connection marketing

How your brand story helps define your audience

Maya Angelou said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Sometimes we don’t even know what those stories are until we start telling them, but a pretty cool kind of magic happens when we start engaging our imagination in story.

 

My friend called me out of the blue the other day. “I’ve got this idea for my business”, she said, “What do you think?” … And what ensued was about an hour-long call during which we crafted a story. A story that came from an idea, was questioned, teased out, explained and injected with the wide-eyed wonder of “What if …”

 

“What if …”, comes from the space of creative imagining. It’s a juicy alternative to the "What IS…” question, which is often what we ask, and which often gets us stuck, when we’re trying to think of business ideas and solutions. We get the idea, the creativity happens, we get all inspired imagining the possibilities … and then we stop imagining, become robotic and serious (AKA clever and astute business people), and start trying to nail down the characteristics of the ‘target’.

 

And sure, I know it has to be done and I completely understand the value in doing it. Knowing your audience is critical so it’s worth getting right. You absolutely need to, no question. But I also see how dry and ineffective addressing questions about the problem you’re solving, the profile of a person with this problem and why they’d choose you to solve it can get. Ironically, the ‘personality’ you’re trying to paint and bring to life through this questioning is at grave risk of becoming, well, rather lifeless and one-dimensional.

 

When you’re imagining and wondering “what if …”, you're naturally thinking in terms of story, a good story. Unconstrained by what’s plausible and measurable and even realistic, your values and desires start to show up all by themselves and if this is a story you’re creating with another person, then all sorts of good starts bouncing around between you. What’s happening is that you’re engaging imagination with inner values, and that stirs up emotion. Once you’ve got the emotion happening, you’re starting to tell a pretty compelling story. It’s believable because it’s got a bit of heart in it and humans connect with their hearts, not business analysis.

 

And keep talking! Now that you’re in there, telling that story, seeing the vision, try asking one of those targeting questions. Now try asking what problem your product or service is trying to solve. How does your answer sound now? Long? Detailed? Passionate? And what about describing the person who experiences this problem? What are they like? Who are they? What does the problem look like and how does your brand show up for them? When you’re in the story, these questions take on a whole new dimension. Your answers are juicy and ripe and full of the thing that’s going to allow you to stand out - heart.

 

Knowing your brand ideals and enveloping them in a brand story emblazoned with detail starts with imagining that story. Wondering “What IF …”, rather than asking “What IS …” can unlock the heart in an idea and craft a story that really comes alive. A story that makes it easy to pin-point your target audience because you’ve allowed them to become real in that story. And when the story’s real with real characters and real heart, that’s when you’ve got the seed of potential for real connection and serving your audience with outstanding usefulness and personality. 

Photo credit: Image by johnhain via pixabay

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 2: The myth of 'if you love it, it's easy'.

What is it? An adage? A maxim? Perhaps it’s a myth with just a sprinkling or hint of truth left in it. That in terms of work, if you love it, it’s easy.

 

And so it goes that if you want to love your work, then you have to find something you love doing … And it will be easy, breezy, lemon squeezy. Right?

 

Well let's just qualify that. Yes, when you love what you do, it is a lot easier - you only have to think of a day in a job you hate or doing work that bores you to death to understand that. But it's also slightly simplistic and probably even somewhat mythical as well. Yes, I do agree that if everyone was doing work they loved, then the world would be a brighter place. Everything clicks into place a lot better when we do what we love -  our talents are naturally utilised, we have a lot more internal drive, natural motivation and creativity. Agree.

 

However, there is another side to that belief and that is that when you really care about something and your heart's fully in it, it can get hard. Very, very hard.

 

Caring deeply about something, your mission, a message, your brand, your vision, can get very emotional. It’s the heart and the emotion that gives it life and inspires others to connect and invest their emotions too. It makes what you do real and the connections you form with other people real because it really matters. It’s the heart in things that make them stand out.

 

But it’s not always easy.

