Connection marketing

What's your story and why does it matter?

When I was little, I was always writing. I kept journals from just about the time I could write and I’d have folders of stories and poetry that I’d carry around and ‘organise’ constantly. At school I used to create these little ‘clubs’ where I’d organise a group of girls together, make up some mission or another that we were on, assign various roles, craft ‘club rules’, membership cards and distribute newsletters.

When I was 10 I made a magazine - it was creatively called ‘Angie’s News’ (I have never been called Angie, but anyway). Computers hadn’t been invented yet - kidding, they had, but we didn’t have one at home in the mid-80’s, so this magazine was all hand-written and drawn. I just loved doing this stuff and although I can’t really remember what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was already doing what i would always do.

Apart from the fact that writing, creating and organising have been glaring constants in my life from a really young age, now, as a woman with kids of my own, I also recognise some of the more subtle drivers that I realise have also always been there.

There’s this fascination with what makes us different and how those differences click together and allow us to connect. To me, it’s a little bit like a dance-off or something where one person shows their awesome and unique moves, then the other shows theirs, and then they dance together in a way that’s different again to each of them on their own.

That magazine was all about these very different stories brought together to create this collective, colourful and creative experience. I guess that’s exactly what a magazine and other collaborative efforts are - work groups, sporting teams, families, creative collaborations. All bringing people together and organising differences in a way that’s interesting, creative and different to any of its contributing parts on their own.

Marketing is like that, at least that’s the way I see it. It’s so much about expressing what makes people unique, and yet similar, and organising that story in interesting and creative ways. Ways that are different and yet familiar. We’re attracted to stories like that because of their difference, recognising that which is unique, but somehow we can also see ourselves in the difference. And that’s when connection happens. And that’s what marketing is really all about because that’s what people are all about.

I don’t think my story is particularly spectacular and it’s probably only interesting to me, but that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be anything, it just is. We all have a story and sometimes it’s so normal, so ordinary, and we’ve been doing it for so long, that we’re not even conscious of it. In fact sometimes we don’t even know what that story is.

When I work with clients on developing their brand, I take them through all this deep questioning and brainstorming to uncover these stories. Some love it and totally immerse themselves, while others come kicking and screaming, questioning the relevance, the difficulty, the discomfort in looking at these things - it can be pretty funny. But the reason story’s important is because it shines a light, a great big megawatt floodlight on where our greatness and genius lies. Greatness and genius meaning our innate talents and gifts that come so naturally to us, we hardly even know they exist. And the reason we find them in our stories over and over again, is because we can’t even help doing them - we just do, in all kinds of ways.

These are the things that only we can do in our own particular style and way. The things that at once, fire us up and get us sparking with energy, yet also give us such a deep sense of surety and deep knowing, we switch almost to autopilot where everything is easy and our intuition is sharp.

Once we recognise them, we realise these are the things that have always been there and the things that can become our superpowers when we cultivate them and use them intentionally. Except that can be harder than it sounds, at least when we’re trying to figure this out for ourselves. For some reason, it’s much easier to do for other people.

That’s where the connection piece comes into it and why when you can cultivate the courage to inject yourself into your brand, things often become a whole lot easier. When you can do that, you’re in alignment with who you really are and at the end of the day, that’s the difference, that’s the uniqueness, the realness, that people are hardwired to find familiarity and recognition in. It’s how we connect.

Only you can do you and in a world that’s overloaded like never before with people, brands, information, options, data, products and services, that’s a very powerful thing to have. If you can just let go of your ‘reasoning’ that YOU have to be this or that, or that your brand does, and find the courage to express yourself through your brand and your business, you’ll begin to grow something that people really can find connection in.

Now I know that even if you’re thinking this all sounds good and true, it’s still hard to make bridge between knowing this and putting it into useful action in your business. But do yourself 2 favours here ok?

  1. Download the ‘What’s your mission anyway?’ workbook that I’ve included here and give it a go. It’s not a miracle weaver that’ll solve all your problems, but it will get you thinking about how what matters to you matters to your business.

  2. Once you’ve done that, just put one little thing into action. This is not about radical re-branding, although you could be up for that, it’s about giving yourself permission to be who you are.

See a designer for a more colourful logo and website, add more of the way you really speak into your emails, write the blog post you’re dying to write, but are too scared to. Post a selfie on your Facebook page, be the haute couture stylist who’s a hippy at heart, the lawyer who has purple hair, the spiritual guidance counselor who has a potty mouth and calls a spade a spade. We make it hard because we make it hard, but it’s time to dip our toes in at least, even if we’re not ready to fully dive in just yet.

Download the workbook and if you still can’t make the bridge to how it matters in your business, book a call and let’s chat - there’s a scheduler in the workbook and also on my ‘Work with me’ page.

