Community Building 101: The Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

If you’re in business, you understand value. You ensure every action adds value to your business goals or bottom line. But do you evaluate your community-building initiatives as stringently?

Why social communities are important

Social communities can make or break your business. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, there’s no better way to “cut through the clutter” than having a community of customers, prospects and influencers that has your back.

Social communities are valuable and can be your brand’s strongest advocates. They can also be a big driver for bringing in new customers. CrossFit and SoulCycle are both great example of using the social aspect of their brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded market.

But social communities don’t happen overnight.

First, choose the right audience for your specific cause or topic. This is where customer service is crucial, no matter the business or industry. This is the group that should remain at the center of all your marketing and community initiatives. Some quick, but important, questions to ask include:

  • Is the audience appropriate for your business?
  • Has your audience changed since you first started building a community?

Keep in mind that irrelevant, legacy audiences can be a source of blind headaches when they voice their disappointment in the way the company has changed. On the flip side, relevant legacy audiences can be your best friends – especially in times of trouble.

Once you’ve nailed down your audience, you’re ready to nurture your budding community with these four methods:

Listen

If you’re not engaged in social media listening, you’re missing out on tons of insights about the people who are actively talking about your industry and brand. Keep track of what the top influencers and prospects in your industry are reading and sharing. What hashtags are they using? What types of content are they sharing? What do their bios look like? What are their pain points?

Autonomy

While you want to control every aspect of the community-building efforts, you can’t. Control what you can and act responsibly, but know that at time you need to let your community develop organically. Allow your newfound audience to build its own momentum.

Engagement

Once you’ve kept an eye on the pulse of activity within the community, opportunities to engage will present themselves. Ask and answer questions, comment on their posts, like their activities, share their content and follow them back. Over time, they’ll notice your engagement and appreciate it – and they will likely return the favor.

Reward

People love rewards and they love validation of their actions. Go ahead and thank people for sharing your content. Invite them to company events and webinars. Use your social platforms to maximize brand loyalty by first engaging your social community. Let them be the first to know about your brand’s news, rewards programs and more. This creates an exclusivity that people naturally crave. In turn, you can make your social media platforms the place customers are encouraged to refer your business through different contents, recognition and more.

Great! Now What?

It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you.

To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.

Focus on how well you engage those you attract.

Maintain awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.

To do this, we believe every social initiative, down to each tweet, should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength.

The Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

  • Do we believe it?
  • Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
  • Will they believe it?
  • Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
  • Will they feel good passing it along?
  • Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
  • Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
  • Can it impact the company in any negative way?
  • Does it add value to our audience’s life?
  • Does it help advance our cause or mission?
  • Does it help audience members feel good about their relationship with us?
  • Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?

Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.

For example, suppose you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, facilities managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs, and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies.

As you can imagine, such an acid test varies from industry to industry. Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives.

In return, the community will add value to your business for the long term.

Technology & Disruption: 5 Rules of Engagement


Today, innovations in technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence are poised to disrupt a number industries – content marketing included. As unprecedented as it sounds, we’ve seen this many times before.

In 1985, Adobe launched Pagemaker (now known as InDesign), THE app that led to the disruption of advertising, marketing and publishing. Pundits forecasted the death of the designer and writer, as entrepreneurs and marketers began preparing their own ads, brochures and newsletters.

In fact, many of today’s creative directors, content strategists and senior designers all got their start in desktop publishing.

Here’s the thing: the smart agencies adapted.

They mastered the tools and produced designs, content, video and interactive properties that the untrained could never match. Instead of killing professions, this is one of many examples of new technologies fueling the marketing industry with the power to create what had never been imagined.

Now, most of our day-to-day tasks can be automated. Need a mobile site? Google can create it at the push of a button. Need a new display advertising campaign? Push a button in your AdWords account and eight new ads appear – right-sized, well-designed, and likely well-messaged.

