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We are back from the Inbound 2017 conference sponsored by Hubspot.

Last week’s Inbound conference was intense and productive. For a quick summary of the week, here are quotes pulled from across most of the Inbound 2017 keynotes and breakout presentations I attended.

Creative Thinking Skills

“It is easier to correct errors than to try to prevent them all.” – Ed Catmull of Pixar

“Every picture you’ve ever loved from Pixar sucked for a year.” – Brené Brown on hurdles that stand between an idea and celebrated creativity

“We didn’t like the media landscape, so we changed it. Don’t fight the systems that exist, create new ones.” – Piera Gelardi of Refinery29 on unabashedly reinventing monoliths that don’t suit you

“What seems ordinary to you may be extraordinary to others.” – Kareem Taylor of Headnod Music on the reason you need to stop that inner voice saying, “You’re not special.”

Growth

“Your network is who knows you, not who you know.” – Emcee Mark Jeffries explaining why everyone seems to want to be a star

“Companies are more likely to die from overeating than starvation.” – Hubspot Co-Founder Brian Halligan relating advice from a board member advocating for starting fewer things

“Always test the assumptions you are making about your audience. The goal is results, not guessing.” – Garrett Moon of CoSchedule with an important reminder for freewheeling startup types

“What do people do before they reach out to you?” – Matthew Barby of Hubspot offering a suggestion for attracting your prospects EARLY in the buying process

Branding

“What story will you tell about your brand?” – George Thomas of Sales Lion 

“Listen to your audience’s exact words, write them down, and then test them. Bucket them into dreams, pains, and barriers.” – Scott Tousley of Hubspot with a powerful suggestion for outside-in language

Leadership

“If you’re going to lead, you have to lead with grace.” – Former First Lady Michelle Obama telling it like it is

“Stop doing stupid shit.” – Leslie Ye of Hubspot with the “duh” QOTD

Marketing Chops

If you’re going to do video, you “need to think like a film editor.” – Salma Jafri pointing out a critical step all video must go through to fit a specific social platform

Today, you need marketers with “broad experience and the ability to go deep in a few areas. You need a Jack or Jill of all trades, and a master of some.” – Stefanie Grieser of Unbounce with hiring advice – Mike Brown

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Cyndi and I went out for dinner last night.  We were originally heading to a favorite restaurant that has been doing heavy discounting lately. They sent us each a 20% off coupon during the day, grabbing our top-of-mind attention as the best choice. Right before we left, we suddenly changed plans. Cyndi wanted to go somewhere she could eat a salad, so we chose a locally-based chain pizza restaurant instead.

At the counter, we ordered a large salad and a full-sized pizza. We paid the full price since we had just missed the happy hour specials.

A Bait and Avoid Customer Experience Strategy

Taking our seats, I noticed a tabletop card listing the regular daily specials. The Wednesday special was a large salad and a full-sized pizza for $15 – exactly what we ordered. Checking the bill, we paid for them separately to the tune of more than $20.

When a different person other than our original server delivered the salad, I had a look on my face. I was trying to decide whether to ask her or the young woman I thought was our server about the discrepancy. She saw my odd expression, walked back, and said, “You look like you have a question.”

I showed her the receipt and asked if our order did not qualify as the Wednesday special. She said it did, took the ticket, and promised to fix it.

Upon her return, I asked if the system doesn’t automatically recognize when someone orders a daily special. She said it doesn’t. In fact, the only way the cashier triggers the daily special pricing is if a customer asks for the special. As she flatly explained, the restaurant doesn’t want to leave money on the table (literally, I guess) when a guest visits the restaurant without knowledge of the special deal.

Her example was their all-day Happy Hour on Sundays. They wouldn’t want to give money away on appetizers and drink specials if people weren’t there specifically for the special prices.

Avoiding Doing Right by Customers

Stop there for a minute. Think about the customer experience strategy implications of this bait and avoid policy. The restaurant chain’s policy is to offer special prices to lure guests to the restaurant. If you weren’t drawn there by the lure of special prices and ready to mention that reason to the cashier when you order, the restaurant’s policy is to avoid extending the special offer it doesn’t think you deserve.

Stop again and consider whether this bait and avoid customer experience strategy is smart. I’m a member of the restaurant’s loyalty program. I presented my loyalty card when we ordered a food combination qualifying for the daily special. Despite my loyalty, the restaurant’s spin on its policy is that the best customer experience strategy is to not offer me a roughly 25% discount because I didn’t know about the offer before ordering and alert the cashier.