 

Yesterday I was writing about how doing things a bit differently (Leave the heart in - Part 1), doing things from the heart, can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable, even a bit wrong, but that just because it feels that way doesn’t mean it is wrong and definitely doesn’t mean you should quit. Having your heart in something can make it difficult to separate yourself from the opinion of others, especially if it's negative, and not take things personally. You can get too caught up in it, too close, and lose your perspective. The truth is, you can become a little obsessed. Brightly inspired is good. It comes from something deep inside and resonates with meaning that acts like a magnet to others, but having your heart in something also means you can get hurt. It can be extremely stressful just because you care so damn much and will do almost anything to see that vision to reality. And sometimes that bright inspiration can tip over into white knuckle obsession. That's when you can't let go, maybe you can't sleep, it's hard to slow down and small things seem enormously upsetting.

 

When having your heart in something starts to feel like this, you can start to doubt whether it's worth it and whether you really actually care about it like you thought you did after all. It's confusing and it can all feel very, very wrong. The really sad thing is that when people who really care about something and have fully invested their heart and soul start to feel like this, they often start thinking their thing is wrong. That their heart was wrong after all. That actually they can't really love it because if they did, wouldn't it be easy? No, having your heart in it can be a lot harder than not because with your heart in it, you've got more skin in the game - a whole heart in the game and that is certainly not always easy.

 

But does that mean it's wrong? Does that mean the thing you loved and believed in is no longer worth it?
Probably not. So here's the thing, before you give up on it because it feels too hard and therefore feel sure that clearly it's wrong, ease the load first. Talk to your good friends and supporters and clients and customers who believe in what you do - they'll remind you of its worth because they're not as close to it as you are and won't have lost their perspective. Outsource the stuff that you're not so good at, the stuff that saps your time and energy, leaves you feeling deflated, spent and robs energy from the parts you put your heart into.

 

Get rid of some of the sand, the jobs that don't utilise your unique strengths, but keep the heart in it. The whole thing's not wrong, heart's not wrong, it's just been overwhelmed by all the demands of loving and really caring about something. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because it's no longer easy, that it's wrong. Change it around, iterate, improve, but leave the heart in it. If you take the heart out of your business, take the heart of your marketing and communications, then you’ve left nothing for people to connect with … and then what’s the point?

 

Heart is not the problem. Get rid of some of the other stuff so that keeping your heart in the game is easier, more sustainable, but leave the heart in. At the end of the day, it’s the only thing that keeps your business human. 

Photo credit: BruceEmmerling via pixabay - http://pixabay.com/en/new-york-city-building-tower-224396/

 

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. 

The Secret to Ninja Marketing Strategies

Feeling like you want to pump up your marketing efforts? You know, really put the kick into it, bust out? Be everywhere, be amazing, make waves, get noticed and of course, sell more stuff?

 

Hell yeah! I want ninja tactics too! Yes! Ninja tactics put the R into ROI, the C in conversions and the capital T into traffic. Gimme some of that fo’ sho'!

 

But here’s the thing … even with your black belt and and all your impressive chops and kicks, even Ninjas look kind of pathetic if they’re just dancing around in front of you trying to get your attention for reasons apparently unknown, right?

 

Ninjas need context. Connection and engagement is always your goal because tactics without connection will be ignored, especially if you’re employing disruptive marketing tactics. 

 

Disruptive tactics, designed to push in, to shout for attention even though the product or information is not sought, are, on their own, risky business. Tactics like this are likely to be ignored for the simple reason that we’re overloaded by them and have therefore become very good at tuning them out. Without the underlying reason and meaning of your brand message communicated in the way, place and time your audience wants to be communicated to, your odds of being ignored are very, very high. Awkward Ninja.

 

Not only can this be extremely expensive, but worse still, it can actually damage your brand. They may ignore you, but they’ll probably associate that disruption and subsequent ignoring with your brand and be even more likely to ignore it in the future. This is not sustainable and it doesn’t feel good for anyone. We’ve got to stop being the things that people are trying to ignore and start focusing on the things they want. Pare back and lean in, Ninjas - you can’t get your black belt without connection because all that flashy jumping around in front of people just makes them feel uncomfortable and annoyed unless you connect with them with meaning and context.

 

Tactics without connection are just that, tactics. Tactics alone aren’t enough - they’re not sustainable.

