1 Ingredient for a Happy New (Marketing) Year

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Business success has long been founded on making products that make people happy and making people happy about products. For most, the driving vision and mantra has been: Make people happy with my product and service and they will come back for more.

Yes. And no. Many studies on human happiness find that “Happiness” from materialistic, external things is fleeting and does not always result in repeat business. In fact, it rarely does. We may be happy with a buying experience. And we may tell people about it as it occurs — and intend to go back for more. But then once the novelty of the product purchased wears off, we move on to new things and find new sources of “happiness.”

This kind of happiness, the kind that comes and goes — and is assigned to new products, places or people — is often no more than a dopamine or oxytocin rush. They’re hormonal experiences that make us feel exuberant, ecstatic, on top of the world, loved and appreciated. At least for a moment.  Creating these feelings among our customers can bring them back for more product when they need that happy rush again. But it is not sustainable for the long-term in a market where they can get similar rushes of “happy” feelings from competitors who can imitate, duplicate and replicate anything you do faster than ever before. Or in a market with customers who are well-conditioned for instant gratification, and so the demands and expectations to keep them happy change instantly, too!

So what’s a product marketer to do? Ugh.

Do we buy more technology? Clean more databases? Create more content and social dialog and push it out more often?

While all of the above may work for generating sales and happy customers for the short-term, what is it that we can do to generate a lasting commitment, long after the novelty of our product or initial experience wears off? It’s kind of like asking what keeps couples together after the hormonal rushes and honeymoon become past tense.

You might be thinking, “build a better experience,” “create more emotional relevance and value through better relationships,” and many of the things discussed in my posts over the years. And yes, these matter, but there’s another element that is critical and not often thought of building customer bonds— culture.

There’s a lot of sociologists, bloggers and reporters out there trying to discover the “happiest place on earth” and many of those on this mission end up at the same place.

Denmark

Denmark was just named the “Happiest Country on Earth,” per the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report,” according to an article recently published by CBS News.

It may seem odd that the happiest place is not some tropical island where its always warm, sunny, and pina coladas run free for locals and tourists. Instead, it’s Denmark, where it can be cold, dark and a bit on the dreary side in terms of climate — with rain 50 percent of the time.

So why Denmark? It’s the perfect example of how a culture has more lasting impact than purchase alone.

Here are some insights:

While Denmark’s culture has many elements to it, there are three that stand out to me as elements we marketers can bring home to our brands. These are:

Equality

Loyalty programs have morphed into elitism for VIP customers. And while these programs may be profitable, they can also be limiting in terms of acquiring new customers and keeping a base of steady but lower transaction value customers who provide the long-term stability all brands need. In Denmark, equality reaches a different level. People view each other as equals, despite occupation and income, and thrive on socializing often with people who have like hobbies and interests, building bonds on common values — not common bank accounts. I loved the example shared on a site promoting tourism to Denmark, quoting a garbage man about how he feels comfortable with lawyers and doctors because wealth does not matter as much as time with friends and family, as well as what you do to bring light and warmth to your circle and to others around.

How Does This Apply to Marketing?

Quite simply. Instead of finding ways to elevate the elite in your customer base, find ways to make all customers feel equally important. One of the things that just baffles me is how airlines treat you so blatantly differently for boarding. Remember how airlines used to roll out a red carpet for first class and extremely high mileage customers? What a blatant statement of inequality to all of those whose collective value for economy fare far outweighed the value of the six to 10 first class tickets who were made to feel like superior human beings. Yes, give perks to high-transaction and high-value customers, but not in ways that make others feel worthless. Present experiences and interactions that make people feel like your most important customers. It’s not hard to do.

Social Values

Hygge (pronounced hug) refers to the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures and embracing friends, family and graciousness over wealth, status privileges and materialism. This translates into a culture where all feel welcome, appreciated and secure. These feelings translate into staying power and loyalty for consumers to brands. When people come together to celebrate bonds, relationships and kindness, they create a welcoming atmosphere of acceptance and safety that outweighs the fleeting joy of a new toy, digital widget or out-of-the-normal experience. People go back to social circles like chess clubs, book clubs, cooking groups and so on, where they can mingle with like minds and feel equal, despite their social status or wealth contribution to the hosting organization.

Marketing Application

Bring customers together just because. Not to try or buy a new product or to spark sales in any way, but to do what the Danes do — share light, warmth and friendship, and create an atmosphere of coziness and happiness. We will come back to these experiences and communities and stay loyal to those who continue to make us feel enlightened and valued at the same time.