And just to strengthen the strategy’s avoid element, the restaurant doesn’t inform customers about their expected upfront role in signaling they qualify for discounts.

Choosing a Horrendous Strategy

As a customer and someone helping companies develop attractive customer experience strategy plans, this strategy is horrendous.

Bait and avoid lets the restaurant keep more revenue from customers like me, thereby boosting margins. At the same time, though, they provide the information at the table so customers can easily discover they got gypped. That triggers having to ask for money back, and creates a situation of heightened frustration.

If you are employing a similar bait and avoid customer experience strategy, do yourself a favor: ditch it and give all who qualify for deals the deals they deserve. That’s what builds loyalty; not fixing one-off situations AFTER customers discover your brand doesn’t stand by what it offers.

Always remember that bad customer experience strategy is NEVER good for business and brand building.  – Mike Brown

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“Do you see any returns from all the blogging and social media stuff you do?”

People routinely ask some variation on that question about our social-first content marketing strategy.

I understand why they ask.

If they follow the Brainzooming blog or our presences on Twitter and Facebook (where we are most active – so go follow us there, please!), it’s only natural to speculate about how much time it takes, what it is doing to help grow our business, and whether they stand to see comparable benefits from investing time, energy, or dollars in creating content.

23 Content Marketing Strategy Benefits for an Emerging Brand

The simple answer to the question is we certainly see returns from the blogging and social media sharing we have been doing since before the Brainzooming brand existed as an independent organization.

Thinking about the list of impacts for our emerging brand, our content marketing strategy:

  1. Built and and continues to cultivate a global audience for the brand
  2. Paved the way for transitioning a capability inside a Fortune 500 organization into the separate and standalone Brainzooming brand
  3. Provides credibility with human and search engine audiences that the website is a worthwhile place to go for information on strategy, innovation, and branding
  4. Attracts audiences on social media networks
  5. Demonstrates how and what we think
  6. Helps new people begin to understand what we do
  7. Allows us to demonstrate what we know and what we can do without having to beat down doors or pester people with phone calls they don’t want
  8. Offers a reason for people to come to the website or subscribe to our content (which leads to them seeing information about what we do and can offer them)
  9. Keeps our name in front of people interested in our brand that develop into clients later
  10. Has created (and continues to create) fans for the brand
  11. Sustains relationships with current and future clients until they are ready to buy our services
  12. Attracts potential partners
  13. Provides the ability to create new formats (such as custom tools for clients) in a fraction of the time that creating brand new content would require
  14. Creates interest in our services among social media audiences, leading to new clients
  15. Leads to speaking opportunities, which create income and new blog readers and then lead to additional new clients
  16. Sends a message that the brand has substance
  17. Lets us rapidly answer questions for potential clients with little incremental time or dollar investment
  18. Is a source for new presentations, workshops, and keynotes
  19. Turns into diagnostics that become core pieces of our service offering
  20. Interests like-minded people in wanting to work for us
  21. Opens the door for us to compete for and win work against some of the world’s top strategy and branding consultancies
  22. Allows us to deliver on client projects more quickly and efficiently than we otherwise could
  23. Feeds into creating downloadable eBooks that attract major new clients

That’s a quick list of what all the blogging and social media sharing (in short, our content marketing strategy) has done for Brainzooming as an emerging brand. We’re a brand that started from scratch and bootstrapped into a viable business and an emerging brand, largely based on a content marketing strategy.

So yes, we do see results from all our content. Moreover, we are committed to the strategy and benefits we can deliver with our social-first content. Thanks for being a part of it!  – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

 

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

 

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First Content

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A common fear about selecting a single target market or audience persona is that focusing on one market when making branding strategy decisions is risky. The fear is target marketing will cause a brand to miss stellar growth opportunities coming from other markets or audiences. That rationale suggests the best course to capitalize on a brand’s full market potential is to avoid targeting any markets or audiences and instead do what you do with every market or audience in mind.

I can understand why a brand owner may think that. Unless you pick a market or audience that is so narrow and a position so extreme that it is off-putting to everyone not targeted, however, it’s not likely to play out that way.

Why Target Marketing Won’t Cripple Your Branding Strategy

Here’s an example of how target marketing helps your branding strategy:

From the outside, one suspects Starbucks targets only a coffee drinking audience. Maybe there are multiple targets, but they all revolve around coffee drinkers. I haven’t had a cup of coffee since I was three years old, so I am clearly not in a Starbucks target market.

