality in order to get a leg up on the other businesses that are competing with them for the very same customers.

To be affective, a comprehensive competitive market analysis will identify at least three competitive companies for a business to compare them with. Taking a “head in the sand approach” that ignores the companies that a business is competing against or trying to delude yourself by saying that “we are so unique and so different and incomparable that no one really competes with us”, is a surefire route to failure.

A Competitive Market Analysis is not an easy process. To some it may even seem to be a bit of a frivolous waste of time and energy. But it is an extremely necessary step towards the success of your business.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brand Positioning Made Easy

One of the easiest “hard jobs” you can do for yourself

Whether you are new or a long-time established business or the one person totally responsible for marketing, at some point the cold, hard reality hits you. The realization comes to you that simply creating the best, most useful and valuable product or providing the absolute most needed service or even the most brilliant business model just isn’t enough.

The toughest part for most businesses today, big and small, is getting noticed, not coming up with an idea for a business. Let’s face it, no matter what business you are in it is crowded, noisy. It is tough to let your target customers know who you are, what you do and why they need you, your service or your product.

You created a great product, or provide the best service in the world and no one is calling. Now it is a mission critical necessity for you to not just survive, but to build your business and to begin to prosper. Remember, if you don’t, your competitors will . . .

After all, if your prospects, customers and clients can’t see any difference between you and everyone else out there with similar services or products, then why would they consider you? Or for that matter, why would they even notice you?

Tough questions to ask yourself, aren’t’ they. But they are necessary if you want to survive and even go so far as to prosper. In face you not only need to ask the questions, you need the answers to these questions.

These are business critical brand positioning questions. But if you’re a small/medium business or small practice marketing company and simply do not have the expertise and resources to get in front of the whole concept of “branding”, what can you do?

For me the answer came a few weeks back when I noticed a “free” eBook Differentiate or Diminish being offered by Kevin B. Levi, a name familiar to me.*[see footnote] I subscribed to his link, and downloaded the book, thinking that for free it probably would be little more than a superficial outline.

But what I received turned out to be a single great resource that every small/medium business must have. With over 80-plus pages of brand positioning insight and instruction it took a complex subject, broke it down expertly and then explained in a clear and concise way the “what”, “why” and “how” of what he refers to as The Art and Necessity of Business Positioning.

I was intrigued. He had managed, in a very concise form, to arm me with all the basics of differentiation – one of the more complex and difficult to master principles of marketing. But that was just the beginning.

Branding and Positioning strategy is a fairly specialized niche of the “art and science” that is marketing.

It seems that Kevin has come up with a clever idea based on the premise that small business - and marketing people too - could use an in depth, comprehensive and affordable do-it-yourself resource kit for this. What he has put together is a well thought out and extremely comprehensive set of do-it-yourself tools, references and informational guidance he calls his Brand Positioning Toolkit.

This do-it-yourself toolkit walks you step by step through the process of identifying your business’s uniqueness by performing a comprehensive competitive analysis. It includes step-by-step instructions that guide you through the process of crafting your succinct, highly targeted and value-based 35-word brand positioning statement or what is more commonly called an elevator pitch.

As you progress through the kit, you will then learn how to develop supporting key messages that substantiate the claims made in the brand positioning statement. These all-important, hard-hitting statements will focus on your key differentiators, your key target audiences, your primary products/services.

Once you have this messaging platform completed - including your brand positioning statement and key messages - the toolkit then guides you along and shows you how to come up with proof points and value propositions to validate and support the brand positioning statement and each key message.

The result is a comprehensive, business-value-based, brand positioning platform that you can use to develop any and all sales and marketing materials, tools and collateral. These easy to use tools work and can help you craft new brand positioning for your organization in a single day, without any prior brand positioning or key message development experience or expensive “professional” consultants.

So whether you are a new business, a small operation, a large company, are new to marketing and need to know how to brand your products or a seasoned professional looking for that go-to reference package, this is a “must have” reference toolkit for you.

* A Little Bit about Kevin Levi

I first became aware of Kevin in 2007 when he published his piece on SmallBusinessBranding.com entitled Branding on a Shoestring Budget. I was an early subscriber to what was then a groundbreaking marketing resource. It was full of cutting edge, new tech marketing knowledge and resources all formatted in short, simple and quick-read pieces.

What originally caught my attention was Kevin’s ability to take highly complex branding and positioning principles and translate them into short, simple and easy to follow narratives that even I could understand and relate to. He simply had the knack for giving valuable knowledge a real world connection.

Kevin is the primary architect behind the Brand Positioning Do-it-Yourself Toolkit!, and is a living, breathing example of his handiwork. He has successfully used these strategies himself for years to re-position over 40 companies around the world in a broad range of industries.