What’s left for the humans to do? First, take your head out of the sand. Ignoring reality never helped anyone keep a job. Second, follow these rules when it comes to marketing automation:

While most of us might not think that marketing technology should rule our world, we can benefit from a few rules of engagement. Here are our top five:

  1. Stop resisting: Regularly explore what’s new and how it might contribute to your business and, more importantly, your clients’ marketing goals.
  2. Understand the technology: If a client mentions a popular marketing technology (Marketo, WordStream, HubSpot, Silverpop, etc.) you should know it and be able to speak to its relevance and effectiveness for that client. Otherwise, you’re not doing your job.
  3. Use the technology: Manage a campaign for yourself using new technology. If you specialize in direct marketing, use HubSpot and Marketo, if only to understand how they work. If you help your clients advertise, then you’d better offer a keen understanding of Google AdWords and the technologies that have sprung up around AdWords.
  4. Figure out how your role is changing: For example, AdWords and search have made a huge impact on media planning and advertising. But managing an AdWords campaign, getting the right clicks and keeping your quality score high (among many considerations) isn’t easy. Master this and doors will open.
  5. Understand what the technology is NOT doing: Technology is mostly fact-fed. It lacks the emotional intelligence and empathy humans have and consumers want in the content they consume. 

The human role will never disappear. Mastering new technology will ensure that agencies stay relevant with clients and comfortable with our new marketing partner: the machine.

B2B Success: Going Beyond What You Already Know

You’re constantly thinking about your potential customers. How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do? How much money do they make? What causes do they support? What are their pains, and what kinds of budgets do they have to address those pains?

Here’s a quick exercise. Look at the following examples and try to come up with the target audience for each:

  1. SolarRetailer sells end-to-end photovoltaic systems to retailers who operate their own buildings.
  2. EarthWindFire sells lobby kiosks to schools and universities, where the kiosk and its screen provide insight into a building’s renewable energy systems and performance.
  3. BizWind sells small wind turbines and associated equipment to building owners and managers who want to add renewable energy to their buildings.

Obviously, the target audiences are:

  1. Retailers with their own buildings/locations
  2. Schools and universities
  3. Building owners and managers

Are these audiences important? Yes. Should their needs and desires determine all the marketing efforts? Probably not, but many companies focus only on a limited view of a target audience. That’s normal.

We’re fairly myopic creatures in many ways, as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman shows in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” As he puts it, “familiarity is more important than truth,” and usually your target audience is very familiar to you. In the book, Kahneman coins the term WYSIATI, or “what you see is all there is,” to describe the human tendency to jump to conclusions and be overconfident about those conclusions.

We see this all the time in marketing, and many marketers use the following arguments (excuses) to support their minimally researched conclusions:

  • We already understand our target audience. We’ve been working with these folks for years, and we know exactly how they think.
  • We don’t have time or money to do research that will simply confirm what we already know.

We’ve learned that even when there’s no time or money to do research, we can still devote mental energy to question our assumptions. To do this, ask questions and use simple mechanisms to guide our thinking. One of those mechanisms requires us to frame the notion of “audience” differently in the B2B landscape. Instead of analyzing the target audience, we focus on the audience’s audience(s). In other words, when we work with a client, we spend part of our time thinking how that client’s customers need to impress their own customers. In the B2B world, all our clients’ customers have their own customers.

In the above examples, this means we need to target as follows:

  • For SolarRetailer, we must target people who might favor shopping at a store location that uses renewable energy, not just the retail store who is our client’s customer.
  • For EarthWindFire, we need to focus on students, parents, administrators and municipal stakeholders who might pass through a school or university’s lobby, not just the school or university who will purchase the EarthWindFire kiosk.
  • For BizWind, we need to look at businesses and individuals who favor renting space in buildings that offer clean energy or other “green” features, not just the building managers and owners who will purchase the wind-energy installations.

For example, when considering the customer’s customer, the SolarRetailer marketing team will move away from a strict focus on system cost and ROI for retailers. More importance will be given to the compelling look of SolarRetailer installations as seen from the ground. The marketing team might even develop posters and literature that come with the system, informing consumers about the store’s system and its benefits, such as cutting its carbon footprint. Perhaps EarthWindFire will be brought in to place a kiosk in the retailer’s lobby, showing consumers what the PV system is yielding in real-time with cool graphs and carbon-footprint calculations.

Such marketing and messaging will send a clear signal to the retail store’s decision-maker when it comes to purchasing a PV system: SolarRetailer is thinking on my behalf and giving me something that my own customers will love.

