Branding is Telling Your Story

A storyteller.

That’s what I am.

That’s what I’ll always be.

I didn’t choose that role. It’s something I was born into.

Long before the word, “storyteller,” became a buzzword and way before the whole “marketers are storytellers” thing became a cliche, I was telling stories. Whether it was making up games and writing short stories and manuscripts as a kid or creating content for brands and communicating their message, it’s all from that same place.

While writing is my primary passion, and it may be yours as well, there are many ways to tell a story — Film, pictures, audio etc. We’re living in a time where content creation and distribution is democratized and cheaper and easier than ever before. That also means there’s more competition. But if you’re talented and you’re persistent, and you pay attention to the needs of your audience, you’ll break out of the noise.

So, start that podcast or that blog or that vlog or whatever suits your communication style and start communicating your story — your truth. When you tell a story that has people’s attention, countless opportunities will open up for you in life and in business.

Building a brand is ultimately what will help you differentiate and stand out in a crowded market.

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If You Want Your Marketing to Work, Go All In & Provide Ridiculous Amounts of Value

Like anything else, marketing is something that only produces returns if you put sufficient time and effort into it.

We all want our businesses to grow. We want customers to buy what we have. We want phone-calls from people who epitomize our “ideal clients.”

But many of us make one of two mistakes:

We either:

A) Invest too little effort into marketing and developing a brand, dismissing it as too costly or time-consuming, hoping that our good work or name alone will somehow get across and attract people to come to us.

This mistake is fatal because what ends us happening is we don’t get the attention we need in a world where attention is increasingly hard to get.

And, worse we spend money and time on marketing, but since we’re going about it “half-pregnant,” and not fully investing our efforts, time, and creativity, the time and money we spent ends up being a waste.

Or

B) We try to rush the sale. If our business is new or our numbers are lacking, we scramble to move prospects and leads to the finish line.

Desperation is a foul smelling cologne. Your prospects can smell it. Furthermore, it causes you to resort to short-term tactics and behaviors.

You end up thinking small and neglect a key part of effective marketing and sales — providing value.

When you become a one-way broadcast machine constantly pumping out promotions and pushing prospects to claim your offers without first providing them any value, it’s clear that you’re thinking primarily of yourself and not about your prospect or customer.

This is a HUGE turn-off. And in our customer-centric world where people’s attention spans have numerous outlets across platforms and devices, that old style of “push-marketing” is increasingly ineffective.

The only way to avoid either of those mistakes is to spend the time and do due diligence to learn about your audience and figure out the best way to provide them value.

Worry less about the sale and focus more on helping the prospect by giving away value — either in terms of content which they find helpful or interesting, educating them and giving them practical advice, or literally giving some product away.

I believe that if you do that, the sales and loyalty will follow.

The Times They Are a’Changin’. Don’t Complain, Marketers! Embrace it.

Change.

Adapt, change, and adapt again.

Change seems to be the only constant in the life of a marketer.

Technology changes, the communication platforms which have people’s attention change, and consumer behavior changes.

And, yet again and again, we all seem to be so shocked and upset every single time we encounter change.

Everything from the demise of print and radio advertising and the shift to digital to the slightest update in the Facebook algorithm or the Snapchat UI sends marketers into a tizzy.

I get it. Change is hard. But all thehand-wringing, fist waving and feet stamping in the world aren’t going to make a difference.

What has to change is us. The marketers.

Our job is not only to communicate the message. Our job is to constantly stay on top of these changes and adapt accordingly.

Sure, we can commiserate amongst ourselves. It’s nice to vent with someone else who understands and is experiencing the same challenges.

But, don’t stay frustrated or blame “the system.” The only constant we can rely on is change and it’s a marketer’s job to adapt accordingly.

We can cry and complain that marketing isn’t what it used to be. That now, we have to spend a lot more time branding and earning consumer trust before asking for anything in return.

We can kvetch about the increasing ineffectiveness of interruptive advertising.

And to my fellow social media marketers, we can bemoan the fact that we can no longer “crush it” on social media with text & link posts or sharing alone.

Now, social will take a serious investment of time, money, and resources. Organic is dead on some platforms and dying on others.