 

Tactics that focus on connecting with, engaging your audience and building community is what makes your tactics Ninja. Being laser focused and precisely efficient starts with genuine connection and that’s the secret that puts your tactics on steroids. 

Photo credit: 'Ninja' by Dani Armengol Garreta via Flickr

But I'm an introvert!

I'd love to do marketing and get my sales rocking, but I'm an introvert, it's just not me.

 

Oh how I hear you. I know it because I’ve felt the same. But guess what. 

 

What if I told you it doesn’t matter?

What if I told you it’s not even close to the point?

What if I told you in fact that it could be an advantage to feel like that?

What if I told you that having an aversion to self promotion and branding could help to set you apart?

What if I said that all that matters is that you believe in what you’re doing - believe in your product, your service, your mission, your art, your message and let that come through in everything you do?

 

Well it’s true and here’s why …

 

Blurting out messages to the world at large and vying for attention from the masses by disrupting people in their everyday lives is just adding to the noise and clutter. And there’s a lot of it. So much in fact, that people are getting really good at tuning it out, ignoring it, pressing delete and carrying on. We have so much noise and so much connectivity to technology and devices and marketing, that what we’re really looking for, what really stands out and gets our attention is real connection. REAL being the operative word.

 

I love working with people who are introverted or shy, who don’t like to promote themselves and who worry that marketing is, well, too ‘out there’. I love it because these people tend to be much more inclined to look inside first. They usually feel much more comfortable with being in touch with their passion and their reason for doing what they do and much more inclined to tell an authentic story and make connections they’re genuinely proud of. 

 

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bagging extroverts here by any means, but as far as introverts and extroverts go, it’s just that introverts are usually much less attracted to the big splash, the glitz and the slick than our more extroverted comrades … and that’s fine, absolutely fine. You can do a killer job of splash, glitz and slick, but you certainly don’t have to if that’s just not you. As long as your message is coming from, has its roots in something deeper and the message is genuine, it doesn’t matter if its loud and flashy, or quietly compelling. Unfortunately though, being starstruck can sometimes mean the genuine core drivers are overlooked and you end up with empty noisy glitz that gets tuned out.

 

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service sells itself
— Peter Drucker

That famous Peter Drucker quote, exemplifies the connection philosophy and starting on the inside first. How can you have any hope of achieving this if you don’t pour your energy into connecting with your customers? Pour your energy into knowing them, understanding them, delighting them? And I always circle back to the fact that in order to do that, you have to know yourself first and that’s because you can’t have genuine connection when you’re not being genuine. Being able to sniff out a fake is part of we human’s incredible skill of tuning out masses of noise.

 

In all this noise, we seem to have moved away from the understanding that it’s the connection we make with our customers that’s the important thing. Hands down, no doubt about it. For every product or service you sell, your customers will usually have a plethora of other similar options available to them. What they want, what sets you apart is YOU. It’s the connection they seek and a perfect product at the perfect price point isn’t enough because you’re not the only one. What keeps them coming back is connection and trust.

 

Feeling uneasy about disruptive, attention-seeking marketing tactics is a good thing and it doesn’t matter a twitch if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Starting on the inside, focusing on your existing customers is not only a viable alternative, but probably a better way to go. By being cognisant of your true mission and making the creation of a strong and loyal community your ultimate goal, you’re building a brand around a culture that’s deeply connected to the customers you serve. When your customers are deeply connected to a brand, or a cause or mission if you don’t like the term brand, then they become evangelists. Imagine that! Imagine YOUR customers and clients being so stoked with what you do that they’re out there voluntarily telling the world about it. I want that, don’t you?

 

So please introverts, don’t think marketing is not for you. Marketing is in everything you do so if there’s stuff you don’t feel right about, it’s ok to go inside and get closer to what matters to you. Delight the customers you already have. Ask for their help, let them know you care, seek to understand them. Be genuine and build trusting relationships in a way that feels authentic to you. Build your brand from the inside around a culture of shared values. Get passionate about it and do it exceptionally well. This is the type of marketing that both you and your customers will flourish in. 

Photo credit: How Not To Manage An Introvert by Nguyen Hung Vu via Flickr