We must avoid limiting ourselves to thinking of audiences as “business-to-business.” Instead, we segment in the following manner:

  • B2B – Our client targets businesses that use its products and services to help run their own business more intelligently and efficiently.
  • B2B2B – Our client targets businesses that sell to other businesses. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those businesses.
  • B2B2C – Our
    client targets businesses that sell to consumers. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how their customers sell to those consumers. (The fictional SolarRetailer fits into this category.)
  • B2Gov – Our client targets local, regional, state or federal governments to influence those bodies with messages that will eventually reach or help end users.
  • B2B2Gov – Our client targets businesses that sell into local, regional, state or federal governments. Our client’s attributes and messages can impact how its customers sell to those bodies.

Knowing that we often create our opinions and make decisions in a WYSIATI way, the above nomenclature provides an easy way to get us out of the “what we see” mindset.

In B2B marketing, your customers must always impress their own customers. Thinking about the latter set will help you message most effectively to your own customers and give them tools beyond your products and services to succeed in their businesses.

You’ve Cat to be Kitten Me: A Quick Lesson on Cats in the Media

I recently switched desks, moving to another section of the office.

As I broke a sweat hauling a bookshelf, client folders, pictures and knick-knacks to my new space, I realized how much of my stuff is cat-related.

Cards.
Cat butt magnets.
My day-by-day tear-off calendar.
A sticky note dispenser.

(Mind you, these things were given to me. Okay, except the cat butt magnets.) But it isn’t just the tangible “stuff” that’s cat related, it’s also my social media feeds, news sites, emails, TV news segments, GIFs and more.

We all know that dogs are America’s favorite pet. But, IMHO, cats are the ones that are dominating digital media… search algorithms and Google crawlers aside. Nearly two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014 alone, resulting in almost 26 billion views. That year, cat videos received more views per video than any other content category.

For example, since being posted in 2007, Keyboard Cat has received more than 48 million views (and counting) on YouTube. These countless hours of watching cat videos have led to some interesting research.

In a survey of nearly 7,000 people, the Indiana University Media School measured the relationship between watching cat videos and mood. Overall, participants reported fewer negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before. They also felt more energetic, and the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed the guilt they felt about procrastinating (#preach).

These views, videos and memes eventually led to the world’ first CatCon, held in Los Angeles in June 2015. Modeled after ComicCon, the “cat convention” attracted 12,000 people that year. This year, the crowd topped 30,000, plus 162 cats.

In the media, cat-related stories tend to go viral. Per BuzzFeed’s “Beastmaster,” the average feline story gets almost four times the viral views as canine. That’s not even going into the social media behind it.

Hashtagify reports #cat having a popularity score of 76.2 (never fear, #dog is right up there at 75) on Twitter. However, it looks like cats aren’t spending as much time on Instagram. On the platform, #cat has a mere 124 million posts, compared to #dog’s 147 million.

hashtags data by hashtagify.me

So, what’s a marketer to do with all of this information?

  1. Cat content works – well, really anything furry and cute works. Users can’t resist liking and sharing animals on the internet. Even in terms of B2B social media, don’t be afraid to break through the clutter with furry content. A cat GIF is sure to spark more engagement and produce more smiles.

  1. Cats are your competition – there are thousands of memes, GIFs and videos out there competing for attention. Use this as a way to challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to your strategy. At EMA Boston, we do our best to surprise people. This GIF was sent agency-wide to express this idea… it’s the perfect example.
    1. Animals trigger the emotional appeal of your brand and there is a direct connection between sales volume and the emotional connection your consumers have toward a brand. Build a friendship with your audience by using good humor or a soft story – remember this Super Bowl commercial?

     

     

    1. Millennials love cats (or cat content). If your brand is looking for a way to reach millennials, a good cat-themed campaign may do the trick. According to a survey by Mintel, 51 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s have cats. Just sayin’.

     

    1. Marketing can be fun, people. Do we need another super-serious graphic filled with stats about the user journey or decline in white paper consumption? If you enjoy your own company’s marketing, guess what? Others probably will too.

     

    1. As the winter grows darker and colder, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – Google it) begins to kick in, start watching cat videos. It’s cheap therapy. In the meantime, enjoy this cute picture of my feline friend.

     

Big Game. Big Ads.

February in Boston. The Celtics are off to a great start. The Bruins are holding down third in the Eastern Conference. Sox pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Meyers in 10 days. But, this weekend, it’s all about football. For the seventh time since the 2001 season, the New England Patriots are in the championship game.