Trust

Despite being one of the most written about and overly discussed topics, it still is and will always be the structural pillar of strength and success. Trust is one of the primary cornerstones in the Danish culture, and in ways that would be scary in our U.S. culture. Danes are comfortable using the honor system in business and letting kids play alone at parks while parents shop nearby.

Elevating Trust

Consumers need to have unbridled trust that they can count on brands to:

  • Deliver on the product and service promises made directly and indirectly in all communications, promotions and experiences.
  • Stand behind all purchases and meet customer expectations for service, refunds, returns, repairs and so on.
  • Create an atmosphere of transparency on all levels. By sharing financials, corporate values, updates on product and industry issues, and other insights to keep customers informed about your brand and related issues, you build indirect trust that creates that sense of hygge mentioned above and stronger emotional bonds that transcend price and other competitive elements.

Essentially, when you build a culture, you build a community. And building communities is critical in a world where consumerism is turning to minimalism; people are turning to experiences over materialism; and trust and respect for business is waning. It’s is critical for short- and long-term success. Largely because people flock to communities more than they do to products or brands that distribute them. As we learn from religious and political “communities,” we humans tend to stay aligned with people who reflect our values, as well as build our sense of belonging to a safe, secure group that understands us and what motivates us.

Takeaway

Study what matters most to your consumers in terms of values, lifestyle and culture. Create events, experiences and communications around those values, and find ways to bring customers together around those values. State Farm is a good example of just this. If you go to the brand’s website, you can find a calendar of volunteer events you can join along with local agents in order to further good causes in your community, and of course experience “hygee” with agents and employees that can result in sales and loyalty.

Your Secret Weapon for Amplification: Employees!

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

Very few companies fully engage employees in the work of connecting with customers, prospects and new markets, according to a 2014 Altimeter Group survey of HR and marketing executives. Only 41 percent of respondents reported having a strategic approach for employee engagement, and just 43 percent say they have a culture of trust and empowerment. Yet, Altimer finds that company who do engage employees in a purposeful digital outreach enjoy measurable business impact, greater reach and improved customer satisfaction.

One of the biggest factors in this untapped opportunity, according to the report, is that most employees don’t have a clear understanding of what they can or should share on behalf of the brand. As a result, most stay quiet.

A quick way to measure the impact on your business is to assess the variance between the collective reach of your employees on LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest and the number of fans and followers on your branded corporate pages. That delta is your opportunity-every professional post or pin by an employee is an opportunity to connect people back to your corporate properties.

Of course a purposeful approach to empowering employees must be respectful of everyone’s personal brand and voice. Forcing people to stiffly spout the company line will not only backfire in terms of employee loyalty, it will be a turn off for readers. The engagement has to be authentic in order to resonate.

The technology is here-in the past decade there has been a plethora of new digital tools for helping employees connect with each other and with their professional communities. Many tools are embedded in the CRM and sales enablement tools already in use for outside engagement. Why aren’t people using them internally? Perhaps because the presence of a tool itself is not enough-to create business value the tools must be accessible, helpful and aligned with the business culture.

Marketers who want employee engagement must develop a repeatable and respectful plan for advocacy:

  • Cross-Functional Reach:
    While sales, marketing and service teams often advocate for the business as part of their job descriptions, employees across the organization can also be incentivized to participate. Making these activities a win-win for the employee and the employer is key to participation.
  • Training:
    Most employees would be happy to support a respectful program, but truly do not know what to say. Setting clear boundaries and sharing sample messaging is a start, but also be explicit about the “how to” aspects. Encourage employees to make the message personal-and thus of higher impact-by translating the corporate message into their own voice.
  • Culture of Mutual Respect:
    Employees who cannot be trusted with confidential information also can’t be expected to fully engage in any innovation or forward-thinking programs. If this is the case for your organization, then your culture may not be a fit for employee engagement.
  • Content:
    Most businesses are publishers today-from blogs to social media to customer service scripts. These are rich sources for content that can be easily shared and amplified through employee engagement.

Creating active and visible employees may give some managers pause. Altimer recommends encouraging personal brand building anyway, claiming the risk is low that top talent will be poached. The opposite is usually true, the report says. Employees build a sense of pride and connectedness, and become invested in the company success.

Beyond email signatures and call center scripts, how is your company tapping the rich network of your employees to build the brand, amplify messaging and generate leads? Are your employees already active participants in sharing your company brand story? If so, how can you bring that forward into a more purposeful program? Share your challenges and ideas in the comments section.