The future (which is already here) of social media is paid i.e. sponsored posts, video, and influencers.

Social media is a much bigger production than it used to be. For some of us, and certainly for our clients, it will be more of a hassle. And trends indicate that the current state of affairs will only continue.

But it’s all about perspective. How you react to these changing realities makes all the difference.

If you look at them as an opportunity to do better — deliver more value in your content,

find new and creative ways to hack distribution, and realize that the market is ever-changing and your job is to adapt at scale, you will win.

Look at it this way. As social media begins to predominate and becomes the primary place where we spend time and attention,

it will also require an increasing amount of resources and tactics to compete and succeed on social.

This means we can finally have the courage to demand our clients take social more seriously and begin to allocate more of their budget to social,

And less to more costly, relatively less effective things on which they are still blowing most of their budgets.

In every challenge or change, there is room to cry or to find the opportunity and capitalize on it.

Which option will you choose?

Marketing is Like Dating. Romance Your Prospects and Make them Fall in Love with You.

As a single and a marketer, I’m noticing some interesting parallels between marketing and dating. 

Nobody wants to transact on the first date. 

Asking for the sale right away makes you look creepy and lame. Offer to help first.

You’ve got to romance your prospect a little bit. Compliment them. Talk about what they’re interested in. Keep it focused ON THEM. Not you.

Give them value. Make them want you. 

And, timing is everything. You’ve got to be able to feel it out and read the situation carefully. 

When the time is right, you go in for the ask. 

And if they say yes, you’ve got yourself a date. If you play your cards right, one date will lead to more and eventually blossom into a fruitful, long-term business relationship. 

You Gotta Listen to the Coach

You gotta to listen to the coach. 

In my experience, there seems to be a tug-of-war game between agencies and the internal teams of clients. 

The agency or consultant advocates X. The client’s staff says Y. Or, places red tape and obstacles to slow things down or prevent the execution of the strategy. 

When this isn’t remedied, communication breaks down. The client wonders why there is no result. The employees blame the agency. The agency explains that they have been prevented from implementing their strategy and carrying out their tactics by the gatekeepers. 

In the end, everyone loses. 

Agencies must be careful not to step on toes and to respect client’s internal structures, protocol, and their team’s insider knowledge gleaned from working in the trenches every day.  They know their industry and the daily goings on at the company better than the agency ever will. 

At the same time, if you’re not going to listen to your marketing firm, then why did you hire one in the first place? You’re busy. Your employees don’t have the bandwidth to create content at scale and hack social media distribution. You should also concede that your marketing agency probably understands marketing strategy better than you do. 

So, swallow your pride. Cooperate. And listen to the coach.

5 Important Social Media Trends You Must Know to Crush it in 2018

It’s a new year and that means new goals, new opportunities, and new trends you must know about to stay ahead of the curve.

We’re living through the greatest historical shift in communication since the printing press. Major social platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are where an increasing number of your audience is spending more of their time.

To be successful on social media requires one to be a practitioner who actually uses these digital communications platforms every day, keeping abreast of the constant changes they are making. Social media is an ever-changing landscape, so very little content regarding social media best practices and tactics is evergreen.

Social platforms are always rolling out new features, making algorithm tweaks that affects what kind of content gets seen, and making changes to their user interfaces. User behavior often dictates what changes these platforms make, but the changes made by the platforms also greatly affects user behavior and how people interact with the content you share.

Social media looks very different today from the way it looked in 2008, 2014, or even 2017. What follows is a list of what I believe to be the most important trends and tactics you need to know about to crush it on social media in 2018.  

Ephemeral Content

instagramstories.pngSnapchat was the first platform to introduce the concept of ephemeral social content or videos and images that automatically disappear 24 hours after posting. A piece of ephemeral content or a series of these posts is known as a story. In the summer of 2016, Instagram introduced its stories feature, which is very similar to Snapchat, and last year, Facebook adopted a stories feature as well.

While many brands may not understand it, users are loving stories. Whereas much of social media content is criticized for being heavily filtered, curated, and airbrushed, stories have a very authentic, current, in-the-moment, “right-now” kind of feel. Posts on Facebook or the Instagram grid tend to be high-quality, enhanced by filters and effects. It’s where most people showcase their best selves and agonize to make sure the lighting is just right. However, a story is often where people show a much simpler, less perfected, and more human side of themselves. Stories do not require nearly as much preparation and are usually used to document a typical day, cover an event, or periodically check in with the audience.