Of course we’ve all been wearing our Pats gear* for the past two weeks in preparation for the Big Game. But we’re communication professionals as well, so we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited for the ads as well. In honor of the unique art form that is the Super Game ad, we thought we’d take a look back and recall our favorites from past years…

Reebok “Office Linebacker with Terry Tate” (2003)
Matt: I loved this – physical comedy, great dialogue and they never tried to sell me something–it was just fun and memorable.

terrytate

Doritos “Tea Party” (2013)
Amanda: It’s light hearted, makes you smile, and who doesn’t love one of the most delicious, dirtiest snack foods!

teaparty

Snickers “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” (2010)
Stephanie: Snickers has done a great job with these spots because viewers EXPECT these “You’re Not You…” commercials and always look forward to who will be featured next. Betty White is seriously the best.

bettywhite

Monster.com “When I Grow Up” (1999)
Kevin: It was epic at the time. Nothing but copy cats since. Solid and simple concept, executed masterfully.

monster.com-grow-up

Ameriquest Mortgage “Surprise Dinner” (2005)
Keith: I love the contrast of visuals in this one. The white color palette and the sweetness of the situation until it all turns in an unexpected way. 

cat

Volkswagen “The Force” (2011)
Christine: Just brilliant. I love the fact that it’s in the eyes of a child. Simple yet memorable!

force

Always “Like a Girl” (2014)
Katherine: This one is my favorite. The spot has stuck with me because of its authenticity, empowering message and courage to take on serious social issues.

likeagirl

E-Trade.com “Wasted $2 Million” (2000)
Jonathon: 17 years later and this is still the first ad that comes to mind for me. The cost of ad buys had been big news in the months leading up to The Game; E-Trade capitalized on the news stories and put out this bizarre yet perfectly on-message spot.

monkey

We’re all looking forward to the new crop of ads this year. And, of course, GO PATS!

 

*Full disclosure: I’ve been a lifelong 49ers fan. Joe Montana > Tom Brady

From Client to Partner: Tips to Create Lasting Relationships

shutterstock_75203164Like many, I waited tables during college. I worked at a local fine dining establishment, which mostly catered to out-of-towners, but had a fair number of local regulars as well. I could have easily gone from shift to shift making good money, but I quickly realized that the job was far more enjoyable when I started establishing my own “regulars.” Getting requested wasn’t just a matter of offering quick and friendly service, it was the result of making myself an integral part of the dining experience—my diners knew that I could recommend the best wine for their palate or what the chef may be offering off menu. By adding value to their dining experience, I became a trusted consultant, a partner if you will.

Years later as an ad agency account executive, I’m still in the service industry, and the same general concept applies in terms of adding value to the customer experience. Almost any agency can turn around a specific project request, but the good agencies form long-term relationships with clients based on trust. Given shifts in the marketplace, retainer-based agency of record relationships may not be as common, but years-long relationships can be built from project-based accounts by simply following a few guidelines:

  1. Don’t just take orders: Your agency is not Kinko’s, nor should it try to operate like one. Clients hire agencies for their design or strategic acumen (or both) to achieve objectives that serve their best interests. Offer recommendations and provide your perspective for “why” rather than simply asking, “what do you want?”
  2. Look for insights: You typically won’t spend countless hours researching the competitive landscape or digging into industry jargon if you’re not getting paid to do so. But keeping an eye on your client’s marketplace and competition as part of your day-to-day does prime you to speak in an informed way about your client’s business and recommend tactics or storylines they should explore.
  3. Think critically about design: We live in an age where design isn’t something that only luxury brands are thinking about. As marketing and design experts, “because it looks good” should never be a sufficient explanation of design intentions. As a brand advocate and steward, it is up to you to ensure a consistent and meaningful experience for your client’s customers—which means always thinking about the colors, shapes and other design components that define a brand.
  4. Be a good storyteller: Just as you should demonstrate thoughtfulness about design, you should be thinking about the story you’re telling. Whether B2C or B2B, marketing is all human-to-human and we all love a good story. Are you ensuring the stories you’re telling align to the brand? While you may not always be your client’s customer, put yourself in the customer’s shoes to ensure the words resonate.
  5. Become invaluable: By following the above items, you’re well on your way to becoming invaluable.  Beyond these things, it’s the details that matter and have impact. Pick up the phone instead of emailing or, better yet, schedule time for coffee with your clients. Be grateful. Be genuine. Be unexpected.

Becoming a reliable partner helps create an enjoyable and productive working relationship for both you and your clients. Not only can those relationships be long-lasting, but your “regulars” are more likely to refer you to others, resulting in even more happy clients.