Emoji: Digital Shorthand for Direct Marketers

Our culture is gravitating to visual displays of shorthand, and we’re relying less and less on words. For certain age groups and demographics, it appears that words and text is becoming out of date. Why? Emojis. You’ve seen them. But you may not have considered how you can leverage them in direct marketing. Here’s an emoji primer along with six ideas you can use for more visual emotion.

Our culture is gravitating to visual displays of shorthand, and we’re relying less and less on words. For certain age groups and demographics, it appears that words and text is becoming out of date. Why? Emojis. You’ve seen them. But you may not have considered how you can leverage them in direct marketing. Here’s an emoji primer along with six ideas you can use for more visual emotion.

First an emoji primer: Emojis originated in Japan, and means “picture letter.” Emojis are a single image that conveys an emotion or attitude. They are different than emoticons that are created with characters on a keyboard such as “:-)” to convey a smile. Emojis are shorthand in the digital age. Mobile has been a driver of the use of emojis because they are quick to use.

Unless you’re immersed in the emoji phenomenon, who would have known that last year some 2,834 new emojis were released by the Uniform Consortium (most of the 2,834 emojis have been in widespread use for years). Each has an official name and definition. By comparison, with a mere 26 letters in the alphabet to deal with, one wonders if adding a few well-chosen words may be quicker than scanning through nearly three thousand emojis for exactly the right one, but I digress.

Two recent observations in my life have prompted me to think about the emerging digital shorthand of emojis:

First, after the iOS 8.3 upgrade came through, I observed the sudden addition of emojis on the keyboard (at that time, I had mistakenly called them emoticons, which they are not). In fact, there are 300 emojis. And a Vulcan salute if you want it added. I like to use voice dictation for text and email on my iPhone. I don’t know about you, but I find the placement of the emoji buttons on an iPhone annoying because of my big fingers. I’m constantly touching the key that opens a flood of 300 emojis when I wanted the voice dictation button.

Second, while onboarding with a new digitally-driven client where everyone works virtual and all communications are posted on Skype chat, I saw team members answering questions using emojis. Even though emoji appearance is mostly intuitive, I still looked up the emoji so I was confident that I knew how team members were replying. On Skype, there are dozens of emojis ranging from the usual smiles and frowns to “TMI” (too much information), being worried and a birthday cake.

Then it dawned on me:

It’s clear that millions of people love emojis, so for direct marketers, it’s time to become aware of their power to transform how you communicate.

As our culture becomes more impatient, and attention spans are shortening, people want to shrink the seconds required to respond via email or text. An emoji can be the ticket to effortlessly conveying an emotion.

So how can direct marketers use emojis? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Direct Mail: A person doesn’t have to be a Millennial or Gen Z to recognize smiles, fingers crossed, a handshake or thumbs up. Remember: it’s visual shorthand.
  2. Social Media: Emojis are already built in and easy to use. Liven up content marketing posts with an emoji.
  3. Email Marketing: Why not? Put an emoji in HTML to add some fun and pizzazz.
  4. Website: Many emojis display movement, such as a bobbing head when illustrating someone laughing, and are a way to draw the eye to a desirable emotion.
  5. Blog Posts: I’ll let this light-hearted version speak for itself.
  6. SMS Text: With mobile as the reason emojis are taking off, it’s only natural to use them if you’re using SMS text (and especially you’re conserving on the characters you’re using). Of course, make sure your customer has opted-in to receiving your texts so your legal bases are covered.

Will emojis be the here for a long time to come, or a fad? Who knows? But I suspect that at least for the near term, you’re going to be seeing emojis more and more.

So what do you think? Would you ever use an emoji in your direct marketing messaging?

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

Data Athletes in Modern Organizations

Let’s look at the ideas, insights and strategies for becoming what I have termed a “Data Athlete.” This term has evolved during the many years I have been involved with training and developing exceptionally smart creative analysts. These professionals have a high aptitude and passion to solve big data challenges and possess the dexterity to leap from the intellectually engaging problems to the immediately actionable digital media plays that yield a high ROI. I have found smart analysts love this term—they enthusiastically consider it a badge of honor in making it to the major leagues, where they solve complex marketing problems and optimize campaigns.