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Don’t go all in on the Instagram grid at the expense of stories.

On Instagram, the most popular network with stories, many people and brands are still putting all of their energy into posting on the grid, devoting insufficient time and attention to their daily stories. This is a mistake. Creating an Instagram story, which is a photo or a video under 15 seconds long, is quick to create and upload with one’s smartphone. Stories appear at the top of the Instagram feed. When you have a story published, your page shows up in the stories section at the top, and if you recently published a story that a user has not yet seen, your profile shows up at the top of their feed circled in red. See below:
Instagram Story Feed

Regularly publishing stories keeps you at the top of the feed and at the top of your audience’s mind. When users watch your story on a mobile device, your photo or video takes up their entire mobile screen, leaving them completely immersed in your brand. And, the more often they watch your stories, the more front-and-center your brand will be in their Instagram feed. So, make sure you don’t only post on the grid and neglect stories.

Stories foster a deeper level of engagement.

This is because a story can only be commented on or engaged with through a direct message (DM). A DM is a one-to-one private chat, which is a much more intimate and personal form of communication than a like or a reply to a public comment. Be sure to post interactive content such as questions or polls to stimulate DM responses and deeper engagement with your target audience.

Don’t give up on Snapchat.

When Instagram introduced stories, many brands were quick to dump Snapchat or post there a lot less frequently. However, data shows younger users under 30 are still spending a lot of time on the platform. If your brand targets customers in that demographic, then you need to continue using Snapchat and establishing a robust presence there. And, even if your business does not cater to that age-group, it’s still not a good idea to completely ignore it. Keep posting content on Snapchat, because that demo will get older and might soon become your customers. Also, remember that Snapchat could roll out a new feature tomorrow that wins back a lot of users and gets brands to come crawling back. If you’re unprepared, you will be caught behind the eight-ball.

Influencer Marketing

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In 2014 and 2015 influencer marketing was a promising tactic that more brands were interested in trying out. No longer new, influencer marketing has grown and matured. Now, there is ample proof that it is a worthy investment of time and money.

The good news is that influencer marketing is still in its early years. Brands are seeing fantastic returns with relatively little spend, making it one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing in existence today.

Essentially, influencer marketing is a modern reinvention of PR or the celebrity endorsement. Brands court a social influencer — a person on social media with a large number of engaged followers, and the influencer will mention the brand in exchange for money, free product, or usually a combination of both.

Every social media platform has its own set of influencers. In the current climate, attention has never been so divided and hard to win. By partnering or collaborating with an influencer, you will be able to piggyback on the attention they already have and direct it back to your brand.

Micro-influencers are key.

A micro-influencer is a person on social media with a relatively small, but hyper-engaged following. While the number varies by study and platform, some classify a micro-influencer as someone with as little as 1,200 followers and as many as 40,000 (some go as high as 100,000). Studies show that these smaller influencers tend to have an audience that is disproportionately engaged and interested in the influencer’s posts compared to larger influencers whose audiences tend to be larger, more varied, and less proportionately engaged. Micro-influencers are also much cheaper to work with.

While big brands will still pay big money for the large influencers, such as celebrities or mega-social media influencers with significant returns, a lot of brands are achieving ROI by partnering with micro-influencers. A micro-influencer is often a person who posts about a specific, niche area of interest or hobby, such as nutrition and exercise, camping, video equipment, travel, or clothing. Their following extends beyond family and friends, but is still small enough that most of the followers are following influencer because they are truly interested in the influencer’s content and not because the influencer is popular.

Brands are becoming more savvy about who they work with, now understanding that a large follower-count doesn’t always translate to authentic engagement or return on investment. The cost of doing business with micro-influencers ranges from free product alone to a combination of free product and a relatively small amount of money, making it an extremely cost-effective option compared to spending on advertising or macro-influencers. All of the evidence shows that people increasingly trust the recommendations of friends and influencers over advertisements, making micro-influencers a great way to earn quality reach, impressions, awareness, engagement, and sales. Influencer marketing will continue to grow and become more expensive in coming years so the time to get in on this trend is now.