 

The Value of Incentives

Potty training. Parents with children who have gone through this process, are going through it or will be going through it: you have my sympathy. When you really think about it, the idea of using a toilet is a foreign concept to a toddler. What’s the real value for them if they’ve been getting their tush wiped for the past three years? Why change a good thing?

Parents have many tactics at their disposal to add value for their children, but most default to incentivization. Kids get stickers, treats, toys and all manner of incentives to use the potty.

Simply put, incentives are a motivation to behave in a certain way. From an early age, we’re exposed to this basic economic (and behavioral) principle. Perhaps this is why most American companies are in love with incentives; consumers are primed for this tactic, even if they are fully aware of the reason behind the incentive.  And yet, there are a surprising number of marketers who don’t use incentives to their full advantage.

Some claim that their audience wouldn’t be swayed by incentives, but even sophisticated audiences can be convinced. There is a reason why pharmaceutical sales reps can no longer give incentives to doctors—including simple things like pens and pizza lunches—they worked! (See Wazana.) Individuals have many motivations to do what they do, the trick is figuring out how to unlock that.

Stephen Levitt writes in Freakonomics, “The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme,” although the solution “may not be pretty.” In marketing this holds true as well, but we try to avoid the “ugly” solutions lest they be taken as bribes.

Incentives don’t always mean giving something away, either. In late 2011 Patagonia partnered with eBay to start the Common Threads Program, which encouraged people not to buy new Patagonia clothes, rather to buy only what they need through eBay. In exchange, Patagonia agreed to only build products that last. By May 2014, nearly 70,000 people had signed the Common Threads pledge. During this time, Patagonia consistently increased its profits. By aligning its values to those of its customers and potential customers, Patagonia incentivized a broader scope of people to buy from them based on those shared values.

By truly understanding our audience, and who we want our audience to be, we gain understanding of what really motivates their actions. Armed with this knowledge we can then provide real incentives that deliver value to both the consumer and the company making the offer.

Now, if only I can figure out my son’s motivation for potty training success…

********

Now it’s my turn to incentivize you, and, since this is the internet, a video incentive seems most apt. If this post generates five non-employee comments on the HB website within a week of being posted, I will share a video of myself getting pelted by water balloons thrown by HB staffers. The video link will be posted to our newsletter, so be sure to sign up! Incentivized?

The Reason Why No One Follows You

Social media is not that different from dating. The reason why you have no followers (or start losing followers) is the same reason you’re not getting a second date. You’re selfish.

OK, not everyone reading this falls into the self-serving category, but take a moment to think about your social presence. Be honest about how your content reflects you and your brand. Is it all about you?

I shared some tips on LinkedIn about how to make your social strategy effective by balancing you with your audience. Check it out and share what you think in the comments below or on LinkedIn.

What B2B Can Learn from Burt’s Bees – Shifting the Why of Your Business or Service

BurtsBees

Image from New York Times

Burt’s Bees’ new campaign, “Uncap Flavor,” offers insight into how strong messaging can shift the reason for purchase in a customer’s mind. The campaign is highlighted in this New York Times piece, which explains how the lip balm industry has changed its marketing strategy from a functional message (curing chapped lips) to a message about personality-expressing accessories.

“[The marketing of lip balm] traditionally has been very functionally driven, just talking about, ‘You have dry lips, here’s a solution to your problem,’ ” said Tad Kittredge, associate director of marketing at Burt’s Bees. “But recently you’re starting to see a lot more of what I would call personality-driven and lifestyle-focused advertising, and we’re focused on the flavors as a way to reinforce the fun aspect of the brand.”

Other products and services have performed similar transitions. Apple is the most-referenced example of a company turning utilitarian products such as computers, phones, and music-playback devices into statement-making products reflective of their owners’ personalities.

The B2B world is catching up. Powerhouse Dynamics names its HVAC management technology SiteSage. An attractive unit with user-friendly interfaces, SiteSage enables restaurant and convenience store chains to manage equipment, control HVAC and reduce utility spending. Naming the device SiteSage instead of a generic moniker like “HVAC Monitoring and Control System” gives it more personality, makes it more memorable and creates a personal connection with B2B customers and prospects. It also differentiates it from competitive systems with generic names. And what restaurant chain owner wouldn’t want SiteSage minding the store rather than a random hourly employee who might not notice the freezer, which contains $50,000 of food, has stopped running?

