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Tuning In: Lessons from Online Listening

12 Jan Tuning In

Staying tuned in is hard. And it’s underrated what it takes on a (daily) basis to follow the heartbeat of your customer, of your surrounding industry, even what your peers and colleagues are doing.


Don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to follow everything, or everyone. But there is an invaluable reward of staying just one step ahead. It’s about finding your “edge”.

Many of you never see me – physically – but you see see me post and comment (almost incessantly) on online channels. I sometime get asked what I get out of it, especially since so much of my interactions and learnings happen, surprise, strictly online.

Below is just a sampling of what I’ve learned from tuning in online. And how it actually helps me find my “edge”.

Offline Goes Online (news, gossip and such)

  • . It’s become the visual, content source for all things news that MATTER to me. Yes, Yahoo! and the like have customized my homepage experiences to mirror content that I’d be most interested in. But honestly, it’s become my peers and what they’re sharing and following that I care most about.
  • . This is the god-send of all things bigger industry news and buzz. It also clues me into great blogs, videos and more about the digital space, marketing and #smallbiz. Do_not_underestimate what an hour of Twitter per day will deliver to your eyes and brain.

Other advantages of Twitter?  I can follow trending topics around very specific keywords, categories of ideas or topics and specific brands that I’m interested in (i.e. Flipboard, Yahoo!, NYT). Plus, if you’re really active and engaged you’ll take the time to comment, post and interact with the Twitter community. This is probably the biggest (investment) you’ll make online, but 100% worth it as you not only discover new things, but have new people engaging back in your conversations.

  • . I check this one – online – much less frequently than the above channels but I still love the fresh, insightful, even agnostic perspective I’ll get about topics that interest me beyond what peers or (endorsed) media outlets have to say.

Just For Fun (niche topics, creative injections)

  • . I am not an artist. But I am a designer. A designer of creative messaging and I am very focused on how we visually and contextually engage with users. The visual aspect of communicating (marketing) has more recently caught my eye. I am enamored, personally and professionally, with the art of images. And how a single image can make or break a piece of collateral to a prospect or current user. Pinterest also gives me some design tips, both on how to build (visual) content communities andwhat content is most engaging to the broader public.
  • . Most go here for small business news. I visit and follow OPEN for a few other reasons. First, to dream about featuring my content and work to their SMB community. But second, because I admire the marketing team behind it. The site design, while not Yahoo!, is still very unique in how it engages users and how CONTENT is creatively leveraged for cardmember conversion.
Next, you might ask how much time I spend with each of these channels? Admittedly hours.
But the advantage?  Finding my “edge”.  And my “edge” is the ability to cut through a lot of noise to identify trends and to, most importantly, know what to tune out.Trends and lessons I’d never learn if I didn’t stay tuned in, online.

Transparency Is The New Black

13 Dec Transparency

The truth. Sometimes it hurts to be honest, but it’s also what best showcases our true selves.

In marketing, it’s the quintessential way of communicating, on real terms and in very real ways with end-users.

Last week over 60 business leaders/marketers joined  for a session called

The name itself hints at what we discussed – the heavy truth of what it takes to be successful in a fast-pace, “no-one-cares-about-any-one-single-thing-you-do” world we live in.

Everyone one of us who attended the session came away enriched, inspired and ready to “crack the code. But one magical element came back over and over throughout the workshop - be transparent.

I’ve blogged about this concept before, post  this past October. But Seth reminded me once more about the value of not just be authentic, but as marketers…sticking to what we know and uniquely defining the course for how you do business.  For if you don’t, it can be a rat race of pleasing crowds. And in the end, pleasing no one.

How does this translate to everyday business needs?

1. Spread your passion (your art) through your work. Don’t let “mass appeal” dissuade you from what matters most to building your brand. 

2. Define/reshape efforts only around those that care most about your work, your product. 

3. Ignore noise that doesn’t reflect against the core of what you do. The peripheral is just that – noise. And it doesn’t always mean you need to change a program or product. If anything, noise is just affirmation that more than your core user base is listening and watching.

So be transparent. And focus, first and foremost, on what matters – to you and your most loyal fans and followers.