Have a great week,

Andrea

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Connection is value

Recently I pulled right back from social media and took a break. I felt fried and like my well of creativity had completely dried up - I had nuthin. I don’t think the creativity actually went anywhere, or ceased to exist, it’s just that I think I got so tired that I couldn’t access it anymore. They say that you need to create space to be creative and I wasn’t really. I felt more like I was punching it out on a production line and it wasn’t feeling good.

This was pretty confronting on one hand because I’m a social media marketing person and well, that’s what I do so … But also on the other because I realised that I have a massive fear of not being of value. It might have been a vicious loop - I may have worked a bit too hard to create content constantly out of the fear of not being of value, but in the process, inhibited my ability to be creative and therefore, of value.

Anyway, it got me thinking all the same about creating value and this fear of not, and what value and creativity is anyway. Yep, it all got a bit deep and weird there that week and so I let it be. I thought the thoughts, and stopped striving, and I just pondered and took my time about things. I never really came to any major conclusion, or path-altering bolt of enlightenment, I think I was actually tired and needed a break, but here are the main thought packages;

Connection is the ultimate value

Humans need to connect with other humans, it’s just the way we are. Now that the internet and social media has been around for a while, our use of it is changing. Yes, it can be a noisy, superficial place, but it can also be the source and opportunity of great connection.

When we hear about ‘being of value’ and ‘value marketing’, we’re really hearing about tools and ways of doing things to achieve connection. But the connection is the real value. The free downloads and webinars and special offers and this and that, none of them mean anything unless there’s a connection and all of these things are trying to achieve that.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, but the point is that if you can connect with people just by being yourself, saying hello and asking them how they’re going, then isn’t that value too? I say yes. I reckon that’s actually what we want and again, no problem with all the other stuff, but when you think about it, it’s all just stuff we use to get noticed and to help find the right fit.

The power of connection is when it’s real and personal

I’ve never been a big fan of customer avatars or personas. Yes, I understand fully the theory behind them and I can see they can be of immense value, but I’ve personally never felt motivated or connected to any of the ones I created, until I just copied real people. When there really was a connection and the person was real, then it made a difference. This is what I recommend my clients do when they develop personas for their business, but more to the point, connection is the important bit.

So coming back to value, I think that the real value is connection - it’s what we all crave. And that all the other stuff we call ‘value’ are the flags and streamers we use to get attention so we can have that connection. That’s not the say that there’s no value in the flags and streamers, nor that they don’t serve a purpose, they do. It’s just that we need to connect with real people on a basic human level before we need much of anything else and when we do, that’s how learn and understand for sure that our flags and streamers are the right ones to attract more real connections.

Ok, so that might have seemed like a bit of waff, I am feeling a wee bit more philosophical than usual, but I do believe it whether or not I’ve managed to express it very well. What it means for you and me is that I think we can relax a bit with the flags and streamers knowing that our true value is always and will always be in our ability to connect with other.

 

If that idea resonates with you and you’re keen to connect and enjoy a community that’s all about genuine connections and using social media for the forces of good, come over to the More Fabulous with Friends Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/morefabulouswithfriends/

Thanks for reading,

Andrea

Find Your Tribe

At the end of the day, social media marketing is about finding the people for whom your products and services are a great fit. It means not only being seen by people who need or want for your stuff, but it means showing up in a way that appeals to them, speaking in the way they want to be spoken to, and about forming a relationship. It’s all about interaction and the establishment of trust.

Relationships and trust in business have always been cornerstones of success, but with so much information available online, they’ve also become a filtering tool to help us make decisions. One of the reasons social media marketing is so powerful is because most people will trust a recommendation from a friend, and the interactive nature of social media makes those kinds of recommendations so easy, it’s become part of our social behaviour.

The concept of finding your tribe is all about leading with value and generosity, and being known for more than just what you sell. The goal is to establish genuine relationships and for people to not only trust you enough to buy from you, but to also care enough to tell their friends and to become loyal and true advocates for what you do. Therefore, it’s not about mass marketing and trying to appeal to everyone, but quite the opposite.

Pre-internet, particularly pre-social media, marketing was predominantly mass marketing. It was all about reaching as many people as possible in the hope that enough of them would buy your stuff over your competitor’s. It was more about short term sales, less about the lifetime value of the relationship you have with your customers and not the way any savvy business owner should approach their marketing today.

Savvy business owners approach their marketing with a Tribe mentality. They set out to find the people they can best serve and they ask themselves questions like, how can I make a difference? How can I help my tribe? How can I lead them? How can I give them value? How can I reach out and help them solve their problems? But most of all, what do they value and how can I connect on that?