Let’s look at the ideas, insights and strategies for becoming what I have termed a “Data Athlete.” This term has evolved during the many years I have been involved with training and developing exceptionally smart creative analysts. These professionals have a high aptitude and passion to solve big data challenges and possess the dexterity to leap from the intellectually engaging problems to the immediately actionable digital media plays that yield a high ROI. I have found smart analysts love this term—they enthusiastically consider it a badge of honor in making it to the major leagues, where they solve complex marketing problems and optimize campaigns.

I’m sharing all of these learnings with you, as organizations are under ever greater pressures to change in a world that only grows more digital, and in the process is generating more and more data at a blinding pace. Keeping up will require a shift in thinking about businesses, marketing and data—and of course its value, or lack thereof. This will require you and/or your team to become or be more of a Data Athlete to compete in an ever more digital world.

What is a Data Athlete?
Like any athlete, a Data Athlete is competitive. If you’re striving to become or to be more of a Data Athlete, competitiveness is important. Data Athletes compete with the norm—challenging it and outperforming it. They also challenge all assumptions, opinions and even the data they work with. Nothing’s too sacred not to inquire, challenge and test.

Most importantly, Data Athletes build brands by creating solutions based on the evidence and the impact. They seek to affect change based on the impact it will realistically have. They methodically create the future and its outcomes.

Data Athletes have that internal drive to solve and to accomplish. Contrast this with the kitschy T-shirts at the Google Developers Conference that say “data nerd” (disclosure, I have one myself). Data Athletes aren’t interested in tech for tech’s sake, or data for data’s sake.

Data Athletes Don’t Come From Traditional IT Structures
Traditional IT organizations may have staff entirely comfortable with data, having spent entire careers working with databases—building and maintaining infrastructure, building cubes, reports, integrating systems and data sources, and performing the necessary “care and feeding.” Until very recently however, traditional IT and marketing have organizationally been far apart. Bridging that gap may realistically take years in some organizations. The cultural differences between Athletes and Traditional IT aren’t trivial, and they are well-founded. IT has, for decades, been focused on stability, consistency, repeatability—command and control and gradual cautious change.

Data Athletes, on the other hand, will seek to fail and fail fast, test and learn. They require an environment that is not only tolerant of, but embraces the rigorous, ambitious development of multiple hypotheses informed by customer data, rapid testing of those hypotheses, and speedy implementation of those tests—quickly weeding out the ideas that don’t work through a data-driven system of meritocracy and speed. Gumming up that value creation process through a traditional IT process and “queue” stifles the innovation and positive change. Data Athletes often have engineering backgrounds—and have little patience, as they know the cost of slow and lumbering improvement, or lack thereof.

Not surprisingly, Data Athletes don’t come from traditional IT departments, even though many come from software engineering, front-end development, Web analytics and data science. They bring direct marketing logic and understand how brands are built. They enjoy marketing and they are creative—they challenge marketing that “can’t” be measured and improved.

So while the circa 2015 Data Athletes has a deep appreciation for traditional IT and the back office, they are different from traditional IT in critical dimensions. Data Athletes are typically driven to engage, communicate and connect with the end customer at scale, where traditional IT tends to serve corporate management and internal customers.

So, why is it so difficult to cultivate an environment that nourishes and rewards data athletes? Why are some large organizations with abundant operational reporting capabilities slow to address the evolving needs of the more digital, “big data” marketplace?

Let’s answer these questions and discuss how companies can move the ball downfield with the help of data athletes, our future organizational stars, and thinking about your level of fitness as a more “data athletic” organization.

Here are four major considerations in the era of the Data Athlete as a mission-critical team member:

1. Data Athletes Differentiate Quickly Between Reporting and Analytics
More than 90 percent of the analytics programs I’ve looked at, specifically in Web analytics, are little more than reporting programs. Visits, clicks, time on site, sales, etc. All good. All interesting, and all are short on actionability.

2. Actionability Is The Data Athlete’s Priority
Successful businesses have the habit of tracking progress over time. It’s often driven by the CFO’s office. All rhythms drive from those operational metrics: sales, units sold, turnover, etc. They have reports on top of reports. No small effort or expense is required to make those reports and answer questions based on them. These are good for business. They also can shape a culture, a culture of looking at the same things. A culture of reporting.

A “report-driven” culture isn’t all bad. Maintaining that continuity of reporting over time doesn’t, in itself, address new challenges, new consumer behaviors, the impact of Pinterest on your customer relationships, or the threat of a new intermediary who’s putting pressure on you and driving up your acquisition costs. These things affect those top-level, “operational” numbers driven by that reporting. By the time they really hit the reports hard enough, you’re already behind, which sets up “fire drills” and suffocates marketing strategy. The direction is oftentimes driven by opinions. More about that in a moment.