With over 17 years of experience currently Kevin helps companies of all sizes hone their messages and develop differentiating company positioning strategies and content. He is someone whom I consider to be a consummate corporate branding specialist. He has recently authored two company positioning books, "Differentiate or Diminish: The Art and Necessity of Business Positioning," and "Selling Your Distinction: Utilizing Differentiation to Drive Your Business."

Kevin is also a featured columnist on smallbusinessbranding.com and marketingprofs.com.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

EMOTION: The Key to Unlocking Your Audience

Marketing is a human interaction even online. Or at least it should be and the better we understand the science behind those interactions, the better we become as marketers and the better we become at engaging our audiences on- and off-line.

In a recent piece on Fast Company dot com, excerpted from the book “The Power of Communication – Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty and, Lead Effectively”, Helio Fred Garcia* makes a point that is extremely important for any marketer involved in web communications and marketing.

His lead proposition is that “the default to emotion is part of the human condition.” In his book he presents an argument that has some powerful implications for those of us in the mundane world of business and need to affectively connect with our audiences.

The science behind his discussion is very sound, and to better appreciate the role of emotion and what it allows an audience – whether online or off – to do, we need to have a basic understanding of the physiology involved.

Helio explains that “The human brain can be understood as three separate brains working in tandem, if not completely integrated with each other.”

He goes on to say that “the primitive brain and the limbic brain collectively make up the limbic system, which governs emotion. Within the limbic system, there is a structure called the amygdala.” This is the part of the brain we need to fully understand.

Definition for the non-psychology/med majors out there . . .

According to the Gray's Anatomy textbook the amygdala are almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep within the medial temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.

From a physiological and psychological standpoint, when given any type of stimulus, the amygdala turns our emotions on. We can’t help it. It takes place instantaneously, without having to think about it.

As an example, we find ourselves responding to a threat even before we’re consciously aware of it. Think of jumping back when we see a sudden movement in front of us, or being startled by the sound of a loud bang – commonly called the “startle response”.

Now as marketers, we can use the knowledge that the human brain responds instantaneously to positive stimulus without thinking about it. A couple of good examples come to mind. For instance, we tend to smile back when someone smiles at us. Or how we are immediately distracted when something we consider beautiful enters our line of sight.

This part of the brain is the crucial to understanding an audience’s emotional response, and how to connect with an audience. It plays an important role in salience, what grabs and keeps our attention. In other words, attention is an emotion-driven phenomenon. If we want to get and hold an audience’s attention, we need to trigger the amygdala to our advantage. Only when we have an audience’s attention can we then move them to rational argument.

To illustrate this point, Helio gives a narrative about how he starts his class sessions when he explains that he has “. . . become somewhat notorious in the programs I teach at NYU for the ways in which I start each class. I teach all-day sessions on Saturdays, and as the 9 a.m. start time approaches, most students are still milling about, getting settled and chatting with each other. At precisely 9 a.m. I touch a button on my remote mouse and play a sudden blast of very loud music. Most of the time it’s the chorus of “Let’s Get It Started” by the Black Eyed Peas, but to keep the element of surprise I sometimes vary the selection. After a 10-second burst of very loud music, I have every student’s undivided attention. I then lock in the connection: I smile, welcome them, thank them for investing a full Saturday in developing their careers. Only then do I begin the class. I have hijacked their amygdalas. We need audiences to feel first, and then to think.”

Five Strategies for Audience Engagement

He then suggests five specific strategies to engage with your audience. When communicating with your audiences you need to take the amygdala into account in determining how the content is structured and how the audience is engaged. In person, this is far easier to establish. Online is more presumptive and requires more forethought and persona planning, but it can be done.

1.       Establish connection before saying anything substantive - And remember that the connection is physical. This means pictures and graphics online or using the technique of asking for the audience’s attention, if only with a powerful and warm greeting, followed by silence and eye contact in person or by clear and well defined ‘next step’ directions online. The key is to make sure the audience isn’t doing something else or distracted by a purely extraneous element on the web page so that they pay attention.  

2.       Say the most important thing first - Once you have their attention. The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement, that single statement or value proposition that will control the meaning of everything that follows. An important thing to remember – again with the psychology of the human mind in mind - that frames or framing statements must precede facts. It’s a matter of how we process, retain and engage as humans. 

3.       Close with a restatementReiteration is power in communications: As you close your discussion, simply restate your powerful framing statement that opened your presentation. 