Those answers will be different for every business and that’s precisely why there is a unique tribe for every business, and precisely how and why you can stand out even with a boring, commodity-type business in a sea of competition. It’s because when you find the people you really want to serve and design everything you do around serving them better than anyone else, your marketing will no longer feel like marketing. To you it’ll feel like purpose and to your tribe, it’ll feel like a gift. Imagine the feeling of standing out like that.

Thank you for reading - I really hope you've found some value in this. If you have something you'd like to share, I'd love it if you'd comment below, or if you want to have a chat about content for your Tribe, email me at andrea@pepperstreetsocial.com, or click here to fill in the contact form on my Work page. I'd love to hear from you.

Andrea

Tell me again, why exactly is defining your target/audience so critical?

It’s critical because it’s deep and the deeper you can go, the better at providing a service or making a product that not only solves a real problem, but in doing so enables you to make deeper human connections that lead to a sense of identification and belonging, and foster genuine loyalty.

It’s incredibly easy to mistake defining your target market purely as a business function. The thing is, it is a business function and an incredibly, undeniably critical one, but one nonetheless that’s based on human behaviour and emotion. After all, there is no business, no such thing without human behaviour. For all the ideas, products and services in the world, none of them make a business without human behaviour. And human behaviour is governed by relationships and emotion.

The reason it’s so common not to give proper gravity to defining and understanding your market or audience is because business and commerce have become bigger, or seem more important than the underlying drivers. ‘Business’ in that regard has become very corporate, clinical and technical, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be both intimidating and confusing. In small business, we often develop a mindset and expectations that our business is just a smaller version of those big businesses, those corporate players. In some ways that’s true, but one of the dangers of that kind of thinking is that we can overlook the fundamental realities, like actual relationships with customers, for the ticking of boxes on a business plan template.

On this I’m speaking from experience. With a formal education in business and marketing, you would think that I’d know better than to skim over this point, but I did exactly that. I was so keen to get started on doing the work and building my business, that I wrote a few things down, ticked the box, so to speak, and moved on to the ‘real’ stuff. And then it wasn’t long before I got stuck, became lost and confused and had to come back to this fundamental step. The one advantage I had was that I knew what the problem was. Many people won’t and they’l flounder around trying one thing after another, wasting time and energy trying to figure out why nothing seems to be working and why they’re feeling so miffed.

So let me try to explain it this way;

1. All business direction, marketing, branding, positioning and communication is a form of human connection.

Whether it’s a commodity, like selling gravel to construction companies, or a customised consulting service,  the reason customers and clients choose to do business with you is because they perceive your business/product/service to be a good match for whatever their problem is. That is, they’ve made a connection between what they need and what you have to offer.

2. All human connection is a product of the way we feel.

That seems pretty easy to understand for a customised consulting service say, where how we connect or gel with that consultant has a massive impact on how likely we are to engage their services, but the same principle applies to commodity-type products. We have tangible needs that have to be satisfied, like price and speed of delivery, but we also rely on our perceptions for how well we believe our needs are met and the satisfaction of quality. You can tick all the boxes for a great product or service, but if a customer perceives your business to be disorganised and unreliable, then it’s through those eyes their final decision will be made - the way they feel.

3. The way we feel about a brand/product/service is determined by the way we experience it.

Talk is cheap and what you say, especially about yourself, isn’t enough. You can say your gravel is the cheapest, and it might be. You can say it’s the best quality, and it might be. You can say you achieve fast and reliable deliver every time, and you might, but if your website is a mess and the person who answers the phone in the office sounds like they’d rather be anywhere else, but there, it’s highly likely that potential customer will never find out.

And that’s for a commodity - think again about the consultancy or any sort of personalised service. The sakes are even higher because that potential client is looking not only for their needs to be met, but they want their values to be matched. They’re making a judgement call and they want to feel good about making the decision to work with you, to buy your product. It’s not a check-the-box situation, they want more - they want to feel like you’re the perfect solution and they’ll make that judgement according to the way they experience your brand/product/service. They’ll be looking for evidence of your values in everything you do, in every touch-point with you and your brand. They want a certain kind of experience and you need to know what that is is you’ve any hope of providing it.

4. Our experience is determined by how well a brand/product/service matches our world view and the things that matter to us.

Our world view is like the filter through which we judge and value things according to how well they appear to match our own values and the value we place on the needs we want to satisfy. Gravel might just be gravel, but does that mean you don’t have to worry about values, just because it’s ‘just gravel’? No, because there are plenty of other places to get gravel. After all, it’s just gravel. But if you understand why your customer needs the gravel and that it’s important that he can trust in your delivery efficiency because that’s what he’s promised his clients, then you have a chance to make a difference. It’s not up to you to decide what gravel means to him, it’s up to you to understand his world view and how gravel fits in.