Tips for working with influencers:

1) Don’t be a control freak.

Another great thing about influencers is that they create the content for you. Avoid trying to wrestle creative control. Your influencer got to where they are because they are good at creating content and engaging with their audience. They have a good understanding of what their audience likes. Leave the content creation up to them and be empathetic to the fact that they cannot appear as a human advertisement. Therefore, the mention of your brand in their content will likely be subtle and smooth rather than overt, direct, and “advertise-y”.

2) Vet your influencers properly.

You don’t want to pick influencers with mostly inorganic or bot followers nor do you want influencers who don’t make sense for your brand. Even if an influencer is popular, they are a bad choice if they do not align with your brand’s values or have nothing to do with your space. The wrong influencer can do harm to your brand. Make sure the collaboration makes sense for your brand and your goals. Carefully evaluate their content, their engagement, and the image they give off. Tools like BuzzSumo and FollowerWonk can help you do it quickly and easily so you can scale your influencer outreach. If they are asking for a substantial amount of your marketing budget, do a little research to see if the influencer has achieved ROI-positive results for others.

3) Find brand ambassadors.

Brands are increasingly establishing long-term partnerships with influencers rather than one-off, spontaneous collaborations on just one post or campaign. Fomenting a long-term relationship with a credible influencer who aligns with your brand and acts as a brand ambassador can produce beneficial results for both parties.

Engagement & Direct Messaging

Brands are increasingly making use of direct messages, such as Facebook Messenger, Instagram DM, and LinkedIn DM as a way to communicate more directly with their audiences. DMs foster an intimate and personal form of communication and they are receiving positive responses from users. With so much content competing for people’s attention in feeds, a private message is a great way to grab a user’s attention. Private messages are even preferred rather than seen as an intrusion by some users who are tired of having all their social media activity publicly scrutinized.

Unlike email, this is one form of direct communication marketers have not yet killed and it’s expected to grow in 2018. As time goes on and users begin to receive more DMs from brands, the effectiveness of this tactic will probably diminish and receive less attention, so capitalize on it while you still can.  

Video

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Video has never been easier and cheaper to produce at scale. All of the major social media platforms now make it easy to create and upload videos and their algorithms heavily favor video content. They particularly favor video created or posted natively, with LinkedIn introducing native video just this past year. The rise of video began a few years ago, but we witnessed an explosion of video content in 2016 and 2017. This trend shows no sign of slowing down and it is expected to rise significantly. Video is predicted to account for over 80 percent of total online consumer Internet traffic by 2020.

People process video much more quickly than they do written text or even static images and more and more people are consuming content in video format. So, if most of your content is still blog posts and articles, it’s time to start churning out videos — long and short-form. If you don’t have a fancy video camera or equipment, no problem. Grab your phone and get to work. Video is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, but a must-have for any business who wants to compete in 2018 and beyond.

Audio

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Last year saw a tremendous increase in audio content. Although not strictly a part of social media, it’s a digital trend worth noting. Podcasts have become a popular way to consume media and information on the go. In fact, monthly podcast listeners increased 24% in 2017. Unlike video, a podcast can be played in the background so a user can benefit from the content while multitasking. Listeners can be driving, doing work, or cleaning the house as they catch up on their favorite podcast content. As the audio space begins to grow in importance, an increasing number of brands are launching their own podcasts and creating Alexa Skills and channels for Google home. Marketers are using social media to get the word out about their podcasts the same way they used to spread the word about their blogs and vlogs.

The democratization of content and media brought about by modern technology has put the power to create, publish, and spread messages directly into the hands of the people. While this makes it increasingly harder to get noticed in a noisy world, it also presents enormous opportunities for brands to connect with their audiences more cheaply and directly than ever before. The companies that are going to win in 2018 and beyond are the ones who take advantage of these new mediums of communication and use them to their advantage.

Do I Need Social Media if I Have Word of Mouth?

If you’ve built a successful business, chances are many of your leads come from the referrals of satisfied clients or customers. Some businesses have done very well with little or no advertising.