IBM markets its cognitive computing platform under the Watson name. The platform promises a new partnership “between humans and computers that scales and augments human expertise.” IBM understands that even in a B2B sale, we like to imagine ourselves or our businesses in Sherlock’s shoes, solving mysteries and providing great service to the world… with Watson at our side. Many competitors market Business Information (BI), analytics and big data technologies. Not many of them have taken IBM’s lead to personalize the products and services and make them more immediately accessible.

In fact, much of the B2B world has to learn about marketing to the human beings who make up their business customers. Senior leaders and marketing teams often believe that their prospects make purchasing decisions based on cold comparisons of features and benefits. Perhaps they sell to engineers, financial services experts or hospital IT teams, and they know that these buyers will create systematic and rigorous evaluations before buying. Yet if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve had the experience of losing sales to lessor competitors. Why does this happen? Often because the decision-making team liked something intangible about the winning bidder. Those intangibles might include a better responsive website; a strong visual identity; the communication they regularly receive from a particular company or brand; the product’s name and surrounding messaging and story. Any of these create a stronger personal connection with the buyer.

Just as Burt’s Bees can be more about personality and individual taste, even more diffcult-to-grasp or specialty products or services can be positioned to win their customers’ hearts, not just their minds. AG Mednet made a business of providing  high-quality image transfer for the clinical trial industry. A couple of years ago the company changed its positioning to be all about zero-delay clinical trials. This positioning showed a deep understanding — and commitment to — solving a larger problem for the industry into which AG Mednet sells. Suddenly the company’s product was associated with a huge industry pain, and that association helped AG Mednet’s reputation and lead generation skyrocket.

Strong marketing and positioning speaks the customer’s language and addresses the customer as a whole, not just a single problem. The lip balm industry exploded because it went from addressing lips that needed protection and healing to human beings whose search for personality and individuality has no end.

B2B marketers must ask themselves who their customers are as human beings, understand their needs, and position their products and services to make a critical difference in addressing those needs, while creating a personal connection with the audience and the industry. This is where the right agency partner can make a huge difference, offering outside perspective and helping a business understand why and how its offerings can move beyond the realm of features and benefits and into the realm of personal relationship with target audiences.

 

 

 

Beyond Ego – A Key Marketing Teaching

Our culture drinks heavily of the Cartesian Kool-aid, “I think, therefore I am.” In other words, we identify with our thoughts.

This identification solidifies further in professions which reward us for thinking. Over time, we increasingly value our thoughts, which is reinforced as our employers and customers reward us for them. And yet, just as our sense of self becomes ever more heavily invested in our thoughts, research continues to validate the idea that creating some space between ourselves and our thoughts — in other words, separating the self concept from the thought of the moment — can lead to more skillful navigation of professional and personal landscapes.

Believing others will feel the same way we do is one of marketing’s cardinal sins.

I first learned about this in my early 20s when I read Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, a collection of essays including “Relative Realities” by Ram Dass. In that short piece, Dass points how repeated use of the expression “I am” when it comes to emotions (I am happy, frustrated, etc.) galvanizes a mental link between the self and the thought or emotion of the moment. “I am angry” is tantamount to saying “I define myself as angry.” In English at least, we don’t have an expression to communicate that we experience a thought or emotion but don’t identify with it, such as “a part of myself is experiencing anger, but I am much more than the anger.” Each time we express the “I am” concept, whether aloud or in our own minds, we reinforce complete identification with the thought of the moment.

This kind of close relationship between self-concept and thought of the moment is toxic for marketers. As professional communicators, if we identify too strongly with our thoughts or emotions, we become blinded to one of the foundations of effective communication: I am not my target audience. We need awareness of, and distance from, our opinions, emotional reactions, thoughts and even the understandable desire to show off our skills. This way we can focus on the marketer’s critical question, “will this communication strategy work?”

Sadly, most communications “experts” ask a different question: “Do I like this communication strategy?”

These so-called experts believe that their years in communications work give them license to be lazy: they identify 100% with their thoughts and express their own preference. Too often, they are surrounded by people who trust the “expert,” scratch one more item off their list, and move on to the next challenge. “You’re the expert, so you tell me.”And so we see thousands of communications campaigns that aren’t appropriate for the target audiences. Sometimes great ideas, ingenious marketing solutions addressing the wrong problems. [Read more…]