Passion Points

14 Nov Dance-Passion

Passion. It drives (most) everything we do.   From our choice of what to eat, what to wear, to whom we talk to, to who we date, and with whom we spend our time or lives with.  As marketers, it defines us. 

I spend a lot of time observing, as much as I do creating. And it resonates with me that when I produce my best work, or when I see others do so, it’s because my/our heart is in it. I/we care about every little detail because it genuinely matters. And it becomes (and feels) much less tactical, as it does exhilarating.

So what separates good from great marketing – in big or small organizations?  It is passion. 
Sounds simple. Perhaps even a bit naive to say – that passion alone might drive a good or bad marketing effort. But I actually believe it does.

A marketer is much like an artist, even a dancer. Sure there are basic guidelines we follow, certain rules that are played by. But near anyone can read a marketing textbook and go execute. But those who execute well, and in a memorable way, do so with passion behind their work.

Steve Jobs, as with many other infamous marketers, was renown for his passion. His passion for how every detail looked and felt.

The result? That everything from an email, to a store front, to an ad campaign, to a product’s shipping container exuded his (personal) passion for it. It was that simple, but very strong, emotion that conveyed itself into every end-product or message an end user received.

So unleash your passion.  Talk (market) something you really care about. Steer clear of things  you’d distribute only on fliers. Find that sweet spot both in  life and work. It will then naturally seep into every aspect of what you do.  From how you identify marketing channels, to how you focus and create messaging. Something (small), can then become very big.

Why YOU (The Customer) Matters Most

21 Sep Why You

We say we’re listening, but we’re not. We say we care, but we don’t.

Sadly that is the situation that many businesses (and marketers) deal with. The “I” takes over the “what do you want” and we’re caught in a vicious cycle of pleasing…bottomline.

Yet follow a few case studies of businesses who found ways to put customers first, and it’s amazing how ”you”  translated into the very essence of a business, a vital part of their brand.

To name a few heroes…

 - Renowned for staying on lines with customers for hours to help find the perfect shoe. And a free return policy isn’t all that bad either.

 - SWA shook up the airline industry with doing away with boarding groups and adding cheap flights. The sheer “equality” factor that they took with how they served customers was refreshing and fliers flocked. (Until they started raising prices and somehow they weren’t all that different from everyone else.)

 - “Only the customer knows what the perfect coffee is”. Well, sort of. But they will give me coffee after coffee, for free, until I am satisfied with what I walk away with.

All of these businesses share one thing in common – they understand the exponential power of what one very happy customer means to gaining mass credibility and trust. And furthermore, they understand what it takes to establish a positive brand experience, which (does) translate into revenue stability and growth.

It’s not flash sales, it’s not airport advertising, it’s not billboards…it’s honest, well-earned recognition that xyz business revolves around, yes, a concept/business model, but also one that’s centered on customer satisfaction.

Lest we forget - it’s about what YOU (they) want.

Chasing Shadows, Finding Light

18 Sep Chasing Shadows

Personal or professional, the shadows reveal the truth about us as individuals, and in the business realm it separates the weak from the strong.

I most often center on #smb, but big or small, challenges exist. There’s a day when you must learn something new. There’s a day when you must try something different. And there’s almost always  a day when you get validation you’re on the right path, while others you can feel lost and well, in the shadows.
Chasing shadows? It’s the ability to recognize there is a challenge and to face it head-on to pass through.
Case and point – SEO. SEO might as well be the Red Sea to some, even myself. (Yes, I’m admitting I’m not an SEO expert.) I know the role it plays in my toolkit, and I understand the basics. But I don’t put enough emphasis on it. Yet, I must.
Why? Because SEO (search-engine-marketing) is the fundamentals of digital content development and distribution. SEO also is the foundation of web design. Heck, it’s part of how I manage this blog to ensure there’s an organic discoverability aspect of what I create.
But I do still need to sharpen my skills around the topic? Yes. In fact, I’d argue that over 50% of marketers have no clue what SEO really is nor actually apply it to their (digital) designs and/or content management efforts.
Finding light is about creating ways to solve for bigger challenges. For example, deciding whether to learn first-hand how something (i.e. SEO) should be done or deciding to out-source the effort to someone who is (or claims) to be an expert in that given field.
My choice and maybe yours – balance the two scenarios. Learn first-hand, but also recognize my/your greatest strength will never be SEO specifically. Yet can surround yourself by others who focus on the topic and learn with them, further rounding out your skillset.