Reporting by definition is reactive, where analytics is really driving the creation of strategies to affect change.

3. HiPPOs Usually Aren’t Athletes.
This isn’t the “hippo” at least some of you were thinking of …

A HiPPO is the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” You probably know from experience how often the HiPPO in the room has an opinion—and challenging it isn’t easy. Or maybe you are the “HiPPO” in the room, at times. HiPPO-dominated organizations don’t need evidence that data provides. They don’t assess the impact of decisions with data, either.

HiPPOs often come from backgrounds where data and evidence are non-existent or primitive. Their ideas are rarely tested or proven, they are qualitative and only shoot straight from the hip.

In comparing Amazon to JCPenney, Fortune described Amazon’s perspective on HiPPOs as “leaders who are so self-assured that they need neither others’ ideas nor data to affirm the correctness of their instinctual beliefs.” HiPPOs sometimes frown on using data to inform and shape a business, labeling anything that seeks to create business model scalability through the intelligent use of customer data as “analysis paralysis.”

HiPPOs miss the fact that Data Athletes don’t just gorge themselves on data, they actually loath excessive unusable data and the overhead that comes with it.

An Athlete does not believe in data for data’s sake. They know what they need, and what they can do with it.

Instead, they see the HiPPO’s experience and knowledge as a source to shape problem definition. They validate the opportunity and problem with the right data. Without strong and accurate problem definition, it’s hard for anyone to effectively choose what data matters and what can be thrown away.

If you have these smart data athletes in your organization, don’t be a HiPPO and trample them—for when you do, you miss opportunity.

If you hire smart Data Athletes, it’s a business risk to ignore them. When you do, you’re under-leveraging and you’re not learning and growing yourself.

How Does This Help a Marketer?
First, think about your own organization, your own challenges, and evaluate if you’re dominated by HiPPOs or if you’re leveraging Athletes in your organization. It’s hard to debate if you need them anymore—you do, and you will. Partner with the Athletes in your organization, and you’ll begin the process of performing at an advanced level.

In future articles, we’ll discuss more specific strategic approaches and tactical executions that can help you execute and become more of a Data Athlete and introduce this unique type of “athleticism” to your organization.

Pop Culture, News and Politics in Content and Direct Marketing

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in pop culture.

Now, some of you may disagree that “Happy” is a song that merits the description of being pop culture (the definition being “cultural activities reflecting, suited to, or aimed at the tastes of the general masses of people”). But this is a No. 1 song from the hit movie “Despicable Me 2,” and it was showcased on the Oscars, which was the first time I heard the song and experienced its energy. The official Happy music video has been viewed over 200 million times on YouTube.

Listening to this song, which energizes my creative juices, got me thinking about the use of pop culture, news and politics in content and direct marketing messages.

The fact is, when properly and responsibility used, pop culture icons, news headlines or politics work to get attention. Why else do you suppose you find the names of political leaders in promotional headlines?

Feel-good pop culture at one end of the spectrum, and negative headlines, at the opposite end, are proven to work. It’s all a part of the way our brains are wired, with the left amygdala reacting to positive messages and the right amygdala engaged with negative messages. So as you look for ways to make content and direct marketing work for you, consider the possibilities:

  1. News Headlines: Borrowing from the news shows your audience that you’re timely. Headlines can be either positive or negative. Marketing and PR guru David Meerman Scott, calls this effective technique “newsjacking.”
  2. Politics: Be careful with this one, but you can grab attention when you put a political spin on your story. This is usually negative, and why negative ads during campaigns are used (and work—it’s how our brains are wired).
  3. Pop Culture: Feel-good happy moments are few and far between. People embrace positive news, especially in social media. Pop culture can be a big winner when you need to grab onto something positive (even if possibly outrageous).

Obviously, the hard news/politics/pop culture combination doesn’t work for everyone or every product. But, if you want attention, consider how you can ramp up your content and direct marketing messaging with pop culture, news or politics.

Are You Mad About Your Internal Culture?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

And by mad I mean actually passionate about your work in a good way, in a can’t-wait-to-build-the-brand-in-some-new-way-today kind of way?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

As I lead interdepartmental meetings these days with my clients, I often hear comments like these from our face time “group genius” gatherings:

  • “We really should connect as a group more often.”
  • “I now understand your department better.”
  • To a co-worker: “I never knew what you did!”
  • “Oh, that’s why we do that! That makes sense now.”
  • “How come I never heard this before?”
  • “We need to tell the rest of the team this!”