To deliver the kind of experience your customers want, you have to understand how they think, what they value and how they want to feel. Yes, they want your product or service to do certain things and match certain criteria, but they also want to feel a certain way as a result of engaging with that particular brad/product/service. You have to understand what they value and why they value it so that you can communicate an understanding of, a match between you, your brand and their world view.

 And when you think of it like that, it’s pretty clear that it’s not a check-box on a business plan template, right? Or rather that there’s a lot more to it than a mere check-box would suggest. Yes, it’s deep and yes, it can definitely seem daunting. And absolutely yes, it can be very tempting to skim over, but can you see how important it is not to skim? Can you see how important it is to take the time to go deep?

 

The more you know about your ideal client or customer’s world view, their values, their preferences, their desires, the more you understand about how they want to experience your kind of product or service, the more you know about how they feel, the greater connection you’ll be able to make with them. Connection is the aim, not because it’s a business function, but because it’s what we humans seek, it’s how we’re wired. And we’ve figured out along the way that without that connection there is no business, and seeing there’s no connection school or degrees, only business school and degrees, we gave it a business term and put it under the heading of ‘marketing’. I’m not knocking that at all, it makes sense, but if you’re going to make it work, then you have to understand that it’s a human thing first, and a business plan heading or check-box second.

 

I hope that makes some sense to you. It really bugs me when really smart small business owners, who are really good at what they do, second-guess themselves about what they know to be true because of intimidating business and marketing jargon. It makes me weep to see these bright sparks waste hours cranking out some meaningless business mumbo-jumbo trying to smarten up their act, become more ‘professional’, when the real answers, with the real feeling and the real knowledge of what they actually do and who their actual people are is so much more valuable. Business, commerce and marketing are just frameworks to explain, test and implement commercial outcomes, and we need them, they’re fascinating and very useful, don’t get me wrong, but underneath all of the terms and the systems and concepts is, first of all, human connection.

 

Back yourself and what you know to be true. Serve your people better than anyone and have a brilliant day.

Andrea

Book review: 'Difference' by Bernadette Jiwa

Difference, Bernadette Jiwa.jpg

I’m excited about the times we're living in. I know that in many ways there's a lot to be scared of, but it seems to me that there's also a hell of a lot to be excited about, and to find hope and brilliance in. Much of that excitement, that brilliance, I believe stems from a collective step change in the human psyche. It's about truth, it's about living authentically, it's about real stuff that matters and it's about the human need to connect and belong.

 

So what does this have to do with a book about marketing? Everything. 

 

We're living in a special point in time where many of us enjoy lives where our basic needs are more than satisfied. Our collective human intelligence has advanced further up the hierarchy of needs pyramid at precisely the time that technology has advanced to the point of true integration into everyday life. This means that people are questioning more and demanding the satisfaction of deeper desires, such as meaning and purpose and integrity, in their lives. It also means that because of the accessibility of technology, never before has there been such an opportunity to realise these desires.

 

We want more meaning and purpose. We also have the ability to connect, collaborate, integrate and disseminate information like never before in order to inform our choices. And because the barriers to enter the marketplace have been greatly reduced by technologolical advancements, we also have more options available and a greater ability to make choices that reflect the things that matter to us.

 

It means that mass marketing is dying, if not, dead. We're not prepared to be treated like invisible numbers and demographic conglomerates anymore and it seems that we don't have to be. Doing work that matters, making choices that reflect our values, giving our loyalty to ethical and caring companies that make a difference is where we're headed, and 'Difference' encapsulates that thinking. Although it's a marketing method, the overarching message of this book is much broader and can be applied not only to all facets of a savvy business, but as a mediation and encouragement for us all to embrace the abundant opportunities to make choices that matter.

 

The concept of making yourself matter to your customers, of reinventing your business and staying sharply focused on what makes you different to your competition is not a new concept, but it’s the way ‘Difference’ tells the story that makes the difference. Firstly, Bernadette Jiwa is a great storyteller, so she’s a pleasure to read. She has a style that combines that inspirational values-approach to business combined with enough clarity and punch to avoid the waffle. In ‘Difference’, she manages to marry what matters on a human level to what works on a business level. Secondly, she doesn’t just stick with the theory and avoid the issue of how to actually put it into practice. Her engaging and succinct writing style is further enlivened by the very practical and applicable Difference Model and Difference Map.

 

The Difference Model is centred on empathy as the foundation for making things and developing ideas that actually matter to people. By understanding how people feel and what they care about, and therefore what they want, we can realise a great opportunity to build better, more sustainable businesses and ideas, and communicate in ways that people actually want to hear. The Difference Model provides a framework to begin this journey and the Difference Map is a visual shorthand way of brainstorming and representing your findings.