#Execution: Baby Steps and Herculean Moves

14 Sep #execution

A day in the life of a small business marketer: baby steps and herculean moves. It starts small, it feels big. And it is.

Every day is about taking one step forward and making choices. Choices surrounding prioritization of Email activities versus Social Media, or Social Media versus Display media, or Display media versus mobile SEM.

The reality? It’s less about what should be done (ever), it’s about making choices that will define  herculean moves. The quantum leap that lends itself to break-through communication efforts and motivational insights.

Baby steps. These are actually the strategic decisions you and/or your larger team make to establish baselines for success. For example..

  • Defining the role of social media in your organization.
  • Structuring revenue-centric communication priorities (a.k.a. target audience).
  • Creating reporting frameworks for measuring KPIs.

Herculean moves. This is the compilation of everything we often coin as “execution”. Many folks can plan or theorize about what “should be done”. But a smaller few can get-it-done and take something from concept/ideation to final delivery.   It’s about…

  • Delivering a roadmap for SEO versus saying “let’s focus on SEO and here’s why”. It’s doing it.
  • Agreeing to focus on xyz email campaigns and creating daily deliverables for a larger team to deliver against.
  • Going from deciding a new messaging/brand strategy is needed, to carving out a a few days to deliver a 90 day plan for how messaging will/can be changed across a business.

It’s starts small, it goes big. Are you doing both?

Leave (Discounts) Alone

31 Aug Leave Discounts

Do you discount your way to high-volume user engagement and usage behavior? 

This is a contentious issue with marketers, especially those in high-growth environments.

My response? No. Only with moderation, perhaps.

And why?

  • Discounts are modified versions of “flash sales”. They create a lack of urgency in every day browse/shopping mode because purchases are not based on perceived value, but because it’s the cheapest product at that point in time.
  • Discounts, if mis-used, prompt comparison shopping. True, most users/prospective customers will do that anyways. We can’t stop that. But the deeper tragedy that can occur is missing a larger opportunity to create lifetime customers based on creating/driving product (value-add) awareness versus attracting “discount hunters”, “coupon clippers”, whatever-you-name-it that hone in on the cheapest price available for xyz.

Short story – approach discounting with caution. And blend time-sensitive offers with messaging that includes product FAQs, educational resources (i.e. how-to videos).

Discounting, frequently, can create quick-wins of attracting (new) users shopping for the “best deal”, but it doesn’t always drive quality users and customers that will drive your business value forward.

Read With Me

26 Aug

Just Keep Swimming

24 Aug Just Keep Swimming

I’m a mom as much as I am a marketing professional. And lately I’ve been suckered into watching a wide array of Disney/Pixar movies over and over. But there’s one particular line I can’t ever get out of my head from Nemo – “Just keep swimming”.

The scene is Dory is trying to explain to Marlin, Nemo’s dad, that when you’re having a rough time…you “just keep swimming”. He’s not really listening, she’s trying to stay upbeat and they’re in the middle of no where in the open sea trying to find their way to Sydney. Sound or feel familiar?

Let’s be honest. Marketing, big or small, has it’s challenging days. Servers crash, email filters aren’t working, creative messaging needs an overhaul, the perceived target audience is no longer the optimal audience for your product, etc.  What do you do?  You just keep swimming.

As small business marketers, projects and programs are (and must be) incredibly fluid.  What worked yesterday, doesn’t always work tomorrow.

Yes, there are some  that can be followed. But for the most part, things can change quickly. And frankly, if things don’t change it likely indicates a lack of growth. Change is the promise of opportunity, right?

On that note - just keep swimming. Adjust, tweak and never ever take change or roadblocks as a sign of failure. Keep swimming, even if it seems to be in unknown or unchartered waters. It’s a chance to sharpen your skills, learning something and even try new things.

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