Every now and then I’ll hear a business owner express doubts about investing in social media, or even marketing altogether because most of their business comes from word-of-mouth. There is then a resistance to putting money toward marketing, which is totally understandable. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, the success that comes from word-of-mouth can also lull you into a false sense of complacency and prevent you from growth, which leads to stagnation and long-term business failure. And even if the customer-base is loyal enough to keep the company in business, the business risks leaving a lot of money on the table by refusing to market. Good can always become great and great can always become better.

The most important thing for today’s business owner to understand about social media is that social media marketing is word-of-mouth marketing. Social media simply magnifies and amplifies your word-of-mouth, harnessing its full potential.

Traditional advertising attempts to pitch products and services to the audience. It’s a one-way, broadcast style of communication. Social media, by contrast, allows a brand the opportunity to meaningfully engage in two-way communication with its audience. Social media helps you not only attract new clients and customers but also stay in touch with current ones.

By consistently providing value on social platforms where your audience is already spending their time and attention, you can make a genuine connection with them, converting prospects into fans, fans into customers, and customers into loyalists.

Word-of-mouth has long been the strongest form of marketing. Most people will be far more inclined to try a product or a service that has been vetted and recommended by a trusted source, such as a friend or a third-party expert over an advertisement.

When a brand speaks highly of itself, you think: “Duh, of course, they say that.” When a friend of yours has had a good experience with a brand and tells you about it or when an individual whom you trust, such as an influencer, recommends it, you’ll be much more likely to choose that brand over a competitor.

According to the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report published in 2015, 83 percent of online respondents in 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family over advertisements. And, according to data from Musefind, an influencer marketing platform, published in 2016, 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement or a traditional celebrity endorsement.

Creating a community on social media may not provide immediate or directly traceable ROI in the short-term, but over the long-term, it will get your brand in front of more people and build brand equity, which you can leverage in powerful ways, reducing your new customer acquisition costs and receiving more repeat business.

Social media allows you to see your friends’ likes and interests as well as which brands they follow. Friends see posts from brands that their friends of engaged with, allowing branded content to spread virally throughout the Internet. Friends who see that their friends like, follow, and trust a brand, will be more positively inclined to try the product or service for themselves.

Social media is not a replacement for word-of-mouth. Social media has simply restored word-of-mouth to its rightful and lofty place in the marketing universe. With over 47% of customers using AdBlock technology and tuning out or fast-forwarding advertisements, word-of-mouth has become more important than ever before.

Social media channels are places where brands can seamlessly mix into the conversation. Remembering that social media marketing is a conversation is key. The number one mistake most brands make on social media is treating these new channels as one-way broadcasting platforms where they attempt to push out their marketing messages, much in the same way they do on TV, radio, or in print.

Social media is where people go to converse, catch up, get information, or find entertainment. Users don’t want to be interrupted with ads and sales pitches. By creating content that blends in natively to each channel and respects the nuances of each platform and provides value to the audience, brands will delight current customers and fans who will engage with the content and spread it to others.

Furthermore, people are going to talk about your business regardless of whether or not you have a strong social media presence. Social media is a valuable team player that helps your business win on both offense and defense. By having an engaged fan-base on social media, you’ll spend less time and energy on reputation management, deflecting negative comments or poor reviews. Instead, you’ll have an army of loyal and passionate brand advocates who will step in, engage, and help spread your message for you.

Responding to both negative and positive comments on social media makes your audience members feel valued. It feels special to be recognized, especially when so many businesses seem to take customers for granted and are slow to respond to questions and comments. Engaging with your audience makes your brand more human, relatable, and trustworthy. Additionally, most millennials, in particular, value transparency and are wary of brands that do not put themselves out there on social media and authentically engage.

So, if you were hesitant to invest more into social media, now you understand that social media will provide an added boost to your word-of-mouth and allow your business to grow and reach new milestones.

And, don’t get hung up on worrying about what kind of content to create and share on social media. With each piece of content, simply keep in mind how you can provide more value to your audience. This approach to content will help you create an inspired, engaged community of people who share your values, passions, and vision. Of course, if you’re still having trouble, feel free to reach out to me in the comments below.

Did you experience positive word-of-mouth as a result of your social media marketing efforts? If so, how did you do it? What could you have done differently?