 

‘Difference’ also presents several inspiring case studies in the form of Difference Map samples. It’s here that this philosophy is really illustrated, this important step change not only in our ability, but our responsibility for creating work that matters. These are companies that know it's about showing up, about making the most of the choices available to us, about choosing the stories we want to tell and be a part of. It's about connecting authentically with the people who matter to us and our business. They are companies millions of people have shown their desire to support, emulate and connect with, to be a part of their story.

 

This is an inspiring and important little book that speaks to so much more than turning dated marketing approaches on their head, although it does that too. It asks us to be brave enough to consider the truth about what we really care about and what really matters. Bernadette Jiwa tells us the story of Difference and illustrates the tale with the stories of companies who are choosing to matter. But she also shows us a practical way of doing that, of identifying and expressing those differences in a way that will resonate with our clients and customers. This is a story I want to be a part of and one that I suspect we all do.

 

To find out more about 'Difference' and Bernadette Jiwa, you can find her at http://thestoryoftelling.com

 

 

Brand ideals: no longer a touchy-feely "option"

I was talking to a good friend of mine today, about all sorts of things, it’d been a while, but our conversation eventually came around to social media. She LOVES social media and even admitted to what sounds like a slight addiction and ‘sneakily checking her phone behind the cereal box’ … you know who you are my friend, but I don’t stand in judgement and neither will I tell a soul, promise. The truth is actually she’s definitely not alone and I’m sure many could, and would, relate if they were as candid and honest as my friend.

 

The really interesting thing to me about the magnetism of social media were her reasons. She said she was drawn to the multitudes of interesting people doing good and interesting things in the world. People who stand for things that matter, people who are starting movements, people who are making a difference in their own and other people’s lives in many different ways. She described how inspired she felt to see the stories of these people in her news feeds and how she felt that social media gave her a way of surrounding herself with people who inspired and lifted her with the missions they’re on and the stories they tell. How it’s given ordinary people a vehicle for their voice, their message, and in doing so have allowed others to connect, identify and resonate with, and in, their own voices.

 

Of course there’s a lot of opportunity to see just as much negativity no doubt, but our current ability to choose who to read, who to follow and what, and who, you wish to be influenced by is unprecedented. And that’s a really important point - with the opening of communication channels, greater accessibility and connectivity, I believe people are, collectively, becoming a lot more aware of the many different voices, opinions and view points that the world is made up of. Awareness is core to identifying our own ideals and we’re naturally drawn to people and organisations that reflect those ideals back to us. When my friend feels inspired by the people she wants to surround herself with, via social media, or in person, or any in other way, she’s feeling like that because she resonates with the ideals they’re espousing and she therefore feels connected to them. She feels connected to them because they’re acting as a conduit, in a way, and a mirror for her own ideals.

 

Once upon a time, but not all that long ago, marketing students were taught the 4 P’s of marketing - I was, and actually I wouldn’t mind betting that even if you’ve never studied marketing formally, you’ve probably come across the 4 P’s in one form or another. Price, product, placement and promotion. So if I were to turn this story into one about marketing and branding, as I always do, then where exactly do you think ideals would feature amongst those 4 pillars?

 

Tricky huh. I guess you could argue that all 4 must cohesively and consistently communicate a brand's ideals, but it’s still pretty, well, you know, clinical maybe, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s because ideals would be better accounted for in the 5th P - People. The one they don’t teach you in business school. However, without people there is no business because every business is about relationships with people. People connecting with one another for some shared reason. Possibly, and more commonly now, as my friend describes, over shared ideals. If this is the way people are communicating and connecting with one another, then how can business be separate, different, play with another set of rules, when business IS people?

 

When you think of it like that, ideals become really important. Not just to have brand ideals, that is, for your business to be on a mission to bring higher order benefits, beliefs and values to the world, but to be able to communicate those ideals in a way that people that understand and connect with. We accept that the best performing brands in the world have strong brand ideals, a bigger purpose or mission, but part of their mission is also to meaningfully communicate those ideals in everything they do. The more consistent they are in delivering that message, the stronger the message is and the greater the connection.

 

The 4 P’s is, or was, all about mass marketing, but it’s different now. Mass marketing was about things and stuff and volume and the masses, but now we’re more about connection marketing. It’s about how we feel, how we connect and how we tell and identify with a story. Brand ideals are no longer a ‘touchy-feely’ option and neither is the crafting of a solid brand story and brilliant strategy to communicate that story.  Brand story is the key to communicating ideals in a way that reflects what people are already genuinely feeling and caring about. It’s more than product, price, placement and promotion - it’s about people, our need to connect and have our values reflected back to us. 