Since Starbucks doesn’t offer Diet Dr. Pepper (my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle), it is foregoing revenue from me and others not buying soft drinks. Yet even though I’m not a coffee drinker, that doesn’t mean, I am not a Starbucks customer. When traveling, I seek out the Starbucks brand for food. It’s a known brand, and its standard food items are nearly as ubiquitous as its retail presences. They have water, which I’m also buying when I travel. In the grand scheme of things, I’m guessing Starbucks doesn’t lose tremendous growth opportunities by not selling soft drinks since doing so would be off-brand.

Working with this example, here’s an alternative way to think about targeting markets and personas: Consider your strategic targeting moves as making strategic prioritization decisions for your brand.

Starbucks would be foolish to prioritize anything I personally wanted from the brand (get rid of the coffee smell, add soft drinks, have a food-only payment line to speed things up) since my preferences are way outside its target market. By prioritizing product development, brand experience, innovation, and everything else around its target markets, Starbucks maintains the strength of its brand. It is in a much better position to grow its presence thanks to picking a target market and prioritizing what it does based on choices the target audience expects and will reward.

If you have hesitated embracing a more focused marketing and messaging strategy focused around a target market, now is the time to get over it! – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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You may want to take a seat before reading this rest of this.

An Awkward Social Media Strategy Moment, Brought to You by The Brainzooming Group

We’re going to ask a tough question about your social media strategy. An uncomfortable one that may be awkward.

Ready?

Here it is: When you take an honest look at the social content your organization produces, can you think of any reasons why your customers and prospects would be interested in reading, viewing, listening, or engaging in it?

Before you check, think about this: you’re not evaluating your social media strategy as a company insider. You’re evaluating your social content as a customer or prospect that may know very little about your company, let alone have a burning desire to learn more about it right this second. What they care about is content that is beneficial, entertaining, or otherwise good for them. End of story.

Now, go take a look and consider the question. We’ll wait while you poke around your blog, tweets, videos, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, Instagram images, and such.

(And BTW, if none of the abovementioned has been recently updated, the answer to the question is NO.)

*whistling while we wait*

You’re back. Great!

What’s your answer?

If it’s YES, that must mean you’ve invested time into thinking about your audiences’ interests beyond your company, creating and sharing content where you can credibly address those concerns. And that means–

What’s that?

You’re now unsure about whether YES, THEY WOULD LOVE OUR CONTENT is the right answer?

Well…we thought you might have some second thoughts about that.

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Whether you wavered in your YES, or you fessed up right away that the answer is NO, it’s time to download our latest Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy.

In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we’ll show you how to quickly develop and use an audience persona to:

  1. Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  2. Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  3. Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content shares actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises.

We use these same tools to help clients develop solid, brand-building social media strategy plans and implement them successfully.

And now you can, too. At no charge. In no time at all, you’ll be back, confidently saying YES, THEY WOULD LOVE OUR CONTENT.

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First Content
Download your personal copy of Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, and start improving your social media strategy today. Ready? Let’s go!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I spoke about Social-First Content at the April 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. As always, I left this Social Media Strategies Summit with valuable insights on social content strategy plus great ideas for further developing our brand.

Social Media Strategists at the #SMSSummit

From this Social Media Strategies Summit, I took away a specific insight on the challenge for social media strategists.

With traditional marketing communication, there were numerous clear divisions among important roles:

  • Creative vs. analytical
  • Writing vs. visual communication
  • Strategy vs. design
  • Developing content vs. publishing content
  • Spokesperson vs. reporter
  • In front of the camera talent vs. behind the camera support
  • Media creation vs. media buying
  • Offline execution vs. online / technology execution
  • Mining customer and business insights vs. audience targeting

Looking back on the combined internal and external team we assembled to market our Fortune 500 B2B brand, we rarely had one person doing both sides of any of the pairs of talents and responsibilities above. Depending on a project’s size, in fact, there may be ten or more people involved across these roles.

Social Media Strategists Face Complex Roles

Now, consider today’s social communications landscape. The divisions between the complementary roles have largely disappeared. Today’s social media strategists must be functional, if not fully adept, at nearly all these roles to succeed.

This idea started developing for me as we started using Hubspot for inbound marketing. I’m continually moving between intense analytical and creative roles in developing and executing content-based workflows.