4.       Make it easy to remember. Keep in mind how hard it is for people to read or listen, hear, and remember all at the same time. One proven method is to repeat key points. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “But I’ve already said this. I don’t need to say it again.” Or, “I don’t want to say it again and seem repetitive.” We need to constantly repeat the key themes, within any on- or off-line presentation and in general as a matter of organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter if you’re bored with saying it or feel that it’s repetitive. The audience needs to hear it, again and again.

As a general principle, people need to hear things three times if they are to even pay attention to it. And because any given audience member at any time may be distracted or inattentive, they are unlikely to hear, see or attend to everything that is presented to them. So you need to repeat key points far more than three times to be sure that everyone has heard, seen or perceived them at least three times. 

5.       Follow the rule of threes. This is incredibly important and one point that I consistently see violated in online and web communications. Have three main points. But no more than three main points, no more than three topics and no more than three examples per topic. Remember to group the thoughts in threes, words in threes, and actions in threes.  

Helio concluded by noting that “The default to emotion is part of the human condition.” The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal and awareness. Humans are not just thinking machines. We’re feeling machines who also think. Most importantly we need to realize that we feel first and then we think. As a result, marketers need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason.

* Helio Fred Garcia is the Executive Director at Logos Institute for Crisis Management & Executive Leadership and author of the book “The Power of Communication – Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty and, Lead Effectively”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Urban Legends of Social-Media Marketing Busted

In a recent posting in the Business Journals, Shama Kabani, CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, posed the proposition that there is “Four Social-Media Basics You Must Master“. For me, it was an interesting piece since in the past year alone I have run into what I call the Urban Legends of Social-Media Marketing with two separate companies. Her article touches upon what I consider to be the four most disastrous of these Urban Legends:
  1. It’s Fast
  2. It’s Easy
  3. It’s Free
  4. Post and they will come . . .
As Ms. Kabani noted in her piece, there seems to be no shortage of advice and advisers when it comes to social media and social marketing. These “self-proclaimed social media gurus”, as she called them, provide little more than distracting noise and for a business person looking for valid advice it can be hard if not almost impossible to determine which advice to take and from whom to take it.

In reality, when it comes to Social Media Marketing there are some foundational truisms that we all need to be aware of. I have seen the frustration, disappointment and utter confusion in business people who had the preconceived notions about social-media marketing that were colored by these Social-Media Urban Legends.

It is Not Fast - It’s going to take time

When you look at the Facebook sites for some of the major brands like Apple, Nike, Under Armor or even Burger Kings, they seem to have gained a million Facebook fans or Twitter followers in a week. To them given their marketing budgets, this would be no big feat – in fact, it would practically be expected. For most of these brands, you need to recognize that they have also had a presence on social-media for a number of years.
You will probably not see this level of results in your first week. To be totally honest, you will probably not see any results in the first week. Social media is a process that takes time. It is not fast and it isn’t marketing for an organization that becomes easily discouraged or that needs “instant results”.

It is Not Easy - It’s going to take consistency

According to Twitter, site users send 140 million tweets each day. Now ask yourself “How often do I tweet“? If you find yourself remembering that your company has a Twitter account and it is not a good answer then you need to focus more attention.
Social-Media success comes as the result of a planned strategy, solid background research and a consistent and rigorously followed posting schedule. If you don’t keep up, nobody will remember you’re there and you may even forget too.

It is Not Free - It’s going to take money

Recently I proposed a Social-Media campaign and budget to the CEO of a new social media platform as part of their launch program. To my surprise - given the fact that they were in the social-media space and were presumably a bit more sophisticated about social-media than the average business – the first comment by the CEO was “I thought it was all FREE? Why is there a budget?”

Shama noted that on its surface, that statement does seem to make some sense. “Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wordpress, or Blogspot and every other social media site on the Internet – they’re all free . . . right? Well yes, that part is right. But then you need a person to do your social media. And you may want some monitoring or posting software.” And this all doesn’t come free.

Even if you Post, they will not necessarily come - It's going to take a smart website too

Even with all of this, your website is still your most important piece of your social media program for one simple reason: ownership. If you have a Facebook account but no website, you’ve done it backwards. You don’t own the information on your Facebook page -- Facebook does. You could wake up one morning to discover that your business’s Facebook page isn’t there anymore. Believe it or not, it has happened.

Think of it in these terms, your website is your house. Keep your house clean. Make repairs swiftly, so you don’t become an eyesore. Give it a fresh coat of paint once and awhile. People will be much more likely to stop by for a visit.

Sharma then gave the best advice of all: “Above all, don’t forget why you’re using social media in the first place: to have conversations. When you keep this in mind, the rest should flow naturally.”

Shama Kabani is CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a social media and digital PR firm based in Dallas, TX and servicing clients all over the globe. Her best-selling book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing has just been published in an updated 2nd Edition.