Disclaimer and note: For the picky ones amongst you, me being one myself, please note that I realise the image more accurately represents brand attributes than ideals, but hey, I was pushed for time and I think you'll get my gist :-) Forgive?

Photo credit: Image by johnhain via pixabay

7 reasons why your existing customers are your number one marketing priority

Your existing customers are gold. They’ve already voted to spend their time and money with you, or on your product or service, and this is no small thing. No matter how wonderful you think you are, no matter how great your product or service is, or whether it’s without a doubt the best there is, your customers usually have many, many other options. Options not just in terms of your competition, but in terms of not purchasing that product or service at all. In a world of endless products, noise, promotion and global markets, the fact they chose your thing is rather something, and no matter how big or small you are, gone are the days when you could get away with thinking that providing your customers with what they paid for was all you owed them.

 

Sure, there are product and service categories, indeed whole industries that are characterised by highly transactional, commodity-type markets where on face value you could be forgiven for thinking deep customer loyalty, engagement and community are not necessary. But I would argue it’s just as important. Ok so maybe we’re not talking about group hugs and exclusive membership programmes for some sectors, but solid, reliable customer service goes a long, long way, especially when you’re trying to differentiate somewhat generic products in a price-sensitive market. The loyalty you foster in your existing customers might just be the thing that sets you apart and affords your brand the longevity your competition lacks.

 

Here are 7 reasons that your existing customers should be your number 1 marketing priority;

 

1. Because your existing customers hold the key to getting more like them. The way they think, the reason they choose your brand, the problem your brand solves for them, or the desire it satisfies, is all stuff you need to know and your existing customers are THE people to tell you. Understanding your existing customers even better than they understand themselves is the way you find more customers like them. Gold.

 

2. Because your customers can tell you what else they want or what you could be doing better, how to make them happier, what additional products or services they’d love you to create, you have an enormous opportunity to respond to exactly what they ask for. Don’t follow the market. Responding directly to your own customers is how you become a market leader … but you need customers to do that.

 

3. Because your customers actually want to engage. Meaningful engagement leads to trust and loyalty, which is not only very hard for your competitors to compete with, but because people want their choices to reflect their values, it turns out they’re ever so willing to be loyal and trusting in exchange for that. It’s a basic human need.

 

4. Because through that dialogue and engagement and making your customers feel like they’re really cared about, they get to know the personality and the meaning behind the brand and that takes you from being known about to being loved. Again, gold.

 

5. Because your existing customers are the ones who are going to tell their friends. Treat them like royalty and they’ll do your marketing for you in the most powerful, trusted and resonating way possible. Remember word-of-mouth? Well, nothing’s changed - it’s still the holy grail. When your customers do your marketing for you, they’ve gone beyond customers and have become advocates. Gold with diamonds.

 

6. Because your existing customers are not only your customers today, but by the way you make them feel, they’re highly likely to also be your customers well into the future where every contact they have with your brand continues to nourish a legitimate relationship. Gold.

 

7. Because it’s your existing customers, that through trust, loyalty and sharing, become your community, your tribe, and that in itself is a magnetic force for attracting new customers, followers and advocates.

 

The way I see it, your existing customers are without a doubt your number one marketing priority and that’s because at the heart of each of the 7 points above, are basic human needs that always come before and underlie any business plan, strategy or transaction. Business is about human relationships and it’s only through nurturing the existing relationships that we can attract more of the same. 

 

Don’t ignore the people who’ve already given you their time and money while you scout the masses for more traffic, more conversions, more customers, more sales. Start with the gold you’ve already got because in doing so you increase the longterm value of your customers and expand the intrinsic value of your brand. This inside-out approach is the bedrock of any good marketing strategy and massively contributes to your results and growth into the future being much, much more reliable, not to mention more meaningful. 

Photo credit: "First customers" by Stavos via Flickr

 

Leave the heart in - Part 1: How to tell if it's actually wrong or whether it just feels wrong because your heart's in it

Sometimes doing things a little bit differently can feel pretty uncomfortable and often downright scary. Just because it’s different can make it feel bad even when it’s right. That’s why in business especially, we tend to avoid that feeling and go with what we know, or what we’re told we should know and what has always worked … for everyone else. With what the stats say, what the analyst says, the market indicators, the current condition, the economic climate. You know, business is business right? We’ve always done it this way - question that wisdom at your own peril … or would you be brave enough to do things differently if you really believed something was important enough? Even when doing it feels all weird and confronting and, well, like it’s wrong?