The realization really hit me while attending a Facebook list building, advertising, and re-marketing workshop at the Social Media Strategies Summit. The presenters covered audience targeting and Facebook advertising in detail. We don’t use Facebook advertising very aggressively, so the topic isn’t one that has occupied much of my attention. As workshop presenters continued, I recalled that in the corporate world, I told media buyers that I’d ask questions, but I understood they had a knowledge base that was difficult to have without living in their world. I depended on their expertise to guide and lead us toward accomplishing our marketing objectives.

Today, however, you can’t afford to make that distinction. Outstanding social media strategists must understand Facebook targeting, advertising, and remarketing. It’s just as important as understanding the fundamentals of writing a compelling story. They also must understand everything else on the list of communication roles.

Sure, in a smaller organization, I’m now taking on many more communication roles than as a VP in a Fortune 500 organization. A team of ten no longer exists for me. Talking with other attendees at the Social Media Strategies Summit, though, it’s clear a team of ten doesn’t exist for many of them either – even within large organizations.

Why Many Mid-Career Marketers Are Dinosaurs

Put all this together, and I think it explains why I see so many mid-career marketers are dinosaurs, either limiting themselves in comfortable, but career-threatening ways (“I just do PR” or “I write but don’t do SEO”), or floundering while they rework the calculations on how much longer until they have enough money to retire.

The much smaller group is leveraging career experience and diving into social content strategy with a passion. These folks are learning to become perhaps the best-positioned marketers: they heave experience AND social sensibilities.

Seeing this landscape for mid-career marketers is why I encourage them to attend as many social content marketing events and conferences as possible. It’s the foreseeable future. If they want to be a part of that future AND get paid, they must be aggressive and prepare to work with multiple generations that grew up in a marketing world where role divisions that made sense ten years ago no longer apply. – Mike Brown

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Beyond depicting your product every which way (or depicting the equipment and people who create your service every which way), what images do you include in your brand’s visual vocabulary?

As you consider that answer, ask yourself this: Are you effectively using the best images to reinforce your brand in strategic, consistent ways?

Let’s talk about your brand’s visual vocabulary. I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time considering on design as we solidify the Brainzooming brand’s visual vocabulary through creating more eBooks on strategy and innovation (with our initial offer on branding on the way).

11 Hacks for Creating Your Brand’s Visual Vocabulary

Here are the hacks that have worked for us.

Start by unpacking your brand for inspiration. Look at all the pieces of your brand foundation (big strategy statements, brand promise) to discover the most significant words and phrases you use to describe your brand. You can do this by:

  • Combing through brand foundation materials and existing creative briefs. This will help you avoid spending time trying to recreate visual vocabulary clues that already exist.
  • Running a Wordle on web pages or other content where your brand talks about itself. This is one way to check for important descriptors.
  • Putting customer comments and open-ended descriptions about your brand through a Wordle to see what emerges on top from the marketplace’s view.
  • Reviewing your current brand visuals to identify themes or types of images that stand out based on repetition or impact.
  • Cataloging brand visuals from direct competitors and other brands that do comparable things to what your brand does. Examine what are doing to uncover opportunities to differentiate your brand visually.

Explore ideas to associate visuals with your important brand words and phrases. Start by:

  • Plugging brand words and themes into Google Images. This will help you uncover images the world associates with your brand words.
  • Searching brand words and phrases in professional photo sites to see what stock photos images exist. Careful on this: you will see lots of visual clichés you don’t want to associate with your brand.
  • Extending your search to visually oriented and image-based social sites (Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr). Look for how a broad range of people capture and categorize images linked to your brand’s attributes.

Document what you learn through:

  • Writing ideas describing the images you found. This is the approach I employed. Some of the related words were literal; others were more abstract.
  • Creating Pinterest mood boards. This is a smart alternative suggested by a design blog.:   http://designyourownblog.com/visual-vocabulary-brand-identity/They recommend pinning images you find on separate Pinterest mood boards to identify themes, then consolidating them into one overall brand mood board.
  • Finding what works for you to capture and share your results with others. I used words because my next step was taking photos to build our brand image library. Working with words makes it easier for me to avoid duplicating what others are doing. Looking at visuals as my starting points would make it too easy to potentially co-opt other people’s’ visualizations accidentally.

This is a simple approach for building your brand vocabulary, but I know it worked for us.

If you haven’t invested much time thinking about your brand and its visual vocabulary, starting simple can move you ahead dramatically! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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