Building passionate brand ambassadors and an engaging culture should be high on every brand leader’s “must do” list. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com consider these internal branding strategies core to their successful business models. Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, says, “our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long-term competitive advantage.”

And these Zappos’ core values lay the groundwork for its notable and enviable culture:

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I’m blessed to work with clients like these who are positively mad about what they do! I recently had three experiences of working again with long-term clients. I hadn’t been on-site to their respective offices for almost a year. I smiled as I saw reconfigured offices to allow for more collaboration, customer comments boldly displayed on walls, brand storytelling by happy customers sprinkled throughout the entire office and profiles of customer segments/personas highlighted throughout the company. These brand leaders were so thrilled to show me how they’ve elevated the importance of internal branding and what it’s meant to their employees. Internal branding matters.

Sara Florin, senior director of creative services for SmartPak, the Zappos of the equestrian industry, was delighted to share one recent event she led to help the rest of this fast-paced entrepreneurial organization learn more about all that her talented department handles. Here’s how she describes it: “Our energetic, passionate creative department is constantly working on bigger and better ways to market our products, but not everyone in the company understands the scope or details of what we do. We wanted to take time to celebrate our accomplishments and show off our capabilities in a fun and formal way. Inspired by the hit show “Mad Men,” we hosted an open house and cocktail hour so we could show off our “mad style.”

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“We dressed up to fit the era, served 60s-inspired food and cocktails to encourage attendance, and set up displays of our recent work. With over 50 people from other departments attending throughout the hour, we were able to demystify the creative process and present ourselves as a polished, professional in-house creative team that could rival any external agency. And we got to have a lot of fun doing it!”

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Activities like hosting a “Mad Men”-themed party may not fit your brand personality, but why not brandstorm some ideas that might help your team members empathize more with all the various roles and responsibilities needed to create your brand experience. Identify activities that engage co-workers from cross-functional areas, inspire collaboration, and just plain add fun and playfulness to all the hard work in building remarkable customer experiences.

So go ahead, get mad … in a good way!

How to Tell if Your Storytelling Strategy Is a Dud

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow? Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

What do potential and existing customers care about more in your business: Your culture, history of your company, how funny or “human” you are, or your ability to solve problems in innovative ways that help them create distinctive market position and grow?

Customers Care Less About Your Story
Reality check: Your clients rarely base decisions on starting or continuing to do business based on your corporate culture, attitude, style or personality.

They care more about their own problems or goals.

That’s why smart B-to-B marketers are asking themselves a tough new question in 2013-to make sure their storytelling strategies actually drive sales.

“If customers make purchase decisions based on how well we solve problems for clients, why is our social media strategy focused on stories and image?”

Connect Stories to Your Selling Process
Telling prospects “I can solve your problem” through a story is weak as compared to the other three-part option:

  1. Getting their attention with a good story;
  2. helping them make better decisions, learn a new skill, avoid dangerous risks and;
  3. doing this in ways that build confidence in themselves, trust in your brand and result in a sales lead.

In my own experience, success starts happening more when I resist telling prospects all about my company’s “unique story,” or those of my clients’.

Instead, I’m connecting my stories to a simple process, a nurturing program. The more I’m promising prospective customers a cure for an expressed pain, and taking them on a journey toward the remedy, the more they’re identifying themselves as leads and transacting with me.

The difference is distinct: Telling disconnected stories that create images versus proving you’re worth consideration by creating micro-successes with prospects. This is the way to start leading prospects toward (or away from) the larger solutions we’re selling.

Here’s How to Get Started
Let’s say you’re using LinkedIn for sales prospecting. When participating in LinkedIn group discussions ask yourself, “How can I get prospects to take an action based on what I know they want?”

Think of a shortcut, a smarter way of achieving a goal or avoiding a risk you can share. Solve a problem for them. But do it in a way that provokes an action-gets readers to more deeply explore the thought you just provoked.

In return you’ll earn a chance at getting their permission to take them on a journey to a better place … to continue a very focused, purpose-driven digital conversation that ultimately you can relate to whatever it is you sell.

If you do this, you’ll have a much easier way figuring out how to create a social media sales strategy that creates sales for you! You’ll be generating B-to-B leads with social media more effectively.