 

I had this experience recently with something totally unrelated to work, but it made me think about how it feels to do something different and why it can feel wrong even when we’re sure it’s good or right. This year I wanted to do something different to the usual teacher thank you cards passed around for parents to sign at the end of the school year. That works really well and actually we still did that again this year, but I wanted to do something that was from the kids, that they’d created and contributed to themselves. So my kids and I came up with this idea to cut out lots of butterflies and hearts for all the kids write on and decorate. Once they were all done, we thought we’d make a collage of thank you messages.

 

Great idea and everyone was enthusiastically onboard. It’s just that when it came to making the collage, it became clear that my talent as an artist extends only as far as the idea. I do have some wonderful, visionary (ok, maybe lofty) ideas, but my skills in actual implementation means it’s often a good idea to outsource (and that leads me to another discussion about knowing your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses, but I’ll post that tomorrow). Anyway, after all this organising and collecting and coordinating the hearts and butterflies, I was sadly disappointed when I came to put it all together.

 

I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling that what I’d created wasn’t good enough and that I’d wasted people’s time in trying to do something different. I felt embarrassed about putting myself out there and I was wishing I hadn’t. What I wished was that I’d just stuck to what we’d always done - buy a card, pass it around for the parents to sign and kick in some cash. I really regretted trying to do something with more meaning and although I knew it was the thought that counted, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I’d done something wrong.

 

The truth is that sometimes that weird feeling, that vulnerability, is a good thing because it shows that what you're doing still has the heart left in it - that it's a real, living and breathing thing that matters. It feel wrong not because it is wrong, but because we’re not used to feeling that way. We have a tendency to play it safe, toe the line, do what’s done because we equate fear with an indication that something’s wrong. It comes from our crocodile brain that had to protect us from predators way back in the dark ages, but hasn’t changed much with the times. Actually we’re mostly pretty safe now and sometimes that feeling's just discomfort about showing heart when we've been conditioned to think that's a risky business.

 

Ok, so maybe showing heart is "risky". Maybe you are being vulnerable, but is that necessarily bad? What if your intentions are pure and you really care about this thing, should you not do it because it feels awkward and weird? Is that enough of a reason to retreat back into ordinary?

Well here's a test; does that fear of being vulnerable open your heart or close it? Do you feel expansive or smaller? Closer to what's true and real and on your path, or further from it?


Compare that to the alternative. How do you feel when you think about going safe, toeing the line, keeping the heart out, tried and true, 'best practice'? A little bit dead perhaps? A little bit deflated? Smaller, blander, safer, more ho-hum? Constricted by any chance?


Is that the way you want to connect with people? Is that the way you want to show up? Maybe it is, and that's fine. You'll know if it's fine for you because you won't have a weird feeling of fear and there really won't be an issue. If that's the case, good for you, go for it. But if your inner voice is shaking its head and saying, "We could, but I don't know, it just doesn't feel right", then that's your guy. You've got to put the heart back in and listen to that inner voice.


And what's the worst that could happen? So what if it's not perfect, polished, praised by the analyst and approved by the board? Leaving the heart in takes some work, it's a bit rougher than the polished tried and true. So iterate. Get comfortable with the feeling and learn. Improve. Make it better, polish it, argue the point, sell it, solve it, ship it. But leave the heart in. You're trying a new path, a path that feels a bit scary, but which has the potential to connect more and be more meaningful. It feels weird because heart’s not always common, not because it's wrong. You can make it better, you can SEO it, polish it more, edit it more, research it more, analyse it more, but leave the heart in it - that's the bit that's right, not the bit that's wrong. 

5 unmeasurable, unscaleable and idealistic business practices that feel good

Why is it that when you start talking about how things feel, how much real connection matters and how far a little bit of love goes in business, you’re often met with varying degrees of eye rolling, glazing over and comments that involve the word ‘idealistic’?

 

They want to know how you measure that, what’s the ROI and is it scaleable? But what I want to know is why caring about the way things feel, and connecting for real with real people, and injecting love into what you do idealistic? I would have said they were fundamental. After all, business is about people. Marketing is about people. Life is about people. People, people, people. How we connect, what matters, how we feel, what and who we love. So why is it idealistic to build a business on these very human foundations?

 

Ok, I agree, they are hard to measure, but that’s because we’re trying to measure the impact and effect of these things using tools and scales that were designed for things that are not emotional. The exact impact they have is hard to measure in terms of directly associated sales, return on investment, customer loyalty etc etc. But I just can’t accept that therefore they’re not worth much. Maybe it’s worthwhile enough to do things in a way that feels good and is in line with your values and your mission because then you’re more authentic, it’s more sustainable and you feel happier about what you’re doing. When that’s the case, it shows through in everything you do, and for that alone, isn’t it worth it?

 

But there are more reasons, yes, still hard to measure, I agree, but nonetheless worthwhile pursuing for the simple reason that business is about human relationships. How do you feel when someone thanks you for something you’ve done for them? When your efforts are recognised? When someone asks your opinion because it’s valued? When someone listens. When someone helps you, or you help someone else? These things feel good because we’re human.

 

Based on this fact, here are 5 things that are wildly unscaleable (debatable), extremely difficult to measure in terms of returns, and loftily love drenched and idealistic that you can do today just to remind yourself that you are indeed human and well, because it just feels good;

 

1. Call a client or a customer personally to thank them for their business. It could be a note or an email if you’re not able to call them, but it has to be sincere and personal. Don’t ask for anything, just thank them for doing business with you and let them know how much you appreciate them.

 

2. Take an employee, or someone who has helped you in your business, out for lunch, or buy them a thoughtful gift, just to let them know they’re valued.

 

3. Connect with a client or customer and ask them for their opinion about something you’re working on. It could be something you recently launched, or how their experience with your product or business was, or an idea for the future. Be open and really listen to what they say without qualifying or explaining.

 

4. Share. A problem shared is a problem halved. Use your social platform to share something real with your people. Maybe something you’re struggling with, perhaps something personal, something about you, not your business. We all love to know we’re not alone in our struggles and sharing our experiences is paramount to meaningful relationships.

 

5. Encourage someone you know who’s working hard, trying to make a difference, maybe who’s struggling a bit - let them know you care, that what they’re doing is worthwhile and that you believe in them - you never know what a massive impact you might have on someone’s life at just the right time.

 

Business is a human pursuit. It’s about relationships and belonging and believing and yes, even about love. We absolutely need to measure the impact of the things we invest our time and money in to grow our business, but we also need to invest in the things that are difficult to measure. Don’t overlook the little things that feel good. It’s not a bad thing that they’re hard to measure and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re worthless, in fact I have more than a hunch that those ‘little’ things are actually the big things. If that’s idealistic, then isn’t it ok to contribute to a more ideal world? I think so, I really do. 

Consistency matters

Happy employees make a difference to the customer experience. We hear it all the time and I’m constantly writing about the importance of starting inside with what’s important, crafting that into a meaningful brand story and telling it in every way possible, including through your staff and how much they buy into and feel they represent that story. It’s important because people connect with emotion, and it has to be real. People care less about stuff and more about how they feel. Much, much more.

 

I know that it’s for this reason that it’s next to impossible to stand out and make a difference with tactics designed to interrupt people and strategy designed to get attention when it’s not based on something that comes from the heart. Getting noticed is pretty useless anyway unless people actually believe what you’re saying. Creating messages that actually mean something to people is important because our number one goal is to connect and engage. Because well, that’s what people do. That’s how we are and have always been. 

 

But your ‘messages’ aren't just the things you write; your copy, your slogans, your catch-phrases, your advertising. Your message is in everything. EVERYTHING. Every contact your customer has with you or your business and your brand, sends a message. If you want to be believed, then that message needs to be consistent. That is, you need to tell the same story in everything you do.

 

My inspiration for thinking about consistency of story and brand message came from a recent experience with a plumbing supplier. I’ve been renovating my bathrooms and walking that line between creating a thing of beauty and not blowing the budget … too much :) I’d finally found a mixer that I actually liked and which was in my budget because it had been heavily discounted as a discontinued item. The matching bath spout however was in Palmerston, NT and was one of only two left in the country. This was no problem though because the staff were very diligent in organising it to be sent to Perth, and even when it took a wrong turn and ended up in Adelaide, they kept me posted and assured me they’d get it to me. And they did.

 

When I went into the store to pick it up, not only did the lady who was looking after me do a brilliant job of making me feel looked after on top of everything she’d already done, but about 3 other employees at varying times during my visit, commented jovially about this bath spout, one of the last of its kind, doing a tour of Australia before it ended up here. They were happy I’d got it because they knew how important it was to me and do you know how that made me feel? It made me feel really happy because I felt like they really cared.

 

As I left the store, amidst wishes of “Enjoy!” and “See you next time”, I noticed the company’s brand message on the wall. It said, “Bathroom Happiness”. And I thought to myself, damn right. I am happy. I love the bath spout, but I loved the way I was treated more … and I believe them. I believe them when they say they create bathroom happiness because that’s what I felt. It wasn’t the bath spout, or the brand message, it was the connection those employees created with me that made me believe their story. They were consistent.

 

Consistently telling your brand story in everything you do is what fosters trust and loyalty, over time. Authentically making real connections is what makes people feel what you want them to believe. Otherwise, it’s just words. 

Photo credit: "Life for me ain't been no crystal stair" by downing.amanda via Flickr